Saturday 17 August 2013

Oil spill and numerous casualties as passenger ferry sinks near Cebu Harbour.

A passenger ferry has sunk at the entrance to the Port of Cebu on Friday 16 August 2013. The 2GO operated MV Thomas Aquinas collided with a second vessel, the Philippine Span Asia containership MV Sulpicio Express 7 at around 8.45 pm local time (12.45 pm GMT), and sank within 30 minutes. The ship had onboard 831 passengers and crew, including 23 described as infants. At the time of writing 629 have been rescued alive and 32 bodies recovered, although the Philippine Coast Guard are warning the number of fatalities is likely to rise due to high seas hampering the rescue attempts.

The MV Sulpicio Express 7 after the 16 August 2013 collision. Ted Aljibe/AFP.

As well as the passengers the MV Thomas Aquinas was carrying around 160 000 liters of oil. There have been signs of a slick at the surface, which the Philippine Coast Guard have tried to contain with a boom, though again this has been hampered by rough sea. It is unclear how much of the oil has been leaked and how much remains on the vessel, though there are plans for a team of specialist divers to visit the vessel when the weather allows.

The collision occurred as the MV Thomas Aquinas was entering the harbour en route from Nasipit on Mindanao Island, and the MV Sulpico Express 7 was leaving the port bound for Davao City, also on Mindanao. The vessels should have been kept at a safe distance by a Traffic Separation Scheme, operated under the the International Maritime Organization's International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea, which stipulates clear shipping lanes for ships traveling in different directions, separated by clear water which no vessel should enter. Because of this authorities in the Philippines suspect that one or both of the vessels involved in the collision may have had an instrumental failure, and have suspended the operations of all vessels belonging to either 2GO or Philippine Span Asia, pending inspections of onboard equipment.

The approximate locations of Cebu (pink), Nasipit (purple) and Davao (red). Google Maps.

Parallel enquiries into the incident will be carried out by the Philippine Maritime Industry Authority and  Board of Marine Inquiry.

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