From no-man’s land to a bustling shipyard

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IN just a matter of months, the Philippine Fisheries Development Authority and its private sector partner, Irma Fishing and Trading Inc. (IFTI), converted a dreaded swamp and dumping ground for “salvaged” criminals into a spacious industrial complex, now housing the Nautilus Shipyard and Repair Inc. 2 (NSRI-2).

“In years past, no one even dared get into this property, where the most wanted criminals hid and the area is filled with neck-deep water year-round,” said Roberto Simeon del Rosario, NSRI-2 president and chief executive officer.

When Nautilus 2 was inaugurated on January 21, del Rosario prepared a sprawling dinner events place for easily a thousand guests. But considering the long stigma carried by the place, it is understandable that only the people involved in the shipping business could tread such a delicate area, familiar to them.

Nautilus 2, located right inside the fish port, is an offshoot of Nautilus1 (built in 1991), which del Rosario put up years ago to cater to the repair and overhauling needs of his fleet of 100.

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But in the process of operating Nautilus 1, del Rosario’s colleagues in the industry kept asking if he could put up another shipyard to cater to their fleet since the nearest repair facility is in Batangas, which entails a long turnaround and huge costs.

In the process, many of the fishing operators had no choice but to tow their fishing boats to Batangas via barges or they just left them to the pier, where nature would naturally eat them up and eventually became mounds of junk.

Fishing industry bigwigs were at the launch. The biggest tuna supplier in the world, Francis Tiu Laurel, a long-time buddy of del Rosario, was there and so were other fishers.

Del Rosario said with Nautilus 2, his colleagues in the industry would only have to dry dock their ships, and the repair crew of Nautilus will take care of the rest.

IFTI is the biggest supplier of galunggong, (or what was referred to as “poor man’s fish” by the late President Cory Aquino) in the wet market and supermarkets.

NSRI-2 seeks to address the ship construction, maintenance and repair needs of the fishing industry, which are crucial to its survival.

Helping the fishing industry
Built on a 1.6-hectare property within the sprawling fish port complex, Nautilus 2 is a dry dock facility that could accommodate commercial vessels of 600 gross tons (GT) or more for repair. The average size of Filipino fishing boats is 500 GT.

The yard is capable of repairing 96 vessels a year.

Del Rosario said that the investment in the shipyard is big—he would not say the exact amount—and the risks are also big, but he went into the business to help keep the industry afloat, literally.

Paul Gerard del Rosario, NRSI-2 general manager and son of Roberto, said from just a one-boat operation when it began, Irma Fishing has now grown to a giant fishing company.

He recalled that his father’s first boat was acquired for P50 from his grandfather, an Australian submarine chaser (World War II vintage) and this was beefed up shortly after by another antiquated fishing boat, again acquired P50 from his grandfather.

Through diligence, hardwork and thriftiness, he said, “my father grew the fleet to 100 fishing boats of varied sizes which are operating mostly in Palawan.” He said in the whole month of November, Irma lost a lot of money from Super Typhoon Yolanda “because of the undercurrents that drove away the fish.”

He said that his mission is to bring fish to people of Malabon, next-door neighbor of the Navotas Fish Port, who can’t even buy fresh fish at wholesale prices on retail markets.

IFTI is able to supply Metro Manila markets fresh fish year-round, because it operates its fleet even at a breakeven just to keep the employees earning even during the lean fishing season of October to February.

Paul said that what IFTI is bringing into Nautilus is the culture of perseverance, hardwork, diligence and prudence, or living within one’s means.

IFTI first bought its first wooden boat in 1976. It upgraded its vessels into more modern, steel-made ones in 1981.

In 1990, IFTI acquired its first purse seine (that utilizes strong lights to attract the fishes to the net) used in deep-sea fishing in the central and western Pacific Ocean, catching bigger fishes like tuna.

Del Rosario then opened three big ice plants within the Navotas fish port, again to cater to the viajeros (or those who buy fish wholesale and then deliver to the retail wet markets); then into trading.

Del Rosario just recently opened the supermarket of his three-story Fisher Mall in Quezon City, and is soft opening the entire mall late this month.

Depending on the outcome of the Fisher Mall along Quezon Avenue, he might put up a smaller version of Fisher Mall in Malabon, in front of Robinson’s, as he already acquired the property.

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