Camotes Sea and Bohol Strait Are Graveyards of Failed Shipping Companies (Part 1)

The Camotes Sea and Bohol Strait are two of the busiest shipping lanes in the country. These are the seas connecting Leyte and Bohol to the trade and commercial center of the central part of the country which is Cebu. Ships from Cebu going to Samar, Masbate, Mindanao and even Luzon have to pass through these seas also along with the foreign ships calling in Cebu. Over-all, the related Camotes Sea and Bohol Strait as sea connections are only rivaled by Manila Bay and the Verde Island Passage in the density of ships sailing and the three are the busiest shipping corridors in the country. There are many shipping companies operating here, both ferry and cargo. However, in terms of absolute numbers, this is also the area with the most number of failed shipping companies in the last 15 or 20 years when a Ph.D. from Philippine Institute of Development Studies (PIDS) said there is no competition or there is no effective competition or there is just mild competition in most routes here. Of course, she was definitely wrong if we sift through the evidence and among the most persuasive of evidences will be the number of shipping companies that failed. Why would they fail if there is no or only mild or no significant competition? Did they commit suicide? Of course not!

The greatest failure in this area is, of course, the big Cebu Ferries Corporation (CFC), the subsidiary of the giant merged shipping company WG&A Philippines which was probably the biggest regional shipping company ever. Their old ships were gone and dead before their time is up because those were sent to the hangmen of ships, the shipbreakers. Their newer ferries, the MV Cebu Ferry 1, the MV Cebu Ferry 2 and the MV Cebu Ferry 3 (the Cebu Ferry series) were transferred to the successor company 2GO Travel and those ferries were sent to Batangas and they are jokingly called the “Batangas Ferries” because they were no longer in Cebu.

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Cebu Ferry 1 leaving Cebu for Batangas

Once upon a time, this company ruled the roost here when they had so many ferries, many of which were hand-me-down liners or equal to liners in caliber. These hand-me-downs were actually much better and bigger than the overnight ferries of their competition. Their only drawback were their big and generally thirsty engines which was needed for speed requirement of the liner routes. Before the Cebu Ferries series came, some ten ships that passed to the Cebu Ferries Corporation fleet were sent to the breakers and most of them were still sailing good when they were sent to the cutters.

For more on this shipping company, I have a separate article:

https://psssonline.wordpress.com/2016/05/15/the-grand-start-of-cebu-ferries-corporation-cfc/

Probably the next biggest casualty in this area is the Palacio Lines (a.k.a. FJP Lines) which had its origins in Western Samar. In their heyday they had routes from Cebu to Bantayan island, Masbate, Northern Samar, Western Samar, Leyte, Bohol, Siquijor, Negros Oriental and Misamis Occidental. They lost some routes because of paradigm changes like in Bantayan island when they were torpedoed by the short-distance ferry-ROROs from Hagnaya (which is a much shorter route than their route from Cebu City). Palacio Lines was slow in betting on ROROs and they did not immediately see that the paradigm will shift to the intermodal system (as they still acquired cruisers even in the early 1990s).

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Don Martin Sr. 8 not sailing before she was sold to breakers

Later, there were complaints about their ships which progressively got older and less reliable and soon competition was outstripping them. And finally the pressure from these (like Cokaliong Shipping Lines and Lite Ferries) ultimately did them in. They stopped sailing and soon they sold their remaining ferries one by one. This included their MV Bantayan (sold to Orlines Sea-Land Transport), MV Calbayog (sold to Starlite Ferries) and MV Don Martin Sr. 6 (supposedly sold to a Lucena concern). Meanwhile, their biggest ship, the MV Don Martin Sr. 8 was sent to the breakers. And the cruiser ships of the company were even laid up earlier. Their cargo ship, the MV Don Martin which was the first vessel of the company was also sold and this ended up with Quincela Shipping in Manila.

