It has become a custom for Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical, and Astronomical Services Administration and other meteorological organizations nationwide to “retire” the names of typhoons (or hurricanes) that had caused tremendous loss of lives and damages to properties. PAG-ASA retires a typhoon name if it has killed at least 300 deaths and/or caused damages exceeding P1 billion.
Among the names already retired are “Milenyo,” “Ondoy,” “Reming,” and “Frank” – the typhoon raging through much of Central Philippines when the ship MV Princess of the Stars owned by Sulpicio lines capsized off the coast of Sibuyan, Romblon exactly three years ago (June 21, 2008). We retire typhoon names because they evoke bad memories. Last year, Sulpicio Lines discreetly changed its company name to Philippine Span Asia Carrier Corporation (PSACC).
If there is a company that would want to have its name “retired,” it is Sulpicio Lines, and for obvious reasons. It has a dubious record vis-à-vis maritime safety. Its other vessels involved in sea disasters include the MV Doña Paz (1987), the MV Doña Marilyn (1988), and the MV Princess of the Orient (1998). The 1987 tragedy was described by Time magazine “the worst peacetime maritime disaster of the 20th century” – exceeding the death toll of RMS Titanic.
It’s “brand” has been irreparably tarnished through the years. No company renaming or introduction of new ships will erase the fact that thousands of Filipinos have lost their lives while on board vessels operated by Sulpicio Lines. Typhoon Frank being a force majeure (or an “act of God”) does not exempt the owners of Sulpicio Lines from liability. As the Yale University online dictionary states, force majeure are “intended to excuse a party only if the failure to perform could not be avoided by the exercise of due care by that party.”
The Princess of the Stars tragedy should not have happened if the owners of Sulpicio Lines (and Florencio Marimon Sr., the ship captain who remains at large) observed caution, prudence, and foresight before proceeding with the Manila-Cebu trip on that fateful night three years ago. Given a choice, Filipinos would probably choose other shipping lines over the ones owned by the PSACC. Unfortunately, they seem not to have much choice. Sea travel remains popular among Filipinos even if there are many air fare promos around.
And there are quite a few major players in the shipping industry. In fact, then-President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo ordered the resumption of Sulpicio Lines operations less than two weeks after the Princess of the Stars tragedy because the company handles about 40 percent of the transporting and deliveries of cargos and other commodities around the country. And everything became business as usual for that shipping firm since then. Never mind if more than 500 bodies (of the 800 plus who perished) remain not retrieved. Never mind if the cargoes carrying the toxic chemical endosulfan are still trapped inside the ship. And, never mind if justice for those who lost their loved ones remains a long shot.