On The 11th Anniversary of the Capsizing of MV Princess of the Stars

Before the Philippine Ship Spotters Society (PSSS) was founded, I already wrote two articles about the capsizing of the Princess of the Stars in another forum/website, that of our college student organization. I would just want to share it here, warts, errors and all so that means no revisions of any kind.

The first one:

MV Princess of the Stars: In Memoriam

November 11, 2008






The ill-fated MV Princess of the Stars, as pictured above, is no rust-bucket. In her former life in Japan, she was the revered “Ferry Lilac” of the Shin-Nihonkai Line plying the Honshu-Hokkaido route. One of four sister ships (ships based on the same design so they look identical), she was built in 1984 by Ishikawajima-Harima Heavy Industries (IHI), a respected shipbuilder. Her dimensions were 185.72 meters length and 29.4 meters width with a depth of 14.5 meters and a volume capacity of 23,824.17 gross tons. Its 2 Pielstick diesel engines produce 26,400 horsepower.

She was the biggest passenger ship ever to ply the Philippine waters. Her sister ship “Ferry Lavender” which reached Greece a few months after she reached the Philippines in 1984 was the biggest-ever Japanese ship to be used in Greece. The four sister ships were much-awaited by international buyers when news surfaced that they would be sold by their Japanese operators.

But, whatever the origins of the ship is, she is only as good as the crew and the shipping company that operates her.

In this regard I fully agree with the Maritime Industry Authority [MARINA] edict that Sulpicio Lines should first hire an international ship management agency before it is permitted to fully sail again in Philippine waters.

(Photo credit: skyscraper)

The second article (but was written earlier right after Princess of the Stars was lost):

The Blame Game and Other Musings

July 13, 2008

It was 14 years ago when my attention was first caught by a sea tragedy.  One of the ferries that we use to ride to Mindoro, the Kimelody Cristycaught fire resulting in the loss of lives.  When the heat was intense (no pun intended), the Governor of Mindoro Occidental joined those who were condemning Moreta Shipping Lines, the owner of the vessel.  It did not matter that they were friends.  It also did not matter that Moreta is just an upstart shipping line (and probably undeserving of kicking) trying to break the stranglehold of the combined Viva Shipping Lines/Sto. Domingo Lines/D.R. Shipping who were lording it over the Mindoro routes with predatory pricing and suspected sabotage against competitors. (Well, SuperCat of Aboitiz Shipping Corp. used to keep overnight its catamarans inside a holding pen with underwater extensions and with floodlights and armed roving guards to boot in Calapan, Oriental Mindoro, away from the Batangas City base of the 3 shipping lines of “Don” Domingo Reyes, the supreme warlord of Bondoc Peninsula, Quezon; after all the competitors of the Domingo trio used to have one “accident” after the other).  It also did not matter that Kimelody Cristy was the best ship plying the Mindoro route and that the fire was an accident (LPG tanks that are part of the cargo exploded, triggered by welding activities; to the uninitiated, welding activities as part of maintenance work is normally done while a vessel is sailing).  Charges of “floating coffin” and “rust bucket” abounded as if all ships that meet accidents are not seaworthy.  Accidents are operational hazards. We do not easily call a bus that met an accident a “rolling coffin” nor a plane that crashed as a “flying coffin”.  I note that most media people and politicians that make attacks after a marine accident do not ride ships (let’s take away those photo-ops activities of politicians and bureaucrats because that is not real-world sea travel). Moreta became a punching bag maybe because it cannot afford a platoon of high-priced lawyers and PR practitioners.

A few years later the Dona Marilyn sank in a storm in almost the same circumstances as the sinking a few weeks ago of the Princess of the Stars.  The Dona Marilyn left Cebu City under a storm Signal # 2 (yes, it was allowed then, when Signal #2 typhoons were stronger than current Signal #2 typhoons) and it intended to proceed to Tacloban City towards the direction of a typhoon that was shortly expected to intensify to Signal # 3.  Against the pleadings of some of the passengers, the captain of the ship proceeded reasoning he will seek shelter somewhere if the seas become too rough (one must understand that old captains are veterans of this “seeking-shelter” strategy since they were products of the small ships of the ’60s; the remnants of these ships still ply the Cebu-Bohol routes so one can still see their size or lack thereof and its design). As fate would have it the elements literally tore into Dona Marilyn.  The tarpaulin covers of the sides of the ship was not able to contain the rain and wave surge (folks, don’t worry ’cause big ships nowadays have cabins), deluging the inside of the ship causing it to list (to tilt on its side). Even though the passengers helped in baling water, it went to no avail ’cause soon the engine of the ship conked out (one must suspect it became inundated in water).  A ship without power in a typhoon is practically a dead ship since it can no longer maneuver.  Many lives were lost in that tragedy.

