Speaker Lord Allan Velasco has sought a review of the eight-year-old policy making mandatory the suspension of maritime travel in areas placed under Public Storm Warning Signal (PSWS) Number 1, or 36 hours before a weather disturbance occurs.
Velasco assailed the policy laid down in a memorandum circular issued by the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) in 2013. He said the PCG has proven to be counterproductive and detrimental to the country’s shipping and maritime industry, and the general public.
“The PCG circular has resulted in stressful delays, unforeseen cancellations, decreased economic productivity and stalled shipping services,” Velasco pointed out.
The PCG issued the memorandum circular in 2013, five years after one of the worse sea disasters in the country was recorded with the capsizing of the “Princess of the Stars” ferry on June 21, 2008.
A total 846 passengers of the Philippine-flagged ferry died when it capsized off San Fernando, Romblon at the height of typhoon “Frank.” Heading for Cebu City from the port of Manila, the ferry was allowed to sail notwithstanding the typhoon’s threat. However, “Frank” reportedly changed course and ran smack with the ferry in Romblon.
An investigation was conducted by the Maritime Industry Authority, the House of Representatives and the Senate, with blame for the sea mishap initially thrown at the ship’s captain, the PCG and even the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration.
On Wednesday, Velasco met with officials of the PCG, PAGASA, and Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA) to discuss PCG Memorandum Circular No. 02-13 that prescribed “Guidelines on Movement of Vessels During Heavy Weather.” Under the directive, any type of boat, ship or sea vessel will be barred from operating or sailing in the point of origin, the intended route and the point of destination once PSWS No. 1 is hoisted.
PSWS No. 1 is put in effect and announced by PAGASA when wind speeds ranging from 30 to 60 kilometers per hour is expected to take place in a given locality within a lead time of 36 hours, although the corresponding weather conditions may not yet be prevailing over that particular area.
The 36-hour lead time was originally intended for inland storm preparations involving residences, farms and land trips, among others.
Velasco wants the existing guidelines on sea travel during typhoons reviewed and replaced by a “maritime legal policy that is adoptive, forward thinking and conducive to economic stability.” He noted that advanced gale warning advisories and other maritime-based forecasting technologies and mechanisms are now available, and must be considered and maximized in crafting adaptive and economically sustainable guidelines on sea travel, without sacrificing the safety and protection of those in the maritime industry.
During his meeting with PCG, PAGASA and MARINA officials, Velasco urged them to look into the possibility of having a shorter lead time for storm signals and movement of vessels during bad weather conditions.
The Speaker said the current 36-hour lead time for PSWS No. 1, during which no vessel is allowed to travel, is “quite long” and leads to serious port congestion and derailment of economic activities.
“We need to find a way to be able to adjust how we determine storm warning signals and protocols in allowing vessels to travel by sea without sacrificing the safety of passengers and seafarers,” Velasco said.
The House leader also described the 36-hour lead time as “inefficient” since it causes people and goods stranded in ports for days even if the weather is calm or there is still enough time for them to travel safely.
He said this is mostly the case for people living in islands like in his home province of Marinduque, where inter-island trips can be completed in only an hour or two.
“I take my province as an example. We are used to a scenario where every time PAGASA declares Signal No. 1 in Quezon province, vehicles and Marinduqueños returning home are stuck in seaport,” Velasco said.