Towing of Ship More Cost-Effective House Probers Told

Article excerpt

This was revealed yesterday by Speaker Prospero C. Nograles even as a senior official of the Department of Transportation and Communications revealed that instead of being refloated, the ill-fated vessel will be towed nearer to shore to recover the remains of victims and the deadly chemicals trapped inside it.

At the House hearing yesterday, DOTC Undersecretary Ma. Elena Bautista told lawmakers that Sulpicio Lines, Inc. is planning to tow the vessel because this is "more cost-effective and most practical."

Bautista, who chairs the government task force coordinating recovery operations in Sibuyan island, said towing the vessel nearer to shore would take a month while refloating could take about three months and cost SLI at least $ 6 million.

Bacolod City Rep. Monico Puentevella, chairman of the House Committee on Transportation, said another hearing will be conducted on the issue, adding that the House will try to finish the inquiry immediately.

In a press statement, Nograles said blame for the tragedy has been thrown at "everything and everybody" except the real culprits.

Nograles said the House probe will try to uncover loopholes in the country's statutes, policies, rules and regulations governing the maritime industry.

"We cannot allow this kind of tragedy to happen again. Let the ax fall where it must," Nograles said.

He said the token monetary compensation offered to each victim could never compensate for the lives lost and the suffering this brought to their families.

"It is a painful reality that modern commerce appears to put heavier premium on profit than the value of people's lives. This has to change," Nograles said.

While the probe is being conducted "in aid of legislation," the committees on transportation and on oversight will also look into "glaring violations of our laws" and endorse charges before the court against guilty parties, Nograles said.

"The guilty should be penalized to the fullest extent of the law to give meaning to the more than 800 lives lost," he said.

The tragedy revealed the sad state of the country's maritime industry as well as defective policies, laws and regulations, especially on the sea-worthiness of sea vessels and the transport of toxic chemicals.

During the initial hearing, officials of the Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration were questioned by lawmakers who pointed out they may have failed to fully issue public warnings about typhoon "Frank."

Meanwhile, Deputy Minority Leader Roilo Golez asked the DoTC and the Department of Justice to remind Sulpicio Lines Inc. not to pass to its insurer its legal, moral and corporate obligations to victims of the tragedy.

Golez said SLI should not be allowed to abandon its responsibility to the hands of the insurance company.

He aired fears that the insurance company will just leave the vessel in waters off Sibuyan island after completing its monetary obligations.

"It is frightening to note the possibility that the carcass of the Princess of the Stars would remain an abandoned hulk for years, defacing Romblon's scenery and posing a threat to the environment," Golez said in a text message.

"It is possible that the insurance company would cut their losses and just abandon the hulk to the elements, posing great hazard to people and the environment," he said.

Golez dared government to file appropriate charges against officials and owners of Sulpicio Lines if they failed to meet their obligations.

"The government through the DOTC and the DoJ, should issue a clear warning to Sulpicio to fulfill their obligations to the end," Golez said.

Two BMI members resign after being asked to inhibit selves

By YUL MALICSE

Two of the seven members of the Board of Marine Inquiry (BMI) resigned their posts yesterday following a motion by the legal counsel of Sulpicio Lines, Inc. …