The Trans-Asia 19

On March 2 of this year, the Trans-Asia Shipping Lines, Inc. (TASLI) of Cebu, a part of Chelsea Logistics Corp., inaugurated their newest ship, the Trans-Asia 19. The inauguration was done in the Port of Cagayan de Oro and Mr. Kenneth Sy, President and CEO of Trans-Asia Shipping Lines led the inaugural ceremony ably assisted by his wife, Ms. Pinky Sy, the TASLI Vice-President for Sales and Marketing . The inaugural went well but what was new was it was held in the Port of Cagayan de Oro since Cebu-based companies usually hold their inaugurations in Cebu. The Philippine Ship Spotters Society (PSSS) was invited and helped cover the event.

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Photo from John Nino Borgonia

The Trans-Asia 19  is not only the latest ship of Trans-Asia Shipping Lines. She is actually their first-ever ship fielded  as brand-new and reports say she cost more than PhP 600 million which is four to five times the cost of a 25-year old refurbished and refitted ferry from Japan of the same size. However, Mr. Kenneth Sy pointed out in his inaugural speech that they must need to modernize as the regulatory body Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA)  plans to phase out ferries that are over 35 years old already (which means built 1984 or earlier).

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Photo from John Nino Borgonia

The ship is only a medium-sized ferry by Philippine standards and her passenger capacity is only 450 persons. She is an overnight ferry-RORO as she is equipped with bunks instead of seats (there are a few seats though for the budget traveler). Her designated route is Cagayan de Oro to Tagbilaran, v.v. three times a week with an extension to Cebu on the 7th day. She replaced their old vessel on the route, the Asia Philippines which was sold to George & Peter Lines, another Cebu-based shipping company but a non-competitor of the company.

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Photo from John Nino Borgonia

It was the Kegoya Dock Co. in Kure, Hiroshima Prefecture, Japan which built the Trans-Asia 19 and it was the mother company of TASLI, the Chelsea Logistics Corp. (CLC) which ordered this ship. Earlier, TASLI and CLC had a merger which had to go through the Philippine Competition Commission (PCC) because the deal is over one billion pesos in value. The Trans-Asia 19 is actually similar to the new ferries that came to Starlite Ferries (which was sold to CLC) starting in 2015 but the difference to those is most the Starlite ships were built as short-distance ferries equipped with seats. However, all are sister ships and their superstructures and external lines are practically the same and all were built by Kegoya Dock.

After completion and turn-over, the Trans-Asia 19 started its conduction voyage from Kegoya on November 15, 2018 and she reached Talisay anchorage in Cebu on the first hour of November 22, 2018. The conduction crew of twelve was led by Capt. Hector Nelson Ramirez who is still the Master of the ship. From arrival, the Trans-Asia 19 spent almost two months clearing Customs and completing papers in MARINA (Maritime Industry Authority), the local maritime regulatory body. In the country those two agencies are always the biggest hurdles for new ships. And so it was only on February 18, 2019 when Trans-Asia 19 had its maiden voyage from Tagbilaran to Cagayan de Oro. Yes, the maiden voyage came before the inauguration but that is not so unusual as an occurrence.

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The Trans-Asia 19 in anchorage. Photo by Daryl Yting.

The Trans-Asia 19 is a steel-hulled RORO (Roll-on, Roll-off) ship with a single car deck of 13-feet height accessible from a stern ramp. The ship has a bulbous stem and a transom stern and she has two masts and two funnels that lies exactly above the engines. Externally, she is not that modern-looking but her equipment and features are actually all modern. This ferry is even equipped with an elevator for persons with disability and for the elderly and mothers with infants (the elevators run from the car deck). The ship has high sides which provides additional safety in rough seas. As aid in docking, the Trans-Asia 19 also has a pair of bow thrusters.

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Trans-Asia 19 bow thruster

The Length Over-all (LOA) of the ship is 67.6 meters (LOA is the maximum length of the ship) and her Length Between Perpendiculars (LPP or LBP) is 61.8 meters. The ship’s Breadth or Beam is 15.3 meters and that is the measure of the ship at its widest. The Depth of the ship is 9.40 meters (and that is the reason for the high sides) and the Draft is 3.22 meters (the latter is the minimum water depth for a ship to be able to navigate safely). Increasing Draft would mean a more stable sailing (but more drag when the sea is smooth) . The Depth from the car deck of the ship is 4.40 meters and that is the distance from the car deck up to the bottom of the hull and that is the point where water will start entering the car deck.

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The Gross Tonnage (GT) of the ship is 2,976 and this is the total cubic measure of the of the ship. The Net Tonnage (NT) is approximate 805 if based on the pioneer of the sister ships. NT is the cubic measure of the ship’s space that is usable for passengers and cargo. The Deadweight Tonnage (DWT) of the ship is 834 tons. That is the maximum safe carrying capacity of the ship in weight and that is far higher than the rolling cargo capacity of the car deck which is 13 cars and 7 trucks and that is good in terms of margin of safety. The passenger capacity of Trans-Asia 19 is 450 persons and the ship’s complement (the crew) is 32 (but this is still increased by the security personnel and drivers on board).

The main engines of this ship is a pair of Yanmar 6EY22AW engines of 1,863ps each for a total of 3,726ps (ps is approximately equal to horsepower) and the auxiliary engines are Yanmar marine diesels too of 500hp each. The engine room of this RORO ship is equipped with a small engineers’ station. That protects the ears of the engineers and it shields them from the heat generated by the engines while the ship is running. The service speed of Trans-Asia 19 is 13.6 knots at 85% MCR (Maximum Continuous Rating) which is about the range an engine is set to avoid damage to the engine. One thing I noticed is the ship’s engines are controllable by levers in the bridge.

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Trans-Asia 19 auxiliary engine. Photo by Mike Baylon.

In case of fire in the engine room, the safety procedures work this way. There is an actuator box which when opened automatically shuts the ventilators to the engine room and other sources of air. An alarm for evacuation of the engine room is then sounded and confirmation of evacuation will have to be done and then all hatches and doors are closed. Carbon dioxide gas will then be released into the engine room for two minutes. There is also an instruction should the actuating system fail for any reason but whatever it is still the carbon dioxide system which will be relied upon to extinguish the fire in the engine room. The actuator box is located in the bridge of the ship.

This ship passed the tough “NK” (Nippon Kaiji Kyokai) ship classification of Japan. The navigation area of the ship is restricted to the Philippines (yes, this was really designed to be an inter-island ferry in local waters). The Call Sign of Trans-Asia 19 is 4DFV-3 (for its identification in radio communication) and its MMSI Number is 548937500 (this is in relation to the AIS or Automatic Identification System of the ship which is the equivalent to the transponder of an aircraft). The permanent ID of the ship is IMO 9831995.

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President & CEO Kenneth Sy speaking. Photo by Mike Baylon.

In his speech in the inauguration of Trans-Asia 19, the TASLI President & CEO emphasized the safety features designed into the ship like a bridge monitor which will trigger an alarm if there is no person in the bridge (this is the Bridge Navigational Watch Alarm System or BNWAS which is supplied by Furuno). This ship is designed to ease the workload of the bridge crew as it is equipped with an autopilot and an autoplotter which means this has reliance not only on the radar but also with its AIS equipment. This ship can dock by itself given it has GPS and an autopilot. The vessel is also equipped with a sonar that warns of grounding (well, that is important in Maribojoc Bay with its reefs where some ships have already grounded). If the sister Starlite ships are touted to be built for the rough Philippine waters then this ship can also make that claim.

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Trans-Asia 19 bridge. Photo by John Nino Borgonia.

In the deck above the car deck which is called the Promenade Deck is located the higher class of accommodations of the ship and many of the amenities. Half of the deck is occupied by the Tourist Class and it is located at the aft (rear portion) of this deck. In the middle is the Information Counter, the Restaurant and the Clinic. In the forward section of this deck lies the Family Room for 4 which is paid for by the room but per person it is cheaper than Tourist so it is good for a family or a group. More or less it is the equivalent of Tourist Deluxe. There is also a Private Room which more or less corresponds to Business Class.

 

 

In the Bridge Deck of the ship lies the non-aircon Economy Class of the ship in its aft portion and this occupies a space less than that of the Tourist below. The reason for this is just ahead lies the class with reclining chairs and seat belts and it is air-conditioned (in industry parlance this is called “Jetseater”. That should be a good alternative to Economy if one wants air-conditioning and is comfortable anyway in seats like in an aircon bus. Just at the back of bridge of this deck lies the Officers’ cabins, the Crew’s quarters, the ship’s Galley (the kitchen for the crew) and the Mess Hall.

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In the bridge there is the usual retinue of equipment like the GPS, radar plus ARPA (Automatic Radar Plotting Aid), various gauges and switches, a control board, radio equipment, etc. There is the standard navigators’ table (hard to call it the plotting table now since there is already an autoplotter but it seems MARINA, the maritime regulatory body still insists on paper plots). In the bridge is also a bank of CCTVs monitoring all parts of the vessel. The ship still has the traditional wheel and is not yet joystick-controlled but as mentioned before there is already an autopilot.

Over-all, the Trans-Asia 19 is a fully modern ship with all the safety features needed for safe navigation. And for a ferry of 67-meters length there is a wide choice of accommodations. Bol-anons, Cagayanons and Misamisnons will be very happy with this ship especially since it is brand-new (I was told Bol-anons going south were shocked to have a new ship). And the size might just be perfect for the route. With regards to length, this ship and the ship she is replacing has almost the same LOA. It just happened that this ship is a little wider but the passenger capacity is smaller. That means more space for the passengers. The engines of this ship are a little smaller and being brand-new there will be fuel savings for the company.

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A very fine ship! Congratulations indeed to Trans-Asia!

 

Edit: 3/10/2019 – Changed caption for main engine to auxiliary engine. Apologies for the mixup.

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When The Philippine Ship Spotters Society (PSSS) Attended The Inauguration of the Trans-Asia 19

On the last week of February this year, the Philippine Ship Spotters Society (PSSS) received a formal invitation from Trans-Asia Shipping Lines, Inc. (TASLI) to the inauguration of their newest ship, the Trans-Asia 19 which was to be held in the Macabalan port of Cagayan de Oro City. To show respect for the invitation and to give importance to the occasion, our group immediately decided in the affirmative and began canvassing who can go as the invitation was RSVP and they immediately wanted the names of those coming to the inauguration. Unfortunately, none of the members near Cagayan de Oro was available and we prefer to send PSSS leaders to occasions like this as some big people will be around. And so although coming from afar, three of us prepared to come: yours truly from Davao City, Mark Ocul from Ozamis City and Aris Refugio from Samal City.  All are leaders of PSSS.

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Me and Aris will be going together but time was a little tight for us as Davao is far from Cagayan de Oro. Aris can only take the first trip of the motor boat from Samal and it is little dicey if we will be able to make the 6am aircon bus from Cagayan de Oro (we actually boarded the 6:30am bus). Mark, meanwhile, would have an easier trip. He would take the 8am ship Filipinas Nasipit from Ozamis to Iligan (and Mark knows the Captain of that ship). From Iligan City, he would take the bus to Cagayan de Oro. However, his ship departed late and by mid-morning we were all hoping badly we can make the 2:30pm start of the inauguration. Me and Aris was a little lucky the bus now uses the Cagayan de Oro coastal highway. Mark took the taxi from Bulua bus terminal, arrived just in time but preferred to wait for us by the gate. He advised us our entrance is via Gate 4, the cargo gate of Macabalan port.  Soon, we arrived and he showed the guards the invitation again and a PPA (Philippine Ports Authority) vehicle fetched us as walking inside the port area is forbidden. We arrived by the ship when the other guests were still signing the logbook. Maybe we were last among the guests to arrive but yes, they know and expect the PSSS.

