07/04/2008, 00.00
PHILIPPINES
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Cardinal Vidal: End controversy and accusations over Typhoon Fengshen

by Santosh Digal
It is still unknown what the causes were that led to the sinking of the ship Princess of the Stars: the company that owned it is accusing the weather bureau, while fishermen are asking for compensation for the polluting of the ocean. Only the Catholic Church is calling for "serious reflection to prevent similar disasters".

Manila (AsiaNews) - "The pain will not go away if we start blaming one another or come out with superficial conclusions . . . To private and public agencies, let the truth emerge with no preconditions, so that we may finally learn from our tragedies", and above all, efforts to "stop events of this magnitude from happening again".  This is the message in an official statement by Cardinal Ricardo Vidal, archbishop of Cebu, calling for a softening of the polemical tone that has prevailed since the sinking of the ship Princess of the Stars, struck by the typhoon Fengshen last June 21.  More than 800 people died in the disaster.  According to official estimates, only 59 people were able to swim to shore; as of now 259 bodies have been recovered, while another 500 people are still classified as "missing".

The cardinal stresses that "pointing fingers" serves only to sharpen "tension and divisions", while in the light of the tragic event, it is to be hoped that there will be a "revision of the national navigational code".  He calls on all the parties in the affair to "sobriety and objectivity", so that "the truth [may] emerge with no preconditions".

While Cardinal Vidal appeals for good sense and general harmony, the controversy is not dying down: the government has opened an investigation that should, within two weeks, clarify the causes of the tragedy.  According to some sources, the "instability" of the ship was due to the fact that reservoirs on board were not filled, which is essential for keeping the ship on course: the strong waves caused by the typhoon then caused the ship to capsize.  Others emphasise instead the failure to secure the freight on board the ship - at a total weight of 23,000 tonnes - which, once struck by the waves, is believed to have been scattered all over the deck, increasing the ship's instability.

In the meantime, company that owned the ship, Sulpicio Lines Inc., has opened a legal procedure against the Filipino weather bureau, accusing it of "not communicating the true severity of the typhoon": it is asking for 98,200 dollars in damages from the PAGASA (Philippines Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration), the agency that provides weather forecasts for the country, and issues alarms in case of danger.

The intergovernmental agency charged with evaluating the environmental impact caused by the sinking of the Princess of the Stars emphasises, finally, that the toxic cargo (editor's note: endosulfan) in the ship's hold could leak out; fishermen are afraid of serious repercussions for their activities, and are also asking for damages and subsidies.  In order to reduce the risk to a minimum, an operation is planned that is aimed at removing the water and isolating the contaminants by completely encasing the barrels containing the toxic material in a protective gel.

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