My Shipspotting Trips in Camarines Sur

I only had two shipspotting trips in Camarines Sur covering two ports. Overall, there are not that much shipspotting opportunities in Camarines Sur compared to the Albay or Sorsogon as the province is basically not an entrepot to big islands like the island-provinces of Catanduanes and Masbate. The only significant island offshore it has is the Burias island and half of this elongated island is not connected to Camarines Sur but to Pio Duran, Albay

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Pasacao National Port

I first went to Pasacao on the southwest of Naga along the province’s southern coast. Pasacao is the main port of entry by sea in Camarines Sur and also the connection to the western half of Burias island. There are four ports in this small municipality — the municipal port, the national port, the port of the old Bicol Oil Mill which has another name now (but people still refer to its old name anyway) and the tanker jetty of Shell Philippines.

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Pasacao Municipal Port

The first two ports are near and parallel to each other. The Bicol Oil Mill port is visible from the two government-owned ports but is located some two kilometers away. No need to go there because if there is a ship docked there it will be visible from the main ports anyway. The Shell jetty is not visible from that and I don’t go there anymore as most times no tankers will be docked there and going there will mean hiring a tricycle which is few in Pasacao.

I was lucky when I visited the Pasacao national port. It was the first time I saw that port full in all my visits there. And there was even no fishing vessels crowding the port (some of the fishing boats are in Pasacao municipal port instead). It was amihan (northeast monsoon) and so it is the peak of the fishing season in the southern seas of Bicol.

I was surprised a Medallion Transport ship was docked there, the Lady of Faith, an old reliable of the company. First time I saw a Medallion ship in Pasacao. Well, this shipping company has many freighters now and maybe that should not have been a surprise to me. After all they are Masbate port regulars.

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Freighters in Pasacao National Port

The Eduardo Juan of Jones Carrier Inc. was also there. I sometimes see this ship in Tayud and Surigao. The company reminds me that once they tried ROROs and they were among the early ones and that they pioneered the Dumaguete-Dapitan route but they did not last. Their ROROs were too small and it was the time of tight competition when Cebu Ferries was ruling the Vismin waves and were sinking smaller shipping companies in their wash.

The biggest ship in Pasacao national port was the Vietnam ship Thai Binh 16. Normally when I see a Vietnam ship its cargo would almost always be rice as we are a rice-deficient country and that includes the Bicol region. But this time the cargo it was unloading was corn. a surprise to me. Is Vietnam exporting corn to us already?

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There was a local ship there, the Princess Damaris of Candano Shipping Lines which is a shipping line from Bicol, in Tabaco. Their owners also own the only big shipyard in Bicol, the Mayon Docks in Tabaco. Princess Damaris was unloading flour in bags to a truck of Partido Marketing Corporation whose owners are major stockholders in Sta. Clara Shipping Corporation and sister company Penafrancia Shipping Corporation, the dominant ferry operators in Bicol. Docked beside Princess Damaris because there was no more docking area was the Princess Sapphire.

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There was also an LCT anchored offshore waiting for a berth, the Seamine 9 which was loaded with cement. Also anchored offshore was the Claudia Alexis of Avega Brothers and this was also a surprise to me that they also serve Bicol now. Maybe like Medallion Transport they have so many ships now and their expansion was even faster. Claudia Alexis I usually only noticed in Cebu before.

While shipspotting in the Pasacao national port, the big motor bancas from Burias began arriving. I was there before lunchtime, the time they begin to arrive. Also there in the port were the smaller motor bancas to the coastal barrios of Pasacao and Libmanan. Bancas are a fixture of the southern coast of Bicol because unlike in the northern coast of Bicol there is no southern coastal road except in the road maps (no, they do not exist actually).

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I decided that to save on time and to prevent exhaustion that I should just cover the Pasacao municipal port from the Pasacao national port. Everything is within the range of my lens anyway and it is only motor bancas that are there anyway plus bancas of the subsistence fishermen. There are still other things and places in Bicol that I have to cover. I have not been to my place for a long time.

The next port of Camarines Sur that I covered was the fishport of Camaligan which is just adjacent Naga City and which looks like a suburb of it (actually, Naga has many small towns around it). I was determined to go the the fishport itself and see what it has to offer. This determination is actually an offshoot of a frustration that there is no other worthwhile Camarines Sur port to go to. Cabusao port I know will be a disappointment and I will be crazy if I go to Tandoc port in Siruma. With regards to Guijalo port in Caramoan I was thinking of something different (more on this later).

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The Camaligan fishport is actually some distance away from Naga and not so near like in my imagination. But I was interested in it because it is the principal fishport of Camarines Sur although it is located along the banks of Bicol River and it is still some distance from the sea. Well, this is so because the Bicol River is a navigable river and Naga City which is even beyond Camaligan is reachable by steel-hulled trawlers from San Miguel Bay and beyond (once upon a time there were ferries from Naga to Mercedes, Camarines Norte, the port town besides Daet).

Once this fishport supported a sardines packing plant and it was the first in Bicol. Unfortunately it did not last very long and the cited reason was the lack of fish (well, even the legendary canneries of Zamboanga import fish). I was interested what the fishport still had to offer, the activities it has left and what kind of vessels are present there.

Unlike most government-owned ports, the Camaligan fishport is not under the PPA (Philippine Ports Authority). It is the Philippine Fish Development Authority (PFDA) which owns it. The atmosphere there was relaxed. If fact there seems to be not much activity and there were just a few vehicles.

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There was one basnig there and four trawlers which seems to be Dragon Marus. It is hard to gauge their activity especially as water lilies clog the port (and this indicates lack of activity; well, it was amihan and fishing north of Bicol is not good). There was also a yacht, the Artist Ryuma and two patrol boats of BFAR (Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources), one of which is on dry land. The bigger patrol boat seems to be ensnared by the water lilies.

There was also the sad sight there of the cruise boat of Camaligan. The town tried to develop their waterfront and offer cruises along the Bicol River, an effort to generate tourism. Sadly it did not take off. The boat seems not be in sailing condition anymore.

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I decided that Camaligan fishport does not have much to offer anymore. If there is fish it seems it is just trucked direct to the market or to Manila. The small quantity of fish in the fishport might have just been trucked by refrigerated trucks. There are no signs of active fish trading unlike what I saw in the Port of Cantilan or Port of Placer when me and Joe visited Surigao.

I did not stay long. No need to. On the way back, I dropped by the Camaligan waterfront and see what’s there, try to gauge the ambience and offerings. I thought it would not sell really. Not much sight or experience to offer and it will be better if a cruise boat is actually based in Naga for easier access and with probably more experiences to offer.

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I thought of a Naga-Guijalo-Codon (San Andres, Catanduanes)-Tabaco-Naga tour, a long and daring one because I will try to complete it in one day. The impetus was the 24/7 trip now of the Naga-Caramoan bus. I was planning to leave early so I will reach the buses that will be loaded in San Andres for Tabaco and Manila (and go via Virac if there is still time). I had my doubts of course if I will reach it on time because I will be dependent on the schedule of the Guijalo-Codon motor banca.

But Typhoon “Nina”, the strongest to visit Camarines Sur in more than a decade threw my plans awry. It is hard to bet on a trip like that with all the disruptions and damages caused the typhoon. Plus it was rush season as it was Christmas and rides could be full especially after the suspensions and cancellations. I decided not to push through but reserve it on another time after more research and better preparation.

On a note, when I reached Tabaco port on another shipspotting trip I espied the glitch in this plan. I realized that the better plan is to go the other way, the counterclockwise way which means I should go to Tabaco first. There are dawn trips from Naga to Tabaco like there are dawn trips to Caramoan but the advantage of the counterclockwise way is that there are trips in Caramoan back to Naga even late and that is not so in the Catanduanes to Tabaco crossing.

When I realized this I had run out of time and budget in Bicol and resolved I will just do it next time.

The Trip Back to Tacloban From Surigao del Sur

Me and Joe did not stay long in Cortes, Surigao del Sur. It was just an overnight stay, a short visit to a shipmate and his family. The next day we prepared early because it will be a long drive back to where we came from. We wanted to find what ports were there in the five towns we just whizzed by the previous day. Me and Joe also planned to shipspot Taganito again and see if there are accessible ports there. We intended a make-up since the previous day all my batteries gave up while we were there and we were a little rushed up already lest nightfall overtakes us while we were still on the road.

Joe again mounted his a-little-balky GPS map as we will use it again in searching for ports (I realized already then that my plain refusal to use the capabilities of my smartphone is already a negative as I can’t assist Joe). We passed by Lanuza, Carmen and Madrid towns without any signs of a port. It was actually Madrid which interested as more as the owner of the “Voyagers” restaurant which we patronized on the way to Surigao del Sur hailed from that town and the shipmate of Joe was familiar with the surname (he said one of the most prominent families of that town).

We knew there will be a port that we will be visiting in the next town of Cantilan because the previous day we already saw its sign by the highway. Cantilan sticks to my mind because the controversial Prospero Pichay hails from that town and he claimed it was the mother town of that area and I was looking for signs of that. A presence of a port I will not be surprised because that is one of the givens at times if a powerful congressman hails from the place.

We found the road sign alright and it was indicated there the distance is 6 kilometers. Not near, we thought, but we were determined to see what it has because we wanted to see what Prospero Pichay has given his place. We were lucky that the road is already cemented in many places and those not were not muddy. We noticed signs of a fiefdom and we just continued on as the seaview is good. We found the Port of Cantilan which is in Barangay Consuelo.

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It was not a disappointing visit. The view was good with islets near the port and there were vessels but almost all were fishing vessels of the basnig type. I was surprised that one of those was the Clemiluza which I used to see in Cebu before. There were two fish carriers in the port and the total number of basnigs was nearly 10. The port had concrete buildings. I don’t know but the impression I got of the Port of Cantilan was that of a fishport.

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In the next town of Carrascal, the last town of Surigao del Sur going north, there were views of the sea and mines and it was a warning to us that Taganito is not too far anymore. Me and Joe tried a small road that goes to the sea. There was no port. What is noticed is the water by the beach. It is not the normal blue. It is brownish with some relation to muck including the smell. I wondered if there was fish still to be caught there.

We then reached the part which I remembered will show us the mining communities below which is part of the boundary of the two Surigao provinces. There was really no good vegetation and the terrain seemed to be really harsh before. I can sense there was really no good serviceable road here before the mines came. I remembered what the shipmate of Joe said to us the previous night that at his age he has not been yet to Butuan City or Surigao City because he said there was no road then. He said that if they needed something that is not available in Tandag, their capital and next town, they go to Davao (he studied college in Davao City by the way). Now I understand why before the Caraga Region was established, Surigao del Sur was part of Region XI that included the Davao provinces.

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We descended and reached sea level which is an indication the mining community centered in Taganito is already upon us. The bulk of the harsh and mountainous terrain is already behind us. It was the actually the physical boundary of Surigao del Norte and Surigao del Norte (and it confirmed to me what I noticed before that the actual boundaries of the provinces of Mindanao are actually physical boundaries too).

We knew from the day before that there was an indication of an open port in the area and we found it. It is the Port of Hayanggabon, a PPA (Philippine Ports Authority) port and it is still being constructed but it is already usable. It is obvious it is meant to be a RORO port. To where, I can surmise that it would an alternative port for the islands of Surigao del Norte. Bucas Grande island, the third major island off the Surigao coast with the town of Socorro is just offshore and Claver can be its link to the mainland. The Port of Hayanggabon can also be the dock of ships with supplies from Cebu and Manila.

We took photos of the ships in Hayanggabon port and also the vessels offshore (this is one of the characteristics of the Taganito area, the presence of a lot of ships offshore). We roamed the general area. There is a barangay hall that can pass off as a municipal hall in some remote areas of the country. There are also restaurants that is already more modern-looking than the usual roadside stand. One thing noticeable is a lot of mining trucks that were on the move aside from other mining vehicles.

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With the developments we saw, it seems the mining companies are doing CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) work. It can be seen in the schools, the school buses, the ambulance and the community lighting. Well, they should. They are earning a lot of money after all. Strip mining near the shore with no tailings ponds with just causeway ports means lower initial capital, lower operational costs over-all and hence more profits.

