President Corazon Aquino on Wednesday shut down the country's largest domestic shipping line, which lost one ship in a typhoon last week and another last year in one of the world's worst maritime accidents.
Transportation Secretary Reinerio Reyes said the indefinite suspension of Sulpicio Lines Inc. was effective immediately."The main reason is we want to prevent loss of lives," Reyes said. "We want to make sure they (ships) are seaworthy and manned by competent crews."
Sulpicio operates 22 passenger and cargo vessels that account for 20 percent of domestic sea traffic among the country's 7,200 islands.
In Cebu, Sulpicio President Carlos Go said he was unaware of the order.
"It's bad for the public because they have fewer vessels to ride," Go said. He declined further comment.
The suspension came one day before Sulpicio officials were to appear before the Maritime Regulatory Authority to show cause why the company should not be suspended.
A Sulpicio passenger ship, the Dona Marilyn, sank Oct. 24 during Typhoon Ruby with about 500 people aboard. It was about 300 miles southeast of Manila.
Vicente Gambito, vice president of Sulpicio Lines, said 161 passengers and 39 crewmen have been rescued and at least 76 people confirmed dead.
Last December, Sulpicio's Dona Paz collided with an oil tanker off Mindoro island and more than 3,000 people were believed to have perished.
The accidents led to calls by the Manila press and prominent politicians for a crackdown on maritime safety regulations.
"Since Sulpicio is beset by these accidents, we would like to have a closer look at their operations," Reyes said. "We want to check out their ships and in the interest of the safety of passengers, I have recommended to the president to suspend indefinitely their passenger liners.
"The president agreed that this was the right step to take," he added. Reyes said the order was not expected to disrupt passenger service because other companies operate similar routes.
Earlier today, the Transportation Department issued orders holding four Sulpicio ships in port pending an inspection of their communications equipment.
Reyes said investigators would inspect Sulpicio's fleet for seaworthiness and to make sure they had proper equipment.