The Bad Maharlika and Grand Star RORO Ferries Transformed

It was more than two decades ago when I first became acquainted on a regular basis with the Maharlika ships. This fleet consisted of the Maharlika I, Maharlika II, Maharlika III, Maharlika IV, Maharlika V, Maharlika VI and Maharlika VII. I just used their names with the Roman numerals for consistency because at other times they were also known with the Spanish numerals like “Uno”, “Dos”, “Tres” and so on and so forth. The fleet was basically fielded in the Eastern seaboard routes of the country like Lipata to Liloan, San Isidro or Allen to Matnog, other pioneering Bicol routes which they failed to hold (either too early for the day plus they didn’t know the tactic of subsidizing the buses) like Tabaco to Virac and Bulan to Masbate. Later, they tried the Pilar to Aroroy route where it seems they followed the feasibility study made by three renowned international shipping experts, each of have good Ph.Ds but unfortunately does not know local shipping plus they had a blip in their brains (like if a route has only one motor boat how can it then support a ROPAX?). And so,unfortunately. their data is shot full of holes and so it became a GIGO (Garbage In, Garbage Out).

Maharlika I

Maharlika I by Edison Sy of PSSS.

They also tried routes outside of the Eastern seaboard like Lucena to Marinduque, Batangas to Calapan and Roxas to Caticlan in support of the buses of their sister companies, the storied Philtranco which was fast becoming a shell of its former self and JAM. The Marinduque route did not last long and fortunately for them the two other routes mentioned lasted even though their buses didn’t last long in Panay island (they recently came back after the dominant bus Dimple Star was permanently suspended because of accidents). Maharlika, for brevity, is a long story of failing ships and failing routes. On the other hand, they have a boisterous and humbug CEO who is so full of himself (well, I won’t be surprised if he is a graduate of the Trump School). Like that resident of the White House, Christopher Pastrana also scored a coup with his later FastCat ships. Who said a bad thing can’t be turned in to a good thing?

When I was sailing with the Maharlika ships, I feel a letdown but this was very well-tempered because I am a grad of the even worse ships of Viva Shipping Lines of Batangas and its two legal-fiction companies. That was more palpable in the Maharlika I and Maharlika II which were fielded brand-news just fifteen years earlier (1982 and 1984) and yet were already worn down and beginning to break down (initially, a fault by the government). I did not know it yet then that Archipelago Philippine Ferries was just chartering those two ferries which were the pride of the government in the past. There is a claim that when the ships were already turning a profit the government one-sidedly changed the terms of the agreement. Whatever, it seems Archipelago Philippine Ferries, Pastrana’s company was just milking the ships out of its last value without care for the future life of the ships and the government was letting them. And to think that in the late 1990s there are even shut-outs (vessels can no longer be accommodated aboard) especially in the Liloan-Lipata route. In the main, Maharlika II was in this route and Maharlika I was in the San Isidro or Allen to Matnog route as they have been from the start.

Maharlika II in Liloan port

Maharlika II by Mike Baylon of PSSS.

After the sister ships Maharlika I and Maharlika II, Archipelago Philippine Ferries and its legal-fiction sister companies like Oro Star and Philharbor Ferries acquired two sister ships from Aki Kisen of Japan in 2000, just after the take-over of the of the first two ships, the Maharlika III and Maharlika IV which had the look of a double-ended ferry. They acquired these to bolster their operations as two ferries is not enough for their routes. The two were built in 1987 and 1993 and so in age they were younger than the first ships but just in the same decade of acquisition they are beginning to look worn down too and beginning to be unreliable. Sometimes there are cases when a ship will not sail for months and there was story of one of these newer Maharlika ships not capable of sailing being ordered towed out by the Port Manager of Liloan by a passing tug because it is clogging up his docking space (I saw that non-running ferry). Have anyone heard of ship’s ramp falling while the ship is sailing? There is a story of that in the Lipata-Liloan route and elsewhere but not necessarily running.

So in the 2000s, the period where I was frequently traveling using the Eastern seaboard route, I was wondering where Maharlika was headed. It seemed it was all a grand name (Maharlika is supposedly a legendary name with our national highway named likewise for that and there was even a Marcos plan to rename our country to “Maharlika” until some historians pointed out that “Maharlika” is of Hindu origin) but no substance or trait to support it. This was also the time when Maharlika was trying new routes which mostly bombed out.

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Grand Star RORO 1 and Maharlika Tres in their Dapdap port by Mike Baylon of PSSS.

Next came to them in 2002 the Maharlika V and almost all failed to after having parts of her former substructure cropped out. She first came to a related company in the Allen-Matnog route as the Christ The King when that route had a surplus of bottoms with many shipping companies competing. Her next reincarnation was as the Mindoro Express but she also did not last long in her namesake island and so she plied a route to Puerto Princesa, Palawan. It was there where she took an excursion in a shallow portion of the sea when it seems she had a fire and possibly she capsized in the fire-fighting effort. A ship owner who is a PSSS (Philippine Ship Spotters Society) member shot a photo of her in Keppel shipyard in Batangas. When posted to PSSS, an eagle-eyed member thought that if the superstructure of Mindoro Express is cropped then she will look like the Maharlika V. In her permanent route of Liloan-Lipata, nobody knew what happened to her in Puerto Princesa. But even with this background, Maharlika V proved to be reliable for almost a decade. Until she became sickly too and spent two years in a shipyard in General Santos City not being repaired.

In 2003 and 2004, two old ferries from Norway built in the early 1970s came for Archipelago Philippine Ferries which became the Maharlika Seiz and Maharlika Siete. The two have very robust Wichman and Normo engines which are easy to maintain as told to me by a Norwegian ship spotter which happened to inquire to me where and in what condition they are now. Moreover, Scandinavian ships should have very strong hulls, their pride. These ex-Norwegian ships ran well for some time although the first to come, Maharlika Seiz proved to be very slow because of its small engine. They did not last that long, however, not because of the engines but because of the variable-pitch propellers, a common feature in European ships. This kind of propeller makes the engine last longer because of less stress but when that kind of propeller becomes defective it is supposedly a nightmare to repair.

Maharlika Cuatro

Maharlika Cuatro by Mike Baylon of PSSS.

When Phil-Nippon Kyoei, a new shipping company, gave up operations early this decade, Philippine Archipelago Ferries snapped up two of three ships for sale, the Grand Star RORO 1 and the Grand Star RORO 3 which also resembled double-ended ferries. The two were basically fielded in the Allen-Matnog route but the two were never renamed. In a short time though, like the Maharlika ferries the Grand Star RORO ferries looked worn out too. I can’t fathom why for a company having a sister company that deals in paints (CAPP) can’t have enough paint to have the ferries looking good. Well, maybe, that was the Pastrana standard then, the Pastrana way of doing things. And when Pastrana got his first FastCat, he told the spiel that he dreamed of good ferries serving Philippine waters after seeing bad ferries all around. But, the storyteller that he was, Pastrana does not have the gumption to say he was looking at his own ferries.

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Maharlika Cinco and Maharlika Seiz in Liloan Ferry Terminal. From ppavis.com.

When the first FastCat came, some of his ferries are no longer running especially Maharlika I which was just sidelined. They tried to sell that but of course, the government being the owner calls the shots. The sale of this ship to the breakers made the sister ship Maharlika II a better ship and it was in a long time that I saw her in good paint, and faster. It is possible after all some parts were first transferred to the sister. However, as her wont, Maharlika II stalled off Panaon island and the crew failed to start even one engine (well, Maharlika is also used to running on one engine). It is a big question why Maharlika IV which was just nearby did not come to her rescue for several hours until the seas turned rough with the coming of the night (as if they didn’t know this will happen). A story from a former employee says that if Maharlika IV sails and rescues her more questions will be unearthed. It is just so bad for the passengers of Maharlika II, some of who died in Surigao Strait, a busy shipping lane but there is no Coast Guard rescue ship (it has to borrow ferries on the route to effect a rescue) because most of their better ships as just used as port guards and serve as offices and suites of their commanders in the big cities and ports.

The sinking paved way for the fast disposal of the Maharlika and Grand Star RORO ships. Selling them fast will lessen the questions on their shipworthiness and the stoppage of their use will make people forget easy a tragedy happened and anyway they got suspended too. What remained running before the FastCats came in big numbers are the Grand Star RORO ships and so they only got sold later. That was important for them in the Matnog-Allen route when they were not immediately able to secure a berth where their peculiar docking ramp will be placed. Actually for a time they had no running ships in many routes as the early phase-out of their ships were forced unto them. But maybe that played into their hands as people who don’t normally sail fail to get the connection of Maharlika and FastCat.