Former fleet: Calbayog, Bantayan, Don Martin Sr. Don Martin Sr. 3, Don Martin Sr. 6, Don Martin Sr. 7, Don Martin Sr. 8, Don Martin

The Rose Shipping Company which is also known as Vicente Atilano (after the owner) is probably the next most prominent loser in the shipping wars in this place. Originally they were a Zamboanga del Sur shipping company from the old town of Margosatubig. Leaving that area, they tried their luck here and they fully engaged in the wars in the Leyte routes especially against Aboitiz Shipping Corporation. One of their weakness, however, is their total reliance on cruiser ferries. Being obsolete, this type of ship progressively cannot compete with the ROROs in revenues (but not in comfort and service). Rolling cargo revenue is actually bigger and more significant than passenger revenues. They then stopped sailing and most of their ships had no takers even if for sale because almost nobody looks around for cruisers anymore. Their only notable ship sales were the MV April Rose which went to Atienza Shipping Lines in Manila and the MV Yellow Rose which went to Medallion Transport. Their MV Cherry Rose and MV Pink Rose were broken up while their MV White Rose and MV Tiffany Rose are missing and are presumed to be broken up. Their MV Pink Rose and MV Red Rose can’t also be found now and in all likelihood have been scrapped too by now.

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The Pink Rose in her last days

Maypalad Shipping which was earlier known as K&T Shipping is one of the older shipping companies in the area. They have disparate routes from as far as Lanao del Norte, Leyte, Southern Leyte and Samar. They seemed to have never really recovered from the sinking of their MV Kalibo Star which was their newest ship then and progressively their ships got older. They were also victims of routes that bit by bit weakened because of competition from other routes (like the Liloan route losing to the Bato and Hilongos routes and the Tacloban route losing to the Ormoc and Baybay routes). In due time, they had no good routes left and their ships were also unable to compete in the bigger routes.

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Part of the Maypalad Shipping fleet after it ceased operations

Among these bigger failures, it is Maypalad Shipping which has a fleet of cargo ships but upon being defunct all of these got anchored too in Mactan Channel. Their MV Cebu Star and MV Guiuan were broken up now while their MV Cabalian Star, MV Leyte Star and MV Tacloban Star could all also be gone now. Their MV Samar Star is the only sure extant ship now along with one freighter which may be too far gone now. Three other cargo ships of their wer also broken or sold to breakers and their LCT is also missing.

Roly Shipping and Godspeed Shipping and Ernesto Alvarado are actually legal-fiction entities of the other. They had routes before to Leyte and Bohol. But being a cruiser ferry company, they slow lost to the ROROs since this type of ship earns more revenues because the rolling cargo revenue is such that they can actually afford not to carry passengers as shown by the Cargo RORO LCTs. Some of their earlier ships were gone a long time ago (the MV Flo Succour, the MV Reyjumar-A, the MV Isabel 2 and the MV Tubigon Ferry). The tried to fight back with fast cruisers, the MV Roly 2, the MV Mega Asiana and the MV Tagbilaran Ferry but ultimately they lost too and quit a few years ago when the banks seized their ships and were laid up. The pressure of tightening competition was simply too great and the revenues were not enough to sustain operations. There were also allegations of internal rot.

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Mega Asiana and Tagbilaran Ferry cannibalized

Jadestar Shipping is another cruiser ferry company which just had a single route, the Cebu-Tubigon route. Then the ROROs of Lite Shipping came to Tubigon, four schedules in all daily. With a full load of rolling cargo these ships will not need any passengers to earn. And then a new paradigm came, the cheap but not-so-speedy but fastcrafts of the legal-fiction entities Sea Highway Carrier and SITI Inter-island and Cargo Services which were more popularly known as Star Crafts. Squeezed by two better competitors, Jadestar Shipping found they could not sustain operations and quit a few years ago (in connection with this, Island Shipping which also operated cruiser ships in the Cebu-Tubigon route also quit showing cruisers cannot beat ROROs).

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Jadestar Seis now in Ibnerizam Shipping fleet in Zamboanga

Some of the ships Jadestar Shipping were sold to other shipping companies like the MV Jadestar Tres which went to Wellington Lim and became a cargo ship and the MV Jadestar Seis which went to the Ibnerizam Shipping of Zamboanga). Two of their ships was broken up earlier and this were the MV Jadestar Nueve and MV Jadestar Doce. Head-on, the cruisers can only compete now in Zamboanga (but then that is another situation).

Former fleet: Jadestar, Jadestar Dos (cargo), Jadestar Tres, Jadestar Seis, Jadestar Nueve, Jadestar Doce.

Kinswell Shipping made a big splash when they started in 2002 because what they introduced were China-built vessels that were not of the usual design or hull material. Some of these are actually very small and not bigger than boats and were a little queer. But their Medium Speed Crafts (MSCs) could have been winners had they been handled well. One sold one, the MV Gloria G-1 is sailing well for Gabisan Shipping and the comparable Star Crafts were also successful.