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For my side I really wanted to go even though I was not feeling very well because occasions like these can be a little overwhelming for some. One reason is company bigwigs are around and their guests tend to be high-heeled. But fortunately they were all very friendly with us although we were dressed very casually. Maybe all of us just wanted a good send-off for the new vessel that is the signal for the resurgence of Trans-Asia Shipping Lines Inc. (TASLI) in passenger shipping. Trans-Asia 19 happens to be the first brand-new vessel fielded by the company.

Another fortunate thing was someone from the crew immediately recognized us. It was 2nd Engineer John Nino Borgonia who is a PSSS member and who remembered us when we visited C/E Mendoza, a PSSS friend aboard Super Shuttle RORO 9 when they were docked in Davao. Since it was understood that a tour of the ship is part of the package in the invitation, he immediately showed us the various parts of the ship. To my surprise, his first suggestion was the thruster room. In my long experience with ship spotting, I have never been to that portion of the ship and we accepted the invitation with eagerness. The thruster room is near the bow of the ship and access to it was not easy. The Trans-Asia 19 comes equipped with bow thrusters which aid in the docking of the ship.

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After the thruster room, John asked us where do want to go next and I said the engine room, of course. It’s easy to tour the upper decks of the ship but the engine room is a prize as that is restricted area and there are hours when even an acknowledged visitor is not allowed there. The engine room was immaculately clean. Plus it has an engine control room where the engineers are protected from the sound of the engines when running. The ship’s engines were all Yanmar marine engines from the main engines to the auxiliary engines. I commented that Yanmar is a very good make. Actually, it is an awarded make in Japan.

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We then went to the second deck (from the car deck) of the ship where passenger accommodations are located. A Tourist section is located in this as well as the Information Counter, the Restaurant and the Starsy convenience store. There are also Family Rooms (which is the equivalent of a Tourist Deluxe for four persons) and is paid by the room (but the rate is lower per person compared to Tourist Class so it is good for groups). There is also a Private Room which is equivalent to Cabin Class. For a 67-meter ship, the Trans-Asia 19 has plenty of choices in the accommodations and is a full-pledged overnight ferry.

We then toured the third deck which is also the Bridge Deck. Further Tourist accommodations are located here plus the Officers’ cabins and the Radio Room. A Jetseater class (the industry term for reclining chairs and this is air-conditioned) is also located in this deck plus the Economy section. We did not yet try for the bridge of the ship as we don’t want to go there without an escort. We also used the Trans-Asia 19 as a ship spotting platform to take shots of the other ships in the Port of Cagayan de Oro and in Macalajar Bay. Soon, I felt we had to get down as the upper decks is emptying of people and that means something is happening below.

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In the small makeshift stage near the aft of the car deck, we found Mr. Kenneth Sy, President and CEO of Trans-Asia Shipping Lines, Inc. speaking about the Trans-Asia 19 and the reason for its acquisition which is modernization. I was touched by his optimism because Trans-Asia is one company I would not like to go given their great history when they fielded the best overnight ferries from Cebu when they started (versus the old ex-“FS” and ex-“F” ships of the competition which were relics from World War II). They were also the first to convert to RORO (Roll-on, Roll-off) ships among overnight ferry companies. And they were the first to have an all-RORO fleet, the wave of the future which is a big accomplishment given that they were ahead in this typw even compared to the liner companies (Sulpicio Lines, William Lines, Carlos A. Gothong Lines Inc., Negros Navigation Co.and Aboitiz Shipping Corp. which still clung to their cruiser liners). Trans-Asia needs to remain and we were there in the affirmation of it and I felt a thrill with that.

I had the chance to shake hands and pose with Mr. Kenneth Sy after his talk. He seems to be a gentle and a genial person (he is also a topnotch photographer). He invited us to partake of the food in the upper deck. We were still busy taking shots in the upper deck as we want the bigwigs to take food first when he spotted Mark and said, “Eat first before the pictures”. He said this in Bisaya. Every now and then we will bump into him as the area was small and smiles and some words will be exchanged. The catered food was good and it was a big sustenance for me as in our haste I had to forego lunch and I am a diabetic. There was also lechon (roasted pig) which seems to be obligatory in Philippine occasions such as this.

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Later, I had the privilege of talking to Ms. Pinky Sy, the wife of Mr. Kenneth and ask some questions about the situation and plans of the company. Ms. Pinky, I came to learn later was Trans-Asia Vice-President for Sales and Marketing. And so I now realized why she was very knowledgeable about the company. She said more ferries are coming for Trans-Asia but in the meantime they will still hold on to their veteran ships excluding the Asia Philippines and the Trans-Asia 9 which are now sold or being sold. They wouldn’t yet sell the old ferries until the new ferries arrived. I also asked about their relationship with Chelsea Logistics. She said it is now a partnership and they have not divested (that is contrary to earlier wrong reports that they have divested). It was an answer from a question of mine.

There will be three launching of new ferries this year plus five hold-overs means eight ferries total by this year. Well, that should be nearly enough to serve all their passenger routes but i think they will have additions for next year too. For cargo, we all know they now have container ships operating from Manila and reaching as far as Davao. Trans-Asia Shipping Lines has a total of six cargo and container ship plus one LCT. That is one sea change for Trans-Asia. They are no longer just an overnight ferry company.

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We came to meet John again and he accompanied us to the bridge of Trans-Asia 19. It is a modern bridge and being brand-new it was still in a spic-and-span condition. In the bridge we had a talk with John and it is there that we learned that Trans-Asia 19 already had four complete voyages before her inauguration and that her first official voyage happened on January 18 of this year. No, he had no exact idea why the inauguration was held in Cagayan de Oro when all will expect it would be held in Cebu. Well, a change is also good. Anyway, the Trans-Asia 19 is a replacement for their disposed-of ferry Asia Philippines and so her route is Cagayan de Oro to Tagbilaran three times a week with a once a week extension to Cebu from Tagbilaran (well, Bol-anons and Cagayanons are lucky they have a brand-new ship). John speculated that since their stay in Cebu is short and cargo has to be handled might have been the reason why Trans-Asia 19 was inaugurated in Cagayan de Oro. Before leaving the bridge we had that now- traditional photo with crew holding a paper saying “Trans-Asia 19 loves PSSS”. Of course, we love them and we are grateful for their hospitality and support.

Soon there was an advice for guests to disembark from the ship. It was already nearing 5pm, the scheduled time of the end of the inauguration (and the ship still has to load cargo) and so we headed down. On the way, we met Mr. Kenneth again and he forthwith invited us to the inauguration of Trans-Asia 18 (this ship is being refitted right now in Cebu) and the Trans-Asia 20 (so there is a coming Trans-Asia 20!). We said “Yes” of course and with alacrity. That is an honor and an experience. Dumb is the one who will refuse that. And coming from the President and CEO? And so are looking forward to that with excitement.

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Before disembarking we again congratulated Mr. Kenneth and asked with a little trepidation if we can tour the Trans-Asia 10 which is bound for Cebu and is just docked nearby. He readily said “Yes” and told us to just tell the people of Trans-Asia 10 that we have his permission. So it will be a double tour! We then proceeded to Trans-Asia 10 and they easily let us aboard even though it was already embarkation time. But, of course, the tour of that ship and of the meeting and talk with her Captain is another story that is worth another article.

It was past 7pm when we got off Trans-Asia 10 and walking out of Macabalan port the question is what next. Mark to ride immediately to Ozamis would be useless as the ferry in Mukas port will start sailing at 4am. Aris had the same problem as the motor boat to Samal is still at 5am. He can take the 24-hour Mae Wess ferry but he might have a long waiting time. And we were in a celebratory mood and we need dinner already. And so we proceeded to Ayala Centrio Mall to have a good dinner. We thought our successful trip needs extended talks and more camaraderie. And we therefore enjoyed this mood until the restaurant closed. We just hung around more in the mall and only parted ways at midnight.

The total journey was tiring and it was not cheap but I have no regrets whatsoever. We all felt it was all worth it. It was near to an experience of a lifetime and it will honor our group the Philippine Ship Spotters Society (PSSS) and it will help highlight shipping and Trans-Asia Shipping Lines. Plus of course it will cement relations with this company.

Now, I just hope that this is just the beginning.

[Note: I will have a follow-up article which will be exclusively about Trans-Asia 19 which will focus on her specifications, equipment and accommodations. To treat it all here will be too heavy and focus will be a problem.]

 

The Miyuki Maru

The Miyuki Maru which is in the Philippines now is one ferry that is lucky to have a long life although she had many owners already. And recently she was given another lease of life although she is already pushing to fifty years in age and of sailing. At the moment, however, I will leave the reader in suspense what this familiar ship is. What I can say however is she was always wanted all of her years and not all ferries were that lucky.

“Miyuki” is a common feminine given Japanese name and many Japanese women carry that as their first name. Translated, in many cases she is associated with the word “beautiful” and maybe that is the reason why she had been lucky all these years. “Maru”, of course, always referred to a ship but actually that is not the exact translation. So loosely, “Miyuki Maru” can be regarded as a “beautiful ship”. Not that most will agree with that description but as they say, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”.

The Miyuki Maru is a ferry built in 1970 by the Kanda Zosensho in Kure, Japan for the Sado Kisen K.K. as a ferry of the Sado Island (Sadogashima) which lies in the Sea of Japan just off the Niigata prefecture and the island is alsoa  part of that prefecture. With that connection, I am not surprised the Miyuki Maru is powered by Niigata engines, the manufacturer of which is based in the namesake prefecture. (Now, that engine make served her well).

The Miyuki Maru which has the permanent ID IMO 7044225 is a ROPAX (RORO-Passenger ship) which has RORO (Roll-on, Roll-off) ramps at the bow and stern with a single cargo deck, a steel hull, a raked stem and a transom stern. She has a Length Over-all (LOA) of 62.0 meters, a Length Between Perpendiculars (LPP) of 55.5 meters and a Beam of 13.4 meters. Her Gross Register Tonnage (GRT) in Japan was 797 tons, a Net Register Tonnage (NRT) of just 151 tons (which means that originally her passenger accommodation was small), and a Deadweight Tonnage (DWT) of 411 tons. The total output of her twin engines is 3,600 horsepower which gave her a top sustained speed of 14 knots when new. The ferry had a single passenger deck, two masts and two funnels.

In 1987, this ferry was sold to Awashima Kisen K.K. and she became an Awashima Island ferry. Though with a change of ownership her name was not changed (because maybe there was no need to change a beautiful name). That was until 1992 when she was sold to the Philippines at 22 years of age. At that time, Japan shipping companies try to sell their ship after 20 years as there are incentives by the Japan government for re-fleeting their old ships. But that practice was misrepresented by some in the Philippines as if the ship is already “old” or worse just good enough for the scrapyard (which isn’t true) and worst is the charge by those who are ignorant of ships that they are simply “floating coffins” (because then at 20 years of age their cars are already dilapidated but they don’t understand that cars and ships are not exactly comparable as ships are much more durable than cars).

In the Philippines, the ferry Miyuki Maru went to Trans-Asia Shipping Lines Inc. (TASLI) of Cebu which in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s was already busy in converting from cruiser ships to RORO ships (more exactly ROPAX ships), one the first Philippine companies to do full conversion of their fleet (while the national liner companies like Sulpicio Lines, William Lines, Negros Navigation and Aboitiz Shipping can’t make that claim then as they were still clinging to their cruiser liners). Yes, that was how great and modern that company was then compared to the recent years when their glory was already faded. Yes, they were that advanced before the emergence of the Cebu Ferries Corporation (CFC) from the “Great Merger” of William Lines, Gothong Lines and Aboitiz Shipping. That merger inflicted them a very serious blow as from the biggest overnight ferry company in Cebu, a new entity bigger than them suddenly emerged. In Trans-Asia Shipping Lines, the Miyuki Maru became known as the Asia Singapore, the second ship in the fleet to carry that name (the first was a cruiser ship).

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The Asia Singapore. From TM Brochures.

