2008 MV Princess of the Stars sinking ‘not his fault’, says court DOJ to challenge decision
A Cebuano shipping executive of Sulpicio Lines Inc. was cleared of criminal liability by the Court of Appeals in relation to the 2008 sinking of MV Princess of the Stars.
The case against Edgar Go, vice president for administration of Sulpicio Lines Inc., was ordered dismissed by the CA’s 15th division in a a decision dated March 22.
The CA ordered the Manila City Regional Trial Court Branch 5 to dismiss the charges against Go for reckless imprudence resulting in multiple homicide, physical injuries and damage to properties.
About 800 passengers and crew died in the sea disaster when the ship sank off the waters of Sibuyan Islands, Romblon province on June 22, 2008 at the height of typhoon “Frank”.
The appeals court said the Department of Justice erred when it blamed Go for the sinking since the vessel was cleared to sail by the Coast Guard and the alternate route presented by the ship captain Florencio Marimon was also approved.
The shipping line, whose corporate name was changed to Philippine Span Asia Carrier Corp. after the tragedy, still faces over 130 civil cases for damages in courts in Cebu and Manila.
Persida Acosta, chief of the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) which is assisting families of sinking victims, told Cebu Daily News they will file a motion for reconsideration with the Court of Appeals.
“Nonetheless the CA explained that the ruling doesn’t mean the shipping line is absolved in civil cases,” she said.
In its ruling, the Court of Appeals clarified that despite the dismissal of the criminal 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 court said.
The sinking of the Princess of the Stars was the second worst sea disaster in the Philippines after the ferry MV Doña Paz collided with an oil tanker in 1987 and left more than 4,000 people dead.
The Sulpicio vessel 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.
The court recalled that a Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) boarding officer had inspected the ship before departure. After checking the ship’s documents, the officer told 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 court said the DOJ also erred when Go was held liable for failure to instruct the vessel captain to seek shelter or drop anchor in the face of the storm./Ador Vincent Mayol and Inquirer
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