FED up with congestion at the South Harbor and the Manila International Container Terminal (MICT), some port users are threatening to go on a "silent strike" tomorrow to compel the Philippine Ports Authority (PPA), South Harbor operator Asian Terminals, Inc (ATI), and MICT operator International Container Terminal Services, Inc (ICTSI) to immediately lick the problem.
In a press conference last Friday, members of the Aduana Business Club led by Mary Zapata and Manny Santos and the Samahan ng mga Personero/Personera said the congestion has considerably jacked up costs.
"On Tuesday, we will go on a silent strike as a sign of protest to the congestion and the other trade problems of the country," the group said. "Hopefully, all those involved will listen and come up with an immediate solution."
PPA general manager Atty. Juan Sta. Ana, for his part, said congestion may ease up starting this week with ATI and ICTSI accepting only laden containers in their respective Manila terminals and diverting all empty containers to Batangas and Subic, respectively.
ICTSI operates the New Container Terminal 1 at Subic Bay and ATI, the Batangas Port.
Sta. Ana said as early as two weeks ago, the terminal operators have been rejecting empties from their client shipping lines. Up to 15% of container slots will be freed up once the clearing operation is concluded, he added.
"The City of Manila also agreed to somehow become lenient in enforcing traffic routing schemes along Anda Circle in Intramuros and Delpan Bridge in the North Harbor area to reduce the buildup of truck-carrying containers bound for the two ports," Sta. Ana said.
"Also we are expecting the import volume to taper off with the peak season nearing its end."
Higher-than-expected import shipments have earlier been cited by shipping lines as a key factor to the congestion.
As of press time, long lines of trucks hogged two lanes each of the road leading to and from the ports. This leaves only one lane on either side for other motorists, pushing travel time for the two-kilometer stretch from Luneta to Delpan Bridge to MICT and back to stretch to more than one hour.
Truckers are saying the waiting time before a container is unloaded is also now up to eight hours.
PortCalls witnessed the traffic jam over the weekend, noting the extremely full container yard adjacent to the South Harbor and MICT.
Still due to the congestion at the Manila ports, feeder operator Regional Container Lines (RCL) has decided to temporarily call at Batangas port starting last weekend until the situation normalizes.
ATI tapped the services of Confederation of Truckers Association of the Philippines members to carry about 400 empty containers of RCL to Batangas port.
PortCalls sources said three or four other international container shipping lines are closely following what they call the "RCL experiment". If it succeeds, those lines may also temporarily head to Batangas.
As it is, the general sentiment in the international container shipping community is that the port jam will linger until the first quarter of next year.
Port users began feeling the effects of congestion in August due to the strong import volume. The condition was further aggravated when MICT’s automated gate clearance system bogged down. The slow electronic-to-mobile (e2m) system of the Bureau of Customs (BOC) – largely due to the migration from Phase 3 to Phase 4 — has also been blamed for the congestion, with some shippers reportedly having difficulty complying with requirements of the new system.
CTAP president Ruperto Bayocot told PortCalls MICT general manager Christian Gonzalez in a meeting with CTAP earlier this month accepted some blame over the situation, saying MICT was not able to immediately come up with a solution while the congestion was still manageable.
But more than this, Gonzalez pointed out that the sudden surge in the country’s import volume was really the main culprit for the jam and other factors such as technical glitches, traffic issues and customs processes were merely secondary.