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Sulpicio Lines vessels in major marine mishaps

June 24, 2008 11:30pm
GMA News Research compiled 49 major marine mishaps that occurred since 1980. The latest entry involved the M/V Princess of the Stars, which capsized off the coast of Romblon on June 22, 2008.

M/V Princess of the Stars is the fifth Sulpicio Lines vessel to figure in a mishap. The other four are M/V Doña Paz, M/V Doña Marilyn, M/V Princess of the Orient, and M/V Princess of the World.

M/V Doña Paz

In what the International Maritime Organization considers as the biggest maritime tragedy in the world, Sulpicio Lines-owned M/V Doña Paz collided with M/T Vector on December 20, 1987. M/T Vector was carrying Caltex petroleum products when the accident occurred. Official reports recorded 1,856 casualties; however, other unofficial reports peg the death toll around 4,000.

In 1988, the Board of Marine Inquiry found M/T Vector solely at fault.

In 1989, relatives of two of the victims--public school teacher Sebastian Cañezal and his 11-year-old daughter Corazon--filed a complaint for damages against Sulpicio Lines, which in turn filed a third-party complaint against Vector Shipping Inc. and Caltex.

The trial court decided against Sulpicio Lines and dismissed the third-party complaint. On appeal, the Court of Appeals modified the trial court's ruling and held Vector and Caltex equally liable.

Caltex filed a petition before the Supreme Court, which ruled in favor of Caltex in a September 30, 1999 decision.

The Supreme Court set aside the Court of Appeals ruling insofar as it held Caltex liable for damages; it noted that Caltex, as charterer of a vessel, has no obligation before transporting its cargo to ensure that the vessel it chartered, Vector, complied with all legal requirements.

But the Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Appeals decision insofar as it ordered Sulpicio Lines to pay damages to the heirs of Cañezal. Vector Shipping Corp. was held liable to reimburse/indemnify Sulpicio Lines whatever damages, attorneys' fees and costs it is adjudged to pay the victims.

In September 2006, the Court of Appeals ordered Sulpicio Lines to pay P15 million in damages and other fees to the heirs of one of the victims of the Doña Paz tragedy.

M/V Doña Marilyn

On October 24, 1988, less than a year after the Doña Paz tragedy, huge waves brought by a storm capsized M/V Doña Marilyn, which was sailing from Manila to Tacloban, Leyte. Seventy-seven people were killed.

In 1990, a Special Board of Marine Inquiry found that the sinking of the vessel was due to force majeure.

Thirty-four passengers filed a complaint for damages against shipowner Sulpicio Lines for loss of personal effects, including cash, and physical injuries resulting from the sea mishap.

The Regional Trial Court in Palo, Leyte, ordered Sulpicio Lines to pay each of them P50,000 in moral damages, P150,000 exemplary damages, a total of P592,422.55 as actual damages, P48,000 medical expenses, P64,000 litigation expenses, P780,000 attorney's fees, and costs.

On appeal, the Court of Appeals reduced the award of exemplary damages to P50,000 for each passenger and deleted the award of attorney's fees. Sulpicio Lines elevated the case to the Supreme Court when its motion for reconsideration was denied.

On January 25, 1999, the Supreme Court affirmed a Court of Appeals decision ordering the award of damages to the 34 passengers of M/V Doña Marilyn.

In a resolution, the High Tribunal's Second Division denied the Sulpicio Lines petition "for lack of showing that the Court of Appeals committed any reversible error."

M/V Princess of the Orient

Almost 10 years after the M/V Doña Marilyn mishap, on September 18, 1998, the sinking of the M/V Princess of the Orient near Fortune Island in Batangas resulted in the death of 70 people. Eighty remained missing.

In 1999, the Board of Marine inquiry found the officers negligent.

Later that year, DOTC said Sulpicio Lines committed "probable gross negligence" which resulted in the sinking of M/V Princess of the Orient; it asked the DOJ to file charges of multiple homicide through reckless imprudence against Sulpicio's owners.

Napoleon Sesante, one of the passengers who survived the mishap, filed before the Quezon City Regional Trial Court a case for breach of contract with damages against Sulpicio Lines. He has since died, of other causes, and was substituted by his heirs.

In a ruling issued on October 12, 2001, the Quezon City RTC ordered Sulpicio Lines to pay Sesante temperate damages worth P400,000, moral damages worth P1 million and the costs of the suit. Sulpicio Lines elevated the case to the Court of Appeals.

On June 27, 2005, the Court of Appeals affirmed the award of damages to Napoleon Sesante, one of the passengers who survived the sinking of M/V Princess of the Orient.

In the decision penned by Associate Justice Roberto Barrios, CA affirmed the lower court decision but reduced the temperate damages to P120,000.

M/V Princess of the World

More than 200 passengers were onboard M/V Princess of the World when it caught fire near the Zamboanga peninsula on July 7, 2005. Fortunately all of them were rescued from the burning vessel.

Sources: International Maritime Organization, Board of Marine Inquiry, Supreme Court, Court of Appeals, BusinessWorld, Philippine Daily Inquirer, Philippine Information Agency, Manila Standard Today