Are We Heading Into The 3rd Surplus of Bottoms?

In maritime connotations, a “surplus of bottoms” means there is a general surplus of ships which can mean marginal loads to survive and worse a fare and freight war occurs. When this happens some shipping companies do not survive and so a “correction” (this term is used in Business and Economics) occurs but that can mean ships going to the breakers or being idled.

The first surplus of bottoms happened in the start of the 1980’s and that happened in the year 1980 and in the succeeding years. It became even more pronounced when the financial and political crisis hit the country in 1983 after the assassination of the opposition political leader Ninoy Aquino.

What triggered the surplus of bottoms in 1980 was the arrival of the new container ships which changed the system of carrying cargo. Before their arrival it was the passenger-cargo ships which carried the express cargo (the cargo that have to be moved fast). There were actually only a few cargo liners (cargo ships that have regular routes and schedules) before the arrival of the container ships. Passenger-cargo ships before 1980 have voluminous cargo holds (holds because there were not RORO liners before 1980 except for two, the third Don Carlos of Sulpicio Lines which arrived in 1977 and the Don Johnny of Lorenzo Shipping which arrived in 1976).

But when Sea Transport Company, Aboitiz Shipping Corporation, William Lines, Sulpicio Lines and later Lorenzo Shipping Corporation and Central Shipping Company (the vargo company of Sweet Lines) invested in container ships, suddenly the old passenger-cargo ships especially the former “FS” ships suddenly had no enough load and many were laid up and they rotted and were later sold to breakers especially during the financial and political crisis of the mid-1980s when the country’s growth rate turned negative.

Cargo is the bread and butter of shipping and it is not the passengers that make them viable. The major shipping lines were just too happy then to invest in container ships for they can move cargo without employing too many crews that go with the operation of passenger-cargo ships. With container ships there won’t be complaints about delays, insurance goes down, there is no need to stack up on food, etc. Operation became more simple with less risk. But that paradigm change meant a lot of old passenger-cargo ships will have to go because of a surplus of bottoms and that surplus became more pronounced when the mentioned crisis  hit.

There were more than a dozen shipping companies which did not survive this first surplus of bottoms especially in the crisis and among them were the old venerable Compania Maritima (which was the biggest shipping company for decades already), the various small shipping companies to Bicol and the Eastern Visayas which were also greatly affected by the development of intermodal shipping, the Northern Lines, Madrigal Shipping Company, Tomas del Rio & Company (the former Rio y Olabarrieta) and others.

The second surplus of bottoms period hit at the tail end of the administration of Fidel V. Ramos and it spilled into the terms of Joseph Estrada and Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. This period covered the late 1990s and the early 2000s and this was more pronounced in the liner sector like the first surplus of bottoms period.

The cause of the second surplus of bottoms period was actually the incentives given by Fidel V. Ramos to shipping when the acquisition of surplus ships from Japan quickened fast and many new players emerged not only in the  liner sector but also in the tramper sector which is actually in competition with the cargo liner sector. This second surplus of bottoms was exacerbated by the emergence of the budget airlines and the intermodal trucks and buses which took passengers and cargo from the liner sector.

In the second surplus of bottoms period the negative effect was more widespread. It happened in the High Speed Craft (HSC) sector when the arrival of the SuperCats, Sea Angels, Weesam Expresses, Bullet Expresses and others were simply too fast for the actual passenger growth. And this was worsened too by the Asian Crisis of 1997 which dampened business. One result was that we needed to sell High Speed Crafts outside the country.

In some short-distance ferry routes like in Batangas and Zamboanga this surplus of bottoms resulted in dog-eat-dog completion where fare and rate wars erupted. It was good for the passengers, car owners and shippers initially but this also meant that the financially weaker (but not necessarily smaller) shipping companies won’t survive. Among the notable casualties in Zamboanga were the Sampaguita Shipping Lines and SKT Shipping which later reincarnated into the KST (Kong San Teo) Shipping (but which also went under).

In Batangas, the formerly dominant Viva Shipping Lines and its legal-fiction companies also sank along with some other smaller shipping companies. In Cebu there was also a show of surplus bottoms but not as great as in Batangas and Zamboanga. Funnily, someone who has no knowledge of shipping, Myrna S. Austria made a Ph.D. thesis of this period and declared that so many routes lack competition. And the many routes and shipping companies disappeared because in truth there was so much competition (her data was incomplete and she didn’t know that parallel routes compete).

And like in first surplus of bottoms era a “correction” happened. What is sad here is we lost so many liners and liner routes. WG&A and Cebu Ferries Corporation shrank to just about a third of its former size and SuperCat to just less than half of its peak. The pioneer in fastcrafts Bullet Express (later Bullet Xpress) also disappeared along with some other High Speed Crafts operators.

After this the acquisition of ships went into doldrums that for a good ship spotter it became hard to maintain interest in shipping. But recently the ship spotters were jolted by new acquisitions especially since many are actually brand-new. The FastCat series started this trend and was followed by the Starlite series. Many other shipping companies are quickening their acquisitions including in High Speed Crafts and Medium Speed Crafts (MSCs). Competition drives many of these new acquisitions. But in the case of Island Water and Shogun Shipping theirs is trying the waters their own way.

These developments happened in the backdrop of the development of a new paradigm, the Cargo RORO LCTs which take rolling cargo away from the overnight ferries and the short-distance ferries. There are many shipping companies now in this sector and the LCTs involved here are nearing the two dozen mark. Like when the container ships first arrived, the operation of a Cargo RORO LCT is simpler than that of a ferry and they are wanted as suddenly they became the solution to the second-class treatment of trucks in ferries.

At the moment these new developments are beneficial to the passengers, car owners and truckers/shippers as there had been a lowering of rates in some routes and places. Plus there are more options and schedules now.

MARINA (Maritime Industry Authority), the regulatory body of the government with regards to the maritime sector will always push for the acquisition of new ships in their goal of ship modernization. And they will always think that more is better. And everybody is happy when a new ship arrives.

The question is will this lead to the 3rd surplus of bottoms? Well, it’s a little early to say but we know the shipping companies are still in the acquisition mood and we do not know up to when this optimism will end. The banks are open now for loans unlike before and the series of FastCats which can sail for as long as they want and the Starlites are not yet finished in arriving. Ferry companies have also discovered China sources now both in brand-new and surplus.

What is the antidote to a surplus of bottoms? That is the threat of MARINA to cull old ships, most of which are still running reliably and many of their companies have no record of losing a ship. Almost all are opposed to this and MARINA knows that. That is also not popular to the public as we are sentimental of our old ships.

We will have to see how this episode plays out.

