My Bohol Tour

When I went to Cebu last time I resolved I will also go to Bohol and do a tour, a real tour which means going around and not just going to some tourist spot (which I don’t do as I have no taste for that as I am old school in that I really want to go around). It was not just for ship spotting but also for buses as I needed to replenish my stock of Bohol bus photos which was already depleted. And for another reason, I wanted to see Bohol again after two years to update myself, see how its recovery from its earthquake went.

My planned entry was via Tubigon on an early morning trip on the cheap Lite Ferries ship as that is a good platform for ship spotting and spacious too (for ship spotting I don’t have a taste for High Speed Crafts as the view it affords is limited). However, on the morning I was due to depart the queue was long (wished I purchased the ticket the day before but their ticketing office outside Pier 1 always had a line). They also had no separate window for senior citizens and for the disabled (is that a violation of any law?). When I was already nearing the window the guard announced the closing of the ticketing since we wouldn’t make the 7am departure of the ferry. And that is one bad effect of the “cattle herding” of the Cebu Port Authority (and by PPA for that are ISPS) forcing passengers to use the passenger terminal and the X-ray machines when in earlier days one goes direct to the ship especially when time is running out (and just be ticketed aboard the ship). The guard announced they have a 12:30pm departure but I wonder who is the crazy passenger that will wait for that when it is just 7am.

I mulled my alternatives. It was not to be Star Crafts on the opposite side of the road. A fastcraft with its low windows dirtied by sea water splash is never good for ship spotting and one can’t anticipate a ship coming by. If it has an open-air accommodation it isn’t as comfortable as that missed Lite Ferry and besides it will be noisy. Wanting to make up for lost time since I will still be touring I decided on the FastCat in Pier 3 although I know it will cost more and I have to walk the distance.

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And that is where my bad experience with FastCat began. There was a line of apprentices in the ticket window and they said there was no more ticket for Premium Economy (which is the Tourist class) and Economy which is the open-air accommodation at the upper deck. And so I took the Business Class since there are no other ship alternatives left that leaves in the early morning for Tubigon.

I will then get ahead of the story. When the vessel departed I found out and so did other passengers forced to take the Business Class that there were still a lot of vacant seats in Economy and Premium Economy. We then knew we were scammed. I then asked one of the personnel attending to the passengers and the flippant reply was they know nothing about the booking. Huh! Is that all? I thought they had better training now but this is straight from the book of the old-style ferries whose favorite trick is handwashing. I told her straight into her face that it was scamming and bad for them since Archipelago Philippine Ferries, their company is beginning to make inroads in covering its unsavory reputation from its bad Maharlika ships of the recent past.

Then a second incident happened which made us Business Class passengers feel scammed again – there was no free snacks. Actually, the seats and accommodation of the premium Economy and the Business Class are the same. The former even have the advantage that its farther seats are by twos only and the canteen is located right there. Plus its air conditioning is stronger because the Business Class front is a door to the storage room covered with only a curtain and cold air is lost there.

I asked a steward why there is no free snacks when it is the only feature that can justify the higher fare when Business Class which is not superior in any way to Premium Economy (what a way to degrade the name of the Tourist class!). He said they have long ago requisitioned for supplies but it seemed management thinks passenger ridership to Tubigon is like the Bulalacao-Caticlan route (aha! so that route is weak in passengers?).

I told the steward that in this age of the internet and smartphone that excuse will not fly. So what is the use of computers and unlimited calls over the smartphone? So they cannot monitor? And management needs months to adjust? I told him that was a very lousy excuse and if that is true then that reflects badly on management. Maybe the owner Christopher Pastrana and his wife should better attend to things like these rather than bragging too much in media and in their own video. I told the steward that it seems FastCat is already sliding to their lowly Maharlika standard and everybody knows how lousy their Maharlika ships were (well, except for Archipelago Philippine Ferries employees which seem to have convenient amnesia).

I got many ship pics alright since a route from Pier 3 is better than a route to the south compared to from Pier 1 since up to Pier 4 can be covered well unlike in the Lite Ferry originating in Pier 1 that can only cover the Cokaliong ships. Then in the Talisay anchorage I was able to capture more ships. And there I took a rest and did not gamble anymore on chance encounters as I have a long day ahead. However, I was lucky to notice the coming Anika Gayle 2 of Aleson Shipping and I also caught her on cam.

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The promised one-and-a-half hour cruising time of FastCat M11 did not materialize. Our trip lasted nearly two hours and to make it worse we left Cebu late because they had difficulty in loading an empty truck because FastCat can’t ballast (so much for their ads that the ship does not have ballast water). Since the tide was high the underside of the truck was scraping the port. So I did not gain any time by riding FastCat. It seems they are saving on fuel and was no longer running at 100% speed (is this the start of their run that will just manage to outspeed a little their competitor Lite Ferries?)

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In Tubigon port there was already the missed Lite Ferry and Star Crafts 6 when we arrived. I did not linger long in port and immediately took a pedicab (it is better than a cramped tricycle albeit slower of course). I then took a nearly empty commuter van bound for Talibon (well, I was glad the driver was true to his announced ETD and did not regret taking the van) and I got off in Inabanga and made a short tour of it. I found out everything was completely normal as if no fighting occurred within its territory. There was no suspicious looks nor questions and I was surprised by that (good its people are not “praning” and its officials not over-reactive unlike in Cebu South Bus Terminal which is under the Provincial Capitol). And so I thought the heightened security I saw in other parts of the country are just “arte” or overreaction including the Capitol of Cebu which has barriers and questioning guards already (but go by its back entrance and anybody can enter without question). And to think Cebu City has no serious incidents yet. I wonder what will be their reaction when they have one (but I know Mayor Tommy Osmena is not “praning” as one can easily access the 8th floor of his City Hall where his office is located, take photos of ships from there and not once was I questioned what I was doing).

