Newest Developments in the MARINA Line of Thinking About Ferries

There were two notable developments in the MARINA line of thinking about ferries recently although it is still in draft form and probably it might still have to go through hearings and the opposition of shipping companies. One, it will insist that henceforth new-build local ferries and surplus imported ones will have to be stern-docking. It seems the ones currently sailing in the country will not really be banned after all or be forced to convert.

MARINA says that this is for safety in sailing. But I really cannot comprehend what ghosts or ghouls are they fearing. We never had a ferry that is bow-loading that was lost at sea through a ramp or bow failure nor have a ferry sink through a collision and the failure of the bow. For sure, the MARINA Administrator is thinking of the Estonia and Herald of Free Enterprise sinking in Europe when the two ferries sank because of some dumb failure to close the bow and the other the failure of the bow door of the ship itself.

Our ferries that are bow-loading are all small and their bow ramps are line of sight with the bridge and usually there are crews of the ships and of the trucks that are in the car deck. It is impossible to be missed that a ramp is not closed with all the possible people that can see it even in the night. It won’t just easily fall off while sailing because if there is a crack or worse the ramp would have already fallen in the loading process or else give a signal that it is giving way soon.

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A small, bow-loading ferry which shows that the ramp is very visible from the bridge

Up until today there are so many bow-loading ferries in Japan, China, Korea, Europe that are still sailing. Those countries are more advanced that ours shipping-wise and in the design. Now, I don’t know why we should be more popish than the Pope. That is why I called the fears of Amaro as simply ghosts. Does he want to claim in the world that we were the first to ban bow-loading ferries? That is simply laughable and other countries will just snicker at us.

One effect though if this MARINA rule pushes through is we can’t import basic, short-distance ferries anymore as all of these are bow-loading. This type has been questioned for its safety before as these were classed in Japan for just inland sea and bay operations only. Now, I don’t know if the real motive of Amaro is to do away with this type.

Anent this, existing bow-loading ferries henceforth are banned from using their bow ramps to stop the ship. This is what is done by the small ferries and the LCTs which are loath in using bollards and their anchors and its resultant longer docking maneuver time. Aside from the possible wharf damage, MARINA is fearful of the damage it can cause the ramps of the ships.

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Mae Wess ferries just use the ramp to hold the ship in place

But I wonder if MARINA ever did any serious study on this. The best example they can study are the ferries of Mae Wess of Davao which is also known as CW Cole which are Davao-Samal short-distance ferries of LCT and double-ended ferry designs. These don’t use their bollards and anchors and instead use reversing of screws and the lowering of the ramps in the causeway-type wharf to stop the ship. If there is no swell that ramp laid atop the wharf keeps the ferry in its place even though the ropes of the ship are not deployed. If there is a swell then the helmsman uses the screws to push the ferry to the causeway-type wharf thereby keeping it immobile.

The Mae Wess/CW Cole ferries depart twice in an hour for up to 16 hours in a day and so they normally would have 25 or so dockings in a day. I have yet to hear a ramp of theirs fall off because of using the ramp to stop the ship. As for the wharves they own it so MARINA and the Philippine Ports Authority (PPA) cannot really complain. PPA is really the entity in charge of government-owned ports and I am just wondering how come MARINA is the one complaining first about wharf damage when that thing is withing the purview of the PPA.

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Scouring of the wharf of the private BALWHARTECO Port is visible but a scoured wharf is very good in stopping the ship. The damage can easily be repaired and BALWHARTECO takes that as normal wear and tear in the course of business.

In the Bicol ferries I have heard of ramp damage in their bow-loading ferries but that was not because of using the ramp to stop the ship but because of the overweight loads that bends the ramps and there are cases of ramp fracture because of this. That is why sometimes very heavy loads like carriers of really heavy equipment have a hard time securing a ride because the ferries avoid them due to possible ramp damage. I know of a case once in Matnog that the deal was a Grand Star RORO ferry would take in just that single load solo and the vehicle would have to pay for nearly the full load of the ship (now this kind of load is not taken by the newly-fielded Cargo RORO LCTs).

I don’t know. It has long been my observation that our government simply issues orders without concrete studies. And I have also observed that true experts does not matter in our government. That is because government functionaries think that they are the “experts” when at times they know next to nothing especially if they are just political appointees or entered government service by having an MBA (“Me Backer Ako”). Worse, armchair scholars who do not really ride ships also pretend that they are “shipping experts” when in actuality they are not.