 

The TEFASCO vs PPA Case

Nowadays, there are already many private ports in operation in the country. This is because companies have the urge to build their own ports for simplicity of operation, savings and security. Some shipping companies also build their own ports for the same reasons and some are simply in the business of ports like the big ICTSI (International Container and Terminal Services Inc.) of taipan Enrique Razon Jr., one of the wealthiest businessman in the country.

Actually, if municipal ports are excluded there are more private ports than ports run by the Philippine Ports Authority (PPA) and the Cebu Ports Authority (CPA) which is in charge of Cebu Province ports. However, the most numerous in the country are the municipal ports which are under the LGUs (local government units) as most of the coastal towns in the country has ports that mainly cater to the fishermen and the passenger-cargo motor bancas. Some municipal ports are actually former PPA ports that were turned over to the LGUs mainly for political and practical reasons (as in the revenue will never cover the operational costs like labor, utilities, security, transportation, etc.).

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The whole of TEFASCO. With no gantry cranes yet. Photo by Mike Baylon of PSSS.

The terms for the approval of private ports is actually vague for me and I wonder if the rules are actually set in stone. This is because I have heard of cases where it seems the spirit if not the letter of the pioneering case clarifying that is really followed. The case I am referring to is the TEFASCO vs PPA case which unsurprisingly went on for 27 years as cases between big shots normally take that long in the Philippines. Since this case was finally decided by the Supreme Court it should have been the law as it is held that decisions of the Supreme are considered part of the law of the land. TEFASCO is the Terminal Facilities and Services Corp. which is located in Ilang, Davao City.

“….In a nutshell, the issues in the two (2) consolidated petitions are centered on: (a) the character of the obligations between TEFASCO and PPA; (b) the validity of the collection by PPA of one hundred percent (100%) wharfage fees and berthing charges; (c) the propriety of the award of fifty percent (50%) wharfage fees and thirty percent (30%) berthing charges as actual damages in favor of TEFASCO for the period from 1977 to 1991; (d) the legality of the imposed government share and the MOA stipulating a schedule of TEFASCO’s arrears for and imposing a reduced rate of government share; and, (e) the propriety of the award of attorneys fees and damages….”

Some of more relevant points decided by the Supreme Court on the said case:

“….Secondly, we hold that PPA’s imposition of one hundred percent (100%) wharfage fees and berthing charges is void. It is very clear from P.D. No. 857 as amended that wharfage and berthing rates collectible by PPA “upon the coming into operation of this Decree shall be those now provided under Parts 1, 2, 3 and 6 of Title VII of Book II of The Tariff and Customs Code, until such time that the President upon recommendation of the Board may order that the adjusted schedule of dues are in effect.”34 PPA cannot unilaterally peg such rates but must rely on either The Tariff and Customs Code or the quasi-legislative issuances of the President in view of the legislative prerogative of rate-fixing.

Accordingly, P.D. No. 441 (1974) amending The Tariff and Customs Code fixed wharfage dues at fixed amounts per specified quantity brought into or involving national ports or at fifty percent (50%) of the rates provided for herein in case the articles imported or exported from or transported within the Philippines are loaded or unloaded offshore, in midstream, or in private wharves where no loading or unloading facilities are owned and maintained by the government. Inasmuch as the TEFASCO port is privately owned and maintained, we rule that the applicable rate for imported or exported articles loaded or unloaded thereat is not one hundred percent (100%) but only fifty percent (50%) of the rates specified in P.D. No. 441.

As regard berthing charges, this Court has ruled in Commissioner of Customs v. Court of Tax Appeals36 that “subject vessels, not having berthed at a national port but at the Port of Kiwalan, which was constructed, operated, and continues to be maintained by private respondent xxx are not subject to berthing charges, and petitioner should refund the berthing fees paid by private respondent.” The berthing facilities at Port of Kiwalan were constructed, improved, operated and maintained solely by and at the expense of a private corporation, the Iligan Express. On various dates, vessels using the berthing facilities therein were assessed berthing fees by the Collector of Customs which were paid by private respondent under protest. We nullified the collection and ordered their refund –

The only issue involved in this petition for review is: Whether a vessel engaged in foreign trade, which berths at a privately owned wharf or pier, is liable to the payment of the berthing charge under Section 2901 of the Tariff and Customs Code, which, as amended by Presidential Decree No. 34, reads:

Sec. 2901. Definition. – Berthing charge is the amount assessed against a vessel for mooring or berthing at a pier, wharf, bulk-head-wharf, river or channel marginal wharf at any national port in the Philippines; or for mooring or making fast to a vessel so berthed; or for coming or mooring within any slip, channel, basin, river or canal under the jurisdiction of any national port of the Philippines: Provided, however, That in the last instance, the charge shall be fifty (50%) per cent of rates provided for in cases of piers without cargo shed in the succeeding sections. The owner, agent, operator or master of the vessel is liable for this charge….”

“….Sec. 2901. Definition. – Berthing charge is the amount assessed against a vessel for mooring or berthing at a pier, wharf, bulkhead-wharf, river or channel marginal wharf at any port in the Philippines; or for mooring or making fast to a vessel so berthed; or for coming or mooring within any slip, channel, basin, river or canal under the jurisdiction of any port of the Philippines (old TCC).

Sec. 2901. Definition. – Berthing charge is the amount assessed a vessel for mooring or berthing at a pier, wharf, bulkhead-wharf, river or channel marginal wharf AT ANY NATIONAL PORT IN THE PHILIPPINES; for mooring or making fast to a vessel so berthed; or for coming or mooring within any slip, channel, basin, river or canal under the jurisdiction of ANY NATIONAL port of the Philippines; Provided, HOWEVER, THAT IN THE LAST INSTANCE, THE CHARGE SHALL BE FIFTY (50%) PER CENT OF RATES PROVIDED FOR IN CASES OF PIERS WITHOUT CARGO SHED IN THE SUCCEEDING SECTIONS. (emphasis in the original)….”

Which just means the PPA cannot arrogantly charge any amount it wants. It is still subject to the existing laws of the land. And whatever, the classification if a port is “national” or not is important. If the PPA gets 100% of the wharfage and berthing charges, how can a private port survive especially when the PPA or the government has not invested anything in the private port? That is almost confiscatory already.

Other juicy things pointed out by the Supreme Court”

“….It is, therefore, our considered opinion that under Section 2901 of The Tariff and Customs Code, as amended by Presidential Decree No. 34, only vessels berthing at national ports are liable for berthing fees. It is to be stressed that there are differences between national ports and municipal ports, namely: (1) the maintenance of municipal ports is borne by the municipality, whereas that of the national ports is shouldered by the national government; (2) municipal ports are created by executive order, while national ports are usually created by legislation; (3) berthing fees are not collected by the government from vessels berthing at municipal ports, while such berthing fees are collected by the government from vessels moored at national ports. The berthing fees imposed upon vessels berthing at national ports are applied by the national government for the maintenance and repair of said ports. The national government does not maintain municipal ports which are solely maintained by the municipalities or private entities which constructed them, as in the case at bar. Thus, no berthing charges may be collected from vessels moored at municipal ports nor may berthing charges be imposed by a municipal council….”