From Inabanga I then took a commuter van to Tagbilaran and upon reaching Tubigon we were transferred to another van that is already more full. I welcomed it rather than waiting for passengers and losing more time. I was right in the choice of the ride as the van proved faster because we were overtaking buses. Of course I was enjoying the views that were always changing. Much better than being cocooned in some beach resort that is not free anyway.

I then made a fast check of the Dao integrated terminal of Tagbilaran while taking quick shots of buses. I asked the ride to Loboc and they pointed to me the converted Canter (into a jeep equivalent) parked by the market just outside the terminal. While waiting for it to depart (it was nearly full already) I asked permission to take more shots of buses and I darted inside the terminal.

When I returned after ten minutes as I promised I found out that they positioned three short benches in the middle of the Canter (and so I understood why it was wider) for eight more passengers. I counted the capacity. 35 sitting passengers not including five others clinging at the rear or “sabit”. I thought not a bad replacement for a minibus. And I have to thank the lady student who exchanged her better seat than my uncomfortable one.

The route of the Canter was Tagbilaran-Sikatuna-Loboc, a different route from the Loay route which me and Vinz Sanchez (a PSSS Moderator from Bohol) took when he toured me the whole coastal roads of Bohol a few years ago, a favor I still cherish. Sikatuna is a town by the hills of Bohol and so what we passed looked like a mountain road. I was glad I saw different vistas. It seemed to me the people, my co-passengers, were friendlier too. It rained very hard however after Sikatuna town until we reached Loboc. The fare looked cheap to me. P25 for what seems to be 29 kilometers (and so when did the LTFRB which only listens to big operators but not the people learned how to set correct fares?).

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The Loboc tour boats

My tour and shots of Loboc were forgettable. The rain did not abate and there was no banca ride to Loay (they say I should have taken it by the Loay bridge which I visited before with Vinz). With such rain I was not interested to take the boat tour upriver with its native banquet food (I did not go to Loboc to partake food).

I went to the town where a I found a nice eatery, the biggest in the town where there was a wide selection. I found out that the food prices were very moderate and the owner friendly. I was tempted to enter it because I saw foreigners eating there (and so I thought there must be a reason for that). It was there when the rain subsided a little. Over-all it was a lousy tour of Loboc but I saw the restoration work of their church that was heavily damaged by the quake was already underway. In Loboc nearly a lot of the tourists were foreigners.

A commuter van arrived and enticed me again. I took it to Tagbilaran. I did not try to go anymore to Carmen, the site of the Chocolate Hills because I do not want to be disappointed again by the rain and there might not be enough time already (but a motorcycle driver was offering me a private ride). I thought maybe it was not my day. And it was there that I realized my mistake. From Inabanga I should have gone straight to Carmen via Sagbayan. It happened I was not that sure though how fast the ride there will be and it also happened Chocolate Hills was not on the top of my priority being just a simple tourist spot to me (in Loboc at least there are bancas).

With an early arrival back in Tagbilaran I had time to take more photos of buses in the terminal. I noticed that compared to two years ago the remaining rivals of the dominant Southern Star bus have essentially re-fleeted and some have air-conditioned units already. I thought that was good and it seems they will not be simply swept away or gobbled by the giant yellow bus company like what I feared before.

I next made a round of the Island City Mall which is conveniently near the Dao terminal. I planned to take dinner there before I proceed to Tagbilaran port to take the 10pm Lite Ferry ship back to Cebu. In the said mall there was a trade fair in the upper floor and that for me somehow made up the failure in Loboc as I enjoy seeing the displayed products of so many places as it gives me a glimpse of what their place is (and later google the Net for more information about them). I also took note of the places where the PSSS (Philippine Ship Spotters Society) group made tambay when we attended the wedding of Vinz Sanchez in Panglao.

I arrived in Tagbilaran port at 7:30pm only to found out there were no more tickets available in whatever class of the Lite Ferries ship (and it seems I have bad luck with this shipping company). I waited a little since a few years back our PSSS group that attended the Tagbilaran fiesta was able to still board as chance passengers and we were even five then, a relatively big group. But this time instead of being encouraging the Lite Ferries ticketing office suddenly closed. I was marooned as I was told the last trip of the bus to Tubigon was 8pm (there is still a midnight ferry there to Cebu and Mandaue). I suddenly remembered the fate of the PSSS group three years ago during Vinz’s wedding when they slept in Dao terminal.

I then pulled my way into Harborview Inn which has a commanding view of the port right outside the port gates and no more sleeping in the terminal as I was thinking of another day’s tour if I can’t go home. It was not cheap if going by its age. The greater negative was the noise and vibration of the trucks going in and out of the port. But the big plus is it has a view of the ships in Tagbilaran port. As an ISPS port there was no chance for me to go inside the port if I am not a passenger and Tagbilaran will no longer be my exit later in the day.

