Thursday, February 18, 2010

Philippine Shipping Companies Must Modernise Or Be Disqualified

"Holiday" is a Strike by Any Other Name
Shipping News Feature

PHILIPPINES – For one of the most traditional of seafaring nations the Filipinos have the least enviable safety record amongst the world’s seagoing nations. Reports such as ours at the start of the year continually outline the need for reform of the country’s freight and passenger shipping services and equipment and the area has long been viewed by the outside world as the place where RoRo ferries go to die, often literally.

There has now sprung up a major row emanating from the authority controlling licensing of marine transport in the region which recognises the need to enforce more stringent regulations on the companies who franchise the routes and often show a callous disregard for the simplest of safety procedures. The Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA) has now threatened to strip franchisees of their licence to trade if they proceed with their planned “holiday”. The Visayan Association of Ferryboat and Coastwise Service Operators (VAFCSO)announced the province- wide strike will take place on 1st March with the intention of disrupting inter island services.

It is not our place to take sides in any dispute but the statements attributed to VAFSCO’s legal counsel simply take the breath away of any civilised reader. According to VAFSCO none of the horrific accidents and all too frequent incidents are attributable to the condition of the vessels. The fault, according to VAFSCO, always lies with errors by poorly trained crew, seemingly ignoring the fact the crews competence is directly the responsibility of the vessels owners. The organisation, which represents 32 member companies, has called for the resignation of MARINA Administrator Maria Elena Bautista, for having the temerity to insist that the ship owners install life vests for all aboard claiming they are too expensive.

A similar defence is used as a reason for the poorly trained crews, who Ms Bautista says would be able to request more wages if they were adequately schooled in seamanship, also commenting that the whole defence was merely a smokescreen by greedy owners who had to be brought to heel by legislation. She pointed out that the Certificates of Public Convenience (CPC) which were issued to operators were a privilege not a right and she has apparently obtained the sanction of Transport Secretary Leandro Mendoza and five of the seven Marina Board members to cancel the CPC’s of any companies who go ahead with the strike.

Now the pressure is on President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo who has been asked to sack Ms. Bautista by VAFSCO for daring to try and preserve the lives of those travelling aboard their 200 or so inter island ferry services. The world watches to see whether the disparate group of islands is at last ready to provide a civilised standard of transport across some of the worlds most hazardous routes.

Photo: The sinking of Super Ferry 9 last September courtesy the Philippine Air Force.