The Fast Cruiser Liners of the Other Shipping Companies Aside From William Lines and Sulpicio Lines

If we adjust the standards a little for fast cruisers in the 1950’s at just below 18 knots then the first “Don Julio” of Ledesma Shipping Lines will qualify a fast cruiser liner. It should be because she was actually the fastest liner of her era! She was the fastest liner of the 1950’s when she was fielded in 1951 and that was true until she was sold to Southern Lines in 1959.

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Credits to Manila Chronicle and Gorio Belen

The first “Don Julio” was an ex-”FS” ship but lengthened in Hongkong when converted to a passenger-cargo ship like many of her sister ships here. She was the fastest in her period because she was re-engined to higher ratings. Two former diesel engines from submarines which were Fairbanks-Morse diesels of a combined 3,600 horsepower were fitted to her and this gave her a speed of over 17 knots. She was the former “FS-286” built by Wheeler Shipbuilding Corp. in Brookly, Newy York USA. As lengthened her dimensions were 66.2 meters by 10.0 meters with a cubic measure of 1,051 gross register tons and she was the biggest former ex-”FS” ship that sailed in the country. Later, when she passed on to Philippine Pioneer Lines she was known as “Pioneer Leyte”. On October 23, 1966, she was involved in a collision in Manila Bay and she was subsequently broken up.

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Credits to Philippine Herald and Gorio Belen

The next fastest liner in Philippine waters came in 1960. She was formerly a seaplane tender named “Onslow” and built for the US Navy by Lake Washington Shipyard in Houghton, Washington, USA in 1943. Continuing service in the US Navy after the war she was known as “AVP-48”, a supply ship. Released from the US Navy, she was converted as a passenger-cargo ship. She measured 94.7 meters by 12.5 meters with a cubic volume of 2,137. This ship has two engines of 6,080 horsepower giving her a top speed of 18 knots. She was first known as “President Quezon” in the fleet of Philippine President Lines and later she was known as “Quezon”. When she was transferred to the fleet of Philippine Pioneer Lines she was known as “Pioneer Iloilo” and when she was sold to Galaxy Lines she became the flagship of the fleet by the name of “Galaxy”. She foundered at her moorings in Cebu while laid up on October 19, 1971.

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Credits to Evening News and Gorio Belen

In 1968, the leading company then Compania Maritima ordered the liner “Filipinas” from Bremer Vulkan AG in Vegesack, Germany. This flagship has the dimensions 121.0 meters by 18.1 meters and her cubic measurement was 4,997 gross tons. She had a single Bremer Vulkan diesel engine of 8,800 horsepower which gave her a top speed of 18 knots. As a fast and modern cruiser liner, she was used by the company in the long-distance route to Davao via Cebu and Zamboanga, a very logical route for her. She served the company until Compania Maritima ceased sailing and she was sent to Taiwan ship breaker. She was demolished on April 5, 1985 after just 17 years of sailing. She was probably not purchased by other companies here because during that time it was already obvious that the period of the ROROs has arrived and she was a cruiser.

In 1970, Compania Maritima acquired another cruiser liner, a second-hand one, the former “Hornkoog” of Horn-Linie GmbH. This ship was built by Deutsche Werft AG in Finkenwerder, Hamburg, Germany in 1959. She was renamed here as the second “Mindanao” and she was actually longer but thinner than the flagship “Filipinas” at 134.6 meters by 16.1 meters. She had the cubic volume 3,357 gross register tons. This liner was powered by a single diesel engine which gave her a top speed of 18 knots. It seems this fast cruiser liner was mainly used by Compania Maritima in their Far East routes where their name was Maritime Company of the Philippines. Incidentally, this ship was the last-ever liner acquired by Compania Maritima. This ship was broken up in Taiwan in 1980.

After the first “Don Julio” from Ledesma Shipping Lines, the coalesced company of Ledesma Lines and Negros Navigation, with the latter as survivor, embarked on a series of orders of new fast cruiser liners which were actually all sister ships. This started with the “Dona Florentina” in 1965. She was built by Hitachi Zosen Corp. in Osaka, Japan and she measured 95.7 meters by 13.9 meters. This liner had a cubic measurement of 2,095 gross register tons and a passenger capacity of 831. She was fitted with a single Hitachi diesel engine with 4,400 horsepower and she had a top speed of 17.5 knots. Since this was still the 1960’s and it was just a shade under 18 knots I already qualify her as a fast cruiser liner. She had a fire while sailing on May 18, 1983 and she was beached on Batbatan Island in Culasi, Antique. She was later towed to Batangas where she was broken up on March 1985.

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Credits to Gorio Belen

The beautiful “Don Julio” followed “Dona Florentina” in 1967 and she became the flagship of the Negros Navigation fleet. She was built in Maizuru Shipyard in Maizuru, Japan and she had the same length and breadth of “Dona Florentina”. She was however a little bigger at 2,381 gross tons and she had a higher passenger capacity at 994. She had the same engine and the same horsepower as “Dona Florentina” and her speed was the same, too. This liner had a long career and she even became part of the transfer of Negros Navigation ships to Jensen Shipping of Cebu. She had her final lay-up sometime ins 2000’s and now her fate is uncertain. Her namesake congressman was however still looking for her several years ago, for preservation purposes. Most likely she is gone now.

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Credits to Times Journal and Gorio Belen

In 1971, Negros Navigation rolled out a new flagship, a sister ship to “Dona Florentina” and “Don Julio” but with a bigger engine and a higher top speed. This was the “Don Juan” with the same length and breadth as the two but fitted with 5,000-horsepower B&W engine which gave her a top speed of 19 knots. Her cubic measure was 2,310 gross register tons and she had a passenger capacity of only 740 because she had more amenities. She was built by Niigata Shipbuilding & Repair in Niigata, Japan. This fast cruiser liner did not sail long because on the night of April 22, 1980, she was hit by tanker “Tacloban City” on her port side while cruising in Tablas Strait at night. She went down quickly with a claimed 1,000 number of lives lost. She was reckoned to be overloaded at that time.

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Credits to Times Journal and Gorio Belen

In 1976, Negros Navigation procured a second-hand fast cruiser liner, the “Don Claudio”. During that time, because of the fast devaluation Philippine shipping companies can no longer afford to acquire new liners. This ship was the former “Okinoshima Maru” of Kansai Kisen KK. She was built in 1966 by Sanoyas Shoji Company in Osaka, Japan. Her dimensions were 92.6 meters by 14.4 meters and her cubic dimensions was 2,721 gross tons. Originally, her passenger capacity was 895. She was equipped with a 3,850-horsepower Mitsui-B&W engine that gave her a top speed of 18.5 knots.

All the fast cruiser liners of Negros Navigation were mainly used in the short routes to Bacolod and Iloilo. Later, some were assigned a route to Roxas City, another short route.

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Credits to Philippinje Herald and Gorio Belen

The last shipping company to have a fast cruiser liner was Sweet Lines. She purchased the “H.P. Prior” from Det Forenede in Denmark in 1970 and when they fielded this they ruled the Manila-Cebu route. She was the legendary and first “Sweet Faith” which later battled in that route the equally-legendary “Cebu City” of William Lines. “Sweet Faith” was built by Helsingor Vaertft in Elsinore, Denmark in 1950. She measured 104.0 meters by 14.9 meters and 3,155 gross register tons as cubic measure. This fast cruiser was equipped by two Helsingor Vaerft diesel engines with a total of 7,620 horsepower which provided her a top speed of 20 knots sustained. She was actually the first liner in the inter-island route capable of 20 knots, a magic threshold. She only sailed for ten years here and in 1980 she was broken up in Cebu.

Sweet Lines had another liner capable of sailing at 18 knots when she was still new. This was the former “Caralis” of Tirrenea Spa di Navale of Italy which was built by Navalmeccanica in Castellamare, Italy. She was the second “Sweet Home” of Sweet Lines and she measured 120.4 meters by 16.0 meters and 5,489 gross register tons in cubic capacity and she can carry 1,200 persons. Sweet Lines advertised her and the “Sweet Faith” as the “Inimitable Pair” and the two were paired in the premier Manila-Cebu route. Sweet Lines sold her in 1978 and she became a floating hotel. She capsized and sank while laid up in Manila on November 24, 1981. She was subsequently broken up.

These were the eight other fast cruiser liners that came to the Philippines which were not part of the fleet of William Lines and Sulpicio Lines in which I had an earlier article.

