My Albay Ports Tour

It has been several years before I was able to go back to Bicol where I grew up. My planned trips in 2013 and 2014 were aborted for various reasons and 2015 was a difficult year for me to travel. So I resolved that when I am able to go back to Bicol I will visit the Albay ports especially since it has been some time that someone was able to cover it for PSSS (Philippine Ship Spotters Society).

My targets in Albay were the ports of Legazpi and Tabaco (these are the two main ports of the province). I was not sure I can go to the new port of Pio Duran as it is out of the way and I just reserved a possible visit there when I go back to Cebu via Masbate. Regarding the Mayon Docks in Tabaco City, we have a member there who might arrange access for me but I was not sure if I will have enough time before it gets dark (that is always the problem with long-distance shipspotting especially in rainy weather). Well, I was not even sure if I have the time to visit a PSSS founder based in Tabaco, Edsel Benavides.

After one breakfast, I rode a bus to Legazpi. It was already better this time because the bus trips going there were again back in the two-and-a-half hour range (no more “Station of the Cross”). I first spent some time in the Legazpi bus terminal as I have to take pictures of the buses too as I am also a bus spotter. That is when the rain that was threatening fell. In my trips last Christmas starting from Allen before going to Bicol I almost always had an umbrella. It was the peak of amihan which means the peak of rains too for the lands facing the Pacific Ocean).

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I was able to reach Legazpi port in time. I said this because the motor bancas for Rapu-rapu and Batan islands have not yet left. That was unlike the last time I was there when it was already afternoon (and with a much heavier rain to boot). I noticed there was a new and modern-looking port terminal building with a lot of glass (I just wish it is designed for a super-typhoon). There was also many freighters when I came visiting. They are docked in the refurbished wharf for freighters.

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It on the motor bancas and the inside of the port terminal building where I concentrated. I have not yet covered well for PSSS the big motor bancas of Legazpi. In a sense, they are just like the big motor bancas of Masbate and Surigao. They will take in nearly 100 passengers and a lot of their cargo, one of the reasons for the outside walkway that is part of their design. The swells were a little high. Boarding needs some care lest one be thrown overboard. No need to ask how it is farther. The hawkers were also vending “Bonamine” and “White Flower”.

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I no longer walked towards the freighter pier and preferred instead to just take long-distance shots, for two reasons. One is to conserve on time as I still have a lot of places to cover and second, the freighters in Legazpi are also freighters that can be caught in Cebu or in other ports of the country. Of course the drawback is sometimes my vantage point is not good and I cannot individualize the ships. One notable ship there, however, was a big coal barge, the Highline 55. Maybe the cargo is intended for the cement plant in Camalig town. It was Malaysian with a Malaysian tug (the Highline 56).

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The Embarcadero de Legazpi is is also in the same port area but I did not try to visit it anymore for the same reason of conserving time. I just took shots of it from the port. But I just noticed the zip line is already gone along with the boats for Misibis. Embarcadero de Legazpi, aside from being a mall is also a tourist spot is also a flagship development in Legazpi City. Its boardwalk was beautiful in the past (but then a strong typhoon has just passed).

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I did not stay long in Legazpi port as the motor bancas were already preparing to leave and another reason is I was not too comfortable as the wind was a little strong. It seems it is sucking my lungs and I am no longer used to that feeling. Besides, I also have to go to the old train terminus of Legazpi to see what is the recent situation there. When I shipspot I also take into consideration the wishes of the other PSSS members whose primary liking is rails or bus. I was doing a favor to one of our railfan-member who gave us a lot of ship photos from the past (he is Lindsay Bridge, a rail engineer once assigned to PNR by AusAid).

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From PNR Legazpi Station I took a simple jeep ride to Tabaco. It was a gamble for it can take me longer. On the other hand I have a front seat and that always trumps other considerations (the need to take photos and be able to view the road is always primordial). But it became a good bet as no bus overtook us anyway and I had the chance to throw questions to the driver (he only charged 1 peso per kilometer – Bicol is a deregulated area unlike Mindanao where fares are high because of a monopoly). The only negative was the heavy rain in almost my entire ride. Well, typical amihan weather in the northern coast of Albay.

Funny, in reaching Tabaco my first visit after a short walk in the city center was to the bus terminal. I wanted to catch the buses of Tabaco and I reasoned the ferries from Catanduanes have not yet arrived anyway. From the bus terminal I then proceeded to Tabaco port and it was raining hard again. First, the padyak driver went to the fish landing area but I waved him off as I can also cover that from the inside of the port (the fish landing area and the port are divided by a high wall so there is no direct access).

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It was not difficult to enter Tabaco port although it is supposed to be an ISPS port being the former regional port (the new regional port which Pantao port, Governor Salceda’s white elephant, is just a regional port in name as almost nothing docks there). However, as a short-distance RORO port, people arrive at almost any time, it is the bread and butter of the port and so they do not just shoo away people unlike in ISPS ports where the guards think their port is a fort that must be “defended”.

