Was It Choking Or Indigestion For Starlite Ferries?

Almost since its establishment I tried to monitor the Starlite Ferries which was founded by Alfonso Cusi who has Mindoro origins. Starlite Ferries was easier to track since unlike her pair Montenegro Shipping Lines Inc. which is related in a way to them in patronship, Starlite Ferries did not expand beyond Mindoro unlike the other one which can be found practically all over the Philippines (and so it has the distinction of being a national shipping line without being a liner company). Starlite Ferries, meanwhile, remained a short-distance ferry company and in this segment they basically carry rolling cargo or in layman’s term we call that as vehicles and passengers, of course.

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Starlite Pioneer by Raymond A. Lapus

Over the years of its existence, Starlite consistently added ferries to its fleet (although they had sales and disposals too) until they reached some 11 passenger ships in 2013, to wit, the Starlite Jupiter, Starlite Phoenix (a fastcraft), Starlite Juno (a fastcraft), Starlite Neptune, Starlite Polaris, Starlite Annapolis, Starlite Atlantic, Starlite Navigator, Starlite Ferry, Starlite Pacific and the Starlite Nautica. In their track record, aside from surplus ships acquired from Japan they were not anathema to buying the discards of other local shipping company like when the Shipshape/Safeship ferry dual ferry companies quit operations and they took over its fleet (but not the routes to Romblon). And from Cebu they got a ferry from the defunct FJP Lines which is better known as Palacio Lines. Actually, the first three ships of Starlite Ferries which are no longer existing now were from other local shipping companies.

However, over the years, what I noticed with Starlite Ferries is although their fleet is already relatively big by local standards they did not get out of the confines of Mindoro where they were just serving four routes. These are the Batangas-Calapan, Batangas-Puerto Galera, Batangas-Abra de Ilog and Roxas-Caticlan routes. The longest of this route is the last named that takes four hours of sailing time while the other routes take two to two-and-a-half hours depending on the ship. With such length of sailing time it can be gleaned that actually their 11 ferries is  a little bit over already than their need for the four routes.

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Starlite Reliance by Carl Jakosalem

So it came as a bombshell for me and many others that they will be getting 10 new ferries from Japan through a loan with a government loan window (and the first one, the Starlite Pioneer arrived in 2015). They were too proud of the coup and acquisition, of course, and they crowed about it in the media with all the jeers about the old ferries but I was skeptical. My first question is where will they put it. It is easy to apply for new routes but the approval is another matter. They do not own MARINA (Maritime Industry Authority), the maritime regulatory agency, it is no longer the reign of the nina bonita Maria Elena Bautista who did a lot for her patron and its pet Montenegro Lines. And I was sure the players that will be affected by their planned entry will fight tooth and nail (who wouldn’t?) and the approval process for franchises goes through public hearings anyway and if there is real opposition then it will be difficult to rig it (what are lawyers for anyway?). Getting route franchises is not as easy as getting it from a grocery shelf unless it is a missionary route which no shipping company has plied before except for motor bancas. And there is no more possibility now that a program like the “Strong Republic Nautical Highway” of Gloria which created new routes (and made it appear that old routes are “new routes”). It was the time of Noynoy when their new ferries came and Al Cusi who is identified with Gloria was out of power.

It is obvious that they can only absorb the new ferries well if they can dispose all their old ferries. But regarding the price it will be, “Are they buying or are they selling?”. That means forced selling will not gain them a good price and with the ferry structure in the country and their fleet size I am not even sure if there will be enough buyers especially when banks are averse to extending loans to shipping companies. Pinoys are averse to the breaking of still-good ships unless one’s name is starts with “A” and ends with “z” or maybe connected to 2GO (well, Negros Navigation’s case then was different as there was force majeure in it).

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Starlite Eagle by Carl Jakosalem

And they might be forced to sell their old ships if they have honor because after all the owner Al Cusi is one of the hecklers of our old ferries and pushing for their forced retirement (and the sauce for the goose should also be the sauce for the gander but then Al Cusi was not selling old ferries until his end in shipping). I thought those in government should lead by example? By 2016, with the ascension of Digong, Al Cusi was back in power and my fears of an administrative fiat to phase out old ships intensified.