We did not try entering a mining port. We are almost sure they won’t allow us (they can easily cite the risks and company policy). We contented ourselves with shots from the road. However, I realized that with a vehicle and enough time one can look for vantage places but one needs really long lenses for Taganito as half of the ships are offshore. My 10x zoom was just barely capable for the ships that are docked.

We also took photos of the mining yards, the motor pools, the cuts in the mountain (the strip mines) and almost any other thing connected to their activities that are visible outside. It is seldom that one is near a mining community after all with its activities visible and palpable. Even their equipment is interesting enough. There is even a conveyor belt overhead. But I just wonder with all the heavy loads how long will the road hold before cracking.

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From Claver we sped up already. No more looking for ports and we intended to bypass Surigao City and head direct to Lipata Ferry Terminal. We knew it will be a really late lunch after all the sightseeing and shipspotting. Our target was “Voyagers” restaurant again. We loved the sights, the ambience, the newness and cleanliness plus I can recharge batteries there again, a crucial need in any long-distance shipspotting.

Before going to “Voyagers” we went first to the Lipata Ferry Terminal to know what were our ferry options and to arrange our ride. Of course when one goes canvassing we become an attractive target for the shipping company employees and their runners. There will of course be all the offers and blandishments plus the lies. I was used to that. I actually tried to be the front man instead of Joe because I know I can exude the mien of a veteran.

Actually, our first preference was the FastCat M7 so we can experience a good, new catamaran RORO on that route. Besides our preferred docking port is Liloan as we have been in Benit already on the way to Surigao (so taking a Montenegro Lines ferry again is already out of the options). We also want to shipspot that port from the inside.

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The first ferry leaving for Liloan was the Millennium Uno of Millennium Shipping, an old and slow ferry. They lied about a 3-hour running time and said it will arrive in Liloan ahead of the FastCat M7, two obvious lies. Whatever, it will be the FastCat M7 for us. We do not want an old, slow and uncomfortable ferry that has no airconditioning. Joe after a continuous trip from Catarman to Tacloban, back to Catarman then back again to Tacloban and then Surigao del Sur needed an accommodation more than a basic one.

And so it has to be FastCat M7, our original choice. However, it will still be more than two hours from departure. Oh, well, we decided we will just while our time in “Voyagers” and charge my batteries. The Archipelago Ferries man did all the paperworks and we appreciated that (uhm, what a nice rolling cargo service, we thought). He returned with the change and I asked what was paid for. We learned that included already in the total charges was a “Barangay Fee” of 50 pesos.

Me and Joe had a hearty laugh with that. They were able to put one over us. We just explained to the Archipelago guy it is illegal per two Supreme Court final decisions. We let it at that. Me and Joe just wanted to fill in our stomachs, have some rest and enjoy the coziness of “Voyagers”. We already deserve it after over 1,100 kilometers of travel and 3 sea crossings over 4 days (Joe already had 1,400 kilometers over 5 days) and we still have 1 sea crossing and 400 kilometers to go).

We again went to “Voyagers” and they were surprised we were back. We told them they are the best around in Lipata and we like the ambience. Maybe because of that they gave us free halaya. It was delicious. We ordered one as baon but it turned out it was not for sale. “Voyagers” is one restaurant we can really recommend. Very hospitable. It like its settee that is like a sala plus its elevated location which is airy and nice for looking around.

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After two hours of rest we began the embarkation process. It was smooth. FastCat was more professional. I had small talk with some of the hands on the deck. That is where I learned that the Philtranco buses are no longer loaded (one of the reasons for the slack in rolling cargo). It is just the passengers and cargo of the bus and the process is the same in Liloan so in effect the passengers from opposite directions just swap buses. Looks neat but they said the passengers don’t like it.

The FastCat M7 is nice and relaxing. The passenger service and the canteen are good along with the rest of the ship which is new. Our trip is two-and-a-half hours and I was glad it was longer than the Lipata-Benit route as Joe can have more rest. I didn’t have much rest because as usual I was just milling around the ship until it got too dark for taking shots. Before that Benit port was visible and we had a freighter as a companion. By the way, we overtook Millennium Uno just after the midway of the route even though it departed an hour ahead of us.

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It was dark when we disembarked in Liloan Ferry Terminal. Joe parked the car first because I was making a round of the port taking shots and taking stock. There are more controls now but I was still able to get around. It did not change much anyway. However, because of the dark my shots were limited.

We then proceeded and not long after Joe asked where we can eat. I told him the nearest town with decent eateries is Sogod, the biggest town in the area. So instead of proceeding direct to Mahaplag we turned west in Sogod junction to the town. Nearing the town I was puzzled that past dinnertime there were still a lot of vehicles on the road and there was more near the town and inside the town there was traffic. Turned out it was the fiesta of the town but unfortunately we knew no one there. Sayang. We saw the barbecue plaza of the town and we had dinner there. It was satisfying.

After that was the drive again by the river of Sogod. Each and every time I pass it there seems to be changes because there is erosion andthe river change. We then turned to the left in Sogod junction and I warned Joe that from there it will be all uphill. The rain began coming. I don’t know but I associate that place with rain. Maybe it is because the vegatation is still heavy with a lot of trees and it is watershed area.

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Me and Joe will be running through Mahaplag again because the puppy we were supposed to pick up in Isabel was not available. Sayang. We could have stayed the night in Sogod, had more fun there and ran the picturesque seaside road to Maasin the next day and visit the many ports of Southern Leyte and western Leyte up to even Palompon. It would have been a hell of a shipspotting day.

We reached Mahaplag junction again and it was another disappointment as it was already night and there were no hawkers of kakanin and suman anymore. Me and Joe really wanted to test the rumored “poisoners” of the area, a thing we both laugh at because we knew it is not true. Never had a stomach ache in almost two decades I bought from that place and I am still alive.

Heavy rains pelted us after Mahaplag all the way to Tacloban. Joe was already showing signs of tiredness and the weather was not cooperative. In some sections there were already inches of water on the highway demanding more attention from a tired driver. We finally reached Tacloban near midnight.

We were unlucky because the hotels we went to were all full. Maybe because of the hour? We were wondering. We thought Tacloban was disaster area. We then found one across the Sto. Nino Shrine. It was not cheap but the accommodation was good. We have to settle for it. Joe was already clearly tired. Who would not be after 1,300 kilometers on the road spread over 5 consecutive days?

We retired immediately for the next day we will be looking for the unexplored old ports of Samar. Our main targets were Basey and Victoria ports. Guiuan we deemed was too far already.

[That part I already wrote in a previous article:,,,,]

The Trip from Tacloban to Surigao del Sur [Part 2]

When the smaller group of PSSS (Philippine Ship Spotters Society) members split and said goodbyes in Tacloban bus terminal, I was aware it was already December 13 and it was the PSSS’ 8th anniversary. I dunno if anyone mentioned it but I didn’t coz I do not want to spook anybody since many associate the 13th with bad luck and we were still all traveling. In our drive to Surigao del Sur, I never mentioned to Joe the anniversary because active members remember the PSSS was founded on December 13. Well, the luck of PSSS is still holding, fingers crossed.

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From Surigao City, me and Joe followed the road to going to Butuan. In our short drive in the city I think Joe already had an idea of the lay-out of it since we took the main road going in and another road going out. Along the way we saw some prominent landmarks like the St. Paul College, the Lipata junction, the bus terminal and the airport plus the shuttered Pacific Cement company. If I remember right, what Joe told me this was his first time in Mindanao and I felt pangs of remorse we were not able to invite our two companions we left in Tacloban for I know they haven’t been to this place yet too. But our host in Surigao del Sur knows only two are coming and Joe didn’t want to abuse the hospitality.

It was a serene drive from the city punctuated by some curves and by some sea views. No meaningful ports really in the area until we arrived in the junction to Surigao del Sur by the progressive barrio of Bad-as which belongs to Placer town. I was surprised there was already a Prince hypermarket there, a Cebu chain. In a barrio no less, when the towns there don’t even have one. I thought the mines might be giving prosperity in the area and the chain bet that junction will soon boom (well, it already looks like a small town to me).

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From there it was a more serene drive. Fewer vehicles, fewer people. We were no longer in the main road, i.e. the Maharlika Highway or AH26 but the road is just as good with even less damage and bumps. We were some distance yet from the sea and small rice fields and low hills dominated the sight. We had a relaxed drive.

Soon, Joe rolled out his GPS map. We were now in an area where I was not familiar with the ports and roads so I can’t give him directions. I told him our first target is the Port of Placer that I have heard before which is named after the town that is still a part of Surigao del Norte (it always enters my mind that there is a port in Placer, Masbate and also in Placer in Surigao del Sur).

Not long after, the sea and then the town came into view. I have the impression of an old town but the progress we saw in Bad-as was not evident here. We made a tour of the town while looking for the protrusion in the GPS map that indicates a finger port. Soon we were running on a road by the sea that is also a docking wharf for the small fishing bancas. That road then led to the actual port which was walled with a gate.

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We paused, a natural reaction but when we entered slowly there was no challenge, just curious looks (maybe they were trying to figure who the big shots were entering the port). That’s the beauty of a port that is not ISPS. In an ISPS (International System of Port Security) port, the guards are generally hostile and visitors are not welcome (they only want people who have official business there).

The Port of Placer surprised me. Offshore there was a tanker (not the Pandacan-type, mind you) but in the port itself there were two Petron truck tankers transferring fuel to plastic drums aboard a motor boat and a big passenger-cargo motor banca (I thought this was illegal but, oh well, we have to be practical). We learned it is destined for a generating plant of an island. The fishing boats inside were bigger and mostly of the basnig type. There were also two motor boats one of which is discharging scrap metal to a truck and the other has drums for fuel also.

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Offshore were islands and islets. Not a surprise since looking at the map this portion of Surigao has many offshore islands. Fishing abounds here and it seems the Port of Placer is one of the recipients. There were fish trucks in the port along with fish brokers. Placer port, though out of the way did not disappoint me. The visit was worth it.

We next passed the small towns of Bacuag and Gigaquit. We had no target ports here. We next rolled into Claver town which was the last town of Surigao del Norte (and soon we understood how it came to be). It was more progressive and I half-expected it having heard of it in the past. The GPS indicated to us a finger port and so we came looking for it. It was small with just a motor boat which seems not to be too active. There was no open sight of the sea. Only mangroves. It was a disappointment. I only took long-distance shots because if we enter the only way out is by backing the car. Not good.

From sea level, the road began to climb and offshore at a long distance we can see LCTs and barges. I forced getting pics but the quality was not good as it was too far for my lens. It turned out I was over-eager. Later, we found out that the mining ports were still ahead of us and I already began to exhaust my supply of batteries (after visiting nine ports already it should have been no surprise). But i rued my over-eagerness.

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As we proceeded, we noticed more and more ships were coming into view and most of those were LCTs and barges with loads that look like brown earth. We can also already see the mining wharves which are mainly causeways built by rocks and earth just bulldozed into the sea (but the biggest in the area, that of Taganito Mining is a pile-type port and it docks bulkers and tankers). The seawater of the area already has a tinge of brown when it was supposed to be blue. We were coming into the mining pollution we have read and seen from the news.

Soon, it was obvious we were nearing a mining community. The mud in the road tells it and what we are meeting now in the road were mostly mining trucks and vehicles. There were also truck depots of the mines along the road and there were also heavy equipment. China brands were almost universally the makes of the rolling stock here, some of which I just seen for the first time in my life.

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Before descending to sea level, it was becoming obvious the mining community we supposed was not just composed of one company but of several distinct companies with it own compounds, gates and wharves. The community was several kilometers long and it already has the feel and flavor of an emerging town. I remembered our member ‘kensurcity’ mentioned to me in a shipspotting meet that Jollibee can open a store in Claver and he said it will thrive. Maybe, this place Taganito was what he was referring to. Well, mining boom towns have magic in terms of glittering metal.

At the center of this community is the legendary Taganito Mining Corporation of the sometimes-controversial Nickel Asia which hit jackpot with the rise of China’s metal needs. There are other mining companies in the area and all are just adjacent one another. One is Adnama Mining Resources and the PSSS is familiar with some of its LCTs that are normally caught by our cameras in Cebu waters.

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When i check the AIS sites, I often see MMSI vessels near Surigao that has Taganito port as the intended destination. It is not a government-owned port, by the way and there are actually many mining wharves in the area each hosting ships with many other ships anchored offshore. We saw about 20 ships in all in the Taganito area (it is actually several barrios) but one needs really long lenses to cover them all well.

