Collusion of Marina, PCG under probe

D0J also looking at the possible grounding of the three sister vessels of MT Princess Empress.

The Department of Justice on Friday said the Maritime Industry Authority and the Philippine Coast Guard will now be subjected to an investigation by the inter-agency committee and the National Bureau of Investigation after allowing the sunken MT Princess Empress to sail even if it lacks a pertinent Certificate of Public Convenience.

“Yes, yung PCG po at ‘yung Marina ay kasama din po sa investigation dahil nakakuha kami ng information na kahit (PCG and Marina are now included because we received information) lacking po yung documents and requirements nila (MT Princess Empress) for compliance, they were still allowed to sail,” DoJ Assistant Secretary Mico Clavano told reporters.

Possible connivance will also be a subject of the probe, Clavano said.

“Kaya tinitignan namin yung (we are looking into) possible collusion between some MARINA and PCG employees or officers and we’re trying to figure out bakit nakapag sail pa itong (why it was able to sail) MT Princess Empress kahit wala pa silang (sans) amended CPC tsaka wala silang (and no) permit to operate,” he added.

Ground sister vessels

Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla said the DoJ is looking at the possible grounding of the three sister vessels of the MT Princess Empress.

“If the vessels are similar to the MT Princess Empress they should be grounded, especially if they belong to the same owner,” Remulla said.

He said “MT Princess Empress is the newest licensee. These are four vessels. The owner just didn’t place them in one permit.”

He said the NBI has in its possession an affidavit from a person who is privy to information about the MT Princess Empress. He did not identify the person.

“One of the major findings is that the vessel is not new,” said Remulla, who noted misrepresentations that the vessel was brand-new.

He said he was also informed that despite gale warnings, the vessel still left port on 28 February. It then sank in rough weather off Naujan and began spilling its cargo of industrial oil.

The vessel, he said, was not built to be a tanker but was refurbished as one. Reports said it was reconfigured to carry liquified petroleum gas before it was lengthened and reconfigured to carry industrial fuel oil.

He said the investigation will also look at the insurance angle since it appears the tanker was insured for a large amount, possibly $1 billion.

Remulla said an inter-agency panel will be formed in the case-build up to determine the civil and criminal charges that may be filed against the owners of the MT Princess Empress.

There is a need for a “whole of government approach” to the oil spill issue and the NBI will be part of the panel, he said.

On top of civil and criminal liabilities, the panel would also look into the extent of the damage caused by the oil spill.

Remulla said they will contact Dr. Kent Carpenter, the world’s expert on marine biodiversity, to help assess the damage caused by the oil spill.

Charterer has the liability

Meanwhile, a former member of the PCG Board of Marine Inquiry expressed his opinion that the reported charterer — SMC — of the ill-fated MT Princess Empress is liable for the damage the sinking of the vessel has caused on the marine ecosystem and the livelihoods of thousands of fisherfolk in Oriental Mindoro.

Capt. Demetrio Ferrer said SMC can be sued for Reckless Imprudence Resulting in Damage to Property or for violation of the Toxic Substances and Hazardous Waste Management Act (RA 6969), which is a special law.

“There are conditions between the charterer and the operator of the vessel. The company (SMC) per se is responsible as they are the ones who should monitor the whereabouts of the vessel and as they own the cargo which, in this instance, was industrial oil that is highly combustible and harmful to the environment,” he said.

On the other hand, he said heads must roll in the Marina or the PCG for allowing a vessel carrying hazardous chemicals to sail without a Certificate of Public Convenience.

“The tanker is a water-tight vessel and should not sink. And if this vessel was properly checked, they could have certified that the vessel had no CPC,” he said.

The owner of the vessel, meanwhile, faces the same liability as the charterer, aside from civil liability if found negligent in their vessel management, Ferrer said.

“The PCG and Marina as regulatory bodies may face administrative cases for not inspecting the seaworthiness of the vessel before its sailing. Marina should provide a statutory certificate when a vessel is not in compliance with the system, for example, the Safety Management System,” he said.

The Supreme Court, several years back, ruled that the charterer of a vessel, in that case, Caltex Philippines Inc., had no liability when the tanker it had hired to carry its petroleum products, the MT Vector, collided with the MV Doña Paz of Sulpicio Lines Inc. resulting in the death of approximately 4,000 passengers.

The case had been brought before the SC after Caltex sought a reversal of the Court of Appeals decision “holding petitioner jointly liable with the operator of MT Vector for damages when the latter collided with Sulpicio Lines Inc. ‘s passenger ship MV Doña Paz.”

The collision of the Vector and the Doña Paz was the country’s worst maritime disaster.

Classifying entity’s accreditation also suspended?

It was earlier revealed by environmental group Protect Verde Island that SL Harbor Bulk Terminal Corporation, a subsidiary of SMC, had chartered the MT Princess Empress from owner RDC Reield Marine Services to carry 900,000 liters of industrial oil from Bataan to Iloilo. The tanker encountered rough weather and sank off Naujan, Oriental Mindoro.

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