Then a news item came out that they will enter the prime Ormoc route. My immediate thought was of a dogfight not only in sailing but also in the approval process of a franchise. The Ormoc route from Cebu has a lot of parallel routes competing with it (like Palompon, Baybay, Hilongos, Bato and Albuera routes) and all of them will raise a howl against the entry of an outsider especially one with good ships, naturally. I was even titillated how that will play out (it could have been a good boxing match or worse an MMA fight). But then nothing came out of that news. Well, certainly Al Cusi knows how to pick a good route, I thought, but he might have underestimated the opposition (of course, the better the route, the fiercer will be the opposition).

And then another news item was published that Starlite Ferries will go into Southeast Asia routes. Well, really? That was my thought as I had doubts again. It is Indonesia that is the most archipelagic in our region but I knew the rates there are too cheap and sometimes as ROROs there is practically no fare charged in the old ships if patrons don’t want to pay (and so I remember the problem of some of our operators in our ARMM Region where collection of fares can be a problem and rates are really so low). They wanna go there with brand-new ships, I thought? Won’t there be demand for reciprocity? Oh, well, I would welcome Indonesian ferries in our waters especially if they are liners, why not? Now, what a way of upsetting the cart, I mused. But then nothing came out of that too.

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Starlite Saturn by Raymond A. Lapus

The logical is actually to phase out his old ferries immediately as there is no way to create a bonanza of new routes given how difficult it is to secure new routes in the country and actually the situation is the feasibility of routes are limited as it is dictated by people and goods movements and not by wish, simple geography as in nearness or MARINA inducement. They can try the Pilar-Aroroy route that was validated by three titled international experts on shipping with all the feasibility study calculations but then as known by the locals it wouldn’t last and they were proven right as the route lasted only a few months (Archipelago Philippine Ferries tried it). Plus they might have to dredge Pilar port as that is shallow for their ships (the government will pass on to them their dredging responsibilities and they will be lucky to earn a thank you). MARINA has actually a lot of routes that they were promoting like the Pasacao to Burias route, the Cataingan to Maripipi route, et cetera but shipping operators not biting as they are not fools unlike some sitting in some MARINA chairs. With Starlite Ferries obliged to pay the bank amortization they cannot simply let their ships gather barnacles in Batangas Bay.

But where will he sell his old ferries? Many of the ships of Starlite Ferries are not fit to be small short-distance ferry-ROROs, the type most needed and most flexible to field (that will survive better in low-density routes) and now the problem is that is being supplanted now in many cases by the passenger-cargo LCTs and RORO Cargo LCTs which may be slow but are cheap to operate (and so many of these are arriving from China brand-new and not surplus with good terms). The reinforcements that entered San Bernardino Strait and Surigao Strait were actually LCTs (the former are operated by SulitFerry, a 2GO enterprise) and there are LCTs that are new arrivals in Tablas Strait that belong to Orange Navigation, a sister company of Besta Shipping.

Cebu won’t buy it as what is mainly needed there are overnight ships and generally bigger than what Starlite Ferries have. The actual direction of ferry sales is from Cebu to Batangas and not the other way around. It is also hard to sell the Starlite ferries to Zamboanga as only one shipping line has the capability there to buy (Aleson Shipping Line) and they have enough ships already and they can afford to buy direct from Japan. It won’t be Manila as there are no more overnight ships there remaining to Mindoro and Romblon (Starlite Ferries helped sank Moreta Shipping Lines, MBRS Lines and its successor Romblon Shipping Lines). The operators to Coron and Cuyo are not that big and the Starlite ships are too big for those routes. It is really hard to dispose of 11 ferries unless Starlite gives it on a lay-away plan but then they have to pay the bank for their new acquisitions.

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Starlite Archer by John Edmund

I feared Al Cusi with his Malacanang clout and political clout (he is vice-president of the ruling party now) will resort to administrative fiat through the Department of Transportation. But that will be bloody and when the old operators feared something was afoot with the Tugade trial balloons they were ready with deep questions like if there is a study that shows old ferries are unsafe (good question) and MARINA was put on the defensive. These old operators are not patsies, they can hire good lawyers and they have congressmen as padrinos that Tugade and Cusi cannot just push around.

And so came the announcement that there will be no phase-out of old ferries (which is nonsense anyway as phase-out should be based on technical evaluations and not on age). It seems that was a big blow to Starlite Ferries which by that time was already shouldering the burden and amortizing five new ferries with five more on the pipeline and their old ferries still around and unsold (their other new ferries are Starlite Reliance, Starlite Eagle, Starlite Saturn and Starlite Archer). Trying to force their old ferries in some near routes might just mean competing with their sister Montenegro Lines and their shared patron saint will look askance to that.

