Home » Maritime » North Harbor privatization woes continue

WHEN finally it happened, the long-delayed and much-anticipated North Harbor privatization turned out to be a dud — at least for now anyway.

The privatization, according to the Philippine Liner Shipping Association (PLSA), is the result of a bungled public-private sector initiative that has since caused much delay in operations and heavy losses for shipping lines using the port.

PLSA said the chaos is the result of the Philippine Ports Authority’s (PPA) eagerness to transfer control of North Harbor to the winning bidder, Manila North Harbour Port, Inc (MNHPI), without first considering whether MNHPI was up to the job or not.

PLSA members include Negros Navigation, Sulpicio Lines, NMC Container Lines, Solid Shipping Lines, Oceanic Shipping and Lorenzo Shipping Corp. Together they handle the bulk of the country’s local passage and cargo traffic.

“We would like to reiterate that we are not against the privatization and modernization of the North Harbor,” PLSA executive director Josefina Maitim said in an interview with PortCalls. “In fact, we are pushing for its modernization but with a guarantee that the winning bidder should be ready and the effect of the transition to the commercial operations to the stakeholders should be minimized.”

She said the association is seeking “a status quo at the port until such time MNHPI has provided all the necessary cargo-handling equipment as well as agreed to delete the 5% concession fee on ancillary services.”

The latter provision, contended the PLSA, will only increase rates, something that will be passed on to the end consumer.

PLSA earlier filed a case with the Supreme Court to stop PPA and MNHPI from operating North Harbor until such time MNHPI is ready with its cargo-handling equipment and until the controversial 5% concession fee on ancillary services provision is deleted from the MNHPI contract.

A deliberation of this case is scheduled today (April 28).

Since MNHPI took over the operation and management of North Harbor on April 11, 2010, delays due to lack of equipment have led to substantially reduced vessel frequencies and cancelled bookings — which have in turn translated to losses averaging P18 million per vessel per week for vessel operators.

MNHPI has promised conditions at the port will improve drastically with the arrival of additional cargo-handling equipment worth P120 million starting next month.

Looking around

In the meantime, Maitim said association members are now looking for alternative ports for their operations.

Solid Shipping Lines general manager Quirimon Tan told PortCalls several shipping lines operating at the North Harbor have started negotiating with nearby ports for a transfer. He expects this could start as early as next month.

According to Tan, the Manila South Harbor—operated by Asian Terminals, Inc (ATI) – has already agreed to handle vessels carrying about 10,000 twenty-foot equivalent units a week on a staggered basis. ATI is unable to accommodate all vessels since anchor client Aboitiz Transport System Corp has priority over berthing.

Tan said other carriers also have their eye on Batangas Port — another facility run by ATI — claiming a move there would still be cheaper even if the provision of passenger shuttle services from Manila to Batangas is included in the cost equation.

“We are not closing our doors on the North Harbor and MNHPI but they should remedy first the current chaos at the port and agree to delete the (5%) concession fee (on ancillary services) before we reconsider,” Tan explained.

Subic Bay is out of the running as alternative port considering its distance from Manila and the fact that the facility’s Naval Supply Depot where domestic vessel calls are handled is operated by Harbour Centre Port Terminals, Inc, majority owner of MNHPI.

Unpaid workers

While all of this is playing out, displaced and absorbed workers of the North Harbor are complaining their past benefits have yet to be paid by MNHPI. Laborers affiliated with the Pier 8 Arrastre and United Dockhandlers, Inc said even workers absorbed by MNHPI such as clerks and other officer personnel have not been paid their negotiated daily salary of P472 since the takeover.

“If MNHPI is not honoring their commitment with the workers they absorbed as to their daily salaries, how much more us that have been displaced,” Pier 8 Arrastre labor leader Nene Suansing said.

“What we want is for MNHPI to give us an idea when they are going to pay us our past benefits as we are now left with no other choice and we have mouths to feed,” Suansing said. “We are asking Government to intervene and give us relief as we are really affected by the turnover.”

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