Home' Ships and Shipping : February 2011 Contents The following is an edited version of a speech delivered in the
Philippines in late 2010 by Neil Baird, Editor-in-Chief of Baird Maritime
in his capacity as both Roving Ambassador of INTERMEPA and
Immediate Past Chairman of AUSMEPA.
The speech was presented to the 36th Annual General Assembly
Meeting of the Philippine Association of Maritime Institutions (PAMI) at
Legazpi City, Albay, on Friday, December 3, 2010.
As Roving Ambassador for INTERMEPA, the International
Maritime Environment Protection Association, I would like to take
this opportunity to congratulate Commodore Jimenez and his
colleagues on the establishment and development of PHILMEPA,
the Philippine Marine Environment Protection Association. It is a
very important organisation which I am certain you will all hear a
lot more about in future and not just in this speech.
I am sorry that I have been forced to illustrate this presentation
with the disgusting images that you will see before you.
Unfortunately, they were photographed less than six months ago
at Corregidor and in Manila Bay.
These illustrate very clearly that much of the sea around your
beautiful islands is appallingly polluted. That pollution is unhealthy,
unsightly and uneconomic. It is also completely unnecessary.
Drowning in a sea of muck
That pollution represents one of the biggest and fastest-growing
problems facing your very promising nation. You are drowning in
a sea of muck. Land sourced, disgusting man-made garbage is
killing off your seas and destroying the attractiveness of your
beautiful beaches and reefs.
Now, I know full well that Corregidor and Manila Bay
are adjacent to a huge and crowded city but that, to my mind, is
I also know from my own observation that many other, less
populated parts of the Philippine seas are nearly as badly polluted.
The Visayas, for example, especially around Cebu, are grossly
polluted. Even rustic, far away General Santos City is far from
clean. Subic Bay is another place I have been that has been just as
Some of you will probably be saying, “Who is this smarty pants
from Australia, he must know that lots of other places are polluted
too? It’s alright for him coming from such a big country with so
I’m well aware of that. I travel widely and frequently and I see
many other examples of filthy polluted seas. That certainly doesn’t
make it acceptable, though.
You know as well as I do that marine pollution is a very serious
problem in many parts of the developing and even developed
world. In most places, especially in developing countries, it is,
tragically, becoming rapidly worse.
Your neighbours in ASEAN, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand,
Vietnam, Cambodia and even poor little surrounded Singapore are
all wallowing in marine garbage. China, India, some Pacific islands
and much of Africa and South America are similarly affected.
That does not excuse the people of the Philippines from trying
much harder to clean up the filth in its seas and from preventing
more garbage from going into the sea.
I know that many people will say, “We are a poor country. We
cannot afford to have clean seas”.
Well, I say to you that you cannot afford not to have clean seas.
If you do not eliminate your marine pollution, the Philippines will
become a much poorer country. By fouling your nest, so to speak,
as you are, you will cause major damage to your important tourist
industry, for example. You will destroy your fishing industry and
you will harm the health and well being of your people in general.
None of you can afford to allow your country to be submerged and
drowned in this relentlessly increasing morass of marine pollution.
Before the age of plastics
Some of you, I notice, are about the same age as me. You will
recall 30 or 40 years ago, before the age of plastics and over
population, when your surrounding seas were comparatively
pristine. You know very well what your seas can be like.
Clean seas are achievable and relative poverty is no excuse for
not trying. Clean seas are a very high yielding investment,
especially for a beautiful country like the Philippines which has so
much tourist potential. They are very well worth working for and
the return on a very small investment in pollution reduction and
prevention will be enormous.
You may well ask, “How or where do we start?”
Now, for a little history and geography lesson. Greece and
Turkey surround and dot the Aegean Sea, a beautiful archipelagic
region not too different from the Philippines. It is also a beautiful
area which oozes history, has a friendly welcoming culture, simple,
appropriate cuisine and is very attractive to tourists.
Sailing the “wine dark sea”
I well remember my first visit to the Aegean in 1975. I was on
my honeymoon but, as a seafarer, I still managed to take careful
note of the sea we passed through and swam in.
Even though, at that time, the populations of both Greece and
Turkey were comparatively poor and declining, the global plastic
packaging boom had hit the area. I recall that most bottles were still
made of glass and metal cans were widely used. However, it was
obvious, even then, that the tide of trash was beginning to rise.
I did not return to the Aegean for thirteen years when, with my
wife and three very young sons, we cruised the Turkish coast on a
yacht. Despite an increasingly and somewhat wealthier population
and a massive increase in tourism, the sea had not become grossly
more polluted. It was definitely worse but not as bad as I expected.
Turning the tide of trash
A couple of years later I was in Athens for the Posidonia
exhibition where I discovered the reason for this slowing of the
tide of trash. I was invited to a cocktail reception at HELMEPA, The
Hellenic Marine Environment Protection Association, where all
I had heard a little about HELMEPA and its work but must
admit, coming from the rapidly cleaning coasts of Australia, that I
didn’t take much notice. Well, in June 1990, at that cocktail party
in Piraeus the penny really dropped.
The then Chairman of HELMEPA, Mr Livanos, who was one of
the legendary “Golden Greeks” of shipping, (he was Aristotle
Onassis’s brother in law) decribed the history of HELMEPA.
As most of you would be well aware the Greeks own a lot of
ships most of which rarely visit Greece or the Aegean. There are
not many cargoes there and the Greek fleet trades worldwide.
Shipowners unfairly blamed
Nevertheless, conventional wisdom and popular opinion were
convinced that the rapidly increasing pollution of the Aegean in
the late 1970s and early 1980s was largely caused by Greek ships,
their owners and crews.
The Greek shipowners, who love to sail the Aegean for pleasure,
were well aware of this rapidly increasing pollution problem. They
were equally well aware that they, their crews and ships were not
the cause of it.
So, partly as an exercise in image improvement but also in a
genuine endeavour to improve things, they formed a committee of
the Association of Greek Shipowners to look into the problem and,
if possible, solve it.
Thus was HELMEPA conceived.
First, however, they needed facts. They wanted to know the
extent of the problem, its rate of growth and, most importantly, its
real cause or causes.
So, in an attempt to ensure an objective study or survey of all
this, they commissioned two leading Greek universities to
determine these facts.
Not surprisingly, both universities presented the ship owners with
similar reports. Essentially, it was clear that the vast bulk of the
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