New Developments in Masbate Port

I had been to Masbate port twice in recent days in this month of July of 2017. The first one was when my ship Super Shuttle RORO 3 of Asian Marine Transport Corporation (AMTC) was on the way to Batangas and dropped anchor in Masbate first. The second was when I took the route via Pilar and Masbate ports on the way back to Cebu. Those two visits afforded me a chance to compare and weigh developments in Masbate port since last January of 2017 when I was also able to visit the port.

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Masbate port

The first notable thing is all works in expanding Masbate port has already been completed. The lineal distance of the port is a little longer now. On the other hand, talking of infrastructure, the Masbate port terminal building deteriorated in the same span of time as it is no longer air-conditioned and yet the dear terminal fee which is more expensive than the much better Cebu and Batangas ports remained the same when Masbate port does not even have shuttle buses and does not really have the capacity to take in all the passengers of the buses. And so it copied the Batangas port model which means bus passengers have to go down when the bus enters the port in order for them to pay the terminal fee and then board the bus again or walk to the ferry. The former is the preferred mode now.

Another new thing is Masbate port has an X-ray machine now for the baggage but it is not operational yet. Another useless piece of equipment just to justify the terminal fee and to have another reason for “cattle-herding” the passengers. It seems what is good enough for the buses is not good enough for PPA (Philippine Ports Authority), security-wise, because buses don’t bother checking the baggage of the passengers because they know the chance of them being victims of terrorist attacks is next to nil, at least in Bicol. And I think if one asks the ferries they will say they are not bothered if there is no X-ray machine. The buses and the ferries do not have the ISPS thinking that all passengers are possible terrorists. Actually that is simply ridiculous and is just the product of “praning” minds.

One more notable thing is that the passenger motor bancas are now practically gone from Masbate port and they have already transferred to the municipal port of Masbate near the public market and the bus/van terminal because of the high passenger terminal fee being charged by the port when passengers have no actual need for the terminal as they go direct to their vessels. Actually, last January I saw a terminal building (it was named as a community fish landing center) being built in Masbate municipal port and I saw that it is already finished when I went to the bus and van terminal.

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The problem now in Masbate municipal port is congestion, I was told, especially in the rush hours of the morning and the early afternoon. The boat landing areas there are actually the facility being used by the so-many small passenger motor bancas and motor launches headed to the different barrios across Masbate Bay. Add to that that that is also the docking area of the passenger motor bancas to barrios just outside Masbate Bay and up to Baleno town. Now the bigger motor bancas to Ticao island, Pilar port and Burias island are also lumped there now. That also includes a few cargo motor boats that were once passenger motor boats.

Actually, some small motor launch operators also built docking areas just beyond the northern end of Masbate port. I was told these transfers were the reaction to the terminal fee that costs P30. A terminal fee of that amount for a P10 boat fare? So right now just a very few motor bancas use Masbate port. One effect is congestion of the port was gone in one stroke. So I wonder now if there was any need to lengthen the port after all. Maybe they could have just donated the construction materials to the boat landing areas at the end of the port. The surface there is still dried muck which is obviously undulating and slippery. Well, if the funds were really meant to benefit the public.

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A makeshift boat landing area adjacent Masbate port

Regarding steel-hulled ferries, the competition in Masbate port is heating up and truck volume was obviously bigger than last January. Not in the buses though as July is already part of the lean months. Sta. Clara Shipping Corporation fielded their Cargo RORO LCT there, the LCT Aldain Dowey which was identified in PSSS (Philippine Ship Spotters Society) as the former LCT Ongpin. So now they have a total of three ferries in Masbate and I was told in summer Sta. Clara Shipping even fielded a fourth ferry. Their LCT is of the same length as their Jack Daniel and Anthon Raphael, their two ROPAXes there which are the best in the fleets of Sta. Clara Shipping Corporation and sister company Penafrancia Shipping Corporation (this is before the fielding of the former Tamataka Maru ships from Japan).

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Their LCT is the first to leave at noon and in the afternoon they are the only ferry departures from Masbate at 2pm and 4pm. Their three ferries are the biggest in Masbate because what their competitors have are only basic, short-distance ferry-ROROs because they use the shallow Pilar port whose depth cannot handle bigger ferries. By the way in terms of rolling cargo traffic the Pio Duran route now of Sta. Clara Shipping and Penafrancia Shipping is the favorite now since Pio Duran in Albay is nearer to Manila than Pilar of Sorsogon while the rolling cargo rate is just about the same.

With the exception of the ROROBus which is related to Montenegro Shipping Lines Inc. practically all the other buses to Masbate are handled by Sta. Clara Shipping Corp. and Penafrancia Shipping Corp. as the third operator Denica Lines, a Pilar native does not load buses. Loading buses from Luzon meant extending discounts, rebates, free tickets and free meals and Denica Lines does not play that game because they say they have their share of rolling cargo too. And I saw that when we left left Pilar port aboard their Marina Empress at 3am and the car deck was full. From Masbate port their three ROROs Odyssey, Regina Calixta-II and Marina Empress all left full. Denica Lines has already bought the Regina CalixtaII of Regina Shipping Lines (RSL) of Catanduanes and so they have three ROROs also now while Montenegro Shipping Lines Inc. (MSLI) is down to two ROROs from three. Maybe because it is lean months now and maybe they have one undergoing refitting in a shipyard.

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If we assume that Montenegro Lines has a third RORO in Masbate then a total of 8 ROROs make a daily crossing now to Luzon plus there is a Cargo RORO LCT for a total capacity of about 100 truck/bus units (of course, since there are smaller vehicles mixed in, the actual total is higher). Many of these come from as far as Cebu island. Buses will be at least a fourth of that total. One will wonder why there is such a large number of people on the move when within Masbate island there are not that many number of buses although there is a significant number of commuter vans.

Montenegro Lines have three fastcrafts and a catamaran in Masbate including their newest and fastest, the City of Angeles which is a catamaran. They also have there one of their biggest fastcrafts, the City of Masbate. Their future rival, the two fastcrafts of Denica Lines are still not ready and are still being refitted in Pilar port. Meanwhile, I wonder if the Masbate-Pilar motor bancas are already in terminal decline. There are just so many ROROs and High Speed Crafts. Although the motor bancas are faster than the basic, short-distance ferry-ROROs, they are noisier. They might be noisy, however, but still they are better than the “Stairs Class” of Montenegro Lines.

But in trucks and buses Sta. Clara and Penafrancia are already beating Montenegro Lines by about 3:1. Denica Lines could also be level now with Montenegro Lines in trucks and buses. By the way, sedans, SUVs, AUVs are not that many in the Masbate crossing to Pilar and Pio Duran and jeeps are practically unknown.

However, there is a rumor in Masbate port that a new player will come and serve the Masbate-Pio Duran route and it seems it is not Medallion Transport which was gone from the route after their Lady of Carmel sank in 2013 off Burias island. It remains to be seen if this rumor will come true.

