For the longest time, questions were raised on how Philippine ships engaged in domestic voyages are measured, considering the fleet consists of second-hand vessels imported from our neighboring countries in East Asia. Most of these upon reaching Philippine shores are converted into different types of ships, or refitted to increase their cargo and passenger capacities.
I remember a former general manager of the Philippine Ports Authority inquiring about a ship docked in Batangas with a gross tonnage of 499.9 tons, which he said was unbelievably carrying cargoes more than what a ship of such size could carry. Time and again then, inquiries were addressed to the Maritime Industry Authority (Marina) as to why the domestic fleet clustered around that size of 499.9 gross tons (gt). Surprisingly, no definitive answer was given.
The importance of the size of a ship can be linked to a material requirement when defining the regulatory regime that applies to the ship. Many of the technical maritime regulations set 500 gt as the boundary for coverage. For example, a ship below 500 gt will require a lesser manning complement compared to one of 500 gt or more. Also, some port charges are based on the gross tonnage of the ship, which I can surmise was the concern of the PPA GM when he raised the point. The 499.9 gt category of domestic ships has placed Marina in a precarious place because of the persistent issue of its inability to correctly measure ships, a basic competence required of a maritime administration.
Change is taking place
In a meeting with Engr. Ramon C. Hernandez, Director of the Shipyard and Ship Repair Services of Marina over the strategic plans of the agency for the shipbuilding sector, he casually mentioned the ongoing series of training on “tonnage measurement system of ships,” using as a benchmark the requirements of the International Convention on Tonnage Measurement of Ships, 1969 (ITC 1969). This continuing training program aims not only to upgrade the competence of Marina technical personnel in the performance of their tasks, but more importantly to ensure there is uniform interpretation and understanding in the implementation of the ITC 1969. This means that regardless of who undertakes the measurement of a ship, whether where that ship is home ported or where it operates, the same system will be applied.
The latter reason is indeed a crucial factor as maritime regulatory functions are spread across the geographical regions in the country, thus, the possibility of variances in the interpretation of regulations which in turn impacts on the integrity of the measurement capabilities of the agency.
Two weeks ago, Marina Administrator Marcial Amaro informed the Movement for Maritime Philippines conveners that there is an on-going re-measurement of domestic ships. This reinforces the statement of Engr. Hernandez that the ultimate goal in the conduct of the training on the ITC 1969 is to prepare the participants in the revalidation and verification of the tonnage measurement of existing ships engaged in domestic shipping.
The next training is scheduled on March 15 to 18 in Manila with Marina naval architects and technical personnel from the central office and regional offices participating. Now on its 4th batch of training, Marina management speaks with confidence on the agency’s ability to institute the change of putting in order the measurement of ships.
It is expected that in the coming months, the domestic fleet in the 499.99 gt category will grow thin. This is better late than never.