Captains Suspended Following Philippines Ferry Disaster

Philippine's Navy rescuers wait for divers, who are searching for survivors and bodies from the sunk ferry that collided with a cargo vessel (background) on Friday, in Talisay, Cebu August 17, 2013. A Philippine ferry sank after colliding with a container ship owned by a company involved in the world's worst peacetime maritime disaster, killing at least 24 people and leaving more than 200 missing, the coast guard said on Saturday.    REUTERS/Erik De Castro
Philippine’s Navy rescuers wait for divers, who are searching for survivors and bodies from the sunk ferry that collided with a cargo vessel (background) on Friday, in Talisay, Cebu August 17, 2013. REUTERS/Erik De Castro

Officials in the Philippines have suspended the captains and all crew members of the cargo ship and ferry involved in last week’s fatal collision near Cebu City as a formal hearing into the incident gets underway.

Latest figures show that 80 people were killed and 40 remain missing following the August 16 collision between the M/V St. Thomas of Aquinas ferry and the M/V Sulpicio Express 7 cargo ship just off the central Philippine port of Cebu. The St. Thomas of Aquinas, loaded with about 900 passengers and crew, sank within minutes of the collision.

Initial reports have showed that the MV St. Thomas of Aquinas had been at sea for about nine hours after leaving Nasipit, a port on the southern Philippine island of Mindanao, when it approached Cebu, located about 350 miles south of Manila. The MV Sulpicio Express 7, laden with containers, had just left Cebu’s port with 36 crew. The two collided in a narrow channel about 600 yards wide in the dark at about 9 p.m.

A formal hearing into the incident conducted by Special Board of Marine Inquiry kicked off at the Coast Guard headquarters in Cebu City on Friday, with testimony from both Masters and the Coast Guard Cebu Station Commander. Local media reported that during the inquiry both captains said they were in the correct lane and had tried to reach each other by radio but failed to make contact.

The 5-member panel will look to review whether both ships followed regulations, with focus on the final moment leading up to the collision.

The incident has reignited the debate over what to do about the Philippines’ abysmal record in maritime safety.