A Very Efficient Liner For Me

When I look at and gauge a ferry I do not look only at its size and speed because I am not the “Oooh, aaah” type. I also tend to look at the other attributes of the ship including the efficiency, a quality that can be hard to quantify. But with this attitude of mine I can then appreciate other supposedly “lesser” ships and types.

One of the ferries that attracted me was the vessel Our Lady of Sacred Heart of Carlos A. Gothong Lines Incorporated or Gothong for short. She was one of the ferries that brought back Gothong into the Manila route after a hiatus in the aftermath of their split with Lorenzo Shipping Corporation when they just concentrated on Visayas and Visayas-Mindanao routes. At the time of her fielding she might have been the best ship of Gothong. She or her sister ship, the Sto. Nino de Cebu could have been the flagship of Gothong.

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Photo by Chief Ray Smith

The Our Lady of Sacred Heart was a former RORO Cargo ship in Japan which means a ship geared to loading vehicles crossing the islands and taking in just the drivers and the crews of the vehicles, primarily and so the passenger accommodations is limited and the amenities are not that complete. RORO Cargo ships are more of the utilitarian type. She had a sister ship which also came here into the fleet of Gothong, the also-well-regarded Our Lady of Medjugorje (the rebuilt former Sto. Nino de Cebu which caught fire) which looks like her.

What I noticed about the Our Lady of Sacred Heart was the small size of its engine compared to its size and passenger capacity. She only packs a single Mitsui engine of 8,000 horsepower which was even less that of her sister ship’s 9,000 horsepower. Yet she was capable of 16 knots here which was decent already compared to the other liners of her time (which was around 1990) that were also small. Yet that kind tried to pack it her in passenger capacity and were carrying small engines too and were just running at 16 knots to 17 knots too like the SuperFerry 3 of Aboitiz Shipping, the Tacloban Princess and Manila Princess of Sulpicio Lines, the Zamboanga City of William Lines and San Paolo and Sta. Ana of Negros Navigation. To that class, the Our Lady of Sacred Heart belonged together with her sister ship. Among the ships mentioned, the Our Lady of Sacred Heart has the smallest engine together with the Tacloban Princess but the latter ship was smaller than her. Now imagine a ship with just 8,000 horsepower carrying 1,903 passengers with probably about 90 TEU of container vans. In passenger plus container van to engine horsepower ratio, she might have been tops in this metric or index. That for me is efficiency.

What were the origins of this ship? The Our Lady of Sacred Heart, colloquially known as “OLOSH” was built in Japan in 1978 by Mitsui Shipbuilding in Osaka, Japan for the Kuribayashi Kinkai Kisen shipping company. She was originally named as Shinsei Maru with the IMO Number 7718589 and her original dimensions were 112.5 meters by 18.0 meters with an original gross register tonnage of 3,149 tons and a deadweight tonnage of 3,295 tons. This ship has a deep draft and her depth was 12.3 meters.

In 1979, however, this RORO Cargo ship was lengthened to 123.0 meters with a length between perpendiculars of 115.0 meters and her gross register tonnage rose to 3,511 tons. However, she retained her original design speed of 17 knots. RORO Cargo ships were never designed to have big engines like the 146.0-meter Super Shuttle RORO 7 has only 6,990 horsepower, the 145.0-meter Super Shuttle RORO 8 has only 7,800 horsepower and yet their designed speed were 17 and 17.5 knots. Well, even the bigger Super Shuttle RORO 11 and Super Shuttle RORO 12 which are both over 160 meters have engines of only 7,900 and 6,500 horsepower, respectively, and they can do 15 and 16 knots. Such is the efficiency of a RORO Cargo ship.

In 1990, this ship together with her sister came to the Philippines for Carlos A. Gothong Lines and she was forthwith converted into a RORO-Passenger ship or ROPAX in Cebu. Additional passenger decks and accommodations were built and she became a three-passenger-deck liner. Her gross tonnage rose to 4,388 with a net tonnage of 2,237 and her deadweight tonnage was revised to 4,120 tons. In speed, however, she was down to 16 knots because of the additional metal and she had over a decade of sailing already.

