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.

On The Way Back To Cebu (Part 2 of my trip to Batangas and Calapan)

When I realized I’m not gonna make the St. Francis Xavier of 2GO in North Harbor and that I wouldn’t wait anymore for the Super Shuttle RORO 3, I decided I will just go back to Cebu via Bicol, Pilar and Masbate because that route will give me more photos including bus and train photos plus the views along the way. When fellow passengers knew of my plight and plan they suggested to me the Turbina bus stop in Calamba. Well, I could go as far as Cubao if I wanted Manila bus photos but I decided against it because I wanted to take photos of the Bicol Commuter Train in Naga and for that I must arrive early afternoon there as I was just planning an overnight in Naga because I was not really prepared for a long stay (I should have been sailing with the Super Shuttle RORO 3 back and forth and my preparation was for such). In my mind I want to take the Cokaliong ship in Masbate and I wanted a whole day bus and ship spot in Masbate and also to make some interviews.

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View of a recently arrived ferry in Batangas port while waiting for a bus

I asked about the Supreme bus from Batangas to Lucena and funny none of the passengers, van drivers and guards have an idea of the first trip nor of the fare. It seems none of them have taken that ride. I was interested in that ride because I might have been to Ibaan before but I have not also taken it. Its distance will be shorter compared to Turbina and I assume the fare will be lower also. You see I was on a short budget and tours drain money fast.

My next problem was how to go to Batangas Grand Central Terminal. The guard resolved the first part. He pointed to me the ATI shuttle to the outside of the port gate (no one walks around in Batangas port as all are potential terrorists and saboteurs, that is the assumption in ISPS and their restriction is even greater than that of a military camp). I was warned how high is the charge of the tricycle drivers. But I was able to haggle down the P200 that they normally charge to P100). The Grand Terminal was really far. I found out that there was no seamless connection to there unlike when one’s destination is as far as Manila.

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Batangas Grand Central Terminal before dawn

Entering the terminal at 3:02am per the LCD clock of the terminal, I saw the Supreme aircon bus already on the way out. What a timing! I have to take it and forego bus pics as I was not prepared for another hour of a wait. I was charged P94, senior fare, that proved to be lower than my tricycle fare. With a very low volume of passengers I wondered how Supreme could be making money on their early trips which are not few in number. It seems they are among the bus companies that still understand that bus transport is public service. Their buses was the ride of people that needs to move early like vendors and those that have to go to the market early. A lot of the fares charged was only P10, the minimum fare. And to think they have no competition in the route.

I have some regrets being very early because in the dark one cannot see the landscape well. We arrived just past 5am in Arias, the junction of the road leading to Lucena proper and the diversion road. The unlucky thing was a Superlines bus overtook us and it was bound for Daet. I wanted to take the longer route rather than the Quirino Highway route for I have not passed that road for a long time now as buses no longer pass through it.

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Arias junction in Lucena

The jeepney dispatcher in Arias was friendly and helpful and he told me the next bus will be an RMB ordinary bus and he told me the approximate time of arrival. I was mulling a Dalahican port diversion but the dispatcher was not encouraging. He said going out of the port is difficult at that time because there are no arrivals yet from Marinduque and the tricycle fare is very high. Sometimes the fewness of ships in a port convinces me against visiting if I lack the time and I am not really prepared. I just then contented myself with taking of bus shots which I prize because I lack Southern Tagalog bus photos. I also have to manage my Bicol ride because day trips to Bicol comes just one or at best two in an hour.

The RMB bus came and it was taking in short-distance passengers that normally are the passengers of the Raymond bus. I tried to get bus and places pictures although it was difficult as I was not at the front of the bus nor at the side. Then the text of Aris, a PSSS Moderator came in and asked me if I was at the North Harbor. I asked him to check the 2GO schedules earlier. I told him in a few minutes I will be in Atimonan port. I was expecting my answer will discombobulate him, a joke in itself as he did not know I was on the way to Bicol.

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Atimonan port and ships

I was able to get shots of Atimonan port and ships but I missed Siain port because of the trees. Then I saw that LCT at the end of the long coastal road straight before the road turns into the railroad tracks. I failed to get off a shot but I saw there was a makeship yard there and I wondered what they were doing there as it was far from what can be connected to shipping. Afloat ship repair? There were not much vessels in Lamon Bay except for the occasional fishing boats the largest of which is a basnig.

The bus then left Calauag into the hills and there were no more views of ships and of the sea. It was all buses and land views until we reached Mabolo of Naga where there were two fishing vessels. We took a little over 7 hours to reach Naga and that included two meal stops. I just paid P250 for the bus fare for a distance of about 250 kilometers.

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Fishing vessels visible from Mabolo bridge

Upon reaching Bicol Central Station, the Naga bus terminal that has many eateries I ordered kinalas, a kind of mami that is synonimous with Naga. With no rice I ordered Bicol Express and again I remembered Mark, a PSSS Moderator who failed to taste one in Matnog because we immediately boarded the Don Benito Ambrosio II of Sta. Clara Shipping Corporation which was then leaving already. From a short meal, I immediately made my way to the PNR (Philippine National Railways) Naga station to take rail and train photos and to ride the Bicol Commuter Train (BCT) to Sipocot. I did that not only to satisfy myself but also the Aussie rail engineers who once worked with the PNR as AusAid technicians and who are PSSS (Philippine Ship Spotters Society) members too.

I did not move much in the station and in the train. I was tired. I just want the experience of a DMU (Diesel Multiple Unit) train being hauled by a locomotive. The DMU’s power is no longer enough for tractive power and it was only used to power the automatic doors, the fans and the lights. With our rundown railways, such weird contraptions happen. There was an announcement that the BCT will serve Legazpi last February. It did not happen as there were no locomotives available (yes their Board of Directors is that detached from reality). It is VP Robredo who is pushing for that but I think the lady does not understand rails and our rail situation. Internally, the PNR do not want to run the BCT to Legazpi as each run loses. Ever since 55 years ago it has already been proven that the trains cannot compete with the bus on parallel routes much like ferries can’t compete with them too on parallel routes.

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Bicol Commuter Train to Sipocot

From Sipocot I did not transfer to the bus anymore like what I usually do because I was tired and I had just come from a long bus ride and has already passed Sipocot hours before. We arrived in Naga in a heavy thunderstorm that flooded the city and we were marooned in the station. Good I already roamed the station and took shots before my BCT ride. In that thunderstorm before just before dusk there was no way to roam the station nor take any decent shot.

