When Liners Were Still Small and Short-legged

After World War II and for a generation after, the Philippines had so many small and short-legged liners. This was dictated by the situation that when the United States replaced our merchant fleet that was destroyed in World War II as was their promise (since they requisitioned our passenger ships then and the others were ordered destroyed to prevent falling into enemy hands), the replacement they gave were mainly small ships that were not even ferries in the first place. Because of that we had very few big liners in the first two decades after the war. The bulk of our liner fleet then consisted of the small ex-”FS” cargo ships of World War II and the many and even smaller ex-”F” cargo ships, many of which were lengthened like the ex-”FS” ships to increase passenger and cargo capacity. Aside from those two types we also had a few ex-”Y” ships, former tankers which were a little smaller than but related to the ex-”FS” ships plus some “liners” converted from minesweepers and PT boats (can you imagine that?). Conversion to ferries of those were the shipping thing after the war much like the conversion of former Army jeeps of the US Army into the “jeepneys” which became a Filipino thing.

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An example of a converted ex-“FS” ship.  Credits to Gorio Belen and Evening News

The term “liners” here is liberally used to describe the multi-day ships then which had more or less definite schedules for departures of arrivals (they were never very prompt then for various reason but they have published estimated times of departures and arrivals). In general, being small they are of no match in terms of accommodations, comfort and amenities to the liners of the past two or three decades and almost all of them did not possess air-conditioning and some are practically single-class ships and just divided into upper deck and lower deck. Thus, they were really different from the luxury liners we take for granted now.

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A converted and lengthened ex-“F” ship. Credits to Manila Bulletin and Gorio Belen

Being small and doing long routes, the small liners had many intermediate ports of call and there were several reasons for that. One is more ports of call means more passengers and cargo and during that time the country’s population was just a fifth of today’s. Another reason is a lot of localities and islands need connections to the national center which is Manila when during that time our road system was still primitive. And another reason is these ships when built were never meant to carry about three hundred passengers and that meant food, water and other provisions can run out and so the ship must be replenished along the way especially since refrigeration of the ships was limited. This was the time when a rule was instituted that passengers must come to port four hours before departure time (and then suffer more wait if the cargo handling is not yet finished – there are important shippers who with one call can make the ship wait for his last-minute cargo). A reason for that rule is the need to make a head count of passengers and add some figure as allowance and from that calculate the provisions that must be carried by the ship. There was even a running joke that the chandler (the supplier) will only then order how many hogs and chicken must be slaughtered.

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Not an ex-“FS” ship but of the same size. Credits to The Philippines Herald and Gorio Belen.

A characteristic these small liners is the paucity of refrigeration. If there is such the capacity was not really meant for the number of passengers already being carried as a passenger-cargo ship because the ship was just a freight ship during the war with a limited number of crew. As such ice chests had to be employed so that the loaded food provisions will not spoil. But then the ship was not really big for all the supplies needed and revenue cargo is the priority in the holds and in the other cargo areas. Water is an important provision that must also be considered since not only the drinking needs of the passengers must be taken into account.

The longest single legs of these ships were from Manila to Cebu, Manila to Tacloban and Manila to Dumaguete, all of which were just short of 400 nautical miles. With a speed averaging 10 knots that meant a travel time of over one-and-a-half days which means five meals have to be served to the passengers. That transit time does not even include additional time in dodging bad weather and in hiding in coves and letting the storm pass if it is strong. But from Cebu, Tacloban or Dumaguete, these liners are still bound for Northern Mindanao or Southern Mindanao and if the final destination is Davao, it is not even half of the way yet. In fuel, however, it might not have been that much of a concern for these ships were capable of crossing long distances in the Pacific Ocean during the war (but with refueling at sea of course).

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A former minesweepers. Still on the way to Surigao and Davao before the accident. Credits to The Philippines Herald and Gorio Belen.

One advantage of being short-legged is the vessels have to call on a lot of ports along their routes. So in that time a lot of small and minor ports are being served and have connections to Manila, the national port. But maybe one had not heard now of Pulanduta port or Gigantes, Looc, Ibajay, Sangi, Anakan, Victoria, Nato, Angas, Tandoc, Mercedes, Larap, Bacuit, Araceli, Caruray, Casiguran, Carangian, Cabalian, Calubian, Kabasalan, Kolambugan, Sipalay,et cetera, when before they had connections to Manila. Aside from those ports mentioned, the liners then will also drop anchors in the various Mindoro ports, in several Panay ports, a few ports in Romblon province , in Marinduque ports, in Masbate ports too on the way to ports in the east or ports farther down south including ports of Mindanao, the so-called “Land of Promise” then to entice people to move there (but it was disaster for the natives and the Muslims as they lost their ancestral lands).

In the longest route to Davao these small liners will pass by Cebu, Tagbilaran, Dumaguete and Zamboanga ports before heading to Celebes Sea for Cotabato, Dadiangas or Davao. These might even drop by Iligan, Ozamis or Pulauan first. Using the eastern seaboard of Mindanao the liner could have already dropped anchor in Masbate, Catbalogan, Tacloban, Surigao and maybe even Mati or Bislig. Some will pass by Iloilo or Pulupandan ports and Cagayan de Misamis or Iligan ports before going to Southern Mindanao while still passing through some other ports along the way. That was one reason why Surigao was a very important port as it was a critical stop-over then (the next leg if Mati is still a long way to go and especially if it is direct Davao). When to think Surigao was very far from the size of Zamboanga City. That city also functioned as a critical stop-over like Dumaguete. In the longest route then to Davao the most number of interports called before Davao in a route was ten. It will then take over a week before the liner reach Davao and one week was the usual transit time to Davao.

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Not and ex-“FS” ship but of the same size. Credits to Evening News and Gorio Belen

If one had the inclination these long voyages with many stop-overs also afford “free tourism” since the liner will be spending many hours on the intermediate port because of the slow cargo handling then and there will be time to roam the port city (that was what my late father used to do then). The stops then were really long compared to now as the cargo was not yet containerized and only a single boom handles all the loading and unloading aside of course from the backs of the porters. On the other hand for those prone to seasickness these long voyages are simply torture especially if during the monsoons when the weather is acting up. Summer travel doesn’t afford relief, however, as there is no air-conditioning on board, in the main.

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As can be gleaned from the photo there is no air-conditioned section. An ex-“FS” ship. Credits to Gorio Belen and the newspaper.

In those days the position of the Purser was important for he decides what supplies must be purchased along the way and by how much and he has the authority how much will be charged for the cargo loaded along the way. This is the reason why this position is filled by trusted men of the shipping owner. Nowadays, liners with their available big cargo space including refrigerated container vans and freezers plus big pantries is just basically loaded now in Manila and Cebu and if there is a local purchase then it must probably just fish or some vegetables which are cheaper than in the provinces than Manila or Cebu. With strong communication, too, now the tendency is to centralize everything unlike before (there is now what is called as the “commissary”) and so the Purser of the liner, if it still exist is no longer as important as before.

There were really a lot of these small and short-legged ferries then. The biggest reason is when there were no container ships yet these passenger-cargo ships were the main carriers of cargo then, too. So, all in all, some 60 converted ex-”FS” ships sailed our seas and approximately the same number of ex-”F” ships were also sailing. Plus there maybe two dozen small ships of the other types as liners too. So the small liners of the past might be some 140 ships in total or maybe the number will even reach 150 liners. Some of those, however, were primarily used only in the regional routes. But isn’t that number amazing?

But 25 years or a generation after these small liners came and dominated the local waters the fast cruiser liners began arriving in force and it was a paradigm-changing arrival. The main selling point of these fast cruiser liners was their speed. To maximize that selling point and the utilization of the ships that meant reducing travel time to Davao to three days which means a lot of interports had to be stricken off from the routes. Being bigger too that meant the small and shallow ports (and most of which still featured wooden wharves) can no longer be served by them. And so these small ports along the way lost their connection to Manila like the ports I listed earlier which people might no longer know now but had connections to Manila before when the liners were still small and short-legged.

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A fast cruiser liner but the interports are not shortened yet. Credits to Evening News and Gorio Belen.

And then in less than a decade’s time after the fast cruiser liners began arriving another paradigm-changing shift happened in local shipping when the first local container ships appeared in our waters. These container ships have a faster turn-around time than the small and short-legged liners because like the fast cruiser liners these just called on a few interports and sometimes there is even none. With the safety and security offered by the container vans and faster cargo handling soon the death knell to the old small and short-legged liners was sounded and in a few years they were practically gone from our waters.

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The first container ship in local waters. Credits to Times Journal and Gorio Belen.

But if there was a sector that lost with all these advances in speed and size it has to be the small and shallow ports along the way which lost their Manila connection. Some retained their Manila connection for a time but declined in importance like Romblon, Masbate, Catbalogan, Tacloban, Surigao, Tagbilaran and Pulupandan. Those that lost their Manila connection just look and wave at the ships passing their place. As replacement, regional and sub-regional ports had to be developed like Batangas, Lucena, Pilar, Matnog and later the intermodal system linking the islands had to develop, too.

