The Bad Maharlika and Grand Star RORO Ferries Transformed

It was more than two decades ago when I first became acquainted on a regular basis with the Maharlika ships. This fleet consisted of the Maharlika I, Maharlika II, Maharlika III, Maharlika IV, Maharlika V, Maharlika VI and Maharlika VII. I just used their names with the Roman numerals for consistency because at other times they were also known with the Spanish numerals like “Uno”, “Dos”, “Tres” and so on and so forth. The fleet was basically fielded in the Eastern seaboard routes of the country like Lipata to Liloan, San Isidro or Allen to Matnog, other pioneering Bicol routes which they failed to hold (either too early for the day plus they didn’t know the tactic of subsidizing the buses) like Tabaco to Virac and Bulan to Masbate. Later, they tried the Pilar to Aroroy route where it seems they followed the feasibility study made by three renowned international shipping experts, each of have good Ph.Ds but unfortunately does not know local shipping plus they had a blip in their brains (like if a route has only one motor boat how can it then support a ROPAX?). And so,unfortunately. their data is shot full of holes and so it became a GIGO (Garbage In, Garbage Out).

Maharlika I

Maharlika I by Edison Sy of PSSS.

They also tried routes outside of the Eastern seaboard like Lucena to Marinduque, Batangas to Calapan and Roxas to Caticlan in support of the buses of their sister companies, the storied Philtranco which was fast becoming a shell of its former self and JAM. The Marinduque route did not last long and fortunately for them the two other routes mentioned lasted even though their buses didn’t last long in Panay island (they recently came back after the dominant bus Dimple Star was permanently suspended because of accidents). Maharlika, for brevity, is a long story of failing ships and failing routes. On the other hand, they have a boisterous and humbug CEO who is so full of himself (well, I won’t be surprised if he is a graduate of the Trump School). Like that resident of the White House, Christopher Pastrana also scored a coup with his later FastCat ships. Who said a bad thing can’t be turned in to a good thing?

When I was sailing with the Maharlika ships, I feel a letdown but this was very well-tempered because I am a grad of the even worse ships of Viva Shipping Lines of Batangas and its two legal-fiction companies. That was more palpable in the Maharlika I and Maharlika II which were fielded brand-news just fifteen years earlier (1982 and 1984) and yet were already worn down and beginning to break down (initially, a fault by the government). I did not know it yet then that Archipelago Philippine Ferries was just chartering those two ferries which were the pride of the government in the past. There is a claim that when the ships were already turning a profit the government one-sidedly changed the terms of the agreement. Whatever, it seems Archipelago Philippine Ferries, Pastrana’s company was just milking the ships out of its last value without care for the future life of the ships and the government was letting them. And to think that in the late 1990s there are even shut-outs (vessels can no longer be accommodated aboard) especially in the Liloan-Lipata route. In the main, Maharlika II was in this route and Maharlika I was in the San Isidro or Allen to Matnog route as they have been from the start.

Maharlika II in Liloan port

Maharlika II by Mike Baylon of PSSS.

After the sister ships Maharlika I and Maharlika II, Archipelago Philippine Ferries and its legal-fiction sister companies like Oro Star and Philharbor Ferries acquired two sister ships from Aki Kisen of Japan in 2000, just after the take-over of the of the first two ships, the Maharlika III and Maharlika IV which had the look of a double-ended ferry. They acquired these to bolster their operations as two ferries is not enough for their routes. The two were built in 1987 and 1993 and so in age they were younger than the first ships but just in the same decade of acquisition they are beginning to look worn down too and beginning to be unreliable. Sometimes there are cases when a ship will not sail for months and there was story of one of these newer Maharlika ships not capable of sailing being ordered towed out by the Port Manager of Liloan by a passing tug because it is clogging up his docking space (I saw that non-running ferry). Have anyone heard of ship’s ramp falling while the ship is sailing? There is a story of that in the Lipata-Liloan route and elsewhere but not necessarily running.

So in the 2000s, the period where I was frequently traveling using the Eastern seaboard route, I was wondering where Maharlika was headed. It seemed it was all a grand name (Maharlika is supposedly a legendary name with our national highway named likewise for that and there was even a Marcos plan to rename our country to “Maharlika” until some historians pointed out that “Maharlika” is of Hindu origin) but no substance or trait to support it. This was also the time when Maharlika was trying new routes which mostly bombed out.

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Grand Star RORO 1 and Maharlika Tres in their Dapdap port by Mike Baylon of PSSS.

