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 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 Steel-Hulled Short-distance Ferries of the Philippines and Its Safety

I had an earlier article before wherein I described the different types of ferries sailing the Philippine waters and one of that is the short-distance ferry which connect our near islands through our straits and channels and sometimes through our small inland seas like the Camotes Sea. In this article I would like to expand the discussion on them especially on their safety and their other qualities and characteristics. And to clarify what is a short-distance ferry and to distinguish them from overnight ferries I will make the presence or absence of bunks as the distinguishing characteristic.

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Maria Angela, an example of a basic, short-distance ferry-RORO that is still sailing

I have always used the term “basic, short-distance ferry-RORO” and I would like to connect it here since many of our short-distance ferry actually belongs to that type. Basic, short-distance ferry-ROROs are the ROPAXes (RORO-Passenger ships) that have just one car deck and one passenger deck above it and access to the car deck is almost always through a ramp located at the bow of the ship. Usually their lengths ranges from a little under 30 meters to a slightly over 40 meters and they are just powered by a single engine and the usual speed is between 9 to 11 knots. Some of these are in the classification of “double-ended ferries” which are bows on both ends and has two propellers both aft and abeam.

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Swallow 2, a double-ended ferry that survived a firebombing

But not all short-distance ferries are basic, short-distance ferry-ROROs. Among our short-distance ferries are the ROPAX LCTs which are cruder, less comfortable and slower than the basic, short-distance ferry-ROROs. If the latter are mainly built in Japan, the former are mainly built in the Philippines although in the recent years more and more are coming from China. In this article the Cargo RORO LCTs are not included because technically those are just vehicle carriers and not allowed to carry passengers (and hence are not ferries) although the crews of the trucks and the driver of the sometime small vehicle like cars are also carried aboard them.

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Poseidon 26, a ROPAX LCT

We also have a few remaining short-distance ferries that are not ROROs (Roll-on, Roll-off ships) but are instead cruiser ships. This type carries passengers and some cargo but not rolling cargo or vehicles as this type do not have ramps nor car decks. While these were more in number a few decades back, these are now on the way out being obsolete already. The rolling cargo is now the primary source of revenue in the short-distance routes and is more important revenue-wise compared to passengers (an exception maybe in many cases are the bus passengers because they are many but in many routes also they are subsidized by the shipping company). Cruisers cannot compete head-on now against the ROROs and the few operators remaining are just using the last few years of the serviceable life of the cruisers (rather than chopping or breaking them up Immediately). It is actually just in Zamboanga where cruisers still has significant presence and there are still some cruisers in Cebu but they are mainly overnight ferries.

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Hijos-1, a short-distance ferry-cruiser (by jap bombai)

However, we also have short-distance ferries that are fast and these are the High Speed Crafts (HSCs) consisting of the fastcrafts and the catamarans. These types do not carry vehicles, only passengers but since they charge double on the average that keeps them viable although since these have overpowered engines the margin for profitability is thin. That is the reason why some are not sailing anymore and some just sail on peak months. These types do not sail on every short-distance route but only on high-density routes where the passengers are willing to pay higher for the faster and more comfortable ride. Among the major operators of this types are Ocean Fast Ferries (or Oceanjet), 2GO (the SuperCats but now renamed after archangels), SRN Fastcraft (or Weesam Express), the Star Crafts (which are under two companies) and Montenegro Shipping Lines. There is also one operator of this type in Manila for Corregidor tourists, the Sun Cruises/Prestige Cruises.

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Oceanjet 3, a fastcraft

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St. Sariel, a catamaran

We also have crafts that are similar to High Speed Crafts but are not that fast and these are the Medium Speed Crafts (MSCs). These are also found in the short-distance routes but like the HSCs these are not found in every short-distance route because these also charge higher (and as high as HSCs). One characteristic of the HSCs and MSCs is their passenger accommodations are generally air-conditioned although most have open-air accommodations too for passengers on short budget. The most significant MSCs of the recent years are the FastCats of Archipelago Philippine Ferries which are actually catamaran-ROROs and hence can carry vehicles.

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Anika Gayle 2, an MSC

In the past, it was motor boats (called motor launches now) and motor bancas which were our short-distance ferries. Now the motor boats are already gone by and large because of administrative fiat but a few relics remain. There are much more passenger-cargo motor bancas remaining especially those connecting the small islands and islets where the use of a steel-hulled ferry is not yet viable. Motor bancas with their smaller engines, lightweight hulls and the small capital needed can’t just be driven away because they can sail profitably on light routes. An administrative fiat is actually dangling over their heads (or is it hulls?) but for sure they will always stay as connection to our so-many islets where a steel-hulled ferry is uneconomical to operate. Motor bancas can land on bare shores, an almost impossible task for a steel-hulled ferry. However, the loss rate of these wooden-hulled ferries are much more than the steel-hulled ferries and that is the reason for the administrative fiat.

The safety of these short-distance ferries has always been called into question including very recently. There has always been the presumption or conjecture that since these are small and older (not the HSCs and MSCs, of course)) then they must be more vulnerable which is a queer linear thinking not supported by facts and history. I have in another article already conceded that wooden-hulled ferries that even lack the basic safety equipment are really more vulnerable and will even sink without a storm especially the motor bancas. Lack of safety is not attached to the HSCs and MSCs because they are more modern and they might correct in that but my data can throw some doubt in that.

But to attach lack of safety in the short-distance ferries, which are actually many in number and sail seas that are even more turbulent than what liners and overnight ferries sail in is actually highly incorrect, if only people including those in government will study the records. Pro rata, the liners and the overnight ferries sink at a faster rate than them. Our short-distance ferries are actually safe, relatively speaking. Conjectures and failure to study records (or even collect records) cannot substitute for concrete analysis. Now if I will make an exception to this defense it will be about Besta Shipping Lines of Batangas which is engaged in short-distance ferry operations but which has already lost half of their fleet. In short-distance ferry operation, this company has clearly the worst record.

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The destruction by Typhoon “Ruping” on Cebu ships (Credits to Philippine Star and Gorio Belen)

Our steel-hulled short-distance ferries have been here already for nearly four decades, a long time to establish if they are safe or not. They are not small in number, they clearly outnumber the liners and overnight ferries but only a few of them has actually sank or was lost while sailing. I will separate the ferries that sank in storms while not sailing as that can be considered force majeure or as they say in insurance, an “act of God” and does not speak of safety as any ship can get caught in storms through no fault of theirs that passed through their area. I think what happened to the ships beached, wrecked or capsized by the super-typhoon “Yolanda” is a good recent example of what I am saying. When the storm surge comes along with the winds, the ships can get beached, wrecked or capsized. That is also what happened to Cebu ships in Typhoon “Ruping” in 1990.

Among the ferries caught by storms not sailing that are not wooden-hulled are the Baleno Six of Besta Shipping Lines (beached and wrecked in 2006), Ivatan of BMPC (wrecked in the 2000s), Northern Samar of Bicolandia Shipping Lines (sank in port in 2006), Sta. Penafrancia 7 of Sto. Domingo Shipping Lines (beached and wrecked in 2006) and the Super Shuttle Ferry 17 of Asian Marine Transport Corporation (capsized in port in 2013). None of those were salvaged anymore unlike the Shuttle Fast Ferry of Asian Marine Transport Corporation which was also caught in a storm. Again not much safety questions can be attached to their losses and can just attributed maybe to bad luck. In all the mentioned incidents there were no passenger casualties.

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Sta. Penafrancia 7 wrecked by Typhoon “Caloy” (Photo by Edison Sy)

There are also steel-hulled short-distance ferries that were lost while maneuvering in a storm but not carrying passengers. Among these are fastcraft Delta I of DIMC Shipping and the Starlite Atlantic of Starlite Ferries. The first was forced by MARINA to move and she grounded while seeking shelter in Bohol in 2012 while the latter maneuvered out of her own volition at the peak of a strong typhoon and capsized in 2016. I do not really know how to classify the two except that I know it is highly dangerous to maneuver in a storm, with passengers or none. Whatever, in the second, the captain bears a lot of the blame while in the first it is highly disputable where the blame really lies. In the latter there were casualties.

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The Dona Ramona from Getty Images

Then there is also the case of two short-distance ferries which were struck by tragedy while in port but were no longer repaired (but they were still repairable) because their companies were already losing then. These are the Ruperto Jr. of Tamula Shipping which caught fire in the 1990’s and the Dona Ramona of Basilan Lines which was bombed with casualties in a terrorist act in 2005. The two did not sink but they never sailed again. Fires and bombings happen but the two were lost through conscious decisions on the part of the owners and would not have been totally lost in a normal situation. This is just like the loss of ferries like those of Tamula Shipping which just rotted and sank in port after the owner declared bankruptcy and ceased operation. In contrast with this was the firebombing that happened aboard the Our Lady of Mediatrix of Daima Shipping. The ship was repaired and she is still sailing as of now. And another case of a slight mishap that was not repaired again was the Starlite Voyager of Starlite Ferries that was broken up after a grounding incident. In this last case, a navigation error happened.

There are also short-distance ferries which capsized in port while doing cargo handling and which were no longer salvaged and repaired. These are the LCT Davao del Norte of the Province of Davao del Norte and the first Ciara Joie of Aleson Shipping Lines. The first happened in the 1990’s while the second happened in 2003 and it is a mystery to me why they were no longer salvaged when they were in shallow waters and just near land. There were no passenger casualties from both incidents. And maybe we can add to this another one lost in port because of neglect and and the hull was holed and the ferry sank in shallow waters. This is the Super Shuttle Ferry 2 of the Asian Marine Transport Corporation which was languishing in port for several years before the holing incident. And there was another ferry wrecked just off port when it grounded as was just neglected. This was the Baleno Tres of Besta Shipping Lines. In the two neglect cases there were no casualties either.

