Shipping firm to sue Philippine weather agency for mishap

June 27th, 2008 - 11:07 pm ICT by IANS  

Manila, June 27 (Xinhua) The owner of a Philippine ferry that sank in the devastating Typhoon Fengshen with more than 800 people on board said Friday he would sue the country’s weather agency for not giving timely information about the typhoon. According to Philippine TV network GMA News, shipping company Sulpicio Lines, which owned the sunken ship MV Princess of the Stars, said it would charge the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (Pagasa) next week for failing to update the ship’s crew about the movement of Typhoon Fengshen.

At least 70 passengers were confirmed killed when the MV Princess of the Stars sank off Sibuyan Island, 300 km south of Manila. More than 740 people are still missing and feared dead, while 48 have survived the accident - the worst in the past two decades.

Sulpicio Lines’ lawyer Arthur Lim said the shipping company will charge Pagasa with gross incompetence and negligence, saying that the ferry could have averted the tragedy had Pagasa issued an additional warning on the typhoon’s movement.

Lim said the ship’s route from Manila to Cebu was not completely reflected in the Pagasa bulletin they received before sailing.

At the Board of Marine Inquiry investigation earlier Friday, Nestor Ponteres, Sulpicio’s port captain in Cebu, claimed that the company was informed six hours late by Pagasa regarding typhoon Fengshen’s changing course.

Ponteres also claimed he was in constant communication with the ferry’s captain, Florencio Marimon Sr, before the ship sank. Marimon is still missing.

Ponteres added that there were alternate routes that the ship could have taken had the warning been relayed earlier.

But Pagasa director Prisco Nilo said that they always make sure to release weather updates to the public even though predicting the behavior of a typhoon cannot always be precise.

“Anywhere you go, the warnings and the bulletins are updated a number of times in a day, usually four times a day taking into consideration that (weather) forecasting is not an exact science,” Nilo said, adding that shipping companies also have the responsibility to closely monitor the weather condition to ensure its vessels’ safety.

Sulpicio Lines had earlier blamed the Philippine Coast Guard for the tragedy, saying Wednesday that it was the Coast Guard’s task to plot routes for vessels during inclement weather.

The Board of Marine Inquiry, however, said the 1998 memorandum circular on which Sulpicio Lines based its arguments had been replaced with an updated June 2007 memorandum circular that places responsibility on the ship’s owner and captain.

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