Thursday, July 12, 2007

Sea tragedies: Negligence or Ignorance?


Accidents at sea are a common occurrence in Philippine waters, especially at the start of the monsoon season when storms frequently visit the country on a yearly basis without letup.

However, this trend has not caused so much among owners of sea-going vessels to take a look as to the real causes of these sea tragedies that oftentimes claim innocent lives.

Officials of the Coast Guard and the Maritime Industry Authority (Marina) admitted that some of the causes are traced to human errors or that the vessels being used to transport cargo and passengers are already unfit for transport use. With reconditioned engines and poor maintenance, the vessels could not cope with the batterings of big waves on stormy nights at sea. This is not to mention the lack of training for sea personnel manning these commercial sea-going vessels, which all the more aggravate the situation.

Perhaps, this was what happened to the ill-fated m/v Dona Paz which sank, after it collided with a foreign oil tanker off the coast of Mindoro Island that resulted in the killing of hundreds of passengers many years ago. This sea tragedy was followed a series of accidents, whose passengers were already included in the country's statistics. But the problem continues to haunt the memories of those who survived the sad ordeals at sea. Remained unfixed for many decades now, only finger-pointing happens every time a sea mishap occurs in the country's more than 7,000 islands.

On July 11, 2007, another accident occurred when m/v Blue Water Princess sank off the coast of Bondoc Peninsula in Quezon Province, killing at least 10 people and seriously injuring hundreds more. Coast officials said the accident was traced to human error. While others pointed to the stormy weather. Reports said the ship came from Lucena City port en route to Masbate Province when big waves struck the side of the commercial ship, allowing its cargo trucks to tip on the other side. The ship, however, was steered to shallow waters until it again ran aground on a rock.

Looking at what happened, it seemed that ship owners have learned their sad lessons well. And m/v Blue Water Princess management said it would take responsibility for whatever damages it had caused to the passengers and its cargo. On the one hand, the Coast Guard and Marina officials should not be spared from this wrath because they have been remiss in their duties to at least inspect the ship prior to its departure, especially at this time when storms are natural phenomenon in the country.

Nobody could return the lives of those who perished at sea because of negligence and ignorance of the part of the ship's personnel who always invoke the blames on natural calamities, if only to escape responsibility.

It's only the start of the monsoon season and if the trend continues to persist, there's no doubt that more accidents are expected to happen. Perhaps, it's about time that Congress should enact a law that will bar ship owners from importing decrepit or unsafe sea vessels from the neighboring countries. In this way, illegal dumping of used and unreliable sea-going vessels could be avoided.

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