But as a whole our number of regularly-scheduled ships dropped in number because the ships got bigger and the faster ships had more total voyages in a year. Actually, even the first generation container ships were bigger than the small and short-legged liners. Now their equivalent in size are just the bigger among our intermodal short-distance ferry-ROROs which connect our near islands and is the carrier of the intermodal trucks and buses like those which cross from Batangas to Mindoro, those which cross from Mindoro to Panay, those which link the eastern seaboard of the country, those which link Bicol, Masbate and Cebu and those which link the different Visayan islands, etc.

Now only a few will remember our small and short-legged liners which dominated our seas in the first 25 years or so after the end of World War II when our merchant fleet was born again. None of it exists now even as a museum piece.

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My Recent Trip to Masbate, Batangas, Mindoro and Bicol (Part 1)

I promised myself before that if I am in Cebu and if the Super Shuttle RORO 3 (SSR3) of Asian Marine Transport Corp. (AMTC) is running then I will take her to Batangas and that ship calls on Masbate on the way to there. I already inquired about her in AMTC Ouano last Sinulog but she was not running continuously yet then. She is my choice as she is the only direct trip to Batangas and she is the cheapest way to there. I also intended to take her on my way back to Cebu after I go on a short visit to Mindoro.

We thought she was just running recently but I found out she was already in the route since March but her schedule is irregular as it is already the cargo that determines when she leaves port making her more of a cargo-passenger ship or a RORO Cargo ship.

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When I verified she was sailing, I tried to get a ticket in their Gorordo office in Cebu but they were no longer issuing tickets there and so I just got one when I went to AMTC Ouano where she is docked. We left on a Monday midnight but actually I nearly left the ship even though I already had a ticket because upon boarding I found out many of her comforts were already gone when to think she wasn’t really a very comfortable ship to start with.

Gone already was the restaurant and the aircon sitting accommodation called “Theater”. Both were already closed. Of course the Tourist was never opened for since the very start SSR3 didn’t have enough passengers. Although I paid for the cheaper Seating accommodation in “Theater” they bumped me into the more uncomfortable Economy.

The Economy was the same and the mattresses are folded and the reason is to cut down on the dust settling in. But then it was still dusty as nobody takes care to clean them anymore and AMTC Ouano is dusty since the concrete has already turned into muck and the dust floating even diffracts my shots. The toilet and bath is also deteriorated too and less than clean (and its flies even go to the Economy section). The Economy is also hot even then but I found out the noise and vibration from the propeller shaft has lessened. There was no linen available. The Economy is basically for truck crews now and the passenger total was less than five.

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The only place to while away time in SSR3 where there is air. On the kiosk on the right some food is available. Getting hungry is a possibility in the ship. The seats are dusty.

For meals there is rice and the service crew of the kiosk in the bridge level will cook canned food in a single-burner stove when ordered and eggs are available plus drinks, biscuits and noodles. Even that kiosk is also deteriorated too and the seats are dusty. In the ship there were more apprentices than passengers and truck/vehicle crews (there was one pick-up in the load). But what they had were apprentices that do not know how to clean a ship.

My condition demands more comfort than the average person and I feared I won’t be able to sleep. I suffered in the trip but I tried the best I can to survive. But I cannot remember the last time I rode a more uncomfortable ship that has a reclining accommodation. Even the unimproved Lapu-lapu Ferry of more than ten years ago to Cataingan, Masbate with folding cots was more comfortable because it was airy and there was passenger service unlike in SSR3. In SSR3 I never saw a crewman in uniform and most of the persons doing some jobs were just apprentices. Now I wonder what they will learn after their apprenticeship expires when they don’t even tend to the ship and the passengers.

When I woke up in the morning we were still in the middle of Visayan Sea and it was the Samar Sea islands that were dominating the seascape. I knew there is just a small chance of a ship encounter as this place has few ships sailing at daytime. It is a long time before the islands seemed to move and the very few passengers and crewmen at the lounge by the kiosk don’t know them better than me. Until we passed by Cataingan Bay the Masbate land when we were astride it already seemed featureless. I just tried to view the islands in the east especially when we were approaching Naranjo islands. Yeah, with so many islands in the place and lots of fishes I was imagining the place as the birthplace of the Tausugs and the Badjaos which linguistic research says it is and they even have a descendant in the place, the Abaknons.

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Islands in Samar Sea

Until the ship reaches the Uson area with its offshore islands Masbate island is not exciting to watch passing by. Maybe the lack of a true mountain range is the reason and though there is a coastal road few developments are visible. It is the islands on the starboard of the ship that seems to provide variety. And I was peering into it as if I am trying to peer into history and the peoples of the area. I feel that what is called Masbateno now could be the mother language of many languages. If our people came from Formosa and Bicol is their landing place on the way south and Bicol with its many dialects is a Visayan language then Masbate and the islands in Samar Sea might have been the key to the diaspora south.

The Uson area of Masbate also has a fascination to me as that was the only place in Masbate island that the Spaniards was able to control and the rest was controlled by the Moros. In Uson the Spaniards was able to established a galleon-building yard and the area south of the Bicol mountain ranges hosted the bulk of the galleon-building yards of the past as it had the best shipwrights then. I cannot help but think of that when I pass the place. By the way after Uson the ship will sail astride Ticao island too which was very important then to the galleon trade.

As forecast soon we were enveloped in heavy rain and visibility was hampered. The positive thing is everything cooled. It was a reminder that it was already habagat (southwest monsoon) season. We were now leaving the area where there is a gap in the far land mass. To the knowledgeable they know it is the San Bernardino Strait, the way of the galleons in the past into the Pacific Ocean (which is anything but pacific). It was also the way of our seafaring ancestors to Formosa and China, the Pintados with their boats that are even longer than the galleons. Their shipbuilding stopped when the Spaniards issued an edict outlawing them because they needed their skills for the galleons.

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Masbate port. We will try to dock sideways between the two ferries.

We arrived in Masbate after more than 14 hours of sailing and we had a long time docking because the Captain tried a 45-degree docking. Maybe the linear space was not enough for sideways docking. But then the Sta. Clara ferry Jack Daniel suddenly left ahead of time and maybe her Captain was apprehensive of our docking maneuver and she was not waiting for any more vehicles anyway. But with that the last chance I can take pictures of buses in Masbate port was gone. Regarding ferries there were still two Montenegro Shipping Lines Inc. (MSLI) High Speed Crafts plus a small RORO of them that will spend the night in port.

I then just made my way to Masbate bus terminal where I found four buses and a few motor bancas in the nearby boat landing area for most have already left as it was already 4 o’clock in the afternoon and the activities in the two Masbate ports was already dying. I was clearly dissatisfied with my Masbate ship and bus spotting. My only consolation was eating the Reuben burger of Bigg’s Masbate but it cost over P200 already. I try to eat in Bigg’s whenever I am in Bicol because they can’t be found outside the region except for two of their outlets.

We left Masbate after more than three hours when night had already fallen after taking in livestock trucks and that meant cattle, carabao and goat (thanks there were no hogs). Masbate is known for livestock and the cattle was obviously for fattening. It was headed for Batangas and I assume when it reaches the market it will already be “Batangas beef”. The car deck of SSR3 when we left Masbate and actually they did not fully load it in Mandaue so the cargo in Masbate can still be loaded.

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For conversion to “Batangas cattle”

After dinnertime (there was actually no dinner), I was able to find a truck crewman that knows the area and like me has been around the country as he drifted from one job into another beginning with fishing. In terms of knowledge of the sea the contract fishermen in the big fishing fleets have almost the same knowledge as the seaman. Amazingly, he also knows buses. He has already lived in many places. We talked even past the Aroroy headland and lighthouse.

I was able to find a more comfortable position on an upper deck which I normally won’t take because of my condition but the only breeze was there. The alternative is to sleep on a bench in the bridge deck by the canteen. Even there it was dusty but at least it was airy. A practical passenger actually slept there and I also spent time there after a hypoglycemic attack when I needed to cool down.

In terms of uncleanliness I do not know if SSR3 has descended to the level of Viva Shipping Lines. Sorry to say it and no offense meant but SSR3 is only good for truck crews whixh is a hardy bunch and not passengers and may this serve as a warning. Cleaning is not part of the routine of the crew and the apprentices. If there is no regular schedule then MARINA could just withhold the passenger license like with what they did with Gothong Lines. It won’t matter on the part of AMTC anyway because for all practical purposes SSR3 is just a RORO Cargo ship now and she gets full anyway according to what I heard.

