SBMI probe on Cebu sea mishap begins
MANILA – The Special Board of Marine Inquiry (SBMI) is set to begin today the investigation into the collision of M/V St.Thomas Aquinas and M/V Sulpicio Express Siete last August 16.
According to Commodore William Melad, Philippine Coast Guard Central Visayas chief, the probe panel will be headed by Commodore Gilbert Rueras of the PCG's Maritime Safety Services Command.
Aquinas ferry owner 2GO Group Inc. and Sulpicio ship owner Philippine Span Asia Carrier Corp. assured that both their ship captains will attend all legal proceedings of the SBMI.
Both companies have already submitted their certification of undertaking. This means both ship captains are under the custody of their respective companies but are obliged to cooperate with the inquiry.
The Philippine Coast Guard said that SBMI will also summon Trans Asia Shipping Lines Inc., whose vessel allegedly overtook M/V Sulpicio Express Siete before the sea collision occurred.
Trans Asia allegedly overtook Sulpicio and even saw the M/V St. Thomas Aquinas while on its way out minutes before the collision happened.
But Trans Asia did not go back to help rescue passengers.
"Captains who receive distress calls from a vessel and is within range to respond to the incident is obliged to conduct search and rescue operations," said Cebu Station Commander Weniel Azcuna.
Trans Asia explained that its ship was unable to go back because it was already too far at about 5 miles away from the collision site.
At that point, it didn't have the space to make a U-turn in the narrow channel for ships.
The confirmed death toll from the disaster rose to 75 on Thursday as divers pulled out more bodies, including those of children, from the sunken wreck.
Azcuna said despite finding only corpses in recent days, Navy and Coast Guard ships and helicopters continued to scour the waters for the 45 still missing from the St. Thomas Aquinas ferry.
"We are still hoping to find more survivors but we are realistic and we expect we will find more dead bodies," he told AFP.
The ferry sank quickly after it collided with a cargo ship off the central city of Cebu on Friday night. A total of 750 passengers and crew out of the 870 on board were rescued.
Azcuna said divers were still searching the debris-choked vessel, and declined to set a date for when the operation would end.
The new toll was up by four from Wednesday.
The Coast Guard, military and police are meanwhile helping clean up a large oil spill from the ferry, which has reached the coasts of nearby towns and affected mangrove forests, rich fishing grounds and sanctuaries as well as popular beach resorts, Azcuna said.
Specialized divers from Japan, hired by ferry operator 2GO Travel, had been conducting surveys to plug the leak and contain the spill, he added.
Azcuna said 2GO had also contracted with a salvage company which was spraying chemical dispersant on the spilled oil. He could not say how much oil had already leaked out.
The doomed ferry was carrying 120,000 liters (32,000 gallons) of bunker fuel when it sank, according to the coastguard. - with Agence France-Presse