MANILA, JUNE 30, 2008
(STAR) BIZLINKS By Rey Gamboa - As the body count mounts, the finger-pointing intensifies. This has been a common scene after disasters have claimed lives and properties in our country.

This national habit was evident again as some 800 lives were snuffed out when the 23,000-ton M/V Princess of the Stars capsized amid the onslaught of typhoon Frank.

The blame game is made easier as the owner of the inter-island vessel happens to be an old bloke in the ship-sinking trade. Sulpicio Lines Inc., controlled by the family of Edward Go, is also the owner of the infamous M/V Dona Paz, a key player in the world’s worst maritime disaster after its collision in December 1987 with M/V Vector killed more than 4,000.

Princess of the Stars is the latest in a string of Sulpicio’s accidents since Dona Paz. In 1988, the company’s M/V Dona Marilyn sank as Typhoon Ruby lashed. Newspaper accounts placed the casualties from Marilyn, which was alleged to have been overloaded, at more than 250.

Then came M/V Princess of the Orient in 1998 which capsized in Batangas, killing about 150 people. In 2005, Sulpicio’s M/V Princess of the World caught fire; fortunately, no casualties reported.

So after more than 5,000 deaths in two decades, this maritime company is still operating. How many more deaths are needed before someone stops them?

Blaming ‘God and PAG-ASA’ and others

It was reported that Sulpicio Lines officials were attributing the Princess of the Stars incident as an “act of God,” and lately some of them were blaming the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAG-ASA). One wonders what Sulpicio Lines has done or has not done to be singled out for those marine disasters that claimed thousands of lives.

On the other hand, Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA) administrator Vicente Suazo Jr., is blaming the shipping industry for using second-hand vessels with an average age of 25 years. Of course, begging the question is why MARINA had given clearance for these vessels to continue operating.

MARINAcame on hard on tanker owners/operators after the Petron/Guimaras disaster by requiring the use of double-hulled vessel. Why is it playing softie with shipping companies ferrying passengers? Those that have caused the wasting of lives of thousands of people, many of them children, definitely deserve more attention and drastic action.

Incidentally, is MARINA aware that Sulpicio Lines does not have Protection and Indemnity coverage? If this is true (knowledgeable people in the shipping circle say it is), who then will pay for the retrieval of the wreckage, the damage on the environment due to oil spill, etc.?

The aftermath

What happens after the tragic sinking of the Princess of the Stars is almost a replay of the previous events – the transportation department convenes the Board of Marine Inquiry and lawmakers call for investigation in aid of legislation.

While the parallel probes drag, new problems crop up in this very small but exciting nation of more than 7,000 islands, and the maritime disaster – and subsequent results of investigations and proposed legislation to prevent future mishaps – are forgotten.

Like in the past, the inquiries, be it the marine board’s or the lawmakers’, would surely discuss the seaworthiness of the vessel: Did it have enough safety gadgets like life vests and boats? Why it was allowed to sail on such inclement weather? How culpable is Sulpicio, the company was for the disaster?

Sulpicio Lines insists the Princess was seaworthy, that it has all the documents to prove it, and that it had gone through the usual inspection. And how rigid were those inspections conducted by MARINA?

So whose obligation was it to ensure that the ship is in tip-top shape before it heads to sea, given speculation that the engine of the Princess failed that’s why it got stuck in the midst of roaring waves?

Whose duty was it as well to check whether the ship’s cargo had been properly stowed and that it is carrying only authorized items? There are reports that the vessel was carrying Endosulfan, a toxic material that should not have been there.

Ineffective agencies

We have at least three agencies monitoring the maritime sector; MARINA, the Coast Guard and the Philippine Ports Authority. As the functions of the three could overlap or worse, are sketchy enough to allow for blame tossing, there had been previous proposals to have a single agency in charge of the maritime industry.

The bills along with numerous proposals to strengthen maritime safety, criminalize overloading, set up a maritime court, improve functions of the Coast Guard never made it pass the committee level and are languishing in Congress’ archives. Is the lobby of the shipping industry that strong or that “resourceful”?

We just hope that it need not take a sea mishap with some of the lawmakers and their relatives as victims before Congress acts to promote maritime safety.

All clear

It is interesting to note that in the previous three mishaps, Sulpicio was cleared.

After the Princess of the Stars incident, the only thing clear is that for a country of islands, we have a fatally defective maritime industry and government agencies that are inutile in enforcing maritime safety and regulation.

How many more will have to die before these maladies are corrected?

Collegiate Champions League update

The collegiate basketball season is on, and two leagues have started competitions: the Naga City Inter-Collegiate (last June 18) and the NCAA (June 28). The others will follow – UAAP (July 5), CESAFI of Cebu (August 2) and NAASCU (August 8).

As the drama of college basketball unfolds, discussions will abound about the ranking of teams in Metro Manila, in Cebu and in other basketball-crazy locations.

How are the teams faring compared to others as the search for the best collegiate team progresses?

To give basketball fanatics a regular review of performances and rankings, Vitto Lazatin, marketing manager of Solar Entertainment (the TV network that will cover the Philippine Collegiate Championship games) and his team of “analysts and keen observers” from media will issue out weekly “Power Rankings.” Below is the first report for Metro-Manila teams covering the week June 23-29:

The top ten is led by is UE Red Warriors, followed by Ateneo Blue Eagles, San Beda Red Lions, De La Salle Green Archers, FEU Tamaraws, JRU Heavy Bombers, Mapua Cardinals, Letran Knights, UST Growling Tigers and Adamson Falcons.

For more details about the biggest collegiate basketball event for the year, visit

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved