The DavSam Link and DavSam II

Once upon a time, after the LCT Davao del Norte which was owned by the Provincial Government of Davao del Norte sank, it was only the Mae Wess/CW Cole ferries that were running the Davao-Samal route through their own wharves in Sasa in Davao and Caliclic in Samal. Their ferries sailed after every 15 or 20 minutes but during Fridays and weekends their ferries can’t cope and a long queue of vehicles waiting to be loaded form and it lines up to the main vehicle gate of Sasa port about half a kilometer away. Vehicles wait and queue for hours under the hot sun and most of these are private cars.

Even with this discomfort, the drivers happily paid the rates of Mae Wess. They don’t realize it that Mae Wess was actually charging them sky-high rates. This can be computed by dividing the RORO rate by the distance in nautical miles. In this method, Mae Wess charges the highest in the country, bar none but those going to Samal didn’t know because they have no comparison. They rarely venture into Lipata port, Mukas port or Zamboanga port where they can find rates that are more reasonable.

Meanwhile, Kudos Trucking has long been a player in Davao in a supplementary role in shipping. They are haulers of container vans and in renting yard space for container vans. Most of their clients are foreign shipping companies and they operate several container yards including one just across the Mae Wess wharf in Sasa, Davao. Then a few years ago they built a wharf or port in Panacan, Davao which has a back-up area for container vans. Asian Marine Transport Corporation (AMTC) was the first to use this wharf for their Cargo RORO ships and their container vans.

With their own wharf in Panacan and the availability of the Babak port just across them in Pakiputan Strait, Kudos Trucking decided to go into the RORO business. After all, Babak port has lost its RORO since LCT Davao del Norte was lost. So, they then barter-chartered two LCTs from Asian Marine Transport Corporation and these were the Super Shuttle RORO 16 and Super Shuttle RORO 14 which arrived in 2013 and 2014. The name of the new shipping company is DavSam Link which is a self-explanatory name.

On the first day when DavSam Link will start operations, the local head of MARINA (Maritime Industries Authority), the Philippine maritime regulatory agency came to Kudos Trucking Corporation wharf and told DavSam Link they should charge the same rate as Mae Wess which was P300 for a sedan. I was among the two ship spotters there covering the opening for PSSS (Philippine Ship Spotters Society), the premiere and the authoritative ship spotting organization in the Philippines which has international links and so I came to know that. DavSam Link wanted then to charge lower. Now, isn’t that what newcomers need to do to gain business? Discounting is done everywhere – in malls, supermarkets, restaurants, hotels, by the plane companies and even by the great 2GO shipping company, etc. The MARINA head did not know that?

Immediately, I knew what the MARINA honcho was protecting was the interest of Mae Wess and not the interest of the public. In all my travels in the whole breadth of the Philippines the RORO rate of Mae Wess was the highest per nautical mile and there was not even a close second and it is the local MARINA was the one which approved it. In many RORO routes there is no such thing as rate parity. That is especially true in Cebu where the lowest charge for the Cebu-Leyte route is only half of those that charge the highest (and there is no need to say which are growing). Maybe the rate should be high enough so that there should be a spare for “gifts” for them? The MARINA honcho obviously has forgotten who are paying their salaries and allowances.

DavSam Link began sailing with rate parity with Mae Wess. With no advantage to show and with people used to the fast departures of Mae Wess they had a very poor start. For truckers there is another disadvantage because an agent of Mae Wess who is in power in Samal threatens no loading if they ever patronize DavSam Link (in the end the truckers did not heed this). This island which calls itself a “garden city” is actually full of illegal exactions on passengers and vehicles which has long been outlawed by the Supreme Court and reiterated by 4 DILG (Department of the Interior and Local Governments) memorandums. Well, in the Philippines unless some mayors and councils are sent to jail, it seems those memorandums are just sheets with the same value as toilet paper. Will this change under President Rodrigo Roa Duterte?

