Archive for the ‘New Year ferry suspension’ Category

Storm Signals Lowered, Coast Guard Suspension of Trips Remain, The Classic Conflict and Ten Thousand Stranded in Bicol

January 4, 2009


As of 4:30pm today, Sunday, January 4, 2009 Typhoon ‘Auring’ has changed direction to the North and it will no longer hit land. Consequently, all public storm signals have been lowered except for Eastern Samar.

If there are no storm signals prevailing, normally ferries can set sail. However, for prudence’s sake, the Philippine Coast Guard maintained its suspension of sea travel at 10 points. That will mainly be in Bicol, Eastern Visayas and Caraga region.

Reports say over 10,000 people are stranded in Bicol. I will not be surprised if the total number of people right now reaches 30,000 all over the suspension areas.

I have said in a previous article that it is wave heights that primarily matters and not wind speed [“Two Boat Sinkings, A New Year Ferry Suspension in Bicol, Wave Height and Gale, 01/02/09]. But I checked the PAGASA forecast and there is no mention of wave height! It is Mike Padua’s weather service website ‘www.maybagyo.com’ that has a wave height forecast but it is just near the typhoon’s center.

So nobody knows right now how large the wave will be in the ferries’ routes. Though PAGASA enjoins ships to report meteorological conditions in their specific areas I don’t know if this is heeded. And if heeded I don’t know if PAGASA has a way of consolidating and disseminating it.

This is the borderline area that produces sea accidents. Of course, ship companies would want to sail. In the case of overnight ferries to Cebu if they don’t sail they probably won’t have a ship available for the next night because none arrived. And this throws awry their set schedules.

As I write this it is the time for peak departures of ferries. These departures are usually bunched between 7 to 8pm. I know that they will be trying to break free of the Coast Guard leash and try to sail even by midnight tonight so they can still meet their sked tomorrow. So sometimes this becomes a cat-and-mouse situation. If the seas are rough in their ports, the captains may not turn out bull-headed at all. But if it is calm, he will be at the face of the local Coast Guard commander, who in many cases is not of officer rank. But, of course, he will have no way of knowing how strong are the seas in his route.

The situation points out one problem in the Philippines. Even in Spanish days we have watchtowers who are able to observe local sea conditions. This was reinforced by the Americans. Part of this system are the lighthouses. However, in recent decades the old watchtowers started to crumble and some of the lighthouses are already automated, meaning there is no one manning them.

But the problem is this system is not under PAGASA but under the Coast Guard and it is PAGASA that makes the forecasts. Moreover, many of these lighthouses have no communication to a data collection point. Sayang (a waste), because anyway many of these have cell site coverage. And big ships are anyway sailing but I wonder if reports from them are assidously followed up.

Old England has a system of coast watchers. Don’t we need to emulate it given our long coastline and reliance on the seas?

I will be interested in the further development of this discourse. This is a safety at sea question where people, especially the sailing public, should be interested in.

[photo credit:daylite]

Two Boat Sinkings, A New Year Ferry Suspension in Bicol, Wave Height and Gale

January 3, 2009


For thousands of Bicol ferry passengers the forlorn walls of the ferry terminals in Tabaco (Albay), Pilar and Matnog (both in Sorsogon) was their New Year’s eve sight. This came about because government authorities, on the advice of the weather bureau, suspended small crafts from sailing citing forecasts of waves of up to four meters high.

This suspension is probably a reaction to the recent sinking of the motor boat MB Mae Jan which plies the Calayan island to Aparri, Cagayan route in which about half of its 100 passengers died. It was said that the weather was fine when the boat left Calayan but it turned bad before the boat reached its destination. The incident highlighted the disregard of PAGASA (the Philippines weather forecasting bureau) advisories which warned of big waves for that day.

Maybe the suspension is only correct. Forecast of wave heights should be the governing factor in ferry trip suspensions rather than wind speeds which is the basis for typhoon forecasts. It is waves that primarily swamp and capsize ships and not the winds per se. People should probably start to understand now that ships can meet sinking incidents even without a typhoon warning (and I am glad PAGASA now uses the term ‘gale’ to describe stormy sea conditions). I hope that government will stress more the importance of heeding wave height forecasts and educate people accordingly.

Sometimes I wonder if we need MB Mae Jan incidents for us to learn these things. But with the new system I hope the lives lost in that incident and in the MB Don Dexter Cathlyn sinking off Dimasalang, Masbate which killed about 40 people would not have been in vain.

This day, this change had a new twist. Ferry trips in Bicol were again suspended but this time the reason for the suspension is the refusal of the ship captains to venture out to sea combined with the barring of sea travel by the the Coast Guard. I hope this development augurs a new era of more pro-active observance of sea safety. I think we have needlessly lost enough lives in sea tragedies over the years because of the bahala na (leaving things to providence) attitude.

However, I hope this will not augur a new era of over-cautious sailing when ships are grounded when a storm is still far away and it so happened only that there is already a typhoon warning. Economic oppurtunies are lost this way. There is no need to automatically suspend ships when it is still shining and wave forecast is still moderate.

For prudence, maybe a finer distinction between small ships is needed. Old sea travellers know that outriggers and motor boats which are wooden are more vulnerable than steel ferries and there are bigger ferries that can handle waves better. The should not all be lumped under the category of ‘small sea craft’.

More passengers will be stranded in the future, for sure. But maybe it will also teach them how to read weather forecasts especially those that are available on the Net which is numerous enough and is up-to-date.

[photo credit: freewebs]