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The wrecked Baleno Tres by Bundokerz

Then there are the case of two short-distance ferries (or at least used as such since one has bunks) that were both in distress and threatened with sinking but both reached port and capsized in shallow waters. These are the Ocean King II of Seamarine Transport which was hit by a rogue wave and the rolling cargo shifted but managed to reached port and the Baleno 168 of Besta Shipping Lines in which the propeller broke away and water entered the hull but which reached port too. The first happened in 2009 and the second happened in 2013. The first was no longer salvaged and repaired while the second was salvaged and repaired and when she came out of the shipyard she was already a RORO cargo ship. There were no casualties from both incidents although in the first the Coast Guard made a big show on how to conduct rescue wrongly.

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The capsized Baleno 168 by Edison Sy

There were two other short-distance ferries that were lost but did not really slid beneath the waves in the truest sense of the phrase. One is in shallow waters, the LCT Gwen Vida of Jomalia Shipping, a possible victim of another cargo handling mishap. Another was the burned San Miguel de Ilijan of Viva Shipping Lines which was supposedly towed to port.

Up until this point there was no case of a short-distance ferry that actually sank beneath the waves except for the Starlite Atlantic and the LCT Gwen Vida. In the Starlite Atlantic she was the only one with casualties aside from the Dona Ramona that was bombed. And that leaves us with 8 short-distance ferries that actually sank plus the wrecked SuperCat 1 which hit an underwater object while running at full speed in 1994 (the vessel was retrieved but it was too damaged for repair). There was no dead from that incident.

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The ill-fated Island Fastcraft I

Two of the nine are High Speed Crafts, the Delta Cat II of DIMC Shipping and the Island Fastcraft I of Island Shipping which bring to 3 the number of lost High Speed Crafts including the Delta I (it seems for their small number the total of 3 is no longer small). The Delta Cat II sank while on trials and Island Fastcraft I caught fire, the only second short-distance ferry that sank due to fire. So it seems fire is not that major risk among short-distance ferries and Island Fastcraft I was a casualty owing to the nature of its aluminum hull which burns fast and gives off toxic fumes. The Delta Cat II sank in the late 1990’s without casualty while Island Fastcraft I which sank in 2011 had some casualties even though rescue was only nearby.

Among the rest, one capsized and sank in worsening seas because of stalled engines and rescue did not come even though it was just nearby, a clear case of irresponsibility. This is the Maharlika II of Archipelago Philippine Ferries which was lost in 2014. So stalled engines seems not to be a major cause of losses among short-distance ferries.

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New coat of paint was able to hide weak engines (Maharlika II)

Baleno Nine of Besta Shipping Lines which was lost in 2009 and the Lady of Carmel of Medallion Transport which was lost in 2013 are both basic, short-distance ferry-ROROs which sank quickly in the night, both with heavy casualties relative to their number of passengers. Night is additional danger to passengers in sinking especially if the ship is gone fast. Uneven loading is one of the factor being eyed in the loss of the two ferries.

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The Lady of Carmel

Ivatan Princess, a small, short-distance ferry was also another ferry lost at sea, she sank but apparently like the Delta Cat II she was not carrying passengers at the time of the sinking. Technically, they were sailing because they were not in port.

Which now leaves three more ferries that are all Batangas-based. Batangas has lost many of the short-distance ferries and just the repetitive report of the Baleno ferries of Besta Shipping Lines emphasizes that. One of that was the Emerald I lost in 1991 when heavy seas overwhelmed her when water swamped into her low sides and stern and actually that might have been the only loss of a short-distance ferry in foundering. That has similarity to what happened to Ocean King II later which somehow survived. Low sides is a danger to ferries especially in ROROs and that is why more recent ship design feature high sides.

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Ocean King II by ONE WAY BIKE CLUB

Another Batangas ferry lost was the Viva Penafrancia II of Viva Shipping Lines which hit a fish corral in 2000 which meant a navigation error. And the last is Ruby I of Alexis Shipping which sank fast in mysterious circumstances in 1993 and there were charges of sabotage like in SuperCat 1.

The total of short-distance ferries that actually sank is actually smaller than that of the liners and the overnight ferries when in number they are far greater. And so that means they are relatively safe. Or restated, the bigger liners and overnight ferries are actually more unsafe, take your pick of the formulation. They are not as vulnerable to fire like the liners, the don’t get caught by storms as much as the liners too. In resisting storms while not sailing they seem to be more vulnerable, however, and ditto for strong seas which are not mysteries.

If one will notice none of the short-distance ferries was lost due to a collision so saying their bow-mounted ramps is a liability does not have foundation anyway. Actually collision on Philippine seas are rare. It is just disproportionate in the minds of the people because of the ghastly casualties in the loss of the Don Juan and the Dona Paz. They are also not that weak against foundering which is a disease of our liners.

So are our short-distance ferries safe? Yes, they are even though they might look small and vulnerable. If one calls them unsafe then he or she should be prepared to calls our liners and overnight ferries as more unsafe, if he or she knows any logic. So don’t pick on the short-distance ferries, please.

As the great Deng Xiaoping said, “Seek truth from facts.”

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

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

From “The Express” of UK

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

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

From “The Local” of Sweden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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An LCT (Photo by Aris Refugio)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One of the Magic Elixirs of William Lines and Carlos A. Gothong & Co.

The term “magic elixir” refers to a potion that gives one powers and in modern usage it refers to a sort of magic that was the reason for an entity to rise. In this article I am not referring to something illegal but to one of the reasons for the rise of two of the most storied shipping companies of the Philippines where in their peak were contending for the bragging rights of being the biggest shipping company in the country.

Historically, the Chinese mestizo shipping companies were not as blessed as the Spanish mestizo shipping companies which antedated them in the business. The latter not only had a head start but they also possessed powerful political connections and that was very important then in getting loans from the Philippine National Bank (PNB) which dominated commercial banking then as there was almost no other commercial bank big enough in that time able to finance acquisition of ships. It was also crucial in getting ships from the National Development Corporation and earlier in getting surplus ex-”FS” ships from the Rehabilitation Finance Commission that was awarded as war compensation by the US Government.

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A 1950 ad of William Lines (Credits to Phil. Herald and Gorio Belen)

Of the two companies, William Lines had an earlier start and it was also blessed by political connections – the founder of the company, William Chiongbian happened to be a powerful Congressman who in his run for the Senator missed by one just slot (and his brother was a Congressman too at the same time but in another province). Carlos A. Gothong & Co. had to start from the bottom as it began almost a decade later than William Lines in liner shipping. But later it was blessed by a good strategic relationship with Lu Do & Lu Ym, the biggest copra concern then when copra was skyrocketing to being the Number 1 cash commodity and export commodity of the country.

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The first liner of Gothong & Co. (Credits to Manila Bulletin and Gorio Belen)

In the national liner scene, after its restart right after the end of the Pacific War, the strongest after a generation were the shipping companies that had routes to Southern Mindanao. Left behind were the shipping companies that just concentrated in the Visayas routes like Southern Lines, General Shipping, Philippine President Lines/Philippine Pioneer Lines/Galaxy Lines and other smaller shipping companies to Eastern Visayas, Bicol and the near routes to Mindoro, northern Panay and Palawan. Actually, in my totem pole of national liner companies in 1972, the Top 5 — Compania Maritima, Gothong & Co., Aboitiz Shipping+PSNC, William Lines and Sweet Lines — all have routes to Southern Mindanao.

What made Southern Mindanao the “magic elixir” of William Lines and Gothong & Co. when the latter was not even a liner company in the latter half of the 1940’s and William Lines was behind many shipping companies that preceded them?

In business, there is nothing better barring the illegal than a customer base that simply keeps growing and growing. And that was what Mindanao then was to the shipping companies Southern Mindanao. Before the war the population of Southern Mindanao was small and was practically composed by natives. That was before the government encouraged and assisted the resettlement of people from other parts of the Philippines to resolve what was called then as the “population pressure” (rapidly growing population in an agricultural economy with not enough land anymore to be divided into the next generation and there were no contraceptives yet then and the average number of children was five).

Northern Mindanao after the war already had Visayan migrants as it was just near the Visayas and the Spaniards was able to establish a strong foothold there even in the 19th century. But Southern Mindanao almost had no transplanted population and it is this part of the Philippines that experienced the greatest population boom after the war with what was called by the Moro National Liberation Front as the “colonization” of Mindanao (well, even some politician used the word “colonization” before that became politically incorrect). Where before in the 1948 Census the transplanted population was just a minority in Mindanao, in the 1960 Census the natives suddenly realized they were already the new minority and in the 1970 Census they saw they were beginning to get marginalized (Sultans and Datus who were once Mayors were even beginning to lose the elections).

This population boom, the opening of land for cultivation and the consequent exploitation of the natural resources of Mindanao needed transport and it was not by air (and not by road definitely) but by ship. And by this all shipping companies that were plying the Southern Mindanao routes benefited a lot. Of course shipping companies serving Northern Mindanao also benefited but not to the same extent as the Southern Mindanao shipping companies. And anyway the shipping companies serving Southern Mindanao were the same shipping companies serving Northern Mindanao (with exception of Escano Lines which has also routes to Northern Mindanao but not Southern Mindanao) and so the benefit of those serving Southern Mindanao were double.

If we analyze the biggest shipping company then which was Compania Maritima, most of its ships were assigned to Southern Mindanao. That was also true for the liners of Gothong & Co. (this company has a lot of cargo-passenger ships then to gather the copra for Lu Do and Lu Ym) and William Lines (which assigned 3/4 of its ships in Southern Mindanao early and Gothong & Co. of to 80% in 1967).

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One will wonder how this small ex-“FS” ship sails all the way to Davao

Although William Lines started ahead of Gothong & Co., the latter vaulted ahead of the former in the 1960’s. I think the reason is William Lines relied too much and too long on the ex-”FS” ships and it was only in 1966 when they acquired other types. Meanwhile, Gothong & Co. acquired ships from Europe earlier and in greater numbers. That does not even include the Type “C1A” ships acquired by Gothong & Co. which were big ships and were really ocean-going plus a lot of small ships the likes of lengthened ex-”F” ships and a host of local-builds. In ports of call, Gothong & Co. simply had too many because of the need to gather the copra of Lu Do & Lu Ym which was exporting a lot (and which Gothong & Co. also carried).

