The Sea Connections of Camiguin and the Ferries From Balingoan

Camiguin, which is a medium-sized island off the coast of northern Misamis and which lies south of Bohol is a province that was once part of the province of Misamis Oriental before it became a separate province in the 1970’s. Camiguin was once a prosperous island and even more prosperous than Cagayan de Misamis during the first peak of copra and coconut oil during World War I and the period right after that. Maybe the reason was because the sea lanes there was more defensible in the late period of Moro attacks when the Mindanao interior was not yet open and so it became more developed first. And being nearer to Cebu might have also helped.

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Photo by Michael Denne

However, when the interior of Mindanao was opened for exploitation and Cagayan de Misamis bloomed, Camiguin slowly became a backwater. If Camiguin is still known today it’s maybe because of its lanzones which is probably the best in the entire Philippines (I hail from Luzon and I will say it easily beats the Paete lanzones). In recent decades, however, Camiguin’s tourism boomed. It is a destination place now like Siargao and Samal. These are the three islands of Mindanao that glitters in the tourists’ minds (why is it that islands are the tourist meccas?).

Per capita, Camiguin has the most number of ferry crossings in a day next only to Samal. Some islands like Mindoro are sky high in this count but if divided by the population then Camiguin will still be ahead. Of all the other islands maybe only Guimaras can tie with Camiguin in this statistic. I intentionally did not count Mactan because it is an unusual case and there is no RORO connecting it to Cebu. I also omitted Boracay which is also a unique case.

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Photo by Travis Break

Camiguin’s main connection to the outside world to the town of Balingoan in Misamis Oriental. Once, it has two ports having connection to that port, the Guinsiliban and Benoni ports but lately only Benoni still has a connection to Balingoan. Besides the Balingoan connection, Camiguin also has a daily connection to Jagna town in Bohol which is served by Asian Marine Transport Corporation. Its ferries leave Balbagon port in Mambajao in the morning and the return trip will be after midday and arriving again in Mambajao in the late afternoon.

Asian Marine Transport Corporation also has a weekly Cebu-Mambajao connection leaving Cebu Friday night and arriving Saturday morning which will then depart Mambajao Sunday night. The Camiguin connection to Cebu is no longer strong because people of Camiguin already treats Cagayan de Oro as their commercial and trading center. In this way, Camiguin really belongs to Mindanao.

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Kalinaw and Yuhum by Bemes Lee Mondia

The Jagna-Mambajao connection is stronger. The proof is a daily connection can be sustained. The reasons are many. For some the Cebu-Bohol-Camiguin-Balingoan connection is the best way to get a vehicle across as the overnight ferries connecting Cebu and Cagayan de Oro do not stress that and thus rates are high. For Bol-anons in Mindanao this is an alternate way to visit their province. And there is maybe enough trade and people crossing between the two islands. The two islands actually had been connected for so long already.

There are many ferries connecting Balingoan and Benoni ranging from basic, short-distance ferry-ROROs to steel-hulled motor launches. The trips start from dawn and lasts up to dusk with an interval of about an hour or even less. The crossing times vary slight with about an hour or less being the normal. Fares are on the cheap side, just like a bus and so people from both directions just cross either to take a vacation or from the other side to make pasyal or laag in Cagayan de Oro and shop and visit. Many families in Camiguin also have sons and daughters studying in Cagayan de Oro.

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Royal Princess by Bemes Lee Mondia

Asian Marine Transport Corporation (AMTC) is the strongest ferry serving the route to Balingoan. Usually their Super Shuttle Ferry 1, Super Shuttle Ferry 6 and Super Shuttle Ferry 9 alternates in the route. All are basic, short-distance ferry-ROROs. ROROs are superior in this routes as there are a lot of vehicles crossing and rolling cargo earns much more than passenger revenues. It seems the coming of AMTC practically sealed the fate of the old but once fine cruisers of Camiguin, the Camiguin Oro and Jagna Oro which both belonged to Sea Jade Express which are both gone now. Also gone were the cruisers of Tamula Shipping.

Among the locals fighting AMTC are Philstone Shipping Corporation, Davemyr Shipping and Hijos de Juan Corrales. Philstone is the strongest of the three with three ferries, the basic, short-distance ferry-ROROs Kalinaw and Yuhum and the small cruiser Royal Princess. Meanwhile, Davemyr Shipping operates the basic, short-distance ferry-RORO Dona Pepita. Hijos de Juan Corrales operates the ancient but still good motor launch Hijos-1, the longest-serving steel-hulled ferry in the route.

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Dona Pepita by Joel Bado

The ferries of Camiguin in the south are all small. Maybe because of the small population it is the only size that can be maintained there without the passengers waiting too long for the vessel to depart. However, small size also has its negative. In a strong swell that sometimes visit the strait separating Camiguin from Mindanao, when hit broadside these ferries suffer along with the passengers. This is true when there is a storm somewhere or when the monsoons are acting up or simply when the barometer is low and the wind is blowing hard.

Before, Camiguin also had High Speed Craft (HSC) connections. Pioneer was the Paras Sea Cat which had a daily Cagayan-Mambajao-Jagna route. Oceanjet also tried a Balingoan-Benoni-Jagna route. The two quit and both did not come back. Maybe they found out that the demand for premium service to Camiguin is highly seasonal. For a very short route, the locals do not take too much to the HSCs which has double the fares for so little a time-saving. Ironically, it was Oceanjet which was the buyer of the Paras Sea Cat.