As the Asia Singapore, an additional half-deck was added as passenger accommodation and together with an extension of her original passenger deck these served as the open-air Economy accommodations of the refitted ship. Air-conditioned Tourist and Cabin accommodations were also added and being equipped with bunks she became a full-pledged overnight ferry. Her new Gross Tonnage (GT) became 830 tons with a Net Tonnage (NT) of 251 tons (a figure that is suspiciously low) and a passenger capacity of 533 persons. In the fleet of Trans-Asia Shipping Lines she was the sixth ROPAX ship after the Asia Hongkong, Asia Japan, Asia Thailand, Asia Taiwan and Asia Brunei. Locally, the ferry has a Call Sign of DUHE7. Of course, the IMO Number is unchanged.

In 2001, the Asia Singapore was sold to Palacio Shipping Lines (which was otherwise known as FJP Lines) that was then already acquiring ROPAX ships. She then was renamed into the Don Martin Sr. 9, the third ROPAX ship in the Palacio fleet. Later on, she was further renamed into the Calbayog in honor of the port and city that was the origin of Palacio Lines (she was however not the biggest ferry in the fleet as the honor belonged to the Don Martin Sr. 8, a sister ship of the Zamboanga Ferry of the George and Peter Lines).

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The Calbayog. Photo by Janjan Salas.

When Palacio Lines felt the pressure of new competition allowed into Samar from Cebu, their old strong route, that triggered her terminal decline which started from the loss of their Bantayan route from Cebu Port. This was exacerbated by the situation then that their old, small cruisers no longer had viable routes especially with the advent of the ROPAXes of the competition. When the company’s last remaining stronghold, the Plaridel route was also opened to competition, it signaled that the end of the company was already near. In size, quality and cleanliness of the ferries, Palacio Lines was no match to the new competition.

In 2012, Palacio Lines stopped sailing although they were still advertising their old schedules and routes in the local papers of Cebu. They even went to the extent of denying that to media although it was plainly visible that their ships were always moored in Cebu port and without lights at night. In a short time, however, the truth can no longer be hidden when the company started disposing her remaining ships and those disappeared one by one from the Port of Cebu. The cruelest was when their biggest ship, the Don Martin Sr. 8 went to a Cebu breaker after there were no takers at her. Maybe Palacio Lines needed money then to settle some things.

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The Calbayog in Batangas Bay waiting to be converted into Starlite Neptune. Photo by Mark Anthony Arceno.

There was a shipping company in Batangas that had a track record of acquiring old ferries that were already being disposed especially those that were no longer sailing including from defunct shipping companies. This was the Starlite Ferries of Alfonso Cusi then which started from old, unreliable ferries being disposed by William, Gothong and Aboitiz (WG&A). Those were followed by a small ROPAX from one of the Atienzas of Mindoro shipping that was going out of business (a victim of the change-over from wooden motor boats or batels to ROROs), then a fastcraft from the defunct DR Shipping of Don Domingo Reyes and two ferries from the Shipsafe/Safeship duo of shipping companies that was also going out of business, among other acquisitions. So it was not a surprise to me when they grabbed the Calbayog which then became the Starlite Neptune in their fleet. From the point of view of Miyuki Maru that was a saving move as it proved to be her salvation. And not only that. She also went to a shipping company that knows how to refurbish and maintain old ships although her owner later developed a taste of bullying in the media old ferries when he was able to acquire a loan package from the government to build new ferries (now Starlite Ferries is already disposing of their old ferries).8235177182_630daf5d2b_k

The Miyuki Maru as Starlite Neptune. Photo by Nowell Alcancia.

The Starlite Neptune or Miyuki Maru was also a success in Starlite Ferries although soon her owner faced a problem when their new ferries started arriving from Japan and they were not able to develop new routes. So it was obvious they would have to dispose old ferries especially if her owner would have to be honorable enough in backing up with action his attacks against old ferries. Shockingly, it was not the old ferries that were disposed by Alfonso Cusi but his whole company when he sold lock, stock and barrel to the new king of Philippine shipping who is Dennis Uy that was buying shipping companies left and right. After the takeover, it is notable that the first ship sold by Starlite Ferries was Starlite Neptune. This ferry  has been observed for months already darkened and just anchored in Batangas Bay not sailing and with no flags flying.

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The Starlite Neptune in Batangas Bay with no flags flying. Photo by Mike Baylon.

Then soon came the news that Starlite Neptune was docked in Lazi port in Siquijor being refitted after it turned out she was acquired by the GL Shipping of Siquijor which was lately in the acquisition and expansion mood. It is rumored she will be doing the Siquijor and Iligan route from Cebu, a route long wished by Siquijodnons and the people in Iligan City in general. It is seen as the revival of the old route then held by the small cruiser Pulauan Ferry of George & Peter Lines which unfortunately grounded and sank just south of Mactan island and was never replaced.

As of the time of the writing of this article the new name of Miyuki Maru is not yet known and her refitting works in Lazi port stopped. I do not know if there is a big problem although I might also think she might be too big a ship for her company which only used to operate small crafts before.

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The former Starlite Neptune in Lazi under GL Shipping. Photo by Roy Baguia Dumam-ag.

I just wish that will she will continue to live on as I am a sentimental person and I don’t want old ships that are still good to go to the breakers because it turned out that nobody no longer wanted her. And so I just hope the Miyuki Maru will live a little longer and that she provides joy to her new owners and to public that will sail with her.

Long live the Miyuki Maru!

[Now, if she doesn’t survive then let this piece be an ode to her.]

 

 

The MV Eugene Elson

The MV Eugene Elson of Penafrancia Shipping Corporation of Bicol is one of the oldest ROPAXes (Roll-On, Roll-Off Passenger ship) still sailing in Philippine waters but she is still very reliable and well-appreciated. As a 1965-built ROPAX from Japan she has the looks and lines of the small ROPAX of that era which means she is a little chubby in looks and not that angular like the MV Melrivic Seven of Aznar Shipping which was also built in 1965. However, those looks do not detract from her primary purpose and mission which is to ferry passengers and rolling cargo (i.e. vehicles) safely and reliably.

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Photo by Dominic San Juan of PSSS

This ship’s usual route is Tabaco, Albay to Virac, the capital and main port of the small island-province of Catanduanes. Tabaco City is the gateway to the province and the size of MV Eugene Elson is just right for that route as there are almost no ferries that is 50 meters in length there (except when there rotations due to drydocking). And also there are no 30-meter ferries in that route out of respect for the waves in the sea between the two provinces and besides single-engine ferries are not liked there, for safety and maneuvering reasons. So the MV Eugene Elson with its two engines and screws fits the bill well there too.

The MV Eugene Elson is a RORO ferry built by Hashihama Zosen of namesake city Hashihama in Japan where their yard is located. As said earlier, she was built in 1965 but her IMO Number is already 6601517 (in those days the first two digits of the IMO Number indicate the year the ship was built but that is not the case anymore nowadays). She was completed in December of 1965 and completion date is the date when the ship is already equipped and ready to sail. Her external measurements are 41.7 meters in Length Over-all (LOA), a Registered Length (RL) of 38.5 meters and a Length Between Perpendiculars (LPP) of 37.5 meters. The ferry’s Breadth is 14.6 meters locally although in Japan it was only 12.5 meters (the first one might be the more accurate one). Her Depth is 3.0 meters. As a whole she is not a big ship and a ship that is only a little larger than a basic, short-distance ferry-RORO (by the Philippines Ship Spotters Society definition) which in general is only 30 meters or so in length and sometimes even shorter.

In Japan, her Gross Tonnage (GT) was 526 (tons is no longer affixed in GT) but locally it was only 488. Her declared Net Tonnage (NT) which is the usable space of the ship for passengers and cargo is 118 which is rather suspiciously low. The ship’s Deadweight Tonnage (DWT) is 138 tons and she has a passenger capacity of 484 persons, all in sitting accommodations. The MV Eugene Elson is actually the smallest ferry in the fleet of the Penafrancia Shipping Corporation (PSC) which was the successor company to the defunct Bicolandia Shipping Lines which used to own her. However small, this ferry still has two passenger decks with an airconditioned Mabuhay Class.

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Photo by Dominic San Juan of PSSS

The ship’s hull material is steel. She has one mast, two funnels and two RORO (Roll-on, Roll-off) ramps for ingress and egress of vehicles but the bow ramp is also the one used by the passengers for the same purpose as ferries in Bicol do not have separate passenger ramps (the stern ramp of this ship seems to have been welded shut already). The bow ramp of this ship is extended to better cope with low tide conditions. This ferry has a raked stem (which was what was usual in the era) and a transom stern (which is still what is common nowadays).

The MV Eugene Elson is powered by two Daihatsu marine engines with a total output of 1,100 horsepower. This is sufficient to propel her at 11.5 knots when new but nowadays she just chugs along at about 10 knots, the reason she takes four hours for her route which is less than 40 nautical miles. That is not a shame as most ferries in the route have about the same sailing time although some are faster than her.

Our group, the Philippine Ship Spotters Society (PSSS) is familiar with this ship as once the group has already toured her when she was drydocked in Nagasaka Shipyard in Tayud, Cebu and the master then, Captain Jun Benavides was gracious and hospitable enough to let us roam his ship and use her as a ship spotting platform (yes, passengers can reach the roof of this ship which is also the Bridge deck). Of course, he had also shared plenty of stories to us. We whiled our time there savoring the cooling breeze of the late afternoon until it was time to go for daylight was soon dimming.

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Photo by James Gabriel Verallo of PSSS

This ship, when newly-built was first named as the MV Shimotsui Maru of the Kansai Kisen K.K. of Japan In 1976, under the same name, she was transferred to Kansai Kyuko Ferry K.K. Then in 1984, before her 20th year (the time Japan begins replacing its old ferries), this ferry came to the Philippines as the MV San Agustin of May-Nilad Shipping, a Manila ferry company that was always short in routes. Later, she became the MV Eugenia of Esteban Lul.

After a short time, this ship was transferred to Eugenia Tabinas of E. Tabinas Enterprises under the same name MV Eugenia. I just wonder about the relationship of Eugenia Tabinas and Esteban Lul. E. Tabinas Enterprises and Bicolandia Shipping Lines which are synonymous and the same is headquartered in Tabaco, Albay. These dual companies took over the ships and operations of the pioneering Trans-Bicol Shipping Lines which was then just operating wooden motor boats or MBs then which otherwise were called as lancha in the region.

During its heyday, E. Tabinas Enterprises/Bicolandia Shipping Lines was the dominant Bicol shipping company and had routes from all the relevant Bicol gateways, i.e. Tabaco, Matnog and Bulan (which are both in the province of Sorsogon and Masbate. However, in 1999 a new shipping company with deeper pockets appeared in the critical Matnog-Allen, Samar route. This is the Sta. Clara Shipping Corporation (SCSC) which challenged the claimed “pioneer” status of Eugenia Tabinas’ shipping companies. “Pioneer status” supposedly confers exclusivity to a route.

Eugenia Tabinas and Sta. Clara Shipping Corporation fought initially from MARINA (Maritime Industry Authority), the Philippines’ regulatory agency in shipping and then all the way to the Supreme Court. When Eugenia Tabinas finally lost she offered a lock, stock and barrel sell-out to her enemy which was accepted and so she forever bowed out of shipping. This was the reason why MV Eugenia was transferred not to Sta. Clara Shipping Corporation but to the Penafrancia Shipping Corporation which was created specifically for the take-over of E. Tabinas Enterprises and Bicolandia Shipping Lines. This take-over and hand-off happened in 2006 and from then on the twin companies Sta. Clara Shipping Corporation and Penafrancia Shipping Corporation were already the dominant shipping companies in Bicol (and until now).