So an LGU cannot charge berthing charges. I wonder how many LGUs can actually cited for contempt. But they have no problem because 100,000 lawyers in the country won’t file contempt charges if they will not be paid for that.

The Supreme Court further added:

“….Moreover, PPA is bereft of any authority to impose whatever amount it pleases as government share in the gross income of TEFASCO from its arrastre and stevedoring operations….” (bold letters were in the original decision)

“….Henceforth, PPA shall collect only such dues and charges as are duly authorized by the applicable provisions of The Tariff and Customs Code and presidential issuances pursuant to Sec. 19, P.D. No. 857. PPA shall strictly observe only the legally imposable rates. Furthermore, PPA has no authority to charge government share in the gross income of TEFASCO from its arrastre and stevedoring operations within its subject private port in Davao City….”

The case adverted to is here:

http://www.chanrobles.com/scdecisions/jurisprudence2002/feb2002/135639.php

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TEFASCO port with the gantry cranes. Photo by Mike Baylon of PSSS.

The Un-achieved Blessing of the Eastern Seaboard RORO-Capable Port Towns

I am talking here of the port towns of Pilar and Matnog in Sorsogon, Allen and San Isidro in Northern Samar, Liloan and San Ricardo in Southern Leyte. When port ferry terminals were built there decades ago (a decade in San Ricardo’s case) to connect the islands there were high hopes of them being economically developed from being poor and distant towns to something better.

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Pilar port by Christian Von Jaspela of PSSS.

But that clearly did not happen and it seems it won’t be happening soon, no way. Those towns are still lagging economically in all ways. The populations are still small, no infrastructure to boast off, no commercial developments and the municipal incomes are still way down. They are not even first class towns and the best of them is a third class town which is just about average in the hierarchy of Philippine towns in income. They will not compete in any way with the string of towns between Butuan City and Davao City which are almost all first class towns because of agribusiness.

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Matnog Ferry Terminal by Britz Salih of PSSS.

The big question is why is it that these towns where so many travelers and vehicles pass through have nothing to boast of when they take in lots of forced collections which are actually illegal according to the Supreme Court in two decisions? In whatever guise whether it is called ‘regulatory”, “environmental” or for garbage these were all declared illegal because the Supreme Court said it is a form of travel tax and only the national government has the right to levy such.

Even the levying of collections against vehicles was also ruled illegal by the Supreme Court. In his ponencia, the then Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban said only High Urbanized Cities (HUCs) can levy a certain kind of rate on trucks using the port and that should only be for P500 a year. Now, none of the towns I mentioned is an HUC so clearly they have no right to such levy.

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BALWHARTECO port of Allen by Joe Cardenas of PSSS.

And yet after collecting so much from travelers and vehicles passing through their town, Pilar, Matnog, Allen, San Isidro, Liloan and San Ricardo have no development to show after these decades. Worse, it seems these “other incomes” do not show in full in the income reports of these towns. Do all of these collections really go to government coffers? If it did then there must be some infrastructure development that they can show off already.

These illegal levies just go on and on despite two Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) memorandums because no one files a case of contempt or injunction and no one is hauled to jail (that is the only thing lawbreakers fear). It only stops if it is foreigners who question these things like what happened in the case of the Island Garden City of Samal. Well, they say we are governed by laws and there is “rule of law” (or is it “rule of law-ko”, the longer form of “loko”?) Maybe in Davao City only as the city government here did not try to collect any of these illegal fees.

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San Isidro Ferry Terinal by Grek Peromingan of PSSS.

What changed anyway after all these years when in the old past having a port is a passport to development? Well, in the past when there is a port there are compradas for the likes of abaca, corn and coconut. And these are loaded into ships manually (which provide income too) and brought to the likes of Cebu City. In return there are bodegas and stores which bring products from the city to the port town for distribution even to the neighboring towns.

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Liloan Ferry Terminal by Britz Salih

Maybe all these commerce where profit is made and provides livelihood and capital to farmers is the reason why old port towns generally became prosperous. And this seems to be no longer true in the new RORO-capable port towns where goods just pass through, literally. But the question that begs to be asked is what has the local government done to harness the opportunities  in the passing cars, trucks and people? Are they simply content is collecting from them illegal exactions like a landlord (at least this has the legal right)? If such is the case then woe to them and their people. Nothing will really change for them.

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Benit port by Mike Baylon of PSSS.

Actually, the case I am presenting is also true in other parts of the country but I found that more pronounced on the eastern seaboard of the country. Maybe this is a case for serious study by true scholars. It can even be a subject of a thesis.

Whatever, I hope there is a solution to this conundrum.

The China Ferries Are Coming

It’s been a long time now that our newly-fielded ferries were surplus ferries from Japan, be it liners, overnight ships or short-distance ROROs. But in the last 5 years about half of our newly-fielded ferries from outside were already from China, both in surplus and in newbuilds. And that only shows the big changes that are happening in shipping vis-à-vis Japan and China. The latter is a rising power in shipping and the former is a rising one which has surplus ships to sell now. Also, other countries which are not too competitive but are good in ship design are designing ships that will be built in China. We had that kind of arrangement too in Hyundai shipbuilding in Subic. But even when that was still operating we were not that competitive vis-à-vis China in terms of price.

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FastCat M11 by Mark Ocul of PSSS.

The most prominent ferries built in China are the brand-new FastCats of the Archipelago Philippine Ferries Corporation. These catamaran-ROROs were designed in Australia but built in different shipyards in China and that design and arrangement proved to be a winner. More of these ships are coming and recently the FastCat M15 and FastCat M16 arrived in the Philippines. There are now 14 of these catamaran-ROROs in the country and these are serving half of the regions of the country. Most of these ferries were built by the Marine Expert Xijiang in Zhaoqing, China.

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Lite Ferry 18 by Ryan Diel of PSSS.

The other prominent group of ferries that arrived in the Philippines are the old ferries mainly of the HNSS (Hainan Strait Shipping) which connects Hainan island-province to the mainland of China. Most of these ferries went to Lite Shipping Corporation and to its competitor Medallion Transport. For Lite Ferries these ships are the latter Lite Ferry 16, Lite Ferry 17, Lite Ferry 18 and Lite Ferry 19. The four took long in refitting as the ferries needed to be re-engined. The four are among the biggest ferries of Lite Ferries. Let it be noted that Lite Ferries also ordered brand-new passenger-cargo LCTs from China, their Lite Ferry 27, Lite Ferry 29 and Lite Ferry 30.