The Super Shuttle RORO 3 of AMTC is also back in Masbate port and it connects to Batangas and Cebu plus Cagayan de Oro but their schedule is irregular as in there are no definite day for arrivals and departures as it is more of a container carrier now. There are also still a few motor bancas to Bulan when where before that was the dominant route to Bicol from Masbate.

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There are also off-hours docking now in Masbate port as Denica Lines has an early evening departure from Pilar. To the credit of Masbate port they let the passengers stay in the port terminal as the arrival of that is midnight and there is still no transportation to the towns outside Masbate City (and that gave me an idea). And Sta. Clara Shipping sends back its ship from Pio Duran if there are a lot of shut-outs (vehicles left unloaded in port) and that becomes another off-hours docking. That was the reason why they fielded their LCT because shut-out were already happening frequently (I saw that last January when one Mega Bus cannot be accommodated and they asked passengers of that to get down the ship and it was an event not good to look at — I pitied the passengers).

Masbate port is changing. Traffic is obviously up and I think the port will only get more important in the future when more traffic will shift to it from San Bernardino Strait if the rates become lower. Maybe then competition will further heat up and we will see the full blooming of Masbate port.

But they have to get that passenger terminal fee down. It is much higher than Zamboanga port when that port is better than Masbate port and the passenger terminal is not really needed by most of the ship passengers. A sore point really and that must change.

Philippine Ferries That Are Celebrating Their Golden Anniversaries In 2017

There are a few ferries in the Philippines which will be having their golden anniversaries this year because they have already reached 50 years of existence and sailing. That means these were built exactly in the year 1967 and all of these ferries are testaments to their design and engineering. It is also a testament to the Philippine side from the owners to the engineers for their loyalty and belief in their ships.

Not all of these ships are in the pink of health now, of course. In humans they might be the equivalent of our centenarians. But unlike our centenarians these are not exactly laid-up vessels and if not sailing they are being held in reserve. Some of these have hiccups at times but those episodes are not something that cannot be repaired. And unlike planes where there is always an emergency when an engine conks out, in ships even though it loses main engine power they simply become the equivalent of unpowered barges and barges sail day in and day out in all waters of the world.

Here then are our “golden” ferries this year:

Maybe we should start with the Maria Gloria of Montenegro Shipping Lines Inc. (MSLI). This is a notable ship because she was the first steel-hulled ferry of Montenegro Lines. She came to our country in 1994 when she was already 27 years old and she has been a good ship from the time she arrived and is still a very reliable ship until now. It looks like Montenegro Lines is taking care of her very well.

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Maria Gloria by Raymond Lapus

The Maria Gloria is a short-distance ferry-RORO and for a long time served the Mindoro routes although at times she can also be found in the route to Siquijor. She was built as the Tenyo Maru for the Shimabara Tetsudo by Kanda Shipbuilding in Kure, Japan. She measures 42.9 meters by 11.0 meters and she has a passenger capacity of 413 persons. She is powered by twin Daihatsu engines with a total of 1,400 horsepower which is still good enough for some 10 knots today.

Another 50-year old ship in the fleet of Montenegro Lines is the ferry Maria Isabel which holds for the company their Iloilo-Cuyo-Puerto Princesa route across the wide Sulu Sea. Now if she is not a reliable ship Montenegro Lines won’t assign her to that route especially since swells can be powerful in her route when the monsoons are acting up.

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Maria Isabel by Carl Jakosalem

The Maria Isabel was originally the Shirakawa Maru in Japan and she was built by Taguma Zosen in Innoshima, Japan. Her external dimensions are 49.0 meters by 13.2 meters and she has a passenger capacity of 427 persons. A two-deck overnight ferry, her Gross Tonnage is rather high for her Length at 836 (this figure has no unit). She is powered by twin Hanshin engines of 1,700 horsepower and her design speed is high at 14.5 knots and maybe this was the reason she was assigned the long Sulu Sea route.

The Maria Isabel arrived in the country in 1997 when she was already 30 years old. Now who said imported surplus ferries should be no more than 20 years old? I say it depends on the condition of the ship. Maria Isabel has two sister ships in the Philippines and both are in the fleet also of Montenegro Lines. These are the Maria Erlinda and Maria Rebecca.

Another “golden” ship in the Philippines is one that has a complicated history and is a survivor. She first arrived in the country in 1982 as the first RORO ferry of Viva Shipping Lines which were formerly operators of motor boats like Montenegro Lines. The ship was 15 years old then, a relatively young age and she was named as the Viva Santo Nino.

The Viva Santo Nino was formerly the Bisan Maru of Sanyo Kisen of Japan. She was built by Kanda Shipbuilding in Kure, Japan and she measures 50.0 meters by 11.8 meters. Originally 665 GRT in Japan but here her GT was deflated. I am not sure of her original engines but later it were two Yanmar engines totaling 1,800 horsepower which was good for 13 knots.

The Viva Santo Nino sailed well for Viva Shipping Lines whose ships were rusty and lacked cleanliness but they don’t sink or conk out because tale says the Captain is under the pain of death if his ship sinks. But when the company stopped operations because of the tightness of competition in the Verde Island Passage and of some family troubles this ship was one of those which was laid up.

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Streamer of Joy-Ruby by Masahiro Homma

In 2003, the ship was sold to Silverio Atienza who was an operator of motor boats called batel in the area. With some modifications and repair, she became the Joy-Ruby, the first steel-hulled ferry of Silverio Atienza which later evolved into the Atienza Shipping Lines. However, once on a voyage to Puerto Princesa she developed a hull in the stern when she was already nearing the port. She continued sailing until she ended up sitting on her stern near the quay with her bow pointing to the sky.

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The Joy-Ruby was subsequently salvaged and sold to Asian Marine Transport Corporation (AMTC) in 2008 where she became the Super Shuttle Ferry 15. For many years she plied the various routes of the company in the Visayas and mainly Ormoc but at times she also experienced some minor problems. This might not really be due to age but to the weakness of her company in maintaining ships. However, her Captain admitted that her engines were not that robust anymore but this is something that could be remedied by re-engining.

Another ship that was also built in 1967 was the Island Express II of Island Shipping Corporation. This ship is a short-distance ferry-cruiser that runs the Bantayan island route although not recently when Island Shipping was already able to build enough passenger-cargo LCTs and the cruisers of the company were already on the way out as cruisers can no longer compete against ROROs except in Zamboanga.

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Island Express II by Masahiro Homma

The Island Express II was built as the Yuzuru by the Sanriku Shipbuilding & Iron Works in Shiogama, Japan. The ship’s external dimensions are 28.5 meters by 7.0 meters and she is equipped by a single Daihatsu engine of 300 horsepower which means she is a slow craft. This ship came to the Philippines in 1994 when she was already 27 years old. The Island Express II has a passenger capacity of 354 persons all in benches.