I guess the financial burden of the new ships were getting heavier by the day for Starlite Ferries. With a surplus of ferries they were even able to send Starlite Annapolis to Mandaue just to get some new engines if what I heard was true. There is really no way to cram 15 ferries (as Starlite Atlantic was lost maneuvering in a typhoon) in just four short-distance routes. I just don’t know, should have they converted some of their new ships into overnight ferries and competed in the longer Batangas to Caticlan route? But the accommodations of the former Cebu Ferries ship of 2GO are superior to them. How about the Batangas to Roxas City route that is irregularly served by Asian Marine Transport Corporation?

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The most senior now in the fleet of Starlite Ferries

But instead of fighting to resolve their problem, Al Cusi took the easy way and sold out. Well, it is never easy to finance five new ferries with five more still on the way with no new routes coming. They might drown in debt and default. Or end up just helping the bank make their living (in Tagalog, “ipinaghahanapbuhay na lang ang bangko”).

I wonder why Al Cusi did not just get two or three units for testing and evaluation and proceed slowly. With that they might have known with less pain and pressure that although their ferries are new it does not have a technological edge nor an advance over the old ferries unlike the new FastCats. They knew already that intermodal vehicles are mainly locked like the Dimple Star buses are locked to them and so newness of the ship will not easily sell and not even to private car owners whose main concern is what RORO is leaving first (and that is also the main concern of the passengers who do not even have a free choice if they are bus passengers).

It looks to me the 10 new ROROS ordered by Starlite Ferries was a simple case of indigestion or worse a choking. It looks like more of the latter and so Al Cusi spit it out and settled for a half billion pesos as consolation for the sale of Starlite Ferries to the Udenna group, the new hotshot in shipping which also owns Trans-Asia Shipping Lines of Cebu now. That might be a good decision for Udenna as their Trans-Asia Shipping Lines lacks ferries now whereas Starlite Ferries has a surplus and so it might be a good match. Converting the ships into overnight ferries is not difficult nor would it cost much although the ships of Starlite Ferries is a little small than what Trans-Asia Shipping Lines was accustomed to (but then it is also possible to lengthen the upcoming ferries).

Now I don’t really know exactly where Starlite Ferries is headed and it will not be as easy to guess that but in all likelihood a Starlite and Trans-Asia marriage might work out especially since the Udenna group has the money to smoothen out the kinks.

Nice experiment but it seems the 10 new ships was too much for Starlite Ferries to chew.

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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.

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.

Lite Ferries

Many people know this shipping company simply as “Lite Ferries”. The name of their ships now start with “Danilo Lines Incorporated” and then a number, hence, people easily make the connection . Actually their ships are numbered now (as of May 2017) from Lite Ferry 1 to Lite Ferry 30. Well, even their official website refers to the company as “Lite Ferries”

Lite Ferries is actually the amalgamation of three shipping companies — the Lite Shipping Corporation, the Sunline Shipping Corporation and Danilo Lines Incorporated. The mother company of this combined shipping corporation is Lirio Shipping Corporation which is into cargo shipping. It is not a big shipping company on its own, however, but the big company Lite Ferries started from that.

Lite Ferries is connected to Bohol, the place of origin of the founder Lucio Lim which still has various business interests in that island-province including in Panglao development. In a sense, many in Bohol has a new company to root for after the demise of Sweet Lines, the old favorite and pride of Bol-anons. However, the nerve center of Lite Ferries’ operation is now Cebu City although they still use a Tagbilaran address.

It is hard not to discuss now Lite Ferries because in this decade its ship acquisitions continued almost yearly and almost always multiple ship in a year and its acquisitions have accelerated since 2009. From a second-tier Cebu passenger shipping company, it now has the most ferries in the Visayas. Their ferries are mainly of medium size for non-liners but with their numbers they now cover more routes and their competitors are now feeling their presence and weight.

Lite Ferries started ferry operations in a limited way in 1992 when it was able to acquire the triple-screwed LCT St. Mark, a surplus ship of the US Navy built in 1964 which has limited passenger accommodations like most conventional LCTs. Lite Ferries used this ship to connect Cebu and Bohol via Argao and Loon. Argao is the southern link of Cebu province to Bohol and with it there is no need for a vehicle to still go to Cebu port. In a later renaming of their ships, the LCT St. Mark became the Lite Ferry 20. She was by then a re-engined ship with just two screws.

