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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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.

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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]

2GO Travel Has Stopped Its Manila-Davao Route

A few weeks ago, the liner St. Leo the Great of 2GO Travel plied its last voyage to Davao amid some send-off ceremony. That liner started again the Manila-Zamboanga-General Santos City-Davao route after a request from the Philippine President who changed his mind after saying right after he was elected that Davao does not need a liner. Now, Davao City is his own city and it recently produced a shipping great in Dennis Uy who was one of President Duterte’s supporters in his presidential campaign and they are close.

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St. Leo The Great by Mike Baylon and PSSS

A liner to Davao has been a debated thing in the last few years and the quirk is after our liner companies were decimated through various reasons, only one was left to serve the route if they wish and that is the company 2GO which changed ownership from Negros Navigation to the Chelsea Logistics of Dennis Uy. When the Aboitizes were still the owners of the predecessor company of 2GO, the Aboitiz Transport System, it seems they were discouraged by the Davao route. It was true that there were only a few passengers left and they are being beaten in cargo, they being who charge the highest and there was a secret reason for that.

I have long argued that liners should be downsized now because passenger loads of 2,000 people were already a thing of the past when the budget airlines came and it made the plane fare low as in to the level of liner fares. A voyage of over two days suddenly became passe and undesirable even though the meals are free. The availability of intermodal buses added to the pressure against the liners. That mode is not comfortable but they depart daily whereas the liner became a weekly thing when at its peak the liners have six sailing to Davao in a week.

The over-all situation is actually not favorable now to the liners even in other parts of Mindanao and even in the Visayas as there are alternatives already. So that impacts the capacity of the liner companies to invest in new liners. As of now, it is already obvious that liners are oversized even in the cargo capacity. I think it should go back to 110- or 120-meter length of the 1980s. The 155-meter liners of today are just relics of the 1990s when passenger shipping was still good. Engine capacity should also be downsized from the 25,000 horsepower currently to half of that like that of some 25 or 30 years ago. Speeds might go down from 19 knots currently to the 16-17 knots of before but that might not be a very big thing. What is important to consider is fuel is no longer as cheap compared to a generation ago because of US wars.

And this actually where 2GO might be headed. I heard a ferry in the 110-meter range is coming but it seems it is headed to a sister company, the Trans-Asia Shipping Lines Inc. (TASLI). I will not be surprised if Trans-Asia Shipping goes into liners like they are already in cargo liners with their container ship fleet still growing. TASLI also might turn out to be cheaper to operate than 2GO. I heard the new ferry is destined for Davao so Dennis Uy can still fulfill his promise to President Duterte.

A 115-meter ferry with a passenger capacity of 1,000 to 1,200 passengers and a container capacity of about 60 to 70 TEUs is what might be needed by liner shipping today. The 2,000-passenger capacity is already archaic and so do the 100-TEU container capacity as liners can no longer fill that up now. Why field a full-size bus or truck when a midibus or a minitruck will do? However, I wish that that ship will have a mezzanine so cars can also be loaded without taking much space. The space or deck below that will still be usable.

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Princess of Negros by Chief Ray Smith of PSSS.  A 110-meter ROPAX of the past.

But if we really want to revive our liner industry then MARINA should change its rules. Exhortations from MARINA or the Department of Transportation will not do the trick and they should realize that.

In the 1980s, when the ROROs came (or ROPAXes to be more exact) the liners were allowed to charge more for the same cargo so that the passenger fares can be subsidized. It was simpler then because the liner companies were also the dominant players in the containerized cargo business and so the playing field was more or less equal. There were just a few container shipping companies which were not in the passenger liner business.

The liners can charge extra because it was treated as express cargo. They actually arrive in the destinations earlier than the container ships which just sail at half their speed and are not constrained to wait for cargo so that the ship will have more load.

But the problem is things changed as time went by. Lorenzo Shipping, Escano Lines, William Lines, Gothong Lines and finally Sulpicio Lines got out of the passenger liner business for one reason or another and a slew of new container lines emerged (it was no longer Solid Shipping Lines alone although there were other small container lines before them). The container ships can already undercut the express rates very significantly. Now most cargoes can actually wait and if one needed it really fast then one goes to the forwarding companies using airlines and their own panel trucks. This segment of the cargo business actually boomed in the last three decades. Aren’t they present in all malls now?

