False testimony at marine inquiry, Board to revoke licenses of liars
AJ de la Torre (The Freeman) - August 28, 2013 - 12:00am

CEBU, Philippines - Officers and crew of sea vessels who are found lying during the Special Board of Marine Inquiry (SBMI) proceedings may face the revocation of their licenses.


SBMI chairman, Commodore Gilbert Rueras of the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) issued this warning yesterday during the continuation of the inquiry into the tragic collision between passenger ship MV St. Thomas Aquinas of 2GO Shipping and cargo vessel Sulpicio Express Siete the evening of August 16 off Lawis Ledge near the south entrance to the Cebu harbor.

Members of the board emphasized that although the proceedings are only inquisitorial and not adversarial, resource persons or the witnesses are still under oath and will be held liable if they give false testimonies. Rueras said the board may recommend the revocation of the licenses of anyone found giving false testimonies during the proceedings.

The SBMI yesterday had to remind Sulpicio Express Siete’s 2nd Mate Ramon Ledesma that he was under oath after he failed to give a clear answer when asked about the cargo vessel’s passage plan.

Ledesma said that he was in his cabin prior the collision since he was already off duty and was only called by the captain after the two ships collided.

“Hindi ka siguro nagsasabi ng totoo o ayaw mo magsabi ng totoo,” Rueras told Ledesma during the hearing.

A passenger of Trans Asia Nine, Vic Conde, 25, from Cebu, also testified before the SBMI yesterday. Trans Asia Nine was within the area when the collision happened.

Conde said he saw a flare 10 to 15 minutes after the collision and also heard Sulpicio Express sound its horn. He added that they were around 200 to 300 meters away from collision site, contrary to the claim of Trans Asia Nine captain Galipher Ian Faller that the ship was not able to turn around to help save passengers since they were already far.

Trans Asia Nine was included in the investigation after it allegedly failed to respond to the distress call of the sunken ship. Faller confirmed overtaking Sulpicio Express Siete but said that they could not turn back for fear of running aground.

Matters concerning the safety of sea vessels in Cebu were also discussed during the inquiry.

Capt. Carlos Moralde, the harbor pilot on duty when the collision happened, said that no one from his group was on board the cargo vessel since it did not request for “pilotage.” He said only MV Saint Thomas Aquinas called them up to request for pilotage but they were not able to extend the services anymore because the two ships already collided.

Harbor pilots are tasked to respond to calls from vessels passing a particular route under their jurisdiction. Moralde said that after they get a call from a ship, they go on board and take over manning the ship from the captain until the ship is able to pass through an area of concern.

Moralde said that under the regulations of the Cebu Port Authority, pilotage is compulsory for all ships. He, however, explained that domestic ships usually do not ask for their assistance since they already know the way. He added that while all foreign vessels that arrive and depart from Cebu ask for pilotage, only 50 percent of local vessels request for their services.

Under CPA regulations, Moralde said that vessels who do not request for pilotage may be held administratively liable and may be fined P50,000. He, however, added that with only 10 personnel under him, it is difficult to monitor violators and at the same time respond to pilotage requests. Thus, if there are no formal requests for pilotage, they do not render the services.

The members of the SBMI said that pilotage rules should have been followed, especially since this is under the CPA rules. Rueras said the strict implementation of such rule will be included in the SBMI’s recommendations. He further said that the board will push for the Vehicle Traffic Monitoring System (VTMS) to help prevent sea collisions, as well as placing buoys to mark sea boundaries.

Rueras said that compared to the first two days of the SBMI proceedings, they now have a clearer view of what transpired prior and during the collision of the two ships. He added that the board will still entertain more witnesses, especially those who can give clear testimonies on the incident. -/QSB (FREEMAN)

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