MAC can confirm that the Philippines is to abandon its current Board of Marine Inquiry system and replace it with a panel of technical experts who will investigate serious and very serious casualties. The BMI has been widely criticised for its lack of competency and its lack of impact on the country’s poor safety record.
Although official figures record just 30 major maritime accidents, independent estimates put the figure at more than 110 since 1980 according to a member of the Philippine Ship Spotter Society.
The BMI was inherited from the US, which colonised the country for half a decade, and from the earlier Spanish colonial administration which administered the Philippines for 350 years. No member of the BMI was required to have any knowledge or training in maritime accident investigation nor in maritime law. Among its members was a yacht club commodore.
Its primary purpose was to establish liability on the basis of negligence or incompetence of ships’ officers. Its findings and recommendations were not mandatory and its point of reference were the rules and regulations of the Philippine Merchant Marine Academy rather than those of the International Maritime Organisation or the relevant United Nations treaties.
The BMI’s days were numbered with the passing of Republic Act 9993, also known as the Philippine Coast Guard Act of 2009. This made the Philippine Coast Guard the sole authorised body to investigate maritime accidents which were to be compliant with the IMO’s Casualty Code which is now mandatory for all IMO member states. However, the act also made the Philippine Coast Guard responsible for both liability-based inquiries under the BMI and for non-liability investigation under IMO guidelines.
An unpublicised meeting in the Philippine Congress in mid-August, which included industry stakeholders, concluded that the BMI should be replaced by a panel of technical experts.
Earlier this year the Philippine Coast Guard established a casualty investigation service within its Marine Safety Services Command and accident investigation training began in July. Concern regarding the conflict between a BMI investigation and a casualty investigation has grown as discussion are currently in hand regarding options.