In my view, Lapu-Lapu Ferry 1 is a survivor ship of a survivor shipping company which is Lapu-Lapu Shipping. I wonder if Lapu-Lapu Shipping considered her as flagship but in my eyes it might be like it and it should be like that since Lapu-Lapu Shipping is the survivor of the southeast Masbate to Cebu City routes and Lapu-Lapu Ferry 1 holds that route. Lapu-Lapu Ferry 1 is actually the only ferry left in that part of Masbate and the Cataingan, Masbate to Cebu City route is the only route remaining too in the area.
Southeast Masbate is the Cebuano-speaking portion of Masbate province. Even in earlier decades the area have had links to Cebu province both to the capital and in the northern tip of the Cebu island, the former through motor boats and the latter with large motor bancas and up to the present. Having the same language and also recognizing Cebu as their regional and cultural capital, southeast Masbate sends their products to Cebu City, it sends its better sons and daughters to the great southern city to study and they also source their supplies from the great Cebuano city. A direct link to the area (which is the size of a district) obviates the need to backtrack to the farther Masbate City.
Maybe the route to Cataingan is the one that survived because it has the best port and is located in the protected Cataingan Bay which is also a historical shelter of ships from storms. Cataingan is by no means the trade and commercial center of the district (it is actually Dimasalang, Masbate which has links to Bulan, Sorsogon). Maybe it was the bad situation of the roads then that dictated the historical results. At least Cataingan has an acceptable asphalt road then while going to Cawayan or Placer was more challenging. And Cataingan is closer to Cebu than Dimasalang.
Lapu-Lapu Ferry 1 is now the only ferry serving the route. She too is a survivor, a clear-cut one at that. She was built as a general cargo ship by Okayawa Zosen in Hinase yard in Japan in 1971. She carried the ID IMO 7315753. In 1978 she came to the Philippines and was converted into a passenger-cargo ship to become the second Sweet Time of Sweet Lines. As Sweet Time she had the declared specifications of:
Built in Japan in 1971, steel hull
Raked stem, cruiser stern.
2 masts, 2 passenger decks
L=49.8m B=8.0m D=2.4m
GT=445.75 NT=203.1 DWT=1,003
Passenger capacity=314 persons
Engine: single Hanshin 1,100hp
She did the Cebu-Tagbilaran route for Sweet Lines which was a strong Cebu to Bohol and northern Mindanao operator then.
When Sweet Lines got bankrupt and stopped operations in 1994 she became the Carmelita. In 2002 she was rebuilt in Villono shipyard (now Nagasaka Shipyard) in Tayud, Cebu and she became the Lapu-Lapu Ferry 1. Her declared LOA (length over-all) now is 52.2 meters (her bow became more raked) and the new Depth is 4.1 meters. Meanwhile, her passenger capacity jumped to 509 in three decks.
Although she seemed bigger now, the MARINA “magic meter” came into play and she is now just 246gt and 169nt. She retained her old Hanshin engine but with a higher weight and being over 40 years already she is now just running at 9 knots maximum from the former 11 knots. She takes about 13 hours for the 109-nautical mile Cebu-Cataingan route. Her departure time either way is 6pm and she does the route three times a week with a Cataingan lay-over on Saturdays.
From Cataingan her main load for Cebu is marine products and copra. From Cebu she will load groceries, bakery, hardware and electrical supplies and animal feeds for Cataingan. She is loaded by porters through their backs – no forklifts, no sliding ramps. One advantage is her cargo deck is wharf level. She has three decks aside from the engine deck and cargo holds. The lowermost deck is also for cargo, the crew and passengers and traders. The upper two decks are all Economy passenger accommodations in bunks. She is actually a single-class ship with distinctions by level of deck only (the nearest the engine is the cheapest).
Lapu-Lapu Ferry 1 is a no-frills ship, a simple passenger and cargo carrier. There is nothing more than TVs and a canteen as offerings to the passengers. Riding her in the dark sea in about an hour or two of sailing nearly all the passengers are already asleep with only the hum of the engine breaking the solitude. Passengers are up too early in the next morning. In the cacophony, Cebuano will dominate although most passengers can speak several local languages.
When Montenegro Lines (and ROROBus) opened a route from Polambato port in Bogo, Cebu to Cataingan I became worried for Lapu-Lapu Shipping especially when Montenegro Lines increased their presence in the route to two ROPAXes. However, Lapu-Lapu was able to hold on and recently it seems the pressure eased somehow when ROROBus trips got suspended with the LTFRB crackdown.
I always have my fears about the survival of the route, the shipping company and this ferry because of a surfeit of competition including the Large Motor Bancas and the intermodal trucks. However, I have always found Lapu-Lapu Shipping to be adaptable and it is shown in improvements in the ship to cope. It seems as Lapu-Lapu Ferry 1 she is already in her second iteration.
I simply hope this ferry survives long including the route and the company so the choices of the riding public won’t be lessened and traders of the district will continue to have a direct ship to Cebu. As have been since the long past.
More Lapu-Lapu Ferry 1 photos by Mike Baylon, CLICK HERE