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The next morning, after taking shots of Tagbilaran port I walked to the mall near the old bus terminal and partook breakfast there. It was near the place where we took a taxi to Loon when Aris Refugio, a PSSS Moderator will be having a short vacation in Sandingan island in her sister’s place (it was a nice place with a commanding view of the sea). I was able to take photos of the buses inside that minor terminal now and then I made my way back to Dao, the main terminal. There was a cheaper multicab that I found and I an-seminarian as co-passenger who was engaging and helpful.

Upon reaching the terminal another van called offering a cheap fare to Tubigon and a promise of an immediate departure (am I that a magnet for commuter vans in Bohol?). But I declined as I said I needed to take bus photos first for my collection and I was not yet on that direction I actually wanted to stay first in the terminal, get a feel of the possibilities and mull my options (yes, I tend to feel my guts when I am on a trip in a not-so-familiar place and my plans did not fall into place). What I just wanted was a bus going to northern Bohol because the ferries back to Cebu are there. I noticed a bus going to Talibon passing through Carmen (and I know the Chocolate Hills are located over there). I can’t resist riding that bus even though I haven’t finalized yet where my exit will be (now isn’t that touring in the finest sense?). But the bus will pass by Dagohoy town and that to me was another bonus.

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Baclayon port and lighthouse

The route was by Baclayon and Loay this time and I was able to get shots of their ports). It was the seaside route and after a junction Loboc came into view again. I was not tempted to get off as I know a route to Talibon will take long knowing how slow are the buses in Bohol (nope, they will never need a GPS-based warning device telling them they are already over the speed limit as buses there don’t run over 60kph anyway). And the bus driver quoted 4 hours of travel time but I always assume that is an optimistic estimate.

I was fascinated by the views and landscape right after Loboc. The scenery looks like a forest from there up to Bilar and Batuan, two places I have special interest in. It was an ascending road to the hills of Bohol up to its plateau. Comparing later to Chocolate Hills that world-famous tourist site looked unexciting to me. Just the site of mint-chocolate mounds although admittedly I did not get off then junction leading to its viewing point where there are habal-habals (chartered motorcyle rides) waiting. Later, I realized I could have gotten off there and just take the night ship back to Cebu (and that is the consequence of trip out of plan already). And not having a map or a pocket Wi-Fi also took its toll. But then I was generally tired too (my batteries are not that fast to recharge anymore) and I had wounds to take care of.

The cruising speed of the Southern Star bus was just 50kph even though it is an aircon bus (well, it was good for sightseeing). The passenger load was not high including that of the other buses I saw and to think buses in Bohol does not come one after another. I was even wondering if there were more ship passengers than bus passengers in Bohol (well, the commuter take a big chunk off their load). But at least I found out in Bohol that buses do not have many meal stops like in Cebu and Mindanao.

I was tempted to get off the bus in Trinidad town and head east to Ubay and take the night ship there. I found out that the J&N Ferry ship there to Cebu is very cheap compared to the Tagbilaran ship when the distance of Cebu from Ubay is about the same (now how did that happen?). Now I understand part of the reason why they are still existing. If one is going to Jagna from Cebu to take a ferry there the proper connection is the J&N Ferry to Ubay and not the ferry to Tagbilaran but it seems few realize that. Jagna is roughly equidistant from Ubay and Tagbilaran.

In Talibon I was able to take long-distance shots of the port. I did not go into the port and just felt the atmosphere of the bus terminal and the market (because I was already worrying about the time). I was divided into going to Tubigon (which will afford me daylight ship spotting) or going back to Ubay in order to extend my Bohol tour and visit Ubay again. But I did not have time to mull as the Tubigon bus was already honking. I was just intent on catching the 4:30pm Anika Gayle 2 ferry to Cebu which has a much better ship spotting view than the Star Crafts (there were no Lite Ferries ships in the late afternoon in Tubigon and I do not want to ride the FastCat again).

I asked the driver how long the ride to Tubigon will take. He answered one hour. But then our driver turned out he can just ride his mount at 50kph and so we took nearly 2 hours for the route. We passed by Inabanga again.

But with our slow speed I missed the Anika Gayle 2 and there was a long line in Star Crafts. But I was fortunate the guard pulled me to the senior citizens’ window and I was able to get a ticket leapfrogging over a dozen people. Otherwise I would have experienced shut-out again and I would be forced to take the FastCat (horrors!). This time the vessel was fully booked and I was in the very last row of seat near the toilet.

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It then happened that I was also very interested in our vessel the Star Crafts 7 (good she was on that schedule) and I already forgot my disappointment in not having made the Anika Gayle 2. The reason is because Star Crafts 7 was the former MS Express of A. Sakaluran in Zamboanga which I have already visited before in Varadero de Recodo, a shipyard in Zamboanga City. I want to see what changed and I want to feel her again.

One big change I noticed is she was already much less comfortable (and much less than Starcrafts 1). Instead of trying to put in some comfort like in Weesam Express now as Star Crafts she is just trying to pack as much people in. I have not seen seats as narrow and uncomfortable in a fastcraft. Fastcrafts are generally more cramped compared to catamarans but I have been to Weesam Express, A. Sakaluran, Oceanjet and the Montenegro Shipping Lines fastcrafts including its small ones and Medium Speed Crafts (MSCs) like the Anika Gayles of Aleson Shipping but all have sufficient level of comfort and space unlike the Star Crafts 7. And another, the good air-conditioning central vents of the MS Express were already gone in Star Crafts 7.

