2013 Aug 26

Cargo ship in Cebu maritime tragedy in the wrong lane - TransAsia captain

The cargo ship that collided with a passenger ship in Cebu on August 16 was in the wrong lane, the captain of a third ship told the Special Board of Marine Inquiry (SBMI), which is conducting an investigation on the accident.

"Captain Galipher Ian Faller, vessel master of Trans Asia Nine, supported the report of 2GO skipper Captain Reynan Bermejo that M/V Sulpicio Express Siete was on the inbound lane contradicting the statement of Captain Rolito Gilo of Sulpicio," 2Go Group, the operator of the sunken ship, said in a statement.

MV St. Thomas Aquinas sank within minutes of colliding with MV Sulpicio Express Siete at around 9 p.m. on August 16.

As of Saturday, the death toll rose to 81, while 39 remain missing.

TransAsia Nine Captain Galipher Ian Faller confirmed that the outgoing Sulpicio used the inbound lane, prompting his decision to overtake on its starboard (right side of the ship), they said.

TransAsia, which was in the area when the accident happened, was called to the hearing by SBMI for failure to respond to the distress call.

2Go said Faller also contradicted Sulpicio's claim that MV St. Thomas Aquinas 1 was on red signal. "Gilo said since M/V St. Thomas Aquinas was showing a red light, he thought the passenger vessel would turn to its right side," 2GO said.

According to Bermejo, at 8:23 p.m. the MV St. Thomas Aquinas detected on its radar an outbound vessel from the port of Cebu entering their inbound lane.

Bermejo said the MV St. Thomas Aquinas radioed the vessel, but received no response from Sulpicio, GMA Cebu's Bexmae Jumao-as reported on Balita Pilipinas on August 23.

M/V Thomas Aquinas was traveling at around 15 knots and was a mile away from the Sulpicio Express, 2Go said.

With .7 knots between the ships, Aquinas veered to the left, while Sulpicio veered to the right. By the time Aquinas veered toward the opposite direction, it was too late.

Bermejo explained that it takes around eight minutes for them to stop the propeller of the ship completely because the ship runs on a fixed-propeller system.

Under navigational rules, both vessels must steer to the right if they are on a collision course, according to Commodore William Melad, head of the coast guard district in the central Visayas region in a Reuters report.

"Our options were to turn right or left, but we couldn't turn right because we would hit shallow waters so we veered left," a 2GO Group official told Reuters.

According to 2Go, Bermejo said it was only four minutes before the collision when they saw the red light from Sulpicio Express which led him to immediately turn to hard port or left side.

"He then attempted to turn right to avoid collision and Sulpicio Express Siete also shifted its gear but also to its right, which consequently led to the collision," they said.

Before the collision, Faller said that M/V Sulpicio Express Siete asked them to shift to Channel 12, 2GO said.

Communication of ships should be in the official marine operations frequency of Channel 16 as indicated in the rules, according to Director Arnie Santiago of the Maritime Industry Authority.

Faller explained that since there was interference in channel 16, he communicated with Sulpicio Express Siete and replied to a request to change radio channel to channel 12.

Both Gilo and Bermejo said they were unable to communicate before the collision.

Based on a statement from Commander Weniel Azcuna of the Philippine Coast Guard Cebu, a request for a port to port call was made at around 8:45 p.m. on Friday, but the coast guard was unable to identify whether the call was from Aquinas or from Sulpicio, the Balita Pilipinas report said.

Meanwhile, authorities said the oil spill from the sunken ship was already contained. 

"Controlled naman ang spill. Wala nang umabot doon sa eastern portion na kung saan nandoon ang ating mga resorts," Gen. Roy Deveraturda, AFP Central Command said in a Balitanghali report on Saturday.

The ship was carrying 120,000 liters of bunker fuel, 20,000 liters of lube oil and 20,000 liters of diesel.

Cebu province declared a state of calamity on August 19 as the oil slick reached Cordova municipality and Lapu-Lapu City, both on Mactan island, home to five-star beach front resorts.

The investigation, which began on August 23, is expected to be completed within two weeks, as ordered by President Benigno Aquino III.

Source:; Carmela G. Lapeña

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