The government is tapping underused ports and pushing the upgrade of public sea transportation to boost connectivity between islands in the country, Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade said here on Monday.
But instead of building new ports and spending more, Tugade said the government would rather rehabilitate underutilized piers to solve port congestion in the country.
"Many of the existing ports right now are congested. If you are to address congestion, you have to address it in two ways: either you expand the ports or you use the neighboring ports that are [underutilized]," he said.
Tugade said port expansion would be costlier than reviving seldom used facilities in the provinces.
Clark Freeport in Pampanga province and Batangas International Seaport are viable options for the government to ease congestion at Port of Manila, he said.
Tugade was guest at the launch of the MV Starlite Saturn, a new 2,700-ton roll-on roll-off (Ro-Ro) of Starlite Ferries, which will ply the Batangas-Calapan, Oriental Mindoro, route. Starlite Ferries is a company owned by the family of Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi.
"[President Duterte] believes in connectivity. The best connectivity that can happen in our archipelago [is through] two structures?one is the pier and the second is the Ro-Ro," Tugade said in a speech.
Instead of constructing bridges, which takes time to finish, the Ro-Ro industry can be improved to easily connect the islands, he said.
The secretary, however, said his office was considering phasing out old Ro-Ro vessels to prevent maritime accidents. "If on the roads we are phasing out engines that are 15 years [and older], we are doing the same out in the seas," he said.
Records from the Department of Transportation and Communications as of July had listed 254 domestic passenger vessels plying the country's sea routes. Of this, 211 are more than 21 years old.
Tugade declined to say which vessels would be decommissioned.
Catanduanes Rep. Cesar Sarmiento, chair of the House committee on transportation who also attended the event, said his committee had already formed a technical working group for the gradual phase out of what he described as "unsafe vessels," particularly those running for at least 20 years.
Tugade said he wanted shipping lines to invest in brand-new vessels than to import second-hand ships.
"I am here today to encourage businessmen to invest in port development. This is business. What the President wants is to level the playing field, but still complying with international [safety] standards," he said.
"Do you want to phase out [these vessels] or would you rather that people die out in our waters?" he added.
In a statement, Starlite Ferries said its vessels were designed to navigate the country's open sea routes and seasonal rough waters. It said the old ships plying the country's seas were built for sailing Japan's calm inland seas.
Starlite's fleet of Ro-Ro vessels has undergone "stringent inspection" by Nippon Kaiji Kyokai or Class NK, an international organization that provides certification and classification services to 20 percent of the world's fleet.
Starlite has ordered an initial seven ships from Japan, with eight more to be custom-built later for a total of 15 brand-new Ro-Ro vessels.
"With the Philippines composed of thousands of islands, Starlite's modern Ro-Ro vessels can significantly boost tourism in the country as they can facilitate trips to various tourist destinations," the statement said.
Source: Hellenic Shipping News