With its fare almost level with FastCat I wonder why Boholanos still patronize them when the like of FastCat is much more superior in terms of accommodations and passenger service (no, this is not a plug for FastCat). The seats of Star Crafts is even narrower and less comfortable than bus seats. With a 4+4 seating, maybe its fares should be much less. Is it time for FastCat to field a second MSC in Tubigon? Or Oceanjet should field one of their fastcrafts? But maybe the franchises of the Lite Jets were not sold to them to preclude competition with them.

The Star Crafts 7 is a full two-deck fastcraft now when it had only one-and-a-half passenger decks as MS Express. We took just over 1 hour for the voyage so that means we were cruising at about 20 knots. Its engines are Yuchai diesels now with a total of 1,850 horsepower, down from her former 3,100-horsepower Mitsubishi diesels, the same powerplant as her rival Sea Jet of Aleson Shipping which is not on the route now and replaced by the Anika Gayle 2 which we overtook before reaching the reef shallows south of Mactan island.

There was no ship spotting whatsoever when I was on board Star Crafts 7. No possibility as there was no open-air accommodation and the doors of fastcrafts are closed when sailing. I was only able to take some shots upon alighting in Cebu Pier 3 but it was already getting dark. Before I disembarked I tried to tour the fastcraft but it was too dour and there is no access to the bridge. I am imagining though that it might not have changed much since I visited her as MS Express.

It was a full two-day visit of Bohol. Nice but tiring too (and I had an accident but that is another thing).

The MS Express That Turned Into The Star Crafts 7

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the Philippines, No-Name, Shoddy Ferries Have a Better Safety Record Than Internationally-Certificated Ferries

A candidate for Ripley’s “Believe It or Not”? That’s true and so better read on.

Yesterday, it was in the news that Christopher Pastrana, The Boastful is hosting the 41st Interferry Conference that will be held in Manila starting today, October 15. There will be many sponsors for that and it is usually attended by shipping owners, shipbuilders, marine engine makers, various suppliers and other entities connected to shipping to exchange notes and learn about the latest trends and products. By the way, Interferry is not the sole organizer of maritime conferences.

A news item said the FastCats of Pastrana can provide safe ferries as do the ferries of Starlite and the implication is because those are new. Well, not so fast as it is not just the newness of the ship that is a factor in safety. May I remind too that Pastrana lost the Maharlika Dos to capsizing and sinking near Panaon island in 2014 after its engines failed and his Maharlika Cuatro, though just nearby, did not come to its rescue. And Starlite Voyager grounded and reached BER status when it was on the way to a shipyard in 2011. Are they blaming now the oldness of their vessels that sank?

I was angry when Maharlika Dos capsized and sank in 2014 because Pastrana broke the 35-year record of Bicol steel-hulled ferries not sinking while sailing ever since the RORO Cardinal Ferry 2 of Cardinal Shipping came in 1979. The Northern Samar sank in 2006 in a storm but she was not sailing and was just moored in Tabaco port. This perfect record extends to Surigao Strait because no steel-hulled ferries ever sank there since Cardinal Ferry 2 came in 1980, a record that Maharlika Dos broke infamously.

And to think the eastern seaboard short-distance ferry routes are home to the some of the most shoddy ROROs in Philippine waters led by the Maharlika ships of Christopher Pastrana and the Millennium Uno of Millennium Shipping. Well, the ships of Bicolandia Shipping then were also not topnotch and are old. But no matter what these ferries don’t sink even though the eastern seaboard straits are among the most dangerous in the country. As I have said in an earlier article it is seamanship that carried them through. The seamen there would not let their ships sink because they know that among their passengers might be their kins, their friends, their school mates or somebody known to them. But Maharlika Cuatro‘s captain didn’t know that and so he let Maharlika Dos wallow in the ever-strengthening swells until it capsized. And now since he got new FastCats, Pastrana always boasts now about safety and misses no chance to deride the “lack of safety” of his rivals. What gall!

Before Pastrana or even Cusi of Starlite Ferries, another boastful owner, gets carried away let me state that going by the records and empirically there are a lot of ferry companies which are their rivals which have a perfect safety record, i.e. they did not lose ships to sinking. In Bicol, Sta. Clara Shipping, Penafrancia Shipping, Regina Shipping Lines and 168 Shipping Lines have never lost a ferry of theirs. That goes true to the defunct ferry companies that served Bicol like Cardinal Shipping, Newport Shipping, Badjao Navigation and the short-serving Luzvimin Ferry Services. Well, even Denica Lines have not lost a steel-hulled ferry so far.

Going to Quezon, the safety record of the decrepit-looking ships of Kalayaan Shipping have a perfect safety record as do the defunct Sta. Cruz Shipping. Alabat Shipping also has a perfect safety record as do Phil-Nippon Kyoei when they were still existing. Noting these ferry companies, I purposely omitted those that have short service records like Starhorse Shipping.

In Western Visayas, Milagrosa-J Shipping and Tri-Star Megalink both have perfect safety records even though Milagrosa-J Shipping regularly crosses the Sulu Sea which has rough seas and strong winds many months of the year. And to think their sea crafts are small and are already old. It is really in the seamanship.

