MANILA, Philippines—The Court of Appeals has cleared an executive of Sulpicio Lines of criminal liability over the sinking of MV Princess of the Stars in 2008.
In a 33-page decision dated March 22, 2013, the appeals court’s 15th division ordered the Manila City Regional Trial Court Branch 5 to dismiss the case against Edgar Go, Vice President for Administration of Sulpicio Lines.
Go has been charged with reckless imprudence resulting in multiple homicide, physical injuries and damage to properties in connection with the sea disaster that claimed the lives of some 800 passengers and crew.
M/V Princess of the Stars sunk off the waters of Sibuyan Islands, Romblon province on June 22, 2008 at the height of typhoon “Frank” that claimed the lives of some 800 passengers and crew of the ill-fated ship.
It was potentially the worst sea disaster to hit the country since the ferry MV Doña Paz collided with an oil tanker in 1987 and left more than 4,000 people dead.
The Princess of the Stars, owned by Sulpicio Lines, sailed from Manila at 8 a.m. on June 20, 2008, bound for Cebu City but sank off Sibuyan Island, Romblon, on June 22 after being battered by strong winds and big waves spawned by typhoon ‘‘Frank’’.
In its ruling, the appeals court said the Department of Justice erred when it blamed Go for the sinking of the ship.
It recalled that a Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) boarding officer had inspected the ill-fated ship prior to its departure. After checking that the documents were in place, the officer informed the ship’s captain, Florencio Marimon, that there would be a storm in the area where they would pass. When Marimon presented an alternate route, the Coast Guard approved it and cleared the ship for departure.
“It is clear that petitioner (Go) did not have the authority to clear the departure of the vessel and he did not participate in the decision concerning said departure. There is therefore no legal or factual basis for his indictment,” the appeals court said.
The appeals court added that the DoJ also erred when Go was held liable for failure to instruct the vessel to seek shelter or drop anchor in the face of the storm.
“There is no shred of evidence from which such power to control or authority to decide and direct can be drawn or inferred. What the evidence shows is that petitioner’s duty was to supervise personnel who perform liaison work with government agencies for compliance with statutory permits, certificates and franchises,” the appeals court said.
But the appeals court clarified that despite the dismissal of case against Go, it does not absolve Sulpicio Lines from any form of liability.
“It cannot be overemphasized that the settled rule in maritime law is that the shipowner is civilly and directly liable for indemnities on account of death or injury which may arise from the conduct of the captain in the care of goods as well as for the safety of the passengers transported,” the appeals court said.