My Cebu Trip of December 2019

It has been some time already since I was in Cebu and part of the reason for that was my health which declined this year. Because of that, there were important invites which I was not able to honor. But my health recovered somewhat and I was able to participate in the Northern Mindanao tour of the Philippine Ship Spotters Society (PSSS) which gave me confidence to do a Cebu tour and this was bolstered by the offer of a PSSS member to accompany me. I also wanted to go to the inauguration of the MV Trans-Asia 20 of Trans-Asia Shipping Lines Inc. (TASLI) and meet again President Kenneth Sy and his Vice-President wife Pinky Sy and firm up the cooperation between TASLI and the PSSS. The former actually transferred the making of their advertising materials to PSSS and one such activity under that was the coverage of the arrival and inauguration their new ship from Japan, the MV Trans-Asia 20. Our organization was able to acquire photos of the ship even when she was still in Japan and we were also able to get pictures of her when she was traversing San Bernardino Strait from and also during her arrival in Cebu.

December 5 in the afternoon was the schedule of the inauguration of MV Trans-Asia 20 and on the morning of that date me and my companion took an Air Asia flight from Davao to Cebu. One memorable happening in that flight was when we were allowed into the cockpit to take photos together with the lady First Officer of the plane. I already noticed that a lot of passengers were already able to enjoy this treat and I wonder why it seems that in ferries it is harder to request photos inside the ship’s bridge. It is much easier to sabotage and give a big damage to a plane’s cockpit than a ship’s bridge and I think the ferry’s restrictions are a misplaced. It seems it is simply a slavish kowtowing to the demands of ISPS (International Ship and Port Facility Security) which was actually designed for use in international trade.

We arrived in time for MV Trans-Asia 20’s blessing and inauguration. There were plenty of guests including ship owners and representatives from Japan as well as government functionaries. In the registration area it was obvious that the PSSS was expected (well, in the morning the AV team of the PSSS were still taking additional shots). Our delegation was over the limit set by TASLI and included in our group was a special member who wants to see me.

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Photo by Mike Baylon of PSSS.

Our group attended the press conference presided over by Ms. Pinky Sy and Capt. Ariel Garalde as we were classified as part of the media group. The ship’s specs were rolled out together with the hopes of the company about the ship and the background of its acquisition plus the route of the ship. I did not take notes as I was expecting a hand-out which will be necessary for the article about MV Trans-Asia 20 which I will write. I just listened intently together with the other PSSS members who were not part of the AV team of PSSS.

We did not attend the Mass held at the car deck because we preferred to roam the ship. Through this we were able to visit the bridge and talk to Capt. Garalde.  I also had plenty of short talks with the special member of PSSS. A little later we heard some sort of commotion. It was the priest performing the blessing and he was coming up very fast followed by the PSSS AV Team and some other crewmen. Later, at the stern we saw a ramp was being lowered and still later a body wrapped in white was brought down and loaded into a Port Police car. It was only then that it dawned to us that something bad happened to the priest.

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The dignitaries. Photo by Mike Baylon of PSSS.

The rest of the inauguration was rather uneventful except for the picture taking where we were able to set our sights on the biggies in the event.and we left when it was already dusk. Then there was partaking the catered meal served to the guests. We left when it was already dusk. Actually, our group was among the last to leave the ship as we had to wait for the AV team of the PSSS.

The next day, December 6, we went to the new head office building of Lite Ferries. That was to honor the invitation of Mr. Lucio Lim Jr., the President and CEO of the company. I tried to prepare a little bit before leaving Davao but actually I had no idea of the topic/s that will be discussed. It turned out that what I did not prepare for was the topic and that was about shipping issues. Lite Ferries had read some of my previous articles in the PSSS WordPress site and they got interested so much so that I was invited to a discussion of shipping issues and in the preparation of their position paper (this is still forthcoming). An invitation was also extended for PSSS to become a non-paying member of the newly-formed Philippine Coastwise Shipping Association (PCSA) which is a merger of three old shipping associations, the Philippine RORO Operators Association (PROA), the Visayan Association of Ferry Boat and Coastwise Shipowners Operators (VAFCSO) and the United Trampers Association of the Philippines (UTAP). Mr. Lucio Lim Jr., our host is the Chairman of PCSA.

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In a break, I asked Mr. Lim if it is true that they are buying the George & Peter Lines (G&P) and he seemed surprised that PSSS knows it. He uttered, “Antaas ng antenna ninyo (your antenna is really tall)” and he let the cards down. There is really negotiations going on and they are weighing their options but of course this is how far I can go as some other things are better kept under wraps. Mr. Lim then ordered lunch for the group and we continued sharing ideas while eating.

That afternoon we went to Nagasaka Shipyard upon the invitation of the shipping company exec who is also a PSSS member and we visited their ships drydocked there. We were not able to take much pictures of the other ships in the shipyard as it seems there is already a restriction. Anyway, we were full of talks related to their company and competition and the talk also veered to a ferry nearby that has a problem with MARINA, the maritime regulatory agency and is not able to sail because of that. Visiting shipyards is always nice as there are a lot of ships inside and it has been some time now that I haven’t been inside Nagasaka Shipyard since getting inside got difficult. The ship we boarded was the LCT Aldain Dowey.

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In the night of the same day we had dinner in “Azotea”, the restaurant at the rooftop of the Mariners Court. It was an all-Admin gathering to review things that happened in the last few months which was very good for PSSS as it left its competition in the dust. But I was a little surprised by the bill. I didn’t know that restaurant is expensive.

The next day I went solo to Mactan via Metro Ferry to visit C/E Mendoza, an old friend of PSSS who is now retired. He grew up working in the old Cebu port and he sent himself to school by being a working student and being employed  in the old Cebu Shipyard and Engineering Works of the Aboitizes (this is the current Mactan Shipyard). With such background he knows the ships of the 1960s. Going back to Cebu I took the Topline ferry. It really covers more ships in Mactan Channel than Metro Ferry. However, it is slower but that is not a really a disadvantage in ship spotting.

On December 8 there was a ship spotting meet open to all the members. I met a few members I haven’t met before but before that I went to the end of Pier 3 and talked someone from Seacat. I also boarded the MV Star Crafts 6 which was the former MV AS Express of A. Sakaluran. The ship spotting meet was a round trip affair aboard Topline and all apparently enjoyed it not only because of the ships around but also because of the talks and banter. From that trip we proceeded to SM to have dinner. A little advanced but the night was also PSSS anniversary night. We decided to advance it as I was not staying in Cebu until December 13, the true anniversary of PSSS. It was the Admins who spent for the dinner like in some other gatherings and there was a raffle for gifts courtesy of a PSSS Admin in Singapore, Vinze Sanchez. Everybody went home with a gift. So much story was shared but somebody noticed that half of those present came from the other group.

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Photo by Mike Baylon of PSSS.

Me and my companion spent the morning of the next day ship spotting at the 7th floor of the City Hall. I was interested to go there to see with my own eyes the progress of the work on the 3rd Mactan bridge. Besides it is also a good vantage point for ship spotting. From there we proceeded to Cansaga Bay bridge to take a motor banca tour of the bay and the shipyards along Tayud. The motor banca tour extended up to Labogon by the Goldenbridge facility there. This tour developed by PSSS yields a lot of photos. I was happy because of the assistance of my companions. Without them I wouldn’t be able to ride a banca anymore as I have already lost my knees and balance due to age and disease.

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Some Cansaga ships. Photo by Mike Baylon of PSSS.

From Cansaga we motored back to Mariners Court to take shots from the rooftop. We were not able to take many shots because of the fading light. Instead of patronizing other restaurants we went to “NOAK” which was just nearby. It is an eatery owned by a PSSS Admin and which becomes a gathering place at times by PSSS members.

The next day, December 10, we went to Ouano, the one near the new Mandaue market and the one near the E. Ouano house. There were not many ships in the first but I noticed that the store/canteen there that was friendly to PSSS is no longer around. In the second, I forced my way into the hulk of the MV Lite Ferry 16 where I learned they will rebuild the ship. They were then ripping the car deck to expose the engines that caught fire which will be replaced by new ones. From there we went to the former facility of Villa Shipping and we were lucky an exec of Medallion Transport was there whom we are already familiar with. We got the latest about their two ships there and we got an invitation to the relaunch of the MV Lady of Love and the future inauguration of the MV Lady of Perpetual Help.

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Lite Ferry 16 car deck being ripped out. Photo by Mike Baylon of PSSS.

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Medallion Transport ships in Ouano. MV Lady of Perpetual Help in front. Photo by Mike Baylon of PSSS.

We then went to the old facility of Asian Marine Transport Corporation (AMTC) in Mandaue Pier 8 to visit the Trans-Asia ships there including MV Trans-Asia 20 which was not yet sailing and MV Trans-Asia (1) which was also not sailing. Also there was the old MV Trans-Asia 9 which is headed to the breakers.

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A goodbye image of the old Trans-Asia 9. Photo by Mike Baylon of PSSS.

From there we proceeded to a dinner in Robinsons Galleria which was open to all members. I was hoping to meet members who were not able to make it to the anniversary dinner. What I got instead was a pasalubong from a member to whom I extended help previously in a thesis.  That was practically the last point of my Cebu trip. We were just waiting for our ship back to Mindanao, the MV St. Francis Xavier of 2GO that was several hours late. To kill time, we made a standby in “NOAK”.

Me and my companion opted for MV St. Francis Xavier of 2GO, a ship we haven’t rode before because we thought a liner is better than an overnight ship like before but we were wrong. First, I had a run-in with her vessel escorts who ordered passengers to put their things in the  pier apron which was covered with a third of an inch of dust so that their canine can do its work. I flatly refused, of course. I told them they should use a platform. As compromise they laid down a sack. They were able to meet someone whom they cannot bamboozle.