I spent the night in Naga and the next day I was back at the bus terminal to take more shots and to eat pilinut candies. The previous day I was not able to take many as I gave priority to railfanning. With my stay in Naga I was able to top all my batteries again. I resolved I will already leave that night so I will be in time for the Masbate-Cebu Cokaliong ship and my way will be through Pilar and not Pio Duran as I want to see the developments in the Denica Lines fastcrafts there and simply there are more ships in Pilar than in Pio Duran and that includes passenger-cargo motor bancas. In preparation for that I slept from late 5pm to 9pm as the bus to Pilar I was aiming at should be in the 11pm to 12mn range, ideally, as I was targeting the Denica Lines ferry at 3am which I knew will afford me a lying position and sleep as the passengers are not many because they don’t take in buses unlike the Montenegro Lines ship.

A Pilar bus entered the terminal at 10:30pm, the first one to do so. It had the quizzical signboard Pilar/Tabaco/Legazpi. I asked if it was for Pilar and they said “Yes”. I decided to take it. No harm in being 30 minutes early. A good insurance in case of an unlikely flat tire or a need to transfer buses. The bus almost immediately pulled out and I noticed the driver was serious in his driving which is not normally the case once a bus reaches Bicol. Upon reaching Tuburan junction in Ligao I knew the reason for the fast clip. We turned left. So we are on the way to Tabaco first. I checked the time. It was just 11:40pm. I was not worried. There was enough time. I thought better just enjoy the unintended excursion. A way to see Tabaco and Legazpi again.

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Tabaco port

As I expected we entered not the far Tabaco terminal but Tabaco port. I knew there will be passengers for Catanduanes for sure in the bus. Took shots but it was dark and there was rain. I knew the bus will not linger and it did not and after a stop in the city center we were on the way to Legazpi and we reached it at 12:50am.

By 1:40am we were already in Pilar port. We took 3 hours for a 165-kilometer run. I thought if only buses in Mindanao were that fast. I also thought the 80kph limiter devices based on GPS should be thrown to the sea. What is the use of that on a night run where there are few vehicles on the road when time should be gained? How could the Department of Transportation assume that sedan drivers who spend their whole day in the office are better drivers than real professional drivers?

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Denica Lines fastcrafts in Pilar port

The 3am Denica Lines ferry, the Marina Empress, which I like was there alright. With our arrival I still have time to roam the dark port and field questions. I found the Denica fastcrafts were still not ready and are still tied to Pilar port but the refitting of one has already advanced. The motor bancas to various destinations like Monreal and Aroroy were also there plus a Montenegro Lines RORO and fastcrafts. The Hammity cargo motor boat of Denica Lines was also there.

The fares were still the same but I found out that the Regina Calixta-II of Regina Shipping Lines already belongs to Denica Lines and so they have 3 basic, short-distance ferry-ROROs now and so when their fastcrafts are ready they will have a battle royale with Montenegro Shipping Lines Incorporated looming and probably the motor bancas will give them an advantage.

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Regina Calixta-II

I decided against an Aroroy entry to Masbate because the departure of the motor banca was still 5:30am and arriving in Aroroy at 8:30am will mean a 10:30am arrival for me in Masbate which means I will be missing a lot of action compared to a 7am arrival with Marina Empress when most ferries to Masbate has not yet arrived including the slow Filipinas Maasin from Cebu which was expected at 9:30am. I long wanted to reach Aroroy but the negatives are big.

Having arrived ahead of most of the buses which are now mainly carried by Sta. Clara Shipping Corporation and Penafrancia Shipping Corporation, I was able to observe a lot about the patterns. I realized that if I will not shipspot Masbate port then if I take one of the buses from Manila to Cawayan then I will still reach the Island Shipping LCT in Cawayan for Hagnaya in Cebu island.

In going back to Cebu via Masbate I ruled out taking the ROROBus because it leaves Masbate port at 8:30am to take the 12nn Cataingan-Polambato, Bogo ferry of Montenegro Lines. Leaving at that time means I will miss a lot of action in Masbate and I will just spend five hours staring into the sea when there is still a lot of happenings in Masbate port.

If I take the thrice a week Lapu-lapu Shipping night ferry in Cataingan to Cebu City that leaves at 6pm then it means I should already be in Masbate bus/van terminal at about 2pm. By that time 75-80% of the actions in Masbate port will have happened already. Maybe next time I should take that so I can check new developments in the road to there and in the port.

There is also a ferry equivalent to the MSLI ferry in Cawayan but I want to check if it is 100% in the route. But then one has to leave Masbate early also as in about 8am and maybe hitching a ride with an early bus from Manila is the trick but I am not sure if they are faster than the vans. It is not as cheap as the Island Shipping LCT which still has promotional rates.

When I entered the Masbate port terminal building after disembarking from the Marina Empress the beautiful lady guard immediately recognized me. I thought I was in luck because I can roam fully without worrying about my things and I will have full chance to charge my batteries as I drain them. Anyway this time around there were not that many passengers in Masbate port terminal building as they have already learned the Batangas way of sending the passengers to their buses after paying the passenger terminal fee (so what is the purpose of the passenger terminal fee which is actually more expensive than Batangas port and Cebu port)?

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LCT Aldain Dowey

A new addition I saw in Masbate is the Sta. Clara Shipping Corp. LCT, the LCT Aldain Dowey which just takes in trucks. With the fielding of that Sta. Clara Shipping and sister company Penafrancia Shipping has further outstripped Montenegro Lines in the Masbate route in terms of rolling cargo. By the way, I was astounded with their Anthon Raphael when she arrived as she had a dozen buses aboard when she arrived. MSLI has already lost to Sta. Clara Shipping and Penafrancia Shipping in buses as she only carries ROROBuses now save for a lone Elavil bus. Compared to last January, Sta. Clara and Penafrancia have already far outstripped MSLI in rolling cargo.

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Anthon Raphael

The Cokaliong ship Filipinas Maasin showed herself in Masbate Bay at 10am. There were snickers of course because even Asia Indonesia and Asia Japan of Trans-Asia Shipping Lines Inc. did not take that long in reaching Masbate. I thought to myself Cokaliong Shipping Lines Inc. should change the ship assigned there as obviously she does not have enough speed for the route. Maybe she should just stick to the Surigao route which is shorter. The Filipinas Maasin car/cargo deck was full of cargo when she arrived.