Another cruiser ship that was built in 1967 but is an overnight ferry is the Gloria Two of Gabisan Shipping which has fishing vessel origin and was just converted in Leyte. This ferry measures 46.3 meters by 7.7 meters and is now equipped by a single Isuzu Marine engine of 960 horsepower which gives her a cruising speed of 11.5 knots.

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The Gloria Two is a very reliable ship although she suffers now in competition versus RORO ships. She has a passenger capacity of 386 and she has no other route except the route to Hilongos, Leyte. This ferry is declared to have a Gross Tonnage of 246 with a passenger capacity of 386 person in bunks.

There is another highly-recognizable ship that is well-known in Cebu which is the Lapu-lapu Ferry 1 of Lapu-lapu Shipping. This ship was built by Okayama Shipyard in Hinase, Japan in 1967 and she came to Sweet Lines of the Philippines in 1978. In Sweet Lines she was known as the second Sweet Time doing the Cebu-Tagbilaran-Cagayan de Oro and Cebu-Tagbilaran-Larena-Plaridel routes. Her IMO Number is 7315753.

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Sweet Time by Edison Sy

When Sweet Lines collapsed in 1994, she was laid up for a while until she became the Carmelita. Then she came to Lapu-lapu Shipping which renovated her extensively in 2002 in Villono shipyard until she no longer looked like the old Sweet Time, the reason why people can’t connect her to her origin. But IMO Numbers don’t lie and she was traced.

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Lapu-lapu Ferry 1 by Mike Baylon

As Lapu-lapu Ferry 1 her dimensions are 52.2 meters by 8.0 meters by 4.1 meters and she is an overnight ferry-cruiser. Her passenger capacity is 509 and her primary route is Cebu to Cataingan, Masbate. She still has her original Hanshin engine with 1,100 horsepower which is now just good for 8 to 9 knots. To keep up with competition, the ship has an air-conditioned Tourist section.

Another ship built in 1967 is an LCT of E.B. Aznar Shipping of
Danao, the LCT Melrivic 1 which at one time was rumored to be gone but actually was  just hiding in Republic Drydock in Danao City and being re-engined prior to re-fielding. A PSSS (Philippine Ship Spotters Society) tour group found her being refitted in that shipyard. This passenger-cargo LCT is a local-build in Manila.

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LCT Melrivic 1 by John Carlos Cabanillas

This vessel’s measurements are 37.4 meters by 8.0 meters which means she is a small LCT and her Gross Tonnage is 321. Originally powered by a single Yanmar Marine engine of 430 horsepower, she is now powered by a Weichai engine of 460 horsepower and her speed increased from 9.5 knots to 11 knots while being more fuel-efficient.

The next ship which is 50 years old now is a respected ship in Bicol but she was not originally a Bicol ferry. In Japan she was known as the Nangokutosa Maru of the Utaka Kokudo Ferry and she was built by Hashihama Zosen in Imabari, Japan. The ship measures 64.0 meters by 11.3 meters with an original Gross Register Tonnage of 904 tons and equipped with twin Daihatsu engines with a total of 2,200 horsepower.

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Princess of Mayon (parsed from a PPA photo)

In 1990, this ship came to United Towage & Salvage of the Philippines when she was already 23 years old. In this company she was known as Horizon but United Towage & Salvage was actually not into passenger shipping. The ship underwent modifications and she was sold to Bicolandia Shipping Lines where she became known as the Princess of Mayon. For a very long time as in two decades, she was the biggest ferry in Bicol and she was always in the strongest route there, the Matnog to Samar route.

When Bicolandia Shipping Lines was sold lock, stock and barrel to Penafrancia Shipping Lines in 2006, the Princess of Mayon became part of the deal and in the new company she was known as the Don Benito Ambrosio II. She had periods of unreliability soon after. The company’s solution was to build one reliable Daihatsu engine from her two Daihatsu engines and a Yanmar engine was mounted as the second engine.

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Now Don Benito Ambrosio II is running well again and she is still in the same route again. The PSSS (Philippine Ship Spotters Society) touring group was able to ride her free last December, “Bridge Class” and know what? Her bridge is air-conditioned! Now, tell me, how many short-distance ferries locally can claim that kind of accoutrement?

The last two vessels that were built in 1967 are both local-builds. Both are small because they were ferries of their companies when they was still young. These two are obsolete now being slow, small cruisers and most of the time they no longer sail. The two are the Ever Transport of Ever Lines and the Magnolia of Magnolia Shipping Corporation, both of Zamboanga City.

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The Ever Transport was built in Cebu and just measures 19.2 meters by 5.1 meters with a Gross Tonnage of just 68 and a passenger capacity of just 87 persons. Her engine is an Isuzu diesel of just 135 horsepower but she can reach 7.5 knots when she was still new. I thought then she was already gone and then I saw her being refitted in Varadero de Cawit in Zamboanga City and they said she will sail again.

Meanwhile, the Magnolia was built by Rato Brothers in Pagadian, Zamboanga del Sur. Her external dimensions are 26.6 meters by 5.4 meters with a Gross Tonnage of 81 and a passenger capacity of 122 persons. The upper half of her hull is wood and the lower half is steel. The Magnolia is powered by a single Caterpillar engine of 120 horsepower. The last time I saw her was she was laid up in Varadero de Recodo in Zamboanga City.

Both the Ever Transport and Magnolia are clearly obsolete now. In passenger capacity they are not even higher than the big passenger-cargo motor bancas which have the same horsepower as them or even more. However, the two can carry more cargo especially since they have high prows and freeboards so they can deal with the sometimes big swells of the seas near Zamboanga.

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Magnolia by Mike Baylon

So that’s it, folks. A total of eight ferries that will be celebrating their 50 years now. Some are already obsolete especially the cruisers because as they say times and modalities change but they are still alive. Do I hear the tune of the BeeGees, “Stayin’ Alive”?

Not all the ferries mentioned have IMO Numbers and some were not traced initially but the cooperation with Angelo Blasutta of the former Grosstonnage.com bore fruit and so the Don Benito Ambrosio II and Lapu-lapu Ferry 1’s origins were traced and both were actually clear surprises.

I always joke that ferries 50 years old should give a discount of 50%, a celebration for being still alive. Oh, it can be not the whole year. Maybe on the month that they were built, at least. And the crew might even be surprised because I found out over the years that many crewmen cannot trace the history of their vessels because they were not trained to look for the IMO Number.

On a future article I will deal with our our ferries built in 1967 that are no longer around and what has happened to them so the people including the haters of old ships will be more educated.

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.

If Only Cokaliong Shipping Lines Would Use the Filipinas Nasipit in the Cebu-Batangas Route

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For me, the Filipinas Nasipit which was the former Taiko is striking in two ways. One is its sleek design that is beautiful to behold. She looks modern and fast, which she is. And that brings us to the second striking characteristic of Filipinas Nasipit – her design speed is high at 21.5 knots which is liner range in the Philippines. The only overnight ferry that is close to her in design speed is the Trans-Asia 3 at 20 knots. And we know Trans-Asia 3 is still capable of 18 knots if only the fuel cost is not a consideration. Nowadays, with capitulation of Cebu Ferries there was no need for overnight races anymore.

