(First of two parts)
Two weeks ago I heard a lawyer friend who has built an impressive career in the maritime field asking why the Philippines needs to ratify or accede to international maritime conventions, which define standards and impose obligations on the country’s shipping operations.
As he spoke I sat stunned (we were in a conference) and thought maybe I was listening to someone who is new to shipping. He appeared to be blaming internationally adopted regulations for imposing burden on the industry (speaking for his clients, possibly). He sounded like he was challenging the decision of government to ratify international conventions.
In fairness to my lawyer friend, he was not the first one to raise this issue. There were many who did before; they insist we must define how we are to operate our ships and not to be too obliging when it comes to committing to international treaties.
I tried to recall that the Philippines is a State Party to 22 of 57 IMO Conventions and Protocols. This means having to consider ratifying another 35 IMO conventions such as the Facilitation of Maritime Traffic 1965, Ballast Water Management Convention, Anti-Fouling System Convention and MARPOL Annex VI on the Prevention of Air Pollution from Ships. If we follow what my lawyer friend says, Philippine-flagged ships will have to comply with additional regulations once the country decides to sign these instruments.
Shipping, a global industry
Countries of old developed rules that would govern the operation of their national fleet. No problem about that, until they started trading with each other and struggled with persistent confusion brought about by disparate rules and standards of trade and shipping. Then they realized there is need for a set of unified rules for ease when dealing with partners beyond national jurisdiction.
Safety, though before confined to the concern of the monarch who sent expeditions, has become one of the precursors in the development of the most elaborate international rules on safety of life at sea or SOLAS. It did not matter then how many of the crew were able to complete the voyage, but today they would be the subject of numerous international treaties to ensure their safety and welfare. In fact, seafaring has become one of the most regulated occupations globally.
Becoming a party to international treaties or conventions is a decision a country takes after weighing the pros and cons of signing up. In most countries, the desire to be active players in the international community guides the decision to ratify maritime conventions.
Advances in technology have increased mobility and communications and with connectivity results the shrinking of the world. Thus, access to opportunities available outside national boundaries and the unlocking of new economic prospects are overriding considerations in signing up international conventions. There may be other reasons than these that compel a country to seek membership in international treaties.
The question raised by my lawyer friend on why we need to ratify maritime conventions and be forced to implement international standards made me think how well government is able to communicate to industry the raison d’etre for becoming signatory to IMO conventions. Parallel to this is the question: are measures to promote maritime safety and the protection of the environment properly communicated to the public, those whose interest Government has given utmost consideration in signing IMO instruments?
As signatory to the International Convention on the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) and the International Convention on the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL) the Philippine merchant fleet is able to freely engage in the carriage of international trade. As Party to the International Standards on the Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW), Filipino seafarers are able to penetrate the global market for shipboard labor. These entitlements did not come easy; government has to prove it makes good its commitment as Party to the conventions it has ratified by carrying out the obligations demanded from it.
By far, the Philippines enjoys the benefits that go with being a Party to some IMO conventions. The smooth sailing for the Philippines, though, is battered by undercurrents one of which is the issue being raised by Parties as to the effectiveness of the country’s compliance with convention requirements.
My call: let not internal misgivings be added to the grounds for the country losing its credibility as a responsible member of the international maritime community.