She then had her passenger capacity raised to 1,903 persons which was a little outstanding for me, initially. However, I noticed the smaller Tacloban Princess has a passenger capacity of 2,009 and the 138.6-meter SuperFerry 2 has a passenger capacity of 2,643. Meanwhile, the 107.3-meter Sta. Ana has a passenger capacity of 2,106 and the 117.1-meter Zamboanga City has a passenger capacity of 1,875. And so I thought the passenger capacity of the Our Lady of Sacred Heart was plausible even though the passenger capacity of her sister ship was only 1,330 persons.

When the Our Lady of Sacred Heart was fielded, she might have been the most beautiful ship of Gothong, externally. One striking features of hers is the long and high quarter-stern ramp which seemed to suggest she can dock in any kind of wharf, low or high. And for those who will notice, she seemed to be missing one smokestack or funnel (since she has only one engine and no false funnel was built). She also have no openings after two-thirds of her length early on.

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Taken from a website that cannot be remembered now. No copyright infringement intended.

In Gothong, the Our Lady of Sacred Heart did the unlikely discovery of the company, the unseemly Manila-Roxas City-Palompon-Isabel-Cebu route. Later this route was extended to Ormoc City. At first I cannot get the connection between Capiz and Leyte and yet she was successful there. It seems that for a long time already, the western Leyte area has been neglected by the other shipping companies and only fielded old and obsolete liners there. Actually her ports of call there are substitutes too for Tacloban port and Ormoc port aside from being a connection to Biliran province. And to think there is even a bus from Ormoc to San Ricardo, the southernmost town of Southern Leyte and so the ship even seemed to be a connection to Southern Leyte. In those times the earlier Manila liners to Leyte have been gone already.

The Our Lady of Sacred Heart was the best liner going to Leyte during this time and also probably the best liner too to Capiz. She was doing the western Leyte route until the “Great Merger” that created WG&A came in 1996. When that happened I had some fear for the Our Lady of Sacred Heart as the merger created surplus ships including container ships and even the Zamboanga City which came here only one year before was offered for sale. I know it was the older cruiser ships of WG&A that was more vulnerable but I was worried about the lack of speed of this ferry. At that time 16 knots seemed to be slow already as there was already a lot of ships capable of 17.5 knots and over and there was no way to coax more speed out of the ship with her single small engine.

Besides, I am not sure if WG&A really appreciated her route. Actually the company modified the route as soon as the merger happened – Roxas City was dropped and instead Masbate was substituted. Beyond that I also know the intermodal buses and trucks presented a deadly challenge to the ships calling in Leyte ports. I know that if passengers in Samar can shift from the ferries to the buses then it is highly possible that can also happen in Leyte and there is no reason why not. Daily departures and pick-up by their gates without going through the hassles in the port was a very big selling point of the buses. Meanwhile, for factories and shippers in CALABARZON (Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal and Quezon), trucking in their products is easier, faster and less expensive than in hiring a container van that will fight the traffic and the various illegal exactions in Metro Manila.

In due time as I expected WG&A gave up on the western Leyte route early in this century and just “donated” its freight and passengers to the trucks and buses (when WG&A gives up on routes, do they realize that money, effort and even careers were spent before creating that route?). Maybe WG&A don’t know as it was Gothong that created the route. And then this period was also the period where they experimented on a Manila-Ormoc-Nasipit route to make use of two bigger ferries (the former Maynilad and the former SuperFerry 11 which were already known as Our Lady of Akita 2 and Our Lady of Banneux) and maybe WG&A thought that new route is a substitute route for western Leyte but then they also gave up on the route soon after. During that ti period, the Our Lady of Sacred Heart was also doing a Sunday overnight route from Iligan to Cebu and she was very popular there as she was much better than the ships that formerly served the route like the Iligan City, the Our Lady of Mount Carmel and the Our Lady of Manaoag)

