Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Frank's Fatal Fury

Was it fate that carried a 24,000 ton ship handicapped by engine malfunction, to clash with a 120 mph typhoon aided by walls of waves and enveloping darkness, in a contest so lopsided and an outcome so predictable? Or was there criminal neglect? The hapless ship was lashed by powerful winds on its left side, then slammed by giant waves from the right, causing the vessel to sway uncontrollably in any direction the wind or the waves would lead it. It no longer had command of its journey, and it had meekly conceded its destiny. It ceased to protect its passengers beneath and left them at the mercy of the fates.

Inside, 800 passengers and crew members wrapped in fear and panic, screamed in horror as they stampeded toward the exits leading to the deck. About a hundred were able to jump or be thrown overboard by the combined forces of nature. The ship keeled over within 15 minutes, it was over for the MV Princess of the Stars. But not for the estimated 700 passengers trapped inside the overturned vessel. After more than 15 horrifying minutes of grappling with terror, hysteria, and insanity amidst chaos and confusion, they have to contend with seeing their loved ones, some their entire families, die slowly from drowning. The pain of this vision and their helplessness at preventing it, is the last image they see as they gasp for their last breath of life. This pain is etched permanently on their lifeless faces as they are retrieved from underneath their temporary tombs.

Typhoon Frank ( International code: Fengshen) was plotted by the Philippines weather administration(PAGASA) to move northward as other's did, and it gave warnings about the impact on areas affected. But the typhoon was so erratic it veered west, cutting through several provinces and inducing damages running into millions of dollars, before going northward. This path placed it on a collision course with the MV Princess of the Stars. The Coast Guard allowed the ship to leave because the path plotted was not in the typhoons forecast direction, and its size and tonnage can take a signal # 1 impact capably. The vessel owners have released the inspection certificates and safety standards documentation that were issued by the government, to show compliance with all safety requirements of the ship.

PAGASA cannot be faulted for the erratic behavior which it also warned the public about; the Coast Guard cannot be faulted for letting the ship sail based on the weather conditions, path, and ship's size; and the ship owners cannot be faulted for using decrepit vessels for commercial purposes. It seems only the passengers were at fault, for insisting to sail on that fateful day. For a country that experiences an average of 20 typhoons a year and a long history of shipping disasters, it has mastered the art of dealing with rescue and relief operations for flooded areas, as well as the angry soundbytes and saber rattling statements from politicians about deaths at sea.

Passengers who patronize inter-island vessels belong to the poorer inhabitants of the country's provinces. The greedy rich who own these vessels do not dare ride on these ships, but they will offer sympathy and a measly $5,500 dollars to the families of those who perished. It is not even on a per individual death, but a fixed amount to the family of those who lost entire families. The media will continue to air grievances of victims' relatives for as long as viewership is high and newspaper sales rise; politicians will speak with anger against those in control and grieve with the relatives, to generate name recall and gather votes - while getting "donations" from the shipping companies for their campaigns; the rich and powerful will continue to provide "services" to the poor using the minimum safety standards and requirements they themselves dictated to the concerned government agencies.

It may be true that this tragedy did not have the hand of criminal neglect splashed all over its pages. But it cannot erase the doubt in the minds of the relatives about the connivance for cover ups that were so blatant in past incidents - whose investigations and coverage diminished in intensity as public interest waned - leaving the poor to negotiate for meager benefits. In the end, it is always the marginalized who are marginalized further, decimated in huge numbers by the greedy rich who live on their sweat, and by the politicians who benefit from these scams.

Or perhaps it is their method of giving gratitude, by sending them to their deaths to end their agony and miserable lives.



Kim said...

hello Durano
dear oh dear
this is such a tragedy...and the poor have suffered beyond belief...
I don't know how they can continue to put these shoddy ships out to sea...how very terrifying for those poor souls...
governments have a lot to answer for...
that amount of compensation is digusting !!!

durano lawayan a.k.a. brad spit said...

Hello Kim,

Tragedies such as these can always be avoided, but then the same old explanations for the recurrence of these incidents crop up as if they have a template for every situation.

The typhoon as I saw on CNN was covering a large area. based on the statements of government agencies, Manila was not in the typhoons direct path, but it veered west, directly hitting the City and its immediate environs.

However, based on the typhoons effective size, and strength, Manila should have had a signal #2 at least, making the vessel unsafe for travel.

