Seaworthiness of PH vessels questioned after Ormoc tragedy
Senator Paolo Benigno “Bam” Aquino IV renewed his call on Friday to investigate the seaworthiness of maritime vessels in the country in the wake of the recent sea tragedy that claimed the lives of at least 39 people in Ormoc City.
“I reiterate my call to investigate whether our maritime vessels are seaworthy. Huwag na nating hintayin maulit pa ang nangyari sa Ormoc bago tayo mag-imbestiga at gumawa ng reporma (We shouldn’t wait for another tragedy like what happened in Ormoc before we start investigating and making reforms),” Aquino said in a statement.
“Mahalagang malaman natin kung ligtas pa bang gamitin ng ating mga kababayan ang mga sasakyang pandagat upang wala nang magbuwis pa ng buhay sa mga ganitong uri ng insidente (It’s important to know if sea vessels are still safe to use so no more lives will be wasted in incidents like this),” he stressed.
Aquino noted that as early as May 2014, he already filed Senate Resolution No. 652, calling for the investigation on the seaworthiness of maritime vessels to ensure their safe and efficient operations and avoid maritime accidents.
But he said the resolution gathered dust and was never heard by the appropriate committee in the Senate.
In the resolution, the senator emphasized that the national government has the duty to implement positive measures that can alleviate, if not resolve, the recurring maritime accidents over the past decades.
“It should give appropriate emphasis on the seaworthiness of our vessels and must demonstrate stronger commitment in the effective implementation of the laws in order to safeguard the safety of the public,” he said.
“Dapat nating siguruhin na tinutupad ng mga may-ari ng mga sasakyang pandagat ang kanilang papel na tiyaking ligtas ang biyahe ng ating mga kababayan (Owners of vessels should make sure that they fulfil their roles of making sure that the people travel safely),” he further said.
Senator Francis “Chiz” Escudero, meanwhile, reminded the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) of its promise to step up safety inspections of sea vessels and cut down mishaps by the country’s 9,574-strong merchant fleet.
“The targets, to begin with, are already very low, so there’s no excuse on why they can’t be met,” Escudero, chairman of the Senate committee on finance, said in a separate statement.
He noted that in the PCG’s “performance indicators” attached to its P5.6-million budget this year, the agency vowed to cut maritime accidents by “5 percent, or from 264 in 2013 to 251 this year.”
As to other “maritime incidents,” the Coast Guard promised to bring it down to 517 from 544, or a 5-percent reduction, Escudero said.
Escudero said the agency, which is attached to the Department of Transportation and Communication (DOTC), also committed to slash marine pollution accidents to 32 percent from 35 percent.
“Limang porsyento na bawas sa bilang ng mga aksidente lang ang hinihingi sa PCG, siguro naman kaya nilang tupdin iyon (PCG is only asked to cut down the number of accidents by 5 percent—that’s not difficult to do),” he said.
He said the PCG should also have set a higher target considering “the volume of maritime traffic in this archipelagic country of ours.”
“There were close to 50 million shipping passengers last year. In addition to our merchant fleet, there are 9,437 fishing boats and 202 million tons of cargo passed through our ports in 2013,” Escudero said.
“All of the above point to the need to keep our nautical highway safe. And the Coast Guard has a great role to play in seeing to it that indeed it is.”
The senator conceded though that “given the large territory it has to patrol on ships, which are not only few but old, the Coast Guard needs beefing up in both personnel and equipment.”
For 2015, the PCG claims it will patrol 59,088 kilometers of Philippine coasts in addition to doing traffic cop duties on 11,285 kilometers of shipping lanes.
“If it needs more personnel, then it should fill up the 1,037 vacant positions in its plantilla,” Escudero said, noting that the agency has an authorized troop ceiling of 7,730, but only 6,693 of these positions were filled.
The senator said a Coast Guard Modernization Program should also be “drafted, legislated and funded.”
“One component of a PCG modernization program is the acquisition of air assets which are needed in search-and-rescue operations,” he pointed out. IDL
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.