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RoRo modernization for effective tourism campaign

Being an archipelago, the Philippines needs inter-island connectivity to facilitate domestic trade and tourism movement in the country. This has been achieved with the development of the Philippine Nautical Highway System, using roll-on/roll-off (RoRo) vessels.

An integrated network of highway and vehicular ferry routes connect the major islands of Luzon, the Visayas and Mindanao, the RoRo allows tourists to travel from one island to another to enjoy the magnificent natural wonders of the country, and enhances the accessibility of the prime tourist destinations all over the country.

With the nautical highway system already in place, there is a strong need for safe and efficient seacrafts. 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.

“Every year, our country has been hounded by sea mishaps. Initially, overloading and overcrowding can be the culprit, but if we really look closer, most of these accidents happened due to old, poorly designed, and ill-maintained RoRos. If you notice, majority of our RoRo fleet is over 30 years old,” said Southwest Maritime Group of Companies president and CEO Arben Santos.

Santos observed that most 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 from Japan 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 non-negotiable, 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 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.

“With the current condition of our fleet, it is an accident waiting to happen. We really should modernize the industry that services thousands of interisland travelers over coastal waters. 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,” said Santos.

Modern entertainment on board (inset) among other  amenities are available in brand new RoRo vessels.  
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. 

Starlite Ferries put much emphasis on the passenger safety. The company embarked on a new journey, commissioning 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, which are both servicing the Roxas-Caticlan route and Starlite Saturn and Starlite Eagle, which take 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 thruster 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 sealed to keep the water out during the rainy season.

Starlite Ferries also prioritizes the passenger convenience. The polite and friendly ship crew welcomes the passengers and assists them on board.

Passengers enjoy the latest state-of-the-art amenities. In the air-conditioned first class section, passengers travel in style in luxurious reclining seats with arm rests. The business class cabin is also air-conditioned. Budget travelers in the economy class travel in comfortable seating.

Starlite Eagle has a nursery room, perfect for mothers who travel with their babies, as well as 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.

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.

The Philippine tourism will have a much brighter future, with the potentials and development in various areas growing by leaps and bounds. Due to efficient inter-island 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 other countries would be lifted; hence, more tourists coming,” enthused Santos.

Truly, with the new modern fleet, sea traveling will never be the same again.

Topics: Philippine Nautical Highway System , roll-on/roll-off (RoRo) vessels , Arben Santos
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