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House panel approves proposed law on open pilotage services

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By Charissa Luci-Atienza 

The House Committee on Transportation has unanimously approved a substitute bill, seeking to provide open pilotage service services in the country.

The panel, chaired by Catanduanes Rep. Cesar Sarmiento, passed the proposed Open Pilotage Services Act, which also seeks to enhance the powers of the Philippine Ports Authority (PPA) and other port bodies in regulating pilotage services.

EPA / MANILA BULLETIN

(EPA / MANILA BULLETIN)

Covered by the bill are all harbor pilots and pilotage organizations or persons rendering pilotage services licensed by the Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA) and accredited by the Philippine Ports Authority (PPA) and the MARINA in all ports in the country, whether owned and managed by the government or private persons.
Sarmiento, one of the authors of the bill, cited the need to adopt an open pilotage set up for the country, upgrade the level of services and to regulate and closely supervise pilotage services and the conduct of harbor pilots.

“This is to ensure navigational safety at all times and protect port facilities, vessels, passengers and cargoes, particularly the safety of life and property at sea,” he said.

The unnumbered substitute bill calls for the creation of a Pilotage Board which shall be chaired by PPA.

The Board shall be composed of government port authorities, bodies or entities with their own special charter mandated to administer or manage their own ports.

The members of Board include the chief executive officers of the Cebu Port Authority (CPA), Authority of the Free Port Area of Bataan (AFAB), Bases Conversion Development Authority (BCDA), Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA), Cagayan Economic Zone Authority (CEZA) and others bodies or entities similarly situated.

The PPA shall provide technical, legal, administrative, and secretariat support of the Pilotage Board.

Under the bill, the Pilotage Board is tasked to promulgate and adopt common and standard rules and regulations necessary for the enforcement and administration of pilotage service and the conduct of harbor pilots in all pilotage district in the country, which shall include, among others, the establishment of pilotage safety trust fund, and administrative sanctions against erring harbor pilots.

The Board shall also exercise administrative control, regulation and supervision on plotage services and the conduct, performance and discipline of harbor pilots in any port district to be implemented and enforced by the PPA.

The Board is also expected to recommend adjustments in pilotage fees, rates and charges and to establish a comprehensive training program in coordination with MARINA and PCG for applicants or new harbor pilots as well as a continuing advance training program for incumbent harbor pilots.

It is also tasked to conduct investigations on maritime accidents involving harbor pilots or in connection with the conduct of pilotage services without prejudice to MARINA and PCG’s power to investigate on the part of relevant authorities to conduct their separate investigation within their jurisdictions.

Under the bill, pilotage service in the Philippines shall be provided directly by the PPA or on a non-exclusive basis through duly accredited pilotage organizations or pool of duly accredited harbor pilots.

It provides that there shall be an open pilotage policy in every pilotage district and for the entire country.

The PPA shall ensure that shipping companies, vessel owners or ship agents shall be able to freely choose from at least two accredited pilotage organizations or a pool of qualified harbor pilots in every pilotage district.

“Non-membership in a pilotage organization shall not be a bar for a duly accredited harbor pilot to render pilotage service in a pilotage district where he is duly authorized to serve,” the bill said.

Under the bill, a harbor pilot may provide pilotage service in more than one pilotage district provided he is duly qualified or accredited to render services.

The bill provides that the PPA shall, upon the recommendation of the Pilotage Board, have the power to prescribe and impose pilotage rates and charges for every pilotage service rendered in every pilotage district, including any special service, if any.

“In no case, shall the Authority impose pilotage rates and charges for pilotage and special services without prior notice and public consultation,” it said.

“Pilotage rates and charges for every pilotage service rendered in every pilotage district, including any special service, must be published in the Authority’s website, as well as in a conspicuous place to be determined by the Authority in each port covered by a Pilotage District. Any pilotage rate or charge imposed beyond the published rate shall be void, ” it said.

Under the bill, the pilotage fees and charges applicable on vessels existing upon the effectivity of this Act shall continue to apply until such time as new rates and charges are prescribed and imposed by that the Authority may rationalize, revise, adjust or prescribe such new rates and charges as may be necessary.

It provides that the Pilotage Board shall immediately convene and be convened immediately by the PPA from the effectivity of the proposed Act and shall promulgate the necessary implementing rules and regulations of this Act within a period of 90 days from its effectivity.

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