Next came to them in 2002 the Maharlika V and almost all failed to after having parts of her former substructure cropped out. She first came to a related company in the Allen-Matnog route as the Christ The King when that route had a surplus of bottoms with many shipping companies competing. Her next reincarnation was as the Mindoro Express but she also did not last long in her namesake island and so she plied a route to Puerto Princesa, Palawan. It was there where she took an excursion in a shallow portion of the sea when it seems she had a fire and possibly she capsized in the fire-fighting effort. A ship owner who is a PSSS (Philippine Ship Spotters Society) member shot a photo of her in Keppel shipyard in Batangas. When posted to PSSS, an eagle-eyed member thought that if the superstructure of Mindoro Express is cropped then she will look like the Maharlika V. In her permanent route of Liloan-Lipata, nobody knew what happened to her in Puerto Princesa. But even with this background, Maharlika V proved to be reliable for almost a decade. Until she became sickly too and spent two years in a shipyard in General Santos City not being repaired.

In 2003 and 2004, two old ferries from Norway built in the early 1970s came for Archipelago Philippine Ferries which became the Maharlika Seiz and Maharlika Siete. The two have very robust Wichman and Normo engines which are easy to maintain as told to me by a Norwegian ship spotter which happened to inquire to me where and in what condition they are now. Moreover, Scandinavian ships should have very strong hulls, their pride. These ex-Norwegian ships ran well for some time although the first to come, Maharlika Seiz proved to be very slow because of its small engine. They did not last that long, however, not because of the engines but because of the variable-pitch propellers, a common feature in European ships. This kind of propeller makes the engine last longer because of less stress but when that kind of propeller becomes defective it is supposedly a nightmare to repair.

Maharlika Cuatro

Maharlika Cuatro by Mike Baylon of PSSS.

When Phil-Nippon Kyoei, a new shipping company, gave up operations early this decade, Philippine Archipelago Ferries snapped up two of three ships for sale, the Grand Star RORO 1 and the Grand Star RORO 3 which also resembled double-ended ferries. The two were basically fielded in the Allen-Matnog route but the two were never renamed. In a short time though, like the Maharlika ferries the Grand Star RORO ferries looked worn out too. I can’t fathom why for a company having a sister company that deals in paints (CAPP) can’t have enough paint to have the ferries looking good. Well, maybe, that was the Pastrana standard then, the Pastrana way of doing things. And when Pastrana got his first FastCat, he told the spiel that he dreamed of good ferries serving Philippine waters after seeing bad ferries all around. But, the storyteller that he was, Pastrana does not have the gumption to say he was looking at his own ferries.

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Maharlika Cinco and Maharlika Seiz in Liloan Ferry Terminal. From ppavis.com.

When the first FastCat came, some of his ferries are no longer running especially Maharlika I which was just sidelined. They tried to sell that but of course, the government being the owner calls the shots. The sale of this ship to the breakers made the sister ship Maharlika II a better ship and it was in a long time that I saw her in good paint, and faster. It is possible after all some parts were first transferred to the sister. However, as her wont, Maharlika II stalled off Panaon island and the crew failed to start even one engine (well, Maharlika is also used to running on one engine). It is a big question why Maharlika IV which was just nearby did not come to her rescue for several hours until the seas turned rough with the coming of the night (as if they didn’t know this will happen). A story from a former employee says that if Maharlika IV sails and rescues her more questions will be unearthed. It is just so bad for the passengers of Maharlika II, some of who died in Surigao Strait, a busy shipping lane but there is no Coast Guard rescue ship (it has to borrow ferries on the route to effect a rescue) because most of their better ships as just used as port guards and serve as offices and suites of their commanders in the big cities and ports.

The sinking paved way for the fast disposal of the Maharlika and Grand Star RORO ships. Selling them fast will lessen the questions on their shipworthiness and the stoppage of their use will make people forget easy a tragedy happened and anyway they got suspended too. What remained running before the FastCats came in big numbers are the Grand Star RORO ships and so they only got sold later. That was important for them in the Matnog-Allen route when they were not immediately able to secure a berth where their peculiar docking ramp will be placed. Actually for a time they had no running ships in many routes as the early phase-out of their ships were forced unto them. But maybe that played into their hands as people who don’t normally sail fail to get the connection of Maharlika and FastCat.

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Maharlika Siete by John Carlos Cabanillas of PSSS.

