Aftermath and Contributions to Society

How did society initially react to the news of the crash? To what extent was the marine industry cast into a new light and examined more closely? This section discusses the MV Doña Paz and MT Vector’s contributions to the shipping industry and safety preparedness in the maritime world following their collision.

Immediate Reactions to the Crash


The largest mass-media coverage during this time was through news publishing — as early as the morning after the crash of MV Doña Paz and MT Vector on December 20, 1987, global newspapers were publishing stories about the event.

While the publications didn’t have fully factual information and therefore reported different casualty numbers and versions of the exact sequence of events, the majority of them held the view that this event was “the worst sea disaster in Philippines history,” with losses comparable to those of the Titanic.1 As time went on, more stories emerged: two days after the crash, it was reported that a four-year-old child was found floating in the sea near Manila, and more bodies were discovered on adjacent islands.2

Newspaper article featuring the story of one of the MV Doña Paz’s survivors. “4-year-old Survivor Found Floating in Sea.”

In the weeks and months following the incident, information regarding the wreck became more clear. While the exact number is still disputed, most estimates placed the number of casualties from the collision of the MV Doña Paz and the MT Vector between 1,400 and 1,600 people, including passengers and and crew of both vessels. However, “some survivors claimed to have overheard crew members say more than 3,000 were aboard”3 and other modern sources suggest that upwards of 4,300 lives were lost in this tragedy.4 Moreover, an anonymous source at the MV Doña Paz’s company, Sulpicio Lines, informed the press that tickets were often sold illegally and that children were often not counted in the manifest, meaning that there were more people present than had been accounted for.5 Regardless of the specific number of people aboard the vessel, the MV Doña Paz was extremely overcrowded

Testimonies and Aftereffects

Much of the content reported by news sources came directly from the testimonies of surviving passengers and crew members of the two ships.

What were the passengers and crew doing?

The first statements from survivors came through the New York Times on the morning after the event. Paquito Osabel, Alodia Bacsal, and many others stated that they had jumped off of the fiery ship after hearing a massive explosion, and were later “plucked from the flaming waters by a passing merchant vessel”.6 Sofronio Sabuco had been watching television with other passengers at the back of the ship when he felt the ship hit what he though was “a big rock,” but “immediately jumped overboard” upon seeing that the vessel was on fire and the extent of chaos amongst the other passengers.7

Many perspectives have criticized the crews of the MV Doña Paz and the MT Vector for not being more attentive, potentially the reason for the disaster. One survivor, Samuel Carillo, had been talking to the captain of the MV Doña Paz minutes before the crash. Additionally, after inquiries by the Philippine Coast Guard, it was discovered that “some of the officers of the ferry Dona Paz were watching television or drinking beer” at the time of the collision.8 One survivor even stated that “an apprentice officer was on the bridge alone” to navigate the busy Tablas Strait himself. This fact is very controversial, as it was “standard procedure” to only allow qualified personnel on the bridge of the ship and to always have an officer monitoring its route.9

On January 28, 1988, a skipper of the MV Doña Paz was interviewed by the Board of Marine Inquiry and related the “competence of the crew and the excellent maneuverability of the vessel” prior to the crash, furthering skepticism around the incident. The captain at the time of the crash, Eusebio Nazareno, was also regarded as a very capable boatsman by previous MV Doña Paz captain Nestor Ponteres. Ponteres also told the Manila Standard that the ship always followed a predetermined route and that its steerability was very good, but that it would touch the bottom of the strait through which it passed if it was overloaded.

Political reactions

Two days following the incident, President Corazon Aquino of the Philippines “promised government assistance to survivors and the families of the missing”.10 She sourced donations from wealthy Filipinos, as well as ordering an official investigation of the crash.

Many survivors or families of victims sued the companies of the MV Doña Paz and the MT Vector (Sulpicio Shipping Lines and Vector Shipping Incorporated, respectively), and there were many disputes regarding which ship was at fault. However, it was generally conceded and even called “obvious” by MT Vector lawyer attorney Jose Sison that the MV Doña Paz had rammed the other ship due to lack of attention by the crew.11

Eventually, the Marine Board of Inquiry concluded that while neither ship’s crew had been adequately trained, the MT Vector was to blame for the incident as it had “sailed with hazardous cargo without the necessary permits, was unseaworthy, and was manned by incompetent and unqualified crewmen”.12 Additionally, the Senate Committee on National Defense placed the blame on the two ships as well as the Philippine government, as it had not provided adequate support to its shipping industry to prevent the disaster.

Updates to Safety Standards

In the decades since the MV Doña Paz and MT Vector disaster, the vast majority of sources have attributed the incident solely to “human error” and not any fault of the vessels themselves.13 While the collision did occur at night in low visibility, the remarkable “absence of navigational lights on both vessels” and the overcrowding of passenger ship MV Doña Paz also account for its occurrence. The severity of this event also exceeded the capability of Philippine rescue forces, and so led to a reassessment of that department.

Funerals and memorials enacted for the victims of the MV Doña Paz Incident. Herwinda, Amelia. “The MV Dona Paz Disaster”

While the explosion of these two ships was undoubtedly an unexpected tragedy, it led to a discussion around the “lack of safety precautions, excessive passenger loads, and slack regulatory standards” that were present in the marine industry at the time. The “inadequate training and slack enforcement of safely rules,” particularly on the MV Doña Paz, had been thrust into global view, and needed to be changed. If this event had not occurred, it likely would have taken longer for the marine industry to reassess its policies.14

The Shipping Industry Now

Following this shipping disaster, there was a “reappraisal of maritime safety on a global scale,” leading to the regulations and rules we abide by today.15 Many people studying this event and other maritime disasters have concluded that only “strict enforcement of existing laws and formulation of new ones” will prevent or simply lessen the deadliness of shipping accidents.16 However, support from governments, more safe and efficient vessels, and global standards for the high seas are also necessary.

Additionally, monuments and memorials were created to honor the victims of the MV Doña Paz and MT Vector incident and to remind us of the necessity for constant betterment of marine enterprises in our developing economy and world.


  1. The Associated Press. “1,500 Are Feared Lost as 2 Ships Collide and Sink Near Philippines.” New York Times, December 21, 1987.
  2. “4-year-old Survivor Found Floating in Sea.” The Nevada Daily Mail, December 22, 1987.
  3. Ibid.
  4. SAFETY4SEA Editorial Team. “Sinking of Doña Paz: The World’s Deadliest Shipping Accident.” SAFETY4SEA, March 8, 2022.
  5. Hitosis, Ralph Lauren. “The MV Doña Paz: The Disaster Deadlier than Titanic.” Medium, July 16, 2023.
  6. The Associated Press. “1,500 Are Feared Lost.”
  7. “2 more Paz Survivors Testify.” The Manila Standard, January 14, 1988.
  8. The Associated Press. “”Officers Were Not at Posts, Ship Disaster Survivor Says.” New York Times, December 25, 1987.
  9. “Ex-Doña Paz Skipper Testifies in Inquiry.” The Manila Standard, January 28, 1988.
  10. “4-year-old Survivor.”
  11. “2 more Paz Survivors.”
  12. Perez, Anthony R, Carl Abelardo T Antonio, and Rafael J Consunji. The Sinking of the MV Doña Paz – A Critique on Maritime Disaster, 2011.
  13. Herwinda, Amelia. “The MV Dona Paz Disaster: Reflecting on Loss and Learning from Tragedy.” Balancia Ship Agency, October 10, 2023.
  14. Ibid.
  15. Ibid.
  16. Perez, et al. The Sinking of the MV Doña Paz.