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Philippine Coast Guard sets up ferry collision investigation

The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) is to set up an inquiry, and possibly look into criminal charges for the operators of ferry St. Thomas Aquinas and cargo vessel Sulpicio Express Siete which collided on 16 August in Cebu leaving at least 52 dead.

The newly established board of Maritime Inquiry is comprised of five officials from the PCG, as well as members of the Maritime Industry Authority (Marina) and the Philippine Port Authority, a ship captain and a marine engineer. The board’s findings so far include the absence of a traffic management system on board both vessels, which “would be a welcome addition,” according to PCG spokesman Armand Balilo.

The sunken ferry is owned by 2GO, a Chinese owned company that combined two of the Philippines largest ferry operators, Superferry and Negros Navigation three years ago. The Sulpicio Express Siete is owned by Philippine Span Asia Carrier Corp, which changed its name from Sulpicio Lines following the 2008 capsizing of its flagship ferry the Princess of the Stars which left close to 800 dead. The company was also involved in a previous collision in 1987 involving ferry Doña Paz in which 4,386 people died.

In the wake of the latest fatal collision, Marina imposed a ban on sailings from both operators following the incident, but has since allowed some of the fleet of both operators to sail. An oil spill cleanup operation has also begun.

So far 750 passengers have been rescued, with 68 passengers still missing. Many of the bodies were found near the cabin of the wreck of the ferry.

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