Tuesday, August 2, 2011

‘IT’S NOT OUR FAULT’ Vessel cleared to sail, ship captain says; Salvage firm tapped to clean up oil spill

Oil leaks, engine problems and improperly secured cargo were among those being verified by the Coast Guard as factors that caused a Trans-Asia vessel to list and sink off Calabazas Island in Ajuy town, Iloilo, at 8:34 a.m. last Sunday.
Coast Guard spokesman Lt. Commander Algier Ricafrente said the Special Board of Marine Inquiry (SBMI) will question ship personnel to verify if the cargoes were secured adequately before the incident.
He made the disclosure after the ship captain stated in his marine protest that it was “force majeure” or “force of nature” that caused the MV Asia-Malaysia to stall, list and eventually tip over to its starboard or right side in the waters off Iloilo province.
In a radio interview Dexter Viñan, legal counsel of Trans-Asia Shipping Lines, said the management is discussing possible financial assistance to all the survivors.
All 110 passengers and 35 crew managed to make it to safety on board two vessels to Iloilo.
“I think there will be some assistance to be given to the survivors, only that I could not confirm the exact figure but the management will give financial assistance,” Viñan told reporters yesterday.
In his marine protest submitted to the Philippine Coast Guard, ship captain Romualdo Geraldizo said the MV Asia-Malaysia left for Iloilo last Saturday evening with valid safety document and fully functional navigational instruments and safety devices.
‘Beyond control’
He said the vessel was manned by competent, efficient and adequate number of officers and crew who exercised “extraordinary diligence” in transporting the passengers and cargoes.
“(The incident was) beyond the control and not the fault of the officers and crew of MV Asia-Malaysia,” Geraldizo said.
Viñan said the crew and officers managed to send a distress signal before the vessel sank and secured assistance from nearby vessels.
He pointed out that Geraldizo was the last to leave the vessel after ensuring all the passengers were safely transferred to the other vessels and pump boats.
Geraldizo said the Philippine Coast Guard inspected and cleared the vessel for travel before 6 p.m.
He said the vessel navigated along its course line and there was no untoward incident until 3:50 a.m. of Sunday.
At the time, the ship entered the vicinity of Payong Point and encountered strong winds such as the southwest monsoon.
Huge waves caused the vessel to stall and tilt five degrees to its right side.
Change course
Geraldizo said the cargoes collapsed to the right side.
“I ordered water to be pumped into two portside ballast tanks and an inspection of the cargo hold,” he said in his marine protest.
Geraldizo said the cargoes collapsed toward the right side, causing the vessel to tilt further by 20 degrees towards its right side.
He said he ordered the crew to change course from 240 to 210 degrees to push the ship’s bow against the winds.
While doing this, Geraldizo said they made a distress signal to the Coast Guard and had crew assist the passengers in donning life jackets.
He said the passengers were ordered to head to the economy class section in case they need to abandon ship.
Geraldizo said he ordered the crew to change and speed up the vessel’s course at 4:20 a.m., until the main engines stopped at at 4:40 a.m.
“The list (tilting) was observed to have increased to 27 degrees but slowly it moved towards portside until it reached 25 degrees. It was then reported that the water reached the level of the side door and flowed into the engine room,” he said.
Master’s oath
At 5:30 a.m., he ordered the crew to launch the inflatable life rafts and transfer all the passengers to the responding vessels, MV Filipinas Cebu of Cokaliong Shipping Lines and MT Fil Visayas.
At 6:20 a.m., all the passengers were transferred with the crew still on board.
Two hours later, MV Asia-Malaysia slowly went down on its right side, so he ordered his officers and crew to abandon ship.
“When my officers and crew boarded the responding motor boat and being the only one left on board, I disembarked and boarded the motorboat at 8:20 a.m.,” Geraldizo said.
He said the vessel sank off the coast of Calabazas Island, in Ajuy town, Iloilo at 8:34 a.m.
Cebu Coast Guard Station commander Rolando Punzalan confirmed that his office issued a permit for MV Asia-Malaysia to depart at 6 p.m. last Saturday after the inspection made by 2nd Seaman Mark Benson Alob.
He said Geraldizo signed the master’s oath of safe departure, which stated the condition of the engines, the life-saving and navigational equipment as well as the stability of the vessel.
Punzalan said Alob inspected the vessel and determined that the captain’s master oath conformed with what he saw during the inspection.
Punzalan said Alob also inspected the cargoes, which complied with proper lashing.
Punzalan said the initial investigation is conducted by the Coast Guard in Iloilo.
He said the Cebu Coast Guard is preparing all the documents pertaining to the departure of MV Asia-Malaysia.
These include the master’s oath of safe departure, passengers’ manifest, cargo manifest and others.
Based on the manifest, Punzalan said the vessel had 107 passengers, nine officers and 35 crew and ancillaries.
The vessel has a passenger capacity of 551, he said.
He said all passengers were required to buy tickets prior to the boarding and told to sign the manifesto.
Punzalan said some passengers didn’t sign the manifesto.
Despite the accident, he said, Trans-Asia Shipping Lines continued to operate its nine remaining interisland vessels.
Still, Punzalan said they have yet to receive the marine protest from the ship captain.
The marine protest will be the basis for their investigation along with information from the rescued passengers and crew, he said.
He said based on their interviews with passengers, the vessel was battered by strong winds and huge waves that caused it to list and turn over to its right side.
Punzalan said seawater broke into the vessel, flooding several rooms.
No indication
He said they have yet to verify whether there was any engine trouble and oil leaks.
In a statement, Trans-Asia management said they are also inspecting the vessel for possible oil leaks.
“The condition of the vessel is stable and there is no indication that its fuel oil tanks are breached,” the statement said.
The municipality of Ajuy in Iloilo raised concerns over the possibility of oil leaks, which may affect their coastal resources.
Trans-Asia said the vessel has 5,700 liters of automotive diesel, 1,300 liters of lube oil and 18,000 liters of special fuel oil.
They said they hired a professional salvage company from Cebu to inspect the vessel and provide precautionary actions.
“Quotations are also being obtained for the immediate removal of the vessel,” the statement said. Jhunnex Napallacan and Candeze R. Mongaya with an Inquirer report

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