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Maharlika Siete by John Carlos Cabanillas of PSSS.

The Maharlika Cuatro and Maharlika Cinco (their naming then) was sold a “neighbor” in Leyte, the Gabisan Shipping Lines. The Maharlika Cinco was retained by the company and this became the Gloria V and the Maharlika Cuatro was sold to Regina Shipping Lines (RSL) of Catanduanes. Meanwhile, the Maharlika Tres was sold to Atienza Inter-island Ferries of Manila but later they also sold this to Regina Shipping Lines. Maharlika Seiz and Maharlika Siete were sold to breakers in Navotas but the custom there is to “display” the ships first in the hope that someone will buy it whole. And it did not help them that world metal prices were low in the past half-decade. Later, the Grand Star RORO 1 and Grand Star RORO 3 were also sold to Regina Shipping Lines. So, in total of the ships not lost or sold to the breakers only one, the Maharlika V is not in the possession of Regina Shipping Lines which then thereby sold their basic, short-distance ferry-ROROs. Traffic in Catanduanes is on the big upsurge after all.

Maharlika Tres became the Regina Calixta VIII, Maharlika IV became the Regina Calixta VII, the Grand Star RORO 1 became the Regina Calixta VI, the Regina Calixta III became the Regina Calixta IX and later as the second Regina Calixta IV after the former holder of that name, which was the former Grand Star RORO 2 was sold to Dinagat to become the Cab-ilan of Waters-up MPC. Six of the ships of Regina Shipping Lines were former ferries of Christopher Pastrana who treated them badly and just covered it up in media by being noisy and boastful.

Grand Star RORO 3

Grand Star RORO 3 by Joe Cardenas III of PSSS.

And how are these ferries faring under the care of Gov. Joseph Cua of Catanduanes, the owner of Regina Shipping Lines? Very, very well as Albayanos and Catanduganons know. The superstructures changed now (no, they are not taller) and the paint is good. The interiors changed a lot too. Central to the changed motif is to make the journey as experience although it will only last four hours or less, the usual transit time between Tabaco, Albay and San Andres (the former Calolbon), Catanduanes, a route where Regina Shipping Lines (RSL)has no direct competitor (their competitor holds another competing route, that to Virac, the capital of Catanduanes). Regina Shipping Lines is a pioneer on the route. The ships have an airconditioned sections now that is modeled after a KTV lounge where before these ships under Pastrana have no airconditioned sections. And of course everything is spic and span after a long remodeling in Mayon Docks in Tabaco under the supervision of an SNAME naval architect who happens to be a PSSS member.

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Regina Calixta VIII, the former Maharlika Tres by Dominic San Juan of PSSS.

The engines were refurbished too and all are very reliable now aside from running even better than their design speed. And to think these are ferries built in the 1980s (five) and 1990s (one). Maybe the top guns of MARINA, the maritime regulatory body should first do an educational tour of the RSL ferries before they deliberate on the proposal to cull the 35-year old ferries. Maybe they can learn a thing or two there. They should also take note too that no steel-hulled ferry ever sank in the route to Catanduanes.

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Aircon accommodation of Regina Calixta VI, the former Gtand Star RORO 1. Photo by Dominic San Juan of PSSS.

I was not really surprised by all these happenings to the former bad ferries of Pastrana. Gov. Cua operated very good RSL buses from Catanduanes and Tabaco to Manila. Like the premium bus companies of Bicol they invested in good seats and refurbished their buses before it becomes worn out and are no longer looking good. And that has paid off in passenger loyalty and good words and respect to them. RSL (this is how they are called in Bicol) did these refurbishing even though they have no direct competitor and they are always full that at times their ship has to sail back again as there are a good number of shut-outs. That just shows how they care and greed is not their paramount norm in running their shipping business.

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Regina Calixta VII, the former Maharlika Cuatro. Photo by Dominic San Juan of PSSS.

Meanwhile, the only old bad Pastrana ferry not in RSL hands had also be refurbished and re-engined by Gabisan Shipping and is also reliable now except for some hiccups at the start. It looks like the hull might still be okay after re-plating given her stint beneath the waves and the long lay-over in Gensan (well, weakened hull plates can be replaced). The story said from the shipyard there she had difficulty reaching Liloan municipal port where first works was done on her. Now, the ship has a Tourist Class too with decent accommodations. She had had more visits to the shipyards maybe because further repairs might have been needed given the sorry state when Gabisan Shipping first acquired her. Anyway, I give enough credit to Gabisan Shipping for saving her. I thought before she no longer had a chance given her history and condition. Now I wish MARINA can give her more life.

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Regina Calixta VIII (ex-Maharlika Tres) Tourist. Photo by Dominic San Juan of PSSS.

Meanwhile, for the veterans of the Eastern seaboard, they all know Christopher Pastrana has long been in the Hall of Shame but maybe he is now trying to change that with his FastCats. Well, it is easy when one is given new ships and one looks always good at the start when handed new ships. It is credit to him for his innovate catamaran-RORO design whoever is his benefactor may be but the banks deserve the credit too for opening its purses. His challenge now is how to pay for all of those ships. If he fails it will be the banks which will be holding the empty bag.

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Three RORO Companies Now In The Cebu To Surigao Route

Very recently, there are now three RORO companies vying in the route from Cebu to Surigao and vice-versa and for me that is a sea-shaking event but not a tsunami. It was Medallion Transport Inc. which started this thing when they fielded their biggest ship, the Lady of Love in the said route. To be sure she is full, they just charged the rolling cargo rate in the Cebu to Leyte routes and with that they became immediately successful as in their car/cargo deck became filled immediately.

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Lady of Love by Mike Baylon of PSSS

The difference of Medallion Transport over the old route holder Cokaliong Shipping Lines, Inc. (CSLI) is that they immediately emphasized rolling cargo. Meanwhile, the latter still stresses loose and palletized cargo to be handled by forklifts, one in the wharf and one inside the car/cargo deck. Cokaliong Shipping Lines dominates the fulfilling of the needs for goods from Cebu of the stores in Surigao and maybe Medallion Transport realized they cannot really compete in that.

What was immediately affected by Medallion Transport were the ships with rolling cargo between Cebu and Leyte that still has to cross the Surigao Strait which means these are the Cebu-Mindanao vehicles and some of that are still headed to Davao, General Santos City, Sultan Kudarat and Cotabato. Although it looks like the Cebu-Cagayan de Oro and Cebu-Nasipit are more direct routes, few load vehicles in those routes as the rates are too high because rates in the sea are far higher than using fuel on land and so vehicles look for short sea crossings.

So, what vehicle owners do is either go to Leyte first from Cebu and then load the vehicle in either the Liloan or Benit port in Southern Leyte or they could go to the ports of southern Cebu and load their  vehicle to Negros island and load again the vehicle in Dumaguete port to Dapitan port. Vehicle owners from Iligan City and Zamboanga del Sur use this route. Now in that area there is already the direct Samboan to Dapitan route which bypasses the port of Dumaguete.

Currently, with a cheap and direct option to Surigao there is no more need to use the route via Leyte to Surigao. It is not only cheaper but it is also less tiring to the driver and the passengers. One can sleep in the overnight ferry-RORO to Surigao and be still fresh upon arriving in Surigao City.

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Lady of Triumph by Jose Zeus Ranoco Bade of PSSS

Actually, I recommended this route of Medallion Transport to my son who was bound for Davao City with his car and also to a friend, a PSSS Moderator who is bound for Cagayan de Oro City. I showed the latter that even rolling his vehicle for 300 kilometers (the distance between Surigao City and Cagayan de Oro City), it would still be cheaper than loading it direct to Cagayan de Oro City from Cebu and that he will enjoy the scenery. Davao City was even farther as the distance is some 400 kilometers.

Cokaliong Shipping Lines will always stay in the Cebu to Surigao route doing their old stuff. Surigao is their home turf as the company founder hails from that city, one of the reasons why they dominated that route before. However, since there is also a competition in the passenger business, Cokaliong Shipping Lines was forced to field better and faster ships.