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Marinduque behind

When I woke up in the morning we were just between Marinduque island and the Batangas headland which corresponds to the town of San Juan. I laughed because that route will make one feel what the view is if the Starhorse ferry was still sailing the San Juan to Marinduque route. Astride San Juan the plains of Naujan of Mindoro, the former developed area of Mindoro before Calapan was very visible along with the two tall mountains of Mindoro. Up ahead were the islands in the Verde Island Passage. But I was wondering why our ship was following the coastal route. Were we reclassified into a “coaster”?

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Mindoro up ahead

I was able to engage in some productive exchanges with people connected with AMTC before entering Batangas Bay. From Matuco Point I was already busy taking photos of ships. The only positive thing about SSR3 was I was able to charge all my batteries. As usual there were a lot of ships in Batangas port and in the bay. Maybe my most notable finding was the reappearance of the former Siquijor Island II which is now The Pegasus. Our trip from Masbate lasted over 16 hours and it was near lunch when we arrived.

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Batangas port

Disembarking from the ship the ATI (Asian Terminals Inc.) shuttle picked us up. Nobody walks around in Batangas port because ISPS tells them any passenger is a possible saboteur and ATI is the new operator. I really cannot understand this practice of government of handing over fully-developed ports with a lot of traffic to private operators for just a small rental when a port like Batangas costs in the billions. A chance to engage in “golden signatures”, perhaps?

I did not have much time in Batangas port because upon surveying the ticketing booths I noticed the Starlite Pioneer was leaving at 1pm and I wanted to take that to assess the design of the new ship series of Starlite Ferries. I did not even have enough time to take enough bus pictures or have a proper lunch. But one thing I noticed in Starlite Ferries is a lot of passengers have food in see-through plastic meal boxes. I found out later that was already the new way of selling meals in Batangas and Calapan. Neat and practical and the price just matches that of fast food chains and there is less garbage and mess in the ship.

I found out the new Starlite Ferries has no meaningful difference over the older ferries except the side passageways are wider and there was an elevator for disabled persons. A wing passenger ramp like in Cebu is a better improvement for Batangas ferries because what they do is hold the passengers so that the vehicles can load or unload first. A wing ramp will enable simultaneous passenger and cargo loading and unloading which the Batangas ferries can’t do unlike in Central Visayas.

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By the way the passenger bridges of Batangas port are no longer used as shuttles just whisk away the passengers to their ship. So the design was wrong? Well, one does not need to go to the second floor of the passenger terminal building anymore and then go down to wharf level near the ship. Bus passengers meanwhile has to go down to pay the passenger terminal fee and board again their bus up to the ferry. Well it seems “cattle-herding” won’t go anytime soon in the ISPS ports. Why can’t the port assign collectors to go up the buses? It seems passenger comfort is an unknown objective to them. If passengers can move their asses so should they can for they are paid after. Maybe they can recruit former bus conductors to do that job for them.

Starlite Ferries built an open-air Economy section on top of the Japan-built passenger section to increase passenger capacity much like what shipping companies do with the surplus ships from Japan. It should have been my accommodation but the good thing is they upgraded us to the aircon section. That was a nice facility to cool down when ship spotting. My senior citizen fare was only P171 and I wondered how they computed that since it was lower than what I expected. Their fare are like the Economy of Oceanjet and FastCat which is about equivalent to the Economy of MSLI and I heard MSLI is suffering as a result. It is really good if there is true competition as fares go down.

It is nice taking a ferry to Calapan as there are many ships anchored in Batangas Bay and there are also encounters with ships from Calapan and ships traversing the Verde Island Passage. Sabang of Puerto Galera also becomes visible along with Maricaban island and Verde island. Traversing the strait one might think it was not habagat yet as the sea shows no sign of it. Approaching Calapan one has view of the town (it is a city), the settlements to the port and the port itself which looks very long now with many buildings already.

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A part of Calapan port

We arrived in Calapan port at past 3pm. Starlite Pioneer was not able to deliver on their 1 hour 45 minute promised crossing time and we took two hours in the 24-nautical mile route. I thought the cruising speed of the ship was 14.5 knots? That is what they advertised. But anyway the crew was nice and I was able to charge batteries a little. And riding a new ship is always nice.

Upon arrival in Calapan, I realized I had no time anymore to go to Puerto Galera because if I do so I will arrive there when the sun is already setting down and I still wanted to roam Calapan port and take photos of ships and buses there if there are any around (there was none as it was still to early for the buses from Panay and Occidental Mindoro). I was also interested in the Mindoro jeeps which are actually trucks in disguise as they can’t be found anywhere else.

After finding an eatery where I was able to charge battery I went to Calapan market to visit old haunts (I did business in Mindoro before) and see what changed, what remained. When I visited Calapan three years ago with two PSSS Moderators as hosts I was not able to figure out well the market as we were more on the outskirts and the new developments in Calapan. Roaming the market, I just did it on foot to better absorb things. I already tried to find our old place. I can no longer find it. The place of a lady Chinese friend was shuttered already. And the legendary Ampo was no longer there too.

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Calapan public market and terminal

Before leaving the city I took my first food that can be called a meal. That was also my rest. Then a heavy rain fell and that precluded any more roaming or getting around. Getting a tricycle also got difficult. It was already a little dark when I arrived back in the port and roaming and taking shots were compromised. I got back to the eatery to retrieve my battery. I was able to interview the owner a little about the old ferries of Calapan when all were still wooden-hulled and moving cargo were all mano-mano (by hands).

In Calapan port I made calls and verification through others of my possible rides. I have the phone of AMTC Batangas but they were not answering calls. They had a notice in their ticketing office that boarding of SSR3 is 6pm the next day. If that is the case then I can while away the time in Batangas port, the city and the terminal (or go to Puerto Galera). But I was warned aboard the ship that it usually takes 3 days before SSR3 heads back to Cebu. Even the crewman aboard SSR3 was not taking my calls.

My alternative if it really that long was to take the 7am St. Francis Xavier of 2GO the next day in the North Harbor of Manila. It will cost me more but I can cover North Harbor again. But I anticipated a problem with the 2GO ship. All charging are charged there at P5 for 10 minutes. It will cost me a fortune to charge all my batteries which take a total of over 12 hours. And that is what I cannot understand about 2GO when the likes of Trans-Asia can offer free charging by the bunk and that is also what I found out about the refurbished Filipinas Maasin of Cokaliong which was my ship back to Cebu. It’s hard when there are stockholders to please like in 2GO. They always expect dividends from profits.

I tried to avoid an early Calapan departure because I know there are less passenger comforts in Batangas port than in Calapan port. The first one is an ISPS port in the fullest sense and the passengers have a very small “corral” to roam around with few “grazing” areas like stores. That is not a problem in Calapan. If needed I can take a tricycle and head back to the city if I want a better eat or surroundings. If I go early there is no sense arriving in Manila at 2am. Manila is more dangerous and going to North Harbor early is also no good as the terminal is not open much ahead of the departure time (why waste power?).

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Issuance of free ferry tickets for bus passengers in Calapan port

So I decided on an 11pm FastCat where I can have a nice rest. I declined the Starlite ferry at the same time because it is the older Starlite Jupiter. I am not sure if it has individual seats in an air-conditioned compartment and visually I dislike seeing people sleeping on seats (Batangas ferries are known for scrimping on bunks unlike in Cebu). If it was a new Starlite ferry that is different from the Starlite Pioneer I would have taken it because I need charging.

While waiting in Calapan port I was able to befriend two guards and I had a lively conversation with them that I was able to get more sense of Calapan-Batangas shipping now. We also had some talks of the past of Mindoro. Nothing beats a good talk when one is just waiting anyway. While i was talking to them the buses from Panay island and Occidental Mindoro kept arriving and after a short wait they board their ferries. Dimple Star is already the dominant bus in the routes that cross from Batangas going south.

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The FastCat and the Starlite Jupiter arrived one after the other in Batangas after leaving one after the other in Calapan. Are the new ferries limiting their speeds already to save on fuel? We took nearly two hours to Calapan. My FastCat was the M5 and I have not ridden it before like the Starlite Jupiter. Their fares are about the same but I got the feeling the FastCat is more comfortable as it is a new ferry.

When I arrived in Batangas port at 1 am there was only one bus available, an N. De la Rosa Transit which is a Cubao/Kamias bus and passes through the Cubao underpass. I didn’t like it. I don’t want to go down in Makati and so I waited. But there was no other bus because a 2GO ship arrived ahead of us and vacuumed the waiting buses. At that hour going to the Batangas Grand Terminal will cost money by tricycle. Yes, one can get marooned in Batangas port after midnight.

Until 3am arrived. The N. De la Rosa bus has not yet left. Seems it was waiting for the 1am ferries from Calapan. 3am is the critical hour for me. If my bus is not leaving by that time then there is no more point going after a 7am ferry in North Harbor as I might just miss it. Good i hedged my bet and didn’t get a 2GO ticket yet although their ticketing office was open.

