Isla Simara of Shogun Shipping Is NOT The First RORO Built By Filipinos

I just wonder about the recklessness and lack of shame of Shogun Shipping in claiming that their Isla Simara, which will be used in connecting Sorsogon and Samar across the San Bernardino Strait is the first RORO built by Filipinos. Do they think Pinoys are so dumb that it will take until the 21st century for them to make their own RORO?  And that they are so “great” that they were the “first” to do it? What a way to try to make themselves good and fall flat on their faces at the same time. One cannot obliterate history by just making some dumb claims.

On the other hand, again, media takes the cake for gullibility, their old weakness. The problem with our local media is they are too fond of “praise releases” and at the same time being too lazy in checking facts as if there is no internet yet or smartphones. That combination is one sure-fire way to spread misinformation on a grand scale. Now, courtesy of their misdeed, a million or so Filipinos will begin to believe the lie that Isla Simara is the first RORO ever built by Pinoys. And like before, i fear that they will too arrogant to make corrections even though it is already obvious that they are wrong in the facts.

MARINA, the Maritime Industry Authority which is the local maritime regulatory body is also truant in not making things clear from the start by not pointing out to Shogun Shipping the inaccuracy of its claims. Why, are they also ignorant of shipping history? They should be the one now that should be pointing out to media and to the general public that one shipping company is trying to hijack a title that belongs to another ship.

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Maharlika II by Mike Baylon of PSSS

The title of being the first RORO built by Filipinos actually belongs to the now-gone Maharlika II which was owned by the Philippine Government but later chartered to the Archipelago Philippine Ferries which maintained her badly and that was why she was plagued by reliability issues. Maharlika II practically spent all her career in the Liloan, Southern Leyte to Lipata, Surigao City route and that is in that route where she actually went down in 2014. Now, Isla Simara will sail in the San Bernardino Strait where the Japan-built sister ship of Maharlika II, the Maharlika I, also of the Government, practically spent her whole career.

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Our Lady of the Philippines 2 Navistar by wandaole of PSSS. One the ROROs of Tri-Star Megalink Corp. built by Filipinos

Isla Simara is late to Maharlika II by a good 35 years since the latter was completed in 1984 for the Liloan-Lipata route (she was actually launched in 1983). In this span of 35 years, Filipinos made a lot of local-built, traditional ROROs especially by Tris-Star Megalink Corp. of Negros. The related Star Building and Ship Repair in Sagay City, Negros Occ. builds the ROROs of Tri-Star Megalink. The Montenegro Shipping Lines Inc. (MSLI) of Batangas recently started their shipbuilding in Lucena City, too and their first own-build RORO, the Santa Carmelita was definitely built ahead of Isla Simara. Even the small RMLC Ferry 2 that was built in Bacacay, Albay and which connects Rapu-rapu island to Legazpi was built ahead of Isla Simara.

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Santa Carmelita by Jefred Bernard Dacayana of PSSS

And how come the Navotas-built in Pinoy RORO I which is owned by the government through the GOCC DBP Leasing Corp. was forgotten? This should have been the prototype for all the basic, short-distance ferry-ROROs that will be built locally.  She is now chartered by the Jeanalyn Shipping and is connecting Alabat island to Atimonan, Quezon. And in past, in the 1980s, even the defunct Viva Shipping Lines of Batangas and Lucena  tried to build their own ROROs in Quezon.

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Pinoy RORO I. Photo by Jeanalyn Shipping.

Now, also take note that the numerous and common LCTs, which we had been building locally since the end of World War II are also technically ROROs as rolling cargo also roll in and roll out of them and we probably already built well over a hundred of that type in various shipyards all over the country.

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RMLC Ferry 2 by Kenneth Jardenil of PSSS

Isla Simara had another false claim in that they have the longest ramp mounted on a ship. A shipping company in Manila with about 200 vessels pointed out to me they have several barges with ramps longer than that in Isla Simara. And definitely, the good three-piece ramp of Trans-Asia 5 of Trans-Asia Shipping Lines Inc. is longer than theirs. Shogun Shipping can’t be even sure too if the ramps of the big RORO Cargo ships of the Asian Marine Transport Corp. (AMTC) are not longer than theirs.

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Trans-Asia 5 by Mike Baylon of PSSS. Part of its three-piece ramp is folded.

I thought I would be excited by the first RORO of Shogun Shipping. But their bare-faced, false claims leave a bitter taste for I always stand for the truth. But if they want to be famous by twisting facts, then that might not be a good omen for them.

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The Trans-Asia 19

On March 2 of this year, the Trans-Asia Shipping Lines, Inc. (TASLI) of Cebu, a part of Chelsea Logistics Corp., inaugurated their newest ship, the Trans-Asia 19. The inauguration was done in the Port of Cagayan de Oro and Mr. Kenneth Sy, President and CEO of Trans-Asia Shipping Lines led the inaugural ceremony ably assisted by his wife, Ms. Pinky Sy, the TASLI Vice-President for Sales and Marketing . The inaugural went well but what was new was it was held in the Port of Cagayan de Oro since Cebu-based companies usually hold their inaugurations in Cebu. The Philippine Ship Spotters Society (PSSS) was invited and helped cover the event.