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MV Eugene Elson in older livery in Virac port. Photo by Edsel Benavides

Under Penafrancia Shipping Corporation, all the former ferries of Eugenia Tabinas were renamed (except for the sunk MV Northern Samar) and so the MV Eugenia became the MV Eugene Elson. In the fleet of Sta. Clara Shipping Corporation and Penafrancia Shipping Corporation which has combined operations, she is the smallest in terms of Gross Tonnage and Length. But she is not the smallest ever ROPAX to operate in Bicol as there were and are a few that are even smaller than her.

As mentioned before, the Tabaco-Virac route along Lagonoy Gulf is her main route now, a route known for rough seas during the amihan (northeast monsoon) season as that route is exposed to the open sea. But even  though small, she proved capable for that route although once a bus lain to her side even though lashed from the top when a rogue wave hit her in the bow. In the said route she would leave Tabaco port at daybreak and arrive in Virac at mid-morning. She would then depart Virac port after lunch and arrive in Tabaco at about 5pm and lay over in Tabaco port for the night. It is the buses’ schedules that dictate such departure times and buses and its passengers are the priority loads of the MV Eugene Elson like the other ROPAXes based in Tabaco. Nowadays, she always leave full as so many buses and trucks already cross to Catanduanes from the Bicol peninsula.

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Over-the-top lashing is de rigueur in the Catanduanes route

All in all, the MV Eugene Elson had a successful career and it seems she is destined for many more years of sailing (well, unless MARINA loses its mind and cull old ships as that has been their threat for many years already). Barring that scenario, I hope she still sails and sails and sails. And keep the record as the oldest sailing ferry  in Bicol.

On The Safety of Our Ships and Other Related Matters

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Photo from MARINA

Another MARINA (Maritime Industry Authority, the Philippines regulatory body on shipping) administration has passed, that of Marcial Quirico Amaro III which to think was a rarity because he was a true mariner (can we call his predecessor Maximo A. Mejia a mariner too because he was a graduate of Annapolis and he taught at the World Maritime University in Sweden?). When a mariner is appointed Administrator of MARINA the hopes of the mariners goes high because for a long time they have seen their sector ruled by lawyers (well, if they look at the regional heads of MARINA they will find out there are more lawyers there). The maritime field is actually a rarity since the professionals of the trade don’t rule their roost. In the field of Medicine the head of the field are not lawyers but are doctors, of course. That is also true for other fields where professionals of their trade are the heads like in Engineering, Pharmacy, Nursing, Education, Accountancy, etc. But not in the maritime field. It seems there is an assumption that the development and regulation of the field are best left to lawyers who probably don’t know anything about running a ship? Of course, they will promote our mariners as “heroes” after conquering the maritime sector. But I know enough of the field to know that mariners, in the main, seethe against MARINA, for various reasons, and that is not a bull.

Me, however, shudder when a new administration is about to take place in MARINA because I have noticed all these years that when a new Administrator takes seat the first word that will come out of his mouth is “Safety”, as if that is what the field needs most, as if that is the key word that will develop the sector (no, that is not). And with that will come the threat to the lives of our old ships especially the old ferries. Threats of phase-out will soon then follow, as usual. And again the owners will resist, for reason. That is the usual rigmarole for every MARINA administration that will come in. And I would heave a sigh of relief when our old ferries continue sailing despite the threat to sink them. A new administration will again come this April (2008) and I wonder if the script will be the same again or if it will different this time. And for the first time, the new head of MARINA will be a retired general, and a 4-star one at that, someone used to barking orders and be followed (what are generals for anyway?).

I wonder if any MARINA administration ever did a serious, scholarly study by those who really know the field on what the sector needs. It seems to me that all these years a new Administrator will simply stamp his own agenda and understanding no matter how faulty that is (anybody remember Maria Elena Bautista, another lawyer who was threatened with a shipping boycott by all the shipping organizations, the reason she was booted out?). Actually, I know of no serious study about our maritime sector and a blueprint coming out of that especially one that has the universal support of all the players in the industry from the owners to the shipyards down to the mariners. And even with that MARINA thinks they know best what is good for the industry. Scientific, eh?

As I understand it, the function of MARINA is not only regulation of the maritime sector but also the development of it and the latter might even be the more important. Can regulation be defined by just one word which is “Safety” as Administrators are wont to do? Definitely not. Can the word “Safety” be the key word in the development of the industry? Well, development is a multi-faceted thing. I know MARINA has consultations with the likes of the shipping owners and organizations and also the shipyard owners but I also know that consistent or meaningful government support is seldom discussed in those consultations. Hanjin, the foreign shipbuilder in Subic will have all the support including cheap electricity subsidized by the government. But that is one that will never be offered to local shipbuilders. There is now, however, a loan window for acquiring new ships. But a lot of shipping owners are hesitant in acquiring new ships because of the high acquisition cost. It might be a loan but it must still be fully paid for with interest to boot. They will always think that three or four surplus ships are better than a brand-new one no matter what the promoters of new ships will say about the savings in fuel, the supposed better safety, the issue of less pollution, etc.

What muddles the discussion is the presumption that old ships are not safe. The ship owners countered in one consultation when they had their lawyers, “Is there a study that proves that age is the factor for the sinking of the ships?” MARINA was not able to answer that. I know they have no such study. I also know they have no database on ship losses so how can they honestly answer it? A presumption is not always the truth. It needs to be proven.

But the public in our country has long been cooked in the wrong belief that old ships are not safe. They compare it to an old truck or bus that can lose its brakes and crash or collide. But that is not the mechanism in the sea. There are no brakes and even if a ship loses propulsion it is still the equivalent of a barge and barges can sail even for long distances as it still has flotation (which determines it will still float) and stability (which determines it will not capsize).

There will a threat to a ship that loses propulsion (or steering) if the sea is rough like if there is a storm. But now with all the changes in the rules for sailing when there is a storm all our ships are treated like a motor banca and so the old prohibition for their sailing in winds over 45 kilometers per hour is now applied on all our ships including our big liners like the SuperFerry vessels. Well, the Coast Guard even has the right to cancel trips in a particular area if they think the sea is rough which means the swell is already a half-a-foot high. And for good measure to further frighten everybody if there is a storm the weather agency PAGASA which is better called Walang Pagasa will forecast waves of one to four meters when they actually mean waves of only one to four feet max. Ask fishermen and coastal people if there are really waves as high as four meters and they will say they have not seen one in their lives. Now just compare it to the storm surge of six meters in Typhoon “Yolanda” and one can see that forecast of four meters is foolishness. If true, four meters can still completely inundate a small city or a town and we don’t hear such things.

So, if at the slightest rising of the swells and the winds our ships are already forbidden from sailing (when foreign ships in our waters still continue to sail) then how can the our old ships be unsafe when they are not sailing anyway? Of course they can still sink if the typhoon passes over them like what happened in Typhoon “Nina” last December 2016. Worst case of that probably is when Typhoon “Ruping” passed over Cebu in 1990 and a lot of ships went belly up. In non-sailing ships the typhoon won’t ask about the age of the ship. It can capsize, new or not.

When the country became alarmist and began suspending trips because of PAGASA forecasts that cannot be parsed for a specific area (and that means suspension even when the sun is shining) our ship safety record actually improved and I can prove that with my own database of ship hull losses. There will no more be Princess of the Stars, Princess of the Orient, Dona Marilyn incidents, etc. Actually, the new generation of ship passengers will no longer have the experience of sailing with a ship in a storm. That experience will just be the domain of the middle-aged and the oldies.

The country is too skittish now about ship accidents when in other countries that is considered part and parcel of sailing. If one reads maritime news abroad one can easily glean that there are ship accidents daily around the world and many of those are even relatively new ships of less than fifteen years of age. One reason probably is they sail in almost any kind of weather unlike here. There are collisions too (that does not happen here at least in the recent decades). Fire, too (but again that did not happen here in the recent decades). Yes, our ships though old are the safe, empirically. That is why abroad they stress SOLAS (Safety of Life at Sea). Here, many ships do not care so much about that but it does not matter much anyway. If there is a collision or fire the crew will probably just dive into the sea and swim for after all there will be near islands or fishermen (which is always first in the scene of an accident). It could be possibly bad news, however, if it is a ferry as their crew is now dominated by apprentices who paid to get aboard rather than the other way around. And so I would not be surprised if they save their hide first. Ditto for the true ship crew which are poorly paid. But for sure there will be heroes and the conscientious too. There will always be such kind of people and they will always have my respect and admiration.

Actually, many of our ships will not pass a serious ship inspection like what is done abroad. It is not only the factor of age. We are simply that lax and ship owners don’t budget well in many cases. The letterings might say “Safety First” but it is actually “Safety Second” or “Sadety Also”. We have that “Bahala Na” attitude which is the equivalent in Spanish of “Que Sera, Sera” (Whatever will be, will be) which is a certain kind of fatalism. But whatever, if we pro rata it our safety is not worse compared to other countries especially when the 45kph suspension rule was already in effect (it was even effective when it was still 60kph). We only got a bad repute because of “Dona Paz” which was affirmed by the capsizing of the “Princess of the Stars”. But that won’t be repeated anymore as we don’t have Sulpicio Lines any longer.

Now, back to the more serious thing, I wonder what a 4-star general will hold for our maritime sector. Will he plug the board “leakages” which has been there for eons already? Will he listen to the mariners (or will he even recruit mariners in MARINA or will he be just another Faeldon who will pack in the bureau with his own people?). Can he get the respect of the ship and shipyard owners and will he have answers to their questions and concerns? Or will he be just another overlord of the sector and worse another one spouting the mantra, “Safety…safety…safety…safety….” like a Tibetan monk.

A Trip Snafu

I had a trip snafu this New Year which disappointed me for I was not able to meet again the PSSS donor, Jun Marquez. We were supposed to meet in Leyte and he gave the new date, January 3, a reset of our earlier meet that was supposed to happen before New Year.

I had a little trepidation with that date when I knew it because I have to leave Davao on January 2 as the trip to Leyte is nearly a whole day. But January 2 and 3 are normally the busiest travel days for those who took a New Year visit to their loved ones. I knew it will be a little tough but I was more optimistic compared to an overnight ferry which has only nightly departures. In the short-distance Surigao-Leyte route there are several trips in a day and miss one or two, there is a high chance that one can ride the next ferry. And I wouldn’t mind a little delay in Lipata port if it will afford me more ship spotting chances. I had been in 11-hour waits in Liloan port before and so I already know what to expect.

But then a weather disturbance that I have been monitoring thwarted my plans. It developed into a Tropical Depression (TD) and at the current standard of government now, that will mean automatic trip suspensions of ferries and it began in the afternoon of January 1 which lasted until noon of the next day. With a suspension, there will be stranded vehicles and passengers and they will be the priority when trips resume. Higher in priority too are the bus passengers, the truck crews and the driver and passengers of the private cars. Now, I don’t usually take a direct trip as I am used to fractional rides as that is cheaper, faster and more flexible.

Normally, crossing Surigao Strait is already tough under normal circumstances in this time of the year. I have been to overloaded ferries in the past in this crossing when there were no more seats available. But recently, it seems the Coast Guard are already more strict. With a such tightness, me and Jun decided to call off our meet. He would be leaving for Cebu on January 3 too and even before I arrive in Leyte there are no more available ferry tickets to Cebu. With such a situation, I was prepared to take the 3am Ceres bus to Cebu via Palompon and Bogo. Or alternatively, go to Hilongos, take the ferry there to Ubay, Bohol, roll into Tubigon and take the ferry there to Cebu. But being no longer young, I already have doubts if I still have the stamina for extended trips not in a private, air-conditioned vehicle where I can rest well (thanks again, Joe Cardenas for the ride the other Christmas).

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Such snafu reminded me of trips years before where I was more successful in tight circumstances. I remember a December 24 when after visiting my sick mother I arrived in Lipata Ferry Terminal with the Millennium Uno still around as it was held up by the Coast Guard for being overloaded. A stand-off ensued as no one among the passengers wants to get off (who would anyway in a ferry that will be the last to leave that will still deliver the passengers before Noche Buena?).

