The boat was called MB Kim Nirvana-B, but it was hardly heaven that passengers experienced last July 2 when the double-deck vessel capsized shortly after leaving the port of Ormoc on its way to Camotes Island off Cebu. At this writing the number of the dead is 61, out of 206 reported passengers. The 33-ton vessel’s carrying capacity was said to be 194 people, including 16 crew members, but as usual it was overloaded, not only with passengers but also with cargo such as sacks of cement, rice and fertilizer.
“As usual.” By now the emerging list of transgressions by MB Kim Nirvana-B sounds all too familiar that going through it is like ticking off a laundry list. Reports say the boat was not originally a double-decker, as indicated by pictures showing that its second level was covered only with a tent. That already constituted extra weight on the vessel. Worse, according to survivors’ accounts, the heavy cargo of cement, etc. was merely dumped near the back of the boat and wasn’t fastened to the floor, allowing the sacks to shift as the boat encountered rough waters. That could account for why the boat overturned when the captain reportedly made an abrupt turn as a big wave hit it.
Was the boat seaworthy, in the first place? Who approved the alteration to its original design? Nelson Ramirez, an engineer with the United Filipino Seafarers, said officials of the Maritime Industry Authority (Marina) should be held to account for the approval and accreditation of the boat’s papers. “By merely looking at the picture of MB Kim Nirvana, you don’t have to be a maritime expert to say that this motorized banca is seaworthy or not. You can immediately see that the stability of this double-decker vessel is questionable. How it passed the safety standards is the most controversial question of the day.”
Marina isn’t alone in the apparent negligence. All boats and ships are required to undergo inspection by the Philippine Coast Guard before leaving port. The PCG is authorized to stop a vessel from departing if it sees indications of overloading of passengers and/or cargo, or if the boat is in violation of safety procedures and requirements such as inadequate provision of life vests. Too, the PCG presumably has first dibs on Pagasa-issued weather bulletins to give it ample room to stop vessels from braving stormy waters.
In MB Kim Nirvana-B’s case, the Coast Guard was quick to disclaim liability by saying that no gale warning had been issued before the boat was allowed to sail. That could very well be—but what about the reported overcrowding and overloading? Shouldn’t that have been obvious at first glance? The boat wasn’t a ship by any means; it would have taken PCG personnel mere minutes to determine whether the vessel was beyond its carrying capacity. And did anyone check how the cargo was stowed? In other words: Was there a thorough inspection before the boat was given the green light to sail?
Now the PCG is apparently casting around for blame. “We are determined to pursue the angle of human error,” said its spokesman, Commander Arman Balilo. The boat captain may well be guilty of negligence and “human error,” but fixating on him, or the boat’s owner, at this point is missing the bigger picture. Owner Joge Bong Zarco and captain Warren Oliviero, along with 17 other people, have been charged with murder for the incident. Why murder? “They were not careful, showing there was an intent to kill. They were reckless on purpose,” local police official Asher Dolina was quoted as telling Agence France-Presse.
But if this were murder—and it can be established that government agencies from Marina to the Coast Guard were at least as complicit for their acts of negligence and oversight in regulating the operations of MB Kim Nirvana-B—what does that make them but clear accessories to the heinous crime? If this is the way these government agencies will try to shift blame away from themselves, then perhaps the charges should be pursued to their logical and comprehensive conclusion—which means they, too, should not be spared from the net.
The chronic criminal neglect and slovenliness that have characterized the ways of government in the maritime industry have claimed a fresh batch of lives, to join the tens of thousands that perished on our seas through the years, with many of them still crying out for justice and recompense. We are a nation of islands. When does it become safe to sail our seas?
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.