This time around I did not go anymore to the Masbate bus/van terminal. I was already tired by 2pm when only one ferry has not left port aside from Filipinas Maasin. That was the last ferry to Bicol, the Jack Daniel. The Regina Calixta-II, the Odyssey and the Marina Empress of Denica Lines has already left and in that order. The Maria Angela and the Maria Sophia of Montenegro Lines have also departed along with their fastcraft and catamarans and two have already returned from Pilar, the City of Angeles and the City of Masbate.

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It also rained hard, another reason I lost taste for the bus/van terminal. I also thought I will be seeing the same buses there I saw days before when I was on the way to Batangas and regarding the motor bancas from there I caught them practically all and if I missed some it will be just a few fishing bancas. I just spent the mid-afternoon looking for a decent meal as I prioritized ship and bus spotting over meals. In January in going for meals I missed some of the actions and I did not want that to happen again. I also want to cover fully the loading and unloading of the buses. There were fewer buses this July compared to January.

When it rained hard and the wind blew I noticed the digital read-out of the time and temperature in Masbate port showed just 27 degrees Centigrade. It was just like having an air conditioner for the whole port. I pitied some of the passengers because the port management lacks care and imagination. They should have let the buses pick up the passengers by the driveway. It’s hard to make one’s way to the ferry in driving rain. Good in that situation the Maria Sophia went back to port when informed that there were bus passengers not yet boarded when their bus was already inside the ship.

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The Kulafu of Rufo Presado from Bulan in Masbate heavy rain

In all these happenings I never saw a port official appear and much more intervene. Oh, maybe, their job is just to sign papers, make memoranda and prepare reports, the typical bureaucratic dance. The porters were even more concerned for the passengers (but of course they will never become port managers).

After nearly completing my charging in the terminal building I hunted for a porter to interview about some history of Masbate port and its ships. By this time the passengers have already boarded Filipinas Maasin and Jack Daniel has already departed and so they’ve go no more thing to do as cargo loading is also finishing and the last passengers will be Masbate City locals and they are usually dropped by the ship’s ramp especially since only P6 is charged for an entering vehicle (while the passenger terminal fee is 5 times of that). In that situation there is practically no more action that I have to cover.

I found one and he has been a porter for over 20 years and his father was also a porter but now retired and is just fishing. He still remembers the liners of the early 1990’s and how Masbate ships evolved from motor bancas and motor boats to ROROs. They earned much more then when cargo handling was basically done manually and the liners still had lots of passengers. I just let him tell the stories that he recall. The only things I interjected were the history of the High Speed Crafts in Masbate and how the Bulan route lost to Pilar.

I realized as he was telling the story that maybe next time I should lessen the picture-taking and listen to stories more. I barely touched on the shipping owners like Rufo Presado and the owner of Lobrigo Lines, both of whom tried fastcrafts also. Aside from Denica Lines they are the biggest motor banca operators in Masbate. And I have not even explored well the complexity of the Masbate motor bancas or even its accidents. Anyway I got a number now. I also gave my source a tip for his time. The interview that took nearly an hour seems to just flew by. I was not able to judge well if my source is worth a PSSS cam. Maybe next time I have to ask my lady guard-friend.

After getting some light baon I boarded the Filipinas Maasin when dark was already threatening. I did not have enough time and interest to take a meal outside. I thought with my tiredness I will just sleep straightaway. But then I got hungry and I patronized the restaurant of the ferry. I found their prices a bit better than other ferries I have ridden.

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I made a light tour of the Filipinas Maasin to see how much changed when I rode her more than a decade ago. The lay-out was still the same. But what I noticed is the flooring. It is similar to what is used in buses and it needs no painting. But basically it is still the same ship. My complaint was they set 4 packaged type air conditioners at 16 degrees Centigrade when the ship was already sailing. They should have set it full blast when the passengers were just boarding. So I tried to tinker with the air conditioners. Otherwise we will all be suffering the whole night.

As usual sleeping did not come easy for me because of my neck condition. In each new sleeping place I have to discover what will suit it. I resolved my more complete tour of the ship will be in the morning when I can assess the ship better and my shots will be better. It is not scheduled to reach Cebu early anyway.

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Porter’s Marina

When I woke up I think we were just astride Catmon, Cebu and so I went back to sleep. The problem is when I woke up again I have already missed Danao City and its port and ships. I saw we were already nearing Liloan and Porter’s Marina. There was light rain and no good sun and I thought Tayud and Cansaga Bay shots will be problematic. It proved true even if the rain abated a little and the chance of having a good shot of ships in the Tayud yards was gone. I have to content myself with the anchored ships off it.

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Maica 2

Then I have to scramble for the ships in the Cebu Yacht Club. While taking shots of it a fastcraft overtook us and made a 180-degree turn into a dock in Mactan Island that I have not noticed much before. It was a little south of the Cebu Yacht Club. What I discovered was the new Maica 2 of Jomalia Shipping. It resembles the Oceanjet 15 of the Ocean Fast Ferries. I was able to take a lot of photos of her.

I have to hie off next to starboard as the Ouano ships including the new Trans-Asia 1 and the former Bao Dao ships will be coming into view. After that it was more or less a ride already like with Metro Ferry up to Pier 3. After that comes Pier 1 and its ships that cannot be covered from Metro Ferry. I saw a fastcraft coming on our port side and didn’t think much of it. Then it rounded our stern going into Pier 1 and then I realized she was the Oceanjet 288 of which PSSS has no photo yet of. Watta luck!

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Because it was a Sunday there were few ships in Cokaliong wharf. We arrived earlier than expected because the ship sped up because supposedly she will still be going to Palompon at noon and they still have to unload and load cargo. I was wondering how they can do it in 3 hours. Well, there are a lot of Cokaliong forklifts in the port.

My decision to take the Cokaliong ship from Masbate proved to be correct although that meant just one day of stay in Bicol. I had a full day in Masbate which was not possible if I took the Super Shuttle RORO 3 again which arrived on the previous night that I was already in Pilar. That means like what the crew said they usually stay 3 days in Batangas. And arriving at night in Masbate means no Masbate ship spotting which defeats one of my purpose. And they probably left Batangas at midnight so that was also next to useless in ship spotting.

With the Cokaliong ship I had good ship spotting from Porters Marina up to Pier 1. That was not possible with the Super Shuttle RORO 3 as it goes Around Mactan island and not under the Mactan bridges. And definitely Filipinas Maasin is a real passenger ship and notches ahead of Super Shuttle RORO 3 in comfort and amenities.

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End of my journey

Of course going via Bicol means my expenses were way higher than what I expected. But I hope more photos of ships, buses and train is enough compensation. Spotting long-distance is not really cheap. I have now more photos for PSSS, Shippax, Fleetmon and Lindsay Bridge.

