By Efleda P. Campos
ON December 20, 1987, more than 4,000 people died when MV Doña Paz, a domestic ship owned by Sulpicio Lines, collided with oil tanker MT Vector. It was considered the worst maritime tragedy during the 20th century.
The tragedy and the other incidents that followed weighed on Christopher Pastrana of Aklan, who made it his mission to provide a safe, fast and convenient alternative mode of interisland transportation to Filipinos who travel around the Philippine archipelago by sea.
He vowed to eliminate overcrowding in old, seafaring vessels.
In 2010 he formed Archipelago Philippine Ferries Corp. (APFC) with him as board chairman and his wife Mary Ann as EVP and treasurer. They began searching for the ideal vessel, and found it through the Sea Transport Solutions of Australia. They made their first order for a modern catamaran called FastCat. It took the Australian company over a year to build APFC’s first vessel. It was delivered in 2013.
Today APFC has 10 FastCats, costing between $8.3 million and $12 million each and operating in 30 ports. The company is planning to operate 10 more by 2018, and another 10 by 2020.
“Even with our full complement of 30 catamarans, we will only be servicing 25 percent of the roll-on, roll-off interisland ferry industry. There is much room for growth,” Pastrana said.
He said each catamaran can carry up to 320 passengers, 30 cars and several buses.
APFC has partnered with JAM and Philtranco bus companies to ensure seamless travel for their passengers. The two companies operate a total of 700 buses.
Mary Ann Pastrana said their 10 catamarans can carry 3 million passengers a year and 1.5 million metric tons (MMT) of cargo. When their 30-vessel fleet becomes fully operational in 2020, they expect to transport around 10 million passengers and 15 MMT of cargo every year.
The company is also eyeing expansion in the Asean, particularly to Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore.
The company’s capital expenditure this year is P300 million for a ship-repair facility, a training hub for its crew and staff, and budget hotels for customers.
The Pastrana couple said their vessels have many safety features and amenities, including two hulls and e-leather upholstery that does not easily catch fire. Aboard each catamaran are entertainment facilities and a canteen. Each catamaran has solar panels and clean toilets.
“Our rates are lower than competition,” he said. “Travel time is cut by half, because our catamarans travel fast. Our crew and staff work on 12-hour shifts to give them time to rest and be with their families.”
“Bus and ferry tickets are issued simultaneously, and seats are guaranteed,” Pastrana said. “We also want to promote interisland travel. There are many beautiful areas in the country to visit,” he said. “Let us discover the Philippines together.”