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A view of Batangas port while waiting for a bus

And from there my plans changed in an instant. Good I was from Luzon and I know the other alternatives. I can’t wait for the other 2GO ferries in North Harbor as the next two departures are at night and the arrival in Cebu will also be at night and what is the use of that for ship spotting? It is also not a good alternative to wait for the SSR3 for 3 days. I was also not prepared for any long-ranging diversion in terms of days as I was not prepared for that in many ways.

I have to go some other way back….

(To be continued…)

The First “Great” Merger: The Failed Saga of WG&A and CFC

When WG&A was formed it was ostensibly to combat the entry of foreign shipping companies on local inter-island routes. That was the time of many so-called “deregulation” initiatives of Fidel V. Ramos. But even then I had doubts about this as an cabotage law was in effect in the Philippines. Cabotage effectively prevents foreign shipping companies from plying local routes. And to repeal it an act of Congress is needed and I heavily doubted then that the Philippine Congress will go along with that.

It is generally accepted that it was Aboitiz Shipping that proposed this big merger. Rumors had it that the biggest shipping company, Sulpicio Lines, which was also Cebu-based was also invited but it refused and preferred to go it all alone.

The merger brought together the second, third and fourth-biggest shipping companies in the Philippines reckoned by passenger and cargo operations out of a total of five long-distance liner companies (but may I note which is in fourth place might be disputed by Negros Navigation). It had the effect of lowering the number of long-distance passenger shipping companies from five to three.

The merged company and its subsidiaries were the biggest shipping combine that ever existed in the Philippines in terms of fleet and in terms of route network. It significantly brought to that Visayas-Mindanao and intra-Visayas routes and High Speed Craft(HSC) operations. For the former, the Cebu Ferries Corp. (CFC) was formed and for the latter SuperCat was retained.

Brought into the merger were the following ferries (including their former routes):

WILLIAM LINES INC.
Mabuhay 1 (Manila-Cebu and Manila-Iloilo)
Mabuhay 2 ((Mnl-Surigao-Butuan-Tagbilaran-Mnl and Mnl-Tagbilaran-CDO)
Mabuhay 3 (Manila-Davao-Dadiangas-Manila and Manila-CDO-Iloilo-Manila)
Mabuhay 5 [after a few voyages permanent fielding overtaken by merger]
Dona Virginia (Manila-Dumaguete-Ozamis-Iligan v.v.)
Maynilad (Manila-Zamboanga-Davao)
Masbate I (Manila-Masbate-Catbalogan-Tacloban)
Zamboanga City (Manila-Puerto Princesa v.v.)
Tacloban City (Manila-Batan-Dumaguit-Dipolog v.v.)
Iligan City (Cebu-Iligan v.v.)
Misamis Occidental (Cebu-Ozamis v.v.)
Mabuhay 6 [unfinished]

CARLOS A. GOTHONG LINES INC.
Our Lady of Akita (Manila-CDO-Butuan v.v. and Manila-Cebu v.v.)
Our Lady of Medjugorje (Manila-Dumaguete-Ozamis-Iligan-Cebu v.v.)
Our Lady of Sacred Heart (Manila-Roxas-Palompon-Isabel-Cebu v.v.)
Our Lady of Lourdes (Manila-Dumaguit-Palompon-Cebu v.v.)
Our Lady of the Rule (CDO-Cebu v.v. and CDO-Jagna v.v.)
Our Lady of Naju (Cebu-Ozamis v.v.)
Our Lady of Fatima (Nasipit-Cebu v.v. and Nasipit-Jagna v.v.)
Our Lady of Mt. Carmel (Iligan-Cebu v.v. and Iligan-Dumaguete v.v.)
Our Lady of Guadalupe [reserve/unreliable; formerly Cebu-Surigao v.v.]
Our Lady of Lipa (Cebu-CDO v.v.)
Dona Cristina (Cebu-Tacloban v.v. and Cebu-Palompon v.v.)
Dona Lili (Cebu-Surigao v.v. and Cebu-Maasin v.v.)
Don Calvino [reserve/unreliable; formerly Cebu-Iligan v.v.]
Our Lady of Akita 2 [unfinished]

ABOITIZ SHIPPING CORP.
SuperFerry 1 (Manila-Iloilo-GSC-Davao v.v. and Manila-Iloilo v.v.)
SuperFerry 2 (Manila-Cebu-CDO v.v.)
SuperFerry 3 (Mnl-Zamboanga-Cotabato v.v. w/ Boracay (summer) and Mnl-Dumaguit-Roxas v.v.)
SuperFerry 5 (Mnl-Cebu-Iligan-Dumaguete-Mnl) and Mnl-Dumaguete-CDO-Cebu-Mnl)
Elcano (was not used; obsolete/unreliable; supposedly not brought by ASC to the merger)
Allowing for database inaccuracies, the following cargo ships were brought to the merger:

CARLOS A. GOTHONG LINES INC.
Our Lady of Peace (112.9m x 18.0m, 17kts, b. 1974)
Our Lady of Hope (99.0m x17.3m, 17kts, b.1979)

ABOITIZ SHIPPING CORP.
Aboitiz Concarrier V (69.0m x 10.9m, b. 1968)
Aboitiz Concarrier XIV (71.0m x 10.9m, 13kts, b. 1965)
Aboitiz Superconcarrier I (115.1m x17.3m, 14kts, b. 1970)
Aboitiz Superconcarrier II (102.0m x 16.3m, 12.5kts, b. 1970)
Aboitiz Superconcarrier III (105.5m x16.3m, 12.5kts, b. 1976)
Aboitiz Megacarrier 1 (139.7m x 19.3m, 14kts, b. 1975)
Aboitiz SuperRORO 100 (108.2m x20.0m, 16kts, b. 1983)

WILLIAM LINES INC.
Wilcon II
Wilcon 4
Wilcon 5
Wilcon VI
Wilcon VII
Wilcon 8
Wilcon 11
ROCON I

Excluding HSCs which were just beginning to arrive in the Philippines, the combined fleet of WG&A was nearly 50 vessels, slightly more than double the fleet of Sulpicio Lines, previously the biggest shipping company in the country.

SHIP TRANSFORMATIONS AFTER THE MERGER
Mabuhay 1 became SuperFerry10
Mabuhay 2 became SuperFerry 7
Mabuhay 3 became SuperFerry 8
Mabuhay 5 became SuperFerry 9
Mabuhay 6 became Our Lady of Good Voyage
Our Lady Akita became SuperFerry 6
Our Lady of Akita 2 became SuperFerry 11 (and later the Our Lady of Banneux)
Masbate I became Our Lady of Manaoag (in 1998)
Misamis Occidental became Our Lady of Montserrat (in 1997)

VESSELS TRANSFERRED TO CEBU FERRIES CORP.
Our Lady of Lipa (later transferred to WG&A)
Our Lady of the Rule
Our Lady of Lourdes
Our Lady of Fatima
Our Lady of Mt. Carmel
Our Lady of Guadalupe
Dona Cristina
Dona Lili
Don Calvino
Misamis Occidental
Our Lady of Good Voyage (later)
Maynilad (later and also renamed Our Lady of Akita 2)
Our Lady of Banneux (later)
Our Lady of Manaoag (later)

Like all mergers and acquisitions (M&A), the terms “synergy”, “rationalization” and “streamlining” was bandied about as if these terms are positive terms in business. But soon these words brought chills to the rank and file because the sum of the 3 words is actually only one — “chopping block”. This is the field of bean counters where shipping passion is simply thrown out of the window.

Immediately, the Aboitiz Jebsens system was adopted. That means relying on bigger, faster ROROs and short in-port hours which equates to high utilization of ships. That called for good ship engines, a field of expertise of the now-renamed WG&A Jebsens. That system, however, also meant the death knell for the cruiser liners as their cargo booms meant long in-port hours and their having no car decks means low capacity for container vans.

The new style was to put all cargo in container vans and all container vans are mounted in trailers. For fast handling, tractor heads from trucks were no longer good enough. Only dedicated, automatic prime movers with the capability to raise the trailers were used. Calls on in-between ports generally were only 2-3 hours and ships don’t stay overnight at the farthest port of call of a voyage.

With so many ROROs sailing high hours per week (with some ships sailing 145.5 hours out of a 168-hour week), WG&A was confident it could sell less-efficient and slower ropax and container ships without affecting capacity and frequency. Soon some of the vessels were already for sale.