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The derelict Kinswell boats

They tried many routes and the name of the ships reflected where they were sailing. The smallest ones were the first to quit sailing as it found no great patronage because they simply bobbed too much in unsettled seas. Now they are jut anchored near the Tayud shipyards. Being fiberglass they will not sink or rust and so up to this day those remain as floating markers outside Cansaga Bay. All their three bigger ships, the MSCs were sold, the MV Kinswell, MV Kinswell II and lastly, the MV Kinswell Cebu. They have no more sailing ships left.

Former fleet: Kinswell, Kinswell II, Kinswell Cebu (2), Kins Bantayan, Kins Ormoc, Kins Danao, Cadiznon 3, Kins Camotes.

San Juan Shipping of Leyte is another hard-luck company. They were doing relatively well with their first two ferries, the MV Sr. San Jose, a beautiful cruiser and the MV John Carrier-1, a small ferry even though competition to the Leyte route was already stiffening. Now, I wonder how they were sweet-talked into purchasing the MV Dona Cristina of the Cebu Ferries Corporation. This overnight ferry was a former regional ship of the Carlos A. Gothong Lines, Inc. (CAGLI) whose old ships invariably has a history of engine troubles (except for MV Our Lady of Mt. Carmel). However, it was already WG&A, the merged shipping company which sold the ship to them. Maybe they thought that since the name WG&A was glistening then, then the ship must be good.

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The remains of San Juan Ferry (Photo by Kontiki Diving Club-Cebu)

This ship which became the MV San Juan Ferry in their fleet and became the flagship and biggest ship. San Juan Shipping spent money to refurbish this ship. However, the ship brought misery to them when a explosion hit the ship and caught fire while on trials off Liloan, Cebu. The ship then sank. San Juan Shipping never recovered from that debacle especially since competition then to Leyte was very fierce. They then sold out to Lite Ferries lock, stock and barrel and it was there that Lite Ferries gained a foothold to Leyte.

M.Y. Lines is unique in a sense that when wooden motor boats were already on their way out they sort of made a revival out of it. They had two big, wooden motor boats in a fleet of three but one, the beautiful MV M.Y. Katrina was wrecked in a typhoon and scrapped. They bounced from one route to another and was never able to fully settle especially since they were using non-ROROs when ROROs had already come into full force and was proving its superiority. They tried to find niche routes in northwestern Leyte but was never able to really discover one. One thing that torpedoed them there was the opening of the Bogo-Palompon route and the rolling of Ceres buses from Cebu to that corner of Leyte. Later, their ferries were seized by the banks and laid up.

Former fleet: M.Y. Katrina, Michael-3, Sunriser

(To be continued)

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The M/V St. Joan of Arc

Image by Mark Edelson Ocul

The MV St. Joan of Arc, of 2GO Travel was previously known as MV SuperFerry 5 in Aboitiz Shipping Company (ASC), WG&A Philippines and Aboitiz Transport System (ATS). She has the unique distinction as being the only liner left that came before the great liner wars spawned by the Great Merger of 1996 which produced the giant shipping company WG&A Philippines. That distinction was not designed to be hers but as if deemed by the stars, the liner which should be the holding that, the MV St. Thomas Aquinas, sank in a night collision in Cebu. Actually, the two are sister ships but while MV St. Thomas Aquinas was refitted to lengthen her service life and to be more fit for the current era when there are no longer many passengers, the MV St. Joan of Arc spent many of her days anchored in Manila Bay and only sails when 2GO Travel lacks ships especially when one or two are drydocked. Since MV St. Joan of Arc has the ship plan of the ferries of the past, she now also holds the record of being the liner with the most passenger capacity at 2,332 persons. As a matter of fact, she is the only liner now with a capacity of over 2,000 persons. However, it will be lucky now for her if on a voyage she fills more than half of her capacity.

