Among the major modes of transportation that urgently needs government focus and attention is maritime transportation. Our nation is composed of more than 7,000 islands and yet to this day, maritime transportation has been taken for granted as a major driver in nation-building. Our geographical orientation puts us in a great disadvantage in terms of movement of goods and people compared to that of our Asian neighbors.
A government program launched in 2003 called the Strong Republic Nautical Highway has yet to take significant traction as far as this project is concerned. A pet project by the Arroyo administration, the Strong Republic Nautical Highway is a 900-kilometer system of roads and sea ports that will link the major islands of Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao. The lack of continuity in the change of government administrations have slowed down the full implementation of this major economic project that aims to serve as sea bridges that will eventually connect all our major islands into one.
Working silently and steadily in creating sea bridges that will link the major islands of our republic is Archipelago Philippine Ferries Corporation, the operators of Fast Cat roll-on and roll-off (ro-ro) ferries. Ably led by its president, Christopher (Chet) Pastrana and his indefatigable wife Ann, Fast Cat roll-on and roll- off ferries has set the standard as far as maritime transportation in the Philippines is concerned. Fast Cat currently has a fleet of 12 ultra-modern ro-ro vessels with 18 more in the pipeline until 2020 that will serve the nautical highway. On the long term, there will be 60 Fast Cats serving the nautical highway by 2030. A Fast Cat vessel can carry up to 34 cars and seven trucks or buses and can accommodate a total of 275 passengers seating in business class, premium economy and economy class. More importantly each Fast Cat vessel is equipped with engines and navigational equipment that conform to international maritime standards. Passenger safety and comfort come first with Fast Cat.
Prior to being introduced to Fast Cat, I had a very poor impression of the maritime industry due to the spate of sea tragedies that hounded this transportation sector through the years. Riding a boat to reach other islands in our country was never an option to me. My impression is that local sea vessels are old, dilapidated, unsafe, dirty and unreliable.
Fast Cat is the game-changer in the maritime industry. It prides itself of having the youngest fleet in the industry. All of its vessels are compliant to international maritime and safety standards. And due to its customer-centered quality policy, expect a clean and reliable ferry service that will take you to your destination of choice.
Traveling from north to south via the nautical highway that totals around 900 kilometers now takes a mere 20 hours, instead of the usual three days done by the old and traditional shipping companies from its jump-off point in Batangas up to Dapitan in Zamboanga del Norte. I would not have ever imagined that you can travel from Luzon to Mindanao in less than a day via the sea bridges that Fast Cat has erected to bring people and cargo from one island to another.
The reduction of travel time via the nautical highway drastically reduces the cost of doing business between islands in our country. Trade, agriculture and tourism are the primary beneficiaries of this reduced travel time.
Fast Cat is just but one good news in the maritime industry. It has shown beyond reasonable doubt that we can create a world-class maritime transportation that will serve all sectors of society.
If we plan to level up from a developing to a highly-developed nation, we should totally overhaul our maritime industry with major inputs from trade, agriculture and tourism. We need a holistic approach in crafting a maritime road map that is sustainable and continuous as we transition from one administration to another.
Being an archipelago, building and maintaining the nautical highway will always be a work in progress. It takes two to tango in this respect. With government and the private sector working hand-in-hand in executing this maritime road map, maritime transportation will eventually unite and connect all our 7,000 islands into one nation and one people.