At a design speed of 21.5 knots and at her age, I believe Filipinas Nasipit is still capable of over 18 knots even though some metal were added to her in refitting here (it was not really much). My guess is at full trot she can still run at 19-20 knots which is easily in the range of the best liners of 2GO at present. So, she is liner in speed capability.

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Photo by John Carlos Cabanillas

In the past, the Aboitiz Shipping Corporation liners SuperFerry 2 and SuperFerry 5 sail the 394-nautical mile Cebu-Manila route in 22 hours by sailing at the 17.5-18 knots range (those two sister ships had a design speed of 19 knots which is the maximum sustained speed when new). I want to use it as comparison since they go under the Mactan bridges. I assume Filipinas Nasipit is also capable of sailing under the two Mactan bridges and need not go round Mactan island which adds to transit time and fuel cost.

Batangas is 6 hours away from Manila. So, if Filipinas Nasipit is used in the Cebu-Batangas route and assuming she sails at 18 knots then she will be in Batangas in 16 hours. It could even be less if she turns on the speed like liners do. I want to stress this because at 15-16 hours sailing time then she will then be ready to sail the next night. Therefore, theoretically, a three times a week Cebu-Batangas sailing is possible. If the extra day in a week is used in a short route like Dumaguete then actually she would also act as a Batangas-Cebu-Dumaguete ferry once a week. Neat?

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Photo from James Gabriel Verallo

I believe the Cebu-Batangas route has enough potential in passengers and cargo. If 2GO still finds their Cebu-Manila route profitable now, there is a percentage of those passengers that will be amenable to a Batangas drop-off or disembarkation like the passengers going to CALABARZON except Rizal. There is also the potential enticements of lower fares, shorter sailing hours and without the hassle of going to or going out of North Harbor (because access to that national port is horrible with all the road congestion and traffic of Manila plus the crime and grime). Cokaliong Shipping Lines can also have a tie-up with a bus company going to Manila for the convenience of the passengers and its luggages.

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Photo from James Gabriel Verallo

The Asian Marine Transport Corporation (AMTC) was not successful in the Cebu-Batangas route in the passenger category because the sailing time was long since it passes through Masbate and their ship Super Shuttle RORO 3 was not fast since its speed was in the overnight ferry range and not in the liner range. The fare was cheap but the food is not free and there is not even a Tourist Class (there was a space for it but it was never opened). The ship also lacks amenities and the NVH (Noise, Vibration, Harshness) at the stern where the Economy was located was not good. It was also hot since air flow even during sailing is restricted. I don’t think Super Shuttle RORO 3 ever made a dent on the passengers of Aboitiz Transport System and 2GO especially since she only sailed once a week.

Filipinas Nasipit State-of-the-Art Bridge

Photo by Mark Ocul

But in speed the Filipinas Nasipit is a match to the 2GO liners. The frequency always matters too. Waiting for two days is not long unlike waiting for a week like in the AMTC ship. The Filipinas Nasipit might be small but she has enough capacity and the route is much just like an extended overnight route. And besides the Filipinas Nasipit is well-designed unlike Super Shuttle RORO 3 and it is already modern. Cokaliong Shipping Lines Incorporated was lucky to acquire her since it can be used in a route like that.

In terms of cargo, I think the Cebu-Batangas route has potential from the trucks going to Manila and CALABARZON and new cars destined for Cebu (and also the trucks going back). Batangas is a drop-off port of many imported new cars and also cars that comes from assembly plants in Laguna. I heard the cargo capacity of Filipinas Nasipit is small but if she is viable in an overnight route to Mindanao then if her load in the Batangas-Cebu route is good then she will also be profitable, why not?

Cafeteria

Photo by Mark Ocul

A departure of 6pm means the ship is not obliged to serve dinner to the passengers, according to traditional rules. The arrival then will be 9 or 10am and if breakfast is required then it will not be hard for the ship since breakfast is easier to prepare as it can just be continental breakfast (prito-prito lang plus coffee). However, some adjustments might be needed in the ship since overnight ships does not really have big restaurants. A shortcut that can be applied is breakfast that is served in styropor boxes.

Tables at the Sundeck

Can be used for serving breakfast on-the-go; photo by Mark Ocul

I have long thought that a Cebu-Batangas ship, as long as it is fast and it is fit in terms of accommodations will be viable in the long run when it is well-advertised as an alternative to Manila, its schedule is reliable, its accommodations are topnotch and it has a decent service. In cleanliness, Cokaliong Shipping Lines Inc. no longer need to adjust since their ships are even cleaner than the liners. The Filipinas Nasipit will fit the bill here.

A 15- or 16-hour sailing is not really that taxing to the crew. An 8-hour lay-over is enough for the rest of the crew and for cargo loading and unloading. That is also long enough for loading supplies and cleaning and preparing the ship for the return voyage. As for the company, the ship will have greater usage and profit because that is just like doing a Cebu-northern Mindanao route twice a day (in terms of sailing time as in fast sailing time).

Camagong Business Class

Photo by Mark Ocul

Filipinas Nasipit has a passenger capacity of 685 and I think that is already enough especially at the start. If some of the accommodations are the equivalent of jetseaters of before then it will not matter as liners also offered jetseaters in the past. And actually it offers good savings if priced right.

I just hope Cokaliong Shipping Lines thinks about a Cebu-Batangas route and gives it a try. They will have no competition in the route in passengers, the route has great potential, they have the right ship for a start and they already have the passenger service and cleanliness plus the attitude needed to compete in a route to Luzon (actually they are well above the overnight ships from Batangas).

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I hope to see a service from them soon. I will ride, why not?

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Can Grief And Distress Be Read?

At the turn of the millennium, my parents were already getting old and with it came the inevitable sicknesses. I began visiting Bicol through the intermodal route from Davao. The reasons were varied. One, I found out that it cost only half compared to a trip via Manila. Second, I don’t have mall eyes and it is the countryside view that I enjoy. I even hate more the always-present clouds in a plane trip. Third, I don’t enjoy battling the hassles of Manila. Fourth, I want to learn new places and I am also a fan of buses. Lastly but not least, I am a ship spotter and I wanted to learn more about the ferries of the eastern seaboard.

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San Bernardino Strait from BALWHARTECO

The trips were exacting but I was younger and more eager then. I was not daunted that I don’t know the route well. By that time, I have began to give up on the Philtranco direct bus that I didn’t like. Honestly, as a Bicolano I was not a fan of the bus company as it has failed and abused Bicol for so long. Second, I do not want the long lost hours in the hot ports waiting for the ferries of Archipelago Philippine Ferries, their sister company when one is already tired (Philtranco is tied to the ferries of Archipelago). Sometimes, the bus waits for up to 5 hours for them. Third, in peak season it can be a battle for seats in Naga and then one had to wait for hours for the bus.