Batangas shipping companies have no great safety record especially Besta Shipping. But I would like to point out that for a ferry company which has a fleet of over 30, Montenegro Shipping Lines lost only one ferry in 20 years even though they can be found almost anywhere in the Philippines including those that have rough seas. They only lost the Maria Carmela when somebody threw a cigarette butt into a copra truck and thereby igniting a conflagration which was rather unfortunate. And Montenegro Lines have some of the oldest ships hereabouts.

Zamboanga is home to some of ferries that will not look so clean internally and many are also old. But two sailing companies there, Ever Lines and Magnolia Shipping, probably the Number 2 and Number 3 there have perfect safety records as they have not lost a ship even in their freighters. And Sulu, Tawi-tawi and Celebes Sea have strong seas when there is a storm somewhere in eastern Philippines or when the monsoons are blowing hard. Minor shipping companies of Zamboanga like Sing Shipping and Ibnerizam Shipping also have perfect records. The defunct Basilan Lines/Basilan Shipping of the Alanos also did not lose a ship although their Dona Ramona was bombed in Lamitan City.

Mae Wess of Davao has not also lost a ship as do the KSJ Shipping of Surigao. And as far as I know, the currently operating ferry companies of Camiguin – Philstone Shipping, Davemyr Shipping, and Hijos de Juan Corrales have not lost a ship too and it seems that also goes true for the defunct P.N. Roa and and Jade Sea Express. In Panguil Bay, Daima Shipping has not also lost a ship even though their Our Lady of Mediatrix was burned because of the firebombing of two Super 5 buses aboard her in 2000.

In Cebu, for all the size of their fleet Lite Ferries may not lost a vessel (was the Sta. Lucia de Bohol lost at sea?). FJP Lines/Palacio Shipping, defunct now, also has a perfect safety record. There are other defunct shipping companies of Cebu which has not lost a ship through accident and that includes VG Shipping, Roly Shipping/Godspeed, Kinswell Shipping, Jadestar Shipping, Goldenbridge Shipping, Maayo Shipping, Cuadro Alas Navigation, PAR Transport plus many smaller ferry companies. In the recent era, Gabisan Shipping are known for safety and the ability to “read” the waves and have not yet lost one.

If I go by routes, there was not a ferry lost in Roxas-Caticlan and Dapitan-Dumaguete even though their seas can sometimes be rough. No steel-hulled ferry was ever lost in any route in Bicol too except for the Blue Water Princess 2 which is a Quezon ferry going to Masbate and the Rosalia 2, a Cebu craft going to Cataingan, Masbate. There are many, many other routes in the country which has not seen a ship sink even though they are not using a new ship. It is all in the seamanship really. To say a new ships is “safer” is just like claiming a new car will not be involved in a collision.

Some of our HSC companies too are very safe. Oceanjet, the Number 1 now in HSCs, has not lost a ship ever and they did not always use new crafts. Weesam Express also has a perfect record. Even the defunct Bullet Express, the fastcrafts of the Viva Shipping Lines combine and the fastcrafts of A. Sakaluran have perfect safety records. The are a lot of other HSC companies which had perfect records but their service record was short like Star Crafts. Not included here is SuperCat which has lost one.

And which brings me to our liners which in the recent years are internationally-certificated, have P&I insurance and are mostly spic-and-span but unfortunately have a bad safety record. In the last 20 years, WG&A/CFC lost SuperFerry 3, SuperFerry 6 and SuperFerry 7, all to fire and Dona Virginia and Our Lady of Banneux due to grounding. Aboitiz Transport System (ATS) also lost the SuperFerry 14 to a terrorist act and the St. Gregory The Great to grounding. Sulpicio Lines lost the Princess of the Stars and Princess of the Orient to capsizing and lost the Princess of the World, Philippine Princess and the Iloilo Princess to fire and the Princess of the Pacific to grounding. Negros Navigation also lost the St. Francis of Assisi to fire.

Between the end of the World War II and 1995 I know of 75 (that is seventy-five) liners which were lost and mainly at sea. That is 75 in only 30 years! Can anybody believe that? So how can I be impressed by liners and international certificates in safety? Or in their being spic and span? The records say otherwise. And believe me I can easily name the 75 as I have my own database about maritime hull losses. This 75 does not even include regional ships like the Boholana Princess which was an overnight ship when she was lost.

The Don Juan and Cebu City were brand-new ships when they were fielded in the Philippines. But they sank in collisions at night. So Pastrana and Cusi be better warned by their boastfulness of their new ships. They better be more humble before shipping companies which have not ever lost a ship.

Newness of a ship is not a guarantee of anything except in shininess.

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Photo credit: Masahiro Homma

The Aleson Shipping Lines

I really have no command of the history of Aleson Shipping Lines and so that will not be the focus of this article and I will only delve on it on the more recent years. Since many Pinoys have not reached Zamboanga, I want to expose the biggest shipping line of Western Mindanao (and also the whole of Mindanao) and compare it. I have long ago said to ship spotters that Aleson Shipping Lines is bigger than any Cebu overnight shipping company, bar none, and I want to show that so people will know more of one of our great overnight ferry companies.

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There is a saying in Zamboanga that, no matter what, Aleson Shipping will never sell the small cruiser ferry Estrella del Mar. The reason is she is their first ferry ever and they say everything started from that ship. Meanwhile, the second ship of Aleson Shipping is now gone and that is the Aleson 3, a cruiser they bought from Carlos A. Gothong Shipping Lines, Inc. (CAGLI) in 1984 which was the second Dona Conchita.

