In an archipelago comprising 7,107 islands, there is never a shortage of tourist spots to see in the Philippines.
And unless one is in a hurry, sea travel is the best way to enjoy and appreciate the richness of our shores, the awesomeness of our marine resources, and the freshness of the winds blowing above our land.
However, as a nation situated along the typhoon belt, the shipping industry has had casualties by the thousands, with the disasters and tragedies causing Filipinos to have second thoughts about Ro-Ro (roll-on/roll-off) voyage.
The stigma of marine tragedies [among them the M/V Doña Paz, M/V Princess of the Orient, M/V Princess of the Stars]still haunts many travellers. But in making an effort to be open anew to sea voyage, air voyage is neither spared by disasters.
In fact, according to Bobby Montayre, captain of M/V St. Ignatius of Loyola (SIL) of 2Go Travel and Shipping Company, “There is a bigger chance to survive in a sea tragedy than in a plane crash, if that’s the main concern.”
Plying between Batangas and Caticlan with a stopover at Odiongan, Romblon for a Boracay sojourn, the captain told The Sunday Times Magazine that there has been a big change in the shipping industry the past couple of years.
It used to be that only small vessels were prevented to sail during Storm Signal Number 1; the Coast Guard may still allow bigger boats to leave. But now, even in the said condition, all vessels—small and big—are never allowed to leave port.
“Definitely, overloading won’t happen with us. We have a computerized system and we strictly implement a no-ticket-no-boarding policy,” he said, citing as an example the 1,096-passenger SIL sailing during this interview, inclusive of crew members on the 2,825-ton vessel.
He pointed out that historically, the ships that listed or sunk had loads beyond their capacity, with tickets issued even on board especially during peak seasons or holidays.
Montayre has been the captain of SIL for five years, and started as mariner in 1981.
Running at an average of 15 knots, Montayre proudly showed The Sunday Times Magazine the state-of-the-art radars and other equipment inside the captain’s deck. 2Go Travel staff likewise ushered The Sunday Times Magazine the four staterooms on the refurbished passenger and cargo vessel, and the numerous cabins that make up the tourist and economy accommodations.
The SIL also has a restaurant, a bar, a food outlet and amenities reflective of the signs of the times, including a battery charging booth for cell phones and other electronic gadgets. The staff and crew are hospitable; the linens, sheets and towels are clean.
Gone too are the days of strong smell of diesel fuel emanating from the engine room that accompany travellers throughout their journey. A plus is seeing a school of dolphins prancing around the ship along the Mindoro Strait.
The shipping company operates a total of 12 Ro-Ro vessels and eight fast crafts plying the routes to and from Manila, Batangas, Aklan, Palawan, Cebu, Bohol, Bacolod, Iligan, Cagayan De Oro, Butuan and several ports for stopovers.
In a separate huddle with The Sunday Times Magazine, a junior executive of the shipping company’s travel arm intimated that the design, the selected color of magenta, and the interiors of the SIL were meticulously chosen by the chief executive officer’s son who studied in Switzerland—approximating European standards.
They are also in the process of acquiring two more vessels from Korea, as they envision their principal ships similar to the vessels carrying passengers to and from the majestic Jeju Island.
Admitting that he also travels sometimes by air just for a change of pace, Montayre emphasized that with all the rules in safety and improvements in shipping today, he highly recommends sea travel for “adventure, enjoyment, fun” as well as “the time to meet people aboard with whom one may kindle a friendship to last a lifetime.”