Global explorer, Bicol Customs execs resolve boat row

LEGAZPI CITY, Philippines – “No harm done.”

The world’s leading ocean rower and solo human-power circumnavigator Erden Eruc kept calm in the face of controversy involving Around-N-Upthe row boat that he docked here on March 24 after a historic solo human-powered North Pacific (east to west) crossing.

The Albay Provincial Tourism, Culture and Arts Office rolled out a ceremonial welcome for Eruc. But on arrival, Bureau of Customs (BOC) officials here said the explorer needed to bring his yellow, United States-flagged boat to a Manila bonded warehouse, where it would be stored for the duration of his stay in the country.

Amelia Garcia, acting chief of the assessment division, and acting district collector Arthur Sevilla Jr. said Eruc would have to shoulder the expense of bringing Around-N-Up to Manila, on top of storage charges.

Eruc’s dilemma attracted the attention of writer and artist Apa Ongpin, who criticized the BOC for treating the boat as a commercial good instead of a vessel with the right to safe passage through Philippine territory.

The Turkish-American adventurer, who holds 18 Guinness world records, usually shelters at the onset of the monsoon and typhoon season as he makes his global, multi-year crossings.

In a Facebook post, Ongpin said Customs officials’ insistence on bringing the boat to a bonded warehouse would mean more than P1 million in storage fees until Eruc leaves the country in February 2023.

‘Procedural puzzle’

Eruc started this journey from Crescent City, California on June 21, 2021. He reached Waikiki, Hawaii on September 10, Guam on February 12, 2022, and then proceeded to the Philippines.

Eruc said the uniqueness of his achievement sparked the “procedural puzzle.”

“I do not desire anyone to feel embarrassed or to face consequences,” the global explorer told Rappler after Albay 2nd District Representative Joey Salceda intervened on his behalf.

“My arrival in Legazpi by rowboat was a historic achievement and, by definition, was the first time ever that existing regulations had to be tested against this special case,” he said.

CHILL. Global explorer Erden Eruc says he has no beef with Customs officials as his ‘unique’ arrival into the country via a rowboat has no precedent. Photo by Rhaydz Barcia/Rappler

On learning about the case, Salceda called up Customs officials. Legazpi City councilor Gregorio Fernan Imperial and adventure travel entrepreneur and Albay Yacht Club president Martin Calleja also tried to help Eruc.

“It’s okay, I called the BOC, being under my committee,” Salceda told Rappler. The Bicolano lawmaker is chair of the House Ways And Means committee and vice chair of the economic affairs and appropriations committees.

Customs officials soon signaled that they would lift requirements for guarded transport and bonded warehousing. Eruc now considers his problem “amicably resolved.”

“There is no harm done and the requirements for full clearance have been met. Therefore, I will no doubt be issued the applicable documentation and turn my focus back on my expedition from this short-lived regulatory uncertainty.”

‘Goodwill’

The explorer had two options: transport his rowboat to a bonded warehouse in Manila or display the rowboat at the Legazpi mall as an educational attraction, featuring his expeditions and findings on maritime plastic pollution.

The JIF BREIZH, a utility vessel sailing under the flag of France that is currently in the Philippines and set to sail to Manila early next week, had offered to take Eruc’s rowboat to the capital. The vessel was off Puerto Galera as of 6 am on Wednesday, March 30, according to shiplocation.com.

Eruc said the second option means “we would transport my rowboat, perhaps in January 2023, directly to the launch site, which can be Manila, Subic Bay, or San Fernando, depending on how the currents and winds look in the South China Sea at the time.”

The explorer stressed that “everyone acted in goodwill, interpreting regulations with the information available to them at the time.”

“I never intended this conversation to escalate so high in the Philippine bureaucracy, or involve government ministers and secretaries, for what seemed a simple request to store my rowboat until I can relaunch on the South China Sea in January or February,” he added.

The BOC’s Garcia, he said, “made it clear to me that her office would provide the required documentation.” Erun added, “No fee was ever requested by Legazpi Customs for documents or for subsequent services like a Customs guard to travel with my rowboat to Manila, should that have been the path forward.”

Calleja is also confident that Eruc will be able to continue his voyage “once favorable winds blow towards Vietnam where he will then travel by bike towards Mt. Everest to attempt to scale its peak.” – Rappler.com

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