Editorial

Tragedies

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In Greek myth, a tragedy is misfortune that cannot be avoided; it is fate becoming real. In contemporary reality, however, the word means the complete opposite: It is a crisis, a calamity, a catastrophe, that did not have to happen.

The collision of two ships in waters off Talisay City in Cebu last Friday is tragic precisely in this second sense. It resulted in a terrible loss of life (at this writing, 71 persons have been confirmed dead) and has led to an ecological calamity with economic consequences: Oil from one of the ships, the ferry M/V Thomas Aquinas, has reached some 12 coastal barangays in Mactan Island and threatens the livelihood of hundreds of fishermen. The worst part: All of this could have been avoided.

We mean this in a literal sense; according to both ship captains, who were among the 700-plus persons rescued from the site, each saw the other ship coming. Each said he had tried to contact the other ship; both said they did not receive a response.

As reported by Cebu Daily News, the captain of the cargo vessel M/V Sulpicio Express 7 reported the following sequence in the “marine protest” form he filed: “There was no response from sighted inbound vessel. I instructed to call the inbound vessel again, and still there was no response from the other inbound vessel.”

The captain of the Aquinas reported the following in his own marine protest form: “Despite several attempts on our part to call her attention that she was not following the traffic separation scheme she did not alter course to vacate the inbound lane which created the collision.”

It remains for the authorities to determine which ship was at fault, or whether they were both to blame. But the image of two ships about to collide, but unable to communicate with each other, is a haunting symbol of the Philippine maritime industry’s inadequate sense of safety consciousness.

How is it possible for such a complete communications breakdown to happen? Requiring seagoing vessels, especially a passenger ferry, to carry a backup communications system should not be prohibitively expensive. Requiring major sea vessels to hire only appropriately trained and regularly trained crew should not be seen as an unnecessary condition but a necessary investment in safety. And yet tragedies like last Friday’s collision continue to happen.

Blame the culture of “puwede na”—the frustrating habit of making do and muddling through, reinforced by a strange fatalistic notion that bad things happen to other people.

Consider the ship captains’ marine protests (both accessible on the Cebu Daily News website) again: There is no mention of slowing down—something even ordinary drivers are supposed to do when they realize they are on a collision course with another vehicle. There is no mention of alerting either ship’s crew, or of ordering a higher level of preparedness. Even more unfortunate, there is no mention of any attempt to alert passengers about possible danger ahead; until the investigation is complete, we cannot know how many lives would have been saved if all passengers had been instructed to wear life vests and ordered to move out of potential death traps.

The disturbing images we’ve seen on TV, of Navy divers looking for bodies trapped inside the Aquinas and then of the recovered bodies floating slowly—pop—to the surface: They make us wonder what else could have been done, to save the lives of those who pay good money just to put themselves at risk.

Almost three decades since the worst non-wartime sea disaster in history, the Philippine shipping industry continues to suffer from terrible, avoidable accidents. And unless something drastic is done, those accidents will continue. After the media attention will have moved to other news, some if not most shipping companies will return to normal practice. They will allow the overloading of vessels again; they will stop ensuring that the ratio of life vest to passenger is one-to-one again; they will discontinue checking on communications and other shipboard systems again; they will make do and muddle through, again.

Like the Fates of Greek myth, they will have our lives in their hands again.

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  • captainramius

    THE QUALITY OF YOUR PROFESSIONALS DEPEND ON THE KIND OF EDUCATION THEY GET OR THE KIND OF SCHOOLS THAT PRODUCES THEM

    OUR MARITIME SCHOOLS ARE THEY WORLD CLASS OR NOTHING BUT DIPLOMA MILLS

    I HAVE A RELATIVE WHO GRADUATED IN ONE OF THESE MARITIME SCHOOLS AND HE PASSED THE REQUIRED GOVT EXAMS BY JUST PAYING FOR THE RESULT HE NEVER STUDIED FOR THE EXAM

    IF OUR MARITIME SCHOOLS ARE NOTHING BUT DIPLOMA MILLS

    THEN WE HAVE AN IDIOT AS A CAPTAIN ON BOARD THOSE 2 SHIPS

    WHAT GOVT AGENCY IS SUPPOSED TO REGULATE OR IMPOSE SAFETY IN OUR SEA TRANSPORT MARINA ??

    FIRE EVERY SINGLE OFFICER IN THIS AGENCY

    THEY ARE INCOMPETENT TO HANDLE THEIR JOBS

  • symonwho

    The two captains are incompetent and stupid. It was a simple matter of veering left or right to avoid collision if communication fails. There are rules for these scenarios.

    • tarikan

      If I understood the protocol right, you have to veer to starboard (right side) while communicating with lighting (off & on) if radio fails. Baka barangay captains yung dalawa esp. yung sa Sulpicio kasi sya ang sumalpuk.

  • WalterPaulKomarnicki

    are there any brand new ferries anywhere in the country?
    how about 2d hand hovercraft from the U.K.? They have an excellent safety record:
    when was the last time you heard of a hovercraft sinking?
    Since the opening of the Channel Tunnel in 1994, they’re probably obsolete anyway.

  • carlcid

    This is an ominous beginning to the second half of PNoy’s term. Bad things are happening. Tragedies, bombings, floods, markets on the downswing. Perhaps PNoy’s luck has run out. He will be exposed for the sham that he is. And the second half of his term will be lackluster, if not a doomed one. Just as it happened with his mother. I do not feel sorry for PNoy and his ilk. But my sympathies are with the Filipino people. I hope we have better luck next time.

    • Badudels

      bakit nasama na naman si PNOY? pati ba naman sa banggan ng 2 barko si pnoy pa rin ang may kasalanan?

      Nagtatanong lang po sa laging gustong isabit ang pangalan ng ating pangulo sa lahat ng masamang nangyayari dahils sa kapabayaan ng bawat isa.

  • ddano

    The collision of the 2 sea vessels was an accident. Tragedy is letting the owners of the “killer” Sulpicio Lines to get away with murder.

    • tarikan

      Avoidable accident caused by human error, especially by the Sulpicio crew. Baka tulog na si captain kasi gabi na at kaaalis lang sa Cebu port at ipinahawak na lang kay 4th mate (na hindi pa pasado lol)?

  • tarikan

    How about using the “light” signals if radio communications failed? I understand there is this lighting signal device (off & on signal) on the captain’s deck to communicate to other ships. Also, as I understand it there is this protocol to veer your ship so much to starboard once you see an approaching vessel while using this lighting signal. Mga buraot ba yung captain/crew especially yung sa Sulpicio kasi sila ang bumangga. Also considering na pang-LIMA nang aksidente ng Sulpicio yan. Law of the averages, ika nga.

  • Keith_P

    Why is Sulpicio Lines still operating?

    Their ships have figured in the biggest seagoing disasters in the history of man. Not of the the Philippines, but of man.

    The MV Dona Paz killed more people than 9/11.

    What business are they in, human sacrifice?

    What, a name change erases that?

    -Jessica Zafra

  • Natx Bacalzo

    Hang both captains as severe warning to all irresponsible ship crews.

  • Natx Bacalzo

    And please include the CEO or president of each company.

  • Ragna_rok

    Doña Paz – 4341 lives
    MV Princess of the Stars – 690 lives
    MV Doña Marilyn – 389 lives

    Princess of the Orient – 150 lives

    Wala pa yung Thomas Aquinas Dyan

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