Our passengers deserve the best

HIDDEN AGENDA - The Philippine Star

Sorry but I do not trust our inter-island travel.

Can you blame me?

Inter-island sea travel in the Philippines has become so dangerous that the governments of the United States, United Kingdom, Australia and Canada have warned their citizens against taking such ferryboat rides.

According to experts, there are about 70 ro-ro vessels in service in the Philippines, most of which are refurbished units from Japan with an average age of 30 years.

To be specific, 16 units are aged 41-45 years, seven are 46-50 years, 10 are 36-40 years, eight are 31-35, and the same number are 26-30. Four are in the 16-20 and five vessels are around 21-25 years old. Sadly, only seven are in the 0-5 years bracket. 

Experts also revealed that these second-hand ro-ros were also designed for Japan’s calmer inland water and not for our rough waters.

It is therefore such a welcome development when one of our own ro-ro operators invests in brand-new vessels designed for our country’s special conditions and needs.

Starlite Ferries launched last Sept. 2 the newest addition to its ro-ro fleet, the brand-new, all-steel Starlite Pioneer.

 Starlite Ferries chairman and former Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) chief Alfonso Cusi and his daughter Patricia Cusi-Ramos recently flied to Hiroshima, Japan to see Starlite Pioneer leave the Kegoya Dockyards in Kure.

The Yamato, the pride of the Japanese navy during World War II, was built in the same dockyard where Starlite Pioneer took shape.Starlite Ferries has signed shipbuilding  contracts  with Keguya Drydock for five big ro-ros for longer routes.  The Starlite Pioneer is the first vessel  to be delivered to its owner.

What sets Starlite Pioneer from all other ro-ros operating locally is it the first that has been designed and manufactured to take on the challenge of Philippine maritime conditions.

Experts shared that like the ill-fated MV Kim Nirvana, many of the refurbished ro-ros in the country are made more dangerous and susceptible to sinking because of the upper decks added to them by their operators to maximize cargo and passenger capacity.

Cusi said that with Starlite Pioneer operating in Philippine waters beginning this December, a new era in inter-island travel in the country – safe, convenient and affordable – will be ushered in.

Arben Santos, a leading maritime authority advocating the phase out of end-of-service ro-ros, sees the Starlite Pioneer as a significant development in the Philippine shipping industry,  adding that Starlite’s example of purchasing a brand-new ro-ro vessel designed from the ground up to meet Philippine needs should prove more cost-effective in the long run compared to rehabilitating age-old ro-ro vessels.

Japan’s shipping laws require that after 20 years, maritime vessels including ro-ros should be decommissioned or sold abroad because their seaworthiness can no longer be assured. 

And here we are buying old, decommissioned ro-ros designed only for calm inland seas.

No wonder we have all those maritime accidents that could have been avoided after all.

Let us all hope that this pioneering effort by Mindoro-based Starlite Ferries is replicated by other companies  in the domestic shipping industry.

It is good to know that two of our shipping companies have started modernizing. One has ordered five brand-new China-made small ro-ros for shorter routes, three of which have already been delivered

 It is about time that our government imposes a maximum age for our inter-island fleet to force operators to acquire newer and more efficient vessels. Whether it be sea or land travel, our passengers deserve better and safer transport.

Preserving the legacy

It was 70 years ago when Chinese migrant Wong Chu King and his partners Ong Lowa, Baa Dy, and Ong Pay set up La Campana Fabrica de Tabacos Inc., the country’s oldest tobacco manufacturing company.

La Campana, which had it first factory in Tayabas St. Manila, specialized in Philippine-style cigars known as cortos and regaliz. These two brands were made from a blend of dark, air-cured Philippine tobaccos sourced from Cagayan and Isabela provinces in Northern Philippines. A second factory was built in 1948 in Pasong Tamo, Makati, and in 1951, the company acquired the present site of its head office.

In 1963, Wong Chu King founded the Tobacco Industries of the Philippines (TIP) in a nine-hectare property in Baranggay Tikay, Malolos, Bulacan. In 1964, the company produced American blended cigarettes using the brand names Duke, Windsor, and Tricycle.

The 1965-1982 proved to be difficult years for the company but through the perseverance and ingenuity of its founder, Wong Chu King, it was able to reestablish itself and in 1985, Mighty Corp. was set up to produce American-blended Virginia cigarettes. La Campana, meanwhile, cornered the native cigarettes industry by buying in 1993 the trademarks from Alhambra Industries, its main competitor that produced La Dicha, Rosalina, and Malaya.

In 2001, the company entered into a cigarette-manufacturing agreement with Sterling Tobacco to produce the latter’s brands.

Mighty Corp. then established its own filter rod production in 2001, built up its American blended filtered cigarettes, acquired its first Protos machine to boost production in 2003, modernized and upgraded its entire Lamina and Stem lines in 2005; and purchases its first GD packing machine in 2007.

Today, Mighty Corp. boasts of a fully integrated production and packing facility in Malolos, Bulacan.

Wong Chu King remained active in the management and day-to-day operations of Mighty Corp. until he passed away in August 1987, but the company remained in able hands. Mighty is now chaired by his widow, Nelia Wongchuking (the children sit in the board), while the firm is run by Edilberto Adan, president and chief executive officer, and retired Judge Oscar Barrientos who sits as executive vice president.

Congratulations and here is to many more decades and generations of business success.

For comments, e-mail at [email protected]



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