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Lite Ferry 30 by Jose Zeus Ranoco Bade of PSSS.

For Medallion Transport their ex-China ferries are the Lady of Joy, Lady of Rule, Lady of Good Voyage and the Lady of Triumph. They also have a passenger-cargo LCT from China which is the Lady of Smile. Roble Shipping also tried passenger-cargo LCTs from China, their LCT Immaculate Stars and the LCT Jacqueline Stars. Montenegro Lines also has this type in their Reina Urduja which was the former Poseidon 26 of the Primary Trident Marine Solutions. These passenger-cargo LCTs are not necessarily better but they are cheap to operate. The downsides are the lack of passenger accommodations and amenities and the lack of speed, too.

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Reina Urduja by Albritz Salih of PSSS.

Of course, in the country there are so many LCTs now from China and they are counted in the dozens. Most are the traditional LCTs which are trampers but a growing number and maybe about a dozen or so are in the Cargo RORO LCT role which carries trucks and its crews and a car at times. It is so easy to assign a regular LCT into the Cargo RORO LCT role and no conversion is needed. The Cebu Sea Charterers are the best known for this together with the Primary Trident Marine Solutions of Leyte. But I am excluding them in my count as they are not primarily ferries in the sense that the term “ferry” is understood in this country.

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The new Lite Ferry 5 by Mark Ocul of PSSS.

Recently, aside from the FastCats, Lite Ferries also got new ferries from China, the new Lite Ferry 5 and the new Lite Ferry 9 (they have two previous ships which carried these names in their fleet but both were disposed of already). Starlite Ferries also got a new ferry from China, a fastcraft with the name Starlite Sprint 1 and supposedly more of this type is coming. Jomalia Shipping also acquired a fastcat from China, the new Maica 5 in their fleet.

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Maica 5 by Capt. Emzrenz Miramontes of PSSS.

But the biggest importer of new Medium Speed Crafts (MSCs) is the new shipping company Island Water, a subsidiary of Island Shipping. Island Water has the MSCs Island Biri, Island Calaguas, Island Calayan, Island Dalupiri, Island Balabac and the small Island Sabtang which looks like a modernized motor banca. All of these are from Jianlong Shipbuilding of China. These MSCs have tried many routes in the country but not all have running routes yet.

DON ZIAN ENCARNACION

Island Biri and a FastCat by Don Zian Encarnacion of PSSS.

This is a little historical now and some of you might be surprised that before all these came a pair of China sister ships already arrived in in the country in 2011. These are the Regina Calixta V of Regina Shipping Lines (RSL) and the Star Ferry 7 of the 168 Shipping Lines which are both Bicol shipping companies. The two were offered for sale as two bridges will not longer allow them to sail. Paradoxidally, they were actually river boats in China but they were ROROs.

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So that was the change. We are no longer dependent on Japan for ferries. More and more China is becoming our primacy source of ferries and that is not even including LCTs. That will continue in the future as China is the cheapest source of ships nowadays. Figures speak and we will have to get used to that although in quality they are still behind.

 

 

Three RORO Companies Now In The Cebu To Surigao Route

Very recently, there are now three RORO companies vying in the route from Cebu to Surigao and vice-versa and for me that is a sea-shaking event but not a tsunami. It was Medallion Transport Inc. which started this thing when they fielded their biggest ship, the Lady of Love in the said route. To be sure she is full, they just charged the rolling cargo rate in the Cebu to Leyte routes and with that they became immediately successful as in their car/cargo deck became filled immediately.

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Lady of Love by Mike Baylon of PSSS

The difference of Medallion Transport over the old route holder Cokaliong Shipping Lines, Inc. (CSLI) is that they immediately emphasized rolling cargo. Meanwhile, the latter still stresses loose and palletized cargo to be handled by forklifts, one in the wharf and one inside the car/cargo deck. Cokaliong Shipping Lines dominates the fulfilling of the needs for goods from Cebu of the stores in Surigao and maybe Medallion Transport realized they cannot really compete in that.

What was immediately affected by Medallion Transport were the ships with rolling cargo between Cebu and Leyte that still has to cross the Surigao Strait which means these are the Cebu-Mindanao vehicles and some of that are still headed to Davao, General Santos City, Sultan Kudarat and Cotabato. Although it looks like the Cebu-Cagayan de Oro and Cebu-Nasipit are more direct routes, few load vehicles in those routes as the rates are too high because rates in the sea are far higher than using fuel on land and so vehicles look for short sea crossings.

So, what vehicle owners do is either go to Leyte first from Cebu and then load the vehicle in either the Liloan or Benit port in Southern Leyte or they could go to the ports of southern Cebu and load their  vehicle to Negros island and load again the vehicle in Dumaguete port to Dapitan port. Vehicle owners from Iligan City and Zamboanga del Sur use this route. Now in that area there is already the direct Samboan to Dapitan route which bypasses the port of Dumaguete.

Currently, with a cheap and direct option to Surigao there is no more need to use the route via Leyte to Surigao. It is not only cheaper but it is also less tiring to the driver and the passengers. One can sleep in the overnight ferry-RORO to Surigao and be still fresh upon arriving in Surigao City.

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Lady of Triumph by Jose Zeus Ranoco Bade of PSSS

Actually, I recommended this route of Medallion Transport to my son who was bound for Davao City with his car and also to a friend, a PSSS Moderator who is bound for Cagayan de Oro City. I showed the latter that even rolling his vehicle for 300 kilometers (the distance between Surigao City and Cagayan de Oro City), it would still be cheaper than loading it direct to Cagayan de Oro City from Cebu and that he will enjoy the scenery. Davao City was even farther as the distance is some 400 kilometers.

Cokaliong Shipping Lines will always stay in the Cebu to Surigao route doing their old stuff. Surigao is their home turf as the company founder hails from that city, one of the reasons why they dominated that route before. However, since there is also a competition in the passenger business, Cokaliong Shipping Lines was forced to field better and faster ships.

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Filipinas Jagna by Capt. Morrell Maguzara of PSSS

I cannot really stress the names of the ships sailing the route because ship assignments always change. Where it was the Lady of Love before for Medallion Transport now it is their newly-fielded Lady of Triumph which is in the route as the former is being refitted. Where before Cokaliong Shipping Lines used their good Filipinas Cebu to counter the fast Lady of Love, currently they are using the sister ships Filipinas Jagna and Filipinas Surigao del Norte in the route and the two were just recently fielded. The only problem for this competition is the ships arrive at about 4am and that is too early for the driver who still wants some sleep especially if the drive is still long.