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The Lite Ferry 20

In 1994, Lite Ferries acquired the former Horai Maru No. 12 in Japan and in the company this ferry became the Sta. Lucia de Bohol which betrayed the place origin of the company. This ship was a basic, short-distance ferry-RORO with external dimensions of just 32.0 meters length of 8.0 meters beam by 3.0 meters depth with a Gross Tonnage of 199. Sadly this ship is no longer around.

Lite Ferries then acquired the former Hayabusa in Japan in 1996 and she became the Lite Ferry, without a number. This was not a small ship for she measured 88.0 meters by 15.0 meters by 4.8 meters in L x B x D with a Gross Tonnage of 1,389 and she had a Cebu to Ozamis route. Maybe in Lite Ferries this ship was too big for them then and so they sold this ship to Trans-Asia Shipping Lines Incorporated (TASLI) where she became the Trans-Asia II.

After this, Lite Ferries was able to acquire the rump of the fleet of San Juan Shipping Corporation. That company plummeted after the loss in an explosion and fire and subsequent sinking of their biggest ship, the San Juan Ferry which was the former Dona Cristina of Carlos A. Gothong Lines Incorporated (CAGLI) and Cebu Ferries Corporation. From San Juan Shipping Corporation, Lite Ferries was able to acquire the Sr. San Jose, a beautiful cruiser but with a weak engine and the John Carrier-1, a basic, short-distance ferry-RORO with problematic engines also. The important thing this purchase gave Lite Ferries were not the ships and these were not used by Lite Ferries for long. Actually, it was the important franchises and route to Leyte which they did not have before and which proved profitable for them in the long run.

In 2004, Lite Ferries acquired the Salve Juliana of the MBRS Shipping Lines of Romblon which was then disposing their earlier ships as it has already acquired bigger ones. This ship became the Sr. San Jose de Tagbilaran (in that period many of the ships of Lite Ferries were still named after saints) and it seems it is this ferry that displaced the Sta. Lucia de Bohol in the Tagbilaran route. Later this ship was also assigned to the Ormoc route. When the ships of Lite Ferries were renamed to “Lite Ferry”, she became the Lite Ferry 6.

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The Lite Ferry 6

The next year, in 2005, Lite Ferries acquired the former Daishin Maru and made her into a small overnight ferry-RORO. Her dimensions were only 42.6 meters by 11.5 meters by 3.0 meters and forward part of the car deck has to be converted in Tourist accommodation to increase her passenger capacity. The ship was first known as the Our Lady of Barangay-1. Her engines were later not strong and she was put up for sale. When there were no takers, Lite Ferries had her re-engined and now she is known as the Lite Ferry 5 and still sailing for Lite Ferries in her original route which is the Tagbilaran route.

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The Lite Ferry 5

In 2005, Lite Ferries acquired the former Shodoshima Maru No.1 which was the former Zhu Du No.2 in China. In the Lite Ferries fleet she was first known as the San Ramon de Bohol with a flat bow ramp. Later, Lite Ferries fitted her with a conventional pointed bow thereby adding to her length (but I wonder what other things were gained by that). In the renaming of their ships, this became the Lite Ferry 7.

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The Lite Ferry 7

Many will ask where is Lite Ferry 1, Lite Ferry 2 and Lite Ferry 3? Lite Ferries was able to acquire the shipping company Danilo Lines which served the San Carlos-Toledo route in 2006 and the two main ships of that fleet, the Danilo 1 and Danilo 2 became the Lite Ferry 1 and Lite Ferry 2, respectively. The two are actually sister ships and they are actually sister ships too to Lite Ferry 6. Danilo Lines actually has two wooden ships, the Danilo III and Danilo IV but those were not transferred to Lite Ferries anymore which by that time was just sticking to ROROs (well, they even had the Sr. San Jose cut up).

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The Lite Ferry 1

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The Lite Ferry 2

The Lite Ferry 3 was also acquired in 2006. This was the former Noumi No.8 in Japan and she became the second Santiago de Bohol in the Lite Ferries fleet. As an overnight ferry-RORO, the Lite Ferry 3 is small and she has just the external dimensions of a basic, short-distance ferry-RORO at 38.3 meters by 9.0 meters by 2.9 meters with a Gross Tonnage of just 250 but she has one-and-a-half passenger decks. The Lite Ferry 3 is now the shortest ship in the fleet of Lite Ferries.

