MANILA, Philippines—The Philippine Coast Guard has placed all its stations and detachments on heightened alert and sea marshals deployed on passengers ships to ensure safe travel by sea as thousands of Filipinos head for the provinces to observe Holy Week and then return to their places of work after Easter, a Coast Guard spokesman said Tuesday.
Lieutenant Commander Armand Balilo said an undisclosed number of Coast Guard personnel have joined their counterparts from the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police in deploying covert security and intelligence personnel at various ports and on interisland ships.
“Three-man teams, composed of Coast Guard, AFP and PNP personnel, have been deployed, mainly on vessels bound for the Visayas and Mindanao,” he told the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
Aside from sea marshals, emergency response teams and help desks, K-9 units will also be fielded by the Coast Guard, an agency under the Department of Transportation and Communications.
Like the Maritime Industry Authority, the command will be enforcing strict passenger and baggage screening prior to ship boarding, as well as ensuring ships’ seaworthiness and preventing overloading.
Balilo, chief of the PCG’s public affairs office, reminded those traveling by sea not to take “fly-by-night” interisland vessels that have not been licensed by the government or certified as to their seaworthiness.
Rear Adm. Rodolfo Isorena, Coast Guard commandant, has warned that “fly-by-night shipping vessels do not have insurance for their passengers” and “most of them also have defective life rafts and life vests.”
According to Isorena, “these ‘colorum’ vessels usually appear during this season because this is an opportunity for them to make money since the major shipping lines have a hard time accommodating the huge volume of passengers.”
He assured the public, however, that the Coast Guard, was closely monitoring these vessels.
The Coast Guard Action Center (with hotline 0917-PCG-DOTC) “will be open 24/7 to respond to questions and emergency calls,” Isorena added.