No need to take over Sulpicio — Nograles

PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — DESPITE its bad maritime record, which some critics describe as one of, if not the worst in the world, Speaker Prospero Nograles Jr. sees no need for a government takeover of Sulpicio Lines, a move that he said, will need congressional approval.

Stressing that the government “has no business getting into private businesses,” Nograles instead called for the “full force of the law” to punish parties responsible for the sinking of Sulpicio Lines’ Princess of the Stars off Sibuyan, Romblon on June 21, resulting in the death of more than 700 of its passengers and crew, majority of whose bodies have yet to be recovered.

An ongoing maritime inquiry into the tragedy, one of at least for major sea disasters in which the shipping firm was involved, has not yet determined responsibility as the officials of the company and the maritime agencies tasked to impose guidelines on safe sea travel have passed the blame on one another.

Officials of the shipping company have also blamed the Philippine Atmospheric and Geophysical Administration (PAGASA) for what it described as inaccurate reporting on the conditions of Typhoon “Frank,” a main factor in the sinking of the Princess of the Stars.

In a press statement, Nograles said the mishap “now appears to have been caused by negligence and bad judgment.

“But officials of the government agencies that oversee the maritime industry “should also be asked to step down or resign from their posts,” he said.

Nograles said the tragedy, one of the worst in the country’s maritime history following the sinking of the Sulpicio-owned MV Doña Paz on Dec. 20, 1987 after colliding with the oil tanker Vector on Tablas Strait between Mindoro and Romblon killing more than 4,100 passengers, should firm up the government’s resolve to modernize the country’s maritime industry.

But a government takeover of Sulpicio Lines “will not improve our sea safety record,” the lawmaker said in a press statement issued by his media officer.

“It’s business is not to make money but to address the social basic needs of the people. The takeover of Sulpicio is not the answer,” he said.

In his press statement, Nograles blamed the “incompetence” of the officials of the Department of Transportation and Communications as a “major defect that causes sea mishaps.”

“In other countries, they would be asked to step down and resign,” he said. “The correct supervision and the regulation and oversight of the DOTC and its responsible agencies is one of the major defects that causes sea mishaps (sic). And their incompetence will be rewarded by takeover?”

In the case of Sulpicio Lines, Nograles pushed for the cancellation of its license to operate and the filing of criminal and civil cases against the company.

Despite the inter-agency inquiry into the tragedy, Nograles endorsed a marathon congressional investigation into the incident “with the main objective of crafting measures that will improve the country’s maritime industry and, at the same time, plug the loopholes of existing maritime laws.”

He said the overlapping functions of several government agencies could be the “culprit in the country’s embarrassing maritime safety record.”