Even in the descent to Taganito community (the mining companies are centered in the barrio of Taganito), one is already aware of the exposed rocks at the side of the road which really looked like ores. Slowly, one can also see the stripped mountains and the water run-offs that are brown in color. Ascending after Taganito, it was even more visible and the mining communities also come into view already along with the bays that hosts the wharves. Brown, stripped mountains up high, brown-colored water run-offs and a sea that is turning brown.

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There is no surprise in that because what is being done is plain strip mining (not open pit as there is no pit; the mining companies were just stripping the mountains) just several kilometers from the sea and there are no holding or containment pools. No wonder the Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources is now threatening the closure of some of them. It was great shipspotting in that area, there are magnificent views but at the same time one would begin to understand the controversy surrounding the mining in that area.

Leaving the mining area, I began to understand why there was no proper road there before and why Surigao del Sur is cut then from Surigao del Norte then. The area is mainly rocks and it does not have good vegetation and so how much more agriculture? No agriculture, no people. No people, no roads. Then it turned out those rocks are valuable. And so the road connecting the two provinces was built (i was told it was mush before). It looks like a good mining road anyway because most of the vehicles that pass are connected to the mines.

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I exhausted my batteries after that place and me and Joe began to hasten because our target Cortes town is still a fair distance away and it was already past mid-afternoon. We just whizzed by the towns of Carrascal, Cantilan, Madrid, Carmen and Lanuza. We vowed just to cover them and whatever ports are there on our way back to Leyte and Samar. Then, we finally reached the house of Joe’s shipmate at 5pm which we found to be in a progressive but woody barrio off the main road. Good decision to just whiz by the five towns (and anyway I don’t have batteries anymore). Otherwise, we would be searching a woody, unfamiliar and probably dark place after nightfall.

A seafood fete awaited us and all were fresh catch (we learned the fishermen themselves hawk it house-to-house there). Joe immediately posted a shot of the feast in Instagram with a hashtag of the place. A companion we left in Tacloban immediately noticed it (chismoso talaga ang social media). Maybe he was wondering how Joe, in an area he hasn’t ever run was able to cover a lot of distance in just such a short span of time with a ferry crossing to boot and almost no sleep. I didn’t know why James immediately suspected I was with Joe. Was I missing something;)?

Ah, anyway our luck held. And it seemed we did very fine on the day of the PSSS’ anniversary and Joe was able to prove he was a superb driver. Imagine that distance (350 land kilometers plus the Surigao Strait crossing) and pace (13 1/2 hours) with nine ports and one port complex (Taganito) covered including a meal stop. Who will believe that was possible? I bet James was thinking i was holding the wheel.

[Part 3 will be in the next installment.]

The Trip From Tacloban to Surigao del Sur (Part 1)

The smaller tour group of the Philippine Ship Spotters Society (PSSS) reached Tacloban on the midnight of the second night of the tour. Waiting for Mark to get a ride, we finally parted at about 3:30am of December 13 with Mark on the way to Bato, Leyte for a shipspotting of Bohol and James on the way back to Cebu via Palompon. Me and Joe’s destination was unmentioned but we were actually on the way to Cortes, Surigao del Sur, near the capital of Tandag to visit a shipmate of Joe and shipspot along the way.

There are really not many ports on the Tacloban-Panaon island axis if one follows the road to Mahaplag. From Tacloban, Joe and me had to take the Mahaplag route mainly because it was still dark and Joe also wanted to see the Agas-agas bridge. Besides, a trip via Silago will take longer and I want us to be on the 8am ferry in Benit because that will afford us the greatest chance of visits to the unexplored ports of Surigao without nightfall overtaking us. We had the thought of passing it on the way back, halfheartedly, because our tentative route on the way back now was via Isabel, Leyte to pick up a puppy.

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Liloan Ferry Terminal and Liloan bridge

We reached Liloan at about 6am and Joe tried entering the Liloan Ferry Terminal. I dissuaded him because I feared we will get in trouble with the LGU collectors of illegal exactions and we will lose more time if a scene erupts and anyway I don’t want to take the ferry there because I thought it will reach Lipata Ferry Terminal not sooner but later. I told Joe we can cover Lipata Ferry Terminal from the Liloan municipal port which is located just a kilometer from the other end of the Liloan bay.

I was not mistaken and we were lucky because as tipped by member Mervin Go Soon of Baybay (whom we met on the Oroquieta Stars on the way to the PSSS tour-meet assembly in Tacloban), the former Maharlika Cinco of Archipelago Ferries was there. The other tip of Mervin that the Grand Star RORO 3 was doing a Liloan Municipal Port to Surigao route also proved true because she was there besides the former Maharlika Cinco. We noticed no work was being done on the former Maharlika Cinco which would become the Gloria Five of Gabisan Shipping. I was wondering then who is operating the Grand Star RORO 3. I thought it was “M Shipping” whose AUV we encountered on the road (I was mistaken on that assumption as Mervin very recently told me that Grand Star RORO 3 was also bought by Gabisan Shipping and I wonder now if she is the Gloria One advertised by the company in Liloan port).

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Across the bay, we saw that it was only the Millennium Uno of Millennium Shipping which was docked in Liloan Ferry Terminal. With its slow speed and the triple distance of Liloan compared to Benit port, it would have been disaster to our schedule had we taken it (so our bet not to enter Liloan Ferry Terminal was right after all). There was also anchored in the bay the Cargo RORO LCT GT Express 1 of GT Shipping which was doing a route to Surigao so that trucks wouldn’t queue long like in the past. I noticed the old Liloan municipal port terminal was already converted into an office by the municipality. But the old arrastre office was still there.

At the end of our short, alloted time in Liloan we made a run for Benit in San Ricardo town at the tip of Panaon island. I did not want a photofinish and I told Joe we need to put in some allowance on time lest we were shut out of the ferry (“shut out” in maritime use here means one’s vehicle or cargo fails to be loaded to a ship) and probably have to backtrack to Liloan and so we did not look for a place to eat anymore (anyway there was probably none that is inviting as Liloan is just a small town). Along the way we saw the abandoned port of San Francisco which once docked the copra ships of great shipping line Go Thong in the past.

We next came to “The Saddle”, a renowned mountain pass that Joe wants to conquer (it was called by that name because it resembles a horse saddle if viewed from the sea). It was not shipspotting but there were views of the sea from there and we knew right after that will come the town of San Ricardo but Benit port will still be some distance from it.

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Leaving behind Benit, its collectors of illegal exactions and “The Saddle”

Approaching Benit port, before the turn inside, I told Joe that if the San Ricardo LGU collectors of the illegal exactions flag him down that he continues driving as if he did not see anything. The ruse worked and upon entering the people of Montenegro Lines and the arrastre rushed us saying we will be the last vehicle that will be loaded. There were already shortcuts in the processing of papers and we were already on the ramp before all the papers were even processed. The ship left even before 8am and I saw two vehicles that arrived minutes after us were no longer accommodated (and there was actually still some space for at least one of them). So it was still a photofinish alright and a lucky accommodation. Sometimes that is one gets from being disciplined in the travel approach. I told Joe before that many said I am lucky with trips and it seems it was holding. Actually, it held during the 1,000 kilometers me and Joe ran with two ferry crossings and with many ports visited.

Our ship was the Maria Vanessa of Montenegro Lines, sister of the Maria Felisa (actually no other shipping company serves the Benit-Lipata route). Since we both lacked sleep, me and Joe barely toured the ship. Instead we immediately looked for a cool, comfortable and quiet place and soon we were asleep although the voyage usually takes only 1 hour and 15 or 20 minutes. We two really needed that rest even if it was so short. We did not even care for food as all we wanted is sleep.

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Lipata Ferry Terminal

That short sleep reinvigorated the two of us and there was no hassle in the disembarkation process nor in getting out of the Lipata Ferry Terminal. We did not try anymore to tour the port since we will be exiting Mindanao through that port anyway. What we wanted was food as our stomachs were grumbling already. It was already mid-morning and we only had hamburger the previous night in Tacloban terminal and no breakfast at all.

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“Voyagers” (Photo by Joe Cardenas)

Going out of the port, I espied a new place which looked like a diner to me although it looks more of a lodging place. I was able to convince Joe to backtrack and what a discovery! Well, they really serve meals and snacks and it turned out that the owner is a master mariner abroad and so the place was themed by maritime things. The was not the usual rush of people, it was quiet and clean and it does not look or smell like the usual roadside stands. The name of the place is “Voyagers” and we recommend it. Me and Joe took a little time to unwind and relax there before we proceeded to the city (i.e. Surigao City). 

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In the city, we first went to what is called the “Boulevard”. It is a boulevard indeed, a seaside one. It is adjacent to the main port of Surigao and it is there where the so-many big motor bancas of Surigao to Dinagat, Siargao and other islands dock. We were lucky since we were early they were still all there and since the sea was calm so many came. I walked the entire length of the Boulevard getting shots of all the bigger boats. Offshore, a few LCTs were moored, as always. LCTs are a fixture of Surigao now because the mines employ them.

From there me and Joe proceeded to the main port of Surigao which is called Verano port. Joe wanted to enter but I told him there is almost no chance of a free pass as it is an ISPS port which means visitors are not welcome. To buy a ticket for Siargao so we can enter means a bit heavy “entrance fee”. Might have been affordable for our pockets but I was always mindful of the time and I do not want the quest for the unexplored ports of Surigao be compromised (why is it that long-distance shipspotting is always balancing of compromises?). Besides I was more interested in the old docking area of boats nestled on the side of Verano which was not obvious or visible from outside it. So I just contented myself with some shots of Verano ships from the gate. There are not many of them at a given time anyway and two i even caught while departing.

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A view of Verano Port from the nearly-enclosed marina beside it

I then nestled myself into the narrow opening that leads to what I found to be a dirty marina where many bancas and motor boats were anchored (there were more than 15 of them). This looked like to be the old port as can be deduced from the road on the other side of where I was. It is now almost encircled by Verano port but I knew from observation inside Verano that passenger-cargo motor bancas emanate from it which I found to be bound to the smaller islands that belong to Surigao City.

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The MARINA nestled by Verano Port

Many of the vessels in that nearly-enclosed marina were actually fishing bancas. But it seems nobody cares anymore for that port and marina. It is dirty and it looks as if there is no order there and even the roads and pathways leading to it look unmaintained. I did not dare exploring anymore as the walkways looked dangerous to me.

From there me and Joe exited Surigao City not through the main road but through some shortcuts which Joe saw on the GPS map. We did not try anymore the Surigao-Lipata coastal road whose turn we missed earlier. The unexplored municipal ports and the mining ports of Surigao were the ones that were already pulling us. Their magnetites seem to be strong….

(More on the next installment.)

Our Visits to the Other Ports of Samar on December of 2016

The Philippine Ship Spotters Society (PSSS) tour group, after assembling in Tacloban first stopped in San Juanico bridge to take photos and enjoy the views and the experience especially of walking part of the bridge. Well, just being there is experience for most of those in the tour group. If it could be considered shipspotting it is maybe because of the seascapes and Tacloban port is also visible but at a great distance. I was wishing a ship will navigate the narrow strait separating Leyte and Samar but I know that is almost impossible with the new uncharted depths of the strait, a result that historical storm surge that came with Typhoon “Yolanda”. Actually, deeper container ships coming to Leyte now take the southern approach round Southern Leyte.

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The group then took a long road ride because the next port Catbalogan was some 100 kilometers away from Tacloban and we did not try to visit the many municipal ports along the way which were not along the main road. These old municipal ports were once the lifelines of the coastal towns of Samar to Tacloban when the road was not yet developed some fifty or so years ago. It would have been nice to visit them but it would take time and we were tight on time as our leg to Allen is some 250 kilometers and we have more important ports to visit along the way. And we were not even able to start early and that was the reason why I didn’t mention to the group the former important port of Basey.

