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New port for old

The Philippines is looking for funds and expertise to help it realise a massive, 25year rolling ports and harbour improvement scheme, writes Nina Lovelace.

Manila North Harbour, the main gateway into south east Asia's Philippine Islands, is a sorry sight.

Heavy cargo containers balance precariously on the overstressed storage bays, revealing their corroding steel reinforcement. Ships tie up alongside the quays which are well past their intended retirement age.

The quays themselves reveal corroding sheet pile sections and ground anchors. They stand in inadequate water depths, restricting ships and hampering quayside loading.

In its present state, operations in the harbour are unsafe, insecure and inefficient, putting the 5M ferry passengers, 700,000 containers and 4Mt of general cargo passing through the harbour each year at risk.

However there is hope for this neglected and overstretched port. Last year a move was made by the Philippines government to transform Manila North Harbour and the rest of the country's maritime system to European standards. In April 1999 the government approached Halcrow Maritime Design Services to help plan for the improvement and expansion of its maritime system.

In October Halcrow submitted a masterplan, examining demand for facilities in the next quarter century and warned that speed was of the essence.

'When we started our surveys, we realised the port was in a state of imminent collapse, ' explains Halcrow project manager for the Manila North masterplan Martin Mannion.

The rescue scheme requires large amounts of rebuild and improvement works to increase capacity and efficiency for the port, at a total cost of £215M.

To meet the port's anticipated 25 year throughput, the harbour has insufficient berths, poor paving, outmoded cargo handling and inadequate passenger facilities. Halcrow estimates the harbour will need 3,780m of new and rehabilitated quays, paving works, a large passenger terminal and introduction of gantry cranes and rubber tyred gantries in the container handling yards. Storage capacity will also need to be increased by reclaiming land within the harbour basin.

Impacting on its Manila North Harbour proposals, Halcrow's plan also recommends replacement of the domestic shipping fleet, at a cost of £650M. The refurbished harbour will therefore have to cater for new roll-on roll-off or 'ro-ro' passenger/ freight transport facilities as well as the older lift-on lift-off or 'lo-lo' container ships.

Another £100M road and rail improvement programme is also needed.

Manila North Harbour's future is already starting to look rosier. Container terminal operators, shipping lines and labour unions came together last year to form a concession company to carry out the work. Known as Manila North Harbour Consortium, the private sector company aims to play a role in development and operation of the North Harbour.

However, in order to push the plan forward, the consortium requires finance. The government is aware that the work is desperately needed, but has little money to offer contract concessionaires.

Armed with the masterplan, the government has been approaching foreign banks and governments seeking 20 year low-interest loans for a raft of separate contracts. It wants to secure interest rates of 4%. In return, it promises foreign governments will gain on their loans and be able to offer infrastructure project work to their own domestic businesses.

The UK Government was approached in December 1999, but declined to put up any cash. 'Unfortunately this means none of the potential work from the project will come to UK companies, ' comments Mannion.

A representative from the Department of Trade and Industry explained that funding was simply not available for the maritime scheme: 'The scheme that supplied those types of loan has been discontinued, and there is currently no provision for replacing it.'

French and Dutch governments are considering the offer, and the Japanese are willing to fund some of the work.

Manila North, along with the ten major ports in the country, is currently state-owned and run by the Philippine Port Authority. Following completion of the Manila North Harbour scheme, the consortium will assume ownership until international loans have been fully repaid.

As well as the Manila North Harbour and ship schemes, outports surrounding Manila are also in need of improvement and development, at an estimated cost of £210M. Ferries operate between Manila and the outports and any problems or delays there will affect the entire transport chain.

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