Rota’s 4-month supply woes end; mayor says crisis ‘not really over’

Stores to replenish empty shelves as early as today

After four months of waiting and with many store shelves now almost empty, a major shipment of food and other supplies finally reached Rota shores yesterday when sea conditions allowed a barge to enter the West Harbor. Rota Mayor Melchor Mendiola said, however, that the crisis is “not really over” until the island has a “proper port.”
Staff of Rota stores interviewed yesterday said they could start replenishing their shelves as early as today or tomorrow when containers full of merchandise—from rice to cooking oil, sodas, butane gas, and chlorine, among other things—are offloaded and cleared.

“The shipment is now on Rota. There are over 30 containers, and some of those merchandises may have already expired or nearing expiration because some had been in those containers since four months ago,” Mendiola told Saipan Tribune in a phone interview.

This comes a few days after the 30-day emergency declaration for Rota, issued on Feb. 14, expired during the weekend.

Prior to the barge’s entry to the West Harbor yesterday, the last shipment to Rota was around Nov. 18, officials said.

The barge that regularly carries supplies to Rota was unable to enter the West Harbor because of rough sea conditions since November. Some stores resorted to bringing in supplies via air freight, causing prices to temporarily go up by 10 percent to 50 percent.

“The four months is the longest time we haven’t had a shipment. Prior to that, the shipment wouldn’t arrive for only a little over two months or so. Fortunately, the weather and the sea allowed the barge to come in but the concerns remain,” Mendiola said, adding that Gov. Eloy S. Inos “played a role in communicating with Saipan Shipping” and for the barge to finally enter West Harbor.

Mendiola said Rota is fortunate that it still hadn’t reached the point wherein residents will be asked to boil their water supply because chlorine used for water treatment was still available, although the supply was already “low.”

Esperanza Castro, purchaser at Harvest Market, one of the biggest retailers on Rota, said they’re “happy” the shipment arrived because their store shelves are “almost empty.”

She said Harvest Market has “six to seven” 20-ft. containers of food and other supplies, which can be offloaded and cleared as early as today.

Castro said their stores didn’t have much to sell even during the weekend’s fiesta because the shipment had not arrived at the time.

Previously, because Harvest Market was bringing in some basic commodities via plane, they had to raise the prices of some items only to cover the added shipment cost. For example, their 1-quart milk that used to sell for $2.99 became $4.05 because of the air freight rate.

“When we start selling the ones from the barge, we will be back to the old, regular prices,” she said.

Lucky Market and Anne’s Convenient Store, also major retailers on Rota, separately said yesterday they could start selling the newly-arrived merchandises this week.

The Rota mayor said the crisis is “not really over” until there’s a permanent solution to the sea transportation problem.

He said every time the water is rough, expect the barge not to enter the West Harbor because it has not been repaired. The West Harbor repair, he said, could cost at least $16 million.

Another possible longer-term solution, he said, is to allow the East Harbor to accept smaller vessels every time there is a problem entering the West Harbor.

This way, he said, there won’t be a need to issue an emergency declaration every time there is problem with the West Harbor because the East Harbor automatically becomes available for use by smaller vessels.

“We’re now entering the months wherein the water is almost always calm. May is believed to be the calmest season of the year. We hope we don’t have to go through this problem again,” the mayor added.

Sen. Paul Manglona (Ind-Rota) separately said yesterday that “permanently” opening up the East Harbor could help ease Rota’s problems with shipment.

He and the Rota mayor said one company that’s ready to help bring in shipment to Rota now has to hold off because the emergency declaration for Rota has been lifted and the East Harbor therefore cannot be used for such purpose.

“So nobody took the government’s offer to open the East Harbor because 30 days is short for a company to prepare the vessel, get the clearances, and mobilize manpower. If the East Harbor is permanently open, then shipping companies can start planning to use it to bring in supply to Rota,” Manglona said.

Manglona recently introduced a bill authorizing the use of Rota’s East Harbor as an alternate port of entry for small cargo vessels to address what he describes as “infrequent and irregular shipping services” available to the island.

Earlier this year, some goods were also brought into Rota via U.S. Department of Defense planes, but not all essential goods and commodities can be brought in that way, such as chlorine and liquefied petroleum gas.

Haidee V. Eugenio | Reporter
Haidee V. Eugenio has covered politics, immigration, business and a host of other news beats as a longtime journalist in the CNMI, and is a recipient of professional awards and commendations, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s environmental achievement award for her environmental reporting. She is a graduate of the University of the Philippines Diliman.

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