The Philippine Star

Many readers reacted to our column, “Horror story of an old RORO’s journey” (Philippine Star, April 6) wherein we described the harrowing experience of passengers and crew aboard M/V Oliva.

The 30-year-old vessel, owned by Montenegro Shipping, drifted for about nine hours after one of its engine conked out on its way to the port of Lipata, Surigao.

One of the readers, who requested not to be named, wrote, “I fully agree with your comment that Marina (Maritime Industry Authority) should make a thorough inspection of the Montenegro fleet in view of the M/V Oliva incident that caused her to drift at least nine hours toward Camiguin. This incident again hastens the need to enforce stricter regulations on old RORO (roll on, roll off) ships. 

“There is merit for Marina to investigate the seaworthiness of the Montenegro fleet. Being involved in three incidents in a span of less than 30 days, Marina should investigate not only the condition of vessels, but also of its shore and shipboard personnel competence.

“If the report that only half of Montenegro’s old vessels are operational is accurate, Marina should subject the company to stricter review before allowing its vessels to sail.”

RORO ship owner reacts

Jonathan Lim Imboy, a ship owner based in Cebu City, sent the following short note: “I have read your column dated April 6, about the RORO tragedy that involved the Montenegro Shipping Lines.

 “I just want to inform you that not all RORO vessels are unsafe, and not all ship owners always consider ‘business’ when seeking clearance to sail. I would like to see you to explain and let you know my company’s program for a safer RORO travel experience.”

I would be interested to know more about the Jonathan Lim Imboy’s shipping company and its program to make RORO travel experience safer, and would appreciate receiving relevant information material.

Afraid RORO passenger

Lito Realto, a concerned regular RORO traveler, sent this short note: “There are talks the officers and owner-representatives were aware the engine was in trouble even before sailing, but did not disclose so clearance to sail could be obtained.

“Is this true? Will Marina investigate this? I use the RORO regularly, and am afraid this is happening regularly.”

A shipping man’s view

A former executive in the shipping industry, and now a semi-retired consultant and adviser to companies involved in large infrastructure projects, sent the following comments. He likewise requested anonymity. Read on.

“Excellent article, but in my humble opinion, a strong follow-through is needed. M/V Oliva is a two-engine vessel. A thorough investigation must be conducted to confirm that at departure, one engine was already kaput yet the master signed a declaration that his ship was OK.

“The investigation should establish whether he knew right away upon departure that one engine was out.

“It is illegal to sail a passenger ship with one engine out. If proven, this is criminal negligence on the part of the captain and Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) clearing officer.

“If this action was known and tolerated by the Montenegro management, DOTr  (Department of Transportation)/Marina  should order the entire fleet of Montenegro grounded while their crewing credentials are checked and International Safety Management practices evaluated.”  

Urgent action by Marina

Before things get any worse, Marina should prioritize the investigation on the three incidents involving Montenegro Shipping, and make public their findings.

Aside from M/V Oliva, the other two Montenegro ships that were involved in earlier accidents were M/V Rina Hosanna and M/V Divina Gracia. The former caught fire just at it was about to enter the Batangas City waters, while the latter ran aground off the waters of Batangas.

If serious infractions were committed and/or criminal liability is established on the erring shipping company, then an appropriate action, i.e., suspension or fines, or both, should be immediately meted out.

Because no lives were lost in the incidents (although there were injuries in the accident involving M/V Divina Gracia and unimaginable anxiety for passengers of M/V Oliva, there is a possibility that what happened will just be swept under the rug.

Implement reforms for safer RORO travel

This should not, however, distract us from the more important issue of coming up with long-term measures that will ensure that all passenger ships operating in the country, ROROs included, are safe for passengers and cargo.
We continue to lobby for three important steps that our transportation officials should implement:

First, set the maximum age of RORO vessels to 30 years. In consideration of the time needed by ship owners to find replacement vessels, the ruling can have a moratorium period of three years.

During this interim period, however, all vessels that are 30 years old or older will only be allowed to operate on a temporary basis subject to stringent annual inspections. After the three years is over, all ships 30 years old and older should be retired for good.

Second, all importation of second-hand RORO vessels 20 years old and over should immediately be banned. Why do we continue to accept vessels that have already been disallowed for operations in the countries that are selling them to us?
Third, enforce a ruling stipulating that all ROROs allowed to operate in Philippine seas must be fully classed, preferably by a member of the International Association of Classification Society.

A vessel that is fully classed is eligible for better insurance coverage covering not just passenger lives, but also third party liabilities including passengers’ medical needs and benefits, damage to properties, and maritime environment and wreck removal operations.

DOTr Secretary Arthur Tugade and Marina officials should heed the call of thousands of RORO travelers for a safer mode of transportation rather than cave in to the pressures, political and other forms, being exerted by the lobby of ship owners of ageing fleets.

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