The Sweet RORO

Many, when talking about the Sweet RORO of Sweet Lines Incorporated which is pf Bohol origin talk about her technicals and that is not wrong as there is nothing incorrect in admiring the technical merits of a ship especially that of a luxury liner. But to me I also tend to look at the historical position of things and how they interacted as I am also keen on the historical perspective of the ferries when they came and also their roles. After all, ferries make the shipping companies, at least in the early decades of our shipping history. And, it is in the great liners in which shipping companies are identified by the public.

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The Sweet RORO in original livery. Photo by Lindsay Bridge.

The Sweet RORO came to Sweet Lines when from the peak of the company a great slide was already happening them. This came from a probable mistake when in the late 1970’s the company decided they would henceforth just buy small liners. It was a great reversal from the previous mantra of the company that they will bring great liners, the prime examples of which were the highly regarded Sweet Faith and Sweet Home which were former luxury liners even in Europe. Also included in that was the Sweet Grace which was acquired brand-new from West Germany.

That bad decision came when the top liners of the company, the aforementioned Sweet Faith and the Sweet Home were already graying and if analyzed technically were already threatening to quit in a few years time (and they subsequently did). Coupled with that that the former cargo-passenger ship from Europe, the Sweet Bliss, the Sweet Life/Sweet Dream, the Sweet Lord/Sweet Land and the Sweet Love which buoyed the company early on and helped in their rise were also growing old as they were also built in the 1950’s like the Sweet Faith and the Sweet Home and ferries then were not known to exceed 30 years of life as the metallurgy and technology were still not the same as today when ferries normally exceed 40 years of service life here. Spare and surplus parts are easy to find today and CNC milling of parts are already common whereas that was not the case of 40 years ago. When that decision to just acquire small ferries was made the six liners of Sweet Lines from Europe were already approaching 30 years old save for the Sweet Home (but then this luxury liner, the biggest of her time was actually the first to go because of mechanical problems).

The year 1980 came and one of the biggest crisis in local liner shipping came. This happened when a lot of liners were suddenly laid up because the container ships came into full force all at once and suddenly the old passenger-cargo liners no longer had enough cargo to carry and it was actually cargo which is decisive in the profitability of a passenger-cargo ship. Before the arrival of the container ships of Aboitiz Shipping Corporation, William Lines, Sulpicio Lines, Lorenzo Shipping Corporation, Central Shipping Corporation (the cargo shipping company of Sweet Lines), Sea Transport Company, Negros Navigation Company and Solid Shipping Lines, it was practically just the passenger-cargo liners which were carrying the cargo in liner routes.

Sweet Home was gone in 1979, sold, and Sweet Faith was also gone the next year in 1980, first laid up then sold to the breakers. The new decade came and Sweet Lines had no ship good enough for the premier Manila-Cebu route which they used to dominate albeit with just a small pull only early in the 1970’s but largely gone as the decade was winding down. What they had left to serve as flagship was the cruiser liner Sweet Grace which was ordered brand-new from West Germany in 1968 but which does not have the speed and the size of the now-dominant fast cruiser liners of that era already.

While Sweet Lines was saddled with such problem William Lines rolled out the half-cruiser, half-RORO Dona Virginia in December 1979 which was the biggest liner in the country when she was fielded and with a speed of 20 knots too like the liner she was replacing, the storied Cebu City which came brand-new just in 1972. Then Sulpicio Lines rolled out the Philippine Princess in 1981 and this liner was nearly as big as the Dona Virginia but not as fast. Sweet Grace was far smaller than the two unlike the flagship Filipinas of Compania Maritima which was nearly as big as Dona Virginia and Philippine Princess although not as fast as the two. Sweet Grace was also much slower than the three, she cannot even be considered as a fast cruiser liner and so for the first time since Sweet Lines raised the bar in the Manila-Cebu premier route in 1970 with the Sweet Faith, this time it found itself as the laggard and outmatched. And that was where the decision to just buy small liners bit Sweet Lines hard.

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Photo from a research of Gorio Belen in the National Library

Having money from the proceeds of the disposals of Sweet Home and Sweet Faith, Sweet Lines was obliged to look for their replacement and it is forced that it should be a good and a big one. They did not disappoint when the former Ferry Ruby of the Diamond Ferry which plies the Osaka to Oichi route came to them in 1982 (but the seller was a third by the name of Dimerco Line SA of Panama and more on that later). The ship was nearly as big as her main competitors at 117.5 meters length and 4,700 gross register tons and at 18 knots design speed she was not giving away much to her direct competition, the flagships of the other liner companies although she was still the slowest at full trot among the flagships. And so what Sweet Lines emphasized was her being a RORO liner and its swiftness in cargo loading and unloading. However, the claim of Sweet Lines that she was the first RORO liner in the country is incorrect as the Sta. Maria of Negros Navigation Company came earlier in 1980. She, however, was the first big RORO liner in the country if the Dona Virginia is excluded.

When analyzed technically, the Sweet RORO is a leapfrog in technology compared to her main competitors which were mainly cruiser liners, the old paradigm. She was already a full-pledged ROPAX (RORO-Passenger) ship unlike the Dona Virginia whereas the Philippine Princess and the Filipinas of Compania Maritima were still cruiser ships . Now these four are all flagships and only four shipping companies were competing seriously in the prime Manila-Cebu route as the others like Aboitiz Shipping Corporation and Escano Lines were no longer in serious contention in that route and the others have practically withdrawn from contention there like Lorenzo Shipping Corporation and Carlos A. Gothong Lines Incorporated (but this company later made a comeback in that route). By the way, Negros Navigation Company is not being mentioned here as she was not doing the Manila-Cebu route then.

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Credits to Philippine Daily Express and Gorio Belen

But Sweet RORO might have been too much ahead of her time. Loading vehicles was not yet the wont then in her route (and neither now except for brand-new cars headed for car dealers down south). Container vans were mainly carried by the container ships and at that time there were still a lot of XEUs, the 10-foot container vans which can be handled by forklifts or loaded atop the cruisers at their bow and/or stern. Using chassis for container vans was not yet the standard then and so the full advantage of being a RORO or Roll-on, Roll-off ship was not fully realized when a lot of cargo was still palletized or are still carried loose (however, Sweet RORO had advantage over the others in carrying vehicles and heavy equipment down South). It would be nearly a decade later when the TEUs, the 20-foot container vans will be the new standard in cargo loading and by that time the Sweet RORO was already gone.

The Sweet RORO, the former Ferry Ruby was built by Onomichi Dockyard (Onomichi Zosen) in Onomichi, Japan in 1970 (but Sweet Lines says she was built in another yard) as one of the fast overnight ferries of Japan that bypasses their clogged highways then. She was average in size then (but this is not to disparage her) at 117.5 meters in Length Over-all, 107.0 meters in Length Between Perpendiculars, 20.6 meters in Breadth and 4,619 tons in Gross Register Tonnage. She was 1,943 tons in Net Register Tonnage and 1,477 tons in Deadweight Tonnage. This RORO liner was powered by 4 Kawasaki-MAN V8V 22/30ATL diesel engines with a combined 8,080hp which gave her a top speed of 18 knots which was also average for her size during her time. At that power she would have been more economical in fuel than the other flagships.