Another development which is a welcome one because of opposition is there would no longer be retirement of ships arbitrarily based on age and instead it will be based on inspections which should be the case anyway. In other countries where shipping is more advanced than ours there is no such thing as forced retirement because of age. There, Port State Control (PSC) inspections are the means. If a ship cannot pass the surprise PSC inspections it gets detained and won’t be able to sail until the serious deficiencies are corrected. Sometimes it gets to a point that remedying the deficiencies will already cost a lot of money and so the ships are simply sold to the breakers. Or sent to some Third World country like the Philippines where there are no strict standards and inspections.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Port_State_Control

Port State Control is not being used in the Philippines because ship owners oppose it. It has been said that if PSC is implemented here then only a few of our ships will pass that and the moving of goods will then be hampered.

What we do instead is we let a slew of local inspection and certification societies qualify our ships. That became the system because our maritime regulatory agency MARINA does not have enough skills and people to inspect our ships since the agency is not composed of maritime professionals. For ship inspections before departure that function has been devolved by MARINA to the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) since the agency don’t have offices in all our ports. But then the PCG is also not composed of maritime professionals too and so most times their primary role just sinks to the level of counting the passengers to check if the ship is not overloaded.

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Coast Guard people doing pre-departure inspection work

Linearly, older ships might really be less safe as aging might mean more things can go wrong at the level of the equipment of the ship. But I am not implying here that they are not safe as safety is a very relative term. In the recent years, actually our ship losses went down and I think the most proximate reason for this is when the wind blows a little or if the swell reaches a foot high then voyages of our ships even the big ones are then suspended. In a clear sea the chance of a ship sinking even if it loses propulsion is very low.

The government too does not want to take chances when the weather becomes a little inclement. The main reason is there are not enough search and rescue assets around and if there are those are not found in the busy sea lanes but in the big cities where there is more “civilization”. Like PCG ships would rather be in Cebu port rather in the Camotes islands. In Surigao Strait when a ship is in distress sometimes the Coast Guard have to borrow some ferry or tug. Or not send out a ship at all like in the Maharlika Dos incident.

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The Philippine Coast Guard in Cebu

What remains to be seen now is what standard will MARINA use in the inspections to certify our ships. That could be the bloody part in the push and pull of MARINA and the ship owners. But at least that might be better than what happened in our bus industry. JICA, the Japan International Cooperation Agency recommended the technical inspection of our buses but the bus owners balked at the Japan standard. Next, JICA suggested using the Singapore technical standard and the bus owners balked again. And so the LTFRB, the regulatory agency that has buses within its power then set an arbitrary 15 year-old automatic retirement scheme for buses. The engine running hours or wear and the kind of maintenance no longer mattered. I don’t know if I will cry when I heard buses still capable of 120kph being retired forcibly. At least it will be good if that thing will not happen to our ships especially the ones being maintained well.

I will be attuned for what will be the final version that will come out of MARINA. I just hope the final result will be fair to all concerned including the riding public.

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Recent Developments in Bicol Passenger Shipping

A Backgrounder

A few years ago, Montenegro Shipping Lines Inc. (MSLI) of Batangas entered the Matnog-San Isidro route using the government-owned San Isidro Ferry Terminal in San Isidro, Samar. Before that the company already plied before the Masbate City-Lucena route but got suspended when their MV Maria Carmela burned just before reaching Lucena and there were protests in Masbate backed up by their politicians. But aside from that route, Montenegro Shipping Lines had a route from Masbate City to Pilar using basic, short-distance ferry-ROROs and hybrid LCTs (Pilar port can’t accommodate anything bigger because of its shallowness) and fastcrafts. In that route they were able to outlast the fastcrafts of Lobrigo Lines and the route became their staple and stronghold after they were driven out of the Batangas-Calapan route because the SuperCats there were simply superior than them.

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San Isidro Ferry Terminal

They then entered the Matnog-San Isidro route across San Bernardino Strait using the government-owned San Isidro Ferry Terminal. I knew it was a creeping move on their part and entry to the San Isidro route is easy since no ferry is using that route ever since Archipelago Philippine Ferries and Philharbor Ferries and Port Services left that port when they built their own port in Dapdap which is much nearer to Matnog than San Isidro. I knew MARINA, the maritime authority will easily grant a franchise since there is no ferry using that terminal and the 50-kilometer restriction has already been lifted by MARINA per Pres. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s instruction. Before, on parallel routes no franchise will be issued if the competing port is less than 50 kilometers away (but it seems that did not apply to the likes of western Leyte ports and the ports of near Dumaguete).