Hope I can do it again!

My Recent Trip to Masbate, Batangas, Mindoro and Bicol (Part 1)

I promised myself before that if I am in Cebu and if the Super Shuttle RORO 3 (SSR3) of Asian Marine Transport Corp. (AMTC) is running then I will take her to Batangas and that ship calls on Masbate on the way to there. I already inquired about her in AMTC Ouano last Sinulog but she was not running continuously yet then. She is my choice as she is the only direct trip to Batangas and she is the cheapest way to there. I also intended to take her on my way back to Cebu after I go on a short visit to Mindoro.

We thought she was just running recently but I found out she was already in the route since March but her schedule is irregular as it is already the cargo that determines when she leaves port making her more of a cargo-passenger ship or a RORO Cargo ship.

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When I verified she was sailing, I tried to get a ticket in their Gorordo office in Cebu but they were no longer issuing tickets there and so I just got one when I went to AMTC Ouano where she is docked. We left on a Monday midnight but actually I nearly left the ship even though I already had a ticket because upon boarding I found out many of her comforts were already gone when to think she wasn’t really a very comfortable ship to start with.

Gone already was the restaurant and the aircon sitting accommodation called “Theater”. Both were already closed. Of course the Tourist was never opened for since the very start SSR3 didn’t have enough passengers. Although I paid for the cheaper Seating accommodation in “Theater” they bumped me into the more uncomfortable Economy.

The Economy was the same and the mattresses are folded and the reason is to cut down on the dust settling in. But then it was still dusty as nobody takes care to clean them anymore and AMTC Ouano is dusty since the concrete has already turned into muck and the dust floating even diffracts my shots. The toilet and bath is also deteriorated too and less than clean (and its flies even go to the Economy section). The Economy is also hot even then but I found out the noise and vibration from the propeller shaft has lessened. There was no linen available. The Economy is basically for truck crews now and the passenger total was less than five.

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The only place to while away time in SSR3 where there is air. On the kiosk on the right some food is available. Getting hungry is a possibility in the ship. The seats are dusty.

For meals there is rice and the service crew of the kiosk in the bridge level will cook canned food in a single-burner stove when ordered and eggs are available plus drinks, biscuits and noodles. Even that kiosk is also deteriorated too and the seats are dusty. In the ship there were more apprentices than passengers and truck/vehicle crews (there was one pick-up in the load). But what they had were apprentices that do not know how to clean a ship.

My condition demands more comfort than the average person and I feared I won’t be able to sleep. I suffered in the trip but I tried the best I can to survive. But I cannot remember the last time I rode a more uncomfortable ship that has a reclining accommodation. Even the unimproved Lapu-lapu Ferry of more than ten years ago to Cataingan, Masbate with folding cots was more comfortable because it was airy and there was passenger service unlike in SSR3. In SSR3 I never saw a crewman in uniform and most of the persons doing some jobs were just apprentices. Now I wonder what they will learn after their apprenticeship expires when they don’t even tend to the ship and the passengers.

When I woke up in the morning we were still in the middle of Visayan Sea and it was the Samar Sea islands that were dominating the seascape. I knew there is just a small chance of a ship encounter as this place has few ships sailing at daytime. It is a long time before the islands seemed to move and the very few passengers and crewmen at the lounge by the kiosk don’t know them better than me. Until we passed by Cataingan Bay the Masbate land when we were astride it already seemed featureless. I just tried to view the islands in the east especially when we were approaching Naranjo islands. Yeah, with so many islands in the place and lots of fishes I was imagining the place as the birthplace of the Tausugs and the Badjaos which linguistic research says it is and they even have a descendant in the place, the Abaknons.

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Islands in Samar Sea

Until the ship reaches the Uson area with its offshore islands Masbate island is not exciting to watch passing by. Maybe the lack of a true mountain range is the reason and though there is a coastal road few developments are visible. It is the islands on the starboard of the ship that seems to provide variety. And I was peering into it as if I am trying to peer into history and the peoples of the area. I feel that what is called Masbateno now could be the mother language of many languages. If our people came from Formosa and Bicol is their landing place on the way south and Bicol with its many dialects is a Visayan language then Masbate and the islands in Samar Sea might have been the key to the diaspora south.

The Uson area of Masbate also has a fascination to me as that was the only place in Masbate island that the Spaniards was able to control and the rest was controlled by the Moros. In Uson the Spaniards was able to established a galleon-building yard and the area south of the Bicol mountain ranges hosted the bulk of the galleon-building yards of the past as it had the best shipwrights then. I cannot help but think of that when I pass the place. By the way after Uson the ship will sail astride Ticao island too which was very important then to the galleon trade.

As forecast soon we were enveloped in heavy rain and visibility was hampered. The positive thing is everything cooled. It was a reminder that it was already habagat (southwest monsoon) season. We were now leaving the area where there is a gap in the far land mass. To the knowledgeable they know it is the San Bernardino Strait, the way of the galleons in the past into the Pacific Ocean (which is anything but pacific). It was also the way of our seafaring ancestors to Formosa and China, the Pintados with their boats that are even longer than the galleons. Their shipbuilding stopped when the Spaniards issued an edict outlawing them because they needed their skills for the galleons.

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Masbate port. We will try to dock sideways between the two ferries.

We arrived in Masbate after more than 14 hours of sailing and we had a long time docking because the Captain tried a 45-degree docking. Maybe the linear space was not enough for sideways docking. But then the Sta. Clara ferry Jack Daniel suddenly left ahead of time and maybe her Captain was apprehensive of our docking maneuver and she was not waiting for any more vehicles anyway. But with that the last chance I can take pictures of buses in Masbate port was gone. Regarding ferries there were still two Montenegro Shipping Lines Inc. (MSLI) High Speed Crafts plus a small RORO of them that will spend the night in port.

I then just made my way to Masbate bus terminal where I found four buses and a few motor bancas in the nearby boat landing area for most have already left as it was already 4 o’clock in the afternoon and the activities in the two Masbate ports was already dying. I was clearly dissatisfied with my Masbate ship and bus spotting. My only consolation was eating the Reuben burger of Bigg’s Masbate but it cost over P200 already. I try to eat in Bigg’s whenever I am in Bicol because they can’t be found outside the region except for two of their outlets.

We left Masbate after more than three hours when night had already fallen after taking in livestock trucks and that meant cattle, carabao and goat (thanks there were no hogs). Masbate is known for livestock and the cattle was obviously for fattening. It was headed for Batangas and I assume when it reaches the market it will already be “Batangas beef”. The car deck of SSR3 when we left Masbate and actually they did not fully load it in Mandaue so the cargo in Masbate can still be loaded.

