A House deputy minority leader is pushing for investigation into the circumstances surrounding the ferry fire that struck the M/V Lady Mary Joy 3 off the waters of Basilan that claimed the lives of 31 passengers and injured several others.
Deputy Minority Leader and Basilan Rep. Mujiv Hataman said he intends to file the resolution once work resumes in the House after the Lenten season break.
He said he is also seeking a review of related maritime laws, common carrier statutes and other operational rules and regulations applicable to sea vessels carrying passengers and cargo in the hope of crafting legislation to strengthen laws and regulations protecting passengers.
M/V Lady Mary Joy 3, a vessel operated by Aleson Shipping Lines Inc., was en route to Jolo, Sulu from Zamboanga City when it caught fire off the shores of Baluk-Baluk Island in Hadji Muhtamad, Basilan.
Search and rescue operations were immediately launched jointly by the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), Philippine Navy (PN) and the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP), along with local government personnel.
“Many are still unaccounted for. We owe it to their families that these missing passengers are found,” Hataman said.
He also noted complaints about the alleged lack of appropriate and sufficient response from Aleson Shipping Lines while the incident was happening, especially in assisting the victims and their families.
There is also a discrepancy between the official manifest of passengers of the M/V Lady Mary Joy 3 as released by Aleson Shipping Lines Inc., and the report released by the PCG.
“We hope to ascertain and clarify all of these once a congressional inquiry is undertaken. If these can be addressed by legislation, we will do so in Congress. If this is a problem in implementation, we should address it,” Hataman said.
“We should make the inquiry as comprehensive as possible to plug all the holes in legislation and in implementation,” he added.
A similar inquiry is also being pressed through a resolution filed by two members of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) Parliament—MP Amir Mawallil and Deputy Speaker MP Laisa Masuhud Alamia.
Mawallil and Alamia, both principal authors of BTA Proposed Resolution No. 209, also wants to determine the adequacy of the safety measures and protocols in place for sea travel within the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM).
Heads should roll
Someone should be held accountable for the deaths of the passengers of MV Lady Mary Joy 3, according to Cavite Rep. Elpidio Barzaga Jr.
Barzaga said the PCG and Maritime Industry Authority should explain if the vessel was again overloaded since such has always been the case in previous maritime accidents.
He said he could still distinctly remember the 2008 investigation of the House committee on transportation into the sinking of M/V Princess of the Stars, which claimed the lives of over 800 people “and now, this tragedy in Basilan happened.”
The enactment into law of the Maritime Code measure was among the transportation panel’s recommendations after its inquiry into the 2008 maritime tragedy, the passenger ferry owned by Filipino shipping company Sulpicio Lines that sank on June 21, 2008, off the coast of San Fernando, Romblon, at the height of Typhoon Frank.
“What is the Coast Guard doing? If there were so many passengers, did they not check if the vessel was overloaded? Secondly, is there already an action to stop the shipping line from operating its other ferries on account of this incident? Barzaga asked.
Mayor Arsina Kahing-Nanoh of Hadji Muhtamad, Basilan earlier said the ferry’s manifest was inaccurate, which made it difficult for authorities to conduct search, rescue and retrieval operations.
She said the Coast Guard’s record showed there were only 205 passengers. However, 195 people were already rescued, excluding the number of those who died, which means that the figures do not match.
Image credits: Philippine Ports Authority Zamboanga via AP