Lipata port at its busiest as Mindanao sends aid to Visayas

SURIGAO CITY (MindaNews/18 November)— The once sleepy seaport terminal in Barangay Lipata here is pulsating with activity after hundreds of vehicles carrying relief goods and workers to Yolanda-devastated areas in the Visayas forced it to operate at full capacity.

Francisco Suriaga Jr., Lipata port manager, said this has been the busiest in the port’s history since it started operating in the early 1980s.

“We’ve never experienced working at this capacity and being this busy here in Lipata. We have been working round the clock just to accommodate all the vehicles that are bringing in relief goods towards the typhoon-affected areas. Unfortunately, we can only accommodate them depending on the number ferryboats,” he said.

“Before, the ferries only have five trips a day. But after Yolanda struck, we now have seven to nine trips daily,” he said.

Normally, the port ferries 100 vehicles a day but now it almost tripled, said Suriaga, adding that last Saturday, the port transported 280 vehicles carrying relief goods to Port Benit in San Ricardo, Southern Leyte.

Suriaga said they already requested shipping companies servicing Surigao and Leyte to add more boats to help ease the congestion.

Juanito Villano Jr., officer-in-charge of Montenegro shipping, said that crewmembers of their two ferryboats servicing Lipata and Benit have already complained of fatigue.

“This is the first time that we are traveling and docking to port every two hours, our two ships alternating,” he said.

“Transporting this number of vehicles together with their passengers each day have taken a toll on our crew. I advised them to have several hours of break in between trips and not to travel anymore in the evening so that they can make their trip at dawn,” Villano added.

Villano revealed that even with a third ship, it would still be hard for them to expedite their movement.

“The port in Benit can only accommodate one ship at a time. If we add an additional boat, it will just be idle in the waters while waiting for the other ship to leave,” he said.

The traveling time between San Ricardo and Surigao City is just an hour.

There are also times when it takes longer to unload all the cargo in Benit port so the other inbound ship has to wait for the other to leave, he said

Villano said the cost of transporting the vehicles carrying the relief supplies “is reasonable.”

“The fare in transporting the vehicles is already the cheapest considering the cost of fuel and in comparison to the other vessels traveling between Leyte and other parts of the Visayas,” he said.

On Sunday morning, the line of vehicles, mostly trucks, outside the Lipata terminal stretched at least a kilometer. They occupied parts of the narrow two-lane road, causing traffic congestion to vehicles leaving the port terminal towards Surigao City.

Suriaga appealed for patience from drivers for the long queue, saying accommodation to the vessels is on a first come, first serve basis.

He said they are expecting more relief supplies to be transported to the typhoon-affected areas in the next few days. (Erwin Mascarinas/MindaNews)