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Filipinas Jagna by Capt. Morrell Maguzara of PSSS

I cannot really stress the names of the ships sailing the route because ship assignments always change. Where it was the Lady of Love before for Medallion Transport now it is their newly-fielded Lady of Triumph which is in the route as the former is being refitted. Where before Cokaliong Shipping Lines used their good Filipinas Cebu to counter the fast Lady of Love, currently they are using the sister ships Filipinas Jagna and Filipinas Surigao del Norte in the route and the two were just recently fielded. The only problem for this competition is the ships arrive at about 4am and that is too early for the driver who still wants some sleep especially if the drive is still long.

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Filipinas Surigao del Norte by Mark Edelson Idulsa Ocul of PSSS.

Very recently, a RORO Starlite Ferries Inc. also fielded a RORO in this route. Their ship is the new Stella Maris. However, the difference in the style of the Stella Maris is she would sail twice a day which means a day sailing and a night sailing. I just wonder if there is enough cargo for them for that frequency. Like Medallion Transport, she stresses rolling cargo over loose and palletized cargo.

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Stella Maris by Ryan Diel of PSSS.

Maybe there is something in this route to attract three shipping companies and four competing ferry-ROROs. Probably, the route through Leyte to Mindanao with two sea crossings is kaput now as it will always be dearer and with more strain to the driver and also a longer transit time.

This development bears watching as this route not only impacts Surigao but also Nasipit and Cagayan de Oro ports. Lately, I heard the rates to Cagayan de Oro from are already cheaper. That is the beauty of competition – the consumers win.

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Verano Port of Surigao City by Aris Refugio of PSSS.

If this route holds then Surigao City as point of entry to Mindanao from Cebu will be highlighted more.

 

 

When A Lackluster Shipping Company Became A Successful Motorcycle Company

The Pan-Oriental Shipping Company was one of the shipping companies that rose in Cebu after World War II, one of the replacements of the Cebu shipping companies that did not survive the war. This shipping company was among those who were able to purchase surplus World War II ships tendered by the Philippine Government. These are the ships given to the Philippines by the US to jump start the economy and not among those given as replacement for the ships lost during the war or the ships they ordered scuttled to prevent it from falling into the enemy hands and be used against the Allies. The ships were also atonement for the massive air attacks against the Japanese that practically wiped out many of the infrastructure of Manila.

POS

From the Manila Chronicle  1/13/52. Research by Gorio Belen of PSSS in the National Library.

The Pan-Oriental Shipping Co. started operations in 1948 doing the Cebu-Manila v.v. route. Like some of the other ships then, there were modifications carried out in the superstructure to accommodate passengers (the surplus Army transports were actually not people carriers). It did not have the sophistication, if that term is appropriate, of similar ex-“FS” ships of the major shipping lines.

The first passenger-cargo ship (I am leery of using the world “liner” here) of the Pan-Oriental Shipping was the Oriental that was acquired in 1948 and the name is not a surprise, of course. She was the former “FS”ship FS-318 built by John H. Mathis & Company Shipbuilders in Camden, New Jersey, USA in 1944 for the US Army as its own transport and in the main they were manned by US Coast Guard personnel.

Oriental

The MV Oriental. From the Manila Chronicle  1/13/52. Research by Gorio Belen of PSSS in the National Library.

The Oriental’s Length Over-all (LOA) was 53.9 meters with a Length Between Perpendiculars (LPP) of 50.7 meters and Breadth of 9.8 meters. The Gross Register Tonnage (GRT) of the ship remained at 560 tons even though there were additions to the superstructure. Weighed down by additional metal and for greater stability, her Depth rose from 3.2 meters to 4.3 meters. The ship was powered by two General Motors engines with a total of 1,000 horsepower that gave her a speed of 11 knots.  The permanent ID latter given to the Oriental was IMO Number 5264895.

Pan-Oriental Shipping’s next acquisition came in the next year, 1949, and this was the former “FS” ship FS-350 which was built by J.K. Welding in Yonkers, New York, USA in 1944 for the US Army, too. In the Pan-Oriental fleet she was named as the Occidental. The name is not surprising also.

Occidental

The MV Occidental. From the Manila Chronicle 12/3/53 (the attached date is incorrect). Research of Gorio Belen of PSSS in the National Library.

The Occidental’s external dimensions were exactly the same as that of the Oriental but the Gross Register Tonnage (GRT) is only 558 tons. That was after there were additions to the superstructure (funny, isn’t it?) The ship was also powered by two General Motors engines with a total of 1,000 horsepower that gave her a similar speed of 11 knots.  The IMO Number of the ship was 5260045.

After another year, in 1950, the Pan-Oriental Shipping acquired their third ship which was also another former “FS” ship, the FS-197 which was built by Higgins in New Orleans, Louisiana for the US Army too in 1944. Higgins was the company that designed and built the famous Higgins boat which was used as beach assault craft in World War II. In the Pan-Oriental fleet the FS-197 was named as the Continental.

Continental

The MV Continental. Research by Gorio Belen of PSSS in the National Library.

This ship was a little longer than the Oriental and Occidental at 54.9 meters LOA with an LPP of 51.2 meters and the common Breadth of 9.8 meters of all the FS ships. With additional metal the GRT of Continental went down from 573 tons to 512 tons (so GRT shaving was not a recent phenomenon). The ship is powered by two General Motors engines with 1,000 horsepower on tap giving her a cruising speed of 11 knots. The IMO Number of the ship was 6117935.

The Oriental, Occidental and Continental being all former “FS” ships were all sister ships. The ships were purchased from the Philippine Government through the Rehabilitation Finance Corporation (RFC) which was a predecessor of the Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP). As mentioned before, US Government gave it to the Philippines to help the economy recover from the war.

The sole route of the Pan-Oriental ships was Manila-Cebu, v.v. and they stressed cargo rather than passengers. However, as time went by there were already plenty of ships calling in Cebu from Manila as Cebu is an in-port of ships still proceeding to Mindanao.  After all, they have to carry and supply the Cebuano migrants in that land of opportunity but that resulted in the displacements on the natives of the island.

Having a ship with just a sole port of call was actually disadvantageous as it does not maximize the ship. And that was compounded by just a once a week sailing. Competitors, on a once a week schedule with calls in Cebu, Tagbilaran, Dumaguete, Ozamis and Iligan can also do a once a week sailing

In 1954, after six years of operation, the Pan-Oriental Shipping quit the shipping business by selling out altogether lock, stock and barrel. The Oriental and Occidental went to Carlos Go Thong & Co. while the Continental went to Compania Maritima in the end after several transfers. With the sale of the two ships to Go Thong & Co., that company became a national liner company from being just a regional shipping company. Initially, Oriental and Occidental retained their names in the Go Thong fleet. After several years, the Oriental was renamed to the Don Jose and the Occidental was renamed to the Don Francisco. Meanwhile, the Continental became the second Basilan of Compania Maritima. All three had new superstructures in their new companies.

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From the Philippine Herald. Research by Gorio Belen of PSSS in the National Library.

The Pan-Oriental Shipping Company was owned by Norberto Quisumbing (sounds familiar?). After selling the company he founded Norkis in Mactan island (in Opon, now Lapu-lapu City) which assembles the well-liked and popular Yamaha motorcycles. Everybody knows how successful were the Quisumbings in motorcycles. And that is also true for Go Thong (later Gothong) in shipping and later they spawned the legendary Sulpicio Lines Incorporrated and Lorenzo Shipping Company.

The transaction between Pan-Oriental and Go Thong proved to be a win-win deal for the two companies.

 

The Greatest Port in Northwestern Mindanao

The greatest port in northwestern Mindanao is actually not so obvious to many as it is not looked upon as a good port of entry. Ports like Davao, Zamboanga and Cagayan de Oro and others always overshadow it. Of course, many do not know its history. And having a small port area and limited wharfage, it does not really impress outside observers. I am talking here of the Port of Ozamiz (that is using the modernized spelling) in Misamis Occidental.

Originally, it was not even Ozamiz that became the first prominent port in Misamis Occidental even though Misamis, the earlier name of Ozamis, was the capital of the unified Misamis province before the war. Cagayan de Misamis, the current Cagayan de Oro (no, it does not have gold) was small compared to Misamis town. In prominence, the Jimenez port of Misamis Occidental rivaled Misamis port because the oil mill of the Chiongbians (and nobody in shipping does not know them) was there and copra was the most important crop of the province. An oil mill was a very big deal then in a municipality.