The Board of Marine Inquiry ruled the sinking as “force majeure” (?!!?).  Sailing into the storm and it is declared a “force majeure”???  Maybe, as the say, “Tell it to the Marines”!  Now with a probe where some congressmen are more content in questioning PAGASA (makes on wonder where their loyalty is; anyway it won’t probably matter in the next elections because their constituents do not ride ships and maybe so because they probably come from Luzon; but I doubt the wisdom in appointing in an investigating body someone who do not ride ships just like the question put forward by the newspaper Malaya editor-in-chief against the DOTC Undersecretary who is the government pointman in the Princess of the Stars tragedy), the investigation might just turn into a blame game. Through the ticket it is still possible to see the canniness of the Sulpicio attacks against PAGASA and its labeling of the accident as an “act of God”.  Are the “motions to inhibit” against some independent-minded Board of Marine Inquiry members a prelude to another verdict of “force majeure”?

When the Dona Paz burned and sank in a collision with the tanker Vector(thus putting us on the world map of marine disasters because of the size of the casualty) and Dona Marilyn sank in a storm, the Sulpicio Lines changed the names of its ships from the Dons and Donas to Princesses (as in Princess of the Stars).   But it seemed there was no change in their “luck” as the Princess of the Orient and Princess of the Stars sank in storms and the Princess of the World and Philippine Princess both burned (the latter in anchorage).  Well, I do not think that “luck” is an essential thing in navigation.  If it is then the study of it must be mandated as part of a naval curriculum and degree but it is not.

It was 1995 when I first rode a “Sacrificio” (a.k.a. Sulpicio) ship (yes, it is the monicker of Sulpicio Lines just as “Gutom Shipping” is the monicker of Gothong Shipping Corp. [so Gothong made sure then that its passengers are well fed, but not now]).  I noticed a picket line inside the company premises in the North Harbor.  “Claimants” (daw) against Sulpicio in the Dona Paz sinking.  But porters and cigarette vendors told me they were not legitimate claimants but unscrupulous persons out to fleece Sulpicio Lines with bogus claims.  That incident made me think and research.  After a few years of riding ships of Dona Paz‘s size during the Yuletide rush, i no longer believe the claim that up to 4,000 passengers died in that accident (the company admitted 1,568).  No way that a ship intended for 1,518 passengers will be able to take in more than double its capacity.  It is not just a question of passenger space but also the capacity of the ship to take in all those people (folks, meals in local inter-island ships are, in general, free so all of them will want to be fed during meal times).  But the bad thing is we became the world record-holder in the number of casualty due to a peacetime ship sinking.

Fighting all the way in courts is a grim battle for the families of the victims.  Searching the Net, it seems it takes more than 20 years before a final decision is reached at the Supreme Court level (so probably the idea of the Chief Justice to set up a maritime accident court makes sense).  And I think if the reasoning of the Sulpicio Lines is it’s a force majeurethen probably it will reach the highest Court if one intends to claim to claim the full extent of damages against Sulpicio Lines.

On other hand, I also bemoan the knee-jerk reaction of government functionaries that mandated that under Signal #1 ships irregardless of size cannot sail. It will just create a lot of stranded passengers. Passengers will lose, bus companies, truck companies and shippers will lose.  The only winners will be the vendors and eateries in the port terminals.  Now I wonder what kind of economics is that.  It only betrays the ignorance of land-bound people in government who regulates ships but do not ride ships. It is not even proven at this point nor will it ever be proven that laxity in regulations led to the Princess of the Stars‘ sinking.  Maybe it was just plain recklessness combined with poor navigation and making the passengers and shippers pay for this is just a lot of hassle and pure lack of common sense (well, I forgot our government was never ever known for good common sense).

 

I do not see in these modern times why sailing restrictions for sea vessels are still governed by the typhoon signal when in my experience for sea people including fishermen the more important measurement is the wave level.  All we hear at the forecasts disseminated by the media is the wind speed measured in kilometers per hour and typhoon direction and speed when also part of the forecast is the wave height which is far more important when one is at sea especially during the night.  Also I wonder why PAGASA is now the de facto final arbiter in the sailings when everybody knows the level of forecast of PAGASA is just at the province or island/island group level.  It cannot define in real-time a local weather condition like if it is still safe to cross  San Bernardino Strait or Lagonoy Gulf or Ticao Pass/Black Rock Pass (in the Net, several weather forecasts and satellite pictures are always available and in real-time).  A re-tooled Coast Guard might be able to do a better job since its units are scattered in all the ports (after all, they are tasked with clearing the sailings of the vessels) and they can visually see the roughness of the sea and gauge the strength and direction of the wind (and I thought in earlier times there were coast watchers). Comparing it to air travel, it is still the local airport and the Air Transport Office (ATO) that declare the airport closed for landings and take-offs, not PAGASA.