We arrived in Catbalogan past lunchtime and we headed straight to the Catbalogan bus terminal which is located astride the port (in fact it was sitting on borrowed port grounds). From there we walked towards the port and it was a lucky day for us. I have not seen such number of vessels in Catbalogan since I first visited the port many, many years ago. We were doubly lucky that the motor bancas to the island-towns off Catbalogan in Samar Sea have still not left. Plus there were the usual cargo ships and an aggregates carrier LCT, the LCT Poseidon 10. I wondered if that number of ships meant progress for Catbalogan. I would really like to know. The only dampener in our visit was the knowledge that recently Roble Shipping has dropped their Cebu-Catbalogan route and it has already sold to Jolo their ship serving that route.

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Catbalogan Port

Since our lunch took time I knew we can’t spend much time on the next ports or even visit some that are near the road like Victoria port. In Calbayog, our next port, we obviated all walking shipspotting and instead opted for shippotting by car the length of the quay road parallel the Calbayog River wharf and fish landing area. There were still many fishing bancas the time we arrived but most of the passenger-cargo motor bancas to the island-towns towns in Samar were already gone as the last of those leave just after lunchtime. We also did not enter Calbayog port and instead just viewed it from afar as we were already pressured for time since we did not want nightfall to come while we were still on the road.

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Calbayog Port

From Calbayog we made a short detour to Manguino-o port just a few kilometers north of Calbayog port. This is now the only port with ferry connection to Cebu and we were unlucky that day because the Cokaliong ship was not there when we dropped by. Basically, aside from that ship only fishing vessels use Manguino-o port. However, from Manguino-o the private port of Samar Coco Products just a few miles south was also visible. Funny, but instead of ships our talk leaving the port was about the Samar bulalo because of my good experience with it in Manguino-o (one should try it on a Samar visit).

It was a long run again in the sun threatening to set over roads that I knew once did not exist. Once upon a time, there was no road directly connecting Allen and Calbayog save for a logging road which was not always passable and only passable to the sturdiest of jeeps (or was it a weapon carrier?). But soon the San Isidro Ferry Terminal came into view and I knew Allen is just a short distance away now and so there is still time to shipspot this government port that is the official connection to Matnog. We did but as the sun sets earlier in December and there was precipitation I knew it will be a photofinish to BALWHARTECO as I expected. This part I have already told in another article:

https://psssonline.wordpress.com/2017/01/29/the-developments-in-the-san-bernardino-strait-routes-when-the-psss-visited-in-december-of-2016/

From a sleep-over in Catarman, on the way back, we made a short visit to the Caraingan port which is located in the town now renamed as San Jose. I told the group this town is more known for the claim of Asi Taulava, the basketball player. Though the main inter-island port of Northern Samar and improved by the government, this port never really took off. It was never able to shake off its reputation for thievery and the new enterprises like coco processing now have their own ports. The damage of the 175kph typhoon that visited Northern Samar just a few years ago was still visible in the port. We did not walk the port to save on time, we just let the car do the walking for us.

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Caraingan Port

We next visited Lavezares port which had a long history. It’s significant lies in that it is the connection to the Biri islands offshore which is now being promoted as a tourist place if one wants to escape civilization. Biri and Lavezares have a reputation in history. For the former, it is the rocks and waves that can threaten ships. For the latter it was a launching port of long-range motor bancas that went beyond Biri in the past like Catanduanes and the Bicol eastern and northern shores. To me Lavezares, like Allen, its mother town is a remnant of the old seafaring tradition of the Pintados which can reach Formosa in the past before the Spaniards forbid local boatbuilding so they can press (as in force) our boatbuiders in building their exploitative galleons. Again, we just made a tour by car of Lavezares port.

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Lavezares Port

[The portion where we made an Allen to Matnog crossing and back is already in the article I attached earlier.]

On our way back to Tacloban there was no more chance of shipspotting as night had already set in contrary to my hope that we can cross early to Matnog and then be back in Allen just past lunch (that would then have afforded us another chance at the ports we just made a cursory visit of). But no regrets. It just meant a realignment of targets (for me).

Reaching Tacloban at midnight, I made Joe Cardenas (the car owner and our driver) sleep while looking for our companion Mark Ocul’s ride back to Cebu (James Verallo eventually convinced him to take a Bohol detour to max his shipspotting experience). Meanwhile at the back of my mind I had a 3:30am cut-off from Tacloban for I will then convince Joe to make a dash to be able to board the 8am ferry in Benit which will afford us enough time to look for and visit the many unexplored ports of Surigao on the way to his friend in Claver, Surigao del Sur without hitting dusk. When we parted, little did our two companions suspect me and Joe were still embarking on a long trip. With 850 kilometers now under his belt who would then suspect Joe is still up for another thousand kilometers of continuous driving?

[However, that portion will be the subject of another article and I will henceforth jump to when we were able to get back to Tacloban to make another run back to Allen.]

From a Tacloban sleep-over after Surigao, me and Joe crossed again the San Juanico bridge but there was no more walking of the bridge this time for we were dead serious in finding the unexplored ports of Samar (or at least those where our daytime will be able to cover). We were elated by our success in Surigao in using maps based on GPS in finding the obscure ports without much turning around (why, it was even more accurate than the locals). Instead of turning left to Sta. Rita, Samar we turned right after the bridge on the way to Basey, the old connection of Samar to Leyte when San Juanico bridge was not yet existing. I was excited what it will show us.

The drive to Basey took longer that I expected. I had a premonition of things we will see because we passed by the cemetery of Basey and it was big and it had Chinese names on it. I have an inkling it was not a small town in the past and there was probably a Chinese quarters which equates to trade.

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Basey Port

We found Basey town alright and it was not the normal small town that I see in Samar. It was obvious it had a great past and the main street was densely packed, proof it had trade before. We found the port road and near it was the remnants of a Chinese quarters. There were concrete structures in the pier but obviously it was already a long-forgotten pier. Only passenger-cargo motor bancas were just using it. These were still active as it affords a shortcut and cheaper ride compared to the jeep (which seemed not to be thriving). I saw students going to Tacloban. It was a proof of links.

From Basey port, the port of Tacloban can be made out along with the San Juanico bridge. I mused – the bridge killed Basey and its progress. Like what I see when new roads bypassed towns. The sea was shallow. I was thinking what if the bridge had been built via Basey? What would have been the result?

We did not stay long in Basey. On the way back, me and Joe kept peering in our GPS map about that abutment which indicates another port which we disregarded on the way to Basey because the road signs contraindicated it. We then came to the junction leading to it and Joe decided we should check even though the road was not so inviting (well, that is one advantage of an SUV over a sedan). Not long after we saw a parish church. It was just before the port. A parish church in a barrio always indicated something more than an ordinary barrio. We learned that we are in San, Antonio, a barrio of Basey. So Basey has two ports not one!

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San Antonio Port

San Antonio port is much closer to Tacloban than Basey port. It seems they are just separated by a wide river and I can almost make out some of the buildings in Tacloban. San Antonio port, though smaller, is busier with more passenger-cargo motor bancas going to Tacloban. It was there that I learned the many motor bancas docked near the market of Tacloban were actually going to San Antonio. The ones docked there were the same motor bancas I saw in Tacloban two hours earlier when me and Joe made short tours of the Tacloban ports. It seems San Antonio is more connected to Tacloban than to its own town of Basey. Again I wondered what if San Juanico bridge was built not on its present site but on a site in San Antonio?

Me and Joe bypassed the Sta. Rita port which was still near Tacloban so as to save time. As always the 250-kilometers stretch of Tacloban to Allen is a challenge to shipspotters to cover before nightfall sets in. I thought maybe one has really to start early like in first daylight if one wants to visit more ports. In the same regard we also bypassed the port of Pinabacdao although there is a clear road sign indicating it. Anyway we wondered if that port and similar ports are already ‘ports to nowhere’ since vans and buses are already their connection to Tacloban.

Joe and me also bypassed the ports of Catbalogan and Calbayog. We reasoned we had been there before and we were more interested in the old port of Victoria and others near there. We just contented our eyes watching the seascape, the occasional ship offshore and with the passenger-cargo motor bancas in the navigable rivers of Samar that connects to the inland municipalities. We also had a dash of adrenaline against a Toyota Grandia (but it was not ship spotting).

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Manguino-0 Port

However, me and Joe made a short detour to Manguino-o port because our first one there was “empty”. The Filipinas Dapitan of Cokaliong Shipping Lines was there. We were able to enter briefly but the guards this time were not accommodating. Maybe the field of Psychology should do a research of how the completion of gates and fences affect the mentality of the guards. It seems with those completed it is now their duty to “protect their fortress”. Manguino-o was hospitable before.

We also bypassed another port with a link to an island-municipality although it is not far from the highway. Alas, me and Joe’s tour was full of ‘bypasses’ that I thought maybe Tacloban, Basey and nearby ports can be covered by tour in one day and maybe one just have to stop for the day in Catbalogan or Calbayog and the next day cover the ports of Northern Samar. There is really no way to cover all the ports in the Tacloban-Allen axis in one day. One will “waste” 100 kilometers from Tacloban to Catbalogan in land travel and next “waste” some 65 kilometers from Manguino-o to San Isidro. And to think the distance of Catbalogan to Calbayog is another 60 “empty” kilometers (as in there are no ports along the way).

The only worthwhile port Joe and me was able to visit after leaving Western Samar was the old port of Victoria which once upon a time had a connection to Manila. We did not use the GPS this time as Joe knows the junction. Like what I expected its poblacion was more packed than a town of its size and the remnants of an old trading quarter was still visible. We reached the port and it is located inside a river mouth where the waters are clear and beautiful spans of Victoria bridge was visible (actually the river might be named Bangon River). There were just a few bancas using the disused concrete port now and most were fishing bancas. There was a wharf for passenger-cargo motor bancas a hundred meters downstream and it was more busy.

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The ports of Victoria

The road to Victoria town and port is just by the bridge of Victoria. It seems Victoria was born around the river that traverses its entire narrow territory and with a wide navigable river it seems that river also serves as an artery. With such a lay-out, Victoria is also a ship shelter during storms. With the sun preparing to set, the slight rains and the silhouttes it produces we left Victoria with me feeling sad. There was no way to be upbeat about what we just saw which was a faded town left by its ship.

I wanted to find the other ship shelter in Victoria town which was Buenos Aires. Joe vetoed it and so we continued north. With the rains sometimes pelting us, explorations become limited. We did not go inside San Isidro Ferry Terminal any more and i just took some shots from the outside. We also bypassed Jubasan port of Sta. Clara Shipping and and just took shots from outside of Dapdap port. Time just flew and when me and Joe entered BALWHARTECO port the light remaining or the lack of it was just about the same when the big group of PSSS first reached it. Me and Joe tarried a little more making a long goodbye with some small talk. I will be staying in BALWHARTECO lodge while he will still be proceeding to Catarman.

I had a pleasant stay in the lodge and it was a great platform for viewing the activities in the port. I spent the next two day exploring BALWHARTECO and the ships there and making interviews. I also looked for my old opponents there, the collectors of the illegal exactions but they were gone. I thought it was not me they feared but the American in our big group who was Tim Alentiev. Well, with his demeanor, attire and shades he might have looked like a CIA operative. Seriously!

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Star Ferry II

In BALWHARTECO I was able to visit the Star Ferry II twice. I was not that much interested in the other ships because I have already boarded them. I became more interested in Star Ferry II when PSSS was able to establish it was now the oldest passenger RORO sailing that is not an LCT (built in 1961!) and there were rumors she might be headed for scrapping (once when she was not running I saw her precisely moored in Victoria port). I wanted simply to know more about her and her current condition.

My second visit came because I was looking for Roger Chape, one of the oldest mariners in Bicol waters who started his career in motor boats (lancha). He happened to be the Chief Engineer of Star Ferry II but I did not know him the first time I boarded the ferry. We had a good talk although the ship was bucking heavily in the night swells and wind (it that was Cebu the praning Coast Guard there would have suspended voyages already). From him I got a better understanding of the state of the ship, a little of its history and how it is managed.

It was really so hard shipspotting in my two days in Allen. The rains were heavy and it simply would not relent. If not for an old umbrella given to me I would have scarcely been able to get around. And there was not even an LPA (Low Pressure Area) but just the usual heavy amihan weather of the area (amihan winds there could even be stronger than LPA winds).

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A ship in San Bernardino Strait amihan

My last chance of shipspotting in Allen was when I left for Matnog. It was long before they sold tickets because dockings can’t be done because of the strong swells and high tide (have one heard of that in Cebu?) I mean it was hours of wait. Then we were able to board but the Coast Guard won’t give clearance to sail because of the weather. It was just a temporary halt and not full suspension. We passengers were worried of a full suspension of voyages and we will become statistics for the evening news on TV (i.e. stranded in the port). While waiting I turned it into an opportunity for shipspotting. But then again the rain messes up the visibility and quality of shots.

