IT MUST have been too much to take even for nine-year-old Mark (not real name) when his mother, step-father and youngest brother—in boxes all—were slowly slipped into the crypts in Carreta Cemetery last Aug. 3, 2019, amid the wail and woe of relatives. The boy fainted, the grownups had to catch the boy from hitting ground.
Romeo Baguio Jr., tagging along his father and son Jay Arvien, was supposedly on his way to Guimaras to ask Maria Nieves Grandeza’s hand in marriage, but the fierce waters at the Iloilo-Guimaras Strait got the better of him, cracking their poor boat open and fed its passengers to death on Aug. 3, 2019. Still, rescuers felt it was only right that Romeo and Jay Arvien’s bodies have to reach Grandeza.
These are but the tearful scoops of human stories any reportage can draw out of a tragedy—a maritime one in the case of the Guimaras strait upset. It comes at a time when policies concerning domestic passenger boats are still pretty much stuck in the papers.
A Philippine Maritime Industry Authority (Marina) circular in 2016 had called for a phaseout of wooden-hulled passenger ships. It had indicated the period between 2018 and 2019 as a grace period for owners of wooden-hulled boats to retrofit their units. Those with the gross tonnage (GT) of below 15 should have been phased out by January 2018. Those between 15 GT to 99 GT last July 2018. Boats above 100 GT by January 2019.
The boats can only be allowed back in operation if the hulls have been replaced with technologically-improved materials, such as aluminum or fiberglass.
The circular, however, allows wooden-hulled boats under certain conditions: If there are no available boats with technologically-improved hull materials in the area of operation; and if there are no available ports or berthing areas for bigger boats. Marina had to undertake a “market study” of the areas of operation to determine the conditions that would give leeway to wooden-hulled boats.
Marina had set additional safety criteria, the “Wooden-hulled Ship Construction Survey,” that such boats need to comply if they are to continue their operation.
Understanding the financial conditions of owners of these boats, the circular also provided that Marina shall institute mechanisms of institutional support with the help of agencies, such as the Development Bank of the Philippines, the Board of Investments, the Office of Transport Cooperatives, local government units and other institutions.
Marina is supposed to coordinate with these agencies to come up with affordable financing schemes, facilities, and incentives for the owners to acquire new boats with modern designs or to technologically-improve their boats.
Marina, the circular states, should also seek the help of the Society of Naval Architect and Marine Engineers, national shipping associations, shipbuilding associations, among others to promote interest among overseas Filipino workers, especially seafarers, to invest in shipbuilding.
In real life, though, and with the recent sea mishaps involving small, wooden boats, the Marina circular’s sound provisions leave much to be desired. Its implementation must be reviewed.