By this time, everybody who’s ever read the newspaper beyond the comics section is aware of the latest tragic comedy that the Mejia administration is co-authoring. The July 2 sinking of the M/B Kim Nirvana led to the death of 62 people, but according to the MARINA chief, the agency is totally not to be blamed for the disaster. Yes, MARINA said that the design of the Nirvana was safe and seaworthy; yes, they allowed it to carry up to 178 passengers even though it was originally built for only 144; yes, it was permitted to load 178 passengers even though its insurance only covered 144; and yes, it was caught with about 209 passengers onboard and it was so unstable that it sank just minutes after leaving port, but it was not overloaded. But it’s not our fault, MARINA says.
Maritime stakeholders are all up in arms after hearing Mejia’s seemingly tongue-in-cheek statements at the House Committee hearing into the Nirvana incident. Many were fit to be tied when the chief unequivocally stated that ‘misloading’ rather than overloading, was the reason why the boat capsized. Mejia defended his conjecture by explaining that the vessel could have carried 178 carabaos safely, provided that they were properly secured. He says that based on his calculations, Nirvana’s load was well-within its capacity.
Experts have already attacked the logic behind Mejia’s statement. There have already been other published articles ridiculing his blatant ignorance of fundamental maritime transport concepts. Some have pointed out that Mejia was confusing gross tonnage and carrying capacity; others pointed the obvious difference between passenger count and cargo load. But just for fun, how about we take Mejia’s argument at face value, and reply in the same vein? As in they say in the Filipino vernacular, “patulan natin yan.”
So let’s say that the Nirvana is indeed not overloaded. By this logic, doesn’t this imply that ratings of carrying capacity for passenger vessels are merely an inconvenient convention that does not serve any real purpose? Isn’t it rather embarrassing for the Philippines to have a high-placed maritime official admit to this sentiment, in front of national and international press nonetheless? With this kind of principle being subscribed to by the very leadership of MARINA, is it any wonder domestic shipping safety is in such a poor state? The MARINA is the primary agency tasked to uphold ship operators to standards of safety and ethical practice; with such ‘elastic’ notions of passenger capacity, who is left to protect the riding public from the greed of unscrupulous ship operators who care nothing about the sanctity of lives and property onboard?
Isn’t it a simple equation: if the maximum capacity of a boat is 178 passengers, then once the 179th passenger comes onboard, the vessel is already carrying more than it should? But why does Mejia insist that carrying 209 passengers is not overloading? Is it because, in his mind, he sees the riding public as carabaos whose lives are not that important? And even more significant, does he have a personal vendetta against carabaos? What did the poor carabaos ever do to him, that they should be dragged into this fiasco?
You know what I think? Mejia is a sneaky fox. With his controversial carabao statement, he has managed to throw a smokescreen over the underlying issue here. When Mejia quotes that 178 carabaos could have easily fit into the Nirvana, take note that he was effectively ignoring the fact that there were 209 passengers onboard, not just 178. Why did no one in the house hearing ask whether he was able to calculate for 209 carabaos? I would have dearly loved to hear his answer.