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Photo from John Nino Borgonia

The Trans-Asia 19  is not only the latest ship of Trans-Asia Shipping Lines. She is actually their first-ever ship fielded  as brand-new and reports say she cost more than PhP 600 million which is four to five times the cost of a 25-year old refurbished and refitted ferry from Japan of the same size. However, Mr. Kenneth Sy pointed out in his inaugural speech that they must need to modernize as the regulatory body Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA)  plans to phase out ferries that are over 35 years old already (which means built 1984 or earlier).

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Photo from John Nino Borgonia

The ship is only a medium-sized ferry by Philippine standards and her passenger capacity is only 450 persons. She is an overnight ferry-RORO as she is equipped with bunks instead of seats (there are a few seats though for the budget traveler). Her designated route is Cagayan de Oro to Tagbilaran, v.v. three times a week with an extension to Cebu on the 7th day. She replaced their old vessel on the route, the Asia Philippines which was sold to George & Peter Lines, another Cebu-based shipping company but a non-competitor of the company.

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Photo from John Nino Borgonia

It was the Kegoya Dock Co. in Kure, Hiroshima Prefecture, Japan which built the Trans-Asia 19 and it was the mother company of TASLI, the Chelsea Logistics Corp. (CLC) which ordered this ship. Earlier, TASLI and CLC had a merger which had to go through the Philippine Competition Commission (PCC) because the deal is over one billion pesos in value. The Trans-Asia 19 is actually similar to the new ferries that came to Starlite Ferries (which was sold to CLC) starting in 2015 but the difference to those is most the Starlite ships were built as short-distance ferries equipped with seats. However, all are sister ships and their superstructures and external lines are practically the same and all were built by Kegoya Dock.

After completion and turn-over, the Trans-Asia 19 started its conduction voyage from Kegoya on November 15, 2018 and she reached Talisay anchorage in Cebu on the first hour of November 22, 2018. The conduction crew of twelve was led by Capt. Hector Nelson Ramirez who is still the Master of the ship. From arrival, the Trans-Asia 19 spent almost two months clearing Customs and completing papers in MARINA (Maritime Industry Authority), the local maritime regulatory body. In the country those two agencies are always the biggest hurdles for new ships. And so it was only on February 18, 2019 when Trans-Asia 19 had its maiden voyage from Tagbilaran to Cagayan de Oro. Yes, the maiden voyage came before the inauguration but that is not so unusual as an occurrence.

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The Trans-Asia 19 in anchorage. Photo by Daryl Yting.

The Trans-Asia 19 is a steel-hulled RORO (Roll-on, Roll-off) ship with a single car deck of 13-feet height accessible from a stern ramp. The ship has a bulbous stem and a transom stern and she has two masts and two funnels that lies exactly above the engines. Externally, she is not that modern-looking but her equipment and features are actually all modern. This ferry is even equipped with an elevator for persons with disability and for the elderly and mothers with infants (the elevators run from the car deck). The ship has high sides which provides additional safety in rough seas. As aid in docking, the Trans-Asia 19 also has a pair of bow thrusters.

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Trans-Asia 19 bow thruster

The Length Over-all (LOA) of the ship is 67.6 meters (LOA is the maximum length of the ship) and her Length Between Perpendiculars (LPP or LBP) is 61.8 meters. The ship’s Breadth or Beam is 15.3 meters and that is the measure of the ship at its widest. The Depth of the ship is 9.40 meters (and that is the reason for the high sides) and the Draft is 3.22 meters (the latter is the minimum water depth for a ship to be able to navigate safely). Increasing Draft would mean a more stable sailing (but more drag when the sea is smooth) . The Depth from the car deck of the ship is 4.40 meters and that is the distance from the car deck up to the bottom of the hull and that is the point where water will start entering the car deck.

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The Gross Tonnage (GT) of the ship is 2,976 and this is the total cubic measure of the of the ship. The Net Tonnage (NT) is approximate 805 if based on the pioneer of the sister ships. NT is the cubic measure of the ship’s space that is usable for passengers and cargo. The Deadweight Tonnage (DWT) of the ship is 834 tons. That is the maximum safe carrying capacity of the ship in weight and that is far higher than the rolling cargo capacity of the car deck which is 13 cars and 7 trucks and that is good in terms of margin of safety. The passenger capacity of Trans-Asia 19 is 450 persons and the ship’s complement (the crew) is 32 (but this is still increased by the security personnel and drivers on board).

The main engines of this ship is a pair of Yanmar 6EY22AW engines of 1,863ps each for a total of 3,726ps (ps is approximately equal to horsepower) and the auxiliary engines are Yanmar marine diesels too of 500hp each. The engine room of this RORO ship is equipped with a small engineers’ station. That protects the ears of the engineers and it shields them from the heat generated by the engines while the ship is running. The service speed of Trans-Asia 19 is 13.6 knots at 85% MCR (Maximum Continuous Rating) which is about the range an engine is set to avoid damage to the engine. One thing I noticed is the ship’s engines are controllable by levers in the bridge.

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Trans-Asia 19 auxiliary engine. Photo by Mike Baylon.

In case of fire in the engine room, the safety procedures work this way. There is an actuator box which when opened automatically shuts the ventilators to the engine room and other sources of air. An alarm for evacuation of the engine room is then sounded and confirmation of evacuation will have to be done and then all hatches and doors are closed. Carbon dioxide gas will then be released into the engine room for two minutes. There is also an instruction should the actuating system fail for any reason but whatever it is still the carbon dioxide system which will be relied upon to extinguish the fire in the engine room. The actuator box is located in the bridge of the ship.