 


SuperFerry 5 in Aboitiz colors © Edison Sy

 

I had the lucky chance to ride this ship when she was sparkling new. I was on my first trip to Iligan on January 1995 and it was her Voyage #2. She was actually not inaugurated then yet. Her inauguration happened just before Voyage #4 when “Mega” (Ms. Sharon Cuneta, the Aboitiz endorser then) came to North Harbor Pier 4 along with the Aboitiz big bosses for the ceremonies. When I rode workers were still rushing painting and carpentry jobs and the ship reeked of the smell of paint and thinner. The crew also did firefighting drills and it was timed by supervisors or checkers. I did not mind since it was a different ship experience, the crew was very eager and it was my first voyage on a SuperFerry ship. Another new experience for me with this ship on that voyage was when we passed under the two Mactan bridges. We were able to do so because the ship bent and lowered the stern mast to clear the bridges.

The MV St. Joan of Arc was known as the MV Ferry Hakozaki in Japan when she was built in 1973. She was then owned by Meimon Car Ferry of Kitakyushu City, Fukuoka Prefecture. In 1992, she was chartered to Kansai Kisen where she was known as MV Ferry Cosmo until she was sold to Aboitiz Shipping Company in 1994.

 

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As Ferry Hakozaki. Credits: DLongly / http://www.naviearmatori.ne

Like her sister ship MV Ferry Sumiyoshi (which became MV SuperFerry 2 and MV St. Thomas Aquinas), she was built by Onomichi Zosen in Onomichi City, Hiroshima Prefecture, Japan. She was completed on May 1, 1973 and delivered to Meimon Car Ferry on May 28th of the same year. The ship was given the permanent ID IMO 7314371. Her dimensions are 138.6 meters x 22.1 meters x 5.8 meters with an original Gross Register Tonnage (GRT) of 7,309 and Deadweight Tonnage (DWT) of 2,919. She was equipped with two 14-cylinder Mitsubishi-MAN diesel engines with a total horsepower of 15,200 powering two screws which gave her an original top speed of 19 knots. The ship has a steel hull with raked stem and transom stern. Having two ramps at the bow and at the stern, she is a RORO (Roll On-Roll Off) ship. Her original passenger capacity was 900.

When she came to the Philippines she was refitted for a larger passenger capacity. Scantlings were added and additional passenger accommodations and amenities were built. She became a three passenger-deck ship with an total capacity of 2,464 persons in six different classes: the Suite, the Stateroom, the First Class Cabin, the Tourist, the Economy de Luxe and the Economy. Her Gross Tonnage (GT) rose to 11,638 and her Net Tonnage (NT) to 7,287. However, since her engines are now older and she has more weight, her top speed dropped to 17.5 knots. And for safety purposes, her bow ramp was closed.

As with the practice then of Aboitiz Shipping Company, the fares were a little cheaper but the meals were not free. Her cafeteria (actually, its dining room), which was centrally located, operated 20 hours and it doubled as the main lounge of the ship where one can stay for as long as he or she wishes. As a SuperFerry, she was a very clean ship and the crew had a higher level of training in passenger service compared to the competition and that was a delight.

 


M/V SuperFerry 5 in Iligan, with the classic WG&A livery © port of douglas/Flickr

She was first assigned the Manila-Cebu-Iligan route, a new route for the revived liner trade of the Aboitiz Shipping Company. When she was transferred to WG&A, she initially had that route, too, until she was assigned to different routes. There was a time she was paired with MV SuperFerry 2 and MV SuperFerry 9 to do the same route on rotation as the three have about the same speed and size. As bigger liners came, she was progressively shunted to her companies’ secondary routes like the Tagbilaran, Dumaguete and the Palawan routes (Coron and Puerto Princesa).

Then came the time when the true intermodal began to weaken the liner sector. To cope with fewer passengers and to increase the container capacity (because her company then already lacked container ships), the Aboitiz Transport System converted a passenger deck of the MV SuperFerry 2, MV SuperFerry 9 and MV SuperFerry 12 into a second cargo deck (called wagon deck in the company). But MV SuperFerry 1, MV SuperFerry 5 and MV SuperFerry 19 did not undergo the same conversion and instead they were advertised for sale. This was also the time that MV SuperFerry 5’s engines were growing weaker and so on the fleet she was the least likely to be designated to sail. But as her luck would have it, she was the ship not sold and two of the three converted ships sank.

 


SuperFerry 5 in ATS livery, docked at Manila South Harbor © Ken Ledesma

With the sinking of MV St. Thomas Aquinas and the constructive total loss (CTL) of MV St. Gregory The Great which grounded on a reef, she had to shoulder on although her engines could already be smoky. Recently, however, the former MV SuperFerry 16 which was sold abroad when ship steel prices were sky-high was re-purchased to become the MV St Therese of the Child Jesus of their company 2GO Travel. MV St. Joan of Arc was again anchored and advertised for sale. Many ship spotters and rumors from the company say this could be her final anchoring.

