Impacted by the global pandemic that rendered shipping and transport almost helpless against economic slowdown with ships and crew not able to transport people and cargos, the country's custodian of its maritime development stands at the aft, guiding a strong and resilient industry.
The Maritime Industry Authority (Marina) celebrated its 47th year anniversary on June 1 with a renewed commitment to serve maritime stakeholders especially seafarers, who are heroes during the pandemic.
"Let us all sail amid challenging times. Happy 47th year anniverssry," Marina Administrator Vice Admiral Robert Empedrad said.
Despite the challenges brought by Covid -19, Marina strives to help the global shipping industry to ensure that essential workers as well as cargoes and medical supplies, can reach their destinations.
"Even in the height of the pandemic, the Philippines was able to deploy 217,223 seafarers. These unsung heroes helped move essential goods and services, including food and medical supplies, to mitigate the impact of Covid-19, Empedrad said.
One of the country's major contributions is the designation of crew change hubs in Manila, Cebu, Davao, Bataan, Subic, Batangas.
"The Philippines has become the crew change capital in the world during the pandemic," he said.
Marina and other known maritime organizations were elated after Filipino seafarers were included in the priority list in the national Covid-19 vaccination program.
The seafarers were declared key workers globally and locally. They enter various ports across the world, and so shipping companies prefer their workforce to be vaccinated to ensure that their operations will remain smooth, unhampered, and protected.
Caring for seafarers
Last month, Filipino crew members aboard MV Athens Bridge from India were given immediate assistance by the Department of Transportation (DOTr) and the maritime sector, after 12 out of 21 crew members tested positive of Covid-19.
MV Athens Bridge departed from India on April 22 and arrived in Haiphong, Vietnam on 01 May 2021 for the conduct of the crew's RT-PCR test. The vessel was directed to the quarantine anchorage area designated by the One-Stop Shop (OSS) Port of Manila on May 6. The Bureau of Quarantine (BOQ) doctors boarded the vessel and recommended the immediate medical evacuation of two crew members in critical condition.
Philippines and Netherlands tie -up
Marina said the Philippines and the Netherlands have strengthened their ties in taking care of seafarers and in the field of maritime transport.
Paul van Gurp, of the Netherlands Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management (MinlenW) said an estimated 22,000 seafarers from the Philippines will get vaccinated. "We as the Netherlands most importantly hope that our excellent cooperation with the Philippines continues. Moving forward together and upholding this special bilateral relationship will contribute to the wealth and interests of the shipping sector and our two countries."
The Philippines and the Netherlands strengthened anew their ties of understanding, cooperation, international exchange, and trade especially in the field of maritime transport during the 21st Joint Committee on Maritime Affairs (JCMA) virtual meeting on April 29.
Plans and programs
Marina's comprehensive plan for the sustainable growth and development of the maritime industry is laid out in the Maritime Industry Development Plan (MIDP)
The MIDP works on accelerating the development of a nationally integrated and globally competitive maritime industry through maritime education, innovation, technology, and sustainability.
Marina plans to capacitate the shipbuilding industry and eventually produce naval ships.
Marina and the Philippine Navy will collaborate on the formulation of technical standards and training on the design and construction of naval vessels, which would be a critical contribution to the modernization program of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
Empedrad and PN Flag Officer-in-Command Vice Admiral Giovanni Carlo J Bacordo PN personally signed the memorandum of agreement (MOA), which aimed to support the sustained development of the maritime industry.
Marina prepared the 4-year roadmap for its information technology which covers the period 2021 to 2024. It directly supports the implementation of the 10-year MIDP, particularly Program 8, which covers the establishment of the Maritime Knowledge and Innovation Center (MKIC).
The IT roadmap aims to modernize its information technology equipment and facilities, integrate existing and develop new information systems, as well as automate its processes nationwide.
In the area of digital transaction, systems development and deployment, Marina will roll-out the following initiatives this year: e-payment system through the LinkBiz portal of the Land Bank of the Philippines (LBP), Phase I of the Integrated Domestic Shipping Information System (IDSIS-1), Online health monitoring for seafarers, stakeholders and visitors transacting business with the agency, Centralized portal for online help desk and Municipal Fishing Vessel Information System (MFVIS).
The MFVIS is a system developed intended to assist various local government units and relevant government agencies mandated to regulate the registration of small boats below 3 gross tonnage to implement maritime safety in coastal areas.
Protecting the marine environment
Marina sets rules for ballast water management. Marina's mission is to promote cleaner seas through sustainable and responsible maritime practices, and to implement effective measures to minimize the uptake and subsequent discharge of sediments and organisms, which may be invasive and eventually destroy indigenous marine ecosystems.
Marina Circular No. SR-2020-05 has set rules and regulations for the control and management of ships' ballast water and sediments to ensure that all Philippine registered ships plying in the international trade, as well as international ships plying Philippine waters, are compliant with the International Convention for the Control and Management of Ships' Ballast Water and Sediments, 2004 (BWM Convention).
It requires all ships that are plying Philippine waters to carry the International Ballast Water Management Certificate (IBWMC) for ships plying the flag of countries party to the Convention. The ships are also required to have an approved Ballast Water Management Plan and a Ballast Record Book on board.
An International Ballast Water Management (BWM) Certificate will be issued after the Administration conducts a BWM survey. A BWM certificate will be valid five years from the date of issue.
Preparing for IMSAS
The maritime administration also gears up for International Maritime Organization (IMO) Member State Audit Scheme (IMSAS) in 2022.
Marina seeks to uphold its commitments in ensuring full compliance to the IMSAS in October 2022. Marina held the Inter-Agency Writeshop on Pre-Audit Questionnaire (PAQ) on February 19, via video conference to update and finalize the said document before its submission to the audit team.
The PAQ is one of the mandatory requirements for the IMSAS, and is considered as a Member State's "first line of defense" for the said mandatory audit as it will form part of the audit team's strategic planning before subjecting it to external scrutiny.
Leading the STCW office
President Duterte has appointed Vice Admiral Rene Villena Medina as executive director of STCW Office in March.
Empedrad said VADM Medina's appointment is a promising step toward the right direction for the agency, which is at the helm of ensuring the Philippines' full compliance to the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification, and Watchkeeping (STCW) Convention, 1978, as amended.
Empedrad recently appointed 41 new Marina officers and personnel to beef up the organizational workforce to deliver its frontline services to maritime stakeholders.
A true leader especially in these very challenging times, Empedrad always reminds Marina personnel to be thankful to the Lord.
"Your promotion comes from the Lord and is a result of a job well done or excellent performance," he said.