By Joyce Ann L. Rocamora

CRUISE CHAOS. Cruise passengers wait outside Pier 15 in Manila on Nov. 30, 2023. The PPA said the incident was “isolated” and a result of the ship agent Ben Line Agencies and the terminal operator Asian Terminals Inc.’s failure to deploy personnel for traffic management. (Photo courtesy of Nelson Terible on Facebook)

MANILA – The Department of Tourism (DOT) on Friday expressed “grave concern” over the reported mishandling of disembarking passengers of the MV Norwegian Jewel at the Port of Manila in November.

The DOT said it has reached out to concerned agencies, including the Department of Transportation (DOTr) and the Philippine Ports Authority (PPA) to ensure that no such incidents will be repeated.

“The mishandling of arriving cruise passengers runs counter to the objectives of the Marcos Administration to enhance the overall tourist experience,” the agency said.

“Further, it is anathema to the Philippines’ current standing as Asia’s Best Cruise Destination 2023 which has been the result of hard work, convergence, and collaboration in the past year,” it added.

In a Facebook post, a certain Nelson Terible, one of the cruise passengers, labeled his experience as “a sad, pitiful, and traumatic experience.”

“There was an absolute lack of concern on the part of PPA personnel to ensure a safe, comfortable, and pleasurable disembarkation experience,” he said.

The PPA issued a statement on Dec. 14 saying the incident was “isolated” and a result of the ship agent Ben Line Agencies and the terminal operator Asian Terminals Inc.’s (ATI) failure to deploy personnel to manage traffic.

The PPA said the cruise operation was a joint effort by the cruise ship, Ben Line, ATI, third-party transport service TPLI, and PPA.

“Prior to the arrival of MV Norwegian Jewel, meetings have been made between the concerned parties and the PPA to prioritize the safety and security of the cruise passengers. ATI and Ben Line Agencies Inc. committed to provide personnel for traffic management and the deployment of the porters,” it said.

“None of these commitments from ATI and Ben Line Agencies Inc. happened since both did not deploy personnel for traffic management and only 20 civilian porters (not in uniform) have been provided to assist 2,353 disembarking passengers and 2,505 embarking passengers,” it added.

To assist, the PPA said it issued 1,150 temporary vehicle pass and made sure its “Malasakit Help Desk” provided assistance.

The traffic also worsened that day since embarking passengers arrived three hours earlier than expected while the disembarking passengers were still being assisted by the Bureau of Customs and Bureau of Immigration, contrary to the agreement during the pre-arrival meeting, the PPA said.

The PPA noted that there have been several cruise calls at the Port of Manila this year and as many as three vessels all docked at the same time “but have never experienced this kind of incident”.

The PPA and the DOT assured the public that the government takes seriously incidents like this as the positive experience of tourists in the Philippines is paramount.

“Noting that the arrival processing concerns raised during the Norwegian Cruise Jewel port of call in Manila are beyond the jurisdiction of the Department of Tourism, the DOT would nonetheless like to emphasize the utmost importance of the improvement of our gateways whether by air, land, or sea, as these inform the first and last impression of our tourists,” the DOT said.

“The safety, comfort, and convenience of our tourists and guest travelers are always of utmost importance to the department.”

The PPA has directed ATI and Ben Line to provide an explanation on the complaints raised by the passengers.

To date, the DOT said the Philippines has welcomed 123 cruise calls, including in Aklan, Leyte and Palawan that were “well-received not only by cruise agents, but most importantly, our cruise tourists”. (PNA)