I was not worried for Bicol ferry companies as long as Montenegro Lines is in San Isidro because that route carries a significant penalty in distance as BALWHARTECO port which is being used by the Bicol ferry companies is just 11 nautical miles in distance while the San Isidro port is 15 nautical miles in distance from Matnog Ferry Terminal. I knew Montenegro Lines had to give near parity in rates if they want patronage. And they will have to field a faster ferry which they did and they suffered the fuel penalty. It was obvious that in using San Isidro Ferry Terminal that they are handicapped in competing with the Bicol ferry companies (Sta. Clara Shipping Corporation, Penafrancia Shipping Corporation, 168 Shipping Lines and Regina Shipping Lines).

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Dapdap port

But then it happened that the Archipelago/Philharbor operation which operated the Maharlika and Grand Star RORO ferries was tottering they opened up Dapdap port for Montenegro Lines. And that is where I began to worry for the Bicol ferry companies as Montenegro Lines is a big shipping company (they even tout they have the most number of ferries which is actually true) and if transfer pricing was used by the big oil companies and by the bus group Vallacar Transportation Inc. locally then they can engage in price wars and the smaller Bicol ferry companies will suffer. With the move to Dapdap port and with the lessening of Archipelago and Philharbor ferries it is as if those twin companies are giving Montenegro Lines free business. Dapdap port is a little farther than BALWHARTECO port which the Bicol ferry companies are using but the difference in distance is minimal at about 11 nautical miles to 11.5 to 12 nautical miles. Of course, the shipping companies have their regular and locked patrons but there are a lot of non-committed vehicles especially the private vehicles (as differentiated from company vehicles) which pay the full, published rates unlike the regular and locked patrons.

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Jubasan port

A little later when the Sta. Clara Shipping Corporation (SCSC) built its own port in Jubasan, also in Allen, for their and their sister company Penafrancia Shipping Corporation’s use, BALWHARTECO then opened its gates to Montenegro Lines and so the company finally had access to the most advantageous port in Samar (this port is in direct line to the vehicles from Catarman and Rawis). It seems the creeping strategy of Montenegro was finally working. In shipping it is not necessary that a company will get the most advantageous port or route at the start. With patience and resources, better arrangements and opportunities soon open.

Developments and the Current Situation

I was watching what will be the fate of the Bicol ferry companies especially since the long bond and partnership between BALWHARTECO and Sta. Clara Shipping Corporation, the biggest Bicol ferry company was broken with the building of the Jubasan port against the wishes and objection of the owners of BALWHARTECO (this episode almost reached the courts since the owner tried to stop the construction as he was the Mayor of Allen where the ports are located and bitterness was really high). Well, none sank, most even grew and that was a surprise for me.

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Denica ferries in Masbate port

In Masbate, Denica Lines, which was basically only in motor bancas and cargo motor boats before fought back magnificently with the acquisition of the MV Odyssey to be followed by the MV Marina Empress which were just poor discards of other shipping companies. Both suffered engine troubles at the start and Denica Lines had to spend money for the two. Then this year Denica Lines was able to purchase a third basic, short-distance ferry-RORO, the MV Regina Calixta II of Regina Shipping Lines of Catanduanes which was already buying bigger ferries. The MV Regina Calixta II is unrenamed as of this moment as changing names is actually not peanuts with regards to MARINA.

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Denica fastcrafts refitting in Pilar port

And last year Denica Lines got two rundown fastcrafts which they are slowly refitting right in Pilar port. So right now or soon, it seems Denica Lines is already ready to slug it out with Montenegro Lines toe-to-toe in the Masbate City-Pilar route. Meanwhile, Sta. Clara Shipping Corporation and twin company Penafrancia Shipping Corporation is doing roaring business in the parallel Masbate City-Pio Duran route especially since Medallion Transport was driven away from that route after their MV Lady of Carmel sank. The truck loading in that route is so good that Sta. Clara Shipping Corporation bought the LCT Ongpin, lengthened it and fielded it in the route as the LCT Aldain Dowey. And that is aside from two 60-meter ROPAXes they maintain in the route. So if the ferries of Denica Lines and Sta. Clara Shipping Corporation in the route from Masbate City to the Bicol mainland is totaled then Montenegro Lines is outmatched already except in the High Speed Crafts segment which competes with the big motor bancas of different companies.