Of course, they were no longer selling tickets but somebody in the port whispered to me that in the end the Coast Guard will relent and let the ferry sail (but the implication is the Coast Guard commander won’t be signing the clearance). He said I should time it when the commander is set to get off and with the ferry already starting to back off and the ramp is already going up. I know that window. It usually lasts about three seconds long only and my adviser said I should say the magic Bisayan word “hangyo” which translates into a plea. There were two others besides me waiting for that chance also.

And so the commander appeared, his face was of frustration and a little anger but still we said the magic word and he nodded. What a joy! We all made our jump and we all made it. There were a lot of passengers which missed the ferry and they were surprised by our maneuver. Of course, it was not a free ride. They still charged us the fare but so what? The important thing is we had a ride. I arrived at home December 25 at 1am. A little late but it didn’t matter anymore.

I also remember my ride aboard the Our Lady of Merjugorje which was the last ferry that will bring me home before Christmas. I came direct from a delivery in Bicol and I arrived in North Harbor on December 24 at 2am. The ETA of the ship was 5am but when I went to the ticket counter in Pier 6, I was surprised there were about 800 people lined up already. With a passenger capacity of just over 1,300 persons, I knew immediately not all of us can be accommodated.

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The Our Lady of Medjugorje by Albritz Salih

I knew what to do in such circumstances in those times then. I used to leave vehicles for pick-up in the Gothong parking area. I will just look for the Chief Security Officer and leave him the keys of the vehicle. Of course, there should be something for him. Never lost a car that way.

So I went looking for the CSO. I found him alright but he was not the same guy I knew before. Still, I laid to him my problem and need. He said he will talk to someone. By 3am he came back and said I am Priority #1 and asked me the amount for my ticket. Gave it to him plus his Christmas bills too. By 3:30am I had my ticket already and I boarded the ship. In this case I was at home before Noche Buena.

I have less trouble with other routes because maybe I also know how to stay clear of the crunch (and also I know how to check the weather). But in this recent case the date was not my choosing, a weather disturbance occurred and at dates where the crunch was heaviest. I let it pass this time especially since I am faced with a possible stranding in Leyte. And with such tightness I will also lose options to maximize my ship spotting. Normally, I avoid night strait crossings if I can avoid it as shots are limited by the dark. In this case there was also a weather disturbance with rains possibly lessening shot opportunities.

I won’t be going anytime soon. I want a schedule where I can maximize everything including bus spotting as my file of bus photos are now depleted. Usually, I avoid this time of the year when the amihan (northeast monsoon) is at its peak because that means a lot of rain and rain is the bane of good and many photos. Best is the turn of the month to February when the temperature is still cool, it is still lean month for the buses (and so discounts are more available) and the rain is already less.

So, that’s it. I just hope it will be better a month from now.

Newest Developments in the MARINA Line of Thinking About Ferries

There were two notable developments in the MARINA line of thinking about ferries recently although it is still in draft form and probably it might still have to go through hearings and the opposition of shipping companies. One, it will insist that henceforth new-build local ferries and surplus imported ones will have to be stern-docking. It seems the ones currently sailing in the country will not really be banned after all or be forced to convert.

MARINA says that this is for safety in sailing. But I really cannot comprehend what ghosts or ghouls are they fearing. We never had a ferry that is bow-loading that was lost at sea through a ramp or bow failure nor have a ferry sink through a collision and the failure of the bow. For sure, the MARINA Administrator is thinking of the Estonia and Herald of Free Enterprise sinking in Europe when the two ferries sank because of some dumb failure to close the bow and the other the failure of the bow door of the ship itself.

Our ferries that are bow-loading are all small and their bow ramps are line of sight with the bridge and usually there are crews of the ships and of the trucks that are in the car deck. It is impossible to be missed that a ramp is not closed with all the possible people that can see it even in the night. It won’t just easily fall off while sailing because if there is a crack or worse the ramp would have already fallen in the loading process or else give a signal that it is giving way soon.

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A small, bow-loading ferry which shows that the ramp is very visible from the bridge

Up until today there are so many bow-loading ferries in Japan, China, Korea, Europe that are still sailing. Those countries are more advanced that ours shipping-wise and in the design. Now, I don’t know why we should be more popish than the Pope. That is why I called the fears of Amaro as simply ghosts. Does he want to claim in the world that we were the first to ban bow-loading ferries? That is simply laughable and other countries will just snicker at us.

One effect though if this MARINA rule pushes through is we can’t import basic, short-distance ferries anymore as all of these are bow-loading. This type has been questioned for its safety before as these were classed in Japan for just inland sea and bay operations only. Now, I don’t know if the real motive of Amaro is to do away with this type.

Anent this, existing bow-loading ferries henceforth are banned from using their bow ramps to stop the ship. This is what is done by the small ferries and the LCTs which are loath in using bollards and their anchors and its resultant longer docking maneuver time. Aside from the possible wharf damage, MARINA is fearful of the damage it can cause the ramps of the ships.

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Mae Wess ferries just use the ramp to hold the ship in place

But I wonder if MARINA ever did any serious study on this. The best example they can study are the ferries of Mae Wess of Davao which is also known as CW Cole which are Davao-Samal short-distance ferries of LCT and double-ended ferry designs. These don’t use their bollards and anchors and instead use reversing of screws and the lowering of the ramps in the causeway-type wharf to stop the ship. If there is no swell that ramp laid atop the wharf keeps the ferry in its place even though the ropes of the ship are not deployed. If there is a swell then the helmsman uses the screws to push the ferry to the causeway-type wharf thereby keeping it immobile.

The Mae Wess/CW Cole ferries depart twice in an hour for up to 16 hours in a day and so they normally would have 25 or so dockings in a day. I have yet to hear a ramp of theirs fall off because of using the ramp to stop the ship. As for the wharves they own it so MARINA and the Philippine Ports Authority (PPA) cannot really complain. PPA is really the entity in charge of government-owned ports and I am just wondering how come MARINA is the one complaining first about wharf damage when that thing is withing the purview of the PPA.

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Scouring of the wharf of the private BALWHARTECO Port is visible but a scoured wharf is very good in stopping the ship. The damage can easily be repaired and BALWHARTECO takes that as normal wear and tear in the course of business.

In the Bicol ferries I have heard of ramp damage in their bow-loading ferries but that was not because of using the ramp to stop the ship but because of the overweight loads that bends the ramps and there are cases of ramp fracture because of this. That is why sometimes very heavy loads like carriers of really heavy equipment have a hard time securing a ride because the ferries avoid them due to possible ramp damage. I know of a case once in Matnog that the deal was a Grand Star RORO ferry would take in just that single load solo and the vehicle would have to pay for nearly the full load of the ship (now this kind of load is not taken by the newly-fielded Cargo RORO LCTs).

I don’t know. It has long been my observation that our government simply issues orders without concrete studies. And I have also observed that true experts does not matter in our government. That is because government functionaries think that they are the “experts” when at times they know next to nothing especially if they are just political appointees or entered government service by having an MBA (“Me Backer Ako”). Worse, armchair scholars who do not really ride ships also pretend that they are “shipping experts” when in actuality they are not.

Another development which is a welcome one because of opposition is there would no longer be retirement of ships arbitrarily based on age and instead it will be based on inspections which should be the case anyway. In other countries where shipping is more advanced than ours there is no such thing as forced retirement because of age. There, Port State Control (PSC) inspections are the means. If a ship cannot pass the surprise PSC inspections it gets detained and won’t be able to sail until the serious deficiencies are corrected. Sometimes it gets to a point that remedying the deficiencies will already cost a lot of money and so the ships are simply sold to the breakers. Or sent to some Third World country like the Philippines where there are no strict standards and inspections.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Port_State_Control

Port State Control is not being used in the Philippines because ship owners oppose it. It has been said that if PSC is implemented here then only a few of our ships will pass that and the moving of goods will then be hampered.

What we do instead is we let a slew of local inspection and certification societies qualify our ships. That became the system because our maritime regulatory agency MARINA does not have enough skills and people to inspect our ships since the agency is not composed of maritime professionals. For ship inspections before departure that function has been devolved by MARINA to the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) since the agency don’t have offices in all our ports. But then the PCG is also not composed of maritime professionals too and so most times their primary role just sinks to the level of counting the passengers to check if the ship is not overloaded.

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Coast Guard people doing pre-departure inspection work

Linearly, older ships might really be less safe as aging might mean more things can go wrong at the level of the equipment of the ship. But I am not implying here that they are not safe as safety is a very relative term. In the recent years, actually our ship losses went down and I think the most proximate reason for this is when the wind blows a little or if the swell reaches a foot high then voyages of our ships even the big ones are then suspended. In a clear sea the chance of a ship sinking even if it loses propulsion is very low.

The government too does not want to take chances when the weather becomes a little inclement. The main reason is there are not enough search and rescue assets around and if there are those are not found in the busy sea lanes but in the big cities where there is more “civilization”. Like PCG ships would rather be in Cebu port rather in the Camotes islands. In Surigao Strait when a ship is in distress sometimes the Coast Guard have to borrow some ferry or tug. Or not send out a ship at all like in the Maharlika Dos incident.

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The Philippine Coast Guard in Cebu

What remains to be seen now is what standard will MARINA use in the inspections to certify our ships. That could be the bloody part in the push and pull of MARINA and the ship owners. But at least that might be better than what happened in our bus industry. JICA, the Japan International Cooperation Agency recommended the technical inspection of our buses but the bus owners balked at the Japan standard. Next, JICA suggested using the Singapore technical standard and the bus owners balked again. And so the LTFRB, the regulatory agency that has buses within its power then set an arbitrary 15 year-old automatic retirement scheme for buses. The engine running hours or wear and the kind of maintenance no longer mattered. I don’t know if I will cry when I heard buses still capable of 120kph being retired forcibly. At least it will be good if that thing will not happen to our ships especially the ones being maintained well.

I will be attuned for what will be the final version that will come out of MARINA. I just hope the final result will be fair to all concerned including the riding public.

The Steel-Hulled Short-distance Ferries of the Philippines and Its Safety

I had an earlier article before wherein I described the different types of ferries sailing the Philippine waters and one of that is the short-distance ferry which connect our near islands through our straits and channels and sometimes through our small inland seas like the Camotes Sea. In this article I would like to expand the discussion on them especially on their safety and their other qualities and characteristics. And to clarify what is a short-distance ferry and to distinguish them from overnight ferries I will make the presence or absence of bunks as the distinguishing characteristic.

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Maria Angela, an example of a basic, short-distance ferry-RORO that is still sailing

I have always used the term “basic, short-distance ferry-RORO” and I would like to connect it here since many of our short-distance ferry actually belongs to that type. Basic, short-distance ferry-ROROs are the ROPAXes (RORO-Passenger ships) that have just one car deck and one passenger deck above it and access to the car deck is almost always through a ramp located at the bow of the ship. Usually their lengths ranges from a little under 30 meters to a slightly over 40 meters and they are just powered by a single engine and the usual speed is between 9 to 11 knots. Some of these are in the classification of “double-ended ferries” which are bows on both ends and has two propellers both aft and abeam.

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Swallow 2, a double-ended ferry that survived a firebombing

But not all short-distance ferries are basic, short-distance ferry-ROROs. Among our short-distance ferries are the ROPAX LCTs which are cruder, less comfortable and slower than the basic, short-distance ferry-ROROs. If the latter are mainly built in Japan, the former are mainly built in the Philippines although in the recent years more and more are coming from China. In this article the Cargo RORO LCTs are not included because technically those are just vehicle carriers and not allowed to carry passengers (and hence are not ferries) although the crews of the trucks and the driver of the sometime small vehicle like cars are also carried aboard them.

