Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Chatto brokers 2 week moratorium
for suspended dolphin watch tours
By: Rey Anthony H. Chiu

TAGBILARAN CITY, Bohol August 27 (PIA) -- Governor Edgar Chatto brokered a win-win formula to ease the tension building between the Marine Authority (Marina) of the Philippines and its deputized agents and the boat operators of dolphin and whale watching tours in Panglao Thursday.

In a meeting with all stakeholders in Panglao this week, Chatto has asked for the boat operators a two week suspension of the no franchise-no travel policy implemented by the Marina through the coast guard and local government deputized agents.

The two seek suspension however, Provincial tourism Council Chairman Atty Lucas Nunag said, still keeps the standard Marina basic requirement for safe travel.

It means even boats without franchise may go out to se with tourists as long as the basic requirements of life vests according to number of passengers as reflected on the boat seating accommodation capacity, the presence of life rings, minimum fire fighting equipment, communication equipment and skipper certificate.

These are the least requirements which are non negotiable, Nunag, who was with the meeting with Chatto and the Coast Guard, Marina and resorts owners along with their dolphin and whale watching tour providers.    

The MARINA has earlier asked boat operators for dolphin and whale watching tours in Panglao and elsewhere in Bohol to register their boats, them being used to ferry tourists and serve dolphin whale watching tours.

This is for their security and the safety and security of our tourists, said Marina Bohol chief Norma Enriquez over at Kapihan sa PIA Thursday.

Last week, Marina deputized the Philippine Coast Guard to stop departure of illegal dolphin and whale watching operators pending their compliance of documentary requirements for the passenger ship operations.

Marina said PCG has reported issuing notice of violations to boat operators insisting on traveling last week.

The stoppage order has severely affected the dolphin and whale watching business in Panglao, admits resort owners who complained on radio in Bohol.

The thing is, it came as a bad time, a week before Panglao celebrates its town fiesta where most people would be eking out to save for the fiesta, complained a boat operator who has started processing his papers.

The processing is excruciatingly slow, many of the 70 beneficiaries of the Pro-poor registration said.

We can not fast-track the processing if all the necessary requirements are not complied, Marina also reasoned out.  

Registered boats serving tourists get franchises upon completion of documentary requirements and standard sea and passenger safety regulations including marine insurance which could help owners pay for accidents in mid-sea.

Marina said every motorized banca should be registered and those ferrying tourists, all the more.

The marine registration authority here said they estimate around 200 motorized bancas offering dolphin and whale watching tours by developing tie-ups with resorts offering marine-life tours as passenger ships in Panglao alone.

Of these, only a handful dive shops own passenger ship franchises, although about 70 of them have started registration procedures during the recent pro-poor registration service two months ago.

While several registered boats do not own franchises in passenger transport operations, it was known that resorts in Panglao offering tours hire them.

It was not ascertained also if the resorts know that these boats they are using own valid and legitimate franchises or worst, even registrations.

In cases where these boats meet accidents in the sea, the boat owners who seldom do not have the means to pay for the damages could ruin the business of the resorts, she explained.

While a few have started processing for the franchises, Enriquez said Marin has had enough.

The calls for registration has been sounded as early as 2000 and we extended and extended our offer to allow these people to fix their papers and operations, but they apparently did not.

In fact, the illegitimate operation has even goaded more and more operators to join the industry, prompting the marine authority to send the Philippine Coast Guard to the Aliona stretch in Panglao to implement the no franchise no travel policy last week.

Another thing that compound the issue is the difficulty in accounting for the boats in as much as they do not originate from a common port, Marina said.

This makes the Coast Guard’s job even more difficult because they could not keep up with the departure schedules form any point within the 1.2 kilometer Alona beaches. (30)

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