Thursday, March 11, 2010

MV Princess of the Stars

The MV Princess of the Stars, flagship of the Sulpicio Lines fleet, left the port of Manila on June 20, 2008 on its way to Cebu City. The number of passengers is variously reported between 700[4] and 800.[5] The ferry sent a distress signal at midday on June 21 when its engines allegedly stalled in rough seas near Sibuyan Island. San Fernando mayor Nanette Tansingco sent a speedboat and confirmed that the ferry had a hole in the hull, was partially submerged and that several bodies had been found nearby. Later reports revealed that the hole in the hull was actually the ship's bow thruster[6]. Location of the storm and the Princess of the Stars when the ship lost radio contact at 11 am June 21, 2008.

As of June 23, four bodies were recovered by the Philippine Coast Guard and the Philippine Navy.[7] According to the Coast Guard, the ferry's manifest recorded 702 passengers including 50 children as well as 100 crew. The civil defense office said the ship carried 626 passengers and 121 crew members. Three Navy vessels were dispatched but one had to abort its mission due to "gigantic waves, pounding rain, and gusty winds," said Lieutenant Colonel Edgard Arevalo, spokesman of the Philippine Navy.[8]

A rescue ship reached the MV Princess of the Stars, more than 24 hours after it lost radio contact at 12:30 PST (04:30 GMT) on Saturday.[9] Philippine Coast Guard spokesman Lt. Senior Grade Arman Balilo, however, lamented: "They haven't seen anyone. They're scouring the area. They're studying the direction of the waves to determine where survivors may have drifted."

Xinhua News Agency reported that 4 survivors witnessed "that the captain of the ship ordered the abandoning of the ship at noon Saturday, but many passengers did not even wear life vests when the ship capsized." Four survivors told GMA News that "the ship did not malfunction, but only slowed down its speed as it encountered big waves off the coast of Romblon." One saw many people jump, but "the waves were so big and the rains so strong that few of them could have possibly survived; the crew were so busy saving themselves that they did not care to help the passengers to wear safety vests, and that some of the passengers passed out while children and the elderly failed to wear life vests because they could no longer move when the ship was turning upside down."[10][11]

Tansingco confirmed that 4 aboard died and hundreds of passengers were still missing. Dozens of people trooped to the offices of owner Sulpicio Lines in Cebu and Manila North Harbor. The victims' families accused Sulpicio Lines and the Philippine Coast Guard of allowing the ship to set sail despite the bad weather. They further blamed Sulpicio for not personally informing them about the tragedy, the details of the accident, and the condition of the ship plus its passengers. Sulpicio Lines's counsel stated that "the ship never received advice from Coast Guard, while Metro Manila was still under public storm signal No. 1 when the ship left the port." Furthermore, BBC quoted President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo as saying, "Why did you allow it to sail and why was there no ample warning? I want answers."[12]

Sulpicio admitted that 860 were on board as the ferry capsized: "There were 751 manifested passengers and 111 crew members on board the capsized vessel." The Maritime Industry Authority (Marina) suspended all sea travel operations of the Sulpicio. Sulpicio lines released the names of 32 survivors with the complete passenger manifest and crew list uploaded on their website [1].[13][14][15]

A week after the ferry disaster, more than 100 passengers had been confirmed dead, with 500 still missing. The ship is also carrying the pesticide, endosulfan. Some 60+ passengers[clarification needed] were found within the first week[clarification needed][citation needed].Final death toll(estimated)of passengers and crew is given as 802 lost.

Survivors, retrieval of toxic chemicals and recovered bodies

Meanwhile, Claveria, Masbate Mayor Eduardo Andueza reported 350 corpses recovered while 40 people were rescued off the coast of Burias Island, Masbate on Monday. The bodies however could not have only come from the MV Princess of the Stars but also from other vessels that capsized. Some of the 40 survivors said they came from cargo vessel MV Lake Paway, which departed from Mindanao but later sank at sea.[16]

Twenty five survivors from the ferry were transported from Quezon province to the headquarters of the Philippine National Red Cross in Intramuros, Manila. Senator and Red Cross chairman Richard Gordon stated that the survivors were given food, clothing and medical assistance. A Red Cross official also reported that some went home to their families in Manila.[17]

The Philippine Coast Guard on June 24, 2008 reported that it accounted for only 115 (48 survivors confirmed, 67 others confirmed dead, 747 missing) of the 862 passengers and crew of the MV Princess of the Stars. Divers, however said that 15 bodies were found inside the ship's dining area and 2 others in the bridge.[18]

