In what may be a promising step forward for maritime accident investigation in the Philippines the country’s coast guard is to follow the IMO code of casualty investigation for it’s enquiry into the grounding of the USS Guardian. This will be the first investigation to follow the IMO code and is particularly unusual because it involves a military vessel of a foreign power.
In the Official Gazette, a joint US/Philippine statement says: “The Philippine government stated that the Philippine Coast Guard had commenced its independent inquiry into the grounding of the USS Guardian. Upon receipt of information on the incident, the Philippine Coast Guard formed the Maritime Casualty Investigation Team (MCIT) in accordance with its standard procedures and resolutions of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) on serious maritime incidents to establish the circumstances and causes of the grounding on Tubbataha Reef and to formulate safety measures to prevent a repetition of this incident”.
This will be the first time that a case has been investigated under the IMO casualty code.
No agency in the Philippines is charged with conducting non-liability investigations. Although recent legislation, RA 9993, has been passed which mandates adherence to the IMO code, the regulations and rules have bogged down on the insistence by the Board of Marine Inquiry, BMI, a body established to assess liability, that it alone has the authority to carry investigations although it has no members professionally trained to do so and its aims conflict with the requirements of the IMO Code. Those involved in trying to bring the Philippines in line with international standards have expressed frustration at the slowness and lack of understanding of those tasked with implementing the new code.
Whether the MCIT will form the basis for an IMO-complaint body in the Philippines remains to be seen. The Philippine Coast Guard is a law-enforcement body so its independence is questionable, and there remains the issue of whether its finding can be passed to a court whose purpose is to establish liability, as required under current Philippine legislation but contrary to the IMO code.
Most importantly, if the IMO code is followed, the resulting report must be publicly available which is not a current requirement in the Philippines.
The international maritime investigation community, many of whom are barred by law from collaborating with a Philippine investigation will be watching closely.