What does her future hold? She is too big and her engines are too thirsty for an overnight ferry route. Besides, there is no other liner company left in the Philippines to take interest in her. On the other hand, world steel prices are currently very low right now because of the economic slowdown in China and so the foreign shipbreakers might not be too keen on her. Many ship spotters hope that she will have the luck of the like of the MV Our Lady of Medjugorje, a former fleet mate which found a niche in Indonesia even though she is another ferry with a weak and old engine.

 


St. Joan of Arc, laid-up at Manila Bay © Island Lures/Flickr

So this is a tribute to her because most likely she won’t be around for long now in our waters.

M/V St. Thomas Aquinas

The MV St. Thomas Aquinas was a former 2GO liner that was rammed on the side by the container ship Sulpicio Express Siete of Philippine Span Asia Carrier Corporation (PSACC) just south of Mactan Channel near Lauis Ledge lighthouse on the night of August 16, 2013. She sank in a matter of minutes because the PSACC ship feared being a sinking casualty and she pulled back allowing water to rush inside the hull of St. Thomas Aquinas (this is what usually happens when there is an underwater gash in the hull). A total of 137 persons died in the collision and a large oil spill affecting Mactan island resulted. St. Thomas Aquinas was better known locally as SuperFerry 2 and she is included in the book “The Great Passenger Ships of the World” by Frank Heine and Frank Lose (the original title was in German), a book where the Philippine Ship Spotter Society (PSSS) was a contributor.

M/V Superferry 2 folio ©John Aringay

St. Thomas Aquinas started life as the Ferry Sumiyoshi of Meimon Car Ferry K.K. of Kitakyushu, Japan. She was built in the Onomichi yard of Onomichi Zosen and she was the sister ship of Ferry Hakozaki which was better known locally as SuperFerry 5 and later as the St. Joan of Arc of 2GO (this ship is still sailing). Ferry Sumiyoshi’s keel was laid on August 1, 1972, launched on December 19, 1972 and completed on March 20, 1973. Her Length Over-all (LOA) was 138.6 meters and her Length Between Perpendiculars (LBP) was 128.0 meters with a Breadth of 22.15 meters. Originally, her Gross Register Tonnage (GRT) was 7,270 with a Deadweight Tonnage (DWT) of 2,596.
Ferry Sumiyoshi was powered by two Mitsubishi-MAN diesels (MAN engines built under license by Mitsubishi in Japan) of a combined 15,200 horsepower which gave her a service speed of 19 knots. She carried the international ID IMO 7304663 and she was a RORO-Passenger (ROPAX) Ferry. The ship originally had one and a half passenger decks, two and a half cargo decks, a full bridge deck and vehicle ramps at the bow and at the stern. Her original passenger capacity was 900 and she was first fielded in the Osaka-Shinmoji route in Japan.

Ferry Sumiyoshi ©Fakta om Fartyg

In April of 1992 she came to the Philippines to become the Aboitiz SuperFerry 2 (also SuperFerry II) of Aboitiz Shipping Corporation where she was converted into a 4-deck multi-day passenger liner originally serving the Manila-Cebu-Cagayan de Oro route (displacing the SuperFerry 1 in the latter port of call). She was the first liner fielded again by Aboitiz Shipping Corporation in the Manila-Cebu route after the shipping company gave up on that route for paucity of suitable liners (they were however serving the Cebu-Leyte route).

Superferry 2 ©Britz Salih

As reclassified, she had a Gross Tonnage (GT) of 11,405, a DWT of 2,947 and a passenger capacity of over 2,643 divided into the following classes: Stateroom, Cabin (for 2 and 4), Tourist, Deluxe and Economy. Adding weight her depth rose to 8.2 meters and her service speed dropped to 17.5 knots which meant a transit time of 22 hours in the Manila-Cebu route. Having a folding rear mast she can pass under the Mactan bridge. Her car deck can accommodate 108 trailers (she loads “CHA-RO” or container vans mounted on trailers and parked separate from the tractor heads).