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For conversion to “Batangas cattle”

After dinnertime (there was actually no dinner), I was able to find a truck crewman that knows the area and like me has been around the country as he drifted from one job into another beginning with fishing. In terms of knowledge of the sea the contract fishermen in the big fishing fleets have almost the same knowledge as the seaman. Amazingly, he also knows buses. He has already lived in many places. We talked even past the Aroroy headland and lighthouse.

I was able to find a more comfortable position on an upper deck which I normally won’t take because of my condition but the only breeze was there. The alternative is to sleep on a bench in the bridge deck by the canteen. Even there it was dusty but at least it was airy. A practical passenger actually slept there and I also spent time there after a hypoglycemic attack when I needed to cool down.

In terms of uncleanliness I do not know if SSR3 has descended to the level of Viva Shipping Lines. Sorry to say it and no offense meant but SSR3 is only good for truck crews whixh is a hardy bunch and not passengers and may this serve as a warning. Cleaning is not part of the routine of the crew and the apprentices. If there is no regular schedule then MARINA could just withhold the passenger license like with what they did with Gothong Lines. It won’t matter on the part of AMTC anyway because for all practical purposes SSR3 is just a RORO Cargo ship now and she gets full anyway according to what I heard.

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Marinduque behind

When I woke up in the morning we were just between Marinduque island and the Batangas headland which corresponds to the town of San Juan. I laughed because that route will make one feel what the view is if the Starhorse ferry was still sailing the San Juan to Marinduque route. Astride San Juan the plains of Naujan of Mindoro, the former developed area of Mindoro before Calapan was very visible along with the two tall mountains of Mindoro. Up ahead were the islands in the Verde Island Passage. But I was wondering why our ship was following the coastal route. Were we reclassified into a “coaster”?

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Mindoro up ahead

I was able to engage in some productive exchanges with people connected with AMTC before entering Batangas Bay. From Matuco Point I was already busy taking photos of ships. The only positive thing about SSR3 was I was able to charge all my batteries. As usual there were a lot of ships in Batangas port and in the bay. Maybe my most notable finding was the reappearance of the former Siquijor Island II which is now The Pegasus. Our trip from Masbate lasted over 16 hours and it was near lunch when we arrived.

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Batangas port

Disembarking from the ship the ATI (Asian Terminals Inc.) shuttle picked us up. Nobody walks around in Batangas port because ISPS tells them any passenger is a possible saboteur and ATI is the new operator. I really cannot understand this practice of government of handing over fully-developed ports with a lot of traffic to private operators for just a small rental when a port like Batangas costs in the billions. A chance to engage in “golden signatures”, perhaps?

I did not have much time in Batangas port because upon surveying the ticketing booths I noticed the Starlite Pioneer was leaving at 1pm and I wanted to take that to assess the design of the new ship series of Starlite Ferries. I did not even have enough time to take enough bus pictures or have a proper lunch. But one thing I noticed in Starlite Ferries is a lot of passengers have food in see-through plastic meal boxes. I found out later that was already the new way of selling meals in Batangas and Calapan. Neat and practical and the price just matches that of fast food chains and there is less garbage and mess in the ship.

I found out the new Starlite Ferries has no meaningful difference over the older ferries except the side passageways are wider and there was an elevator for disabled persons. A wing passenger ramp like in Cebu is a better improvement for Batangas ferries because what they do is hold the passengers so that the vehicles can load or unload first. A wing ramp will enable simultaneous passenger and cargo loading and unloading which the Batangas ferries can’t do unlike in Central Visayas.

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By the way the passenger bridges of Batangas port are no longer used as shuttles just whisk away the passengers to their ship. So the design was wrong? Well, one does not need to go to the second floor of the passenger terminal building anymore and then go down to wharf level near the ship. Bus passengers meanwhile has to go down to pay the passenger terminal fee and board again their bus up to the ferry. Well it seems “cattle-herding” won’t go anytime soon in the ISPS ports. Why can’t the port assign collectors to go up the buses? It seems passenger comfort is an unknown objective to them. If passengers can move their asses so should they can for they are paid after. Maybe they can recruit former bus conductors to do that job for them.

Starlite Ferries built an open-air Economy section on top of the Japan-built passenger section to increase passenger capacity much like what shipping companies do with the surplus ships from Japan. It should have been my accommodation but the good thing is they upgraded us to the aircon section. That was a nice facility to cool down when ship spotting. My senior citizen fare was only P171 and I wondered how they computed that since it was lower than what I expected. Their fare are like the Economy of Oceanjet and FastCat which is about equivalent to the Economy of MSLI and I heard MSLI is suffering as a result. It is really good if there is true competition as fares go down.

It is nice taking a ferry to Calapan as there are many ships anchored in Batangas Bay and there are also encounters with ships from Calapan and ships traversing the Verde Island Passage. Sabang of Puerto Galera also becomes visible along with Maricaban island and Verde island. Traversing the strait one might think it was not habagat yet as the sea shows no sign of it. Approaching Calapan one has view of the town (it is a city), the settlements to the port and the port itself which looks very long now with many buildings already.

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A part of Calapan port

We arrived in Calapan port at past 3pm. Starlite Pioneer was not able to deliver on their 1 hour 45 minute promised crossing time and we took two hours in the 24-nautical mile route. I thought the cruising speed of the ship was 14.5 knots? That is what they advertised. But anyway the crew was nice and I was able to charge batteries a little. And riding a new ship is always nice.

Upon arrival in Calapan, I realized I had no time anymore to go to Puerto Galera because if I do so I will arrive there when the sun is already setting down and I still wanted to roam Calapan port and take photos of ships and buses there if there are any around (there was none as it was still to early for the buses from Panay and Occidental Mindoro). I was also interested in the Mindoro jeeps which are actually trucks in disguise as they can’t be found anywhere else.

After finding an eatery where I was able to charge battery I went to Calapan market to visit old haunts (I did business in Mindoro before) and see what changed, what remained. When I visited Calapan three years ago with two PSSS Moderators as hosts I was not able to figure out well the market as we were more on the outskirts and the new developments in Calapan. Roaming the market, I just did it on foot to better absorb things. I already tried to find our old place. I can no longer find it. The place of a lady Chinese friend was shuttered already. And the legendary Ampo was no longer there too.

