In 1987, the sinking of the MV Dona Paz resulted in 4,431 deaths. In 2008, the MV Princess of the Stars was lost with nearly 800 lives lost.

    Friday night last week, the MV Thomas Aquinas collided with the MV Sulpicio Express Siete with 34 deaths and 80 missing as of this writing.

    The latest maritime tragedy that occurred in the waters off Talisay in Cebu province should serve as yet another reminder that the Philippines is a sea-faring nation. Shipping is one of the country’s principal modes to transport goods, services and people. As such, we should be very strict in regulating shipping companies. This does not seem to be the case.

    While our politicians are debating the RH bill, pork barrel and other matters, they seemed to forget to evaluate the rules, regulations and quality that govern our maritime industry given that we have been experiencing loss of property –even our loved ones –on a frightfully regular basis.

    The fact that Sulpicio Lines has been in at least five major maritime accidents indicates there is something very wrong with the caliber of their crew, starting from their mess men up to the captains of their ships.

    This is not to single out Sulpicio Lines. It only happens to be one of the biggest shipping firms in the country that the people entrust their businesses and lives with. Smaller companies have also been involved in fatal sea accidents.

    We have to ask, what kind of graduates are our maritime academies producing?

    By the sheer number of accidents, it would seem that our mariners are of low caliber. This should not make sense because the Philippines is one of the top sources of seamen of the global maritime industry. There is a huge demand for Filipino sea farers because like their land-based counterparts, overseas Filipino workers are known to be hard working, industrious, competent and resourceful.

    Is it possible that we send to the world’s shipping companies our best mariners while retaining the incompetent ones to man our local vessels? It must be noted that the sinking of the Thomas Aquinas occurred during relatively calm weather. Also, there are separate shipping lanes for incoming and outgoing vessels. Clearly, this means that one of the two ships was not in its proper lane.

    This accident also begs for answers to other questions. Most modern ships have the instruments and technology to know and detect the presence of other ships kilometers away.

    Did the Thomas Aquinas and/or the Sulpicio Express Siete lack the navigation equipment to steer the ships to safety. Or were their senior officers simply incompetent? If so, the obvious remedy is to terminate their services or retrain them to hone their skills, the way land based workers expand their knowledge. Or could the problem be the maps that the navigators use? It is believed that the maps used, said to be made in France, are obsolete and do not reflect the actual state of the sea floor.

    These shipping lines have no business transporting people, even merchandise, if they suffer from one or all of these problems. Of course, they will say otherwise, but there is no denying the tragedy. Someone is at fault in the latest accident that resulted in the loss of so many lives. For that reason the appropriate government agency should impose the necessary sanctions.


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