Modernizing Concepcion, Romblon’s sea transport

The province is identified among cruise destinations in the so-called Turquoise Triangle, namely, Manila and Subic Bay, Boracay, Iloilo, and Romblon, Puerto Princesa, El Nido, and Coron

The favorable effect of the formation of the Philippine Association of Coastal and Inland Waterways Ferries Inc., as well as this column, is overwhelming.

In just a matter of months, we have started to see the gradual realization of PACIWFI’s vision of the Philippine maritime industry with ships built, owned, operated, and manned by Filipinos that connect islands and people; creates wealth; and generates jobs for economic progress and national security.

After the welcome developments in the Laguna Lake area, there is another good news that can also serve as a template of how modern water transport system can make a difference in the lives of people in far-flung islands of the country.

Just weeks ago, we were contacted by Concepcion, Romblon Mayor Nicon Fameronag upon learning of PACIWFI and our offer to help ferry operators modernize their fleets without the need for big capital via the lease-to-own deal.

Located in Sibale Island, Concepcion is a sixth-class municipality of Romblon, but it is closer to Pinamalayan, Mindoro Oriental (17 kilometers) than the provincial capital Romblon (71 km). The town is largely mountainous with no rice fields. With a population of around 5,000 living in coastal communities, Concepcion’s main sources of income are copra and fishing.

Nonetheless, it is called the “hidden paradise” of Romblon by some visitors, who had a chance to visit the island. It is probably in tourism where Concepcion’s biggest potential lies.

In fact, the province is identified among cruise destinations in the so-called Turquoise Triangle, namely, Manila and Subic Bay, Boracay, Iloilo, and Romblon, Puerto Princesa, El Nido and Coron, under Program 2 of the 10-Year Maritime Industry Development Plan that focuses on the development of shipping services for maritime tourism.

Aside from its white sand beaches, each of the town’s nine barangays has a cove and scuba diving spot with breathtaking coral formations and unique underwater canyons and caves.

Add to these, the crystal-clear waters around Sibale are littered with shipwrecks. Among them is the biggest Japanese Yamato class battleship IJNS Musashi that sank during World War II.
International tourism website has identified at least 19 diving sites around the island.

Its outdated transport system, however, hampered the development of the town’s tourism potentials. Concepcion continues to rely on three wooden-hulled boats to bring its copra to Lucena and import from Pinamalayan practically all its basic needs, from rice, gasoline and kerosene for fuel to hardware and construction materials.

The boats are slow, with a maximum speed of seven knots only, and equipped with noisy engines. They are not comfortable, especially for tourists and, more importantly, unsafe when sailing during rough weather.

Moreover, the Maritime Industry Authority has ordered their phase out; the operators’ permits are set to expire this year. To address this problem, the newly-elected Mayor Fameronag has reached us to request PACIWFI to provide a steel-hulled RoRo-passenger ship to replace the town’s only means of water transport between Concepcion and Pinamalayan.

In our meeting, we expressed PACIWFI’s commitment to provide at least one ferry boat, specifically designed and built to be suitable to the Concepcion-Pinamalayan route, and we agreed to make the Concepcion project a template for realizing its vision of connecting islands and people, as well as Mayor Fameronag’s plans for his town.

He wants his town to have more economic enterprises through public-private partnerships, more economic activities, enhanced fish production, and a robust tourism business. He aims to encourage the people, who left the island, to come back, visit or invest in their hometown.

We are confident that Mayor Fameronag will gradually achieve his plans once a reliable and efficient water transport system to and from the island commences operation next year.

And we, too, are excited to see how a PACIWFI member, through its mini RoPax ship, will share in bringing self-sustaining economic activities in Concepcion.

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