Since I was a lifelong traveler, I decided to experiment by using Manila buses to and from Leyte plus the Surigao ride I already knew. At times I ride some local buses, commuter vans and jeeps like those in Bicol, Samar and Leyte. What a fun it is to ride the ugly-looking Samar Bus Lines buses in the bumpy roads of Samar! Or the kamikaze buses to Sogod that freewheel the descents from Agas-agas. And riding the faster Tacloban van to Allen to catch the last St. Christopher bus in Allen, a rotten bus most of the time but they were the ones that specialized then on the “stragglers”, the passengers left by the last Manila bus from Tacloban.

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Those early trips that rely on connections were trials and errors. Early, I didn’t know the windows of the trips in each places (what hour is the first trip and what hour is the last trip). That was when I am forced to stay overnight in dark bus terminals like in Tacloban or even the plaza in Maasin or even wait alone in a waiting shed near midnight in Sogod junction with only mosquitoes for companions. Sometimes, having eateries open at night in a junction was already heaven like in Buray. If I know the schedules well now and the window hours of the trips is because I have learned from the mistakes of my trials and errors in the past.

In the process of all these, I grasped how lousy and how few were the ferry connections then across Surigao Strait. And I learned that in one mistake or one unfavorable bus or jeep connection might mean an 11-hour wait in Liloan port (once what made us miss the ship was a near-fistfight between our driver and another driver!). Or suffer long waits in Lipata port because the ferry was not running. And after all the hours of waiting then not being able to get a seat because the ferry was over its capacity. Lucky then if one will have an air vent for a seat as the stairs were just too dirty. Sometimes I vowed I will bring a carton or a newspaper so I can sit on the deck at the top of the ship.

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Lipata port

It was much better in San Bernardino Strait as there were more ferries there and not once I encounter a ferry that there that was overloaded. Even if it was, it will not be a problem since usually I don’t sit in a Matnog-Allen ferry at day. I just roam around the ship and see the outside view if there is light since the ferry there normally took only 1 hour and 10 minutes to cross. Just milling around is difficult in the Liloan-Lipata route because the ferries there took at least three-and-a-half hours to cross.

The trip going north for me was much better and less tiring because I know when the bus will be leaving the terminal and so I don’t waste time and effort needlessly. In Naga, it was much difficult since one can’t predict the exact arrival of the bus from Manila (and sometime they were delayed if it is rainy or there was some kind of road obstruction or traffic). When it rains it was much more difficult especially since flagging a Manila bus to Visayas was very hard since one can’t immediately read the signboard (it is not lighted). Moreover, Visayas buses were hesitant to stop for one or two solitary passengers which they think might just be destined a few towns away (and this has consequences).

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Well, Visayas buses are not so kind to passengers in Bicol because Bicol bus operators tell them not to take passengers bound for Bicol (when they legally can and anyway Bicol buses ply routes to the Visayas) and if they do they are stoned. There were stretches in Bicol where the driver/conductor will tell the passengers to deploy the shades (these are curtains actually) to avert injury should a stone hit the bus. That is the reason why riding a Visayan bus I don’t speak Bicol nor do I introduce myself as a Bicolano (I say I am a Tagalog which is also true and I will speak Tagalog with the accent of my parents).

One of the trips I remember well was a southbound trip where I started it too tired and very much lacking in sleep plus I was out of sorts. My brother gave me extra money for a plane trip but on the last minute I decided against it and I took the bus from Naga. My trip started at night as usual (because there are no buses from Manila passing Naga to the Visayas during the day). I can’t remember my bus now but we reached Matnog uneventfully sometime midnight and we reached Tacloban about midmorning.

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Matnog port

Usually, if I had a direct Naga-Tacloban bus I will get off in Tacloban and look for a connecting ride to Liloan. I usually do that since it is very hard to time a Liloan or Davao bus from Manila in Naga. I know that in Tacloban there will always be vans for Liloan but these were not many then. So, if there is a Sogod bus leaving immediately I might take a chance on it since van waiting times to fill can take two hours or more then. Or else take the more frequent Hinundayan van and get off at Himayangan junction and take a habal-habal to Liloan.

I reached Liloan in time for the new-fielded Super Shuttle Ferry 10 of Asian Marine Transport Corporation (AMTC) which was then the best ship in the Liloan-Lipata route. Before boarding and in the bus trip maybe I was not looking too much at myself and I was just preoccupied in gazing the views and in trying to find sleep and peace.

2008 Super Shuttle Ferry 10 @ Lipata 1

Photo by: Gorio Belen

The crew of Super Shuttle Ferry 10 was welcoming unlike the crews of their competitors which nary had time for passengers and treats them like cattle. If one needs anything from them one still has to look for a crewman. Maybe since they are too used to then with overcrowded ferries they would just rather disappear and also to avoid complaints about the congestion and the dirtiness (one can’t see anyone of them take the mop to clean the muddy deck when it is rainy). Or to try to find a seat for passengers unable to find one. Or assist the elderly and pregnant.

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I was looking for a seat among the lounge seats of Super Shuttle Ferry 10 in the Tourist section where I can have the chance of a semi-lying position to sleep when a crewman approached me. “Sir, would you like to take a bath?” I was dumbfounded and astounded. Never in my hundreds of trips aboard ferries have I ever heard such a question. He offered a lounge seat and placed my knapsack there and said to the passengers around, “Let Sir have this seat so he can lie and sleep.” I was doubly astounded. And he nodded to the crewman in charge of checking the Tourist tickets at the door as if to say “reserve this seat for him, don’t let others take it”. And that angel of a crewman led me to a bath in the middle of the Tourist section and guarded it so there will be no intrusion. The bathroom was clean and so was the water. It was one of the most refreshing baths I ever had.

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Bath is in the middle of that structure in the middle of the passenger deck

The crewman led me back to the seat after my bath (I was actually a little numb and so I welcomed the assistance) and said to the effect that “please no one disturb him”. In an instant I was deeply asleep and only a gentle nudge woke me as we were docking in Lipata. I softly thanked the two crewmen and it was thanks from the bottom of my heart. Soon I was looking for a connecting bus to Davao.

Can grief and distress be read in a person? Maybe I was not aware of this before because growing up in a region where we have no relatives, we don’t attend burials. Actually, once when my wife was confined in a hospital I was froze when an employee burst into tears wailing, “Wala na si Sir”. I grew up not witnessing such things or taking care of patients in hospitals when they were already terminally sick.

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The TB of SSF10 on the right

Until now I can only thank from the bottom of my heart that crewman of Super Shuttle Ferry 10 who assisted me and showed me all kindness and assistance I needed then. The trip I was making then happened after the death of my mother.

Was he really able read me? Was there some angel whispering in his ears? Did a senior officer noticed me and gave instructions? I don’t know, I don’t have the answers.