In the last typhoon (“Frank”), PAGASA forecasted wave heights of 10-14 feet while other international weather agencies forecasted wave heights of up to 18 feet (in general, PAGASA’s wind speed and wave height forecasts are lower than the international weather agencies’ forecasts).  Does anybody need a translator how strong a sea is that?  And wave heights of up to 10 feet are sometimes forecast in Mindoro waters even when the storm is still in Samar, especially during the southwest moonsoon period when the seas are rougher.  With the advent of cell phones and the the general availability of phones, the government should make clear to all localities how strong the waves are when there is a typhoon so as to prevent the sinking of fishing boats which are also part of the sea casualties in a typhoon (in the last typhoon over 20 fishing boats sank resulting in over 1,100 dead and missing which is higher than the Princess of the Stars‘ casualty, aside from a few cargo ships sunk).  Preventive measures should be done because for all the hullabaloo about conversion to GMDSS (Global Maritime Distress Signal System), the simple truth is that our Coast Guard personnel will not venture out to sea under storm conditions just to save your ass.  Remember it was fishermen in small fishing boats who were first on the scene of the Princess of the Orient sinking because as one said in an interview he simply cannot bear the sight of a lady being swamped by big waves.  Does one need to be reminded who were first on the scene of the Princess of the Stars‘ sinking?

In the final analysis, to put things in the proper perspective especially for those who don’t travel by ship, the chances of getting killed in a road accident is still far higher than getting killed in a ship accident although the chances of getting killed in a plane accident is much slimmer than both.

[To be fair to Sulpicio Lines, let it be said that its main competitor WG&A (the SuperFerries) with about the same number of ships has about the same rate of mishaps in the same period. SuperFerry 6 burned off Batangas and SuperFerry 7 burned in anchorage.  SuperFerry 14 burned off Corregidor (not due to Abu Sayyaf according to Malacanang but everybody knows the truth and this is probably a true case of force majeure if acts of sabotage are such).  SuperFerry 12 was involved in a collision with San Nicholas (a wooden-hulled ship locally called a batel) in Manila Bay resulting in the sinking of the latter.  To this total, the collision and sinking of Cebu City (a William Lines ship) in Manila Bay just before the merger of 3 major shipping companies that resulted in the creation of William, Gothong & Aboitiz (WG&A) should also be include since this happened after the Dona Paz and Dona Marilyn sinkings.  WG&A and its passengers are just more fortunate that these mishaps produced far less casualties than the Sulpicio Lines mishaps.

Does anybody want a safer trip?  Then maybe sail via Negros Navigation Company.  It has no comparable mishaps during the same period and I do not know how they managed that feat though it is only a third of the size of either Sulpicio or WG&A.  Luck, perhaps?  Or is it a matter of naming the ships after the saints (as in St. Peter The Apostle and San Paolo)?]

(The writer has sailed in more than 120 long and short voyages in over 65 different vessels in the last 14 years. Ship is his favorite mode of transport in going to Luzon.  He has been a passenger aboard 7 different Sulpicio ships covering some 15 voyages.)

 

 

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My Ship to Jagna

The months of April and May are known in the Philippines as the summer season. It is also the vacation and fiesta seasons and so a lot of people are on the go. And so the influx of travellers traveling between Cagayan De Oro and Bohol has led  Lite Shipping Corporation to deploy one of their newest and fastest passenger vessels, the Lite Ferry 18 to serve the riding public to Bohol and vice-versa.

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Photo by Mark Edelson Ocul and PSSS

The ship was built in a shipyard in China in the 2001. It is a former HNSS ferry connecting Hainan to China before it was bought by Lite Shipping Corporation in the year 2016 and renamed it the Lite Ferry 18. The ship was first refitted in Ouano yard and final refitting was done in yard in General Santos City before It was taken back to Cebu for its maiden voyage to Cagayan De Oro.

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Lite Ferry 18 in Ouano. Photo by Mark Ocul and PSSS

The vessel’s permanent number is IMO  8773885. Its Philippine call sign number is DUH243 and it’s MMSI Number is 548638500. The ship has an LOA of 89.0 meters, an  LPP of 76.0 meters and has a Beam of 16.0 meters. It has a Gross Tonnage of 3,840 and is powered by two Ningbo diesel engines with a combined output of 7,800 hp. The ship capable of sailing at 16.5 knots but for economical reason it only cruises at 14 to 15 knots depending on the load on board. The ship is authorized to carry 784 passengers on three class accommodations.

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Photo by John Carlos Cabanillas and PSSS

The final structure of the vessel composed of 3 decks. The 1st deck is where all the cargoes are held. The next deck is main passenger deck which is composed of Economy bunk beds at the stern end, a small restaurant found at the center, while the Tourist, Business Class and Cabin accommodation are found towards the bow of the ship. Meanwhile, the uppermost deck portion is composed primarily of the bridge of the ship, a small canteen and Economy bunk beds.

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Photo by Allen V. Amasol and PSSS

The ship’s first route was Cebu to Cagayan de Oro. It held this route until its sister ship Lite Ferry 19 took over her route. The vessel was laid up at Ouano wharf for quite some time due to minor repair on its engine before she was fielded temporarily to the Cebu-Ormoc route. Today,  she is fielded to Cagayan de Oro to Jagna Bohol route in anticipation of the increased traffic due to the fiesta season of Bohol which happens until the month of May.