In truth, the container shipping companies do not want to do any passenger business anymore and the reasons are various. One, without passengers they can delay the departures of their ships and there are no passengers which will complain. Second, container vans do not need accommodations, nor food and nor passenger service. The crewing needs for passengers is actually great and restaurants and pantries will be needed plus a food supply system. A container van can be handled roughly and nobody will complain. The carrying of passengers actually has potential problems public relations especially in this time of social media. If the Princess of the Stars was a simple container ship then the furor and backlash would not have been that great. Life is much simpler for container lines and even their office staff is leaner.

How do we revive liner shipping? It’s simple. Oblige the container lines to operate liners. The size and number should be proportional to their container ship fleet. That will level the playing field and 2GO, our sole and remaining liner company will breathe easier. At the rate it is going, getting cargo was already difficult for 2GO. Even here in Davao, there are a lot of new container lines and some are even using LCTs and deck loading ships which are even less expensive to operate thus they are capable of charging less.

Now, I wonder if the current crop of MARINA officers knows the history of the rates they approved or its rationale. I am not even sure if they really care for liner shipping because after all they do not ride ships (they take the plane, of course). Maybe they do not even realize that the more container ships they approve the more liner shipping goes down. Cargo is the lifeblood of shipping and the passenger liners are no longer competitive in that.

I hope the liners rise again. And I wish they will come back to Davao and be profitable at the same time.

The Motor Banca Replacement

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San Antonio, Basey, Samar motor banca by Mike Baylon of PSSS

Recently, the question of the motor banca replacement again got traction after three motor bancas in the Iloilo-Guimaras route floundered in heavy wind and rain. That incident really caught the national attention and again knee-jerk reactions abounded. But in all the discussions, all agreed that the motor banca is really deficient in safety when the weather is rough. They generally have no problem in clear weather unless the motor conks out or if the propeller is damaged.

One problem of the motor banca is its low freeboard. In rough seas a motor banca can get swamped by high waves leading to flotation problems. Even in clear weather the hull of a banca needs to be drained of water (well, that has to be done on all ships actually be they wooden-hulled, FRP-hulled or steel-hulled for there is always ingress of water somehow in the hull). Maybe a motor banca should also be required to be equipped with many plastic pails so that passengers can help bailing out water when the banca is already being swamped with water (which also puts pressure on the outriggers).

Independently, the outrigger of a motor banca can also be damaged and even break and that could lead to the capsizing of the motor banca. That is a common reason why motor bancas dip on one side and then sink. It is better when a motor banca brings bamboos and twines for emergency outrigger repairs at sea. This is common practice in the long-distance Masbate motor bancas especially in the Cebu route which crosses the entire Visayan Sea.

But, whatever, one problem of the motor banca is when they are caught by another, heavier sea and wind when they turn around an island, a sea they did not anticipate. In that case, luck and good seamanship are the things that a motor banca needs plus the cooperation of a non-panicking passenger body. That is why it is always safer if the passengers are locals. More dangerous to stability are the tourists and the others not used to the sea who have the tendency to panic.

The reaction of MARINA (the Maritime Industry Authority, the local maritime regulatory agency) is to ban the motor banca and they have been banned since 2005 during the reign of Maria Elena Bautista who doesn’t really understand the maritime industry. Was any empirical study done before she released her edict? If that rule was really practical then the motor bancas would have been gone many years ago but the truth is they are still around.

There are barrios within a bay or in a coast that have no roads and thus dependent on the motor or fishing banca for transport of people an goods. And then, there are also small islands and islets that have to be connected to the mainland. We have over a thousand islands and rocks after all (the 7,107 count is actually not true; that was just a concoction by the Americans during their rule here to make it sound romantic).

