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Questions for MARINA on Quezon ferry tragedy

GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc (The Philippine Star) - January 24, 2018 - 12:00am

The ferry Mercraft-3 sank off the coast of Real, Quezon, four mornings before last Christmas. Five passengers perished, and 11 others severely were injured. The report of the Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA) is as dramatic as it is anesthesized:

Mercraft-3 was supposed to cross to Polillo Island at 6:15 a.m., but due to bad weather sailed off four hours later. Not long afterwards, with visibility still poor, it hit a metal buoy on the starboard (right) side. Immediately seawater rushed into the broken hull. The two submersible pumps that the crew used to flush out the water proved futile. Swiftly water reached the engine room. Between S-O-S calls, the bell was rung to abandon ship. The first rescuing fishing boat arrived two hours later, taking in dozens of passengers. Some men jumped off and swam for shore against the three-meter-high waves. The Coast Guard completed the rescue.

Something sorely was lacking in the report. MARINA, which certifies vessels and seafarers for seaworthiness, made no mention of the condition of Mercraft-3 or its crew. In fact, it refused to give info on the vessel’s registration and the crewmen’s training.

MARINA chief Marcial Amaro has since been sacked by President Duterte. It wasn’t for the tragedy, but for traveling abroad 24 times in the 18 months he was in office. Nothing’s moving at present at the headless agency. Yesterday Duterte announced the appointment soon of retiring Armed Forces chief Gen. Rey Leonardo Guerrero as new MARINA boss. To quickly learn the ropes, Guerrero might want to probe into these:

• Is it true that the Owner, Master, and Chief Engineer are all surnamed Merano with the same middle initial?

• Why only six officers and crew? What were their licenses? Were they certified for emergency passenger handling?

• With 268 seats in the 26-meter-long craft, were not the passengers too tightly packed? Who approved that passenger capacity and layout? Since that passenger capacity necessitates that the craft be double-decked, was a height-inclination test done; by whom? Was the required emergency evacuation drill conducted before the full-packed vessel sailed off? How many minutes did the evacuation drill take?

• Was the fast craft classed, as required under rules of the International Association of Classification Societies? (More than 90% of ships worldwide are covered by IACS, which consists of 12 marine member classification societies.) What class was Mercraft-3 and the class conditions?

• Which MARINA personnel approved Mercraft-3 for construction and operation? Why have no names been revealed up to now?

These questions are basic in any sea tragedy. Asked constantly, the effect would be to prevent tragedies. That would be the best legacy for any MARINA chief.

*      *      *

Malacañang already had thought through its firing of an airport service firm for baggage theft. So when Miascor pleaded for pity on its 4,000 employees who’d lose jobs, the Palace’s retort was swift and firm. “There is nothing to appeal to the President,” spokesman Harry Roque said, “because there is no contract.”

Miascor loads and unloads baggage, mans check-in counters, and runs VIP lounges, among other services. Its three-yearly deal with the Manila International Airport Authority had expired in Mar. 2017, and was merely being renewed month-to-month. The MIAA precisely had withheld contract extension because of frequent looting of passengers’ suitcases.

The latest was the pilferage of a returning overseas Filipino worker’s bag right inside Miascor’s office at Clark International Airport, Pampanga. Victim Jovenil dela Cruz’s social media rant went viral and reached President Duterte, who ordered prompt crime solution. Six Miascor personnel were charged criminally and administratively. In 2016, MIAA reported, 18 of 26 luggage thefts involved Miascor men. Victimized was no less than the wife of the Turkish foreign minister, who had traveled to Manila for an international confab. Expensive jewelry was lost at the airport. A supervisor was also found dealing in narcotics.

So much for Miascor’s claim in its press release of excellent service in the past 40 years or so, Manila and Clark airport officials briefed Malacañang. If it has been in operation that long, then it should have devised ways to prevent inside-job theft. A surprise raid at Miascor’s office at the Manila airport yielded expensive suitcase padlocks and signature slip-ons hidden inside cargo handlers’ work boots.

Airport old-timers recalled that Miascor had gobbled up four competitors, and eased a fifth out of the airport business in the 1980s. That was when it exerted influence with the then-martial law transport minister to limit the airport services to a duopoly. Thousands of employees of the five outfits lost their jobs then.

This time, the MIAA assures that Miascor’s 4,000 upright employees will be absorbed by four other service providers in a free market.

The MIAA retained Miascor these past months only to give its ten client airlines time to switch to the four other ground handlers. With Duterte’s order, Miascor has been given 60 days to vacate and return to the MIAA and Clark its occupied facilities.

*      *      *

Catch Sapol radio show, Saturdays, 8-10 a.m., DWIZ (882-AM).

Gotcha archives on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Jarius-Bondoc/1376602159218459, or The STAR website http://www.philstar.com/author/Jarius%20Bondoc/GOTCHA

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