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Image from Lite Shipping Corporation

I got a chance to board the Cagayan de Oro to Jagna, Bohol trip of the ship. It was raining hard outside and the lights were cut off at the terminal. It was a thrilling experience for me to board the ship as I needed to run all throughout the terminal to board the vessel.

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Photo by El Meer

The boarding procedure was quite eventful. The crew greeted me, checked my ticket and ID card upon boarding to verify my name in the manifest. I was escorted to the Tourist accommodation by the crew.

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Photo by El Meer

The boarding procedure was quite eventful. The crew greeted me, checked my ticket and ID card upon boarding to verify my name in the manifest. I was escorted to the Tourist accommodation by the crew.

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The ship’s Tourist Class accommodation is composed of 8 individual bunk beds within each section. The interior is simple enough for a night voyage. A split-type air-conditioner system was alternately installed between sections to provide cooling to the passengers. I suggest to passengers who easily get cold to instruct the ticketing agent upon claiming your ticket to assign you to a bunk away from the aircon.

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Photo by Allen V. Amasol

I observe each bunk has its own curtain to give privacy to passengers while sleeping inside. Night lamps were individually placed inside the bunk bed but sadly no power outlets were present to charge your device inside. These has led my fellow passengers to become anxious to find a socket to safely charge their devices.  Linens were provider by the crew to the passengers at the entrance of the room. That comes with a blanket and a small pillow case to cover your pillow. The bed was wide and comfortable enough for me to rest throughout the journey.

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Photo by Allen V. Amasol

I was able to roam around the ship after putting my luggage inside the bunk. I was pleased to see the toilet inside the Tourist Class accommodation. I compared it to the toilet found at the Abreeza mall in Davao. It was clean and well-maintained. It has three cubicles, one of which is used as a shower room.

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Photo by Allen V. Amasol

A restaurant is found adjacent to the tourist accommodation. It serves meals upon order by the guest. It’s a nice place to chill out with your friends while waiting for your food to arrive.

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Photo by Allen V. Amasol

The Economy section layout is a rather common thing found on all overnight ferries running in the Philippines. A green cushion integrated with a pillow is placed within each bunk. There are no curtains available on this accommodation, one might expect to be able to lay beside a strangers as each bunk is only separated by a small tube. A passenger travelling alone like me might feel anxious about this set up, but fortunately there are some individual bunk beds were found at accommodation. You would just have to ask your agent upon claiming your ticket to assign you on individual bunk beds.

I went up to the second passenger level. It composed the majority of the Economy accommodations. A small canteen was also located at the rear of the ship. It sells chips, drinks, cup noodles and even emergency medicine to the passengers at a certain price.

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Photo by El Meer

The bridge is found at the second level but unfortunately, I was not able to tour inside the bridge. I found pictures of the bridge at the Internet. It gave me the impression that the bridge has sufficient navigational equipment to safety steer the ship to port.

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Photo by Allen V. Amasol

We were bound to depart at 10 in the evening to Jagna, Bohol. Sadly, there were rolling cargoes having difficulty boarding the ferry. The ship needs to re-position itself to be able for the vehicles to easily board the ship. It took time to properly secure the ship due to the device pulley of the ship. We were able to depart at exactly 10:30 in the evening.

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Photo by Allen V. Amasol

The next morning, I woke up , shocked to know that our ship had already docked alongside the Lite Ferry 8 from Butuan. I was astonished to see that the majority of the passengers had already disembarked from the ship. I asked a crew member what time the ship docked at the port. The crew member informed me that we arrived at exactly 3:30 am. He further told me that I can stay until 6 am. I went back to bunk to take a short nap before preparing my stuff for disembarking the ship. I went down at exactly 6am along with some other passengers. I was greeted by the warm welcome of Boholanos at the gate of the port of Jagna.

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Photo by Allen V. Amasol

Conclusion:

Overall, the Lite Ferry 18 is the best ship servicing Cagayan De Oro to Jagna on a thrice-a-week schedule, so far. I had a good night sleep throughout the voyage. The aircon was functioning well to cool of passengers. The bunk bed was clean, comfortable and properly maintained. I was able to have privacy due to the presence of curtains on all bunk beds on the Tourist Class accommodation. It could have been a perfect ship but for the lack of power outlets inside the bunk which are essential to travellers continuing there their travel. Nevertheless, the crew compensated by giving good and professional service to all passengers regardless of their accommodations. I would highly would recommend this ship to future travellers between Cagayan to Bohol.

