The Unique Nasipit Port and Bay

Nasipit is the main port of Agusan after the Butuan ports (Butuan and Lumbocon) lost that status because the ships no longer came. That was because of the siltation of Agusan River and the general increase in the size and depths of the ships. Nasipit port is unique in topographic sense. It is located in a nearly enclosed bay which looks like a pond. Two enclosing spits of land nearly closes the outlet of the bay. As such Nasipit port is probably the most protected port in the Philippines. But it is deep enough that 160-meter ferries used to dock before in Nasipit. Those were great liners Princess of Paradise of Sulpicio Lines Inc. and the Our Lady of Akita of Carlos A. Gothong Lines Inc. which later became the SuperFerry 6 of WG&A.

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Photo by Janjan Salas

The very small Nasipit Bay was once the home of the famed Nasipit Lumber Inc. which used to produce veneer, plywood and other types of processed wood products. The plant of the company was once the original user of that bay and the bay also served as the stocking pond of their logs and their wharf inside the bay was where the cargo ships loading their products once docked. Nasipit port was built adjacent to Nasipit Lumber with the latter nearer the entrance of the bay. Nasipit Lumber has closed long ago when logs and lumber became scarce and new rules protecting the ancestral domain were drawn. Now that plant is even gone now including the buildings. What remained are some the concrete floors and just parts of their old wharf.

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The former location of Nasipit Lumber

Now the permanent resident of the bay is the power barge of Therma Marine Inc., an Aboitiz Power Corporation subsidiary and this is located in the inner part of the nearly-enclosed bay. Also in Nasipit Bay, inside the port is the Port Maritime Office (PMO) of the Philippine Ports Authority (PPA) which is in charge of all the ports in the Caraga Region. The manager of it and the employees wants it transferred to Butuan, however, because it is there that where most of them live. I don’t know if that will push through. Nasipit Bay is also home to swirling rains I have not observed anywhere else and maybe that is due to the peculiar topography of the Nasipit inlet which are surrounded by high hills in a particular way.

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The power barge of Therma South

Nasipit port is a straight quay where the middle it was broken by a slanted RORO ramp which is just a recent alteration. In the inner end smaller ships like tugs and Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) patrol boats are docked. There is a transit shed for cargo and a passenger waiting area in the port terminal building. Docking for big ships is a precise maneuver inside the Nasipit inlet as the bay is very small and there are shallow portions and it is especially dangerous when it is low tide. However, there are not s to contend unlike in the exposed ports.

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Nasipit port has been the port of passenger ships for a long time now not because it is convenient or near the city (it is actually out of the way and relatively far from the town and highway). The change happened in the 1970’s when the ports of Butuan became shallower because of siltation and there was lack of dredging (the results of which are often just undone by raging annual floods of the great Agusan River). By the 1980’s, Nasipit port has already supplanted the Butuan ports especially since the shallow-draft ex-”FS” ships were already dying from old age and the replacements of that type were already bigger. However, even though the ports have changed many passenger shipping companies still used the name “Butuan Port” when actually they were already docking and using Nasipit port and this entailed confusion to the uninitiated including land-bound researchers doing shipping studies.

There were passenger vessels which did both the Butuan and Nasipit ports. They just gave up on Butuan port when docking there became much dependent on high tide (and risk waiting until noon at times when this would already jeopardize departure time because loading and unloading using booms and porters is slow). One example of this were the former “FS” ships of the Bisaya Land Transport Company of the Cuencos of Cebu (no typo there, that is the actual name of a shipping company which is a division of their land transport). When they find it impossible to dock in Butuan, they then proceed to Nasipit port (to the complain of many passengers).

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The MV Samar of Compania Maritima (Credits to Philippine Herald and Gorio Belen)

Compania Maritima, the leading shipping company after the Pacific War was one of the earliest to use Nasipit port. Their passenger-cargo ship Samar which is the bigger type of US war-surplus ship used to dock in Nasipit port. That was also true for their passenger-cargo ship Mactan which was in the 80-meter class and whose depth is two meters over the depth of an ex-”FS” ship, the last type of passenger ship that can be shoehorned in the shallow Butuan ports. Their Mindoro and Romblon, both converted ex-”FS” ship docked at both Butuan and Nasipit ports (and maybe that is to increase the passengers and cargo). Their Panay, a bigger ship docked at Nasipit when it can’t in Butuan. Later, even their ex-”FS” ship Leyte was calling exclusively in Nasipit port. Compania Maritima was the first to dominate Nasipit port when the Chinoy shipping companies were just on their way up and not calling on Nasipit port. In the main they came to Nasipit port when Compania Maritima was already gone.

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The MV Panay of Compania Maritima (Credits to Philippine Herald and Gorio Belen)

Some actually just gave up on the Agusan trade when their ships can no longer dock in Butuan and they did not really try to earnestly use Nasipit port like Escano Lines which used to be strong in Butuan. Well, it must have been frustrating for them when the ship can’t dock after a few hours of waiting and then would have to go to Nasipit port anyway to load and unload. Moreover, the floods of Agusan River that happen many months of the year with its floating logs and other debris which can damage the ship propellers and rudders also added to the vagaries in docking in Butuan.