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The Lite Ferry 3

In 2007, Lite Ferries bought again a relatively big ship, the former GP Ferry-1 of George & Peter Lines which was the former small liner Sta. Maria of Negros Navigation Company. This was no longer renamed to a saint and she directly became the Lite Ferry 8. The ship was fielded to the Ormoc route to battle the Heaven Stars of Roble Shipping Incorporated which by then was having engine unreliability already. Soon after her rival was laid up, Lite Ferry 8‘s engines also began acting up also and so she was spending half of her time laid up. Lite Ferry decided to have her re-engined and the ship was used for Lite Ferry’s foray to Cagayan de Oro.

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The Lite Ferry 8

The next year, in 2008, Lite Ferries purchased a second-hand LCT from the Socor Shipping Lines, the former LCT Socor 1. Like the Lite Ferry 20m she was over 50 meters in length at 55.4 meters but like the conventional LCT, her passenger capacity is small. She was initially named as LCT Sto. Nino de Bohol in the Lite Ferries fleet before she was renamed to Lite Ferry 22.

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The Lite Ferry 22 by James Gabriel Verallo

In 2009, Lite Ferries made a decision to acquire double-ended ferries and this was a surprise to me given the nature of her routes which are not very short actually. In their routes, the double-ended ferries can actually suffer because of the drag and sometimes the lack of speed and their characteristic of having not to maneuver might just be negated.

The Lite Ferry 9 which was actually a beautiful double-ended ferry was the former Daian No.8 and relatively new when acquired in 2009 because the ship was built just in 1997. She was not really small at 45.0 meters length, 10.0 meters breadth and 2.8 meters depth. Her Gross Tonnage was only 170 and her Net Tonnage is only 89 which is small. That is so because double-ended ferries cannot maximize their passenger deck up to the stern of the ship. Now this ship is no longer in the fleet of Lite Ferries and might have been sold elsewhere.

In the Lite Ferry 10, another double-ended ferry, Lite Ferries tried to increase passenger space by adding scantling and bunks. With limitations this ship can also serve as an overnight ferry-RORO and there was not much of a problem with that since its route is only to Tubigon which is some two hours sailing distance away. The ships is also not that small at 46.0 meters by 10.0 meters by 3.8 meters with a Net Tonnage of 165. However, like in Lite Ferry 9, maybe double-ended ferries are not really fit for them and so Lite Ferries sold this ship to Medallion Transport in 2011 where she became the Lady of Miraculous Medal.

Later, another Lite Ferry 10 came into the fleet of Lite Ferries which arrived first as a charter and later a purchase. This ship was the former Ocean King I of Seamarine Transport Incorporated. Ocean King I was an overnight ferry -RORO which abandoned the Liloan-Lipata route and then tried the Leyte route without going anywhere. Lite Ferries then took over her and Seamarine Transport became defunct. Lite Ferry 10 is bigger and has more capacity than the other overnight ferries of Lite Ferries because she has 3 passenger decks.

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The second Lite Ferry 10 by James Gabriel Verallo

In 2010, Lite Ferries acquired 4 surplus ferries. None of them was the expensive kind but as the norm in the Philippines those can be converted into valuable ferries and they were refitted simultaneously in Ouano wharf.

The biggest of the 4 became the Lite Ferry 11 and this was the Misaki No.5 of Oishi Shipping in Japan. In international maritime databases, she is mistaken for the Lite Ferry 12 maybe because that is what reflected is in the AIS transmissions. The Lite Ferry 11 measures 65.7 meters by 15 meters by 3.5 meters but her Gross Tonnage of 498 in Japan shrank to 249 here even when decks were added. The Lite Ferry 11 is now the primary ship of Lite Ferries in the Ormoc route.

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The Lite Ferry 11

The Lite Ferry 12 is a pocket overnight ferry-RORO with a registered length of just 41.6 meters, a breadth of 9.6 meters, a depth of 5.6 meters (which is rather deep) and just a Gross Tonnage of 249 which is low. This ship I found to be densely packed, so to speak. The Lite Ferry 12 rotates among many routes of Lite Ferries but she was the ship that opened the Nasipit-Jagna route for her company.

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The Lite Ferry 12

There is no Lite Ferry 13 (nor a Lite Ferry 4) because those numbers are usually not used by local shipping companies out of superstition. There is also not a Lite Ferry 14 but I don’t know the reason for that. Maybe the owner is just averse to that number.

