By CHRISTIAN WAKEFIELD
PRESIDENT Gloria Macapagal–Arroyo said she will not allow passenger vessels of Sulpicio Lines Inc. (SLI) to sail again unless the management of the shipping firm and authorities will give assurance that the vessels have already met with safety requirements.
Citing the safety of passengers following the MV Princess of the Stars tragedy that killed hundreds of people, President Arroyo politely rejected the appeal of Cebu Archbishop Ricardo Cardinal Vidal for her to lift the suspension order on the passenger vessels of SLI.
Vidal, who personally made the appeal to the president in a closed-door meeting, said the President told him that the suspension order cannot be lifted yet because “there is a process for the safety requirements to be complied first and Sulpicio has not complied with the process”.
Vidal made the appeal on concerns that the continued suspension has already caused the layoff of at least 200 SLI workers. He was worried that SLI will continue laying off workers because of the suspension order.
“I don’t want any more workers laid off because of the suspension and the management of Sulpicio has already assured me that it has already complied with the safety requirements,” Vidal told reporters on Friday.
A source from the SLI said more workers from its pool of 2,000 employees could be laid off because the shipping company could no longer sustain paying for their workers while its passenger vessels are suspended.
Although his appeal was already turned down by the President, Vidal said he will continue to pray that the suspension will finally be lifted.
Operations of SLI’s passenger vessels were suspended after the sinking of the Princess of the Stars in June last year. However, cargo vessels of SLI, after a suspension and inspection, were allowed to operate, the Board of Marine Inquiry ruled.
Interviewed by local reporters, SLI port captain Nestor Ponteres said that of the company’s 19 vessels, only 12 are operating and are carrying cargoes only. He said they only break even and, on some days, incur losses.
If the trend goes on, Ponteres said the company would end up losing more workers.
“It would have been better if we have passengers because we can sustain and keep the workers,” said Ponteres, as he confirmed that the company has already retrenched 200 of its 2,000 work force due to the suspension of the passenger vessels’ operation.
Ponteres said the company is already willing to comply with all the safety requirements and assured President Arroyo that no passenger vessels will sail during typhoons.