By the 1980’s the passenger ship calls on Nasipit, Butuan and Surigao which are all connected ports went down considerably. There was a big, general downturn in the economy because of economic crisis and container ships began supplanting the passenger-cargo ships in carrying cargo (where before this type carried a lot of the express cargo that are not in bulk or liquid). These new container ships cannot fit in the Butuan ports. However, few of them are coming in Butuan anyway. Another thing, the cargo ace of Nasipit before which were the forest products began slumping as the forest cover was fast going down and it raised a howl and therefore restrictions on logging were placed by the new Aquino administration.

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The pocket liner Surigao Princess (Photo by Edison Sy)

At the tail end of the Compania Maritima dominance a new liner was calling in Nasipit, the Surigao Princess of Sulpicio Lines which was a pocket liner. In the post-martial law period the Our Lady of Guadalupe of Carlos A. Gothong Lines, Inc. (CAGLI) came. And so these two liners succeeded Compania Maritima were gone as the company went out of business at the height of the political and economic crisis of the mid-1980’s. Soon, the better Our Lady of Lourdes of CAGLI replaced the Our Lady of Guadalupe in that route. In 1988, the big Nasipit Princess of Sulpicio Lines began calling in Nasipit port. But her route was mainly Cebu only as it was still Surigao Princess that was the liner there of Sulpicio Lines Inc. And, the Dona Lili of Gothong was also sailing from Nasipit to Cebu.

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The Nasipit Princess by Suro Yan

William Lines, Lorenzo Shipping Corporation and Negros Navigation Company, among the great survivors of the crisis of the 1980’s did not have Nasipit among their ports of call when the 1990’s started. Escano Lines will soon be leaving passenger shipping as well as Bisaya Land Transport. Aboitiz Shipping Corporation is also much-weakened in passenger shipping then as they did not buy liners for 15 long years (however, the will be back with a flash with their SuperFerry series and the were strong in container shipping)

It was Carlos A. Gothong Lines and Sulpicio Lines which were competing in Nasipit port in the 1990’s both in the liner route to Manila and the overnight route to Cebu. Although Nasipit was no longer as grand a destination like when Butuan still had a lot of ships calling, the two companies brought some great liners in Nasipit port like the Our Lady of Akita and the Princess of Paradise and what a show of confidence it was for Nasipit port. That was the heyday of competition when there was much optimism in business and the shipping liberalization and modernization policies of the administration of Fidel V. Ramos (FVR) took effect. A little before the “Great Merger” William Lines will also enter Nasipit port with their liner Mabuhay 2.

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The Our Lady of Akita (Credits to Manila Chronicle and Gorio Belen)

When the Great Merger that produced the giant shipping company WG&A came there was a plethora of ever-changing ships that got assigned to Nasipit port unlike in the past when a ferry will hold a route for a decade or even longer. In WG&A, routes and route assignments happen at least once a year and so tracking of ships that served a port became difficult. However, Nasipit was a regular route of the company. That liberalization of FVR also brought the expanding Negros Navigation Company (NENACO) to Nasipit where they used their beautiful St. Francis of Assisi. Unfortunately, that liner burned right in Nasipit quay not long after in 1999 which resulted in the destruction of the ship. The revived Carlos A. Gothong Lines Inc. (CAGLI) also tried the Manila to Nasipit liner route before it just became a Cargo RORO route when they got suspended from passenger shipping. Nasipit still has lots of load, no longer forest products but bananas.

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The Our Lady of Lourdes by Chief Ray Smith

With the “Great Merger” and the creation of Visayas-Mindanao subsidiary Cebu Ferries Corporation (CFC), that company also paraded a succession of ships in Nasipit port that is bound to Cebu on an overnight route. It began from the old Our Lady of Lourdes and it ended with Cebu Ferry 2 when CFC was already under the Aboitiz Transport System (ATS), the successor company of WG&A. Sulpicio Lines, their only competitor in the overnight route brought the Cagayan Princess in Nasipit when the Nasipit Princess can no longer sail. This was later followed by the much-better Princess of the Earth. And for a while, the Gothong Southern Shipping Lines Inc. (GSSLI) brought their Dona Rita Sr. to Nasipit port after they acquired the Our Lady of Good Voyage of Cebu Ferries.

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Filipinas Butuan in Nasipit port

The port has also a link to Jagna port in Bohol as service to the Bol-anons residing in Mindanao. Usually the Cebu-Nasipit ship of a company will do a once a week call to Jagna on their seventh day and the ship will go back to Nasipit within that seventh day and then resume their route to Cebu.

This decade saw a great downturn for Nasipit in sailing ships. There was only one liner left doing a once a week voyage to Manila and this was usually the St. Leo The Great of 2GO. Sulpicio Lines quit passenger sailing and Gothong Southern also gave up that segment. Even Cebu Ferries quit the Nasipit overnight route to Cebu when they transferred their ships to Batangas.

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The St. Leo The Great

Now, a completely new cast is in Nasipit port headed by Cokaliong Shipping Lines Inc. (CSLI) which use either their Filipinas Butuan or Filipinas Iligan in the Cebu to Nasipit overnight route with an off day diversion to Jagna. Lite Ferries also has a Nasipit to Jagna ship on the stronger months for sailing but there is no permanently assigned ship. 2GO still has that once a week liner from Manila. Nasipit is not a favorite of container ships except for Carlos A. Gothong Lines.

Passenger shipping which is down already ia affected by the intermodal buses and the budget airlines, both of which offer competitive fares compared to ships and with the advantage of daily departures. Nasipit is also not helped by it being out of the way from the city and the municipality’s policy of barring the buses and commuter vans from the port doesn’t help the case of Nasipit port either in attracting passengers who are turned off the expensive and very cramped tricycle ride which is also vulnerable from the rains driven by the swirling winds of Nasipit inlet.