Super Shuttle Ferry 10 was soon replaced in the Liloan-Lipata route and I never rode her again. But in one ship spotting session of PSSS (Philippine Ship Spotters Society), we were able to board her in Mandaue Pier 8, the AMTC wharf. Yes, the lounge seat where I lain was still there. The only change was it was already re-upholstered.

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I had goose bumps looking at that seat and at the same time my heart was pounding. I tried to look at the faces of the crew. My angel was no longer there. But whatever, this article is my way of saying thanks to you again. From my heart, I wish you reach far in your career.

It Seems They Are Beginning To Fear The Cargo RORO LCTs Now

Once upon a time, in the early days of connecting islands, LCTs had a place as exemplified by Millennium Shipping in the 1970’s and the LCTs connecting Mactan island and the islands of Samar and Leyte. But as it moved into the 1980’s and the 1990’s, it was the short-distance ferry-ROROs that began connecting the islands like in San Bernardino Strait, in Surigao Strait, in Verde Island Passage, in Guimaras Strait, in Tanon Strait, in Bohol Strait, across Camotes Sea, in Basilan Strait and in Panguil Bay. LCTs began losing favor then and some of the reason might be psychological. There was a belief then that LCTs were “less safe”.

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It was actually only Maayo Shipping and Tri-Star Megalink which bucked the trend in those decades before the change of the millennium by still using LCTs as passenger-cargo carriers. To some extent, Asian Marine Transport Corporation (AMTC) can also be counted here before the start of the new millennium. Among the the most notable operator of passenger-cargo LCTS in this millennium are Lite Ferries and Starhorse Shipping Lines. Of course, LCTs also connected Samal island, Guimaras and Olutanga islands but I would rather exclude it here as they were very short connections like the connection across Sula Channel of Albay to Cagraray island.

LCTs as means of transport are slow and slower than short-distance ferry-ROROs. Their passenger accommodations are also very basic and small and can be uncomfortable. They were never really meant to be people carrier unless one is talking of the hybrid Korean LCTs (like the Ma. Angelica Grace, Reina Banderada, Reina Justisya and Star San Carlos among others) which have more comfortable passenger accommodations and even airconditioning plus bigger engines which afford speeds higher than the basic, short-distance ferry-ROROs.

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I do not know which started the trend of using LCTs for vehicles mainly with not much intent to carry passengers. The most significant I noticed that had an operation like this was Golden Bridge Shipping of the Lua family (owner of a tramper company and Oceanjet) which has its base in Cansaga Bay and had a route to Hindang, Leyte. Early on they were known as Socor Shipping. Of course, Mandaue Transport also had a route from Mandaue to Tagbilaran and Simpoi Shipping had a route from Carmen to Ormoc.

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There were also LCTs that were used not for rolling cargo but as container van carriers. Ocean Transport chartered LCTs from Asian Shipping Corporation for this purpose which was copied by others until they were able to acquire their own LCTs. But of course, transit time from Manila to Cebu can take up to 4 days but container vans won’t protest unlike passengers. Some Asian Shipping Corporation LCTs were also chartered to load container vans from Manila to Cagayan de Oro.

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These operations are of course Cargo RORO operations. The only difference is instead of using Cargo RORO or RORO Cargo ships, LCTs are used. That is why I termed these LCTs as “Cargo RORO LCTs”.

Starting in 2012, LCTs from China began appearing in great number in Mactan Channel and the biggest owners were Cebu Sea Charterers, Broadway One Shipping, Concrete Solutions/Primary Trident Marine Solutions and Royal Dragon Ocean Transport. The first two simply had numbers as names of the LCTs. The third one was the owner of the Poseidon LCTs and the last one was the owner of the Meiling LCTs. Asian Shipping Corporation also bulked up their LCT fleet. Supposedly, these LCTs which were called “deck loading ships” in China will be used to transport ores from Surigao to China.

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However, two major happenings intervened. One, the need of China for ores declined and in November of 2013, Typhoon “Yolanda” wreaked havoc in Eastern Visayas. In the aftermath, in the need for relief and rehabilitation of the region, trucks and trailers have to cross. This happened during a time that the long-distance trucks were already running via Eastern Visayas as substitute for the ship-borne container vans and many of these are still destined for Mindanao.

Immediately, mile-long queues of trucks formed in the ports of Matnog, Allen, Liloan, Benit and Lipata leading to loud protests. MARINA then allowed the temporary use of LCTs which became de facto permanent until today. Meanwhile, there was also a great demand for bottoms to be used by trucks across Camotes Bay. Suddenly, the moored “deck loading ships” in Cansaga Bay was crossing Camotes Bay, San Bernardino Strait and Surigao Strait. Cebu Sea Charterers and the Poseidon LCTs slowly begans Cargo RORO LCT operations together with the Adnama LCTs (many more were used in Surigao and elsewhere). Roble Shipping meanwhile chartered LCTs from Asian Shipping Corporation which they replaced when they were able to acquire their own LCTs.

There was also an upsurge in LCT demand to Bohol and some old LCT began plying routes. Feeling their grip threatened, Lite Ferries bought them all lock, stock and barrel aside from buying additional LCTs. Meanwhile, Cebu Sea Charterers invaded other routes like the Carmen-Ormoc, the Dumangas-Banago and the Tuburan-Escalante routes. Suddenly, the lowly LCTs which became Cargo RORO LCTs looked menacing. Even the pioneer Golden Bridge Shipping which had queues even before “Yolanda” feels threatened now.

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How did this come to be? One reason is at the start, the overnight ferry companies crossing Camotes Sea did not give due regard to the rolling cargo or vehicles. They were too content in their successful palletized and loose cargo operations and they underestimated the need of the rolling cargo. At the start only Golden Bridge Shipping, Simpoi Shipping and Asian Marine Transport Corporation were servicing them. It seems Lite Ferries saw the need earlier than their fellow overnight ferry companies. Well, they are strong in rolling cargo operation in Bohol and is even dominating it.

Secondly, in terms of rates none can beat the Cargo RORO LCTs. They might be slow but in terms of rates they are far cheaper than the overnight ferry companies as in they can give rates that are cheaper by 40%. Well, they don’t need to invest in passenger services and accommodations and they have small engines compared to overnight ROROs. Now they even carry container vans not in trailers to Leyte from Cebu superseding the container ships that used to call in Leyte ports from Manila.

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That is always the danger brought by Cargo RORO LCTs, the low rates. Now feeling they can’t beat it, the overnight ferry companies are beginning to acquire their own LCTs. Lite Ferries is so well ahead in this game but Roble Shipping is already following suit. Medallion Transport seems not to be that worried yet because compared to other they saw immediately the need for rolling cargo operations and were not too dependent on palletized and loose cargo operations. After all they started in short-distance ferry-RORO operations and so they might have had a better understanding of rolling cargo from the start.

The old ROROs better adjust now. From what I heard even the big Asian Shipping Corporation which has the most number of ships in the Philippines is joining the fray. It seems they might have already tired of just chartering LCTs.