For sure, Compania Maritima which was already the Number 1 right after the war also benefited from the growth of Mindanao. However, their subsequent collapse in 1984 at the height of the financial and economic crisis then besetting the country is of another matter. Sulpicio Lines, the biggest successor company of Gothong & Co. also benefited from Mindanao after their creation in 1972 so much so that later it became the biggest shipping company of the country in the 1980’s.

What happened then to the shipping companies started after the war that just concentrated on Visayan routes? Well, by the 1960’s Southern Lines and General Shipping were already gone from the local scene and a few year later Galaxy Lines, successor to Philippine President Lines, the local operation and Philippine Pioneer Lines was also gone. And the smaller shipping companies like Escano Lines, Bisaya Land Transport (this was also a shipping company) were just in the fringe and barely alive in the 1970’s like the shipping companies that just concentrated in Bicol, Samar and northern Panay. That was also the fate of the shipping companies that was concentrating in what is called MIMAROPA today. After the 1970’s practically only batels survived in the last area mentioned.

Meanwhile, Gothong & Co. threatened Compania Maritima for Number 1 before their break-up in 1972. Later with the downward spiral of Compania Maritima, Sulpicio Lines and William Lines battled for Number 1. And when Compania Maritima quit and Aboitiz Shipping Corporation also quit Mindanao, Sulpicio Lines (the biggest successor company of Gothong & Co.) and William Lines further benefited. Actually, no shipping company that did not serve Southern Mindanao ever became one the top shipping companies in the country (that was before a lot of liner companies were culled in the crisis of the 1980’s).

That was the importance of Southern Mindanao for the shipping companies of the country. William Lines and successor of Gothong & Co. Sulpicio Lines ended up the Top 2 in Philippine shipping. Know what? They were the only survivors of the Southern Mindanao routes after all the rest quit (of course, Aboitiz Shipping came back later and there were others in container shipping).

Now, there are no more liners to Southern Mindanao, funny. But, of course, that is another story. The magic elixir dried up?

The Ocean Fast Ferries or Oceanjet

Many except for those from the Central Visayas do not know that Ocean Fast Ferries, more commonly known as Oceanjet is already the Philippines’ largest operator of High Speed Crafts or HSCs. This is especially true in Luzon which has only been recently exposed to the Oceanjets when they invaded Batangas. Therefore, many think that the old king SuperCat is still reigning because the ads and glitz are still around and they still have the best booking service and so foreigners and tourists easily find them online. Being connected to 2GO doesn’t hurt them either.

Oceanjet actually did not start very late as some might surmise. They only came a little later than Bullet Express and SuperCat and almost about the same time as Waterjet and the Sea Angels of Negros Navigation. They were even a little ahead of SRN Fastcrafts (which is more popularly known as Weesam Express) which started in Zamboanga and the SeaCats of ACG Express Liner. All of those mentioned actually came only in the mid-1990’s. The Montenegro Shipping Lines fastcrafts came significantly later than them and still much later did Star Crafts and Lite Ferries started operating High Speed Crafts.

Ocean Fast Ferries did not start with a bang. Neither did they expand very fast and they were actually on the conservative side. The other HSC operators were overly ambitious and they paid for that mistake. Some coalesced, some were driven out of business. Because of the fast expansion of the High Speed Craft sector, there came an instant overcapacity in the late 1990’s. Filipinos are still poor and so the fare is a big decision point for them. Most are not willing to pay fares of the HSCs which in general were double the fare of the ordinary ferry. The reason for this is HSCs gobble a lot of fuel because they have oversized engines plus they don’t carry a significant amount of cargo.

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Since Oceanjet did not expand fast in the early days of the High Speed Crafts, they were able to avoid the mistakes of their competitors. They only started expanding in 2001 when the dust of competition in the HSC sector already started to settle. The Ocean Fast Ferries expansion seem to come in batches. In 2001 to 2003, their brand-new Oceanjet 3, Oceanjet 5 and Oceanjet 6 which were all sister ships started arriving from their builder Cheoy Lee of Hongkong. These were the first brand-new HSCs for Ocean Fast Ferries as the Oceanjet 1 and Oceanjet 2 which they acquired in 1996 were just bought second-hand from Japan.

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These trio of sister ships brought success and recognition for Ocean Fast Ferries. They were not that fast (as in sub-30 knots while the SuperCats and Weesam Express fastcrafts were capable of speeds over 30 knots) but they were big and high. It seems these trio started a design template for Ocean Fast Ferries. Moreover, the trio also started the engine combination favored by Oceanjet which is a pair of Cummins engines with each developing 1,800 horsepower for a total of 3,600 horsepower and a speed of less than 30 knots. While not that that fast the engine combination saved fuel, the parts are easy to source (Cummins has a depot in Cebu), engineers are familiar with it and Cummins is a good engine make.

Oceanjet was also not fond of waterjets for propulsion and instead relied on the trusty propeller unlike some of their competitors. Waterjets are also more maintenance-intensive and it can foul in the dirty waters of our ports especially in Cebu and that can send schedules awry when an engine can’t propel because its waterjet sucked in garbage. They tend to consume more fuel too. Of course in speed they are matchless. The speed where waterjets become inefficient (that is when it can’t push anymore even if more fuel is added) comes much later than that of a propeller.

It took seven years before Ocean Fast Ferries acquired another High Speed Craft after that trio of sister ships. In 2010, they purchased the Oceanjet 7, an old but gold Westermoen catamaran. This was the first cat of the company and it was an antithetical acquisition. Maybe they were attracted by the solid and high reputation of a Westermoen. Maybe it was the price that attracted them. Or a combination of that and the reputation. I really don’t know. Suffice to say this old cat proved its value to them and is still reliable.

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One big supplier of High Speed Crafts in the world especially aluminum-hulled ones is Australia. It came naturally for them as they are a boating country and they were once the king of aluminum. However, in this decade Australia stopped production of High Speed Crafts because with their high labor cost and the strengthening of their currency they were no longer competitive in the world market. So what they did is they were just selling HSCs in kits to be assembled by the buyer.

One of those that took advantage of this was Ocean Fast Ferries. In Mandaue, Cebu, in their own reclaimed land they put up a related company to assemble HSC kits. This was the Golden Dragon Shipyard. In finishing they just drag the near-completed ships using rubber bellows to their shipyard in Labogon where repair works and drydocking is done to the vessels of their other shipping companies. The launching and completion of the new Oceanjets are just done in Labogon shipyard.

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Out of this process came the sister ships Oceanjet 8, Oceanjet 88, Oceanjet 888, Oceanjet 168 and Oceanjet 188 from 2011 to 2016. Australian engineers came to assist in the assembly of the first kit-built Oceanjet 8 but this took the longest to be built because of the locals’ unfamiliarity (well, the first is always the hardest). These were also high fastcrafts and maybe that helped Oceanjet because there are many passengers who are not comfortable with low-lying crafts like the Malaysian-built fastcrafts. That seems to be one disadvantage of the fleet of Weesam Express. Many passengers get the chills when they see water spray in their craft’s windows.

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These five fastcrafts followed the same engine template favored by Ocean Fast Ferries which is the 2 x 1,800 horsepower Cummins engines. Again, the speed is not that much at sub-30 knots. But Ocean Fast Ferries guessed well. Nobody was still running at over 30 knots when fuel prices really got high. While fuel is already lower right now still nobody runs at over 30 knots because their engines are already old. They either can’t do it anymore or they are already preserving the engines.

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And that comes round to one of the strengths of Ocean Fast Ferries – they really have the financial muscle to buy new engines and they can afford to re-engine their old High Speed Crafts, an endeavor that their main competitors SuperCat and Weesam Express can no longer do because of weaker financials. Another show of their financial muscle and the effort to stay ahead of the curb is they are currently retrofitting their fastcrafts to the axe bow which gives more speed with lower fuel consumption.

So Ocean Fast Ferries started being the laggard but now their High Speed Crafts are already faster than their competition with its old engines. What a reversal! It is only Weesam Express which try to give them a fight in the speed department and this might be more out of pride and not of technicals.

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Photo by Nowell Alcancia

While acquiring these five HSCs built-from-kits, Ocean Fast Ferries also acquired High Speed Crafts offered to them by competition which quit the HSC field. In 2013, they acquired the Paras Sea Cat which already stopped operations. This was originally a Misamis Oriental-built Medium Speed Craft (MSC) capable only of 17 knots with its hand-me-down Caterpillar engines from SuperCat and a heavier hull that was not aluminum. As Oceanjet 9, she was recently re-engined and she is now capable of 26 knots and so qualifying her as a true High Speed Craft. Incidentally, her hull design was copied from SuperCat 26 (later the St. Emmanuel) making them sister ships but Oceanjet will outrun her sister anytime.

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Photo by Raymond Lapus

In 2015, Lite Shipping decided High Speed Crafts is not their cup of tea. So they sold their High Speed Crafts – the Lite Jet 1, Lite Jet 8 and Lite Jet 9 to Ocean Fast Ferries. These became the Oceanjet 11, Oceanjet 10 and Oceanjet 12, respectively. They were re-engined one by one especially the latter whose engines were not that strong after stints in Hongkong and Vietnam. They all can do 25 knots now or better. Golden Dragon Shipyard made alterations to their superstructure including on Oceanjet 9. I do not know but maybe they want a better feng shui or maybe better looks more suited to their taste.

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Photo by Raymond Lapus

Very recently, in 2016, the Lite Jet 15 arrived for them from Japan. This is to be used on their new Tuburan-Estancia route. With a growing fleet, the route system of Ocean Fast Ferries is expanding along with the frequencies. They are doing well and giving all that SuperCat can handle in the premier-for-HSCs Batangas-Calapan route along with the Bacolod-Iloilo, Cebu-Tagbilaran and Cebu-Ormoc routes. Their route system also includes Tagbilaran-Dumaguete and Dumaguete-Siquijor plus a Cebu-Tubigon route that they inherited from Lite Ferries. Recently they also opened a Cebu-Camotes route, a successor of their Goldenbridge Shipping route where once the Golden Express MSCs were sailing. So as of today Ocean Fast Ferries has the widest route network in the HSC field in the Philippines.

