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Shipowners turn to Palace to stop Mar 1 strike

VESSEL operators are seeking President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s intervention to avert a strike over what they call the Maritime Industry Authority’s (Marina) “punitive and costly” safety requirements.

Speaking on behalf of the National Coalition of Shipping Association (NCSA), Philippine Ro-Ro Operators Association (PROA) president Christopher Pastrana said the scheduled March 1 “transport holiday” will be the group’s last resort if their call for reforms is ignored.

“March 1 is still days to go and we are very optimistic that we can get the attention of government to effect changes in the domestic shipping industry,” said Pastrana, owner of the Philharbor Group that operates the Philharbor Ferries and Port Services, Inc and Archipelago Philippines Ferries Corp.

“However, the membership is very much willing to go on a transport holiday for as long as it takes just to get government to effect the changes in the industry. If this happens, economic losses will be huge… in the hundreds of millions… that is why we are clamoring for government to act swiftly and reasonably.”

The NCSA is composed of members of the Alliance of Philippine Shipping Organization, Lighterage Association of the Philippines, Metro Manila Tugs, Boats and Barge Owners Association, PROA, United Trampers Association of the Philippines and the Visayas Association of Ferry Boats and Coastwise Service Operators, operating an estimated 500 vessels servicing mostly feeder ports in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao. The group reportedly controls about 90% of the market.

The NCSA is seeking the deferment and comprehensive study of several safety procedures approved by the Marina such as the mandatory Protection and Indemnity insurance cover; the new rules on Domestic Classification Societies; new rules on life-saving appliances; revised schedule of administrative fines and penalties for maritime violations and offenses; additional penalties for passenger-carrying ships in excess of authorized capacity involved in a maritime accident; and the requirement on International Association of Classification Societies to seek accreditation from Marina.

In addition, the coalition said the policies were implemented without industry consultation.

An example, it said, was when Marina decreed all seven domestic class societies would cease operation by March 31 to be replaced by a single society.

Once the Marina order takes effect, previous insurance contracts would be voided. A new one would require consent from an accredited class society – which, as of this writing, has yet to be formed.

The coalition is also seeking the replacement of Marina administrator Ma. Elena Bautista.

“Due to the occurrence of several recent accidents, the Marina under the leadership of its current administrator has continued an unceasing issuance of Memorandum Circulars, much to the confusion and financial detriment of the shipping sector,” the coalition said.

“While we recognize the intent to effect strict safety measures in the shipping industry, these circulars are now being issued and effective with little or no consultation with the shipping sector.”

The Marina reiterated its earlier position to suspend the Certificate of Public Convenience of all shipping lines that will join the transport holiday. Marina added there will be no trade bottleneck, claiming bigger operators will skip the protest.


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