That was the simple start of Aleson Shipping and in their first decade they did not really expand much. In the first place, they were not a shipping company at the start but a trading company, a regional distributor of goods under Aleson Trading. It seems at the start their shipping was mainly a support to, a horizontal expansion of their trading activities.

It was in the 1990’s when Aleson Shipping made their moves in shipping that featured continuous acquisition of ships that not only involved ferries but also small cargo ships. And that what made them different from some Cebu overnight majors like Trans-Asia Shipping Lines Inc. (TASLI) and Cokaliong Shipping Lines Inc. (CSLI) which for a long time have no cargo ships. And they might have been not that early in ROROs like TASLI but they were not behind CSLI, Palacio Lines and George & Peter Lines. They were ahead in ROROs compared to other overnight ferry companies in Cebu that got big later like Roble Shipping, Lite Shipping, Medallion Transport, etc. Like the mentioned Cebu overnight ferry companies, they might have had ROROs but it was not for vehicles but for palletized and loose cargo that were mainly handled by forklifts. One thing though, they learned how to use container vans much earlier than all those Cebu overnight ferry companies. So who said Zamboanga shipping is behind Cebu shipping in cargo?

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In the mid-1990’s, it dawned on her Zamboanga rivals that Aleson Shipping was acquiring more ships than them and that included the old Number 1 Sampaguita Shipping Corporation. This company also had cargo ships and then Aleson Shipping matched it in number. By 1997 it looked as if there was a new throne holder in Zamboanga. And Aleson Shipping did not make the mistake of Sampaguita Shipping in buying cruisers as overnight ferries since they concentrated on ROROs except for their day ships to Basilan which featured small cruisers.

Before the end of the 1990’s, there was an emphatic display of being the new king of Zamboanga shipping when Aleson Shipping ventured into the liner business when they sailed the Zamboanga-Manila route with the Lady Mary Joy and the Cebu-Dumaguete-Zamboanga-Sandakan route with the Lady Mary Joy 2. This also expansion also featured going to Lucena to do a Marinduque route.

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Photo by Ray Smith

These expansions backfired and Aleson Shipping was not able to sustain those. However, they were able to survive it and they sold their liners and the Alex Craig that went to Lucena. There were other upheavals too in Zamboanga shipping at the start of the new millennium that were caused by over-expansion in the late 1990’s. These were so strong that two old shipping lines of Zamboanga shipping, the Sampaguita Shipping Corp. and SKT Shipping Corp., both collapsed. Among the factors too was the loss of a major overnight route, the Zamboanga-Pagadian route because of the cementing of the parallel highway. Like in Batangas, there was a surplus of bottoms in Zamboanga that resulted in heavy discounting of fares or fare wars. Maybe with other lines of business Aleson Shipping was more geared to absorb shocks in the shipping trade.

With the stoppage of two main rivals and also of some minor rivals, Aleson Shipping turned on the screw and acquired more ships. From 2002 they acquired a ferry every year except in 2005 and 2014 was tops when they acquired 3 ships. And aside from their old cargo ships that bore name of persons, they also began their Aleson Con Carrier or ACC series of cargo ships in 2001. As of this year, 2016, they now have an Aleson Con Carrier 15.

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Now the other major competitors remaining of Aleson Shipping, the Magnolia Shipping Corporation and Ever Lines are just in niche routes now. Some other competitors also collapsed like KST Shipping (the revived SKT), Basilan Lines, A. Sakaluran and Monte Alegre Shipping. As a result,they are already very dominant in Zamboanga now. They have routes to Jolo, Siasi, Bongao, Isabela City and Lamitan City. They also expanded but only in routse they can manage, the Dapitan-Dumaguete and Dumaguete-Larena routes and the Cebu-Tubigon route. Their cargo and container ships now reach Manila, Batangas and Bacolod aside from their earlier routes to Cebu, Dapitan and Southern Mindanao.

Like in other shipping companies, after 20 years or so there is a generational change at the helm. But instead of weakening like in most family-held shipping companies, I heard and there is outward evidence that the second generation of Aleson Shipping is even fiercer than the founder. And they were decisive in Aleson Shipping not losing the old ships due to weak engines. They opened their wallets and so now those limping ferries are back in fighting form.

The ferry fleet of Aleson Shipping:

Estrella del Mar (short-distance ferry) IMO 8945220, original name. Cruiser built in 1975 by Varadero de Recodo in Zamboanga, Philippines. 38.1m x 6.7m x 3.0m, 230gt, 143nt, 494 pax, 1 x 850hp Yanmar, 10.5kts.

Stephanie Marie (short-distance ferry) IMO 8427278. ROPAX built in 1979 by Kanda Shipbuilding in Kawajiri, Japan as Marima III. 63.2m x 12.0m x 4.1m, 910+gt, 316+nt, 945 pax, 2 x 1,600hp Daihatsu, 15kts.

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Neveen (short-distance ferry) IMO 7509976. Cruiser built in 1975 by Maebata in Sasebo, Japan as Mishima Maru No. 3. 35.0m x 6.4m x 2.8m, 223gt, 61+nt, 332 pax, 1 x 1,000hp Daihatsu, 13kts. [This is laid up.]

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Danica Joy (built as overnight ferry) IMO 7852414. ROPAX built in 1972 by Nakamura in Yanai, Japan as Nakajima. 48.0m x 11.3m x 3.7m, 483+gt, 245nt, 448pax, 2 x 1,000hp Daihatsu, 13kts.

