written by: Mike Baylon
There are a host of ports under the Davao Port Maritime Office (PMO) that serve foreign ships. Most of these are privately-owned and the number increased dramatically in the recent years because of the congestion in the government-owned regional port, the big port of Sasa. On peak days it is not uncommon if 7 or 10 ships are anchored offshore waiting for docking space in the Davao PMO ports. In these count of ports the tanker wharves are not included nor are the private wharves of most oil mills in Davao that sometimes host foreign tankers or general cargo ships engaged in the copra/coconut oil trade. Also not counted are the ports where rice from Vietnam is unloaded.
Foreign ships that call in Davao that are counted in this article mainly consist of what is called in the PSSS (Philippine Ship Spotters Society) as “regional container ships” (because they ply the East Asia regional routes although some reach as far as Europe and the Middle East), reefers, tankers and bulkers (bulk carriers). The first constitute the bulk of these while the second is a significant presence too. Both have daily presence or arrival in Davao while the foreign tankers and bulk carriers are not that frequent.
The ports in Davao PMO which host foreign ships are the ports of Sasa, Panabo (which consists of two: TADECO and PACINTER), Pantukan and Maco (both in Davao del Norte), Hijo (in Tagum City), AJMR, AJMR 2, KTC, Holcim, Craft Haven, TEFASCO, Third Millennium Oil Mill and New Davao Oil Mill. Sometimes foreign ships also dock in Astorga in Sta. Cruz town and Digos. Of all the ports mentioned only Sasa, Pantukan, Maco and Digos are government-owned ports. Most of the ports mentioned are located in Davao City. There are other ports in Davao PMO which do not handle foreign ships.
A total of about 30-40 ships call on all these port in a week and most of it are foreign. Most are container ships of which some are the gearless type now with lengths of over 200 meters. The export of Cavendish bananas, fresh fruits (mangoes, “solo” papayas, “broad-shouldered” pineapples) and fresh produce (like asparagus and lettuce) fuel this boom on ship calls in Davao. Actually these ships will take in almost anything including “saba” banana, other varieties of bananas including the red variety (“morisco”), camote, yam, etc. The penalty for Davao is the prices of fruits and produce have gone up a lot in the last few years in a classic situation where the demand is greater than the supply.
Container vans do not only come from Davao Region. It comes as far as Agusan del Norte, Misamis Oriental, Lanao del Sur and Maguindanao along with other nearer provinces. They are hauled to Davao because daily there are regional container ships and reefers in Davao while in the likes of Misamis Oriental they only call a few times a month and harvesting will not wait for them. In late 1990’s Davao lost out to Misamis Oriental in the bidding for the Mindanao International Container Terminal (MICT). Just the same even with infrastructure there the Davao PMO ports soundly beat the MICT in ship calls.
This only proves the adage that, “where there is cargo, the ships come.” The country has a lot of export processing zones with a government agency promoting them, Davao has none but Davao PMO simply beats silly these export processing zones or ecozones. In fact, in foreign ship arrivals Davao is well ahead of Cebu, Batangas and Subic ports and it is just behind the great Manila ports. Yet for all this shipping activity Davao does not have the road congestion of Manila. Nor does it have the extortion and mulcting activities rampant in Manila. One of the things that is rampant instead in Davao is the building of container yards to support this ship activity. With this activity one of the skilled labor in short supply in Davao are forklift operators.
If there is anything this port boom in Davao PMO proves is that if there is really shipping traffic then the private sector will not wait for the government to build the ports and the container yards for them. This flatly disproves the wrong mantra of government bureaucrast and politicians interested in ‘percentages’ that government must always build ports so shipping will grow (and they also actually also want to overstate their importance). In fact in the Philippines there are more privately-owned ports and wharves than government-owned ports although most of them just handle their own needs and are not commercial ports.
In the future, I still see more ports will be built for the foreign ships calling in Davao and some will be expanded. This is so because the hectarage of crops for export continue to grow in Mindanao and thousands of hectares are added yearly to the total. This growth will even accelerate if the Bangsamoro Basic Law will be approved as the people in Bangsamoro wants to join this bandwagon too. In fact, the most important export, the Cavendish variety of banana in the world, only 55% of the world demand is being filled right now and China, South Asia and the Middle East is fast developing a taste for that fruit and their traders are itching for supplies.
Bigger container ships are willing to ply a route to Davao. One factor that limits their size is the shallow depth of our ports and that is a challenge that must be addressed by port expansion. As of now it is only Panabo port that can handle the bigger gearless container ships.
For the Davao ports, it will continue to be up and up. The region and the regions around have discovered a new “gold mine”, the fresh fruits and fresh produce. This is our new primary export crop that supplanted the abaca and copra of the past century and it seems the taste of the foreign countries for these are just beginning to be whetted.