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The legendary white-out of Nasipit port

I wonder when and how Nasipit port will have a renaissance. Somehow, some day, I just hope that it will come.

On My Way Home

I had trouble with my passage back home to Davao. It was the Sinulog Festival and Trans-Asia Shipping Lines’ problems that caused it.

At first I was planning a way back home through Zamboanga which I normally do. I take the Zamboanga Ferry of George & Peter Lines to Zamboanga. With that I am able to cover the ports of Dumaguete, Dapitan and Zamboanga. Additionally, I am able to cover the various local ports of Zamboanga City plus its two shipyards. I then go home with thousands more of additional photos.

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But I was in for a shock when I went to the G&P ticketing office. I never thought that their ferry to Zamboanga will ever be full. Usually, it is only ¼ full or even less that there are no more assignments of bunks and one can choose whatever pleases him. They would even upgrade some of the Economy tickets to Tourist.

I did not know that a significant number of people from Zamboanga del Norte go to the Sinulog Festival. And to think there are a lot of ferries going to Dapitan aside from the Ceres buses. Well, the Monday schedule of Zamboanga Ferry is what made her full. It was the first day after the Sinulog Festival week.

My next plan was to take the Tagbilaran-Cagayan de Oro ship of Trans-Asia Shipping Lines, the Asia Philippines. I made an early inquiry days before with their main office. They said the schedule is MWF. And so I thought I can take their ship days after Sinulog. I did not think Sinulog will impact the Tagbilaran-Cagayan route. I will have the chance to shipspot Tubigon and Tagbilaran ports plus take Bohol bus photos and maybe have some sightseeing too in Tagbilaran.

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When I tried to purchase a ticket for Asia Philippines, Trans-Asia said the ship only only Monday voyages. How come shipping company employees themselves doesn’t know how to give accurate information? And at the head office at that? It seems with their lack of ferries, the unreliability of some of their ferries and the wish to also play the Iligan route even though they lack ferries plays havoc on the schedules of Trans-Asia Shipping Lines that even their ticketing employees are in the dark.

I then asked for their nearest available Cebu-Cagayan de Oro trip (as Cokaliong does not serve that route). A Thursday ticket was available for Trans-Asia 9 and I purchased one. But the day before the trip, there was a text message to me from the company saying our trip was cancelled for “technical reasons”. And so it seems the old engine bugaboo of the Trans-Asia 9 wouldn’t go away really. Maybe she is better off now as a Cargo RORO ship like the Trans-Asia 5 when the new Trans-Asia 1 becomes available.

I immediately went to the ticketing office of Cokaliong Shipping Lines even without a refund yet for I want to be ahead of the others. With no ship running to Cagayan de Oro I thought there might be a crush soon in the Cokaliong office. The other Cagayan ship, the Lite Ferry 8 of Lite Shipping didn’t appeal to me much.

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Had a hard time deciding at the Cokaliong Tower ticketing office. I didn’t really want a Nasipit ticket as that port is not really appealing to me from the ship spotting point of view and also from the bus spotting point of view (all yellow buses from there). They have no Cagayan de Oro trips (yet). And their Ozamis-Iligan ship was the same ferry I rode from Masbate to Cebu, the Filipinas Ozamis. It was what was indicated in their schedule board. I didn’t like their Surigao ships too and I have just been there. As much as possible I don’t want to ride a ship I have already ridden before or go via port I have just been to.

I asked the ticket seller. No, it was the Filipinas Nasipit that will be doing the Ozamis/Iligan route on a particular day (as they do the Ozamis/Iligan route four times a week now). That clinched it. A new ship and one I have not been aboard before. That will also give me the chance to visit Ozamis again after a long time and also Iligan too with the possibility of a Mukas shipspot too. I have not been to Mukas port for a long time too.

There was something new in the Cokaliong House. They now have an interactive computer by the door manned by cadets that will show what accommodations are still available. That sure takes a lot of load from the ticket sellers and crowding at their stations.

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Our trip was at 8pm and I tried to be early but was not able too. Minsan mas mahirap pa talaga ang may hatid. It was nearing dusk when I arrived in Pier 1. By then I had already missed a lot in shipspotting inside Pier 1 and also inside the Cokaliong wharf. Darkness was getting hold already when our shuttle bus parked near the stern of the Filipinas Nasipit. Sayang. I know my shots are already blurry and no use using zoom for the ships passing by.

The Tourist of Filipinas Nasipit was nice. It looks like the Tourist de Luxe of Sulpicio Lines and the Tourist of Trans-Asia 5 but it does not have the individual charging sockets of the latter. While not yet sailing I stayed in the open-air section where there were tables and seats. It was a good viewpoint when the ship will be leaving Cebu port.

I noticed the Filipinas Nasipit has a lot of cabins. I wonder if they ever get full anyway. The Economy was the same Economy of Cokaliong which are clean and functional. There was also a lounge at the side of the Tourist which is nice plus one near the canteen. Actually those can double as additional accommodation if the ship is completely full (but the Coast Guard won’t allow that even though life jackets have an allowance of 10%).

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Filipinas Nasipit lounge

I did not roam very long for the next day I will have the chance between Ozamis and Iligan. There will be better light by then with less passengers. I retired early as there will be an early arrival in Ozamis but I found out the aircon was too cold when it was midnight already. We were only eight in the semi-private cubicle and we had a packaged-type airconditioner plus doors that seal us from the lounge and the passageway on the other side.