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Filipinas Surigao del Norte by Mark Edelson Idulsa Ocul of PSSS.

Very recently, a RORO Starlite Ferries Inc. also fielded a RORO in this route. Their ship is the new Stella Maris. However, the difference in the style of the Stella Maris is she would sail twice a day which means a day sailing and a night sailing. I just wonder if there is enough cargo for them for that frequency. Like Medallion Transport, she stresses rolling cargo over loose and palletized cargo.

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Stella Maris by Ryan Diel of PSSS.

Maybe there is something in this route to attract three shipping companies and four competing ferry-ROROs. Probably, the route through Leyte to Mindanao with two sea crossings is kaput now as it will always be dearer and with more strain to the driver and also a longer transit time.

This development bears watching as this route not only impacts Surigao but also Nasipit and Cagayan de Oro ports. Lately, I heard the rates to Cagayan de Oro from are already cheaper. That is the beauty of competition – the consumers win.

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Verano Port of Surigao City by Aris Refugio of PSSS.

If this route holds then Surigao City as point of entry to Mindanao from Cebu will be highlighted more.

 

 

I Did Not Expect That The Panay Liners (Except For Iloilo) Will Easily Surrender To The Intermodal Trucks And Buses

In the island of Panay, liners from Manila (they were really liners but were doing practically what is an overnight route if 250 nautical miles can be called an overnight route) called in Dumaguit port in Aklan and in the Culasi port of Roxas City in Capiz and many liners were assigned here by WG & A, Aboitiz Transport System and Negros Navigation and by other earlier companies. There was also a once a week call by the Cotabato Princess of Sulpicio Lines in Estancia, Iloilo and of course there were many liners to Iloilo by the different liner companies as Iloilo port is an in-port to ships still headed to Zamboanga and beyond and to Cagayan de Oro and other northern Mindanao destinations. Of and on, there were also liners calling off and on in Boracay (through a transfer), Culasi and San Jose de Buenavista, the capital of Antique. The last that plied a route in Antique was the MBRS Lines of Romblon.

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The Cotabato Princess by Toshihiko Mikami.

I have noted before that the liners to Antique do not do well over the long term. Boracay ships, meanwhile, generally just call in the summer. Estancia, meanwhile was along the route of the Sulpicio ship to Iloilo. I thought Dumaguit and Roxas City routes were doing fine especially the service of WG & A and the successor Aboitiz Transport System (ATS). I don’t count too much the loss of the Negros Navigation ships as their problem lay elsewhere which was illiquidity. But Moreta Shipping Lines and for a time MBRS Lines also had ships in Dumaguit and Roxas City and the former was the last hold-out there.

Our Lady of Naju (Mis-identified as OLO Banneux)

The Our Lady of Naju which held the Manila-Dumaguit-Roxas route for a long time. From greeshipbreaking.com.

In the end of 2003, the Strong Republic Nautical Highway (SRNH) of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo finally reached Panay island through Caticlan after the road to Roxas town in Oriental Mindoro was paved (that was hell before) and the Dangay port was constructed. From then on intermodal trucks and buses from Luzon rolled into Panay island along with the private cars and other vehicles. And in a short time, Aboitiz Transport System quit the combined Dumaguit and Roxas routes. Moreta Shipping Lines and MBRS Lines, both of whom tried Panay rotes also quit in a few years’ time. Of course, the liner route to Iloilo is still existing but it was also impacted by the intermodal trucks and buses.

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The Don Julio also held the Dumaguit and Roxas routes. Photo by Edison Sy of PSSS.

I was astonished by the fast defeat of the Panay liners because the defeat of the liners in Eastern Visayas did not come too suddenly (it actually took a generation). Also, I did think the intermodal buses to Panay were that superior to the liners but of course I know that passenger tastes could change suddenly. The traders will always leave the liners because with the intermodal trucks direct deliveries are possible obviating the need for a bodega and the double handling of cargo which can result in pilferage and damages.

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The Our Lady of Lipa collage by John Michael Aringay of PSSS. One of the best ships in the Dumaguit and Roxas route.

An Aboitiz ferry leaves the North Harbor at 2pm and reaches Dumaguit port at 5am, leaves for Roxas City at 8am and arriving there at 10am. The passengers then will reach their homes at noon or past noon after a connecting trip was made. At 2pm the same ship will leave Roxas for Dumaguit, depart Dumaguit at 6pm and arrive in Manila at 9am the next day. A trip from Roxas City, the farther route takes 17 hours. Add the connecting trip that could be 18 hours or so for the passengers.

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Our Lady of Sacred Heart also sailed to Dumaguit and Roxas. Photo by Chief Ray Smith of PSSS.

Comparing it to an intermodal bus from Manila that leaves at noon it will be in Calapan at past 6pm and be aboard the RORO from Dangay port at about before midnight and arrive in Caticlan before dawn . The buses’ times are more or less predictable because they have contracts with the ROROs that support them through rebates to keep their loyalty. Like before when Dimple Star buses were still running to Panay (they have been banned because of repeated accidents) they will be loaded aboard the Starlite Ferries ROROs. Philtranco, when it was still running to Panay was supported by the Maharlika ferries of their sister company Archipelago Ferry Philippines (this is also the owner of the FastCats).

Dimple 7814 aboard Starlite Annapolis

Dimple Star buses aboard Starlite Annapolis. Photo by Mike Baylon of PSSS.

From a 4am arrival in Caticlan the furthest of the bus passengers which is Iloilo will be arriving at noon and the shorter one to Capiz will be disembarking from the bus at about about breakfast time or for about 18 to 19 hours of travel time which is just about the travel time if a liner from Manila was taken.

The fare aboard the bus with two ferry rides across Verde Island Passage and Tablas Strait was just about the same as the ferry but bus passengers always complained then of lack of sleep because they are given seats aboard a midnight RORO that has no overnight accommodations (it just came lately). Meanwhile the liner has bunks with mattress, there is toilet and bath plus a lot of amenities including a restaurant where in the earlier days the food was free. There was also plenty of space to move about and if one takes the bath before disembarking one would leave the ship smelling fresh.

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Philtranco bus aboard an Archipelago Ferry Philippines RORO. Photo by Mike Baylon of PSSS.

So I really cannot fathom why the passengers of Panay dumped the liners for the intermodal buses (I do not know if it was the same reason from a passenger to Manila from Surigao who said to me that “there are plenty of things to see along the way”). Even if the destination is Iloilo there are also liners there and its liners are way better than that in Dumaguit and Roxas City. I can understand the choice of the passengers of Antique because the ships to their province are not that regular.

