A question for the Philippine Coast Guard
posted 28-Sep-2018  ·  
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Last week, overland and ferry passengers bound for Catanduanes were forced to seek costly accommodations in the mainland due to the hoisting of Tropical Storm Warning Signal No. 1 by PAGASA over the island last Wednesday evening.

The storm signal, and the subsequent suspension of sea travel, came despite the fact that typhoon “Ompong” was still a thousand kilometers away in the Pacific Ocean. The sea was calm, even during the next half day when rains of the leading storm clouds began pelting the islanders.

For many travelers, a storm signal has come to mean the suspension of sea voyages, bringing with it all the inconveniences of looking for a comfortable place to sleep, food when one’s cash runs out during extended inclement weather, and having enough money left over for the trip home.

The wasted time and opportunities, aside from the discomfort and inadequacies of sleeping at the Tabaco Port passenger terminal, have often made harassed passengers wonder why the authorities are not letting ferries sail to their destinations just a few hours away despite the calm sea and the impossibility of the typhoon’s affecting the state of Maqueda Channel from afar.

It may be that the Philippine Coast Guard has learned its lesson the hard way, with scores of sea vessels from the big ones to wooden-hulled, “katig”-type motorized bancas that have taken passengers to the deep when they ran into heavy seas.

More often than not, the PCG as well as government weathermen did not have the luxury of being given reliable data as to the real state of the sea crossing, due to the absence of coastal radars.

In fact, PCG Memorandum Circular No. 02-2013 provides an exception to the existing rule, allowing vessels and motorboats engaged in “short-distance voyages” of distance not exceeding four kilometers or trips which can be completed within 30 minutes.

The circular mandates that the following conditions must be strictly satisfied: voyage from sunrise to sunset, with the ship to arrive 30 minutes before sunset; calm sea and gentle breeze not exceeding 30 kph; light rains of 2.5 mm per hour maximum; good visibility; passengers should not exceed 50% of authorized capacity; proper lashing and stowage of cargoes; reliable communications link; and, availability of emergency boat in the origin or destination.

Let us assume the PAGASA High Frequency Doppler Radar (HFDR) facility being built at Agojo in San Andres town lives up to its hype and is able to measure the ocean wave height, wave direction and speed, ocean current and sea surface temperature using state-of-the-art HF radar-based signal as well as monitor weaker tropical disturbances.

It is also touted to forecast internal ocean weather such as that along the Catanduanes-Albay route, including a better knowledge and understanding of episodic waves, also known as rogue waves, that pose risks to domestic shipping.

Once the facility starts operating and delivers accurate and reliable marine forecasts, would the Coast Guard perhaps rethink its policy on short-distance voyages by considering the actual sea and weather condition, and the fact that the travel would take only three to four hours at most, leaving the ferry with more than enough time to make the return trip to shelter with the storm still over 500 kilometers away?

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