Another maritime tragedy

Seven people died and 127 were rescued in the latest maritime tragedy that is not uncommon in the country. A passenger ferry caught fire off the waters of Real, Quezon, last Monday. A fire spread through MV Mercraft 2 at around 6:30 a.m. Five women and two men were killed while 24 were injured. Initial reports say the fire may have started in the engine room. A passenger from another ferry heard a loud explosion before seeing black smoke billowing from the stricken ferry. Passengers jumped into the water and were clinging to floating objects. This only proves they were not wearing life vests when they jumped ship. The seven who perished drowned. We never seem to learn.

The country is no stranger to maritime disasters and accidents. We still have the worst maritime disaster in peacetime history. On Dec. 20, 1987, the MV Doña Paz on its way to Manila from Tacloban collided with the oil tanker MT Vector, igniting the tanker’s oil cargo. Both ships burned and sank. It certainly begs the question, why would ships collide in the middle of a vast ocean? MV Doña Paz’s passenger capacity was only 1,518, but thousands died. Only 24 survivors from Doña Paz and only two crewmen from the Vector survived. All in all, 4,386 died in the tragedy. The second worst happened in China, in 1948. The different years are not lost on me.

To add to the irony, only a year after the Doña Paz tragedy, its sister ship MV Doña Marilyn sank after it was sailing from the opposite route of Manila to Tacloban and got caught in a typhoon. A total of 389 people died. This brought the spotlight on the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), with allegations of corruption and incompetence being the order of the day. Why would the PCG allow thousands and thousands more crammed into a vessel as in the Doña Paz incident? And why would it allow a ship to sail during a typhoon?

The PCG has since tried to clean up its act, being a lot stricter in allowing ships to sail. But this latest accident, where passengers jumped into the sea without life vests should catch the attention of the PCG. Why weren’t life vests issued to every passenger? Is this a case of negligence on the part of the ship’s crew, or ignorance of the importance of the vests by the passengers? An investigation must be conducted. Our country relies on its maritime industry both for ferrying passengers and for commerce. With 7,107 islands, the importance of having a well-oiled maritime industry cannot be stressed enough.

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