We were in final docking maneuver in Ozamis port by 4:30 am and suddenly I had a problem since I forgot my cheap but trusty umbrella in Cebu which I used in all my days of shipspotting there. It was nearly a whiteout but soon the rain abated a little and passengers can disembark. I disembarked too but where to was settled by the rain. No joy touring a city in continuous rain but in a ferry it wouldn’t be much of a problem as long as I can board it.

I asked and I was given a bad reply regarding the ticketing office to Mukas. It was outside the gate (so a passenger from Manila or Cebu with baggage will then have to get out first? that is what one gets from ISPS ports). So I then just headed straight to the ferry past the guards (a purposeful walk will sometimes do the trick). I asked the Chief Mate for direct passage and I will just pay him. Turns out it can be done contrary to what the guards said. I had a ticket but I was unmanifested and I did not pay the terminal fee. Government functionaries sometimes makes rules na abala lang sa pasahero especially in the rain. There are other ways of making a manifest. It can be done aboard the ship. And so that there will be no more counting then let Coast Guard list the names of the embarking passengers. They are not sailing anyway and they can even do their patrol by boarding the ferry as they don’t have patrol ships anyway.

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Swallow-I of Daima Shipping

It was still dark when I boarded the Swallow-I of Daima Shipping, the sole shipping company sailing the Panguil Bay crossing. She is a double-ended ferry and a decent one but the problem was the rain got stronger and there were puddles of water in the passageways. When we sailed it was daybreak already and I noticed the St. Francis Xavier of 2GO has just anchored offshore. I thought she was waiting for the Manila Bay 1 of CAGLI to depart. Manila Bay 1 has started raising steam already by then. The other ship, the Fortune freighter was still docked in port. In the distance the outline of Trans-Asia 2 of TASLI was already visible (and so we were faster than her).

Crossing Panguil Bay, aside from the fishing bancas, I noticed that there were four double-ended ferries of Daima which were sailing and there were four more moored in Mukas port. We then docked in Mukas port and I was able to take close shots of the four and I disembarked. I saw a long line.

Again I paid direct to the Chief Mate because I said I cannot tackle a queue that long where I can miss the ship which is obviously leaving after discharging and loading and I am a passenger of Filipinas Nasipit. Again I was unmanifested and I did not the terminal fee (but then I did not use the terminal). Sometimes ang habol lang naman talaga ng mga paghihigpit ay magawa ang manifest para masiyahan ang Coast Guard at mabayaran ang terminal fee.

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Swallow-II and 4 other double-ended ROROs of Daima Shipping

The Swallow-II was docking into the port the moment we pulled. Nice to see her and I have a special respect for her. She was the former Our Lady of Mediatrix which was burned by the white phosporus explosion that hit two Super Five buses aboard her in 2000. She survived and it is a credit to Daima that they have the patience to bring her back. Good to see her again 16 years after her mishap. I did not see her personally again after the burned-out wreck I saw the day after the explosion.

I thought the St. Francis Xavier will change places with Manila Bay 1 but when we returned she was still anchored. Nearing Ozamis, I was surprised by all the kwitis being fired and by the crowd waiting inside the port. There were priests and altar boys plus the religious type of crowd howling “Viva Pit Senor!”. It turned out the Trans-Asia 2 was carrying their image that went to Sinulog. So I thought that was the reason why the St. Francis Xavier was not docking.

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After taking shots of the revelry, I had only 30 minutes plus left to departure as we were leaving at 7:30am instead of 8am. With the intermittent rain and all the ek-ek in getting back inside an ISPS port I was no longer interested in getting out of the port and see Ozamis the city again. I may have just 15 minutes net and where can you go in 15 minutes in the rain? The crew of Filipinas Nasipit also doesn’t want me to go far. I remember that is also the worry of the crew of Zamboanga
Ferry when we are in Dumaguete and Dapitan.

We pulled anchor even before 7:30am and soon was on our way to Iligan. I noticed even at a distance that the St. Francis Xavier was still anchored when to think that even when Manila Bay 1 was still docked there was still one dock free. I dunno but I can only hazard the guess Ozamis port is penalizing St. Francis Xavier for delayed arrival. It was good I did not bet on her. She was supposed to arrive 8pm the previous night but she arrived 10 hours late. I did not take her altho I have not yet ridden her because her arrivals and departures in Ozamis and Iligan are both at night. No good shipspotting with that and even my bus spotting will be ruined.

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I made rounds of the ship after we left Ozamis. It was easier now for there was light already. I noticed we were less than 1/5th of the passengers that left Cebu. So it seems most Iliganons and Marawinons take the Cagayan de Oro ferry. It was easy roaming except that they do not want us passengers in that free area behind the bridge. And they do not shoo kindly too. Did the Cokaliong crew attend the shooing seminar of 2GO? But they were a poor copy as the 2GO crew have more politeness left. I don’t like it when a shipping company treats its passengers with distrust. We passengers do not shower them with such distrust. They should be fair.

We docked in Iligan port at 9:30am. I was happy for the earlier arrival because I was hoping to make Maramag, Bukidnon before dark (I don’t care after that since all the buses will then be red; I just wonder if the Philippine Competition Commission realizes that Mindanao, at least in the bus sector is governed by a monopoly).

