MANILA, Philippines -- Sulpicio Lines, Inc. is ?not off the hook yet? even after its insurer pays for the sunken MV Princess of the Stars, Palace deputy spokesman Anthony Golez said Tuesday.
"They are not yet off the hook, definitely,? Golez said, adding Sulpicio could be held criminally liable for carrying a toxic cargo in its passenger vessel.
Under Philippine laws, once Sulpicio accepts payment from its insurer, the Oriental Assurance Corp., it can simply abandon the capsized vessel and drop its plan to tow it to shore, Golez said.
After the payment, Princess of the Stars would be considered an ?abandoned vessel? and the ?insurance company can already decide as to what they want to do with the vessel and the only time the government can actually touch the vessel is after three months from the time they abandon the vessel," Golez said.
"Legally, they are allowed to do that,? he said. ?But the most important thing here is that we should not treat it as a sunken vessel. We should treat it as a sunken vessel with an endosulfan cargo that can potentially harm our environment and the livelihood of the fisherfolks there."
Because of this, he said the government would not easily let the shipping line abandon its responsibility to safely retrieve the 10,000 kilos of the chemical endosulfan that sank with the ferry in stormy seas off Romblon province on June 21.
Golez said Transportation Undersecretary Maria Elena Bautista was constantly in contact with Sulpicio Lines officials "to make sure that even if they are not legally liable anymore after the abandonment, they are morally liable for what is inside the sunken vessel."
The upturned wreckage is believed to contain hundreds of bodies along with a consignment of endosulfan, a neurotoxin that causes dizziness, nausea, and death in large doses.
Officials have decided to re-float the ship to retrieve both the bodies and the chemicals.
Recent tests showed that the waters off Romblon have not yet been contaminated with endosulfan, but residents and environmentalists are concerned that the containers containing the toxic pesticide could corrode allowing the chemical to leach and contaminate the area.
Authorities have banned fishing activities in the area. With a report from Veronica Uy