Superferry 2 ©Gorio Belen

Aboitiz Shipping Corporation did not provide free meals to the passengers then but the fares were a little lower compared to competition to compensate for that. A passenger then will have his choice of what to eat. One orders meal a la carte in the cafeteria that was centrally located which was open from early morning to just past midnight. Passengers can also lounge here and while away time and various drinks can be ordered any time. The first class passengers have their separate restaurant. There was also a disco-karaoke and a coffee shop.

The ship featured a lounge for upper class passengers and a lobby and front desk for everyone along with other amenities and offerings like a video game arcade, a kiosk and books/magazines and board games for rent and a beauty salon. The ship sides were open and served as passageway and it also served as a viewing deck and smoking area. The sun deck of the ship also serves as a promenade area.

Superferry 2 interior ©Wakanatsu

On January 1, 1996 she passed on to the merger company William, Gothong & Aboitiz (WG&A) and in the renaming of the ferries of the merged fleet she retained the same name as WG&A decided to use the SuperFerry brand with the lesser ferries branded the “Our Lady”, a brand from Gothong Shipping. Initially she held on to her same route but a little later she did other routes (but not the prime Cebu route). Then she was paired with SuperFerry 5 to do rotational routes and a little later more this pairing included the SuperFerry 9 (in rotational pairings WG&A matches the ferries in speed and size). Doing rotational routes that varied over time along with differing assignments and schedules were a WG&A trademark which was hard to track unless one monitors their advertisement in the dailies.

Superferry 2 in WG&A livery ©Wakanatsu

With the divestment of the Chiongbian and Gothong families in WG&A (with the notable exception of Bob Gothong), the company was renamed the Aboitiz Transport System (ATS) in 2003. With sizable sell-off of ships (liners, overnight ferries and container ships), ATS found themselves lacking container capacity especially when they sold off SuperFerry 15, 16, 17 and 18. Part of their remedy aside from chartering container ships was to convert 4-deck liners into liners with only two passenger decks with two container decks. This halved the passenger capacity of the converted ships but almost doubled the container capacity. ATS thought this was the correct solution to declining passenger patronage and lack of container capacity (but later developments proved them wrong).

As converted, the passenger capacity of SuperFerry 2 dropped to only 904 with only two Staterooms and two Cabins. With some engine efficiency adjustments the service speed went up to 18.5 knots (with a maximum equaling her old 19 knots) and with only a few passengers the ship tended to be very cold at night especially when it is raining. The ship moreover became an all-airconditioned ship. Her Net Tonnage (NT) dropped to 5,869. As a two-passenger deck ferry there was much less space for passengers to roam and amenities and facilities were less. The dining area of the upper and lower classes became shared.

Superferry 2 ©Mike Baylon

Later on with the buy-out of Aboitiz Transport System by Negros Navigation using the China-ASEAN Fund loan in 2012 she passed on to the newly merged company 2GO. She was renamed as the St. Thomas Aquinas and she did the Manila-Cebu-Zamboanga and Manila-Cebu-Nasipit routes among other always-changing routes and schedules. In 2GO she was still speedy but with more emphasis put on the declining cargo and because of that like other ships in the fleet she tended to be late because of delayed departures waiting for cargo.

St Thomas Aquinas in 2GO livery. ©Mike Baylon

To make up for lost time because she was four hours late, she was speeding in the early night of August 13, 2013 in Hilutungan Channel and in rounding the southern coast of Mactan island. The area is notorious for radar scatter because of the ship facing land formation with hills, towers and plenty of buildings and vehicles. Also rounding Mactan island the radar won’t give an image of the ships exiting Cebu port and Mactan Channel. The early night too is the peak departure time of ships leaving Cebu. Nearing Lauis Ledge and the reefs of Cordova, Mactan and the narrows and shoals off Talisay, Cebu, the ship barreled into the narrowing shipping lane at over 16 knots when ships were expected to do 15knots or less in that area where the shipping line is curving like in a continuous arc.

At that time Sulpicio Express Siete with an ice-classed bow (reinforced as she was originally a Baltic Sea ship) was exiting Mactan Channel at slow speed. Meanwhile, Trans Asia 9 which was late in departure was catching up and asked permission to overtake on the right or starboard of Sulpicio Express Siete. The shallows of Talisay were looming ahead (a ship of Cokaliong Shipping Lines made a mistake here and ended up high and dry). So Sulpicio Express Siete gave her a wide berth and moved to the middle of the channel and slowed down a bit as she will be veering right soon as she was headed in the direction of Dumaguete while Trans Asia 9 is headed to Cagayan de Oro.