There were no other ferries in Iligan. There were two cargo ships, one a foreign bulker, the Spring Canary, the other a Roble freighter, the Star Ormoc. There were tugs and harbor pilot boats. But then except for us there was almost no other activity in the port. Would have been merrier if the St. Francis Xavier was a little ahead of us. But it was good as I saw the former National Steel port and the Shell tanker jetty but the distance was great. Kiwalan is too distant, too.

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I no longer tried to make a round of Iligan. Davao is still too far away and I might get too tired. I just took the jeep which I know will still make a round of the city and it did. In the eastern bus terminal, I was able to take a lot of bus photos. My first choice was an ordinary Rural minibus because it has a front seat free. I changed to an aircon bus which also had a front seat free but not the one by the windshield. The aircon fare was P115 and the ordinary fare was P120. My seatmate told me before Christmas the aircon fare was just P95 for the 87km distance. Simple predatory pricing by Rural Transit to increase the pressure against Super Five bus. If we had only antitrust laws like in the US then Rural Transit would have to pay a hefty fine and/or the owners would have to spend some time in jail.

Transferred to a Pabama aircon bus in Cagayan (which has no gold anyway) because in the afternoon it is hard to look for an aircon commuter van. They have an all-new fleet now and of course they are cheaper. If I have a choice I will choose a Rural Transit competitor that has a front seat free (the front seat is the primordial consideration to me). My ticket was for Maramag only and not Kibawe, the destination of the bus.

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Mangima, Bukidnon

It was a rainy drive from Cagayan nada Oro to Maramag and I spoiled a lot of shots. It was getting dark already even before we wheeled into Maramag. I then changed into a lousy red bus which has no competition and our drive was very slow. Imagine a 5-hour drive at night for less than 160 kilometers. And again I had an incident in the Task Force Davao permanent checkpoint (the Supreme Court has already declared that permanent checkpoints are illegal; so much for the ballyhooed “rule of law”) and I held up the bus for more than 20 minutes with the passengers in the rain below.

It’s no longer martial law, I know my rights and so and they can’t just tell me any “balaod-balaod” thing (“balaod” is law in English). It the end I was able to force the Task Force Davao sergeant to admit they have no right to force down the passengers like cattle (and with threat at that) or inspect the baggage without search warrant (yes, that is what the law says but people don’t know that because we have a very poor legal education system). When they boarded back the passengers were furious at them and not at me. Now if only our lawyers and judges have more guts.

Anyway, I survived that long land trip of nearly 400 kilometers, my longest land leg in my December-January travel. The next day Aris was surprised I insisted on our previously agreed upon meet and tour to Samal. Seems I am back in form.

The Sunset of Tacloban Port

Tacloban City is the regional commercial center of Eastern Visayas and this has been so for about a century now. It has the advantage of a central location and a sheltered port and bay. Its reach weakens, however, in the western coast of Leyte which has its own sea connections to a greater trade and commercial center, the great city of Cebu which has been ascendant in the south of the Philippines since half a millennium ago. 

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As a regional commercial center, it is but natural for Tacloban to have a great port with trade routes to many places. That has been the situation of Tacloban since before World War II and even before World War I. It also does not hurt that Tacloban is the capital of the province of Leyte. In fact, because of her superior strategic location, Tacloban even exceeded her mother town which is Palo which is still the seat of the church hierarchy.

Before World War II and after that, passenger-cargo ships from Manila will drop by first in Masbate, Catbalogan and Calbayog before hooking route and proceeding to Tacloban. Some of these ships will then still proceed to Surigao and Butuan or even Cagayan de Oro using the eastern seaboard of Leyte. Tacloban then was the fulcrum of these liner routes going to Eastern Visayas. That route was much stronger than the routes that drop by Ormoc and Maasin and perhaps Sogod and Cabalian before going to Surigao. The two routes were actually competing (like Ormoc and Tacloban are competing). If the route via Tacloban was stronger it is because Tacloban was the trade and commercial center of the region.

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At its peak, Tacloban port hosted some seven passenger-cargo ships from Manila per week from different liner companies. She also had daily regular calls from passenger-cargo ships emanating from Cebu. There were also some ships that originate from as far as Davao which dropped by Surigao first. Such was the importance of Tacloban port then which can still be seen in the size of Tacloban port and the bodegas surrounding it.

There were many liner companies that called over the years in Tacloban from Manila. Among them were Sulpicio Lines (and the earlier Carlos A. Gothong & Co.), Compania Maritima, General Shipping Company, Philippine Steam and Navigation Company, Philippine Pioneer Lines (and later the successor Galaxy Lines), Escano Lines, Sweet Lines, even the combined Carlos A. Gothong Lines Inc. and Lorenzo Shipping Corporation. When it was still sailing local routes, even De la Rama Steamship served Tacloban. Among the minor liner companies, Royal Lines Inc., Veloso Brothers Ltd., N&S Lines, Philippine Sea Transport and Oriental Shipping Agency also served Tacloban. Not all of those served at the same time but that line-up of shipping companies will show how great was Tacloban port then.

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Gorio Belen research in the National Library

For many years there was even a luxury liner rivalry in Tacloban port. This was the battle which featured the Dona Angelina of Sulpicio Lines and the Sweet Rose of Sweet Lines which mainly happened in the 1970s. Sweet Rose was sailing to Tacloban from the late 1960s and was in fact the first luxury liner to that port. The two liners were the best ships then sailing to Tacloban port. The rest, of course, were mainly ex-”FS” ships which was the backbone of the national liner fleet then and there was no shame in that.

