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Freak collision to be investigated

/ 08:30 AM August 18, 2013

How two large ships could collide at sea in fine weather less than hour from Cebu City harbor will be the focus of investigation of Friday’s mishap that left 32 dead and sank the MV St. Thomas Aquinas of 2GO Shipping.

A search continues for 58 missing persons after 751 passengers and crew were rescued.

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With both vessels following the same route near Lawis Ledge off Talisay, what happened to radio communication between them?

The answers will be crucial in the investigation of the Maritime Industry Authority (Marina) which yesterday suspended operations of the entire fleet of both 2GO Shipping and the Philippine Span Asia Carrier Corp. formerly known as Sulipicio Lines pending an inspection of its vessels and compliance with safety standards.

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“Like any other accidents, the ship collision last Friday could have been avoided,” said Commodore William Melad,district commander for the Philippine Coast Guard Central Viasyas in an interview.

He said rescue operations would continue: “We’re not losing hope. Sometimes, miracles happen.”

“As our protocol, we  follow the International Regulation for Prevention of Collision which governs the movement of sea vessels. When two ships are about to meet each other on the same path, they should give way. But I’m not saying that the two ships didn’t communicate with each other last Friday.”

The MV Sulpicio Express Siete, a cargo ship, with its bow badly damaged was towed to the Cebu city port yesterday.

Some of the missing are believed trapped inside the St. Thomas Aquinas, a ro-ro vessel that sank about 100 feet deep off  Lawis Ledge in Talisay City.

“There could be more bodies there, but there were ropes inside that our divers could get entangled in,” PCG deputy chief Rear Admiral Luis Tuason, vice commandant of the coast guard, said.

“It did not take long, about 10 minutes, before the ferry sank,” Tuason said.  “The captain managed to declare abandon ship and they distributed life jackets but, because of the speed by which it went down, there is a big chance that there are people trapped inside.”

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The captain of the ferry MV Thomas Aquinas, which was approaching the port about 9 p.m. Friday, gave the order to abandon ship when it began listing and then sank just minutes after collision with the MV Sulpicio Express Siete, he said.

The captain was eventually rescued.  He was taken to the Sugbutel in the North Reclamation Area where other surivors are being billeted by the 2GO management.

Melad of the Philippine Coast Guard said “both ships have radios to communicate with each other kahit malayo pa sila sa isat-isa. You can see the approaching ship even from afar. In fact, everybody within the vicinity can hear the communication.”

He said Lawis Ledge was known to have a shallow portion which ship captains avoid  or risk running the vessel aground.

“If magsasalubong sila, dapat yong isa kakanan ng kunti while the other ay kakaliwa nga kunti para may distance. Pero in this incident, if one ship goes too much to the right, it’s shallow down there. In the same manner, if the other ship does to the left of the path, it also has a shallow portion there. The room for manuevering was limited.”

“But if your’re prudent, both of them will slow down and communicate with each while both ships are still far from each other.

Baka, nagbangaan yong barko dahil masyado na silang malapit sa isat-isa when they did something to avoid each other.”

Tug boats and small sea vessels scoured the waters off Talisay. Three military helicopters aided the search, which was temporarily halted at sundown.

It sill resume today as more divers from Manila are expected to join the 28 divers from the coastguard and the navy.

Some survivors were brought to different hospitals in Cebu City while others were housed at Sugbutel, Stella Maris Hotel, and 2Go Shipping office in Pier 4.

Angelito Salvio, assistant vice president of 2Go Shipping, assured that the company would take care of survivors.

“We’re giving them food, shelter, clothes, and even provide for their hospitalization. If they want to proceed to Manila, we can provide them with transportation. We will also extend financial assistance but we don’t have the specifics yet,” he said in an interview.

Melad said some survivors described that  Sulpicio Express 7 was the one that hit the passenger ship which came from Nasipit.

“According to the passengers, it’s the cargo vessel that hit the starboard (right side) of the passenger ship,” said Melad in a press conference at the Talisay City Fish Port.

He explained that the two ships had to pass through a narrow portion of the sea in Lawis Ledge.

“Even if the sea is wide, the straight path where the ships are expected to pass on that area is very narrow. It’s like a narrow road. Beside that path is already a shallow portion of the sea,” Melad explained.

He said they will find out in the investigation if certain protocols were violated by officials of the two ships.

“We can’t determine it as of now. So far, no one has submitted a marine protest,” Melad said.

Salvio of 2Go said they welcome any investigation. He said  there was no overloading since MV St. Thomas Aquinas has a capacity of over 1,000 passengers and the crew were trained to handle emergencies.

“We acquired the vessel from Superferry only in 2011. Every two and a half years its being drydocked. It’s being maintained. Now, everything is under investigation,” Salvio said.

Rescue operations were halted past 5 p.m. yesterday. Melad said visibility at the sea is difficult during night timmissing,” he said.

The official passenger manifest of St. Thomas Aquinas showed  723 passengers and 118 crew or a total of 841 people and 104 units of 20 foot container units . The vessel has an authorized capacity of 1,010 passengers and crew and 160 units 20 footer containers.

2GO Travel, in a statement posted on its website, said their roro passenger vessel St. Thomas Aquinias “was reportedly hit by MV Sulpicio Express 7” at about 9 p.m. of Aug. 16 in the vicinity of Lawis Ledge, Talisay City, resulting in major damage that led to its sinking.

It said immediately after the collision, the vessel crews distributed life jackets to the passengers and carried out emergency abandon-ship procedures and sent a distress signal to the nearest Philippine Coast Guard Station.

Jordan Go, spokesman of Philippine Span Asia Carrier Corporation, said they have sent a fact-finding team to Cebu and continue to coordinate with counterparts in 2Go Shipping and the authorities.

“As of now we have not much details yet but we assure everyone that our lines are very open for communications,” he said.

Go said their vessel M/V Sulpicio Express 7 sustained damages at the front hull and their crew members were safe./Reporter Ador Vincent Mayol, with Joy Cherry Quito, Aileen garcia Yap

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TAGS: Cebu, Maritime Accidents, MV St. Thomas Aquinas, Waterway & Maritime Transport
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