DOTC CONVENES MARINE INQUIRY BOARD TO PROBE FERRY COLLISION
Speedy but thorough investigation
Meanwhile, Vice President Teofisto Guingona Jr. called for "a speedy yet thorough investigation" into the collision.
He also cautioned government officials and agencies "against making any premature statements that would seem to pinpoint responsibility for the mishap ahead of the actual findings" of the BMI.
In a statement, Guingona said that concerned officials and agencies should focus their attention on completing the search and recovery operations for the unknown number of passengers on board the San Nicolas, and on helping the survivors and the families of those who died in the accident.
"It is troubling to note that based on initial accounts, the rescue operations were triggered not by any early warning capability of our maritime agencies, led by the Coast Guard, but through the fortuitous reception of a text message from one of the passengers," he said.
Guingona said the tragedy "clearly points to the urgent need for us to undertake a close review of our regulations covering maritime navigation and safety procedures."
The government should also take "steps to allocate the needed resources to upgrade and modernize our ability to detect maritime accidents and undertake immediate and effective rescue and recovery operations," he said.
Guingona also urged the government to continue to upgrade the skills of Filipino seafarers, "on whose hands rest the safety and well-being of all our sea travelers."
Opposition Sen. Tessie Aquino-Oreta, for her part, blamed the Coast Guard for the death of 25 of the passengers of the San Nicolas.
She said Malacañang should make sure that heads would roll in the Coast Guard for its repeated failure to curb overloading, along with ensuring the implementation of safety measures, that could have prevented this sea tragedy.
Sen. Rodolfo Biazon, on the other hand, urged President Arroyo to certify several bills as urgent — Senate Bill 795, the Maritime Code of the Philippines; SB 2409, the Creation of the National Transportation Safety Board; and SB 794, the Maritime Administration Act.
Biazon said he filed these bills as early as the 11th Congress, but they are still pending at the committee level.
He said this tragedy could have been avoided if the appropriate laws, particularly his three maritime bills, were passed.
Past laws, decrees and instructions "tended to muddle up the situation because it has resulted in the overlapping of functions and responsibilities among the different government agencies involved in maritime safety," Biazon said.
He said the government cannot leave these "unresponsive laws" uncorrected because the Philippines, "being archipelagic, is greatly dependent on maritime transportation for trade and commerce to flourish."
While the PCG used its new 35-meter patrol vessel, the BRP Ilocos Norte, yesterday in the efforts to search and rescue survivors of the collision, several military vessels have also been called in to help.
Defense Secretary Angelo Reyes said Navy ships, logistics supply vessels, patrol gunboats, a civilian vessel and helicopters are involved in the search.
Assisting the crew of the navy and civilian vessels are Marine divers based in Ternate, Cavite, he said.
Navy spokesman Geronimo Malabanan said the Navy has already dispatched LSV 550, BRP Cagayan de Oro and Patrol Boat 372. Another boat, DF 342, is on its way to the collision site.
Reyes said the search and rescue operations could take at least three more days to finish – there could be more passengers that are still missing since the San Nicolas was overloaded with people not listed in the ship’s manifest.
The last known collision at the mouth of Manila Bay was on Dec. 2, 1998, when the M/V Cebu City struck the M/V Kota Suria, resulting in the death of 73 people. Forty-one were declared missing then.
Reyes also said the National Disaster Coordinating Council is set to release P10,000 as financial assistance to each victim of the accident. — With reports from Jose Aravilla, Sammy Santos, Bong Fabe, Mike Frialde
Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi
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