The stem of the ship was raked and she had transom stern. She was equipped with ramps bow and aft as access to the car deck. The ship has three decks for the passengers, the uppermost one a local addition (and that deck contained a lobby/relaxation room, the First Class bar and disco plus a game room) and abaft of the funnels is a wide open-air promenade area/sun deck. Aside from First Class and Second Class, a part of her Third Class (now known as “Economy”) is also airconditioned. This is because as-built the ship was fully air-conditioned. Her original passenger capacity as refitted was 1,692, one of the highest then among passenger ships in the country. It was broken down into 148 in 1st Class, 144 in 2nd Class, 400 in air-conditioned 3rd Class and 1,000 in non-airconditioned 3rd Class. The 3rd Class occupied the lowermost passenger deck while the First Class and Second Class accommodations and lobbies were on the deck above that and so it is the middle deck.

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Photo from a research of Gorio Belen in the National Library

Like the Sweet Faith before her, the Sweet RORO plied the premier Manila-Cebu route twice a week with a 22-hour sailing time which means a cruising speed of 18 knots for the 393-nautical mile route which is actually her design speed. It seems the policy of Sweet Lines is sail the ship at design speed because that is what they also did with the Sweet Faith. However, running a ship at 100% usually entails a ship’s not living very long. In 1988, Sweet RORO already had trouble with her engines specifically with her crankshaft as one report said and from that time on she already had difficulty sailing and if she did it is at reduced speed. The next year she was already laid up when she was less than 20 years of age. In 1990, she was sent to India for breaking up, a very short career when her two sister ships was still sailing in Greece up to the new millennium.

In 1987, Sweet RORO had a change of ownership but she was still sailing for Sweet Lines even then. She again became a Panamanian ship with the Dimerco Line SA which was the seller of her to Sweet Lines and to me that indicates a possibility that she was not fully paid for by Sweet Lines and so the seller re-acquired her. This was also about the same time that the Eduardo Lopingco group entered Sweet Lines and took over the management. With the entry of Lopingco additional ships came to the fleet but it turned out those were just chartered from the Hayashi Marine Company of Japan . Later, court cases arose after the company was not able to pay the charter to Hayashi Marine because court records show money was diverted by Lopingco to other ventures.

I wonder but I know financial troubles and mismanagement are ship killers especially when the needed maintenance of the ship are no longer made. And running ships at 100% power is parts-hungry and can result in damages to the engine in the long term especially when maintenance is not up to date. A report said that re-engining her was suggested to the company but nothing came out of it. This was already the time that the company was already headed on the way down after it seems that the founding Lim family has already lost control of the company if court filings are to be believed.

Whatever, the Sweet RORO was a big success in the Manila-Cebu route as actually Sweet Lines was a favorite of many especially the Bol-anons that until today many still remember her fondly (people are more attached then to their great liners unlike today that is why there were ship legends then including the Sweet RORO while now there is no such sentimentality anymore). However, it puzzles me why didn’t they extend the route to Tagbilaran given it was their origins and the ship had a long lay-over anyway in Cebu (was Tagbilaran port too shallow for her then?).

She was a fine ship ahead of her time. However, the sad part is she did not last long.

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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.

The Maria Matilde

The ferry Maria Matilde of Montenegro Shipping Lines Inc. (MSLI) of Batangas was in the news lately because of a mishap she suffered while in transit from Odiongan port to Romblon port when she tried the hardness and strength of her bow against what seems to an overhanging rock and she lost. Actually she was lucky because had there been more clearance below the overhanging rock, the bow would have been cleared and instead it will be the bridge of the ship which will strike the rock and it would have been a good comeuppance for her negligent bridge crew who have been too good in making ridiculous excuses after the accident happened. Scores of passengers have been hurt in the accident necessitating the bringing of several to hospitals. It was also reported that four vehicles aboard the ship also sustained damages (maybe it jumped the wheel chocks). Well, imagine a ship probably sailing at 12 knots or over 20 kilometers per hour coming to a halt in a split second without warning. Many would be hurtling forward then, unplanned and unwarned.

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Taken from maritimebulletin.com. Credits to Romblon News Network.

The Maria Matilde was once thought by some as the biggest ferry of Montenegro Lines but actually it is not true as their ferry Maria Xenia from Shipshape/Safeship is actually a little larger than her. Whatever, when the Reina del Rosario came from Trans-Asia Shipping Lines of Cebu with its 82.8 meters length and over 2,000 of gross tonnage, there was no assertion anymore that the Maria Matilde was the biggest ship of Montenegro Lines and so the former Cebuano ship won.

Actually, the two ships are familiar with each other. Once upon a time, the Maria Matilde might have been the most distant ship of Montenegro Lines in terms of fielding. When she was first sailed in 2005, she was on the Cagayan de Oro-Cebu-Iloilo-Puerto Princesa route (imagine a route that long). Now I just can’t remember if the Surigao-Siargao ferries of Montenegro Lines came earlier but probably not. So, the Maria Matilde was an overnight ferry from the very start and might even qualify technically as a multi-day liner although it is really an effort for a passenger bound for Puerto Princesa as the ship spends the daytime in port waiting for the next leg of journey in the night. Well, that could be a lot of free tourism for the more adventurous but unlike true liners of the period then they will not be fed while on port.

A few years before the Maria Matilde came, the Negros Navigation Company (NENACO) and later through Jensen Shipping tried the same route and it bombed. So I was wondering if Montenegro Lines knew a secret that Negros Navigation did not know or if they have a better formula. After all in the different legs of the route the Maria Matilde will be experiencing tough competition especially in the first two legs and in the last leg (the Iloilo-Puerto Princesa leg) the traffic between its two ports is not really heavy and actually Montenegro Lines is already serving that route aside from the original holder of the route, the hardy survivor Milagrosa Shipping Lines.

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Photo by Edsel Benavides

Apparently, Montenegro Lines did not know any better and they bombed out too. First, they cut the route to Cagayan de Oro. That is the prime Visayas-Mindanao route and competition there is very tough with the top competitors even fielding former liners aside from real liners from Manila holding the Manila-Cebu-Cagayan de Oro route (like the former SuperFerry 12 that is now known as the St. Pope John Paul II which is still plying the route). The Maria Matilde was severely outclassed in modernness of the competitors, in size, in the amenities and accommodations and in the speed when some can do almost twice her speed. And in passenger service there is almost no way for them to beat the liners (Montenegro Lines was never known for service especially since they have never experienced liner sailing). And the Maria Matilde does not even offer free food as that is the domain of the liners but not of the Batangas ferries. Additionally, some passengers bound for Iloilo or Bacolod can just take the liners doing the Cagayan de Oro-Iloilo-Manila or the Cagayan de Oro-Bacolod-Manila routes. If the passenger is still bound for Puerto Princesa he or she can just transfer to an Iloilo-Puerto Princesa ferry. In the Cebu-Iloilo leg the Cebu shipping companies also have good ferries and again that is another top route from Cebu. I felt then that the Maria Matilde was in a cul-de-sac especially since I know the Batangas people don’t know how good are the top overnight ferries of Cebu (all they know is beat the crappy Viva Shipping Lines standard).

In a span of a few years, Montenegro Lines gave up and brought back the Maria Matilde to Batangas to do their MIMAROPA Region overnight routes like their route to Romblon from Batangas. There, the Maria Matilde is not outclassed as Batangas barely know overnight ferries and in fact just have a few and it is one area where ROROs without bunks are used in night routes and so people use the benches as “bunks” leading to complaints by some and the crew there is not good in instilling discipline and unlike in the Visayas-Mindanao region the passengers are not averse to appropriating the whole bench for themselves. Well, that is the consequence of having no proper bunks. The Maria Matilde has been one of the longest overnight ships now in the Romblon route together with the biggest ship of Montenegro Lines, the Reina del Rosario. If they know each other in Romblon, they actually knew each other before in Cebu when the latter was still with Trans-Asia Shipping Lines.

