Press Release
December 17, 2008


In the wake of another sea tragedy partly attributed once again to overloading of passengers, Senator Bong Revilla warned the Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA) against the appeal of Sulpicio Lines Inc. to lift the suspension on its passenger vessels.

Information gathered by Revilla revealed that Sulpicio Lines is seeking MARINA 's approval to allow them to ferry passengers again in view of the expected increase of inter-island travelers this coming long holiday.

According to the senator, the foreseen rise of sea transport demand next week should not be a primary basis to allow Sulpicio to ferry passengers again.

"I learned that there are some requirements that Sulpicio still have not addressed. We might be surprised if next week we see Sulpicio transporting passengers again. We want smooth-sailing boats, not floating coffins," said Revilla, newly-installed chairman of the Senate Committee on Public Services.

Over the past 28 years, Sulpicio vessels have figured in 45 incidents. These include the 1987 sinking of the MV Doña Paz that left 4,300 people dead and is considered the worst peacetime maritime disaster, the sinking of the Doña Marilyn in 1988 that took 150 lives and the sinking of Princess of the Orient in 1998 with 150 fatalities.

All passenger vessels owned by Sulpicio Lines were grounded after its MV Princess of Stars vessel sank off Sibuyan Island in Romblon last June with only 56 of the 865 people aboard having survived.

"We must make sure that Sulpicio's passenger vessels are fit to ferry the public safely and it will strictly adhere to Maritime safety guidelines, particularly the ban on over-loading," Revilla said.

Revilla urged MARINA to primarily take into consideration the lives of millions of Filipinos who rely on passenger sea vessels to travel between islands before approving the motion of Sulpicio.

"We must not forget that the issue of overloading always surfaces in most, if not all, sea mishaps in the country, particularly those involving Sulpicio's ships. What worries me is that we have yet to fully solve the problem of overloading, the latest capsizing of a motorized banca proves that. Now comes the motion of Sulpicio. With the expected rise of passengers this Holiday Season, how can we be sure that over-loading will not proliferate?" he explained.

Revilla is referring to the wooden-hulled passenger vessel M/B Maejan that sunked near Appari last Sunday which left 27 persons dead and 28 others missing. Forty five of the 102 passengers and crew on the motorized banca survived, most of them managed to swim to shore.

He strongly denounced the apparent failure of MARINA and Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) to block overloaded sea vessels from cruising Philippine waters.

The senator stressed that there is a clear negligence on the part of MARINA and PCG to properly monitor and prevent overloaded seacrafts from sailing, considering that the country has a long list of sea accidents where overloading has been repeatedly determined as one of its cause.

"They never learned the lessons of the past. The trauma of the Princess of the Stars is still fresh; the mystery behind its sinking still haunts us. They kept on saying they are making reforms on monitoring of boats, we kept on receiving reports on sinking of boats. We are being fooled here. " Revilla said.

Based on news reports, the PCG said it was apparent that the M/B Maejan was overcrowded, noting the motor banca was authorized to carry only 40 passengers and 10 crewmen.

The PCG admitted it does not have a unit at the Calayan port, the point of origin of M/B Maejan going to the port of Aparri . The PCG explained that in cases like this, they meet the vessel at the Aparri port to check if it complies with the Coast Guard's regulations.

The lawmaker questioned the said kind of inspection of PCG, stressing that it will not prevent occurrence of loss of lives and sea accidents.

"What's the use of checking against overloading if you're doing it after the boat has already sailed? Will they hold the passengers and return them to their point of origin? Late checking like this is an innovative tool for bribery and corruption," Revilla pointed out.

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