Knee-jerk reaction

By: Manuel “Boy” Mejorada

OVER the last three years, I have occasionally travelled to Guimaras on business, and took the short pumpboat ride from Parola to Buenavistal and back. All of these trips were uneventful – routing rides that took between 20-30 minutes. I made it a point to travel only when the weather is calm. But I guess 95% of people making this crossing don’t have a choice.

And now, these people are clearly suffering each time they ride a pumpboat for work, school or any other purpose. That’s because as an offshoot of the tragedy on August 3, 2019, Marina and the Coast Guard has ordered pumpboat operators to strip down their vessels of any covering that protected passengers from the sun and rain.

Apparently, the Marina and Coast Guard blamed the deaths of the 31 passengers to the canvass roofing and cabin structure of the pumpboats. When the pumpboats capsized, the passengers got trapped under the hull of the motorized bancas and drowned. Therefore, Marina and Coast Guard concluded, the pumpboats will become safer without the “trapal” or cabin structure.

Passengers on these pumpboats now need to bring their own umbrellas to shield them from the sun or rain when they travel to and from Guimaras. That’s an ordeal. When the boats are already underway, the strong winds can blow away umbrellas from the grips of their owners. Many just use their life jackets as hood over their heads for whatever protection they can get.

These pumpboats have been around for decades, and we’ve seen very little evidence that it is defective. The Aug. 3 tragedy happened because of a freak act of nature. “Pugadas” of such strength and fury as to toss those three vessels upside down are rare. Even the Titanic sank. I’m not a naval architect but common sense tells me that the design of the pumpboats weren’t the problem. The weather condition on that day was.

Perhaps the Marina and Coast Guard should revisit its knee-jerk solution to the situation. Even if the vessels were steel-hulled, but small, the conditions that day would have brought about the same effect on them. The “trapals”, at the very least, should be allowed if only to provide passengers a small measure of comfort during the short trip.

At the same time, the Coast Guard should be more vigilant in watching the behavior of the Iloilo Strait during the operating hours of the pumpboats. The boat captains, too, should coordinate closely with the Coast Guard. Their long experience in navigating their boats across the Iloilo Strait equips them with better knowledge about that narrow passage than the best meteorologists.