Soon, the Our Lady of Sacred Heart found herself back in her old route of Roxas City in conjunction with the port of Dumaguit and essentially doing an overnight route. But then not too long after the “master of retreat” WG&A also gave up on this route when the buses and trucks started rolling to Panay island with the creation of the new Roxas, Oriental Mindoro to Caticlan, Malay link. And with that WG&A sold ships again to the breaks but fortunately for the Our Lady of Sacred Heart she was not yet among the unlucky ones. When that happened the Our Lady of Sacred Heart might have been at the bottom already of the new company Aboitiz Transport System, the successor company of WG&A and she was then just a little ahead of her sister ship, the Our Lady of Medjugorje. I thought then already that she was a lucky girl. It looked later that Aboitiz Transport Company or ATS was reserving her for the Palawan route which is not exactly a long route and so it suited her and there was no competition anymore when the Sulpicio Lines ferry, the Iloilo Princess burned and Negros Navigation was already headed into financial crisis and had ships seized by creditors. And so the lack of speed of the Our Lady of Sacred Heart didn’t play to her disadvantage.

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Photo by Jorg Behman. Credit also to John Luzares.

It seems the last route of the Our Lady of Sacred Heart might have been the combined Coron and Puerto Princesa route from Manila. By that time she has signs of oncoming problems with reliability and that is deadly for a single-engined ship (well, if the engine can’t be restarted then a replacement ship would have to be brought in or else tickets have to be refunded and passengers simply get angry with that. Besides, the Aboitiz Transport Company was already cutting on routes and that includes her subsidiary Cebu Ferries Company which are doing the Visayas-Mindanao routes. With the pressure of the intermodal system which relies on buses and trucks plus the short-distance ferry-RORO like in Batangas and Matnog, the Our Lady of Sacred Heart has no more short route to go and Palawan was her last possible stand as she cannot be fielded on longer routes like Mindanao or compete in major ports and routes as she is not a SuperFerry. She might have been an efficient ship but she was never meant for long routes nor for major routes. With the addition of the SuperFerry 15, SuperFerry 16, SuperFerry 17 and SuperFerry 18, the lesser SuperFerry 1, SuperFerry 2, SuperFerry 5 and SuperFerry 9 have to go to lesser routes and that included the Palawan route. It was the end of the line for the “lucky” (until then) Our Lady of Sacred Heart.

I was just wondering why she and her sister the Our Lady of Medjugorje were not sent to the Visayas-Mindanao routes of the Cebu Ferries Corporation (CFC). They could have competed with the Trans-Asia Shipping Lines pair of Asia China and Trans-Asia (1) in the Cagayan de Oro route (and shift their Our Lady of Good Voyage in another route). Actually, the Trans-Asia pair (and sister ships) were smaller but were utilizing engines even bigger than than the ATS pair at 10,400 horsepower each (and the Trans-Asia pair were older too by Date of Build). Maybe Aboitiz and Cebu Ferries does not want a sister ships to sister ships battle? In speed, the former Gothong sister ships can still match the Trans-Asia sister ships (if they were inferior it will not be by over 1 knot and that doesn’t matter much and they can just depart earlier). Was that the reason why they chickened out? In amenities they can match the highly-regarded Trans-Asia pair.

I can see some incongruence here because Cebu Ferries Corporation decided to retain their older and smaller ferry Our Lady of the Rule when that venerable old Gothong Ferry has a same but not identical 8,000-horsepower engine (but twin) when the Our Lady of Sacred Heart was even faster (and definitely more good-looking). But by this time it seems Aboitiz was already bent on shifting to the Cebu Ferries series which might have been faster later because they are smaller ships (their average horsepower was just about the same of the Our Lady of Sacred Heart). On the average that series was shorter than the Our Lady of Sacred Heart by 35 meters. Maybe they do not need the extra capacity as Cebu Ferries Corporation was already weakening in cargo because they charge the highest rates and they were not that proficient in palletized operations which is the norm in the intra-Visayas and Visayas-Mindanao routes. Maybe also there was also the decision already that the Cebu Ferries Corporation will just compete in a few Visayas-Mindanao ports and routes as the company was already outmaneuvered by the competition especially from Cokaliong Shipping Lines Incorporated (CSLI) and Trans-Asia Shipping Lines Incorporated (TASLI) which are good in taking in shippers and making them stick.

