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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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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).

I Was Able to Cover The Inaugural Voyage of the Davao-General Santos City-Bitung (Indonesia) Route of Asian Marine Transport Corporation (AMTC) by Accident

I said by accident because it was not really done based on a plan. As of yesterday I was not even sure on going to Samal because I was wary of the tight security because two Heads of State (President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines and President Joko Widodo of Indonesia) will be in Kudos Port in Panacan, Davao City near the President Duterte office in Davao or what is called as “Panacanang” (the question was how near one can get without some sort of official pass) and I was sure there will be suspension of voyages for some hours. And I thought Aris Refugio, the superb Samal ship spotter will have a better vantage point than me although what he needed might be a superzoom cam.

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Kudos Port by Aris Refugio

What attracted me, however, was the knowledge that there will be plenty of ships around because even yesterday there were already nine ships off Sta. Ana port in what me and Aris call the “South Davao anchorage”. I already noticed the bottling of ships and I was sure it will be more bottled today since three Chinese warships were coming to Davao. I was actually amazed by the coincidence of the inauguration with two Heads of State and the coming of three China warships (were the Chinese ships there for additional security?).

But I decided to go anyway this morning. The Chinese warships were attraction enough and the knowledge of bottled ships was the bonus. I went not for the inauguration because I was not even sure of the schedule or what will happen. I thought the event will be confined to Kudos Port and there was no decent way to approach it when the two Heads of State were there (and it turned out the First Ladies were also there).

I did not go to Sta. Ana Port. In the morning the shots there are lousy because the cam is against the sun. I thought it would be best to cross to Samal because Sasa Port is best covered in the morning as the sun will be behind me. And if there are ships in Pakiputan Strait aside from Sasa Port it will be bonus. Plus if there is some happening in Kudos Port that is visible it will be another bonus.

I got off at Mae Wess Port. The passenger queue was up to the gate. It was hot and humid but since I was there already I waited a little. But somehow I guessed I was in the wrong place and I backed out and went to Km. 11 Port. I thought the queue there is shorter although the boat’s run is further from Sasa Port.

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Start of the inaugural voyage of Super Shuttle RORO 12 with water salute (M. Baylon)

There was also a queue there alright but shorter. After a few minutes I decided to move ahead of the queue to see what was happening in Pakiputan Strait. And I was lucky. The inaugural run of the Super Shuttle RORO 12 of Asian Marine Transport Corporation (AMTC) was just beginning and I have a good vantage point that was not against the sun and was not too far.

There were many tugs accompanying Super Shuttle RORO 12 and they were giving her the “water salute” which means a water spray that is not really aimed at the ship but instead is just a light plume. This ceremony is given by tugs during important departures or arrivals.

I was not sure how far the tugs will accompany Super Shuttle RORO 12. I was not even sure if the RORO Cargo ship will just then go back to port. In the vicinity there were also Coast Guard and Navy ships. It seems they were taking the security of the two Heads of State and other VIPs very seriously.

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The convoy with Super Shuttle RORO 12 (by Mike Baylon)

Then the convoy turned to starboard. The thought that the ship might really sail already crossed my mind. I had to get inside Km. 11 Port because the structure is already threatening to hide the convoy. I asked permission from the Coast Guard and they readily acceded and I had the full use of the wooden port to get good angles. I felt what a lucky day!

As I thought the voyages of the ferries between Davao and Samal were suspended. I thought if I waited in the queue in Mae Wess Port there would be no chance to get aboard its ships and use it as a vantage point. So I silently thanked my lucky stars.

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A motor boat crossed the bow of Super Shuttle RORO 12 (by Mike Baylon)

However, two motor boats from Babak Port crossed the convoy and one just by the bow of Super Shuttle RORO 12. I thought the Coast Guard in Babak Port did a lousy job in making sure that no ships will cross the convoy. By this time some of the tugs were beginning to fall back and there was no longer a water spray.

I noticed the LCTs and double-ended ROROs of Mae Wess were already drifting to Km. 11 Port. They wanted to cross right after the convoy passed. But there were still tugs trailing plus the Coast Guard and Navy ships (well, their base was actually in Sta. Ana Port a few kilometers down south and they probably have to tail Super Shuttle RORO 12).

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A Coast Guard ship tailing Super Shuttle RORO 12 and a tug that has turned back

By the time the ship leveled with Sasa Port, some of the tugs have already stopped or have already gone back. The tug that was accompanying the ship long was the Super Shuttle Tug 1 which also belongs to Asian Marine Transport Corporation. Eventually she also dropped back and so i thought Super Shuttle RORO 12 was really on her way now to her first voyage.

I then decided to take a motor boat to Babak Port to get a longer and a different view of Super Shuttle RORO 12. The crew of MB Ruby gave me a good vantage point when they realized I was covering the event. We also had some tete-a-tete. They were knowledgeable about the inauguration. Funny they were even talking about the snipers providing security to the event.

