MANILA, Philippines -- (UPDATE) MV Princess of the Stars may have been ?unstable? because two of its stabilizer tanks were empty when it sailed, a flaw that could have led to its sinking, a maritime official said Thursday.
Commodore Amado Romillo, member of the Board of Marine Inquiry investigating the sinking of Sulpicio Lines Inc.?s inter-island ferry, said that based on the shipping firm?s report, two of the four ballast compartments of the ill-fated ferry were not filled with water.
He said the empty ballast compartments made the ship ?unstable? and could have caused it to capsize when big waves battered it after sailing into the eye of Typhoon Frank (international codename: Fengshen) on June 21.
"It's very obvious the ship sailed without the proper quantity of ballast," said Romillo, a private sector representative to the BMI.
He questioned the stability of the Princess of the Stars after noting that he data submitted by Sulpicio to the board showed the ship was not holding the full ballast tanks he said were supposed to serve as its permanent ballast.
Ballast tanks are used to stabilize the ship and are filled with or emptied of water as needed.
Romillo?s comment at the ongoing investigation of the sinking did not sit well with Sulpicio lawyer Arthur Lim, who appealed to the BMI to suspend the announcement of its "tentative, individual findings."
Lim said Sulpicio did not want to foster an environment that would encourage the clamor for the government to take over the shipping company.
Benjamin Eugenio, Sulpicio?s port captain in Manila, said some ballast tanks had to be emptied to accommodate the cargo and ensure the ship's stability.
But Romillo said the ballast was needed for continued stability, regardless of the cargo on board.
"If they discharge ballast in place of cargo, you change the center of gravity,? Romillo said. ?Then you can't consider the vessel stable. Thereby, you are risking the lives of passengers."
Eugenio replied that selected tanks were full, but added that he did not have all the data about the ballast tanks with him. He assured the BMI that the data would be submitted soon.
Romillo, who showed Eugenio pictures of the upturned ship published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, parent company of INQUIRER.net, and cited a Philippine Coast Guard report to him, said the vessel was dead in the water and was drifting after it capsized.
The photos showed a portion of the ship's bow protruding from the sea off Sibuyan Island.
According to Romillo, buoyancy keeps a ship afloat, and this buoyancy could have been caused by the air in the empty ballast tanks.
"A ship will sink if there is continued ingress of water. But if there's enough air left on board, that will keep the ship afloat even though she capsized," he said.
He further said this could mean that the ballast tanks of the ill-fated vessel could have been empty when it sailed.
"What's keeping her afloat is her empty ballast tanks. The reason the stern is lower is because of the cargo," he said.
He also said the ballast should be calculated while the ship was at port, and not while at sea because such practice would be dangerous.
Romillo also said that because of the high center of gravity of the cargo, it appeared there was not enough weight down below, and when strong waves hit the ship it listed.
If the ship had more weight below, it could have uprighted itself when hit by the waves, he added.
Romillo further said there were "lapses in the management of the ship."
He pointed out that the ship had only one form of communication with the ports, which was the single side band radio. There were also certain hours when no one was manning the radio communication. Thus, he said, the vessel was unable to receive an important weather bulletin at 10 p.m. on Friday.
But Lim objected to the airing of Romillo's views.
He countered the board member's statement and said that as far as he knew, the vessel may not necessarily floating.
"Maybe the vessel is afloat because is it resting on something, not because it is floating," he said.
He also asked the board to suspend judgment on the ballast tanks and the stability of the ship considering that the vessel would be refloated.
"It's purely speculative even when backed up by scientific theory," he said. "I don't think it will be fair to make conclusions that certain things were done or not done."
He also asked the board to consider that the vessel "went right smack in the eye of typhoon" and that the incident was "very extraordinary."
Lim noted that there has been talk about government's takeover of Sulpicio, and said he did not want the board member's view to persuade people to support the move.
He said Romillo's statement about the ship was a "rhetorical observation."
"So if media will pick that up, everybody in the country will be agitating for the closure of Sulpicio. I don't believe the board should be the instrument of a sinister plan anyone might have," he said.
BMI chair Rear Admiral Ramon Liwag assured Lim that the board would conduct its investigation fairly.
In a separate interview, Engineer Nelson P. Ramirez, president of the United Filipino Seafarers, said it was also possible that the cargoes on board the 23000-ton vessel were not properly secured, causing them to be dislodged when big waves hit the ship.
The Princes of the Stars went down with over 800 passengers and crew on board. Only 57 have been found alive.