Reports of engine malfunction are being drowned out by the show of documents and certifications which could easily be obtained with bribes without the necessary inspections.

I interviewed some of the survivors and they gave me harrowing accounts of the last 12 minutes or so of banging and swaying that terrorized passengers beneath.

The offered compensation is abominable and lawyers have been contacted to have these adjusted upwards. Of course, this is part of their negotiation strategy, to start low - their best position. Imagine negotiating with the lives of those already gone, and if they can get away with that niggardly amount, the happier they are.

This way of running a business should sink them financially in the near future. :-( --Durano, done!

Jenaisle said...

At tragic times like this one , can we point the accusing finger at anyone?

It maybe everyone's fault - PAGASA -for the forecast, the ship's owner, the government....

While everyone is pointing a finger at everyone - the miserable families suffer.

It is a tragedy way beyond average comprehension..there are many what ifs.

My heart goes to the grieving families. The best we could do, is to pray for them.

And I have to say it is a very well written post - like it was written by my favorite "Inquirer" writer - My hats off to you.

durano lawayan a.k.a. brad spit said...

Hi Jena Isle,

Let me just say that Sulpicio lines has a habit of sailing their ships even if there is a storm on or near its charted path, this is the common denominator in all 4 disasters involving their vessels including the Dona Paz in the last 2 decades.

Their idea is that losses would be avoided from the ship's operations. I guess paying off the victims' families, if ever, is cheaper.

The malfunction is being removed from reports, but survivors say something went wrong with the engines prior to the violent swaying of the vessel. The thing is, the survivors are not engineers so their testimony will not be very convincing. Isn't that convenient?

We cannot really say if it was tough luck that it ran into, but the irony is that the Princess of the Stars was an ill-starred ship that sailed into a perfect storm.

Perhaps there was nothing deliberately omitted, but there could still be neglect. Thanks for the compliment, you're too kind.:-) --Durano, done!

Jenaisle said...

Yes, I agree with you Durano. The senate always investigates after the tragic mishap but they never promulgated a law prohibiting the operation of Sulpicio lines, or even some suspension of their license. Isn't that surprising?

You talked about the event in the first person. I was wondering if indeed you work for our leading local newspaper...(grins)

Anyway, thanks for that logical and enlightening reaction.

Happy blogging.

The Fitness Diva said...

Oh boy. I now have a fear of going on cruise ships. Never did before. I've been on several lovely cruises in my lifetime.
Everything has become so unpredictable! Nowadays we are hearing too often stories of similar tragedies with cruise ships capsizing in the middle of the ocean, with hundreds of passenger lives lost.

I know that the weather had much to do with this, but that does nothing to allay my trepidation.
Those poor people. Rest their souls!

durano lawayan a.k.a. brad spit said...

Hi Jena Isle,

Politicians will always be politicians, and anything that will give them exposure, especially one that pretends to be for the masses will definitely be used.

Sorry, I don't work for a newspaper nor any print media, or media in general for that matter.:-) I am in a non-government organization involved with countryside development as well as urban renewal projects. Most are donor funded but we do some on our own; or, we extend a lot of extra work and resources to the target communities so that they can fully benefit from the funds provided.

I interviewed some of the survivors over the weekend, that's why I was not able to post until yesterday, so I know, more or less, what went on inside the ship as it was swaying.

Thanks for your interest. We have arranged with the Church to provide relief and aid to the relatives, perhaps you can donate. :-) -- Durano, done!

durano lawayan a.k.a. brad spit said...

Hi Fitness Diva,

Cruise ships are much better maintained and their clientele have very exacting standards. Their international reputation is critical to their continued operations, lest they be barred from calling on any port or be banned from operating. They have powerful customers who can really give them tremendous boost or overwhelming condemnation.

Contrast that with an inter-island ferry in a third world country where the customers are poor, from the provinces, and without any clout. You would expect the politicians to protect them, but they cannot make any contribution to his/her campaign coffers. Plus, their being so poor is in a lot of instances deliberate, so that their votes can be bought. So, since these voters are dead, they are of no use except to make their relatives feel they truly care for them; then he is welcome to buy their votes come election time.

Some might say I'm generalizing, but I've been around long enough and extensive enough to know that this is not an isolated concept.

In any case, you're much safer with cruise ships, they're lovely and the service is supreme, the food is exquisite, and the wine is glorious. :-) --Durano, done!