A new roll-on roll-off ferry is set to connect a popular Philippine tourist island with an unspoilt corner of Borneo. A daily Palawan to Kudat service will help to open up the Malaysian province of Sabah when it is launched next month.
Sabah Tourism Board chairman Joniston Bangkuai said the new link would be a big boost for his province’s low-key tourism industry. It is also expected to increase trade between the two picturesque regions.
Sabah used to have a direct flight connecting Kota Kinabalu and Palawan’s Puerto Princessa, but this was cancelled in 2014 due to lack of passengers.
Howard Stanton, the owner of Tampat Do Aman, a jungle and beach resort near Kudat, described the new service as a “game changer”.
“This has been in the planning for about three years now, and is going to be a game changer for tourism here, particularly at the Tip of Borneo.
“While I don’t expect it will bring in hordes of visitors, it will make it much easier for those who want to experience our tranquil, unspoiled region to get here.”
Mr Bangkuai agreed, saying while the new service wouldn’t bring in huge crowds, it would make a significant difference. “They have to start somewhere,” he said. “I am sure the operators have done feasibility studies; otherwise they may not even venture into this.
“Whatever it is, let us just wait and see. I heard the price is quite affordable and I am sure many Sabahans would want to go there too,” he said.
The Archipelago Philippines Ferries Corporation (APFC), which will operate the service, has assigned a catamaran-type of multi-hauled ship with two hulls that can be sailed or engine-powered on the new route.
The ferry is designed to accommodate up to 300 passengers and 50 vehicles, plus cargo. The trip will take about six hours hours between Bululuyan Port in Palawan and Kudat.
APFC general manager Segundo Mentoya said sea marshals would be assigned on every voyage to ensure passenger safety.
As we have reported on a number of occasions, Palawan is consistently named as one of the world’s best tourist destinations.
As for Kudat, it remains one of the last areas of Southeast Asia untouched by mass tourism. Despite this, it has plenty of capacity for visitors, well-developed infrastructure, high levels of English proficiency and very low crime rates. Better known is the province of Sandakan, which is a short, inexpensive flight from Kudat.
The maiden voyage of the new service will take place next month, on a date yet to be confirmed. Return fares are expected to be no more than about 6,000 pesos per vehicle.
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