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Coast Guard Clears Shipping Company In 1987 Maritime Disaster

November 3, 1988

MANILA, Philippines (AP) _ A shipping company that was ordered closed after one of its ships sank in 1987 with thousands of people aboard and another went down during Typhoon Ruby was cleared of blame today in the 1987 tragedy.

A 69-page coast guard report blamed the December 1987 disaster on the 630- ton oil tanker Vector, which collided with the passenger ship Dona Paz off Mindoro island. More than 3,000 people are believed to have died.

The Dona Paz was owned by Sulpicio Lines, whose passenger operations were suspended by the government on Wednesday after another of its vessels, the Dona Marilyn, sank Oct. 24 during Typhoon Ruby, killing at least 76 people.

In the report, Pio Garrido, coast guard commandant, said a board of inquiry found the Vector at fault because it lacked qualified crew and equipment and had sailed without valid licenses.

″The operation of the MT Vector was not only risky but unlawful for want of the requisite licenses and certificates for her vessel and her officers,″ the report said. ″MT Vector and her registered owners are adjudged solely at fault and responsible for the collision.″

Sulpicio Vice President Vicente Gambito praised the coast guard report. ″We welcome this opportunity to vindicate the idea that our ships are unsafe and there is something patently wrong with our ships,″ he said.

On Wednesday, President Corazon Aquino ordered Sulpicio’s passenger services suspended while the government inspects its crews and ships.

Sulpicio, which operates 22 passenger and cargo vessels, accounts for 20 percent of domestic sea traffic among the country’s 7,200 islands.

But Gambito said today that Sulpicio had still not received the suspension order and was operating normally.

In its report, the coast guard said the Vector rammed the Dona Paz on the port side, immediately knocking out the engine and generator. Oil from the tanker ignited and the two vessels disappeared in a huge fireball.

Only 26 people survived, all but two from the Dona Paz. Only two junior crewmen from the Vector were rescued.

The coast guard said the Vector had a steering defect and sailed without a certificate of inspection. The ship had no radio operator and its radio license had expired nearly 18 months earlier, the report said.

It also found that the ship’s master, who was killed, did not have the required Chief Mate License and that there was no lookout on duty on the Vector’s bridge when the collision occurred.

Mrs. Aquino’s order suspending Sulpicio came nine days after the 2,855-ton Dona Marilyn sank during Typhoon Ruby with about 500 people aboard.

The two accidents prompted calls from the press and Congress for tougher enforcement of maritime safety regulations and for investigations into the seaworthiness of the inter-island fleet.

Meanwhile, the search for victims of the Dona Marilyn sinking continued today. Like the Dona Paz, it has been difficult to determine the number of victims because of confusion over how many people were aboard.

The Dona Marilyn sailed Oct. 23 from Manila. After it sank 300 miles southeast of Manila, 161 passengers and 39 crewmen were rescued. Gambito said at least 76 people were confirmed dead but only 54 bodies had been recovered.

Update hourly