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Calapan public market and terminal

Before leaving the city I took my first food that can be called a meal. That was also my rest. Then a heavy rain fell and that precluded any more roaming or getting around. Getting a tricycle also got difficult. It was already a little dark when I arrived back in the port and roaming and taking shots were compromised. I got back to the eatery to retrieve my battery. I was able to interview the owner a little about the old ferries of Calapan when all were still wooden-hulled and moving cargo were all mano-mano (by hands).

In Calapan port I made calls and verification through others of my possible rides. I have the phone of AMTC Batangas but they were not answering calls. They had a notice in their ticketing office that boarding of SSR3 is 6pm the next day. If that is the case then I can while away the time in Batangas port, the city and the terminal (or go to Puerto Galera). But I was warned aboard the ship that it usually takes 3 days before SSR3 heads back to Cebu. Even the crewman aboard SSR3 was not taking my calls.

My alternative if it really that long was to take the 7am St. Francis Xavier of 2GO the next day in the North Harbor of Manila. It will cost me more but I can cover North Harbor again. But I anticipated a problem with the 2GO ship. All charging are charged there at P5 for 10 minutes. It will cost me a fortune to charge all my batteries which take a total of over 12 hours. And that is what I cannot understand about 2GO when the likes of Trans-Asia can offer free charging by the bunk and that is also what I found out about the refurbished Filipinas Maasin of Cokaliong which was my ship back to Cebu. It’s hard when there are stockholders to please like in 2GO. They always expect dividends from profits.

I tried to avoid an early Calapan departure because I know there are less passenger comforts in Batangas port than in Calapan port. The first one is an ISPS port in the fullest sense and the passengers have a very small “corral” to roam around with few “grazing” areas like stores. That is not a problem in Calapan. If needed I can take a tricycle and head back to the city if I want a better eat or surroundings. If I go early there is no sense arriving in Manila at 2am. Manila is more dangerous and going to North Harbor early is also no good as the terminal is not open much ahead of the departure time (why waste power?).

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Issuance of free ferry tickets for bus passengers in Calapan port

So I decided on an 11pm FastCat where I can have a nice rest. I declined the Starlite ferry at the same time because it is the older Starlite Jupiter. I am not sure if it has individual seats in an air-conditioned compartment and visually I dislike seeing people sleeping on seats (Batangas ferries are known for scrimping on bunks unlike in Cebu). If it was a new Starlite ferry that is different from the Starlite Pioneer I would have taken it because I need charging.

While waiting in Calapan port I was able to befriend two guards and I had a lively conversation with them that I was able to get more sense of Calapan-Batangas shipping now. We also had some talks of the past of Mindoro. Nothing beats a good talk when one is just waiting anyway. While i was talking to them the buses from Panay island and Occidental Mindoro kept arriving and after a short wait they board their ferries. Dimple Star is already the dominant bus in the routes that cross from Batangas going south.

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The FastCat and the Starlite Jupiter arrived one after the other in Batangas after leaving one after the other in Calapan. Are the new ferries limiting their speeds already to save on fuel? We took nearly two hours to Calapan. My FastCat was the M5 and I have not ridden it before like the Starlite Jupiter. Their fares are about the same but I got the feeling the FastCat is more comfortable as it is a new ferry.

When I arrived in Batangas port at 1 am there was only one bus available, an N. De la Rosa Transit which is a Cubao/Kamias bus and passes through the Cubao underpass. I didn’t like it. I don’t want to go down in Makati and so I waited. But there was no other bus because a 2GO ship arrived ahead of us and vacuumed the waiting buses. At that hour going to the Batangas Grand Terminal will cost money by tricycle. Yes, one can get marooned in Batangas port after midnight.

Until 3am arrived. The N. De la Rosa bus has not yet left. Seems it was waiting for the 1am ferries from Calapan. 3am is the critical hour for me. If my bus is not leaving by that time then there is no more point going after a 7am ferry in North Harbor as I might just miss it. Good i hedged my bet and didn’t get a 2GO ticket yet although their ticketing office was open.

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A view of Batangas port while waiting for a bus

And from there my plans changed in an instant. Good I was from Luzon and I know the other alternatives. I can’t wait for the other 2GO ferries in North Harbor as the next two departures are at night and the arrival in Cebu will also be at night and what is the use of that for ship spotting? It is also not a good alternative to wait for the SSR3 for 3 days. I was also not prepared for any long-ranging diversion in terms of days as I was not prepared for that in many ways.

I have to go some other way back….

(To be continued…)

The Leyte-Surigao Crossing Is Heating Up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Benit port and MSLI ferry

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

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

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Photo from Scoopnest.com

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

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

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

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

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Verano Port of Surigao City

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

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

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

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

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

My Recent Trip To Hagnaya

I promised myself that when I come back to Cebu I will visit Hagnaya again and try to find the shipyards that I was not able to reach last January. I also promised myself  that I will go via the San Remigio-Tabuelan route which I failed to find last time because of a misinformation. And that exactly what I intended to do when I set out.

To be sure I will be able to pass the Tabuelan-San Remigio road, I intended to take the Inday Memie bus that has a route to Tabuelan and Maravilla or even beyond like Lambusan. I was early at Cebu North Bus Terminal at before 5:30am but I found out the first Inday Memie bus was still at 7am. I was worried about the lost time and thought about taking a direct route to Hagnaya via Bogo especially with a Cebu Auto Bus parked which I desired to ride but I feared what happened last time. I don’t want trying to find a mid-afternoon ride to Tabuelan and worrying if all the connecting rides will work out fine.

And so I waited for the Inday Memie bus while at the same time weighing if I will continue the trip as I was not feeling very well. But a dose of Mountain Dew cured my ailment and I already knew what it was. When the bus took its parking place I took the front seat for maximum observation. It was a slow bus in early going trying to find passengers but I didn’t really mind. It even passed by a meal stop. After three hours we were already in Tabuelan but I did not go down the bus to visit Tabuelan port. There are other members that cover that port and if I visit it is likely I will only find a solitary Tristar Megalink ship there and I will probably lose an hour which is better spent trying to find the Hagnaya shipyards and fish landing areas.

But I did not realize I was on the wrong side of the bus because a kilometer after Tabuelan town Tabuelan Bay came into view with its two ports, the old Tabuelan port and the new wharf for Goldenstar Shipping that lies on the other side of the bay. With the right place and timing shots can be taken from a bus if there is an ultrazoom lens. Since I was not ready I was not able to distinguish much if there are ships there. But I espied that the half-sunk fastcraft of Aznar Shipping was still there. On a next ship spotting the shortcut is to take a tricycle to that vantage point and prepare a long lens and the best will be to take the earlier Tabuelan/Tuburan bus of Ceres Liner.