I immensely enjoyed my Samar shipspotting despite of the rains which made it difficult to move around. It was a continuation of my summer of 2014 shipspotting with Jun Marquez (summer shipspotting that had plenty of rain too). It was nice and good by any means. I actually love Samar.

Sailing Via The Sole Remaining Cebu-Zamboanga Ferry

Nowadays, there is only one ferry doing the Cebu-Zamboanga route unlike in the past when there were other ships and shipping companies in the route. Trans-Asia Shipping Lines Inc. has already dropped the route long ago on the passenger side and Aboitiz Transport System/2GO and Aleson Shipping has long been gone from the route, too, referring to ferry operations. In the long past, many sailed the Cebu-Zamboanga route with their ships on the way to Southern Mindanao ports from Manila. Compania Maritima, Carlos A. Gothong & Co., William Lines, Inc. Philippine Steamship & Navigation Corporation, Sweet Lines Inc. Manila Steamship Co., De la Rama Steamship Co., Dacema Lines Inc. were among those which had Cebu to Zamboanga connections in the past. That does not even include pre-war shipping lines that are long gone now. My, isn’t it too lonely now in the route? Where are now our ships of the past?

Zamboanga Ferry is now the only passenger ship remaining in the route and I wonder how long she will stay here for she is getting elderly already. Passenger load is well down compared to the past and it will be lucky if the ship is one-third full and that is the reason George & Peter Lines has long quit issuing bunk numbers for simply there will be no fights about bunks. It is now just cargo which is sustaining Zamboanga Ferry in the route and normally her car/cargo deck is not even full heading south. Heading north the car/cargo deck will be generally full and sometimes there are even shut-outs (cargo left on the pier because it can’t be accommodated anymore). Zamboanga sends a lot of canned sardines, dried fish and ginamos to Cebu and Dumaguete, that’s why.

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Zamboanga Ferry before Cebu departure

Zamboanga Ferry leaves Cebu for Zamboanga every Monday night and the start of the journey seems a little sad because in her departure time of 10pm, all of the ships leaving Cebu had been gone and only a few people are left in the port and most of the vehicles have left too and the lights are already dimmer. One need not walk in the dark, however, because one has to go only to the George & Peter Lines main ticketing office and an AUV shuttle will take him to the ship. The ship will ask the office at 10pm if there are any more passengers that will embark and if there is none the ramps will then be hauled up and the main engine of Zamboanga Ferry fired. Most passengers won’t wait that deep into the night before boarding, however, and some are already on the ship by early nightfall. Once, me and another lonely passenger were the last one ferried to the ship by the G&P shuttle.

Boarding the ship is a breeze as there are not many passengers and one goes direct to the Chief Purser to get his beddings or more formally linen. Beddings are free in Zamboanga Ferry even in Economy Class unlike in other ferries and that is the reason why the mattresses do not smell of sweat (the airiness of the ship is another factor and so do the lack of passengers). It’s nice to board late because by that time the Chief Purser is ready to give his blessings for free upgrade to Tourist for those who want it (there are only a few who do so). I did not know this practice before but it was actually the office that told me. If one is early, he waits by an Economy bunk first. In Tourist class there are also no bunk assignments. One picks his fancy but some want to be far from the packaged airconditioner. In a ship that has a few passengers the airconditioned accommodations get cold fast approaching midnight and woe to one who has no jacket or sweater as the blanket issued is not enough to ward off the cold.

In the Tourist section, one get awakened at dawn when the ship is already approaching Dumaguete port. First there is the loud call for the crew to man stations. Next will come the inevitable “Tawo sa prowa, tao sa prowa” call.The windlass will whirl and the sound of the chain rolling is simply teeth-chattering as the Tourist section is in the most forward part of the ship and even ahead of the bridge. One can even hear there the thud of the anchor hitting bottom and soon one will hear the sound of the ship tacking. Then one will notice the three-piece ramp being deployed. All the while there will be sounds of feet rustling and people talking. That is one’s dawn introduction to Dumaguete port.

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Zamboanga Ferry in Dumaguete

As a ship spotter, I will tour the port and even venture outside. I always get the admonition from the crew never to venture far and watch for the three-piece ramp. They know I am a Zamboanga passenger. I asked before why and the reason is they will leave once business is done in Dumaguete. They have no fixed hour in leaving but usually it will take one-and-a-half to two hours before they finish their business. When I head back and I am a little late I will see the arm-pumping motion to hurry up. Once, they immediately lifted the stern passenger ramp once I already re-boarded. With such a tight time and plenty to spot in the port there is really no time to go to the town or even take a walk in the famous Dumaguete Boulevard. Why, I don’t even have enough time to board the ships docked in Dumaguete port! There is really not much cargo in Dumaguete and even less passengers.

As much as possible I will buy my meal and water outside the port as it is dearer in the ship (meals are not free in Zamboanga Ferry) and for sure it will be the canned variety. On the way to Dapitan, I try to catch up on my interrupted sleep and that will also be my rest after that milling in Dumaguete port and outside. There is really not much to observe on that stretch of the sea except if one times a Dapitan-Dumaguete ferry sailing. The usual arrival in Dapitan will be around 10:30am and more passengers will get off and more cargo will be handled. But even then they will indicate that departure will be around 12 noon. Of course, I will get down and roam the port and even that area outside the gate where many eateries are located.

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Zamboanga Ferry in Dapitan

I once made the mistake in not buying my meal and water in that area outside the port(by the way, their bottled water there is really cheap). I did not know then that the restaurant of Zamboanga Ferry does not serve lunch while in Dapitan and I had to consume my pasalubong to Zamboanga. After passing the Pulauan headland, Dipolog will be visible but will be too far for shots. Maybe what is needed is a 60x camera. After Dipolog, the land will begin to recede and there will be no more interesting view in that outskirts of Sindangan Bay. Time to get more sleep as arrival in Zamboanga the next day will be early and even earlier than the Dumaguete arrival.

I partake dinner in the restaurant of the ship and just lounge there as there is nothing to view outside except the stars and the wake of the ship. At least in the restaurant, it is a bit lively especially as it host the videoke and sometimes there are good singers. The rest of the ship is dull because there are fewer passengers now. Saddest part of the ship is the stern. Simply no one is there and the only noticeable things there are the thump of the engine and the exhaust coming from the low funnel. In Economy class, the people will crowd near the TV set which are showing canned video. It is more lively if they are showing re-runs of Pacquiao fights. The biopic of Pacquiao drew a crowd including me. It was dubbed in Bisaya so I had some difficulty with the dialogue at times.

The same clanging and sounds will wake passengers when the ship is approaching Zamboanga port but only earlier as the time of arrival is officially is 3am but sometimes the ship arrives earlier than that (we once had a 1:30am arrival). I can no longer sleep although the crew won’t force me down. There is handling of cargo even early and the ship sways as in Zamboanga the ship docks sideways. It is more lively in Zamboanga port as there are more ships and the port is better lit. There are also early arrivals and I roam the port early to take shots. I have time to board the ships docked and boarding a ship in Zamboanga is no big deal as those are also the resting places of the so-many porters of Zamboanga who are true porters – they unload the cargoes of the cruiser ships and even the ROROs. Their true number is actually in the hundreds, I was told.

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Zamboanga Ferry in Zamboanga

In returning my beddings I will ask the Chief Purser that I will stay around awhile with by luggage onboard as I will max my opportunity to ship spot while still inside the port. I use the ship as platform in catching the ship arrivals as well as the early departures from Zamboanga. I will leave the port when the sun is getting fiercer already and I am already hungry. Sometimes I will be too hungry I have difficulty reaching the Jollibee branch across Universidad de Zamboanga. Sometimes I eat at the local joint across. Both are airconditioned and I try to replenish and rest there and watch life unfold in the centermost part of Zamboanga City. City Hall is located in that square too and Plaza Pershing is just nearby and a little ahead is the mall row of Zamboanga City. The jeep and van terminals are also located in that area as well as the big Zamboanga City Public Market (ZCPM – that is how they are named in the printed routes in the jeeps).

Zamboanga Ferry is one ship that has two dawn arrivals in a voyage. It will leave Cebu Monday night and arrive at Zamboanga Wednesday dawn. She is not really an overnight ship as she functions more like a multiday liner. A Cebu-Manila voyage even takes less time than her voyage to Zamboanga. Since meals are not free and there are hours the restaurant is closed one of the look-outs in Zamboanga Ferry is stuffing a little lest one goes hungry. Otherwise, it is a pleasant ship though obviously old now but it has also a pleasant crew but you have to approach them. They are no longer young, too.

After twelve hours in Zamboanga port, Zamboanga Ferry will head back to Cebu at Wednesday 3pm. It is a good opportunity for a ship spotter especially if one is early. Actually enough time should be allowed so one can tour the docked ships first. Zamboanga Ferry, being taller than most ships in Zamboanga port is also a good platform. Pulling out, it will give a good view of Zamboanga International Port, the western section of Zamboanga port. Next will be good view of Cawa-cawa and next will come Baliwasan where big fishing bancas are anchored. Then the Moro wharves of Zamboanga where the Moro boats are docked will come into view. There will be steel-hulled ships docked there, too. It is actually the home of the vessels to Bongao, Tawi-tawi and also to lesser destinations west of Zamboanga.

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Zamboanga Ferry pre-departure in Zamboanga

Sailing on, the road to Labuan will always be visible and vehicles can even be identified. The two shipyards of Zamboanga City, the Varadero de Cawit and Varadero de Recodo will come into view along with the row of the canneries of Zamboanga which will always have vessels docked and the most with vessels will be Mega Fishing Corporation where Cesar Montano works (according to the ad). Western Mindanao Naval Forces base will also be visible along with the Vista del Mar of Celso Lobregat where US troops are hidden (it is admitted that they are there). Both have ships too. To a ship spotter leaving Zamboanga it is easy to take hundreds of shots of ships as long as one has an ultrazoom camera.

After Labuan and that is after 4:30pm, it becomes dull fast. No more road and the landmass begins to recede. Best to get an early dinner and sleep early because the arrival in Dumaguete the next day could be early as in daybreak (the ship does not pass Dapitan anymore on the way north). It is a better arrival and more ships can be caught by a ship spotter as there are departures to Siquijor already and the others will be preparing. Easy to ask for a ship tour but again the time limit is tight as usually Zamboanga Ferry will leave at 8am approximately after cargo handling is done. There will plenty of bulad or dried fish that will be discharged along with ginamos in tin or plastic cans. But for cargo to be loaded that will be few and passengers are few, too. Nowadays, it seems people prefer the Dumaguete-Cebu Ceres bus already.

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Zamboanga Ferry in Dumaguete again

The Dumaguete departure view will be better too than the trip going south. The sun will be good already and pictures tend to be sharp even in long distance as the sun angle is good. Heading to Cebu, the distance of the ship from the shore will be a little great so no ship shots unless there will be an encounter with another ship but that could be a long wait since most ships here don’t use AIS so there is no advance warning. The coast only comes closer nearing Minglanilla and Mactan island and a ship spotter has to be really ready since Mactan Channel and Cebu port will be full of ships. But first in the Talisay anchorage there will good shots of ships as long as one takes note of the angle of the sun. But on the starboard of the ship if there are ships sailing especially those with routes to Bohol, the shots will be sharp as long as it is not raining.

Entering Mactan Channel one needs a camera that cycles quickly. Simply too many shots available and one has to fast. Usually I find my camera overheating here. By the way in the night before one has to make very sure that one’s batteries are fully charged and charge even when in Dumaguete port. With no spares one will find that he will run out of batteries entering Mactan Channel. Inside Mactan Channel, Zamboanga Ferry is a good platform to shoot ships as it is doing docking maneuvers. One need not get off quick once the ship docks as it is still a ship spotting platform. And after getting off the best way if one is a ship spotter is not to head to the nearest gate but to the far gate (just be discreet about it). Why lose the chance to board more ships?

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Zamboanga Ferry in Cebu

Leaving the gate, it’s best to head to the restaurant in Pier 1 to replenish and rest. There are still more ship shots available there – if one still have batteries and the energy.