Maria Elena Bautista said the replacement must be the LCT. Maybe her idea is since a motor banca just needs a boat landing area then the LCT that can theoretically land on the beaches is the solution. But then if in a small banca a 12-passenger load is already big enough to break even that will not do for an LCT. And how many times must be the capital for one to acquire an LCT? Twenty-five times? And with bigger fuel and maintenance requirements? So the LCT is not the practical replace for the “primitive” motor banca.

It is really hard to do away the motor banca and it is actually near impossible to ban them. Even tourism through short tours is dependent on them. The first area where MARINA was successful in driving out the passenger motor banca was in the Batangas City to Sabang/Puerto Galera routes across the sometimes-rough Verde Island Passage.

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A Minolo Shipping Lines replacement for the motor banca. Photo from MSL.

MARINA has good ammunition there for Sabang and Puerto Galera are the locations of the resorts and operators should really offer a ride better than a motor banca especially since there are foreign tourists there. And since for the decades they have been running already, it can be argued that they have already earned enough to invest in a craft that is better than the old motor banca.

It is one route where I first learned they have indigenous replacements already but still based on the motor banca design and some look like trimarans because the two other small hulls are used to stabilize the sea craft. Well, in the world of boating abroad, the trimaran is already an accepted design to stabilize the craft better and so actually in Sabang they might not be in the wrong track.

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Jaziel by James Gabriel Verallo of PSSS

I also look at some Siquijor indigenous sea crafts especially the Jaziel (and Jaylann) and the Coco Adventurer. The two could be prototypes for practical motor banca replacements. Otherwise, one would have to look at the small motor boat designs like what is used in the Davao to Samal routes and if MARINA’s issue is that they don’t like wooden hulls then a composite hull can be used (well, actually the wooden hulls is also coated now with epoxy resin). A light steel hull  is also viable as wood is not too cheap now in the country anyway. That could even look like the Metro Ferry sea crafts in Mactan Channel.

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Coco Adventurer by Aris Refugio of PSSS

Actually there are existing ships now with an eye on replacing the motor banca. Maybe among them are the Jash Ley East and Eiryl. But the lack of a truly scientific R & D from the government hampers the effort to come up with a practical motor banca replacement. Even MARINA does not have this capacity.

Jash Ley East by Seacat Boats

Jash Ley East by Seacat Boats

Whatever, a design that costs ten times the acquisition cost of a big motor banca will not be the answer even if the government helps in finding the financing for still the same amount will have to be paid over time. MARINA plans to organize the motor banca owners into cooperatives so that there will be more financial muscle. Organize into one the former competitors? Will they just not bicker? And who will take charge of the books?

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If a big motor banca costs PhP 2 million the replacement should not cost twice of that to be affordable. To me it won’t matter if they are just equipped with surplus truck engines and just have basic equipment in the pilot house. If the replacement is all-new, fabricated in a factory with all the certifications it will not be cheap for sure and of course they will not be able to charge anywhere near the old fares. That is the situation now in the Iloilo-Guimaras route where the temporary replacements are charging double than that the motor bancas they replaced or supplemented. I think that is an untenable situation.

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Davao-Samal motor boats by Mike Baylon of PSSS

Price point is the decision point of Pinoys in most cases. The great majority will always go for what is cheap. What is the point of an impressive replacement if the people cannot afford and thus shun it? It is also not practical if the old operators cannot afford it.

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Will the motor banca replacement be an import? Photos/Source: Mtcao Pio Duran

Whatever, MARINA should accept that in many places in the country the motor banca is not yet replaceable. As long as fishing bancas still sail, that is the confirmation we are still in the stage of the motor banca.

 

Masbate City to Castilla, Sorsogon: An Unexplored Route

 

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Photo by Adecer X. Bogart of PSSS

Very recently, the Shogun Ships Co. Inc. (Shogun Shipping) announced the opening of their Masbate City to Castilla, Sorsogon route through Island Water, their Medium Speed Craft (MSC) subsidiary that is using small catamarans from China. This has the support of the LGU of Castilla especially the Mayor.