The next morning we were disappointed by the free breakfast. I didn’t know the 2GO Tourist breakfast is now below the level of the Economy breakfast of before and there was not even coffee. Many did not finish their meal as it was not tasty. The other offerings of the restaurant for snacks are just Goldilocks products that are wrapped in plastic and a few salads. Our lunch fare was also not tasty and there was just one viand. Economy meals of the past always consisted of two viands. Seems there is a lot of cost cutting in 2GO now. Is this a policy of SM which runs the company now? Well, they did not also gave breakfast to Ozamis passengers although it was already 8am.

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The kind of snacks now in 2GO. Photo by Mike Baylon of PSSS.

We were able to depart Cebu after two hours of in-port time and it was a surprise to me. Does it mean there was not much cargo? It was a different matter in Ozamis port where our ship was docked for five hours. Most of the passengers disembarking did not disembark at once because of the long line for vehicles under the sun outside the port so they tend to wait in the ship which is air-conditioned. And 2GO cannot handle simultaneous embarkation and disembarkation. Maybe they should do something about it especially if they want to resolve the delay in the schedule of the ship.

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Ozamis port. Photo by Mike Baylon of PSSS.

Me and my companion got off in Iligan port to take a bus to Cagayan de Oro. It was a long walk as there was no shuttle. However, the wish of my companion to ride a Super Five hybrid bus was rewarded and our unit was just in its 5th day of service and so it was still very fresh.

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Iligan port. Photo by Mike Baylon of PSSS.

In the Bulua bus terminal of Cagayan de Oro a PSSS Admin picked us up together with his retired Chief Engineer-father and we had dinner and some lively talk. On arriving in the Agora bus terminal of Cagayan de Oro someone offered us a ride in a Montero and the front seat was offered to me. The ride was much better than a commuter van and the fare was only P500 which is lower than that of an aircon bus. Our ride was faster and more comfortable. We arrived in Davao in the dawn of the next day and instead of hailing a taxi I offered the Montero driver the amount I would be paying if I took the taxi and he agreed. And so I arrived in style.

It was a hectic and tiring trip with plenty of talks and ship spotting but it was all worth it in terms of results and in terms of probable future results.

 

Are We Heading Into The 3rd Surplus of Bottoms?

In maritime connotations, a “surplus of bottoms” means there is a general surplus of ships which can mean marginal loads to survive and worse a fare and freight war occurs. When this happens some shipping companies do not survive and so a “correction” (this term is used in Business and Economics) occurs but that can mean ships going to the breakers or being idled.

The first surplus of bottoms happened in the start of the 1980’s and that happened in the year 1980 and in the succeeding years. It became even more pronounced when the financial and political crisis hit the country in 1983 after the assassination of the opposition political leader Ninoy Aquino.

What triggered the surplus of bottoms in 1980 was the arrival of the new container ships which changed the system of carrying cargo. Before their arrival it was the passenger-cargo ships which carried the express cargo (the cargo that have to be moved fast). There were actually only a few cargo liners (cargo ships that have regular routes and schedules) before the arrival of the container ships. Passenger-cargo ships before 1980 have voluminous cargo holds (holds because there were not RORO liners before 1980 except for two, the third Don Carlos of Sulpicio Lines which arrived in 1977 and the Don Johnny of Lorenzo Shipping which arrived in 1976).

But when Sea Transport Company, Aboitiz Shipping Corporation, William Lines, Sulpicio Lines and later Lorenzo Shipping Corporation and Central Shipping Company (the vargo company of Sweet Lines) invested in container ships, suddenly the old passenger-cargo ships especially the former “FS” ships suddenly had no enough load and many were laid up and they rotted and were later sold to breakers especially during the financial and political crisis of the mid-1980s when the country’s growth rate turned negative.

Cargo is the bread and butter of shipping and it is not the passengers that make them viable. The major shipping lines were just too happy then to invest in container ships for they can move cargo without employing too many crews that go with the operation of passenger-cargo ships. With container ships there won’t be complaints about delays, insurance goes down, there is no need to stack up on food, etc. Operation became more simple with less risk. But that paradigm change meant a lot of old passenger-cargo ships will have to go because of a surplus of bottoms and that surplus became more pronounced when the mentioned crisis  hit.

There were more than a dozen shipping companies which did not survive this first surplus of bottoms especially in the crisis and among them were the old venerable Compania Maritima (which was the biggest shipping company for decades already), the various small shipping companies to Bicol and the Eastern Visayas which were also greatly affected by the development of intermodal shipping, the Northern Lines, Madrigal Shipping Company, Tomas del Rio & Company (the former Rio y Olabarrieta) and others.

The second surplus of bottoms period hit at the tail end of the administration of Fidel V. Ramos and it spilled into the terms of Joseph Estrada and Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. This period covered the late 1990s and the early 2000s and this was more pronounced in the liner sector like the first surplus of bottoms period.

The cause of the second surplus of bottoms period was actually the incentives given by Fidel V. Ramos to shipping when the acquisition of surplus ships from Japan quickened fast and many new players emerged not only in the  liner sector but also in the tramper sector which is actually in competition with the cargo liner sector. This second surplus of bottoms was exacerbated by the emergence of the budget airlines and the intermodal trucks and buses which took passengers and cargo from the liner sector.

In the second surplus of bottoms period the negative effect was more widespread. It happened in the High Speed Craft (HSC) sector when the arrival of the SuperCats, Sea Angels, Weesam Expresses, Bullet Expresses and others were simply too fast for the actual passenger growth. And this was worsened too by the Asian Crisis of 1997 which dampened business. One result was that we needed to sell High Speed Crafts outside the country.

In some short-distance ferry routes like in Batangas and Zamboanga this surplus of bottoms resulted in dog-eat-dog completion where fare and rate wars erupted. It was good for the passengers, car owners and shippers initially but this also meant that the financially weaker (but not necessarily smaller) shipping companies won’t survive. Among the notable casualties in Zamboanga were the Sampaguita Shipping Lines and SKT Shipping which later reincarnated into the KST (Kong San Teo) Shipping (but which also went under).

In Batangas, the formerly dominant Viva Shipping Lines and its legal-fiction companies also sank along with some other smaller shipping companies. In Cebu there was also a show of surplus bottoms but not as great as in Batangas and Zamboanga. Funnily, someone who has no knowledge of shipping, Myrna S. Austria made a Ph.D. thesis of this period and declared that so many routes lack competition. And the many routes and shipping companies disappeared because in truth there was so much competition (her data was incomplete and she didn’t know that parallel routes compete).

And like in first surplus of bottoms era a “correction” happened. What is sad here is we lost so many liners and liner routes. WG&A and Cebu Ferries Corporation shrank to just about a third of its former size and SuperCat to just less than half of its peak. The pioneer in fastcrafts Bullet Express (later Bullet Xpress) also disappeared along with some other High Speed Crafts operators.

After this the acquisition of ships went into doldrums that for a good ship spotter it became hard to maintain interest in shipping. But recently the ship spotters were jolted by new acquisitions especially since many are actually brand-new. The FastCat series started this trend and was followed by the Starlite series. Many other shipping companies are quickening their acquisitions including in High Speed Crafts and Medium Speed Crafts (MSCs). Competition drives many of these new acquisitions. But in the case of Island Water and Shogun Shipping theirs is trying the waters their own way.

These developments happened in the backdrop of the development of a new paradigm, the Cargo RORO LCTs which take rolling cargo away from the overnight ferries and the short-distance ferries. There are many shipping companies now in this sector and the LCTs involved here are nearing the two dozen mark. Like when the container ships first arrived, the operation of a Cargo RORO LCT is simpler than that of a ferry and they are wanted as suddenly they became the solution to the second-class treatment of trucks in ferries.

At the moment these new developments are beneficial to the passengers, car owners and truckers/shippers as there had been a lowering of rates in some routes and places. Plus there are more options and schedules now.

MARINA (Maritime Industry Authority), the regulatory body of the government with regards to the maritime sector will always push for the acquisition of new ships in their goal of ship modernization. And they will always think that more is better. And everybody is happy when a new ship arrives.

The question is will this lead to the 3rd surplus of bottoms? Well, it’s a little early to say but we know the shipping companies are still in the acquisition mood and we do not know up to when this optimism will end. The banks are open now for loans unlike before and the series of FastCats which can sail for as long as they want and the Starlites are not yet finished in arriving. Ferry companies have also discovered China sources now both in brand-new and surplus.

What is the antidote to a surplus of bottoms? That is the threat of MARINA to cull old ships, most of which are still running reliably and many of their companies have no record of losing a ship. Almost all are opposed to this and MARINA knows that. That is also not popular to the public as we are sentimental of our old ships.

We will have to see how this episode plays out.

 

The TEFASCO vs PPA Case

Nowadays, there are already many private ports in operation in the country. This is because companies have the urge to build their own ports for simplicity of operation, savings and security. Some shipping companies also build their own ports for the same reasons and some are simply in the business of ports like the big ICTSI (International Container and Terminal Services Inc.) of taipan Enrique Razon Jr., one of the wealthiest businessman in the country.

Actually, if municipal ports are excluded there are more private ports than ports run by the Philippine Ports Authority (PPA) and the Cebu Ports Authority (CPA) which is in charge of Cebu Province ports. However, the most numerous in the country are the municipal ports which are under the LGUs (local government units) as most of the coastal towns in the country has ports that mainly cater to the fishermen and the passenger-cargo motor bancas. Some municipal ports are actually former PPA ports that were turned over to the LGUs mainly for political and practical reasons (as in the revenue will never cover the operational costs like labor, utilities, security, transportation, etc.).

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The whole of TEFASCO. With no gantry cranes yet. Photo by Mike Baylon of PSSS.

The terms for the approval of private ports is actually vague for me and I wonder if the rules are actually set in stone. This is because I have heard of cases where it seems the spirit if not the letter of the pioneering case clarifying that is really followed. The case I am referring to is the TEFASCO vs PPA case which unsurprisingly went on for 27 years as cases between big shots normally take that long in the Philippines. Since this case was finally decided by the Supreme Court it should have been the law as it is held that decisions of the Supreme are considered part of the law of the land. TEFASCO is the Terminal Facilities and Services Corp. which is located in Ilang, Davao City.