We were then on the way to San Remigio and I have to be dropped on a point where there is already a jeep to San Remigio. Alternatively if the Inday Memie bus is for Lambusan then there will already be Ceres buses on the way to San Remigio. The jeep was very slow as it was always looking for passengers. Again I did not really mind. No use being upset by what are actually local conditions. Best thing is to really just have a lot of time.

I realized the Tabuelan-San Remigio road is not really a coastal road. On most parts of the road there is no view of the coast and of the sea. What I found out was there was a lot of mangrove ponds and I began to understand why Haganaya is historically associated with fishing (ditto for Daanbantayan and Bogo which also have a lot of mangrove ponds).

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I reached Hagnaya junction after more than 5 hours of travel and I then transferred to a tricycle to Hagnaya port. It was already 11:38am when I reached it and first thing I did was to look for food as I did not really have breakfast. I also used that rest to ask around and let the light rain pass. After the meal I had a quick tour of Hagnaya port so I can have two tours of it while I am there.

I was informed the farthest shipyard was in Punta which is already beyond Hagnaya and the conveyance there is a motorcycle or habal-habal in local parlance. Not really cheap as it is some three kilometers away but I had it rented so I can save time and energy. We reached Punta alright and it was true that only LCTs are built there and not fishing vessels like in the other shipyards of Hagnaya.

I found out the owner of the yard is also the owner of Island Shipping Corp. There is an LCT being built there and the name is LCT Island Ventures III. Its completion is estimated to be November of 2017. It is powered by Weichai engines from Dynamic Power in Mandaue, a facility the PSSS (Philippine Ship Spotters Society) was able to visit in 2015 through an arrangement made by Capt . John Andrew Lape, a PSSS (Philippine Ship Spotters Society) member.

It is the place where the LCTs of Island Shipping Corp. are built or refitted. The first two LCTs was just refitted there and the hulls came elsewhere. However, the more recent LCTs of Island Shipping Corp. have already been built there.

Interviewing the Island Shipping engineer, I learned the cruiser ferries of Island Shipping have already been sold and the only remaining one is the Super Island Express II, their former Cebu-Tubigon ferry which is now plying the Tangil-Dumanjug route via the Bolado port. And that lays to rest the question why the Island Shipping cruisers can no longer be seen in Hagnaya.

With the rented motorcycle I visited the ports of Hagnaya especially those I was not able to reach last January. My driver is a former employee of Mr. Alexander Tan, the owner of Island Shipping. He clarified he is not a mariner but a cook decades back when Mr. Alexander Tan was not yet into shipping but in the trading business and motor bancas are used to transport goods until Mr. Tan entered the shipping industry.

I asked my driver how many shipyards are there in San Remigio and he answered five and I countered there must be near ten. It surfaced that they count not by yards but by ownership and related ownership. If two nearby yards have related owners they only count it as one. All the other shipyards of Hagnaya build just fishing vessels. They have a curious term for the fishing vessels that venture far. They call it “shipper”. The yards double as fish landing areas because it is forbidden to land fish in Hagnaya port and Hagnaya has no fishport. Imagine Hagnaya which is practically the fishing capital of northern Cebu island and very near the Visayan Sea having no fishport. I really wonder how our government decides where fishports should go as there are fishports in areas with marginal fishing.

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In a yard I was visiting I was lucky to cover the departure of Super Shuttle Ferry 23 while at the same time the Island RORO I was passing by. But I was in a little hurry to finish my ship spotting of the fishing vessels and fish landing areas of Hagnaya. That is really the problem of long-distance ship spotting – more time is spent traveling. I want to finish before 2pm because after that all the departures of the buses in Hagnaya port is only when a ferry arrives from Bantayan island and the next trip will be 3pm already. With that departure and the slow buses of Cebu island I won’t be able to cover any other port anymore.

There are yards I did not try to enter anymore and just tried to cover their ships from the adjacent yards. But the negatives are I don’t have a good angle at times and I am not able to make short interviews or observe what kind of fish is being unloaded if I was not too late for that. But I also was able to visit the wharf near Hagnaya port which is a fish landing area too and which has a big motor banca for an island between Bantayan island and Negros island and I was able to cover her departure.

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Back in Hagnaya port I did not try to board the ferries anymore as I was intent on being able to make the 2pm bus. However, I was still able to field queries especially about the Hagnaya-Cawayan (Masbate) LCT of Island Shipping. This time around I saw it is a possible way for me to reach Naga without being forced in an overnight stay in Masbate City if the LCT will arrive in Cawayan at 1pm and the last trip from Masbate to Pio Duran is 4pm. A little iffy but possible if the van is fast and the ferry in Masbate does not leave earlier than her ETD.

At 1:35pm I was already done. It took me nearly two hours to finish my ship spotting and it was really a rush kind with no time lost anywhere. I was able to make the 2pm bus and used it as a respite. I was still able to get a shot of the departure of LCT Island Ventures II which I was not able to anticipate but with me inside the bus I did not notice the arrival of the Super Shuttle Ferry 26 of the Asian Marine Transport Corp. (AMTC), the main and only rival of Island Shipping Corp. I was just able to get a shot of her when the bus was already leaving the port. Oh, well, one can’t have it all.

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In Hagnaya port, I also noticed the wrecked fishing vessels in Hagnaya are already gone and only one remained. I was able to find they are now in one of the shipyards which I visited and it is obvious that they will be refitted. Well, we don’t really break ships if they are still salvageable.

Our Sugbo Transit Express bus was oh so really slow. As I said before if a bus carries the name “Express” it is surely a slow bus. With that speed I nearly had trouble making Carmen port before the light was already fading especially we had a meal stop before Carmen town where our driver and conductor really had a meal at just past 4pm when to think at lunchtime they were in Hagnaya. Maybe no discount is offered for them in Hagnaya and they fear getting hungry in CNBT.

I again hired a motorcyle to save on time and energy and I reached Carmen port at 4:35pm and that was nearly three hours after we left Hagnaya at 1:45pm. And I found out that the gate was locked and there is a guard who told me outsiders can no longer enter. He asked my purpose and I told him I want to take pictures of the ships there and he told me that is also forbidden. Now when some guards tell me it is forbidden to take pictures that always raises my goat. I asked him if I can take pictures of the truck. Now he sensed I was leading him into an absurd situation. Then I told him one can enter a military or police camp by leaving an ID card and stating the purpose and that he knows that. I then asked him if that lousy port is more security-conscious than a military camp. He then let me in. Sometimes what is just needed is just to bamboozle and intimidate the guards and lead them into absurd answers. Even before taking pictures I already told the guard to tell his higher-ups that they are crazy (sira-ulo). On the way out, I thanked him of course.