While the gap between Sulpicio Express Siete and Trans Asia 9 was getting bigger, the late-running Oceanjet 8, a fastcraft of Ocean Fast Ferries speeding from Tagbilaran moved into the gap between the ships and went into the starboard of Sulpicio Express Siete which was not her correct lane and in violation of maritime rules of the seaway. This had the effect of delaying of the veering of Sulpicio Express Siete in her correct lane in a shipping line with divider without marking buoys (AIS showed that at the time of passing of Trans Asia 9 Sulpicio Express Siete was slightly to the left of the median).

After Oceanjet 8 passed and when Sulpicio Express Siete was veering into her lane a reckless maneuver was made – St. Thomas Aquinas sped up and tried to follow Oceanjet 8, a classic case of brinkmanship. Ships don’t slow down and can’t maneuver like cars and the reinforced bow of Sulpicio Siete scraped against the hull and the passenger ramp of St. Thomas Aquinas, cut it up to below the waterline near the stern and the engine room. In moments, St. Thomas Aquinas had a fatal wound and power was knocked out and complete darkness fell in St. Thomas Aquinas with the bow on Sulpicio Express Siete lodged inside the rear hull of the 2GO liner. Some passenger took advantage of this momentary coupling of the two ships and jumped to the bow of the container ship. They were among the luckier ones because in minutes it was obvious their liner was stricken with a mortal blow worse than the Italian liner Andrea Doria.

Timeframe of collision ©Marinetraffic.com/Jeth Casagan

While the Andrea Doria had a good design that limited water intrusion and which kept her afloat for many hours St. Thomas Aquinas was a RORO which lacked watertight doors and compartments. When Sulpicio Express Siete reversed screws and disengaged she immediately developed a dangerous list and she capsized within minutes not affording enough time for proper evacuation which was made more difficult by the darkness. Trans Asia 9 also did not come to the rescue unlike the French liner Ile de France which illuminated Andrea Doria and launched lifeboats to the rescue.

Immediately after the accident charges and counter-charges of fault and recriminations were hurled and mainly by 2GO and netizens were quick to blame PSACC, the former Sulpicio Lines. Their former bad reputation hurt PSACC’s case in the bar of public opinion and it was even made worse by the fact that it was their ship which rammed and sank the other and was beyond the median line initially. Almost to a man almost everybody was blaming PSACC except maybe PSSS and a few others including mariners who understand COLREG (Collision Regulations) which governs rules of the road at sea. A Special Board of Marine Inquiry (SBMI) made an investigation that drew mainly on eyewitness account which tend to be biased depending of which ship they were boarded. In PSSS we noted there was almost no use of AIS which is the ship’s transponder and St. Thomas Aquinas was visible because their MMSI module was active and that gave her location, direction, speed and identity along with other data. It was her AIS which said she was overspeeding and she crossed the bow of the PSACC ship, a maneuver not permitted unless the other ship gave permission (this was also established later by the official investigation report).

Damage on Sulpicio Express Siete ©John Cabanillas

After over a year, the Philippine body tasked with determining fault, the Board of Marine Inquiry (BMI) determined liabilities and this was affirmed by their supervisory body, the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC). It sidestepped a purely COLREG-based decision and instead looked at other technicalities. The result said the St. Thomas Aquinas was mainly at fault because it held that ships moving out of port have priority over incoming ships. The report also noted a collision could have been avoided if both ships slowed down especially since they are not in radio contact.

Up to now the remains of St. Thomas Aquinas still lay near the collision site and lays precariously by her side in a sea ledge like the Costa Concordia. The maritime authority has already decided that 2GO should remove her as she poses hazard to navigation. Meanwhile, the municipality of Cordova is pressing payment for damage to their mangroves and fishing ground due to the oil spill in the aftermath of the sinking. Victims are still seeking further compensation while the two captains directly involved in the collision remain suspended. The other ships involved were not called to bar to answer for their actions.

Pumping oil from the remains of M/V St. Thomas Aquinas

Now, the liner St. Thomas Aquinas is just a memory but a bitter one at that especially for the victims who are not holding on to solid hopes as deadly maritime accidents in the Philippines take the courts up to over a generation to make a final decision.

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