Sarangani seeking damages vs foreign vessel in reef accident

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/12 May) – The provincial government of Sarangani is planning to seek damages against the owners of the Panamian-registered cargo vessel that rammed into Bakud Reef off the coasts of Kiamba town last Sunday, damaging four hectares of a critical reef, which is one of Sarangani Bay’s 11 protected marine sanctuaries.

Sarangani Gov. Miguel Rene Dominguez said the owners of M/V Double Prosperity, which was carrying 65,900 tons of coal, should be fined for environmental damage as three factors – including an intoxicated crew – were suspected to be the cause of the accident.

The 39,000 gross tonnage vessel, which was bound to India from Australia, is manned by Filipino crewmen.

Dominguez gathered the Philippine Coast Guard, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources to determine the action that would be taken against the shipping company.

“Our objective here is to make the boat safely pulled out from the reef, no collateral damage will be done, and that the rights of the province is protected and compensated,” Dominguez said in a statement.

He disclosed that a marine biology expert from University of the Philippines was asked to determine the extent of damage on the reef and coral life caused by the grounding of the ship.

In a related development, Dirie Macabaning, area superintendent of the Sarangani Bay Protected Seascape, said that their initial assessment placed value of the damage at P30 million. “Our inspection team has yet to complete their assessment but the reports so far showed that the damage on the reef was quite significant,” he told reporters.

Macabaning said their inspection team, which is being assisted by Coast Guard divers, initially expressed concern on the impact of the vessel’s grounding on the corals that usually take years to grow.

Dominguez said they are planning to negotiate with the vessel’s mother company for the immediate rehabilitation of the damaged reef.

“We’re looking at holding on to the boat, subject to an agreement, until the company completes the rehabilitation of the area,” he said. The governor said the local government will bring the matter to the courts if the company would not accept the rehabilitation offer.

Roy Echeverria, PCG Southeastern Mindanao acting deputy commander, said their investigators found out that there was a leaking at the fore peak tank of the vessel.

But he noted the vessel is in a stable condition and allayed fears of the spillage of oil or the coal cargo to the sea.

Danilo Sta. Ana, captain of M/V Double Prosperity, admitted in a video clip that the cause of the accident was human error, particularly “miscalculation of the vessel’s position.”

“It was too late when our duty officer discovered the mistake. We immediately tried evasive action through hard porting but it was really too late then,” he said in an interview over a local television station.

Sta. Ana clarified that the accident damaged the vessel’s balance tank, which is “quite far” from their fuel storage area.

“Our fuel supplies are intact. There was no oil spill,” he said.

In its investigation report, the PCG cited three possible causes: the officer failed to properly maneuver, the master failed to provide navigational watch due to alcohol impairment, and the ship was on auto pilot and no one was manning the wheel.

Sunday’s accident at Bakud Reef was the second after M/T Golden Alkane also ran aground in July 2009.

Dominguez admitted there was a blunder when they did not pursue damage claims against the vessel operator, adding this time they “don’t want to make the same mistake again.”

Echeverria, on the other hand, said that M/V Double Prosperity’s involvement in a maritime accident may lead to a suspension under the International Maritime Organization rules. (Bong S. Sarmiento and Allen V. Estabillo / MindaNews)