This ship passed the tough “NK” (Nippon Kaiji Kyokai) ship classification of Japan. The navigation area of the ship is restricted to the Philippines (yes, this was really designed to be an inter-island ferry in local waters). The Call Sign of Trans-Asia 19 is 4DFV-3 (for its identification in radio communication) and its MMSI Number is 548937500 (this is in relation to the AIS or Automatic Identification System of the ship which is the equivalent to the transponder of an aircraft). The permanent ID of the ship is IMO 9831995.

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President & CEO Kenneth Sy speaking. Photo by Mike Baylon.

In his speech in the inauguration of Trans-Asia 19, the TASLI President & CEO emphasized the safety features designed into the ship like a bridge monitor which will trigger an alarm if there is no person in the bridge (this is the Bridge Navigational Watch Alarm System or BNWAS which is supplied by Furuno). This ship is designed to ease the workload of the bridge crew as it is equipped with an autopilot and an autoplotter which means this has reliance not only on the radar but also with its AIS equipment. This ship can dock by itself given it has GPS and an autopilot. The vessel is also equipped with a sonar that warns of grounding (well, that is important in Maribojoc Bay with its reefs where some ships have already grounded). If the sister Starlite ships are touted to be built for the rough Philippine waters then this ship can also make that claim.

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Trans-Asia 19 bridge. Photo by John Nino Borgonia.

In the deck above the car deck which is called the Promenade Deck is located the higher class of accommodations of the ship and many of the amenities. Half of the deck is occupied by the Tourist Class and it is located at the aft (rear portion) of this deck. In the middle is the Information Counter, the Restaurant and the Clinic. In the forward section of this deck lies the Family Room for 4 which is paid for by the room but per person it is cheaper than Tourist so it is good for a family or a group. More or less it is the equivalent of Tourist Deluxe. There is also a Private Room which more or less corresponds to Business Class.

 

 

In the Bridge Deck of the ship lies the non-aircon Economy Class of the ship in its aft portion and this occupies a space less than that of the Tourist below. The reason for this is just ahead lies the class with reclining chairs and seat belts and it is air-conditioned (in industry parlance this is called “Jetseater”. That should be a good alternative to Economy if one wants air-conditioning and is comfortable anyway in seats like in an aircon bus. Just at the back of bridge of this deck lies the Officers’ cabins, the Crew’s quarters, the ship’s Galley (the kitchen for the crew) and the Mess Hall.

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In the bridge there is the usual retinue of equipment like the GPS, radar plus ARPA (Automatic Radar Plotting Aid), various gauges and switches, a control board, radio equipment, etc. There is the standard navigators’ table (hard to call it the plotting table now since there is already an autoplotter but it seems MARINA, the maritime regulatory body still insists on paper plots). In the bridge is also a bank of CCTVs monitoring all parts of the vessel. The ship still has the traditional wheel and is not yet joystick-controlled but as mentioned before there is already an autopilot.

Over-all, the Trans-Asia 19 is a fully modern ship with all the safety features needed for safe navigation. And for a ferry of 67-meters length there is a wide choice of accommodations. Bol-anons, Cagayanons and Misamisnons will be very happy with this ship especially since it is brand-new (I was told Bol-anons going south were shocked to have a new ship). And the size might just be perfect for the route. With regards to length, this ship and the ship she is replacing has almost the same LOA. It just happened that this ship is a little wider but the passenger capacity is smaller. That means more space for the passengers. The engines of this ship are a little smaller and being brand-new there will be fuel savings for the company.

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A very fine ship! Congratulations indeed to Trans-Asia!

 

Edit: 3/10/2019 – Changed caption for main engine to auxiliary engine. Apologies for the mixup.

The MV Eugene Elson

The MV Eugene Elson of Penafrancia Shipping Corporation of Bicol is one of the oldest ROPAXes (Roll-On, Roll-Off Passenger ship) still sailing in Philippine waters but she is still very reliable and well-appreciated. As a 1965-built ROPAX from Japan she has the looks and lines of the small ROPAX of that era which means she is a little chubby in looks and not that angular like the MV Melrivic Seven of Aznar Shipping which was also built in 1965. However, those looks do not detract from her primary purpose and mission which is to ferry passengers and rolling cargo (i.e. vehicles) safely and reliably.

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Photo by Dominic San Juan of PSSS

This ship’s usual route is Tabaco, Albay to Virac, the capital and main port of the small island-province of Catanduanes. Tabaco City is the gateway to the province and the size of MV Eugene Elson is just right for that route as there are almost no ferries that is 50 meters in length there (except when there rotations due to drydocking). And also there are no 30-meter ferries in that route out of respect for the waves in the sea between the two provinces and besides single-engine ferries are not liked there, for safety and maneuvering reasons. So the MV Eugene Elson with its two engines and screws fits the bill well there too.