The Maharlika Cuatro and Maharlika Cinco (their naming then) was sold a “neighbor” in Leyte, the Gabisan Shipping Lines. The Maharlika Cinco was retained by the company and this became the Gloria V and the Maharlika Cuatro was sold to Regina Shipping Lines (RSL) of Catanduanes. Meanwhile, the Maharlika Tres was sold to Atienza Inter-island Ferries of Manila but later they also sold this to Regina Shipping Lines. Maharlika Seiz and Maharlika Siete were sold to breakers in Navotas but the custom there is to “display” the ships first in the hope that someone will buy it whole. And it did not help them that world metal prices were low in the past half-decade. Later, the Grand Star RORO 1 and Grand Star RORO 3 were also sold to Regina Shipping Lines. So, in total of the ships not lost or sold to the breakers only one, the Maharlika V is not in the possession of Regina Shipping Lines which then thereby sold their basic, short-distance ferry-ROROs. Traffic in Catanduanes is on the big upsurge after all.

Maharlika Tres became the Regina Calixta VIII, Maharlika IV became the Regina Calixta VII, the Grand Star RORO 1 became the Regina Calixta VI, the Regina Calixta III became the Regina Calixta IX and later as the second Regina Calixta IV after the former holder of that name, which was the former Grand Star RORO 2 was sold to Dinagat to become the Cab-ilan of Waters-up MPC. Six of the ships of Regina Shipping Lines were former ferries of Christopher Pastrana who treated them badly and just covered it up in media by being noisy and boastful.

Grand Star RORO 3

Grand Star RORO 3 by Joe Cardenas III of PSSS.

And how are these ferries faring under the care of Gov. Joseph Cua of Catanduanes, the owner of Regina Shipping Lines? Very, very well as Albayanos and Catanduganons know. The superstructures changed now (no, they are not taller) and the paint is good. The interiors changed a lot too. Central to the changed motif is to make the journey as experience although it will only last four hours or less, the usual transit time between Tabaco, Albay and San Andres (the former Calolbon), Catanduanes, a route where Regina Shipping Lines (RSL)has no direct competitor (their competitor holds another competing route, that to Virac, the capital of Catanduanes). Regina Shipping Lines is a pioneer on the route. The ships have an airconditioned sections now that is modeled after a KTV lounge where before these ships under Pastrana have no airconditioned sections. And of course everything is spic and span after a long remodeling in Mayon Docks in Tabaco under the supervision of an SNAME naval architect who happens to be a PSSS member.

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Regina Calixta VIII, the former Maharlika Tres by Dominic San Juan of PSSS.

The engines were refurbished too and all are very reliable now aside from running even better than their design speed. And to think these are ferries built in the 1980s (five) and 1990s (one). Maybe the top guns of MARINA, the maritime regulatory body should first do an educational tour of the RSL ferries before they deliberate on the proposal to cull the 35-year old ferries. Maybe they can learn a thing or two there. They should also take note too that no steel-hulled ferry ever sank in the route to Catanduanes.

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Aircon accommodation of Regina Calixta VI, the former Gtand Star RORO 1. Photo by Dominic San Juan of PSSS.

I was not really surprised by all these happenings to the former bad ferries of Pastrana. Gov. Cua operated very good RSL buses from Catanduanes and Tabaco to Manila. Like the premium bus companies of Bicol they invested in good seats and refurbished their buses before it becomes worn out and are no longer looking good. And that has paid off in passenger loyalty and good words and respect to them. RSL (this is how they are called in Bicol) did these refurbishing even though they have no direct competitor and they are always full that at times their ship has to sail back again as there are a good number of shut-outs. That just shows how they care and greed is not their paramount norm in running their shipping business.

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Regina Calixta VII, the former Maharlika Cuatro. Photo by Dominic San Juan of PSSS.

Meanwhile, the only old bad Pastrana ferry not in RSL hands had also be refurbished and re-engined by Gabisan Shipping and is also reliable now except for some hiccups at the start. It looks like the hull might still be okay after re-plating given her stint beneath the waves and the long lay-over in Gensan (well, weakened hull plates can be replaced). The story said from the shipyard there she had difficulty reaching Liloan municipal port where first works was done on her. Now, the ship has a Tourist Class too with decent accommodations. She had had more visits to the shipyards maybe because further repairs might have been needed given the sorry state when Gabisan Shipping first acquired her. Anyway, I give enough credit to Gabisan Shipping for saving her. I thought before she no longer had a chance given her history and condition. Now I wish MARINA can give her more life.

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Regina Calixta VIII (ex-Maharlika Tres) Tourist. Photo by Dominic San Juan of PSSS.

