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Business

Transportation safety

DEMAND AND SUPPLY - Boo Chanco - The Philippine Star

We casually take life threatening risks with transportation safety. Look at how passengers desperate to get home cling to the doors of public buses or ride on top of jeepneys in the provinces. Our people have little choice. Transportation Secretaries have come and gone, but the situation remains despicably the same.

If land transportation is bad, interisland travel on those floating coffins licensed by government to operate is suicidal. Vessels are barely seaworthy because most are cast-offs from other countries and manned by poorly trained crews.

Commercial air transportation is world standard, no thanks to local aviation authorities. Our airlines are obligated to comply with international safety regulations. But flying on private aircraft can be dangerous. Two Cessnas and a medevac helicopter crashed over the last few weeks. Were the aircrafts properly maintained? Were the pilots properly trained and licensed?

This is why President Marcos was badly advised to veto the law creating a National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). According to the Palace veto message, Junior felt it is a redundant agency that will do the work of existing ones and will just bloat the bureaucracy.

Wrong. We need a NTSB, like the one in the United States, for an independent assessment of transportation accidents. Right now, MARINA and the Coast Guard investigate maritime accidents. But both agencies are often at fault or negligent, and are likely to cover-up their shortcomings.

In the latest sinking of an oil tanker, MARINA and the Coast Guard cannot even agree if the vessel had the proper permit to operate. The aging vessel had engine trouble in rough seas. The ship captain may have been certified and licensed, but probably was poorly trained for the emergency. Did the Coast Guard mistakenly allow the vessel to sail?

Same thing with CAAP in aviation. The recent Cessa and medevac helicopter crashes may have been due to poor regulation of aircraft maintenance and pilot licensing. Indeed, CAAP licenses airline pilots even if it doesn’t have enough check pilots certified to fly the big jets.

Averted aircraft accidents involving air traffic control failures are not uncommon. Near collisions of planes landing and taking off due to faulty guidance from malfunctioning equipment and/or overworked air traffic controllers could happen.

That’s why we need an independent NTSB. We need to learn what went wrong so that we can avoid similar future accidents. But we never learn. The government agencies responsible for making domestic travel safe are not manned by enough competent people and operators of public transportation often bribe their way out of compliance.

On Aug. 28, 2006, I wrote a column in this newspaper entitled “Guimaras oil spill: What happens now?” Here are selected paragraphs:

“There are many expensive lessons to be learned from the Guimaras oil spill. However, I am not too confident that we will learn from this tragedy. The most important lesson I see is the need to modernize our interisland oil tanker fleet to include upgrading qualification requirements for crew members. Our government, through MARINA, should bite the bullet and force the various vested interests to adopt internationally accepted standards.

“Our domestic tanker industry has reportedly resisted the move to adopt international practices and standards. Qualification standards for the crew are also low, and even at that, not strictly enforced. And the oil companies seem to be in such a cozy relationship with them so as to exert enough pressure on MARINA to suspend implementation of long delayed modernization measures like the double hull requirement. For so long now, our domestic oil tankers are like jeepneys in our urban streets… habang puedeng lumutang, puede na yan…

“Modernization is definitely good for the environment and the country, but bad for the cash flow of the local tanker owners. They don’t have enough sense of responsibility that would make them take the public welfare view. It is simply not right to expose the environment and the livelihood of our people to risks of tragedies, such as what we now face in Guimaras…

“This is why the attitude of the oil companies regarding fleet modernization is crucial. Some months ago, Petron conducted bids for their domestic tanker business. The chance for Petron to show leadership and impose internationally accepted standards was there. But Petron chose to do nothing and maintained the old “puede na” standards. In so doing, Petron took the risk of a Guimaras type disaster.”

Yes. Petron again. Different owners now, but Petron again.

The tanker sinking last month is an environmental catastrophe. It polluted the Verde Island Passage in Batangas, which is home to 36 marine protected areas with an estimated 1,700 fish species and 300 coral species, some of which are only found there. It is known worldwide as the center of the center of marine biodiversity. It provides food, livelihoods, and other benefits to over two million people.

A law should be passed requiring oil companies to have a strike force of trained manpower that is properly equipped to very quickly handle emergencies like oil spills. Smaller oil companies that cannot afford it should team up with the bigger ones. Never mind who is at fault or who is liable, the first order of business is to clean up and stop the pollution from spreading.

The spilled oil quickly spread. Petron should have immediately deployed such a strike force they have in their refinery, with oil spill booms and chemicals to address the problem. It took Japan and the US to offer services to clean up the spill and prevent more contamination.

Next order of business is to help the people affected by the oil spill. Fishermen have lost their livelihoods and resort owners have lost business. When a crisis strikes, an enlightened top management will set the lawyers aside for the meantime and get to work helping victims. No ifs and buts on this.

Insurance claims can come later, but the oil company, because it is their cargo, must make things right with victims quickly.

That old tanker carrying 800,000 liters of diesel fuel was just refurbished and made to look new. Was it seaworthy?

Corruption, puede na, and greed are lethal combinations that have plagued our transport sector. This has to stop.

 

Boo Chanco’s email address is [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @boochanco

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