Use depots outside MM, DOTr advises importers to help resolve empty return issues


The Philippine Department of Transportation (DOTr) has given its assurance it is working on resolving issues with the return of empty containers.

Transport assistant secretary for maritime Fernando Juan Perez, in a text message to PortCalls, said DOTr has given some suggestions on how to solve problems with the return of empty containers, which he said stakeholders involved are considering. He added that even Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade is “on top of this.”

Perez noted that the country’s imports are steadily increasing year-on-year, but space at container depots in Metro Manila is not. The Philippines is an import-driven country with three imports for every one export, resulting in many empty containers for repositioning.

Go South

One of DOTr’s suggestions is for Laguna importers to use Asian Terminal Inc.’s Calamba Inland Container Depot and International Container Terminal Services, Inc.’s (ICTSI) Laguna Gateway Inland Container Terminal.

Cavite importers may also use ICTSI’s Cavite Gateway Terminal in Tanza, Cavite, which is already operational.

Perez said DOTr has also discussed with port operators about opening their terminals for the return of empties, subject to available space. He explained that some vessels that arrive late at the terminal “cut and run” to catch up with their schedule.

“So understandably they (port operators) cannot accept return of empties if they don’t ship out their inventory of empties in the port. Otherwise the ports will be affected,” he said.

Perez said DOTr is also encouraging the private sector to set up new off-dock container yards.

Given the runaround

Industry stakeholders PortCalls spoke to complained about recurring difficulties in returning empty containers. One said their truck would be designated a depot to go to, only to be turned away for lack of space.

“The thing is, we already paid for that trip and still we can’t get a guarantee that we will be able to deposit our empty containers in the assigned depot,” the stakeholder, who did not want to be identified, said.

Another stakeholder said they wouldn’t mind so much going to depots outside Metro Manila as long as space in those depots is guaranteed. Right now, the stakeholder said, their company faces additional gas and labor costs because their trucks sometimes get turned away and would have to look for an alternative depot.

Meeting with stakeholders

DOTr will be meeting soon with the Association of International Shipping Lines (AISL) and Alliance of Concerned Truck Owners and Operators (ACTOO) on the issue, Perez added.

He said “there are other plans on the table” that he cannot divulge yet.

“But rest assured we are working on addressing this problem,” he said.

ACTOO recently said it plans to hold a strike in protest of unresolved issues with empty containers. Last March, other trucking groups also announced plans to stop carrying the containers of three foreign shipping lines as an act of protest, but suspended the plan after truckers and AISL agreed to find solutions to their long-standing problem.

Since then, AISL and truckers have been discussing the procedures and mechanics for addressing some of the issues.

AISL general manager Atty. Maximino Cruz earlier said that not all issues can be resolved in one sitting. AISL president Patrick Ronas earlier also said they see the association’s GoFast system as helping to address issues with empty container returns. However, not all AISL members are fully integrated into the system yet.

GoFast is an online reservation system that interconnects stakeholders, including shipping lines, truckers, customs brokers, and depots, that are directly involved in empty-container returns.
Meanwhile, asked if DOTr is also working on issues surrounding the fast refund of container deposits, another major concern of stakeholders, Perez said “this is a matter between the shipping line and their clients.” – Roumina Pablo