The captain of the ill-fated M/V St. Thomas of Aquinas (STA) submitted himself for an initial investigation by the Special Board of Marine Inquiry (SBMI) today at the Headquarters of the Coast Guard District Central Visayas in Cebu City.
Capt. Reynan Bermejo, vessel master of STA that was hit by cargo ship M/V Sulpicio Express 7 and sank at the vicinity off Lawis Ledge, Talisay, Cebu last August 16, appeared before the formal hearing in connection with the collision incident.
Bermejo formally presented before the Special Board of Marine Inquiry the signed affidavit narrating the events prior to and during the collision.
During the hearing, Capt. Bermejo was asked by the SBMI to plot the waypoints of STA entering Lawis Ledge.
Positions before the collision was recalled by Capt. Bermejo and was asked by the SBMI to plot on the chart. The impact point was also identified and was pointed by Capt. Bermejo on the chart.
In addition, Bermejo said that many attempts to communicate with the M/V Sulpicio Express 7 vessel at Channel 16, which is the Official radio public frequency used by ships to communicate, were unanswered. Bermejo cited that only radar contact was made with the approaching cargo vessel. Further more, Bermejo stated to the SBMI that he was forced to alter the course because he did not get any response from the cargo ship's captain, Capt. Rolito Gilo.
Capt. Bermejo narrated the proper actions he has taken when danger was sensed. Through his testimony, Bermejo was able to establish that he was inbound, while M/V Sulpicio Express 7 was outbound with a point of collision on the inbound lane of the traffic separation scheme. This cleary states that the M/V Thomas Aquinas was in the correct lane as intended. The Master of STA also testified that he took evasive actions to avoid collision.
Bermejo also mentioned that he ordered hard port (Turing to the left side of the ship) to avoid collision as he could not go to starboard (Right side of the ship) due to shallow depth. After having turned left, Bermejo said he quickly maneuvered to the right in an attempt to avoid the "very imminent" collision, however, Bermejo cited that the Cargo ship also maneuvered to the right, thus resulting in the collision which could have been avoided if the Cargo ship remained in her course.
Master was able to explain why he could not maneuver to starboard because of landmark and shallow waters. STA communicated with outbound vessel (occupying inbound lane) but no response from outgoing vessel. Speed of STA upon approaching fairway – 16 knots with slight reduction to 15 knots upon order to stand-by.
When BMI asked why STA did not stop at 4 minutes before collision, Capt. Bermejo explained that STA was fixed propeller and it would take her 8 mins to stop, thus he decided to instead turn left to avoid collision. Master also explained the tide condition during the incident.
The M/V Sulpicio Express 7 occupied the inbound lane which was read on the ARPA (Automatic Radar Plotting Aid), which serves as a navigation guide for ships to plot courses and help detemine proximity to other ships and shorelines. Capt. Bermejo also explained that he was entering and following the inboud lane as stated in the "Traffic Separation Scheme (TSS)" and, thus, not a crossing situation.
The media was allowed to witness the proceedings but prohibited to bring cameras and recorders. The Master of STA was assisted by Attorneys Denise Cabanos and Ma. Gina Guinto of Del Rosario & Del Rosario Law Offices.
Present during the hearing were Dir. Arnie Santiago, MARINA; Lt. Johonsan Fabilane, PCG, Law Member; Commo. Gilbert Rueras, PCG, Chairman; Capt, Nestor Perrero, Master Mariner and Engr. Waulthrudt Tañamor, Chief Engineer.