The MV Eugene Elson is a RORO ferry built by Hashihama Zosen of namesake city Hashihama in Japan where their yard is located. As said earlier, she was built in 1965 but her IMO Number is already 6601517 (in those days the first two digits of the IMO Number indicate the year the ship was built but that is not the case anymore nowadays). She was completed in December of 1965 and completion date is the date when the ship is already equipped and ready to sail. Her external measurements are 41.7 meters in Length Over-all (LOA), a Registered Length (RL) of 38.5 meters and a Length Between Perpendiculars (LPP) of 37.5 meters. The ferry’s Breadth is 14.6 meters locally although in Japan it was only 12.5 meters (the first one might be the more accurate one). Her Depth is 3.0 meters. As a whole she is not a big ship and a ship that is only a little larger than a basic, short-distance ferry-RORO (by the Philippines Ship Spotters Society definition) which in general is only 30 meters or so in length and sometimes even shorter.

In Japan, her Gross Tonnage (GT) was 526 (tons is no longer affixed in GT) but locally it was only 488. Her declared Net Tonnage (NT) which is the usable space of the ship for passengers and cargo is 118 which is rather suspiciously low. The ship’s Deadweight Tonnage (DWT) is 138 tons and she has a passenger capacity of 484 persons, all in sitting accommodations. The MV Eugene Elson is actually the smallest ferry in the fleet of the Penafrancia Shipping Corporation (PSC) which was the successor company to the defunct Bicolandia Shipping Lines which used to own her. However small, this ferry still has two passenger decks with an airconditioned Mabuhay Class.

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Photo by Dominic San Juan of PSSS

The ship’s hull material is steel. She has one mast, two funnels and two RORO (Roll-on, Roll-off) ramps for ingress and egress of vehicles but the bow ramp is also the one used by the passengers for the same purpose as ferries in Bicol do not have separate passenger ramps (the stern ramp of this ship seems to have been welded shut already). The bow ramp of this ship is extended to better cope with low tide conditions. This ferry has a raked stem (which was what was usual in the era) and a transom stern (which is still what is common nowadays).

The MV Eugene Elson is powered by two Daihatsu marine engines with a total output of 1,100 horsepower. This is sufficient to propel her at 11.5 knots when new but nowadays she just chugs along at about 10 knots, the reason she takes four hours for her route which is less than 40 nautical miles. That is not a shame as most ferries in the route have about the same sailing time although some are faster than her.

Our group, the Philippine Ship Spotters Society (PSSS) is familiar with this ship as once the group has already toured her when she was drydocked in Nagasaka Shipyard in Tayud, Cebu and the master then, Captain Jun Benavides was gracious and hospitable enough to let us roam his ship and use her as a ship spotting platform (yes, passengers can reach the roof of this ship which is also the Bridge deck). Of course, he had also shared plenty of stories to us. We whiled our time there savoring the cooling breeze of the late afternoon until it was time to go for daylight was soon dimming.

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Photo by James Gabriel Verallo of PSSS

This ship, when newly-built was first named as the MV Shimotsui Maru of the Kansai Kisen K.K. of Japan In 1976, under the same name, she was transferred to Kansai Kyuko Ferry K.K. Then in 1984, before her 20th year (the time Japan begins replacing its old ferries), this ferry came to the Philippines as the MV San Agustin of May-Nilad Shipping, a Manila ferry company that was always short in routes. Later, she became the MV Eugenia of Esteban Lul.

After a short time, this ship was transferred to Eugenia Tabinas of E. Tabinas Enterprises under the same name MV Eugenia. I just wonder about the relationship of Eugenia Tabinas and Esteban Lul. E. Tabinas Enterprises and Bicolandia Shipping Lines which are synonymous and the same is headquartered in Tabaco, Albay. These dual companies took over the ships and operations of the pioneering Trans-Bicol Shipping Lines which was then just operating wooden motor boats or MBs then which otherwise were called as lancha in the region.

During its heyday, E. Tabinas Enterprises/Bicolandia Shipping Lines was the dominant Bicol shipping company and had routes from all the relevant Bicol gateways, i.e. Tabaco, Matnog and Bulan (which are both in the province of Sorsogon and Masbate. However, in 1999 a new shipping company with deeper pockets appeared in the critical Matnog-Allen, Samar route. This is the Sta. Clara Shipping Corporation (SCSC) which challenged the claimed “pioneer” status of Eugenia Tabinas’ shipping companies. “Pioneer status” supposedly confers exclusivity to a route.

Eugenia Tabinas and Sta. Clara Shipping Corporation fought initially from MARINA (Maritime Industry Authority), the Philippines’ regulatory agency in shipping and then all the way to the Supreme Court. When Eugenia Tabinas finally lost she offered a lock, stock and barrel sell-out to her enemy which was accepted and so she forever bowed out of shipping. This was the reason why MV Eugenia was transferred not to Sta. Clara Shipping Corporation but to the Penafrancia Shipping Corporation which was created specifically for the take-over of E. Tabinas Enterprises and Bicolandia Shipping Lines. This take-over and hand-off happened in 2006 and from then on the twin companies Sta. Clara Shipping Corporation and Penafrancia Shipping Corporation were already the dominant shipping companies in Bicol (and until now).

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MV Eugene Elson in older livery in Virac port. Photo by Edsel Benavides

Under Penafrancia Shipping Corporation, all the former ferries of Eugenia Tabinas were renamed (except for the sunk MV Northern Samar) and so the MV Eugenia became the MV Eugene Elson. In the fleet of Sta. Clara Shipping Corporation and Penafrancia Shipping Corporation which has combined operations, she is the smallest in terms of Gross Tonnage and Length. But she is not the smallest ever ROPAX to operate in Bicol as there were and are a few that are even smaller than her.