Moreover, the LCTs sent by Asian Marine Transport Corporation to DavSam Link proved uncooperative and broke down with regularity. It got so bad that at one time DavSam Link did not sail for 8 months especially when they sent back the Super Shuttle Ferry 14 and the engine of Super Shuttle Ferry 16 permanently conked out after they hired some former crewmen of Mae Wess (well, I am just stating facts). Some then thought DavSam Link might have been gone for good and defeated in the war with Mae Wess but they might not have been aware of the depths of pockets and will of one Johnny Ng.

Super Shuttle Ferry 16 was sent to General Santos City for re-engining with a brand-new China-made Weichai marine engine (their local agent, the Dynamic Power of Mandaue, Cebu has an office there). Just before Super Shuttle Ferry 16 came back as the DavSam I with a new engine (by then DavSam Link has already bought her from Asian Marine Transport Corporation), a true double-ended ferry arrived from Japan for DavSam Link and she was named as the DavSam II. This was July of 2015.

DavSam II did not sail immediately because she had no meaningful passenger accommodations. It seems in Japan she only sails very short distances and so maybe the passengers just stay in their cars, in the main. A small passenger accommodation of glass and aluminum was then built and it was airconditioned because it was very exposed to the sun. The ferry was also repainted and generally spiffed up but not by much as she arrived as a clean ship and not from a laid-up condition. Well, if a small ferry can sail all the way from Japan then it can be assumed it is in good condition.

The DavSam II was the former ferry Tateishi in Japan with the permanent ID IMO 9004035. She was built by Naikai Shipbuilding and Engineering Co. Ltd. in Setoda yard in 1990. The ship is a double-ended RORO which means she is fitted with ramps on both ends and so both ends look the same anyway. In this type of ship there is no clear bow and stern as she can sail both ways. A RORO of this type might have only one engine but it has propellers and rudders on both ends. The advantage of a true double-ended RORO is she does not need to back up and change direction after leaving port (which means she can then “back up” all the way to the other port). This type of ferry is only used on very short distances as the drag of the propellers on the front end when sailing can be significant if used on longer distances and the advantage of not having to back up and turn is then lost.

The external dimensions of the ship are 32.8 meters length over-all (LOA), 23.9 meters length between perpendiculars (LPP) by 10.6 meters Breadth and 3.0 meters Depth. The cubic measurement is 144 gross tons and the load capacity is 102 deadweight tons. The ship is equipped with a single Yanmar Marine engine of 490 horsepower with two transmissions, two shafts and two propellers. She has raked stem and stern with ramps and her top speed is 9 knots. The ship has a small pilot house suspended atop the car deck and in there still intact is her build plate. A basic RORO, the ingress and egress of the vehicles also serves as the entrance and exit of the passengers.

She arrived with her engine still in very good condition. We heard she was found a long way from Tokyo and maybe she was really only used on very short distances with only few trips a day and that is why her engine was still pristine. Usually this is the type of ferry used to connect islets within the Inland Sea. We heard DavSam Link was able to purchase her for a very good price. The company is very satisfied with her and so it is looking for another double-ended ferry. And with only a 490 horsepower engine she is a fuel miser. Her conduction voyage from Japan took only 4 days without any incident.

She is sailing very regularly in the hours when there is light and until dusk. Where DavSam I has days off because of some mechanical glitches, DavSam II is always sailing. They have reduced the rolling rates for sedan now to P200 from P300 which is actually still high and the passenger fares were reduced to P7 from P10 (funny her fares are even lower than the jeepney fare in Davao). The truck rates which depends on size are also way down from what was once the standard in the Davao-Samal route. And to me it can even be chopped off if only DavSam ferries is always full. Their ship is actually seldom full and their better days are just the weekends or holidays as Samal functions as a getaway of the Dabawenyos. Aside from the tourists from other places, of course.

Now it seems vehicle owners and truckers are beginning to realize that Mae Wess has been overcharging them for too long (but there is no backlash). Where there is monopoly it is known abuse is not far off especially if the regulator is inside the pockets of the operator. They will then try to charge as much as the market will bear. The rates and fares of DavSam Link are now lower than that of Mae Wess even though its route is a little longer since they follow a boomerang route because of the shallows in Pakiputan Strait.

DavSam I is a beautiful ship. Her patronage is somewhat okay now. It seems she might be headed for a successful career here.

For me, I hope she even charges lower.

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