While the report of Board Of Marine Inquiry, BMI, in the Philippines on the capsize of the Princess Of The Stars in a typhoon with the loss of more than 700 lives, has met its primary objective, establishing liability for the incident and recommending measures to be taken against those deemed at fault, how those recommendations will enhance safety remains open to question.
The report’s key recommendations are that the master’s licence should be revoked, since he is found liable for sailing in potentially unsafe conditions and that the Certificate of Public Convenience of the ship owner, Sulpicio Lines, should be withdrawn, theoretically.
Revoking Captain Florencio Marimon’s license is unlikely to contribute to safety, being almost certainly dead, along with the rest of the bridge team, he is not likely to need it. Sulpicio Lines accounts for around 40 per cent of interisland traffic, much of which is given to monopolies, and withdrawing its certificate of public convenience will do little more than open up a free-for-all by other ferries companies to take over Sulpicio’s routes. Some of those ferry companies have a worse safety record than Sulpicio.
The report makes no firm recommendations regarding safety issues. It makes no recommendation regarding the lashing of cargo. Movement of inadequately lashed cargo almost certainly made a major contribution to the listing and subsequent capsize of the vessel. No evidence is presented regarding the adequacy or inadequacy of the lashing arrangements.
Inadequate lashing of cargo is common element in maritime incidents in the Philippines.
The report does not consider in any depth changes made to the wagon deck, deck C, of the ferry. As originally designed, for vehicles, Deck C had no0 windows. A refurbishment adapted the deck for passengers, with non-watertight windows, and inadequate escape routes.
No firm recommendations are made regarding the watertight integrity of passenger spaces or emergency access.
The report does not consider the introduction of voyage data recorders, instruments that might allow monitoring of a vessel’s safety.
The report does not address the training of the crew in evacuation procedures or their familiarity with lifesaving appliances.
The report does not address the lack of GMDSS in the Philippines, the shortfall in emergency response or the lack of appropriate equipment or training to deal with a sadly common occurrence.
The report does not address the lack of appropriate procedures for the investigation of maritime casualties.
It does not address the ineffectiveness of regulation or enforcement.
It must be emphasised that the purpose of the BMI is merely to establish liability, so much that is not covered by the report is, in fact, not within its remit.
Most of all, it doesn’t address the issue of “where do we go from here?
The Philippines is not the only country without an adequate, safety-oriented maritime casualty investigation regime, nor the only one to cling to a concept rooted in a long-gone colonial past, and certainly not the only one to avoid its obligations to the International Maritime Organisation.
More than anything else it represents a model of the challenges faced in establishing competent, professionalised maritime accident investigation in much of the rest of the world.