Jul 292008

Local reports in the Philippines quote Philippine Coastguard officials rely on cellphones and text messages to get the co-ordinates of ships in trouble because they don't have the capability of receiving EPIRB signals.

Writing in the Philippine Inquirer, a report by Leila Salaverria quotes Emelson Morales, safety officer of Sulpicio Lines, owner of the ferry Princess Of The Stars which capsized in June with the loss of 800 passengers and crew, “"As far as I know, the Philippine authorities have no capability to get the signal from EPIRB. Sometimes we ask, what's the need for this EPIRB? You're better off texting your coordinates, get it through your GPS."

Princess Of The Stars was equipped with an EPIRB which did not activate during the incident and as far as is known no efforts have been made to locate it on the inverted wreck to determine whether or not it was activated and deployed. While it may have activated automatically as the vessel capsized it is unlikely that its signal could be received if it is still aboard the ship and under water.

Although Morales is quoted as suggesting that the EPIRB may have been disabled by damage subsained by storm winds causing it to hit a wall, “That's the only way for it not to send a signal because it's automatic," he says, the majority of EPIRB failures are due to poor maintenance, in particular the battery.

Morales also believed that the ship's medium frequency, high frequency, VHF and two-way radio equipment antennae were damaged by the storm winds and so couldn't be used for emergency communications. Only a single side-band radio and a cellphone were used when the ship ran into trouble.

The Philippine Coastguard is poorly equipped for emergencies. No GMDSS station is currently functioning in the archipelago and it is not equipped to receive DSC.  A spokeman for the Philippine Coastguard, PCG, Lieutenant Armand Balilo, is cited as saying that the PCG itself only has VHF and HF radios. It has some 108 VHF AND 78 HF radios to cover more than 7,000 islands, sixteen more VHF radios are not functioning, and PCG relies to cellphones.

So if you're passing through the Philippines make sure your cellphone is handy, charged and loaded

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