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Danica Joy 2 (overnight ferry) IMO 8135253. ROPAX built in 1982 by Nakamura in Yanai, Japan as Orange Hope. 62.7m x 12.0m x 4.5m, 998+gt, 491nt, 636pax, 2 x 2,000hp Daihatsu, 16kts. [She capsized in Zamboanga port Sept. 2016; salvageable.]

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Sea Jet (High Speed Craft) No IMO Number. Fastcraft built in 2003 by Far East in Sibu, Malaysia as Sea Jet. 38.7m x 4.2m x 1.6m, 97gt, 26nt, 2 x 1,600 Mitsubishi, 30kts.

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Kristel Jane 3 (overnight ferry) IMO 8313489. ROPAX built in 1983 by Usuki in Usuki, Japan as Ferry Izena. 57.3m x 11.2m x 3.2, 494+gt, 270 nt, 512pax, 2 x 1,620hp Niigata, 16kts.

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Trisha Kerstin 1 (short-distance ferry) IMO 8608509. ROPAX built in 1986 by Fujiwara in Omishima, Japan as Wakashio. 43.8m x 11.6m x 3.3m, 384+gt, 72+nt, 695pax, 1 x 1,300hp Yanmar, 12.5kts.

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Ciara Joie (basic, short-distance ferry) IMO 7824778. ROPAX built in 1979 by Imamura in Kure, Japan as Kamagiri No. 3. 38.2m x 8.6m x 3.0m, 235gt, 139nt, 203pax, 1 x 900hp Daihatsu, 10.5kts.

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Trisha Kerstin 2 (overnight ferry) IMO 8824373. ROPAX built in 1989 by Fujiwara in Omishima, Japan as Geiyo. 59.5m x 12.3m x 3.0m, 699gt+, 241nt, 2 x 1,500hp Daihatsu, 14.5kts.

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Anika Gayle (Low Speed Craft) No IMO Number. Ferry built in 1992 in Japan as Victoria. 86gt, 332pax, single engine, 11kts.

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Trisha Kerstin 3 (overnight ferry) IMO 9125516. ROPAX built in 1995 by Wakamatsu in Kitakyushu, Japan as Camellia 2. 47.9m x 12.0m x 3.6m, 639+gt, 412nt, 1 x 1,300hp Daihatsu, 14kts.

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Lady Mary Joy 3 (overnight ferry) IMO 9006760. Cruiser built in 1990 by Yamanaka in Namikata, Japan as Daito. 73.0m x 11.0m x 5.3m, 835gt, 568nt, 500pax. 2 x 2,000hp Niigata, 17kts.

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Ciara Joie 2 (basic, short-distance ferry) IMO 8216966. ROPAX built in 1982 by Imamura in Kure, Japan as Kamagiri No. 7. 36.1m x 8.7m x 2.9m, 198gt, 100nt, x 386pax, 1 x 750hp Niigata, 10kts.

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Anika Gayle 2 (Medium Speed Craft) No IMO Number. Ferry built in 1990 in Japan as Yamabiko. 27.1m x 6.0m x 2.2m, 116gt, 79nt, 235pax, twin engines, 17kts.

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Lady Mary Joy 1 (overnight ferry) IMO 9088081. Cruiser built in 1994 by Niigata in Niigata, Japan as Funakawa Maru. 57m x 9.0m x 3.9m, 488gt, 1 x 1,800hp Niigata, 13.5kts.

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Ciara Joie 3 (basic, short-distance ferry) IMO 9118862. ROPAX built in 1995 by Izutsu in Japan as Ferry Yumutsu. 10.0m breadth, 191gt, single engine.

Ciara Joie 5 (basic, short-distance ferry) IMO 8615734. ROPAX built in 1987 by Imamura in Kure, Japan as Kofuji No. 8. 36.3m x 10.5m x 3.0m, 264gt, 131nt, 1 x 1,000hp Niigata, 10kts.

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Stephanie Marie 2 (short-distance ferry) IMO 8602062. ROPAX built in 1986 by Kanda in Kawajiri, Japan as Otagawa. 55.9m x 14.0m x 3.8m, 983gt, 1,073pax, 1,300hp Daihatsu, 14kts.

The cargo fleet of Aleson Shipping:

Nico Bryan (used as container ship) IMO 8951956. Small GP ship built in 1976 by Yoshida in Arida, Japan as Meiji Maru No. 11. 53.6m x 9.3m x 3.5m, 244gt, 132nt, 667dwt, 10kts

Aleson Con Carrier 1 (used as container ship) IMO 8720565. Small GP ship built in 1988 by Masui in Nandan, Japan as Kazuhisa Maru. 51.5m x 10.5m x 5.4m, 248gt, 167nt, 601dwt, 10kts.

Aleson Con Carrier 2 (used as general cargo ship) IMO 8718665. Small GP ship built in 1988 by Onoda in Taiyo, Japan as Hamako Maru. 53.1m x 9.5m x 5.1m, 247gt, 167nt, 662dwt, 10kts.

Aleson Con Carrier 3 IMO 8822193. Small GP ship built in 1989 by Miura in Saiki, Japan as Hakko Maru No. 31. 58.7m x 9.6m x 5.0m, 247gt, 170nt, 650dwt, 10kts.