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Only Super Shuttle Tug 1 still accompanying Super Shuttle RORO 12 (by Mike Baylon)

When I reached Babak Port I had no intention of staying long. I wanted to cross immediately to Kudos Port to do some interviews about what transpired there and I took the DavSam II which has the same owner as Kudos Port. The crew said they were never able to observe the inauguration since it was done under a temporary enclosure and they also can’t get near.

When I landed in Kudos Port I tried to make some interviews with the canteen staff of Kudos Port and with a Coast Guard personnel. Like the crew of DavSam II, they said they also can’t observe the proceedings. And like the crew it seems to them what they noticed first was the water salute. They said the affair started at 9am and security was really tight and they can’t even move from their assigned places. I asked who the VIPs were. They can’t give me an answer.

Then I received a text message from Aris that two Chinese warships have already passed the point opposite Quaco. That point is just a half kilometer from Sasa Port. So finally I knew where Aris was and it seems he was able to cover the Chinese warships more. That was good as we were not duplicating efforts.

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The bigger Chinese warship docking in Sasa port (by Mike Baylon)

So I then hied off back to Km. 11 Port. I knew I will be able to capture the ships there as they are docking and I was not wrong. However, the restaurant ship The Venue of Mae Wess was beginning to spoil the view early. I wanted to go to Mae Wess and ride a ferry to Caliclic but I did not like the queue and I thought Aris will be able to cover it from Caliclic anyway.

No, he ran out of batteries. And we were not able to communicate well because my cellphone battery was very low too. I thought there was still tomorrow to cover the Chinese warships when the passenger volume to Samal is lighter. For sure Aris will be able to cover them docked. So I just went to Sta. Ana Port. The sun is already behind me. There were eight ships off Sta. Ana Port, five of which were not there yesterday.

It was not a bad day. A complete coverage of the inaugural run of the ship to Bitung, Indonesia plus two Chinese warships and an assortment of tugs, enforcement ships plus ferries wallowing for they can’t cross.

Sometimes an unplanned trip turns out better than a planned trip if one’s stars are aligned.

The RORO Cargo Ships of Sulpicio Lines Are All Gone Now

When Sulpicio Lines acquired big (by local standards) RORO Cargo ships in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, I thought they were hoarding some ships that can be later converted in ROPAX (RORO-Passenger) ships in the mold of what Carlos A. Gothong Lines Inc. (CAGLI) did when they were able to come up with the beautiful Our Lady of Sacred Heart and the Our Lady of Medjugorje which were former RORO Cargo ships in Japan (and none would have thought that were their origins) and sister ships. I do not know what truly were their plans but if that was their intention then events soon overtook them when in the new millennium the bottom fell out of passenger liner shipping when budget airlines and the intermodal buses and trucks drew away passengers and cargo from the liners. This was shown when passenger capacities of the newly-fielded liners went down in the new millennium to 2,000 from 3,000 plus before and “carferries” that came had their two cargo decks just retained.

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The Our Lady of Sacred Heart by Britz Salih

The RORO Cargo ships of Sulpicio Lines I am talking about were the ships known as Sulpicio Express Uno, Sulpicio Express Dos and Sulpicio Express Tres. The three, if compared to the sister ships of CAGLI which went to WG&A were a little bigger and a little faster although all were single-engined which is the mark of cargo ships including RORO Cargo ships. If they have been converted into ROPAX ships they would have been as big as SuperFerry 1, SuperFerry 2 and SuperFerry 5 although a little slower.

The first of the three to come here was the Sulpicio Express Uno which arrived in 1997. This ship was the former Hokuto in Japan and she was built by Shin Yamamoto Shipbuilding in Kochi yard, Japan in 1980 with the ID IMO 8005733. Hokuto measured 129.9 meters by 20.0 meters with an original gross register tonnage of 4,176 tons and she had a service speed of 17 knots. This RORO Cargo ship has a bridge at the front and cargo ramps at the quarter-bow and at the quarter-stern, all features that will be very good had she been converted into a ROPAX ship.

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Sulpicio Express Uno by Aris Refugio

The second of the three to come here was the Sulpicio Express Dos which arrived here five years later in 2002. This ship was known as the Hokuo Maru in Japan and she was built by Shin Kurushima Hiroshima Dockyard Company in Akitsu, Japan in 1988 with the ID IMO 8817265. Her external measurements were 136.0 meters by 20.0 meters with a gross tonnage of 4,433 with a service speed too of 17 knots. She too had a bridge at the front with a cargo ramps at the quarter-bow and at the stern. She looks much like the Sulpicio Express Uno in the superstructure. With the same breadth I even wonder if she and Sulpicio Express Uno were actually sister ships. Even the placements of their ramps were the same.

The last of the three RORO Cargo ships of Sulpicio Lines to come was the Sulpicio Express Tres which also came in 2002. This ship was known as the Honshu Maru in Japan and she was built by Imabari Zosen in Imabari yard, Japan in 1989 with the ID IMO 8817071. She measured 128.5 meters by 20.4 meters and her gross tonnage was 4,695 and she had a service speed of 17 knots too. The ship also had a quarter-bow ramp and a stern ramp. Her difference though from the other two RORO Cargo ships of Sulpicio Lines was in having the bridge amidship. A position of the bridge amidship was not really a disqualification if she was intended for conversion into a ROPAX ship as shown by some local examples here like the Butuan Bay 1 of CAGLI although it might look a little ungainly.