Carlos A. Gothong Lines Incorporated Is Still Fighting Back

When the original shipping company Carlos A. Gothong & Company broke up in 1972, one of the successor companies was Carlos A. Gothong Lines Incorporated (CAGLI or Gothong Lines) owned by the scions of the founder Don Carlos A. Gothong. It was eclipsed early by Sulpicio Lines Incorporated which was owned by the once operations manager of the mother company. And then its operation and fleet even got smaller in 1980 when Lorenzo Shipping Corporation of Lorenzo Go and two other siblings went their separate way (this company was later sold to the Magsaysay Shipping Group but later the scions of Lorenzo Go founded the Oceanic Container Lines Incorporated which now has the biggest number of container ships in the country which has the “Ocean” series).

Carlos A. Gothong Lines Inc. again became a significant national liner company in the 1990’s when again they built a fleet of liners starting in 1986 and more significantly in 1987 when they acquired the sister ships Our Lady of Fatima and the Our Lady of Lourdes. The sister ships Sto. Nino de Cebu (the later Our Lady of Medjugorje) and the beautiful Our Lady of Sacred Heart, both acquired in 1990 cemented their national liner position and the big liner Our Lady of Akita, acquired in 1993 declared their intention to play in the big leagues.

The rising company got absorbed when they acquiesced to the creation of big merged shipping company WG & A (which stood for William, Gothong and Aboitiz) in late 1995 and that included their small fleet of RORO Cargo ships and also their Visayas-Mindanao overnight ferries. In this merged company their main representative to the Board of Directors was Bob Gothong who was close to the Aboitizes and not the eldest Bowen Gothong.

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Butuan Bay 1 by Vinz Sanchez

While Bob Gothong never veered from the Aboitiz orbit (take note it was Aboitiz Jebsens which was in charge of the operations fleet maintenance of WG & A), the other siblings of Bob Gothong were not satisfied with the state of things in the merged company and in 2001 they asked out and the process of divestment began. Even before the divestment was completed the revived Carlos A. Gothong Lines Incorporated already had the Butuan Bay 1 ready to sail the Manila-Cebu-Nasipit route which was considered lucky for them and where they were very strong in cargo historically. Instead of being paid in ships, the Gothong siblings were paid in cash (while Bob Gothong remained with WG&A) and for this to happen a lot of WG&A ships, both ROPAX and container ships had to be sold to China ship breakers for cash.

With the proceeds in the divestment that did not include Bob Gothong, the Gothong siblings led by Bowen Gothong acquired the big Manila Bay 1 and Subic Bay 1 in 2003 and 2004, respectively which were as big as their old Our Lady of Akita which burned in 2000 as the SuperFerry 6. The two was followed by the Ozamis Bay 1, also in 2004 and by the Cagayan Bay 1, the sister ship of SuperFerry 2 and SuperFerry 5, in 2007. At its peak the revived Carlos A. Gothong Lines Incorporated had a total of 5 ROPAXes (RORO-Passenger ships) plus a valuable wharf in the new reclaimed land in Mandaue adjacent the Cebu International Port or Cebu Pier 6. But though they had five ferries, the revived CAGLI was only able to regain a limited presence in the Visayas-Mindanao routes which were once dominated by them together with the Trans-Asia Shipping Lines Incorporated.

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The revived Gothong Lines did not prove to be very successful. When they re-entered liner shipping, many passengers were already leaving the liners and they were going to the budget airlines and the intermodal buses using short-distance ferry-ROROs. Cargo was also shifting too to the intermodal system because of the high container rates and the hassles of hauling container vans to the Port of Manila from road congestion to criminality and to the rampant mulcting of the so-called “authorities”. In those years it seemed there was a surplus of bottoms which meant excess ships, a possible result of liberalization and incentives programs of President Fidel V. Ramos.

Gothong Lines then became notorious for late departures and arrivals because they gave preference to cargo which earns more than carrying passengers and they were actually never strong in the passenger department. Repeated complaints led the maritime authority MARINA (Maritime Industry Authority) to suspend their permit to carry passengers. With that happening Gothong Lines simply converted their ROPAXes into RORO Cargo ships just carrying container vans and vehicles.

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With weakness in this business too, soon Cagayan Bay 1 and Ozamis Bay 1 soon found themselves laid up in the Gothong wharf in Mandaue and Butuan Bay 1 was sold after an engine explosion and it became the Trans-Asia 5 of Trans-Asia Shipping Lines Incorporated (TASLI). So in the recent years it was only Manila Bay 1 and Subic Bay 1 which were sailing for Gothong Lines and it seemed the two was enough for their limited cargo and routes. However, as RORO Cargo ships they were inefficient because of their big engines. But even then Gothong Lines were offering discounts and cheap rates in general which only showed how overpriced are container rates in the country. Recently, Cagayan Bay 1 and Ozamis Bay 1 were sold to the breakers but their hulls are still in the Gothong wharf in Mandaue as of the writing of this article.

Many speculated what will happen next to Gothong Lines with two inefficient and obsolescent ships and some were even asking if they will soon cease operations as their two ships were already clearly old and might even be too big for their routes. For me, I always look at their wharf which they retained and I know it is very valuable in terms of market value. Actually, the container shipping company established by their brother Bob Gothong, the Gothong Southern Shipping Lines Incorporated (GSSLI) does not even have an equivalent although it is the more progressive and booming company.

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Panglao Bay 1

Recently, two RORO Cargo ships arrived in the Gothong wharf one after another and they were still relatively new by Philippine standards. These are the Panglao Bay 1 and the Dapitan Bay 1 and from the look of things they are the replacements of Subic Bay 1 and Manila Bay 1. Actually, some three months ago as of the writing of this article, the Subic Bay 1 was already pulled by tugs and it seems here destination is a ship breaker somewhere in South Asia. That happened when the Panglao Bay 1 was already sailing for them. It is speculated that the Manila Bay 1 will be disposed of when Dapitan Bay 1 will already be sailing. In reality, it is possible she already has a buyer now.

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The Panglao Bay 1 was built in 1995 and her external dimensions are 128 meters by 22 meters with a Gross Tonnage (GT) of 5,930 in cubic volume and a cargo capacity of 4,946 tons in Deadweight Tonnage (DWT). Meanwhile, the Dapitan Bay 1 is officially a Vehicle Carrier and was built in 1992 and has the external dimensions 145 meters by 21 meters and has a cubic volume of 7,073 tons in GT and a DWT of 4,485 tons. This ship has different specifications depending on the maritime database. Whatever, these two ships are already the ships of Gothong Lines for the future and they look like worthy replacements for the Subic Bay 1 and Manila Bay 1 though they are a little smaller (but the engines are smaller too which is a plus). But then Gothong Lines might have already studied their cargo capacity needs and concluded that the sizes of the two fits them just right.

And so Carlos A. Gothong Lines Inc. is still fighting back. That is good news as they are the bearer of one of the most storied names in Philippine shipping history.

New Developments in Masbate Port

I had been to Masbate port twice in recent days in this month of July of 2017. The first one was when my ship Super Shuttle RORO 3 of Asian Marine Transport Corporation (AMTC) was on the way to Batangas and dropped anchor in Masbate first. The second was when I took the route via Pilar and Masbate ports on the way back to Cebu. Those two visits afforded me a chance to compare and weigh developments in Masbate port since last January of 2017 when I was also able to visit the port.

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Masbate port

The first notable thing is all works in expanding Masbate port has already been completed. The lineal distance of the port is a little longer now. On the other hand, talking of infrastructure, the Masbate port terminal building deteriorated in the same span of time as it is no longer air-conditioned and yet the dear terminal fee which is more expensive than the much better Cebu and Batangas ports remained the same when Masbate port does not even have shuttle buses and does not really have the capacity to take in all the passengers of the buses. And so it copied the Batangas port model which means bus passengers have to go down when the bus enters the port in order for them to pay the terminal fee and then board the bus again or walk to the ferry. The former is the preferred mode now.

Another new thing is Masbate port has an X-ray machine now for the baggage but it is not operational yet. Another useless piece of equipment just to justify the terminal fee and to have another reason for “cattle-herding” the passengers. It seems what is good enough for the buses is not good enough for PPA (Philippine Ports Authority), security-wise, because buses don’t bother checking the baggage of the passengers because they know the chance of them being victims of terrorist attacks is next to nil, at least in Bicol. And I think if one asks the ferries they will say they are not bothered if there is no X-ray machine. The buses and the ferries do not have the ISPS thinking that all passengers are possible terrorists. Actually that is simply ridiculous and is just the product of “praning” minds.