Meanwhile, for the veterans of the Eastern seaboard, they all know Christopher Pastrana has long been in the Hall of Shame but maybe he is now trying to change that with his FastCats. Well, it is easy when one is given new ships and one looks always good at the start when handed new ships. It is credit to him for his innovate catamaran-RORO design whoever is his benefactor may be but the banks deserve the credit too for opening its purses. His challenge now is how to pay for all of those ships. If he fails it will be the banks which will be holding the empty bag.

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Three RORO Companies Now In The Cebu To Surigao Route

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

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Lady of Love by Mike Baylon of PSSS

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

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

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

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

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Lady of Triumph by Jose Zeus Ranoco Bade of PSSS

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

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

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Filipinas Jagna by Capt. Morrell Maguzara of PSSS

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

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

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

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Stella Maris by Ryan Diel of PSSS.

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

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

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Verano Port of Surigao City by Aris Refugio of PSSS.

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

 

 

The Greatest Port in Northwestern Mindanao

The greatest port in northwestern Mindanao is actually not so obvious to many as it is not looked upon as a good port of entry. Ports like Davao, Zamboanga and Cagayan de Oro and others always overshadow it. Of course, many do not know its history. And having a small port area and limited wharfage, it does not really impress outside observers. I am talking here of the Port of Ozamiz (that is using the modernized spelling) in Misamis Occidental.

Originally, it was not even Ozamiz that became the first prominent port in Misamis Occidental even though Misamis, the earlier name of Ozamis, was the capital of the unified Misamis province before the war. Cagayan de Misamis, the current Cagayan de Oro (no, it does not have gold) was small compared to Misamis town. In prominence, the Jimenez port of Misamis Occidental rivaled Misamis port because the oil mill of the Chiongbians (and nobody in shipping does not know them) was there and copra was the most important crop of the province. An oil mill was a very big deal then in a municipality.

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Ozamiz port by Mike Baylon of PSSS.

Before the war, there were not many liners from Manila except when our passenger-cargo ships got bigger in the late 1920s. Northern Mindanao mainly connected to Cebu then but after the war, liners from Manila became commonplace. A route calling in Cebu, Tagbilaran, Dumaguete, Ozamis and Iligan looping around those five ports was common and the premier exponent of that is William Lines, obviously, as Misamis Occidental is their home turf.

Being provincial capital favored Misamis in their rivalry with other ports early but then it was removed as capital in favor of Oroquieta City.  But the biggest asset of Ozamiz port is its connection to Mukas port of Kolambugan in Lanao del Norte across the narrow Panguil Bay. Tamula Shipping dominated that connection then with wooden-hulled boats progressing to small cruiser ships later. Tamula Shipping was a pre-war shipping company starting from the American father-in-law of Tamula.

After the war, Pagadian of Zamboanga del Sur had its own liners from Manila. Along the years, in the 1970s, the liners left Pagadian. 1970s was the peak of the roadbuilding then in the country when once dirt roads were concreted. This roadbuilding impacted shipping in many ways, both positively and negatively. But in Ozamiz’s case, the new road uplifted it as traders, shippers and passengers of Zamboanga del Sur began moving toward Ozamiz. The travel time through Ozamiz and by road from that was shorter and cheaper compared to using Pagadian which loops around Zamboanga City. Actually, this route to Pagadian even reaches Cotabato as there were nightly big motor boats going there that lands in the city proper instead of Parang, Maguindanao which is still a good distance from Cotabato City.

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Ozamiz Port passenger terminal building by Mike Baylon of PSSS.

Ozamiz also served as a liner gateway to western Lanao del Norte through the Tamula ferries and later the Daima Shipping double-ended ferries which ended the reign of Tamula in Panguil Bay when Tamula failed to convert to ROROs. With the ROROs and the trucks and buses aboard it, Ozamiz’ reach magnified. Ozamiz became or became more prominent as the trading and distribution center in the area between Zamboanga and Cagayan de Oro.  Trucks from Ozamiz routinely reach Ipil, the capital of Zamboanga Sibugay. With that the ships from Zamboanga to Ipil and Kabasalan lost.

Ozamiz is actually the 4th busiest port in the country in 2018 in terms of passengers handled after Cebu, Batangas and Calapan ports and even ahead of Manila and other great ports. This is actually because of the big volume of passengers aboard the Daima ferries that cross to and from Lanao del Norte. Ozamiz is the shopping, trade and scholastic center of western Lanao del Norte (it is not Iligan City). Additionally, passengers from Lanao del Sur and Maguindanao can use Ozamiz port as there are vans from Kapatagan, Lanao del Norte that go to Cotabato City.

