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Philippine Star EDITORIAL — Boosting ship building and repair

EDITORIAL — Boosting ship building and repair
The Philippine Star May 8, 2023

Over two months after the motor tanker Princess Empress sank off Oriental Mindoro, the local government of Navotas ordered on May 5 the closure of a shipyard in the city that refurbished the vessel. The Navotas government said the Majestic Shipping Corp.’s business permit was only for commercial ship leasing.

The Princess Empress was carrying 900,000 liters of bunker oil when it sank reportedly after encountering big waves off the town of Naujan on Feb. 28. As the tanker settled at a depth of about 400 meters in the sea, it kept spewing both its fuel and its cargo of bunker oil into the sea. The oil spill spread from Oriental Mindoro to Palawan and Antique. The tanker reportedly sailed nine times even while its application for a certificate of public convenience was still being evaluated by the Maritime Industry Authority.

Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla has described the Princess Empress, registered to have been built only last year, as a “rebuilt scrap.” A witness in a probe being conducted by the National Bureau of Investigation said the original 50-year-old vessel named Dorothy Uno was designed only to transport sand and not dangerous cargo like bunker fuel. Another report, however, said Princess Empress was originally called Princess Diana and was a smaller vessel that was refurbished in 2020 together with the Dorothy.

While the NBI and other agencies are looking into the culpability of tanker owner RDC Reield Marine Services for the oil spill, the government should also initiate a program to boost the domestic shipbuilding and ship repair industry.

Last month industry players had a dialogue with officials of the Department of Science and Technology and Marina as well as members of the academe to discuss how to jumpstart development of the industry. The DOST is spearheading a study on how the industry can tap innovation, science and technology for this effort.

Industry representatives pointed out during the dialogue that the demand for ship repair is bigger than for shipbuilding, but the sector lacks support from the government. The sector, like many other industries, is also suffering from a lack of skilled workers and proper certification of the required human resources.

The DOST says that since 2010, the Philippines has been the world’s fourth largest ship producer in terms of gross tonnage. But the sector clearly needs a bigger push, with emphasis on innovation for global competitiveness. In an archipelago of over 7,100 islands, ship building and repair should be a top industry. This is also a labor-intensive sector where the skills required will merit decent pay. The sinking of the Princess Empress should lead to improvements in the ship building and repair industry.