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MV Carmela Ferry Tragedy: Heads roll at Coast Guard, BFP

Two officials of the Coast Guard and Bureau of Fire Protection were recommended to be administratively charged for their failure to control the fire that gutted the MV Maria Carmela while traveling from Masbate to Quezon province last April 11.

But the Special Board of Marine Inquiry did not find any criminal liability in their actions and those of police officials at the scene, neither that of the Carmela’s skipper and other officials.

The seven-man board is expected to submit its 1,000-page report to Transportation Secretary Pantaleon Alvarez today.

Alvarez said in a statement yesterday his agency will "employ the full force of the law" against those who would be found to be responsible for the tragedy that killed 44 people.

On April 14, after burning continuously for three days, the ship’s smoldering shell sank off Pagbilao island in Quezon, but the Coast Guard later set the 680-ton vessel afloat before towing it to shore.

Sources told The STAR yesterday the Special Board of Marine Inquiry which had been investigating the accident had recommended that administrative charges be filed against Coast Guard Capt. Elpidio Gunio, Senior Inspector Jose Embang of the Bureau of Fire Protection, and officials of the Philippine National Police Scene of the Crime Office, who had been sent to the accident site.

"They all failed to control the fire after the accident," said a source within the board. "They would also have to share responsibility because they failed to communicate properly and do their job well during the incident."

Sources said the board also recommended revocation of the license of the Carmela’s skipper, Godofredo Erandio, and "other officers" whose names were not given.

Fines were also recommended meted on Montenegro Shipping Lines after the marine inquiry board found out that crewmen failed to show passengers a 10-minute film on safety and the ship had no complete manifest of passengers, crewmen and cargo.

"Under DOTC Circular 2000-5, ships are required to make a complete list of all those on board whether they are crew on ancillary," the source said.

Crewmen of ships comprising the Montenegro fleet were also ordered to undergo re-training after many of them flunked a surprise test given immediately after the accident, sources added.

Batangas Coast Guard commander Lino Paipon said many crewmen of Montenegro’s 18 ships have already undergone a crash training program.

The hearing on Carmela’s case ended last April 30 and the board’s seven members had been discussing their recommendations since then and until 2 a.m. yesterday. –Jose Aravilla, Sheila Crisostomo

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