In the recent years three Zamboanga-built overnight ferry-cruisers linked Olutanga to Zamboanga — the “Ever Queen of Hope” and “Ever Sweet” of Ever Lines (however, the two does not sail simultaneously) and the “Magnolia Emerald” of Magnolia Shipping. Both lines are based in Zamboanga and they are practically historical shipping lines of the area now. They were not just recently founded and should be considered survivors already as their contemporary lines like Sampaguita Shipping, SKT Shipping (and successor KST Shipping) and Atilano Shipping are already defunct and gone now.
Once upon a time when there was still no road worthy of its name it was Motor Boats (MBs) that connected the Zamboanga province towns to the then-capital of Zamboanga City. That city was also the main port of the area and main center of trade and commerce with good connections to the outside world. Steel-hulled passenger-cargo ships from Manila also helped connect the towns in the area on their way to the various ports of southern Mindanao. Aside from those there were also Aboitiz Shipping vessels that go around Mindanao island and connecting different ports and markets. Zamboanga-based passenger-cargo ships with routes in southern Mindanao also connected the Zamboanga peninsula towns. Some of those are still around but some pioneers like Juliano Shipping and Atilano Shipping have long been gone from the scene.
As roads and trails were built, slowly the shipping companies gave way to land transport. Lost one by one were routes to Ipil, Kabasalan and Naga and in the 1990s only the routes to Olutanga island, Malangas, Margosatubig and Pagadian were holding fort. The characteristic of the last four is they were not located in the main road and are isolated while the lost routes were located in the main road. In due time with the concreting of the Zamboanga-Pagadian highway only the routes now to Olutanga island and Margosatubig are left. The line to Malangas was lost due to piracy and brigandage. Atilano Shipping meanwhile shifted to Cebu even earlier and where they were better known as Rose Shipping but they are also defunct now.
The route to Margosatubig (which is better known as “Margos”) might be lost in due time, too because the road to there is also concreted now. However, i think the route to Olutanga island will survive the onslaught of the intermodal trucks, buses and vans. Why? Because, simply put it is a remote island and it might still be long before intermodal buses and trucks roll into the island even though there is now an LCT link to the island between Alicia and Mabuhay towns. One factor that delays the coming of the intermodal to the area is the peace and order situation not only in Olutanga island but also in the peninsulas in southern Zamboanga landmass where aside from piracy and brigandage kidnapping is also a threat along with extortion. Sometimes there are also armed clashes and random violence including attacks against civilians. It is in this context that the Zamboanga-Olutanga ferries are still important links of the island to the outside world.
Ferries from Zamboanga connect to Olutanga island mainly through the Subanipa port and secondarily through the port of Talusan. Both are located in the towns with the same names. There are three municipalities in Olutanga but the easternmost, the town of Mabuhay connects to the mainland town of Alicia using the ports of Hula-hula and Guicam in the island through the ferry “LCT Mabuhay”. Ferries from Zamboanga also call on the town of Payao in the mainland and so they also serve as a mainland to the island connection through another route.
Aside from those three shown two other ferries also did the Zamboanga-Olutanga route before but they are no longer the regulars now and they are just more as relievers because of their age and old design .These two ferries are the “Magnolia” of Magnolia Shipping and the “Ever Transport” of Ever Lines. Sometimes the “Magnolia Fragrance” of Magnolia Shipping also does the route, too.
All three ships shown above were built in Zamboanga City in the legendary shipyard of Varadero de Recodo and all are cruisers of the distinctive Zamboanga design which places a premium on deep cargo holds. They are slow cruisers like those of the bygone era but this doesn’t factor much because the route distance is not great so they can depart at night and still arrive at dawn. Accommodations are a combination of bunks with mattresses and folding cots. There is no air-conditioned class and class division is mainly by level with the upper level preferred by passengers as the lower level is nearer the engine thus is hotter and noisier especially since access to the engine room is open. In this lay-out the sleeping accommodations near the side is the preferred sleeping place as the sea breeze from the side provides cooling for the passengers.
As usual with ships linking a rural place to the city the cargo carried from Olutanga will mainly consist of commercial crops and produce from the sea along with animals for butchering. Going back the load will be mainly groceries, dry goods and some motor, fishing, agricultural and construction supplies. Passenger load is still good considering the population of the island is just a little over 90,000 currently. The operational revenue of the Olutanga ferries is still viable and I do not see this reversing anytime soon more so an intermodal truck or bus will not have much of an advantage in transit time nor in comfort and if that will have an edge it will just be more of the availability of daily departures. But, of course they will have to contend with the poor security situation of the area and that includes even Payao.
Times and conditions will change over time (including trade, peace and order and road conditions). And the intermodal will inexorably always inch forward as it is the superior mode of transport. With clouds in the distant horizon, so to speak, maybe new ferries will no longer be coming to the Olutanga island route and probably the shipping owners will just squeeze the last economic life of these Olutanga ferries. They might still be around for some time.
An additional look and homage to some early ferries to Olutanga that are just reserves now: