CAPTAIN OF BURNED M/V MARIA CARMELA FERRY CRIES ARSON
Manila, April 23, 2002 (STAR) By Jose Aravilla - The captain of the ill-fated M/V Maria Carmela claimed yesterday that the fire that killed 44 passengers of the ferry last April 11 was an act of arson.
Testifying before a special Board of Marine Inquiry at the Coast Guard headquarters in Manila, Capt. Godofredo Erandio of Lucena City said the fire could not have been accidental since they had long been transporting copra without any untoward incident.
When the Carmela caught fire off Lucena City in Quezon province, it was reportedly carrying trucks loaded with 1,600 sacks of the coconut byproduct. The highly flammable material is being eyed as the cause of the rapid spread of the blaze, which forced many passengers to jump overboard and eventually drown.
The Coast Guard hearing conducted yesterday was the first involving the officers and crew of the ferry. The board is investigating the cause of the fire to determine if there was negligence on the part of the management of Montenegro Shipping Lines, which owned the Carmela.
Survivors earlier said that coconut meat, a raw material for vegetable oil, fueled the fire. Apart from this angle, investigators also suspect that the fire was started by a carelessly thrown cigarette butt, a cooking fire or a spark triggered by a vehicle which had its engine running.
During the hearing, Erandio said he believed the fire was deliberately set since the cargo was nowhere close to any fire or electrical sparks. He said, however, that there had been no reports of suspicious persons who could have started the fire on the car deck.
Erandio also admitted to the board that he failed to save the ship’s logbook.
Later in his testimony, the captain said he and his crew did everything possible to save the passengers while trying to extinguish the flames.
Transportation and Communications Secretary Pantaleon Alvarez
has directed the board to speed up the investigation into the accident and submit its recommendations within two weeks so those liable could be criminally charged in court.
The Carmela caught fire around 7:30 a.m. on April 11 near Pagbilao Chica island, about an hour away from Lucena, its destination. More than 200 people were rescued.
The ferry’s shell sank on April 14 after firefighters tried to put out stubborn oil fires aboard the boat.
Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi
2002 by PHILIPPINE HEADLINE NEWS
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