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Poseidon 26, a ROPAX LCT

We also have a few remaining short-distance ferries that are not ROROs (Roll-on, Roll-off ships) but are instead cruiser ships. This type carries passengers and some cargo but not rolling cargo or vehicles as this type do not have ramps nor car decks. While these were more in number a few decades back, these are now on the way out being obsolete already. The rolling cargo is now the primary source of revenue in the short-distance routes and is more important revenue-wise compared to passengers (an exception maybe in many cases are the bus passengers because they are many but in many routes also they are subsidized by the shipping company). Cruisers cannot compete head-on now against the ROROs and the few operators remaining are just using the last few years of the serviceable life of the cruisers (rather than chopping or breaking them up Immediately). It is actually just in Zamboanga where cruisers still has significant presence and there are still some cruisers in Cebu but they are mainly overnight ferries.

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Hijos-1, a short-distance ferry-cruiser (by jap bombai)

However, we also have short-distance ferries that are fast and these are the High Speed Crafts (HSCs) consisting of the fastcrafts and the catamarans. These types do not carry vehicles, only passengers but since they charge double on the average that keeps them viable although since these have overpowered engines the margin for profitability is thin. That is the reason why some are not sailing anymore and some just sail on peak months. These types do not sail on every short-distance route but only on high-density routes where the passengers are willing to pay higher for the faster and more comfortable ride. Among the major operators of this types are Ocean Fast Ferries (or Oceanjet), 2GO (the SuperCats but now renamed after archangels), SRN Fastcraft (or Weesam Express), the Star Crafts (which are under two companies) and Montenegro Shipping Lines. There is also one operator of this type in Manila for Corregidor tourists, the Sun Cruises/Prestige Cruises.

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Oceanjet 3, a fastcraft

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St. Sariel, a catamaran

We also have crafts that are similar to High Speed Crafts but are not that fast and these are the Medium Speed Crafts (MSCs). These are also found in the short-distance routes but like the HSCs these are not found in every short-distance route because these also charge higher (and as high as HSCs). One characteristic of the HSCs and MSCs is their passenger accommodations are generally air-conditioned although most have open-air accommodations too for passengers on short budget. The most significant MSCs of the recent years are the FastCats of Archipelago Philippine Ferries which are actually catamaran-ROROs and hence can carry vehicles.

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Anika Gayle 2, an MSC

In the past, it was motor boats (called motor launches now) and motor bancas which were our short-distance ferries. Now the motor boats are already gone by and large because of administrative fiat but a few relics remain. There are much more passenger-cargo motor bancas remaining especially those connecting the small islands and islets where the use of a steel-hulled ferry is not yet viable. Motor bancas with their smaller engines, lightweight hulls and the small capital needed can’t just be driven away because they can sail profitably on light routes. An administrative fiat is actually dangling over their heads (or is it hulls?) but for sure they will always stay as connection to our so-many islets where a steel-hulled ferry is uneconomical to operate. Motor bancas can land on bare shores, an almost impossible task for a steel-hulled ferry. However, the loss rate of these wooden-hulled ferries are much more than the steel-hulled ferries and that is the reason for the administrative fiat.

The safety of these short-distance ferries has always been called into question including very recently. There has always been the presumption or conjecture that since these are small and older (not the HSCs and MSCs, of course)) then they must be more vulnerable which is a queer linear thinking not supported by facts and history. I have in another article already conceded that wooden-hulled ferries that even lack the basic safety equipment are really more vulnerable and will even sink without a storm especially the motor bancas. Lack of safety is not attached to the HSCs and MSCs because they are more modern and they might correct in that but my data can throw some doubt in that.

But to attach lack of safety in the short-distance ferries, which are actually many in number and sail seas that are even more turbulent than what liners and overnight ferries sail in is actually highly incorrect, if only people including those in government will study the records. Pro rata, the liners and the overnight ferries sink at a faster rate than them. Our short-distance ferries are actually safe, relatively speaking. Conjectures and failure to study records (or even collect records) cannot substitute for concrete analysis. Now if I will make an exception to this defense it will be about Besta Shipping Lines of Batangas which is engaged in short-distance ferry operations but which has already lost half of their fleet. In short-distance ferry operation, this company has clearly the worst record.

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The destruction by Typhoon “Ruping” on Cebu ships (Credits to Philippine Star and Gorio Belen)

Our steel-hulled short-distance ferries have been here already for nearly four decades, a long time to establish if they are safe or not. They are not small in number, they clearly outnumber the liners and overnight ferries but only a few of them has actually sank or was lost while sailing. I will separate the ferries that sank in storms while not sailing as that can be considered force majeure or as they say in insurance, an “act of God” and does not speak of safety as any ship can get caught in storms through no fault of theirs that passed through their area. I think what happened to the ships beached, wrecked or capsized by the super-typhoon “Yolanda” is a good recent example of what I am saying. When the storm surge comes along with the winds, the ships can get beached, wrecked or capsized. That is also what happened to Cebu ships in Typhoon “Ruping” in 1990.

Among the ferries caught by storms not sailing that are not wooden-hulled are the Baleno Six of Besta Shipping Lines (beached and wrecked in 2006), Ivatan of BMPC (wrecked in the 2000s), Northern Samar of Bicolandia Shipping Lines (sank in port in 2006), Sta. Penafrancia 7 of Sto. Domingo Shipping Lines (beached and wrecked in 2006) and the Super Shuttle Ferry 17 of Asian Marine Transport Corporation (capsized in port in 2013). None of those were salvaged anymore unlike the Shuttle Fast Ferry of Asian Marine Transport Corporation which was also caught in a storm. Again not much safety questions can be attached to their losses and can just attributed maybe to bad luck. In all the mentioned incidents there were no passenger casualties.

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Sta. Penafrancia 7 wrecked by Typhoon “Caloy” (Photo by Edison Sy)

There are also steel-hulled short-distance ferries that were lost while maneuvering in a storm but not carrying passengers. Among these are fastcraft Delta I of DIMC Shipping and the Starlite Atlantic of Starlite Ferries. The first was forced by MARINA to move and she grounded while seeking shelter in Bohol in 2012 while the latter maneuvered out of her own volition at the peak of a strong typhoon and capsized in 2016. I do not really know how to classify the two except that I know it is highly dangerous to maneuver in a storm, with passengers or none. Whatever, in the second, the captain bears a lot of the blame while in the first it is highly disputable where the blame really lies. In the latter there were casualties.

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The Dona Ramona from Getty Images

Then there is also the case of two short-distance ferries which were struck by tragedy while in port but were no longer repaired (but they were still repairable) because their companies were already losing then. These are the Ruperto Jr. of Tamula Shipping which caught fire in the 1990’s and the Dona Ramona of Basilan Lines which was bombed with casualties in a terrorist act in 2005. The two did not sink but they never sailed again. Fires and bombings happen but the two were lost through conscious decisions on the part of the owners and would not have been totally lost in a normal situation. This is just like the loss of ferries like those of Tamula Shipping which just rotted and sank in port after the owner declared bankruptcy and ceased operation. In contrast with this was the firebombing that happened aboard the Our Lady of Mediatrix of Daima Shipping. The ship was repaired and she is still sailing as of now. And another case of a slight mishap that was not repaired again was the Starlite Voyager of Starlite Ferries that was broken up after a grounding incident. In this last case, a navigation error happened.

There are also short-distance ferries which capsized in port while doing cargo handling and which were no longer salvaged and repaired. These are the LCT Davao del Norte of the Province of Davao del Norte and the first Ciara Joie of Aleson Shipping Lines. The first happened in the 1990’s while the second happened in 2003 and it is a mystery to me why they were no longer salvaged when they were in shallow waters and just near land. There were no passenger casualties from both incidents. And maybe we can add to this another one lost in port because of neglect and and the hull was holed and the ferry sank in shallow waters. This is the Super Shuttle Ferry 2 of the Asian Marine Transport Corporation which was languishing in port for several years before the holing incident. And there was another ferry wrecked just off port when it grounded as was just neglected. This was the Baleno Tres of Besta Shipping Lines. In the two neglect cases there were no casualties either.

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The wrecked Baleno Tres by Bundokerz

Then there are the case of two short-distance ferries (or at least used as such since one has bunks) that were both in distress and threatened with sinking but both reached port and capsized in shallow waters. These are the Ocean King II of Seamarine Transport which was hit by a rogue wave and the rolling cargo shifted but managed to reached port and the Baleno 168 of Besta Shipping Lines in which the propeller broke away and water entered the hull but which reached port too. The first happened in 2009 and the second happened in 2013. The first was no longer salvaged and repaired while the second was salvaged and repaired and when she came out of the shipyard she was already a RORO cargo ship. There were no casualties from both incidents although in the first the Coast Guard made a big show on how to conduct rescue wrongly.

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The capsized Baleno 168 by Edison Sy

There were two other short-distance ferries that were lost but did not really slid beneath the waves in the truest sense of the phrase. One is in shallow waters, the LCT Gwen Vida of Jomalia Shipping, a possible victim of another cargo handling mishap. Another was the burned San Miguel de Ilijan of Viva Shipping Lines which was supposedly towed to port.

Up until this point there was no case of a short-distance ferry that actually sank beneath the waves except for the Starlite Atlantic and the LCT Gwen Vida. In the Starlite Atlantic she was the only one with casualties aside from the Dona Ramona that was bombed. And that leaves us with 8 short-distance ferries that actually sank plus the wrecked SuperCat 1 which hit an underwater object while running at full speed in 1994 (the vessel was retrieved but it was too damaged for repair). There was no dead from that incident.

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The ill-fated Island Fastcraft I

Two of the nine are High Speed Crafts, the Delta Cat II of DIMC Shipping and the Island Fastcraft I of Island Shipping which bring to 3 the number of lost High Speed Crafts including the Delta I (it seems for their small number the total of 3 is no longer small). The Delta Cat II sank while on trials and Island Fastcraft I caught fire, the only second short-distance ferry that sank due to fire. So it seems fire is not that major risk among short-distance ferries and Island Fastcraft I was a casualty owing to the nature of its aluminum hull which burns fast and gives off toxic fumes. The Delta Cat II sank in the late 1990’s without casualty while Island Fastcraft I which sank in 2011 had some casualties even though rescue was only nearby.

Among the rest, one capsized and sank in worsening seas because of stalled engines and rescue did not come even though it was just nearby, a clear case of irresponsibility. This is the Maharlika II of Archipelago Philippine Ferries which was lost in 2014. So stalled engines seems not to be a major cause of losses among short-distance ferries.

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New coat of paint was able to hide weak engines (Maharlika II)

Baleno Nine of Besta Shipping Lines which was lost in 2009 and the Lady of Carmel of Medallion Transport which was lost in 2013 are both basic, short-distance ferry-ROROs which sank quickly in the night, both with heavy casualties relative to their number of passengers. Night is additional danger to passengers in sinking especially if the ship is gone fast. Uneven loading is one of the factor being eyed in the loss of the two ferries.

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The Lady of Carmel

Ivatan Princess, a small, short-distance ferry was also another ferry lost at sea, she sank but apparently like the Delta Cat II she was not carrying passengers at the time of the sinking. Technically, they were sailing because they were not in port.

Which now leaves three more ferries that are all Batangas-based. Batangas has lost many of the short-distance ferries and just the repetitive report of the Baleno ferries of Besta Shipping Lines emphasizes that. One of that was the Emerald I lost in 1991 when heavy seas overwhelmed her when water swamped into her low sides and stern and actually that might have been the only loss of a short-distance ferry in foundering. That has similarity to what happened to Ocean King II later which somehow survived. Low sides is a danger to ferries especially in ROROs and that is why more recent ship design feature high sides.

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Ocean King II by ONE WAY BIKE CLUB

Another Batangas ferry lost was the Viva Penafrancia II of Viva Shipping Lines which hit a fish corral in 2000 which meant a navigation error. And the last is Ruby I of Alexis Shipping which sank fast in mysterious circumstances in 1993 and there were charges of sabotage like in SuperCat 1.

