MANILA, Philippines–The Maritime Industry Authority (Marina) on Saturday suspended the safety certificate and crew documents of roll-on roll-off (ro-ro) ferry M/V Blue Water Princess, which ran aground off the coast of Quezon province on July 11, resulting in the death of at least 15 people.
The M/V Blue Water Princess, owned by AC-Joy Express Liner and operated by Blue Magic Ferries, left Dalahican port in Lucena City on Wednesday afternoon bound for Masbate. But the 483-ton vessel was battered by strong winds and seven-meter waves, which made it run aground. It is now half-submerged on its port, or left, side.
Only 11 of the 15 fatalities based on updated company records have been identified.
They are Rodolfo de la Fuente, ship chief mate; Wilgin Perlas, ordinary seaman; Daveson de Guzman, apprentice, and passengers Nicanor and Leonila Arsipe of Placer, Masbate; Gloria Deuda, Masbate City; Jean de Jesus, Palanas, Masbate; Cristina Labong, Masbate City; Lourdes Ricafranca, Lucena City; Maribel Mirallo, Masbate City, and Lucena Arrizagada.
“Even if the ro-ro is salvaged and repaired, Blue Magic Ferries will not be allowed to run it,” said Arnie S. Santiago, Marina’s officer in charge for enforcement.
Santiago said the agency was still conducting an initial investigation.
“Marina, together with local port authorities, will also tighten checks on all ro-ro ferries, more so because we are expecting more bad weather,” Santiago said.
When the search is complete, the Board of Marine Inquiry (BMI), tasked with investigating maritime disasters, will convene immediately to pinpoint what went wrong and who should be held responsible. BMI is empowered to revoke the franchise of operators or suspend the license of ship officers.
But Virgilio Retardo, 61, captain of the ill-fated ship, asserted yesterday that the “unfortunate accident” was not the result of any “miscalculation” on his part.
“What brought the ship down were huge waves. It was my first time to encounter such big waves on that route, almost 20 feet tall. Those waves were very abnormal,” he said.
Retardo said he had been going through the Dalahican-Masbate sea lane for the past five years. “Those waves were very abnormal along that route.”
Holding back his tears, Retardo extended his sympathies to the victims’ families.
“I want to extend my sincere condolences to the families of the victims and I hope they will understand me because I did all I could for the safety of all passengers,” he said in Filipino.
Retardo said he had served as a licensed ship captain since 1981 without any maritime accident.
“I also lost three of my men, including my chief mate. Any ship official in that situation would have made the same decision that I made. It’s a judgment call to protect the lives of the passengers and I know I made the right decision,” Retardo said.
He said he was ready to face the BMI.
Retardo also debunked reports there could be more bodies in the ship’s eight cabins.
“We don’t have cabin passengers. If there are still dead bodies inside the cabins, why are they not included in the missing list as supplied by the survivors? All the missing have been accounted for,” he said.
According to a military report, divers found corpses inside the cabins of the M/V Blue Water Princess but were not able to retrieve them due to strong sea currents.
Lawyer Crisanto Buela, speaking in behalf of Blue Magic Ferries, maintained that the crew members were not remiss in their duties.
“It seems that the crew is now being made the convenient scapegoat,” Buela said.
“The ship was in good running condition. The engine and the generator were still running even if the ship was already lying on its side,” the lawyer said.
Buela said the ferry firm had provided financial assistance to the survivors, some of whom had returned home.
“The company is doing all it can to lessen the grief of the victims’ families by helping with funeral expenses, among other things. There’s no one to blame for this unfortunate tragedy,” he said.
He stressed that the company was ready and willing to cooperate with any government investigating body.