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Gorio Belen research in the National Library

Tacloban port was doing well until the late 1970’s when a paradigm change pulled the rug from under their feet. This development was the fielding of a RORO by Cardinal Shipping, the Cardinal Ferry I that connected Sorsogon and Samar. With San Juanico bridge already connecting Samar and Leyte and the Maharlika Highway already completed, intermodal trucks and buses started rolling into Tacloban and Leyte. In fact, in just one year of operation the intermodal link was already a roaring success with many trucks and buses already running to Manila. Soon other ferries were connecting Sorsogon and Samar including the Maharlika I of the government.

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Gorio Belen research in the National Library

With this development the irreversible decline of Tacloban port began. It was a slide that never ever saw a reversal because what happened over the years was the buses and trucks rolling to Tacloban and Leyte just continued to multiply without abatement (and the ROROs in San Bernardino Strait also increased in number). Soon the passengers were already filling the intermodal buses and freight except the heaviest and the bulkiest was also slowly shifted to the trucks. Over the years the number of passenger ships to Tacloban slowly declined as a consequence.

In the late 1980’s, when the pressure of the intermodal was great there were still three national shipping lines with routes to Tacloban – Sulpicio Lines, William Lines and Sweet Lines. In the early 1990’s. when Sweet Lines quit shipping only the top two shipping lines then where still sailing to Tacloban with the Tacloban Princess of Sulpicio Lines and the Masbate Uno of William Lines. Incidentally, the infamous Dona Paz which burned and sank after a collision with a tanker in December 1987 originated from Tacloban.

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Tacloban Princess by John Carlos Cabanillas

When the WG&A merger came in 1996 the company pulled out the Masbate I from the Tacloban route. The last liners ever to sail the Tacloban route were the Tacloban Princess and the Cebu Princess which alternated in the route. Both belonged to Sulpicio Lines. The liner route from Manila to Tacloban was finally severed when Sulpicio Lines got suspended from passenger service as a consequence of the sinking of the Princess of the Stars when both the Tacloban Princess and the Cebu Princess were sold.

The overnight ferry service from Cebu almost followed the same path and died at almost the same time. The last three shipping companies which had a route there were Roly Shipping, Maypalad Shipping and Cebu Ferries Corporation (which was the successor of CAGLI). But passengers slowly learned that the routes via Ormoc and Baybay were faster and cheaper and the connection was oh-so-easy as the bus terminals of the two cities were just outside the port gates of Ormoc and Baybay. The High Speed Crafts (HSCs) to Ormoc, mainly SuperCat and Oceanjet also made great strides and captured a large portion of the passenger market and it further denied passengers for Tacloban. With the HSCs and overnight ships from Cebu that leave Ormoc in the morning there was no longer any need for Tacloban passengers to wait until night.

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http://www.maritime-executive.com/article/Paralyzed-Philippine-Port-Resumes-Operations-2013-11-21

The last rope for Tacloban port passenger-cargo ships was cut when the new coastal highway from Basey, Samar to Guiuan, Eastern Samar was completed. With that the passenger ships connecting Tacloban and Guiuan had to go as the fast and ubiquitous commuter vans (called “V-hire” in the province) suddenly supplanted them. Trucks also began rolling and some of these were even coming from Cebu via the intermodal.

Now only a few cargo ships dock in Tacloban port. There is still one cargo shipping company based in Tacloban, the Lilygene Sea Shipping Transport Corp. Gothong Southern Shipping Lines meanwhile still has a regular container ship to Tacloban but there are complaints that the rates are high (the consequence of no competition). Whatever, there are still cargoes better carried by ships than by trucks. However, some of the container vans for Leyte are just offloaded now in Cebu and transferred through Cargo RORO LCTs going to several western Leyte ports.

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What might remain for a long time maybe in Tacloban port are the big motor bancas for Buad island in Western Samar which hosts the town of Daram and Bagatao island which hosts the town of Zumarraga. I am not sure of the long-term existence of the other motor bancas for the other Samar towns except for maybe Talalora as more and more they have buses that go to Tacloban and maybe soon the commuter vans will follow. Or maybe even the jeep. The lesson is with roads established the sea connection always have to go in the long term.

Tacloban port is improved now. Improving the port eases port operations but it will not make the ships come back contrary to what the PPA (Philippine Ports Authority) and the government say. It is cargo and passengers that make the ships come to a port but if there are other and better transportation modes that are already available then cargo and passenger volumes drop and sometimes it becomes uneconomical for the ship to continue operating.

So I really wonder what is the point in developing a port in the nearby town of Babatngon as an alternative to Tacloban port. Have the Philippine Ports Authority ever asked who wants to use it? It is not surprising however as the PPA is the master of creating “ports to nowhere” (ports with practically no traffic) especially in the time of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo who was so fond of those (for many “reasons”, of course).

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Ormoc Port by John Luzares

In the past two decades the PPA always touted Tacloban port. For maybe they are based there. There was a denial that actually Ormoc port was already the main gateway to Leyte and it is no longer Tacloban port. Recently however, there seems to be an acknowledgment of the real score — that Ormoc port has actually been the de facto gateway already. The government is now developing Ormoc port and it is good that the PPA vessel arrival and departure site already covers it.

Whatever and however they try, it cannot be denied that the sun is already setting in Tacloban port. It is no longer the same port it used to be in the past because of the intermodal assault changed things.