“….In a nutshell, the issues in the two (2) consolidated petitions are centered on: (a) the character of the obligations between TEFASCO and PPA; (b) the validity of the collection by PPA of one hundred percent (100%) wharfage fees and berthing charges; (c) the propriety of the award of fifty percent (50%) wharfage fees and thirty percent (30%) berthing charges as actual damages in favor of TEFASCO for the period from 1977 to 1991; (d) the legality of the imposed government share and the MOA stipulating a schedule of TEFASCO’s arrears for and imposing a reduced rate of government share; and, (e) the propriety of the award of attorneys fees and damages….”

Some of more relevant points decided by the Supreme Court on the said case:

“….Secondly, we hold that PPA’s imposition of one hundred percent (100%) wharfage fees and berthing charges is void. It is very clear from P.D. No. 857 as amended that wharfage and berthing rates collectible by PPA “upon the coming into operation of this Decree shall be those now provided under Parts 1, 2, 3 and 6 of Title VII of Book II of The Tariff and Customs Code, until such time that the President upon recommendation of the Board may order that the adjusted schedule of dues are in effect.”34 PPA cannot unilaterally peg such rates but must rely on either The Tariff and Customs Code or the quasi-legislative issuances of the President in view of the legislative prerogative of rate-fixing.

Accordingly, P.D. No. 441 (1974) amending The Tariff and Customs Code fixed wharfage dues at fixed amounts per specified quantity brought into or involving national ports or at fifty percent (50%) of the rates provided for herein in case the articles imported or exported from or transported within the Philippines are loaded or unloaded offshore, in midstream, or in private wharves where no loading or unloading facilities are owned and maintained by the government. Inasmuch as the TEFASCO port is privately owned and maintained, we rule that the applicable rate for imported or exported articles loaded or unloaded thereat is not one hundred percent (100%) but only fifty percent (50%) of the rates specified in P.D. No. 441.

As regard berthing charges, this Court has ruled in Commissioner of Customs v. Court of Tax Appeals36 that “subject vessels, not having berthed at a national port but at the Port of Kiwalan, which was constructed, operated, and continues to be maintained by private respondent xxx are not subject to berthing charges, and petitioner should refund the berthing fees paid by private respondent.” The berthing facilities at Port of Kiwalan were constructed, improved, operated and maintained solely by and at the expense of a private corporation, the Iligan Express. On various dates, vessels using the berthing facilities therein were assessed berthing fees by the Collector of Customs which were paid by private respondent under protest. We nullified the collection and ordered their refund –

The only issue involved in this petition for review is: Whether a vessel engaged in foreign trade, which berths at a privately owned wharf or pier, is liable to the payment of the berthing charge under Section 2901 of the Tariff and Customs Code, which, as amended by Presidential Decree No. 34, reads:

Sec. 2901. Definition. – Berthing charge is the amount assessed against a vessel for mooring or berthing at a pier, wharf, bulk-head-wharf, river or channel marginal wharf at any national port in the Philippines; or for mooring or making fast to a vessel so berthed; or for coming or mooring within any slip, channel, basin, river or canal under the jurisdiction of any national port of the Philippines: Provided, however, That in the last instance, the charge shall be fifty (50%) per cent of rates provided for in cases of piers without cargo shed in the succeeding sections. The owner, agent, operator or master of the vessel is liable for this charge….”

“….Sec. 2901. Definition. – Berthing charge is the amount assessed against a vessel for mooring or berthing at a pier, wharf, bulkhead-wharf, river or channel marginal wharf at any port in the Philippines; or for mooring or making fast to a vessel so berthed; or for coming or mooring within any slip, channel, basin, river or canal under the jurisdiction of any port of the Philippines (old TCC).

Sec. 2901. Definition. – Berthing charge is the amount assessed a vessel for mooring or berthing at a pier, wharf, bulkhead-wharf, river or channel marginal wharf AT ANY NATIONAL PORT IN THE PHILIPPINES; for mooring or making fast to a vessel so berthed; or for coming or mooring within any slip, channel, basin, river or canal under the jurisdiction of ANY NATIONAL port of the Philippines; Provided, HOWEVER, THAT IN THE LAST INSTANCE, THE CHARGE SHALL BE FIFTY (50%) PER CENT OF RATES PROVIDED FOR IN CASES OF PIERS WITHOUT CARGO SHED IN THE SUCCEEDING SECTIONS. (emphasis in the original)….”

Which just means the PPA cannot arrogantly charge any amount it wants. It is still subject to the existing laws of the land. And whatever, the classification if a port is “national” or not is important. If the PPA gets 100% of the wharfage and berthing charges, how can a private port survive especially when the PPA or the government has not invested anything in the private port? That is almost confiscatory already.

Other juicy things pointed out by the Supreme Court”

“….It is, therefore, our considered opinion that under Section 2901 of The Tariff and Customs Code, as amended by Presidential Decree No. 34, only vessels berthing at national ports are liable for berthing fees. It is to be stressed that there are differences between national ports and municipal ports, namely: (1) the maintenance of municipal ports is borne by the municipality, whereas that of the national ports is shouldered by the national government; (2) municipal ports are created by executive order, while national ports are usually created by legislation; (3) berthing fees are not collected by the government from vessels berthing at municipal ports, while such berthing fees are collected by the government from vessels moored at national ports. The berthing fees imposed upon vessels berthing at national ports are applied by the national government for the maintenance and repair of said ports. The national government does not maintain municipal ports which are solely maintained by the municipalities or private entities which constructed them, as in the case at bar. Thus, no berthing charges may be collected from vessels moored at municipal ports nor may berthing charges be imposed by a municipal council….”

So an LGU cannot charge berthing charges. I wonder how many LGUs can actually cited for contempt. But they have no problem because 100,000 lawyers in the country won’t file contempt charges if they will not be paid for that.

The Supreme Court further added:

“….Moreover, PPA is bereft of any authority to impose whatever amount it pleases as government share in the gross income of TEFASCO from its arrastre and stevedoring operations….” (bold letters were in the original decision)

“….Henceforth, PPA shall collect only such dues and charges as are duly authorized by the applicable provisions of The Tariff and Customs Code and presidential issuances pursuant to Sec. 19, P.D. No. 857. PPA shall strictly observe only the legally imposable rates. Furthermore, PPA has no authority to charge government share in the gross income of TEFASCO from its arrastre and stevedoring operations within its subject private port in Davao City….”

The case adverted to is here:

http://www.chanrobles.com/scdecisions/jurisprudence2002/feb2002/135639.php

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TEFASCO port with the gantry cranes. Photo by Mike Baylon of PSSS.

The Un-achieved Blessing of the Eastern Seaboard RORO-Capable Port Towns

I am talking here of the port towns of Pilar and Matnog in Sorsogon, Allen and San Isidro in Northern Samar, Liloan and San Ricardo in Southern Leyte. When port ferry terminals were built there decades ago (a decade in San Ricardo’s case) to connect the islands there were high hopes of them being economically developed from being poor and distant towns to something better.

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Pilar port by Christian Von Jaspela of PSSS.

But that clearly did not happen and it seems it won’t be happening soon, no way. Those towns are still lagging economically in all ways. The populations are still small, no infrastructure to boast off, no commercial developments and the municipal incomes are still way down. They are not even first class towns and the best of them is a third class town which is just about average in the hierarchy of Philippine towns in income. They will not compete in any way with the string of towns between Butuan City and Davao City which are almost all first class towns because of agribusiness.

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Matnog Ferry Terminal by Britz Salih of PSSS.

The big question is why is it that these towns where so many travelers and vehicles pass through have nothing to boast of when they take in lots of forced collections which are actually illegal according to the Supreme Court in two decisions? In whatever guise whether it is called ‘regulatory”, “environmental” or for garbage these were all declared illegal because the Supreme Court said it is a form of travel tax and only the national government has the right to levy such.

Even the levying of collections against vehicles was also ruled illegal by the Supreme Court. In his ponencia, the then Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban said only High Urbanized Cities (HUCs) can levy a certain kind of rate on trucks using the port and that should only be for P500 a year. Now, none of the towns I mentioned is an HUC so clearly they have no right to such levy.

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BALWHARTECO port of Allen by Joe Cardenas of PSSS.

And yet after collecting so much from travelers and vehicles passing through their town, Pilar, Matnog, Allen, San Isidro, Liloan and San Ricardo have no development to show after these decades. Worse, it seems these “other incomes” do not show in full in the income reports of these towns. Do all of these collections really go to government coffers? If it did then there must be some infrastructure development that they can show off already.

These illegal levies just go on and on despite two Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) memorandums because no one files a case of contempt or injunction and no one is hauled to jail (that is the only thing lawbreakers fear). It only stops if it is foreigners who question these things like what happened in the case of the Island Garden City of Samal. Well, they say we are governed by laws and there is “rule of law” (or is it “rule of law-ko”, the longer form of “loko”?) Maybe in Davao City only as the city government here did not try to collect any of these illegal fees.

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San Isidro Ferry Terinal by Grek Peromingan of PSSS.

What changed anyway after all these years when in the old past having a port is a passport to development? Well, in the past when there is a port there are compradas for the likes of abaca, corn and coconut. And these are loaded into ships manually (which provide income too) and brought to the likes of Cebu City. In return there are bodegas and stores which bring products from the city to the port town for distribution even to the neighboring towns.

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Liloan Ferry Terminal by Britz Salih

Maybe all these commerce where profit is made and provides livelihood and capital to farmers is the reason why old port towns generally became prosperous. And this seems to be no longer true in the new RORO-capable port towns where goods just pass through, literally. But the question that begs to be asked is what has the local government done to harness the opportunities  in the passing cars, trucks and people? Are they simply content is collecting from them illegal exactions like a landlord (at least this has the legal right)? If such is the case then woe to them and their people. Nothing will really change for them.

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Benit port by Mike Baylon of PSSS.

Actually, the case I am presenting is also true in other parts of the country but I found that more pronounced on the eastern seaboard of the country. Maybe this is a case for serious study by true scholars. It can even be a subject of a thesis.

