Wednesday, December 30, 2009

2009,Ferry Baleno 9, Phillipines, 60 dead

The ferry now lies at the bottom of the ocean, 350 meters (1,148 feet) below the surface, beyond the reach of Coast Guard divers.

Senate told captain not certified!

MANILA, Philippines—The death toll from the sinking of the MV Baleno 9 on Dec. 26 off Verde Island could be much higher than first believed. Dozens of passengers reportedly had been left off the official manifest, according to the Coast Guard.

A total of 132 passengers supposedly boarded the ferry that sank off the Batangas island 37 minutes into its voyage, said Sen. Richard Gordon, chair of the Senate blue ribbon committee that conducted a hearing on the sea tragedy Tuesday.

Of the 132 passengers and crew aboard the roll-on, roll-off vessel, six died and 72 survived, Gordon said.

Fifty-four are missing based on the manifest and as reported by relatives.

The Senate blue ribbon committee also learned that the skipper of the Baleno 9 was not a certified ship captain but merely a “major patron.”

Capt. Jimmy Andal, who was earlier reported to have survived the sinking, is now listed as among the missing persons.

The committee also found that the ferry was designed to only ply inland waters and not the open sea. The ship sank in “open waters” between Batangas and Mindoro, maritime officials said at the committee hearing Tuesday.

Coast Guard Commandant Wilfredo Tamayo said Andal was not “a certified master mariner as he was only a major patron.”

A major patron is a ship officer “not schooled” but has had long maritime experience, according to Tamayo.

Red Cross monitoring

Gordon said he based the 132-figure on the monitoring that he and a Philippine National Red Cross team undertook at the ports of the cities of Batangas and Calapan as the survivors and the dead arrived there on Sunday.

The Baleno 9 sank at a little past 10 p.m. on its way to Batangas City from Calapan, Oriental Mindoro.

The ferry now lies at the bottom of the ocean, 350 meters (1,148 feet) below the surface, beyond the reach of Coast Guard divers.

The sinking of the Baleno 9 was the second sea tragedy in less than three days. On Christmas Eve, the wooden-hulled MV Catalyn B sank 3 nautical miles from Limbones Island at the mouth of Manila Bay after it smashed into a steel-hulled fishing boat.

Four bodies were recovered on the day of the sinking and 24 were reported missing. On Monday, a deep-sea diver saw at least 12 bodies inside the wreckage of the ferry. They have yet to be retrieved.


Gordon sought an explanation of the discrepancy in the figures of the Red Cross and the Coast Guard, which reported that the Baleno 9 had 75 passengers.

The Coast Guard had relied on the figures of an initial manifest and a supplemental manifest—something that a retired captain at the hearing said was “fraudulent.”

He and other officials said ships were required to submit manifests before departure and not after leaving port.

Tamayo told reporters that the Coast Guard had counted 123 people who boarded the ferry. He attributed the bigger number of passengers to “last-minute riders.”

“The latest report we got is there were 123 passengers—73 survivors, six casualties and 44 missing,” Tamayo said.

Gordon got irked when he confronted the Coast Guard with the two passenger manifests of the Baleno 9. He said that when he got to the Batangas port at 2 a.m. on Sunday, he learned from Coast Guard officials that there were 20 passengers on the ship.

An hour later a “supplemental manifest” was produced, showing there were 55 more passengers.

Asked to explain, Lt. Algiers Ricafrente, station commander of the Coast Guard in Calapan, said he got a copy of the supplemental manifest at 4 a.m. after the ship had already sunk.

The second manifest did not sit well with Capt. Robert Garcia, who represented Transportation Undersecretary Thompson Lantion at the hearing.

Fraudulent practice

Garcia said this was a “fraudulent practice” because the ship captain was supposed to submit the manifest under “maritime oath.”

The rules require that ships submit a passenger manifest before departure, said Elena Bautista, administrator of the Maritime Industry Authority (Marina).

This prompted Gordon to say that the second manifest apparently was meant to “clean up” things. The senator asked the Coast Guard to investigate the matter as it involved some sort of “falsification.”

Late buses

Ship owners tend to submit the manifest late because some buses come in late and plead that they be accommodated, according to Tamayo.

He underscored the need for a “cut-off time” for buses and passengers to board a ship.

The Baleno 9 left the Calapan port at 9:18 p.m. on Sunday and sank at 10:07 p.m., according to Tamayo.

Worldwide practice

Gordon questioned the competence of the ship’s captain.

“Did we put the lives of people [in the hands of] someone who was not a certified master mariner?” Gordon asked maritime officials.

Bautista said a major patron was allowed to man a 119-ton vessel such as the Baleno 9.

“It’s based on the gross tons of a ship and this is a worldwide practice,” Bautista said referring to the criteria by which a major patron could be allowed to man ships.

Capt. Nelson Ramirez of the United Filipino Seafarers backed Bautista, saying this had become the practice.

It was also learned that the Baleno 9 came from Japan but that it should only be operated in inland waters, prompting Gordon to say that he would “not allow my children to board vessels” of this type.

Bautista said almost all of the second-hand passenger ships or roll-on, roll-off vessels in the country came from Japan.

While the vessels are operational in inland waters, they are certified by authorities for sea voyage, said the Marina administrator.

Bautista said the proposed Maritime Act, which her office wants immediately passed by Congress, will seek to help companies build ships and design them in accordance with the country’s requirements and “with low interest financing by the government.”