Bracing for the unique challenges brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Department of Transportation (DOTr), together with relevant government agencies performing maritime administration functions, continue to firm up preparations to ensure that the Philippines hurdle its mandatory audit under the International Maritime Organization (IMO) Member State Audit Scheme (IMSAS) scheduled to be carried out in the country in October 2022.

Pursuant to Executive Order No. 84, series of 2019, the Technical Working Group (TWG) of the Inter-Agency Council on the International Maritime Organization Member State Audit Scheme (IMSAS) met virtually on 09 September 2020 to verify the feasibility of the Key Performance Indicators targeted for the Philippine Maritime Strategy on the Implementation and Enforcement of the Relevant IMO Instruments for 2020-2024 approved by the IMSAS Council last 10 June 2020. The meeting likewise reviewed the 2019 Non Non-Exhaustive List of Obligations (NELO) under Instruments Relevant to the IMO Instruments Implementation Code (III Code) to determine the areas by which the Philippines will have to focus more for its preparations. The 2019 NELO is a useful tool for the State as it enumerates the obligations of a Contracting Government, Flag State, Coastal State and Port State under mandatory instruments relevant to the III Code.

The Philippines will be audited by the IMO with regard to its implementation of the mandatory IMO conventions to which the country is a State Party particularly on how it has given full and complete effect to the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS), International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL), International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW), the International Convention on Load Lines (LL and LL PROT 88), International Convention on Tonnage Measurement of Ships (TONNAGE), and Convention on the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea (COLREG), and its Protocols.

Aside from the 2019 NELO, it can also be recalled that the IMSAS Council had approved the country’s Cross Table of Responsibilities and the Philippine Strategy on the Implementation and Enforcement of Relevant IMO Instruments during the 2nd Inter-agency Council Meeting on the IMSAS held on 10 June 2020.

The said two documents are vital for the mandatory audit in October 2022. The Cross Table is a prerequisite to the drafting of the Philippine Strategy, as it clearly delineates the obligations and interrelationship among maritime entities performing Flag State, Port State and Coastal State functions as prescribed by the relevant IMO Instruments. The Philippine Strategy, on the other hand, aims to enhance maritime safety and protection of the environment and to meet international obligations and responsibilities as a member of the IMO.

Apart from the documentary preparations, the Philippine maritime administration likewise conducted an Inter-agency Webinar on IMSAS and a Verification Audit to different maritime government agencies this year ensuring the capacity building of its technical personnel.

Part of Philippine compliance for this audit is an evidence that the country has formulated national provisions to these Conventions.

Presently, the MARINA continues to lobby for the passage into law of the proposed bill entitled, “ An Act Providing for the Full and Effective Implementation and Enforcement of International Maritime Instruments of which the Philippines is a State Party”. This proposed measure is currently at the House Committee on Transportation of the House Representatives to which the Senate had likewise submitted its counterpart version.

The Philippines is originally scheduled to be audited in 2021. However, the IMO decided that IMSAS Audits due for 2020 to 2021 be pushed back a year and are now to be conducted in 2022 and 2023, respectively, in view of the pandemic.