Press Release
January 10, 2010

Better maritime industry standards could have prevented PCG
diver's death - Gordon

Senator Richard J. Gordon today pointed out that the poor standards of the country's maritime industry led to the death of a Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) diver who died retrieving bodies from the shipwreck of MV Catalina-B.

Gordon, head of the Senate blue ribbon committee, issued the statement as he expressed condolences to the family of PCG Petty Officer 3 Arman Bonifacio, who died of cardiac arrest on Friday.

"I wish to extend my condolences to the family of PO3 Bonifacio. In showing dedication to his duty as a public servant at the cost of his own life, he became a hero. Thus, he deserves commendation and honor. The Coast Guard lost a hero and a gentleman in Bonifacio's death," he said.

"I am sad because Bonifacio, a seasoned diver, need not have died. Millions of people travel by sea everyday yet we have not learned our lesson from the MV Dona Paz tragedy. The MV Dona Paz, which sunk on Dec. 20, 1987, claimed more than 3,000 lives and remains as the world's worst peacetime maritime disaster. Had we learned our lesson and imposed better maritime standards, the succeeding disasters at sea would have been prevented," he added.

Bonifacio, a member of the PCG special operations group, and his buddy diver, Petty Officer 3 Saturnino Cahilig Jr., had three scheduled dives for the day. On their first dive, they reached the wreck, which lies at 221 feet below the water surface off Libones Island, and retrieved a woman's body still wearing a printed white shirt and black pants. On their second attempt, the two reached the ship's wreckage again. They were already ascending to the surface when tragedy struck. Cahilig felt Bonifacio shake his hand at about 170 feet deep, a signal that he was not feeling well. Bonifacio reportedly increased his ascension speed and lost consciousness when they reached 140 feet.

Bonifacio was immediately brought inside the decompression chamber. However, two hours later, his condition turned for the worse. He died of cardiac arrest while being rushed to the Jose Reyes Memorial Medical Center at 3:40 a.m.

Bonifacio had been trained by the Philippine Navy and the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA). He participated in the relief operation for the typhoons Ondoy and Pepeng, which hit the country last year. He was also part of the rescue operation for MV Princess of Stars, which sank in Romblon in 2008, where 300 of the 800 passengers remain missing.

Last Thursday, Gordon conducted the third hearing on the blue ribbon panel's investigation into the sea mishaps, including the sinking of MV Catalyn-B and MV Baleno 9. The panel identified bad and dangerous practices that are commonly done by domestic shipping companies and most of roll on and roll off vessels, which has led to the disasters.

What is worse is that maritime regulating agencies appear to turn a blind eye to these disastrous practices and fail to put a stop to them.

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