Tawi-Tawi–Labuan transshipment hub revived

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / 1 March)—The transshipment route between Tawi-Tawi province and the Federal Territory of Labuan has been revived, with a locally-built wooden boat arriving safely early this week at the Malaysian island, MindaNews learned Wednesday.

Wooden boats—called “kumpit” in Malaysia but known as “lantsa” in Tawi-Tawi and other parts of Mindanao—docked at Bongao. MindaNews file photo by BOBBY TIMONERA

Malaysian state-controlled news agency Bernama reported that the first non-convention size ship (NCSS), which it described as “kumpit” but popularly known as “lantsa” in Tawi-Tawi, arrived at the Labuan Liberty Wharf on Monday, February 27.

The 250-ton wooden-hull vessel was given a salute from two water cannons on two tugboats as it berthed at Labuan’s containerized port jetty, Bernama reported.

Assistant Secretary Romeo Montenegro, deputy executive director of the Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA), said the vessel was loaded with biscuits and sardine products to Labuan.

“The volume depends on the orders from the other side but are mostly food products, beverages and sardines,” he added.

With the arrival of the NCSS, the transshipment activity between Labuan and the southern Philippines is officially revived, Bernama reported.

Rithuan Ismail, Labuan Corp. chief executive officer, and Azman Abidin, political secretary of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, as well as members of the Labuan Chamber of Commerce (LCC) witnessed the historic event.

The LCC facilitated the issuance of transshipment licenses to New Quality Diamond, Nusa Aman Sdn Bhd and BGC Trading Sdn Bhd from the Royal Malaysian Customs Department.

Idjal Tahir, chief executive officer of Labuan Port operator Megah Port Management Sdn Bhd, said the vessel would be loading a consignment of 125 tons of sugar and 112.5 tons of rice for the southern Philippine market, referring to Mindanao.

Idjan said the consignments are owned by New Quality Diamond.

“Depending on the weather condition, the second kumpit will be arriving in one week to load the same consignment,” Bernama quoted Tahir as saying.

MinDA, the Philippines’ coordinating office for the Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines – East ASEAN Growth Area (BIMP–EAGA), shared on its Facebook page the Bernama report.

Barter trade exchanges between Labuan and Mindanao were halted in 2016 after four decades of operation, Bernama reported.

Rithuan said that Labuan Corp. fully backed the revival of the transshipment activity.

“We have done our part in making sure the transshipment activity is revived and running smoothly. Labuan needs to diversify its industry to boost its economy, and local authorities will do their part to facilitate,” Bernama quoted Rithuan as saying.

Tawi-Tawi is part of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM). It is being positioned as BARMM’s gateway to the BIMP-EAGA with the servicing of the Cotabato–Tawi-Tawi direct flight last year. Cotabato is the seat of power of the Bangsamoro government.

BIMP-EAGA was formed in 1994 with the goals of promoting trade, investment and tourism in the less-developed states and provinces of the sub-economic grouping.

BIMP-EAGA’s focus areas in the Philippines are Palawan and Mindanao; the states of Sabah and Sarawak and the Federal Territory of Labuan in Malaysia; the provinces of Sulawesi, Kalimantan, Papua Island and Maluku Islands in Indonesia; and the entire Sultanate of Brunei Darussalam.

“This is a welcome development in light of efforts to establish more shipping links within BIMP-EAGA, particularly connectivity points that lend viability for NCSS, owing to shorter shipping distance and smaller load volumes,” noted Montenegro.

He said the Philippines had previously led proposals for a BIMP-EAGA protocol that recognizes NCSS as mode of conveyance for barter trading that involved small items, and small-volume commodities loaded through wooden vessels weighing less than 5,000 tonnage.

The said policy push was eventually adopted by ASEAN in November 2018, with the signing of Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on Safety and Standards and the inspection of the NCSS, Montenegro added. (Bong S. Sarmiento / MindaNews)