In the eastern seaboard, I heard the Cargo RORO LCTs are already the favorites of the truckers. As they say money talks. Price point as decision point is simply too easy not to miss. Everybody wants savings.

To me, it is no longer a question if the Cargo RORO LCT sector will take a slice of the pie. The question is how much. From container ships to liners to overnight ships to short-distance ferries, all are threatened. They will not be overwhelmed but they must be prepared to share the pie with the Cargo RORO LCTs. By how much, now that is the guessing game. All I know is the Cargo RORO LCT rates are simply unbeatable. And that might be sending shivers now down the spine of the competition.

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And I dare say this development is good. Rolling rates are simply too high in the Philippines because the regulatory agency MARINA never learned how to compute rates. It is as if fuel and distance are never really factored in.

Rolling cargo rates of the LCTs across Camotes Sea is now lower than RORO rate across Surigao Strait. How did that happen?

It Is a Dogfight Now in the Surigao-Leyte Routes

In the early days there was only one RORO route connecting Surigao and Lipata across Surigao Strait and this was the Lipata-Liloan route using Lipata Ferry Terminal and Liloan Ferry Terminal. There was an earlier route using Surigao port and Liloan municipal port (run by Cardinal Ferry 2 of Cardinal Shipping) but that was in the earliest years and was gone in due time when the Ferry Terminals were built. And there was that really old routes using motor bancas to link Surigao to San Ricardo and Cabalian which are existing until today. And if Dinagat is considered still a part of Surigao then there is still a motor banca connecting that to Liloan.

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In the 1990’s, the RORO crossing between Lipata and Liloan was languid. At its worst there were only two trips each day and that happens in the off-peak season or when some ferries are hit by mechanical troubles or was in the drydock. This crossing then between Surigao Strait was known to be the base to some of the lousiest ferries in the country but to their credit they do not sink. Empirically, as has been noted in the Philippines there is no correlation between lack of maintenance and sinking. It really depends on the seamanship.

The Maharlika ferries then connecting Lipata and Liloan was known to sail even if only one of two of its engines is running. And Maharlika Dos will just stop sailing if its two engines were not running anymore and then clog Liloan Ferry Terminal. And to think this was a ferry built just the decade before. It even seems then that Maharlika Cinco was more reliable when to think she already had an excursion to the bottom of the sea in Coron as the Mindoro Express.

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The Millennium Uno of Millennium Shipping was no more reliable then being very old already and there were instances she simply conks out and is not heard for months. Many will then surmise she was cut up already and when many think she was gone she will reappear suddenly. I was not too surprised by the performance and lousiness of these ferries because I had already observed the pattern that this was an affliction of many Marcos transport companies. Maintenance is lousy and there is no management to speak of if based on management books.

Three trips then in a day in one way was just enough for the traffic. Two trips is bad especially if one arrives in an off-hours because that will mean hours of interminable wait. Baddest is if one just misses a ship. That happened twice to me when I missed the 12nn ship in Liloan and I have to wait for the next trip which was 11pm. Mind you there is really nothing to go to, nothing to do in Liloan and the nearest semi-urbanized town Sogod is more than 40 kilometers away. There was also no cellphone signal then there in Liloan. There were also many times I reached Liloan in late afternoon and the next ferry was still that 11pm ferry because the 5pm ferry is missing.

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There are not many vehicles crossing then yet and the only buses crossing were the Philtranco buses to and from Manila (it was Pantranco South earlier). The long-distance trucks still have to discover this route then. Most trucks crossing then were Mindanao trucks that have goods to sell north.

Slowly the traffic grew. There were even those that bring their vehicles to Manila so they will have a car there. And slowly the trucks from Manila began using this route as well as the trucks that have a commerce between Southern Mindanao and Cebu. The Bachelor buses also started their route to Tacloban and Ormoc.

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Photo Credit: Bemes Lee Mondia

That then proved that the old ferries of the route – Maharlika Dos, Maharlika Cinco and Millennium Uno were inadequate. The first challenge and the first improvement was the arrival of the Super Shuttle Ferry 5 of Asian Marine Transport Corporation (AMTC) which arrived in the late 1990’s. The Super Shuttle Ferry 10 replaced it later. Along the way, Asian Marine Transport Corporation also rotated other ferries there.

The fielding of a lone AMTC ferry was just enough to fill up the needed lack of ferries in the route especially since Maharlika Dos and Millennium Uno never had sustained periods of reliability. It was also welcome since it was cleaner, faster and had an airconditioned accommodation plus it did not smell.

Things changed when Benit port at the southern tip of Panaon island was built by Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, she who is wont for duplicate ports. However, Benit is not a simple duplicate port since its crossing distance is much shorter and so at the very start it was a threat to Liloan like when Allen displaced San Isidro port in Samar.

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At the start, nobody plied a route to Benit. Maybe the incumbent ships of the route didn’t want a change because after all they can charge more in the longer route. But that proved shortsighted.

Gloria Macapagal Arroyo then gave the operation of the port to Montenegro Shipping Lines, her favorite shipping company. Maybe to forestall any loss she made it a buy one, take one deal. She also gave the operation of the very profitable Matnog port to Montenegro Lines! As they say in the Philippines, iba na ang malakas!

Montenegro Lines then proceeded to operate a Lipata-Benit route. Suddenly, the former pliers of the Lipata-Liloan route found they have been outflanked. The crossing time to Benit is just over a third of theirs. And woe to them, the Manila bus companies which had a route to Liloan extended their route to San Ricardo (which has jurisdiction over Benit). But don’t think the Manila buses goes to Benit port. They don’t. One still has to take a 2-kilometer habal-habal ride to the port.

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Montenegro Lines made a killing in the Benit route. Their rates are almost the same as the Liloan rates and yet they only travel 3/8 of the distance. If that is not tubong-lugaw, I don’t know what is. The passenger fares are also much higher per nautical mile than the Liloan fares. And ever since from then the ridership and load of the Liloan ferries have been on the decline. There was even a time when all buses – Philtranco, Bachelor and the various colorum buses were taking the Benit route.

Then came the Typhoon Yolanda tragedy. With the surge in relief and rehabilitation efforts suddenly there were complaints of mile-long queues of trucks. It was not only because of Yolanda. By this time the forwarders and shippers have found that sending a truck especially a wing van truck to Mindanao is cheaper than a container van and it arrives earlier. This was also the time too when Manila port congestion and Manila traffic became issues and the forwarders and shippers found it was better to send a truck down south than try to beat the traffic and congestion in Manila. And the benefit is double if the origin is LABAZON (CALABARZON without Cavite and Rizal). By the time the cargo is loaded in a container ship in North Harbor the comparative truck will already be making deliveries in Mindanao.

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And so MARINA approved the fielding of Cargo RORO LCTs which was designed to take in the trucks and its crews. Supposedly it does not take in passengers but it seems there are exceptions. The people call it “2GO” there because the operator is NN+ATS. The Cargo RORO LCTs are just chartered but they are the brand-new China LCTs which are called “deck loading ships”.

