THE Philippines received a bit of good news recently, although in an indirect way, with the release of a report by Risk Management Services (RMS), a disaster risk consultancy. The report listed the world’s ports that are most vulnerable to natural disasters. Despite being located in a country that overall is considered one of the most vulnerable in the world, none of the ports in the Philippines were among those on the RMS list.
The study used a computer model to calculate a potential marine cargo loss from various hazards, including earthquakes, wind and storm surges. The model took into consideration the port’s location, the types of cargo handled by the port, the facilities for storing cargo and the normal “dwell time” at the port — that is the time in hours (or days) that a shipment would normally wait at the port before being loaded onto a ship, or being picked up and taken away by truck or train after being unloaded.
The study also noted that several enormous disasters have hit ports around the world in the past few years, including Hurricane Sandy, which ravaged the East Coast of the US in 2012, causing a loss of an estimated $2 billion in marine cargo, the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, for which the loss was virtually incalculable, and just a year ago, the Tianjin explosion, which, although man-made and not a natural disaster, was aggravated by the characteristics of the port and cost insurers in excess of $3 billion.
The top two most at-risk ports according to RMS are Nagoya, Japan and Guangzhou, China, respectively. Both are vulnerable to typhoons and earthquakes. Somewhat surprisingly, six of the remaining eight of the top 10 most at-risk ports are in the US, where they are vulnerable to hurricanes. The remaining two are in Europe: Bremerhaven, Germany (in fourth place), and LeHavre, France (10th spot), where there is a risk of dangerous storm surges.
Yet, in spite of the entire country being seriously at risk from typhoons, earthquakes, and even volcanoes, the Philippines’ ports are not considered particularly vulnerable. While the RMS report focused on the vulnerable ports rather than those that are comparatively safer, it did give some insights into how ports can mitigate risks.
Apart from being located away from obvious risks like earthquake faults or reclaimed land, good port management on the part of operators and government regulators is the key advantage. Proper handling and movement of cargo using good safety practices, keeping cargo moving as opposed to allowing it to be stored too long in vulnerable port areas, and efficient handling of ships so that they are loaded and unloaded in a timely fashion, are all factors that reduce the risks of significant cargo losses.
In the past couple of years, particularly since the disastrous port congestion in Manila in 2014, port operators, the Philippine Ports Authority, the Bureau of Customs, the Philippine Coast Guard, local government units, and users of the ports – shippers, forwarders, and trucking firms – have exerted efforts to improve the efficiency of Philippine ports and move goods more quickly. That work continues; there are always improvements that can be made. Undoubtedly, Philippine ports do face some risks, but they are not considered notably vulnerable.
In this country we have unfortunately become accustomed to being rated poorly on global assessments, so being skipped by an important study with a negative focus is a bit of a relief for us. More than that, it is enough to make us appreciate the positive attributes of our homeland and to encourage our port authorities and operators to keep improving the safety of our port facilities.