On the night of Aug. 16, 2013, MV St. Thomas Aquinas of 2Go Shipping Lines collided with Sulpicio Express Siete of Philippine Span Asia Carrier Corp (PSACC) at Lauis Ledge in Talisay City.
MV St. Thomas Aquinas sank, claiming the lives of 116 persons, with 21 others still missing to this day.
To prevent future sea mishap of that magnitude, the construction of a Vessel Traffic Management System (VTMS) was recommended. The Japan International Cooperation Agency (Jica) readily funded the project with a Y1.152 billion aid in 2014. Construction started in 2015.
This September, four years since the sea mishap, Jica will finally turn over the VTMS to the Phillipine Coast Guard (PCG), said Krystal Kay Anas, the officer-in-charge of the PCG’s Maritime Affairs Office and the district aid navigation officer of Central Visayas.
Anas said the VTMS can monitor all inbound and outbound vessels, both foreign and domestic, passing through the Mactan Channel and the waters around Cebu Island.
The VTMS’ equipment will be housed in a three-storey structure built at the compound of PCG Central Visayas District in Pier 3, Cebu City.
Nine personnel from PCG and nine personnel from the Cebu Ports Authority (CPA) will be assigned at the VTMS Control Center, which will operate round the clock, all days of the week. Duty personnel will be housed at the second floor of the VTMS building.
The VTMS control tower is located at the rooftop of the building. A view of Mactan Channel and the rest of Pier 3 can be seen from the rooftop.
Cebu is not the first in the country to have a VTMS. Other areas that have VTMS are Batangas City, Cagayan de Oro City, and Corregidor Island.
Anas said the VTMS will allow the PCG to monitor vessels will not follow their assigned routes; determine the vessel’s port of origin; enhance the vessel traffic service of waterways; and ensure safe navigation of vessels.
Three radar stations have been set up for the VTMS: at Bantolinao Point in Lapu-Lapu City (north), in Barangay Pusok, Lapu-Lapu City (between the Marcelo Fernan Bridge and the Mandaue-Mactan Bridge) and in Talisay City (south.)
PCG Cebu Commander Dionlett Ampil said the VTMS will help lessen sea mishaps as the PCG they “can (now) monitor the speed of vessels and inform ship captains to control (their ships’) speed.”
A memorandum circular that will impose the harbor speed limit in Cebu and Mactan Channel to only eight knots is now being finalized at the PCG central office, he said.
International rules on proper seamanship allow overtaking by faster vessels on slower ones generally in open seas and non-restricted zones within a harbor.
In Cebu, however, the “no overtaking” rule is being proposed due to the volume of traffic and the constricted width of the Mactan Channel.
“Overtaking may be allowed on a case-to-case basis subject to the approval of PCG,” read the proposed circular.
“We met with the ship owners last May and come up with penalties not just for owners but as well as for ship captains if violations would be committed,” Ampil said.
As proposed, the first offense will come with a fine of up to P50,000 each for the ship owner and captain; second offense means a fine of P100,000 each for the ship owner and captain; and third offense will result to the suspension of captain’s license and non-issuance of berthing permit or port clearance for the involved ship.
“Once the control tower starts its operations and the memorandum circular will be approved then ship owners and captains should follow (the rules),” Ampil said.