The near-equivalent of the Our Lady of Sacred Heart, the Our Lady of Good Voyage also outlasted her. This ship has just 400 horsepower less than OLOSH but she is smaller at 109.2 meters and her passenger capacity is only at 1,076 at her bridge is already near mid-ship. She was also among the smaller liners with small engines but she was fielded later although by age she is almost the age of the Our Lady of Sacred Heart and her engines were not much that better. In accommodations she might have even been less than the Our Lady of Sacred Heart.

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Photo by “suro yan”

Unlucky this time, in late 2005, the Our Lady of Sacred Heart found herself on a lonely, one-way voyage to face the cutters of the Bangladesh shipbreakers and the ship was broken up in early 2006. She was only 28 years old then, young by the age of ferries of today. That only means she died before her time.

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The MV St. Leo The Great

The MV St. Leo The Great of

  • The MV St. Leo The Great of 2GO Travel shipping company was the MV SuperFerry 21 of Aboitiz Transport System (ATS) when she arrived in the Philippines in 2010. She was renamed when she passed on to 2GO Travel in 2012 when Negros Navigation Company (NENACO) and cohorts acquired Aboitiz Transport System. MV SuperFerry 21 arrived here just after MV SuperFerry 20 which was a sister ship. Both came from Kansai Kisen Kaisha, a big, respected and old Japan shipping company. Over a higher bid of a South Korean concern, the two were awarded to ATS because they respected this company’s care and ability to properly maintain their ships. The two sister ships were purchased for a reported $8 million only.

The MV St. Leo The Great was known as the MV Sun Flower Nishiki in Japan. She was built by Kanasashi Shipbuiding (Kanasashi Heavy Industries) in Toyohashi shipyard in 1992 (now Toyohashi Shipbuilding Company). Her keel was laid on May 13, 1992. She was launched in September 6, 1992 and completed in December 15, 1992. As built, she measured 150.9 meters in length over-all (LOA), with a breadth of 25.0 meters. The over-all volume of the ship expressed in gross tonnage (GT) is 9,611. Her carrying capacity expressed in deadweight tons (DWT) is 3,520 tons. She is powered by two Hitachi-Sulzer marine diesel engines (Sulzer engines built under license by Hitachi) developing 25,200 horsepower and her top speed was 22 knots.

The ship was issued the permanent ID IMO 9042764. Her other identification for AIS (Automatic Identification System) purposes is MMSI 548398100. She has a single mast, a single funnel, two passenger decks, a bulbous stem and a transom stern. Equipped with visor ramp at the bow and two quarter-stern ramps and two car decks she is hence a RORO (Roll-on, Roll-off) ship of about 180 TEU capacity. As built, her passenger accommodations in two decks are all-airconditioned. On the bridge deck are the accommodations for the crew, the radio room and airconditioning equipment.

When she came to the Philippines, she was first brought to the Keppel Batangas shipyard for refitting and modification. Since she came in the era when passenger patronage of liners was already ebbing there was not an attempt to increase her passenger capacity by much. Hence, her superstructure was no longer changed but cabins and bunks were erected to make her a multi-day liner. The cafeteria stayed pretty much the same along with the staircase. Although this ship has plenty of viewing deck space in the top deck, inside there was really not much room and amenities when compared to our great liners in the past. Having only two decks for the passengers contributes pretty much to that (the great liners of the past had up to four passenger decks). Her passenger capacity as modified here is only 859 persons which is just about a third of the great Philippine liners of the previous decades.

Here, amazingly, her gross tonnage climbed to 19,468 but her net tonnage (NT) is only 5,840 and that is a violation of the IMO rule that the NT should be automatically 1/3 of the GT, at least. With such GT, she rightfully belonged to the book “The Great Passenger Ships of the World” by Raoul Fiebig, Frank Heine and Frank Lose released just this year (2016). She is one of the few Philippine liners in that book, the photo of which was contributed by Philippine Ship Spotters Society (PSSS). Her DWT, meanwhile, remained the same. However, her rated speed now is down to 20 knots which is still fast by local standards. She is a very reliable ship. And she still has all-airconditioned accommodations.

