Pioneer Ro-Ro firm buys more brand-new vessels
HIROSHIMA, Japan—Batangas-based shipping firm Starlite Ferries Inc. yesterday acquired its second brand-new roll-on roll-off (Ro-Ro) vessel from a Japanese shipbuilder as part of a bigger push to modernize the Philippine maritime industry and improve its safety record.
Starlite Ferries chair Alfonso Cusi led yesterday’s ceremonies for the launch of the MV Starlite Reliance, the second of seven Ro-Ro ships of her class designed specifically for operating in notoriously rough waters within the Philippine archipelago.
“Our goal is to push the local shipping industry to become more modern and safer,” he said in an interview with the Inquirer. “We want everyone to start moving away from buying second-hand Japanese vessels, many of which are flat-bottomed vessels suited only for calm inland waters.”
Cusi explained that the Starlite Reliance—like its sister ship, the Starlite Pioneer, which started plying the Caticlan-Roxas, Mindoro route last December 22—could easily withstand waves of up to 2 meters without causing discomfort to its passengers.
More importantly, he said the ship makes no compromises in ensuring the safety of its passengers because it is brand-new and designed by a Japanese naval architect who carefully studied the circumstances of the local Ro-Ro industry and its operating environment.
He lamented that most vessels being used in the Philippines are surplus from Japan, which set the age limit of its own vessels at 15 years. Thus, many Philippine vessels today are old, even reaching 45 years, and were designed for very different roles than what they are being used for today.
“In Starlite, we don’t want to transport people like cattle, so we have a very comfortable passenger deck for them. The ship has an elevator for people with disabilities, and even a play area for children,” said Cusi, who once served as chief of the Philippine Ports Authority and the Manila International Airport Authority. “And we also have the most advanced safety and navigation equipment.”
Unlike most existing Ro-Ro vessels plying inter-island routes around the country, the $10-million Starlite Reliance was designed with a rounded hull that rests deeper in the water for greater stability, as well as a bulbous bow that allows it to cut through waves more efficiently.
The 100-ton vessel can ferry an estimated 750 passengers comfortably on its upper decks and up to 22 buses in its hold.
After yesterday’s launch, the vessel is now being installed with internal fittings by its builder, Kegoya Dock Co. Ltd., and will be delivered for service to Starlite by March 2016.
Cusi said the company has yet to determine which route the Starlite Reliance will ply. He said this decision will be determined ultimately by market demand.
Meanwhile, Starlite Ferries’ next vessel, the Starlite Eagle, is in the final stages of construction and is expected to be launched and delivered also by March 2016.