Like they say, things always change.

Cagayan de Oro Port And Trans-Asia Shipping Lines

Cagayan de Oro port is the main connection of Mindanao to Cebu through the sea and in the south it is Cebu that is the primary trade and commercial center. Cebu supplies so many goods to Mindanao and it also attracts a lot of students and professionals from northern Mindanao. Besides a lot of people in Mindanao have Cebu origins. Cebu’s pre-eminence goes back a long, long time ago and that was even before the Spaniards came. When Magellan reached Cebu they noticed that there were many ships from Siam! Sugbu was already a great trading center even before Fernando Magallanes and Lapu-lapu were born.

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Cagayan de Oro port

Cagayan de Oro was not always the main port of entry from Cebu to Mindanao. Misamis town (Ozamis City now) reached prominence earlier than it and that was why it was the capital of the unified Misamis province then. And in the boom of copra before the 1929 Wall Street Crash in the US, Medina town and Gingoog were even more prosperous than Cagayan de Misamis, the old name of Cagayan de Oro (by the way there is no gold in that city; it was just a name creation to make it more attractive-sounding). Camiguin was also more prosperous then than Cagayan de Misamis (because of copra and not because of lanzones). All these are validated by the biography of former Vice-President Emmanuel Pelaez who hails from the area and whose father was the former Governor of the unified Misamis province.

But things always change and when the interior of Mindanao was opened for exploitation and the Sayre Highway that extended up to Cotabato province was built, slowly the central position of Cagayan de Misamis buoyed it up until it exceeded Misamis, Medina, Gingoog and Camiguin. The Americans’ interest in Bukidnon agribusiness (think pineapple and Del Monte) also helped a great deal and with that even Bugo port in Cagayan de Misamis became a port of importance.

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Part of Sayre Highway leading to Bukidnon

Many shipping companies served the growing commerce between Cebu and Cagayan de Oro. Some of earlier ones were national liner companies (almost all liners then going to Cagayan de Oro call in Cebu first) and some were regionals like Central Shipping (but this graduated to the national liner company Sweet Lines). The situation then was national liner companies dominated the Cebu-Cagayan de Oro corridor (in fact the entire Cebu-northern Mindanao corridor). On the side of the regionals, they were then dependent on wooden motor boats and at best they would have ex-”F” ships or ships converted from minesweepers or PT boats.

In 1974, a new shipping company was born in Cebu which was first known as Solar Shipping Lines but they immediately changed their company name to Trans-Asia Shipping Lines Inc. or TASLI for short. This company had an entirely new tack which made them surpass their regional rivals immediately. Their strategy was to buy good surplus cruisers from Japan whose size even exceeded the former “FS” ships which in those days still dominated the fleet of the national liner companies (but which actually are already reaching the end of their reliable service and were already prone to accidents). The age of those surplus ships of TASLI was about the same of the small liners being purchased then from Japan by the national liner companies. So imagine TASLI’s edge in the regional and specifically the Cebu-northern Mindanao shipping wars especially the premier route to Cagayan de Oro.

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Asia Philippines by TASLI

The cruisers of Trans-Asia Shipping Lines were of course faster, more reliable and more comfortable as comfort was not the strength of the former “FS” ships then which has cargo origins. And, of course, the ex-”F” ships, etc. were even more inferior along with the wooden motor boats. Even in the 1970’s when our population was much smaller and the trade of goods then smaller too, Trans-Asia Shipping Lines was able to form a fleet of seven of these modern (by Philippine standards) cruisers which were all built in Japan in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s.

These TASLI ships bore the names which later became familiar even to the current generation: Asia Philippines, Asia Japan, Asia Indonesia, Asia China and Trans-Asia (two were sold and replaced by ships that bore the same name). To complete the modernist approach, Trans-Asia Shipping Lines built a modern main office and an airconditioned ticketing office just across Plaza Independencia which stands until now and the company was justifiably proud of those. And I say I have to congratulate its architect and the owners because the building still looks beautiful four decades later. Their buildings were just near where their ships docked then. Actually, I sometimes go there just to feel the ambiance and the history of the place.

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TASLI ticketing office

When the new shipping paradigm came which we know today as the RORO ships, Trans-Asia Shipping Lines immediately went aboard and sold their old cruisers. In this field, among the Visayas-Mindanao regional shipping companies, only Carlos A. Gothong Lines Inc. (CAGLI) was ahead of them. In the 1980′,s after the break-up with Lorenzo Shipping Corporation, CAGLI stressed regional operations and they were first to realize the superiority of the ROROs even in the overnight ferry field. Roble Shipping Inc. and Cokaliong Shipping Lines Inc. (CSLI) were among the recipients of the cast-off cruisers of TASLI.

In succession from 1987, Trans-Asia Shipping Lines acquired Asia Hongkong, a new Asia Japan, Asia Thailand, Asia Taiwan, Asia Brunei and a new Asia Indonesia, a new Asia Singapore, a new Trans-Asia, a new Asia Philippines and a new Asia China with the last one added in 1995. Trans-Asia Shipping Lines were adding more than a new ship a year in this stretch and this brought them easily to the top of the Visayas-Mindanao regional shipping companies. From Cebu as a hub, their routes spread like the spokes of the wheel with routes to Mindanao, the all the major Visayas islands and even Masbate in the Bicol Region. And they dominated the Cebu-Cagayan de Oro route. They even exceeded there Carlos A. Gothong Lines and Sulpicio Lines.