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Ozamiz port by Mike Baylon of PSSS.

Before the war, there were not many liners from Manila except when our passenger-cargo ships got bigger in the late 1920s. Northern Mindanao mainly connected to Cebu then but after the war, liners from Manila became commonplace. A route calling in Cebu, Tagbilaran, Dumaguete, Ozamis and Iligan looping around those five ports was common and the premier exponent of that is William Lines, obviously, as Misamis Occidental is their home turf.

Being provincial capital favored Misamis in their rivalry with other ports early but then it was removed as capital in favor of Oroquieta City.  But the biggest asset of Ozamiz port is its connection to Mukas port of Kolambugan in Lanao del Norte across the narrow Panguil Bay. Tamula Shipping dominated that connection then with wooden-hulled boats progressing to small cruiser ships later. Tamula Shipping was a pre-war shipping company starting from the American father-in-law of Tamula.

After the war, Pagadian of Zamboanga del Sur had its own liners from Manila. Along the years, in the 1970s, the liners left Pagadian. 1970s was the peak of the roadbuilding then in the country when once dirt roads were concreted. This roadbuilding impacted shipping in many ways, both positively and negatively. But in Ozamiz’s case, the new road uplifted it as traders, shippers and passengers of Zamboanga del Sur began moving toward Ozamiz. The travel time through Ozamiz and by road from that was shorter and cheaper compared to using Pagadian which loops around Zamboanga City. Actually, this route to Pagadian even reaches Cotabato as there were nightly big motor boats going there that lands in the city proper instead of Parang, Maguindanao which is still a good distance from Cotabato City.

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Ozamiz Port passenger terminal building by Mike Baylon of PSSS.

Ozamiz also served as a liner gateway to western Lanao del Norte through the Tamula ferries and later the Daima Shipping double-ended ferries which ended the reign of Tamula in Panguil Bay when Tamula failed to convert to ROROs. With the ROROs and the trucks and buses aboard it, Ozamiz’ reach magnified. Ozamiz became or became more prominent as the trading and distribution center in the area between Zamboanga and Cagayan de Oro.  Trucks from Ozamiz routinely reach Ipil, the capital of Zamboanga Sibugay. With that the ships from Zamboanga to Ipil and Kabasalan lost.

Ozamiz is actually the 4th busiest port in the country in 2018 in terms of passengers handled after Cebu, Batangas and Calapan ports and even ahead of Manila and other great ports. This is actually because of the big volume of passengers aboard the Daima ferries that cross to and from Lanao del Norte. Ozamiz is the shopping, trade and scholastic center of western Lanao del Norte (it is not Iligan City). Additionally, passengers from Lanao del Sur and Maguindanao can use Ozamiz port as there are vans from Kapatagan, Lanao del Norte that go to Cotabato City.

Lately, Ozamiz port even became the entry port of ships imported to the country especially by the Asian Marine Transport Corporation (AMTC). However, one down side I noticed is Manila liners and container ships including Manila companies do not know how to use and support Ozamiz port. With that the dominance of Cebu traders in Ozamiz continues. Can’t goods from Manila be sent direct to Ozamiz instead of going through Cebu? Take a look at the major Manila corporations. They do not have offices like what they have in Cagayan de Oro or Zamboanga City. Well, I know that the common availability of the “white powder” in Ozamis frightened them. Ozamiz port was also limited in size and in the back-up area.

Now there is a threat to Ozamiz port. Dapitan port is gaining in prominence and the rolling cargo loaded there for Dumaguete and Cebu were taken from Ozamiz. The fish that was once shipped from Ozamiz is now trucked through Dapitan. Recently, the Galas port of Dipolog also became a threat to Ozamiz port. Those two ports even handle trucks and passengers on the way to Ipil, the rest of Zamboanga Sibugay and Zamboanga City. Ozamiz port is being outflanked.

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Ozamiz port by Mike Baylon of PSSS.

Whatever, Ozamiz needs to have a forward-looking plan how to bring the city to the next level as trading and distribution center. After all it is cargo that brings in ships. Moreover, the bottleneck of vehicles between Mukas port in Tubod and Ozamis must be addressed and so is the congestion in Ozamiz port. Ozamiz must learn how to conquer the Narciso Ramos Highway in Lanao del Sur because that is not within the reach of the Dapitan and Dipolog ports. The old leadership in Ozamiz with plenty of “parochial” concerns was now toppled by President Duterte. The succeeding leaders should now prove their worth.

Did you know that the leading trading and distribution centers have archbishops particularly those outside Luzon? Well, Ozamiz has an archbishop.

Take a cue from that.

The Biggest Passenger-Cargo Ship in the Philippines in the 1930s

The 1930s was a golden era for Philippine passenger shipping. There were a lot of passenger-cargo ships that came and local shipbuilding was also in its peak. We benefited from World War I when demand for abaca, copra and coal went through the roof and it spurred shipbuilding and trading. The development of the internal-combustion engine also greatly helped that.

The Great Depression of 1929 of the US came but did not affect our shipping and shipbuilding, in the main. What were affected were the US producers being competed by our duty-free copra and abaca and so they were in favor of letting the Philippine Islands (that was what our country was called then) go. That was why our “independence missions” then were successful. However, their industrialists continued to covet our mineral resources and protect their industries here.

SS Mayon, Pier 3, Manila, Philippines, preparing to leave for Mindanao and way ports south, August 22, 1933

Copyright: Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System. Posted by John Tewell.

From small liners with just a few hundred gross register tons and whom about half were wooden-hulled, in the years leading to 1930 many steel-hulled liners of nearly a thousand gross register tons or more came. And for the first time, new-builds became commonplace and it was the La Naviera Filipina (the merged shipping company of the Escanos and the Aboitizes) and De la Rama Steamship that led this charge assisted by the independent Aboitiz & Company, Inc.

For the first time, the highest of the totem pole of local shipping being held by Madrigal & Co. and Compania Maritima was being challenged. It was De la Rama Steamship that had the big ships that could challenge the Top Two. La Naviera, meanwhile, have smaller ships but more numerous and the size was understandable because their route is primarily the Central Visayas and they do not do the southern Mindanao route which needs bigger ships.

However, the biggest passenger-cargo ship in the local routes then did not belong to any of the four if our oceangoing liners which are mainly cargo ships with a few passengers are excluded (those were Madrigal & Co. ships). The honor belonged to the Philippine Interisland Steamship Co. with its liner SS Mayon which was acquired in 1930.  The Dollar Steamship Co. of the US was the leader in bringing about this great liner to our waters.

SS Mayon, loading an automobile for a trip to Mindanao and way ports south, Manila, Philippines, August 22, 1933

Copyright: Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System. Posted by John Tewell.

The SS Mayon, a brand-new ship was considered the most luxurious of its time that President Quezon even sails with it. Now, I will let the Philippines Herald tell her story:

“Known as the most luxurious ship in the interisland service, the Mayon was built in 1930 by Vickers-Armstrong, Ltd., In Barrow, Great Britain, for the Philippine Interisland Steamship company. She is classified as 100-A1 by Lloyd’s, the highest classification for ships.

A twin-screw turbine ship, she is of 3,371 gross and 1,529 net tons. She is 347.5 feet long, 50.4 feet wide and 16.3 feet deep. She is capable of a speed of 21 knots, and is equipped with refrigerating machinery.

The Mayon arrived from Glasgow on October 28, 1930, and left on her maiden voyage in Philippine waters six days later. The late Captain Robert Dollar, known as the Grand Old Man of the Pacific, came to the Philippines with Mrs. Dollar to inaugurate the service. Captain and Mrs. Dollar were among the passengers on the maiden voyage of the Mayon to the southern islands.

The Mayon has been used on the Manila-Iloilo-Zamboanga-Cebu run on a weekly schedule, sailing from Manila on Tuesday afternoon and returning on Sunday morning.”

In metric measure, SS Mayon is 105.9 meters in Length Over-all and 15.4 meters in Breadth.

However, the SS Mayon was not making that much money and Dollar Steamship also has its problems including the death of its founder. To save the ship which was the pride of the Philippine merchant marine, the Philippine Government acquired the ship and assigned it to the Manila Railroad Company and one would ask what is a railroad company doing in shipping.

S. S. Princes of Negros and S. S. Mayon at wharf, Iloilo, Philippines, Aug. 23, 1933

Copyright: Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System.