Lately, Ozamiz port even became the entry port of ships imported to the country especially by the Asian Marine Transport Corporation (AMTC). However, one down side I noticed is Manila liners and container ships including Manila companies do not know how to use and support Ozamiz port. With that the dominance of Cebu traders in Ozamiz continues. Can’t goods from Manila be sent direct to Ozamiz instead of going through Cebu? Take a look at the major Manila corporations. They do not have offices like what they have in Cagayan de Oro or Zamboanga City. Well, I know that the common availability of the “white powder” in Ozamis frightened them. Ozamiz port was also limited in size and in the back-up area.

Now there is a threat to Ozamiz port. Dapitan port is gaining in prominence and the rolling cargo loaded there for Dumaguete and Cebu were taken from Ozamiz. The fish that was once shipped from Ozamiz is now trucked through Dapitan. Recently, the Galas port of Dipolog also became a threat to Ozamiz port. Those two ports even handle trucks and passengers on the way to Ipil, the rest of Zamboanga Sibugay and Zamboanga City. Ozamiz port is being outflanked.

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Ozamiz port by Mike Baylon of PSSS.

Whatever, Ozamiz needs to have a forward-looking plan how to bring the city to the next level as trading and distribution center. After all it is cargo that brings in ships. Moreover, the bottleneck of vehicles between Mukas port in Tubod and Ozamis must be addressed and so is the congestion in Ozamiz port. Ozamiz must learn how to conquer the Narciso Ramos Highway in Lanao del Sur because that is not within the reach of the Dapitan and Dipolog ports. The old leadership in Ozamiz with plenty of “parochial” concerns was now toppled by President Duterte. The succeeding leaders should now prove their worth.

Did you know that the leading trading and distribution centers have archbishops particularly those outside Luzon? Well, Ozamiz has an archbishop.

Take a cue from that.

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

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

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The Cotabato Princess by Toshihiko Mikami.

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

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

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

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

Don Julio

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

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

Our Lady of Lipa Folio

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

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

OUR LADY of SACRED HEART

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

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

Dimple 7814 aboard Starlite Annapolis

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

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

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

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

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

The passenger and vehicular ferry Princess of Antique berthed at port of Iloilo City, Panay, Philippines.

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

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

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

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

 

The Problem With The LCTs

In the old days after World War II, the LCTs, then known as “Landing Craft Tank” was the means to transfer vehicles across the islands and our Navy has the biggest number of that and they even have the bigger LSTs (Landing Ship Tank) which has a door covering the ramps while the LCTs have unshrouded ramps. The Navy then did the service of transferring the vehicles and the heavy equipment between the islands and in general for free for after all most of the businesses then were also in the hands of the local powers or their friends.

THE BRITISH ARMY IN THE UNITED KINGDOM 1939-45

A World War II LCT. Source: navsource.org

Along the years, privately-held LCTs started growing in number. It was easy to build, no sophisticated equipment is needed, it is cheap and it is practical with different uses. It can be used to transport goods to practically anywhere and even where there are only  unprepared ports. Loose cargo can easily be loaded and unloaded without the use of cranes or booms as a truck can just board the LCT and dock handlers or peons can manually load or unload the cargo. Plus, the LCT is actually a RORO (Roll On, Roll Off ship) as vehicles or tracked equipment can be loaded or unloaded through its ramp.

Our first short-distance ferry-ROROs carrying passengers, cargo and rolling cargo were actually LCTs. That was when there were still no shirt-distance ROROs (and that arrived only in 1979). The short-distance ferry-ROROs came and came but the LCTs remained in the shipping scene. They were still cheap to acquire and operate and they can be built practically anywhere and even in just an improvised shipyard. The skill level needed to build them was not high and the equipment level needed is low as in the acetylene torch was the most critical tool needed.

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A Maayo LCT by Mike Baylon of PSSS

Along the years, the LCT designation changed to “Landing Craft Transport” to better reflect that it no longer carry tanks as they were really full-pledged transports already. As of now, most of our LCTs are just pure cargo ships carrying anything including the ores of strip mining. However, they can still be found in some routes practically unchanged and being used as passenger-cargo ROROs and probably the premier exponent of that is the Maayo Transport which connects Cebu and Negros islands in the southern part. That company has a pure LCT fleet. Other notable operators are Tris-Star Megalink (although their design have evolved already) which connects Negros and Panay island through the Bacolod-Dumangas route. Starhorse Shipping Lines which started in the Marinduque routes also had LCTs in their start. Lite Ferries which is active in Central Visayas and northern Mindanao also uses many LCT and lately they have been acquiring those from China. Recently, a new shipping company touting the LCT came, the Orange Navigation of Baleno Shipping that has lost half its fleet to maritime accidents and which decided on the cheap LCT as replacement. Island Shipping, meanwhile, disposed of it basic, short-distance ferry-ROROs and cruisers and invested in LCTs built right there in its Hagnaya base, There are also other small operators of passenger-cargo LCTs aside from the six mentioned.

