MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – The Hong Kong-flagged bulk carrier Vienna Wood did not attempt to sail away after it collided with the Philippine fishing boat Liberty 5, but it did not deploy its crew to assist the distressed mariners, Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) commandant Vice Admiral George Ursabia Jr said on Tuesday, June 30.
“It’s one of those things that we are going to consider in conducting an investigation because we have to establish liabilities here,” Ursabia said in a virtual media briefing, adding the Vienna Wood crew may face civil and criminal liabilities for the incident.
“Sa tingin ko, hindi naman ganoon na sinadya. Sa mga marinero naman, it is a criminal act to do that. Nagkataon lang talaga na that’s a sea lane, that’s a highway so the bulk carrier has the right to transit there,” said Ursabia. (I think it wasn’t intentional. Among mariners, it is a criminal act to do that. It just so happened that’s a sea lane, that’s a highway so the bulk carrier has the right to transit there.)
“Siguro mayroon lang aberya sa aspeto na ‘yon kaya nagka-collision,” he added. (There must have been some aberration somewhere that resulted in the collision.)
The PCG on Tuesday released the names of the 14 missing persons from the Liberty 5:
- Jose Magnes E. Alfonso (Captain);
- Renante H. Dahon (Chief Mate);
- Reynil V. Magura (Chief Engineer);
- Miguel Q. Booc III (Assistant Chief Engineer);
- Joeffry R. Bantog (Oiler);
- Jeerom D. Alaska (Oiler);
- Michael B. Flores (Master Hatchman);
- Jayson A. Vigonte (Hatchman);
- Adrian Robert S. Amogod (Hatchman);
- Bartolome P. Oab, Jr. (Hatchman);
- Herbert J. Dalabajan (Hatchman);
- Reynald S. Riparip (Passenger);
- Ariel L. Tabang (Passenger);
- Edwardo S. Manipol, Jr. (Passenger).
The general manager of the boat owner, Irma Fishing and Trading, earlier said the passengers were also employees of the company.
Distress call received 3 hours late
Ursabia noted that the collision actually happened Saturday night, June 27, at 10:20 pm. It was the Vienna Wood’s distress call – sent through email – that was received by the PCG command center more than 3 hours later at 1:46 am of Sunday, June 28.
Earlier PCG reports cited by the media said the incident happened between 1 and 2 am on Sunday.
When vessel crews are in trouble, they usually send distress calls through VHF radio. The Vienna Wood may have been beyond the reception range at the time and opted to send an email instead, Ursabia said.
Those first 3 hours after the collision would have been crucial in saving the 11 fishermen and 3 passengers on the Liberty 5, he added. Seawater would not yet have engulfed the capsized boat, and chances of finding the crew members, if they were trapped, would have been higher.
‘Very poor visibility’
The seas were rough and the southwest monsoon blowing hard and raining heavily when the Vienna Wood and Liberty 5 crossed paths around 14 nautical miles off Mamburao, Occidental Mindoro, Ursabia said, citing the cargo ship crew master’s account of the incident.
On Saturday night, the 31,540-ton Vienna Wood’s radar detected two vessels along its course, a large one and a small one – the Liberty 5.
The Vienna Wood and the large vessel communicated and agreed to do a “starboard-to-starboard pass” – both ships veering to the right to avoid a collision.
And then, to avoid the Liberty 5, the Vienna Wood again turned, this time to portside or leftwards, but the fishing vessel “suddenly altered course” putting it on a collision course with the cargo ship.
These were according to the Vienna Wood crew master, which the PCG has yet to verify, Ursabia noted.
The Liberty 5 sustained heavy damage to its portside hull, while the impact bore a hole on the Vienna Wood’s stem, the most forward part of its bow. With this, Ursabia said the collision may be characterized as the Liberty 5 getting hit or “nabangga” by the Vienna Wood.
Other vessels in the area
When the Vienna Wood stopped and its crew saw 7 other fishing vessels in the area trying to assist the distressed Liberty 5, they decided to steer a safe distance away from the site, Ursabia said.
With the cargo ship’s sheer size, it would have posed a danger to the fishing boats if it tried to drop anchor near them. Adrift, the steel hulk could have smashed into the other vessels.
Ensuring the other vessels’ safety and not running away from the scene may count as “50%” of the Vienna Wood’s obligation to the Liberty 5, said Ursabia, but they should have actively tried to rescue the distressed mariners.
“There really is basis that they had to render immediate assistance from their end despite the fact that there were already fishing vessels in the vicinity,” Ursabia added.
The PCG has yet to get statements from the crews of the 7 vessels that tried to help the Liberty 5, because it is currently focused on search and rescue operations for the 14 missing Filipinos, the commandant said.
‘Were they on autopilot?’
The PCG will keep up the search all through Wednesday. On Thursday, it would assess whether there would still be “a need to continue” if none of the missing are found by then.
“Right now it’s too early to tell. We are hoping they are still alive,” Ursabia said.
Because the incident happened in Philippine waters, the investigation and any would-be prosecution would be under Philippine laws and jurisdiction. If found responsible, members of the Vienna Wood crew may face reckless imprudence or even homicide charges.
The probe will look into whether the cargo ship’s safety management system was working properly, and whether it had competent crew members on watch at the time of the incident. It will also study the Vienna Wood’s course based on its automatic identification system or AIS.
“Were they on autopilot?” Ursabia asked.
The PCG chief said the ship’s flag state – Hong Kong is a special administrative region of China – is “well-informed” and will be exchanging initial reports with their Philippine counterparts.
The Vienna Wood is currently detained in Batangas Bay as the PCG investigates the incident. The crew is cooperating well, and the ship’s insurer appeared on Monday, Ursabia said.
The PCG hopes to finish the probe by Tuesday, July 7. – Rappler.com