Well, the Manila Railroad Company, the predecessor of Philippine National Railways operated ferries to connect the passengers of their Bicol Line to their South (Luzon) Line. The government especially President Quezon has long been beneficent to the Manila Railroad Co. that they and he also allowed it to operate liners. Well, that service was needed also by the people.

In 1940, the nascent Manila Steamship Co. Inc. acquired the SS Mayon. During that time Manila Railroad Company was already beginning to divest from shipping especially since the South Line and Bicol Line of the company was already connected. It is to the Manila Steamship Co. of the Elizaldes that the Ynchaustis transferred their shipping company to fight in the Spanish Civil War as a matter of principle.

I was in wonder retrospectively how come the Philippines was still investing heavily in shipping when World War II was already raging in Europe. We thought that the Japan Empire will be intimidated by the combined American, British and Dutch forces?

And so war came in December of 1941 and we were immediately in crisis especially after the US Asiatic Fleet abandoned us and hied off to Australia. With that the US Army Transport (USAT) otherwise known as the PI Support Fleet was formed with 25 ships, almost all of whom were passenger-cargo ships and they ferried troops, materiel, government personnel, government records, currency, gold, silver and many other things.

The ship Mayon used as Sinulog prop

A drawing of SS Mayon used as prop in Sinulog. Photo b Mike Baylon of PSSS.

This fleet had no air support as US aircraft was also withdrawn from the Philippines and the Japanese invaders had complete control of the sky. SS Mayon’s luck ran out on February 2, 1942 when Japanese warplanes caught her in Butuan Bay. She was strafed and bombed and she sank, a piteous fate for one who was formerly the Queen of our seas.

After the war, in 1946, the Manila Steamship acquired a ferry to replace her with the same name SS Mayon. She was almost as big as the original and had a certain resemblance to her. However, she was not a new ship and was even older than the ship she replaced. But I will stop here now as that ship deserves a separate story.

 

 

I Did Not Expect That The Panay Liners (Except For Iloilo) Will Easily Surrender To The Intermodal Trucks And Buses

In the island of Panay, liners from Manila (they were really liners but were doing practically what is an overnight route if 250 nautical miles can be called an overnight route) called in Dumaguit port in Aklan and in the Culasi port of Roxas City in Capiz and many liners were assigned here by WG & A, Aboitiz Transport System and Negros Navigation and by other earlier companies. There was also a once a week call by the Cotabato Princess of Sulpicio Lines in Estancia, Iloilo and of course there were many liners to Iloilo by the different liner companies as Iloilo port is an in-port to ships still headed to Zamboanga and beyond and to Cagayan de Oro and other northern Mindanao destinations. Of and on, there were also liners calling off and on in Boracay (through a transfer), Culasi and San Jose de Buenavista, the capital of Antique. The last that plied a route in Antique was the MBRS Lines of Romblon.

Cotabato Princess (1)

The Cotabato Princess by Toshihiko Mikami.

I have noted before that the liners to Antique do not do well over the long term. Boracay ships, meanwhile, generally just call in the summer. Estancia, meanwhile was along the route of the Sulpicio ship to Iloilo. I thought Dumaguit and Roxas City routes were doing fine especially the service of WG & A and the successor Aboitiz Transport System (ATS). I don’t count too much the loss of the Negros Navigation ships as their problem lay elsewhere which was illiquidity. But Moreta Shipping Lines and for a time MBRS Lines also had ships in Dumaguit and Roxas City and the former was the last hold-out there.

Our Lady of Naju (Mis-identified as OLO Banneux)

The Our Lady of Naju which held the Manila-Dumaguit-Roxas route for a long time. From greeshipbreaking.com.

In the end of 2003, the Strong Republic Nautical Highway (SRNH) of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo finally reached Panay island through Caticlan after the road to Roxas town in Oriental Mindoro was paved (that was hell before) and the Dangay port was constructed. From then on intermodal trucks and buses from Luzon rolled into Panay island along with the private cars and other vehicles. And in a short time, Aboitiz Transport System quit the combined Dumaguit and Roxas routes. Moreta Shipping Lines and MBRS Lines, both of whom tried Panay rotes also quit in a few years’ time. Of course, the liner route to Iloilo is still existing but it was also impacted by the intermodal trucks and buses.

Don Julio

The Don Julio also held the Dumaguit and Roxas routes. Photo by Edison Sy of PSSS.

I was astonished by the fast defeat of the Panay liners because the defeat of the liners in Eastern Visayas did not come too suddenly (it actually took a generation). Also, I did think the intermodal buses to Panay were that superior to the liners but of course I know that passenger tastes could change suddenly. The traders will always leave the liners because with the intermodal trucks direct deliveries are possible obviating the need for a bodega and the double handling of cargo which can result in pilferage and damages.

Our Lady of Lipa Folio

The Our Lady of Lipa collage by John Michael Aringay of PSSS. One of the best ships in the Dumaguit and Roxas route.

An Aboitiz ferry leaves the North Harbor at 2pm and reaches Dumaguit port at 5am, leaves for Roxas City at 8am and arriving there at 10am. The passengers then will reach their homes at noon or past noon after a connecting trip was made. At 2pm the same ship will leave Roxas for Dumaguit, depart Dumaguit at 6pm and arrive in Manila at 9am the next day. A trip from Roxas City, the farther route takes 17 hours. Add the connecting trip that could be 18 hours or so for the passengers.

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Our Lady of Sacred Heart also sailed to Dumaguit and Roxas. Photo by Chief Ray Smith of PSSS.

Comparing it to an intermodal bus from Manila that leaves at noon it will be in Calapan at past 6pm and be aboard the RORO from Dangay port at about before midnight and arrive in Caticlan before dawn . The buses’ times are more or less predictable because they have contracts with the ROROs that support them through rebates to keep their loyalty. Like before when Dimple Star buses were still running to Panay (they have been banned because of repeated accidents) they will be loaded aboard the Starlite Ferries ROROs. Philtranco, when it was still running to Panay was supported by the Maharlika ferries of their sister company Archipelago Ferry Philippines (this is also the owner of the FastCats).

Dimple 7814 aboard Starlite Annapolis

Dimple Star buses aboard Starlite Annapolis. Photo by Mike Baylon of PSSS.

From a 4am arrival in Caticlan the furthest of the bus passengers which is Iloilo will be arriving at noon and the shorter one to Capiz will be disembarking from the bus at about about breakfast time or for about 18 to 19 hours of travel time which is just about the travel time if a liner from Manila was taken.

The fare aboard the bus with two ferry rides across Verde Island Passage and Tablas Strait was just about the same as the ferry but bus passengers always complained then of lack of sleep because they are given seats aboard a midnight RORO that has no overnight accommodations (it just came lately). Meanwhile the liner has bunks with mattress, there is toilet and bath plus a lot of amenities including a restaurant where in the earlier days the food was free. There was also plenty of space to move about and if one takes the bath before disembarking one would leave the ship smelling fresh.

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Philtranco bus aboard an Archipelago Ferry Philippines RORO. Photo by Mike Baylon of PSSS.

So I really cannot fathom why the passengers of Panay dumped the liners for the intermodal buses (I do not know if it was the same reason from a passenger to Manila from Surigao who said to me that “there are plenty of things to see along the way”). Even if the destination is Iloilo there are also liners there and its liners are way better than that in Dumaguit and Roxas City. I can understand the choice of the passengers of Antique because the ships to their province are not that regular.

The passenger and vehicular ferry Princess of Antique berthed at port of Iloilo City, Panay, Philippines.

The Princess of Antique, once a ferry to San Jose de Buenavista. Photo by John Ward of PSSS.

Was it the mistake of Aboitiz Transport System that they did not field a daily ship to northern Panay? They could have done so but the question of course is the cargo as it is cargo that makes routes and not some bureaucrat’s wish or dream. There might not be enough cargo but couldn’t they bid for the trucks to ride at discounted rates like when they tried holding on to the Davao route by giving a special rate to the trucks serving San Miguel Corporation?

M/V Love-1

A Moreta Shipping Lines ferry in Daumaguit port. Photo by Mike Gutib.

Whatever, until now I cannot really understand what happened to the liner routes of Panay (except for Iloilo). It is as if the intermodal trucks and buses gave Aboitiz and the others a knock-out blow in just two or three rounds.

