Typhoon ‘Frank,’ who else?

PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — AT the start of the investigation by the Board of Marine Inquiry yesterday, the owner of the ill-starred MV Princess of the Stars that capsized off Sibuyan Island in Romblon blamed the “sudden bad weather” for the tragedy.

Edgar Go, vice president of Sulpicio Lines, Inc., was grilled by the seven-man BMI at the start of the hearing at the BMI office in Manila. The board scheduled the next hearing on Friday.

The BMI is a fact-finding body tasked to establish the cause of the accident, to determine the people who should be held liable for the incident, and to submit a recommendation to the Department of Transportation and Communications to ensure that the sea mishap will not be repeated.

During the hearing, BMI chairman Ramon Liwag asked Go what was the last message sent by shipmaster Florencio Marimon before contact with the ship was lost.

“The message said the ship was listing heavily,” said Go.

He said Marimon and his crew last communicated with the Sulpicio office in Cebu at 11:30 a.m. Saturday.

However, Marimon reportedly assured management that the ship’s engine was running at that time.

Go said sea condition was normal before the voyage from Manila to Cebu but later during trip, the shipmaster sent a message telling them the sea had turned rough.

Sulpicio counsel Arthur Lim put the blame on Coast Guard officials, citing a 1998 memorandum circular that directs the government agency to plot routes for ships during bad weather.

But Liwag told the lawyer that the circular was revised and replaced by another, which was released in June 2007. The new copy stated that full responsibility is given to the ship’s owner and captain in the circumstance the Princess of the Stars was in. Asked about the ship, Go said it was bought in Japan in 2001 but he could not recall what was the capacity of the vessel then. He added that they made some modifications to upgrade the interior and facilities of the ship.

The Coast Guard earlier said the tragedy could have been caused by bad weather which sent the ship aground.

Sulpicio Lines, howe-ver, denied that the ship’s engine malfunctioned saying the vessel regularly underwent check up in Subic and it was in good condition before the voyage.

Liwag said that while they were not given a deadline to conclude their investigation, they intend to submit their recommendations to the DoTC in 15 to 20 days.

The Princess of the Stars, with a 23,824.17 tonnage, is said to be the biggest passenger ship plying domestic waters before it sank.