MARINA woos shipping operators back to BIMP-EAGA

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M/V Super Shuttle RoRo 12 during its maiden voyage for the Davao-General Santos-Bitung route launch in 2017.
  • The Maritime Industry Authority is optimistic shipping lines will resume operations in the Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines-East ASEAN Growth Area
  • Maritime watchdog has not received applicants for the Davao-General Santos-Bitung route, as well as for Makar Wharf in General Santos City, due to pandemic restrictions

The Maritime Industry Authority is optimistic shipping operators will resume operations in the Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines-East ASEAN Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA) following the recent lifting of pandemic restrictions.

“The Philippines is continuously encouraging operators and will have continuous promotion of different routes,” said MARINA Franchising Service director Maria Rowena Hubilla, who also sits as this year’s chairperson of the BIMP-EAGA Sea Linkages Working Group. BIMP-EAGA is a sub-region of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations that aims to improve sea connectivity among member countries to spur trade and investment.

During the BIMP-EAGA Sea Linkages Working Group Mini Strategic Planning Meeting on March 18, MARINA reported receiving no applicants for the Davao-General Santos-Bitung route, as well as for the Makar Wharf of General Santos due to pandemic restrictions.

MARINA is positive though that there will be an increase in the number of operators applying for the routes with the recent easing of restrictions.

There were previous attempts to operate the Davao-General Santos-Bitung route, which, in a feasibility study conducted by the Japan International Cooperation Agency in 2012, was selected as one of the pilot areas for a roll-on/roll-off (Ro-Ro) operation within BIMP-EAGA.

Domestic carrier Asian Marine Transport Corp. launched in 2017 a Ro-Ro shipping service between Davao City and General Santos City in Mindanao and Bitung City in Sulawesi, but the service was halted after only two voyages due to low volumes partly blamed on the similarity of goods produced by BIMP-EAGA countries.

READ: Davao-City-GenSan-Bitung service ready for April 28 launch

Another domestic shipping operator, Reefer Express Line Filipinas Inc., stepped in to service the route in 2019 but faced the same problem, further casting doubts on the sustainability of the service.

READ: New shipping line begins test voyage on revived BIMP-EAGA route

The service called Davao, Bitung, Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, Muara in Brunei Darussalam, and Lahad Datu in Sabah. Brunei and Vietnam were included in hopes of widening the range of goods that Reefer Express’ vessel could carry along the route, as well as the market for goods.

In 2021, Reefer Express said it held off plans to revive the Davao-General Santos-Bitung route that would have included a stop in Iran due to a regulation requiring all vessels calling at Iran’s ports to engage local insurers for indemnity insurance.

READ: Reefer Express to restore BIMP-EAGA service with Middle East calls

BIMP-EAGA member-countries, meanwhile, gave updates on pipeline, ongoing and completed maritime projects in their jurisdictions.

Philippine Ports Authority-Davao port manager Analee Aguila said the ports of Bataraza, Zamboanga, General Santos (Makar Wharf), Coron, Malalag, Cagayan de Oro, San Fernando, Borac, Puerto Princesa (expansion project), Bongao, Sulu (1st district), Polloc Freeport and Ecozone had been completed by 2021.

For completion are the Zamboanga City Port, Sasa Port, Puerto Princesa City Cruise Port, Jubang Cargo Port, and Jubang Cruise Port in 2023.