Boarding the ship, one first comes across the upper wagon deck and a stair leads to the lower passenger deck. Here, a grand staircase connects the two passenger decks and opposite that is the front desk, the office of the Hotel Manager and a convenience store. In the lower passenger deck the restaurant cum cafeteria dominates. Aside from meals included in the ticket, the passengers have an option to have separate meals and they can order extra. The restaurant is open almost 24 hours and various kinds of foods and refreshments can be ordered. The restaurant also serves as the lounge of the ship.

Since the ship is all-airconditioned, the lowest class in the ship is the MegaValue which corresponds to airconditioned Economy. These are mostly concentrated in the middle portion behind the restaurant and in some parts of the sides and rear of the lower passenger deck. There is of course the usual Tourist class and this is mainly located at the sides of the first passenger deck with some in the upper passenger deck. The higher classes of this ship are located in the upper passenger deck. These consists of Cabin for 4, State Room for 2 and Suite Room for 2. Suite is the highest class but State Room is not far behind in comfort and size. In those two accommodations one has to pay for the entire room.

At the bridge level is the viewing deck for all the passengers. The forward half of that is off limits to the passengers and that is the reason why one can’t have a peek of the bridge. They also shoo all passengers from that area when the night gets deep. Lacking facilities for sitting, it is hard to stay long there or when the sun is already hot. Because of that, I still prefer the traditional viewing deck at the side of the ship but that is not available in MV St. Leo The Great. In St. Leo The Great, it is easy to get bored if one is not a sleeper because there is not much area for passengers to roam and amenities are lacking compared to the great liners of the past decades.

Originally, as MV SuperFerry 21 she was assigned the Manila-Zamboanga-General Santos-Davao route together with the MV SuperFerry 20. However, in about a year Aboitiz Transport System abandoned their Southern Mindanao liner routes. She was then assigned the Nasipit route of the company via Tagbilaran. Even when she became the MV St. Leo The Great of 2GO Travel her often route is still Nasipit but the intermediate port changes. Right now, her intermediate port is Cebu and that will probably stay for a long time since 2GO realized there is not much passengers and cargo in Tagbilaran now.

Aside from MV SuperFerry 20/St. Gregory The Great which is now gone (she grounded taking a shortcut and is now broken up), she also has two sister ships in the 2GO fleet, the MV St. Michael The Archangel and the MV St. Francis Xavier (this should not be confused with the earlier MV St. Francis of Assisi of Negros Navigation). However, those two ships were not built by Kanasashi Shipbuilding but by Shin Kurushima Dockyard (yes, sister ships can be built by different shipbuilders in different yards).

Having come from the great Kansai Kisen Kaisha of Japan and Aboitiz Transport System, MV St. Leo The Great still has great engines and a strong hull. With sufficient care, this ship is capable of sailing for many more years, knock on wood.

When my Friend’s Motor Banca was Hit by a Summer Squall in the Visayan Sea

by Mike Baylon

A few years back my friend and his wife were invited to a Holy Week vacation in Cebu. Wanting to visit Bicol too, they decided to drop by Naga first, his hometown. Since he has already experienced travelling via Samar and Leyte they decided to take the Masbate route to Cebu upon my advice. So from a bus to Kimantong junction, Daraga in Albay they took a van for Pilar, Sorsogon. From that port they took a four-hour motor banca ride to Masbate City to connect with the Trans-Asia Shipping vessel for Cebu.

But horrors upon horror! The Trans-Asia ship was nowhere to be found as it cancelled its trip to Masbate. Reacting to the changed situation I advised them to move fast, hire a tricycle to the bus terminal and take the fastest commuter van to Cataingan, Masbate to connect with the Lapu-Lapu Shipping ferry there to Cebu.  It was already late afternoon and by that time the Montenegro Lines ferry had already left for Bogo (during that time Montenegro has only one trip to Bogo).

