The Emerging RORO Cargo LCT Business

RORO Cargo ships are the type of vessels that are designed to load rolling cargo such as trucks and cars. The passengers they are expected to carry are simply the truck crews and the drivers of the cars (and maybe some car passengers too). As such, they don’t have much size in terms of passenger accommodations.

In Europe, there are many RORO Cargo ships that links European countries especially through the Baltic and Mediterranean Seas. Some also go to North Africa. Japan also has RORO Cargo ships especially in their Inland Sea.

There were RORO Cargo ships that came to the Philippines from Europe and Japan. The foremost operator locally is Super Shuttle RORO (SSR). Some have been converted to ROPAX ships by Sulpicio Lines (now PSACC), Gothong Shipping Corporation and Asian Marine Transport Corporation (AMTC).

However, RORO Cargo ships are not many locally because in the Philippines it is the Basic Short-distance Ferry-RORO that carries the bulk of the rolling traffic between the islands. But a new change has come and LCTs began linking the islands too. Since they just carry vehicles and their crews, I call them the RORO Cargo LCTs. In terms of accommodations and speed, these are much less than the true RORO Cargo ships.

The pioneers in this mode could be the LCTs of Goldenbridge Shipping, Mandaue Transport/Nautica Transport and Simpoi Shipping. The first connects Mandaue City and Hindang, Leyte through the LCTs Victor Bryan, Golden Crescent, Aleeza and Navistar. In the old days they were known as Socor Shipping which had Socor 1, Socor 3 and Dona Consuelo in its fleet.

The second connects Mandaue City and Tagbilaran, Bohol via the LCTs Sto. Nino and St. Brendan. The third connects Carmen, Cebu to Ormoc City by their LCT Mabuhay Filipinas.

A notable experiment that happened was when Ocean Transport in their Manila foray used LCTs chartered from Asian Shipping Corporation (ASC) to bring container vans from Mandaue City to Manila. Slowly, they bought their own LCTs. Theirs is not strictly a RORO Cargo operation since forklifts are used to load and unload the container vans.

These early experiences showed RORO Cargo LCTs can charge rates much lower than the traditional shipping modes (container shipping or via Basic, Short-distance Ferry-ROROs and Overnight Ferry-ROROs). These might not be fast but they are reliable just the same.

The next big change happened in the days following Typhoon Yolanda when there was an explosion in the RORO Cargo LCT sector. Roble Shipping first chartered LCTs from Asian Shipping Corporation (ASC) but now they have their own RORO Cargo LCTs.

Some upstartcompanies also plied the Cebu-Tagbilaran, Bohol and Mandaue City-Ormoc City routes. So as not to lose dominance, Roble Shipping and Lite Shipping simply bought them out lock, stock and barrel. The overnight ferry-RORO sector suddenly felt this new mode is a threat to their old way of shipping.

However, there remains a host of new players in the Camotes Sea routes. One new player with deep resources is Cebu Sea Charterers which has a lot of LCTs. Their routes as of now are Carmen, Cebu-Ormoc and Tuburan, Cebu-Escalante City. With their resources and shipping skill (they are part of the legendary Premship group), I would not be surprised if they will soon have new routes somewhere else.

Other new players are PMI Shipping and Concrete Structures, Inc. which ply a Mandaue City-Ormoc City route. An Adnama LCT (of Adnama Mining Resources) is also running along the same route. On another route between Mandaue City and Albuera, Leyte is the big barge Amelie pulled by two tugs. Cube Lines also tried with their LCT Cube I on a route from Danao City. In Western Visayas, GT Express tried to ply a route between Banago Port in Bacolod and Dumangas, Iloilo.

NN-ATS also got into the action, chartered LCTs from Broadway One Shipping for use in the Matnog, Sorsogon-Samar and Liloan, Leyte-Lipata, Surigao City routes. This is actually the liner company 2GO which once never paid attention to the true intermodal shipping which then proceeded to eat up their business slowly.

With these new players, it is hard to name the ships because they rotate.

I know for a fact that there are still ongoing applications for CPCs (or franchise) and attempts to charter or buy LCTs. As of now they are already a threat to the overnight ferry-RORO sector but on the other hand they provide the extra capacity especially for heavy cargo and during the peak seasons.

It seems the growth of this business has not yet peaked.

[Written April 12, 2016]

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