Whatever, I hope there is a solution to this conundrum.

The China Ferries Are Coming

It’s been a long time now that our newly-fielded ferries were surplus ferries from Japan, be it liners, overnight ships or short-distance ROROs. But in the last 5 years about half of our newly-fielded ferries from outside were already from China, both in surplus and in newbuilds. And that only shows the big changes that are happening in shipping vis-à-vis Japan and China. The latter is a rising power in shipping and the former is a rising one which has surplus ships to sell now. Also, other countries which are not too competitive but are good in ship design are designing ships that will be built in China. We had that kind of arrangement too in Hyundai shipbuilding in Subic. But even when that was still operating we were not that competitive vis-à-vis China in terms of price.

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FastCat M11 by Mark Ocul of PSSS.

The most prominent ferries built in China are the brand-new FastCats of the Archipelago Philippine Ferries Corporation. These catamaran-ROROs were designed in Australia but built in different shipyards in China and that design and arrangement proved to be a winner. More of these ships are coming and recently the FastCat M15 and FastCat M16 arrived in the Philippines. There are now 14 of these catamaran-ROROs in the country and these are serving half of the regions of the country. Most of these ferries were built by the Marine Expert Xijiang in Zhaoqing, China.

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Lite Ferry 18 by Ryan Diel of PSSS.

The other prominent group of ferries that arrived in the Philippines are the old ferries mainly of the HNSS (Hainan Strait Shipping) which connects Hainan island-province to the mainland of China. Most of these ferries went to Lite Shipping Corporation and to its competitor Medallion Transport. For Lite Ferries these ships are the latter Lite Ferry 16, Lite Ferry 17, Lite Ferry 18 and Lite Ferry 19. The four took long in refitting as the ferries needed to be re-engined. The four are among the biggest ferries of Lite Ferries. Let it be noted that Lite Ferries also ordered brand-new passenger-cargo LCTs from China, their Lite Ferry 27, Lite Ferry 29 and Lite Ferry 30.

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Lite Ferry 30 by Jose Zeus Ranoco Bade of PSSS.

For Medallion Transport their ex-China ferries are the Lady of Joy, Lady of Rule, Lady of Good Voyage and the Lady of Triumph. They also have a passenger-cargo LCT from China which is the Lady of Smile. Roble Shipping also tried passenger-cargo LCTs from China, their LCT Immaculate Stars and the LCT Jacqueline Stars. Montenegro Lines also has this type in their Reina Urduja which was the former Poseidon 26 of the Primary Trident Marine Solutions. These passenger-cargo LCTs are not necessarily better but they are cheap to operate. The downsides are the lack of passenger accommodations and amenities and the lack of speed, too.

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Reina Urduja by Albritz Salih of PSSS.

Of course, in the country there are so many LCTs now from China and they are counted in the dozens. Most are the traditional LCTs which are trampers but a growing number and maybe about a dozen or so are in the Cargo RORO LCT role which carries trucks and its crews and a car at times. It is so easy to assign a regular LCT into the Cargo RORO LCT role and no conversion is needed. The Cebu Sea Charterers are the best known for this together with the Primary Trident Marine Solutions of Leyte. But I am excluding them in my count as they are not primarily ferries in the sense that the term “ferry” is understood in this country.

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The new Lite Ferry 5 by Mark Ocul of PSSS.

Recently, aside from the FastCats, Lite Ferries also got new ferries from China, the new Lite Ferry 5 and the new Lite Ferry 9 (they have two previous ships which carried these names in their fleet but both were disposed of already). Starlite Ferries also got a new ferry from China, a fastcraft with the name Starlite Sprint 1 and supposedly more of this type is coming. Jomalia Shipping also acquired a fastcat from China, the new Maica 5 in their fleet.

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Maica 5 by Capt. Emzrenz Miramontes of PSSS.

But the biggest importer of new Medium Speed Crafts (MSCs) is the new shipping company Island Water, a subsidiary of Island Shipping. Island Water has the MSCs Island Biri, Island Calaguas, Island Calayan, Island Dalupiri, Island Balabac and the small Island Sabtang which looks like a modernized motor banca. All of these are from Jianlong Shipbuilding of China. These MSCs have tried many routes in the country but not all have running routes yet.

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Island Biri and a FastCat by Don Zian Encarnacion of PSSS.

This is a little historical now and some of you might be surprised that before all these came a pair of China sister ships already arrived in in the country in 2011. These are the Regina Calixta V of Regina Shipping Lines (RSL) and the Star Ferry 7 of the 168 Shipping Lines which are both Bicol shipping companies. The two were offered for sale as two bridges will not longer allow them to sail. Paradoxidally, they were actually river boats in China but they were ROROs.

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So that was the change. We are no longer dependent on Japan for ferries. More and more China is becoming our primacy source of ferries and that is not even including LCTs. That will continue in the future as China is the cheapest source of ships nowadays. Figures speak and we will have to get used to that although in quality they are still behind.

 

 

The Northern Mindanao Tour of the Philippine Ship Spotters Society (PSSS)

This tour was the first by PSSS in Northern Mindanao (aside from the inauguration of the Trans-Asia 19 which the PSSS attended and we were able to board other ships). This was planned a few months ago and it was designed to coincide with the vacation of PSSS Admin Capt. Josel-Nino Bado from his duty aboard a foreign ship. He was supposed to be the chief organizer of the tour as he has the ideas and connections on how to search for Captains and contacts that can help the PSSS. With regards to entry to the ships in the Port of Cagayan de Oro, it will be a collaboration between Admins who already have connections with the Captains on board. The tour was supposedly a long-distance one because of the many ports existing in Northern Mindanao. Eight Admins and members committed to the tour and four will be bringing vehicles from nearby to afar.

On the evening of October 25, 2019, me and Allen Amasol boarded the 10pm Philtranco bus in the Ecoland bus terminal of Davao City for Pasay to meet Janjan Salas in Sanfranz, Agusan del Sur who was bringing his Hilux to be our vehicle up to the Mukas port in Lanao del Norte. Our route is via Butuan City and this distance is nearly 500 kilometers. However, we had a bad start as we had a bus who should have been an express bus (the reason we chose it) but was acting like a local bus picking up a lot of short-distance passengers for the kita-kita (own profits) of the drivers (even we two had no tickets). The bus was just chugging along at low speed even though I politely said we will be meeting someone in Sanfranz. Worse, the bus was almost battered up already making it expensive for the fare it is charging. Actually, the local buses were way better than our bus.

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Medina port by Janjan Salas of PSSS.

However, our lateness allowed Janjan some sleep while waiting for us. We left Sanfranz at past 3am (to my worry of being late for the tour) but by daybreak we were already in Medina to visit its old port which was well-known in the copra heyday. The San Luis port of Gingoog City was also visible from Medina port and before 7am we were already in Balingoan port which is the jump-off point to Camiguin. We did not try to enter port because we do not want to be late for the PHIVIDEC rendezvous. Meanwhile, Admin Mark Ocul was riding the first bus from Ozamis to Cagayan de Oro at 4am and was hoping to arrive in Cagayan de Oro at 8am. It was actually his arrival that was the basis of the 9am start of the Northern Mindanao tour in PHIVIDEC Industrial Estate. However, Mark’s bus was late and it set back the start of the PSSS tour.

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Balingoan port. Photo by Allen Amasol of PSSS.

We began our tour of the PHIVIDEC Industrial Estate which had its own port in Tagoloan, Misamis Oriental on the morning of October 26. This was arranged through its Administrator and CEO Atty. Franklin Quijano who was the former Mayor of Iligan City and Badz’s (Josel-Nino Bado) townmate. He designated Harbour Master Capt. Gerry Guiuo as the point manand host of the tour and he happened to be from Iligan City also (I also lived there for six years) and he was very cooperative. When initial arrangements with PICMW (Philippine Iron Construction and Marine Works, Inc.) fell through, Capt. Guiuo promised to take care of the arrangements. And he even volunteered to be a member of PSSS!

As constituted, our tour group consisted of Capt. Josel-Nino Bado from Cagayan de Oro and Iligan Cities, Mark Edelson Ocul from Ozamis and Cebu Cities , John Carlos Cabanillas from Opol, Misamis Oriental and Liloan, Cebu, Tristan Fil Lirasan from Digos and Cebu Cities, Janjan Salas from Bislig City, Allen Amasol from Davao and Samal Cities, Dr. Neal Rana, M.D. from Gingoog and Cagayan de Oro Cities and yours truly, Mike Baylon from Bicol and Davao City. The ninth and new member of the group was Harbour Master and Capt. Gerry Guiuo of Iligan City, a new PSSS member and the tenth was Maia Lee Jabines Bado, the wife of Badz who showed very great patience and understanding of the passion and hobby of her husband and she took many of the shots of the members of the group. Now, if only all wives of PSSS members are like her.

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PHIVIDEC Industrial Estate by John Carlos Cabanillas of PSSS.

In PHIVIDEC Industrial Estate there were restrictions as their port is an ISPS port. There is even a separate of operator of the port which is the Mindanao International Container Terminal Inc.(MICT),  a subsidiary of the great ICTSI (International Container and Terminal Services Inc. that is owned by the taipan Enrique Razon. When we visited there was only one ship, the Lorcon Iloilo and the port is not really big but it has a view of a nearby port. The new name of MICT is Mindanao Container Terminal (MCT).

Leaving PHIVIDEC, we proceeded to NAMSSA (National Maritime Safety and Security Agency), a maritime safety institute which was just nearby. We were given a briefing of what they do. NAMSSA is a recognized security organization (RSO) that can do Maritime Intelligence Risk Suite (MIRS), something that probably the PPA and MARINA can’t do  The notable thing in our visit was the discovery of old and new contacts which will be of help to the PSSS in the future. The PSSS was also introduced to them.

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Group photo in Atecle’s Grill. Photo by Capt. Josel-Nino Bado of PSSS.

From NAMSSA, we had our lunch in Atecle’s Grill in Cagayan de Oro which I was told has a reputation for delicious food. Now I can say their reputation is well-deserved. Dr. Neal Rana took care of the lunch although he does not normally partake lunch (!). He didn’t, actually.