As mentioned before, the Tabaco-Virac route along Lagonoy Gulf is her main route now, a route known for rough seas during the amihan (northeast monsoon) season as that route is exposed to the open sea. But even  though small, she proved capable for that route although once a bus lain to her side even though lashed from the top when a rogue wave hit her in the bow. In the said route she would leave Tabaco port at daybreak and arrive in Virac at mid-morning. She would then depart Virac port after lunch and arrive in Tabaco at about 5pm and lay over in Tabaco port for the night. It is the buses’ schedules that dictate such departure times and buses and its passengers are the priority loads of the MV Eugene Elson like the other ROPAXes based in Tabaco. Nowadays, she always leave full as so many buses and trucks already cross to Catanduanes from the Bicol peninsula.

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Over-the-top lashing is de rigueur in the Catanduanes route

All in all, the MV Eugene Elson had a successful career and it seems she is destined for many more years of sailing (well, unless MARINA loses its mind and cull old ships as that has been their threat for many years already). Barring that scenario, I hope she still sails and sails and sails. And keep the record as the oldest sailing ferry  in Bicol.

The Graceful Stars

The Graceful Stars is one of the most recent ships of Roble Shipping Incorporated, a major regional shipping line serving the ports of western Leyte (which I wonder why it is not a separate province as it is economically viable on its own, it has a ready capital in Ormoc and it speaks a different language from eastern Leyte) which sailed just in 2015 although she came to the Philippines earlier (as she stayed long in the Roble wharf in Pier 7 of Mandaue). As refitted, the Graceful Stars is an overnight ferry-RORO which means she is fitted with bunks, the main distinction of overnight ferries from the short-distance ferries (well, aside from the size, of course).

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I look at Graceful Stars from the evolutionary point of view of Roble Shipping. This company started from the Marao, a converted cargo ship and then from that humble beginning they were true with a humble path to greatness by first taking in the discards of the other shipping companies of Cebu and by concentrating on their strong route, the Cebu-Hilongos route which is now already a major route and a gateway to the province of Southern Leyte. Actually eight discards from other shipping companies passed through the fleet of Roble shipping (the Don Bonifacio, the first Guady Cristy, the second Guada Cristy, the Hilongos Diamond, the Hilongos Diamond – II, the Queen Belinda, the Leyte Diamond, and the Cebu Diamond) and that list does not even include the May Josephine, the former Surigao Transport which was more of a cargo ship too like the Marao. A lot of discards but those established what Roble Shipping is today. And there is nothing wrong with the path of Roble Shipping, they should be proud of it because what is important is where they ended up with and where they are now. Actually Roble Shipping in its early days even acted as the conservator of old ferries that might have ended up earlier in the breakers if they have not shown interest in them especially since those were already the obsolete cruiser ferries then (more difficult to load and unload but Roble started in arrastre anyway).

From that simple and humble beginning, Roble Shipping suddenly landed the Heaven Stars which was a former cruiseferry in Japan (cruiseferries are the ferries in Japan that had good amenities and accommodations compare to ferries that were more inclined to the taking in of rolling cargo). Heaven Stars was big for an overnight ferry and she had the amenities of a multi-day liner (I thought then Roble would use her for their approved route to Nasipit). Roble Shipping also snared the Wonderful Star, a basic, short-distance ferry-RORO which unfortunately was lost early (Note: that ferry is different from the current Wonderful Stars). The two ushered the entry of Roble Shipping into the age of ROROs, the successor type to the obsolete cruisers.

But still Roble Shipping was operating a mixed fleet as shown by their acquisition of the Ormoc Star, a cruiser ferry that became a loved ship in her namesake port and city. Then the Wonderful Stars arrived for the company and save for the Heaven Stars she was the most beautiful ship in the fleet of Roble Shipping, and an embodiment of what a moderately sized overnight ferry should be.

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Next to come for Roble Shipping was the Beautiful Stars which was just a little bigger than the basic, short-distance ferry-RORO before a slew of another discards from other shipping companies came which became the Joyful Stars, the Theresian Stars, the Blessed Stars and the Sacred Stars in their fleet. These discards needed practically needed no more refitting from Roble Shipping except maybe in the engine department. In modern shipping companies it is Roble Shipping which is the master in making discarded ships work.

The Wonderful Stars, Theresian Stars and Joyful Stars were significant for Roble Shipping because that firmly established the shipping company in the 70-meter class of ROROs (okay, the Theresian Stars is 0.3 meters short of 70 meters). Let it be noted that the Heaven Stars was 89 meters long and that will show the jump then made in size by Roble Shipping when they acquired her. These overnight ferry-ROROs might have been smaller than what Cebu Ferries, Trans-Asia Shipping Lines or Cokaliong Shipping Lines have or had (and to a certain extent George & Peter Lines too) but let it be noted that Roble Shipping is only operating routes to Leyte (until recently) and not to Mindanao unlike the other mentioned ones. And so Roble Shipping actually was leading then what can be called the second pack of Cebu ferries except that Lite Ferries’ fleet exploded later in size courtesy of the wand of a patron saint.

The Graceful Stars is in the 70-meter class thereby consolidating the hold of Roble Shipping in that class. And more importantly, the Graceful Stars was the attempt of Roble Shipping into the type of converting vehicle carriers into ROPAXes like what was done before by Cebu Ferries Corporation with their Cebu Ferry line of ships (Cebu Ferry 1, 2 and 3) and what was to be done later by Roble Shipping in their Oroquieta Stars. Is this the new mode of the company aside from acquiring Cargo RORO LCTs and CHA-ROs?