And that is the Cebu-Zamboanga trip from the point of view of a ship spotter.

The Sister Ships “Maria Felisa” and “Maria Vanessa”

The Maria Felisa and the Maria Vanessa are true sister ships which means both came from one, single hull design. Additionally, the superstructures of the two look very similar and this is not always the case for sister ships (like the cases of the Our Lady of Banneux and Dona Virginia, the SuperFerry 2/5 and Cagayan Bay 1, the Surigao Princess and St. Kristopher of Viva Shipping Lines and many other cases). Incidentally, the two were built by different shipyards and three years apart and yet they look almost identical.

The Maria Felisa was built in 1983 by the Nakamura Shipbuilding and Engineering Works in Yanai yard as the Ferry Sumoto. Meanwhile, Maria Vanessa was built in 1986 by Naikai Zosen Corporation in Onomichi yard in as the Ferry Shinawaji. Both had identical external dimensions at 57.4 meters length over-all (LOA), 53.3 meters length between perpendiculars (LBP), a breadth of 13.0 meters and a depth of 4.1 meters. The gross tonnages (GT) of the sister ships are nearly identical too with the Maria Felisa at 1,018 and the Maria Vanessa at 1,019. Their gross register tonnages (GRT) in Japan were not identical with the Maria Felisa at 955 tons and the Maria Vanessa at 960. Locally, the net tonnages (NT) stood at 609 for Maria Felisa and 610 for Maria Vanessa. The deadweight tonnages (DWT) of the two in Japan were not close at 394 tons for Maria Vanessa and 349 tons for Maria Felisa. Locally, it was disparate too especially since Maria Vanessa‘s rose to 482 tons.

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However, though nearly identical, the passenger capacities of the two sisters are not close. Maria Felisa’s is 398 and Maria Vanessa‘s is 440. Maybe the difference came from the benches built in the superstructure side of the outside passageways of Maria Vanessa which are vulnerable to rain coming from the bridge deck. The sister ships have identical powerplants with twin Yanmar Marine diesels with a total of 3,600 horsepower which gave an identical top speed of 15.5 knots when new. And maybe this identical powerplants were part of the reason why the two were paired in the same route. They can share spares, the engine hands can share knowledge in maintenance and trouble-shooting and the ships can benefit with the many advantages that commonality can bestow.

Maria Felisa has the permanent ID IMO 8300676 while Maria Vanessa‘s is IMO 8608963. The Call Sign of Maria Felisa is DUE2171 and that of Maria Vanessa is DUE2170. The closeness of the call signs also indicate the closeness of their arrival and registration and it could have even be on the very same day in 1984. Now that suggests only one agent brokered their sale to Montenegro Lines. The two ships have no MMSI (Maritime Mobile Service Identity) Codes which means they are not trackable by AIS (Automatic Identification System).

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The sister ships are RORO (Roll On, Roll Off) ships with two ramps (at the bow and at the stern) leading to a single car deck. The bow is protected as it has a rectangular box with the docking equipment mounted on its roof. In the stern, the scantling is not full and so the car deck is not protected against rain and strong waves. There are three car lanes with small vehicles shoehorned in tight spaces in the car deck outside the three main car lanes. The sister ships might have a true total of 170 actual lane-meters of rolling cargo space because of that.

Maria Felisa and Maria Vanessa have only one solitary passenger deck and a bridge deck accessible to passengers but there are no seats or scantling there for passengers and so it just functions as a viewing deck. Both ships have two masts and two funnels at each side. The original Japan passenger accommodation which is airconditioned serves as the Tourist section and benches were built at the stern and sides and these are the Economy sections. The spaces for the Economy is actually too little. The small canteen is located inside the Tourist section but it has only a few quickie offerings.

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The two sister ships are very much connected with Surigao and Southern Leyte as they were the primary ferries used by Montenegro Shipping Lines, Inc. (MSLI) to open the Benit (San Ricardo, Leyte) to Lipata (Surigao City) route which was a new route connecting the two provinces and two island groups (Visayas and Mindanao). This route is about 65% shorter than the old route of Liloan-Lipata and so it immediately became a success as the transit time is shorter and the rates cheaper (but much more expensive per nautical mile than the competing Liloan-Lipata route and so Montenegro Lines profits more and that calls the question again when did MARINA ever learned how to compute rates).

With a size bigger than a basic, short-distance ferry-RORO, the sister ships proved just fit for the requirements of the route. And with a speed faster than a basic, short-distance ferry-RORO that became an added boon as at full trot they can cover the entire 13-nautical mile distance in one hour if the time spent for docking maneuver is subtracted (the docking maneuver add minutes as the Surigao Strait has strong current and the sisters always have to turn as they always do stern docking). Compare that to the 3 to 4 hours of the ferries in the rival Liloan-Lipata route, the additional land distance of 41 kilometers no longer matters much as that can just be covered in one hour.

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The two ships have 4 hours between sailing on the average but that schedule can quicken if there is more load and on the other hand, cancel or shall we shall “retreat” a schedule is the load is not enough. That usually happens on lean months and during the dead of the night. Actually, these 24-hour sailing which Montenegro Lines is too accustomed to especially in Batangas-Calapan is too tiring to the crew and even the cleanliness suffers at times especially when loading starts as soon as unloading is complete (and that is a common occurrence especially during peak seasons).

One thing that helped Montenegro Lines and the sisters ships be immediate successes in the Benit-Lipata route was the 5-year exclusivity enjoyed by Montenegro Lines because they were also the operator of Benit port. That has recently lapsed and it remains to be seen what will be the further development. One thing that bars newcomers is the small docking space of Benit which is only good for only one ship at a time. However, the PPA (Philippine Ports Authority) is expanding the port including its back-up area. There is also a talk of a new port in San Ricardo. One weakness of Benit port is it is too much exposed to habagat (southwest monsoon) waves and winds.

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Whatever, the size and speed of Maria Felisa and Maria Vanessa are just fit for the route and even if competitors come, there might be enough load for everybody as the load in this route is continually expanding with more trucks crossing as the intermodal is already fast shortcircuiting the traditional container shipping. Buses crossing are also increasing but it is the traffic of the private cars which is growing faster as Filipinos have already discovered the benefit of using their own vehicles in going home for a visit or vacation. Or even true touring. But as newcomers they don’t understand that it is not a “first come, first served” system as the regulars have already booked loadings that have already been arranged before.

One weakness of the sister ships, like the weakness of many Montenegro Lines ships is the lack of passenger accommodations. Montenegro Lines is always loath to add scantlings and passenger seats and since they load many buses (hence, many passengers), sometimes it becomes overloaded and passengers just seat themselves wherever they can and that includes the floor, the stairs and the air vents. Additionally, many just stand or mill around during the entire trip. This is true during the peak season when people attend fiestas in their hometowns and become ship passengers without being passengers of the buses to Manila, Tacloban or Ormoc. Analytically, the sister ships should better have another passenger deck or else extend the current passenger deck but I bet Montenegro Lines will not go that route being on the cheapskate side compared to other shipping lines of their size.

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The sister ships are still very reliable and I think that will remain so because the owner Montenegro Lines is very good in maintaining old ships. They might be transferred to another route or rotated but I guess one or both will again come back to the Surigao Strait route.

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Photo Credits: Mike Baylon

The MV St. Pope John Paul II

The MV St. Pope John Paul II which was fielded locally in May of 1996 is now the longest sailing liner in the Philippines. There are many ferries locally which have sailed longer than her but they are not liners. That is not the only claim to fame of the MV St. Pope John Paul II as she is also the biggest and longest among our remaining liners. In all of her 20 years of sailing the local waters and inter-island routes she has been very, very reliable and she has lost nary of her speed. From 20 knots when newly fielded, she can still do 19 knots today. I noticed that when I rode her that her vibration is still okay and she is still not very smoky.

MV St. Pope John Paul II was known in Japan as the New Miyako and she had a sister ship named New Yamato. They were the top ships then of Hankyu Ferry, one of the Japanese long-haul ferries. As a note, “Miyako” and “Yamato” are legendary names in Japan and that is actually a sign of their status. The New Yamato was built in 1983 and the New Miyako in 1984 and both came to the Philippines but though sister ships their superstructures were not really very identical when they were fielded here. Hankyu Ferry disposed of the sister ships at the same time and the New Yamato went to Sulpicio Lines as the Princess of the Universe and the New Miyako went to William, Gothong & Aboitiz (WG&A) as the SuperFerry 12.

In Japan, the sister ship were known as “car ferries”. This was the successor class to the “cruiseferries” built in the 1970’s which were luxurious as they were meant to attract passengers. When ridership weakened because the Japanese were already taking other forms of transportation, the new design of long-haul ferries stressed on taking trucks. This can be seen in the original design of New Yamato and New Miyako which featured two car decks at the lower decks of the ship. The upper two decks for passengers were not shabby by Japan standards but they were not as hotel-like as the “cruiseferries” of the 1970’s, some of which came to the Philippines like the Princess of the Orient and the Mabuhay 1.

The New Miyako was built by Kanda Shipbuilding Company in their Fujiwara yard in Japan. She was actually launched in December of 1983 but her completion took until January of 1984. Her permanent ID is IMO 8217051. She measures 173.0 meters in length over-all, 165.3 meters in length between perpendiculars, 28.8 meters in width and 14.3 meters in depth (that’s deep!). Her original Gross Register Tonnage was 11,914 tons and her DWT was 5,009 tons. She then had two car decks but only one passenger deck with some passenger facilities in the top deck including in the false center funnel. That was the meaning of a Japan “carferry” in the 1980’s.

This ship has a bulbous stem and a transom stern and the usual two masts. Being twin-engined, she has two side funnels. She is powered by a pair of Mitsubishi-MAN diesel engines totalling 24,000 horsepower and her design speed was 21 knots (that means her current speed of 19-19.5 is remarkable because that is not far off from her design speed years ago!). Originally, she was provided with car ramps at the bow and at the stern. However, on refitting, a pair of quarter-ramps were fitted, on the bow and at the stern at the starboard side. An inside ramp connects the two car decks (not elevators unlike in others which is more cumbersome). The ship has a capacity of over 200 TEU but in Japan she mainly carried trucks. In lane-meters, her capacity is about 2,000. The ship’s route is from Shikoku to the Kansai region of Japan.

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In refitting to a passenger-ferry for Philippine use, one level of her car deck was converted into two levels of passenger accommodation. Hence, the ship became a a three passenger-deck ship when she was fielded here. Her local passenger capacity then rose to some 2,800 passengers. This was the time when local passenger liners can still pack it in and had to turn away passengers during peak seasons.

The passengers had access through wing-type passenger ramps on the starboard side. The ship being tall and the highest classes on the top level, boarding would have been an exercise for many passengers except that the ship has an escalator. Like other local liner designs, that led to the front desk/information counter and a lobby. The ship had many levels of accommodation with Suite being the highest followed by Stateroom, First Class Cabin, Tourist, Economy Deluxe and Economy in descending order. Being big, the ship had many walkways, lounges and promenade areas including the sundeck. There were many shops and it even had a wading pool. Restaurants were also segregated into classes as in three, the usual, but the kiosks, stores and bars were for all.

After fielding in May of 1996, SuperFerry 12 displaced the SuperFerry 6 (the former Our Lady of Akita) in pairing with SuperFerry 10 (the former Mabuhay 1) on an exclusive Manila-Cebu route. She was doing it with three round trips a week indicating she was considered a flagship. Later, even SuperFerry 10 was displaced from exclusively holding that route and SuperFerry 12 then alone held that route exclusively for WG&A (of course other W&GA ships also call on Cebu headed south or headed north but not Manila-Cebu exclusively). And so she became the sole flagship of the combined fleet, my assumption. In Manila and Cebu she would often see her sister ship Princess of the Universe and sometimes they are docked adjacent to each other in Cebu International Port (but not in Manila as they have different ports there).

In 2000, SuperFerry 1 and SuperFerry 8 were pairing with each other and SuperFerry 6 and SuperFerry 10 were pairing each other in doing many routes including those that pass in Cebu. But maybe that was the last stable year of her company WG&A and upheavals soon followed and this can be seen even in their top ships. In that same year SuperFerry 6 burned near Verde Island Passage off Batangas. SuperFerry 14 came that year and in effect was the replacement of SuperFerry 6 but she was blown up by terrorists in 2004 (the government denied that but nobody believed them including the maritime databases and international shipping sites). SuperFerry 10, meanwhile, was sold to China breakers in 2003.