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Lite Ferry 15 by Jan Dumapias

Right now, July of 2017, Ocean Fast Ferries has a total of 16 High Speed Crafts and all of those have good engines (one will almost never hear of an Oceanjet HSC having trouble while at sea). That is more double the eight HSCs still sailing for SuperCat and even if the third-ranked Weesam Express fleet of seven is added to that, the Oceanjet fleet will still be bigger. Yes, Ocean Fast Ferries or Oceanjet is already dominant in the HSC sector of the Philippines. They did that by continuously adding HSCs over the years and equipping them with good engines always and so their fleet never seems to get old.

What is their secret? Many cannot connect that the owning Lua family of Ocean Fast Ferries is simply loaded that they need not take any profits from the operation of Oceanjet and they can simply reinvest all profits. They also don’t have any stockholders to please and so they can take the long-term view. Their main moneymaker is actually the Nature Spring mineral water, the #1 brand in the Philippines. They have a big reclaimed land in Labogon in the Cansaga Bay of Cebu where the Golden Dragon Shipyard is located. This also hosts there Goldenbridge Shipping, one of the pioneers in the fast-gaining RORO Cargo LCT sector. That company also carries their bottled water. Part of Goldenbridge was the old Golden Express MSCs that were once Bullet Express HSCs (they were able to purchase the remains of that company).

They are also not new in shipping. Before Oceanjet and Goldenbridge they were already in cargo shipping using trampers. The Lua family owns Unilink Shipping Corporation and Unified Global Shipping Corporation aside from the earlier Socor Shipping Corporation, the forerunner of Goldenbridge Shipping Corporation. In these shipping corporations the Lua family has an additional 15 ships, more or less and that includes some true cement carriers. The Lua family is big in the construction and hardware industry of Cebu and it seems they are also in trading including cement trading. That is the financial muscle of this group most people don’t see.

SuperCat is trying to close the gap with two new High Speed Crafts from Austal Philippines in Balamban, Cebu. But I wonder if that will be enough. For some time to come I see Oceanjet reigning in the HSC field in the Philippines.

Maybe it’s time for them to make some noise?

In The 1970’s and the 1980’s (And Also The 1960’s) We Had A Lot Of Ocean-Going Ships

In the 1970’s and 1980’s (and also the 1960’s) with the support of the National Development Corporation (NDC) and maybe with some “marginal notes” from President Ferdinand Marcos we had a sizable ocean-going fleet (relative to the size of our economy and exports). In the main these were the successors of the ocean-going ships of the 1950s and 1960s that carried extracted natural resources (like logs, lumber, ores) and semi-processed products (like plywood, sugar, copra, coconut oil) outwards and finished products (like machinery, vehicle, spare parts) inwards and some of these were American-owned like Everett Steamship and American President Lines (APL) because US nationals can engage then in local business as if the were Philippine nationals because of the so-called “Parity Rights” inserted by the Liberal Party in our Constitution in 1947. When this special right expired in 1974, we tried to supplant the American ships acting as if locals in the foreign routes and so we increased our investments in ships but then what resulted was probably more ships than we needed.

There were three giants in the realm of our ocean-going ships in the 1970s and 1980s and they were obviously the first tier. These were the Philippine President Lines (PPL), Maritime Company of the Philippines and its twin Maritime Overseas Company whose local operations was the well-known Compania Maritima and Galleon Shipping Corporation. The first one also operated the United President Lines (UPL) which had ships chartered from the National Development Corporation (NDC), a government-owned company. Philippine President Lines came earlier in the 1960s and it seems it had special connection too the way they amassed their fleet. Maritime Company of the Philippines came in the 1950’s but really grew when there were already ships available for charter from the Philippine Government and they also availed of that. Meanwhile, Galleon Shipping Corporation only came in the Martial Law years. Of the three, the PPL/UPL had the most biggest fleet.

The Philippine President Lines also had local operations like the Maritime Company of the Philippines but they gave it up after a few years. On the other hand, Galleon Shipping Corporation did not sail the inter-island routes. The long-time visible heads of the Philippine President Lines and Galleon Shipping were closely associated with President Ferdinand Marcos then and many thought they were simply dummies and/or cronies. It was not banks that supported their expansion but the National Development Corporation which is owned by the National Government and that is controlled by the occupant of Malacanang Palace. Maritime Company of the Philippines, meanwhile, had Spanish connections and were politically powerful in their own right as one of the owners was a Senator of the Republic. They have also been around since the Spanish times.

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Eastern Shipping Lines schedule of 1979 (Credits to Grek Peromingan and Mike Baylon)

Second tier of our shipping companies that had international routes in the 1970s and 1980s was probably sole occupied by the Eastern Shipping Lines which is related to William Lines whose owner is politically well-connected also. Their backing were not patsies as they were related to powerful politician clans and they were already long in shipping. But in terms of fleet size and ship size they were far behind Philippine President Lines, Maritime Company of the Philippines and Galleon Shipping Corporation.

There were other shipping companies with international routes in the 1970s and 1980s. But relative to the first two tiers they were even smaller and with just a few ships to their fleets. They might be called the third tier but over-all they were no longer that significant in the over-all picture of our international shipping with the probable exception of Universal Shipping which did not last the 1970’s much but they were very significant in the 1960’s. This shipping company was the international operations of the great Carlos A. Go Thong & Company.

Among those that belonged to the third tier were Molave Bulk Carriers, Philippine Ace Shipping Lines, Northern Lines, United Philippine Carriers, Philippine Transmarine Carriers, Philippine & Japan Lines, Trans-Ocean Transport, Botelho Shipping Corporation, General Shipping Company, Philippine Maritime Shipping Lines, Seven Brothers Shipping, ASEAN Liberty Shipping, etc. Their routes generally were only in the Far East except for those operating tankers which generally had a westward direction up to the Middle East.

If in the 1960s we had routes not only in the Far East but also to the West Coast and East Coast of the USA plus (Western) Europe. In the 1970s and 1980s our international routes were shortened. One reason was the plunge of one our best export then which came from coconut – copra, coconut oil and copra cake. This was due to the rise of substitute edible oils which happened when when a local, government-supported cartel, the UNICOM, tried to drive up the price of coconut oil in the world market, a move that backfired (and to think West Germany warned us that will happen). And by that time our forests were already exhausted by logging, too. The 1970s was also the time that the metallic ores demand nosedived due to the rise of plastics. We were left with not much to export except our laborers (and so we discovered the Middle East market for that).

One that cannot be ignored here is when the government took over the tanker business of LUSTEVECO, a locally-based American shipping concern that was affected by the ending of Parity Rights in 1974. From that move and also the taking over of the tankers of the US oil companies operating here like ESSO (a company which was known in the future as Philippine National Oil Company or PNOC) a local tanker fleet plying the international waters was born under the flag of the PNOC Oil Carriers Inc. The government did that to secure our oil position because then the demand in oil exceeded supply and securing of supplies was essential to prevent supply disruptions and the shooting up of local oil prices. In size, this tanker business of the government in the 1970s and 1980s was big enough to land it in the second tier.

The government also created the National Maritime Corporation (NMC) which was in general cargo. Again the rationale is to secure our supplies and exports. In size NMC was even better then than many of the third tier shipping companies. Again the National Development Company (NDC) financed the development of its fleet. It could have been a good move also because previous experience showed chartering of NDC of its vessels to private shipping firms in many ways resulted in them holding the empty bag when these companies folded. That means freighters that are not sailing and there were no interested takers and in many cases that resulted in ships being sold to the breakers at a loss since NDC is not into shipping. Actually it was the first tier overseas shipping companies which wer the biggest contributor to the “empty bag” when their operations collapsed at the height of the Philippine economic crisis of the 1980’s. Later, when the NMC was also losing and it was sold by the government under the privatization scheme and it landed under the control of the Magsaysay Shipping Group.

To illustrate the size of our ocean-going fleet then I will the list the fleets of the first tier.

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The Philippine President Lines and United President Lines fleets and the years when the ship was in service in the company. Take note that although it was still a PPL ship there have been changes in names especially the use of “Lucky” and “Liberty” names:

Mabini/President Quezon/Seven Kings (IMO 5216240) 103.2m x 15.2m, 3805 grt, 1962-1980

Bonifacio/President Laurel/Jose Laurel/Laurel/Liberty One (IMO 5408001) 134.6m x 17.4m, 7156 grt, 1962-69

President Osmena/Seven Generals (IMO 5428726) 127.3m x 18.3m, 6778 grt, 1963-73

President Roxas/Lucky Seven (IMO 5425190) 125.7m x 18.3m, 5238 grt, 1963-73

President Aguinaldo (IMO 5407992) 125.7m x 18.3m, 5163 grt. 1963-1977

President Quirino/Elpidio Quirino/Quirino/Liberty Two (IMO 5264728) 134.6m x 17.4m, 7134 grt, 1963-1969

President Quezon/Lucky Five (IMO 5283774) 138.3m x 17.4m, 4958 grt, 1964-72

President Magsaysay/Magsaysay (IMO 1181786) 136.5m x 17.2m, 7300 grt, 1964-68

President Macapagal/Lucky Two (IMO 151.1m x 21.1m, 10200 grt, 1965-72

President Osmena/Lucky Three (IMO 5203047) 151.1m x 21.1m, 10,200 grt,1965-72

President Garcia (IMO 5025809) 151.1m x 21.1m, 10,200 grt, 1965-67

President Marcos/Lucky One (IMO 5298547) 151.1m x 21.1m, 10,200 grt, 1966-72

Emilio Aguinaldo/President Laurel/Lucky Nine (IMO 5365479) 125.7m x 18.3m, 5156 grt, 1967-75

Aguinaldo/Liberty Three/President Magsaysay (IMO 5103900) 136.1m x 17.2m, 7073 grt, 1967-72

Manuel Quezon/President Quirino/Lucky Eight (IMO 5351753) 125.7m x 18.3m, 5156 grt, 1967-75