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The TKB Emerald by James Gabriel Verallo

The Graceful Stars is the former ship of Toyama Kaigai Boeki Shipping named the TKB Emerald and was classified as a Vehicle Carrier in Japan or which is that used in ferrying vehicles in relatively short distances. This is different from the Pure Car Carriers which ferry new vehicles between countries or the Cargo ROROs or RORO Cargo ships which are bigger, have a bigger capacity and go longer distances and even to another adjacent country. A Vehicle Carrier has a limited accommodation for passengers which are usually the crew or drivers of the vehicles and that is their difference over the ROPAXes.

As such converting a Vehicle Carrier to a ROPAX or RORO-Passenger ship means a lot of steel still has to be added into the ship in the form of additional decks and passenger amenities and accommodations. And that is the difference in the conversion if the original ship is a RORO Cargo ship for in that type of ship not much steel is still needed and in some cases steel has to be cut to pave way for windows.

The TKB Emerald took long in conversion and much longer than the Cebu Ferry line of ships (about four years from 2011). With a surplus of ships Roble Shipping didn’t need to rush and the refitting of Joyful Stars and Theresian Stars took precedence (otherwise the two would have rotted). The conversion won’t also be that straighforward as the TKB Emerald has a sloping ramp which slid down to the car deck and two passenger decks had to be fitted (single passenger decks are just for the basic, short-distance ferry-ROROs). And I have heard then too and confirmed it with the databases that the engine of the TKB Emerald was on the small side at just 1,370 horsepower and a single engine at that when ferries of this size normally have two engines with 2,000 horsepower as the very minimum (many even pack 4,000 horsepower or more). Adding lots of steel also slows down the ferry because of the added weight. With this and even with the aid of turbocharging one cannot expect TKB Emerald to run fast. However, one of the strengths of the TKB Emerald is a long and good three-piece ramp which is excellent for loading and unloading vehicles including container vans mounted on truck-trailers

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TKB Emerald magically converted into Graceful Stars (Photo by James Gabriel Verallo)

The Graceful Stars is 73.7 meters in length over-all with a breadth of 13.6 meters and a depth of 7.6 meters (which is on the deep side which means greater stability) and an original Gross Tonnage (GT) of 1,953 tons and an original design speed of 11.5 knots (which was not bad then but then a lot of steel has to be added to her in her conversion). She was built by Shin Kochi Jyuko Company Limited in Kochi, Japan in 1984 with the IMO Number 8314312. The ship is of steel construction and had a stern ramp leading to the car deck.

As rebuilt she already has two passenger decks with a little squat appearance (but not looking bad) as the bridge determined the height of the superstructure unlike the Cebu Ferry 1 of Cebu Ferries Corporation. This is not really unusual as Cokaliong Shipping has low-looking ferries too. The bridge was lengthened up to the sides as the original bridge is the small type.

In the lower passenger deck at the front are the highest class which are the Suites and the Cabins. These have a Chinese and wooden motif. Before reaching that from the stern where the passengers board is the Tourist section of the ship. The upper passenger deck of the ship contains the Economy Class which is open-air, as normal. Two gangways serve as the entry and exit for the passengers.

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Cabins and Suites of Graceful Stars (does it still look like a Vehicle Carrier?)

As rebuilt the Gross Tonnage (GT) of the ship went down to 970 which is an under-declaration with a Net Tonnage (NT) of 660. The ratio of the NT to the GT is suspicious. I have yet to learn of the passenger capacity of the ship.

When I rode with her to Baybay, her usual route, our ride was comfortable and it did not disappoint. The ship was clean and the aircon was cool. Our trip to Baybay took eight hours and for a distance of a little under 60 nautical miles that means our cruising speed was some 8 knots or so. I heard the maximum she can do is 10 knots although when first fielded I heard tales of late arrivals as in a breakfast docking already from a 9pm departure in Cebu. I heard most of the passengers did not complain as that is still a good arrival and they appreciated the superior amenities and accommodations compared to the earlier ships that served the Baybay route. Meanwhile, her competitor Rosalia 3 of Lapu-lapu Shipping with 3 engines and speedy for a small overnight ferry sped up her passage as that is all she can improve from being an old ferry of fishing vessel origins. To passengers still going far her 3am arrival will matter (her number matches well with that and so renaming her to Rosalia 3am to highlight her strength might be in order, pun intended).

But right now the Graceful Stars lords over the Baybay route and the funny thing is she is even better than the ships fielded in the premier Ormoc route which costs significantly more. And it is doubly funny because for nearly the same distance the Ormoc ships cost much more than the Baybay ships which turn out to be a bargain. For the P510 Tourist fare of Ormoc one can have a more luxurious and fresher-smelling ride in Graceful Stars for P380 and the difference will be enough for a Jollibee breakfast just outside the port gates of Baybay and the change will still be enough for a bus ride to Ormoc. Baybay by the way is a good alternate point of entry if one is headed to Tacloban or to any Samar town. It is good that she is in Baybay because if she is in Hilongos because if she is in the latter her lack of speed will show because the port is gateway to the Southern Leyte towns and so a pre-dawn arrival is preferred there so the passengers will arrive at their homes at breakfast time.