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An Orange Navigation LCT by Jon Erodias of PSSS.

However, there is a problem now with the passenger-cargo LCTs and that is its lack of sophistication which means the passengers have to unnecessarily put it with them. That might be okay in the earlier days when we still lacked short-distance ROROs but times have already changed and so the LCT should also evolve.

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An Island Shipping LCT by Karl Sabuga of PSSS.

LCTs clearly lack passenger space and amenities and it is generally hot because the metal of the superstructure is just too near. They do not have the passageway at the sides of the basic, short-distance ferry-RORO which keeps the sunlight away from the passengers.

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Late-model Lite Ferries LCTs by James Gabriel Verallo of PSSS.

The LCTs are also bugged by lack of speed because of the shape of the hull (they are flat-bottomed) and generally they are underpowered. When the LCT was designed, speed was never one of the considerations. They were just designed to chug along and carry the cargo cheaply to unprepared docking areas. While short-distance ferries will sail at 10-12 knots, LCTs generally sail at 7-8 knots. Passengers have to put up with such deficiencies and for what? The same level of fares and rolling cargo.

I would argue that to be fair, operators of LCTs should charge lower rates, a discounted one. For them to charge the same with lower acquisition and operational costs means all those advantages just accrue to them and none for the passengers and shippers. One cannot say they have a choice because there is such a thing as time slot in shipping (and also two-hour separation in departure times in many ports) and the passengers and shippers would wait for hours just to wait for a better ride. MARINA, the maritime regulatory agency should also take note of this.

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A Tri-Star Megalink ferry evolved from the LCT by Tristan Lirasan by PSSS

I commend the efforts of Tri-Star Megalink’s evolution of their LCTs into ferries already alike that of the basic, short-distance ferry-RORO.  Those are already faster, the bridges were move forward and so the passenger accommodation  were enlarged and an air-conditioned Tourist section is already standard. That’s the way it should be. There should be progress.

Meanwhile, Montenegro Shipping Lines pioneered the use of Korean hybrid LCTs like the Reina Justisya and the Reina Banderada which are fast for an LCT (because the power is higher) and do not have any more the hull of an LCT. Those even have bulbous bows. But the superstructures of those are not yet extended.

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A modernized LCT of Starhorse Shipping Lines. Photo by MJay Muyo of PSSS.

Lately, however, in a good development starting in 2018, Korean-type LCTs with extended superstructure and bulbous bows started arriving in the Philippines. This was represented by the Virgen de Penafrancia IX and Virgen de Penafrancia X of the Starhorse Shipping Lines of Lucena. In the same year, with the acquisition of a shipyard in Lucena, Montenegro Shipping Lines rolled out the new-build Santa Carmelita to be followed by the Santa Soledad, another new-build this year. Not to be outdone, Starhorse Shipping Lines is bringing anytime to the country their new Korean-built Virgen de Penafrancia XI.

On the other hand, the big Lite Ferries of Cebu which is beginning to dominate the short-distance routes in Central Visayas still have the traditional LCTs and lately they have been acquiring surplus and new-build LCTs from China. Lite Ferries also have LCTs just used for cargo including rolling cargo.

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An improved LCT by Montenegro Shipping Lines. Photo by Carl Jakosalem of PSSS.

There is now a new type of ship, the Cargo RORO LCT, the Philippine version of the RORO Cargo ships of Europe but much less sophisticated. They now serve as truck carriers in the busiest short sea crossings in the country and this segment is actually growing fast. A version of this serves as container van carrier from Manila to selected major ports in the Visayas and Mindanao to as far as Davao. In this role, the LCTs deficiency is minimized because what is mainly carried are trucks and its crew which is already used to the harsh realities of the road.

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A Cargo RORO LCT. Photo by Joe Cardenas of PSSS.

I think in due time LCTs should already be phased out in the passenger-cargo trade. Otherwise, the operators should strive to improve them and not just build the same model that was practically unchanged since 1945.

Our passengers deserve better now.