VESSELS SOLD SOON AFTER THE MERGER
Tacloban City (cruiser)
Iligan City (cruiser)
Dona Cristina (slow, small RORO)
Don Calvino (slow, small, unreliable RORO)
Dona Lili (slow, small RORO)
Wilcon 6 (old cargo ship)
Aboitiz Concarrier V (old cargo ship)
Aboitiz Megacarrier 1 (big, modern container ship)
Aboitiz SuperRORO 100 (big, modern container ship)
RoCon I (big, modern container ship, the biggest in the country)

VESSELS OFFERED FOR SALE BUT NOT SOLD THEN
Dona Virginia (cruiser liner)
Maynilad (big but slow RORO liner)
Zamboanga City (ROLO liner)
Our Lady of Naju (cruiser)
Masbate I (slow, small RORO)
Our Lady of Montserrat (cruiser)
SuperRORO 300 (former Our Lady of Hope, container ship)

With WG&A Jebsens managing the fleet, the merger upgraded the amenities, cleanliness and passenger service of the ferries. But initially all meals were for sale; vehement protests from patrons thereafter forced WG&A to backtrack. It was also claimed that safety standards improved as the whole fleet is now internationally-certificated. However this was not reflected in lower hull-loss rates. Ironically, it was the lesser Our Ladies (and not the SuperFerries) which proved to be unsinkable.

WG&A and CFC practiced branding. Branding is good in the sense that it promises consistent quality and service. On the other hand branding also utilizes ads and promotions. If that results in better market share then it should be good. Otherwise it only means higher level of costs. And higher costs are a threat to marginal routes and to less-efficient ships.

Initially, even with a fifth of their fleet sold (and with only one additional ship coming, the SF12 and while losing the SF7 to fire), WG&A was able to offer more frequencies because of the higher utilization of ships. But almost no new ports of call were added except for Bacolod. And probably the only significant new routes were the Manila-Cebu-Surigao-Davao (which passes through the eastern seaboard of Mindanao), Manila-Ormoc-Nasipit, Manila-Dumaguete-Cotabato and Manila-Cebu-Zamboanga-General Santos/Davao routes.

It was Cebu Ferries that added more new ports of call and routes (like Cebu to Dumaguit, Roxas City, Bacolod, Dumaguete, Larena, Jagna and Camiguin and Cagayan de Oro to Dumaguete) which in turn put a lot of pressure on the other Cebu shipping companies. CFC ships were faster than the competition and as former liners they simply outclassed the rest in terms of amenities and service.

Sulpicio Lines and Negros Navigation responded by adding ships. Sulpicio Lines basically kept to their old routes (except for the new Manila-Cebu-Davao-Dadiangas route) but Negros Navigation which previously concentrated only in Western Visayas has to venture in a lot of new routes and ports of call because their fleet more than doubled in a span of a few years. But then by sailing to Cebu, Nenaco also opened their former exclusive port of Bacolod to competition and they lost more than they gained.

This period right after the merger, the late 90s, was probably one of the best in Philippine passenger shipping. Competition was fierce, choices were many and there were a lot of newly-fielded ships. There were more shipping companies in the past but the ships of the 90s were far better than the ships of the earlier periods. In major ports there were nearly daily departures from all the liner companies combined.

But they say good times never really last. But I didn’t expect that the decline will be that soon, that fast, that continuous and what will be left is just the rump of the biggest-ever shipping company in the Philippines.

The first hint of trouble that I detected was when I noticed that WG&A was not properly assessing the threat, challenge and development of the intermodal system in Eastern Visayas which was then growing by leaps and bounds.

If Fidel V. Ramos had a deregulation program in shipping he also had a deregulation program in the bus and truck sectors. As deregulated area, bus companies can now ply Eastern Visayas routes with just a temporary operator’s permit. Soon a lot of buses were plying the Samar-Leyte-Biliran routes. Then the dominant short-distance RORO company in the Matnog-Allen route lost the case to protect their missionary status and new players entered that route ensuring that the ROROs needed will always be there. Long-distance trucking also developed with the loosening of the restrictions in the importation of surplus trucks. And with the advent of radial truck tires long-distance trucking became easy.

WG&A’s response was to withdraw from the Samar-Leyte routes except for the adjacent ports of Ormoc, Palompon and Isabel which actually comprises just one route. But soon under pressure from the buses these were lost too including the port of Masbate City which was also part of this route. Soon the islands of Masbate, Samar, Leyte and Biliran were lost to the intermodal trucks and buses.

Eastern Visayas was a signal victory for the intermodal system which was based on long-distance truck/bus plus the short-distance RORO ship. Wins by the challengers tend to have a multiplier effect. They become stronger, bolder and more confident. If the ship can be beaten in one area then nobody can pooh-pooh anymore that they will not be beaten in the next area of confrontation. And the next challenge probably happened before the WG&A has fully internalized their loss and it happened when they were in relative disarray.

A related development at this time was that WG&A’s new routes failed to stick and only the Bacolod route was able to survive. The new CFC routes also failed to pan out and were being abandoned one by one. One contributory factor for CFC’s retreat is fuel cost. The amenities and service of their ships might have been higher as those were former liners but as former liners it is also the reason why their engines are bigger and consume more fuel. Soon WG&A/CFC were selling ships. This was the second set of disposals and it happened at about the turn of the millennium. Also disposed in this period were at least six catamarans including vessels that came from mergers in the High Speed Craft (HSC) sector (the mergers with the Sea Angels of Negros Navigation and Waterjet).

At the same proximate time, it was already the strategy of WG&A to sell old and inefficient cargo ships and just let the ROROs liners carry the container vans. They then went for bigger ROROs later with twin cargo decks, the reason for the purchases of the SuperFerry 15, SuperFerry 16, SuperFerry 17 and SuperFerry 18.

The next challenge did not come from the intermodal. Rather it was the withdrawal of the Gothong family from the merger except for one scion. Soon the Gothong family re-entered the shipping business and re-established Carlos A. Gothong Lines Inc. (but they were not particular successful). Not long after this development the Chiongbian family (of William Lines) also withdrew from the merged company. But they did not re-enter the shipping business. Let it be noted, because it is important, that all the merged shipping companies independently retained their cargo forwarding businesess. For the Chiongbian family it was the Fast Cargo Transport Corp.(FCTC) and Gothong Cargo Forwarding Corp.(GCFC) for the Gothong family.

One can speculate that the sale of 10 vessels in 2000-02 (including those withdrawn from routes and old container ships) might somehow be connected to these withdrawals. When the company also took out a big loan in this period ($18.6 million) it might also have a relation to this state of affairs. Before the end of 2002, Aboitiz had already bought out its former partners. But it will still be later that the company will be renamed Aboitiz Transport System (ATS).

The next challenge came from the intermodal again. In 2003, the Western Nautical Highway opened and buses, trucks and jeeps were able to roll down to Panay island via Mindoro and Batangas. Soon the shipping routes and shipping companies serving Panay were under great pressure. Again, WG&A chose to withdraw (from Dumaguit and Roxas) and just tried to hold on to Iloilo port.

The opening of the Western Nautical Highway and the consequent withdrawal from routes, the withdrawal of the Chiongbian family and the need for new ROROs provoked a massacre of ships in this period as about 15 ships were disposed in the years 2003-06, both from WG&A and CFC, both ROPAX and container ships. It must also be noted that six catamarans were also sold in this period. WG&A was lucky that at this time world metal prices were peaking. If it hastened the disposal of ships I can say it is probable. Let me state that in the late 1990’s when all three families were still in WG&A, the company did not sell to the breakers, in general. In the first half of the first decade of the new millennium WG&A sold heavily to the breakers especially when world metal prices were peaking.

Attracted by the doubling of world metal price in 2007, WG&A then sold their prized ferries Superferry 15, SuperFerry 16, SuperFerry 17 and SuperFerry 18 to foreign liner companies.In the process they earned a windfall. But this is not without cost as they suddenly lacked the ships needed to carry the container vans. As a stopgap measure WG&A chartered 3 container ships, the “Myriad”, “Markella” and “Eponyma”. They then also converted SuperFerry 2, SuperFerry 9 and SuperFerry 12 into twin-cargo-deck ROPAX ships. Later the subsidiary cargo company 2GO was formed and the chartered ships were returned one by one.

At about the same time, in 2007, a very ominous development took place. Aboitiz partnered with MCC Transport of Singapore, the Asia subsidiary of the A.P. Moller – Maersk Group, the biggest container shipping company in the world and formed the MCC Transport Philippines (MCCTP). Since it met nationality rules, it was able to ply local routes and the ships invested by Maersk were given special permits by MARINA.

If the chartered ships of ATS and the ships of 2GO were a step up over local competition, the ships that came from MCC Transport were still another further step ahead in terms of size, speed and efficiency. MCCTP acted as feeder to MCC Transport which now dominates the Asia container routes. Together with the coming of more regional container ships (after APL) with direct foreign routes (like MELL, PIL, RCL and others), this completely undermined one important bread and butter of local container shipping which is the transshipment of foreign container vans. ATS and subsidiary 2GO cargo operations might have been affected by this but as a group Aboitiz is safe because they are also on the side of the winners through MCCTP.

After the sales of the four of the biggest and most modern SuperFerry ships in 2007, the fleet of ATS/CFC no longer grew. New ships have come like SuperFerry 20, SuperFerry 21, Cebu Ferry 1, Cebu Ferry 2 and Cebu Ferry 3. But ships have also been sold, lost or laid-up like SuperFerry 9, Our Lady of Medjugorje, Our Lady of Good Voyage, Our Lady of the Rule, Our Lady of Mount Carmel and SuperFerry 19.

