These are two fastcrafts or fast ferries of Japanese origin and are sister ships coming from one design and having a similar hull. They are the best, biggest and most impressive fastcrafts of Montenegro Shipping Lines, Inc. (MSLI). They are good fastcrafts, good enough anywhere else but unluckily they were not good enough to compete in their home turf of Batangas against the faster, superior and legendary SuperCats of yore which even preceded them there. Leaving their home port of Batangas, they found a new base in the Masbate-Pilar (Sorsogon) route, the respite and niche of the MSLI fastcrafts. The names of the sisters even offer a hint or clue of this. Although the two sometimes sail other routes, it is here in this route that they stayed for long.

The “City of Sorsogon” and “City of Masbate” is of the typical Japanese fastcraft design which was derived from the motor launch, an overpowered version of that, so high speeds can be generated and with use of aluminum alloy material for the hull, the weight is reduced producing a high power-to-weight ratio that results in high speeds. These sisters were built by Sumidagawa Shipyard Co. Ltd. of Tokyo, Japan. Having come from a common hull design they are sisters to many other fastcrafts built in Japan. They are, moreover, a little bigger than the two dozen Japanese fastcrafts that came into the country.

The sisters were both completed in 1979 and were known as “Iwayuri” (which became the “City of Sorsogon”) and “Cobalt Arrow 3” (which became the “City of Masbate”). “Iwayuri” has the IMO Number 7913969 and “Cobalt Arrow 3” has the IMO Number 7914872. Both have identical dimensions of:
Length Over-all (LOA): 28.0 meters
Length Registered (LR): 27.5 meters
Breadth Extreme (B): 6.0 meters
Depth (D): 2.8 meters
Gross Tonnage (GT): 175 tons
Net Tonnage (NT): 119 tons
Deadweight Tonnage (DWT): 16 tons
Passenger Capacity: 144 persons

These fastcrafts have twin engines and twin propellers and both possess a total of 2,200 horsepower. The engines of “City of Sorsogon” are Cummins brand but the engines of “City of Masbate” are Ikegai brand. It is possible that these are now replacement engines. Both have a top speed of 25 knots but in the Masbate-Pilar route, the speed is limited to 22 knots and they usually take a little under two hours in the 39-nautical mile route connecting Masbate to the Bicol mainland.
The two fastcrafts both came in 2004. In the Philippines, “City of Sorsogon” has the Call Sign DUE 2167 and “City of Masbate” is DUE 2168 which is an indication they were registered at the same time. The single hull of the sisters is aluminum alloy with a raked stem and they have a transom stem. There is just a single mast which is normal for HSCs and there is just a single passenger deck and a pilot house and weather deck above that.

Both fastcrafts are still nice and reliable. The passenger cabins and airconditioning are still good (actually when I rode, the aircon of “City of Sorsogon” was too cold even though we were full). The cabin is clean and the seats are just okey for this class of ship. Noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) is tolerable.

However, like most HSCs in the Philippines which are all small, ship spotting or even viewing the outside is next to impossible as the salt spray fog the windows and the doors are always closed for safety (and otherwise the aircon will leak too). It would have been better if the front of the cabin is transparent but then the TV screen will not visible (and this is the only amenity of the craft). But to a ship spotter the outside view is more valuable than the canned TV show. There is no open-air economy accommodation which is a good spot for ship spotting and taking pictures.

On the starboard side of the craft is the door to the passenger cabin and this is located in the middle. The bow portion is the preferred accommodation since it is far from the engines. On the stern of the passenger deck is the door and passageway to the engine room. It is hard to be keen in visiting the engine room as the passageway and space are very tight and it is easy to soil one’s clothes with grease. This condition is actually very common among fastcrafts.
These two fastcrafts is a preferred mode of voyage in the Masbate-Pilar route as they are fast and comfortable and the voyage takes only half the time compared to the ROROs and the big motor bancas. Their fare, however, is also double compared to those crafts. They are the first vessel that will arrive in Pilar from Masbate (a 6am departure and an 8am arrival) and is a favorite of government employees and businessmen who have to transact business in Legazpi City. They are also the last to leave Pilar for Masbate (and a significant number of their passengers were their passengers in the first trip from Masbate). Their 4pm departure will still connect with the 6pm ferry for Cebu (they text that ship if there are connecting passengers; the big motor bancas also have this arrangement but one has to declare that in boarding in Pilar).

The situation of the MSLI fastcrafts in the Masbate-Pilar route is what is called by oldtimers as “sitting pretty”. This will be so until competition arrives.


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