This is not really about me, but about the people I meet, the places I visit and the stories I want to share.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Princess of the Stars No More

A few hundred bodies are presumed still trapped inside the ill-fated MV Princess of the Stars, lying upside down more than a kilometer from the shores of San Fernando, Romblon.

The relatives of the victims are asking, when will they be able to claim the bodies of their loved ones? The longer the bodies stay inside the ship, the higher the chances of retrieving them badly dismembered.

Residents of San Fernando are likewise asking, when will the ship be finally evacuated out of their waters? But aside from San Fernando, two other towns in Sibuyan Island are also badly hurt - Cajidiocan and Magdiwang which are also highly dependent on the abundant marine life of Sibuyan Sea.

As of now, there’s no stopping the provincial government of Romblon from filing a class suit against Sulpicio Lines. The Municipality of San Fernando may have accepted 180 boxes of assorted canned goods from the shipping company for the affected fishermen in coastal villages, but it does not calm down their anger for lost opportunities.

Good thing Sulpicio Lines did not ask the recipients of their goods to sign a waiver.

Since Day 1, fishermen and fish vendors were affected by the sinking of the MV Princess of the Stars. Nobody dared to buy fish in Sibuyan Island fearing seafood caught there fed on dead bodies waiting to be retrieved.

And the pesticide Endosulfan also made matter worse, not only for the divers who swam into waters possibly contaminated with the toxic chemical, but for residents of San Fernando and nearby towns who consume seafood caught in the waters of Sibuyan Sea.

Accroding to San Fernando Mayor Nanette Tansingco, in her town alone, some 1 000 families are affected because of the fishing ban being implemented as a counter-measure to the possibility of the pesticide leaking out of the sunken ship.

The class suit against Sulpicio has yet to be filed. But on top of the endosulfan scare, the threat of an oil spill occuring in Sibuyan Sea should not be overlooked. According to the Philippine Coast Guard, the ship carried 230,000 liters of bunker fuel oil when it left Manila.

Nevertheless, locals are still preparing for the possibility of bunker fuel oil leaking out of the ship and cauing destruction to lives and nature just like what happened to Guimaras in Western Visayas.

As it is, there is a whole range of problems caused by the ship - the still to be completed retrieval operations, the endosulfan scare, the threat of an oil spill, the effects of the fishing ban on the livelihood of residents.

And yet, just like the sunken ship, everything remains on a standstill.

I would like to believe that the real culprit here to begin with was the erratic weather on June 21 which the MV Princess of the Stars challenged. Of course, nature won. Contrary to claims made by Sulpicio Lines officials and some lawmakers that Pag-asa made erratic forecasts, it was really the unpredictable nature of weather that came into play. Although of course, we really cannot rule out the possibility of the captain of the ship committing disastrous miscalculations.

It could be that the ship entered the eye of the strorm as stated by MV Princess of the Stars crewmen who testified before the Board of Marine Inquiry that after experiencing rough weather conditions, the winds dropped, only to find themselves sailing through fierce winds again.

Or, it could be the fault of the captain that despite the bad weather, he still went on with his voyage despite the option of anchoring on a nearby island.

But again, while doing the inevitable fault-finding, officials should race against time in retrieving bodies rapidly decomposing inside the ship.

Days after the sinking, some relatives of the passengers traveled all the way to Sibuyan Island, hoping to personally identify and claim the bodies of their relatives. It is already difficult as it is to accept that your loved one died, struggling inside the vessel on that fateful day.

Hoping against hope, they never found their relatives among the dead bodies recovered near Sibuyan Island. But at least, it was a cathartic experience for them especially after a mass was held for the victims at the site of the shipwreck.

After the mass, one by one, the relatives blurted out their pent-up emotions – asking for forgiveness for simply not being there when the ship sank. They also threw flowers to the sea hoping that the souls who perished may soon find peace.

At the end of the mass, one of the relatives of the missing passengers, Mark Anthony Barrozo was in tears saying sorry to his partner Michelle. She was pregnant with their first child and was on her way to Cebu for a family reunion. Whatever it was that Mark Anthony was asking forgiveness for, I never asked.

After hoping against hope of finding Michelle in Sibuyan, Mark Anthony and the sister and brothers of Michelle headed to Cebu where the identification process through DNA testing is being held.

But before leaving Sibuyan, I gave them my contact number and told them to inform me about the good news of finally finding Michelle. But I have never heard from them since then.

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