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In PICMW shipyard. Photo by Mark Ocul of PSSS.

After lunch, we made our way to the PICMW to tour its shipyard and we were given a briefing by their Vice-President Roberto Quicio of what his company does. PICMW has new-builds but its work is mainly ship repair. They also have contracts for fabrication abroad. What surprised me is their yard is very big and they are far from exhausting their capacity. They use a ship lift and rails to haul ships for repair. It was Naval Architects Wayne Benedict Espejon and Julius Anthony Siarez of PICMW who lead the tour of their shipyard.

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The Bandanaira 2 of Gov. Pepito Alvarez of Palawan. Photo By Mike Baylon of PSSS.

The notable discoveries in PICMW were the two new ships for Daima Shipping, the Royal Dolphin 3 and the Royal Seal 3 and which the PSSS was already aware of but has not seen. The Royal Dolphin, long a habitue of Mukas port and the Royal Dolphin 2 which is in hibernation was also in the shipyard. The surprise was a modern LCT that is almost finished for Gov. Pepito Alvarez of Palawan, the Bandanaira 2 I won’t dwell much on the ships being repaired there as they change anyway except that there were two Aleson ships there, the Trisha Kerstin 1 and the Ciara Joie 2. But it was bittersweet to see the Super Shuttle Ferry 15 of the Asian Marine Transport Corp. (AMTC). It seems she never sailed again after the grounding off Camiguin a few years ago and she is now for sale. But I wonder who will take interest in her given her history and condition (she was once half-submerged in Palawan and it was repeated in Camiguin). This could be the end of her as a ship as her owner is not known for having the perseverance in repairing old and damaged ships.

We also found the Ever Sweet there which was built by Varadero de Recodo in 1963 and was the first ship of Ever Lines Inc. She is supposedly for sale but again I wonder who will take her given that it is only in Zamboanga, her base where cruiser ships are still successful although this is beginning to be doubtful as time pass. The Magnolia Liliflora was also there and like Super Shuttle Ferry 15 and Ever Sweet there were no repair works going on and she is also for sale. She is the former Rizma of A. Sakaluran Shipping and built in Zamboanga in 1989. She was acquired by Magnolia Shipping in 2012 and refitted in Varadero de Recodo. Now I don’t know if again she will hibernate for long like what happened to her as the Rizma. But I do hope she sails again.

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Ship spotters atop a ship they “conquered”. Together with two naval architects of PICMW. Photo by Dr. Neal Rana of PSSS.

My tour mates took time to board and tour the new ferries of Daima Shipping and get a view of the new ferry of AMTC, the Super Shuttle Ferry 27. I can understand that as those are newly-arrived ships and rare double-ended ferries at that. I was not able to join as I was conserving strength and instead me and Harbour Master Capt. Gerry Guiuo talked about ships and databases. With that I think we had better rapport although I lost photo opportunities. Sometimes one in the group should sacrifice touring to talk to a biggie.

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PSSS members inside an engine room. Photo by Janjan Salas of PSSS.

It was already late when we left PICMW and it was getting dark early because of rain clouds and we made haste to Cagayan de Oro port to try to gain entry. It was the port which was our problem and not the ship or the shipping company as the PSSS has contacts for that. We tried even though it was getting dark already. In the haste and since my cellphone lost power Jhayz Abao of Cagayan de Oro and PSSS was not able to contact me. He should have been part of the group in Cagayan de Oro port. Our entry was facilitated by Lite Ferries (thanks to them!) and we were able to board and tour their new Lite Ferry 18 which could be the best and biggest ship in their fleet now together with its sister ship Lite Ferry 19. It seems their passenger accommodations are at par now with the best their competition can offer in Northern Mindanao.

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Lite Ferry 18 bridge. Photo by Mike Baylon of PSSS.

We were planning to board the Trans-Asia 18 nearby but we had difficulty in finding the Captain. Suddenly, a heavy rain which lasted long fell and we had to take shelter in the passenger terminal building full of passengers for the St. Therese of Child Jesus of 2GO. By this time the Trans-Asia 19 has already left. We were really short of time. With the big rain we decided to call it a day and look for dinner and a bed. Badz and Mark went separately to look for a lodge and they had difficulty as most were fully-booked. They finally found a cheap but a good value lodge on the road to the old airport. With an extra bed four of us were accommodated in a room. We fell asleep immediately as we were tired. It was only Mark that had enough strength as he came from a nearer place unlike us three – me, Janjan and Allen which practically had no sleep the night before.

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Group photo aboard Lite Ferry 18 with the Purser. Photo by Dr. Neal Rana of PSSS.

We took our breakfast in the hotel and Jhayz joined us. However, there was one member who committed on the second day that did not show up. Jhayz wasn’t joining the tour on the second but a short meet with Dr. Neal was arranged as they are both from Cagayan de Oro and were both in the health field. And so our tour group would remain the same up to Iligan City (Badz and wife would drop out from there and won’t come with us to Ozamis City).

To make up for the past day, we first went to the Coastal Road of Cagayan de Oro City on the morning of October 27 to take photos of ships in Cagayan de Oro port and in Macalajar Bay. We didn’t stay long there and we then went to the MacArthur Memorial Marker near the Port of Cagayan de Oro. We found two vantage points there including a sundowner and a night place above the water. They were friendly but I found out that I already lost my old ability to walk across wooden bridges for people that have no handrail. I can already fall if there is no assistance.

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Port of Cagayan de Oro ships. Photo by Mike Baylon of PSSS.

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MacArthur Memorial Marker from a sundowner. Photo by Tristan Fil Lirasan.

I rested outside while they went to the MacArthur Memorial Marker and then I noticed they were taking long. It turned out they were waiting for the departure of the Lite Ferry 8 for Jagna, Bohol. That is one of the oldest ROROs in the Philippines that is not an LCT and it might have the most years sailing now in the country. We noticed part of her uppermost deck (which is the bridge deck) was chopped off. Maybe she no longer needs that high passenger capacity and shaving off weight will help the ship. This ship first served as the Sta. Maria of Negros Navigation way back in 1980 before going to G&P Lines as the GP Ferry 1.

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A view of Iligan port from the second Iligan public market. Photo by Mike Baylon of PSSS.

We made our way to Iligan City and met Badz in the Iligan Centennial Park which features a tall flag. Forthwith, we proceeded to the motor pool of the Super Five bus company but we were denied entry. We then proceeded to find lunch. Two members took care of it and from the new Robinsons in Iligan we drove west when it was already mid-afternoon with Ozamis as the target. Before that we went to the old Kolambugan port which was the former connection of Lanao del Norte to Ozamiz City. It has been some time already since my last visit there and it is already a port to nowhere now. It is sad to think that it was once a busy port and the base of the old Tamula Shipping Lines which lost to Daima Shipping when they did not convert to ROROs.

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Kolambugan port by Mike Baylon of PSSS.

From Kolambugan we went to Tubod port which was once a connection too to Misamis Occidental via the Silanga port on the other side. The port is now refurbished but it also does not have ships now when Maypalad Shipping gave up and Roble Shipping did not last. There is a sign that it was an ISPS port but then we had easy entry and the guard even offered us to maneuver our vehicle inside the port. Now, if only all ISPS ports are like this. At least there and in Zamboanga port they can detect those who have no ill intent.

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Tubod port by Mike Baylon of PSSS.

It was past 5pm when we able to board the Daima ferry Swallow 2 in Mukas port. We noticed that again there were ferries tied-up and unused in Mukas port. We did not load our vehicle in the ferry and just left it in the gas station outside Mukas port as we won’t really be in need of it in Ozamiz. It was beginning to get dark when we alighted from the ship and so we had no more good shots of the ships docked in Ozamiz port and those we met that were bound for Mukas port. Again, we were late as maybe we were not hurrying enough.

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Our ferry to Ozamis, the Swallow 2, a bombing survivor as Our Lady of Mediatrix. Photo by Mike Baylon of PSSS.

In the port, a Chevy Suburban owned by the couple-doctors JM and Dianne Feliciano who owns the Faith General Hospital in Ozamiz City picked us up and it was nice as it was raining already. The couple is friends of our tour companion Dr. Neal Rana. They served us dinner in their big house together with some other doctors that are friends and medical school classmates of Dr. Neal.

It was already the second to the last trip of the Daima ferry which we were able to board in crossing back to Mukas and our ship was the Royal Seal. It was no longer full both In passengers and cargo. Maybe the night crossing is really slow and that is why the Daima trips stop at 9pm and just resumes at 4am. From Mukas port we took a tricycle back to where our vehicle was parked as there was a drizzle and it is a little far too.

It was a cold night on the trip back with wet roads making it difficult to calculate the asphalted roads that have not been repainted making it hard for Janjan Salas. In Cagayan de Oro we dropped off Dr. Neal at his place and so we were again down to three aboard the Hilux – me, Janjan and Allen. We were the three that started off in Sanfranz two nights before. The only difference was our driver was already tired now.

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Our Ozamis-Mukas ship, the Royal Seal. Weather not kind on our way back. Photo by Mike Baylon of PSSS.

We made good progress without speeding up. We left Mukas at 9pm and by 12 midnight we were already in Cagayan de Oro. We reached Sanfranz between 4:30am and 5am. Janjan said he will take a one-hour break as he was too sleepy already. Meanwhile, me and Allen was fortunate a Philtranco bus arrived in the Sanfranz bus terminal. It was of the same series of our Philtranco bus we took two nights before but the driver was taking his driving seriously and there were few stops. And so in less than four hours me and Allen were already in Davao City. We took breakfast before going our own ways.

Over-all, it was a very good tour despite some glitches which centers on overrunning of the time. Aside from the camaraderie built and the memories that will remain with the participants for a long time, we had breakthroughs in new ship spotting places and in new contacts or contacts that were renewed. That will be of help to the PSSS in the coming days and in the future.

The Sta. Clara Shipping Corporation and the Penafrancia Shipping Corporation

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King Frederick by Britz Salih of PSSS.