President Magsaysay/Lucky Four (IMO 5305144) 133.1m x 17.3m, 5408 grt, 1967-71

President Garcia/Lucky Ten (IMO 5345388) 134.9m x 17.3m, 5413 grt, 1967-75

President (IMO 5127906) 162.0 m x 19.7m, 12457 grt, 1969-72

President Quezon (IMO 5190783) 151.2m x 19.5m, 9197 grt, 1972-29

President Osmena (IMO 5194818) 151.2m x 19.5m, 9205 grt, 1972-29

President Magsaysay/Lucky Eleven (IMO 5194301) 151.3m x 19.5m, 9202 grt, 1972-83

President Aguinaldo/Lucky Fifteen (IMO 5356698) 160.0m x 22.4m, 12194 grt, 1978-83

President Garcia/Lucky Nineteen (IMO 5219383) 159.7m x 20.6m, 9556 grt, 1979-85

President Laurel/Lucky Twelve (IMO 5191270) 151.3m x 19.5m, 9208 grt, 1980-83

President Quirino/Lucky Ten (IMO 5190680) 151.3m x 19.5m, 9202 grt, 1980-83

President Roxas/Lucky Nine (IMO 5194985) 151.3m x 19.4m, 9096 grt, 1980-82

President Osmena/Lucky 14 (IMO 5116646) 154.0m x 19.4m, 6784 grt, 1981-83

President Roxas (IMO 5415432) 186.2m x 24.7m, 17836 grt, 1982-85

President Aguinaldo/Lucky Twenty Four (IMO 6612594) 224.0m x 31.9m, 33171 grt, 1982-86

President Macapagal (IMO 5150783) 171.0m x 22.0m, 14842 grt, 1982-85

Philippine Laurel/Lucky Twenty One (IMO 6605668) 223.0m x 31.9m, 34160 grt, 1983-86

Philippine Quirino/Lucky Twenty Two (IMO 6711297) 138.5m x 20.3m, 7791 grt, 1983-86

President Quirino/Lucky Twenty (IMO 5085287) 156.0m x 19.7m, 9353grt, 1983-85

President Magsaysay/Lucky Twenty-Three (IMO 5414658) 186.5m x 23.0m, 18226grt, 1983-86

President Aguinaldo/Lucky Twenty Six (IMO 6509424) 194.7 x 24.5m, 18463grt, 1984-86

Philippine Laurel/Lucky Sixteen (IMO 6718702) 142.9m x 18.8m, 7680grt, 1984-84

President Roxas/Lucky Twenty Five (IMO 6522402) 188.1 x 25.1m, 17238 grt, 1985-86

Philippine Roxas (IMO 6804968) 245.4m x 32.3m, 42202grt, 1985-88

Philippine Garcia (IMO 6927028) 230.0m x 36.4m, 38985grt, 1985-87

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Credits to Manila Chronicle and Gorio Belen

United President Lines (UPL):

General Lim (from NDC) (IMO 5127865) 144.0m x 19.0m, 8975grt,  1960-76

Philippine President Magsaysay (from NDC) (IMO 5277189) 155.5m x 19.6m, 9949grt, 1960-78

Philippine President Quezon [from NDC] (IMO 5277206) 155.5m x 19.6m, 9963grt, 1960-78

Philippine President Quirino [from NDC] (IMO 5277218) 155.5m x 19.6m, 9759grt, 1960-78

Philippine President Roxas [from NDC] (IMO 5277220) 155.5m x 19.6m, 9938 grt, 1961-78

Philippine President Osmena [from NDC] (IMO 5277191] 155.5m x 19.6m, 9941grt, 1961-78

The Philippine President Lines acquired the Philippine President ships earlier between 1960 and 1961.

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MCP schedule of 1979 (Credits to Grek Peromingan and Mike Baylon)

Ships of Maritime Corporation of the Philippines and Maritime Overseas Corporation Chartered from the National Development Corporation:

Philippine Antonio Luna (IMO 5277103) 156.4m x 19.6m, 9904grt, 1967-82

Philippine Bataan (IMO 5277115) 156.2m x 19.4m, 9894grt, 1967-82

Philippine Corregidor (IMO 5277139) 156.5m x 19.7m, 10035grt, 1967-80

Philippine Jose Abad Santos (IMO 5227714) 157.0m x 19.7m, 10015grt, 1967-68

Philippine Rizal (IMO 5277232) 156.2m x 19.5m, 9912grt, 1967-82

Philippines (IMO 5277268) 155.5m x 19.6m, 9982grt, 1967-80

Other MCP and MOC Ships (basically their owned ships):

Sarangani Bay (IMO 5092187) 153.7m x 19.7m, 7355grt, 1967-72

Lingayen Gulf (IMO 5092175) 153.7m x 19.7m, 7355grt, 1968-73

Puerto Princesa [1] (IMO 5282495) 142.9m x 19.6m, 7179grt, 1972-78

Cabo Bolinao (IMO 5066542) 135.4m x 17.3m, 6192grt, 1971-84

Cabo Bojeador (IMO 5009582) 126.2m x 15.2m, 2792grt, 1971-83

Cabo San Agustin (IMO 5025835) 126.2m x 15.2m, 2788grt, 1972-83

Puerto Princesa (IMO 5282495) 142.9m x 19.6m, 7179grt, 1972-78

Lingayen (IMO 5051353) 134.5m x 16.5m, 3111grt, 1973-79

Sarangani (IMO 5255052) 134.5m x 16.5m, 3111grt, 1973-83

*Isla Verde (IMO 6413819) 148.8m x 18.8m, 7891grt, 1975-84

Palawan (IMO 6906036) 150.7m x 20.1m, 8838grt, 1976-84

Antipolo (IMO 6927559) 148.6m x 21.2m, 9403grt, 1977-84

Puerto Princesa [2] (IMO 7026651) 157.2m x 21.9m, 10661grt, 1978-84

Corregidor/Nasipit Bay (IMO 7052985) 150.7m x 20.0m, 9160grt, 1978-84

**Mindanao [2] (IMO 6813497) 141.0m x 18.6m, 5591grt, 1978-84

Balintawak (IMO 6922274) 148.6m x 21.1m, 9043grt, 1980-84

Mayon (IMO 70354687) 157.0m x 21.8m, 10661grt, 1980-84

Manila (IMO 7044093) 153.3m x 22.9m, 10586grt, 1980-84

Zamboanga (IMO 7211397) 153.3m x 22.9m, 10644grt, 1980-84

*was also used in the inter-island route

**different from their ship of that name used in the inter-island route

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Galleon Shipping schedule of 1979 (Credits to Grek Peromingan and Mike Baylon)

National Galleon Shipping Corporation ships:

Philippine Rizal (IMO 5277232) 156.2m x 19.5m, 9912grt, 1978-82

Galleon Coral [1] (IMO 5277177) 155.5m x 19,6m, 9937grt, 1978-80

Galleon Shipping Corporation Vessels Chartered from the Philippine Government:

Galleon Opal [1] (IMO 5277220) [ex-Philippine President Roxas of PPL], 155.5m x 19.6m, 9936grt, 1978-80

Galleon Jade (IMO 5277206) [ex-Philippine President Quezon of PPL] 155.5m x 19.6m, 9963grt, 1978-

Galleon Pearl (IMO 5277218) [ex-Philippine President Quirino of UPL] 155.5m x 19.6m, 9759grt, 1978-

Galleon Ruby (IMO 5277268) [ex-Philippines of xxxx] 155.5m x 19.6m, 9982grt, 1978-80

Galleon Coral (IMO 5277177) [ex-Philippine President Garcia of PPL]

155.5m x 19.6m, 9937grt, 1978-80

Galleon Onyx/Galleon Opal (IMO 7602429) 162.6m x 22.9m, 11507grt, 1980-82

Galleon Sapphire (IMO 7602417) 162.6m x 22.9m, 11507grt, 1980-82

Galleon Topaz (IMO 7602560) 162.6m x 22.9m, 11401grt, 1979-82

Galleon Amethyst (IMO 7602572) 162.6m x 22.9m, 11401grt, 1979-82

Galleon Aquamarine/Galleon Trust (IMO 7912563) 162.0m x 23.1m, 13607grt, 1980-84

Galleon Diamond/Galleon Honor (IMO 7915242) 163.1m x 23.1m, 13885grt, 1980-84

Galleon Tourmaline/Galleon Integrity (IMO 7912551) 163.0m x 23.1m, 13607grt, 1980-84 [became Madrigal Integrity]

Galleon Agate/Galleon Dignity (IMO 7912575) 163.1m x 23.1m, 13886grt, 1981-84

Galleon Emerald/Galleon Pride (IMO 7915254) 163.1m x 23.1m, 13886grt, 1981-84

The National Galleon Shipping Corporation just survived a few years more the crisis years of 1983-86 than Philippine President Lines and Maritime Company of the Philippines. But all went down in those crisis years. Those crisis years at the tailend of the dictatorship of President Ferdinand Marcos was the deadliest for Philippine shipping and even worse than World War II because the lost ships in that war were replaced by the USA after they requisitioned them or had them scuttled.

In the latter years, it is only the WG&A fleet (combined passenger and cargo) that can rival the fleets of any of the first-tier overseas shipping companies in terms of total Gross Register Tonnage (GRT) , the classical method of comparing fleet sizes.

When President Cory Aquino ascended into office there was great lack of foreign currency and capital in general because of the relatively profligate administration of President Ferdinand Marcos and the leaks in the national budget. We were then in tight reins of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and we have to pay 25% of the national budget to our lenders. There was really no more money to support these dinosaurs who wer already behind in the paradigm change to container shipping.

Ironically, when the overseas shipping companies supported by the government all collapsed, it was the local lines that had containers ships remaining from the likes of Aboitiz Shipping Corporation, William Lines Inc., Sulpicio Lines Inc. and Lorenzo Shipping Corporation but their operation was only inter-island. It was only Aboitiz Shipping that had an international route with their Aboitiz Overseas Shipping Corporation (AOSC) and Eastern Shipping Lines vessels also carried a few container vans atop their cargo ships. Ironically again, some of the ships seized by the National Development Corporation in the fleet of Galleon Shipping  were converted into container ships of when it was sold to Uniglory Marine Corporation of Taiwan. These were the Galleon Opal, Galleon Sapphire, Galleon Topaz and Galleon Amethyst.