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The jewels of their fleet were the sister ships Trans-Asia and Asia China. The two were nearly liner in size and speed and they had the appointments and comforts of a liner. In those days, the two were probably the best overnight ships in the whole country and Trans-Asia Shipping Lines was justifiably proud of the two. It was more than a statement that “they have arrived”. They were the best among the regionals, the top in the totem pole of this category.

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But storms at sea can suddenly appear out of nowhere and their fury could be fiercer than one might expect. The “typhoon” that battered Trans-Asia Shipping Lines appeared on January 1, 1996 when the “Great Merger” between Williams Lines Inc., Carlos A. Gothong Lines Inc. and Aboitiz Shipping Company happened which produced the giant shipping company WG&A. With the creation of WG&A, a new, more powerful regional shipping company suddenly appeared, the Cebu Ferries Corporation or CFC. It also had another subsidiary, the High Speed Craft (HSC) company SuperCat.

In Cebu Ferries Corporation, WG&A passed on their old liners and the former regional ships of William Lines and CAGLI. To top it and to challenge the jewels of TASLI which were ruling the prime Visayas-Mindanao route, the Cebu-Cagayan de Oro route, CFC fielded the Our Lady of Lipa and later the Our Lady of Good Voyage, a small William Lines liner which was the former Mabuhay 6. So as not to lose in the one-upmanship, Sulpicio Lines then fielded the even bigger Princess of the Ocean which was really a liner in appointments, speed and size.

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Photo credit: Ray Smith

The Our Lady of Lipa and Princess of the Ocean were both capable of 20 knots and so the races between Cebu and Cagayan de Oro began. The bragging rights comes from which ship will arrive Cagayan de Oro port first. In Cagayan de Oro that matters because maybe half of the passengers will still be travelling long distances to Bukidnon, Davao, Cotabato, Gensan and Lanao (the farthest I heard was still bound for Sarangani islands). If one is able to hitch to a connecting ride before dawn then he will have lunch at home even it is as far as Davao. In won’t be dark already when the passenger reaches Sarangani province unlike before (if one is late and there are no more trips then one sleeps in Gensan).

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And reports of 2:00 or 2:30 am arrivals (or even earlier) began filtering back. From an 8pm departure in Cebu! There was no way the sister ships of Trans-Asia Shipping Lines can match that. In comfort and accommodations they probably can match ships fitted as liners (except in speed and maybe in the restaurant). But Cebu Ferries Corporation also has a more extensive route system and in conjunction with WG&A liners passing through Cebu their frequencies can’t be matched. WG&A liners acting also as Visayas-Mindanao liners were simply untouchable like the SuperFerries emanating from Cebu. Or when they use the likes of Our Lady of Sacred Heart in a Vis-Min route. Maybe TASLI then were asking what sea god they have crossed to deserve such a fate and tribulation!

Trans-Asia Shipping Lines tried to fight back (and show they are not cowered). They acquired three more ships in a short stretch between 1997 and 1998, the Trans-Asia 2, the Asia Malaysia and the Asia South Korea. However, they lost two ships to accidents in 1999 and they sold three more ships early this millennium. There was simply a surplus of bottoms in the Visayas-Mindanao routes so there was overcompetition (contrary to what Myrna S. Austria claims but those knowledgeable of Visayas-Mindanao shipping will easily contradict her). A lot of regional shipping companies failed in this period. The growth of others were stunted and that included Trans-Asia Shipping Lines.

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Soon, even Cebu Ferries Corporation stepped back, gave up routes and sold ships. It was not simply the effects of overcompetition on them. The “Great Merger” unraveled and the Chiongbian and Gothong families pulled out and they had to be paid for their shares and so still-good ships were thrown to the torches of the breakers. Later, reeling from the resurgence of competitors, Cebu Ferries Corporation gave up completely and its remaining ships were brought to Batangas (and becoming “Batangas Ferries”, jokingly).

But Trans-Asia Shipping Lines suffered a lot. For ten years from 1998 they didn’t acquire any ships until when the purchased the Trans-Asia 3 in 2008. From 2010, Trans-Asia Shipping Lines acquired four more ships. But the difference this time were they were purchasing ships discarded by others (that was the pattern of their clients Cokaliong Shipping Lines and Roble Shipping Lines before). It seems they have forgotten the formula which brought them to the top. As I observed, they were not the same company after that bruising battle with Cebu Ferries Corporation. The “Great Merger” was actually a curse to our shipping as it turned out. Not only to TASLI but to the whole shipping industry. Shipping companies that were growing were blighted by them, some were even snuffed out completely.

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While Trans-Asia Shipping Lines still added four more ferries from 2010, they also lost about the same number through disposals and an accident, the sinking of the Asia Malaysia. And then they sold to the breakers their former jewels which might have weak engines already but the interiors were still superb.

Now one of the cast-offs they bought, the Trans-Asia 5 now just sails as a Cargo RORO ship and another has fast-weakening engine, the Trans-Asia 9 (the Captain of her as Our Lady of Good Voyage admitted to PSSS that its engines were weak already). Trans-Asia Shipping Lines severely lacks ships now and their fleet is beginning to get gray. They still try to hold to the premier Cebu-Cagayan de Oro route but challengers are now baying at their door.

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I hope they have a renaissance. And like in the 1970’s, 1980’s and 1990’s that they sail boldly on to a new dawn.