PAMB wants Board of Marine Inquiry on Bakud reef disaster

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/20 May) — The Protected Area Management Board (PAMB) of Sarangani province wants a special Board of Marine Inquiry (BMI) to determine the “real cause” of the grounding two weeks ago of a Panama-registered cargo vessel at a critical reef along Sarangani Bay.

Sarangani Gov. Miguel Rene said Friday the PAMB executive committee has passed a resolution requesting the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) to constitute the BMI and conduct an in-depth investigation into the circumstances that led to the grounding of the coal-loaded cargo vessel M/V Double Prosperity at Bakud Reef.

He said they want the special probe body to specifically to look into speculations that the predominantly-Filipino crew members of the ill-fated ship were watching the fight of world boxing champion and Sarangani Rep. Manny Pacquiao and American brawler Shane Mosley when it ran aground before noon on May 8.

“These are all speculations at this point but we have reasons to believe that these are valid points that our maritime investigators must consider and look into deeper,” Dominguez said.

PCG personnel earlier raised the possibility that the stranded vessel’s officers and crew members, among them 21 Filipinos, were busy monitoring the Pacquiao-Mosley brawl when it ran into the reef, located some 2.5 miles of the coasts of Barangay Tambilil in Kiamba town.

M/V Double Prosperity’s Filipino skipper Danilo Sta. Ana denied the allegations but acknowledged that the incident was caused by their “miscalculation” of the vessel’s route.

The vessel, which is carrying 65,900 metric tons of coal, originated from Australia and was en route to India when it ran into Bakud Reef. The reef, which is about 2.5 miles from the shores of Kiamba town, is part of Sarangani Bay’s protected marine sanctuaries based on Presidential Proclamation 756.

The vessel’s owners commissioned at least two barges from Cebu City to help unload its cargo and facilitate its pullout from the reef within the week.

Citing results of the PCG’s investigation, Dominguez said the stranded vessel was reportedly cruising around five miles off its preset way points when the incident happened.

“It was possible that the vessel sailed closer to the mainland so the crew members could send text messages or watch the fight of congressman Pacquiao. But these are all speculations and we have no way to verify them at this time,” he said.

But during the PAMB meeting, some municipal mayors asked why a foreign vessel like M/V Double Prosperity would sail so close to the mainland.

Maitum Mayor Elsie Perett noted that the Aboitiz-owned Superferry vessels usually take farther routes when they sail by the area. Kiamba Mayor Raul Martinez said he was not convinced with the statements given earlier by the vessel’s officers and crew members regarding the supposed reasons that caused the grounding of the cargo vessel.

“I personally doubt them because I know that the area is not part of a vessel’s normal route,” the mayor said.

Meantime, Dominguez said the PAMB executive committee also issued authority to the provincial government, through the provincial legal office, to take the lead in the filing of charges in connection with the incident.

He said they have tasked a team led by Sarangani legal officer Atty. Arnel Zapatos to prepare and file all the necessary against the cargo vessel’s owners.

M/V Double Prosperity is owned by Tanagra Shipping, S.A. The governor earlier said the local government would make the owner of the vessel pay for the damages the accident caused to Bakud Reef.

Dominguez said they have requested marine biology experts from the University of the Philippines to determine the extent of damage on the reef and coral life caused by the grounding of the ship.

PAMB officials earlier pegged the damage to the reef as a result of the vessel’s grounding at around P30 million. (Allen V. Estabillo/MindaNews)