One more notable thing is that the passenger motor bancas are now practically gone from Masbate port and they have already transferred to the municipal port of Masbate near the public market and the bus/van terminal because of the high passenger terminal fee being charged by the port when passengers have no actual need for the terminal as they go direct to their vessels. Actually, last January I saw a terminal building (it was named as a community fish landing center) being built in Masbate municipal port and I saw that it is already finished when I went to the bus and van terminal.

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The problem now in Masbate municipal port is congestion, I was told, especially in the rush hours of the morning and the early afternoon. The boat landing areas there are actually the facility being used by the so-many small passenger motor bancas and motor launches headed to the different barrios across Masbate Bay. Add to that that that is also the docking area of the passenger motor bancas to barrios just outside Masbate Bay and up to Baleno town. Now the bigger motor bancas to Ticao island, Pilar port and Burias island are also lumped there now. That also includes a few cargo motor boats that were once passenger motor boats.

Actually, some small motor launch operators also built docking areas just beyond the northern end of Masbate port. I was told these transfers were the reaction to the terminal fee that costs P30. A terminal fee of that amount for a P10 boat fare? So right now just a very few motor bancas use Masbate port. One effect is congestion of the port was gone in one stroke. So I wonder now if there was any need to lengthen the port after all. Maybe they could have just donated the construction materials to the boat landing areas at the end of the port. The surface there is still dried muck which is obviously undulating and slippery. Well, if the funds were really meant to benefit the public.

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A makeshift boat landing area adjacent Masbate port

Regarding steel-hulled ferries, the competition in Masbate port is heating up and truck volume was obviously bigger than last January. Not in the buses though as July is already part of the lean months. Sta. Clara Shipping Corporation fielded their Cargo RORO LCT there, the LCT Aldain Dowey which was identified in PSSS (Philippine Ship Spotters Society) as the former LCT Ongpin. So now they have a total of three ferries in Masbate and I was told in summer Sta. Clara Shipping even fielded a fourth ferry. Their LCT is of the same length as their Jack Daniel and Anthon Raphael, their two ROPAXes there which are the best in the fleets of Sta. Clara Shipping Corporation and sister company Penafrancia Shipping Corporation (this is before the fielding of the former Tamataka Maru ships from Japan).

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Their LCT is the first to leave at noon and in the afternoon they are the only ferry departures from Masbate at 2pm and 4pm. Their three ferries are the biggest in Masbate because what their competitors have are only basic, short-distance ferry-ROROs because they use the shallow Pilar port whose depth cannot handle bigger ferries. By the way in terms of rolling cargo traffic the Pio Duran route now of Sta. Clara Shipping and Penafrancia Shipping is the favorite now since Pio Duran in Albay is nearer to Manila than Pilar of Sorsogon while the rolling cargo rate is just about the same.

With the exception of the ROROBus which is related to Montenegro Shipping Lines Inc. practically all the other buses to Masbate are handled by Sta. Clara Shipping Corp. and Penafrancia Shipping Corp. as the third operator Denica Lines, a Pilar native does not load buses. Loading buses from Luzon meant extending discounts, rebates, free tickets and free meals and Denica Lines does not play that game because they say they have their share of rolling cargo too. And I saw that when we left left Pilar port aboard their Marina Empress at 3am and the car deck was full. From Masbate port their three ROROs Odyssey, Regina Calixta-II and Marina Empress all left full. Denica Lines has already bought the Regina CalixtaII of Regina Shipping Lines (RSL) of Catanduanes and so they have three ROROs also now while Montenegro Shipping Lines Inc. (MSLI) is down to two ROROs from three. Maybe because it is lean months now and maybe they have one undergoing refitting in a shipyard.

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If we assume that Montenegro Lines has a third RORO in Masbate then a total of 8 ROROs make a daily crossing now to Luzon plus there is a Cargo RORO LCT for a total capacity of about 100 truck/bus units (of course, since there are smaller vehicles mixed in, the actual total is higher). Many of these come from as far as Cebu island. Buses will be at least a fourth of that total. One will wonder why there is such a large number of people on the move when within Masbate island there are not that many number of buses although there is a significant number of commuter vans.

Montenegro Lines have three fastcrafts and a catamaran in Masbate including their newest and fastest, the City of Angeles which is a catamaran. They also have there one of their biggest fastcrafts, the City of Masbate. Their future rival, the two fastcrafts of Denica Lines are still not ready and are still being refitted in Pilar port. Meanwhile, I wonder if the Masbate-Pilar motor bancas are already in terminal decline. There are just so many ROROs and High Speed Crafts. Although the motor bancas are faster than the basic, short-distance ferry-ROROs, they are noisier. They might be noisy, however, but still they are better than the “Stairs Class” of Montenegro Lines.

But in trucks and buses Sta. Clara and Penafrancia are already beating Montenegro Lines by about 3:1. Denica Lines could also be level now with Montenegro Lines in trucks and buses. By the way, sedans, SUVs, AUVs are not that many in the Masbate crossing to Pilar and Pio Duran and jeeps are practically unknown.

However, there is a rumor in Masbate port that a new player will come and serve the Masbate-Pio Duran route and it seems it is not Medallion Transport which was gone from the route after their Lady of Carmel sank in 2013 off Burias island. It remains to be seen if this rumor will come true.

The Super Shuttle RORO 3 of AMTC is also back in Masbate port and it connects to Batangas and Cebu plus Cagayan de Oro but their schedule is irregular as in there are no definite day for arrivals and departures as it is more of a container carrier now. There are also still a few motor bancas to Bulan when where before that was the dominant route to Bicol from Masbate.

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There are also off-hours docking now in Masbate port as Denica Lines has an early evening departure from Pilar. To the credit of Masbate port they let the passengers stay in the port terminal as the arrival of that is midnight and there is still no transportation to the towns outside Masbate City (and that gave me an idea). And Sta. Clara Shipping sends back its ship from Pio Duran if there are a lot of shut-outs (vehicles left unloaded in port) and that becomes another off-hours docking. That was the reason why they fielded their LCT because shut-out were already happening frequently (I saw that last January when one Mega Bus cannot be accommodated and they asked passengers of that to get down the ship and it was an event not good to look at — I pitied the passengers).

Masbate port is changing. Traffic is obviously up and I think the port will only get more important in the future when more traffic will shift to it from San Bernardino Strait if the rates become lower. Maybe then competition will further heat up and we will see the full blooming of Masbate port.

But they have to get that passenger terminal fee down. It is much higher than Zamboanga port when that port is better than Masbate port and the passenger terminal is not really needed by most of the ship passengers. A sore point really and that must change.

The Leyte-Surigao Crossing Is Heating Up

Just after Super-typhoon “Yolanda” in 2013, long lines of trucks formed in the Surigao Strait crossings connecting Leyte and Mindanao when the relief and reconstruction efforts were in full swing. I thought it was just a temporary phenomenon brought about by the typhoon destruction but the truck queues persisted after that (but the buses were not affected by that in the main because bearing passengers they always have the highest priority in boarding short-distance ROROs). Cargo RORO LCTs requested by the government helped in transporting trucks months after the super-typhoon passed until the situation more or less returned to normal.

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LCT sent by Asian Shipping Corporation to the Typhoon Yolanda relief effort (Photo by ASC)

But further developments showed there was really increased vehicle traffic already in the Liloan-Lipata and Benit-Lipata parallel routes that connect Leyte and Mindanao. So in the recent years the Surigao Strait saw more short-distance ferry-ROROs sailing the north-south direction. These included new players plus a dedicated Cargo RORO LCT plying the route and carrying trucks. With such there is a palpable increase in the sailing frequencies between Leyte and Surigao.

The once-oldest ferries in the route, the Maharlika ferries are now gone after the sinking in 2013 of its Maharlika Dos off the southwest tip of Panaon island when its engines conked out and she was swamped by waves when no help came after she drifted for hours. Archipelago Philippine Ferries, the owners of the Maharlika series then stopped operations until they were able to bring their new catamaran-ROROs which are part of the FastCat series.

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Now these new type of ROPAXes (RORO-Passenger ships) hold different time slots. Even with just a single ferry which is currently the FastCat M7, it can do three round trips in a day with its superior speed (17 knots) and favorable passenger and shipper response. The FastCat is gaining popularity in the route by offering the same rates but employing a brand-new craft with the best passenger service in the short-distance routes together with the legendary 2GO liners. They are practically the horse to beat there now from being derided in the past because of the lousiness of their Maharlika series.

