Princess Of The Stars – Dead Masters Can Speak Through VDRs

 accident reporting, capsize, Ferry, Filipino  Comments Off on Princess Of The Stars – Dead Masters Can Speak Through VDRs
Aug 092008

Not unexpectedly, the master of the Sulpicio Lines ferry Princess Of The Stars will be deemed liable by a Board Of Marine Inquiry for its capsize and sinking with the loss of 800 lives. All other factors such as inadequate lashing of the cargo, modifications which punched holes through what was once a wagon deck so that it could be used for passengers and which may have allowed her to take on water and lose her main engine power as she listed, the possible lack of guidance to the master in the company’s safety management system are merely contributory and those responsible for those actions/inactions are faultless because the master, in theory, has ultimate responsibility.

The finding has the significant advantage of blaming a man who can no longer speak for himself, short of a spiritualist – the master is among those who lost their lives, along with the rest of the officers on the bridge at the time. His fault was to depart at a time when a typhoon was entering the Philippines, the assumption being, apparently, that ships of the size of the Princess Of The Stars, around 24,000 tonnes, simply naturally capsize and sink in a storm.

The view of every master MAC has spoken to is that the Princess Of The Stars should have been able to survive the storm, if with some discomfort to its passengers. The forensic evidence to establish the mechanism by which she sank remains underwater and apparently unwanted.

Yet there is a way in which the master could have spoken to us post mortem – a voyage data recorder, VDR. A device similar in concept to the ‘black box’, actually bright orange, carried by every commercial passenger aircraft in the Philippines. Earlier this year, following the sinking of the ferry Queen Of The North, which was not so equipped, the Canadian maritime authorities mandated that every ferry must be equipped with VDR.

So should the Philippines.

The VDR would have revealed what was actually said during radio traffic, discussions between the bridge team and what was showing on the instruments available to the bridge team, and whether those instruments were actually working.

It would tell us much that we need to know in order to learn the lessons needed to avoid similar incidents in the future, which is the aim of maritime investigation.

Through that device we would understand better the nature of the decisions made by the master. He could have spoken to us through it. It would have empowered the BMI, MARINA – the Philippine Maritime authority – and the Philippine Coastguard to do their jobs of making Philippine seas safer.

Despite hours of debate, however, VDR, possibly the greatest contribution to objective maritime accident investigation in the Philippines has yet to be mentioned.


In Philippine waters? Keep your cellphone on

 Uncategorized  Comments Off on In Philippine waters? Keep your cellphone on
Jul 292008

Local reports in the Philippines quote Philippine Coastguard officials rely on cellphones and text messages to get the co-ordinates of ships in trouble because they don’t have the capability of receiving EPIRB signals.

Writing in the Philippine Inquirer, a report by Leila Salaverria quotes Emelson Morales, safety officer of Sulpicio Lines, owner of the ferry Princess Of The Stars which capsized in June with the loss of 800 passengers and crew, “”As far as I know, the Philippine authorities have no capability to get the signal from EPIRB. Sometimes we ask, what’s the need for this EPIRB? You’re better off texting your coordinates, get it through your GPS.”

Princess Of The Stars was equipped with an EPIRB which did not activate during the incident and as far as is known no efforts have been made to locate it on the inverted wreck to determine whether or not it was activated and deployed. While it may have activated automatically as the vessel capsized it is unlikely that its signal could be received if it is still aboard the ship and under water.

Although Morales is quoted as suggesting that the EPIRB may have been disabled by damage subsained by storm winds causing it to hit a wall, “That’s the only way for it not to send a signal because it’s automatic,” he says, the majority of EPIRB failures are due to poor maintenance, in particular the battery.

Morales also believed that the ship’s medium frequency, high frequency, VHF and two-way radio equipment antennae were damaged by the storm winds and so couldn’t be used for emergency communications. Only a single side-band radio and a cellphone were used when the ship ran into trouble.

The Philippine Coastguard is poorly equipped for emergencies. No GMDSS station is currently functioning in the archipelago and it is not equipped to receive DSC.  A spokeman for the Philippine Coastguard, PCG, Lieutenant Armand Balilo, is cited as saying that the PCG itself only has VHF and HF radios. It has some 108 VHF AND 78 HF radios to cover more than 7,000 islands, sixteen more VHF radios are not functioning, and PCG relies to cellphones.