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Photo by Allen V. Amasol

AUTHOR: Allen V. Amasol

 

The Trans-Asia 19

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

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Photo from John Nino Borgonia

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

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Photo from John Nino Borgonia

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

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Photo from John Nino Borgonia

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

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

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

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

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Trans-Asia 19 bow thruster

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

When The Philippine Ship Spotters Society (PSSS) Attended The Inauguration of the Trans-Asia 19

On the last week of February this year, the Philippine Ship Spotters Society (PSSS) received a formal invitation from Trans-Asia Shipping Lines, Inc. (TASLI) to the inauguration of their newest ship, the Trans-Asia 19 which was to be held in the Macabalan port of Cagayan de Oro City. To show respect for the invitation and to give importance to the occasion, our group immediately decided in the affirmative and began canvassing who can go as the invitation was RSVP and they immediately wanted the names of those coming to the inauguration. Unfortunately, none of the members near Cagayan de Oro was available and we prefer to send PSSS leaders to occasions like this as some big people will be around. And so although coming from afar, three of us prepared to come: yours truly from Davao City, Mark Ocul from Ozamis City and Aris Refugio from Samal City.  All are leaders of PSSS.

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Me and Aris will be going together but time was a little tight for us as Davao is far from Cagayan de Oro. Aris can only take the first trip of the motor boat from Samal and it is little dicey if we will be able to make the 6am aircon bus from Cagayan de Oro (we actually boarded the 6:30am bus). Mark, meanwhile, would have an easier trip. He would take the 8am ship Filipinas Nasipit from Ozamis to Iligan (and Mark knows the Captain of that ship). From Iligan City, he would take the bus to Cagayan de Oro. However, his ship departed late and by mid-morning we were all hoping badly we can make the 2:30pm start of the inauguration. Me and Aris was a little lucky the bus now uses the Cagayan de Oro coastal highway. Mark took the taxi from Bulua bus terminal, arrived just in time but preferred to wait for us by the gate. He advised us our entrance is via Gate 4, the cargo gate of Macabalan port.  Soon, we arrived and he showed the guards the invitation again and a PPA (Philippine Ports Authority) vehicle fetched us as walking inside the port area is forbidden. We arrived by the ship when the other guests were still signing the logbook. Maybe we were last among the guests to arrive but yes, they know and expect the PSSS.

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For my side I really wanted to go even though I was not feeling very well because occasions like these can be a little overwhelming for some. One reason is company bigwigs are around and their guests tend to be high-heeled. But fortunately they were all very friendly with us although we were dressed very casually. Maybe all of us just wanted a good send-off for the new vessel that is the signal for the resurgence of Trans-Asia Shipping Lines Inc. (TASLI) in passenger shipping. Trans-Asia 19 happens to be the first brand-new vessel fielded by the company.

Another fortunate thing was someone from the crew immediately recognized us. It was 2nd Engineer John Nino Borgonia who is a PSSS member and who remembered us when we visited C/E Mendoza, a PSSS friend aboard Super Shuttle RORO 9 when they were docked in Davao. Since it was understood that a tour of the ship is part of the package in the invitation, he immediately showed us the various parts of the ship. To my surprise, his first suggestion was the thruster room. In my long experience with ship spotting, I have never been to that portion of the ship and we accepted the invitation with eagerness. The thruster room is near the bow of the ship and access to it was not easy. The Trans-Asia 19 comes equipped with bow thrusters which aid in the docking of the ship.

thruster

After the thruster room, John asked us where do want to go next and I said the engine room, of course. It’s easy to tour the upper decks of the ship but the engine room is a prize as that is restricted area and there are hours when even an acknowledged visitor is not allowed there. The engine room was immaculately clean. Plus it has an engine control room where the engineers are protected from the sound of the engines when running. The ship’s engines were all Yanmar marine engines from the main engines to the auxiliary engines. I commented that Yanmar is a very good make. Actually, it is an awarded make in Japan.

engine room

We then went to the second deck (from the car deck) of the ship where passenger accommodations are located. A Tourist section is located in this as well as the Information Counter, the Restaurant and the Starsy convenience store. There are also Family Rooms (which is the equivalent of a Tourist Deluxe for four persons) and is paid by the room (but the rate is lower per person compared to Tourist Class so it is good for groups). There is also a Private Room which is equivalent to Cabin Class. For a 67-meter ship, the Trans-Asia 19 has plenty of choices in the accommodations and is a full-pledged overnight ferry.

We then toured the third deck which is also the Bridge Deck. Further Tourist accommodations are located here plus the Officers’ cabins and the Radio Room. A Jetseater class (the industry term for reclining chairs and this is air-conditioned) is also located in this deck plus the Economy section. We did not yet try for the bridge of the ship as we don’t want to go there without an escort. We also used the Trans-Asia 19 as a ship spotting platform to take shots of the other ships in the Port of Cagayan de Oro and in Macalajar Bay. Soon, I felt we had to get down as the upper decks is emptying of people and that means something is happening below.