FastCat still uses the Liloan-Lipata route even though Lipata port was damaged by an earthquake in 2016 which forced other ships to use the other port of Surigao City which is Verano port. This is the port that caters before to the passenger ships from Cebu (there are no more liners from Manila) and freighters plus different crafts to Dinagat, Siargao and various small islands off the Surigao mainland.

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Benit port and MSLI ferry

Giving them stiff competition because it enjoys a short route are the ferries of Montenegro Shipping Lines Inc. (MSLI) which uses the Benit port exclusively to sail the Benit-Surigao route. Normally, this shipping company deploys two big short-distance ferry-ROROs in the route and these are usually the sister ships Maria Felisa and Maria Vanessa. The Benit-Surigao route is only a little over a third of the Liloan-Lipata route but the MSLI rates are only a little less than Liloan-Lipata rates and so MSLI enjoys greater profitability than competition and I wonder why MARINA allows the shipping company to prey on the passengers and vehicle owners when I thought they are the maritime regulatory agency (and they are regulating what and are they for the shipping owners or for the passengers and shippers?).

A newcomer on the route is the Southwest Premier Ferries which is using a brand-new ferry, the SWM Stella del Mar which is a sister ship of the new vessels of Starlite Ferries of Batangas. This company promised several trips in a day but I wonder how they can live up to that if they don’t have enough rolling cargo as many of the vehicles there are already locked to their competitors (well, they can offer discounting to attract the clientele of competition). Southwest Premier Ferries is just a few months on the route.

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Photo from Scoopnest.com

A Bicol shipping company has also invaded the route, the Sta. Clara Shipping Corp. which rotates some of their bigger ships in the route and sometimes it uses a ferry of its legal-fiction company Penafrancia Shipping Corp. As of the time of this writing they are using the ship King Frederick but with two ferries from Japan being refitted right now in Nagasaka Shipyard in Tayud, Cebu, it is probable that one of the two might be assigned to their Liloan-Surigao route to better handle the challenge of the new ferries in the route.

Another old shipping company still plying the route through Liloan and Surigao is the Millennium Shipping Inc. which uses its old and slow Millennium Uno, a ferry with over half a century of sailing experience. At several times in the past this ferry was thought by observers to be already gone only to rise again like a phoenix and one of the recent episode was when they voluntarily stopped sailing after the hot eyes that came with the sinking of the Maharlika Dos (she has her own deficiencies after all). When the ruckus died down the ship quietly went back to sailing with some cosmetic changes and engine improvements so that from 4 hours plus she can now sail the 38-nautical mile distance in a little over 3.5 hours.

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Added to that mix of ships is a Cargo RORO LCT, the GT Express I of GT Express Shipping which was once connecting Negros and Panay islands through the Banago-Dumangas route. This LCT actually uses the Liloan municipal port which once had overnight ships to Cebu and not the Liloan Ferry Terminal. The two ports are just a kilometer apart in a very small bay. As a Cargo RORO LCT, the GT Express 1 can only take in trucks.

One shipping company that is gone now in the route is Asian Marine Transport Corporation (AMTC) which stopped their sailing when they found themselves lacking ferries because of mechanical failures on their other ferries. It is a loss and a perplexity because they fielded in the route the first decent ferry when all that was available 15 years ago were the lousy Maharlika and Millennium ferries. I don’t think they will come back in the route because they still lack short-distance ferry-ROROs.

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Verano Port of Surigao City

So right now 6 different ROROs ply the routes across Surigao Strait from 5 different shipping companies and total of about a dozen voyages in a day with a capacity for over 200 assorted vehicles each way excluding motorcycles plus a passenger capacity of more than 4,000. Such is the available capacity now on the route which is a far cry from that of a decade ago when shut-outs happen.

One reason from the increased demand in the route is Surigao Strait became a favorite crossing point of vehicles to or from Cebu of vehicles not only from CARAGA Region but also from Southern Mindanao as Northern Mindanao is not a viable entry for the rates there are very high. This is aside from the fact that that strait is the old crossing point of buses and trucks coming from Luzon and going to Mindanao.

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“The Saddle” dominates the view of the Surigao Strait crossings

The competition in the route might be heating up for now with some threatened over-capacity but in a few years, with the growth in traffic being shown by the route then maybe more ships and frequencies will again be needed. Actually there is a report that a new port will be built in San Ricardo east of Benit and it will be connected to the eastern coastal road being built in Panaon island that will bypass the mountain pass called “The Saddle” which gives some trucks problems because of the inexperience now of drivers in mountain passes.

Maybe by then there will also be more routes across Surigao Strait in the future. More is merrier and normally that redounds to the benefit of the passengers and shippers if only MARINA will do its job. Let us see it then.

The Orange Ferry Sister Ships That Came To The Philippines

In the years 2007 to 2009, four former Orange Ferry ships that were all sister ships came to the country when the company disposed of their elder ferries. These were the Orange Angel, Orange Venus, Orange Queen and the Orange Princess. The four ships  were short-distance ferries in Japan and they were also employed as short-distance ferries in the country. Seats have been added to them here to increase passenger capacity but otherwise their superstructures remained practically unchanged.

The Orange Angel became the Anthon Raphael of Penafrancia Shipping of Bicol and in that company being the best ship she is practically the flagship of the fleet. The ship came to the company in 2008 and she was almost always in the Matnog to Allen route across the San Bernardino Strait although her very first route was Pasacao to Masbate when her company took MARINA’s offer of a “missionary” route with its incentives. However, she promptly withdrew there very early when on a habagat (southwest monsoon) voyage she nearly had an accident when her rolling cargo shifted. MARINA or Maritime Industry Authority is the Philippines’ maritime regulatory agency.

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The Orange Angel was built by Naikai Zosen in Setoda yard in Japan in 1990 with the ID IMO 8921781. She measures 61.4 meters by 14.0 meters with a depth of 3.2 meters with the present Gross Tonnage of 1,093 from the original 698. Among the four sisters she is the only one with a clear second passenger deck. The ship is powered by two Daihatsu engines with a total of 3,400 horsepower that gave her a top speed of 15.5 knots when she was still new.

Meanwhile, the Orange Venus became the Maria Ursula of Montenegro Shipping Lines Inc. of Batangas. She was the first among the sister ships to come here and she went to Montenegro Lines in 2007. For all her time here, she was doing routes from Mindoro to Batangas or to Panay island through the port of Caticlan.

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Photo by Edison Sy

The Orange Venus was also built by Naikai Zosen in Setoda, Japan and she has the same external dimensions as Anthon Raphael with the same Depth but in the country her Gross Tonnage is only 959 from the original 698 in Japan. She has the same engines and horsepower as Anthon Raphael but her sustained top speed when new was 16 knots. Her permanent ID is IMO 9011284.

Another sister ship, the Orange Queen became the Reina del Cielo of Marina Ferries, the legal-fiction company of Montenegro Shipping Lines Inc. and as such there is no real difference between the two companies and operations and maintenance are just the same and crews and routes are interchangeable. Like the Maria Ursula, Reina del Cielo has been mainly used in the Mindoro routes of the twin company. The Reina del Cielo arrived the last among the sister ships in 2009 as she came here through the Seatran Ferry of Thailand.

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Reina del Cielo by Nowell Alcancia

The Reina del Cielo was also built by Naikai Zosen in Setoda, Japan in 1989 and she has the ID IMO 8822234. She shares the same external dimensions as her sister ships but her declared Depth is only 2.8 meters. The Gross Tonnage (GT) of the ship is 698 versus her 697 in Japan. There is a lot of variance in the GT compared to the Maria Ursula when both have no added passenger deck like the wont of Montenegro Lines. She had 3,200 horsepower on tap from two Daihatsu marine engines and her top sustained speed when new was 15.5 knots.

The Orange Princess became the Super Shuttle Ferry 18 of Asian Marine Transport Corporation (AMTC) of Cebu. Her initial route was Lipata to Liloan which span Surigao Strait and connects Leyte and Surigao. Later she was transferred to the Caticlan to Roxas route spanning Tablas Strait and connecting Panay and Mindoro when two of the bigger short-distance ferries of AMTC was sold to Indonesia and she has been in that route ever since.

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Super Shuttle Ferry 18 by Masahiro Homma

The Orange Princess was also built by Naikai Zosen in Setoda, Japan and she is the eldest among the sister ships being built in 1987. The external dimensions of Super Shuttle Ferry 18 are 60.8 meters by 14.0 meters with a Depth of 3.3 meters. She is only the one among the sister ships whose Gross Tonnage did not change from Japan to the Philippines. She is also powered by two Daihatsu marine engines but her horsepower is only 3,000. As such her design speed is only 15 knots. Her ID is IMO 8616960.