So if you’re passing through the Philippines make sure your cellphone is handy, charged and loaded


Fear Of Ferry Royals

 accident reporting  Comments Off on Fear Of Ferry Royals
Jul 222008

By coincidence, this week could be dubbed ‘Ferry Cropper Week”. In the Philippines the Board of Marine Inquiry is to release its report on the sinking of the Sulpicio Line’s ferry Princess Of The Stars, which cost more than 700 lives, while the US National Transportation Safety Board is to release its report of the grounding of the sternwheeler Empress of the North.

Since we’re talking of ferries let’s add the Queen of the North report released by Canada’s Transport Safety Board earlier this year.

The Queen of the North grounding and sinking took two years of investigations which included recovery of physical evidence such as computer hard drives from the ship’s bridge and recording of radio traffic, and video from ROV examination of the sunken vessel. The report is backed up by a video simulation of the vessel’s voyage and sinking.

Investigating the Empress of the North grounding has taken a little over a year. It, too, will involve the examination of physical evidence.

The Philippines BMI has taken around one month, has taken statements from some 28 persons, including two seafarers who were travelling on the ferry as passengers, but neither asked for nor secured physical evidence as to how the vessel capsized, took on water and capsized.

There was certainly the opportunity to gather physical and photographic evidence from the Princess of the Stars. Divers went aboard her to photograph the faces of the dead in a misguided attempt to have them identified by relatives seeking their lost. The project was stopped following advice that the photographs would not be useful in identification and would have been disturbing those those trying to discover whether their loved ones were alive or dead.

That photographic equipment could have been put to good use in the cargo hold, where cargo is said to have shifted in the storm and caused the ship to list. They might have been useful in the area of the rear ro-ro ramp.

Divers were taken off the vessel following the discovery of a highly toxic cargo of endosulfan in a container but an examination could have been done using ROVs, which certainly are available in the Philippines.

Much might have been learned by simulating the last voyage of the Princess of the Stars in a bridge simulator, of which there are several in Manila, another in Cebu, and three in Subic Bay. It woiuld have provided a fairly accurate representation of conditions at the time, far more accurate that witness testimony – only witness in the BMI inquiry, for instance, correctly identified the ship’s list as to port, everyone else recalled it as starboard.

An engineering simulation of the forces acting upon the ship, something which might have been done at University of the Philippines, would, too, have told us much about the mechanics of the capsize and sinking.

Given the time the BMI has taken, and the lack of substantive investigation and forensic techniques, sadly it can be little more than a superficial exercise, no matter how well meaning the intent of those comprising the board.

There are very meaningful differences between the BMI and those agencies which investigated the Empress of the North and the Queen of the North incidents. These last incidents were investigated by full time agencies of relative independence, manned by professional, trained, qualified maritime casualty investigators. The Philippines has no such agency.

Determining the underlying, root, cause of an incident and addressing it will save more lives than determining who is at fault.

What is needed is a professionalised agency whose investigation is solely concerned with the safety aspects of an incident, who can interview witnesses without them having the sword of liability hanging over them, and with the capability to gather forensic evidence, and whose reports are publicly available on the internet.

While such an agency’s investigations must, as a matter of safety, take precedence over other investigations its recommendations do not need the force of law, they have the force of public embarrassment – a ferry company that doesn’t implement recommendations made to it will certainly be grist for the media mill.

Liability should be determined solely by the courts with the force of law behind them. Boards of Marine Inquiry, or their equivalent, have largely been abandoned around the world and the Philippines should follow suit.

The BMI’s function of establishing liability would be better replaced by an Admiralty court under the Supreme Court, with specialist judges and attorneys trained in maritime law.

Given the strategic economic and social importance of the domestic shipping industry in the Philippines, it’s difficult to argue against such changes.


Maritime Safety News Today – 19th July 2008

 accident reporting, AMSA, capsize, classification, collision, Sinking  Comments Off on Maritime Safety News Today – 19th July 2008
Jul 192008

19 July

Mersey chemical spill contained
ABC Online – Australia
The Environment Department and the Fire Service were called early this afternoon, after a container on the ship, Searoad Mersey, spilled about 500 litres of

Seamec vessel damaged in accident
Equity Bulls – Chennai,Tamil Nadu,India
Mexico with effect from July 08, 2008, that The vessel while operating at offshore Carmen Mexico, subjected to an accident on July 16, 2008 coming into .

Captain of doomed ship convicted of five charges
Shawn Ralph, captain of the ill-fated Melina and Keith II, was convicted Friday of five of the eight charges he was facing in connection with the sinking. The 65-foot vessel
capsized and sank off Cape Bonavista, NL.