When our ocean-going fleet was dying the likes of South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore wer testing the business of international container shipping with government support. Now their container shipping lines are all world-ranked while we don’t have a single overseas container line. If there was a reversal of fortune then this is it. And it also showed how from being one of at least an average economy we became “The Sick Man of Asia” whose shipping fleet is laughable now by the standards of its once peers or near-peers. We don’t have international shipping lines anymore and so all we do now is export our mariners and call them “heroes” but treat them shabbily for most times and require a lot from them.

And that is practically the story of our international shipping for the past half century or so.

Nakakaiyak lang.

The Longest Route After The War

The longest route after the war was the Manila-Cebu-Tagbilaran-Dumaguete-Zamboanga-Dadiangas-Davao route which was around 1,000 nautical miles in distance and which took up 6 days to cover. Some of the ships on this route actually still called in one or more ports (like Dipolog), some with less and in earlier days it was Maribojoc port on a nearby town which they used in Bohol.

Most of the ships that plied this route in the first two decades after the war were former, converted “FS” ships with a sprinkling of ex-“C1-M-AV1” ships. The first was much smaller than the but both were surplus cargo ships during the war which were only capable of 11 knots at most which made for a languorous voyage. 11 knots is actually the speed of the cargo ships of today (and even of old) and their speed actually betrayed their cargo ship origins.

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Gorio Belen research in the National Library

The ships plying the route takes nearly two weeks to be able to return to Manila. So to be able to offer a weekly voyage on a specific day, a shipping company should have a pair of ships sailing the route. When one is leaving Manila, the other will then be leaving Davao and they will cross path somewhere in Mindanao Sea if one is not delayed (the weather is one particular source of delays then because the ex-”FS” ships need to look for shelter when the weather acts up and roils the seas).

Long routes, if there are not enough rest for the engines on inter-port calls can be murderous for the engines. Of the two types most used here it was the former ex-”FS” ships which lasted longer and it outlasted the ex-”C1-M-AV1” ships. One reason maybe is because the latter is equipped with one engine only while the former had two and it had an electromechanical transmission (which meant less maintenance). Ex-”FS” ships generally lasted about 4 decades of service here before giving up. The were practically the “jeep” of the sea.

The leading shipping company then which was Compania Maritima had the luxury of using passenger-cargo ships from Europe in this route which were the almost-new MV Jolo, MV Cebu and MV Panay. Those ships were faster and had more passenger conveniences aside from being big. Two of their competitors which were William Lines and Carlos A. Go Thong & Company were only able to field former passenger-cargo ships from Europe to this route only in the late 1960’s. When those arrived Compania Maritima began deploying newer, bigger and faster ships from Europe like the MV Filipinas, MV Luzon and MV Visayas.

This route was really important then to the leading shipping companies and the route provided good load and high passenger load. One reason is the opening up of Mindanao for exploitation (in the real sense!) and the consequent coming of outsiders to the then-undivided Cotabato and Davao provinces. This route was their link to Cebu and Bohol. And this route was the artery of goods to and from Manila.

While this route could be murderous for the engines and taxing for the crews, I noticed that the shipping companies which stuck to this route lasted longer than the shipping companies that mainly did the Visayas routes only. Since passenger-cargo ships mainly carried the cargoes in those day and cargo is the bread and butter of shipping having a long route passing through more ports was more advantageous. Among the notable shipping companies then which did not try this route and did not last were General Shipping Company and Southern Lines Inc.

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Gorio Belen research in the National Library

Many shipping companies tried this route right after the war especially the bigger shipping companies. This route was not for the smaller companies because to do this route they must have enough ships because the ships won’t be at port again before two weeks. Some of the earlier ones did not last like Manila Steamship of Elizalde y Compania which quit shipping after the loss of their flagship. Another was De la Rama Steamship which left the local routes to concentrate on ocean-going routes.

Compania Maritima was the one which bet early in the route and they had the muscle to dominate the route. Among the others it was William Lines which tried to match them and since its fleet is not big it assigned almost all of their ships to this route and all of them were just ex-”FS” ships. But such was the belief of William Lines in this route (well, being a power too in Cotabato especially along Dadiangas which is General Santos today was also a factor for sure).

Philippine Steam and Navigation Company (PSNC) also did this route but their commitment was inconsistent and they eventually withdrew from this route. But they and its successor Aboitiz Shipping Corporation were the ones which experimented on different wayports to reach Davao. Just like what Sweet Lines did later. Carlos A. Go Thong & Company also perservered in this route starting the mid-1950’s when they became a national liner operation.

When the former passenger-cargo ships from Europe started arriving for William Lines and Carlos A. Go Thong & Company (and also to upstart Dacema Lines) in the late 1960’s, the ex-”FS” ships of this route were slowly relegated to shorter routes although that type was still used in this route up to the late 1970’s. By that time they were functioning more like cargo ships already and as carrier in the inter-port routes. In the Philippines which has no tradition of sending ships to the breakers until it is no longer capable of sailing, it also meant still trying to find a role for these old but sturdy ships.

The nature of this route started to change in the middle 1970’s when a new type of ship arrived, the fast cruiser liners. This new type ambitioned to have weekly sailing and so it tried to make the voyage to Davao in just three days or even less. To make this possible the number of wayports where they will call was drastically cut back and that is just to one which is Cebu port. So for the new fast cruiser liners the route suddenly shrank to just Manila-Cebu-Davao (and that practically torpedoed the old route since passengers no longer want to be cooped in ships that long).

I think this was also the reason and situation why Iloilo suddenly became “the” wayport to Davao instead of Cebu. The route is shorter and it still afforded a call to Zamboanga which was difficult for a ship calling in Cebu. With the fast cruiser liners, the old ship and route did not go away entirely immediately. Actually the old ships and route served as adjuncts but as if it is the “second class”.

Another alternative and adjunct-competitor was the arrival en masse of a new type of ship, the container ships which began to multiply starting in 1979. Many were of the express type and it either sailed direct or with just one wayport. Slowly this type killed the old, slow passenger-cargo ships and in 1980 and 1981 a lot of them were already laid up. The selling point then already was the speed of shipment and the security afforded by the new container vans (in terms of protection against pilferage and damage in handling and because of the rains). For the passengers they no longer wanted a 6-day voyage even though they were fed the entire way.

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Gorio Belen research in the National Library

In the 1980’s, this old longest route was practically gone already with the forced retirement or reassignment of the ships which once sailed the route (actually the ex-”C1-M-AV1” type was gone earlier when its engines gave up in the 1970’s and many were simply sent to the breakers). The main carriers, the ex-”FS” ships were also on their last legs and getting more unreliable and no longer suited for this distance.

Now that long route is just a distant memory. But the passengers and shippers relying on it in the inter-port routes suffered and has to take other means of commute or shipping and that sometimes meant the uncomfortable bus. This is a route that will never come back (and gone was the free tourism associated with it).

Well, things change and times change too.

Some Comments on the SWM Stella del Mar on the Surigao-Lipata Route

Very recently, the Southwest Maritime Group of Companies (SWMGC), which is owned by the loud Arben Santos and previously was into crewing, technical ship management and ship husbandry created the Southwest Premiere Ferries Incorporated or SPFI. Under it was the first vessel of SWMGC, the ferry SWM Stella del Mar which was financed through a P550 million loan from the Philippine Business Bank. I salute them for the guts in launching a completely brand-new ship in a distant route route and I wish them well.

The SWM Stella del Mar is a sister ship of the brand-new series of short-distance ferry-ROROs of Starlite Ferries Incorporated which are now plying the Batangas-Calapan and Roxas (Oriental Mindoro)-Caticlan route and has announced plans to operate a ferry in Ormoc City. SWM Stella del Mar is not only a sister ship to the new Starlite; she was also built by the same company in the same shipyard in Japan.

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From fortunehils.blogspot.com

The SWM Stella del Mar was built by Kegoya Dock in Japan, just this year of 2017 with the IMO Number 9798521. The ferry measure 66 meters by 15 meters with a gross tonnage of 2,711 and a deadweight tonnage (DWT) of 907. The press release says 21 trucks can be loaded. She has the declared cruising speed of 13.5 knots although like her sister ships, she might be capable of speed up to 14.5 knots, if desired. She has an advertised draft of 2.9 meters (that is not a deep draft if true). The draft is the vertical distance between the waterline and the bottom of the hull on the outside.

The ship is claimed to have a large draft (is that true?)and that aids the stability of the ship. That is a plus factor for safety in the sometimes-turbulent seas of the country. But then that might not be tested because our weather agency PAGASA and the Philippine Coast Guard suspend voyages of local ships sometimes even before a tropical depression system manifests and called it a “gale” (Philippine “gale” which is much tamer than the English gale). When suspensions of local ships happen the foreign ships traversing our territorial waters continue to sail (well, they have the advantage of INMARSAT which is not common in Philippine ships).

However, a large or deep draft is not always a positive because it means there is a large depth, the minimum measure of water depth needed for a ship to pass a certain body of water. That means in shallower seas the ship might ground and there are many portions of our seas like that. There are also shallow ports made more difficult because we normally don’t do dredging of ports. So when the winds act and swells appear a large draft is good but if it is calm, normal seas it can be a disadvantage.

The SWM Stella del Mar is a big ship. It is not a basic, short-distance ferry-RORO. Actually she is bigger than many overnight ship and if fielded she will be the biggest vessel (but not by a large margin) in the eastern seaboard of the country. By comparison she is approximately the size of the Trans-Asia 8 and actually the two share external design similarities if one will notice.

