An integrated network of highway and vehicular ferry routes connect the major islands of Luzon, the Visayas and Mindanao, the roll-on, roll-off (Roro) vessels allow tourists to travel from one island to another to enjoy the destinations as it enhances the accessibility of the prime tourist destinations in the country. With the nautical highway system already in place, there is a strong need for safe and efficient sea craft. Every year sea accidents happen due to overcrowded, overloaded, old, poorly designed and ill-maintained shipping vessels. The high incident record of sea mishaps has prompted other countries to release travel advisories warning their citizens visiting the Philippines against taking interisland ferries.
The way to modernization
Southwest Maritime Group of Cos. President and Chief Executive Arben Santos observed that Roro vessels in the country are imported secondhand. “In Japan, once a Roro reaches 20 years old, it is no longer allowed to trade in Japanese waters. These old Roros made their way to the Philippine shores, but these secondhand Roros are not suitable for Philippine waters. Aside from that, some ship owners tend to add another deck to these secondhand vessels to increase passenger capacity, thereby affecting the ship’s stability,” he shared.Strongly believing that the safety of the passengers is nonnegotiable, Santos has been advocating the modernization of the Roro fleet in the Philippines. He has set his mind to persuade the government, particularly Marina, to adopt the necessary measures, such as curbing the importation of 35-year-old secondhand vessels, not allowing old vessels to operate, and strictly implementing international maritime safety standards. “No secondhand vessels should be imported, unless that vessel is 20 years old and below and has been fully classed by a member of the International Association of Classification Societies [IACS]. Also, within the given time frame, Roros older than 35 years old should not be allowed to operate,” Santos said. Embarking on a private sector-led Roro modernization program, he has convinced some ship owners, including the Starlite Ferries Inc. group, to stop buying aged secondhand and retrofitted vessels, and invest instead on brand-new ships. Another shipping company, FastCat, is also on its way to modernizing their fleet.
The modern sea travel
Starlite Ferries put much emphasis on the passenger safety thus, the company commissioned experts to build ships that meet local coastal-area shipping conditions and weather peculiarities. The brand-new vessels of Starlite Ferries: Starlite Pioneer and Starlite Reliance, servicing the Roxas-Caticlan route; and Starlite Saturn and Starlite Eagle, taking the Batangas-Calapan route, are built with safety in mind. In modern vessels, the hulls have been waterproofed to enhance stability, and fitted with twin-screw propulsion and bow thrusters for efficient maneuvering. They have AIS transponder, GPS navigator with video plotter, BNWAS for watchkeeping monitoring and Navtex receiver for weather monitoring. CCTV cameras have been installed in strategic locations to further ensure passenger safety. The doors can be to keep the water out during the rainy season. Starlite Ferries also prioritizes the passenger convenience. Onboard, they will enjoy the amenities, such as the air-conditioned rooms and luxurious reclining seats with arms rests in the first-class section. The business-class cabin is also air-conditioned, while the economy class has comfortable seating. Starlite Eagle has a nursery room for mothers who travel with their babies, and a playpen for children. Passengers with medical conditions can stay at the comfortable beds provided specifically for them. The modern vessel also has a helipad for emergency medical evacuation.
A big boost to Philippine tourism
As more shipping companies embark on modernization, it will encourage tourism movement. With its affordability and reduced travel time, more and more tourists, both local and foreign, will look at sea travel as another viable option to visit the beautiful islands in the Philippines. Due to efficient interisland connectivity, tourist arrival in Boracay from 2003 to 2006 jumped by more than 50 percent, while Iloilo enjoyed a 30-percent increase, and Dapitan rose by 200 percent. “Since Roro began its operation, areas along the nautical highway showed huge boost in tourist arrivals as traveling to the different islands of the Philippines has become more convenient and affordable. And with the modernization of Roros, we can expect greater tourism movement in the next years. We also hope that the travel advisories against sea travel in the Philippines issued by the other countries would be lifted; hence, more tourists coming,” Santos enthused.