Cagayan Freeport Being Primed for Shipbuilding Business

FLORO TAGUINOD, GMANews.TV 01/21/2010 | 02:00 PM

BAYOMBONG, Nueva Vizcaya — Officials are grooming the Cagayan Freeport as the country’s next world-class shipyard, with several shipbuilders having expressed interest in its expansion plan.

The 54,000-hectare business hub in Port Irene, Sta. Ana is undergoing upgrade, including the lengthening of the pier to accommodate 20,000 deadweight-ton vessels, while its container yard is being redesigned to handle large containers.

Cagayan Economic Zone Authority (CEZA) Administrator Jose Mari B. Ponce said the shipyard would likely take off this year, as soon as a breakwater to fortify Port Irene’s shoreline is completed.

“With the upgrade of the container yard and upcoming construction of a shipbuilding facility, we expect a lot of activities this year,” he said in an interview.

Jack Enrile, Cagayan’s provincial economic consultant, said the shipyard is part of the free port’s expansion program. “It’s in the planning stage. We could not reveal details yet because there are many interested investors,” he said.

The CEZA in Port Irene, Sta, Ana is the fastest-growing industrial, logistics and tourism hub in the country. It manages the Cagayan Freeport, which has generated investments in port operations, aviation, real estate, banking, tourism and resort services, agro-industries, leisure, international fishing, telecommunications, software development, management services, trading and imports.

Enrile said the construction at the Subic Bay Freeport of a $68-million Turkish owned commercial ship by South Korean shipbuilding giant Hanjin Heavy Industries Corp. showed that the Philippines can build world-class ocean-going vessels. The vessel is the biggest oil tanker made in the country.

“We are a maritime nation and we should improve our competence… not just by providing a third of the world’s seafarers but also by building ships ourselves, and this we can start doing at Port Irene,” Enrile said.

The port’s advantage is its proximity to Japan, Hong Kong, China, Taiwan, South Korea and North America, he pointed out.

“It is only 45 minutes away by jet and less than four hours by boat from Taiwan’s main shipping and industrial center of Kaoshiung. It is about time that we use our geographical advantage by further developing Port Irene into a world-class shipyard,” he added.

Enrile said Dong Feng — the second largest car part maker and assembler in China and a subcontractor for Honda, Nissan and Toyota — will export semi-knockdown vehicles to the Philippines to allow the entry of more affordable automobiles priced $10,000 or below.

In March 2009, Chinese-manufactured cars started arriving at the port, signaling the expansion of bilateral trade between the Philippines and China.

A National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) report showed that the expansion of the Cagayan Freeport has changed the investment climate in the region.

In an interview, Cagayan Governor Alvaro Antonio said taxes paid by locators have helped Cagayanons in terms of more infrastructure, livelihood and educational opportunities.

“If the port will push through as the country’s next important shipping hub, then it will be Cagayan’s gift to Filipinos,” he said.

The CEZA has attracted millions of investments from offshore companies and generated millions more from tourists here and abroad. It employs thousands of skilled workers from and outside Region II.