Home » 3PL/4PL, Ports/Terminals » Proposed legislation aim to modernize old harbor pilotage rules

Bills have been filed in the 18th Congress seeking to liberalize harbor pilotage and create a regulating body to supervise harbor pilots in the Philippines.

Two of these bills—Senate Bill (SB) No. 916 filed by Senator Ramon Revilla, Jr. and House Bill (HB) No. 1954 by Magdalo Partylist Manuel Cabochan III—aim to regulate harbor pilotage services and the conduct of harbor pilots.

Meanwhile, HB 317 of Bulacan 2nd district representative Gavin Pancho proposes an open pilotage policy and the creation of a pilotage board.

Cabochan, in his explanatory note to HB No. 1954, said there have been complaints of “unsatisfactory or delayed services rendered by some pilots, lack of proper equipment and gear overcharging of pilotage fees and the collection of unauthorized fees.”

He noted that Executive Order (EO) No. 1088, which provides for uniform and modified rates for the pilotage services rendered to foreign and coastwise vessels in all private or public Philippine ports, was signed by then President Ferdinand Marcos “without prior consultation with the maritime sector and PPA (Philippine Ports Authority).”

The EO further made pilotage services compulsory and “increased pilotage fees by as much as four thousand percent (4,000%) for the benefit of UHPAP (United Harbor Pilots Association of the Philippines) members.”

Decades of monopoly?

Pancho, for his part, said “there is a need to revisit the monopolistic set up in the provision of pilotage in the country,” noting that for more than 40 years, pilotage services have been provided only by harbor pilots who belonged to organizations affiliated with UHPAP.

“For decades, too, there has been nagging demand to liberalize pilotage service in the country, by allowing other individual pilots or pilotage organizations to likewise render services, especially in critical or busy ports,” Pancho said.

Liberalization is expected to improve pilotage services, prevent maritime accidents, and regulate pilotage fees, he added.

While several bills on pilotage were also filed in previous Congresses, none was passed and signed into law. In the 17th Congress, the Maritime Industry Authority and Philippine Ports Authority (PPA), as well as several industry organizations, supported bills to regulate and liberalize pilotage in the country. Shipping organizations, in particular, supported optional pilotage for domestic vessels to lower costs.

In the current Congress, SB 916 and HBs 1954 and 317 order compulsory pilotage for all vessels of 500 gross tonnage and above, whether entering or leaving any Philippine port.

But for domestic vessels, both House bills said pilotage may be optional except in ports, areas, or cases declared as compulsory by PPA.

For SB 916, domestic vessels may seek a Certificate of Exemption from the ports authority, subject to several conditions. Further, the master of the vessel should have completed 60 inbound and outbound trips to and from the port where the vessel makes its regular port calls.

Both HB 1954 and SB 916 propose that harbor pilots should not be older than 55 when appointed by the port authority, and must have been a master mariner on board sea-going vessels of not less than 500 gross tons for at least five years.

HB 317, on the other hand, proposes a mandatory retirement age of 70 years old for pilots accredited prior to the effectivity of the proposed law, and 65 years old for those accredited after the effectivity of the proposed law.

Ancient mariners

During a Lower House Committee on Transportation hearing on several pilotage bills in August 2017, then Angkla Partylist representative Jesulito Manalo brought up reports of how old harbor pilots had to be lifted up by ropes because they were “not too strong to board the vessel.”

UHPAP former president Capt. Romulo Salle, during the hearing, denied reports that “incapacitated pilots” still went on board ships because pilots abided by the retirement age of 70 years old.

HB 317, meanwhile, proposes an open pilotage policy in every pilotage district and in the entire country, with the port authority ensuring that shipping companies, vessel owners, or ship agents can choose freely from at least two accredited pilotage organizations or a pool of qualified harbor pilots in every pilotage district.

It adds that non-membership in a pilot organization should not bar an accredited harbor pilot from rendering pilotage service in a pilot district where he is authorized to serve.

HB 317 also proposes the creation of a pilotage board composed of the different port authorities and entities managing ports. The board will be tasked to, among others, promulgate and adopt common and standard rules and regulations for enforcing and administering pilotage services and the conduct of harbor pilots.

Moreover, HB 317 proposes that under normal conditions, any vessel may be allowed to maneuver in port without tug assistance. The port authority, or other port bodies, should determine whether a vessel must be assisted by a tugboat or set of tugboats to ensure safe navigation or maneuvering towards the desired berth or destination.

It noted, however, that tug assistance should be compulsory under circumstances such as when the size or tonnage of the vessel or the peculiar conditions in the port or channel require tug assistance, and when there is strong current, wind factor, inclement weather or any condition affecting safe navigation.

Removing conflict of interest

HB 317 also prohibits accredited pilots, as well as members, employees, and officers of pilotage organizations, including their relatives by consanguinity and affinity within the fourth civil degree, from being stockholders, owners, officers or employees of a towage company. They are also barred from holding any other interest in a towage company or tug boats, or receiving any form or renumeration, directly or indirectly, from towage companies or from the operations of tug boat services.

HB 317 noted that this is in “order to avoid the mere appearance of conflict of interest.”

If the bill is passed, harbor pilots who are also operating tugboat services prior to the effectivity of the proposed law will be given two years to comply with the requirement on divestment of interest.

Philippine Inter-island Shipping Association (PISA) executive director Atty. Pedro Aguilar, during the August 2017 hearing, said their organization had information and documents showing that harbor pilots owned tugboats and tugboat companies. While Aguilar said PISA subscribed to free enterprise, he said that with compulsory pilotage, “oftentimes our members will be pressured by the pilots to use their own tugboats.”

He further claimed that pilots refused to provide service to a shipping company that did not avail of their tugboat service. He added that this took away competition as well as shipping lines’ right to choose their own tugboat provider. – Roumina Pablo

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