Nigeria: Accident – APM Terminal Gets Foreign Experts – Washington,USA
Mr. Michael Land Hansen said the accident occurred as the Boom of the one of the cranes missed its target while discharging cargo from a vessel.

Salvage tug to rescue stranded cargo ship
The West Australian – Perth,Western Australia,Australia
The Department for Planning and Infrastructure, the Albany Port Authority and the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) are coordinating the salvage

Croatian master guilty of drug running
Lloyd’s List – London,UK
A  Croatian reefer master has been convicted by a Greek court of trafficking drugs, in a case that is sure to prompt fresh debate over how seafarers

Gov’t offers bonus to salvage firm if it gets toxic chemical out
ABS CBN News – Philippines
Bautista said retrieval operations should start immediately before the fuel and pesticides leak from the vessel and cause environmental havoc in the area.

Lack of response to Somalia piracy ‘threatens famine’ – London,UK
The Ministry of Defence added that Britain “has a longstanding commitment to maritime security in the region”, explaining: “The question of any UK naval .

Job Vacancy: Christian couple needed at Falkland Islands Seamen’s
Independent Catholic News – London,UK
Lighthouse Seamen’s Centre – a café/mission complex run for seafarers, fishermen and the local community of the Falkland Islands, in the South Atlantic. .

toxic waste,Princess of the Stars,Philippines,Sulpicio Lines,Titan Salvage,Melina,Keioth II,Sinking,piracy,Seamec,famine,APM,Nigeria,crane boom,Searoad Mersey,Mersey River,chemcal spill,seafarers,seamen,drugs,


Maritime Safety News – 7th July 2008

 capsize, containership, Ferry, fire, fire safety, Sinking, Uncategorized  Comments Off on Maritime Safety News – 7th July 2008
Jul 072008

100 firefighters extinguish massive fire on cargo ship
Associated Press – July 6, 2008 11:44 AM ET MIAMI (AP) – More than 100 firefighters have extinguished a massive fire on a cargo ship on the Miami River.

Agency finds safety problems in Langkawi ferry service
weaknesses have been detected in the Langkawi ferry service that can threaten the safety of passengers, the Malaysia Maritime Enforcement Agency’s (MMEA) Northern Region Enforcement chief Laksamana Pertama Zammani Mod Amin said. One of the shortcomings

Shipment of uranium transiting through the Port of Montreal

07 July 2008 01:56
PM Attention News Editors MONTREAL, July 6 /CNW Telbec/ – The Port of Montreal confirms that a vessel carrying a shipment of uranium arrived Friday in the Port of Montreal from Bagdad. The Port of Montreal is equipped and its employees have been trained

Philippine House inquiry on Princess of the Stars starts
In a fact-finding inquiry Monday, the House committee on transportation will also verify reports on defects of the Sulpicio Lines Inc. vessel, including the ship design and the lack of communication equipment.

Death toll rises to three in China boat sinking
China Daily – China
The vessel sank on the way to Yijiangshan islands at about 5 pm Friday. On board were 12 people, who went angling, according to the captain who was later

Rig workers who whistleblow over safety issues are ‘routinely sacked’
Sunday Herald – Glasgow,Scotland,UK
said the safety cutbacks combined with the pressures to extract oil, gas and other resources throughout the world will lead to another major accident.


Princess Of The Stars Update: Poor training, questionable communications, stability and God

 accident reporting, capsize, Sinking  Comments Off on Princess Of The Stars Update: Poor training, questionable communications, stability and God
Jul 052008

<!– @page { size: 8.5in 11in; margin: 0.79in } P { margin-bottom: 0.08in } –> <!– @page { size: 8.5in 11in; margin: 0.79in } P { margin-bottom: 0.08in } –>

Poor training, questionable communications, stability and God have come into the firing line in the search for someone to blame for the capsize of the Sulpicio Lines ro-ro passenger ship Princess Of The Stars, which came to grief during Typhoon Fengshen with the loss of more than 700 lives.

Currently the 24,000 tonne vessel is resting inverted on a reef, straddling a small trench off the coast of Sibuyan island with her hull intact. Many, if not the majority of the 700 or so bodies of crew and passengers apparently remain inside her. Efforts to recover the bodies were suspended when it was discovered that 10 tonnes of highly toxic endosulfan is inside a container on the car deck.

