WHO IS AT FAULT?
MV ST. BRAQUIEL-SMC BARGE 8 COLLISION
The Cebu Station of the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) has still to determine who was at fault in Saturday night’s sea mishap along Mactan Channel that injured 49 persons, amid claims that one of the two vessels involved in the incident traversed the channel without its lights on.
John Manuel Alip, deputy commander of PCG Cebu Station, told reporters in a press conference yesterday that up until Sunday, they were still establishing if any of the two vessels — MV St. Braquiel of SuperCat Fast Ferry Corp. of 2Go Shipping and SMC Barge No. 8 of San Miguel Corp. — went beyond the 5 knots speed limit for Mactan Channel when they collided past 10 p.m. on Saturday.
MV St. Braquiel, which came from Ormoc City, was heading towards the port in Cebu City when it hit a barge owned by SMC that was being towed by a tugboat, Philmarine Service Corp. (PSC) Matatag.
The 49 injured passengers were rescued by vessels owned by SuperCat and were brought to Pier 4 in Cebu City past midnight, where they were treated of their injuries by waiting emergency personnel from the Cebu City government and from the volunteer group Emergency Response Rescue Foundation (ERUF). (See survivors accounts on page 4.)
The 45 passengers who sustained minor injuries were sent home after getting treatment while four persons, including MV St. Braquiel’s skipper, Reniero Maurin, needed to be hospitalized.
The 292.5-ton passenger vessel had 90 passengers on board, or just over a third of its carrying capacity of 247 passengers.
Alip said that based on their initial investigation, SMC Barge No. 8. was traveling at 2.8 knots when the incident happened. The information came from PSC Matatag’s skipper, Edgardo Binolinao, he said.
Alip said PCG personnel who checked SMC Barge No. 8 that was docked at Ouano Wharf in Mandaue City yesterday saw that the left and back portions of the barge were damaged. There were cases of beer and empty bottles seen inside the barge, added Alip.
According to Alip, the 1302.64-gross ton barge, which is 80 meters in length, left Estancia, Iloilo at 5 p.m. on Saturday and was scheduled to arrive around 10 p.m. of the same day in Cebu.
Alip said they could not determine yet the speed of MV St. Braquiel as its skipper, Reniero Maurin, was at the hospital yesterday.
The skippers of the two vessels were expected to submit their respective marine protest by 10 p.m. on Sunday to determine who was responsible for the mishap, Commander Dionlett Ampil of PCG Cebu said in a separate interview.
“If they failed to submit their marine protests within 24 hours, then there is a violation for not reporting the incident within 24 hours,” Ampil told Cebu Daily News by phone.
However, the general manager of SuperCat, Lito Salvio, in a text message sent to Cebu City Mayor Tomas Osmeña, has claimed that the SMC barge was unlighted when the incident happened.
Osmeña posted on his Facebook page yesterday the screenshot of the text message sent to him by Salvio, which started with thanking the city’s rescue unit for assisting the injured passengers.
“Many of those injured are also in public hospitals in Cebu City. Proud of our emergency responders for helping out in the ferry accident near Mactan Bridge last night,” said the mayor in a post that accompanied the screenshot of Salvio’s message.
According to Salvio, MV St. Braquiel has entered Mactan Channel and was about 500 meters from the Marcelo Fernan Bridge heading for the Cebu City port when the vessel’s crew sighted the stern light of a tugboat. However, the barge it was towing was unlighted.
The text message read: “Good afternoon mayor, cc Mr. Tagud, this is Lito Salvio, GM of Supercat, thanks to Cebu City’s EMERGENCY RESCUE UNITS and PARAMEDICS which was quick to respond last night to assist the injured passengers of SuperCat who had met an untoward incident at around 10:10 last night. MV ST. BRAQUIEL INITIAL INCIDENT. St. Braquiel from Ormoc at around 10:10 p.m. while entering the Mactan Channel about 500 meters from Marcelo Fernan bridge sighted a stern light of a tug boat. Suddenly, an UNLIGHTED SMC BARGE (45 meters long barge being towed by tug boat) was sighted at a distance of 200 meters from the Marcelo.”
Alip, reached by phone last night, said that he could not comment on Salvio’s claims until such time investigation will be completed.
Girlie Garces, communication officer for SMC, when sought for comment, sent this text message to Cebu Daily News: “We will just wait for the findings of the marina (Maritime Industry Authority). We don’t really have a statement. We just hope that those affected are well and safe. Thank you for your seeking our side.”
Investigation to commence
The Marina in Central Visayas (Marina 7), upon review of the marine protests, is expected to issue an inspection enforcement apprehension reports (IEAR) prior to the imposition of any sanction, explained Ampil.
“Yan ang tanong: kung sino ang may kasalanan talaga (That is the question: who really is at fault here),” Ampil told CDN.
Ampil said they have already forwarded the copy of their initial report to the PCG headquarters in Manila and it would now be up to the latter to decide if it would send an investigation team to Cebu.
But Ampil said he also created today a marine casual investigation (MCI) team, composed of at least eight people — technical experts, master mariner and chief engineer as well as representatives from the involved camps and from the PCG and Marina.
“We have instructed the (PCG) Mandaue substation to create a sketch to identify the positioning of the vessels,” Ampil added.
As to the matter of speed limit, Ampil said the five knots speed limit for Mactan Channel was first imposed on Aug. 1, 1998 under Memorandum Circular for the Harbor Speed for Port of Cebu.
The memorandum circular requires the “strict observance of prescribed harbor speed of five knots while inside the Port of Cebu, Reference Point; Light Station Bantolinao at the north entrance and between Shell and Cauit Island at the South Entrance up to the docking area.”
A distance of less than 50 yards away from moored vessels and floating facilities along the harbor shall also be maintained.
Ampil said the five knots speed limit was imposed to avoid accidents especially that Mactan Channel is a busy hub.
A fine of P10,000 will be imposed for first offense, while second offense carries a penalty of suspension of franchise and certificate of public convenience (CPC) and suspension of captain’s license for 30 days.
For the third offense, the suspension of franchise, CPC and captain’s license will be for 60 days.
If a fourth offense happens, the hearing officer can recommend the cancellation of the ship’s franchise.
Importance of VTMS
Ampil said that hopefully, by the end of this year, the presence of three radar towers now being built in Cebu will reduce sea mishaps in and around its waters.
Construction of the Vessel Traffic Monitoring System (VTMS) began last year and the facility is expected to operate before the end of 2017, he said.
The VTMS was built as an offshoot of the 2013 ship collision that happened at Lauis Ledge in Talisay City, when MV St. Thomas Aquinas of 2Go Shipping Lines collided with Sulpicio Express Siete of Philippine Span Asia Carrier Corp (PSACC).
The collision left 116 people dead while 16 others remained missing to this day.
“Of course VTMS will be helpful to monitor inbound and outbound vessels along Mactan Channel,” Ampil said.
The locations of these three radar towers are on Bantolinao Point (north), the coast between the old and new Mactan-Mandaue bridges and at the coast of Talisay City.
PCG Commandant Rear Admiral William Melad earlier told CDN that the VTMS construction is funded by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).
The VTMS for Mactan Channel is the third in the country after those built on Corregidor Island and Verde Island.
Ampil said there are also markers (buoys) placed along Mactan Channels, which serve as guides for vessels especially at night.
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