The MV Maria Gloria

The Montenegro Shipping Lines Inc. (MSLI) is a Batangas-based shipping company founded by Vicente Montenegro in 1978 that plied ships between Batangas and Mindoro. During that time the routes to the current MIMAROPA were still dominated by wooden-hulled motor boats or what is called batel  in the region (lancha in other regions). Vicente Montenegro was one of the batel operators then and that was no shame. During that time there were no ROROs yet although there were already some steel-hulled cruisers. Even the Viva Shipping Lines which dominated MIMAROPA shipping later (when that was not a separate region yet) was also still in the age of the motor boats then.

Montenegro Lines started with the boat Malaya but when I came to know them in the 1990s they had three motor boats already, the Don Vicente, the Don Francisco and the Dona Matilde. They were holding then the Batangas City to the Abra de Ilog route. Abra de Ilog was the gateway then to the province of Occidental Mindoro through the Wawa port. During that time the motor boats were already finding it hard to fend off the ever-increasing ROROs of the Viva Shipping Lines. Well, even the other shipping companies in the area which had ROROs already were also finding it hard to compete with Viva Shipping Lines which they all feared.

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Photo by Nowell Alcancia of PSSS.

Maybe reading the writing the writing on the wall that it is already the age of ROROs, Vicente Montenegro acquired a RORO on September 1994 which they named as the Maria Gloria and the ferry was fielded in the Batangas City-Abra de Ilog route. Initially, she was not very successful but Montenegro Lines persisted (as once there is a competitor, Viva Shipping Lines will immediately try a full-court press and they have a RORO in the Abra de Ilog route, the Viva Penafrancia 8 which came from Sweet Lines).

The Maria Gloria was the former Tenyo Maru of the of the Shimabara Tetsudo of Japan which is actually a railway company. She was built in 1967 by the Kanda Shipbuilding Co. in Kure, Japan and she possesses the permanent ID IMO Number 6726668. The lines and superstructure of the ship are what was common in that period in Japan for small ROROs.

Actually, the Maria Gloria is not a basic, short distance ferry-RORO. A half-deck for passengers was constructed here in the bridge deck, something that cannot be done for a basic, short-distance ferry-RORO. However, the poop deck was not extended. While a half-deck was added, the gross tonnage of the ship of 267 tons was less than its 356 gross register tons in Japan. The Registered Length of the ship is only 39.5 meters which is less than its 42.9 meters LOA in Japan and the Breadth shrank from 11.0 meters to 10.95 meters. Maybe this is part of the reason for the decrease in the gross tonnage.

Maria Gloria (tourist section)

Photo by Raymond Lapus of PSSS.

The Maria Gloria only has two of accommodation classes, the air-conditioned Tourist and usual open-air Economy and that is the usual for small, short-distance ferries to which she belongs. The Tourist is located in the forward section of the lower passenger deck and the Economy sections are located to the stern of that and in the bridge deck. The total passenger capacity is 413 persons and her rolling cargo capacity is some 350 lane-meters divided into three lanes.

Maria Gloria (economy section - lower deck)

Photo by Raymond Lapus of PSSS.

This RORO is equipped with two engines (the basic, short-distance ferry-RORO with one deck usually has one engine only) and her two funnels confirm that. Her two Daihatsu engines produce a total of 1,400 horsepower and the ship’s design speed is 11.5 knots. The current speed of the Maria Gloria is not far off that. As a RORO, the Maria Gloria has ramps in the bow and in the stern.

Maria Gloria (economy section 1 - upper deck)

Photo by Raymond Lapus of PSSS

From Abra de Ilog, the Maria Gloria was also assigned to the various routes of Montenegro Lines and it seems the farthest she went from their base in Batangas is her Dumaguete-Siquijor route of which she spent a long time too. But outside of Batangas, the base of Montenegro Lines, few realize she is the first-ever RORO of the company.

The Maria Gloria might be an old ship now (she is already over a half-century old) but she is still a reliable ship because her owner Montenegro Lines spends on the proper maintenance of their ships and in fact, in the company there are also other old ships which still run very well until now. MARINA, the local maritime regulatory agency, instead of threatening phase-out of old ferries should just use proper classification to weed out the unreliable and unsafe ships. Like the Maharlika ferries of before. Those were not too old but many were marked by unreliability for periods of time and even the paint job is not good. In Montenegro Lines, paint seems not to be a problem and that is also true with the Maria Gloria.

Maria Gloria (cargo deck)

Photo by Raymond Lapus of PSSS

The Maria Gloria is already sailing for 25 years (a Silver anniversary this month) now in our waters (will Montenegro Lines be giving a 25% discount aboard her for the month?). Whatever, at the rate she is going, I think the Maria Gloria still has many good years ahead of her and I am confident Montenegro Lines will make sure of that.