01633 (287) 06-10-1994 The passenger and vehicular ferry Princess of Antique berthed at port of Iloilo City, Panay, Philippines.

The Princess of Antique, once a ferry to San Jose de Buenavista. Photo by John Ward of PSSS.

Was it the mistake of Aboitiz Transport System that they did not field a daily ship to northern Panay? They could have done so but the question of course is the cargo as it is cargo that makes routes and not some bureaucrat’s wish or dream. There might not be enough cargo but couldn’t they bid for the trucks to ride at discounted rates like when they tried holding on to the Davao route by giving a special rate to the trucks serving San Miguel Corporation?

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A Moreta Shipping Lines ferry in Daumaguit port. Photo by Mike Gutib.

Whatever, until now I cannot really understand what happened to the liner routes of Panay (except for Iloilo). It is as if the intermodal trucks and buses gave Aboitiz and the others a knock-out blow in just two or three rounds.

 

The Remnants of the Galleons

1924 Mulle de la Industira

The nearest representation of shipping of about a century ago that I know.

If I would ask the question what was the second-biggest shipbuilding area in the Philippines a century ago, I am almost sure nobody can give the right answer. I think almost all will say that the answer is Cebu. But actually, there was an area that was ahead of Cebu in shipbuilding then and that was Sorsogon and maybe all will wonder how can that be when Sorsogon is no longer heard in shipbuilding today. Now, maybe you are tickled enough already.

I want to give a historical background first. During the Spanish rule when Mexico was not yet independent from Spain, the Spaniards ran a galleon trade between Islas Filipinas and Mexico where goods from China were sent in that country and a portion of that was further sent to Spain. A successful voyage was immensely profitable but many also failed to reach Mexico because the ships were hit by storms or armed vessels of the British caught them. Galleons had to be continually built as most voyages were one-way trips to the misfortune of the indio sailors who were mostly shanghaied.

The biggest galleon-building areas then were in Bicol and Cavite. In Bicol, the Spaniards established ten shipyards, the biggest of which was located in Magallanes, Sorsogon. But actually, the whole of Sorsogon Bay was involved in galleon-building as the activity of the bay is just like one as it was not as diversified as the activity in Manila Bay then. Except that there is a mouth, Sorsogon Bay is just like one shallow saltwater lake.

And besides, early in Spanish rule, Sorsogon Bay played a route in the communications of the Spanish regime. You see, the province of Ibalon then (the combined Albay and Sorsogon of today) connected to Iloilo rather than to Manila because it is easier to connect to that because in the age of sails, the direction of the monsoons has to be respected and so regime ships from Iloilo land in Sorsogon Bay on the way to Castilla, Sorsogon. When the current province of Albay was first explored by the Spaniards in the 16th century, the point of entry was Sorsogon Bay but then they started from Cebu.

It seems that shipbuilding by shipwrights spawned by the galleon trade lived long that a century later after the galleon trade stopped the people in Sorsogon Bay still know how to build wooden-hulled ships well so much so that ship owners all over the country still ordered wooden-hulled ships from Sorsogon.

To compare, 31 locally-built ships of 44 gross register tons and over were built around Manila Bay (that means Manila, Rizal, Cavite and Bataan) from a century ago and earlier. 44 GRT is about 25 meters in Length and 5.5 meters in Breadth and that was the size that is already of significant size for me then when the ships and the population were still small As a comparison, the smallest of the basic, short-distance ferry-ROROs is about 25 meters in length.

Of that size, 15 were built in Sorsogon Bay, about half of that built in Manila Bay but Sorsogon Bay is not even half of the latter in size, population and importance and it has no industries unlike Manila which is the national capital. Cebu was just in third place with a measly seven ships built and Iloilo was even trailing Cebu as a shipbuilding area. Almost all these ships were wooden-hulled.

The ships of at least 44 GRT built in Sorsogon Bay were the Pilar (b. 1914, 251grt), R. Melliza (b. 1889, 181grt), San Vicente (b. 1919, 176grt), Victoria (b. 1886, 136grt), Aurora (b. 1918, 134grt), Ventura (b. 1884, 129grt), Tabi (b. 1918, 89grt), Luz (b. 1920, 80grt), Amarillo (b. 1887, 70grt), Rafaela II (b. 1920, 69grt), Luna (b. 1915, 64grt), Cascante (b. 1896, 61grt), Ormoc (b. 1919, 56grt), Olite (b. 1897, 56grt) and the Mari (b. 1913, 55grt). Most of the 15 ships were powered by gasoline engines. The towns where they were built were Sorsogon, Donsol and Pilar. Donsol once built galleons too.

Among the 15, the Pilar, R. Melliza and Ventura became liners from Manila with the first and third owned by the Rio y Olabarrieta shipping company which had routes from Manila to Palawan and as far as the town of Balabac at the southern tip of the province. Meanwhile, the R. Melliza of Isidoro Goliman Limquiaco had a route from Manila to Bicol and later to Cebu.

A century ago, the two biggest ship owners then in Cebu that were engaged in regional shipping were the Aboitiz and Escano families and they were precisely those which ordered ships from Sorsogon with Escano being the leader. In all likelihood, those two intertwined families whose fortune was built then in abaca might have discovered the abaca of Sorsogon.

The Victoria and the Ormoc were owned by the Escano family while the Aurora was owned by the Aboitiz family. Meanwhile, three of the ships in the list were owned by the Lizzaraga Hermanos, the biggest regional shipping company in Western Visayas then (it was not yet De la Rama SS). Those were the Cascante, Olite and Pamplona. So it looks like that the acceptance of the Sorsogon-built ships were far and wide and one might have even went to Zamboanga, the Luna.

Now, Sorsogon is no longer heard in shipbuilding and probably the primary reason for that is what is being built now are steel-hulled ships and Sorsogon Bay is not an industrialized area and so the materials needed to build ships like steel and acetylene are not as available there. Plus in the immediate postwar years, electricity is not common and shipbuilding is a big consumer of that.

Whatever, I just want people to know that once and for several centuries Sorsogon was great in shipbuilding.

Maasin Port Is An “Anomaly” And So Is The City

Maasin City as a provincial capital of Southern Leyte is an ”anomaly” but this is in no way meant to insult it and its people. But there is no other provincial capital in the country where the capital is the last and furthermost locality. And that becomes a problem for the people of its towns on the other end like San Ricardo and Silago. They would have to spend several hours on the road just to reach their capital should they need a transaction there. And funny, to reach Maasin faster, even public vehicles go back through Bato in the neighboring  Leyte province to take the mountain road that starts at Bontoc town because it is shorter and travel time is faster. Going back, many take the same road too.

