Sulpicio workers urge government to lift ban, fear mass lay-offs

Published by rudy Date posted on July 22, 2008

Workers of Sulpicio Lines Inc. (SLI) urged the government yesterday to allow the firm to resume its passenger service to prevent employees from getting laid off.

Genaro Tasan, president of SLI Rank-and-File Union, said many workers stand to lose their jobs if the grounding of passenger fleets is not lifted immediately.

“While we join the families of those who died in mourning, we also seek the consideration of the government and various sectors calling for the closure of Sulpicio that we also have families to feed,” Tasan said in a statement released by the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines.

SLI management had allegedly dismissed more than a hundred ship stewards a month after the Department of Transportation and Communications ordered the grounding of its passenger vessels following the sinking of M/V Princess of the Stars last month.

Tasan said the union supports an impartial investigation of the sinking and that it will not hesitate to help in the prosecution of anyone found liable for the tragedy.

More than 30 passengers and crew have survived the tragedy but more than 600 others are missing and presumed dead.

“By all means, let those who failed to do their jobs and contributed to the accident face the appropriate charges, but let the investigations be expedited so that we can all go back to our lives,” the union said.

It also urged the speedy inspection of the other ships of SLI, a requirement before it is allowed to operate again.

“The halting of Sulpicio’s operations has already caused the jobs of 136 of our members, and we are afraid that more will follow unless our ships are allowed to sail.” the union added.

More time needed

Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) chief Vice Admiral Wilfredo Tamayo said the Board of Marine Inquiry (BMI) may have to defer the release of its findings for another day or two as it has to examine more documents.

“We are still gathering some documents such as the stability of the ship and the stability calculation. You have to understand that most of the documents were inside the vessel M/V Princess of the Stars that capsized off Sibuyan Island and we are just asking the shipping company to provide us with the documents,” Tamayo said, adding that he will forward BMI’s report to Transport Secretary Leandro Mendoza.

“We are still collating the reports from the respective board members and deliberating on the findings. We are putting things in order,”  BMI member and spokesman Capt. Demetrio Ferrer said.

The BMI called 13 hearings and 28 witnesses were invited to testify.
Ferrer said one of the issues they have to resolve is why the ship’s captain Florencio Marimon Sr. continued to move the vessel forward despite his knowledge that there was a typhoon ahead.

Remove endosulfan now’

The World Wide Fund for Nature-Philippines (WWF) is pushing for the immediate retrieval of the toxic chemical fertilizer endosulfan from the submerged Princess of the Stars.

“We are strongly urging the national government and Sulpicio Lines to avert a second Sibuyan Sea disaster by giving utmost priority to the swift recovery of the two shipments of persistent organic pollutants (POPs) locked within the M/V Princess of the Stars,” the WWF said in a statement.Del Monte Philippines Inc. was the owner of the endosulfan cargo on the ill-fated vessel.

“Considering that the moisture barriers containing the toxic shipments are under prolonged water pressure, there is a possibility of a breach. If the chemicals mix with seawater, the persistent poisonous effects of these chemicals will most certainly affect coastal biodiversity, and may lead to long-term health impacts on the people of Sibuyan,” it added.

WWF vice chairman Lory Tan said endosulfan caused the largest number of fatal poisoning cases in the country when it was used to kill kuhol or golden apple snail in the 1990s.

In 1995, he said endosulfan used on cotton fields contaminated a 25-kilometer stretch of river in Alabama killing 24,000 fish.

“That is why speed is paramount here. For all intents and purposes, this is a ticking time bomb and each day the containers spend submerged endangers not just the lives of Romblon’s residents, but the area’s rich marine life as well,” Tan pointed out.

“Environment is not the only issue here. The province’s fisheries and food security are at stake.  Beyond health and biodiversity, the impacts of a second disaster will be largely economic,” he said.

WWF president David Valdes said the Princess of the Stars tragedy should compel officials to set “a reasonable but firm phase-out period” for endosulfan and other POPs.

“Recognizing the contribution of the canned fruit sector to the Philippine economy, we call for a collective process – involving industry, the Fertilizer and Pesticide Authority (FPA), scientists and NGOs – to identify, test, and mainstream safe alternatives to endosulfan and other POPs,” he said.

“There are viable ecological and non-chemical substitutes which all responsible companies should switch to,” he added.

“Once described as ‘eternal poisons’, POPs are known to remain in the environment for decades after they are applied,” WWF said.

“Their concentrated application in one site may create what marine scientists have described as a death zone,” WWF said.

“While the government has provided immediate disaster relief, it must be prepared to provide longer term assistance to Sibuyan should a spill occur,” it also warned.
– Sheila Crisostomo, Philippine Star with Katherine Adraneda and Eva Macairan

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