At sea, never take things for granted. It may kill you.

By Jason Faustino — The Daily Tribune,

01/08/2010

Transportation and Communications Secretary Leandro Mendoza yesterday blamed the series of sea tragedies, eight of which were recorded in the past two years, to “human error.”

Mendoza said such cause was traceable to lack of competent seafarers and ship maintenance crew.

It is known that most veteran and experienced seamen do not like to serve on board local ships because of the low pay. This leaves those who did not undergo any formal schooling in a maritime institute to man local ships.

Some 300,000 Filipino seamen are manning foreign ships. A mere apprentice in a foreign vessel gets $430 a month.

It was reported that many local ships are being piloted by mere major and minor patrons, like in the case of the M/V Baleno 9, which sank off Isla Verde last Dec. 26.

Patrons are given licenses based on their supposed experience, but many are suspected to have faked their credentials.

Paul Rodriguez, the president and chief operating officer of the Super Shuttle Ferry, backed Mendoza’s statement that human error was the main reason for the maritime disasters.

“Ninety-nine percent of the sea mishaps were caused by human error. Seafarers on board the domestic fleet are substandard and a lot of them are incompetent,” he said.

Earlier, Sen. Richard Gordon, the chairman of the Senate blue ribbon committee, formed a technical working group headed by Maritime Industry Authority (Marina) Administrator Ma. Elena Bautista to recommend how to increase the pay of local seamen to attract the more competent ones.

The United Seafarers Group said many of their members were willing to work in the Philippines and be near their families if their pay is competitive.

Mendoza said there was a need to develop a “culture of safety” in the shipping industry that includes the improvement of domestic maritime transportation.

The Department of Transportation and Communications (DoTC) and the Marina have recommended an age ceiling for passenger vessel that would be imported for domestic use. They are also seeking a ban on major alterations on imported passenger vessels, especially when the original tonnage of the vessel would be affected.

The DoTC also wants to implement the phase out of wooden-hulled passenger vessels, like the M/V Catalyn B which sank on Christmas Eve after colliding with a bigger, sturdier fishing vessel.

The agency also proposed for the institution of rigid safety and inspection measures for all vessels.

The DoTC also wants shipping companies to adopt the airline system of passenger boarding of ships to ensure proper accounting and documentation of passengers.

The proposal came after it was established that the M/V Baleno issued two more passenger manifests hours after the ship had sunk.

The total number of passengers on board the vessel still has to be established.

Meanwhile, the operations to retrieve the bodies still trapped inside the M/V Catalyn B is set to resume today after it was suspended for a day, an official of the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) said yesterday.

“Our divers have to replenish today,” Coast Guard spokesman, Lt. Commander Arman Balilo told the Tribune by phone. He was referring to the replenishing of the oxygen used by the PCG divers who have been scouring the waters since last week after the Mindoro-bound passenger boat sank near Limbones island off Maragondon town, Cavite province on Dec. 24.

The divers also needed a day’s rest as continuous diving could be harmful to their bodies, Balilio added.

The wreck was found 221 feet under water.

Meantime, the four bodies recovered on Wednesday were brought to the Ambassador Funeral Homes in Caloocan City.

The victims, who were identified by their relatives, were as follows: Mario Redublo, 62, who was identified through his senior citizen identification card; Ester Quiñones, 54; Aileen Gasmen, 38, who was wearing a keychain that bore her granddaughter’s name; and seven months old Rhein Shanel Abelada. The baby’s parents were also listed among the missing passengers. Their remains could still be inside the ship’s wreck.

At least 17 passengers and crew of the sunken vessel are still unaccounted for.

With Efren B. Chavez

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