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Philippines ferry collision, safety and global crewing

Philippines ferry collision, safety and global crewing
Maritime safety in the Philippines is again in the spotlight with 31 dead and 170 missing in a collision between a ferry and cargoship in the port of Cebu on 16 August evening.

The collision between the ro-ro St Thomas Aquinas and the cargo vessel Sulpicio Express Siete was described as a “heavy impact” by survivors, and although captain tried to get passengers in into lifejackets and lifeboats the 40-year old ro-ro sank in minutes it was reported.

Pictures of the damage to the bow of the Sulpicio Express Siete would seem to confirm that it was indeed a heavy impact.

Remarkably roughly 600 out of 800 passengers on the St Thomas Acquinas survived.

However, this does nothing to disguise the grim maritime safety record the Philippines has, worsened by the archipelagic nation’s reliance on ferry transport.

The latest tragedy is just the latest in a long string involving Cebu-based shipping company Sulpicio Lines. The owner of the Sulpicio Express Siete is Philippine Span Asia Carrier Corp (PSSAC), a 40-year company formerly known as Sulpicio Lines, which has the dubious distinction of being the owner the ferry Dona Paz, involved in the worst ever maritime peace time disaster in 1987 when over 4,000 lost their lives after its ferry Dona Paz collided with a tanker.

However, it was hardly Sulpicio Lines only ever fatal casualty, in 2008, its flagship ferry Princess of the Stars capsized in a typhoon and only 57 out of 850 onboard survived.

In most countries a record of this nature would have either driven the company out of business, or the authorities would have made sure that was done for them. Not in the Philippines though. According to a report in the Philippines Inquirer, quoting  Jordan Go, president and chief executive officer of PSACC, Sulpicio decided to change its name and refocus on the domestic cargo sector.

The cause of Friday night’s incident is obviously unknown at this stage, although human is being eyed in initial investigations by the Maritime Industrial Authority (Marina). However, can do little to add to PSACC’s maritime safety heritage, or that of the Philippines as a whole.

More worryingly for the global shipping industry, the Philippines supplies around 30% of global seafarers. The controversy over the European Maritime Safety Agency's (EMSA) audit of Philippines STCW has dragged on from 2006 until now.

While there are many quality crewing agencies and training institutions in the Philippines, repeat incidents such as the latest collision must ask some questions of the authorities willingness or ability to act in issues of maritime safety, which should be concerning to all in global shipping given the country's role in manpower supply.



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