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Maritime accidents must be prevented at all cost, at all times

Maritime accidents must be prevented at all cost, at all times
Manila Bulletin Aug 3, 2023

Typhoon Egay's fury left a trail of destruction in Luzon, claiming lives and causing devastation. Tragically, it indirectly claimed the lives of 27 passengers aboard the M/B Princess Aya in Laguna de Bay on July 27, 2023. The motorized banca they were riding faced the wrath of Typhoon Egay, but reports suggest that alleged neglect from authorities also played a role in this preventable maritime accident.

It was supposed to be a routine 30-minute boat ride from Binangonan, Rizal to nearby Talim Island, but the journey turned tragic as the boat capsized shortly after departure. Investigations revealed that the vessel was overloaded, a decision allegedly made by the skipper despite knowing the risks involved. The boat, certified to carry only 42 passengers, embarked on its journey with 70 people on board.

The loss of precious lives, spanning various age groups, plunged the island-community into mourning. It has also reignited the call for accountability and stricter enforcement of safety regulations in the maritime industry. Ironically, this recurring call emerges with every maritime tragedy, but meaningful action and encompassing reforms often eludes us in the aftermath.

With this, the Senate has responded to the call for accountability, with Senator Grace Poe filing Senate Resolution (SR) 704 and Senator Raffy Tulfo filing SR 705 to initiate an investigation into the matter. Poe, the chair of the Senate Committee on Public Ser-vices, emphasized the need to revisit maritime safety compliance, determine the adequacy of regulations, and address any complacency in implementation.

"Despite being an archipelago, the Philippines has a poor maritime safety record with people dying in sea mishaps yearly, usually on-board aging, wooden motorboats used for fishing or to move people from one small island to another," Poe said in a statement.

Poe said the boat's owner and the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) should also explain why there were more passengers on the vessel than its allowed capacity. She pointed out reports that the passengers had no life vests. She also said that the investigation must shed light on crucial questions such as why PCG allowed the motorboat to sail despite the strong winds and heavy rains.

On the other hand, Tulfo's SR 705 urges relevant agencies, including the PCG and the Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA), to conduct a comprehensive investigation to identify the causes of the incident, assess safety protocols, crew training, vessel maintenance, and potential negligence. Tulfo strongly stressed that those responsible for any negligence or lapses from relevant government agencies will be held liable and accountable.

This latest disaster reminds us once again of the many maritime tragedies our country has faced. While we cannot prevent sea travel entirely due to the nature of our archipelago, or stop the arrival of a typhoon, we must address factors that are in the hands and responsibility of boat operators and authorities. Properly maintaining vessels, preventing overcrowding, and strictly enforcing safety rules can significantly reduce risks and save lives.

In the upcoming Senate hearing, there may be finger-pointing and blame-shifting. We hope, however, that the investigation will delve into the root causes and hold those accountable to face the full force of the law. Allowing this incident to become just another "show" would normalize maritime accidents, and we cannot accept that outcome. We have to remember that even one victim in a preventable accident is one too many.