In the Matnog-Samar routes, the Bicol ferry companies are more than holding its own although both has not grown except in frequency. If there was growth it was taken by Archipelago Ferries Corporation which fielded a brand-new FastCat in the Matnog-San Isidro route which is also doing good business. But in terms of net, Archipelago Ferries is not ahead as the business they gained with the fielding of FastCat might not be greater than the business they lost with the disposal of the Maharlika and Grand Star RORO ferries (and they are paying docking fees in San Isidro Ferry Terminal while their own Dapdap port is unused). In my comparisons, I still consider Archipelago and Philharbor as Bicol ferries since they started as such although with the good FastCats now they are trying to erase their connection to the lousy Maharlika and Grand Star RORO ferries because obviously they are ashamed of their record there.

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FastCat in San Isidro Ferry Terminal

And Montenegro Lines did not gain either in the Matnog-Allen route as the Bicol ferry companies was able to hold their own relative to them. If there was growth it was taken by the subsidiary of 2GO, the SulitFerry which operates a brand-new ROPAX LCT, the LCT Poseidon 26 and another one or two Cargo RORO LCTs depending on the season. Finally, 2GO discovered what was eating up their container shipping and passenger liner business and decided to compete (“if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em”). Lacking enough resources, they started conservatively by just chartering new LCTs from Concrete Solutions Incorporated (CSI), owner of the Poseidon LCTs, whose fleet seems to be ever growing.

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The Poseidon 26 of Concrete Solutions and SulitFerry

In the routes to Catanduanes, there was obvious growth and changes. Initially, the most striking perhaps is the appearance of the two High Speed Crafts (although technically one is already a Medium Speed Craft) of the Cardinal Shipping Lines Incorporated, the MV Silangan Express 1 and the MV Silangan Express 3. I had my doubts early on about the viability of the two but it turned out they were doing okay. One reason maybe is their reasonable fares which is just about one will expect from a Tourist accommodation in a regular ferry and not double the Economy fare like what is charged in other parts of the country. The two HSCs of Cardinal Shipping also run in the hours not served by the regular ROPAX whose schedules are dictated by the arrivals of the buses (which means a morning departure from Tabaco and a noon departure from Catanduanes).

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The Regina Calixta VII (ex-Maharlika Cuatro). Photo by Dominic San Juan

One Catanduanes ferry company and a native of Catanduanes which made a great stride recently was Regina Shipping Lines or RSL. This company has already disposed their basic, short-distance ferry-ROROs and instead bought bigger ferries. Part of their new acquisitions were the former MV Maharlika Tres, acquired from Atienza Shipping Lines and the former MV Maharlika Cuatro from Gabisan Shipping Lines. The two double-ended ferries became the MV Regina Calixta VI and and MV Regina Calixta VII in their fleet. The company was also able to acquire the former MV Grand Star RORO 3 which became the MV Regina Calixta VIII in their fleet. Rounding off the fleet is the MV Regina Calixta V which they acquired from China.

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The Regina Calixta VIII (ex-Grand Star RORO III)

The former ferries from Archipelago Ferries and Philharbor Ferries are no longer the sad ferries of Christopher Pastrana, the boastful. All feature Tourist accommodations now (there was none before) with a disco motif and sounds where good videos are played during the trip and all feature good, brand-new seats in Tourist (Regina Shipping Lines was in buses before and they know these things). Even the engines were refitted that the former MV Maharlika Tres is already running faster than her design speed (the maximum speed when new). The owner of Regina Shipping Lines simply opened his checkbook unlike Christopher Pastrana (who opened the checkbook of DBP instead) and the Mayon Docks of Tabaco City forthwith did the make-overs of the former lousy Archipelago and Philharbor ferries derided in the eastern seaboard. Now those ferries are already the favorites by the passengers.

There was also another change in the Masbate ferries. This was when Asian Marine Transport Corporation (AMTC) sold their MV Super Shuttle Ferry 19, a double-ended ferry that was off-and-on doing the Bogo-Cawayan route. She was bought by the D. Olmilla Shipping Corporation, refitted also in Mayon Docks and she became the MV Cawayan Ferry 1. She still plies the same route and schedule.