With only six ships sailing, ATS ports of call were already down to half compared to its peak and in half of these ports the frequencies were down to once a week. CFC ports of call were also down to half and its fleet is less than a third of what it had before. CFC changed its website and no longer claimed it was the biggest Visayan shipping company (which is just a reflection of the truth). The Sulpicio Lines fleet was already bigger than the combined ATS and CFC fleets. If cargo ships are counted, Sulpicio’s fleet was almost double the combined ATS, CFC and 2GO fleets.

In 2008, KGLI-NM, the holding company owning Negros Navigation made an offer for Aboitiz Transport System. When the bank financing the take-over bid asked for more collateral the bid collapsed. This take-over bid was news for a long time because of the significance and it dragged. It was here that ATS propagated the canard that shipping is losing to the budget airlines and it obscured the fact that cargo is the lifeblood of shipping. Ironically it is this same year that regional container ships in Philippine ports multiplied. And not once did I notice Aboitiz discussing its shares in MCC Transport Philippines. But at least the Aboitiz group was frank enough to admit that the business of power generation attracts them more and that they are already heavily investing in it and if ATS is sold it will be one of their primary investment areas.

In 2010, with the assistance of the ASEAN-China Fund, Negros Navigation Company was finally able to secure the deal to buy Aboitiz Transport System and its subsidiaries especially Cebu Ferries Corporation, SuperCat and 2GO, the forwarding company. At its end as an Aboitiz company, ATS, CFC and 2GO had only 9 ROPAX ships and 2 cargo ships sailing which is not any bigger in gross tons than the company it merged in WG&A even if the SuperCats are counted. So in effect that means the bigger William Lines and Gothong sank without any replacement.

Aboitiz always says around that it has already gotten out of shipping and the maritime industry. But they completely obscure the fact that they are still in MCC Transport Philippines (MCCTP) and they completely own now the former Aboitiz Jebsens (renamed back when the Gothong and Chiongbian families withdrew from WG&A). The former Abojeb is in crewing and manning and that is one of the five recognized sectors of the Philippine maritime industry as defined by the government. MCCTP is already in expansion after Aboitiz sold Aboitiz Transport System. [Recently, Aboitiz clarified that some of their family members are engaged in MCCTP.]

Now, Negros Navigation Company owns Aboitiz Transport System and NENACO even retained the name and the brands. It will be a matter of time before it will be evident how big a bag they are holding.

The “great” merger of 1996 started out with a bang, lofty words and promises. It exited with just a whimper. But along the way it sank two great liner companies (William Lines and Gothong) and took down with it the liner industry.

The Batangas-Caticlan Route

Once, as we were ship spotting Pier 4, me and Vinz noticed that there seems to be a ceremony involving Cebu Ferry 1 and Cebu Ferry 3. Asking the guard who is his friend, Vinz learned it was despedida (farewell ceremonies) for the two Visayas-Mindanao ferries which will be transferred in Batangas. We learned later that the Batangas manager of 2GO said he can make the two ferries earn more there than in Cebu. That was already the era of the retreat of Cebu Ferries Corporation (CFC) when to think that in the late 1990’s they were bullying the Visayas-Mindanao ferry companies which led to the demise of some. This time around, Cebu Ferries Corporation can no longer keep with their competition. What a reversal of fortune!

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The despidida for two Cebu Ferry ships

Vinz asked me how the two ferries will fare in Batangas. I told him it is a different ballgame there. What I meant was in Cebu it was a matter of attracting passengers and loose cargo, I told Vinz the game in the intermodal ports of Luzon (and Batangas is one) is in attracting the buses and the trucks and I told him discounting (called “rebates”) is the name of the game there (and that also includes freebies). That means whichever has the biggest discount will have the rolling cargo and for the regulars long-term agreements apply so it is not the decision of the drivers what ship to board. I told Vinz the new “Batangas Ferries” (my monicker) will have to learn the new game.

The new “Batangas Ferries” plied a direct Batangas to Caticlan route compared to their competitors which ply both the Batangas-Calapan route and the Roxas-Caticlan route and let the buses and trucks roll from Calapan to Roxas in Oriental Mindoro, a distance of about 120 kilometers or so or about 3 hours of rolling time. The “Batangas Ferries” can easily sail that route as an overnight ferry because they have the speed to do it in less than 12 hours (and as overnight ferries they are already equipped with bunks). In fact, early on they tried a round trip in a day for the Batangas-Caticlan route. Then they found out they don’t have enough load because many of the buses and trucks are already tied to their competitors and there is no load yet in the early morning in Caticlan as the buses and trucks are still rolling from many parts of Panay and will still arrive at noon or in the afternoon.

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A “Batangas Ferry” sailing into the coming night by Nowell Alcancia

In reality, even the slower ferries of their competition can do a Batangas-Caticlan route should they want to do it. It will take more than 12 hours but they will still be able to sail the next night. Even at the usual 11 knots they can do that route in no more than 16 hours. Their faster ferries than can do 14 knots can do the route in about 14 hours. Their ferries will just have to become overnight ferries+ instead of being short-distance ferries.

That then was the first rub. The ferries of Batangas are not used to and are even loath to operate overnight ferries. For one, they will have to convert their ferries to have bunks. That means expenses, that means lessening the passenger capacity. Now for shipping companies that are even loath to adding scantlings and were just content to have the unofficial “Stairs Class”, that is a difficult sell. Good overnight ferries also must be able to provide a restaurant and hot food. Well, nothing beats the ease and profit margins of overpriced instant noodles where the only capital is hot water. Now what if MARINA obliges them to provide free meals if the voyage time is over 12 hours like what Administrator Pacienco Balbon required then of Viva Shipping Lines? That could be disaster.

Well, it seems nothing will beat requiring the rolling cargo and its passengers two ferry rides within the same night (for some that leave Manila late). They will earn twice and anyway the rolling cargo won’t go to “Batangas Ferries” because many are tied to them with discounting and rebates. And they won’t just transfer because the rates in the sea is high for the same distance and the distance of Batangas-Caticlan is high and so it is not cheap and Batangas Ferries is not used to discounting (actually, the reason they eventually lost in Visayas-Mindanao is they were the more expensive).

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Passengers can’t be aboard the bus during the voyage and in loading and offloading

The buses won’t go along with “Batangas Ferries” too. If they ride on a Batangas-Caticlan ferry they would have to forego the fare for 120 kilometers or so and that is not peanuts. It has long been held by the LTFRB that a bus cannot charge for the distance traveled at sea (of course, secretly they will try to do it since anyway most passengers don’t know how to compute the fare nor do they know of the number of kilometers). And they will have to pay higher for the longer sea distance crossed. Does anyone need a nail to the head?

And so the buses will rather have their passengers ride two ferries at night. That connotes all the trouble of disembarking and boarding again plus the queues for the various tickets. And never mind if it is raining. In that route, that can be the definition of “passenger service”. Is there a difference between passengers and cattle?

And so until now it is still just 2GO, the renamed “Batangas Ferries” which do the direct Batangas-Caticlan route. Montenegro Shipping Lines, Starlite Ferries, Archipelago Ferries Philippines, Super Shuttle Ferry (Asian Marine Transport Corporation) and Besta Shipping Lines never did that direct route. Who said they will walk the extra mile for their clients?

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“Batangas Ferry 3”

Anyway, passengers are appreciative of the superior accommodations of the 2GO ferries. They have never seen such ferries in Batangas before (and they haven’t been to Cebu either, the home of good overnight ferries). They never ever thought that their ropaxes are actually just cattle carriers. And they have never seen a true restaurant in a ship before which the 2GO ferries have. And oh, plus true, polite passenger service (they have been too used to masahista ng bakal in T-shirts before pretending as stewards).

Will Archipelago Ferries Philippines do a direct route since their catamaran ROROs are faster (theoretically they can do the route is just 10 hours but they will have to do it at daytime since they don’t have bunks)? Well, I don’t think so. I heard they are even happy with the farther Bulalacao-Caticlan route since their sister company bus rolls farther and thus earns more from fare.

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A catamaran RORO of AFPC by Jon Erodias

And that is the situation of the Batangas-Caticlan route. Now I wonder when the Panay passengers will demand for something better.

Are they just content to get up at night and disembark even if it is raining and continue the trip with their heads hanging out from seats and their bodies contorted in search of sleep?

The OVERNIGHT FERRIES in the PHILIPPINES and its BASE PORTS

written by Mike Baylon

The Overnight Ferry sector is the middle sector of passenger shipping in the Philippines and it bridges the multi-day, long-distance Liner sector and the ubiquitous and important-to-the-intermodal-system Short-Distance Ferry sector. The sector’s most visible characteristic is its overnight voyage and normally it is the route distance that dictates the sailing time. Secondary is the requirement of cargo handling – purchasing of goods to be transported is done during the day when stores are open. And for the purchaser the overnight ship is the perfect respite after a day’s tiring shuttle around the city to buy goods.