The Maria Matilde is a not a new ship by any means and she belongs to the class that the haters of old ships love to jeer (because they have vested self-interest). She actually doesn’t show her age although she was built way back in 1971 or 46 years ago (well, Montenegro Lines is really good in refurbishing and maintaining old ferries). Her builder is the Taguma Zosen in Innoshima, Japan and she carries the IMO Number 7106126 which indicate when her keel was laid up.

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Taken by John Michael Aringay from funekichimurase.lolipop.jp

Originally, she was known as the Ferry Goto of the Kyushu Shosen KK of Nagasaki, Japan. She must have been doing the Nagasaki to Goto route as her name is an obvious giveaway. As such she might have been familiar with the Ferry Fukue which also came to the Philippines that is now known now as the Filipinas Iligan of Cokaliong Shipping Lines Inc. (that is if she was sailing to the southern island of Fukue). However, when that ship came the Maria Matilde was no longer in Cebu.

The Maria Matilde has a steel hull and had car ramps at the bow and at the stern that led to the single car deck. She already has the modern semi-bulbous stem and the usual transom stern of a ROPAX (RORO-Passenger) ship. Her length is 73.6 meters with a beam of 14.3 meters (which is only declared as 12.0 meters here but international databases says otherwise and 12.0 meters breadth are for the smaller ferries) and a depth of 4.8 meters. Her declared gross tonnage is 1,266 which is just about the same as her original gross register tonnage of 1,262 (and that is after adding an additional passenger deck). Her declared net tonnage is 693 with a passenger capacity of 832 (that includes the old Jet Seater class of the ship) in two-and-a-half passenger decks. She is powered by two Hanshin marine diesels with a total of 4,000 horsepower and her original top speed (the design speed) was 16 knots (lately she is still capable of a cruising speed of 13 knots which is not that far off from her design speed). Hanshin is not a common engine for passenger ships.

Unlike most Batangas passenger ships, the Maria Matilde is equipped with two stern passenger ramps (in Batangas, in general, the passengers enter and exit through the car deck and ramp heightening the chance on an accident). Part of the car deck was once used converted for passengers but it was removed now. The ferry also has a forecastle and small poop deck aside from two funnels which signifies two engines.

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Photo by Nowell Alcancia

The Maria Matilde might have remained an obscure ferry doing its job silently except when she was thrown into ignominy when she hit that overhanging rock last September 25, 2017 in Calatrava town of Tablas island, Romblon when the ferry was on the way from Odiongan to Romblon town (some reports said she grounded but that seems not to be the case as the stem of the ship is undamaged). Minor accidents and incidents are part of a ship’s life but the unusualness of the accident put this good ferry in a bad light due to the incompetence of the bridge crew. Nowadays, with pocket Wi-Fi and smartphones keeping lid on accidents on passenger ships with casualties is hard to do as it hits the public immediately. The only similar accident to this that I know was when the flagship of Escano Lines, the Fernando Escano II rammed the concrete battleship island in the mouth of Manila Bay in 1969 that also damaged the ship’s bow.

The crew when asked by media offered many lousy, unbelievable excuses. One said there was a steering failure (but then the ship was able to dock later in Romblon port and offload not only vehicles and passengers but also the wounded). Another said there was failure in the GPS instrument of the ship (but then there should still be nautical charts in the bridge and navigators that constantly plot the position of the ship). There is no question that there is bad visibility when the incident happened and it was still dark as it was just dawn yet and raining. But then if the radar is working and the bridge crew was not sleepy they should have seen that there was an obstacle ahead. Actually, the most likely thing that happened is the ship drifted because of the currents and the bridge crew failed to notice and correct it. In terms of familiarity of the course, the ship cannot give it as an excuse as they were on their regular route (and what are nautical charts for anyway?). Now, was there even a look-out or the look-out was busy stirring his cup of coffee?

With the accident, the length over-all of the ship shortened (although they will bring that to the shipyard for repairs and that is easy to remedy). However, the reputation on the crew and the ship is harder to repair now. With the Net, a search on Maria Matilde will always lead back to the accident in Romblon and that will be for years on end (what a disgrace). If we can search Fernando Escano II’s accident of almost half a century ago, imagine how long Maria Matilde’s accident will be searchable even if she is gone already. I don’t know if it is already time to change the ship’s name.

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Credits to The Manila Chronicle and Gorio Belen

Even then this ship is still a reliable ship that is capable of sailing many more years unless some government device is approved to cull old ships like that signed agreement to cut carbon dioxide emissions (practically no old ship of ours will survive massive carbon cuts unless re-engined but that is not cheap). Her owner Montenegro Lines is really good in prolonging the lives of their old ships and will even resort to re-engining if needed (we really love and value old ships, don’t we?).

Now if only her crew had been more careful.

When I Sailed With The Filipinas Maasin Again

Recently, I sailed with the Filipinas Maasin of Cokaliong Shipping Lines Inc. (CSLI) from Masbate when I was going back to Cebu. The truth is I really sought to take her again as I wanted to compare and see what changed with her since I last rode her over a decade ago (and in a different route at that). I really made sure I will be able to take the ship and that even meant cutting my stay in Bicol to just an overnight.

The Filipinas Maasin, over time was offered for sale along with the other older Cokaliong ships but there were no takers and so they just continued sailing. But over the years  Filipinas Maasin got more smokey and significantly slower. And so she was also laid up for long in Ouano yard undergoing refitting starting in 2015 and as we found out she had an engine change. This year, 2017, she was fully back in action for Cokaliong doing various routes.

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Filipinas Maasin being refitted and having an engine change in Ouano. Photo by John Carlos Cabanillas.

This Filipinas Maasin is actually the third Filipinas Maasin as two previous ferries of that name preceded her in the fleet of Cokaliong. The first two were cruiser ships and this is the first Filipinas Maasin that is a RORO (Roll-on, Roll Off) vessel. When she was first fielded she was the biggest ship of Cokaliong then together with her sister ship Filipinas Iloilo and practically the flagship of the Cokaliong fleet. She was then doing the Maasin and Surigao routes which first established Cokaliong Shipping Lines.

The third Filipinas Maasin is a ship built in 1980 as the Utaka Maru, a Japan ferry. She was built by Sanuki Shipbuilding and Iron Works in their Takuma yard. Her external dimensions then were 75.9 meters by 12.5 meters. Her original Gross Register Tonnage (GRT) was 999 tons and her Deadweight Tonnage (DWT) was 250 tons. She was powered by two Daihatsu marine engines of a combined 3,200 horsepower which gave her a top sustained speed of 13 knots when she was still new (this is the design speed).

In 1992, the Utaka Maru went to China to become the Zhong Hai No. 3. But in the same year she was sold to South Korea to become the Car Ferry Cheju No. 3 serving Cheju or Jeju island, a favorite South Korean resort destination. It was from South Korea where Cokaliong Shipping Lines acquired her in the year 2000. This was after their second Filipinas Maasin was sold to Roble Shipping Inc. and was converted into the Leyte Diamond which became a well-known ship in Hilongos, Leyte.

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Filipinas Maasin on her bad day before the engine change. Photo by John Carlos Cabanillas.

