Jun 30, 2008
During the night of June 21, a ferry owned by Sulpicio Lines was caught in a typhoon in the Philippines archipelago. It burst open on a sand bank and sank in a few minutes. More than 700 drowned, most inside the overturned hull.
Sulpicio Lines put out a press release invoking the “anger of mother nature” and asking God for consolation. In fact the typhoon did change direction in an unpredictable manner, but the coast guard had warned the ferry, ordering it to change course. It wasn’t able to do so because of a motor problem – which had nothing to do with nature, and everything to do with the lack of maintenance and rundown equipment.
Sulpicio Lines, owned by one rich Filipino family, maintains 16 passenger ferries and 16 cargo ships, traveling between the different Philippines islands. It is notorious for being responsible for the most deadly civilian shipwreck. In 1987, one of its ferries sank after colliding with an oil tanker, leading to the death of more than 4,000 passengers. The Philippine office of maritime investigation cleared Sulpicio Lines and the oil tanker of any responsibility. The families of the victims filed several suits which were dismissed in 2007. Then, in 1988, 250 people perished in a shipwreck of another ferry of the same company which went to sea despite a storm warning. The Philippine justice system again cleared the company of responsibility, invoking “an act of God.” In 1998, a new shipwreck took place, causing 150 victims. Finally, last year, a fire broke out on a Sulpicio ferry, without leading to a shipwreck.
Faced with the emotion raised by this new catastrophe, the Philippine government suspended the navigation permit for all the company’s ships. But for how long?
In its advice to tourists, a European government warned, “due to the lack of maintenance and the disregard of safety regulations, shipwrecks and fires aboard ferries are common in the Philippines.” It couldn’t be clearer. But the Filipinos, particularly the poorest, have no other way to travel between islands than to get on such ferries.