EDITORIAL - Another deadly maritime accident

The Philippine Star

As the country braces for heightened travel on all forms of mass transportation for the Holy Week break, tragedy struck an inter-island ferry in Mindanao. The death toll as of last night from a ferry that was engulfed by fire beginning late Wednesday in the waters off Basilan stood at 31, with at least seven more persons still missing.

Authorities have yet to determine the cause of the fire, which broke out before midnight on the MV Lady Mary Joy 3 and raged for eight hours until early yesterday before being put out. The ferry had about 250 passengers and crew, most of whom managed to jump overboard and were rescued by personnel of the Navy, the Coast Guard and local fishermen.

The ferry was on its way to Sulu’s capital Jolo from Zamboanga City when the fire broke out. When the burned vessel was towed to Basilan’s shore, a search showed 18 of the fatalities in the passenger cabin budget section. Authorities are still trying to determine if more people were on board but were not listed in the ship manifest – a common practice in the domestic shipping industry. The ship reportedly had a security contingent on board consisting of soldiers and four Coast Guard marshals who were not on the passenger manifest. Based on the manifest, however, the ferry, which had a capacity for about 400 passengers, was not overcrowded.

Authorities have not ruled out any possible cause of the fire, including an accident, sabotage or even a terrorist attack, or whether the steel-hulled ferry was seaworthy. Over the years, ferries across the archipelago have caught fire due to poorly stowed cargo and engine trouble.

Because of the recent sinking of the refurbished 50-year-old motor tanker Princess Empress, however, whose massive oil spill has polluted vast swathes of waters around four provinces so far, suspicion is also focused on the seaworthiness of the 33-year-old Lady Mary Joy 3.

The country has seen a long string of maritime accidents, with the deadliest peacetime maritime disaster recorded in December 1987, when nearly 4,400 people died in the collision of the ferry Doña Paz and oil tanker Vector off Mindoro.

This latest accident in Basilan should give more urgency to preparations for safe travels with the start of the long Holy Week break.


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