President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has signed the Philippine Coast Guard Bill into law in a bid to curb the recurring maritime accidents across the archipelagic country.
PCG Commandant Admiral Wilfredo Tamayo said that under the new law the agency has the “authority to enforce regulations on maritime safety standards within Philippine territorial waters.”
He said the duty of Coast Guard personnel will no longer be limited to pre-departure inspections of vessels, as they now have the power to ensure and enforce compliance with maritime safety standards, rules and regulations.
“Under the law, the PCG can now detain, stop or prevent from sailing or leaving port all ships or vessels that are non-compliant with safety standards, rules and regulations or the so-called substandard vessels,” Tamayo said.
“Consequently, the PCG shall resume its wielded power and authority to conduct emergency readiness evaluation of merchant marine vessels,” he said.
Republic Act 9993 formally transfers the PCG from the Department of National Defense to the Department of Transportation and Communications.
Under the law, the PCG has the core functions of enforcing maritime laws, marine environmental protection, and conducting search and rescue operations during sea emergencies.
The Philippine Coast Guard Act, which nearly gathered dust during its 12 years in Congress, was signed last Friday by President Arroyo following a series of maritime accidents in the country.
During the holiday break, two passenger ferries sank two days apart.
Lubang Island-bound MV Catalyn B went down off Limbones Island in Cavite on December 24 after smashing into a fishing vessel, killing at least 27 of its passengers.
Two days later, MV Baleno 9 sank while sailing from Calapan City to Batangas off Isla Verde in Batangas, leaving six people dead and 46 still missing.
The twin sea tragedies highlighted the sorry state of the Philippine shipping industry and triggered a review of government regulatory agencies and maritime safety rules.
Ferries are the backbone of inter-island travels in the archipelagic Philippines, where sea accidents are common because of frequent tropical storms, poorly-maintained ships and weak enforcement of maritime safety regulations.