Port of Cataingan ©Mike Baylon

But a double horror! They were a little past the departure time when they arrived in Cataingan but the Lapu-Lapu Ferry was still there. The problem was Rosalia 3 was not sailing and will lay over until Holy Sunday and it was just Maundy Thursday! I soothed them don’t worry as the Montenegro ferry might sail the next day. I adviced them there was a small lodge near the port but the captain of the Rosalia 3 graciously invited them to stay aboard the ship for the night free of charge. So I thought the old ship hospitality system was not yet banished completely by ISPS (International System of Port Security). In the past the ships laying over for the night served as free hostels for the weary and hard-up travelers.

M/V Rosalia 3 ©Mike Baylon

Then a third horror unfolded! The Montenegro ship also cancelled voyage and did not arrive in Cataingan! I thought my friend and his wife’s fate was already done and they will lay over until Holy Sunday in Cataingan thereby missing entirely the Holy Week vacation in Cebu and just go back to Naga. But a friendly commuter van “barker” intervened and declared he knows that there will be a motor banca leaving for sure from Cawayan, Masbate to Maya, Daanbantayan, Cebu. I told them Cawayan is too far from Cataingan and they will not reach that on time. The barker said that motor banca from Cawayan can be hailed from Placer, Masbate and be met at sea and a sea transfer arranged! That looked like a tall tale then for me but Holy Cow! It proved to be true!

Riding a rickety jeep to Placer over bad roads my friend and his wife were able to locate the Placer contact given to them. Yes, he confirmed to them the motor banca will hover into view at about 9 or 10am and he can contact the “jefe de viaje” by cellphone and all they need to do is hire a small motor banca so a sea transfer can be made.

Everything worked well and so I thought their bad luck was finally over. The craft was a Large Motor Banca, the Masbate type, with double decking. The lower deck was reserved for livestock and it was carrying many hogs then and there were about 60 passengers which was about half the maximum passenger capacity. Everything went fine except that they had no lunch with them until….a summer squall hit them in the middle of the Visayan Sea on their supposed six-hour voyage!

A Livestock Motor Banca ©Mike Baylon

Seasoned sea travelers in small sea crafts know a squall can develop anytime, in any weather, in any sea. It is a sudden storm with fierce winds and seas developing suddenly and accompanied by heavy rain. It is visible from afar and smaller crafts avoid them but being a moving system and sometimes wide in diameter some crafts just get sucked into it. And like fate they were sucked into it, their next horror! Amazingly, we still had communication and having talked of the sea for long and with voyages together I told them to stay calm and just follow the instructions of the crew and in the worst scenario they tie themselves to the outrigger if the boat capsizes (and call all the saints that they know).

Soon enough they were struggling and aside from the waves, the heavy rain and the wind, flotsam was being driven into their craft. Flotsam is especially dangerous in this situation because if it hits the propeller or clings into it, it will be a goodbye for the craft as a propeller is a must in maneuvering in such situations.

The first reaction of the in-charge was to move the passengers to the front and the crew and passengers familiar with them mounted the outriggers and the gangplank on the side so the boat will not topple over. Soon a new problem arose – the outriggers were creaking and in danger of breaking. Now, Masbate motor bancas are ready and are equipped with materials for emergency repairs. Together with Sulu and Tawi-tawi motor bancas they have the longest routes of all with some routes taking 6-8 hours of sailing time. Masbate Large Motor Bancas connect to Samar island, Cebu island and Romblon islands (thence up to Lucena). So reinforcements to the outriggers were made and they tacked into the wind. Stability then but the next problem was they were tacking on the way to Bantayan island. They had then no choice if they do not want the banca to capsize.

Then, good luck and a guardian angel appeared in the form of an ATS  liner which greeted them with a horn! That was the magic question asking if they were in trouble. SuperFerry 12 then slowed down and shielded them from the waves and the wind. In due time they were out of the squall zone and they changed course for Daanbantayan after saying cheers and goodbye to the good liner which came to their aid!

Superferry 12, now M/V St. John Paul II ©Vincent Sanchez

Before dark they finally docked in Maya port, exhausted and a little shaken from the experience. They took the first bus to Bogo where our common friend was waiting. It was already Good Friday night but they still arrived safe and sound in Cebu with an experience of a lifetime they said they will never forget.