Editor’s Note: We would like to apologize for the delay in posting due to technical problems.
It is not usual for one to write about a dead ship if such ship is not remarkable or historical. But the M/V “Northern Samar” is one such ship and maybe even more.
The M/V “Northern Samar” is probably the first true RORO that came to our shores (the LCTs not counted) and it is also the oldest-by-birth RORO that ever served here.
M/V “Northern Samar” started life as the “Sakurajima Maru No. 6”. She was built by Taiyo Zosen in their Nagasaki yard upon the order of the first owner Nishisakurajima and she was completed in August of 1960. That was remarkable because RORO building in Japan started in earnest only in 1958 and in that period it was not yet in vogue so she is actually one of the earliest ROROs in Japan! At completion she was 49.0 meters over-all length with a breadth of 12.4 meters. She was 496 gross tons and she had a speed then of 9 knots on her two Hanshin marine engines developing 1,400 horsepower. Her IMO ID number was 5307520 and she was home ported in Kagoshima, Japan.
In 1977 when the new “Sakurajima Maru No. 6” arrived she was put on the bidding block and on 1978 she came to Newport Shipping of the Philippines as the “Northern Star”. That company was only recently formed then but it was already expanding and looking for new routes despite the lingering effects of the oil crisis then. The 1970’s was the decade when there were incentives to re-fleet and expand as there was a national leadership that understands shipping.
It is a wonder why Newport Shipping came into an area where other shipping companies were in retreat, the Samar island plus the provinces on the way to it which are Romblon and Masbate. Well, they have the better and newer ships and maybe they mistook the retreat as an opportunity. What it only showed was they didn’t understand the intermodal threat which in a few years was already ruling Samar. Newport then tried to join the Matnog-Allen route too and “Northern Star” became the “M/V Northern Samar”.
In due time with the arrival of more ROROs in the route the competition heated up in the ’80s under a condition where the ships were actually growing gray already. Consolidation then came into the scene and Newport Shipping went out of business. But one trademark of this route is ships never go away — they just fall into the hands of competition (except maybe for the cruisers which were already proving inferior to the ROROs in terms of earning revenues. Well revenue from a truck or bus can easily be the equivalent of 30-40 passengers and for a ferry with a passenger capacity of just several hundred that is huge and rolling cargo income can easily top the gross from passengers.
She then came to Bicolandia Shipping/E. Tabinas Enterprises of Eugenia Tabinas which retained her name, a not-uncommon practice to save on fees and to think of it why change a name with a distinctive name? And after all Eugenia Tabinas names ships after provinces anyway. She was re-engined to two Yanmar Marine diesels developing 1,500 horsepower total giving her a maximum speed of 15 knots and able to run with the Sta. Clara Shipping ferries. She then served the Matnog-Allen route many more years.
With the coming of additional competitors and more comfortable ferries and the opening of the RORO route between Tabaco City and Virac, Catanduanes she was transferred there. Having a respite from powerful competition she still served many more years successfully.
All that changed on May 12, 2006 when Typhoon “Caloy” (Severe Tropic Storm “Chanchu” internationally) came visiting Bicol. It was a weak typhoon that was just intensified by the hardheadedness and obtuseness of the captain of the “M/V Northern Samar”. Ordered to proceed to the traditional and historical ship shelter of Sula Channel between the Albay mainland and Cagraray island he instead left the ship moored in Tabaco port. At the height of the typhoon she repeatedly struck the wharf, developed a hole in the hull and capsized. The incident actually also impacted the fortunes of Bicolandia Shipping which quit the shipping business soon as it can no longer fend off the competition.
Later, the remains of “M/V Northern Samar” was dragged further to sea to free up wharf space. She was later salvaged for scrap.
“M/V Northern Samar” was remarkable even in her final chapter. She was actually the first Bicol-based steel-hulled ferry that ever sank and the only one until now if the “Lady of Carmel” is excluded as she is not a Bicol ferry but a Leyte ferry.
Adieu, “M/V Northern Samar”. Whatever the failure on you of your master you have served a long time — 46 years! Few ferries can ever claim that longevity.