Meanwhile, Sta. Clara Shipping Corporation was able to acquire last summer two former Tamataka Maru ships from Japan, the MV Tamataka Maru No. 85 and the MV Tamataka Maru No. 87 in a buy one, take one deal and the two ferries were refitted in Nagasaka Shipyard in Tayud, Cebu (Sta. Clara Shipping Corporation is a stockholder in the said yard). The MV Tamataka Maru No.85 is now running the new route of Sta. Clara Shipping Corporation, the Liloan-Lipata route across Surigao Strait, an expansion route outside Bicol acquired by the company some two or three years ago. The ship is now renamed as the MV Adrian Jude and she is meant to compete with the MV SWM Stella del Mar of the Southwest Premier Ferries, a new operator in that route using a brand-new ferry similar to and the sister ship of the new vessels of Starlite Ferries of Batangas.

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The Adrian Jude. Photo by Capt. John Andrew R. Lape

The former MV Tamataka Maru No.87 is also ready now, she is already in Bicol and waiting but unrenamed yet according to the last information I received a day ago. She is meant to ply the new route of Sta. Clara Shipping Corporation from Masbate to Cebu, another new expansion route of the company but the exact route is still being applied for. Sta. Clara Shipping Corporation is one Bicol company aside from Denica Lines which has shown aggressive growth in the past years.

Meanwhile, it seems Montenegro Lines has lost its aggressiveness. Their fleet size in Bicol is practically the same although they rotate ships especially in the Matnog-Samar route (except for the MV Reina Emperatriz there and the MV Maria Angela in Masbate). Their only addition in Bicol is their new catamaran MV City of Angeles, a High Speed Craft in the Masbate-Pilar route.

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The City of Angeles

I was trying to analyze the lack of zest and the lack of pep of Montenegro Lines in the recent years especially in the context of Bicol shipping. It seems that when their “patron saint” went out of power and was made an enforced guest, Montenegro Lines’ drive faltered. It also seems that the blessings usually going to Montenegro Lines already went to another shipping company and so Montenegro Lines had to scrounge for additional ferries whereas before, they were buying ferries as if the supply of it won’t last (now it is the new favorite which is precisely doing that). Now, i don’t really know how come their blessings went away.

I do not know. Things can always change and it seems Montenegro Lines is no longer that great a threat to the Bicol ferry companies which showed spunk in the recent years except for 168 Shipping Lines, the owner of the local Star Ferry ships which seems to be languishing with no ship additions.

One loss, however, is something that cannot be averted and has long been expected. This is the discontinuance of the LCT to Cagraray island from the Albay mainland across the very narrow Sula Channel which has been a ship shelter for centuries now. A new bridge has been built connecting the fabled island which hosts the well-promoted Misibis Resort, the best resort in Albay province.

But as a whole Bicol ferry shipping was on the rise in the recent years and that is surely a good thing for the region.

The Graceful Stars

The Graceful Stars is one of the most recent ships of Roble Shipping Incorporated, a major regional shipping line serving the ports of western Leyte (which I wonder why it is not a separate province as it is economically viable on its own, it has a ready capital in Ormoc and it speaks a different language from eastern Leyte) which sailed just in 2015 although she came to the Philippines earlier (as she stayed long in the Roble wharf in Pier 7 of Mandaue). As refitted, the Graceful Stars is an overnight ferry-RORO which means she is fitted with bunks, the main distinction of overnight ferries from the short-distance ferries (well, aside from the size, of course).

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I look at Graceful Stars from the evolutionary point of view of Roble Shipping. This company started from the Marao, a converted cargo ship and then from that humble beginning they were true with a humble path to greatness by first taking in the discards of the other shipping companies of Cebu and by concentrating on their strong route, the Cebu-Hilongos route which is now already a major route and a gateway to the province of Southern Leyte. Actually eight discards from other shipping companies passed through the fleet of Roble shipping (the Don Bonifacio, the first Guady Cristy, the second Guada Cristy, the Hilongos Diamond, the Hilongos Diamond – II, the Queen Belinda, the Leyte Diamond, and the Cebu Diamond) and that list does not even include the May Josephine, the former Surigao Transport which was more of a cargo ship too like the Marao. A lot of discards but those established what Roble Shipping is today. And there is nothing wrong with the path of Roble Shipping, they should be proud of it because what is important is where they ended up with and where they are now. Actually Roble Shipping in its early days even acted as the conservator of old ferries that might have ended up earlier in the breakers if they have not shown interest in them especially since those were already the obsolete cruiser ferries then (more difficult to load and unload but Roble started in arrastre anyway).