The total of short-distance ferries that actually sank is actually smaller than that of the liners and the overnight ferries when in number they are far greater. And so that means they are relatively safe. Or restated, the bigger liners and overnight ferries are actually more unsafe, take your pick of the formulation. They are not as vulnerable to fire like the liners, the don’t get caught by storms as much as the liners too. In resisting storms while not sailing they seem to be more vulnerable, however, and ditto for strong seas which are not mysteries.

If one will notice none of the short-distance ferries was lost due to a collision so saying their bow-mounted ramps is a liability does not have foundation anyway. Actually collision on Philippine seas are rare. It is just disproportionate in the minds of the people because of the ghastly casualties in the loss of the Don Juan and the Dona Paz. They are also not that weak against foundering which is a disease of our liners.

So are our short-distance ferries safe? Yes, they are even though they might look small and vulnerable. If one calls them unsafe then he or she should be prepared to calls our liners and overnight ferries as more unsafe, if he or she knows any logic. So don’t pick on the short-distance ferries, please.

As the great Deng Xiaoping said, “Seek truth from facts.”

The Sweet RORO

Many, when talking about the Sweet RORO of Sweet Lines Incorporated which is pf Bohol origin talk about her technicals and that is not wrong as there is nothing incorrect in admiring the technical merits of a ship especially that of a luxury liner. But to me I also tend to look at the historical position of things and how they interacted as I am also keen on the historical perspective of the ferries when they came and also their roles. After all, ferries make the shipping companies, at least in the early decades of our shipping history. And, it is in the great liners in which shipping companies are identified by the public.

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The Sweet RORO in original livery. Photo by Lindsay Bridge.

The Sweet RORO came to Sweet Lines when from the peak of the company a great slide was already happening them. This came from a probable mistake when in the late 1970’s the company decided they would henceforth just buy small liners. It was a great reversal from the previous mantra of the company that they will bring great liners, the prime examples of which were the highly regarded Sweet Faith and Sweet Home which were former luxury liners even in Europe. Also included in that was the Sweet Grace which was acquired brand-new from West Germany.

That bad decision came when the top liners of the company, the aforementioned Sweet Faith and the Sweet Home were already graying and if analyzed technically were already threatening to quit in a few years time (and they subsequently did). Coupled with that that the former cargo-passenger ship from Europe, the Sweet Bliss, the Sweet Life/Sweet Dream, the Sweet Lord/Sweet Land and the Sweet Love which buoyed the company early on and helped in their rise were also growing old as they were also built in the 1950’s like the Sweet Faith and the Sweet Home and ferries then were not known to exceed 30 years of life as the metallurgy and technology were still not the same as today when ferries normally exceed 40 years of service life here. Spare and surplus parts are easy to find today and CNC milling of parts are already common whereas that was not the case of 40 years ago. When that decision to just acquire small ferries was made the six liners of Sweet Lines from Europe were already approaching 30 years old save for the Sweet Home (but then this luxury liner, the biggest of her time was actually the first to go because of mechanical problems).

The year 1980 came and one of the biggest crisis in local liner shipping came. This happened when a lot of liners were suddenly laid up because the container ships came into full force all at once and suddenly the old passenger-cargo liners no longer had enough cargo to carry and it was actually cargo which is decisive in the profitability of a passenger-cargo ship. Before the arrival of the container ships of Aboitiz Shipping Corporation, William Lines, Sulpicio Lines, Lorenzo Shipping Corporation, Central Shipping Corporation (the cargo shipping company of Sweet Lines), Sea Transport Company, Negros Navigation Company and Solid Shipping Lines, it was practically just the passenger-cargo liners which were carrying the cargo in liner routes.

Sweet Home was gone in 1979, sold, and Sweet Faith was also gone the next year in 1980, first laid up then sold to the breakers. The new decade came and Sweet Lines had no ship good enough for the premier Manila-Cebu route which they used to dominate albeit with just a small pull only early in the 1970’s but largely gone as the decade was winding down. What they had left to serve as flagship was the cruiser liner Sweet Grace which was ordered brand-new from West Germany in 1968 but which does not have the speed and the size of the now-dominant fast cruiser liners of that era already.

While Sweet Lines was saddled with such problem William Lines rolled out the half-cruiser, half-RORO Dona Virginia in December 1979 which was the biggest liner in the country when she was fielded and with a speed of 20 knots too like the liner she was replacing, the storied Cebu City which came brand-new just in 1972. Then Sulpicio Lines rolled out the Philippine Princess in 1981 and this liner was nearly as big as the Dona Virginia but not as fast. Sweet Grace was far smaller than the two unlike the flagship Filipinas of Compania Maritima which was nearly as big as Dona Virginia and Philippine Princess although not as fast as the two. Sweet Grace was also much slower than the three, she cannot even be considered as a fast cruiser liner and so for the first time since Sweet Lines raised the bar in the Manila-Cebu premier route in 1970 with the Sweet Faith, this time it found itself as the laggard and outmatched. And that was where the decision to just buy small liners bit Sweet Lines hard.

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Photo from a research of Gorio Belen in the National Library

Having money from the proceeds of the disposals of Sweet Home and Sweet Faith, Sweet Lines was obliged to look for their replacement and it is forced that it should be a good and a big one. They did not disappoint when the former Ferry Ruby of the Diamond Ferry which plies the Osaka to Oichi route came to them in 1982 (but the seller was a third by the name of Dimerco Line SA of Panama and more on that later). The ship was nearly as big as her main competitors at 117.5 meters length and 4,700 gross register tons and at 18 knots design speed she was not giving away much to her direct competition, the flagships of the other liner companies although she was still the slowest at full trot among the flagships. And so what Sweet Lines emphasized was her being a RORO liner and its swiftness in cargo loading and unloading. However, the claim of Sweet Lines that she was the first RORO liner in the country is incorrect as the Sta. Maria of Negros Navigation Company came earlier in 1980. She, however, was the first big RORO liner in the country if the Dona Virginia is excluded.

When analyzed technically, the Sweet RORO is a leapfrog in technology compared to her main competitors which were mainly cruiser liners, the old paradigm. She was already a full-pledged ROPAX (RORO-Passenger) ship unlike the Dona Virginia whereas the Philippine Princess and the Filipinas of Compania Maritima were still cruiser ships . Now these four are all flagships and only four shipping companies were competing seriously in the prime Manila-Cebu route as the others like Aboitiz Shipping Corporation and Escano Lines were no longer in serious contention in that route and the others have practically withdrawn from contention there like Lorenzo Shipping Corporation and Carlos A. Gothong Lines Incorporated (but this company later made a comeback in that route). By the way, Negros Navigation Company is not being mentioned here as she was not doing the Manila-Cebu route then.

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Credits to Philippine Daily Express and Gorio Belen

But Sweet RORO might have been too much ahead of her time. Loading vehicles was not yet the wont then in her route (and neither now except for brand-new cars headed for car dealers down south). Container vans were mainly carried by the container ships and at that time there were still a lot of XEUs, the 10-foot container vans which can be handled by forklifts or loaded atop the cruisers at their bow and/or stern. Using chassis for container vans was not yet the standard then and so the full advantage of being a RORO or Roll-on, Roll-off ship was not fully realized when a lot of cargo was still palletized or are still carried loose (however, Sweet RORO had advantage over the others in carrying vehicles and heavy equipment down South). It would be nearly a decade later when the TEUs, the 20-foot container vans will be the new standard in cargo loading and by that time the Sweet RORO was already gone.

The Sweet RORO, the former Ferry Ruby was built by Onomichi Dockyard (Onomichi Zosen) in Onomichi, Japan in 1970 (but Sweet Lines says she was built in another yard) as one of the fast overnight ferries of Japan that bypasses their clogged highways then. She was average in size then (but this is not to disparage her) at 117.5 meters in Length Over-all, 107.0 meters in Length Between Perpendiculars, 20.6 meters in Breadth and 4,619 tons in Gross Register Tonnage. She was 1,943 tons in Net Register Tonnage and 1,477 tons in Deadweight Tonnage. This RORO liner was powered by 4 Kawasaki-MAN V8V 22/30ATL diesel engines with a combined 8,080hp which gave her a top speed of 18 knots which was also average for her size during her time. At that power she would have been more economical in fuel than the other flagships.

The stem of the ship was raked and she had transom stern. She was equipped with ramps bow and aft as access to the car deck. The ship has three decks for the passengers, the uppermost one a local addition (and that deck contained a lobby/relaxation room, the First Class bar and disco plus a game room) and abaft of the funnels is a wide open-air promenade area/sun deck. Aside from First Class and Second Class, a part of her Third Class (now known as “Economy”) is also airconditioned. This is because as-built the ship was fully air-conditioned. Her original passenger capacity as refitted was 1,692, one of the highest then among passenger ships in the country. It was broken down into 148 in 1st Class, 144 in 2nd Class, 400 in air-conditioned 3rd Class and 1,000 in non-airconditioned 3rd Class. The 3rd Class occupied the lowermost passenger deck while the First Class and Second Class accommodations and lobbies were on the deck above that and so it is the middle deck.

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Photo from a research of Gorio Belen in the National Library

Like the Sweet Faith before her, the Sweet RORO plied the premier Manila-Cebu route twice a week with a 22-hour sailing time which means a cruising speed of 18 knots for the 393-nautical mile route which is actually her design speed. It seems the policy of Sweet Lines is sail the ship at design speed because that is what they also did with the Sweet Faith. However, running a ship at 100% usually entails a ship’s not living very long. In 1988, Sweet RORO already had trouble with her engines specifically with her crankshaft as one report said and from that time on she already had difficulty sailing and if she did it is at reduced speed. The next year she was already laid up when she was less than 20 years of age. In 1990, she was sent to India for breaking up, a very short career when her two sister ships was still sailing in Greece up to the new millennium.

In 1987, Sweet RORO had a change of ownership but she was still sailing for Sweet Lines even then. She again became a Panamanian ship with the Dimerco Line SA which was the seller of her to Sweet Lines and to me that indicates a possibility that she was not fully paid for by Sweet Lines and so the seller re-acquired her. This was also about the same time that the Eduardo Lopingco group entered Sweet Lines and took over the management. With the entry of Lopingco additional ships came to the fleet but it turned out those were just chartered from the Hayashi Marine Company of Japan . Later, court cases arose after the company was not able to pay the charter to Hayashi Marine because court records show money was diverted by Lopingco to other ventures.

I wonder but I know financial troubles and mismanagement are ship killers especially when the needed maintenance of the ship are no longer made. And running ships at 100% power is parts-hungry and can result in damages to the engine in the long term especially when maintenance is not up to date. A report said that re-engining her was suggested to the company but nothing came out of it. This was already the time that the company was already headed on the way down after it seems that the founding Lim family has already lost control of the company if court filings are to be believed.

Whatever, the Sweet RORO was a big success in the Manila-Cebu route as actually Sweet Lines was a favorite of many especially the Bol-anons that until today many still remember her fondly (people are more attached then to their great liners unlike today that is why there were ship legends then including the Sweet RORO while now there is no such sentimentality anymore). However, it puzzles me why didn’t they extend the route to Tagbilaran given it was their origins and the ship had a long lay-over anyway in Cebu (was Tagbilaran port too shallow for her then?).

She was a fine ship ahead of her time. However, the sad part is she did not last long.

Recent Developments in Bicol Passenger Shipping

A Backgrounder

A few years ago, Montenegro Shipping Lines Inc. (MSLI) of Batangas entered the Matnog-San Isidro route using the government-owned San Isidro Ferry Terminal in San Isidro, Samar. Before that the company already plied before the Masbate City-Lucena route but got suspended when their MV Maria Carmela burned just before reaching Lucena and there were protests in Masbate backed up by their politicians. But aside from that route, Montenegro Shipping Lines had a route from Masbate City to Pilar using basic, short-distance ferry-ROROs and hybrid LCTs (Pilar port can’t accommodate anything bigger because of its shallowness) and fastcrafts. In that route they were able to outlast the fastcrafts of Lobrigo Lines and the route became their staple and stronghold after they were driven out of the Batangas-Calapan route because the SuperCats there were simply superior than them.

