ILOILO City – The Maritime Industry Authority’s (MARINA) stringent rules imposed on motorboats crossing the Iloilo Strait following the capsizing of three boats last month are hurting Guimaras island province’s tourism industry. The Department of Tourism (DOT) is not about to challenge these rules but it hopes to find common ground to help revive the tourists’ interest in Guimaras.
“I cannot meddle with the mandates of other government agencies,” said DOT regional director Helen Catalbas, citing “interagency courtesy.”
However, Catalbas said, she is organizing a consultation before this month is over and MARINA would be invited.
“How should we reposition Guimaras as a tourist destination at this point in time? Should we stop promoting Guimaras for a while until it has fixed its problems? Or despite all the problems, do we keep on promoting it but with certain conditions?” said Catalbas.
With the safety of sea travellers in mind, MARINA is imposing the following conditions on wooden-hulled motorboats:
* Passengers should wear lifejackets at all times throughout the voyage.
* Motorbancas should carry passengers only up to 75 percent of their authorized capacity.
* The tarpaulins and canvass (to shield passengers from heat and rain) shall either be rolled up or removed.
* The operation of motorbancas shall be during fair weather only; wind not more than Force 3 of the Beaufort scale (7-10 knots) and the wave height is not more than 0.5 meters.
* The operation will be from sunrise to sunset only.
* Motorbancas shall be equipped with distress signals/equipment.
According to Catalbas, tourist arrivals in Guimaras were 73 percent down in August this year from the tourist arrivals in same month last year.
“The effect is really negative for Guimaras. Several groups cancelled their trips to the island province and one of the reasons is the uncertainty and availability of the water transport,” Catalbas said.
Yesterday a group calling itself Hugpong Guimaras held a “unity walk” in Guimaras to dramatize the sorry plight of the province due to the tightly regulated operation of motorboats.
Participants included students, businessmen, motorboat operators and workers, motorcycle and jeepney drivers, and resort owners, among others.
Wearing black shirts, they called for the return of the way motorboats operated prior to the Aug. 3 Iloilo Strait tragedy that killed 31 people.
“Our plea is that for the time being, samtang wala pa ang modernization, ibalik ang trapal with some modifications,” said Fred Davis of Hugpong Guimaras.
The lack of financial resources to secure technologically-improved hull materials is a major challenge to boat operators and associations of Iloilo and Guimaras that have been told to change their wooden-hulled boats to either aluminium, steel or fiberglass.
Despite this, MARINA is not suspending or revoking its order phasing out wooden-hulled passenger ships and boats.
During a recent workshop held as an offshoot of the capsizing of three motorboats, MARINA OIC administrator Vice Admiral Narciso Vingson Jr. stressed the importance of upholding maritime safety and promoting the comfort of the riding public through the use of modern boats.
The workshop held in Guimaras provided an opportunity for local boat associations to raise their concerns.
Gov. Samuel Gumarin of Guimaras and Cong. Lucille Nava themselves earlier warned of the economic dislocation of motorboat operators, crew and their families if the phase out of wooden-hulled boats is not done gradually.
Anticipating the financial concern, MARINA brought to the workshop representatives from the government-owned Development Bank of the Philippines. They bared a financing program called CRUISE or Connecting Rural Urban Intermodal Systems Efficiently.
The financing program reinforces the development of an integrated and multimodal national transport and logistics system in the country. The loan is payable in 15 years.
Individual boat operators, however, are not eligible under the CRUISE. Only the following are qualified: private corporations, government agencies, local government units, government-owned and controlled corporations, financial institutions, and cooperatives.
So what should boat operators and associations of Iloilo and Guimaras do?
They were encouraged to form cooperatives so they may explore other business ventures to further increase shared capital and enjoy tax exemption./PN