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Probe of RORO Vessels’ Seaworthiness Needed

Last Feb. 5, passengers aboard the M/V Sta. Clara, which left Virac port on or about 1:30 P.M., had an unpleasant experience when the roll-on, roll-off vessel arrived at Tabaco after more than four hours at sea.

According to Gerry Rubio of the Catanduanes State University, who vented his displeasure on facebook, the ferry’s main ramp failed to open. When all else failed for the ship’s officers, the captain apparently ordered the maneuvering of the boat so that its rear was now abutting the port.

After waiting for more than two hours, the passengers were made to pass through the narrow spaces between the trucks and container vans, exiting through the shorter emergency ramp.

He quoted a DTI employee as lamenting the ferry crew’s lack of concern for the welfare of the passengers, who were not advised of the ramp failure. “We were made to guess what was happening,” Rubio rued. “This RORO must be dry-docked and its seaworthiness checked.”

Under Memorandum Circular No. 65 issued by the Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA) in 1991 for Category 1 ships (with travel time of four hours or less), the vessel is supposed to have a minimum of two embarkation/disembarkation points separate from the loading ramp for moving cargo. The gangway, which is the metal stairs used by passengers in leaving the ship, must be at least 3.28 feet, or one meter, in width. MC No. 65-A and 150 also provide additional service standards for different ship categories.

Every sea-going passenger knows that all RORO vessels plying the Virac-Tabaco and Virac-San Andres routes do not have separate embarkation/disembarkation points for passengers. MARINA officials in its regional office in Legaspi City who are tasked to regularly inspect passenger vessels in Bicol must all be suffering from selective blindness.

Since this is election season, candidates for provincial posts should seize the opportunity and call on the Sangguniang Panlalawigan to launch an investigation of MARINA and ferry operators serving Catanduanes ports vis-a-vis their compliance with the provisions of MARINA Memorandum Circular No. 65, 65-A and 150 that sets minimum service standards for Philippine-registered interisland passenger vessels.

In the same vein, if MARINA and the provincial board would not dare touch the issue, somebody at the Catanduanes State University should follow the example of researchers in Iloilo which conducted a qualitative-descriptive research to determine the compliance of eight (8) RORO vessels plying the Dumangas-Bacolod and Iloilo-Guimaras routes. The 2011 research used the MARINA’s standard inspection report as a tool to conduct an inspection of the vessels to determine their compliance with MARINA circulars on the six areas of concern: passenger accommodation, public spaces, serving spaces, embarkation/disembarkation, conditions for the service standards and compliance with Batas Pambansa Blg. 344 or the Accessibility Law.

For years now, both ferry companies have been largely allowed to raise their rates pursuant to MARINA Memorandum Circular No. 153. Of interest to sea commuters is a provision in said MC stating that rates for first and second-class accommodations (aircon) remains deregulated (at the instance of the ferry operator) provided that such accommodations meet the MARINA-prescribed service standards.

It is just proper that our leaders and legislators, who last year led the opposition to the excessive terminal fee proposed by Philippine Ports Authority, to take the cudgels for sea commuters who brave rough seas even on board rusty and rickety vessels.

Catanduanes Tribune

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