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Hijos-1 by Janjan Salas

So aside from the ferries from Jagna and Cebu, Camiguin has 8 ferries on the south side connecting to Balingoan. Not a bad number for an island of Camiguin’s size and population.

Camiguin is not a backwater anymore.

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The PANGUIL BAY CROSSING

Panguil Bay is the narrow and shallow body of water between Lanao del Norte and Misamis Occidental that at its narrowest might just be two kilometers across or even less especially at the southern end. At that end, the maps mark it with dotted lines because it is not clear where land ends and where the sea begins because most are fishponds and shallow marshes. This small sea is known for sea foods including crustaceans and some foreign entities even have buying stations in the area.

Panguil Bay ©Mike Baylon

Even before World War II Panguil Bay was a sea lane connecting the two provinces. One can take the road through Monte Alegre which goes round Panguil Bay but the distance is simply too long as in about a hundred kilometers or over and will take several hours of travel. But if one takes it the views of Panguil Bay is simply breath-taking from the mountain.
Motor boats once connected the two shores and several competed in the route including Charles Brown, an American resident. After the war small steel-hulled passenger-cargo ships began to dominate and slowly the successor of Charles Brown, Tamula Shipping began to dominate. Ruperto Tamula was the son-in-law of Charles Brown.

Wooden Ship at Tubod Port ©Mark Ocul

The old routes in Panguil Bay was Ozamis-Kolambugan and Ozamis-Tubod and R.P. Tamula Shipping completely dominated that by the ‘90s. Their ships sailed every hour and even more frequent at peak hours. However, they did not sail at night. Anyway at that time and security situation almost no public vehicles run in the Lanao del Norte highway after dark. Tamula used a lot of ships and some even have airconditioned accommodations. Also, when the winds blow their ships will rock and will take a dogleg route to avoid waves slamming broadside.

Rural Transit entering Royal Seal ©Mark Ocul

Millennium Shipping of Davao tried to enter the route by providing RORO service between Tubod, the capital and the barrio of Silanga in Tangub City. It was one of the shortest crossings in the bay but a little far from the main center which was Ozamis City. Millennium used LCTs but there were very few vehicles crossing then and there were no intermodal buses yet so the schedule of crossing was irregular.

A sea change happened when the compromise agreement of the buses in the area happened which opened the Dipolog-Cagayan de Oro route for the buses. This development coincided with the development of the private Mukas port in Tubod. Soon Daima Shipping, owner of Mukas port was transporting Rural Transit buses to Ozamis. Daima has the shortest crossing of all and their route is not that exposed to winds like the route of Tamula. Their ships were also in a spic and span condition when they first arrived unlike the tired ships of Tamula and the LCTs of Millennium.

LAKBAYAN UNO Lakbayan Uno of Millenium Shipping ©Carl Jakosalem

Millennium Shipping also built their own port further down the road in Tabigue and later they also built their own wharf in Ozamis. They handled the Lillian Express and buses but they cannot compete with Daima as the their route was longer, the ROPAXes were slower and not level to Daima’s standard. Aside from their LCTs like “Wilcox”, Millennium tried to bring in “Lakbayan Uno” but at 7.5 knots it was not any faster than the LCTs. With longer interval because of low patronage they were dead duck from the start and soon they quit altogether and sold the LCTs to Maayo Shipping.

Soon Tamula Shipping was losing patronage fast. Passengers no longer want to get off at Kolambugan proper and take the tricycle to the port and haggle with the “labor” and porters if they have cargo or luggage. They also didn’t like the sardines-type of loading. In Ozamis too connections are better with the bus that goes direct to the terminal 2 kilometers from the port and imagine if one will take the tricycle for that. So in a short time Tamula Shipping was dead duck too and in just a few years they also stopped sailing the Panguil Bay route (they were also doing the Balingoan-Camiguin routes). Last to go was the route to Tubod but soon the Tamula ships were just moored and slowly they began settling one by one into the shallow water.

Now only Daima Shipping is doing the Panguil Bay route. However, instead of operating full blast all their ships they let half rot and gather barnacles resulting in long vehicle queues and a long wait for boarding which is what usually happens if there is no competition and there is no other choice but to grin and bear it. And that happened when vehicle and passenger traffic in the route was on the rise year after year. On the other hand, one positive development brought by Daima was night sailing and ferries now run almost round the clock except for a few hours.

Daima Shipping Lines Inc. folio Daima Shipping Lines ©Mark Ocul

What is needed in the route now is a new player. But the problem of entry is that there are no suitable ports on the Lanao side except if the new entrant will build their own port. Tubod government port is available but the distance is much greater and that translates into higher rates and so competing is difficult. Maybe one possibility is the Tubod-Silanga route but for passenger which is a decisive factor in the route (a lot of them are not bus passengers). There is also just one bus company left, also a monopoly and it has a tie-up with Daima Shipping. There is a practically duopoly in the route.

The future threat to the route is if the Tubod-Silanga bridge is built. That has long been a proposal and the German government was willing to fund it and feasibility survey has already been made. However, the German government demands a local counterpart but the government so far is not willing to shoulder it. So the plans for over a decade now is gathering rust and I do not see it being revived soon no matter what the rosy projections are by the optimists.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/blueleo2/12303969024/in/photolist-jKg4jY-nTaTAK-e6XQXy-7cxFqb-4do5ew-oBhRNv-oBmyy Pangul Bay Bridge Proposal