All of these former Orange Ferry ships of Toyokuni Industry have two passenger decks and a car ramp at the bow and at the stern. And all of these proved very valuable for their local owners. They are big for the short-distance routes and are fast enough and besides they proved to be very reliable.

I discussed these ferries because I found they are the nearest analogue of the new short-distance of Starlite Ferries and Southwest Premier Ferries that were ordered brand-new from Japan which were financed by bank loans. In external dimensions and engine capacity the two sister ships series are almost alike. The brand-new series are 5 meters longer but that is just a row of sedans and not much of an edge. In Gross Tonnage (GT), however, that of the new sister ships are almost double and one reason for this is their great Depths.

In Breadth, the new sister ships are wider by 1.3 meters but these are mainly absorbed by their wider stairs. In engine capacity the new series has 250 horsepower more but in terms of design speed they are even slower. The old series might be older but at full trot they can still match the new sister ships.

And this is what I have pointed out before that the new ships of Starlite Ferries and Southwest Premier Ferries actually have no technical edge over some older ships and this is design failure, I think. For the same money one of the new ships will buy four of these old sister ships and that will produce four times more revenue with no big monthly amortization. So these four elder sister ships means a lot of value. And a decade of sailing here has already proven that and they are still nowhere near giving up.

Ironically for the new sister ships three of the old ones are direct competition with them in the Mindoro routes and it seems the new ones are far from overwhelming the old ones there as they don’t leave at the same time and passengers will take whichever ferry will leave first if there is no great differential in speed. In rolling cargo it is a suki-suki system which means many trucks and buses are already locked to particular ferries because of the giving of discounts and they will time their arrival in port so they won’t wait that long.

If Penafrancia Shipping will assign the Anthon Raphael in the Liloan-Surigao route like what they did before then she will be in direct competition with the SWM Stella del Mar. But the older ships might not even be her main problem there, It could actually be the catamaran-RORO FastCat of Archipelago Philippine Ferries which has an actual technical edge over competition and makes several voyages in a day at greater speed.

The old sister ships from Orange Ferry of Japan has acquitted themselves well here and it seems at 30 years of age they are still capable of sailing for quite a long time too.

Chelsea Shipping Is The New Goliath of Philippine Shipping

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The Chelsea Dominance. The declaration of intent?

When the “new shipping world” was being built there was Phoenix Petroleum first which was not into shipping anyway. Many thought Phoenix Petroleum would end up like the “independent” oil players then which had a few gasoline stations here and there but were never a threat to the major oil players which have foreign genes. But with the smiling face of the world-famous Manny Pacquiao as mascot, Phoenix Petroleum grew until it challenged the Big 3 which were Petron, Shell and Chevron (which was the former Caltex and Mobil). That was blasphemy for the oldtimers which saw Filoil never got anywhere before.

Phoenix Petroleum got far because they changed the rule of the game. Where before local oil companies had to invest in local refineries to be granted permission to operate, Phoenix Petroleum simply had to import fuel from Singapore and it so happened in Southeast Asia oil prices are only high in the Philippines because a lot of taxes are tacked on to the price of fuel as oil is the milking cow for taxes of the government which rules a vast horde of people exempted from paying taxes because they are too poor.

Along the way to being the fourth Oil Major, Phoenix Petroleum established Chelsea Shipping to handle their fuel transport needs and the company operated a fleet of tankers. But Chelsea Shipping never operated the biggest tanker fleet in the country and their fleet never exceeded ten tankers.

But this year, 2017, Chelsea Shipping made a lot of sea-shaking moves in shipping. Early this year rumor leaked out already that they have already acquired majority control of Trans-Asia Shipping Lines Inc. (TASLI), a Cebu-based regional shipping company with Visayas-Mindanao routes. A bare few months later a boardroom fight erupted in 2GO, the only national liner shipping company left when Dennis Uy, the principal of both Phoenix Petroleum and Chelsea Shipping tried to claim what they felt was their rightful representation after buying shares and the old management group represented by Sulficio Tagud, the old top honcho resisted. But in the end Tagud and company waved the white flag after 2GO gained market value because of the fight and Dennis Uy took control of 2GO.

Weeks passed and the local shipping world was rocked again by a new development when it was announced that Chelsea Shipping is acquiring Starlite Ferries Inc., a Batangas-based regional shipping company lock, stock and barrel. Starlite Ferries has routes to and from Mindoro and its fleet is being reinforced by newbuilds from Japan acquired from a loan from a government-owned bank. It seems the coffers of Phoenix Petroleum and Chelsea Shipping are overflowing to the brim. Is there another acquisition in the making?

Chelsea Shipping now has foothold to the top three passenger shipping hubs in the country which are Cebu, Manila and Batangas. In tankers they are also strong in another hub which is Davao which has the cheapest fuel in the whole country courtesy of Phoenix Petroleum and which piqued Ramon Ang enough that he chopped the fuel prices of Petron. And so Davao fares remained among the highest in the country. Does it make sense? Nope. Maybe it is the moves of Chelsea and Dennis Uy which only makes sense.

I do not know if a second “Great Merger” will happen in Philippine shipping after the first “Great Merger” of 1996 which created William, Gothong and Aboitiz or WG&A, the predecessor company of 2GO. That first one ended in disaster and it only resulted in the death of two great historical shipping companies.

Will history repeat itself? I have my doubts. This time around there is only one top honcho which is Dennis Uy unlike before there was a big merged company with three heads pursuing some kind of a mirage. Actually it could be great for Philippine shipping as Dennis Uy and his patron are both loaded and might have the money to make moves in shipping without going to the banks. Who knows if the moribund shipping industry is revived with their coming?

Now if only Manny V. Pangilinan (MVP) bought out Negros Navigation Company (NENACO) outright some 15 years ago instead of being just a “white knight”. NENACO is one of the merged companies in 2GO. We really need investors with deep pockets in shipping. That is what might turn things around and not due to some government blah-blah.

Is there a renaissance of Philippine shipping in the horizon?

The Ship Design Conflict Within WG & A

On the first day of the year 1996, the “Great Merger” officially happened. This brought the fleets and all assets of William Lines Inc. (WLI), Carlos A. Gothong Lines Inc. (CAGLI) and Aboitiz Shipping Corporation (ASC) under one single company and management except for some very old ferries of Aboitiz Shipping Corporation (the likes of Legazpi) and a some ferries and container ships of Aboitiz Jebsens (that was a separate company) which were the container ships acquired from the Ukraine. This was supposedly a preemptive move so local shipping can compete against the purported entry of foreign competition in the inter-island routes which proved to be a bogey or a false story later. How some old shipping families believed that foreigners can enter with a Anti-Cabotage Law in effect that forbids foreign shipping firms from sailing in local routes is beyond me because repeal of any law passes through Congress and our Congress is usually not keen on passing laws that grants free passage to foreigners and if those three liner and container shipping companies are willing, the regional shipping companies and other companies might not be willing and they can also raise a ruckus. But anyway the unlikely merger happened and a very big shipping company was formed from previously competitors.

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Dona Virginia (Credits to Palawan Wildlife Rescue and Conservation Center and Manu Sarmiento)

Any merger usually results in excess assets and in shipping that includes ships aside from management personnel and employees and logistical assets like containers, container yards and buildings. This was easily obvious with the WG&A merger. Since there were excess liners some of it were sent to its regional subsidiary Cebu Ferries Corporation (CFC) like when the Mabuhay 6 (the Our Lady of Good Voyage) and the Our Lady of Lipa were sent there. Meanwhile, all the cruisers liners were offered for sale. They also tried to dispose old and unreliable ROROs like the Dona Cristina, Don Calvino and the Dona Lili that were formerly regional ferries. Actually even some recent liners were also offered for sale. The total was about 10 and that was already about a third of the combined fleet. That also included a handful of container ships.

I knew it early there was a conflict with the disposal of ships when I had as a cabin mate in SuperFerry 7 the cargo manager of William Lines in North Harbor and he was furious because to him it seems that the liners of William Lines were being targeted. Well, that might have been the unintended result of getting Aboitiz Jebsens as fleet and maintenance manager because they will use their old standard in choosing ships (that company was subsequently renamed to WG&A Jebsens to reflect the changed circumstances).