As usual, there was a Regina Shipping Lines (RSL) basic-short-distance ferry-RORO inside Tabaco port. It was the Regina Calixta-II. The RORO left is supposed to be the first trip at dawn in the next morning (there are no afternoon trips to Catanduanes as many passengers are still bound to the other towns and darkness will overtake them). She is also supposed to be the first ferry out of Catanduanes. Regina Shipping Lines does exclusively the Tabaco to San Andres, Catanduanes route now through Codon port while the sister companies Sta. Clara Shipping and Penafrancia Shipping exclusively do the Tabaco to Virac, Catanduanes route.

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The ferries from Catanduanes have not yet arrived when I was there as their ETA was about 4pm or so as their ETD in Catanduanes is about 12nn or 1pm. These ferries will be laden with buses bound to Manila for sure along with its many passengers. However, just outside the port gates of Tabaco were three more buses for Manila waiting. Those will be for the ship passengers that are without rides yet (I was tempted to ride them at first thought but decided against it since leaving late will allow me no further view of the road).

I visited the inside of the port terminal and the atmosphere there was easy and welcoming. The ticketing offices of the ferries were there along with a slew of passengers that will be staying there for the night to board the first ferry at dawn (one was actually a white married to a local). I was heartened by that because it reminded me of the hospitality of the old ports in the past before the arrival of ISPS (International System of Port Security) which tried to kill such hospitality. In the past, passengers who were left out or were too early for their trip have the comfort of the thought that they can stay in safety in the port or in the ferry that will be the first to leave. Sometimes I think the “I” in ISPS actually means “Inhuman”.

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There was something new inside the port, I noticed. There was a tarp and the ticketing office of one Cardinal Shipping. I thought was, this the pioneering shipping line that first fielded ROROs in the Sorsogon-Samar route three years ahead of Maharlika Uno? Their vessel was a catamaran named Silangan Express 1. I was told that cat was actually a local-built (in Cavite perhaps?). It offers a one-and-a-half hour ride to Codon port versus the usual 4 hours of the short-distance ferry-RORO. Their fare is actually cheap and so it was a good proposition. It only started operations last October and it is the last trip out of Tabaco for Catanduanes.

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I walked the length of the port when the rain subsided. I noticed in the back-up areas two trucks chartered by Oxfam, the international relief agency. I was glad. A Filipino high up in their local operation was an old friend. And then there were the freighters of Tabaco. One thing I noticed in Tabaco is the freighters will usually be actually Tabaco-based. If there are Bicol freighter operators they are based in Tabaco and not in Legazpi although at the stern of the ship the place of registry will be “Legazpi ”since registrations are based where the regional office of MARINA is. Now, why don’t just they affix the place of where the operator is based? Isn’t there more truth and justice in that?

On that day, only the freighters Lander Dexter, Christian Edward and Drake were there. The latter belongs to the Premship group of Cebu, however. There was also a barge whose livery says it is a Michael Ellis which is an Albay shipping company too. It is supporting an expansion of the port. Actually, the last time I was in Tabaco port they also had some expansion/refurbishment going on and I can see in the port road the result now.

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From a distance the Mayon Docks which is also in Tabaco is visible (this is the only big shipyard in Bicol). It will have to be long-distance shots since the linear distance is about two kilometers. Recognizable there was the Star Ferry-III of 168 Shipping Lines with its hump near the bow. This ferry does the Matnog-Allen route. Partially covered there is what turned out to the former Maharlika Cuatro which was bought and sold by Gabisan Shipping. It is now the Regina Calixta VI of Regina Shipping Lines according to a report of our member in Mayon Docks. [Both ferries are sailing now as of the time of the writing of this article.] There were also freighters for refitting in the shipyard as usual and a big LCT.

From an area almost enclosed by the port was the fish landing area (FLA) and on the other end was the fishport of Tabaco. Mostly it was small fishing bancas that were there which fish mainly in Tabaco Bay. There were also motor bancas bound for San Miguel island that almost encloses and is part of Tabaco.

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I did not stay long in Tabaco port, too. First, the weather was not really inviting and I planned not to go back to Legazpi but instead ride a Sabloyon road jeep direct to Ligao City. I really can’t tarry because i might miss the last Sabloyon jeep and this was the reason I can’t wait for Edsel to finish his office work. I was hoping I can see again that road and also see the damage of the recent typhoon like what I did in the earlier portion of my trip. It was front seat again in a basically jeep that does not leave unless it is full (however, it did not take long to fill up because there were students; I barely had time to buy hamburger from a roadside stand for I have not eaten lunch yet to save on time).

It was heavy rains all the way along Sabloyon road made dangerous in some places because of the wash-outs caused by the recent typhoon. I reached Tuburan junction of Ligao City in due time but there was an unexpected problem – the buses were all full. I just took my time getting shots of Manila buses and conversing with some local to get updates. I was however able to board a bus before it got dark. Funny, it was the same bus I took on the way to Legazpi City. Soon it was dark and still raining hard.

I thought, typical amihan weather. I covered nearly 200 kilometers in such kind of weather that day. My shots? Some were awful. But it was good shipspotting anyway. And good railfanning and bus spotting too.

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