Donna Simon

Maasin port by Donna Simon

Maasin port became an anomaly too because of that road. Ferries from Cebu would rather dock in Bato or Hilongos port in Leyte rather than Maasin port and its vehicles and the shuttles (called “boat service” when the ferries are not boats) will also take the Bato to Bontoc road. But the national government through the Philippine Ports Authority (PPA) will always give priority to Maasin port because it has the designation as a provincial port even though the de-facto ports of entry now of Southern Leyte are the Hilongos and Bato ports in Leyte province.

Those two mentioned ports were so deadly especially with an extension like shuttle buses for passengers and a shortcut to Bontoc via Bato. The two killed the overnight ferries to Sogod, Liloan and Cabalian (or San Juan) especially those of ill-fated Maypalad Shipping (pun intended). Those ports have no chance as their ferries arrive near noon while ferries In Hilongos and Bato aided by shuttle buses can deliver passengers in those towns before breakfast. And the over-all fare is even lower because land fares are much cheaper than sea fares. Moreover, going to Cebu they would have just to wait for the shuttles instead of taking a local commute to the port and no transfers are needed.

Even Cokaliong Shipping Lines Inc. (CSLI) which has been loyally serving Maasin port (it was a bread and butter of the company in its earlier years) cannot increase its frequency to the city as its passengers now are just from Maasin and the towns between Maasin and Bontoc. In rolling cargo, unless they do some sacrifice they cannot match the rates of the ROROs serving Hilongos and Bato because the distance of the two from Cebu is shorter.

There is even no hope now of a fielding a RORO to the ports of Sogod, Liloan and Cabalian because in rates it can never compete with the Hilongos and Bato ROROs whose rates will be much lower because of the much shorter distance. Sogod, Liloan and Cabalian might be a little far but a car or a truck can easily roll to that and the fuel consumed will be much less compared to a RORO rate. Plus the total time will be way shorter. No way they can really win.

I do not think this situation will change in the future because one can’t change geography.  And thus one thing that could have boosted Maasin, that of being a good port of entry is really not around. Maasin could also not be a port of entry from Surigao like in the old past when ports were lacking because it is the farthest locality of Southern Leyte from Surigao.

In my wandering thoughts , I cannot even understand why Maasin became the capital of Southern Leyte when Sogod is the center point of the three “tentacles” of the province – the series of towns to Maasin, the series of towns to Silago and the series of towns to San Ricardo at the tip of Panaon island. Sogod could have been the commercial town of the province but a direct ship to Cebu hampered that, I think. Now, so-many intermodal trucks roam Southern Leyte already.

In the old past, liners from Manila also came to Maasin, Sogod and Cabalian. But those days are long gone now and will never come back again. Intermodal trucks from Manila have already cobbled up many of the cargo to the eastern seaboard of the country so much so that the old great port of Tacloban is diminished now.

And that also diminished Maasin port. Especially since the Palawan Princess of Sulpicio Lines which called on the port before is also gone now. Whatever, long live Maasin!

The Masbate-Pio Duran Route and How It Grew

The last time I was in Masbate City and that was last year, I have already observed that this new competing route is already dominating the old connection by RORO to the Bicol mainland or peninsula and that is the Masbate to Pilar, Sorsogon route although it is a longer route and people of Masbate except for Burias island have no normal connection with Albay.

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Masbate Port by Mike Baylon of PSSS

The leading shipping company in the route, the combined Sta. Clara Shipping Corporation and Penafrancia Shipping Corporation, can already field three ROROs there and mind you those are not basic, short-distance ferry-ROROs but the size of small overnight ferries. Plus they also have a Cargo RORO LCT for the trucks because in the ROROs the priority are the buses because they carry passengers. Besides there is also a new competitor in the route, the CAVS Transport Services whose second RORO has just arrived.

In terms of capacity, that of the Masbate-Pio Duran route is already well ahead of the Masbate-Pilar, Sorsogon route because only basic, short-distance ferry-ROROs or Korean hybrid LCTs can be accommodated there because of the shallow depth of the port although there are also High Speed Crafts (HSCs) in that particular route plus many big motor bancas which is in decline already although they are very friendly and accommodating (and it seems they are no longer reinvesting for fear of phase-out).

When the route first opened a few years ago, I did not expect such growth of the intermodal can happen. I had my doubts as the Masbate-Pio Duran route is longer than the Masbate-Pilar route and I know that if the rates of the new route are far off that the old route then it would just die as the vehicle owners and crews will stick to the old but cheaper one which is already familiar to them although the basic, short-distance ferry-ROROs  of the old are less comfortable. Now, using faster ROROs meant that the transit time of the new route is just the same that of the old route.

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Photo by Mike Baylon of PSSS

But Sta. Clara Shipping, the primary company really knows its salt as shown by their history. The mantra really is how to encourage the buses to cross. Buses are a different breed because they have passengers and that is a multiplier of revenues whether there rebates or there is none. And Sta. Clara Shipping knows how to encourage that by many kinds of incentives (and that even having to provide the bus crew with a good meal) and the buses just came and came. Soon, the intermodal trucks found that the route through Masbate is a good alternative to Luzon from Cebu rather than using the longer route via Samar and Leyte islands.

The development  was a resounding slap to the pioneering Archipelago Philippine Ferries (better know as the Maharlika ferries) which did not last in the Masbate to Bicol route via Bulan in Sorsogon although they are horizontally integrated as in one person owns the bus and the ship. Who says Economics books are always right? With incentives the RORO is full and that is the critical thing. What is the use of a RORO without incentives if it is not even half-full?

Early on, a new shipping company in the route, the Medallion Transport Inc. of Cebu and Leyte had a misstep as fate played games. Not long after they opened the route, their Lady of Carmel sank at night while on the way to Masbate from Pio Duran. That happened near Burias island in 2013. At its peak Medallion Transport had two basic, short-distance ferry-ROROs in the route and they even named the ship that sank as “Barko Masbateno”.

Medallion Transport then lost their foothold in the route as the policy of the Masbate provincial government is they won’t let a shipping company continue sailing until and unless the shipping company settle first its obligations to the victims of the tragedy. That was actually the reason too why Montenegro Shipping Lines Inc. (MSLI) lost its Masbate to Lucena, Quezon route when their Maria Carmela caught fire in Pagbilao Bay near the end of its route.

Meanwhile, the original route of Sta. Clara Shipping/Penafrancia Shipping was actually Pasacao, Camarines Sur to Masbate City, a far longer route and they started it in the habagat (Southwest monsoon) and early on they had a scare there and with that and the unfeasibility of the route they decided to transfer to the Pio Duran to Masbate City route. With no competition and the right strategy they soon flourished. The buses flourished too and the Manila bus passengers benefited also. What lost were the local buses and jeeps (since the passengers are already aboard the intermodal buses) and the big motor bancas were impacted too. But then that is how the world goes. Some gain, some lose but change will always be there.