Cebu Ships at Ozamiz Port
Overnight Ferries ©Mark Ocul

It is also true for the sellers of goods from the province – the day is their delivery time and the chance to look for customers. Or at least that was how it used to be for the purchaser and the seller. For those ordered through the phone, the day is the perfect time for merchants to assemble the goods and deliver those to the pier. These kinds of commerce dictate why on overnight ships the loading is still loose cargo or palletized. Of course if the trader will make direct deliveries and bypass the regional traders then he will have to bring in a truck. That is why the intermodal system is gaining headway in overnight shipping as in rolling cargo (not container cargo) is on the rise in this sector.

Sometimes the route distance difference might not be great but what separates the overnight ferries from the short-distance ferries is the provision of bunks where passengers can lie down and sleep. Short-distance ferries, meanwhile, are equipped with seats and benches which are not comfortable for the medium distances. Overnight ferries are also, generally, bigger and a little faster. Where short-distance ferries will seldom breach 50 or 60 meters in LOA, that length is almost the starting length of overnight ferries, in the main. If 100 meters is the peak length of overnight ferries, that length is also the startling length of the liners.

Trans-Asia 10 ©James Gabriel Verallo

This hierarchy is also mirrored in speed. Short-distance ferries especially the Basic, Short-distance Ferry will seldom travel over 11 knots. For overnight ferries that is usually the starting speed unless the distance is not that long and the overnight ferry use economical speed. Now if liner speeds generally start at 17 knots, well, that is practically the top speed now for overnight ferries but the truth is few run at that speed now.

In accommodations and amenities, the being middle ground of the overnight ferries are also reflected. Where basic, short-distance ferries will usually have only a TV and maybe a videoke as entertainment and a kiosk as amenity and liners will almost have all the works, the overnight ferry will have something in between. In general, they will have an airconditioned accommodation and even cabins, a dining area or restaurant, a better canteen with hot meals in the better ones, a lounge and even a bar and a massage parlor or a spa sometimes. However, unlike in liners the meal on overnight ferries is not complementary or free.

Trans-Asia 5 Lobby ©Kenneth Sy
Triangulo Suite
Triangulo Suite of Filipinas Nasipit ©Mark Ocul

In the dawn or in the morning the passengers disembark after a night’s rest and journey. In a sense, the overnight ferry is just like an overnight lodging house except that it is travelling. It even has toilets and baths so a passenger can go down fresh and presentable.

In ship design, most of the overnight ships are ROROs or ROPAXes to be more accurate. There are still Cruisers and these are mainly in Zamboanga (they are about half of the steel-hulled overnight ferries there). In some routes there is still the wooden Motor Boat (“batel” or “lancha”) including the Moro boats.

Magnolia Fragrance
Magnolia Fragrance ©Mike Baylon

In the Philippines, many do not realize that our country has only three base ports for the overnight ferries and these are Cebu, Batangas and Zamboanga. Not by design, perhaps, but it happened that one is in the Visayas, one is in Luzon and one is in Mindanao. This used to be four previously with the other one being Manila but as base of overnight ferries Manila has already lost to Batangas which is nearer to the islands.

Ferries might emanate in Northern Mindanao or Jolo or Caticlan but if one looks closely those ferries are not really based there; it just happened to be the end of the route. The base port is also reflected in the domicile of the ferry along with the situation of the city as an emporium and entrepot, a trading place where a long array of goods can be bought and sold and in good quantity.

Cebu International Port and Mactan Channel
Cebu International Port ©Mark Ocul

Cebu is the biggest of the three base ports. She has the most number of overnight ferry companies and the most routes. From Cebu the routes radiate to Northern Mindanao (Surigao, Nasipit, Cagayan de Oro, Iligan, Ozamis, Plaridel and Dapitan), Leyte (Maasin, Bato, Hilongos, Baybay, Ormoc and Palompon), Samar (Catbalogan and Calbayog), Masbate, Iloilo, Dumaguete, Bohol (Tagbilaran, Tubigon, Jetafe and Ubay) and to Siquijor and Camiguin island-provinces.

Outer wharf of Zamboanga port
Zamboanga International Port ©Mike Baylon

Zamboanga, meanwhile, has routes to Jolo, Bongao and other minor islands of Tawi-tawi province, Olutanga island and Margosatubig in Zamboanga del Sur. Other routes from Zamboanga are gone now because of the development of the highways. Moro boats still ply routes to distant islands like Taganak, Mapun, Cagayancillo and some other minor and remote islands.

Batangas International Port ©Michael Gutib

Batangas, the third base port has overnight routes to Caticlan and Dumaguit in Panay island and to the Romblon islands. With the development of the highways in Mindoro, it has lost its overnight routes to San Jose and Sablayan, both in Occidental Mindoro. It also lost the overnight routes to Coron, Palawan and Masbate City.

From Cebu the following shipping companies have overnight routes: Trans-Asia Shipping Lines, Cokaliong Shipping Lines, Lite Ferries, Roble Shipping, Medallion Transport, George & Peter Lines, Lapu-Lapu Shipping, Asian Marine Transport System, VG Shipping, Gabisan Shipping, South Pacific Transport and J&N Shipping. From Zamboanga, meanwhile, the following shipping companies have overnight ships: Aleson Shipping, Magnolia Shipping, Ever Lines, Sing Shipping, Evenesser Shipping, Ibnerizam Shipping and KM Shipping. From Baliwasan wharves Moro boats with not-so-regular schedule also ply overnight routes and the most prominent of this is L5 Shipping while the rest are practically one-boat operations.

From Batangas the overnight ferry operators are Montenegro Shipping Lines, 2Go Travel, Navios Lines, CSGA Ferry and Asian Marine Transport System. Most of the ferry runs from Batangas are on short-distance routes.

With the withdrawal of MBRS Shipping and successor Romblon Shipping Line along with Moreta Shipping there is almost no overnight ferry company left in Manila as the route to Coron and further can hardly be classified as overnight routes with its distance and with the slowness of the ships in the route. The only overnight route now from Manila is that to Tilik served by Atienza Shipping.

MV May Lilies ©Irvine Kinea

On a minor scale Lucena is also a base of one remaining overnight ferry company which is Kalayaan Shipping which has a route to Romblon. It already lost its overnight route to Masbate. In this scale Iloilo can also be considered since it is the base of Milagrosa Shipping and Montenegro Shipping Lines, both of which have a route to Cuyo and Puerto Princesa.

Looking at their role it is obvious that these base cities are also our biggest trading centers which supplies and receives goods from the islands. Of course none of them can match Manila which is a national port and a national trading center and that is why Manila is the base of the liners and our container shipping companies.

The overnight ferry sector is already beginning to feel the pressure of the intermodal transport system which has impacted in the past two decades liner shipping and its equivalent in cargo shipping, the long-distance container shipping. More and more intermodal trucks are being loaded and this was first felt by this sector in Batangas. Now in Cebu there are more and more intermodal trucks for Leyte (some of those are still bound for Samar), Bohol and Masbate. It is also beginning to appear in overnight ships to Mindanao although there is still the bar of high rolling rates because of the distance. That is why many still roll first through Dumaguete and through Leyte before taking the short-distance ferry to Mindanao.

The new sector of the cargo RORO LCT is also now taking cargo away from the overnight ferry sector. These LCTs take in intermodal trucks and now it has several routes to Leyte and Bohol. Recently it inaugurated a route from Bogo to Bacolod and soon there will be a route to Panay. Actually this sector has also taken out a fraction of the cargo of container shipping companies by loading container vans from Manila. It is Ocean Transport helped by Asian Shipping Corporation which is dominating this sector from Manila.

Whatever, the overnight ferry sector will still be present for a long time. The budget airlines will impact some of its routes from Cebu to Mindanao and Iloilo and from Zamboanga to Bongao but in the main most of the overnight ferry routes are immune to this challenger because simply put there are no airports in their end-routes.

Except for Dumaguete and Bacolod the intermodal bus is still a long way from challenging them as geography does not favor them. A bus can’t compete in a port-to-port setting where the land distance is shorter than the sea crossing because most of the revenue will simply go to the ship as ferry fare and they the bus will still have to pay the ship as cargo that was loaded.

The High Speed Crafts (HSCs) are also limited in challenging because their fares are higher than the overnight ferry or the equivalent day ferry. Besides they can’t carry any respectable amount of cargo. Actually, in the last two decades the HSC sector has lost half of its routes and there are less operators now and the crafts are beginning to gray (Oceanjet is the notable exception).

Besides, there might not really be a substitute for the ‘floating hotel that travels’ which is the overnight ferry. For the price of a lodging house one is brought through the night to one’s destination. Now, how convenient can that be and how value-laden?

