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Philippine Inter-Islands Shipping Association Dinner Forum

February 7, 2012

Philippine Inter-Islands Shipping Association
Dinner Forum
7 February 2012
Speech by Koji Sekimizu
Secretary-General, International Maritime Organization
 
Distinguished guests, Ladies and gentlemen,
 
It gives me great pleasure to be here today, and I am pleased to have the opportunity to participate in this forum organized by the Philippine Inter-Islands Shipping Association.
 
The development of an efficient transportation system is essential to the economic growth and development of every country.  Economical and reliable means of transport facilitate the movement of people, goods and services within national borders.
 
But there can be few countries in the world where maritime transport plays so central a role as it does in the Philippines.
 
Geography is the key factor. With its vast archipelago of more than 7,100 islands, the Philippines  relies heavily on inter-island shipping. The country is blessed with excellent natural harbours and ports, such as those here in Manila, in Subic Bay, in Batangas Port and in Cebu Port, for example, and these ports have also helped inter-island shipping to develop and flourish.
 
Inter-island freight has long been its most important structural supports to the national economy providing the backbone for national and regional trade. It is also the most cost-effective carrier in terms of tonne-miles.
And, for the movement of people within the Philippines, ferries provide an essential service, carrying vast numbers of people around the various regions of the country – for work, for leisure and for social interaction.
 
Developing and maintaining efficient inter-island maritime activities, enabling passengers and cargoes to reach destinations on time, in a good and safe condition, and at the least possible cost, is crucial for the Philippines.
An indication of just how crucial, can be gained from the fact that, according to an inventory carried out by MARINA, the Maritime Industry Authority of the Philippines, there were more than 8700 vessels registered in the Domestic Operating Fleet as of September 2010.
 
The Government has been ready and willing to support the maritime industry and it deserves credit for doing so. The domestic shipping industry has been deregulated since 1994 and the benefits of this can be seen in a widely recognized improvement in the quality of inter-island shipping services.
 
Furthermore, improved interconnection between the islands of the country would open up new economic opportunities, reduce transportation costs and increase access to social services, and the Philippines has built an imaginative and innovative infrastructure of “nautical highways”.
 
By connecting the islands of the country through integrated land and sea routes, utilizing ro-ro passenger and cargo vessels, ferries, fast-craft and other modes of transportation, these highways are the main arteries that carry the lifeblood of the Philippines’ inter-island traffic. Their creation has helped to reduce overcrowding in domestic ports during peak season and boost efficiency in inter-island shipping services.
 
In addition, the work to create these routes, such as the construction or modernization of ports and inter-modal links, has been a significant generator of economic activity in its own right.
 
However, there can be no doubt that one of the biggest challenges facing inter-island shipping in the Philippines today, concerns the safety record of the industry. Maritime accidents not only compromise the efficiency of the system, they also result in damage to property, damage to the environment and, most importantly, in loss of life – sometimes, as the world has witnessed, on a huge and tragic scale.
 
All of you here today will be only too aware of the safety issues and I do not think it would be very helpful for me to dwell on them. I would, however, prefer to mention some of the positive initiatives that are being taken by the Philippines Government to improve the situation, and to urge that these efforts continue to be broadened and strengthened.
 
Programmes to ensure more frequent vessel inspections and stricter vessel certification, together with better crew training and certification, are now underway to implement Cargo Securing Manual, ISM Code, ISPS Code and other safety regulations. 
 
Efforts to bring domestic seafarer standards in line with those of the STCW Convention and its amendments named after this city of Manila, in which they were adopted in 2010, should be noted and commended.
 
It is encouraging, too, to note that positive efforts are being made to bring the average age of the domestic fleet down, by offering financial incentives for investments in new vessels, and that ship owners and operators are encouraged to adopt internationally recognized classification standards that are appropriate, and suitable, to the weather and sea conditions of the archipelago when building these new vessels.
 
I look forward to learning more about these and other initiatives during my visit here this week.
 
Finally, in the shadow of the Costa Concordia incident in Italy which made headlines all over the world, I should like to conclude by saying a few words very specifically about passenger vessel safety.
 
First of all, let me add my praise to that which has already been recorded for the conduct of the 296 Filipinos who were working on the Costa Concordia when the vessel struck the rocks. Most were employed as waiters, dishwashers, cooks and cleaners and many have become national heroes for their part in saving hundreds of passengers during the ship’s evacuation.
 
News reports have highlighted survivors’ stories from the Costa Concordia, describing the heroic behaviour of Filipinos among the ship’s staff. The actions of the Filipino staff have made the front pages of Filipino newspapers, and an amateur video made by a crewmember shows Filipino waiters, cooks and stewardesses going around helping injured and panic-stricken passengers. Their selfless actions clearly helped save many lives and they deserve a great deal of credit for the way they responded to the situation.
 
All of which puts the safety record of domestic passenger ferry transport here in the Philippines into sharper focus. You will be aware, of course, that IMO has been working hard to help a number of countries, including the Philippines, to take positive steps to improve the safety of domestic ferry operations.
 
In December last year, a detailed action plan addressing domestic ferry safety in the East Asia region was agreed by participants in a forum on the subject, organized by IMO and held in Bali, Indonesia.
 
This regional forum adopted an eight-point plan which, among other things, calls on Governments to assist shipowners and operators to provide fit-for-purpose vessels that are compliant with national rules and regulations, and to support and monitor ships’ masters and operators to ensure that safety obligations are being properly fulfilled.
 
It also called for Governments to designate relevant focal points to participate in regular dialogue with all those with an interest in domestic ferry safety, to help identify critical issues that lead to accidents and casualties with a view to formulating effective solutions.
 
Issues such as hazardous weather, vessel design and construction, overcrowding and the lack of enforcement of rules, all of which may be considered to be significant contributory factors leading to accidents and fatalities, were also discussed at the forum, which was organized as part of IMO’s Integrated Technical Co-operation Programme, and in collaboration with the industry association, Interferry, as well as the Directorate General of Sea Transportation of Indonesia.
 
I was pleased to note that the Philippines was able to send a strong delegation to the forum, and I hope that the actions agreed there will provide a blueprint for improved domestic ferry safety here, where the people rely so heavily on the country’s maritime infrastructure.
 
Ladies and gentlemen, we all face many challenges as we try to achieve our shared goals improving the safety, security, efficiency and environmental performance of shipping. The Philippines has made important progress towards overcoming many of these challenges, and shown a strong commitment to doing so. I should like to conclude by re-emphasizing that IMO also remains committed to offering help and assistance in this respect, wherever and whenever it is needed.
 
Thank you.
 
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