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San Isidro Ferry Terminal

They then entered the Matnog-San Isidro route across San Bernardino Strait using the government-owned San Isidro Ferry Terminal. I knew it was a creeping move on their part and entry to the San Isidro route is easy since no ferry is using that route ever since Archipelago Philippine Ferries and Philharbor Ferries and Port Services left that port when they built their own port in Dapdap which is much nearer to Matnog than San Isidro. I knew MARINA, the maritime authority will easily grant a franchise since there is no ferry using that terminal and the 50-kilometer restriction has already been lifted by MARINA per Pres. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s instruction. Before, on parallel routes no franchise will be issued if the competing port is less than 50 kilometers away (but it seems that did not apply to the likes of western Leyte ports and the ports of near Dumaguete).

I was not worried for Bicol ferry companies as long as Montenegro Lines is in San Isidro because that route carries a significant penalty in distance as BALWHARTECO port which is being used by the Bicol ferry companies is just 11 nautical miles in distance while the San Isidro port is 15 nautical miles in distance from Matnog Ferry Terminal. I knew Montenegro Lines had to give near parity in rates if they want patronage. And they will have to field a faster ferry which they did and they suffered the fuel penalty. It was obvious that in using San Isidro Ferry Terminal that they are handicapped in competing with the Bicol ferry companies (Sta. Clara Shipping Corporation, Penafrancia Shipping Corporation, 168 Shipping Lines and Regina Shipping Lines).

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Dapdap port

But then it happened that the Archipelago/Philharbor operation which operated the Maharlika and Grand Star RORO ferries was tottering they opened up Dapdap port for Montenegro Lines. And that is where I began to worry for the Bicol ferry companies as Montenegro Lines is a big shipping company (they even tout they have the most number of ferries which is actually true) and if transfer pricing was used by the big oil companies and by the bus group Vallacar Transportation Inc. locally then they can engage in price wars and the smaller Bicol ferry companies will suffer. With the move to Dapdap port and with the lessening of Archipelago and Philharbor ferries it is as if those twin companies are giving Montenegro Lines free business. Dapdap port is a little farther than BALWHARTECO port which the Bicol ferry companies are using but the difference in distance is minimal at about 11 nautical miles to 11.5 to 12 nautical miles. Of course, the shipping companies have their regular and locked patrons but there are a lot of non-committed vehicles especially the private vehicles (as differentiated from company vehicles) which pay the full, published rates unlike the regular and locked patrons.

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Jubasan port

A little later when the Sta. Clara Shipping Corporation (SCSC) built its own port in Jubasan, also in Allen, for their and their sister company Penafrancia Shipping Corporation’s use, BALWHARTECO then opened its gates to Montenegro Lines and so the company finally had access to the most advantageous port in Samar (this port is in direct line to the vehicles from Catarman and Rawis). It seems the creeping strategy of Montenegro was finally working. In shipping it is not necessary that a company will get the most advantageous port or route at the start. With patience and resources, better arrangements and opportunities soon open.

Developments and the Current Situation

I was watching what will be the fate of the Bicol ferry companies especially since the long bond and partnership between BALWHARTECO and Sta. Clara Shipping Corporation, the biggest Bicol ferry company was broken with the building of the Jubasan port against the wishes and objection of the owners of BALWHARTECO (this episode almost reached the courts since the owner tried to stop the construction as he was the Mayor of Allen where the ports are located and bitterness was really high). Well, none sank, most even grew and that was a surprise for me.

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Denica ferries in Masbate port

In Masbate, Denica Lines, which was basically only in motor bancas and cargo motor boats before fought back magnificently with the acquisition of the MV Odyssey to be followed by the MV Marina Empress which were just poor discards of other shipping companies. Both suffered engine troubles at the start and Denica Lines had to spend money for the two. Then this year Denica Lines was able to purchase a third basic, short-distance ferry-RORO, the MV Regina Calixta II of Regina Shipping Lines of Catanduanes which was already buying bigger ferries. The MV Regina Calixta II is unrenamed as of this moment as changing names is actually not peanuts with regards to MARINA.

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Denica fastcrafts refitting in Pilar port

And last year Denica Lines got two rundown fastcrafts which they are slowly refitting right in Pilar port. So right now or soon, it seems Denica Lines is already ready to slug it out with Montenegro Lines toe-to-toe in the Masbate City-Pilar route. Meanwhile, Sta. Clara Shipping Corporation and twin company Penafrancia Shipping Corporation is doing roaring business in the parallel Masbate City-Pio Duran route especially since Medallion Transport was driven away from that route after their MV Lady of Carmel sank. The truck loading in that route is so good that Sta. Clara Shipping Corporation bought the LCT Ongpin, lengthened it and fielded it in the route as the LCT Aldain Dowey. And that is aside from two 60-meter ROPAXes they maintain in the route. So if the ferries of Denica Lines and Sta. Clara Shipping Corporation in the route from Masbate City to the Bicol mainland is totaled then Montenegro Lines is outmatched already except in the High Speed Crafts segment which competes with the big motor bancas of different companies.

In the Matnog-Samar routes, the Bicol ferry companies are more than holding its own although both has not grown except in frequency. If there was growth it was taken by Archipelago Ferries Corporation which fielded a brand-new FastCat in the Matnog-San Isidro route which is also doing good business. But in terms of net, Archipelago Ferries is not ahead as the business they gained with the fielding of FastCat might not be greater than the business they lost with the disposal of the Maharlika and Grand Star RORO ferries (and they are paying docking fees in San Isidro Ferry Terminal while their own Dapdap port is unused). In my comparisons, I still consider Archipelago and Philharbor as Bicol ferries since they started as such although with the good FastCats now they are trying to erase their connection to the lousy Maharlika and Grand Star RORO ferries because obviously they are ashamed of their record there.

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FastCat in San Isidro Ferry Terminal

And Montenegro Lines did not gain either in the Matnog-Allen route as the Bicol ferry companies was able to hold their own relative to them. If there was growth it was taken by the subsidiary of 2GO, the SulitFerry which operates a brand-new ROPAX LCT, the LCT Poseidon 26 and another one or two Cargo RORO LCTs depending on the season. Finally, 2GO discovered what was eating up their container shipping and passenger liner business and decided to compete (“if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em”). Lacking enough resources, they started conservatively by just chartering new LCTs from Concrete Solutions Incorporated (CSI), owner of the Poseidon LCTs, whose fleet seems to be ever growing.

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The Poseidon 26 of Concrete Solutions and SulitFerry

In the routes to Catanduanes, there was obvious growth and changes. Initially, the most striking perhaps is the appearance of the two High Speed Crafts (although technically one is already a Medium Speed Craft) of the Cardinal Shipping Lines Incorporated, the MV Silangan Express 1 and the MV Silangan Express 3. I had my doubts early on about the viability of the two but it turned out they were doing okay. One reason maybe is their reasonable fares which is just about one will expect from a Tourist accommodation in a regular ferry and not double the Economy fare like what is charged in other parts of the country. The two HSCs of Cardinal Shipping also run in the hours not served by the regular ROPAX whose schedules are dictated by the arrivals of the buses (which means a morning departure from Tabaco and a noon departure from Catanduanes).

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The Regina Calixta VII (ex-Maharlika Cuatro). Photo by Dominic San Juan

One Catanduanes ferry company and a native of Catanduanes which made a great stride recently was Regina Shipping Lines or RSL. This company has already disposed their basic, short-distance ferry-ROROs and instead bought bigger ferries. Part of their new acquisitions were the former MV Maharlika Tres, acquired from Atienza Shipping Lines and the former MV Maharlika Cuatro from Gabisan Shipping Lines. The two double-ended ferries became the MV Regina Calixta VI and and MV Regina Calixta VII in their fleet. The company was also able to acquire the former MV Grand Star RORO 3 which became the MV Regina Calixta VIII in their fleet. Rounding off the fleet is the MV Regina Calixta V which they acquired from China.

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The Regina Calixta VIII (ex-Grand Star RORO III)

The former ferries from Archipelago Ferries and Philharbor Ferries are no longer the sad ferries of Christopher Pastrana, the boastful. All feature Tourist accommodations now (there was none before) with a disco motif and sounds where good videos are played during the trip and all feature good, brand-new seats in Tourist (Regina Shipping Lines was in buses before and they know these things). Even the engines were refitted that the former MV Maharlika Tres is already running faster than her design speed (the maximum speed when new). The owner of Regina Shipping Lines simply opened his checkbook unlike Christopher Pastrana (who opened the checkbook of DBP instead) and the Mayon Docks of Tabaco City forthwith did the make-overs of the former lousy Archipelago and Philharbor ferries derided in the eastern seaboard. Now those ferries are already the favorites by the passengers.

There was also another change in the Masbate ferries. This was when Asian Marine Transport Corporation (AMTC) sold their MV Super Shuttle Ferry 19, a double-ended ferry that was off-and-on doing the Bogo-Cawayan route. She was bought by the D. Olmilla Shipping Corporation, refitted also in Mayon Docks and she became the MV Cawayan Ferry 1. She still plies the same route and schedule.

Meanwhile, Sta. Clara Shipping Corporation was able to acquire last summer two former Tamataka Maru ships from Japan, the MV Tamataka Maru No. 85 and the MV Tamataka Maru No. 87 in a buy one, take one deal and the two ferries were refitted in Nagasaka Shipyard in Tayud, Cebu (Sta. Clara Shipping Corporation is a stockholder in the said yard). The MV Tamataka Maru No.85 is now running the new route of Sta. Clara Shipping Corporation, the Liloan-Lipata route across Surigao Strait, an expansion route outside Bicol acquired by the company some two or three years ago. The ship is now renamed as the MV Adrian Jude and she is meant to compete with the MV SWM Stella del Mar of the Southwest Premier Ferries, a new operator in that route using a brand-new ferry similar to and the sister ship of the new vessels of Starlite Ferries of Batangas.

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The Adrian Jude. Photo by Capt. John Andrew R. Lape

The former MV Tamataka Maru No.87 is also ready now, she is already in Bicol and waiting but unrenamed yet according to the last information I received a day ago. She is meant to ply the new route of Sta. Clara Shipping Corporation from Masbate to Cebu, another new expansion route of the company but the exact route is still being applied for. Sta. Clara Shipping Corporation is one Bicol company aside from Denica Lines which has shown aggressive growth in the past years.

Meanwhile, it seems Montenegro Lines has lost its aggressiveness. Their fleet size in Bicol is practically the same although they rotate ships especially in the Matnog-Samar route (except for the MV Reina Emperatriz there and the MV Maria Angela in Masbate). Their only addition in Bicol is their new catamaran MV City of Angeles, a High Speed Craft in the Masbate-Pilar route.

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The City of Angeles

I was trying to analyze the lack of zest and the lack of pep of Montenegro Lines in the recent years especially in the context of Bicol shipping. It seems that when their “patron saint” went out of power and was made an enforced guest, Montenegro Lines’ drive faltered. It also seems that the blessings usually going to Montenegro Lines already went to another shipping company and so Montenegro Lines had to scrounge for additional ferries whereas before, they were buying ferries as if the supply of it won’t last (now it is the new favorite which is precisely doing that). Now, i don’t really know how come their blessings went away.

I do not know. Things can always change and it seems Montenegro Lines is no longer that great a threat to the Bicol ferry companies which showed spunk in the recent years except for 168 Shipping Lines, the owner of the local Star Ferry ships which seems to be languishing with no ship additions.

One loss, however, is something that cannot be averted and has long been expected. This is the discontinuance of the LCT to Cagraray island from the Albay mainland across the very narrow Sula Channel which has been a ship shelter for centuries now. A new bridge has been built connecting the fabled island which hosts the well-promoted Misibis Resort, the best resort in Albay province.

But as a whole Bicol ferry shipping was on the rise in the recent years and that is surely a good thing for the region.