Cebu News

SBMI checks Lawis Ledge

AJ de la Torre - The Freeman

CEBU, Philippines - Lawis Ledge, located near the south entrance to the Cebu harbor, is clear of obstacles and the ship captains of the MV St. Thomas Aquinas and Sulpicio Express Siete would have had a clear view of each other the night of their tragic collision.

This was the conclusion of the members of the Special Board of Marine Inquiry (SBMI) during an ocular inspection of the area yesterday, despite strong winds and rough waters.

The passenger ship MV St. Thomas Aquinas of 2GO and cargo vessel Sulpicio Express Siete collided the evening of August 16, leaving 80 casualties and 51 still missing, according to the latest count by the Philippine Coast Guard.

SBMI chairman Commodore Gilbert Rueras of the PCG explained the SBMI wanted to see the site for themselves to get a bigger picture of what happened.

“Tiningnan namin yung area, kung visible ba yung dalawa sa Lawis Ledge,” said Rueras, adding that the ocular inspection will help the board gather more information and eliminate “extraneous information” that have been given during the first few days of the SBMI proceedings.

Aside from the ocular inspection, the SBMI also conducted yesterday the fourth day of the inquiry into the sea mishap.

Vel Dumaguit, captain of Oceanjet Express, a fastcraft which was also in the area prior to the collision, admitted that he passed in between Sulpicio Express and Trans Asia Nine since Sulpicio was already occupying the lane he was supposed to use.

“Kung mu-agi ko sa inbound lane, ako maigo sa Sulpicio,” said Dumaguit, adding that he communicated with the cargo vessel before passing between the two ships but did not get an answer.

Dumaguit’s testimony supports the claim of MV St. Thomas Aquinas captain Reynan Bermejo that the cargo vessel was using the inbound lane, which was supposed to be the one he will use. The testimony also corroborates an earlier statement from the captain of another ship, Galipher Ian Faller of Trans Asia Nine, which was also in the area that night.

Trans Asia Nine’s Faller was earlier summoned by the SBMI for failing to help the passengers of the 2GO ship despite being in the area. Faller said his ship would have run aground if they went back.

Sulpicio Express Siete captain Rolito Gilo, in a sworn statement, already denied he was in the wrong lane and stressed that he was in the outbound lane.

Three fishermen who were in the area prior to the collision also appeared before the SBMI yesterday. The three were among those who initially responded to help passengers.

Rueras, after the ocular inspection, explained that there really is a shallow portion at Lawis Ledge, which is why there is a lighthouse so mariners would know which area to stay away from.

The SBMI will submit a report to the Board of Marine Inquiry along with their recommendations which will be passed on to the Department of Transportation and Communication.

Part of their recommendation, Rueras said, would be on strengthening safety precautions for the area like the Vessel Traffic Monitoring System (VTMS).

The same with airports, Rueras explained that the VTMS would be able monitor and control the movement of ships, especially if they are on the wrong track.

The SBMI will be convening again today to interview more witnesses.

As of yesterday, there were 80 casualties recorded by the PCG while survivors have gone down to 733 from the initial 750 that was announced.

PCG District Commander, Commodore William Melad explained that they found out that there were multiple entries in the names of survivors. Melad said there are still 51 missing and six are unaccounted for, these are names that are in the ship’s manifest but have not been reported by family members as missing. —/QSB (FREEMAN)












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