The Weesam Express I am detailing here is not the shipping company but the fastcraft which was the progenitor of the fleet of SRN Fastcrafts which is the official name of the company. In the past, this fastcraft was known as Weesam Express 1 and the name change caused some confusion as people have the tendency to ask what is the number and are always assuming the first one always has the number “1” or “I”.
Weesam Express is a High Speed Craft (HSC) and she belongs to the HSC type known as “fastcraft” which are single-hulled, overpowered small passenger ships which were designed for high speed. Specifically, Weesam Express is one of the so-called Malaysian-type of fastcraft which was derived from a riverboat design that was researched and developed by the Malaysian government. It differs from the Japanese design which was derived from motor launches. Malaysian-type fastcrafts are steel-hulled, long and narrow and sits low on the water giving less roll and better stability. High-degree rolls or banking and tight turns are possible with this design due to the low center of gravity. One thrill in riding them especially in high seas is the splashes that are higher than the low-set windows. This type of fastcraft design dominates Southeast Asia and they are mainly made in Malaysian Borneo and sold with attractive sweeteners.
Weesam Express was built by Yong Choo Kui Shipyard (YCK) in Sibu, Sarawak, Malaysia in 1996. YCK is one of the four prominent Malaysian fastcraft builders and they built the most number of the Malaysian-type fastcrafts that sailed in the Philippine waters. Initially, she sailed the Zamboanga City-Jolo, Sulu route and when she came she was the first HSC that operated from Zamboanga City (she was not the first that came there because that honor belongs to Bullet Express 1). Later her route extended to Bongao. In the rotation of the SRN Fastcraft HSCs, she also sailed to Subanipa, Pagadian and Cotabato City tackling the sometimes high waves of Celebes Sea with aplomb especially when there is a weather disturbance in the Visayas area.
Weesam Express has a Registered Length (LR) of 41.0 meters and a Moulded Breadth of 5.5 meters with a Depth of 2.75 meters. She has a Gross Tonnage (GT) of 226 nominal tons and a Net Tonnage of 50 nominal tons. Originally, she had a passenger capacity of 278 which went down to 252 when refitted and more space was given to passengers in a less-dense configuration. As built she is one of the biggest Malaysian-type fastcrafts in the country. Equipped with two Mitsubishi high-speed marine diesel engines that originally developed a total of 4,400 horsepower she was the second-most powerful Malaysian fastcraft in the Philippines and one of the fastest at over 35 knots service speed.
Over time, most of the SRN Fastcrafts left western and southern Mindanao because of a high percentage of non-revenue passengers and they went to the Visayas. With the Certificate of Public Convenience (CPC) issued by the Zamboanga MRO this caused a furor and protests but it eventually held and became a precedent in the issuance of route permits. For the most time she became based in Iloilo and was doing the Iloilo-Bacolod route although like most shipping companies here with several ships in the fleet rotation happens over time.
High-speed marine diesel engines are not known for long life because of very high operating temperatures and vibration that produce stress. Even before the the 20-year threshold for HSC engines the Weesam Express powerplants began showing unreliability and other problems (one of the old bugaboos suffered by its engines is when an engineer fell asleep on the job and the oil level went low). The low-cost solution chosen by the company was to change one of the engines with a surplus high-speed Caterpillar engine and to pool the good parts in the remaining Mitsubishi engine. This conversion was done in Varadero de Recodo shipyard in Zamboanga City in 1992. The nominal total power of the engines rose to 4,650 horsepower but she runs much lower than the theoretical maximum in order to conserve the engines (like lest another crankshaft breaks again). Doing sea trial in Basilan Strait the crew was able to determine the proper throttle settings so the two screws provide the same thrust. The change in engine is reflected in the decal at the stern of the ship. As of now she can only do 28 knots in spurts but in the high price of fuel regime she does no more than 24 knots. She is one of the very rare ships here that has two different brands of engines.
Weesam Express is an all-airconditioned fastcraft and it has three classes in two decks. It has the premium First Class with better seats on the upper deck, the ordinary Tourist class in the lower deck and an airconditioned Economy class. The Economy class is that portion that is located above the engine room where it is noisy and hot and vibration is high. Even with foam and carpeting the heat is simply convected upwards. This is the portion of the fastcraft which has only one passenger deck which is located behind the entrance to the ship.
Malaysian fastcraft bridges are relatively simple and it does not have the sophistication of the catamarans built in Australia and Europe. It does not feature a joystick and instead still relies on steering wheels and simple throttles. Sometimes it is even hot and so the bridge crew opens the windows. In fact, even in the engine room the roar of the engines can be heard because that is one of the disadvantages of the decks being too close to the engine level and with a steel hull. However in terms of speeds they do not give up much to the catamarans but with a heavier hull with two screws close to each other the speed generated compared to the horsepower is not that good. On the other hand being not so high-tech this kind of HSC is easier to acquire and I heard the original acquisition price of this ship was P80 million but I was not able to verify this officially.
Weesam Express has been sailing for almost twenty years now, a relatively elderly age for a fastcraft but the hull seems to be still good. It is only the engines that look to be the weakness of this passenger ferry. Maybe with better fortunes I hope SRN is able to purchase a good stock of engines so their fastcrafts live longer. I just also hope that passengers realize this craft having a lower center of gravity is more stable and I heard even capable of a barrel roll (well, its early iteration has seat belts). As of now passengers fear her lying low in the water. Maybe they think of a ‘banca’ but she is not one. She even has better seats and SRN is known for cold aircons. She even has an airconditioned Economy.
I just hope she will have better patronage in the future.
More Weesam Express photos, CLICK HERE