On paper, the Sta. Clara Shipping Corp. and Penafrancia Shipping Corp. of Bicol are two different companies but in actuality like Montenegro Shipping Lines Inc. (MSLI) and Marina Ferries the two are simply legal-fiction companies of each other. That means in operation and routes they cannot be distinguished except for some differences in the livery and in the name, of course. They share the same crew and schedules and the same port and they operate as one. Companies resort to this tactic to avoid wholesale suspensions of fleets in case of accidents and also to minimize the damage in case of a suit. But in the case I am discussing here there is a deeper reason than simple maneuvering.

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Nelvin Jules by Mark Ocul of PSSS.

Sta. Clara Shipping started with the clamor of travelers and shippers across the San Bernardino Strait for better services. What happened was that when the competition of the dominant Bicolandia Shipping Lines of Eugenia Tabinas, the Cardinal Shipping, Newport Shipping and Badjao Navigation collapsed and newcomer PSEI Transport Services was TKO’d in the courts and Luzvimin Ferry Services moved elsewhere, there was a swing from dog-eat-dog competition to lousy services that happens when a company is already in a dominant position and the government-owned Maharlika I which was operating a longer route to San Isidro, Northern Samar wasn’t able to offer a credible competition. There came always the complaint of “alas-puno” departures (that means the ferry only leaves when it is already full). I was surprised that in the petition submitted by Sta. Clara Shipping to be allowed to serve the route practically all the Mayors of Leyte signed there.

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Hansel Jobett by Orly Calles of PSSS.

Sta. Clara Shipping started with provisional authorities to sail and their first two vessels were the King Frederick which was named after the top dog Frederick Uy and the Nelvin Jules. [In Bicol, Frederick Uy is associated not with Sta. Clara Shipping but with the Partido Marketing Corp. (PMC) which is now the top trading firm in the region after it surpassed the old title holder Co Say.] The sister ships were fielded in 1999 and the two were joined by its “cousin” Hansel Jobett (“The Dragon”) in 2004. The King Frederick and Nelvin Jules were newer, faster and better-appointed than the ships of Eugenia Tabinas (this is my description here as she was also using legal-fiction companies) and in a short time after she lost in the courts for her claim of “pioneering” status (which she tried to equate to barring entry of other competitors) she was already crying “Uncle!”.

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Eugene Elson by Dominic San Juan of PSSS/

An amicable settlement was reached and Eugenia Tabinas sold out lock, stock and barrel to Frederick Uy and his partners and this happened in 2006 and the fleet and routes were thereby transferred not to Sta. Clara Shipping but to the newly-created Penafrancia Shipping Corp. and the reason for that that I heard was that the latter has similar but still a different set of owner-partners than the former. Well, there is such a thing that can be called the Bicol-type of partnership where the ownership and partnership varies from ship to ship (or bus to bus, if you will) and that was the reason why in the sale and dissolution of 168 Shipping two ships of the company went to Gov. Antonio Kho of Masbate and another went to Regina Shipping Lines (RSL) that is owned by another Governor.

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Don Benito Ambrosio II and LCT ST 888 by Ken Ledesma

In the transfer, the “flagship-by-name” Eugenia became the Eugene Elson, the “flagship-by-size” Princess of Mayon, the biggest ferry in Bicol that time became the Don Benito Ambrosio II and the Princess of Bicolandia became the Don Herculano. The transfer was marred by two strong typhoons and the second one was legendary Typhoon “Reming” which was the strongest in Bicol for three-and-a half decades. Lost in the first typhoon in Tabaco port was the venerable Northern Samar, a refitted ferry that initially came from Newport Shipping of Northern Samar and has been serving in the route since 1982. In Super-typhoon “Reming”, the Princess of Bicolandia which has no functioning engine because of an engine room fire was pulled by the storm surge from its dock in Mayon Docks in Tabaco City, Albay. No one thought she will be seen again but lo and behold! she was found the next day atop a sandbar in a neighboring town and from there she was towed to the Villono shipyard (now the Nagasaka Shipyard) in Tayud, Cebu where she would spend the next three years being repaired and when she came out she was already the Don Herculano. To refurbish the old fleet the newly-arrived Anthon Raphael was added to the fleet of Penafrancia Shipping in 2008.

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Don Herculano by Edsel Benavides of PSSS/

Before Anthon Raphael came, the Ever Queen of Pacific was bought by Sta. Clara Shipping from Ever Lines Inc. of Zamboanga in 2007. After refitting her from an overnight ferry with bunks to a short-distance ferry with seats she was then rolled out as the Mac Bryan. This brought the fleet of the twin companies to eight, a mixture of relatively big ones and three that were smaller, the Eugene Elson, Don Herculano and the Mac Bryan. By that time, the twin companies were basically serving two routes, the Matnog-Allen (BALWHARTECO) route and the Tabaco-Virac route. The Anthon Raphael first served the Pasacao-Masbate route, a missionary route offered by MARINA, the maritime regulatory agency but they soon withdrew from that after realizing that the habagat (Southwest monsoon) will broadside the ship there and that it is not a competitive route due to the long sea distance. She was transferred to the Bulan-Masbate route but geography still said she cannot compete with the Pilar-Masbate ferries and this is similar to the lesson taught to the Maharlika ferry of Archipelago Philippine Ferries which plied that route before. Bulan is still a long drive to Pilar junction where the truck from Bulan and Pilar will meet. The difference is approximately 100 kilometers which is roughly equivalent to 25 liters of diesel fuel and that is no small deal.

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Anthon Raphael by Orly Calles of PSSS.

In 2012, Sta. Clara Shipping acquired the Strong Heart 1 of Keywest Shipping. This was the former second Asia Japan of Trans-Asia Shipping Lines Inc. (TASLI) and was acquired through dacion en pago for fuel advances when a syndicate hit the company (they thought then that the Trans-Asia 3 was a fuel guzzler; I don’t know if this was the reason why the sister ships Trans-Asia and Asia China was disposed  to the breakers). However, she was not immediately refitted and repaired and she languished long in Strong Heart 1just serving as crew quarters and office. That was a boon for PSSS as she became the reason of the group to visit the shipyard (and visit the other ships there too). But when she was rolled out she already have the new name Nathan Matthew. In the process she lost part of her superstructure. Well, as a short-distance ferry, there is more passenger capacity with seats than with bunks.

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Jack Daniel by Mike Baylon of PSSS.

In 2015, the beautiful Azuki Maru was acquired from Olive Lines and after some refitting in Nagasaka Shipyard she became the Jack Daniel (no, there are no offerings of that drink aboard). This was about the same time that Sta. Clara was in a struggle to build their own port in Allen, Northern Samar and move out of their old home port BALWHARTECO in the same town. The difficulty was not in the technical or financial sense. It just so happened that the owner of BALWHARTECO (an old private port that dissolved the old municipal port of Allen) is actually the Mayor of the town and he refused to give a Mayor’s permit. That was no problem with Sta. Clara Shipping which had been in legal bruises before and any good lawyer will easily tell that the Mayor will lose in court through a Mandamus and his act will probably earn him a graft case easy. And so the construction of the port continued and it was not delayed because although padlocked the construction equipment were already inside the port.

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Mac Bryan and Nathan Matthew in Jubasan Port. Photo by Ken Ledesma of PSSS.

This new port was in Jubasan in Allen when finished was a notch higher than their old home port as the entire compound was already completely concreted right from the start. The only problem was strong current (maybe because of the proximity of Capul Island) so much so that they withdrew the Jack Daniel here as they feared its beautiful glass windows could shatter. Aboard a moored ship here one can feel it shudder and the dents on the sides of the ship is proof of the strong current. Whatever, Jubasan Port is so clean and organized and an urban-bred passenger will not be turned off by its restaurants (they have nice tables and chairs to lounge in and appreciate the ships and views and that is not easy in an enclosed passenger terminal building).

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Adrian Jude by Mike Baylon of PSSS.

In 2017, Sta. Clara Shipping purchased the last two Tamataka Maru ships still remaining in Japan in a “buy one, take one” manner and this ended that line there and it is a little sad because a lot of Tamataka Maru ferries went to the Philippines starting with the very first in the series which was the Tamataka Maru No. 21 which became the Cardinal Ferry 1 in 1979 and became the country’s first ever short-distance RORO (two ROROs anteceded her but both were first used as liners) and she also served the San Bernardino Strait crossing. The two were sister ships and after refitting in Nagasaka Shipyard, Tamataka Maru No. 85 became the Adrian Jude and Tamataka Maru No. 87 became the Almirante Federico, again a play on the name of the top honcho of Sta. Clara Shipping. The two then became the biggest ships in the combined fleet though not necessarily in the official Gross Tonnage as MARINA oftentimes play quirks with this measure.

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Almirante Federico by Naval Arch. Rey Bobiles of PSSS.

After the sister ships Sta. Clara Shipping Corp. joined the new paradigm, that of the Cargo RORO LCTs which cater to trucks and which do not carry passengers unless those are the crews of the trucks. The San Bernardino St. crossing really needs this type of ship as before there were plenty of complaints about the kilometers-long truck queues in peak season and after the usual weather disturbances. The intermodal trucks which were second-priority to buses before (because it has passengers and they will complain of delays) now have their dedicated transport.

Sta. Clara Shipping’s first Cargo RORO LCT was the LCT Aldain Dowey which was acquired in 2017 and actually this was formerly the locally-built LCT Ongpin but was lengthened. The next year they acquired the LCT ST888 from China and this was assigned to Penafrancia Shipping. Both crafts are slow by ferry standards but that is the characteristic of LCTs. They were not built for speed and buses and sedans are not fit for them as they were not really built for comfort especially with their limited passenger accommodations.

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LCT Aldain Dowey by Anthon Briton of PSSS.

Right now, Sta. Clara Shipping is (…censored…) like the other shipping companies of note and that is just a reflection on how intermodal shipping is booming across the country. But in the Bicol region there is no doubt that the combined Sta. Clara Shipping and Penafrancia Shipping is the tops not only in ships because remember they also have their own port and the worth of that will approach that of a good and big overnight ferry that is still in a good condition. Now they are also operating in the Liloan-Lipata route across Surigao Strait.