The third Filipinas Maasin firmed up the hold of Cokaliong Shipping Lines in Maasin and Surigao, a route which was not competed well by the then regional giant Cebu Ferries Corporation (CFC), the regional subsidiary of the merged company William, Gothong and Aboitiz (WG & A) that was basically using the not-so-reliable Our Lady of Guadalupe in the route which was already a graying ship already then. And that was a puzzle to me up to. Did the supporter of CSLI, President Fidel V. Ramos told WG & A to take it easy on Cokaliong? Dumaguete and Dapitan was another route not well-competed by Cebu Ferries and it also gave the chance for Cokaliong to grow when Trans-Asia Shipping Lines was suffering terribly from the onslaught of Cebu Ferries.

It was there in her primary route when I first rode Filipinas Maasin taking advantage of her cheap fare from Surigao to Maasin when I was on the way to Bicol (I declined the lousy Liloan-Lipata ferry, a Maharlika ship so I can ride her). The Filipinas Maasin was a much, much better ship than the Maharlika ship of Archipelago Philippine Ferries but my good ride turned out to be a mistake as arriving midnight in Maasin there was no bus yet to Manila and I just waited in a street corner fending off mosquitoes as I was advised the terminal was dark and empty at that unholy hour (and by the tricycle drivers’ implication unsafe — I believed the tricycle driver for who would turn down a paid ride?). For the Filipinas Maasin trip I did not stay in the Economy accommodation which my ticket indicated but just whiled my time in the restaurant cum lounge which is air-conditioned. Well, until now two Economy tickets from Surigao-Maasin and Maasin-Cebu is cheaper than taking one ticket straight from Surigao to Cebu but they usually won’t sell the Maasin-Cebu ticket in Surigao. I asked why but I did not get any clear answer except that I can sense it is a subsidized ride for Leytenos and they do not want to be taken for the ride (pun intended). I do not know if that cheap fare is also meant to compete with the Liloan-Lipata ferries (well at P325 the Maasin ticket is just P25 over the ferry to Liloan and a bus further on will cost much more).

When the ferry became a Philippine ship there was a change in the external dimensions of the ferry. She is now 81.3 meters by 14.8 meters. In my years of studying the specifications of Philippine ship this is one very rare instance when a ship grew in dimensions! Her Gross Tonnage (GT) is now 2,661 from a Gross Register Tonnage of 999 (now that is honest) and her Net Tonnage (NT) is now 1,684. I have observed that some ships that passed through China had their dimensions and tonnages bloat and maybe that is also the case for the Filipinas Maasin and Cokaliong no longer tried to “downsize” her here.

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The Filipinas Maasin arriving in Masbate after a 15-hour voyage from Cebu

The General Arrangement Plan (GAP) of Filipinas Maasin is very simple. There are only two passenger decks and the top deck which is on the same level of the bridge is an all-Economy deck with double bunks with mattresses. The lower passenger deck is Economy at the stern and Tourist section and Cabins/Suites at the bow. The latter is ahead of the Tourist section. In the lower deck the restaurant cum lounge divides the higher accommodations from the Economy section. It is a neat arrangement as the higher and lower accommodations both have a direct access to the restaurant. There is a small cubicle that serves as a karaoke room in the restaurant-lounge and together that is a row of video game consoles, both of which seem archaic now (in my ride nobody used the two).

The restaurant serves hot meals with rice and a limited choice of viand plus there is the usual instant noodles, some sandwiches, bread, biscuits, knick-knacks (locally known as chicheria) and a good selection of hot and cold drinks. Not that grand but maybe enough for one not to get hungry. In overnight ships it seems there is no provision for breakfast if a ship’s arrival is beyond 7am unlike in liners from Manila. So a late arrival is sure business for the ship’s restaurant and I wonder if they do it on purpose.

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The Filipinas Maasin is a very clean ship like the other ferries in the Cokaliong fleet. There is no dust or grime and even the floor is very clean that one can almost lie in it. One thing I noticed that changed in Filipinas Maasin is the flooring. The material now is like what they use in buses and it does not need painting. But like in all Cokaliong ships the lower bunks is almost near the floor and for oldies like me I need to use my hand to raise myself up. The plus side is the upper bunk does not seem to be too high.

Another notable change I noticed in the third Filipinas Maasin is the availability now of individual lights and a charging outlet per bunk in the Tourist section (sorry I was not able to check the Economy section as I was already tired with an all-day ship spotting in Masbate). With that the charging of devices is easy which is important nowadays. So I really wonder about the greed of 2GO that charges five pesos per ten minutes of charging time when Cokaliong can give the electricity for charging free. I never noticed any paid charging outlet in Filipinas Maasin.

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Filipinas Maasin Tourist with its big airconditioners

The Tourist section of the ship which was my accommodation was overly cold when they set four big packaged-type air-conditioners at 16 degrees Celsius when the Tourist section is not that big and just half-full. I tinkered with the air-conditioners because otherwise we will all suffer the entire night. They should have set the air-conditioners at full blast only during boarding time. There is no need to chill the passengers when they are already sleeping because their linen and blanket are not enough for that level of coldness. Some of my co-passengers already know that but who said one can’t tinker with the air-conditioners? I always do that when it is too cold for me.

My second ride with the third Filipinas Maasin was okay except that I miss the old cheaper Trans-Asia Shipping Lines fare from Masbate and the ship is slow for the Masbate-Cebu route especially since her departure time is 7pm (I should have taken her arrival of 10:30am in Masbate as a warning and the porters said that was normal arrival time for Filipinas Maasin). The old Trans-Asia Shipping ferries were all faster and arrive earlier than her. The sound of the engines seem okay and the propeller shaft does not make a racket but I just wonder what is the horsepower of her new China-made engines. Maybe she is better kept in the Maasin and Surigao route which is shorter than the Masbate route. But then the people of the two cities might have tired of her already and she can’t go head-to-head with the superior Lady of Love of Medallion Transport which is new and competing with Cokaliong in the Surigao route.

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The Filipinas Maasin after I disembarked from it in Cebu

In Cebu, we arrived some minutes past 9am. Well, it is good as it was already easy to hail a taxi (hard if it is between 6 to 8am). It is also good since we will be approaching Cebu when the sun is already up. But the early-morning smog of Cebu was still around when we passed by Tayud and Mactan Bay (this smog usually stays up to 8am, the product of all the sinugba of Cebu) and so my shots there were lousy especially since some ships are far. Ship spotting from Liloan to Cebu was my second reason why I took the Filipinas Maasin from Masbate.

It is obvious that with her re-engining Cokaliong Shipping Lines intends to keep the third Filipinas Maasin long-term. Well, unless the Department of Transportation of Arthur Tugade favors some shipping companies and culls the old but still reliable old ferries. But as things stand I expect to see the third Filipinas Maasin a long time more. And now she is already capable of sailing up to 12 knots, as the company said.

Well done, Cokaliong, for giving the third Filipinas Maasin a second lease of life. With new engines what will the bashers of old ships say now? The thickness of the hull can easily be proven by the magnetic anomaly detector. I assume the other equipment including the auxiliary engines are still in order (Dynamic Power, your main engine supplier also supplies that). There are lot of surplus parts including that of bridge equipment in the second-hand market, in case some needs replacement. You know that very well also.

So, right now your Filipinas Maasin is a living example on how to nay-say the bashers of old ships. Good!

