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BOC to require shipping lines to open more depots

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The Bureau of Customs is looking to require international shipping lines to open more container depots. This is one of the measures being eyed by government to help address the persistent problem of empty container returns, an issue highlighted by the Nov 19 protest action by certain truckers and customs brokers’ groups.

Another measure is the opening of the Cavite Gateway Terminal (CGT), the Philippines’ first container roll-on/roll-off (Ro-Ro) barge terminal, on Nov 22.

Customs commissioner Rey Leonardo Guerrero in a press briefing on Nov 19 said the BOC is “requesting or directing or requiring itong ating mga (these) shipping companies to open up additional container yards…”

It is not clear if he meant that the lines will be required to operate the depots themselves, which is a long-standing clamor among many sectors in the cargo industry. Depots for empty containers are currently operated by third-party providers, mainly represented by the Container Depot Association of the Philippines (CDAP). But the capacity of such depots–generally located in Metro Manila–is limited; as of last week of October, CDAP members’ combined yard utilization was at 115%.

Officials of the Association of International Shipping Lines (AISL) have said the operation of container depots is not a core business and not something they are keen to do.

BOC is also eyeing the transfer of empty containers from the Manila International Container Terminal (MICT) and Manila South Harbor to inland container depots to free up space within the terminals, Guerrero said. Terminal operators limit the number of empty containers inside their yards, prioritizing laden containers.

BOC spokesperson Atty. Erastus Sandino Austria, in a chance interview with PortCalls on Nov 19, said having shipping lines send sweeper vessels to evacuate empties inside yards is another measure to ease the problem of returns.

AISL general Atty. Maximino Cruz, in a meeting on October 25 called by the Export Development Council-Networking Committee on Transportation and Logistics, said some shipping lines are already sending sweepers, though not regularly.

Moreover, shipping lines regularly ship out their empty containers via regular calling vessels as empty containers are needed at other ports.

Cavite Gateway Terminal

In a separate press conference on November 19, Philippine Ports Authority (PPA) general manager Atty. Jay Daniel Santiago said the opening of CGT should ease the problem of empty container returns.

CGT can accommodate empty containers to be transported on barges–not trucks–from Manila ports to the Tanza, Cavite terminal. The terminal is expected to facilitate seaborne transfer of containers between International Container Terminal Services, Inc.’s (ICTSI) flagship terminal MICT and Cavite.

Built on a six-hectare property owned by CGT and ICTSI, CGT has a capacity to hold 115,000 twenty-foot equivalent units. It had originally been scheduled to formally open on Nov 5. ICTSI did not give a reason why opening has been reset to Nov 22.

North of Manila, Santiago said PPA is looking to replicate the “same arrangement” with CGT, looking at an area PPA owns somewhere north of Metro Manila that can also accommodate empty and laden containers. Santiago declined to provide more details. – Roumina Pablo


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