Coast Guard probes 3rd ship in Cebu sea tragedy

The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) is now investigating the involvement of a 3rd vessel in last Friday’s collision between passenger ferry M/V St. Thomas Aquinas of 2GO Group Inc. collided with cargo ship Sulpicio Express Siete of the Philippine Span Asia Carrier Corp. (PSACC) in Cebu.

PCG Cebu Station Commander Weniel Azcuna said that according to the account of the captain of Sulpicio Express Siete, Rolito Gilo, he allowed the 3rd vessel, the Trans-Asia Nine, to overtake his ship prior to the collision.

Azcuna said the Coast Guard is looking into the possibility that the overtaking of Trans-Asia Nine may have affected the designated path of the Sulpicio vessel before it eventually collided into the 2GO-owned passenger ferry.

Also, the Trans-Asia Nine reportedly did not pick up passengers from the sinking ferry.

In an interview with ABS-CBN, Trans Asia Management admitted their ship did indeed receive the distress call from the sunken passenger ferry. But they decided against returning to the collision site because they did not want to put at risk the lives of some 300 of their own passengers, as well as the passengers of the M/V Thomas Aquinas, a number of who had already jumped into the water by then.

Early this morning, the remains of a woman and an infant were retrieved by divers, bringing the total death toll to 75. At least 46 more passengers remain unaccounted for, mostly children.

Meanwhile, the Maritime Industry Authority (Marina) has confirmed that at least one of the vessels involved in Friday night's collision was traveling on the wrong lane.

In an interview on Headstart, Marina administrator Maximo Mejia said that the 2GO passenger ferry deviated from its lane.

"There is accurate information on the 2GO track..if you look at the track, it's not coming into the lane it's supposed to," he said.

However, it is too early to assign blame as Marina is still in the middle of its investigation and information on the PSACC-cargo ship track is not yet on hand.

"The question is where is the Sulpicio ship? Did it also deviate?" Mejia added.

The 2GO-owned passenger ferry subscribes to a satellite tracking service, giving Marina access to its movement information on the night that it sank. On the other hand, the PSACC-owned cargo ship does not subscribe to a similar tracking service. In the Philippines, it is not mandatory for domestic maritime vessels to subscribe to tracking services.

Marina is also gathering the testimonies of the crew of other ships in the area given conflicting reports from the captains of the two colliding ships.

A total of 831 people were on board the M/V St. Thomas Aquinas, 715 of whom were passengers while 116 were crew members, when the cargo ship rammed into it last August 16.

Sulpicio Express Siete, which carried 36 crew members, sustained damage but did not sink.

The cargo ship's owners were formerly known as Sulpicio Lines Inc., which owned the MV Doña Paz ferry that collided with a tanker in the Sibuyan Sea in December 1987, killing 4,386 people. This accident ranks as the world's worst peacetime maritime disaster.

To prevent future collisions, Mejia said a vessel traffic management system needs to be set up, especially in Cebu where maritime traffic is heavy.

READ: After Cebu ferry disaster, PH asks what went wrong

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