The MS Express That Turned Into The Star Crafts 7

I first saw the MS Express live inside the Varadero de Recodo (“varadero” is Spanish for shipyard and Chavacano of Zamboanga is a Spanish creole language), a shipyard in Zamboanga City some five years ago now. The High Speed Craft (HSC) was laid up there together with the AS Express and RS Express and they were all Malaysia-built fastcrafts of the Zamboanga-based shipping company A. Sakaluran (for Hadji Ahmad Sakaluran, the founder). The said shipping company has already stopped sailing then and that included even their cruiser ferries like the Rizma. When I approached the fastcrafts, I found out that they still have a caretaker crew and they were friendly if a little bit depressed, shall I say (who won’t be in such a situation anyway and there was further reason for that, I later found out).

It was a great opportunity for me because I really wanted to shipspot the A. Sakaluran fastcrafts which was the Zamboanga pioneer in fastcrafts if the Bullet Express fastcrafts of Lepeng Wee (Speaker Ramon Mitra was not the true owner of those unlike what was said by urban legend) are excluded because those did not base in Zamboanga and plied other routes starting in Batangas. Actually, they even antedated the more-known Weesam Express (or more formally SRN Fastcrafts) which later moved to the Visayas. In real life, the two shipping companies are related by blood but A. Sakaluran was into shipping much earlier starting with with what I call the “Moro boats” which is the Mindanao equivalent of the batel in Luzon or lancha in other places and which is based on the Arab dhow.

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So, actually I was very saddened by the collapse of A. Sakaluran evidenced by their stopping of sailing. I am always saddened with the departure of the old shipping companies because we again will lose a part of our shipping heritage and history. The reason is unlike abroad we are not good in collecting and preserving records and mementos. In other countries, books about old shipping companies can be written decades after they were gone because there are complete written records plus valuable photos. That is not the situation in our country which is not too keen in history (courtesy of the destruction of the Spaniards of our old history). Actually, I try to write because I want to commit on record what I know and what I remember about our shipping history.

The collapse of A. Sakaluran might follow the analysis of my friend, the Zamboanga-based Administrator of Philippine Ship Spotters Society (PSSS), Britz Salih. He said the small Basilan Lines might have survived if they bought ROROs instead of the Australian catamaran Malamawi. That can also be true for A. Sakaluran. They might have had a longer life if instead of the three fastcrafts they acquired ROROs or maybe additional steel-hulled cruiser ferries. Fastcrafts were not cheap then but maybe the sales pitch of the Sibu fastcraft companies proved to be too tempting. It was also a success already then in Malaysia and in Singapore and so the implication is they will also be successful here.

In such a short time, Zamboanga had such a high concentration of High Speed Crafts (HSC) and mainly fastcrafts of Malaysian origin. Coupled with the sudden rise too in the number of ROROs because of the incentives of the Ramos administration there soon was overcompetition in Zamboanga (but the erroneous paper done by Myrna S. Austria didn’t see that because she believed the incomplete reports of the government agencies). Add to that the wont of passengers in Zamboanga not to pay fares if they are related to the owners or they are the followers of some VIPs, soon the High Speed Crafts of Zamboanga were threatened with bankruptcy (HSCs will go down first before the ROROs because they can’t carry a meaningful load of cargo and these have oversized engines guzzling large amounts of fuel and not the cheaper MDO by the way). In such a situation, Weesam Express brought most of their fastcrafts to the Visayas. Meanwhile, A. Sakaluran transferred two of their three fastcrafts to Batangas and one to Iloilo.

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The A. Sakaluran fastcrafts anchored in Batangas Bay (Photo by Nowell Alcancia)

The diversion did not prove to be successful because when A. Sakaluran transferred to Batangas there was also overcompetition there (when clueless-about-shipping Myrna S. Austria contended in her Philippine Institute for Development Studies paper that there was lack of competition there because she did not see that the government reports she was basing on was highly incomplete). Batangas was not only the base then of ever-increasing number of ROROs but also of High Speed Crafts especially the tough-to-beat, state-of-the-art SuperCats. Losing money, in a few short years the fastcrafts of A. Sakaluran were found just anchored in Batangas Bay and not sailing. And then these were no longer seen there again. However, they were spotted anchored in Bacolod a short while later before they disappeared once more.

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The MS Express spotted anchored in Bacolod (Photo by “boybacolod2”)

And so in one of my visits to Varadero de Recodo, I was really thrilled to see the three A. Sakaluran fastcrafts after they disappeared from view in Batangas. That was the confirmation that they were still alive and not sold anywhere else like in Indonesia which uses a lot of Malaysian-built fastcrafts. That was really a thrilling find since those fastcrafts were still in good condition and not just some kind of old and balky ferries.

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Just what is their origins? The MS Express is a fastcraft built in 1999 by Yong Choo Kui (YCK) in Sibu on the western shore of Sabah, Malaysia, the birthplace of the Malaysian type of fastcrafts. She was like almost all the other Malaysian fastcrafts which were developed by the Malaysian government from a riverboat design. That means a long sleek hull with a narrow beam and sitting low on the water but with oversized engines. The hull is made of strong steel unlike many High Speed Crafts with aluminum alloy hulls. I was told the hull was designed even for beaching if needed.

Now, I do not know if the tale that they can survive a 360-degree cartwheel but of course any passenger or crew not in harness will suffer injury from that. They are known for good seakeeping and stability but many fear wave splashes on the windows thinking it is already a sign of danger when definitely it is not. Well, I guarantee the waves of Celebes Sea can be higher than that and I have personally experienced it there in a fastcraft when we took the direct route from Baganian Peninsula to Zamboanga City and it was habagat (southwest monsoon) time. But the passengers there are used to rougher seas and bigger waves and we all agreed it was simply time to sleep already when it was actually daytime. Well, rather than worry we were not seeing any land anymore.

The MS Express has a registered length (LR) of 40.7 meters, a beam of 4.7 meters and a depth of 2.3 meters and so her height to depth ratio is actually very low which is a big factor in stability. Her gross tonnage is 143 and her net tonnage is only 25 (which I have doubt if that is correct). Like the RS Express and the Sea Jet of Aleson Shipping Lines she was powered by twin Mitsubishi high-speed engines with a total of 3,100 horsepower. Her design speed was 30 knots which is high-speed craft range even in the high European standard. The only problem with big engines in a small craft like a fastcraft is they generate a lot of heat and at full trot dissipating them becomes a problem. However, with no cabin above the engine this is less of a problem in MS Express unlike in Weesam Express fastcrafts.

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The stem of MS Express is raked as can be expected of fastcrafts and the stern is transom. There is a main passenger cabin which is airconditioned and on a stair leading to the upper deck is the bridge and behind that was still a half-deck of passenger accommodation. There is the usual-for-HSCs single mast with flashing light which distinguishes High Speed Crafts from other vessels especially in the night. A distinguishing mark for MS Express is the presence of two tall, slanted funnels with the air intakes for the engines just ahead of the funnels.

The pilot houses of the Malaysian fastcrafts are not as great as the High Speed Crafts from Japan and might even look primitive to some. There is that big stainless steel steering wheel (why is it not powered?) and the throttles are just at the right of the helmsman who sits on the port side of the pilot house. At the middle of the dashboard are the gauges and monitors of the ship. The side windows of the pilot houses can swing out.

