Friday, July 11, 2008

MV Princess of the Stars Tragedy : How Sulpicio Lines Could Have Avoided It (Part 3)

In Part 1 of my MV Princess of the Stars Tragedy blog, I discussed why I think PAGASA is not the primary culprit for the sinking of the ferry. In Part 2, I expounded on what is the Coast Guard's role in ship movement during severe weather. In this third entry, I would like to venture into what Sulpicio Lines, the owner of the ship, could have done to ensure the safety of the ferry, its passengers and cargo.

It is very simple. Sulpicio Lines could have ordered the Master of the Ship, Capt. Florencio Marimon, to either not sail at all or head to shelter when the weather turned for the worse. As an employee of Sulpicio Lines, the captain's authority as master of the ship could be overridden by the owners. Sulpicio Lines Senior Vice President Edgar Go affirmed during the hearing in the House of Representatives that they had the capability and authority to call the ship and order the captain to seek safer waters while it was underway. That capability is absent in the Philippine Coast Guard and the prevailing rules, regulations, guidelines and even the law likewise do not provide authority for them to stop the ship under those conditions (as I earlier discussed in Part 2 of this series).

Under the law, Sulpicio Lines has the obligation to ensure the safety of their passengers and cargo. The Civil Code, Republic Act No. 386, in its Book IV, Section 4, Article 1733 says:

“Common carriers, from the nature of their business and for reasons of public policy, are bound to observe extraordinary diligence in the vigilance over the goods and for the safety of the passengers transported by them, according to all the circumstances of each case.”

In my readings, I came across some definitions of diligence. I'm not a lawyer, so I basically rely on my research and readings. With regard to diligence, it is defined legally as:

“Vigilant activity; attentiveness; or care, of which there are infinite shades, from the slightest momentary thought to the most vigilant anxiety. Attentive and persistent in doing a thing; steadily applied; active; sedulous; laborious; unremitting; untiring. The attention and care required of a person in a given situation; the opposite of negligence.”

With regard to the varying degrees of diligence :

“There may be a high degree of diligence, a common degree of diligence, and a slight degree of diligence, with their corresponding degrees of negligence. Common or ordinary diligence is that degree of diligence which persons generally exercise in respect to their own concerns; high or great diligence is, of course, extraordinary diligence, or that which very prudent persons take of their own concerns; and low or slight diligence is that which persons of less than common prudence, or indeed of any prudence at all, take of their own concerns.”

It means that under the law, Sulpicio Lines should have ensured the safety of the passengers of their ship as if it were the lives of the owners or management themselves which were at risk.

The Civil Code is more specific in Article 1755:

“A common carrier is bound to carry the passengers safely as far as human care and foresight can provide, using the utmost diligence of very cautious persons, with a due regard for all the circumstances.”

And to add more emphasis to the obligations of the shipping line, the Civil Code says in Article 1756:

“In case of death of or injuries to passengers, common carriers are presumed to have been at fault or to have acted negligently, unless they prove that they observed extraordinary diligence as prescribed in Articles 1733 and 1755.”

The Revised Guidelines on the Movements of Vessels During Heavy Weather, or Coast Guard Memorandum Circular 04-07, provides for the following responsibilities of the Ship Owner/Operators:

1.Ensure that all vessels are properly informed of the weather update, to include the areas where typhoon signals are hoisted.
2.Discourage any vessel's movement except for sheltering purposes especially when typhoon signals are hoisted or expected to be hoisted within the area of origin, the route and the destination.
3.Keep track of all weather reports for dissemination purposes as well as monitor all vessel's movements until they reach the port safely.
4.Inform the Coast Guard immediately of any unusual incident involving maritime safety such as missing craft and/or loss of contact with any of their vessels.

It cannot be denied that there was sufficient information available to the public, as well as Sulpicio Lines, that a storm was in the Philippine Area of Responsibility. Early weather bulletins already gave a forecast of where the typhoon will pass, which was from the east of the Philippines in a northwesterly course. Even if the typhoon did not change course, the path of the ship would still be affected by adverse weather. In fact, at the time the ship left the port of Manila, signal number one was already hoisted in its port of origin and signal number 2 over their port of destination.

Therefore, with the knowledge that there was a storm unleashing its fury somewhere out in the Philippine Islands, the ship captain, as well as the ship owner/operator, are obligated under the law and existing rules and regulations to make sure that MV Princess of the Stars will not venture into areas that would place the ship, the passengers and the cargo in danger.

They should have taken the initiative to get information from PAGASA and other available sources of weather data just to prevent the ship from being exposed to severe weather. They should have communicated constantly with the Master of the Ship and properly advised him of what the weather situation was, and even order him to take shelter in the nearest available location.

The issuances of the weather bulletins were sufficient for the shipowner to make a decision to order the ship to take shelter earlier. Weather Bulletin Number 9 was a crucial bulletin, issued at 11:00 PM of June 20 or about three hours after the ship left Manila. In that Bulletin, it was already observed that the typhoon had changed course compared to the tracking in Bulletin No. 8, and the Weather Signals were already elevated (signal number 3 in the route of the ship).

If it were the children of the owners on board that ship, what do you think would have been the decision?

Extraordinary diligence. It's not hard to understand.


Anonymous said...

Mr Biazon's blog is a reasoned review of the facts of the case.
After the loss of the ferry 'Estonia' was 900 lives in 1994, the Baltic countries moved to establish the most stringent & safest ferry operations in the world, in some respects surpassing international standards.
Hopefully the people of the Philippines will now have the political will to do likewise.

Ruffy Biazon said...

anonymous said:

Hopefully the people of the Philippines will now have the political will to do likewise

Yes, I am hoping for the same. Specifically, I hope the Legislature will have the political will to do it. That is part 4 of my series on the tragedy.