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The Cebu Sea Charterers LCTs were no longer there and just a tanker and tug were around plus the usual pleasure boats but there was a CSC road tanker and I asked it crew about their LCTs there. There were two in the route to Leyte and departures are 12mn and 12nn and I was early for the arrival from Leyte.

I was able to board a 5pm bus and there was still enough light when we passed Danao port and I was able to get shots from our moving bus like when I passed there in the morning. My trip home by bus from Carmen was much faster although there is traffic because I was not riding a Ceres bus and I did not have to go down in CNBT because our bus still continues to CST and beyond. I reached USC after just a little over two hours and I was home by dinner time and not that tired because the motorbikes save me a lot of energy.

The whole trip cost me more than 14 hours. Such is the cost of long-distance ship spotting.

The MV Jack Daniel

Two years ago, in 2015, when the Philippine Ship Spotters Society (PSSS) had a tour of Cansaga, the group espied a beautiful white ship with red funnels being refitted in Nagasaka Shipyard, the former Villono Shipyard in the Tayud row of shipyards in Cebu. We were able to gain entry to the shipyard which happened to be the most hospitable in that row then. Drawing nearer, we saw the name of her former company, the Olive Line of Japan and we learned she was destined for the Sta. Clara Shipping Company, the biggest shipping company of Bicol.

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We were impressed with the ship because she was modern-looking and sleek too. A quick check with maritime databases revealed she was the former MV Azuki Maru and the ship was built by Fujiwara Zosensho in 1990 and she carries the ID IMO 8848604.

A query in the shipyard said she will not be modified much and she will sail very soon. But we later learned one passenger deck was added to the ship which is very usual in the Philippines to increase passenger capacity. I actually half-expected that since I know Sta. Clara Shipping carries a lot of buses and in such cases the ship will need a high passenger capacity. Just loading six to eight buses which is normal in Bicol might already mean a total of 300 to 400 passengers in the peak seasons.

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I later learned from her Captain that she was taken out from Nagasaka Shipyard and her finishing works like painting were just done in Pantao port, a “port to nowhere” in the southern coast of Albay beyond the southern mountain range which is actually the official regional port of the Bicol Region but where no ships dock. It was done to save on costs as that will mean paying up just the normal docking fees.

The MV Jack Daniel is a medium-sized RORO ferry by Philippine standards and big for a short-distance route. All routes of Sta. Clara Shipping are short which means the transit time is only one to three hours. This ferry has ramps at the bow and at the stern leading to her single car deck and she has two passenger decks. The ship is equipped with the modern bulbous stem and her stern is transom.

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The external measurements of the ship is 65.0 meters by 14.0 meters and her Depth is 3.7 meters. Locally, her Gross Tonnage (GT) declined from the 965 in Japan to 795 which is a probable underdeclaration. Her declared Net Tonnage (NT) is 541 (and her ratio to the GT of 795 is unusual). MV Jack Daniel’s Deadweight Tonnage (DWT), the measure of loading capacity is 252 tons.

Locally, the ship’s Call Sign is DUF2109 and her MMSI Number is 431000381. She is equipped with twin Niigata engines with 4,300 horsepower on tap and her design speed is 17 knots. For her size, she has the most powerful engines in the country and she has the highest design speed. Tracked in AIS (Automatic Identification System), she is still running at 13-13.5 knots which means a transit time of 3 hours in her current Masbate-Pio Duran route and this is important as she is the ship that is last to depart from Masbate at 4pm on every other trip.

The ship has a wonderful and aesthetically very pleasant air-conditioned lounge with comfy sofas that is used as the Tourist Class. This is also important in the route for those who want to be relaxed before riding again the bus (as most of her passengers are bus passengers). The Tourist Class of the ship is also equipped with Japan original seats with tables and there is plenty of roaming space in that accommodation. And big windows make observance of the seascape easy.

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The Economy Class of the ship consists of the usual fiberglass seats in the short-distance routes in the country. This is located in the upper passenger deck, the deck that was added in Nagasaka Shipyard and located at bridge level. The passenger capacity of MV Jack Daniel is 492.

I have been to the bridge of this ship and it looks modern. In general the ship is still clean and tidy. The car deck has four lanes and it has about 750 lane-meters. Trucks, buses and sedans plus a few motorcycles are the usual rolling cargo of MV Jack Daniel. And as usual in short-distance routes there is that basic canteen selling drinks, instant noodles and biscuits which are just meant as snacks and not as meals.

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The MV Jack Daniel has the unique feature in that the roof of the box-like structure at the bow of the ship can be raised hydraulically and it is automatically raised when docked. So there is no problem that a high truck or bus will scrape that roof when the tide is low.

For a long time now the MV Jack Daniel is sailing the Masbate-Pio Duran route linking Masbate province and Albay and a route for buses, trucks and cars from Masbate to Manila and vice-versa. She is fit there as her comfort and speed can’t be enjoyed enough in the short Matnog-Allen route across San Bernardino Strait. Alternatively, she is also fit in the Liloan-Surigao route of the company which is approximately equal in distance and sailing time to the Masbate-Pio Duran route.

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As of today the MV Jack Daniel is the best ship of Sta. Clara Shipping and also the fastest. She also have those distinctions in the Masbate to Bicol mainland routes that includes the Masbate-Pilar route. The ship is known to have good load in her route which has always been going up since it was created a few years ago.

The MV Jack Daniel is the pride of Sta. Clara Shipping. She has reason to be.

The Orange Ferry Sister Ships That Came To The Philippines

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

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

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

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

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Photo by Edison Sy

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

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

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Reina del Cielo by Nowell Alcancia

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

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

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Super Shuttle Ferry 18 by Masahiro Homma

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chelsea Shipping Is The New Goliath of Philippine Shipping

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The Chelsea Dominance. The declaration of intent?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is there a renaissance of Philippine shipping in the horizon?

The Ship Design Conflict Within WG & A

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

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

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

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

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Don Calvino (Credits to George Tappan and Gorio Belen)

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

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

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Maynilad by Britz Salih

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

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

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Tacloban City (Credits to Times Journal and Gorio Belen)

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

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

Our Lady of Banneux

Credits to Keppel Cebu and Ken Ledesma

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

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

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The ship Zamboanga by Wilben Santos

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is happening?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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