IMO adds layer of protection to Tubbataha Reefs


The Sub-committee on Navigation, Communications, and Search and Rescue (NCSR) of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) approved our country’s proposal to establish Tubbataha as an Area to be Avoided (ATBA) in the Sulu Sea.

With the ATBA as an Associated Protective Measure (APM), ship masters sailing through the Sulu Sea must not enter the Tubbataha Reefs. The said approval was due to the decision of the IMO Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) to approve the designation, in principle, of Tubbataha as a Particularly Sensitive Sea Area (PSSA) during its session in 2016. The ATBA designation of Tubbataha will greatly reduce the risk of ship groundings and would allow for more time to respond to incidents like ships adrift, accidental discharges, and oil/chemical spills.

The decision on the ATBA will be endorsed to the next meeting of the MEPC (71) on July 3 to 7 this year for the final designation of Tubbataha as a PSSA. God willing, the PSSA designation will officially take effect on January 2018 after a six-month period of notifying the global shipping industry.

At present, about 30% of all vessels spotted in the radar stationed in the Ranger Station traverse inside the 10-nautical mile buffer zone of Tubbataha. When the ATBA takes effect, ships will start deviating to ensure they do not enter these boundaries. The Philippines is on track to become the first country to establish a PSSA in Southeast Asia, leading in the field of marine environment protection.

The agencies involved in the application for PSSA designation of Tubbataha with the IMO are: the Philippine Coast Guard, the Department of Foreign Affairs, the Marine Environmental Protection Committee of the IMO, and the Tubbataha Management Office, with UP-Institute of Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea’s Atty. Jay Batongbacal as technical expert.