The Samar Star

In 2011, members of the Philippine Ship Spotters Society (PSSS) doing ship spotting by the Cansaga Bay bridge were excited because it seemed the lengthy drydock of Samar Star in Star Marine Shipyard by the that bay was already finished. She was already repainted and from afar it looked like the passenger accommodations were also spiffed up. The members of PSSS were all wishing that Maypalad Shipping Corporation can still get back to sailing. That shipping society is on the sentimental side like most Pinoys and it wishes that the ships they know will sail on forever, if that wer only possible. The members were sad that the Maypalad Shipping fleet including its cargo ships was just anchored and tied up in Mactan Channel since 2009. Samar Star was the only one not tied up there and it seems she was the last one sailing among the fleet. However, another ship of theirs, the Cabalian Star was already a long time “resident” of Philippine Trigon Shipyard Corporation in San Fernando, Cebu.

Samar Star together with a trio of true sister ships of Maypalad Shipping, the Leyte Star, Cebu Star and Kalibo Star is a unique kind of ferry. Her hull and superstructure very much looks like a cargo ship but she is equipped with a quarter RORO ramp in the port side and she has a car deck. Even in Japan her classification was not as a cargo ship but as a RORO Ferry. It looks like her role there is that of a vehicle carrier with a limited, basic passenger accommodation and used as a short-distance RORO ferry. In the Philippines, to increase her passenger capacity, a passenger deck was built over her car deck.

With the lines and superstructure of a cargo ship, the Samar Star is not by any means a looker. Some will even say she is downright ugly. Most people, after all don’t find the design and lines of small general cargo ships to be beautiful and Samar Star very much resembles that type. However, this ship has a story and a history.

Samar Star was first known as the Samar Queen when she arrived in the Philippines in 1980. As a RORO ship, she was one of the earliest in the country although at first glance she might not look like one. Even me when I first saw this kind of ship of Maypalad Shipping thought she was just a converted cargo ship until I saw her classification in Miramar Ship Index as RORO Ferry.

She was the first RORO ship of the K&T Shipping Lines, as Maypalad Shipping Corporation was known then. The ships of K&T Shipping were named “Queens” then and so she was Samar Queen. Later, they were named as “Stars” but not all as their ferry Guiuan remained the Guiuan. Their cargo ships also carried the “Stars” name. K&T Shipping Lines changed their name to Maypalad Shipping Corporation when the ferry Kalibo Star, their flagship, capsized and sank early one afternoon in the heavy swells of Samar Sea near Biliran island on August 15, 1997 with the loss of many lives.

In Japan, Samar Star was known as the Asaka Maru of the shipping line Saito Kaiun KK. This ship was built by Wakamatsu Shipbuilding in Kitakyushu, Fukuoka Prefecture, Japan in 1968 and she carried the IMO Number 6817089. She measured 56.6 meters in length over-all (LOA) with 9.1 meters in extreme breadth (this is akin to the measurements of an “FS” ship). The ship has an original gross register tonnage (GRT) of 482 and deadweight tonnage (DWT) of 203. The Asaka Maru was powered by a single 1,300-horsepower Nippatsu (Fuji) engine which propelled her to a top speed of 11 knots.

In the Philippines, aside from the passenger deck constructed above the car deck a portion of the car deck was also converted for passenger use and fitted with bunks like the passenger deck above. This is so because her primary function in the Philippines was as passenger carrier and carrying vehicles was just a sometime load. The rear or aft portion of the car deck was being used more as a cargo deck for loose cargo. The authorized maximum passenger load of the ship is 280 persons. Whereas in Japan her gross tonnage was 482 that went down to 233 when scantling and a passenger deck was added to her. The MARINA “magic meter” seemed to be at work on her.

K&T Shipping/Maypalad Shipping operated a diverse set of routes from Cebu like routes to Tacloban, Naval (Biliran), Sogod, Liloan, Cabalian (all in Southern Leyte) and even San Jose which was then in Surigao del Norte. They also operated a Guiuan (Eastern Samar)-Tacloban route. I have not confirmed if they operated a Samar or Aklan route before but the names of their ships indicated that. None of their routes seemed to be particularly successful for a long time.

One reason perhaps for this is the type and quality of the ships they were using. Equipped with freighter engines and freighter engine ratings they were not speedy even when new. And so they suffered from the faster competition especially in the longer overnight routes when their ships can’t arrive before breakfast. Aside from that their passenger accommodations are more on the spartan side and cannot compare with or compete with contemporaries. Sometimes, it is also a disadvantage if a ship has no airconditioned accommodations. And early on they were just furnished with foldable cots or tejeras in the local languages.

Later on their routes were unfortunately torpedoed by paradigm changes. With the improvement of the land transport system, slowly the routes to Samar and Tacloban wilted when passengers learned how to use the western Leyte ports and the cheap, unticketed rides offered by the buses from Manila (this practice is extra income or kita-kita by the driver-conductors of the buses and unofficially allowed by the bus companies). The Tacloban route lost heavily to Ormoc port as the ship plus bus/van combination of the latter was cheaper and faster and arrives before breakfast.

The Sogod, Liloan and Cabalian routes also began losing to the ship plus bus/van combination emanating from Hilongos and Bato ports which was cheaper, arrives sooner and was reliable as it is connected to the shipping companies serving those ports. Sogod and Liloan voyages arrive late but the Cabalian route will really test one’s stomach. Again, the lack of engine power and speed of the Maypalad Shipping ships jeopardized them as their ships cannot speed up to compensate for the longer distances of their routes. A ship capable of doing only 11 knots when new in Japan can only be expected to sail at 9 knots here max and on longer routes that simply is not enough.

San Jose in Dinagat island as a destination was a dead duck too as the ship going there would already arrive in the afternoon and that is challenging for the passengers both in patience and in their sustenance. The Cokaliong ship will easily beat them even though the passengers have to transfer in Surigao because at least they can partake of breakfast outside the port gates. Meanwhile, all the Guiuan-Tacloban ships simply lost when the new direct highway from Basey, Samar to Guiuan was finally built and the buses, vans and trucks began rolling.

By the time these challenges of paradigm changes happened it seemed Maypalad Shipping was already weakened financially and they can no longer refleet. They also can’t bring their ships to ports serviced by competition as they were simply outgunned. At this time their ships were already a decade older than competition’s reckoned from the time they arrived here in the Philippines. So, one by one Maypalad Shipping stopped sailing from their routes as they were losing. It seems the last route they were holding was the Cebu-Liloan route and Samar Star was the holder of that route (there they were using the Liloan municipal port). When Maypalad Shipping drydocked the Samar Star they did not field a replacement ship anymore.

After being tied up for five years in Star Marine Shipyard, the fresh coat of paint of Samar Star in 2011 is now peeling off and rust is already beginning to grow in her hull. The tarpaulin covering of the passenger deck is now cracked and the state of her bridge and engine machinery is now questionable at best. As an untended ship built in 1968 she must now be in an advanced graying state. Meanwhile, her fleet mates in Mactan Channel are now disappearing one by one through breaking.

I wish Samar Star will live on but that might just be a wish that cannot be fulfilled.

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