When I heard many weeks ago that Island Water was applying for this route I was surprised because I have never heard in the past that a ferry plied this route and there were inconceivable considerations. The natural competitor of that route is the Masbate City to Pilar, Sorsogon route held by the High Speed Crafts (HSCs) of Montenegro Shipping Lines Inc. (MSLI) and the ROPAXes of two companies of which one, the Denica Lines, is already refitting their own HSCs.

I wonder if the two shipping lines won’t lodge an objection as the route falls within the 50-kilometer restriction of MARINA (Maritime Industry Authority, the Philippines’ maritime regulatory body) that no competing route will be allowed if the ports are within 50 kilometers of each other and definitely the distance of Pilar and Castilla ports are less than 50 kilometers.

But then MARINA always has exceptions to their rules like when they allowed a ferry in the Pilar, Sorsogon to Aroroy, Masbate route (well, it did not last even though it has a high fallutin’ feasibility study) when the distance between Aroroy and Masbate City is less than 50 kilometers.

Castilla port is also at a disadvantage compared to Pilar port because it is farther than Daraga, Albay and Legazpi City in Albay where most of the HSC passengers are headed (no, it is not Sorsogon City). Besides, the route to Castilla is longer than the route to Castilla and so it must consume more fuel. Besides, inside Sorsogon Bay where Castilla is located there are shifting sandbars especially in the habagat (the Southwest monsoon season). Even in the past the freighters going inside the bay restrict their speed.

And part of what I feared happened right this afternoon. The Island Water vessel, the Island Calaguas took nearly four hours in the route and I think part of the reason is that they cannot speed up inside Sorsogon Bay. The Captain was instructed to say to the media that the trip took two hours and forty-five minutes as scheduled but the Captain admitted the actual sailing time and he might have been sacked for that. There is actually no way Island Water can match the two hours sailing time of the MSLI HSCs of two hours because those are simply faster than them with a shorter route to boot.

Castilla is also a little bit out of the way and few people aside from the locals go there as it is not on the highway. That was the reason why the municipal government transferred their old municipal hall which was near the port to a new municipal hall near the national highway.

There are just a few public transports to the old town proper and in a good anticipatory move, Shogun Shipping brought along two P2P (point to point) buses from Manila to serve as shuttle between Castilla and Legazpi. Without those they would have been dead already. In Pilar there are vans that wait for the ferries from Masbate and the vans in Legazpi go right to Pilar port. Castilla has no such equivalent.

I wish the Island Water experiment sticks as Castilla needs them because it is such an underdeveloped place as the Mayor himself insinuated. And if I am travelling next time, I might try them just to see Castilla and what it has to offer.

But then when moves become offbeat there usually are reason or reasons for that. I have never been aware of a Masbate-Castilla route in the past and I even wonder why the government put up a port in the place. Castilla has long ceased as a point of entry to Daraga and Ibalon since the early Spanish times when it was the easiest protected route to the Bicol Valley (the Moros controlled the seas there until the 1850s).

I have checked. When liners was still the main connection to Manila they would dock in Donsol, Pilar, Magallanes, Casiguran, Sorsogon and Bulan towns but not in Castilla. And Masbate town was not also a port of call of the liners from Manila until it reached the 1930s. The historical connection of Masbate town to the Bicol mainland was actually through the Pilar and Bulan towns of Sorsogon.

I do not know if Island Water will repeat their Island Sabtang mistake of connecting Masbate City and Pio Duran town in Albay. It seems they did not realize that the only passengers there are bus passengers going to Manila. Masbate City and Pio Duran have no real connection and the problem is that might be also true for Masbate and Castilla. The shuttle bus is really needed so that the Masbate to Daraga/Legazpi connection can also be replicated through Castilla.

Whatever, I am astounded by the bravery of Island Water and Shogun Shipping in trying new routes, even routes that did not exist in the past. May I note though that the ship they are using in the old route was the ship they used in the Cebu to Bantayan (Hagnaya to Santa Fe) last summer but was not able to stick when the lean months entered. That old route of the Island Calaguas even has more passengers that this new route because it has tourism.

Well, hope springs eternal.

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Island Calaguas in Castilla, Sorsogon. Photo by Mr. Edwin Jamora.