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Sulpicio probed on two angles

Sulpicio probed on two angles

Manila: The first hearing into why the Princess of the Stars capsized off Romblon shed light Wednesday on two possible liabilities of ship owner Sulpicio Lines Inc. (SLI): overloading of cargo, or failure to heed the revised Coast Guard guidelines on clearing boats for sailing during rough weather.
Since Saturday, when the boat capsized with 800 people and a huge cargo-including oil-onboard, SLI officials had pointed to the guidelines and insisted that when the ship sailed from Manila's North Harbor Friday night, the weather bureau had only raised Storm Signal No. 1, which they said the vessel could weather.
The revised guidelines, however, mandated ship owners to look at storm alerts not just in the area of origin, but also the route and the destination. Even though Manila was only under Signal 1 as of Friday afternoon, Romblon was already under Signal 2, and Masbate, Signal 3-all part of the ship's route to final destination Cebu.
The Board of Marine Inquiry (BMI), the body created to investigate the capsizing, will start to look, as well, into the overloading angle as the main cause of the country's worst sea tragedy this year.
Investigating officials at the first hearing Wednesday asked Sulpicio Lines to submit its cargo-stowage plan and cargo manifest, two of the most important documents the company still has to show to the public days after the tragedy.
The next hearing is set Friday. In Wednesday's hearing the board had already found some lapses on the part of Sulpicio that may have contributed to the tragedy, where just a few dozens of the 800 people on board have so far survived.
According to BMI chairman Rear Adm. Ramon Liwag, the weather forecast from Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration  came at 4: 45 p.m. on June 20; this said that Typhoon Signal No. 1 was already hoisted in Metro Manila, Signal No. 2 in Romblon and Signal No. 3 in Masbate, or the route going to Cebu.
These forecasts, Liwag said, were material in the decision-making of both the ship captain and the company on whether or not to sail.
Sulpicio Lines' MV Princess of the Stars is the country's biggest roll-on/roll-off vessel, and as such the liner is claiming that it can weather bigger waves brought about by the storm.
MV Princess of the Stars capsized off Sibuyan Island in Romblon province on Saturday. It had a total of 862 people onboard: 724 manifested passengers, 111 crew members and 27 contractors.
The vessel was built in Japan in 1984 with 23,824 gross registered tonnage with a passenger capacity of 1,992 and cargo capacity of  200  20-foot metal containers.
The board also grilled Sulpicio officials on the communications equipment used by the vessel because port authorities received no distress signal when the ship was already sinking.
Edgar Go, the company's first vice president and the first Sulpicio official to appear before the witness stand, replied that because of the bad weather, the distress signal got lost.
Investigating officials, however, disagreed and argued that distress signals may be received anywhere in the world once pressed.  
International laws mandate equipping oceangoing vessels with a system called a vessel-tracking monitoring system, which could be handy in times of bad weather or pirate attacks.
Local authorities are not yet requiring domestic vessels to have such a system.
The board also pointed out that Sulpicio was wrong to surmise that the Philippine Coast Guard is still using an outdated policy when it let the vessel leave port of Manila on June 20.
Arthur Lim, lawyer for Sulpicio Lines, presented Memorandum Circular 03-98-A dated October 15, 1998, which states that: "The Coast Guard District Commanders are the ones mandated to plot the prevailing weather condition and weather forecast for the next 72 hours and disseminate to all subordinate units and local shipping agencies the latest weather update.
"This is not to say that ship owners do not have the same responsibility of also monitoring and keeping track of weather reports. But I would just like to highlight that, your honor, to avoid any misimpression that the entire burden of keeping track of a weather disturbance rests only on the shoulders of ship owners," he said.
Commodore Ramon Reblora, member of the board, told Lim that a revised circular was released on June 27, 2007.
The guidelines state: "Movements of any craft/vessel is left to the decision and responsibility of its master/ship owner if PSWS [Public Storm Warning Signal] No. 1 is hoisted within the vessel's point of origin, the route and destination.
"No vessel of 2,000 gross tons or below shall sail except to take shelter if PSWS No. 2 is hoisted within its point of origin, the route and point of destination.
"No vessel shall sail except to take shelter if PSWS No. 3/ PSWS number  No. 4 is hoisted within its point of origin, the route and point of destination," the guidelines further states.  [26/6/08]

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