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In the small makeshift stage near the aft of the car deck, we found Mr. Kenneth Sy, President and CEO of Trans-Asia Shipping Lines, Inc. speaking about the Trans-Asia 19 and the reason for its acquisition which is modernization. I was touched by his optimism because Trans-Asia is one company I would not like to go given their great history when they fielded the best overnight ferries from Cebu when they started (versus the old ex-“FS” and ex-“F” ships of the competition which were relics from World War II). They were also the first to convert to RORO (Roll-on, Roll-off) ships among overnight ferry companies. And they were the first to have an all-RORO fleet, the wave of the future which is a big accomplishment given that they were ahead in this typw even compared to the liner companies (Sulpicio Lines, William Lines, Carlos A. Gothong Lines Inc., Negros Navigation Co.and Aboitiz Shipping Corp. which still clung to their cruiser liners). Trans-Asia needs to remain and we were there in the affirmation of it and I felt a thrill with that.

I had the chance to shake hands and pose with Mr. Kenneth Sy after his talk. He seems to be a gentle and a genial person (he is also a topnotch photographer). He invited us to partake of the food in the upper deck. We were still busy taking shots in the upper deck as we want the bigwigs to take food first when he spotted Mark and said, “Eat first before the pictures”. He said this in Bisaya. Every now and then we will bump into him as the area was small and smiles and some words will be exchanged. The catered food was good and it was a big sustenance for me as in our haste I had to forego lunch and I am a diabetic. There was also lechon (roasted pig) which seems to be obligatory in Philippine occasions such as this.

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Later, I had the privilege of talking to Ms. Pinky Sy, the wife of Mr. Kenneth and ask some questions about the situation and plans of the company. Ms. Pinky, I came to learn later was Trans-Asia Vice-President for Sales and Marketing. And so I now realized why she was very knowledgeable about the company. She said more ferries are coming for Trans-Asia but in the meantime they will still hold on to their veteran ships excluding the Asia Philippines and the Trans-Asia 9 which are now sold or being sold. They wouldn’t yet sell the old ferries until the new ferries arrived. I also asked about their relationship with Chelsea Logistics. She said it is now a partnership and they have not divested (that is contrary to earlier wrong reports that they have divested). It was an answer from a question of mine.

There will be three launching of new ferries this year plus five hold-overs means eight ferries total by this year. Well, that should be nearly enough to serve all their passenger routes but i think they will have additions for next year too. For cargo, we all know they now have container ships operating from Manila and reaching as far as Davao. Trans-Asia Shipping Lines has a total of six cargo and container ship plus one LCT. That is one sea change for Trans-Asia. They are no longer just an overnight ferry company.

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We came to meet John again and he accompanied us to the bridge of Trans-Asia 19. It is a modern bridge and being brand-new it was still in a spic-and-span condition. In the bridge we had a talk with John and it is there that we learned that Trans-Asia 19 already had four complete voyages before her inauguration and that her first official voyage happened on January 18 of this year. No, he had no exact idea why the inauguration was held in Cagayan de Oro when all will expect it would be held in Cebu. Well, a change is also good. Anyway, the Trans-Asia 19 is a replacement for their disposed-of ferry Asia Philippines and so her route is Cagayan de Oro to Tagbilaran three times a week with a once a week extension to Cebu from Tagbilaran (well, Bol-anons and Cagayanons are lucky they have a brand-new ship). John speculated that since their stay in Cebu is short and cargo has to be handled might have been the reason why Trans-Asia 19 was inaugurated in Cagayan de Oro. Before leaving the bridge we had that now- traditional photo with crew holding a paper saying “Trans-Asia 19 loves PSSS”. Of course, we love them and we are grateful for their hospitality and support.

Soon there was an advice for guests to disembark from the ship. It was already nearing 5pm, the scheduled time of the end of the inauguration (and the ship still has to load cargo) and so we headed down. On the way, we met Mr. Kenneth again and he forthwith invited us to the inauguration of Trans-Asia 18 (this ship is being refitted right now in Cebu) and the Trans-Asia 20 (so there is a coming Trans-Asia 20!). We said “Yes” of course and with alacrity. That is an honor and an experience. Dumb is the one who will refuse that. And coming from the President and CEO? And so are looking forward to that with excitement.

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Before disembarking we again congratulated Mr. Kenneth and asked with a little trepidation if we can tour the Trans-Asia 10 which is bound for Cebu and is just docked nearby. He readily said “Yes” and told us to just tell the people of Trans-Asia 10 that we have his permission. So it will be a double tour! We then proceeded to Trans-Asia 10 and they easily let us aboard even though it was already embarkation time. But, of course, the tour of that ship and of the meeting and talk with her Captain is another story that is worth another article.

It was past 7pm when we got off Trans-Asia 10 and walking out of Macabalan port the question is what next. Mark to ride immediately to Ozamis would be useless as the ferry in Mukas port will start sailing at 4am. Aris had the same problem as the motor boat to Samal is still at 5am. He can take the 24-hour Mae Wess ferry but he might have a long waiting time. And we were in a celebratory mood and we need dinner already. And so we proceeded to Ayala Centrio Mall to have a good dinner. We thought our successful trip needs extended talks and more camaraderie. And we therefore enjoyed this mood until the restaurant closed. We just hung around more in the mall and only parted ways at midnight.