The Lite Ferry 15 is almost the size of Lite Ferry 11 at 60.3 meters length, 11.4 meters beam and a Gross Tonnage of 827 with a Net Tonnage of 562. From twin Akasaka engines, she has 2,600 horsepower on tap which is higher than the 2,000 horsepower of Lite Ferry 1, Lite Ferry 6 and Lite Ferry 7 but below the 3,000 horsepower of Lite Ferry 11. Most of the time this ship holds the Cagayan de Oro to Jagna route of the company.

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The Lite Ferry 15

The fourth ship to be acquired in 2010, the Lite Ferry 23 is very unique and there is no other of her kind in the country. It is a RORO and looks like an LCT from the side but it has a catamaran hull and so she is wider at 16.0 meters (her registered length is 57.5 meters). Attached and rigged to the stern before were two pusher tugs (in Japan those were free). Two funnels were attached to the ship here because there are now passengers. Modifications were made so a passenger deck could be added to the ship which is a little bigger than the average LCT.

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The Lite Ferry 23

Initially, Lite Ferry 23 was a slow craft barely able to do 7 knots and so she was just assigned the Mandaue to Tubigon route which caters basically to rolling cargo. Later, the tugs were removed and she was given two decent engines and now she can do what a short-distance ferry can do. Still, she is doing the same route and basically catering to rolling cargo with a few passengers mixed in.

2011 was a respite year for Lite Ferries and they did not acquire any ship. But in 2012 they acquired the LCT Dona Trinidad 1 of Candano Shipping Lines, a Bicol shipping company. This ship first became the LCT Sta. Filomena de Bohol and like the other LCT in the Lite Ferries fleet she is over 50 meters at 53.5 meters. Shortly later, this ferry was renamed to Lite Ferry 21.

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The Lite Ferry 21

In the same year 2012, Lite Ferries acquired a brand-new LCT from China, the Lite Ferry 25. Maybe this was the sign that in the future Lite Ferries will also be relying on this type of ship and mainly for rolling cargo with a few passengers mixed in. During this time China LCTs which are cheap (but which has questions on engine reliability) already had an allure for local shipping operators and maybe the Lite Ferry 25 was the test purchase of Lite Ferries from China. The size of this ship is almost the same as the other LCTs of Lite Ferries at 58.0 meters length. Some modifications to the ship was made to increase the passenger capacity.

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The Lite Ferry 25

In 2012, Lite Ferries also ventured into HSC (High Speed Crafts) operation when they acquired the beautiful and modern-looking Japan fastcraft Lite Jet 1 (which are not powered by waterjets anyway). She was fielded in the Tubigon route where the new company Star Crafts was making a heyday. Maybe they perceived the fastcrafts of this company as a threat to their ROROs in Tubigon as it multiplied fast. The Lite Jet 1 was more modern and faster than the Star Crafts.

Next year, in 2013, Lite Ferries acquired two more HSCs but this time from Vietnam. These were actually the former Aquan One and Aquan Two in Hongkong and they were the Nonan 1 and Nonan 2 in Vietnam and both were catamarans built in China. On conduction here one of the two grounded in the Spratly islands and it took longer to be fielded. The Aquan Two/Nonan 2 was named the Lite Jet 8 while the Aquan One/Nonan 1 was named the Lite Jet 9.

These two catamarans proved problematic and hard for the technical resources of Lite Ferries which has not much HSC experience. MTU engines are fast but needs attention to maintenance and can be problematic when it gets old. This is the engine of of the Lite Jet 8. On the other hand, the Lite Jet 9 was powered by Isotta-Fraschini engines, a make not that well-known in the HSC field. That proved balky and slower and Lite Ferries tried to re-engine it with Caterpillar engines.

Not long after, however, Lite Ferries completely gave up and sold all their High Speed Crafts including their good and reliable Oceanjet 1 to Ocean Fast Ferries Incorporated which operates the now-dominant Oceanjet HSCs. Maybe Lite Ferries realized that High Speed Crafts are not their cup of tea and they just better concentrate on RORO operations which they understand deeply as shown by their successful successful expansion.

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The Lite Ferry 26

With this divestment, Lite Ferries bought out two Cargo RORO LCTs that came and challenged them in the Cebu-Tagbilaran route which was proving to be a serious threat to them. These were the Diomicka and the Maria Dulce which were just chartered ships. With the buy-out in 2015, the Diomicka became the Lite Ferry 26 and the Maria Dulce became the Lite Ferry 28. These 2 LCTs are the only ships in the fleet of Lite Ferries that do not carry passengers.

