Draft amendment to domestic shipping act gets first pass in Lower House

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The House of Representatives has approved on first reading a bill seeking to amend the Domestic Shipping Act of 2004 in order to allow for accreditation of only one local classification society in the Philippines.

House Bill (HB) No. 604, filed by Angkla Partylist representative Jesulito Manalo, was approved at the Committee on Transportation hearing on August 7.

HB 604 will amend Section 22 of Republic Act (RA) No. 9295, or the Domestic Shipping Act of 2004, so that it states that the Maritime Industry Authority (Marina) “shall accredit only one local classification society that shall cater to the classification requirements of ships in the domestic trade.”

Marina Legal Service director Atty. Maximo Bañares said the maritime authority fully supports the bill “so we can raise the standards of safety, especially for our domestic shipping.”

He said, however, that Marina has a few recommendations, which is to highlight the role and function of the International Association of Classification Societies (IACS) members “as they play an important role in the promotion of maritime safety,” and to institutionalize the Philippine government classification system “to cater to the classification requirements of the domestic shipping.”

Representatives from the Department of Transportation and Philippine Coast Guard likewise said their agencies support the bill.

Stakeholder organizations like the Philippine Inter-Island Shipping Association (PISA), Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers, Inc., Integrated Seafarers of the Philippines (ISP), and Marine Underwriters Association of the Philippines also voiced support for the bill.

PISA executive director Atty. Pedro Aguilar said it is “about time” for the country to have only one class society again, as the proliferation of many local classes “has somehow compromised safety [in domestic shipping] with some cost-conscious shipowners resulting to changing [to] local class to escape critical ship hardware required by one class.”

He added that with the cutthroat competition in their industry, scrupulous local societies “oftentimes succumb to requests by shipping owners to downgrade, if not totally forego, such requirements necessary for the ship’s seaworthiness.”

No support from some sectors
But Orient Register of Shipping Lines Manuel Tiuseco and Visayan Association of Ferryboat and Coastwise Service Operators, Inc. Alexander Cohon both said they do not support the bill. Cohon said that “most maritime accidents are due to human error and/or fortuitous events,” and not to the classification of ships.

ISP president Capt. Gaudencio Morales, however, said they are saddened when people always point to human error for accidents at sea, when “the seaworthiness of vessel is the most important in the safety of vessel operation.”

In his bill’s explanatory note, Manalo said it is a long accepted practice in many maritime nations to delegate the duties of inspecting vessels to classification societies, which are non-governmental organizations, in establishing and maintaining technical standards for the construction and operation of ships. He added that all countries in the world each currently have only a single national classification society

“Classing of vessels is then a quasi-public function involving the promotion of safety of life, property, and the environment at sea. It is not a commercial undertaking but, indubitably, a public service,” he said.

Manalo said, however, that the rationale behind designating classification societies “has been compromised.”

He explained that the cutthroat competition among these technical organizations “has nurtured a negative safety environment, with irresponsible shipowners escaping critical repairs and maintenance by just transferring to class with the lowest offer, but relying on lower quality of surveyors due to substandard wages and lack of training funding.”

“The present regime of local classification societies competing for market share instead of continuous improvement of our safety regime promotes long-term exposure to dangerous maritime risks and disasters,” Manalo said. – Roumina Pablo