NEGLIGENCE EYED ON FERRY FIRE

MANILA, March 3, 2004 (MALAYA) The Maritime Industry Authority (Marina) is looking at possible negligence on the part of the owners of SuperFerry 14 which caught fire on its way to Bacolod last Friday, Marina sources said yesterday.

The sources quoted survivors as saying crew members of the vessel were seen fighting a fire on the main deck before an explosion was heard. The survivor's statements contradicted the report of WG&A that the fire originated from the engine room.

The sources said that based on the testimony of passengers from the business class, the fire possibly originated from a room used as storage for paint. The storage room is adjacent to the vessel's fan room.

Marina theorized a fan motor overheated and affected the paint locker. Intense heat then caused paint cans to pop and spill paint which ignited.

The sources said crew members used water to contain the fire, causing the burning paint to spread some more. The sources said the crew should have used chemical foam extinguishers but these were nowhere to be found in areas near the fire site.

The sources also said WG&A could be held liable for violation of the international rules on firefighting, such as absence of a heat detector in the fan motor room and a sprinkler system in the paint locker.

The sources ruled out sabotage or terror act, noting injuries sustained by passengers were caused by burning plastic and other materials and not by sharp objects.

Transportation Secretary Leandro Mendoza said probers have inspected 70 percent of the wreck which has been docked in Bataan and have not found any evidence of explosives or terrorism.

"From my experience as a policeman, when there is a big incident covered by international and local media, somebody would really claim responsibility for it ... They want to be famous, ma-dyaryo sila. Sabi nga ng AFP, it's already a dying organization. Hindi na ganoong kalalim ang asim ng Abu Sayyaf. And of course pag mayroong principal iyan at malaman na may kasama sila rito, terrorism successful operation, bibigyan ng additional funds," he said.

PNP chief Hermogenes Ebdane Jr. said no Abu Sayyaf group has the capacity to undertake a bomb attack on the ferry.

He said the fire probably started somewhere near the kitchen or boiler room.

He said the Abu Sayyaf members are scattered in Basilan, Sulu, and Tawi-tawi and that the PNP's monitoring has not showed any sign that they are operating in Metro Manila.

"As of now there is no group of the Abu Sayyaf that is potent enough to conduct terrorist activities," he said.

President Arroyo said the evidence does not show the handiwork of terrorists.

Rear Adm. Arthur Gosingan, Coast Guard chief, said retrieval operations are being hampered by poor visibility and the presence of jagged metal in the ship's interior passageways.

He added embers and hot gases are still in the ship's lower deck.

Arroyo heard mass held in Malacaņang Tuesday morning with families of the victims.

Most of the missing passengers were students and teachers who attended the National Schools Press Conference last week in Laguna.

Britain has cautioned its citizens anew against traveling to the Philippines amid the Abu Sayyaf claim it was behind the ferry explosion,

"Terrorist groups have threatened to attack passenger ferries and other vessels, particularly those operating from Mindanao," the updated advisory dated March 2 said.

British citizens were urged to include "safety measures" in their travel plans, citing the high incidence of piracy and armed robbery on ships in and around Philippine waters.

It also warned its citizens on the possibility of kidnapping at sea.

British travelers were also advised to defer non-essential travel to central, southern and western Mindanao, Palawan, Basilan, Tawi-Tawi, and the Sulu archipelago, due to high risk of kidnapping and terrorist threat. (Christopher Paringit, Regina Bengco, Marilou Jumilla and Priam Nepomuceno)


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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