THE Philippines, regarded as among the world’s largest contributors of marine plastics, is moving to reverse this situation, with Cebu’s maritime industry players and authorities ramping up inspection and monitoring of vessels to raise awareness among seafarers on the need to prevent pollution.
To protect the country’s sea waters against the proliferation of marine pollution, Cebu’s maritime industry players and regulators have also renewed their commitment to the MARPOL convention against the discharge of sea pollutants.
Ahead of the 24th National Maritime Week slated for September 24 to 30, 2023 centered on minimizing the threat of marine pollution that threatens biodiversity in the nation’s bodies of water, Maritime Industry Authority (Marina) 7 Director Emmanuel Carpio, Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) Central Visayas Commander Commodore Agapito Bibat, Department of Health-Bureau of Quarantine (DOH-BOQ) Chief Dr. Terence Anthony Bermejo and Cebu Maritime Group president Prince Batiancila discussed the challenges of marine pollution during a press conference on Saturday, September 23, in Cebu City.
Marine pollution remains one of the most pressing environmental issues in the Philippines, according to a United Nations report in 2022, while the World Bank reported in 2021 that the country generates over two million tons of plastic waste every year, the majority of which ends up in seawater.
Carpio said MARPOL was in reference to the country’s promises to the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL) first ratified in 2001, taking measures against intentional or unintentional discharge of oil, toxic liquid substance, sewage and garbage into the ocean resulting in marine pollution.
He said the country has already taken a step to combat marine pollution, including the modernization of the fleet of ships and boats in the country that are compliant with environmental standards and fuel efficiency, and raising awareness among seafarers and cadets through training on the significance of protecting nature for the sake of the future.
The country also expressed its commitment to decarbonization efforts in a forum in South Korea last June, including the adoption of eco-friendly ship designs and increasing government support to the local shipbuilding and shipping sectors in the quest for investors in the industry.
But he said it remains a challenge for authorities to monitor the compliance of the vessels and crew with safe and environmentally friendly practices while at sea. This includes cases of solid and wastewater disposal of the ship directly into the sea.
Carpio said there were unverified reports of foreign cargo vessels from China coming to the Philippines, particularly Cebu or other regions, disposing of their waste water into the sea.
“Even now, the ships from China that transport minerals, when they come here, they are bringing tons of water to sustain the stability of their ships. And when they get here, their ships are loaded with our minerals and other products, and they then dispose of the water. Where will they dispose of it? In our sea,” Carpio said.
He said this needed further investigation. However, he feared this may also be the case with other maritime vessels while at voyage.
While docked in a local port, Dr. Bermejo said, all foreign or domestic vessels and their crew follow the protocol and comply with the standard and certification. However, it is another story when they are already at sea.
He said the BOQ has made sure that all passenger vessels at dock must have a sanitation certificate and monitor their garbage and waste disposal, ensuring the vessel is sanitized and hygienic to ensure the health and welfare of the crew and passengers on board.
“Most of our inspections are done at port. While the vessel is at port, the vessels are still clean. Our concern is when the ship already runs because that is when we can check how clean the vessel really is and whether the crew can keep its cleanliness,” Bermejo said.
He added that the BOQ mostly focuses on the ship’s restroom, washroom and kitchen as water on board is scarce, particularly on long voyages.
The lack of manpower to monitor the vessels’ compliance while at sea remains a challenge. However, Bermejo stressed that it’s the responsibility of the crew on board to maintain the ship’s cleanliness and follow environmental standards.
Last September 8, Marina 7 partnered with the BOQ through a memorandum of agreement to ramp up the inspection of passenger vessels to check their cleanliness or sanitation based on the JSSSI Inspection or Evaluation report.
Carpio said non-compliant vessels shall be issued the Notice of Deficiency against shipowners and if left unsolved, this may result in penalties, suspension, or revocation of the permit to operate.
“Our partnership with the Bureau of Quarantine is not only for this occasion. I am proposing if it can be done twice a month. All ships calling in our port, starting from Cebu, Bohol and Dumaguete, will be subject to this inspection twice a month,” Carpio said.
Marina 7 has prepared various activities for the Maritime Industry Week celebration in collaboration with the PCG, the Cebu Port Authority, and private and public organizations, recognizing the contribution of the maritime industry including the sailors, shipbuilders, dock workers, maritime professionals and stakeholders to the country’s economy.
These include a fluvial parade on the opening day, seminars on ship safety and design, launching of the Marina San Remigio extension office, maritime security exercise and MARPOL training and maritime safety pre-summit.