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MV Princess of the Orient Victims Win Civil Suit

The Regional Trial Court presided by Judge Ramon Codilla in an 11-page decision on 15th of May, 2008 directed Sulpicio Lines, Inc to pay P550K to an army officer who survived the tragedy of the sinking of MV Princess of the Orient sinking. Another survivor was also awarded P200K and P1Million to a couple who lost a daughter.

Sulpicio Lines, Inc. was levied five percent of the total award as the cost of the suit ruling that the sinking amounted to gross negligence and incompetence on the part of the crew.

MV Princess of the Orient sank in stormy weather off Batangas in 1998 with 70 confirmed dead and left 80 people missing.

In another case Sulpicio Lines, have been ordered to pay P6.24 million over the death of Seaman Ernesto Unabia in a suit filed by his wife Verna Unabia and her three children. News Publisher has a very interesting report that points to the failure of Sulpicio Lines to take the necessary action regarding the ship’s captain, to quote:

It was viewed that Sulpicio was responsible as they failed to remove Captain Esrum Mahilum from the vessel despite a number of incidents involving the ferry while he was in command of it. Princess of the Orient had struck the bottom of Manila’s North Harbour, sideswiped a container ship and suffered a crippling engine fire while berthed at North Harbour, being towed first to Cebu and ultimately Singapore for repairs.

Despite these serious incidents while the ship was under Mahilum’s care, however, he was not removed from captaincy or even disciplined. A Board of Marine Inquiry (BMI) investigation into the ultimate sinking of the Princess of the Orient would later say that Suplicio did not have enough initiative to take action against him. The court ruled this made them responsible for his actions.

On September 18, 1998, the day of the sinking, Captain Mahilum was warned before starting out that severe weather was approaching. He wrongly calculated that the storm was safely distanced and left port regardless, running into the storm two hours later. Princess of the Orient began listing to the left and a distress call was sent, but she sank before help arrived. The BMI’s report blamed the disaster on the captain making “erroneous maneuvers of the vessel before it sank.” He remains missing to this day.

This is a very welcome development, a glimmer of hope that after 10 years we now see vindication for those who opted not to settle and fight it out in court. This should serve as an inspiration to the relatives of the victims who will take their case to court and not tempted for the settlement that Sulpico Lines are dangling to them.

What is odd is that Sulpicio Lines, Inc defense takes on a familiar route such as "greater unforeseen force" or "act of god" (yeah right, that is like saying god is so cruel) when it was all about incompetence of the ships personnel and lack of initiative from the owners to remedy the situation. Will it be the same in the MV princess of the Stars? Let us see how this unfolds and maybe, just maybe the geniuses under the "able" leadership of one with highly questionable tenure may see the light of day..........

For inquiries on the status of passengers Sulpicio Lines has uploaded the passenger manifest, updated list of survivors and crew list, send inquiries via email at sulpicio@sulpiciolines.com or call their Manila Hot line at (02) 242-4258, (02) 474-5205 (02) Cebu (032) 5162728 Mobile 09174228344, 09174228339

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