(STAR) By Ding Cervantes — President Arroyo led the inauguration yesterday of the first phase of the $215-million Subic Port Modernization project, a flagship infrastructure project of her administration.

“The completion of the new container terminal-1 (NCT-1) marks an important step in the implementation of President Arroyo’s 10-point agenda which includes the development of Subic Bay and Clark Freeport Zones as the most competitive international service and logistics centers in the Asia-Pacific region. This is intended to spur economic growth in the area and promotes these growth corridors as the most viable regional logistics hubs,” said Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) chairman Feliciano Salonga.

While the the government is preparing the Diosdado Macapagal International Airport (DMIA) in Clark to accommodate more local and international flights, the Subic port is being developed into a world-class seaport facility.

The construction of the entire port modernization project is being implemented under the auspices of the Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC). It is designed to make the Subic seaport a major container port in the country.

“With the completion of NCT-1, our port facility can now accommodate Panamax vessels augmenting the cargo volume and handling capacity of the Subic Bay Freeport,” Salonga said.

He pointed out that the alliance between Subic Bay and Clark is part of the long-term master plan that would be linked through the construction of the $425-million Subic-Clark toll road, and the $215-million port modernization program both funded by a special loan package from JBIC.

“Both major infrastructure projects will lead to increased economic activities in the hinterlands and generate additional employment opportunities throughout Central Luzon ,” Salonga said.

The construction of the port modernization project was started in 2004 by Penta Ocean Corp. and its joint venture partners Shimizu Corp. and TOA Corp. It entailed the installation of four gantry cranes from Japan , two of which were installed in May 2006, and the two others in March 2007. This will eventually position the Subic port as a world class maritime hub.

The newly acquired goose neck-type quay gantry cranes, with a capacity of 40.6 tons rated load each, is also part of a bigger plan of the Arroyo government for the Subic port to enhance its capacity from the present 100,000 TEUs to at least 600,000 TEUs.

Each of the container terminals has been provided with two gantry cranes. Also included in the package is the construction of the modern container terminals, and the two berths measuring 280 meters long with a depth of 13 meters.

Meanwhile, SBMA Administrator Armand C. Arreza said the completion of the first phase of the port modernization project will also accelerate the construction of other projects being implemented in the Subic Bay Freeport such as the $1.684-billion Hanjin shipbuilding facility.

“The completion of NCT-1 boosts our confidence that the Subic Bay Freeport will soon become a key player in the containerized and non-containerized cargo handling business in the entire Asia-Pacific region. This will attract more shipping companies worldwide to use the Subic port, while helping decongest the traffic in the Port of Manila ,” Arreza said.

The operation of NCT-1 will be awarded to global port operator Subic Bay International Terminal Corp. (SBITC) upon the approval and concurrence of the SBMA board of directors and JBIC.

SBITC, a joint venture company, is 15 percent owned by SBMA and 85 percent by the Subic Bay International Terminal Holdings Inc. (SBITHI) which is a joint venture company of ICTSI and Royal Port Services, Inc. (RPSI) with the former owning 83.33 percent. — with Bebot Sison Jr.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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