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Sulpicio Express Tres by Aris Refugio

The three were almost of the same size and they had the same service speeds coming from single engines that average 10,000 horsepower which is a little bigger than the engines of the CAGLI sister ships. As built, all had two car decks. If converted all could have had one single cargo deck and three passenger decks with probably a passenger capacity of about 1,500. Like the CAGLI sister ships they might have had a service speed here of 16 knots or maybe a little better. They will be little slower than most big liners then but still acceptable and comparable to some of the newer but slower liners like the SuperFerry 3 of Aboitiz Shipping Corporation and the San Paolo of Negros Navigation Company. Well, the service speed here of Our Lady of Sacred Heart and Our Lady of Medjugorje was also 16 knots so that was acceptable.

One intriguing comparison I saw was with the Ozamis Bay 1, also of CAGLI. This former RORO Cargo ship that was converted into a ROPAX ship has external measurements of 130.3 meters by 20.0 meters with an original gross register tonnage of 4,545 tons which are almost the same as the three Sulpicio Expresses. I even wonder if she was a sister ship of Sulpicio Express Uno and Sulpicio Express Dos. However, her bridge was amidship and she was not converted beautifully. Hence, she did not look good and her passenger capacity was small at 601 persons. However, since she had 13,400 horsepower on tap she had a higher design speed at 19.5 knots.

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Ozamis Bay 1 by James Gabriel Verallo

The three Sulpicio Express ships were not converted into ROPAX ships and so they just served as RORO Cargo ships and doing what a container is doing except that she takes in container vans RORO (Roll on, Roll Off) in trailers compared to the LOLO (Lift On, Lift Off) method of the regular container ships. The three were in the container van trade and were never used to take in vehicles that were crossing the islands. But being faster the three really deserved a new series in Sulpicio Lines that is apart from the old Sulpicio Container (Sulcon) series of cargo ships.

In such method of carrying container vans, the three RORO Cargo ships became inefficient compared to the regular container ships. One, using trailers which are called “chassis” in the trade is additional investment and expense (and that also includes the trailer caddies). Second, unlike the regular container ships the RORO Cargo system of stowage takes more space as the container vans can’t be stacked one atop the other with no space in between the container vans. The loading and unloading might have been faster but all types of container ships here don’t really rush from port to port. Moreover, the engine sizes of the RORO Cargo ships are significantly larger than the regular container ships for the same length. They might have been faster but as mentioned before they don’t really rush as having enough cargo really takes time because there are simply too many bottoms. So the speed advantage is just negated.

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Sulpicio Express Dos as Span Asia 15 by Mike Baylon

When they were not converted into ROPAX ships, I was even wondering what was the reason Sulpicio Lines kept them for too long, in my view. Well, of course, Sulpicio Lines has no penchant for selling ships and especially to the breakers for as long as it still has economic value. Their only consolation then was they had the fastest cargo ships hereabouts (before the arrival of the faster RORO Cargo ships of Asian Marine Transport Corporation or AMTC).

Two of the three still passed to the new name of Sulpicio Lines, the Philippine Span Asia Carrier Corporation (PSACC) where the Sulpicio Express Dos became the Span Asia 15 and the Sulpicio Express Tres became the Span Asia 16 in 2013.

The three was a good view when they are in port or near the port. They were bigger than the regular container ships, they were taller and they look different and even their long cargo ramps seem to be an attraction. Maybe a few even had in their minds that the superstructure is near that of a ROPAX ship (and they were not wrong).

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Sulpicio Express Uno not sailing before her sale

When Sulpicio Lines began selling their passenger ships in the aftermath of the sinking of their Princess of the Stars and began buying container ships in their place, I somehow felt that the three RORO Cargo ship will also go somewhere down the line. With the size of the new container ships of Sulpicio Lines, it was obvious they were going for efficiency. They were no longer competing for the biggest or the fastest like before. Some container ships of Oceanic Container Lines were even bigger than theirs.

In October of 2013, the oldest of the three, which had already reports of engine trouble, the Sulpicio Express Uno was beached and broken up in in the ship-breaking capital of the world which is Alang, India. Then, in November of 2015, the Sulpicio Express Dos and Sulpicio Express Tres were broken up in Chittagong, Bangladesh. The two did not even reach 30 years of age and there were not yet reports of engine troubles from them. Sulpicio Lines just wanted to change ships for more efficiency and they had to go, sadly.

Now, the new Philippine Span Asia Carrier Corporation (PSACC), the new name of Sulpicio Lines doesn’t have a RORO Cargo ship anymore. All they operate and all they have now are smaller container ships that are just fit for the container demand on them.

Sad to see the three go.