EDITORIAL - No lesson learned

() - July 13, 2007 - 12:00am

As inevitable as the monsoons and typhoons that hit the country every year are the deadly maritime disasters. Yesterday, as typhoon “Bebeng” came close to the Philippines, bringing rains, another ferry ran aground before sinking. The Blue Water Princess, a RORO or roll-on, roll-off ferry, left the port of Lucena Wednesday afternoon on its way to Masbate. Investigators are still trying to find out why the ferry sank at 3 a.m. yesterday off the coast of San Francisco in Quezon.

As of early evening yesterday, nine people had been confirmed dead. And as usual, no one is sure how many people are missing in the disaster. The ship manifest reportedly listed only 60 passengers, 33 crewmembers, 32 truck drivers and helpers for 14 vehicles. Rescuers reported finding 118 survivors and nine bodies, but the ferry captain said the vessel carried more than 250 people. As of last night, no one could release the names of the missing.

It’s been over two decades since the ferry Doña Paz collided with the oil tanker Vector in the waters off Mindoro. The disaster, which killed over 3,000 people in what has been described as the worst peacetime maritime disaster in the world, did not lead to a drastic overhaul in Philippine maritime transportation. Several major shipping companies slowly modernized their fleets, but most of the other shipping firms that often provide the only means of inter-island transportation throughout the archipelago simply went on with business as usual.

Over the years maritime safety regulations, especially requirements to keep accurate passenger manifests, continued to be ignored. So-called floating coffins continue to ply Philippine waters. Crewmembers lack qualifications for their jobs. The resulting maritime disasters have not only killed thousands of people but also led to one of the worst environmental disasters: the oil spill off Guimaras island, which to this day has not been completely contained.

Reforms have been slow because few people are punished for negligence in connection with deadly disasters: not shipping company owners, not transportation officials, and not even the personnel in the country’s many ports who are directly responsible for seeing to it that maritime safety rules are followed. No lessons are learned; shipping firms rarely even feel the pain of paying compensation for lives lost when their ships sink. The country is in the middle of the typhoon season. We have not yet seen the last of deadly maritime accidents for the year.

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