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The years starting from 2002 were critical for the company WG&A as partners William and Gothong divested. As a result of that, ferries and cargo/container ships have to be disposed to pay off the former partners. Even the subsidiaries Cebu Ferries Corporation and Philippine Fast Ferry Corporation (the company holding the SuperCats) were affected by that. With a smaller fleet, WG&A then had to reduce routes and frequencies and drop ports of call. That also happened in their subsidiary ferry companies especially Cebu Ferries Corporation. Those were the years the company was looking for its future direction.

Aboitiz Transport System (ATS), the successor to WG&A, when its partners divested had a new series of ships, the SuperFerry 15, 16, 17 and 18 that started started arriving from 2002 to 2004 that tried to replace many of the ships sold or lost. ATS then had a new philosophy that their ROPAXes would have to carry a significant volume of their container vans and that is their reason why they didn’t invest in container ships anymore. The new series of SuperFerries, being “carferries” also in Japan did not have their car decks reduced anymore (it just retained the double car decks). This time the weakening of ship passenger demand was already being felt by the whole shipping industry and hence there was no more desire to remodel liners with passenger capacities of well over 2,000 persons.

With the move to acquire those 4 liners with dual car decks, Aboitiz Transport System was initially able to cover their lack of container ships (well, not really as that provided a window of opportunity to competitors). But with the sharp rise and the doubling of world metal prices in 2006, Aboitiz Transport System was attracted to sell SuperFerry 15, 16, 17, 18 for a tidy profit and only the return of SuperFerry 19 (the former SuperFerry 8 that was re-engined) from Papua New Guinea mitigated that loss. But with the selling of the four, suddenly Aboitiz Transport System was lacking container ships and so they resorted to chartering.

During this period, the passenger volume of Aboitiz Transport System was continuously dropping because of the rise of the budget planes and the intermodal buses. With the coming of the budget airlines, there was already a parity in fares and so passenger felt there was no longer need to “lose” two days in a ship even though they are fed in the voyage. What Aboitiz Transport System did as response was a two-birds-in-one-stone solution – create an additional wagon deck from the two lower passenger decks of SuperFerry 2, SuperFerry 9 and SuperFerry 12 and so the three were converted again. The new look of the three was not beautiful to many including me.

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Along this way when they already lacked ships and passenger patronage was also dropping, SuperFerry 12 became a Manila-Cebu-Cagayan de Oro ship doing a twice a week voyage. And she has been on that route until now. There is now no more dedicated Manila-Cebu ship for a decade now, the first time it happened since 1970 when the Sweet Faith of Sweet Lines arrived.

The SuperFerry 12 did not really become a one-passenger-deck ship again. Part of the uppermost deck for the crew quarters was converted to accommodate passengers and part of the forward section of the upper wagon deck has to be converted too so passenger capacity will not drop too much (the SuperValue or open-air Economy of the ship is located there). It was a good move. There is not much of a perception of lack of passenger space like what one will feel in SuperFerry 2, SuperFerry 20 and SuperFerry 21 especially since she is a long ship. But some of the amenities and space were obviously gone.

This ship still has many cabins and it has a hard time filling those in many voyages. There is a lower MegaValue section (airconditioned accommodations but with economy meals) but the bigger MegaValue section is seldom used. There is really not much passengers anymore these days and if needed instead of opening that section and cleaning it afterwards it would be easier to upgrade some passengers to Tourist. However, the Stateroom and Suite of the ship are still treats especially if one gets tickets ahead of time when it is cheap (it has to be purchased on room and not individual basis). Staterooms and Suites are superior to First Class Cabins in that it only accommodates two passengers in true beds like in a hotel (not bunks) and there is a sala and cabinets. Of course the space is much wider. Get it if you can especially the honeymooners. It is the nearest to a hotel and the meals are free and you get to get to places.

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MV St. Pope John Paul II has a big cafeteria which serves the Economy and Tourist passengers. After meals, this cafeteria also serves as the main lounge of the ship, a corner to while away the time, a place where knick-knacks, merienda and drinks can be bought 20 hours a day and there is even a bar but nowadays few patronize that. At night a band will perform, a way for the ship to increase its revenues (well, so do making it the main lounge of the ship as passengers passing time also buy) and also to serve fun. For those too loath to venture in that area and would rather lay down most of the day then merienda and drinks are vended on trolleys and these will pass by many times in the day and among their offerings is benignit (the Visayan ginataan) which is prepared right in the ship. First Class passengers meanwhile have their own small restaurant in a lower corner of the ship but it is not an eat-all-you-can affair and servings are not big.

The ship has many viewing areas including the sun deck. MV St. Pope John Paul II has the advantage of not having fully enclosed sides. However, the lobby is small but it has a piano that is not being used. There are also other facilities of the ship not being used like the conference room and the spa but the beauty salon is still functional. But sailing with liners now I feel they were not as happy as two decades ago. By the way, the escalator is still there and it leads straight to a statue of the namesake and to the front desk and lobby. And of course, the service crew is on pink, the color of 2GO. Vibrant color but liners were more vibrant way back then. Can’t fault them though for trying.

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The wagon deck of the ship is almost invariably not full. That is what I observed on the usage of the dual-cargo deck 2GO liners. Usually the upper wagon deck is practically not used. And so they can even afford to put up a basketball court there for the crew. But why not for the passengers too? And maybe add a badminton court or volleyball court too and perhaps a ping-pong table too? Nah, the ever-straight MARINA won’t let that because that has been declared a cargo area. So maybe they should just attract truckers and trucks with low rates rather than have it empty. Sayang. It will pay more than vending food inside the ship. But then that might jeopardize their high container van rates.

The MV St. Pope John Paul II is still a reliable ship bravely soldiering on in the face of the decline of liner passengers. She still looks beautiful sans the slanted windows of the cargo deck. The ship is still the longest and biggest in the fleet of 2GO. At 20 years she is already a fixture in her route and I hope they will take care of her well so she continues to sail and sail and sail.

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A Look at George & Peter Lines

George & Peter Lines started in 1964 practically as an offspring and derivative of William Lines Inc. The company came into being because the offsprings of William Chiongbian, founder of William Lines was coming into age and soon will be taking over the company helms that was once occupied by the siblings of William. To make the exit soft, another shipping line was created and that became the George & Peter Lines. It was named after two siblings of William Chiongbian.

The company started with ferries that were ex-”FS” and ex-”F” ships. Nothing terrible and shameful in that as most regional companies had those types as the backbones of their fleets. And to think most regionals were even using wooden motor boats or lancha in the Visayan term. Some others were of US minesweeper or PT boat origin.

George & Peter Lines "Clover" ad

In due time, from the late 1970’s, George & Peter Lines dominated the route going southwest of Cebu. That was the route going to Siquijor, Dumaguete, Dapitan, Zamboanga del Norte (like Liloy), Zamboanga City, Misamis Occidental and Lanao del Norte. That was the time when cruisers were still dominant and ROROs were just beginning to come. George & Peter Lines had some great cruiser ships like the Geopeter, Jhufel and the still-existing Georich. Aside from those three they had former “FS” and former “F” ships which were vintage World War II ships then in the twilight of their careers. Among those were Don Joaquin, Dona Rosario and the Don Victoriano I.

The peak of George & Peter Lines probably occurred during the 1980’s. They were even active in advertising and in promoting their ships and routes. During this time the seas where she was sailing, the conjunction of Zamboanga, Negros, Siquijor and Lanao was already being vacated by the ships from Manila because their once-ubiquitous and many ex-”FS” and lengthened ex-”FS” ships were already beginning to die. Also, the old paradigm of small liners from Manila calling on many ports before heading back was also on the wane because since the 1970’s fast cruisers calling in less ports was already the new paradigm. Passengers want to arrive to their destination in one day or just a little more, not the two or three days of the past even though they are fed well. So liners calling on Masbate or Calbayog or Catbalogan before heading to Cebu and northern Mindanao were beginning to fall out of favor with the passengers. And so sometimes it is the likes of George & Peter Lines which acted as feeder lines to the fast cruisers.

George & Peter Lines schedules

But then that decade also saw the rise of a new paradigm, the new RORO (Roll On, Roll Off) ships. George & Peter Lines was not really late in adopting the new shipping paradigm. They were just not as fast to it as Trans Asia Shipping Lines, Sweet Lines and K&T Shipping Lines but they were just at the same time to it with the likes of Cokaliong Shipping Lines, E.B. Aznar Shipping and Danilo Shipping Lines. They were even ahead to it compared to Roble Shipping, Palacio Lines, Island Shipping , Roly Shipping and VG Shipping. Some never even reached the RORO stage like the Rose Shipping/V.Atilano, Gabisan Shipping Lines and Lapu-lapu Shipping. I purposely left out in the comparison the shipping companies which were founded later or which were too small to be in the comparison.

And that is the reason I was wondering why in an interview with the Liner Shipping Route Study (LSRS) done by Nathan & Associates in 1993-1994 aS commissioned by the USAID they expressed apprehension and disapproval of the liberalization program on shipping being pushed by then President Fidel V. Ramos which resulted in the opening of the shipping routes. The one that entered their primary route, the Dumaguete and Dapitan route in 1993 was just a small ship, the Filipinas Dumaguete . Cokaliong Shipping Lines, its owner and operator was no bigger than them and were not really ahead of them in conversion to ROROs. In fact, Filipinas Dumaguete was just the first RORO ship of Cokaliong Shipping Lines Inc. and G & P’s Dumaguete Ferry which was acquired in 1990 was even ahead of that though a little smaller. Was it the fear that Mr. Chester Cokaliong was close to President Ramos? But they still had a big brother then in William Lines. Or was it the accidents that befell Geopeter and Jhufel that resulted in hull losses and which shrank their fleet along with the retirement of the war-surplus vessels that later forcing them to withdraw Georich from the Cebu-Maasin-Surigao route that were haunting them?

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In 1993, George & Peter Lines acquired the relatively big Zamboanga Ferry and this practically became their flagship and meant to hold the Zamboanga route. However, I would say this was not enough to offset the loss of Geopeter to fire and Jhufel to foundering and the subsequent loss too of Dumaguete Ferry to fire too and Pulauan Ferry to sinking. These consecutive losses of ferries to accidents was a great blow to a medium-sized ferry company especially since about that time they also began losing the very old ex-”FS” and ex-”F” ships to old age. They even sold their aging Dona Magna, a small locally-built ferry to Island Shipping Corp.

With the loss of Pulauan Ferry to sinking just south of Mactan island, the George & Peter Lines fleet shrunk to only 2 ferries, the Zamboanga Ferry and the elderly Georich plus a cargo ship, the GP Tramper. To stem the retreat, they acquired the Sta. Maria, a former liner of Negros Navigation that was just being used in the Bacolod-Iloilo route and being overwhelmed by the Bacolod-Dumangas ferries. In their fleet this became the GP Ferry and the biggest ever of George & Peter Lines. But after just two years of service, they also sold this also. Maybe the 4,800 horsepower of the ship was too big for their route, cargo and patronage.

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A few years after that selling they made an advanced arrangement in 2010 with Aboitiz Transport System (ATS) regarding the coming retirement of the ferry Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, a Cebu-Iligan ferry of the ATS subsidiary Cebu Ferries Corporation. Upon retirement, the ferry went direct to George & Peter Lines with nary a modification and the ship became the GP Ferry 2 thereby bringing the George & Peter Lines fleet to 3. It is this 3 that still shouldering on for GP for its diminished route system. They have already left many port in their old route system and all they have now are the ports of Dumaguete, Dapitan and Zamboanga with their main route the Cebu-Dumaguete-Dapitan route. But even here they are pressured by the newer ships of Cokaliong Shipping Lines Inc. which might have even toned down the pressure by reassigning an older ship , the Filipinas Iloilo to the main route of George & Peter Lines.

How long does it last? George & Peter Lines won’t easily quit their last two remaining routes. But their ferries are in advancing ages now. If they don’t acquire ferries anymore, time will come when they will simply have to give up and fade away.

An album on George & Peter Lines:

Georich

Press to open the album.

