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EDITORIAL - Rot in the maritime industry

() - August 31, 2006 - 12:00am
Drivers of motorized vehicles are required to renew their licenses regularly, with corresponding fines for every month of delay in renewal. Rules for crewmembers in the maritime industry appear to be much less stringent. As the captain of the ill-fated oil tanker Solar 1 admitted before a special Board of Marine Inquiry the other day, his license expired in 2002. So did the licenses of four other crewmembers of the tanker, which continues to spew bunker fuel into the once pristine waters around Guimaras.

The admission of tanker captain Norberto Aguro is just the latest manifestation of the rot in the maritime industry. The owners of Solar-1, who were barred yesterday from leaving the country pending completion of the investigation of the sinking, apparently do not bother about niceties such as crewmembers’ licenses, as long as the crew can transport cargo from one port to another. As the tanker captain bragged, who needs a license — or special training in operating oil tankers — when he had been in the business for the past 25 years?

That experience obviously was not enough to save the Solar-1 and its toxic cargo, which is now polluting the waters and even the air around Guimaras. Aguro’s admission surprised no one in a country long used to virtual floating coffins sailing without passenger manifests. Almost every year, whether in calm seas or during typhoons, a ferry sinks or catches fire. Two years ago a ferry was bombed, killing over a hundred passengers; security forces at least are trying to prevent a repeat of that terrorist attack. The other problems that have long bedeviled the maritime industry may still be around in the next 25 years.

This much can be conceded: Coast Guard and maritime authorities are acutely undermanned and underequipped to police the coastlines of 7,100 islands. This, however, should not mean relaxing efforts to enforce maritime safety rules. There are ways of making ship owners and their crewmembers comply with maritime regulations. There are also ways of compelling maritime authorities to do their jobs better. The government should not wait for another massive environmental disaster to start overhauling the maritime industry.

AGURO AROUND BOARD OF MARINE INQUIRY CAPTAIN COAST GUARD CREWMEMBERS GUIMARAS INDUSTRY MARITIME NORBERTO AGURO TANKER
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