 

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

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

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Maasin port by Donna Simon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Masbate-Pio Duran Route and How It Grew

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

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Masbate Port by Mike Baylon of PSSS

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

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

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

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Photo by Mike Baylon of PSSS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Photo by Mike Baylon of PSSS

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

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

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

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

 

 

The Lite Ferry 16

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The Lite Ferry 16 one week before the fire. Photo by Mark Edelson Idulsa Ocul of PSSS.

The other night, on August 27, 2019, the Lite Ferry 16 suffered an engine room fire while in the waters of Dapitan City and nearing already the port of Pulauan. The reference point used was Tag-ulo Point. Pulauan port is located on a J-shaped cove and Tag-ulo Point, some 1.5 nautical miles from the port is where a ship turns from a northward heading to a westward heading if going to Zamboanga from Pulauan like what Zamboanga Ferry used to do then. The remaining question was how far Lite Ferry 16 was that from that point when she lost power.

Witnesses said there was an explosion and electricity was lost just before that. The fire did not engulf the whole ship as it was mainly contained in the engine room but the part of the superstructure over that was affected too and so all the passengers could do was to gather at the forward portion of the ship that is basically an LCT in design which means the forward part have no structure above the car deck. Crowding the area were the various loaded vehicles and so some passengers jumped into the water. The ramp was deployed to increase the area were passengers can gather.

The fire started at 12:30am and three hours have to pass before any rescue came in the form of a FastCat from Dumaguete that was also headed to Pulauan port. There was no Coast Guard ship that arrived and the Coast Guard itself said that their nearest big patrol boat was in Cagayan de Oro which is almost the same distance as Cebu. The passengers complained of it and it has been my wonder for a long time now why the big Coast Guard ships are being used as “floating offices” in the big cities and ports where there are a lot of ships that can help while busy sea lanes where accident can happen have no Coast Guard ships except for very small ones. Like when Maharlika II distressed, the nearest Coast Guard detachment in Benit, San Ricardo, Southern Leyte just had an oar-powered launch. In Pulauan, usually there is no tug there that can assist in case of fire. But I wonder if there were no other ships docked then in Pulauan port that can come to the rescue of the passengers of Lite Ferry 16.

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The Lite Ferry 16 when she was newly-arrived in 2015. Photo by Mike Baylon of PSSS.

The Lite Ferry 16 is not a new ship (well, that kind is still rare in the Philippines). She arrived for Lite Ferries in mid-2015 and she was formerly a Hainan ferry that connected that island-province to the China mainland and she was originally built in 1995. The ferry was refitted in Ouano using Afloat Sea Repair (ASR) and that took nearly a year. The basic structure was preserved although a lot of metal was replaced. They also took out the engines and installed in place of it two brand-new Weichai diesel engines. I am not sure which company really owns her as Lite Ferries have three legal-fiction companies. An early communique said she belonged to Danilo Lines but when I checked the MARINA database of 2017, it said she belonged to Sunline Shipping Corporation.

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The old engine of Lite Ferry 16. Photo by James Gabriel Verallo of PSSS.

The ship was average in size for an overnight ferry at 64.6 meters x 16.0 meters and 992 gross tons but her passenger capacity is not big owing to having an LCT design. For most time, she holds the Samboan, Cebu to Pulauan, Dapitan route, a route pioneered by Lite Ferries which is a direct route from Cebu island to Mindanao that bypasses Dumaguete port in Negros island. The voyage usually takes six hours and she usually leaves Samboan at 7 in the night with a return trip the next morning.

As of now the fire in Lite Ferry 16 is already out and she is floating in Pulauan Bay. Her condition is actually repairable. If they do that, I do not know if they will try to change the superstructure so she will resemble less her former silhouette. She will most likely not head to the breakers as we are too considerate and sentimental of our ships. We actually have ferries that are still sailing that have already seen the bottom of the sea. What happened to Lite Ferry 16 is a minor mishap compared to that.

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Photo by Czed Flores.

However, Lite Ferries should pay more attention to their ships. It was not that long ago that another ship of theirs was also hit by an engine room fire, the Lite Ferry 28. The passengers of that were luckier as the ship was already very near the Taloot port of Argao, Cebu and another ship, the LCT Miami was immediately able to rescue the passengers of Lite Ferry 28. The circumstances of the Lite Ferry 16 and Lite Ferry 28 incidents are eerily similar, an engine room near the end of the voyage.

Now, let us just wait for the formal investigation that will determine what really happened in Lite Ferry 16.

The MV Isla Simara Is Now In San Bernardino Strait

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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