ALMOST seven years after the ill-fated MV Princess of the Stars sank off the coast of Romblon, the Maritime Industry Authority (Marina) panel of investigators finally ordered the cancelation and revocation of the ship owner’s authority to ferry passengers.
Marina also fined the owner of the tragic vessel that claimed more than 800 lives a paltry sum of P800 for operating the MV Princess of the Stars without special permit to carry or load inflammable, dangerous and hazardous cargoes.
In a 50-page decision signed by Marina Administrator Maximo Mejia Jr., the Marina panel of hearing officers ordered Span Asia Carrier (formerly Sulpicio Lines Inc.) to limit the operation of all its 13 ships, and any additional vessel to its current fleet, only to the carriage of cargoes.
Currently, Span Asia is operating two passenger ships and 11 cargo vessels.
In the same decision, Marina’s panel of investigators acquitted the crew of MV Princess of the Stars but said the decision does not preclude the filing of civil and criminal charges against them.
“In view of the absence of evidence offered during the hearing against the officers and crew of the ship, MV Princess of the Stars, the case filed against them is hereby ordered dismissed without prejudice,” it added.
The ship went down on June 21, 2008, off Sibuyan Island, Romblon at the height of Typhoon Frank.
Of the 851 passengers and crew on board, only 32 survived.
The Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) filed the case in behalf of the families of the victims.
Investigation showed that the respondents caused the death of more than 800 passengers when they allowed the ship to sail despite the fact that the Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (Pagasa) has already hoisted Storm Signal No. 3 on June 20, 2008.
It was also revealed that MV Princess of the Stars, as attested by electronic surveillance monitoring equipment, was the only vessel at sea and did not take shelter when the typhoon struck on June 20.
Probers said the respondents’ negligence was further proven when they failed to ensure the seaworthiness of the vessel and their lack of effort to send other ships to rescue the passengers when the vessel was in distress.
The investigation showed that the negligence of the respondents was further manifested when the ship was loaded with some 40 metric tons of endosulfan and other toxic substances.