Along this way, AMTC lost its route service because they lacked ships and they pulled out the Super Shuttle Ferry 18 so it will retain its Roxas-Caticlan route. Sta. Clara Shipping/Penafrancia Shipping then appeared in the Liloan-Lipata route. I thought there was an equilibrium already.

But lo and behold! the much anticipated and already announced FastCats of Archipelago Philippine Ferries (which were also the owner of the lousy Maharlika ships appeared) and they brought not one but two new catamaran FastCats which are faster and has higher rolling capacity than the old ferries in the route. They might have really been entitled to two since previously they had two ships there but one already sank, the Maharlika Dos and the others were sold, the Maharlika Cuatro and Maharlika Cinco (the first was a replacement for the latter).

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Lately, it seems FastCat pulled out one of its crafts but is still sailing 3 round trips a day (or at least two on weak days). And being fast and new it is pulling in the vehicles. Meanwhile, the Cargo RORO LCTs are suctioning the trucks as it is the cheapest transit available. With those two developments even Montenegro Lines in Benit is affected. But more affected are the other ferries in Liloan that they now resort to “callers” in the junction leading to Liloan port. How fortunes change! In the past just when a ship is arriving there was already a queue of vehicles for them.

Added to the fray is Millennium Shipping which is not quitting yet. The Grandstar RORO 3, previously of Archipelago Philippine Ferries appeared and it is using the Liloan municipal port. Reports say it is Millennium Shipping that is operating it already aside from their Millennium Uno.

Times have changed. Where before three or four trips a day seemed adequate it seems there are about 15 trips a day now but not all are full. The way I sense it with the Cargo RORO LCTs and FastCat it is already a dogfight now and there might even be an excess of bottoms already.

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Photo Credit: Joel Bado

Well, that is good as the public might benefit. However, I have doubts as I noticed MARINA never ever learned how to compute rates even in light of cheap fuel. I wonder if fuel consumption is ever factored in their rates.

I just wonder if AMTC and Ocean King I are thankful they are no longer in the route.

The Super Shuttle RORO 12

The Super Shuttle RORO 12 of the Asian Marine Transport Corporation (AMTC) is one of the biggest Cargo RORO ships in the country. It is notable not for its size alone but also for the fact that she is a balikbayan which means she was once a Philippine ship, was sold abroad and came for the second time. The only other ship here that has the same reputation is the St. Therese of Infant Jesus of 2GO which was the former SuperFerry 16 of Aboitiz Transport System.

Super Shuttle RORO 12 first came to the country in 1995 when she was then known as the ROCON I of William Lines Inc. She was the biggest cargo or container ship in the country then if flag of convenience ships (FOCs) are excluded. In gross tonnage, she was even bigger than the Princess of the Orient of Sulpicio Lines Inc., the biggest liner then in the country although the latter is longer.

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When William Lines Inc. acquired the ROCON I I think it was their answer to the purchase of the Ukraine-built and brand-new Ramon Aboitiz and Vidal Aboitiz of Aboitiz Jebsens which were also big Cargo RORO ships then by local standards. William Lines has been in the receiving end in the liner one-upmanship with Sulpicio Lines in the recent years then and maybe they were not willing to be on the receiving end of another shipping company and so getting the biggest Cargo RORO ship is maybe their way to restore pride somehow. Well, when the ROCON I arrived in Cebu she really turned heads especially since she is markedly tall.

ROCON I was built as the Mercandian Gigant for Per Henriksen. She has the ID IMO 82227333 and the MMSI Code 341028000. She was built by Danyard A/S in Frederikshavn, Denmark in 1984. Of steel hull she has two masts, one deck and two ramps at the stern. She has a total of three vehicle decks plus a sun deck which is also a car deck. The lowermost car deck is accessed by lowering a movable ramp. The main vehicle deck has a mezzanine at the front.

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This ship measures 160.5 meters by 20.7 meters by 12.3 meters in L x B x D. Her gross tonnage is 14,410 and the net tonnage is 6,014. The deadweight tonnage of the ship is 9,200 tons. The ship is powered by a single MaK engine of 6,500 horsepower. With the help of a bulbous stem, the ship was capable of 16 knots when new. At over 2,500 lane-meters, she is a power-efficient ship. I mean the cargo carrying capacity versus horsepower is high.

After arriving in 1995, this ship did not serve long with William Lines because on the first day of the next year the “Great Merger” in Philippine shipping materialized which produced the shipping company William, Gothong & Aboitiz (WG&A). In the combined fleet of WG&A she was known as the Super RORO 200. However, with so many container ships in the company and its stress on carrying express container vans in its ROPAX liners, the Super RORO 200 was soon put up for sale along with the SuperRORO 100 and SuperRORO 300. In 1997, she was bought and she became the Caribe Merchant of Crowley Maritime and she did Caribbean routes.

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She subsequently became known as the Amirouche and flagged in St. Kitts and Nevis. In 2014, Asian Marine Transport Corp. (AMTC) purchased her from Nolis and she was conducted to the Philippines by a local crew. On arrival her first refittings were done in AMTC’s wharf in Pier 8 in Mandaue, Cebu before she was brought to Subic for the final refitting and sea test. Funny that not many still recognized here after 20 years. Doubly funny, the AMTC exec I asked if she was a local ship before seemed to have played poker with me.

Locally she carries both vehicles and container vans, both wheeled and not. Container vans are the primary cargo of the ship and the not-so-many cars she carries are mainly brand-new vehicles destined for car dealerships in the South. Locally, she does not carry truck and sedans with its drivers like in Europe. She is also not authorized to carry passengers, a restriction on local Cargo ROROs which are treated as cargo ships by MARINA.

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The ship has a medium-sized functional bridge with an attached navigators’ room. Behind the bridge and below are the cabins for the officers and the crew along with the galley (the ship’s kitchen), mess (the ship’s restaurant) and the officers’ lounge. These are all housed in the ship’s tower.

Currently the ship serves the company’s Manila-Cebu-Zamboanga-Davao-General Santos City route which is AMTC’s longest route. The schedule of departures and arrivals are most of the time approximates as the company adjusts for the volume of cargo so technically she is not a cargo liner in the strictest sense of the term. Locally, the long-distance Cargo RORO ships of the company are governed to 12 knots and speeds up only if needed.

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I have visited this ship twice and it looks like she is still in good shape. By local standards her age is not that old and MaK engines are a trusty make. Since many of the Cargo ROROs of AMTC are sourced from Europe the majority of their Cargo ROROs are actually engined with MaKs. Engineers who have worked abroad have experience with this engine make and they are many. Notably, among the big Cargo ROROs of AMTC, Super Shuttle RORO 12 has the least power but she is not the slowest.

I hope this Cargo RORO serves AMTC well. This time around maybe she deserves a longer stay in the country and I hope she will be appreciated more.

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Photos by Aris Refugio and Mike Baylon