Aleson Con Carrier 5 (used as container ship) IMO 8905505. Small GP ship built in 1989 by Taiyo in Onoda, Japan as Shin Chitose. 53.3 x 9.5m x 5.1m, 246gt, 166nt, 668dwt, 10kts.

Aleson Con Carrier 6 (used as general cargo ship) IMO 8708921. Small GP ship built in 1987 by Miura in Saiki as Sanko Maru. 58.0m x 9.5m x 5.2m, 246gt, 159nt, 680dwt, 10kts.

Aleson Con Carrier 8 (used as container ship) IMO 8708921. Small GP ship built in 1989 by Yamanaka in Namitaka, Japan as Kiku Maru No. 8. 55.8m x 9.3m x 5.5m, 246gt, 168nt, 661dwt, 10kts.

Aleson Con Carrier 9 (used as container ship) IMO 7903146. Small GP ship built in 1979 by Kanda in Kure, Japan as Ashidagawa. 63.3m x 14.2m, 942gt, 324nt, 349dwt, 15kts.

Aleson Con Carrier 10 (used as container ship) IMO 8630796. Small GP ship built in 1987 in Japan. 50.1m x 10.5m, 287gt, 195nt, 674dwt.

Aleson Con Carrier 11 (used as container ship) IMO 8840030. Small GP ship built in 1989 in Japan. 53.3m, 611gt, 348nt, 619dwt.

Aleson Con Carrier 12 IMO 9001370. GP ship built in 1991 by Banguhjin in S. Korea as Dongjin Yokohama. 94.0m x 3.8m x 6.7m, 2448gt, 1349nt, 3386dwt.

Aleson Con Carrier 14

Aleson Con Carrier 15 (used as general cargo ship) IMO 9153848. GP ship built in 1996 by Imamura in Kure, Japan as Mercury Seven. 83.8m x 14.5m, 2921gt, 3773dwt, 12kts.

A total of 19 ferries and 13 cargo/container ships. They are now one of the biggest regional shipping companies in the Philippines. And yet even among ship spotters she is barely known because so few have ever been in Zamboanga.

Maybe in due time the company will earn her merited recognition.

Katrafar Shipping Lines

Katrina-II of Katrafar Shipping Lines ©Mike Baylon

The Katrafar Shipping Lines, an operator of Moro boats in the Zamboanga-Jolo and Bongao routes, is unique in the sense that it is probably the only Moro boat shipping company that still have regular schedules (aside from the related ship Karmina) after a lot of contemporaries like A. Sakaluran were already gone. As such they are still entitled to docking space and operation in the Zamboanga PPA port while most Moro boats were already relegated to different Baliwasan wharves like Tres Marias, PHIDCO and PMS. Moro boats are the name that Philippine Ship Spotters Society use to denote wooden-hulled ships of distinct Moro design usually found in western Mindanao (and southern Mindanao before) that are related to the Arabian ‘dhow’.

M/V Katrina 5 ©Mike Baylon
Katrafar Shipping Lines is now just composed of three gold-liveried Moro boats, the Katrina II, Katrina III and Katrina V after the first of the series, the Katrina IV caught fire off Tawi-tawi Island on July of 2007. Katrafar boats carry mainly copra in her cavernous hold from Jolo and Bongao and the heat it generates in a closed hold is a fire risk, the reason passenger-copra carriers now install industrial fans aside from water sprays to cool the copra. The Katrina can carry double sacks of copra in the mid-hundreds up to the high hundreds, the reason why unloading extends up to the afternoon after her early morning arrival. Carried also at her bow are cargoes that should be separated like sea products and even animals. From Zamboanga they are loaded with groceries, dry goods, the occasional hardware supplies and drinks. All loading are done ‘mano-a-mano’ by true porters (as distinguished to ‘porters’ who try to welsh cargo from passengers while charging high rates). Here a sack might only pay P5 or so but there is cargo aplenty and it needs a gang of porters to handle her load.
Katrafar uses the quay near the covered bodega of the Zamboanga International Port which is by the main port road. They occupy the same length of berth reserved for the cruiser ferries of Zamboanga. Like the cruisers Moro boats also need side docking for their specific kind of cargo handling (as in unloaded through the side) as they were not designed for stern docking like the ROROs.
Katrina III with her load of copra ©Mike Baylon
Katrina II docked sideways at Zamboanga ©Mike Baylon

Like other Moro boats the Katrinas are not equipped with bunks and instead they use folding tarpaulin cots and if these are arranged side-by-side perpendicular to the length of the ship starting from the sides and going to the center if more passenger berths are needed. Since passenger space and amenities are more restricted they charge less than the Zamboanga steel-hulled ferries and they can afford this since their fuel consumpation is lower. At times they even lead in discounting and the fare can really get low as is P175 for the 93-nautical mile Zamboanga-Jolo route. Now consider that 55-nautical mile or so Cebu-Leyte ferries can already charge P400 for economy bunks. Like the Zamboanga cruiser ferries the Katrafar ships leave at night and they reach Jolo or Zamboanga, their main route in the early morning which is the preferred arrival time of the passengers.

Folding Cots of Katrina III ©Mike Baylon

A relic of the past, it seems Katrafar will still not go away anytime soon. There is always room for budget carriers that offers simple, no-frills passage. And if ever they lose patronage they can still go to the Baliwasan wharves and become cargo-passenger ships which prioritizes cargoes over passengers. The worst and final scenario is they will be used as barter ships and become mainstays of Varadero de Recodo and Varadero de Cawit.