In Varadero de Recodo, me and Britz heard the three A. Sakaluran fastcrafts have a buyer already and the amount we heard seems to be ridiculously low for us knowing what their original prices were (well, laid-up vessels usually don’t command good prices unless it is in Korea). But on my visit back to Varadero de Recodo, I heard Ernesto Ouano of Mandaue offered a much higher price for the three. Me and my companion Britz looked at each other. We know there are implications for that but we cannot be sure if that was related to an unfortunate incident that occurred in Mandaue later (as we say your guess is as good as mine).

And so one by one the three A. Sakaluran fastcrafts disappeared from Varadero de Recodo starting in late 2012 with the AS Express going first and the RS Express the last remaining. They were to be brought back under their own power to Sibu for refurbishing and that was a puzzle for us. They don’t look in need of massive refitting and so what was the need then to bring them back to Sibu? Why not Cebu directly? That great shipping place has a lot of shipyards and Varadero de Recodo is also a shipyard. Later it turned out that they will be re-engined also and there will be some other modifications. And so maybe re-engining was the major reason for bringing them back to Sibu. We knew they will already be Star Crafts upon their return.

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It will be 2014 already when MS Express returned to the country and she turned out to be the Star Crafts 7 of the shipping company known as either SITI Interisland or Sea Highway Carrier. There is really no difference between the two but everybody knows them as Star Crafts. The mutual legal-fiction companies have two routes from Cebu to Bohol which are to Tubigon and Jetafe (or Getafe) which are just a distance of about 20 nautical miles or so each. And maybe this is why the reason they derated the engine to a YC Diesel (or Yuchai) of China of just a total of 1,850 horsepower with a cruising speed of about 20 knots or a little bit above, just good enough for her to quality as a fastcraft by PSSS (Philippine Ship Spotters Society) definition as MARINA, the maritime regulatory agency has no definition for that.

The upper deck of the fastcraft was lengthened a little by three windows. It has two direct stairs to the upper deck of the ship and it seems primary loading now is through the upper deck as the fastcraft sits low now compared to the docks. The high funnels are no longer around and those were transferred to the stern (that is good because including the derated engines means less noise for the passenger cabins). There is also now a built-up structure in the stern for the crew (they look more like cadets to me, however, as the real crew seems to be just in T-shirts). Between that and the upper passenger deck is space for some light cargo.

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The big negative thing that happened to the fastcraft as Star Crafts 7 is in the seating arrangement that is now 4+4 with a small seat pitch which is the distance between the seats and so seating is very tight and there is obvious lack of space. Star Crafts 7 is the tightest-sitting High Speed Craft I ever saw and I wonder if Boholanos are not complaining . She is now a slower fastcraft with tight spaces and almost no legroom. And of course the seats are not reclining.

Now I wonder what kind of refurbishing or improvement is that? It looks more like downgrading to me. For the ownership and the revenues that is good and a plus. But for the passengers, what is the benefit of that? The ship has no canteen and so a crewman not in uniform hawks food when the ship is already sailing (that is also what I observed in Starcrafts 1). Well, even if there is a canteen someone not in the aisle will have difficulty in getting out. The tight spaces forbid movement for the entire ride as the passengers in the cheapest class (which is also airconditioned) are packed like sardines. This cheapest class occupies majority of the passenger accommodation in the fastcraft.

There are also higher class passenger accommodations in the upper deck that seats 3+3 and 3+4 which have a different seat motif and these sell higher. I wonder if they call that the Business Class. Those were farther from the engines but of course the upper deck will sway more in rough seas. Maybe with less water splash the view of the outside is better there.

Her route is Cebu-Tubigon when I rode with her and from Tubigon it took us a few minutes over one hour and part of the reason is the slowing down approaching Shell island because of the speed limit imposed in Mactan Channel now. By whatever measure, I cannot say my ride with her was comfortable and actually I was disappointed.

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Star Crafts is dominating the Tubigon and Jetafe routes at the High Speed Crafts  segment (that route has many ROROs) especially since Lite Jet is already gone and it seems the Star Crafts 7 is also successful too. But it is my wish that she would be more comfortable. What is the cost anyway of removing a few seats? A High Speed Craft should offer more room, better leg space and better seats than a tourist bus, I should say, if they will use “Tourist” as designation of the passenger class. Am I wrong? After all, a High Speed Craft is the bigger craft, it costs more and so why not make it more comfortable all the way? That way, they will be deserving of the higher class or segment they are thought of to be occupying.

The King Frederick and Nelvin Jules

The King Frederick and Nelvin Jules of Santa Clara Shipping Corporation are actually sister ships which look like each other save for some minor differences. When trying to identify them I try to look for the name lest I might be mistaken in the identification (anyway, one of the two has a longer name).

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Both of these ships arrived in the country in 1999 and they were the opening salvo in the challenge of the newly-established Santa Clara Shipping Corporation in the Matnog-Allen route long dominated but badly served by Bicolandia Shipping Lines and its legal-fiction companies like E. Tabinas and Eugenia Tabinas. When the sister ships arrived they were not larger than the bigger ships in the route. However, they were the newest and the fastest and even newer than the government-owned Maharlika I which was built in 1982.

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With such an advantage the reigning Bicolandia Shipping Lines immediately cried foul and tried all the legal means to drive out King Frederick and Nelvin Jules because their old ships which were mainly acquired from other local shipping companies and were built in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s were clearly inferior already in all respects. And Bicolandia Shipping Lines has the dead weight of a bad reputation originating from their ships having the wont of not sticking to departure times and trying to get full as much as possible before departure. Plus, of course, clients always want the new.

Bicolandia Shipping Lines failed in their opposition at the level of MARINA (Maritime Industry Authority), the maritime regulatory agency and which has quasi-judicial function and all the way to the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court. And so the King Frederick and Nelvin Jules were not driven out from route and began to beat their opposition (there were other players in the route aside from Bicolandia Shipping and Maharlika I) until the day came when Bicolandia Shipping Lines surrendered and sold itself to Sta. Clara Shipping Corporation and became the Penafrancia Shipping Corporation.

The King Frederick,  the newer of the two sister ships was supposedly named after the top gun of the combine owning Santa Clara Shipping Corporation, Frederick Uy. She and the Nelvin Jules are ROPAX (RORO-Passenger) ferries built by Kanda Shipbuilding Co. in their Kawajiri yard in Japan. The two ferries both measured at 58.6 meters in Length Over-all (LOA), 55.5 meters in Length Between Perpendiculars (LPP or LBP) with a Beam or Breadth of 14.0 meters. Originally, the sister ships had a similar Gross Tonnage (GT) of 699 with a Deadweight Tonnage (DWT) of 308 tons. By the way, the King Frederick was the last ever ship built by Kanda Shipbuilding in their Kawajiri yard.

The King Frederick‘s original name was Sagishima and she was built in 1987 and the Nelvin Jules’ original name was Kurushima and she was built in 1985 making her the elder ship of the two. When the two arrived in 1999 they were still both relatively young at 12 years and 14 years old, respectively. King Frederick has the IMO Number 8704315 while Nelvin Jules has the IMO Number 8504404 which both reflects the year when their keels were laid up. The sister ships have a steel hull, a box-like housing at the bow which protects against the rain when loading and unloading and also keeps the car deck less wet and muddy when it is raining. They both have a transom stern and ramps at the bow and at the stern. The ships both have two masts and two funnels at the top of the ship.