The Pio Duran port which was a very basic port before in an out-of-the-way place is now improved and expanded. The port back-up area was expanded and there is now a passenger terminal building. However, like before the berths will not be enough for the ferries in the route because in the dawn and early morning all the ROROs will be there in Pio Duran port. Masbate port has no such problem as it has been continuously expanded over the years.

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Photo by Mike Baylon of PSSS

In this route, the ROROs leave Pio Duran port from dawn till breakfast time. It is the buses that dictate that as the buses leave Manila from noon till late afternoon and the travel time from Manila is up to 12 hours. In Masbate port the ROROs depart starting 10am until 2pm because they have to wait for the buses from its starting points in the far Masbate towns. These buses have contracts already with the shipping companies in Masbate and so the ferry waits for them even if they are delayed. The policy is no bus will be left behind either way because they have passengers. Clearly, trucks are second priority but there is now a Cargo RORO LCT to cater to them although it is a slow ride because it is an LCT.

What is the future of this route? If the past is any indication and the progress is linear then I expect more traffic in the route in the future and both Masbate and Pio Duran ports will further gain in importance and improve. Maybe more companies will be sailing and that can lessen the rates in the route like what is now happening in the Cebu to Leyte routes.

Whatever, I see a rosy future for this route. By the way, this is not the route that was promoted in the SRNH of Gloria. Well, sometimes the best of plans is not what turns out to be. Pio Duran port graduated from being just a port to Burias island to being a busy port and that is good. And being a port under the PPA, the national government will back its expansion unlike the competing Pilar port which is a municipal port ran by the LGU (and so they collect its expensive passenger fees but the onus for its development is supposedly borne by the municipality).

Whatever, let’s be glad that this route came into being and it flourished.

 

 

The MV Isla Simara Is Now In San Bernardino Strait

The MV  Isla Simara of Shogun Shipping was presented to the local media a few days ago in Pier 6 of NorthPort (the old North Harbor) before she departed where the controversial and untrue claim as the first RORO built by Pinoys was issued. The owners also claimed that the ship has the longest ramp in the country which is also untrue. Now, I did not know if Trump-ism has already taken hold in our land. Why claim things that are simply not true?

The Isla Simara’s keel was laid in a Sual, Pangasinan last year and when she was already capable of floating she was towed to Josefa Slipways in Navotas, Metro Manila where she was completed. In launching, there there was enough buoyancy from the shallow waters of the Navotas river plus she is large and so her screws hit and she had to be winched back to port for repairs. Now, I do not know if that was good omen or not.

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While already capable of sailing the Isla Simara cannot sail as she lacked a Certificate of Public Conveyance (CPC) which will allow her to sail a route legally . There was a back and forth where she will be fielded, one option being Cebu-Tagbilaran route but finally the owners were firm she would said the Matnog, Sorsogon to Allen, Northern Samar route using the private BALWHARTECO Port. It was the owners of this port which finally swung the owners in the route determination after pledging support to Shogun Shipping. However, the ferry lost more than two months.

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The other day, on August 26, 2019, Isla Simara finally arrived in Matnog after an economical-speed sailing in heavy rains spawned by the combination of a habagat (Southwest monsoon)intensified by a tropical depression. The next day, she sailed to BALWHARTECO Port and luckily the stormy weather already ceased and she docked uneventfully in the afternoon.

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And so last night, the ferry held an open house while docked at the port, in clear weather and invited were town, barangay (barrio) and port officials plus of course the local detachments of MARINA, the PPA and the Coast Guard. It was actually an semi-formal event and not so exclusive party and it was actually very rare as in a blue moon for a shipping company to invite the public in.

Well, one advantage is BALWHARTECO is not an ISPS port because if she is then it  will be off-limits to the general public because of fear of terrorists will then be the primary consideration. May I note that in my experience BALWHARTECO port is friendly to the general public and one can reach the ferries without much fuss. Inside the port are establishments that cater to the general public.

In BALWHARTECO, Isla Simara dwarfed the competing ROROs of Montenegro Shipping Lines which will be her main competitor (although the ROROs  in Dapdap and Jubasan ports of Allen will also be directly competing). This ferry is big and her size is not what is used in the short-distance routes (she might be the biggest ferry/RORO now in a short-distance route). However, she is a day ferry equipped with seats and lounges as insisted by the owner.

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Isla Simara has been built using many kits from China and even her interiors are not local. Her aesthetic design is impressive as well as her safety features. Of course, the bridge and engine room equipment are also imported. The ship can be considered first-class all the way at least by Philippine standards and her livery is not what is the usual in the local ferries.

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Her Captain said she will be doing six or seven round trips a day. But the question is will there be enough load? In San Bernardino Strait, most of the rolling cargo (the vehicles) is already contracted which means they have contracts with a particular shipping company that assures them of a reserved ride even in the peaks of the peak season (and the sometimes traveler in the peak season do not understand that leading to complaints of “favoritism” and dapat daw “first come, first served”). Well, Virginia, there are reservations everywhere and not only in ports.

Most of the passengers across San Bernardino Strait are intermodal bus passengers and they are tied to their buses, they are not free to choose their ride and almost all are enjoying the “free ferry” perk that means they have free tickets for the ferry which is actually true. Contracts and free tickets are things not yet understood by Shogun Shipping and they might be in for a rough surprise. But for private cars owners, Isla Simara might be a pleasant alternative as for sure there will be no queues and the accommodations and amenities are well above those of the short-distance ferries.

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What bothers me is the fact that Starlite Ferries of Batangas and the big Chelsea Logistics fielded a new ship in the exact route and ports and only lasted over a month when in terms of size, amenities, service and speed she can match the Isla Simara and yet she did not survive in the route. And to think that in MIMAROPA, in her home territory, Starlite Ferries is used to contracting and to rebates like what is present in San Bernardino Strait. Did they find it too hard to wean away the buses and trucks from their contracts? Besides, in San Bernardino Strait there are Cargo RORO LCTs that cater to trucks and they provide lower rates.

Last night, my informant and I were discussing over the phone. We thought Isla Simara could have been a killer if she was fielded as overnight ferry because then her superior amenities and newness will be more on display compared to a one-hour route like that in San Bernardino Strait. But who knows? Shogun Shipping still has three sister ships of Isla Simara on the pipeline. This company is really loaded as aside from ROROs they also have catamarans under the Island Water brand.

Whatever, her arrival to shake up San Bernardino bears watching. Her voyages commence next week.

 

[Photo Credits: Philippine Ship Spotters Society (PSSS), Mervin Go Bon Soon, Dwight and Shogun Shipping]