 

Philtranco Always Tried Horizontal Integration

Horizontal integration is the setting up or the acquisition of a company at the same level of the value chain and that is meant to help the company compete. It can be a competitive strategy where economies of scale, more efficiency and increase of market power are the objectives. Companies engage in horizontal integration to benefit from possible synergies. But sometimes the resolution of a problem or a bottleneck prods a company into horizontal integration.

Philtranco Service Enterprises, Inc. (PSEI), the leading bus company in the Philippines then tried this strategy over a generation ago. From running a big fleet of buses from Manila to the southern part of the Philippines up to Davao City, they established their own RORO companies in the San Bernardino Strait crossing that linked Sorsogon and Samar. However, the results were certainly very mixed, to say the least, and controversial.

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The Cardinal Ferry 1. Research by Gorio Belen of PSSS in the National Library.

Since 1979, Philtranco buses (they were still known as Pantranco South then) have been rolling across already to Eastern Visayas via the San Bernardino Strait using the newly-fielded RORO Cardinal Ferry 1 of Cardinal Shipping. Newport Shipping which had ferries and cargo ships from Manila to Samar then followed with their Northern Star and Laoang Bay.

This reaction of Newport Shipping was very understandable as Newport Shipping was not really doing well with their Manila to Samar route and maybe they felt they have to defend their home turf as the owner of Newport Shipping is from Laoang, Northern Samar. They might have also felt that this new intermodal route might kill them in the long term and so they have to join the fun.

"Maharllika 1" Ferry unloading Bus

MV Northern Samar. Formerly the MV Northern Star before she was refitted. Photo by Lindsay Bridge of PSSS.

Before the ROROs arrived it was the motor boats of Bicolandia Shipping Lines (this company has legal-fiction companies like E. Tabinas) which dominated the route across San Bernardino Strait. But with the buses now rolling the passengers no longer have to cut their bus trip to Matnog and they do not take a local bus to Allen, Northern Samar to take the lancha (motor boat). Convenience is what the intermodal system offered. Cargo of the passengers that was once a hassle became less with the bus for it afforded less handling and haggling.

Immediately, there was a surplus of bottoms in San Bernardino Strait as the government-owned Maharlika II (later replaced by Maharlika I whom it replaced earlier) was also plying the official Matnog to San Isidro, N. Samar route. Moreover, the passengers to Eastern Visayas did not immediately shift to the buses especially the passengers to Leyte. They were still content with the liners of Sulpicio Lines and William Lines which had calls in Calbayog, Catbalogan, Tacloban and other ports in Leyte and Southern Leyte. In terms of comfort the bus is actually inferior to the liners which has its own toilets and baths, are equipped with bunks with mattresses and even linen (called “beddings”) plus the meals are free and the rice servings are generous. However, they only call in ports unlike buses which roll through the various towns.

Maharlika I

The Maharlika I. Photo from Edison Sy of PSSS.

In the aftermath of that surplus of bottoms, Cardinal Shipping and Newport Shipping teetered especially when Eugenia Tabinas got into the RORO act starting when she was able to acquire the Northern Star in 1981 which she then renamed into the Northern Samar. Eugenia Tabinas was in a strong position as she dominated the intra-Bicol routes with her motor boats and so she can compete in one of her routes at just break-even.

However, with many buses crossing San Bernardino Strait, Philtranco thought they could save money if they operated their own ROROs where they will always have priority. And so they also got caught in the RORO act (they were still strong then and they have just re-fleeted into Hino) and they thereby acquired the Laoang Bay of Newport Shipping which was renamed into the Black Double. In 1984, this became the Philtranco Ferry 1 of Philtranco Services.

1984 0915 MV Philtranco Ferry I

The Philtranco Ferry I. Research of Gorio Belen of PSSS in the National Library.

It is here that things began to get interesting and lively. Eugenia Tabinas or Bicolandia Shipping smelled that Philtranco was operating without a Certificate of Public Conveyance (CPC) and complained to MARINA, the Maritime Industry Authority which is the country’s maritime regulatory agency and which has quasi-judicial powers. Philtranco countered that since they were only loading their own buses then there is no need for them to get a CPC. Now, if MARINA agrees with that then Philtranco will be the only sea carrier without a CPC and that has great implications.

Along the way, Black Double got unreliable as she was built in 1962 and diesel engines were not yet as reliable (with changes in design and technology that changed in the mid-1960s especially when Daihatsu marine engines became dominant). She was sold to Badjao Navigation and she became the Badjao and she plied a route from Cebu island to Leyte.

While the case was pending (as it reached the higher courts as MARINA quasi-judicial decisions can be appealed in the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court), Philtranco acquired the salvaged Mindoro Express from Prince Valiant Navigation which then became the Christ The Saviour and Christ The King. The RORO became the Luzvimin Primo because she was now under the Luzvimin Ferry Services, the new ferry company of Philtranco.

Mindoro Express ( now Maharlika Cinco )

The Mindoro Express just before she became the Christ The King and Luzvimin Primo . Photo by Edison Sy of PSSS.

In due time (which means a long time), the Supreme Court sustained the ruling of MARINA that a shipping company cannot carry passengers without a CPC and the ferry service of Philtranco stopped. By that time Philtranco was already toppling and it was fast losing its Hino buses.

Philtranco then fell into the hands of transportation mogul Pepito Alvarez who then equipped Philtranco with his new MAN and Nissan buses. Soon, he was able to reach a deal with the administration of President Fidel V. Ramos to operate the already-weak Maharlika ferries which in that time consisted only of Maharlika I and Maharlika II (this one was not in San Bernardino Strait but in Surigao Strait).

After settling in, Pepito Alvarez added the Maharlika Tres, Maharlika Cuatro and Lakbayan Uno (this was later sold to Millennium Shipping). And then the Luzvimin Primo became the Maharlika Cinco. Later, the Maharlika Seiz and Maharlika Siete were also also added to be followed by the Grand Star RORO 1 and Grand Star RORO 3 which came from Phil-Nippon Kyoei. This time Philtranco was already careful about the CPC. In these moves, Pepito Alvarez worked through his protégé Cristopher Pastrana.

Liloan ships

Maharlika Cinco and Maharlika Seiz. Photo from the PPA.

The horizontal integration of Philtranco was not necessarily beneficial for the passengers unless maybe in its early years when the dominant Bicolandia Shipping Lines engaged in what is locally-known as “alas-puno” system of departures when a ferry will only leave if it was already full of rolling cargo (and that was the cause of their downfall later). With that system, the buses and its passengers lose time and it could be in the hours.

But when ROROs bloomed in San Bernardino Strait, horizontal integration became a negative because Philtranco buses have to wait for the ferries (Maharlika ferries were not so reliable and it tried many routes in the country including in Catanduanes, Masbate, Marinduque, Batangas and Panay and so its presence in San Bernardino Strait and Surigao Strait was actually diluted and trips were few) as Philtranco buses have no freedom to sail in competing ferries.

I was once a passenger aboard a Philtranco bus from Davao. Our driver was driving fast so we can board the morning RORO of Maharlika in their Dapdap port (owned by sister company Philharbor). We arrived at 8:30am only to see the ferry has just left. There was only one Maharlika RORO then there and we waited for its return. Finally, we left Dapdap port at 1:30pm and everybody was so pissed up including the drivers as we saw several ferries leaving the competing BALWHARTECO port ahead of us. If our Philtranco bus had freedom, we would have been aboard the first of those that left BALWHARTECO port and saved several hours of waiting time.

Dapdap port

Grand Star RORO I and Maharlika Tres in Dapdap port. Photo by Mike Baylon of PSSS.

The Philtranco driver/conductors also didn’t like that they have no freedom to load the buses in competing ROROs. The reason is they can’t avail of the “rebates” offered by the competing shipping companies. This comes in the form of free ferry tickets that can be sold by the driver/conductors to their passengers. Even if only half the tickets are free that can come up to an average of P1,500 for the driver/conductors in additional income.

When Archipelago Philippine Ferries, the name of the shipping company established by Pepito Alvarez) weakened and they just had a limited number of ROROs running, Philtranco finally allowed its buses to ride the competing ferries as passengers began to shun them. However, when the FastCat ROROs came for Archipelago Philippine Ferries, the Philtranco buses were no longer allowed that again. There was also the experiment where the Philtranco buses were no longer boarded aboard the FastCat ROROs and only the passengers and their cargo were loaded. In that system, a Philtranco bus will be waiting at the opposite port.

Philtranco 1833 and 1710

Philtranco buses that disembarked from a FastCat. Photo by Mike Baylon of PSSS.