In size, she is bigger than the former Tamataka Marus here and two Montenegro Shipping Lines and examples of those that served the eastern seaboard are the Reina Emperatriz and the Reina Genoveva. She is also bigger than the “Orange” sister series from Tokoyuni Industries that came here like the Anthon Raphael, Super Shuttle Ferry 18 (which both served the eastern seaboard) and the Maria Ursula and Reina del Cielo of Montenegro Lines. She is also bigger than the former Asia Japan which is the Nathan Matthew now and also bigger than the sister ships Maria Felisa and Maria Vanessa which serves the Benit-Surigao route for Montenegro Shipping Lines. Well, to compare, she is even than the Jack Daniel, the biggest ship of Sta. Clara Shipping Corporation.

Actually, the SWM Stella del Mar is bigger than some overnight ferries like the Filipinas Dapitan and Filipinas Dinagat, the Lite Ferry 10, Lite Ferry 11 and Lite Ferry 15, the Asia Philippines and the former Calbayog (now the Staarlite Neptune). She is approximate in size with the Oroquieta Stars, Graceful Stars, Joyful Stars, Wonderful Stars, Lady of Good Voyage, Trans-Asia 2 and Lite Ferry 8 (the seven are a little longer but “thinner”). With that maybe, one familiar with those Cebu ships will have a good idea of her size. Well, her size is actually Cebu overnight ferry range and bigger than the overnight ferries of Zamboanga.

My first concern is the Surigao-Liloan route is not strong like the Batangas-Calapan, Roxas-Caticlan or Matnog-Samar routes where a lot of vehicles and passengers cross including sedans, AUVs and SUVs of local tourists or those who bring cars home on visits. That is not the nature of the passengers that cross Surigao Strait and vehicles here are already fewer than the three sea crossings mentioned earlier. If there are passengers in the Surigao Strait crossings those are most likely passengers of the buses and so in order to capture them the buses have to be captured first and that needs heavy discounting and “rebates”.

The Surigao Strait crossing is experiencing a tight market in the recent months (of course, in peak season it might always be full or near-full) as FastCat entered the route with two or three round trips a day (three when there were still 2 FastCats there) and that took market away even from the rock-solid Montenegro ship in the Benit-Surigao route that offered many schedules and which offered the lowest rates because of its short distance (but in per nautical mile, they are much more expensive). The other ferries in Lipata suffered as well especially since there is a Cargo RORO LCT, the GT Express 1 (which has also difficulty on lean days and might not survive except in peak months). Gone from this route was the kilometer-long queue experienced during the peak seasons.

Now the SWM Stella del Mar will come into that market. In that market it is not the question which is the newest as the passengers and the vehicles not contracted will usually take the earliest ferry unless there is the chance that the faster next ferry will overtake the earlier ferry. But in this route the two-hour gap between departures is usually observed and so overtakes are not frequent. I myself might take the earlier ferry if the next one is still two or three hours away. The SWM Stella del Mar might have some advantage in speed but it seems her transit time will just be 30 minutes faster.

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From fortunehills.blogspot.com

But not against FastCat which is much faster than her at 17 knots. She will have no competitive advantage against the FastCat because this is also a new ferry with good SOPs and good passenger service. Well, their guy assisted us all the way in Liloan last December and all we had to do was wait and we didn’t need to queue up.

Anyway many trucks and even the buses here are already “locked” which means they are tied to a particular shipping company. And for being a regular or suki they enjoy discounts on the rates and even “rebates” in form of tickets and even cash. This is the system or the game that is rampant in the eastern seaboard (except for the treatment of FastCat to Philtranco and its drivers who have no option but to load with FastCat because the two companies have the same ownership) and I don’t know if Southwest Premiere Ferries is willing and ready to play this game to the hilt. They announce that with their speed they can ply the route several times a day. Well, if they don’t know it yet, their competitors speeds can also do that but they don’t because there is not enough load Well, even on the much shorter Matnog-Allen route which has less than a third of the Liloan-Surigao route, the short-distance ferry-ROROs there only do two complete voyages in a day, normally. In this Surigao Strait crossings, it is the buses that can fill in the seats if they are many but they are not (in San Bernardino Strait some 75 or so buses will cross in a day in just one direction but in Surigao Strait the figure is only about 15). The Surigao Strait crossing is nowhere near the San Bernardino Strait crossing in traffic even in trucks. And in Mindanao the passenger and cargo liners are not yet defeated unlike in Eastern Visayas and Bohol. Now can SWM Stella del Mar fill her vehicle deck? The passenger capacity of the ferry is also much higher than the competition’s at nearly 1,000 persons. I wonder where will they get the passengers for that. Well, it is a 3-hour crossing and usually passengers in that crossing have already hours of sitting inside a vehicle. I just hope the seats of the SWM Stella del Mar are also good for lying or sleeping in.

Aside from the boast of greater stability due to the deep draft, the owner of SWM Stella del Mar has other claims and I would like to clarify those for the benefit of the people not very familiar with the sea:

a. 2.75 meter easement–the space between the accommodations and the outer rails. It can accommodate all passengers on one side during emergency situatons.

b. 1.2 meter wide stairs–to prevent crowding if there is ever a need for evacuation.

  1. Water tight cargo hold–to prevent the ingress of harmful salt water that may damage onboard cargo. This also prevents water from building up.

  1. Bow thrusters–thrusters on the side of the vessel allow it to maneuver better despite strong currents. This also makes the vessel effective during search and rescue operations.

e. Advanced safety systems-NAVTEX receiver, AIS transponder, GPS navigation, and BNWAS.”

An easement between the passenger compartment and the outer rails is common among ships. It is not an advanced feature and that side is not the muster station where passengers should congregate before evacuation or abandoning ship. Actually that area is the section where it is difficult to launch automatic life boats. The safest area for abandonment of ROROs is actually the ramps of the ship since being near the water already there will be less injuries compared jumping from the side of the ship.

1.2-meter wide stairs. Well, I have seen many stairs that are much wider than that. Actually that is a narrow stair.

Watertight cargo holds are a common feature of ships. There is nothing modern there. That has been a fixture of ships for so long now and even in antiquity (if the holds are not watertight then the ship will simply sink). If water builds up in the bilge of the ships which is below the holds, there are pumps to draw out the sea water.

There are many ferries now that have bow thrusters and that was already common decades ago. Usually it is only the smaller ferries including the basic, short-distance ferry-ROROs that do not have that. What is even more interesting to me is a hydraulic, three-piece ramp which is a big aid in the ingress and egress of vehicles in high or low tide situations. Inspecting the photo of the stern of SWM Stella del Mar it seems she is not equipped with that. The smaller and older Lite Ferry 10 has that feature.

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Photo Credits: Emmanuel Teodoro and Gorio Belen

NAVTEX receiver, AIS transponder, GPS navigation and BNWAS. NAVTEX is not advanced and it just relies on the forecast of the host country which in this case will be the notorious PAGASA. If they mentioned INMARSAT, I might have been impressed. AIS transponders are so common now. All MMSI ships have that and there are ships built in the 1970’s that have been retrofitted with AIS transponders like Warrior Spirit, the incoming third Trans-Asia of Trans-Asia Asia Shipping Lines, Incorporated (keel laid down and launched in 1979, completed in 1980).

GPS navigation is also the standard now (no more compass and even the smartphone can give the one the coordinates and speed). But did they mention autopilot, automatic docking system and joystick instead of wheels? Nope. Those equipment are more advanced that the simple GPS. China-built regional container ships that dock in Davao have such equipment. BNWAS which is Bridge Navigational Watch Alarm System is good which sounds an alarm if the deck watch officer falls asleep but it might not really be necessary here. Ships here have too many cadets on board that I have never ever seen a bridge that has just one crewmen at any moment, the ship running. They can sell the BNWAS and it will not make a difference. Too easy to assign so many cadets that the deck officer does not even man the wheel. Oh, by the way, the FastCat is equipped with joysticks and I think it has ECDIS (Electronic Chart Display and Information System) which was never mentioned in the SWM Stella del Mar press release. Well, even the old, gone SuperFerry 19 which was built in 1977 was retrofitted with that equipment.

I find their press release in bad taste. It is just to fool people and make them good in the eyes of the unknowing public (but not the ship spotters and mariners). That should not be the case.

Of course the ship is IACS (International Association of Classification Societies). Well any national classification society which is a member of that becomes IACS-certificated but not the Philippines because MARINA is too low in quality to qualify for that and it can’t even inspect ships well. China is even a member of IACS.

SPFI is hoping MARINA will phase out 35 year old ferries. Yes, MARINA (Maritime Industry Authority, the local maritime administrators) has such a plan and it called for a meeting with shipping companies and shipyard owners. I have an update on what transpired there. The Cebu shipping companies came with their lawyers. When MARINA said they plan to phase out 35 year old ferries, the lawyers asked if MARINA has any study that shows age is a factor in accidents. MARINA admitted that it has none and it ended with a “Noted” (which means they have no answer) from MARINA.

MARINA also want ships classified with IACS (International Association of Classification Societies). My informant says MARINA seems to be washing its hands because they themselves cannot do it and so they want our ships and shipyards accredited by a foreign body. Again, there was an objection and it also ended up in “Noted”. Aside from that they want the shipyards to be ISO-certified. Well, shouldn’t be MARINA the first one to be ISO-certified? Nothing came out of that too, said my informant. So don’t believe just yet some of these things that are published in our papers. Arben Santos and Alfonso Cusi of Starlite Ferries really want to phase out old ships coz they wanna clear out the competition and have the field for themselves. Oh, by the way the vessels of Star Ferry of Hongkong are already 55 years old on the average and those are still sailing well.

Arben Santos says their ferry will be cheaper by 30% to operate. Well, if he gives 30% discount on rates he might be able to clean up the the competition without resorting to administrative fiat. But what if the competition responds? He still has to pay for his ships while his competition already have their ships paid for except for FastCat. Now that bird even has lower fuel consumption than his ships while being faster because it has a light hull and is a catamaran. He can’t beat that. It simply can sail even without being too full and the Philtranco passenger buses and cargo buses are within its fold.

If I am observing FastCat I am also doing the same for the SWM Stella del Mar. I wanna see if they have the right ship, the right route and the right strategy. I also wanna see if Arben Santos can back up his expansive words. Actually, I don’t like people stepping on the toes of their competition just to promote their product. That is not fair.