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Rosalia 3 and Graceful Stars in Baybay

It seems Roble Shipping made a correct bet in acquiring and refurbishing the Graceful Stars. In the Baybay route her lack of speed does not easily show as passengers don’t normally grumble unless the arrival is already past breakfast time already. Many actually don’t want to be bothered from sleep of the anchor dropping and the shrilly announcements in the public address system and the bustle of passengers moving and the porters coming. And her superior accommodations means she will lord over Baybay for a long time that I fear that if other older ships of Roble are rotated to Baybay (like the Joyful Stars and the Theresian Stars) the passengers there might grumble with the change.

It seems the former TKB Emerald has already found a home in Baybay and it seems she will be in there for a long time and dominate that route.

Do the Sinkings of the MS Herald of Free Enterprise and MS Estonia Have Any Bearing On Us?

The two named incidents are among the most famous in the maritime world when RORO or ROPAX accidents are mentioned and discussed. The two cases have been used in many times to highlight the weakness of ROROs compared to conventional freighters which feature watertight compartments which the ROROs are sorely lacking (watertight compartments prevent ingress of water in case of a hull breach). Moreover, the two incidents have been used as rationales for RORO design changes and reforms in safety policies.

From “The Express” of UK

The MS Herald of Free Enterprise was a 131.9-meter ferry built in 1980 then sailing from Belgium to England. She sailed on a night of March 6, 1987 but the deck crew forgot to close the bow door and this door was not visible from the bridge and there was no CCTV to check that. When the ship reached cruising speed the sea entered the deck in great quantity which produced what is called the “free surface effect” which in this particular case was sea water sloshing within the hull that destroyed her stability causing her to capsize. That happened just minutes after leaving the port of Zeebrugge.

The MS Estonia was a 157.0-meter ferry built in 1979 then sailing from Estonia to Sweden. She sailed one night on September 28, 1994 on stormy seas of winds of 55 to 75 kilometers per hour which was considered normal in the part of the Baltic Sea in that part of the year. The significant wave height of the sea was estimated to be from 13 to 20 feet. On that particular night the visor bow door of the failed and it dragged the bow ramp of the ship. The visor door was not visible from the bridge. Water then entered the ship in great quantity and flooded the vehicle deck of the RORO and the free surface effect caused her to capsize much like what happened to the MS Herald of Free Enterprise.

From “The Local” of Sweden

These two grievious sinkings upset the ROPAX world causing changes in RORO designs like the recommendation that instead of having a bow ramp it is better for the ROROs to just have front quarter ramps where the blow from the waves will not be in great force. There was also the suggestion that front ramp mechanisms be done away completely and it seems this might already been adopted at least in principle. One effect is the sealing of bow ramps on some ships that have this feature. And the visor bow door was almost completely gone in RORO designs because of the MS Estonia incident as the thinking that it was an unsafe design (the hinges bear the whole weight of the visor door which are heavy).

But do these twin sinkings have any bearing on us, the Philippines, where a lot of ROROs especially the small ones have active bow ramps? All our basic, short-distance ferry-ROROs just have one ramp and this is located at the bow of the ship. Even the next size of ferries to the basic, short-distance ferry-ROROs, those that are over 40 meters in length and have a passenger deck of more than one also commonly feature an active bow ramp (I am comparing this to ROROs that have bow and stern ramps but the bow ramp is not actively used or is permanently closed). And then all our LCTs and many of these are in passenger-cargo application also have just one ramp and the specific feature of LCTs is all of those just have one ramp and it is at the bow.

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The quarter-front ramp of the SuperFerry 18 (Photo by Jonathan Boonzaier)

But did any of our ferries with just one active ramp and at the bow at that ever sink like the MS Herald of Free Enterprise and the MS Estonia? The answer is a big NO. We had sinkings of our ROROs with active bow ramps but not in the same circumstances as the sinking of the MS Herald of Free Enterprise and the MS Estonia. 

The MS Herald of Free Enterprise sank because of crew negligence and/or mistake. How would you call a ship sailing with its bow ramp and door open? Anywhere else that is plain idiocy. But here it happens commonly (LOL!). A lot of our small ROROs do not really close their ramps fully when sailing when the weather is good so that the hot car deck will have more ventilation (o ha!). That is against MARINA (Maritime Industry Authority) rules of course but there are no MARINA people roaming the ports anyway. And if the bow ramps need to be completely closed that is easily checked and it is also very visible from the bridge as small RORO just have one car deck and so the bow ramp is almost line of sight with the bridge (actually if there is a problem it is that the bow ramp hampers the view of the navigation crew). Our ROROs also have a lot of crewmen and apprentices that failing to check the bow ramp is almost an impossibility and besides the Chief Mate will always be there (that high a position ha!) because he is in charge of the loading and unloading. So I say the MS Herald of Free Enterprise incident has no bearing here.

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The basic, short-distance ferry-RORO that only has a bow ramp

Our small ROROs also don’t have bow visor door like the MS Estonia. How can it be when their mechanisms are very simple? They don’t even have hydraulic three-piece ramps and winches are all that are needed to raise the ramps to close or lower it to open the ramps. So how can one thing fail when it isn’t there? Now, if there are cracks or rust-throughs in the ramp mechanism that will be visible to all including the passengers, the drivers of the cars, the truck crews, the arrastre people and the hangers-on in the port. And Coast Guard people check on the safety of the ship before departures and supposedly they are very good on that and so what is then the problem? If there is already weakening of the ramp mechanism that will easily show when a heavy truck is loaded or unloaded and all would notice that. After all we are very good in noticing things unlike the Europeans (we notice what one wears and what are the latest rumors in town).