The sister ships are powered by two Daihatsu marine engines with a total of 2,400 horsepower and these gave them a sustained top speed of 13.5 knots when still new. In their 11-nautical mile Matnog-BALWHARTECO (Allen) route, the sister ships were capable of crossing the San Bernardino Strait in just under one hour when newly-fielded if the notorious waves of San Bernardino are not acting up. BALWHARTECO port was the choice of Santa Clara Shipping in Allen as it was a shorter route than the official Matnog-San Isidro route of the government. The San Isidro Ferry Terminal is the official government RORO port while the BALWHARTECO port is a private port and along time Santa Clara Shipping Corporation (SCSC) had a hand-and-glove relationship with the management of BALWHARTECO (Balicuatro Wharfage and Terminal Corporation).

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BALWHARTECO Port, the original home of King Frederick and Nelvin Jules

Before fielding here a new passenger deck was built on the bridge level of both ships. However, the Gross Tonnages (GT) of the sister ships dropped to 694 which is more likely an under-declaration. The declared Net Tonnages (NT) of the two ships is 357 (a clarification, both the GT and the NT have no units). The passenger capacities of both ships are 750 persons reflecting their almost similar internal arrangements. The Depths of the two ferries are both 3.8 meters which is about average for ships their size.

The new passenger deck became an all-Economy accommodation with fiberglass seats. On the lower deck, at the front portion was the old accommodation in Japan which became the Tourist section as it was air-conditioned and had better foamed seats. That section is also where the canteen was located. All passengers have access to that canteen.

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The canteen inside the Tourist section of the King Frederick

When the gusts are up in San Bernardino Strait along with its wind-driven rains and this can be often in the peak of the habagat (the southwest monsoon) and amihan (the northeast monsoon) that section is a welcome cover especially for the more vulnerable passengers like the small children, the pregnant and the old. The habagat and amihan are both fierce in San Bernardino Strait, it affects the area more than half of the year and ships crossing the strait sometimes have to take a dogleg route lengthening the transit time and producing seasickness in many passengers.

Behind this Tourist section is another Economy section with fiberglass seats also that were built in a former promenade deck of the ship when it was still in Japan. Many prefer this in inclement weather as it does not rock as hard as the deck above and it seems the winds can be less fierce here. Of course there is one less deck to climb or descend and that matters maybe in a short route when some passengers like me don’t bother to sit at all (too many views to enjoy from the ships to the seascape to the mountains and of course the ports and its activities). Maybe the reason they put the karaoke in the upper deck is to enjoin passengers to climb there.

Below this passenger accommodation is the car deck of the RORO ships. One advantage of the two sisters is the wide beam of 14.0 meters which allows four lanes of trucks or buses on either side of the “island” in the middle of the car deck which actually houses ladders going up and down and below the car deck are crew accommodations and the crew mess which are all air-conditioned.

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A crowded Nelvin Jules. See the “island” in the middle of the car deck

With 55.5 meters in LPP up to five rows of trucks and buses can be accommodated. Of course, though trucks and buses dominate the load in their routes, still smaller vehicles like cars and utility vehicles will normally be in the rolling cargo mix. These ships will normally be full because Santa Clara Shipping mastered the art of giving discounts and pay-later schemes, the reason a lot of trucks and buses are tied up to them. Tied-up buses which carry passengers that cannot be delayed even have priority in loading in them. The sisters have ramps front and bow but normally it is only the bow ramps that are deployed and employed, the reason vehicles have to board the ship backwards. One thing I cannot understand with the sister ships’ bow ramp is they are off-center. I do not know what is the advantage of it. Actually in cargo loading it only tends to affect the balance of the ship.

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King Frederick in Masbate. See the off-center ramp.

Along time especially with the arrival of other ROPAXes for Santa Clara Shipping Corporation, King Frederick and Nelvin Jules were also assigned to other routes of the company especially their new Masbate-Pio Duran route. There is no permanent fielding for them and the sister ships generally rotate between the two routes. Another route where King Frederick has been fielded is to their newest route, the Lipata-Liloan route which became a Lipata-Surigao route when a quake damaged the Lipata port (however, they are back now recently to Lipata Ferry Terminal).

Over-all, the sister ships proved very successful and became proven moneymakers for Santa Clara Shipping. Although 18 years sailing now locally, the two are still very sturdy and very reliable and almost no breakdown can be heard from them. What I only wish is Santa Clara Shipping make some sprucing in the ships so they will come back to like when they were still new here.

Even when the two sister ships are in San Bernardino Strait, they are no longer docking now in BALWHARTECO port as their company has a new, owned port now in Jubasan in the same town of Allen, Northern Samar. However, when this article was written none of them were there as Nelvin Jules was in the Masbate-Pio Duran route pairing with the ship Jack Daniel of the same company and they with their cargo RORO LCT Aldain Dowey are dominating the Masbate route.

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Nelvin Jules leaving Masbate port

I see many, many more years of sailing and service for the two sisters if the gauge is how sister company Penafrancia Shipping Corporation is taking care of the older ferries acquired from Bicolandia Shipping Lines. Both are equipped with tough and lost-lasting Daihatsu marine engines and simply put their company has the revenues and moolah to take care of them well. It has even a stake in Nagasaka Shipyard in the Tayud row of shipyards in Cebu where they are given priority.

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Nelvin Jules in Nagasaka Shiyard

If 50 years is the gauge now of longevity of ships, they will still be around in 2035, knock on wood.

The Ferry MV Tacloban City of William Lines

When I first saw the MV Tacloban City of William Lines in the late 1980’s, I did not think much of her. She looked small and having ridden small ferries already I thought she had not that much to offer. Among liners then in the North Harbor she was among the smallest already in the league of the MV Palawan Princess of Sulpicio Lines. The MV Don Julio of Negros Navigation certainly looked bigger. Of course, there is no comparison to the other ferries then in North Harbor except for maybe those owned by MBRS Lines, the MV Salve Juliana and MV Romblom Bay which were actually overnight ships from Manila.

If there is something that makes the MV Tacloban City look small it is because of her thin beam. ROROs even though shorter than her like the Moreta Shipping ROROs in North Harbor like the MV Nikki and the small MV Surigao Princess of Sulpicio Lines looked bigger or equal because of “fatter” beams and of course ROROs for the same length are generally higher because RORO decks and ramps have to be tall enough for the vehicles being loaded including container vans mounted on trailers.5556051110_863ca5e32f_b

(Credits to Times Journal and Gorio Belen)

Later, when I was able to sail with the MV Tacloban City as the MV Sampaguita Ferry in Zamboanga City, I found out she had more to offer that I previously thought. She was a liner after all before and she retained all her amenities even though she is just being used then as an overnight ship to Pagadian City. Like her fleet mate MV Iligan City, she has practically everything except that it seems everything is miniaturized and one is thrown back imagining the liners in the past when they were still smaller and shipping companies were trying to maximize passenger capacity for the growing population and passengers of the country.

The MV Tacloban City came to the country in 1975 and she was a cruiser. In those times there were no RORO Passenger (ROPAX) ships yet and it was still the time of the cruisers. Cruisers were “thinner” the ROPAXes for the latter need the bigger beam to balance its taller superstructure. Cruisers meanwhile were designed to slice through the water and hence they were thinner. They thus had only one engine and one propeller compared to the usual two of the ROPAXes for the same length. Sitting lower on the water, cruisers tend to be more stable. However, they tend to rock a lot in port when their booms handle cargo especially if it is a container van.