They say them competition only runs at 8 knots. That’s a very funny and a ridiculous lie. Can’t they think of a better promotion spiel?

My Albay Ports Tour

It has been several years before I was able to go back to Bicol where I grew up. My planned trips in 2013 and 2014 were aborted for various reasons and 2015 was a difficult year for me to travel. So I resolved that when I am able to go back to Bicol I will visit the Albay ports especially since it has been some time that someone was able to cover it for PSSS (Philippine Ship Spotters Society).

My targets in Albay were the ports of Legazpi and Tabaco (these are the two main ports of the province). I was not sure I can go to the new port of Pio Duran as it is out of the way and I just reserved a possible visit there when I go back to Cebu via Masbate. Regarding the Mayon Docks in Tabaco City, we have a member there who might arrange access for me but I was not sure if I will have enough time before it gets dark (that is always the problem with long-distance shipspotting especially in rainy weather). Well, I was not even sure if I have the time to visit a PSSS founder based in Tabaco, Edsel Benavides.

After one breakfast, I rode a bus to Legazpi. It was already better this time because the bus trips going there were again back in the two-and-a-half hour range (no more “Station of the Cross”). I first spent some time in the Legazpi bus terminal as I have to take pictures of the buses too as I am also a bus spotter. That is when the rain that was threatening fell. In my trips last Christmas starting from Allen before going to Bicol I almost always had an umbrella. It was the peak of amihan which means the peak of rains too for the lands facing the Pacific Ocean).

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I was able to reach Legazpi port in time. I said this because the motor bancas for Rapu-rapu and Batan islands have not yet left. That was unlike the last time I was there when it was already afternoon (and with a much heavier rain to boot). I noticed there was a new and modern-looking port terminal building with a lot of glass (I just wish it is designed for a super-typhoon). There was also many freighters when I came visiting. They are docked in the refurbished wharf for freighters.

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It on the motor bancas and the inside of the port terminal building where I concentrated. I have not yet covered well for PSSS the big motor bancas of Legazpi. In a sense, they are just like the big motor bancas of Masbate and Surigao. They will take in nearly 100 passengers and a lot of their cargo, one of the reasons for the outside walkway that is part of their design. The swells were a little high. Boarding needs some care lest one be thrown overboard. No need to ask how it is farther. The hawkers were also vending “Bonamine” and “White Flower”.

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I no longer walked towards the freighter pier and preferred instead to just take long-distance shots, for two reasons. One is to conserve on time as I still have a lot of places to cover and second, the freighters in Legazpi are also freighters that can be caught in Cebu or in other ports of the country. Of course the drawback is sometimes my vantage point is not good and I cannot individualize the ships. One notable ship there, however, was a big coal barge, the Highline 55. Maybe the cargo is intended for the cement plant in Camalig town. It was Malaysian with a Malaysian tug (the Highline 56).

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The Embarcadero de Legazpi is is also in the same port area but I did not try to visit it anymore for the same reason of conserving time. I just took shots of it from the port. But I just noticed the zip line is already gone along with the boats for Misibis. Embarcadero de Legazpi, aside from being a mall is also a tourist spot is also a flagship development in Legazpi City. Its boardwalk was beautiful in the past (but then a strong typhoon has just passed).

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I did not stay long in Legazpi port as the motor bancas were already preparing to leave and another reason is I was not too comfortable as the wind was a little strong. It seems it is sucking my lungs and I am no longer used to that feeling. Besides, I also have to go to the old train terminus of Legazpi to see what is the recent situation there. When I shipspot I also take into consideration the wishes of the other PSSS members whose primary liking is rails or bus. I was doing a favor to one of our railfan-member who gave us a lot of ship photos from the past (he is Lindsay Bridge, a rail engineer once assigned to PNR by AusAid).

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From PNR Legazpi Station I took a simple jeep ride to Tabaco. It was a gamble for it can take me longer. On the other hand I have a front seat and that always trumps other considerations (the need to take photos and be able to view the road is always primordial). But it became a good bet as no bus overtook us anyway and I had the chance to throw questions to the driver (he only charged 1 peso per kilometer – Bicol is a deregulated area unlike Mindanao where fares are high because of a monopoly). The only negative was the heavy rain in almost my entire ride. Well, typical amihan weather in the northern coast of Albay.

Funny, in reaching Tabaco my first visit after a short walk in the city center was to the bus terminal. I wanted to catch the buses of Tabaco and I reasoned the ferries from Catanduanes have not yet arrived anyway. From the bus terminal I then proceeded to Tabaco port and it was raining hard again. First, the padyak driver went to the fish landing area but I waved him off as I can also cover that from the inside of the port (the fish landing area and the port are divided by a high wall so there is no direct access).

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It was not difficult to enter Tabaco port although it is supposed to be an ISPS port being the former regional port (the new regional port which Pantao port, Governor Salceda’s white elephant, is just a regional port in name as almost nothing docks there). However, as a short-distance RORO port, people arrive at almost any time, it is the bread and butter of the port and so they do not just shoo away people unlike in ISPS ports where the guards think their port is a fort that must be “defended”.

As usual, there was a Regina Shipping Lines (RSL) basic-short-distance ferry-RORO inside Tabaco port. It was the Regina Calixta-II. The RORO left is supposed to be the first trip at dawn in the next morning (there are no afternoon trips to Catanduanes as many passengers are still bound to the other towns and darkness will overtake them). She is also supposed to be the first ferry out of Catanduanes. Regina Shipping Lines does exclusively the Tabaco to San Andres, Catanduanes route now through Codon port while the sister companies Sta. Clara Shipping and Penafrancia Shipping exclusively do the Tabaco to Virac, Catanduanes route.

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The ferries from Catanduanes have not yet arrived when I was there as their ETA was about 4pm or so as their ETD in Catanduanes is about 12nn or 1pm. These ferries will be laden with buses bound to Manila for sure along with its many passengers. However, just outside the port gates of Tabaco were three more buses for Manila waiting. Those will be for the ship passengers that are without rides yet (I was tempted to ride them at first thought but decided against it since leaving late will allow me no further view of the road).

I visited the inside of the port terminal and the atmosphere there was easy and welcoming. The ticketing offices of the ferries were there along with a slew of passengers that will be staying there for the night to board the first ferry at dawn (one was actually a white married to a local). I was heartened by that because it reminded me of the hospitality of the old ports in the past before the arrival of ISPS (International System of Port Security) which tried to kill such hospitality. In the past, passengers who were left out or were too early for their trip have the comfort of the thought that they can stay in safety in the port or in the ferry that will be the first to leave. Sometimes I think the “I” in ISPS actually means “Inhuman”.

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There was something new inside the port, I noticed. There was a tarp and the ticketing office of one Cardinal Shipping. I thought was, this the pioneering shipping line that first fielded ROROs in the Sorsogon-Samar route three years ahead of Maharlika Uno? Their vessel was a catamaran named Silangan Express 1. I was told that cat was actually a local-built (in Cavite perhaps?). It offers a one-and-a-half hour ride to Codon port versus the usual 4 hours of the short-distance ferry-RORO. Their fare is actually cheap and so it was a good proposition. It only started operations last October and it is the last trip out of Tabaco for Catanduanes.

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I walked the length of the port when the rain subsided. I noticed in the back-up areas two trucks chartered by Oxfam, the international relief agency. I was glad. A Filipino high up in their local operation was an old friend. And then there were the freighters of Tabaco. One thing I noticed in Tabaco is the freighters will usually be actually Tabaco-based. If there are Bicol freighter operators they are based in Tabaco and not in Legazpi although at the stern of the ship the place of registry will be “Legazpi ”since registrations are based where the regional office of MARINA is. Now, why don’t just they affix the place of where the operator is based? Isn’t there more truth and justice in that?

On that day, only the freighters Lander Dexter, Christian Edward and Drake were there. The latter belongs to the Premship group of Cebu, however. There was also a barge whose livery says it is a Michael Ellis which is an Albay shipping company too. It is supporting an expansion of the port. Actually, the last time I was in Tabaco port they also had some expansion/refurbishment going on and I can see in the port road the result now.

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From a distance the Mayon Docks which is also in Tabaco is visible (this is the only big shipyard in Bicol). It will have to be long-distance shots since the linear distance is about two kilometers. Recognizable there was the Star Ferry-III of 168 Shipping Lines with its hump near the bow. This ferry does the Matnog-Allen route. Partially covered there is what turned out to the former Maharlika Cuatro which was bought and sold by Gabisan Shipping. It is now the Regina Calixta VI of Regina Shipping Lines according to a report of our member in Mayon Docks. [Both ferries are sailing now as of the time of the writing of this article.] There were also freighters for refitting in the shipyard as usual and a big LCT.

From an area almost enclosed by the port was the fish landing area (FLA) and on the other end was the fishport of Tabaco. Mostly it was small fishing bancas that were there which fish mainly in Tabaco Bay. There were also motor bancas bound for San Miguel island that almost encloses and is part of Tabaco.

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I did not stay long in Tabaco port, too. First, the weather was not really inviting and I planned not to go back to Legazpi but instead ride a Sabloyon road jeep direct to Ligao City. I really can’t tarry because i might miss the last Sabloyon jeep and this was the reason I can’t wait for Edsel to finish his office work. I was hoping I can see again that road and also see the damage of the recent typhoon like what I did in the earlier portion of my trip. It was front seat again in a basically jeep that does not leave unless it is full (however, it did not take long to fill up because there were students; I barely had time to buy hamburger from a roadside stand for I have not eaten lunch yet to save on time).

It was heavy rains all the way along Sabloyon road made dangerous in some places because of the wash-outs caused by the recent typhoon. I reached Tuburan junction of Ligao City in due time but there was an unexpected problem – the buses were all full. I just took my time getting shots of Manila buses and conversing with some local to get updates. I was however able to board a bus before it got dark. Funny, it was the same bus I took on the way to Legazpi City. Soon it was dark and still raining hard.

I thought, typical amihan weather. I covered nearly 200 kilometers in such kind of weather that day. My shots? Some were awful. But it was good shipspotting anyway. And good railfanning and bus spotting too.