MANILA (AFP) – A company whose cargo ship was involved in the Philippines' latest ferry disaster confirmed Saturday its vessels were involved in four other tragedies that claimed more than 5,000 lives between them.
The first of those accidents occurred in 1987 when the firm's Dona Paz ferry collided with an oil tanker, leaving more than 4,300 dead in the world's worst peacetime maritime disaster.
Philippine Span Asia Carrier Corp. chief executive and president Jordan Go told AFP his family's company owned the Dona Paz as well as the ships involved in the four other accidents.
But he insisted the company's track record had nothing to do with the accident on Friday night, when his firm's cargo vessel collided with a ferry that quickly sank, leaving 31 dead and 172 missing.
"It's immaterial to what happened right now," Go told AFP when asked to comment about the firm's history of accidents.
In Friday's incident, the Sulpicio Express 7 cargo ship was trying to leave the central city of Cebu's port via a narrow channel while the St Thomas Aquinas ferry was trying to sail in the opposite direction, authorities said.
After the vessels collided, the ferry sank within 10 minutes while the cargo vessel was able to reach dock with its steel bow crushed in.
Philippine Span Asia was previously named Sulpicio Lines Inc.
In October 1988, Sulpicio's Dona Marilyn ferry sank off Leyte island amid a typhoon, killing more than 250 people. In 1988, another 150 were killed when the firm's Princess of the Orient sank in a port near Manila in similarly bad weather.
It also owned the MV Princess of the Stars, which set sail during a storm in 2008 and sank. Only about 50 of the 850 people on board survived.
Arnie Santiago, head of the enforcement division of industry regulator Maritime Industry Authority, said Sulpicio Lines was suspended after the 2008 disaster, then re-emerged with its new name of Philippines Span Asia.
Go said changing the company name in 2009 was unrelated to the previous accidents, but did not explain what the reasons were.
He said his company would do whatever it could to help investigators in the latest accident, while pointing out it was too early to assign blame.
"We respect the government fact-finding bodies and the authorities. We will cooperate with them, we trust their judgement. We do not want to pre-empt their fact-finding," he said.
Go is a the grandson of Sulpicio Go, a Chinese Filipino businessman who founded the firm in 1973.
It cornered a major chunk of the domestic shipping industry in the 1980s by taking advantage of a law that reserved domestic routes for Filipinos.
Currently, its fleet consists of two passenger ferries and 10 cargo vessels that operate nationwide, Go said.
Authorities have not said who was to blame for Friday's accident.