That, my friends, is the secret of the overnight ferry.

The Maria Gloria

The “Maria Gloria” was the first steel-hulled ROPAX (RORO-Passenger ship) of Batangas-based Montenegro Shipping Lines, Inc. (MSLI). She arrived on September 1994 and she first sailed the Batangas-Abra de Ilog, Occidental Mindoro route. Before she came, Montenegro Lines was a plain operator of batel boats plying the same Abra de Ilog route. When I first saw “Maria Gloria” when she was newly-arrived, I never thought that one day Montenegro Lines will have the most number of ferries in the Philippines.

The Origin of Montenegro Shipping Lines ©Mike Baylon

In Japan, “Maria Gloria” was known as the “Tenyo Maru” of Shimabara Tetsudo K.K. with the IMO Number 6726668. She was built by Kanda Shipbuilding Co. in their Kure shipyard and she was completed in July of 1967. She had a Length Over-all (LOA) of 43.0 meters, a Length Between Perpendiculars (LBP or LPP) of 39.5 meters and a Beam or Breadth of 11.0 meters. In Japan, she had a GRT of 356 tons. She had a raked stem with ramp and a transom stern with ramp. Her rated Deadweight Tonnage (DWT) is 140 tons. “Tenyo Maru is powered by twin 700-horsepower Daihatsu marine diesel engines for a total of 1,400 horsepower which gave her a service speed of 11.5 knots when new.

When she came to the Philippines, her first listed owner was Jovanlyn Trading & General Merchandise of Frisco, Quezon City, an obscure company. According to Miramar Ship Index, she passed on to Montenegro Lines in 2000 (was she paid in installment?). In the Philippines, her Call Sign was DUE 2090 and her new Gross Tonnage is 267 nominal tons with a Net Tonnage (NT) of 104 tons. She has a passenger capacity of 413 persons, all in sitting accommodations in two classes, Economy and the air-conditioned Tourist. In the country, she sails as a short-distance ferry but she is bigger than the Basic, Short-Distance Ferry-RORO classification of the Philippine Ship Spotters Society (PSSS) as she has 1.5 decks and a length of over 40 meters. She has a capacity of about 110 lane-meters of rolling cargo in three lanes which is good for up to 12 buses or trucks as long as they are not the stretched version. However, her scantling is not full but she has a box in the bow, an additional protection for rough waves and weather.

Maria Gloria ©Mark Anthony Arceño

Built in 1967, “Maria Gloria” will turn 48 years old this year (2015) and she is actually one of the oldest ferries now in the Philippines (the aesthetics of her superstructure shows the lines of her era but, hey, it is not bad or really antique-looking). Her hull still looks good and she still have very reliable engines, a testament to the good quality of maintenance usually employed by her company Montenegro Lines (one can’t find a sickly ship in their fleet). Her usual route is still the same route she plied more than twenty years ago, the Batangas-Abra de Ilog route although at times she is rotated to other routes according to the Montenegro Lines policy of regularly shuffling ship route assignments.

With her condition and the record in caring for their ships of her company, I expect many more years of successful and fruitful sailing for her.

Maria Gloria ©Fr. Bar Ibarra, SVD

More Maria Gloria photos by Raymond Lapus: CLICK HERE

The Starlite Ferry

The “Starlite Ferry” of Batangas-based Starlite Ferries Inc. is notable because probably she is the first catamaran RORO ferry in the Philippines (contrary to the claim of Archipelago Philippine Ferries, operator of the new “FastCats” that they were the first). She arrived in the country in 1999 and she sails the Batangas-Calapan route.

Starlite Ferry ©Raymond Lapus

Catamaran ROROs, as catamarans, are twin-hulled but unlike the “SuperCats” they were designed to carry rolling cargo aside from passengers. As such, they are also ROPAXes but with twin hulls.

Starlite Ferry and SuperCat 25 ©Raymond Lapus

“Starlite Ferry” was built in Japan and she was first known as the “Asagumo” of Nippon Car Ferry K.K. She was built by Nippon Kokan Kabushiki Kaisha (NKK) in the Asano shipyard in 1971 with the IMO Number 7235422. “Asagumo” had a Length Over-all (LOA) of 41.4 meters, a Length Between Perpendiculars (LBP) of 39.8 meters and Breadth of 15.9 meters with a Gross Register Tonnage (GRT) of 605 tons. Her Deadweight Tons (DWT) was 178 with a rolling cargo capacity of about 610 lane-meters. In Japan, she was rated at 50 cars capacity. She was powered by two Daihatsu marine diesel engines with a total of 1,300 horseower giving her a service speed of 12.5 knots.

Starlite Ferry ©Raymond Lapus
Starlite Ferry Drydock ©Irvine Kinea

In 1990, she passed on to Sea-Com Corporation with the same name “Asagumo” and in 1992 her new owner was Marine Express Company but the name remained unchanged. In 1999, she came to the Philippines to become a ship of the new shipping company, Starlite Ferries, where she plied the Batangas-Calapan route. In the Philippines, her new Gross Tonnage became 574 tons with a Net Tonnage of 390 tons. Her rated passenger capacity is 572 persons divided into two classes, the non-airconditioned Economy and an airconditioned Tourist equipped with good reclining seats commonly called here as jet seater.

Starlite Ferry Jet Seater ©Raymond Lapus

“Starlite Ferry” has a narrow bridge on a deck above the passenger deck which looks more like a pilot house. She only has one passenger deck with the Tourist up front and below that is the car deck with space for 4 rows of trucks and buses. The ship is equipped with ramps at the bow and at the stern and both are still being used. One thing notable about her ramps is they are narrower than a conventional ROPAX of her size.

“Starlite Ferry” is still a reliable ship and it seems she still has many years of sailing ahead.

Starlite Ferry at Batangas Bay ©Nowell Alcancia

More Starlite Ferry photos:
Starlite Ferry Album by Raymond Lapus
Starlite Ferry Accommodation and Facilities

The SuperCat 1

The SuperCat 1 is the progenitor of the great SuperCat series which is still well-remembered today. However, unlike what most people think, this is not the same vessel as the latter SuperCat-I which people knew better because she lived longer.

SuperCat 1 didn’t live a long and charmed life. She is also not traceable from databases as her IMO Number is not known and Universal Aboitiz seemed to prefer that her past was simply buried. She came one time in April of 1994, gleaming, impressive and launched with much fanfare, as should be, being a technical advancement and being fastest in the route. However, she was not the first High Speed Craft (HSC) in the Batangas-Mindoro route as the Bullet Express 1 beat her by days (however she was not successful in the route and was largely forgotten in the area).

SuperCat 1 seems to be a Damen catamaran built in Singapore, probably of a fiberglass hull. She was a two-deck passenger HSC equipped with propellers having a speed of over 32 knots. She was capable of 45-minute transit time in the 24-nautical mile Batangas-Calapan route on a clear sea. However, I doubt if she has a motion dampening system as I noticed her tendency to ride like a horse on a rough sea.

SuperCat 1 ©Edison Sy

She was a snazzy ship when she came and with snappy service to boot which one might mistake for airline service then as this kind of service afloat a vessel was not common then. Everything was clean and orderly and the passengers were pampered. Compared to the slow, annoying and humid ROPAXes in the route, her comfort and service were miles and miles ahead. One does not arrive at the end of the route feeling tired and hassled.

With her appearance in the route, the dominant Viva Shipping Lines was forced to respond. Sometime in July of 1994, two fastcrafts appeared to compete with SuperCat 1. However, there was really no match as the Viva fastcrafts were slower and the service was notches below. Soon, an odor was also noticeable as the crew slept overnight on her humid cabin. The only thing going for the Viva fastcrafts was that her fares were significantly lower.

SuperCat 1 stern ©Edison Sy

A canard of “excessive” speed was thrown against SuperCat 1 by the humbled opposition and with that came the whispers of “dangerous”. Many thought this was part of the campaign for her route to be changed to the west of Isla Verde instead of the route between the Mag-asawang Pulo. It was already habagat and that route was known for rougher seas. Soon she was assigned this route and riding her, I had one of three most violent sea rides in my life where majority of the crew threw up and passengers have to be bodily lifted or assisted out of the vessel at the end of the voyage.

One day in September of 1994, SuperCat 1 stuck an underwater object while speeding near Isla Verde on the way to Calapan. She was wrecked and upon salvage the severity of the impact can be seen in the misalignment of the two hulls. Charges of “sabotage” were hurled against the main competition but none were proved. She was never repaired and soon she receded from memory.

Soon after, a new SuperCat-I came to replace her. She was the former Oregrund, a second-hand catamaran built in Sweden by Marinteknik Verkstads. In appearance she was much different from SuperCat 1. Most people thought she was the progenitor of the SuperCat series but they were wrong.

Oreground(future SuperCat-I) ©Penhahk

SuperCat 1 is forgotten now and this is just an article to set the record straight and so that she will also be remembered.