And besides all our ships here don’t sail in gale-force seas like the MS Estonia. Here when there is what is called a tropical depression (which means winds of 45 kilometers per hour), trips are already suspended. Even if there is no storm but the wind is high and the seas are choppy the local weather agency PAGASA that does not follow international conventions will already issue a “gale warning” even if there is no gale. So how can an MS Estonia incident happen here? That is impossible already when Malacanang and MARINA got too strict in sailings in bad weather.

Morever, our small ROROs were mainly built by the Japanese and Japan-built ships were never involved in failures and sinkings like what happened to the MS Herald of Free Enterprise and the MS Estonia. We might have salty seas that produce rust but not the frigid waters and weather that accelerate the cracks in the metal like what befell the MS Estonia. Besides if there are ramp weakenings that is repaired early (who wants to earn the ire of vehicle owners when their rig can’t get out of the RORO and the RORO can’t sail and not earn revenues?). Our shipyards are experts in that type of repair/replacement (due to the high weights of some trucks and trailers the ramps normally buckle in loading and if it is already bent enough it is sent to the shipyard for ramp replacement).

Additionally, our local crew are really good and we are even known internationally for supplying hundreds of thousands of crew in international ships. There are small ROROs whose ramps fell our while in use but no sinkings ever happened because of that. But of course nobody would report such incidents to MARINA but I vow such things actually happened. Doesn’t that speak of the quality of our crews unlike the European crews (har har!). And our code of omerta?

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An LCT (Photo by Aris Refugio)

If we had capsizings of our small ROROs with bow ramps it was not because of “free surface effect” but of unbalanced loading maybe like what happened to Baleno Nine in Verde Island Passage and the Lady of Mt. Carmel in the Burias Gap. But I thought the Philippine Ports Author (PPA) had already installed weighing stations at the entrance of the important ports and so what is the problem? Our cargo masters are also very good in estimating the weight of a truck by just looking at its wheels, if there is no weighbridge available.

If sea water entered the car deck of our small ROROs it seemed the point of entry was at the stern like what happened to the Emerald 1 which seemed to fail in a sea surge off Matuco Pt. in Batangas and the Ocean King II which seemed to be a victim of a rogue wave in Surigao Strait (both of these ships also sank in the dark like the MS Herald of Free Enterprise and MS Estonia; it seems the dark is additional danger as checking of things are more difficult). This is also what happened to British RORO Princess Victoria in 1953 when her crew can’t handle water from storm surge in the English Channel entering the car deck through the stern door and ramp. So, empirically, shouldn’t we be closing stern ramps and not the bow ramp? I mean let us be consistent and logical? We should not just copying some rules because some dumb European ships experienced failures. Let us proceed from evidence.

We also have a RORO, a half-RORO at that because she looks like a conventional cargo ship but she has a stern ramp and she had a passenger deck built atop what should be cargo deck. This was the Kalibo Star which sank in daytime on a rainy day with choppy seas in 1997. Water seeped into a hatch that the crew failed to close and “free surface effect” capsized the ship. So from evidence it seems what we really should we be closing are the stern ramps and not ROROs (well, even the capsized Princess of the Orient and Princess of the Stars were stern loading ROROs). I mean shouldn’t we proceeding from empirical evidence instead of being copycats? (Disclosure: I have a private database of over 300 Philippine ships that was lost since the end of the war which I have consulted.)

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The Samar Star, a ship similar to the lost Kalibo Star (Photo by JC Cabanillas)

Hindi tayo dapat uto-uto (we should not be like marionettes). If there is a marionette in our maritime world it might our MARINA, the maritime regulatory agency who is wont to sign all the protocols handed down by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) so as the claim “we” are “IMO-compliant” and brag as if that is an achievement. Why, we don’t even use IMO Numbers as MARINA insists on its own numbers that are not searchable anywhere else. And when former Senator Miriam asked that those protocols be submitted to the Senate for ratification the government of Noynoy flatly refused. Now it seems these signed protocols are being bandied about as if they are official, as if those have the force of law like what they do with the ISPS protocol. From what I know only our Congress can pass national laws and that was why the late Miriam was pointedly challenging MARINA then. These protocols we signed are not part of our laws, they do not have the effect of a law and if one searches there are no penal provisions attached unlike in a law.

Besides we should not be bandying some rare failures in a different land (or sea) as if they general application. In engineering, the lessons derived from a cause of failure is specific in use and is not generalized. If a bridge or a building collapsed it does not mean that all the bridges and buildings with similar designs have to be torn down or closed. If a plane of sweptback wing design crashes not all sweptback planes are banned. Is the maritime world not an engineering world too (it was not when hulls were still wooden and we have not graduated from that?). So the maritime world is not an empirical world but a world of knee jerk artists?

Rather than blindly following IMO protocols we should have our own empirical study of our ship losses so more concrete lessons can be gained.

But then I doubt if MARINA and the Philippine Coast Guard even have a complete database of our ship losses (it seems they can’t provide a list of more than 50 sinkings).

As they say, let us proceed from evidence. Let us not assume we are as dumb like some Europeans.