When the MV Tacloban City came to the country she was only the second fast cruiser liner of William Lines after the legendary MV Cebu City which arrived brand-new from Japan. The MV Tacloban City was a second-hand vessel, a recognition of the changed economic circumstances of the country when the economy and the exchange rate worsened significantly starting the first half of the 1970’s which made acquisition of brand-new ships impossible already for it already cost a lot. Furthermore, credit and availability of foreign currency were already tight during those times especially after the Oil Shock of 1973.

The MV Tacloban City was a ferry built in 1962 by Sanoyasu Dockyard in Osaka, Japan for Oshima Unyu. The ferry was then known in Japan as the MV Naminoue Maru. She is of steel hull with raked stem and a cruiser stern and two masts (boom looks like a third mast, however). The ship was assigned the IMO Number 5246295 later.

The ferry had a length over-all (LOA) of 91.1 meters, a beam of 12.8 meters, an original gross register tonnage (GRT) of 2,244 tons and a deadweight tonnage (DWT) of 1,171 tons. She was powered by a single Mitsubishi engine of 5,800 horsepower and her original sustained top speed was 19 knots.

This ferry was launched in December of 1974 and completed in March of 1975 and she was used in the route to Oshima Island southeast of the main island of Honshu before she became part of A” Lines (which means she must have been designed for stability). William Lines acquired the MV Naminoue Maru for P16 million which was roughly $2.2 million dollars then.

With her coming to the Philippines additional structures were built on her like what is usually done to increase the passenger capacity and to build additional amenities. In conversion to gross tonnage (GT) the cubic size went down to 1,965. The new net tonnage was 767, the depth was 4.7 meters and the deadweight tonnage (DWT) was 1,173 tons.

The formal inauguration of the ship was on October 14, 1975. The ship’s name was a homage to the city she will serve which was the new style then already of William Lines to name their fast cruisers for the city they will serve (as compared before when their ex-”FS” ships were named after the sons and daughters of the founder William Chiongbian).

1975 1015 Cheetah of the Sea_MV Tacloban City

(Credits to Times Journal and Gorio Belen)

The ship initially had three passenger decks with a passenger capacity of 1,018 person. With that, she was one of the earliest passenger ships in the country to breach the 1,000-passenger capacity mark. Later, a half-deck for passengers was built at the bridge level and increasing her passenger capacity to 1,274 persons.

Upon fielding in the country, the MV Tacloban City was used in the Catbalogan and Tacloban route from Manila. This was the next foray then of William Lines in Eastern Visayas after an earlier putative attempt using the MV Elizabeth, an old former “FS” ship without air-conditioning which was heavily outmatched by the better competition like the MV Sweet Grace, MV Sweet Rose, both of Sweet Lines and the MV Dona Angelina of Sulpicio Lineswhich all had air-conditioning (there were also lesser passenger-cargo ships without air-conditioning to Catbalogan and Tacloban then). This was the time when there was no road and intermodal connections yet to Eastern Visayas from Luzon, the time when liners were still the king (or better yet queen) to the region.

When the MV Tacloban City was fielded in the Eastern Visayas route suddenly William Lines had parity with the better competition. In terms of size, the MV Tacloban City was just about the size of the better competition and in amenities, accommodations, food and passenger service they might have been in rough parity. What her advantage then was she was the speediest among the liners with air-conditioning to Catbalogan and Tacloban and William Lines harped on that by calling her the “Cheetah of the Sea”. Cheetahs of course are known for their bursts of speed. And in the direct route to Tacloban, the MV Tacloban City sailed the 363-nautical mile route in only 21 hours including the slow passage in San Juanico Strait with its many shallows and sandbars. For a long time MV Tacloban City’s cruising speed was 17.5 knots which can match even some of the liners of today.

The MV Tacloban City served the two Eastern Visayas cities for more than 16 years, one of the ships to serve a route the longest straight and long after her initial competitors had long been gone from the route and even during the time when the intermodal buses and trucks had already been rolling to Samar and Leyte through the short-distance ferry-ROROs traversing San Bernardino Strait.

She was only removed when MV Masbate I took over her route and she was transferred to the Manila-Ozamis route via Pandan of Antique. A little later she was again shunted to the more minor Manila-Dipolog (which is actually Dapitan) route via Batan, Aklan, an ignominy often suffered by older liners. She was holding this route when the William, Gothong & Aboitiz (WG&A) merger took place on January 1, 1996.

When that merger came the MV Tacloban City was relegated to the regional subsidiary Cebu Ferries Corporation or CFC where she was assigned the Cebu-Roxas City route. That route did not last and the next year, 1997, she was offered for sale along with many other cruiser ships (along with other ROPAXes) of WG&A and Cebu Ferries Corporation.

In the same year the expanding Sampaguita Shipping Corporation of Zamboanga City snapped her up and she was fielded in the Zamboanga City-Pagadian route with almost no modification. She was renamed into MV Sampaguita Ferry but she is generally regarded as MV Sampaguita Ferry 1 with the acronym “SF1” (and I wondered if WG&A ever complained). It is here in this route that I was able to sail her in 1998 with my late mother after visiting my brother in Zamboanga City. We were in Cabin and though small by the cabins of the day it was still respectable.

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(Photo by Britz Salih)

I was not able to roam the ship much as we were already tired and I have to tend to my elderly mother. That was the time when Zamboanga port still had no expansion and so many motor boats were using that port (along with so many small cruiser ships as there were still a lot of shipping companies still existing then in Zamboanga). We were only able to board near 11pm and with great difficulty. Only the bow portion of the ship was able to dock due to non-availability of wharf space and we passengers have to clamber over the ship not via the gangplank but over the bow through a ladder and that was difficult for my mother. The long wait at the port even added to our tiredness. And that Cabin which was among the best at least among the Zamboanga local ships was a welcome respite.

Even at a very late departure because the ship was not able to leave immediately as cargo still has to be loaded, we still arrived at a reasonable 8am in Pagadian. We had a good night’s sleep and actually we were already asleep when the ship left port. I had no camera then but before leaving port I took a long look at her capturing in my mind her lines and stance. I did not know that will be the last time I will see the former MV Tacloban City.

Not long after, Sampaguita Shipping Corporation (SSC) ran into financial trouble not entirely of her own creation. The Zamboanga-Pagadian highway improved when before it was more of a bumpy and dusty ride with danger from bandits, the reason why some prefer the more expensive ship especially the wealthy (and that is why there is patronage for the Cabin class that started from the MV Lady Helen of SKT Shipping. More trucks rolled too and slowly the cargo and the passengers of the Zamboanga City-Pagadian ships started to evaporate.

With its new ships financed by bank loans and with revenues drying, Sampaguita Shipping went belly up and her mortgaged ships were seized by the banks including the MV Sampaguita Ferry and she was anchored. Later, she disappeared along with the former MV Iligan City, also of William Lines before. Tale in Zamboanga City says the two sailed for Cebu City for breaking but I doubt the story. The two could have easily sailed south to meet their fates with the ship cutters. By that time there were no more buyers of cruiser ships anymore as they were already obsolete for most routes.

In international maritime databases there is no information on the final fate of the former MV Tacloban City.

[Note: There is another ship, a tanker with exactly the same name as this cruiser ferry and co-existed at the same time with her which is linked to ignominy as she was the ship that rammed the MS Don Juan, the flagship then of Negros Navigation. That happened in the night of April 22, 1980 in Tablas Strait. I mentioned this not to rake up old memories that should have been left in peace but to avoid any confusion and a clarification that this cruiser ferry is not involved in that horrible accident which claimed over a thousand lives.]

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 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.