How To Lose The Equivalent Of A Liner Fleet in Just Over A Decade: The Decline And Fall of Compania Maritima

For nearly a century since the tailend of the Spanish regime in the Philippines it was Compania Maritima that was the dominant passenger shipping company for most of that period although at times there were also shipping companies that will draw parity or even slightly exceed Compania Maritima. This company has Spanish origins and hence it had the advantage of European connections, a factor not enjoyed by other shipping companies and the plus of that can be felt in ship acquisitions and maybe even capitalization. It also did not hinder Compania Maritima that the owner Fernandez Brothers were not only heavyweight in business but also in politics even in the Commonwealth period and this continued until the early Republic years. As in one of them being a Senator of the Commonwealth and of the Republic. Those were the times when capital was tight and acquiring loans need inside and political connections.

Right after the Republic was born, Compania Maritima or Maritime Company was fast out of the gate and immediately built up a sizable fleet not only in sheer number but even in the size of ships. They were the first among local companies in tapping Europe as source of ships and unlike those sourced by Madrigal and Elizalde, theirs were not old, worn-down ships weathered by convoy duty during the war. There was only one time in the postwar years that a local shipping company was able to match them in sheer number. This was the Aboitiz Shipping Corporation that was the beneficiary of the expiration of the Laurel-Langley Agreement in 1974 when Everett Steamship has to give up their share in Philippine Steamship and Navigation Company. But that fleet of Aboitiz was loaded with small ex-”FS” ships that were already growing old. Compania Maritima had a significant number too of ex-”FS” ships but they were not dependent on that type while that formed the backbone of Aboitiz’s fleet.

However, out of twenty or so ships accumulated through the years with some used for a time in foreign routes, Compania Maritima began losing ships through hull losses at a rate of nearly one per year from 1967 to 1981 when before that they almost had no serious accidents. Of course, like the latter Sulpicio Lines, Compania Maritima “pushes” ships even in inclement weather. But the downturn was so stark I cannot begin to understand it was simply the result of “pushing” or bad luck or the growing age of their fleet. I don’t know if there was a death wish. The weakness of many old Spanish mestizo companies was for too long they simply relied on their initial headstart in capital accumulation which for many resulted from monopolies or warrants given by the Spanish regime. Later, they also had the inside track in Malacanang connections which can do wonder in many things. So when these two factors evaporated, their weaknesses was sadly exposed by the new challengers that grew without the support that the Spanish mestizo companies took for granted.

The middle of the 1960’s also saw a change of occupant in Malacanang who had his own fair boys (well, was there an occupant of that palace who had none?) and these did not include the Fernandezes (their stars were already on the wane then). Suddenly, an outsider was the insider and the former insiders are now the outsiders. That began the decline of the old business empires that were formed during the Commonwealth years or earlier and they were many. Suddenly, the Fernandez shipping companies found they cannot compete in favor with Philippine President Lines (PPL) especially in the international routes. Even the venerable and well-connected but not-in-power De la Rama Steamship was overtaken by Philippine President Lines in the international routes. The redoubtable Madrigals also began to lose steam in this period when they no longer had elective posts.

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There was also a newcomer on the block that was riding the surge of the king of commodity crops which were copra and coconut oil. Abaca was far going down and those which latched into was also being pulled down like the Elizaldes and the Madrigals. Note these two were once great names in shipping. The Sorianos were lucky they were just in beer and beer carrier barges and the Zobels were lucky that their holdings in non-commercial talahib turned out to be golden real estate. That was also the good luck of the Aranetas and Ortigases. The Rufinos were also in shipping but their fortunes in it were not getting better and the Delgados which was in forwarding and shipping was also finding their hold being swept by the boy of the new man in Malacanang.

The newcomer is actually newcomers as they are a duo. One was the biggest in copra and coconut oil whose signage is still prominent today in SRP in Cebu. This was the Lu Do Lu Ym and their gatherer-carrier locally and their bringer to international markets was the fast-rising Carlos A. Go Thong & Company.

I do not know if the Fernandezes saw their eventual decline in shipping. However, it is not hard to draw visions from the decline of Madrigal, Elizalde, Rufino and Delgado, all very powerful names then and financiers of presidential campaigns one time or another. They have no powerful engine like a commodity crop. They have no hold in Malacanang like before. And there are powerful new challengers buoyed by the need to move goods that they racial kins were beginning to control. Later this change of guard came to be known as the eclipsing of the Castilaloys by the Chinoys or the rise of the taipans. Moreover, the Fernandezes saw their perch in forwarding wrested by a favored boy of Malacanang, the new landsman of the Makati Stock Exchange (now how significant is that?).

What I know is from 1970 Compania Maritima stopped acquiring ships and local shipping history has shown that such a non-move presages the change of the order or standing in shipping. Compania Maritima no longer purchased ships even though they were bleeding from a fast loss of ships. Most of these maritime losses came under a literal storm which means a typhoon.

Compania Maritima first lost a ship on January 16, 1967 when their MV Mindanao, an ex-”C1-M-AV1” ship was wrecked near Odiongan, Romblon on January 16, 1967. That was very remarkable because for twenty years preceding since they restarted operations in 1947, they never lost a ship no matter what typhoon passed the country. However, being beached and wrecked is a lot better than foundering in a storm because a lot of casualties are averted and the remains can either be refloated or broken up depending on the extent of damage. MV Mindanao was broken up the next year, in 1968. This passenger-cargo ship was first known as the MV Star Knot in Compania Maritima’s fleet, the same name she had while on the service of the US Navy in World War II.

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On the same year the first MV Mindanao (there was a later MV Mindanao) was lost, the MV Mindoro, a weak ex-”FS” ship foundered in a storm, the Typhoon “Welming” on November 4, 1967 off Sibuyan island. This ship was first known as the first MV Basilan in the fleet of Compania Maritima before she was renamed in 1952 when another ex-”FS” ship was acquired by the company that will bear that name. When the first MV Mindanao was lost, she was holding the quixotic route Manila-Catbalogan-Tacloban-Surigao-Nasipit-Butuan which passes through the eastern seaboard of Leyte but not under the San Juanico bridge as that bridge was not yet existing at that time.

In 1969, another ex-”C1-M-AV1” ship of Compania Maritima was wrecked again in a storm, the super-typhoon “Eling” (900 hPa!) which was then blowing off northeastern Luzon. This was the MV Siquijor which was earlier known as MV Carrick Bend in their fleet and also when she was still in the US Navy. She was beached in Tag-olo Point on the tip of the longer peninsula enclosing Dapitan Bay and like the MV Mindoro her remains was broken up the next year.

On July 16, 1973, the passenger-cargo ship MV Mactan, the third ship to carry this name in the fleet of Compania Maritima foundered in a storm. She was lost in Tablas Strait on a Nasipit-Manila voyage when two typhoon were affecting our seas. This liner was the MV General del Pilar in the fleet of General Shipping Corporation that was bought brand-new in Japan. She was actually big also at 83 meters length and the only ship of Compania Maritima from Japan except for the taken-over ships from De la Rama Steamship which were the former MV Dona Alicia and MV Dona Aurora (these ships were seized by the National Development Corporation, an entity owned by the Philippine Government, as they are the true owners). The route of MV Mactan is the same as the lost first MV Mindanao which was Manila-Catbalogan-Tacloban-Surigao-Nasipit-Butuan. She was the replacement ship on that route.

The bad streak of Compania Maritima did not end and on September 17, 1973, a liner of theirs from Europe, one of the best in the local waters in the early 1950’s was wrecked in the shores of Pangan-an island, part of the Olango island group of Cebu east of Mactan island. This is the MV Cebu, the biggest in the fleet of Compania Maritima which was only equaled when the brand-new MV Luzon came in 1959 and exceeded only in 1963 when the brand-new MV Visayas arrived from West Germany. Mind you, the MV Luzon and MV Visayas were flagships and so it is an exalted comparison. MV Cebu might be the biggest in their fleet in almost the whole of the 1950’s but it seems it was the MV Panay that they considered their flagship. MV Panay would later share the same fate as MV Cebu. MV Cebu was later broken up in 1974.

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In the same year, the sister ship of MV Panay, the MV Jolo will also be wrecked. Is there an eerie pattern now? It seems the ships of Compania Maritima suddenly had a great love for the beaches and not in a nice way. Wrecking does not result in great casualties, hence, there is less to settle on the passenger and it does not produce a great outcry from the public. MV Jolo was wrecked in Caballo island near Corregidor on Oct 11, 1973 when the winds of Typhoon “Miling” hit her. This happened just a month after their MV Cebu was lost.

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In April 8, 1974, Compania Maritima would suffer the only maritime hull loss due to fire. This was the MV Romblon, an ex-”FS” ship but the incidental thing is she was also beached! It is really a good coincidence if a fire happens near an island. The route of the MV Romblon was Manila-Capiz-Iloilo-Pulupandan-Sangi-Estancia and the beaching happened in Naujan, Oriental Mindoro. She was among the last liners calling in Pulupandan as silting of the waters of the port demanded that only shallow-draft vessels like the MV Romblon can only dock in the port (in a few years liners will stop calling in Pulupandan and Negros Occidental will become a sole property of Negros Navigation).

On March 23, 1977, it was the turn of the MV Panay to be lost by wrecking (again!). She was lost off Salauan Point the farthest spit of land of Laguindingan, Misamis Oriental near where the new Laguindingan airport stands now. There was no typhoon that time as it was summer. Did she go straight for the shallows or they left the nautical charts ashore?

In my study of maritime losses, I actually did not see a streak as long as what Compania Maritima had. And I was wondering what MARINA (it was already in existence then) was doing. If this was Sulpicio Lines and with Maria Elena Bautista at the helm, I think Compania Maritima will already be shuttered. And this is not the end yet.

On April of 1978, a summer typhoon visited the Philippines. This is the Typhoon “Atang”, a 150 kph typhoon that visited the central Philippines. A lengthened ex-”FS” ship of Compania Maritima was caught in that, the MV Leyte. She was wrecked in the southwestern portion of Sibuyan island trying to reach shelter. She was then on a Manila-Cebu voyage.

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The beaching streak of Compania Maritima would not yet end and on July 6, 1979, the MV Guimaras, a 98-meter liner from Europe will again be wrecked near the boundary of Negros Oriental and Negros Occidental on the southern side. There were two typhoons then in the northern part of the country and maybe the seas then in that place was strong as those two typhoons will suck the sea north.

And on June 23, 1980, another big liner (in those days a liner over 100 meters length is big) of theirs from Europe, the MV Dadiangas will again be lost through wrecking in Siargao island due to Typhoon “Huaning”. The MV Dadiangas was earlier known in the fleet of Compania Maritima as the MV Isla Verde and she was a Manila-Davao ship passing the eastern seaboard of Mindanao, the shortcut route to Davao. It seems changing names of ships from islands to cities did not help them.

Eleven liners lost through accidents in 13 years! Can anyone imagine that!? I am sure the ones commanding the ships of Compania Maritima are not some simple able-bodied seaman. How could they have lost that many and as continuously with most ending on the beaches and on the rocks?

To compare that was more than the fleet of Sweet Lines, Galaxy Lines, Escano Lines, Aboitiz Shipping Company+Cebu-Bohol Ferry Company (outside of Aboitiz’s holdings in Philippine Steamship and Navigation Company) during that time. In that period only the fleets of Gothong A. Gothong & Co., William Lines and Philippine Steamship and Navigation Company could be greater than those 11 ships lost by Compania Maritima but then maybe not in combined gross tonnage because the ships lost by Compania Maritima are generally big.

With those losses, Compania Maritima entered the years of financial crisis of the country in the 1980’s with a much weakened fleet and the loss of Number 1 position in local shipping especially since they did not acquire any more liners after 1970 when they acquired the second MV Mindanao. They also disposed of a few other ships along the way. But still when they began breaking up ships in 1982 and ceasing operations in 1983 they still had 7 ships left although some of these are just old ex-”FS” ships (three) that were barely running.

From a great shipping company and Numero 1, the Compania Maritima went out in a whimper. Kindly, I think they might have had a death wish and a desire for exit already. After closing shop, the Fernandez brothers packed their bags and headed back to Spain, their country of origin. They were dual citizens all throughout.

Photo Credits: Gorio Belen, Philippine Herald, Manila Chronicle, Times Journal

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