PH investors keep PNG tuna industry vibrant

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/16 September)— Philippine companies are flexing their muscles in Papua New Guinea (PNG), operating the largest purse seine fishing fleet and biggest tuna canning factory in the Pacific island state.

PNG Fisheries and Marine Minister Mao Zeming acknowledged the contribution of the Philippines to the growth of his country’s tuna industry.

“We are indebted to the Philippine government and the pioneer Filipino companies and their ingenuity in investing and plying their capital and know-how in the six tuna fishing and processing business in PNG,” he said in recent statement issued here.

Local tuna tycoon Rodrigo Rivera Sr., owner of RD Corp., pioneered the Philippine tuna investment foray in the island state by signing an agreement with the PNG government in 1995.

After almost two decades, RD Corp.’s investments in PNG now include tuna fishing and cannery, can making, fish meal, shipyard/drydock, cold storage, value-added fresh seafood products, wharf and stevedoring, construction and real estate.

Currently, PNG is reviewing the state agreement with RD Corp. that will expire in 2015, with Zeming assuring his government intends to extend it.

Aside from Rivera’s venture, the foreign official also cited Francisco T. Laurel Sr.’s Frabelle Corp, one of the other major Philippine companies operating in PNG, for the growth of its tuna industry.

Frabelle signed an agreement with the PNG government in March 2006 that is under review to thresh out “inhibiting factors” to the company’s operation.

“Two separate committees have been established…to assist Frabelle address specific areas of concern such as water, power, port charges, customs, work permit and visa for its foreign workers,” Zeming said.

Last June, Frabelle, in a joint venture with Century Canning Corp., another Philippine company, and Thailand’s Thai Union Corp., opened Majestic Seafoods.

PNG Prime Minister Peter O’Neill said Majestic Seafoods is the largest tuna cannery in PNG and the South Pacific region so far.

Also in June, Zeming said that Philippine investors launched the groundbreaking of the Mambawan Seafoods, which will be engaged in tuna processing, next door to the Majestic Seafoods factory.

There are three more canneries that will be built in PNG because of the efforts of Frabelle to lure foreign players to our country, he added.

Cencon Packaging, another Philippine company, is also building a can-making plant to supply the tuna canneries, Zeming said.

New Filipino player Rell & Renn Fishing Corp. is also planning to establish a Katsuobushi (smoked) plant and a fresh fish operation using mini-purse seiners on Manus Island, he said.

Zeming noted the fresh fish project will be established under a joint venture company named Offshore Master, with 25 percent local shareholders.

In terms of fishing access, the PNG National Fisheries Authority has licensed 59 Filipino-owned purse seine fishing vessels this year.

“The Philippines has the largest number of purse seine fishing vessels in PNG,” Zeming said.

The Filipino fleet’s combined catch in 2012 reached 196,052 metric tons, about 28 percent of PNG fisheries annual total available catch.

Philippine fishing companies are allowed to operate in PNG waters provided their catches are landed and processed onshore in the island state.

Zeming said the investments of Filipino companies have greatly contributed to PNG’s tuna industry now with a value of at least K1 billion or US$408 million. (Bong S. Sarmiento/MindaNews)