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Don Calvino (Credits to George Tappan and Gorio Belen)

One has to look into recent history to understand this. Aboitiz Shipping Corporation as a liner company did not acquire any liners from 1974 to 1988 and the one they acquired in 1988 was inconsequential as it was just the small and old cruiser liner Katipunan of Escano Lines which became the Legaspi 1. By that time Aboitiz Shipping Corporation had just a few old liners sailing, a combination of former “FS” ships which were on its last legs and a few old cruisers including the pair acquired from Everett Steamship, the Legazpi and the Elcano which were also clearly obsolete already and getting unreliable. It looked to me that without their partner Jebsens Maritime that was influential in their container shipping (which was actually good), they might not have had their blockbuster SuperFerry series.

If one looks at the SuperFerry series of Aboitiz Shipping Corporation, one will easily see its distinguishing characteristics. They are all ROROs (or more exactly ROPAXes) with car ramps at the bow and at the stern, the container vans are all mounted in trailers, trailer caddies hauled them in a fast manner and if possible the two car ramps are both employed so one is dedicated for loading and the other for unloading. Radios are also employed for communication to orchestrate the movement of the container vans so a trailer caddy hauling a container aboard will have a container being unloaded on the way down and markers are used so loading of container vans will not be helter-skelter which can mean difficulty in unloading a container van in an intermediate port.

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Maynilad by Britz Salih

To remedy their serious lack of liners due to non-purchase in the recent years past, Aboitiz Shipping Corporation and Aboitiz Jebsens designed their liners to have short interport hours as in 2 to 3 hours only, the former the preferred time. In Manila and in the endport, the port hours were also very short. With this kind of operation the SuperFerries had a high number of hours at sea on a weekly basis which meant maximum utilization. While a Sulpicio Lines liner will only have a round-trip voyage if the route is Southern Mindanao, an Aboitiz ship will still have a short trip to the likes of Panay within the same week or else do a twice a week Northern Mindanao voyage. With this style, their 4 SuperFerry ships were in practicality the equal of 5 or 6 ships of the competition. Of course with this kind of use of ships a heavy load of preventive maintenance is needed and that happened to be the forte of Aboitiz Jebsens.

When the Chiongbian and Gothong families agreed to the Aboitiz proposal to have Aboitiz Jebsens as fleet and maintenance manager they should have already known was in store and that is the liners should perform the Aboitiz Jebsens way and that meant those which can’t will fall into disfavor and might be the target for culling because with the Aboitiz Jebsens system a lesser number of liners will be needed to maintain their route system and frequencies. Of course at the start WG & A will try to employ all the liners that were not relegated to their subsidiary Cebu Ferries Corporation. But then new liners were still coming onstream, the liners William Lines, Gothong Lines and Aboitiz Shipping ordered when they were still separate companies. WG & A created new routes and frequencies but in a short time they realized what cannot be maintained because there are not enough passengers or cargo like the routes to Tacloban and Dipolog (Dapitan actually) and the Manila-Dumaguete-Cotabato and Manila-Cebu-Surigao-Davao routes.

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Tacloban City (Credits to Times Journal and Gorio Belen)

With that “weak” and “inefficient” ships will be targets for culling aside from the old liners and there was no question that cruiser liners will be first in the firing line. That type cannot carry much cargo and their cargo handling in the interport is longer as cargo booms are not as fast in loading and unloading unlike trailer caddies. So it was no surprise that the cruiser liners Misamis OccidentalTacloban City and Iligan City, formerly of William Lines were almost immediately up for sale. The small ROPAX Zamboanga City was also offered for sale because her engines were big relative to her size and capacity (16,800-horsepower engines) and she had no ramps at the bow. That also went true for the slow Maynilad (14-15 knots only on 16,800 horsepower). The problem with these is they were all former William Lines ship, the reason why some former William Lines people were upset. But they accepted Aboitiz Jebsens as the fleet manager and so that will almost inevitably be the result.

Some lesser liners survived. The “Our Lady” ships of Gothong Lines survived because for their size and capacity their engines were small and that speaks of efficiency and though while a little slower they were fit for the short routes like the northern Panay routes (Dumaguit and Roxas City) or in the periphery like Masbate and Eastern Visayas. The northern Panay route also became the refuge of the Our Lady of Naju, a former Gothong ship which was also a cruiser. The passengers and cargo of the route were not big and so a big cruiser liner like the Dona Virginia will not fit. But of course all that favored the former Gothong ships. It might just have been a quirk of fate and not necessarily because the Gothong representative to the WG & A Board of Directors who is Bob Gothong is close to the Aboitizes. But then I wonder how the Our Lady of Lipa survived. For her size she has big engines and speed was not really needed in the Dumaguit/Roxas City route. Was it because they wanted to show up their competitor the old but beautiful cruiser liner Don Julio of Negros Navigation? I thought when the old cruiser liner Misamis Occidental was refurbished to become the cruiser ship Our Lady of Montserrat, a former William Lines vessel she might have fitted the route (she was even re-engined and became all-airconditioned like the Our Lady of Naju). Was her speed not really enough for the route? Or WG & A wants a ship that is really superior to the competition?

Our Lady of Banneux

Credits to Keppel Cebu and Ken Ledesma

It was not surprising then that in the early merger years that former William Lines officers and employees would think it was only their vessels which was on the firing line or chopping block.

The beautiful SuperFerry 11 which was fielded after the merger was also not that favored. Her engines are just about okay for her size, she has the speed but then like the Zamboanga City she has no car ramps at the bow because she also came from A” Lines of Japan. She was also destined for William Lines if the merger did not happen. The beautiful Maynilad would have easily been a SuperFerry in terms of size and accommodations if not for her grave lack of speed. Being excess later the SuperFerry 11 and Maynilad were passed to Cebu Ferries Corporation and they were the biggest ships that company ever had. That was after WG & A created an entirely new route for them, the Manila-Ormoc-Nasipit route which in first report was good. But then along the years WG & A and successor company Aboitiz Transport System (ATS) developed a reputation for being very soft in holding and maintaining routes. In Cebu Ferries the SuperFerry 11 was renamed to Our Lady of Banneux and the Maynilad was renamed to Our Lady of Akita 2 after her top passenger deck was removed. The two happened to be ex-William Lines ships also! Although not clearly disfavored (as she made the SuperFerry grade), the Our Lady of Banneux which can run at up to 19 knots had a grounding incident in Canigao Channel from which she never recovered again.

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The ship Zamboanga by Wilben Santos

So actually the William liners were the great casualties of the merger due to redundancy and incompatibility and that was because they were unlike the original SuperFerry liners and they simply cannot make the SuperFerry grade (well, just like the former “Our Lady” ships of Gothong Lines only one of those made the SuperFerry grade, the former Our Lady of Akita which became the SuperFerry 6). Of course their former Mabuhay 1 and Mabuhay 3 which made the SuperFerry grade lived longer. The former Mabuhay 2 was not lucky as she was hit by fire early which led to complete total loss. In the longer run only the Mabuhay 1 and Mabuhay 3 survived and the Mabuhay 3 as SuperFerry 8 was even leased to Papua New Guinea because of the surplus of liners in WG & A.

The liners of Carlos A. Gothong Lines Inc. (CAGLI) were more lucky as they found niche routes and small engines played into their favor. Moreover many of the former Gothong Lines ships were in regional routes and they lived long there including their former small liners the Our Lady of Fatima and the Our Lady of Lourdes which were sister ships. That even included the venerable Our Lady of the Rule and their old Our Lady of Guadalupe which has unreliable engines and I even wonder how she lasted so long. In the regional routes some former ships of William Lines survived like the Our Lady of Good Voyage and the Our Lady of Manaoag.

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Dona Lili (Credits to PNA, Phil. Daily Express and Gorio Belen)

When the Chiongbian family of William Lines divested in 2003 only 2 of their former liners remained in WG & A aside from a few container ships. They were paid off in cash from the passenger and container ships that were scrapped. There were still many Gothong ships in the fleet of WG & A when they divested as most survived the culling but they preferred newly-acquired ships when they restarted independent operations.

And that was the story of the ship design conflict in WG & A which have been one of the reasons why the “Great Merger” unraveled so soon.

Now They Are Selling The Shipping Company With The Ships They Say Are The Most Modern

What is happening?

Shipping news recently said that the Cusi family is selling Starlite Ferries to Chelsea Shipping which has recently gained control of 2GO, the only national liner shipping company left and Trans-Asia Shipping Lines Inc. (TASLI), once the biggest regional shipping company in the Visayas before the advent of Cebu Ferries Corporation (CFC). When to think Alfonso Cusi is politically powerful and influential in his own right being in and out of government at usually Cabinet level.