The total journey was tiring and it was not cheap but I have no regrets whatsoever. We all felt it was all worth it. It was near to an experience of a lifetime and it will honor our group the Philippine Ship Spotters Society (PSSS) and it will help highlight shipping and Trans-Asia Shipping Lines. Plus of course it will cement relations with this company.

Now, I just hope that this is just the beginning.

[Note: I will have a follow-up article which will be exclusively about Trans-Asia 19 which will focus on her specifications, equipment and accommodations. To treat it all here will be too heavy and focus will be a problem.]

 

The Miyuki Maru

The Miyuki Maru which is in the Philippines now is one ferry that is lucky to have a long life although she had many owners already. And recently she was given another lease of life although she is already pushing to fifty years in age and of sailing. At the moment, however, I will leave the reader in suspense what this familiar ship is. What I can say however is she was always wanted all of her years and not all ferries were that lucky.

“Miyuki” is a common feminine given Japanese name and many Japanese women carry that as their first name. Translated, in many cases she is associated with the word “beautiful” and maybe that is the reason why she had been lucky all these years. “Maru”, of course, always referred to a ship but actually that is not the exact translation. So loosely, “Miyuki Maru” can be regarded as a “beautiful ship”. Not that most will agree with that description but as they say, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”.

The Miyuki Maru is a ferry built in 1970 by the Kanda Zosensho in Kure, Japan for the Sado Kisen K.K. as a ferry of the Sado Island (Sadogashima) which lies in the Sea of Japan just off the Niigata prefecture and the island is alsoa  part of that prefecture. With that connection, I am not surprised the Miyuki Maru is powered by Niigata engines, the manufacturer of which is based in the namesake prefecture. (Now, that engine make served her well).

The Miyuki Maru which has the permanent ID IMO 7044225 is a ROPAX (RORO-Passenger ship) which has RORO (Roll-on, Roll-off) ramps at the bow and stern with a single cargo deck, a steel hull, a raked stem and a transom stern. She has a Length Over-all (LOA) of 62.0 meters, a Length Between Perpendiculars (LPP) of 55.5 meters and a Beam of 13.4 meters. Her Gross Register Tonnage (GRT) in Japan was 797 tons, a Net Register Tonnage (NRT) of just 151 tons (which means that originally her passenger accommodation was small), and a Deadweight Tonnage (DWT) of 411 tons. The total output of her twin engines is 3,600 horsepower which gave her a top sustained speed of 14 knots when new. The ferry had a single passenger deck, two masts and two funnels.

In 1987, this ferry was sold to Awashima Kisen K.K. and she became an Awashima Island ferry. Though with a change of ownership her name was not changed (because maybe there was no need to change a beautiful name). That was until 1992 when she was sold to the Philippines at 22 years of age. At that time, Japan shipping companies try to sell their ship after 20 years as there are incentives by the Japan government for re-fleeting their old ships. But that practice was misrepresented by some in the Philippines as if the ship is already “old” or worse just good enough for the scrapyard (which isn’t true) and worst is the charge by those who are ignorant of ships that they are simply “floating coffins” (because then at 20 years of age their cars are already dilapidated but they don’t understand that cars and ships are not exactly comparable as ships are much more durable than cars).

In the Philippines, the ferry Miyuki Maru went to Trans-Asia Shipping Lines Inc. (TASLI) of Cebu which in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s was already busy in converting from cruiser ships to RORO ships (more exactly ROPAX ships), one the first Philippine companies to do full conversion of their fleet (while the national liner companies like Sulpicio Lines, William Lines, Negros Navigation and Aboitiz Shipping can’t make that claim then as they were still clinging to their cruiser liners). Yes, that was how great and modern that company was then compared to the recent years when their glory was already faded. Yes, they were that advanced before the emergence of the Cebu Ferries Corporation (CFC) from the “Great Merger” of William Lines, Gothong Lines and Aboitiz Shipping. That merger inflicted them a very serious blow as from the biggest overnight ferry company in Cebu, a new entity bigger than them suddenly emerged. In Trans-Asia Shipping Lines, the Miyuki Maru became known as the Asia Singapore, the second ship in the fleet to carry that name (the first was a cruiser ship).

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The Asia Singapore. From TM Brochures.

As the Asia Singapore, an additional half-deck was added as passenger accommodation and together with an extension of her original passenger deck these served as the open-air Economy accommodations of the refitted ship. Air-conditioned Tourist and Cabin accommodations were also added and being equipped with bunks she became a full-pledged overnight ferry. Her new Gross Tonnage (GT) became 830 tons with a Net Tonnage (NT) of 251 tons (a figure that is suspiciously low) and a passenger capacity of 533 persons. In the fleet of Trans-Asia Shipping Lines she was the sixth ROPAX ship after the Asia Hongkong, Asia Japan, Asia Thailand, Asia Taiwan and Asia Brunei. Locally, the ferry has a Call Sign of DUHE7. Of course, the IMO Number is unchanged.

