(www.MaritimeCyprus.com) MV St. Thomas Aquinas was a Philippine-registered passenger ferry operated by 2GO Travel. On 16 August 2013, the vessel collided with a cargo ship named MV Sulpicio Express Siete of Philippine Span Asia Carrier Corporation (formerly Sulpicio Lines) causing it to sink. As of 21 August 2013, there were 61 dead and 59 missing with 750 rescued as a result of the accident. The ferry, named after the Catholic Saint Thomas Aquinas, was a 455-foot (139 m) long roll-on/roll-off ferry capable of transporting both passengers and their vehicles. It measured 11,000 tons and was commissioned in 1973. It was operated by 2Go at the time of its sinking.
The ship sank within 30 minutes. As the crew hurriedly handed out life jackets, hundreds of passengers jumped overboard. Prompted by the captain’s order to abandon ship, St. Thomas Aquinas began to take on water in order to prevent it from sinking. The cargo ship MV Sulpicio Express Siete, owned by the Philippine Span Asia Carrier Corporation, collided with it when it was heading into the port of Cebu City via the Cebu Strait at approximately 1.2 miles (1.9 km) from Talisay, Cebu. The incident occurred on Friday, August 16, 2013, when St. Thomas Aquinas departed from Nasipit, Agusan del Norte, Mindanao, heading to Cebu City.
The collision caused significant harm to the front of Sulpicio Express Siete. Despite not sinking, the Sulpicio Express Siete currently has 36 crew members onboard. A representative for 2Go stated that it is highly likely that certain passengers were in the affected area and are now trapped due to the damage. Numerous passengers were asleep or faced difficulties navigating to the deck in the darkness. At the moment of impact, St. Thomas Aquinas had a total of 715 passengers (including 58 infants) and 116 crew members.
Hotels near the location where the rescued passengers were taken were conducting formal rescue efforts, as stated by the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC). A rescuer stated, “We heard cries and screams in the water and just picked up the survivors and left the dead behind.” Local fishermen saw several distress flares, which helped with the initial rescue efforts launched from Thomas Aquinas St.
The rescue operations were hindered by bad weather and resulted in 65 missing and 55 confirmed dead, with an additional 750 people being rescued by the Coast Guard. On August 19, as a result of the accident, there were 85 missing and 35 confirmed deaths, with operations being suspended due to rough seas. However, on August 18, before the rescue operations were suspended, 172 more people were confirmed dead and 31 others were reported missing due to safety concerns. Finally, on August 17, Saturday, divers began the process of recovering bodies from the sunken ship.
The Philippine Coast Guard stated that it is highly likely that the number of fatalities will increase. Ingesting seawater and petroleum, which is suspected to have leaked from St. Thomas Aquinas, caused illness among a large number of the individuals who managed to survive.
Special traffic control measures were implemented in an attempt to prevent accidents at the port, which is exceptionally narrow in the case of the Port of Cebu. 2Go also mentioned that the cargo vessel of Sulpicio Line cannot be solely held accountable, although it was reported to have collided with St. Thomas Aquinas. Once rescue operations are completed, an official investigation will be initiated to determine the cause of the accident.
The sinking of the Paz Doña ferry in 1987, which resulted in an estimated 4,000 deaths, is notably one of the five most involved maritime disasters in which the Asia Span Philippine Carrier Corporation has been implicated. These maritime accidents are common in the Philippines due to a combination of lax enforcement of safety regulations and poor maintenance, as well as unfavorable weather conditions.
The outbound lane of the Sulpicio Line Siete was located in the inbound lane instead. Captain Galipher Ian Faller served as the captain of the Trans Asia Nine, a cargo ship belonging to Trans-Asia Shipping Lines, in that area and testified before the Special Board of Marine Inquiry led by Commodore Gilbert Rueras of the Philippine Coast Guard on 23 August in Cebu City. The captains of the Sulpicio Express Siete and the MV St Thomas Aquinas also provided testimony during the inquiry.