Deadly Accidents in Malaysia and Philippines Expose Weak Transport Systems

Accidents on land and at sea highlight the need for improved safety standards.

A bus accident in Malaysia that killed 37 people and a collision between a cargo ship and a passenger ship in the Philippines that left more than a hundred dead have raised troubling issues about road and maritime safety standards and enforcement in these two countries.

On August 21 an express bus crashed 60 meters down a ravine in Malaysia’s Genting Highlands, killing 37 people and injured 16 more. It was Malaysia’s deadliest road accident on record. Initial reports revealed that the bus company had already been placed on a blacklist with the Road Transport Department before the crash took place. Further, while the bus had a capacity of only 44 seats, it was transporting 53 passengers at the time of the crash.   

The tragic accident prompted the Land Public Transport Commission to announce that it would soon implement a “Driver Information System” that will provide background information on public transport drivers.

Perhaps authorities should also review bus permits, which allowed up to 18 standing passengers. There’s also no harm in building wider and better roads at popular tourist spots like the Genting Highlands. Malaysia should also prepare its public transport system for greater ridership after it recently slashed fuel subsidies.

Meanwhile, more than one hundred passengers died in the Philippines on August 16 after MV Saint Thomas Aquinas of 2Go and Sulpicio Express Siete of Sulpicio Lines collided off the coast of Cebu province. More than 30 people are still missing. The passenger ship sank ten minutes after the impact near Cebu harbor.

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If the name Sulpicio sounds familiar, it is because it is the same notorious company that owned and operated the ill-fated MV Dona Paz, the passenger ship that sank in 1987, killing more than 4,000 people. It was the worst peacetime maritime disaster in world history. 

After five mishaps at sea, resulting in the deaths of more than 5,000 people, and after changing its name from Sulpicio Lines Inc to Philippine Span Asia Carrier Corp in 2009, the company surprisingly still has a license to operate today. But the recent disaster in Cebu could finally seal the firm’s fate after a petition was launched urging authorities to cancel its registration. 

But before that, maritime authorities should explain why they allowed Sulpicio to continue operating despite its numerous pending cases.     

To prevent similar accidents in the future, the Philippine Coast Guard in Cebu has suggested the installation of a modern traffic management system to control vessels traversing Cebu’s narrow waterways. The same equipment or traffic system should also be installed in the country’s busy ports.  

Another problem caused by the disaster is the oil spill from the sunken ship which has now reached the shorelines of several coastal towns of Cebu, including popular beach resorts. 

The bus crash in Genting and the ship collision in Cebu should force leaders in Malaysia and the Philippines to review and improve their respective public transport systems, especially the travel infrastructure outside Kuala Lumpur and Manila. These improvements are needed not only to boost their modernizing economies but also to prevent unnecessary deaths and injuries.