In 2001, the Asia Singapore was sold to Palacio Shipping Lines (which was otherwise known as FJP Lines) that was then already acquiring ROPAX ships. She then was renamed into the Don Martin Sr. 9, the third ROPAX ship in the Palacio fleet. Later on, she was further renamed into the Calbayog in honor of the port and city that was the origin of Palacio Lines (she was however not the biggest ferry in the fleet as the honor belonged to the Don Martin Sr. 8, a sister ship of the Zamboanga Ferry of the George and Peter Lines).

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The Calbayog. Photo by Janjan Salas.

When Palacio Lines felt the pressure of new competition allowed into Samar from Cebu, their old strong route, that triggered her terminal decline which started from the loss of their Bantayan route from Cebu Port. This was exacerbated by the situation then that their old, small cruisers no longer had viable routes especially with the advent of the ROPAXes of the competition. When the company’s last remaining stronghold, the Plaridel route was also opened to competition, it signaled that the end of the company was already near. In size, quality and cleanliness of the ferries, Palacio Lines was no match to the new competition.

In 2012, Palacio Lines stopped sailing although they were still advertising their old schedules and routes in the local papers of Cebu. They even went to the extent of denying that to media although it was plainly visible that their ships were always moored in Cebu port and without lights at night. In a short time, however, the truth can no longer be hidden when the company started disposing her remaining ships and those disappeared one by one from the Port of Cebu. The cruelest was when their biggest ship, the Don Martin Sr. 8 went to a Cebu breaker after there were no takers at her. Maybe Palacio Lines needed money then to settle some things.

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The Calbayog in Batangas Bay waiting to be converted into Starlite Neptune. Photo by Mark Anthony Arceno.

There was a shipping company in Batangas that had a track record of acquiring old ferries that were already being disposed especially those that were no longer sailing including from defunct shipping companies. This was the Starlite Ferries of Alfonso Cusi then which started from old, unreliable ferries being disposed by William, Gothong and Aboitiz (WG&A). Those were followed by a small ROPAX from one of the Atienzas of Mindoro shipping that was going out of business (a victim of the change-over from wooden motor boats or batels to ROROs), then a fastcraft from the defunct DR Shipping of Don Domingo Reyes and two ferries from the Shipsafe/Safeship duo of shipping companies that was also going out of business, among other acquisitions. So it was not a surprise to me when they grabbed the Calbayog which then became the Starlite Neptune in their fleet. From the point of view of Miyuki Maru that was a saving move as it proved to be her salvation. And not only that. She also went to a shipping company that knows how to refurbish and maintain old ships although her owner later developed a taste of bullying in the media old ferries when he was able to acquire a loan package from the government to build new ferries (now Starlite Ferries is already disposing of their old ferries).8235177182_630daf5d2b_k

The Miyuki Maru as Starlite Neptune. Photo by Nowell Alcancia.

The Starlite Neptune or Miyuki Maru was also a success in Starlite Ferries although soon her owner faced a problem when their new ferries started arriving from Japan and they were not able to develop new routes. So it was obvious they would have to dispose old ferries especially if her owner would have to be honorable enough in backing up with action his attacks against old ferries. Shockingly, it was not the old ferries that were disposed by Alfonso Cusi but his whole company when he sold lock, stock and barrel to the new king of Philippine shipping who is Dennis Uy that was buying shipping companies left and right. After the takeover, it is notable that the first ship sold by Starlite Ferries was Starlite Neptune. This ferry  has been observed for months already darkened and just anchored in Batangas Bay not sailing and with no flags flying.

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The Starlite Neptune in Batangas Bay with no flags flying. Photo by Mike Baylon.

Then soon came the news that Starlite Neptune was docked in Lazi port in Siquijor being refitted after it turned out she was acquired by the GL Shipping of Siquijor which was lately in the acquisition and expansion mood. It is rumored she will be doing the Siquijor and Iligan route from Cebu, a route long wished by Siquijodnons and the people in Iligan City in general. It is seen as the revival of the old route then held by the small cruiser Pulauan Ferry of George & Peter Lines which unfortunately grounded and sank just south of Mactan island and was never replaced.

As of the time of the writing of this article the new name of Miyuki Maru is not yet known and her refitting works in Lazi port stopped. I do not know if there is a big problem although I might also think she might be too big a ship for her company which only used to operate small crafts before.

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The former Starlite Neptune in Lazi under GL Shipping. Photo by Roy Baguia Dumam-ag.

I just wish that will she will continue to live on as I am a sentimental person and I don’t want old ships that are still good to go to the breakers because it turned out that nobody no longer wanted her. And so I just hope the Miyuki Maru will live a little longer and that she provides joy to her new owners and to public that will sail with her.

Long live the Miyuki Maru!

[Now, if she doesn’t survive then let this piece be an ode to her.]

 

 

The MV Eugene Elson

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

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Photo by Dominic San Juan of PSSS

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

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

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

Eugene Elson bridge

Photo by Dominic San Juan of PSSS

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

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

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

Eugene Elson

Photo by James Gabriel Verallo of PSSS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 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.

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!