Sardines sail to new waters

The booming global sardine trade is behind the addition of a Philippine port to an international container carrier’s service

By Penny Thomas

November 9, 2022

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The port of Zamboanga is the country’s largest exporter of sardines. Photo: Shutterstock

Canned sardines are a popular, healthy and cheap snack. Full of omega-3 oils, they are enjoyed in homes around the world. We may now be seeing more Philippine sardines on the menu thanks to the addition of a new container line service. 

Later this month Regional Container Lines (RCL) will become the first international carrier to call and operate at the Phillipines port of Zamboanga when a new service launches. The Thai-listed container carrier will run a service rotation between Cebu, Cagayan de Oro, Zamboanga, Bintulu and Singapore. Containership Danu Bhum will call at the Mindanao island port on 11 November, marking its first arrival as part of the new schedule, said RCL.

Related: Getting Real-Time Container Tracking Visibility

The MarineTraffic Live Map shows the 1,018-teu container vessel departed from Singapore on 4 November where it started the first loop of the new service. According to the MaritimeTraffic vessel forecast function it is scheduled to arrive at Cebu in the Philippines on 8 November. After that it is scheduled to call at Cagayan before arriving at Zamboanga on 11 November, then into Bintulu, before arriving back at Singapore, where the rotation will start again.

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The MarineTraffic Live Map shows the Danu Bhum container vessel is schedule to arrive in Cebu on 8 November

The port is one of four main ports on Mindanao on the south Philippines peninsula, along with Cagayan de Oro, Davao and General Santos. Situated on the west of the island and strategically situated on the Sulu Sea it offers good access to surrounding countries. RCL said in a statement that it is confident that “the new service will open up the market and provide vast opportunity for Zamboanga, considered the Philippines’ gateway to the Brunei-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines East ASEAN Growth Area.”

Late last year it was also announced Zamboanga would receive a US$ 5.37 million (Philippine Peso (P) 316 million) in investment to support its position as the country’s main port for sardine exports.

The Philippines Port Authority (PPA) said on 2 December that “The Zamboanga seaport development projects, which involve several aspects—expansion of the back-up area, the extension of RC Pier, and the provision of the port lighting system, among others—are aimed at facilitating the growing trade in the Zamboanga Peninsula particularly sardine exports to the mainland US, Europe, and the Far East.”

Zamboanga is considered the sardine capital of the Philippines and is home to 11 sardine canning factories which process the circa one million tonnes of fish caught in the surrounding sea.

News of RCL service was well-received by the Zamboanga Export and Import confederation and the Canned Sardines Association of the Philippines, who, according to RCL, said it was a “breakthrough to their long years of clamour to have an international carrier and place Zamboanga on the shipping map with direct access to international trade”.

Vessel calls

According to MarineTraffic data, around 50 vessels have called at the port’s two berths over the past two weeks.

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Around fifty vessels called at Zamboanga port from 21 October to 3 November. Source: MarineTraffic


Online publication Port Calls, reported that the PPA is also constructing a new passenger terminal building at Zamboanga, which is scheduled for completion in 2023. Once complete it will have an annual capacity of 6 million passengers, up from the current 3.5 million, representing a 71.4% increase.

The investment at Zamboanga is part of a bigger country-wide project that formed part of former president Rodrigo Duterte's now completed ‘Build, Build, Build’ infrastructure programme.


According to The Manila Times, a number of ports were identified as part of ‘Build, Build, Build’, some of which have been completed. These include a US$8.5 million (P492 million) expansion project at Currimao, a US$2 million (P119 million) project at Bulan, a further US$2.65 million (P154.7 million) project at the port of Legazpi (which can now handle bigger vessels), and a US$3 million (P192 million) rehabilitation and upgrading project at Tabaco, all of which are situated on the Philippines' largest island of Luzon.

‘Build, build, build’, whilst ambitious in its scope and highly relevant to a country that has long been hampered by lack of quality infrastructure, has not, according to Rappler magazine, been fully delivered. It writes that of the 119 items listed only “over a dozen projects have been completed” so far.

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The MarineTraffic Live Map shows the containership traffic around the Philippines 

However, the country’s economy is growing in line with government targets (7.4 per cent in the third quarter of this year) and reports suggest the archipelago’s economy is rising more than any other ASEAN+3 countries. This could spell further investment going forward.

And with Zamboanga now on an international container line service, it will need the necessary infrastructure to support its likely growth. Let’s hope that its expansion plans will eventually be added to the list of completed projects.


Real-time In-transit Visibility | MarineTraffic
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Penny Thomas

Account Manager at London based public relations agency, Navigate PR

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