MANILA, Philippines- The list of accidents Sulpicio Lines has figured in makes for chilling reading. According to Lloyd’s of London, Sulpicio ships have been involved in 45 accidents since 1980, including seven sinkings. (The complete list can be downloaded as a file at http://www.inquirer.net/verbatim/table.pdf.)
The seventh, of course, was the sinking of MV Princess of the Stars last month, at the height of typhoon “Frank.” Lloyd’s, the world’s leading clearinghouse of maritime information, estimated the casualty toll of the latest accident at “150 dead and 700 missing.”
Each death, each missing person claim, was avoidable, if government authorities or the shipping line’s management itself had recognized the company’s safety record for what it was: a scandal, an outrage. We have raised this question before, we raise it again: If an airline had this kind of record, would it still be in business?
We do not need to dwell on the seven engine-trouble accidents involving three ships. (We cannot but note, however, that one stalled ship, the Filipina Princess, was “stranded for 3 days.”)
The record of fires breaking out on board is a little more worrying. Four of the six incidents happened in the last eight years; a fire struck the ill-fated Princess of the Orient several months before the ship capsized (in the middle of a storm); in 2003 a fire on the Iloilo Princess was so severe it caused the ship to roll over. No casualties were reported then, but the vessel was declared a total loss.
The record of Sulpicio ships running aground is even more disturbing. In 28 years, the firm has suffered 19 groundings, including four ships that sustained so much damage they were subsequently declared a total loss. At least two ships ran aground during typhoons. One ran aground and caught fire.
The record of collisions does not build confidence either. A Sulpicio Lines vessel has collided with another ship six times since 1992; a collision has occurred every two or three years.
It is the record of sunk ships, however, that proves that Sulpicio Lines does not deserve its franchise. In particular, the sinking of three ships in the middle of a typhoon—one every 10 years, quite literally—tells us that the shipping company has failed the basic test of common carriers. To assure the safety of its passengers.
We’ve said this before; we’ll say it again. After Doña Marilyn sank in 1988, while sailing in the middle of a typhoon (“Ruby”) and claiming 150 lives, and after Princess of the Orient sank in heavy seas in 1998 (during typhoon “Vicki”) and claiming 150 lives, why did Sulpicio allow its flagship Princess of the Stars to set sail in the middle of typhoon “Frank”?
Its safety record should have told Sulpicio to wait the storm out. (As we’ve noted, at least two other Sulpicio vessels were involved in an accident while sailing during a typhoon.) Its failure to do so can only mean that having the worst accident record among the country’s major shipping lines did not mean a thing to Sulpicio management. If they got away with murder before, what’s another storm, another sinking?
It is true that suspending Sulpicio’s franchise would cause some economic dislocation, but that is the price we have to pay, the price we should have paid many years and thousands of lives ago, to protect the public. That we seem to lack the political will to do so (as we wrote yesterday and we write again today) “all points to a culture that confuses one’s own interests with the public good.”