DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 17 Feb) — Senior officials from the Philippines and Indonesia met at the sidelines of the 2019 BIMP-EAGA Strategic Planning Meeting in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia on February 14, to discuss the resumption of the Davao City-General Santos City-Bitung (D/GB) shipping route with a Manila-based shipping company, Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA) assistant secretary Romeo Montenegro said on Sunday.
Montenegro told MindaNews that the two countries agreed to reconvene the Philippines-Indonesia Joint Task Force on the D/GB route to be led by transport officials as the new player, Reefer Express Lines, plans to start servicing the route within the first half of 2019 with its 100 to 120 TEU (twenty-foot equivalent unit) vessel, depending on the final negotiations between the shipping company and exporters from both sides.
Montenegro said the shipping firm’s executives presented its plan to serve the D/GB route with additional calls on other ports in Indonesia, Malaysia, and Brunei en route to Singapore but added the company has yet to discuss the details with other shippers from the Philippines, Indonesia, and even players from Sabah, Malaysia.
He said key senior government officials met to “discuss the next steps to restart the Davao-General Santos-Bitung shipping link, following submission of formal intent by a new shipping player, Reefer Lines, to serve the route.”
“There have been bilateral discussions to restart the route but had not seen specific way forward with the absence of alternate shipping company, until now. This is the first formal bilateral meeting, with Reefer Lines around to present its proposal,” he said.
He said both governments have committed to support the resumption of the route service, with Philippines suggesting that interested Filipino exporters are likely “to tap the route once regularly served” while Indonesia expressed interest to import bananas and onions from Mindanao.
He said Aboitiz Equity Ventures has already committed to use the route for its export of Pilmico flour to North Sulawesi and possibly animal feeds after acquiring Singapore’s Gold Coin Management Holdings last year.
He said the D/GB route remains to be the most “cost-effective and time-saving alternative” with sailing period of one and a half days compared with the previous Davao-Manila-Jakarta-Surabaya-Bitung route which takes three to four weeks.
The D/GB shipping route was launched on April 30, 2017 with President Rodrigo R. Duterte of the Philippines and Preside Widodo of Indonesia at the KTC Port in Sasa, Davao City.
The maiden voyage, serviced by a 500-TEU M/V Super Shuttle RORO 12, owned by Cebu-based Asian Marine Transport Corp., left for Bitung carrying only five TEUs of flour from Pilimico. It halted due to lack of cargo.
But Montenegro added the vessel can “still serve the route when the volume becomes commercially viable, given its vessel size. “
“The Reefer Lines is able to present viable alternative with just the right size vessel with 100-120 TEU capacity and routes that can span beyond Bitung port in Indonesia,” he said, suggesting that this was a result of the bilateral discussions “to explore other possible alternative shipping players with smaller vessels, given the operational challenge of serving just initial volume of load.” (Antonio L. Colina IV / MindaNews)