Interview: Maximo Mejia Jr

In what ways can domestic manpower standards for seafaring in the Philippines be harmonised with international standards?

MAXIMO MEJIA JR: Full implementation of the Republic Act 10635 took place in January 2015, providing MARINA complete oversight over the certification process of seafarers. It also provides for enforcement of the Standards of Training Certification and Watch (STCW) by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) to ensure that the certificates issued to Filipino seafarers are accepted by maritime administrations around the world. The goal is now to be compliant with the SCTW 2010 amendments by the end of 2016. The domestic seafaring sector in the Philippines is not covered by the STCW, as currently there are two different offices, the STCW office and the domestic manpower development service. We are in the middle of integrating both seafaring licensing units because although we will not be incorporating STCW standards for domestic seafarers, they must be substantially approximated to international standards.

In the domestic seafaring sector there is differentiation compared to STCW because of lower tonnage levels as well as differences in trade. In the Philippines, one finds traditionally-built vessels that do not conform to international shipbuilding, operation and maintenance standards. The plan is to approximate those international standards where it is relevant to the Philippines, even for non-conventional vessels. To professionalise domestic standards, the Philippines has engaged in a programme to formalise safety training. It would now like to move on and proceed to actual qualification and technical training.

How can the Philippine domestic maritime safety record be improved?

MEJIA: It is a priority to ensure the quality of Philippine seafarers, because they are integral to safely and efficiently moving goods around the world. In addition to our duty to the global maritime industry, the Philippines has an obligation to its people to ensure they are provided with safe and efficient transport. In the Philippines shipping is the most efficient and economical means of inter-island transportation, hence, there is a pressing need for tighter regulation and enforcement against substandard operators. To ensure the integrity of the domestic industry, MARINA has asked for technical assistance from the IMO which, despite its mandate only relating to international shipping, still remains the best venue for sharing practices and soliciting information. Philippine problems are not exclusive to the archipelago. We can learn from other countries who have developed programmes to address similar situations and then we can produce a Philippine model.

What is MARINA doing to reduce congestion and delays in domestic waterways?

MEJIA: As well as supporting the integrity of domestic vessels, coordination has been formed between MARINA and the Philippine Ports Authority to revisit choke points in ports across the archipelago, which are caused primarily by climate change and the standing policy of cancelling shipping when there is a storm signal. Given the rise in storm signals and the structural limitations of the country, once ships resume operations there is typically a long backlog of passengers and cargo to be processed. To mitigate these bottlenecks, MARINA is working hard to quickly process clearance requirements on those critical days. It has also issued a policy where, during periods when shipping is recovering from a storm, vessels in backlogged ports will be exempt from strictly observing sailing schedules and will be allowed to set sail immediately once they are ready. Ships coming from ports that are not backlogged will no longer be allowed to linger; instead they will be required to conduct their services and then exit the port immediately.