Until just recently Starlite Ferries was very proud of their brand-new series of ships from Japan which is supposedly the best in the short-distance routes. These ships are a series of ten ships financed through a leasing window of the government-owned Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP), the DBP Leasing Corporation. This window is the arm of the government in modernizing our shipping industry and for Starlite Ferries to corner ten ships speaks of their clout.

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Starlite Archer, the latest ship of Starlite Ferries (Photo by Jon Erodias)

Just a while ago Starlite Ferries announced they are extending the run of these modern ships from ten to twenty because they said they were expanding operations to the ASEAN Region which if it materialized will be our first foray ever in international passenger shipping operations. The news was believable because in the ASEAN Free Trade Zone any company should in theory would be allowed free entry in any country within the FTZ.

Now this news of the sell-out looks like a hot potato being dropped and of course questions will be raised.

Starlite Ferries already had nine ROPAXes (RORO-Passenger ships) and two fastcrafts when they started to acquire a series of ten brand-new ferries from Japan which to me, with its size looks better if it had been used in overnight routes rather than the short-distance routes. I was puzzled when they first announced it because they have only four routes – Batangas-Abra de Ilog, Batangas-Puerto Galera, Batangas-Calapan and Roxas-Caticlan which are all Mindoro routes. Mindoro is the origin of Alfonso Cusi, the founder and owner of Starlite Ferries.

I thought if they will acquire ten new ships then all old ships have to be disposed unless they create new routes. But then Alfonso Cusi was jeering our old ferries and so I thought he will really dispose his old ships. That is if he is true to his word.

But then I never saw a shipping company dominate a route simply because their ferries were all-new. One simply has to look at the experience of Maharlika I and Maharlika II then in the eastern seaboard routes of Matnog-San Isidro and Liloan-Lipata. They did not dominate. Schedules, discounts and rates are decision points too for shippers and passengers and it is not only the newness of the ship that matters. If it is 12 noon and the new ship will still be available at 3 or 4pm the shippers and the passengers will not wait for that. That is particularly true in the short-distance routes which are the routes of Starlite Ferries.

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A view of the stern of one of the new ships of Starlite Ferries (Photo by Carl Jakosalem)

There was news then that Starlite Ferries will enter the overcrowded Cebu-Western Leyte routes through the Cebu-Ormoc route. But though Starlite Ferries already had its new ferries nothing came out of that rumor. They were still on their home base and they still have no new routes while their fleet expanded by about 50% already and they were already shelling out amortization and carrying costs for the new ferries. And with probably no additional income to boot. Somehow something have give as additional ferries are being built for them in Japan. Was the ASEAN routes just a trial balloon?

If Starlite Ferries was doing well as what can be concluded from their press releases and as indicated by their new ships then why the sell-out?

I do not know if theirs is a case of biting what they cannot chew. A PhP 2.4 billion loan without new successful routes and with no sign competition is backing down is not easy to digest. Their new ships have no technical edge over competition unlike the new FastCats of Archipelago Philippine Ferries. It is simply new, nothing more. Maybe that was the reason there was rumor they will be given exclusive routes. But to where? Franchises or Certificates of Public Conveyance (CPC) of the competition can’t simply be cancelled. And maybe that was the reason for the underhanded push to get rid of 35-year old ferries through a questionable administrative fiat which has actually no empirical basis.

Is Alfonso Cusi bailing out before he chokes? The shipping company that acquired Starlite Ferries which is Chelsea Shipping has owners and patrons with very deep pockets. And they have cheap fuel and lubricants to boot which could be decisive in making sense for the new ferries of Starlite.

I am just reminded of a critical juncture in our shipping history in the 1960’s when we already needed to enlarge our inter-island passenger-cargo fleet. Some national liner companies like Escano Lines, General Shipping Corporation, Compania Maritima and Southern Lines Inc. took the route of acquiring loans to order brand-new ships from the National Shipyards and Steel Corporation (NASSCO) and West Germany shipyards. They regretted their decisions eventually.

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Port view of one of the new ships. Starlite Pioneer is the lead ship of the series (Photo by Carl Jakosalem)

Meanwhile at the same time Carlos A. Gothong & Company, William Lines Inc. and Sweet Lines Inc. decided to purchase second-hand vessels from Europe to be converted into passenger-cargo liners here and they came out ahead. For the same amount as a brand-new liner they were able to acquire two to three surplus ships of the same size, reliability and speed. Guess who was able to offer more routes and frequencies and which had more passengers and cargo. That decision vaulted Carlos A. Gothong & Company , William Lines and Sweet Lines to the Top 5 when they were not in that position the decade before.

Is history repeating itself here and Alfonso Cusi has seen the handwriting in the wall and wants to bail out early?

A Good Ship Is Gone

The uncle of a PSSS (Philippine Ship Spotters Society) member saw the former SuperFerry 5 (last known as St. Joan of Arc in the Philippines) in Singapore a few months ago in what can be surmised as a one-way trip to a ship-breaking yard somewhere in South Asia. That ship has long been reported for sale and its owner 2GO is just as much willing to dispose of her. The ship’s final fate must have been sealed when the former SuperFerry 16 arrived back in the Philippines in 2015 after having been sold abroad for profit in 2007 at the height of the world metal prices then that was driven by the great China demand when its industrial output and drive to sell to the world hit high gear. 2GO wants a more modern fleet and they have no patience for old and graying ships.

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The former SuperFerry 5 which was known as the St. Joan of Arc in the fleet of 2GO was actually the last of our old generation of liners that was built in the 1970’s and which arrived in the country in the 1990’s. She was the lone wolf after the Princess of the South of Philippine Span Asia Carrier Corporation, the former Sulpicio Lines was disposed off in 2015 and the former SuperFerry 2 which was renamed to St. Thomas Aquinas sank in a collision near Mactan island in 2013 and after the former SuperFerry 1 which was renamed to St. Rita de Cascia was sold to China in and after the St. Joseph The Worker and the St. Peter The Apostle were sold to Bangladeshi breakers.

It was not actually the St. Joan of Arc which 2GO wanted to retain longer. It was actually the refitted St. Thomas Aquinas but as fate would have it she tried to test how the hard was the ice-classed bow of the container ship Sulpicio Express Siete of Philippine Span Asia Carrier Corporation or PSACC, the successor company of Sulpicio Lines. The former SuperFerry 5 was not a converted ship to two cargo decks like the St. Thomas Aquinas and hence her container capacity is lower while she can no longer fill her passenger accommodations. This was because passengers have already moved to other means of transportation after the liners became a disappointment when they failed to handle the challenge of the budget airlines and the intermodal buses and trucks.

I was puzzled how 2GO handled the St. Joan of Arc. She was already long for sale but there were no takers. That was the time when she still had a route to Tagbilaran and Dumaguete from Manila. She was already smokey then but if the experience of her sister ship the St. Thomas Aquinas which has the same engines is used as a guideline then if there was a decision to refurbish her she will still be a better ship. After refitting, the St. Thomas Aquinas was capable of 18.5 knots when to think she was only running at 17.5 knots when she was newly-fielded in the 1990’s. But of course she already had less metal when two passenger deck were removed. The St. Thomas Aquinas was also less smokey than her sister ship after she was refurbished.

I have long hated that policy of 2GO which they called “finding the right size” which is just a euphemism for culling ships and routes when their bean counters find out that they do not contribute to the profitability of the company. You see they are primarily in business and not in real shipping. It is just cold-bloodied calculation and not passion for sailing and moving goods and people. But then they are oblivious to the fact that with their uncertainty in serving a route makes patrons especially shippers look for other carriers. Like when the Cebu Ferry 2 abandoned Surigao. When they came back there was no cargo anymore and they didn’t even bother to deploy the car ramps anymore when we rode her. And ships cannot maintain a route without meaningful cargo. It is different when patrons know a shipping company will maintain the route no matter what. Otherwise, they will be talking to other carriers.

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In recent history, it was the Aboitiz Transport System (ATS), its subsidiary Cebu Ferries Corporation (CFC) and the latter 2GO which has been the greatest “donors” of passengers and cargo to their competition that the receivers should always give them giant cakes during Christmas as thanks for business they gained without any effort or investment. Actually, the Trans-Asia Shipping Lines Inc. (TASLI) should have rolled out two bands when Cebu Ferry 1 and Cebu Ferry 3 left Cebu for Batangas to become the “Batangas Ferries”. Well, even Cokaliong Shipping Line iNC. (CSLI) also became a beneficiary with the withdrawal of the Cebu Ferries from Surigao, Nasipit, Ozamis and Iligan. Imagine given four major Northern Mindanao ports free.