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The Lite Ferry 28

With the remainder, in 2015, Lite Ferries continued the China experiment and purchased another brand-new LCT but which has a different design than the Lite Ferry 25. This was the Lite Ferry 27. It has a taller tower and and modifications were made so there will be two short passenger decks. Bunks were even provided (Lite Ferries is one of the shipping companies that combine bunks with seats). Like the Lite Ferry 25, this LCT is also powered by Weichai engines.

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The Lite Ferry 27

At the same time of acquiring the Lite Ferry 27, Lite Ferries uncorked a new China experiment (well, their patron seems to really have strong China connections). Among these were two laid up Hainan Strait Shipping Company (HNSS) vessels that once connected Hainan island to the China mainland and which they acquired in 2015 and 2016. When the two arrived here they all looked very rusty but to the knowing they know once refitted the two will become beautiful and useful ferries (is there a rust that cannot be removed?).

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The Lite Ferry 16

The two were renamed to Lite Ferry 16 and Lite Ferry 19 look to be modified LCTs with a car ramp at the bow and two partial decks of passenger accommodations below the bridge where one extend to near amidship which means the passenger area is far higher than the conventional LCT. With extensions of both decks that becomes passenger promenades, the feeling of being too enclosed in an LCT with nowhere to go is gone. Lite Ferry 16 and Lite Ferry 19 look to be sister ships.

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The Lite Ferry 19 by Mark Ocul

Two other rusty ferries from China which are sister ships also arrived for Lite Ferries in 2016, the Bao Dao 5 and the Bao Dao 6 which will become the Lite Ferry 17 and Lite Ferry 18. The two looks to be conventional ROROs with the bridge at the bow and with car ramps at the bow and the stern. When finished, at 89.0 meters length and 16.0 meters breadth, these two ships will give Lite Ferries a size that can already challenge the ships of Cokaliong Shipping Lines Incorporated and Trans-Asia Shipping Lines Incorporated and it is titillating to think where Lite Ferries intend to field the two.

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The Lite Ferry 18 and Lite Ferry 17 by Mark Ocul

While three of these rusty ships were still being refitted, Lite Ferries also took delivery of another two brand-new LCTs from China, the Lite Ferry 29 and the Lite Ferry 30 which look sleek for an LCT. Slight modifications were also made in Ouano wharf to build passenger accommodations a la Lite Ferry 27. Right now these two LCTs which are obviously sister ships are now sailing.

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The Lite Ferry 29 by Edison Sy

Lite Ferry 30

The Lite Ferry 30 by R. Sanchez

Currently at the start of June 2017, Lite Ferries have 23 ferries that are ROPAXes plus 2 Cargo RORO LCTs. Of the 23 ferries, 9 are passenger-cargo LCTs while 1 is a passenger-cargo catamaran-RORO. Lite Ferries might have started behind other Cebu shipping companies as they are a relatively new company but with their turbo expansion in the last few years they have already overtaken most other operators of medium sized ferries and not only in the Visayas.

Aside from the old routes from Cebu to the Bohol ports of Tagbilaran and Tubigon and the route from Mandaue to Tubigon, the Cebu to Ormoc route is another old route that is a stronghold of Lite Ferries. That also includes the old route of Danilo Lines, the San Carlos-Toledo route.

Lite Ferries also serves the Cebu-Tagbilaran-Larena-Plaridel route that was already abandoned by Palacio Shipping. They were also successful in the expansion to the Cagayan de Oro to Jagna route. However, their Nasipit-Jagna route seems to be little seasonal. Recently they also tried the Cebu to Cagayan de Oro route.

Their Samboan to Dapitan route also proved successful as they offered a shortcut to the truckers that once had to go to Dumaguete first. They are also connecting Cebu to Negros with the Samboan to Sibulan route. A PSSS (Philippine Ship Spotters Society) member recently called and he was told the Dumaguete-Cagayan de Oro route is already off.

But with such a great fleet now Lite Ferries is seriously needing to expand already and I just hope they go to the underserved routes. With many profitable routes already they can actually afford to experiment with new routes now.

The expansion of Lite Ferries in the last 8 years is simply breathtaking with 17 ships added net. Lately their fleet addition even accelerated. They now have a critical mass and I will be watching where they will be headed.

Liners like the old Bohol shipping great Sweet Lines?