Philippine Vice President Noli De Castro, a former television presenter, among others has speculated in the media that the ship’s master, Captain Florencio Marimon, is alive and in hiding, possibly in a safehouse operated by Sulpicio Lines. There appears to be little to justify the claim and a body matching his description has been recovered but its identity has not been confirmed..

As yet, there is no information on what, if any, hard evidence is being sought from vessel concerning the integrity of the stern ro-ro door. The Princess of the Stars was built before the Herald of Free Enterprise disaster and it is unclear to what extent safety measures based to that incident have been incorporated into Princess of the Stars. Of particular interest is the integrity of the ferry’s stern ro-ro door, a possible source of water ingress that may have lead to the listing that finally capsized her – once water is on the car deck a vessel such as this is as good as lost.

Questions have, however,been raised about the adequacy of cargo lashing, which lead to the listing and deliberate beaching of another Philippine ferry in 2007.

A project to photograph the faces of the victims in situ for later identification by relatives has been abandoned, the National Bureau of Investigation has barred public viewings of victims remains and an identification team from Interpol is now in Manila to use DNA to identity the dead.

It is understood that Titan Salvage may be contracted to refloat the ship. Titan recently refloated the grounded ferry Arcangel in Cancum, Mexico.

Earlier, Philippine news media cited an unnamed government maritime official claiming that the ship’s owner, Sulpicio Lines, did not want the ship refloated in order to declare a total loss. Plans to put holes in the hull to recover bodies and toxic cargo had been abandoned with the decision to refloat her.

While the refloating may bring more evidence to light regarding the cause of the catastrophe the process will take up to three months. The Philippine Coastguard, however, has undertaken to deliver a final report to Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo within 15 days and the seven-strong Board of Marine Inquiry, BMI, established under a law issued in the 1970s, will probably deliver its decision on who is liable for the incident within 30 days or so.

The Philippines has no permanent or independent maritime casualty investigation agency. Maritime casualty investigation reports are not made publicly available and the Philippines has not lodge an investigation report with the International Maritime Organisation since it became a member in the 1960s.

Meanwhile, Sulpicio Lines has blamed God, or, rather an act of God, for the tragedy and in the absence of a local address for the Almighty is suing the country’s weather bureau, PAGASA, instead.

While Sulpicio maintains that PAGASA gave inaccurate data on the path of the typhoon, the weather bureau says that it fell within the standard deviation of 180 kilometres.

Sulpicio Line’s owner and first vice president told the BMI that company didn’t know the current Coast Guard regulations which prohibit vessels of any size from travel when public storm signal 3 and 4 are raised within the point of origin, route and destination. Under rules set out in 1998, which Sulpicio was following, the Philippine Coast Guard had the responsibility of plotting routes of storms and disseminate the information to subordinates and ship owners. The regulations were changed last year.

One of the crew members who survived the tragedy, apprentice engineer Phel Gilig, told the BMI that in the four months he had been aboard he had not participated in any abandon ship droill because he was ‘always on duty’, didn’t know the layout of the vessel or his role in an emergency and didn’t take notice of the ship’s station bills.

One other seafarer had testified that orders to prepare to abandon ship were given at 11.30am and the order to abandon given ten minutes later.

With the end of the enquiry scheduled for next week, the BMI has yet to get testimony for other seafarers who survived and may move the enquiry to Cebu

The Princess of the Stars sailed allegedly with two of its four ballast tanks empty. One member of the BMI, Amado Romillo, has speculated publicly that this would have resulted in poor stability, a claim disputed by others on the grounds that the extra ballast was not necessary because of the cargo.

He also claims that the ship had only one single side-band radio for communication with the ports and the ship could not receive a 10pm weather report on the day it left, and radio communications were unattended at certain time. Sulpicio officials, however, say that they were in touch by cellphone.

Reportedly, the government is considering taking over Sulpicio Lines. Such a move would require the approval of the country’s legislature and is unlikely to get approved given the close ties between a number of members of congress and the senate and ferry-owning families and operators.


Philippine Ferry Sinking

 Uncategorized  Comments Off on Philippine Ferry Sinking
Jun 222008

We have reports of a ferry capsize involving the deaths of more than 800, four survivors. We’ll give more when it has been confirrned. The vessel was the Princess Of The Stars, operated by Sulpicio Lines.

It is probable that a board of inquiry will be convened. The Philippines has no independent casualty investigation agency and members of the board are not required to have any knowledge of casualty investigation.

The Philippines does not normally lodge casualty investigation reports with the International Maritime Organisation nor make reports publicly available.