Over-all, Sta. Clara Shipping is one good success story that is nice to tell and I wish them more successes in the future.

 

The Starlite Series of Sister Ships

In the Philippines there are three serieses of brand-new ships which started coming in the first half of this decade. The thing notable about them is they belong to different designs. One of these are the Oceanjets that were made from Australian kits and assembled in Labogon, Mandaue City. The other is the series of catamaran ROROs of Archipelago Philippine Ferries, the FastCats (although some say they are just “Cats” now) which are built in China. And finally we have the series of new ROROs by Starlite Ferries that were built in Japan.

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Starlite Pioneer by Mike Baylon of PSSS.

This series consists of eight in number although more are expected to come soon as the contract is a series of ten ships. Two of the seven came via the Southwest Premier Ferries and Southwest Gallent Ferries whose owner is the one which arranged the bank financing for Starlite Ferries and these are the SWM Stella del Mar, the SWM Salve Regina and the Stella Maris, the 6th, 7th and 8th ships in the series. The first five ships which went direct to Starlite Ferries consisted of the Starlite Pioneer, Starlite Reliance, Starlite Eagle, Starlite Saturn and the Starlite Archer.

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Starlite Reliance by Britz Salih of PSSS.

This series’ external design is not that really a looker but merits of a ship are not only judged by that. This series has high sides and a great Depth and so greater stability is claimed (but then that could also be a disadvantage in shallow ports in low tide condition). However, being a new ship will trump all of that with its qualities of being reliable and economical to operate.

The Length Over-all (LOA) of the series averages close to 67 meters with a Breadth of 15.3 meters and a Depth of 9.4 meters. [Depth is the distance from the underside of the ship up to the freeboard deck or where water will first come in. Having high sides increases the Depth.] The Gross Tonnage or GT of the series averages 2,700 nominal tons and the Deadwight Tonnage (DWT) is just over 900 tons in average. The passenger capacity of the series is over 700 persons.

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Starlite Eagle by Carl Jakosalem of PSSS.

Access to the ship is via a stern ramp that leads to the car/cargo deck which has four lanes and the cargo deck measures nearly 240 lane-meters. There is an elevator in the car deck for the disabled and weak passengers which is not common for a passenger ship. Generally, the upper passenger deck consists of Economy Class which is non-aircon. The forward portion of the lower passenger deck consists of the Tourist and Business Classes with a kiosk between the aircon portion and the non-air Economy Class in the stern of the deck. The aircon classes are quiet, comfortable and carpeted. The attendants are professional and not merely hangers-on. The ships are very clean and tidy.

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Starlite Saturn by Dr. Raymond Lapus of PSSS.

The series boasts of the latest in navigation and safety, as to be expected. The great Breadth of the ship is also touted to add in stability along with the added capacity. The ships in the series also have side thrusters which aid in maneuvering the ship. This series of sister ships are powered by twin Yanmar engines that develop 3,650 horsepower that gives the series a design speed of 14.5 knots. Being modern, the series are also equipped with bulbous stems which should give an additional speed.

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Starlite Archer by John Edmund of PSSS.

Though the series was designed by Kegoya Dock in Kure, Japan not all of the ships were built in that yard as the Starlite Eagle was built by Fukushima Zosen in Matsue, Japan. Kegoya Dock is an old shipbuilder in Japan.

The series started coming in 2013 with the Starlite Pioneer and the latest, the Stella Maris arrived in 2019. Interestingly, the new Trans-Asia 19 of Trans-Asia Shipping Lines Inc. (TASLI) is also a sister ship to the series. Interestingly again, the Starlite Ferries and TASLI are now both in the stable of the Chelsea Logistics of Dennis Uy, the new king of Philippine shipping.

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SWM Stella del Mar by Starlite Ferries

From the early confines of the limited routes of Starlite Ferries, the company has already expanded to the Cebu-Surigao route using two ships in the series which both came from the Southwest Premier Ferries and the accommodations were changed into overnight ferries to adapt to the different condition of the route. A new route will be served by the company in a short time.

A few days ago, the Philippine Ship Spotters Society (PSSS) was a given a free tour to Surigao and back by the company to better explore and expose their newest ship, the Stella Maris.

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SWM Salve Regina by Joezyl Belotendos of PSSS.

More ships from this series will still be coming to the Philippines in the coming days. They will serve as standard bearers in the modernization of our ROROs and I am sure they will be fixtures of Philippine shipping for a long, long time.

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Stella Maris by Ryan Diel of PSSS.

The Destruction of the Philippine Merchant Marine Fleet In World War II

When the Pacific War (this is what World War II was known in our hemisphere) erupted, our biggest and best ships were immediately requisitioned by the US to serve as transports and that is normal procedure in a war. And then when it looked like the United States will not be able to hold the Philippines and Washington. D.C. has already decided to concentrate first in the European theater of war, the oceangoing ships of the Philippines were sent to the Western hemisphere to be used there.  Then our other big ships which were capable of the distance were ordered to evacuate to Australia to serve as supply ships from that country to Bataan by running the Japanese sea blockade. However, the old, big ships were left in the country and these were already near 60 years old with a few even older than that (that was how tough the steam ships then). New, medium-sized passenger-cargo ships were also left behind in the country together with the smaller ones.

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However, to still connect to the islands and the disparate forces, the United States command in the Philippines created the US Army Transport (USAT) which was otherwise known as the PI Support Fleet (“PI” stands for Philippine Islands, the name of the country before the war). This was a motley collection of 25 ships which were mostly liners before the war. The fleet was mainly drawn from the shipping company La Naviera Filipina of the Escano and Aboitiz families and its sister company Cebu-Bohol Ferry Company (this company existed after the war for a time too). From those two shipping companies were drawn the passenger-cargo ships Bohol II (91.5m x 12.5m, b. 1906), Agustina (41.0m x 8.2m, b. 1929), Elcano (66.7m x 11.8m, b. 1939), Kolambugan (55.2m x 9.2m, b. 1929), Legaspi, Princess of Cebu which is the former Marapara (47.2m x 9.2m, b. 1931) and Surigao (53.0m x 9.1m, b. 1938).

From big shipping firm Madrigal & Co., the Lepus (81.0m x 11.5m, b. 1906) and Regulus (69.9m x  10.9m, b. 1911) were requisitioned and from Tabacalera (Compania General de Tobacos de Filipinas) came the Compania de Filipinas (54.9m x 9.1m, b. 1890) and Emilia (43.5m x 7.8m, b. 1931). The passenger-cargo ships Governor Smith and Governor Taft (42.5m x 8.2m, b. 1930) were drawn from the Visayan Transportation Co. and from Insular Navigation Co., another Cebu ferry company, came the Katipunan (41.4m x 5.7m, b. 1875) and Princesa (46.9m x 8.5m, 1930).  From the new Manila Steamship Co., successor of Ynchausti y Compania, the biggest inter-island ferry then, the Mayon (105.9m x 15.4m, b. 1930) was also requisitioned along with the Luzon (79.5m x 11.3m, b. 1905) of Compania Maritima. The De La Rama Steamship Co. sent their Kanlaon (53.7m x 9.2m, b. 1931) and Y. Yamane contributed their ship Bacolod . Other requisitioned ships were the Yusang, Hai Kwang, Condensa, Talisay and Dumaguete along with the La Estrella Caltex (44.2m x  8.6m, b. 1931) of The Texas Co. (Philippines) which was a tanker.

The PI Support Fleet, lacking warship support because the US Asiatic Fleet retreated very early to Australia just became a “Suicide Fleet”. None of them survived the war. The ships that were ordered to Darwin, Australia were another “Suicide Fleet” as many of them were caught when they were hiding in Paluan Bay, Mindoro after a delivery to Bataan. Aside from Japanese shelling or aircraft bombing, these fleets had instructions to scuttle if caught by the Japanese or if they can’t retreat to Australia. The US decided to just sacrifice our merchant fleet and its crews rather than risk their warships. The defense of Australia was their priority and not their colony, the Philippine Islands.

With the ships brought to Australia, from the port of Darwin in Northern Territory, Australia, these made supply runs to Bataan where General Douglas MacArthur concentrated his forces hoping they can hold out until supplies and reinforcements arrive (a false hope it turned out). But not being a shipping person, he may have failed to understand that that was an almost impossible expectation because of convoys will be sitting ducks if the rest of the islands are controlled by the Japanese and at that time the Imperial Japanese Navy was stronger than the US Asiatic Fleet (wasn’t there a lesson in the difficulties of the Malta and Northern convoys then?).

The loss of our passenger shipping fleet started in the very early days of the Pacific War on December 1941 during the air attacks of the Japanese especially in Manila and Manila Bay. Some of those lost passenger-cargo liners in the attacks there were the big Corregidor  (96.3m x 12.5m, b. 1911), the medium-sized Samal  (71.7m x 10.5m, b. 1897)  and the small Romblon which was the former Montanes (45.6m x 7.6m, b. 1889), all of Compania Maritima. Also lost were the oceangoing Sagoland  (131.1m x 16.5m, b. 1913) of Madrigal & Co., the smaller ships Ethel Edwards (42.1m x 7.7m, b. 1919) of Smith Navigation Co., the Governor Wright (48.1m x 8.6m, b. 1938) of the Visayan Transportation Co, Inc. and the Surigao of La Naviera Filipina (53.0m x 9.1m, b. 1938).