Now, Philtranco’s fleet is whittled and it is already far from its number in the 1980s after they re-fleeted from Leyland to Hino. And the tables turned already. It is so-many FastCats that needs them now and not the other way around.

Now, did you know that founder A.L. Ammen tried horizontal integration too?

The Problem With The LCTs

In the old days after World War II, the LCTs, then known as “Landing Craft Tank” was the means to transfer vehicles across the islands and our Navy has the biggest number of that and they even have the bigger LSTs (Landing Ship Tank) which has a door covering the ramps while the LCTs have unshrouded ramps. The Navy then did the service of transferring the vehicles and the heavy equipment between the islands and in general for free for after all most of the businesses then were also in the hands of the local powers or their friends.

THE BRITISH ARMY IN THE UNITED KINGDOM 1939-45

A World War II LCT. Source: navsource.org

Along the years, privately-held LCTs started growing in number. It was easy to build, no sophisticated equipment is needed, it is cheap and it is practical with different uses. It can be used to transport goods to practically anywhere and even where there are only  unprepared ports. Loose cargo can easily be loaded and unloaded without the use of cranes or booms as a truck can just board the LCT and dock handlers or peons can manually load or unload the cargo. Plus, the LCT is actually a RORO (Roll On, Roll Off ship) as vehicles or tracked equipment can be loaded or unloaded through its ramp.

Our first short-distance ferry-ROROs carrying passengers, cargo and rolling cargo were actually LCTs. That was when there were still no shirt-distance ROROs (and that arrived only in 1979). The short-distance ferry-ROROs came and came but the LCTs remained in the shipping scene. They were still cheap to acquire and operate and they can be built practically anywhere and even in just an improvised shipyard. The skill level needed to build them was not high and the equipment level needed is low as in the acetylene torch was the most critical tool needed.

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A Maayo LCT by Mike Baylon of PSSS

Along the years, the LCT designation changed to “Landing Craft Transport” to better reflect that it no longer carry tanks as they were really full-pledged transports already. As of now, most of our LCTs are just pure cargo ships carrying anything including the ores of strip mining. However, they can still be found in some routes practically unchanged and being used as passenger-cargo ROROs and probably the premier exponent of that is the Maayo Transport which connects Cebu and Negros islands in the southern part. That company has a pure LCT fleet. Other notable operators are Tris-Star Megalink (although their design have evolved already) which connects Negros and Panay island through the Bacolod-Dumangas route. Starhorse Shipping Lines which started in the Marinduque routes also had LCTs in their start. Lite Ferries which is active in Central Visayas and northern Mindanao also uses many LCT and lately they have been acquiring those from China. Recently, a new shipping company touting the LCT came, the Orange Navigation of Baleno Shipping that has lost half its fleet to maritime accidents and which decided on the cheap LCT as replacement. Island Shipping, meanwhile, disposed of it basic, short-distance ferry-ROROs and cruisers and invested in LCTs built right there in its Hagnaya base, There are also other small operators of passenger-cargo LCTs aside from the six mentioned.

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An Orange Navigation LCT by Jon Erodias of PSSS.

However, there is a problem now with the passenger-cargo LCTs and that is its lack of sophistication which means the passengers have to unnecessarily put it with them. That might be okay in the earlier days when we still lacked short-distance ROROs but times have already changed and so the LCT should also evolve.

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An Island Shipping LCT by Karl Sabuga of PSSS.

LCTs clearly lack passenger space and amenities and it is generally hot because the metal of the superstructure is just too near. They do not have the passageway at the sides of the basic, short-distance ferry-RORO which keeps the sunlight away from the passengers.

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Late-model Lite Ferries LCTs by James Gabriel Verallo of PSSS.

The LCTs are also bugged by lack of speed because of the shape of the hull (they are flat-bottomed) and generally they are underpowered. When the LCT was designed, speed was never one of the considerations. They were just designed to chug along and carry the cargo cheaply to unprepared docking areas. While short-distance ferries will sail at 10-12 knots, LCTs generally sail at 7-8 knots. Passengers have to put up with such deficiencies and for what? The same level of fares and rolling cargo.

I would argue that to be fair, operators of LCTs should charge lower rates, a discounted one. For them to charge the same with lower acquisition and operational costs means all those advantages just accrue to them and none for the passengers and shippers. One cannot say they have a choice because there is such a thing as time slot in shipping (and also two-hour separation in departure times in many ports) and the passengers and shippers would wait for hours just to wait for a better ride. MARINA, the maritime regulatory agency should also take note of this.

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A Tri-Star Megalink ferry evolved from the LCT by Tristan Lirasan by PSSS

I commend the efforts of Tri-Star Megalink’s evolution of their LCTs into ferries already alike that of the basic, short-distance ferry-RORO.  Those are already faster, the bridges were move forward and so the passenger accommodation  were enlarged and an air-conditioned Tourist section is already standard. That’s the way it should be. There should be progress.

Meanwhile, Montenegro Shipping Lines pioneered the use of Korean hybrid LCTs like the Reina Justisya and the Reina Banderada which are fast for an LCT (because the power is higher) and do not have any more the hull of an LCT. Those even have bulbous bows. But the superstructures of those are not yet extended.

VDP9

A modernized LCT of Starhorse Shipping Lines. Photo by MJay Muyo of PSSS.

Lately, however, in a good development starting in 2018, Korean-type LCTs with extended superstructure and bulbous bows started arriving in the Philippines. This was represented by the Virgen de Penafrancia IX and Virgen de Penafrancia X of the Starhorse Shipping Lines of Lucena. In the same year, with the acquisition of a shipyard in Lucena, Montenegro Shipping Lines rolled out the new-build Santa Carmelita to be followed by the Santa Soledad, another new-build this year. Not to be outdone, Starhorse Shipping Lines is bringing anytime to the country their new Korean-built Virgen de Penafrancia XI.

On the other hand, the big Lite Ferries of Cebu which is beginning to dominate the short-distance routes in Central Visayas still have the traditional LCTs and lately they have been acquiring surplus and new-build LCTs from China. Lite Ferries also have LCTs just used for cargo including rolling cargo.

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An improved LCT by Montenegro Shipping Lines. Photo by Carl Jakosalem of PSSS.

There is now a new type of ship, the Cargo RORO LCT, the Philippine version of the RORO Cargo ships of Europe but much less sophisticated. They now serve as truck carriers in the busiest short sea crossings in the country and this segment is actually growing fast. A version of this serves as container van carrier from Manila to selected major ports in the Visayas and Mindanao to as far as Davao. In this role, the LCTs deficiency is minimized because what is mainly carried are trucks and its crew which is already used to the harsh realities of the road.

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A Cargo RORO LCT. Photo by Joe Cardenas of PSSS.

I think in due time LCTs should already be phased out in the passenger-cargo trade. Otherwise, the operators should strive to improve them and not just build the same model that was practically unchanged since 1945.

Our passengers deserve better now.

The Remnants of the Galleons

1924 Mulle de la Industira

The nearest representation of shipping of about a century ago that I know.

If I would ask the question what was the second-biggest shipbuilding area in the Philippines a century ago, I am almost sure nobody can give the right answer. I think almost all will say that the answer is Cebu. But actually, there was an area that was ahead of Cebu in shipbuilding then and that was Sorsogon and maybe all will wonder how can that be when Sorsogon is no longer heard in shipbuilding today. Now, maybe you are tickled enough already.

I want to give a historical background first. During the Spanish rule when Mexico was not yet independent from Spain, the Spaniards ran a galleon trade between Islas Filipinas and Mexico where goods from China were sent in that country and a portion of that was further sent to Spain. A successful voyage was immensely profitable but many also failed to reach Mexico because the ships were hit by storms or armed vessels of the British caught them. Galleons had to be continually built as most voyages were one-way trips to the misfortune of the indio sailors who were mostly shanghaied.

The biggest galleon-building areas then were in Bicol and Cavite. In Bicol, the Spaniards established ten shipyards, the biggest of which was located in Magallanes, Sorsogon. But actually, the whole of Sorsogon Bay was involved in galleon-building as the activity of the bay is just like one as it was not as diversified as the activity in Manila Bay then. Except that there is a mouth, Sorsogon Bay is just like one shallow saltwater lake.