I just wonder why 2GO can’t give the St. Joan of Arc a permanent route then before they withdraw from the Zamboanga route. When they withdrew from Zamboanga they cited the Abu Sayyaf threat. But then they still sailed their container ships and other shipping companies still continued sailing to Zamboanga and Southern Mindanao. Then they came back to Zamboanga when Abu Sayyaf attacks were continuing and they did not withdraw again until now. So that means they were simply lying the first time around that they withdrew.

When they came back to Zamboanga, it was a Manila-Cebu-Dumaguete route which was later redacted into a Manila-Dumaguete-Zamboanga route, a route longer than a Manila-Iloilo-Bacolod-Zamboanga route. If a route via Dumaguete can be maintained then for sure a route via Iloilo and/or Bacolod can be maintained profitably since Iloilo and Bacolod are both bigger than Dumaguete and the route is shorter. Besides there is no ferry between Iloilo and Zamboanga and there is no bus too while Dumaguete has a bus to Zamboanga and there was also the once-a-week Zamboanga Ferry of George & Peter Lines. And it is easy to cross to Dapitan and take a bus to Zamboanga from Dipolog, the next locality.

2GO could have refurbished the St. Joan of Arc and made her a permanent Zamboanga ship. Her size and speed would have been enough for the route and maybe they can even make a twice a week voyage there. And passenger load might have been better if their arrival time was proper. A 5pm arrival is bad as the connecting trips to the minor islands like the Pangutaran group and even Basilan are already gone by the time their ship arrives in Zamboanga. Actually buses to the the “3S” (Sibuco, Sirawai, Siocon) direction and the direction of Payao (the Lizamay buses) would have also been gone by that time. I noticed ATS and 2GO are not passenger-friendly with regards to arrivals as many of their arrivals are at night. Right now, three out of their five arrivals in Manila from Cebu are at night and they will force passengers down even when it is already midnight. So they think the streets of Manila are safe at night? Ha ha! That is also the time the taxis make a killing.

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St. Joan of Arc not sailing

2GO does not have the program of the likes of Cokaliong Shipping Lines Inc. and Montenegro Shipping Lines Inc. to give their old ships a second lease of life. Those two companies still has many ships built in the early 1970’s like the St. Joan of Arc. And those ships are still creditable and reliable. In the international cruise industry, ships can be refurbished even when they were built decades ago and niche routes and cruising can be found for them. Like if the St. Joan of Arc was refurbished and assigned to Zamboanga permanently even before 2GO withdrew from there before. Or maybe toughened it out and served Tagbilaran, Dumaguete and Dapitan continuously with a Manila-Tagbilaran-Dumaguete-Dapitan-Manila route. Well, just wishing but Tagbilaran and Bohol has no more direct connection after the Dipolog Princess of Sulpicio Lines was gone. Those three ports might have enough passengers and cargo to sustain the ship.

But this is all water under the bridge now. The St. Joan of Arc is already gone as old ships have no future in 2GO. And maybe it was just proper that the people that initiated this system are already retired now too. They deserve the same fate maybe. It was just like when in ATS the execs approved of the culling and culling of ships until there were more VPs than liners and they did not realize that they will also be culled because that situation cannot continue.

There is a new management in 2GO after new investors came in. I just hope they are forward-looking and love ships instead of being wielders of knives.

A Good Class of Ferry is Going Away Soon

I love speed in ships but maybe not that much and so maybe that is the reason I am not too attached to High Speed Crafts or HSCs. That is also the reason why I tend to look at the size and the engine capacity ratio of a ship and see which is more efficient.

A certain class of ferry which belongs to the great ferries (ferries with at least 10,000 gross tons) caught my attention and respect. While we had many ferries that are in the 150-meter class, that class basically used engines of 20,000 horsepower and more. They were capable of 20 knots locally and even more when they were still new abroad.

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Subic Bay 1

But then there was a class of ferries that arrived here that were in the 160-meter class whose engines were below 20,000 horsepower. They were a little less speedy but they proved to be capable of 18.5 knots locally and in a Manila-Cebu run that meant an additional sailing time of just one more hour. And, of course, in capacity they were a little more than the capacity of the 150-meter ferries.

There were only four examples of this class locally. The fast Princess of Paradise of Sulpicio Lines is not included there and so are the St. Pope John Paul II of 2GO which is the former SuperFerry 12 of Aboitiz Shipping Corporation and its sister ship, the Princess of the Universe of Sulpicio Lines and the Mary Queen of Peace of Negros Navigation (which is a shade under 160 meters at 159.5 meters length) for they all packed engines of over 20,000 horsepower.

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Princess of the World by Britz Salih

I am referring here to Manila Bay 1 of Carlos A. Gothong Lines Inc. and its sister ship, the late SuperFerry 6 nee Our Lady of Akita and also the Subic Bay 1 and its sister ship the late Princess of the World. Manila Bay 1 had a length of 162.1 meters and 18,000 horsepower from two NKK-Pielstick engines and here she was capable of 18.5 knots early on. The SuperFerry 6/Our Lady of Akita had exactly the same length, engines and speed here.

Subic Bay 1 of Carlos A. Gothong Lines Inc. has a length of 166.5 meters and 19,700 from two Mitsubishi-MAN engines. Her sister ship the late Princess of the World of Sulpicio Lines had the same length and engines but the rated power is only 18,800 horsepower. They are “thinner” at 24.0 meters breadth compared to the 26.4 meters of SuperFerry 6 and Manila Bay 1 and so they were capable of over 19 knots when they were first fielded here.

How insignificant was their speed disadvantage? Well, WG&A paired the SuperFerry 6 and the SuperFerry 10, the former Mabuhay 1 of William Lines in the Manila-Iloilo-General Santos-Davao, Manila-Cebu-Cagayan de Oro and Manila-Zamboanga-Davao routes. And many know that the SuperFerry 10 ran at up to 20 knots.

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SuperFerry 6 (Credits to PAF and jethro Cagasan)

The SuperFerry 6 did not last sailing as she was hit by engine fire off Batangas in 2000 while sailing from Davao and General Santos City and the Princess of the World was also hit by fire in 2005 off Zamboanga del Norte while en route to Zamboanga from Manila and Iloilo. Both did not sink, however and there were almost no casualties.

What lasted long were the two ships of Carlos A. Gothong Lines Inc. (CAGLI), the Manila Bay 1 and the Subic Bay 1. Well, it seems ships not painted well last longer? However, the Manila Bay 1 was also hit by fire in the bridge but the fire was controlled early. The two ships of CAGLI did not sail as ROPAXes (RORO-Passenger ships) for long as they were suspended by MARINA from carrying passengers because of numerous complaints about long delays in departures and very late arrivals (I was actually a victim of that too when I arrived in Pier 6 at 8pm for a 10pm departure and the ship left at 4:30am and we arrived in Nasipit at night instead of afternoon). From that suspension, CAGLI turned the two into RORO Cargo ships just carrying cars and container vans.

Now those who know shipping knows the replacements of the two ships are already around, the RORO Cargo ships Panglao Bay 1 and Dapitan Bay 1 (which is still being refitted as of the writing of this article in June of 2017). In fact, last April, a member of PSSS (Philippine Ship Spotters Society) saw the Subic Bay 1 being towed by a tug headed south and probably destined to a South Asian breaker. Manila Bay 1 might be following her soon when Dapitan Bay 1 enters service and if it does, it will be the end of an era of the 160-meter liners with just 18,000 horsepower engines and 18.5 knots of speed locally.

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Manila Bay 1 and her future replacement Dapitan Bay 1

In terms of cargo capacity they are superior to the 150-meter, 20,000 horsepower ROPAXes especially since they are “fatter” which means their breadths were greater. The four might have not looked sleek or modern as they still have the lines of the Japan big ROPAXes built in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s (well, they were actually built in that period!). But their interiors, if their brochures are studied, says they were not inferior to the sleeker 150-meter ROPAXes.

It is just too bad that two of the four did not last long (but both were highly praised when they were still in service) and the other two were converted into RORO Cargo ships and that is the reason why the lingering appreciation for them is not high and they are even identified by most as a separate separate class. And I just rue they did not really stand out when to think they could have been great.

So this piece is just a paean to them, a reminder too and also a farewell.