When it became clear that Manila would soon fall to the Japanese since General Douglas MacArthur declared it as an “open city” which means it would not be defended (this is to lessen the destruction and loss of lives since it was not militarily defensible anymore already), more ships were scuttled in Manila Bay because it was thought it was already too dangerous to flee south to the Visayas and Mindanao. Sank intentionally to prevent them from falling into enemy hands and hence be used by them were the brand-new Antonia of Aboitiz & Co. Inc. (48.0m x 8.6m, b. 1939), the big Bohol (91.5m x 12.5m, b. 1906) of Compania Maritima, the Vizcaya (66.1m x 9.0m, b. 1890) of Manila Steamship Inc., the Magallanes (74.5m x 10.1m, b. 1880),of Gutierrez Hermanos, the Montanes (64.1m x 9.1m, b. 1889) of J. Garcia Alonso, the Churruca (57.9m x 8.0m, b. 1879) of the United Navigation Inc., and the Bicol (45.8m x 7.9m, b. 1901) of the Manila Railroad Co., a government-owned company.

In the first three months of the war, there were also ship losses in the Japanese air attacks in the provinces. That casualties included the Cebu (76.4m x  10.4m, b. 1900) which was lost on New Year’s Day off Mindoro, the Luzon (79.5m x  11.3m, b. 1905), the Islas Filipinas (64.0m x 9.3m, b. 1886) and the Leyte which was the former Romulus (64.0m x 8.9m, b. 1879), all of Compania Maritima. Also sank were the brand-new Surigao (53.0m x 9.1m, b. 1938) of La Naviera Filipina, the big Bisayas (86.9m x 13.7m, b. 1912), the Lanao (90.6m x 14.1m, b. 1896) and the Mayon (105.9m x 15.4m, b. 1930) of Manila Steamship Co. which was one of the biggest liners in the country then.

From the supply runs from Australia to Bataan that sailed mainly in the night, these ships tried to hide in Paluan Bay in northwestern Mindoro as Manila Bay was already controlled then by the Japanese. However, in not a long time, they were discovered by the Japanese and bombed by aircraft and a few were lost or damaged in February and March of 1942. Among them was the new and beautiful liner Don Esteban (81.4m x 11.4m, b. 1936) of the De la Rama Steamship Co.

Some others were lost by surface action on local supply runs like what happened to the brand-new Legaspi and Elcano of La Naviera Filipina which were intercepted by Japanese destroyers in the Verde Island Passage on separate occasions then shelled and sunk or beached on different occasions when they refused to stop. Piteous as actually there is really no way a slow passenger-cargo vessel can outrun a fast destroyer which has three times its speed. Well, maybe that was the reason why two of the ships ordered from Japan by Everett Steamship for Philippine Steam Navigation Company or PSNC in 1955 were named after them as they were heroic ships in the war.

In April 1942, when Bataan fell and the military situation looked hopeless more ships were scuttled and this included the bulk of our smaller ships that were based mainly in the provinces and doing overnight routes and other short-distance routes. Among them were the first ship of Sweet Lines (Central Shipping Corporation then), the Masayon (32.4m x 6.1m, b. 1936) and the first ship of Go Thong, the LUX (24.0m x 4.5m, b.  Cebu as home port of many short-distance and overnight ferries led the scuttling of ships and that also included the overnight ferries of the Escano and Aboitiz families that were not part of La Naviera Filipina.

In ordering the scuttling and commandeering of ships, the US promised that the ships will be replaced by them after the war. Almost all complied with that order except for Vicente Madrigal (and Tabacalera or Compania General de Tabacos de Filipinas, the leading tobacco firm then) and so many of his ships were captured by the Japanese and used by them in the war as their transports. The Americans were furious with Vicente Madrigal and maybe that was one the reason why after the war he was tried as a “collaborator” of the Japanese. Actually, when Manila fell to the Japanese on February 1942, these liners that cannot make it to Australia have nowhere to go as Manila port was the home port of the bulk of the liners. Fuel, parts and personnel almost immediately became a problem, too.

The biggest of our liners including our oceangoing liners were commandeered by the Americans to the US and pressed into their convoys to Europe or used as their transports in the Western hemisphere and some were lost in the war in this duty. Meanwhile, the ships that were captured by the Japanese and used by them in the war were mostly sunk in the US counter-attack and only about two survived the war and returned to their owners. These were the Argus of Madrigal & Co. which was seized by the Japanese in a Hongkong shipyard and the Anakan of  Manila Steamship Co. Inc. And of the three big, brand-new ships of the De la Rama Steamship commandeered by the US to their country, two survived and was later returned to them after the war and these were the Dona Aniceta and Dona Nati. However the Dona Aurora (133.9m x 17.0m, b. 1939) was lost together with their beautiful liners the Don Isidro (97.8m x 14.0m, b. 1939) and the Don Esteban .

With the war the Philippine merchant marine fleet including about 70 liners and oceangoing ships (compare it to the 60 liners of the late 1990s for perspective) practically sank because mainly it has nowhere to go and war forbids it fall into enemy hands. These also include the so-many overnight ships and short-distance ships connecting near islands where ships run during the day. But still many of the latter survived especially the small wooden-hulled ones because they have limited use in a war effort.

What will come next, of course, are shortages and that is most felt in the cities (and that is one reason why some people moved back to the provinces during the war). With the lack of ships and fuel during the war, traders again used wooden hulls and sails and among the users of it then was the young John Gokongwei, later a leading industrialist and tycoon who traded between Manila and Cebu during the war. But like in all wars, travel and movement of goods suffered a lot along with the people.

The Pacific War was a dark era in Philippine shipping history.

 

The Philippines’ First Fast Cruiser Liner

Cruiser liners are our type of comfortable passenger-cargo ships that came before the ROROs (Roll-on, Roll-off ships). They were called cruisers for their type of stern which is curving like a half-moon. This type of ship has no car ramps nor decks for vehicles. What they had were cargo decks with booms to handle the cargo by lifting.

Cruiser liners of the past were slow ships especially those that were surplus ships from the US after the war. The prewar liners were also slow as their engines were not powerful. However, like in cars or planes, gradually the liners became faster until the advent of the fast cruiser liner. These had more powerful engines and were designed for fast turn-around times especially with the use of less in-ports (ports where the liners call in at the middle of the voyage).

The fast cruiser liners we had mainly came from Japan but there were exceptions and among that was the very first cruiser we ever had. Now, what constitutes “fast”? In my grouping and analysis of liners these are the passenger-cargo ships which can do 18 to 20 knots or at the minimum is 17.5 knots, sustained (as 17.5 knots is not too far from 18 knots). Of course, in their ads the shipping companies always stress the less travel time of this kind of ship and William Lines even had monickers for them like “Cheetah of the Sea” or “Sultan of the Sea”.

In this game, it was Negros Navigation who was the series pioneer starting in 1965 with the acquisition of the brand-new Dona Florentina from Japan. Compania Maritima followed suit in 1968 with the brand-new Filipinas and William Lines and Sulpicio Lines just followed lately in 1975 (but eventually they had the most number of fast cruiser liners). Sweet Lines, meanwhile, entered this race with their legendary Sweet Faith in 1970 (and by that time, the fast cruiser liner was already accepted as the new paradigm or mode).

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1960 Apr 30 - Phil President Lines

What the PPL emphasized before the arrival of the President Quezon. ex-“FS” can’t offer much, really. From The Philippines Herald. Research by Gorio Belen in the National Library.

However, the very first to first a fast cruiser liner was the newly-formed shipping company in 1961, the Philippine President Lines or PPL. The ship was the President Quezon and later just the Quezon when an oceangoing ship took that name. When PPL transferred their local operations (they were more of an oceangoing company) to Philippine Pioneer Lines, the ship was renamed to Pioneer Iloilo as it was doing the Manila-Iloilo route. And when the company was renamed into Galaxy Lines after the loss of two ships, the liner was further renamed into the Galaxy, a clear indication she was the flagship of the fleet (the other ships of the fleet were named after constellations). And it seems to me that many who knew her this was the name that stuck to their minds. So this final name of hers will be what I will be mainly using in this article.

The Galaxy started life as a seaplane tender of the US Navy in World War II. Part of the Barnegat-class of small sea plane tenders she was first known as the USS Onslow. Her builder was the Lake Washington Shipyard in Houghton, Washington and she was commissioned in December of 1943. In the US Navy she was known as the AVP-48 and she gained four battle stars during World War II.

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The USS Onslow. A US Naval Historical photo.

In 1947, the USS Onslow was decommissioned by the US Navy and put on reserve but she was recommissioned in 1951 because of the Korean War. She was finally decommissioned in 1960 and sold that same year to the Philippine President Lines. Because of the need for refitting to build passenger accommodations, it was only late in 1961 when she began operation as a commercial ferry.

Even though a fast cruiser liner her first route was Manila-Iloilo-Pulupandan-Cebu-Cagayan de Oro. Later, in Galaxy Lines, she became a dedicated Manila-Iloilo ferry doing a twice a week voyage and her speed was emphasized in their advertisement. It was claimed that she was the fastest ferry in the Philippines which was actually true. With a claimed 19 hours transit time in the Manila-Iloilo route that meant she was averaging 18 knots in the route.

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From the research of Gorio Belen of the PSSS in the National Library.

The President Quezon/Quezon/Pioneer Iloilo/Galaxy was a well-furnished ship and it advertised air-conditioned cabins and dining saloons. But then she might have been in the wrong route as Negros Navigation also offered the same amenities in the Iloilo route. Maybe, she should just have been fielded in the Manila-Cebu route as there were no fast cruiser liners then yet in Cebu.

The Galaxy was a big liner for her time when very few liners touched 100 meters in length. Her Length Over-all (LOA) was 94.7 meters and she had a Breadth of 12.5 meters with a Gross Register Tonnage (GRT) of 2,137 tons. In size, she is approximately that of the infamous Dona Paz which came after her by 14 years. Her two diesel engines produced a combined 6,080 horsepower which was the highest for liners during that time and that gave her a speed of over 18 knots.

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

However, as the decade was ending, unreliability began surfacing for Galaxy and that was what the situation too for US war-surplus ships except for the ex-“FS” ships which had electric drives. In 1971 she foundered at her moorings during a storm but she was salvaged. However, her company was soon winding up operations as it was failing. Her last notable service was when she was chartered by the US during their pull-out from Vietnam in 1975.

Now, almost nobody remembers the Galaxy because she last sailed about 45 years ago. However, she was among our best liners during her time and she is really worth remembering.