Roll-on-roll-off (RoRo) vessel operator Archipelago Philippine Ferries Corp. (APFC) has signed a P1.726-billion loan from Landbank of the Philippines (Landbank) to finance its ship modernization and expansion program.

“We are fortunate that Landbank is aligned with our vision to modernize the shipping industry, to connect the Philippines through ‘moving bridges,’ and to ensure safer, more comfortable, and reliable means of sea transport,” APFC CEO Cristopher Pastrana said during the signing of the loan agreement in Manila over the weekend.

According to him, his company aims to roll out 30 catarman-type, state-of-the-art FastCat vessels by 2020 to augment its existing fleet and provide ferry services to new routes, including Bulalacao in Oriental Mindoro, and Coron and Puerto Princesa in Palawan.

AFPC began its refleeting program in 2010 with 10 new RoRo vessels.

The company current plies eight routes: Batangas-Calapan (Oriental Mindoro); Bulalacao-Caticlan (Aklan); Matnog (Sorsogon)-San Isidro (Northern Samar); Bacolod (Negros Occidental)-Iloilo; Liloan (Southern Leyte)-Lipata (Surigao del Norte); Dumaguete (Negros Oriental)-Dapitan (Zamboanga del Norte); San Carlos City (Negros Occidental)-Toledo (Cebu); and Cebu-Tubigon (Bohol).

The firm operates terminals in the ports of Matnog; Dapdap, Alen, and San Isidro in Northern Samar; Liloan; Lipata; Benit in Southern Leyte; and passenger terminal buildings in Ozamis City in Misamis Occidental.

The loan, payable in 12 years, would be used to finance AFPC’s acquisition of five Catarman double-hulled vessels, which are expected to sail by the first half of 2019, Pastrana said.

Each ship measures 54 meters and will be equipped with the latest navigation and flood-containment systems, bow thrusters and windlass, and Tier 3-compliant engines by China-based Bonny Fair Development Ltd.

A catarman is a multihulled boat with two hulls that can be powered by sails or engine. It is best used for ferries because of its speed, stability and large capacity.

The loan came more than a year after the Rizal Commercial Banking Corp. (RCBC) extended a P1.1-billion loan to AFPC to buy three brand new FastCats.

Pastrana said the new loan was in keeping with the company’s commitment to raise the bar in maritime safety in the Philippines and set and example to its operators in improving not only the ferry industry, but also enhancing passenger comfort and safety.

“Our main agenda is to serve the country and to help the maritime industry in improving safety standards. We are trying to make it more comfortable for our riding public in exploring the beauty of the Philippines,” he added.