The Long Life of M/V Viva Sto. Niño


Image by  Mike Baylon

It seems that when M/V Bisan Maru arrived in the Philippines in 1982 from Japan to become the MV Viva Sto. Niño of the Viva Shipping Lines, her new name signified luck and long life. Gleaning at the records, she seems to be the first RORO (Roll-on, Roll Off) ship of the Viva Shipping group. Analytically, she might have even be the first RORO ship based in Batangas. 1982 was still among our earliest years in RORO shipping when the first ship with true RORO operation came only in 1978 or 1979 (this is still an issue of debate).

The MV Bisan Maru was built in 1967 by Kanda Zosensho in the shipping company’s Kure shipyard for Sanyo Kisen KK of the city of Kasaoka, Okayama Prefecture. The ship has a steel hull with a raked stem and a transom stern. She is equipped with a stern ramp and has a car deck making her a RORO (Roll-on, Roll Off) ship.

Her Length Overall (LOA) is 50.0 meters and her Length Between Perpendiculars (LBP) is 45.0 meters. This ship has a Breadth of 18.0 meters which is rather wide for her length hence giving her a stubby look. She had an original Deadweight Tonnage (DWT) of 262 tons. She is bigger than the basic, short-distance ferry-RORO.

The ship is equipped with two Yanmar Marine diesels developing 1,800 horsepower that drives two screws. Her original top speed was 13 knots. That was enough for touring and connecting duties of the nearby Okayama islands. Her first ID was 4702 but this was later changed to IMO 6811528.

M/V Viva Sto. Niño © Edison Sy

After 15 years of duty, she was sold to the Philippines. An additional deck was added at the bridge level to increase her passenger capacity. Otherwise, she was much practically unchanged. However, the MARINA magic meter worked and her Gross Tonnage (GT) dropped to 486. She has a declared Net Tonnage (NT) of 128 tons, a violation of the IMO rule on Net Tonnage which says it cannot be below 30% of the Gross Tonnage.

She plied the routes of Viva Shipping Lines (VSL) for over twenty years. She can still do 12 knots then. She was not fixed to one route as it is also the policy of the company and its legal-fiction sister companies to differ route assignment. Besides, the company has another shipping base which is Lucena aside from Batangas. The company reaches the islands of Mindoro, the Calamian group, Palawan, Romblon, Marinduque and even far-off Masbate. [They even also have a motor boat base in San Narciso, Quezon and it has routes to Bicol and Masbate.]

The end of the old millennium and the start of the new millennium were periods of very intense and fierce competition in the Southern Tagalog routes (there was still no MIMAROPA region then). Fare wars and discounting were common (but it seems Myrna A. Austria didn’t know this) along with voyages too close in schedules and also some black propaganda. Vehicle traffic then to Mindoro was not yet super since there was still no Mindoro-Romblon connection then and the roads of Mindoro were still bad.

Maybe the loss of a “patron saint”, this fierce competition (one of which is backed by the strongest “patron saint” then), the strengthening intermodal transport along with passenger resentment were a combination deadly for Viva Shipping. They began anchoring ships and in 2003 they stopped sailing. One by one they disposed of their ships (including the fastcrafts and the “batels” or motor boats) but some were not sold or they weren’t able to sell. Sadly, most of those disposed went to the breakers which is a sign of surplus bottoms.

MV Viva Sto. Niño was one of luckier ships able to escape the breakers’ torches. She was sold to Mr. Silverio Atienza in 2003 of the current Atienza Shipping Lines (there were various Atienza shipping companies in the past, all his relatives and some embroiled in controversy). In the new company, the ship was renamed into MV Joy-Ruby. Mr. Silverio Atienza’s base is Manila.

Mr. Silverio Atienza tried this ship into the Lubang and Sablayan routes in Occidental Mindoro. However, this was already the time that intermodal buses and trucks from Manila were already and steadily rolling into the province and hence she was not successful there. Mr. Silverio Atienza then tried the MV Joy-Ruby into the Palawan routes.

The former M/V Joy-Ruby, refloated and given a new lease of life. © Rex Nerves

However, she was also not lucky there. In one of her voyages, it seemed she hit rock just before reaching Puerto Princesa port and her propeller shafting might have unhinged. There was a photo of her then with her bow at a 45-degree angle to the sky and the stern squatting in the sea and passengers diving into the water and swimming to the wharf. There were no major casualties but a later report said then of complete loss/damage of cargo.

A few years after this, in 2008, a new ferry in red, white, and blue began plying the Cebu-Ormoc (GGC Port) route. She was named the MV Super Shuttle Ferry 15. She looked stubby and there was already a housing covering her docking equipment at the bow. She was not readily recognized of who she was before.

M/V Super Shuttle Ferry 15 © James Gabriel Verallo

Eventually, she was recognized. IMO Numbers are immutable and with it ships can be checked in international databases (but not in MARINA which does not use IMO Numbers because as they said they are “IMO-compliant” – they need to check their English). To ship spotters, it does not matter that she came from the sea. What is important is that she was still alive and sailing.

We were able to tour this ship in GGC Port. All parts of the ship seemed to be at par with ships of this size and age. However, we noted the bridge is a little sparse. And we asked and yes, the engines are now a little weak. The bridge is a little unusual but the engines not for a ship this old.

The Super Shuttle Ferry 15 bridge. © James Gabriel Verallo

Next year, she will be celebrating her golden anniversary. She should. She had already many iterations, she took a bath, but hey, she is still alive!


2 thoughts on “The Long Life of M/V Viva Sto. Niño

  1. I heard from one of the SSF crew that they are trying to refurbish her as of the moment somewhere north (Luzon) but forgot the name of the shipyard.


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