And besides, early in Spanish rule, Sorsogon Bay played a route in the communications of the Spanish regime. You see, the province of Ibalon then (the combined Albay and Sorsogon of today) connected to Iloilo rather than to Manila because it is easier to connect to that because in the age of sails, the direction of the monsoons has to be respected and so regime ships from Iloilo land in Sorsogon Bay on the way to Castilla, Sorsogon. When the current province of Albay was first explored by the Spaniards in the 16th century, the point of entry was Sorsogon Bay but then they started from Cebu.

It seems that shipbuilding by shipwrights spawned by the galleon trade lived long that a century later after the galleon trade stopped the people in Sorsogon Bay still know how to build wooden-hulled ships well so much so that ship owners all over the country still ordered wooden-hulled ships from Sorsogon.

To compare, 31 locally-built ships of 44 gross register tons and over were built around Manila Bay (that means Manila, Rizal, Cavite and Bataan) from a century ago and earlier. 44 GRT is about 25 meters in Length and 5.5 meters in Breadth and that was the size that is already of significant size for me then when the ships and the population were still small As a comparison, the smallest of the basic, short-distance ferry-ROROs is about 25 meters in length.

Of that size, 15 were built in Sorsogon Bay, about half of that built in Manila Bay but Sorsogon Bay is not even half of the latter in size, population and importance and it has no industries unlike Manila which is the national capital. Cebu was just in third place with a measly seven ships built and Iloilo was even trailing Cebu as a shipbuilding area. Almost all these ships were wooden-hulled.

The ships of at least 44 GRT built in Sorsogon Bay were the Pilar (b. 1914, 251grt), R. Melliza (b. 1889, 181grt), San Vicente (b. 1919, 176grt), Victoria (b. 1886, 136grt), Aurora (b. 1918, 134grt), Ventura (b. 1884, 129grt), Tabi (b. 1918, 89grt), Luz (b. 1920, 80grt), Amarillo (b. 1887, 70grt), Rafaela II (b. 1920, 69grt), Luna (b. 1915, 64grt), Cascante (b. 1896, 61grt), Ormoc (b. 1919, 56grt), Olite (b. 1897, 56grt) and the Mari (b. 1913, 55grt). Most of the 15 ships were powered by gasoline engines. The towns where they were built were Sorsogon, Donsol and Pilar. Donsol once built galleons too.

Among the 15, the Pilar, R. Melliza and Ventura became liners from Manila with the first and third owned by the Rio y Olabarrieta shipping company which had routes from Manila to Palawan and as far as the town of Balabac at the southern tip of the province. Meanwhile, the R. Melliza of Isidoro Goliman Limquiaco had a route from Manila to Bicol and later to Cebu.

A century ago, the two biggest ship owners then in Cebu that were engaged in regional shipping were the Aboitiz and Escano families and they were precisely those which ordered ships from Sorsogon with Escano being the leader. In all likelihood, those two intertwined families whose fortune was built then in abaca might have discovered the abaca of Sorsogon.

The Victoria and the Ormoc were owned by the Escano family while the Aurora was owned by the Aboitiz family. Meanwhile, three of the ships in the list were owned by the Lizzaraga Hermanos, the biggest regional shipping company in Western Visayas then (it was not yet De la Rama SS). Those were the Cascante, Olite and Pamplona. So it looks like that the acceptance of the Sorsogon-built ships were far and wide and one might have even went to Zamboanga, the Luna.

Now, Sorsogon is no longer heard in shipbuilding and probably the primary reason for that is what is being built now are steel-hulled ships and Sorsogon Bay is not an industrialized area and so the materials needed to build ships like steel and acetylene are not as available there. Plus in the immediate postwar years, electricity is not common and shipbuilding is a big consumer of that.

Whatever, I just want people to know that once and for several centuries Sorsogon was great in shipbuilding.

The MV Maria Gloria

The Montenegro Shipping Lines Inc. (MSLI) is a Batangas-based shipping company founded by Vicente Montenegro in 1978 that plied ships between Batangas and Mindoro. During that time the routes to the current MIMAROPA were still dominated by wooden-hulled motor boats or what is called batel  in the region (lancha in other regions). Vicente Montenegro was one of the batel operators then and that was no shame. During that time there were no ROROs yet although there were already some steel-hulled cruisers. Even the Viva Shipping Lines which dominated MIMAROPA shipping later (when that was not a separate region yet) was also still in the age of the motor boats then.

Montenegro Lines started with the boat Malaya but when I came to know them in the 1990s they had three motor boats already, the Don Vicente, the Don Francisco and the Dona Matilde. They were holding then the Batangas City to the Abra de Ilog route. Abra de Ilog was the gateway then to the province of Occidental Mindoro through the Wawa port. During that time the motor boats were already finding it hard to fend off the ever-increasing ROROs of the Viva Shipping Lines. Well, even the other shipping companies in the area which had ROROs already were also finding it hard to compete with Viva Shipping Lines which they all feared.

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Photo by Nowell Alcancia of PSSS.

Maybe reading the writing the writing on the wall that it is already the age of ROROs, Vicente Montenegro acquired a RORO on September 1994 which they named as the Maria Gloria and the ferry was fielded in the Batangas City-Abra de Ilog route. Initially, she was not very successful but Montenegro Lines persisted (as once there is a competitor, Viva Shipping Lines will immediately try a full-court press and they have a RORO in the Abra de Ilog route, the Viva Penafrancia 8 which came from Sweet Lines).

The Maria Gloria was the former Tenyo Maru of the of the Shimabara Tetsudo of Japan which is actually a railway company. She was built in 1967 by the Kanda Shipbuilding Co. in Kure, Japan and she possesses the permanent ID IMO Number 6726668. The lines and superstructure of the ship are what was common in that period in Japan for small ROROs.

Actually, the Maria Gloria is not a basic, short distance ferry-RORO. A half-deck for passengers was constructed here in the bridge deck, something that cannot be done for a basic, short-distance ferry-RORO. However, the poop deck was not extended. While a half-deck was added, the gross tonnage of the ship of 267 tons was less than its 356 gross register tons in Japan. The Registered Length of the ship is only 39.5 meters which is less than its 42.9 meters LOA in Japan and the Breadth shrank from 11.0 meters to 10.95 meters. Maybe this is part of the reason for the decrease in the gross tonnage.

Maria Gloria (tourist section)

Photo by Raymond Lapus of PSSS.

The Maria Gloria only has two of accommodation classes, the air-conditioned Tourist and usual open-air Economy and that is the usual for small, short-distance ferries to which she belongs. The Tourist is located in the forward section of the lower passenger deck and the Economy sections are located to the stern of that and in the bridge deck. The total passenger capacity is 413 persons and her rolling cargo capacity is some 350 lane-meters divided into three lanes.

Maria Gloria (economy section - lower deck)

Photo by Raymond Lapus of PSSS.

This RORO is equipped with two engines (the basic, short-distance ferry-RORO with one deck usually has one engine only) and her two funnels confirm that. Her two Daihatsu engines produce a total of 1,400 horsepower and the ship’s design speed is 11.5 knots. The current speed of the Maria Gloria is not far off that. As a RORO, the Maria Gloria has ramps in the bow and in the stern.

Maria Gloria (economy section 1 - upper deck)

Photo by Raymond Lapus of PSSS

From Abra de Ilog, the Maria Gloria was also assigned to the various routes of Montenegro Lines and it seems the farthest she went from their base in Batangas is her Dumaguete-Siquijor route of which she spent a long time too. But outside of Batangas, the base of Montenegro Lines, few realize she is the first-ever RORO of the company.

The Maria Gloria might be an old ship now (she is already over a half-century old) but she is still a reliable ship because her owner Montenegro Lines spends on the proper maintenance of their ships and in fact, in the company there are also other old ships which still run very well until now. MARINA, the local maritime regulatory agency, instead of threatening phase-out of old ferries should just use proper classification to weed out the unreliable and unsafe ships. Like the Maharlika ferries of before. Those were not too old but many were marked by unreliability for periods of time and even the paint job is not good. In Montenegro Lines, paint seems not to be a problem and that is also true with the Maria Gloria.

Maria Gloria (cargo deck)

Photo by Raymond Lapus of PSSS

The Maria Gloria is already sailing for 25 years (a Silver anniversary this month) now in our waters (will Montenegro Lines be giving a 25% discount aboard her for the month?). Whatever, at the rate she is going, I think the Maria Gloria still has many good years ahead of her and I am confident Montenegro Lines will make sure of that.