Philippines Navy spokesman Lt. Col. Edgard Arevalo said the ship's interior was too dark: "Most of the bodies were floating inside. They were trapped when the seven-story ship suddenly tilted and capsized. The reports we're getting are that many bodies have been found."[19][20]

Navy divers found no survivors inside the wreck when they entered the upturned hulk of the ferry. A helicopter from a U.S. military ship, the USNS Stockham, found 12 bodies floating near Masbate island, but it was not clear if they were from the Princess of the Stars. Sulpicio lines said "it would pay families of the dead 200,000 pesos ($4,500) each and also give survivors financial assistance." VP Noli de Castro presided over the first meeting of the newly created "Task Force Princess Stars."[21][22]

On June 27, 2008 recovery efforts were ceased due to the discovery that 10,000 kilos of the dangerous pesticide endosulfan were on board. The government is considering filing charges as it is illegal to transport dangerous goods on passenger vessels in the Philippines.[23]

[edit] Dangerous Cargo Removal

Titan Salvage was contracted by the owners to remove the endosulfan along with some additional dangerous cargos in a second container. Both cargos were located in containers in the "D" deck of the capsized vessel. Titan Salvage assembled a salvage team consisting of the following companies: Harbor Star, a Philippine tug and salvage company; Global Diving & Salvage, a U.S. based diving company specializing in hazardous diving operations; and South Pacific Environmental, a Guam based company specializing in hazardous chemical mitigation. The salvage team lead by Salvage Master Captain Gordon Amos began the actual endosulfan recovery operations on September 24, 2008 and on October 5, 2008 all 402 of the 25 Kg drums were safely recovered from the 40 ft container located near the aft end of "D" deck in about 85 ft of water. The salvage team then proceeded to remove the other dangerous cargos from a 20 ft container located toward the center of "D" deck in about 35 ft of water. On October 11, 2008 it was determined that all of the dangerous cargo located in the second container had been safely recovered. The salvage team drilled into the ship's hull to remove the ship's fuel and that phase was completed by October 17, 2008. Approximately 200,000 liters were recovered.[24][25]

Continuation of Body Recovery Efforts

Once the dangerous cargos were removed, the body recovery effort continued. From October 27, 2008 until November 10, 2008, divers from Harbor Star and the Coast Guard recovered 199 bodies from "C", "B" and "A" decks. PCG commandant Vice Adm. Wilfredo Tamayo stated: “The number of cadavers extracted from the ship was less than half of the missing passengers. We are not expecting to see 500 bodies. We would be lucky to get half of that. It was likely that some of those who were still missing had jumped from the 23,000-ton ship before giant waves overwhelmed it." Divers, however, failed to enter the engine room, and some areas, due to inaccessibility and danger. The bodies were stored on the MV Tacloban Princess. Forensic Doctors from the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) and Interpol were waiting in Cebu City to attempt identification. The NBI's Doctor Bautista said, thereafter, that DNA matching, assisted and funded by the Interpol, would be done in the International Commission on Missing Persons laboratory in Sarajevo, Bosnia.[26] Most of the initial bodies recovered had detached limbs or heads and disintegrated flesh, after more than four months underwater.[27] The Philippine Coast Guard reported only 57 survived the maritime tragedy, around 350 bodies had been recovered, while 515 people missing were allegedly trapped inside the capsized vessel.[28]

MV Princess of the Stars captain still missing

Marimon, the captain of the ill-fated MV Princess of the Stars that capsized in Romblon waters last Saturday, is among the hundreds of passengers and crewmembers still unaccounted for in the tragedy.

QTV’s News on Q on Tuesday night reported that Sulpicio Lines, the owner of the vessel, chose Marimon to navigate its premier vessel because he is the most senior and most experienced among its captains.

The television report said authorities consider Marimon as the best person to explain how the vessel capsized off the coast of Sibuyan Island, bringing along with it the more than 800 people onboard.

Vicente Suazon Jr, Maritime Industry Administration (Marina) chief, said Marino’s testimony is vital in the investigation on the Princess of the Star.

“We really don’t know how the master is behaving or how his crew is behaving on board. Are they behaving properly to see to it the safety of the ship and most specially the safety of the passengers?” Suazon said.

The report said even Marimon’s family, who are based in Cebu province, said they still can not contact him.

GMA news went to Cebu to meet his family to ask some information about the ship's captain, but they declined to be interviewed on camera and stressed that they too are waiting for words from the ship master.

Marimon’s neighbors likewise attested to the captain's good behavior.

“He’s a good person. I have no bad words to say against him,” Jovy Villamor said in her native language. - Fidel Jimenez, GMANews.T