From that simple and humble beginning, Roble Shipping suddenly landed the Heaven Stars which was a former cruiseferry in Japan (cruiseferries are the ferries in Japan that had good amenities and accommodations compare to ferries that were more inclined to the taking in of rolling cargo). Heaven Stars was big for an overnight ferry and she had the amenities of a multi-day liner (I thought then Roble would use her for their approved route to Nasipit). Roble Shipping also snared the Wonderful Star, a basic, short-distance ferry-RORO which unfortunately was lost early (Note: that ferry is different from the current Wonderful Stars). The two ushered the entry of Roble Shipping into the age of ROROs, the successor type to the obsolete cruisers.

But still Roble Shipping was operating a mixed fleet as shown by their acquisition of the Ormoc Star, a cruiser ferry that became a loved ship in her namesake port and city. Then the Wonderful Stars arrived for the company and save for the Heaven Stars she was the most beautiful ship in the fleet of Roble Shipping, and an embodiment of what a moderately sized overnight ferry should be.

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Next to come for Roble Shipping was the Beautiful Stars which was just a little bigger than the basic, short-distance ferry-RORO before a slew of another discards from other shipping companies came which became the Joyful Stars, the Theresian Stars, the Blessed Stars and the Sacred Stars in their fleet. These discards needed practically needed no more refitting from Roble Shipping except maybe in the engine department. In modern shipping companies it is Roble Shipping which is the master in making discarded ships work.

The Wonderful Stars, Theresian Stars and Joyful Stars were significant for Roble Shipping because that firmly established the shipping company in the 70-meter class of ROROs (okay, the Theresian Stars is 0.3 meters short of 70 meters). Let it be noted that the Heaven Stars was 89 meters long and that will show the jump then made in size by Roble Shipping when they acquired her. These overnight ferry-ROROs might have been smaller than what Cebu Ferries, Trans-Asia Shipping Lines or Cokaliong Shipping Lines have or had (and to a certain extent George & Peter Lines too) but let it be noted that Roble Shipping is only operating routes to Leyte (until recently) and not to Mindanao unlike the other mentioned ones. And so Roble Shipping actually was leading then what can be called the second pack of Cebu ferries except that Lite Ferries’ fleet exploded later in size courtesy of the wand of a patron saint.

The Graceful Stars is in the 70-meter class thereby consolidating the hold of Roble Shipping in that class. And more importantly, the Graceful Stars was the attempt of Roble Shipping into the type of converting vehicle carriers into ROPAXes like what was done before by Cebu Ferries Corporation with their Cebu Ferry line of ships (Cebu Ferry 1, 2 and 3) and what was to be done later by Roble Shipping in their Oroquieta Stars. Is this the new mode of the company aside from acquiring Cargo RORO LCTs and CHA-ROs?

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The TKB Emerald by James Gabriel Verallo

The Graceful Stars is the former ship of Toyama Kaigai Boeki Shipping named the TKB Emerald and was classified as a Vehicle Carrier in Japan or which is that used in ferrying vehicles in relatively short distances. This is different from the Pure Car Carriers which ferry new vehicles between countries or the Cargo ROROs or RORO Cargo ships which are bigger, have a bigger capacity and go longer distances and even to another adjacent country. A Vehicle Carrier has a limited accommodation for passengers which are usually the crew or drivers of the vehicles and that is their difference over the ROPAXes.

As such converting a Vehicle Carrier to a ROPAX or RORO-Passenger ship means a lot of steel still has to be added into the ship in the form of additional decks and passenger amenities and accommodations. And that is the difference in the conversion if the original ship is a RORO Cargo ship for in that type of ship not much steel is still needed and in some cases steel has to be cut to pave way for windows.

The TKB Emerald took long in conversion and much longer than the Cebu Ferry line of ships (about four years from 2011). With a surplus of ships Roble Shipping didn’t need to rush and the refitting of Joyful Stars and Theresian Stars took precedence (otherwise the two would have rotted). The conversion won’t also be that straighforward as the TKB Emerald has a sloping ramp which slid down to the car deck and two passenger decks had to be fitted (single passenger decks are just for the basic, short-distance ferry-ROROs). And I have heard then too and confirmed it with the databases that the engine of the TKB Emerald was on the small side at just 1,370 horsepower and a single engine at that when ferries of this size normally have two engines with 2,000 horsepower as the very minimum (many even pack 4,000 horsepower or more). Adding lots of steel also slows down the ferry because of the added weight. With this and even with the aid of turbocharging one cannot expect TKB Emerald to run fast. However, one of the strengths of the TKB Emerald is a long and good three-piece ramp which is excellent for loading and unloading vehicles including container vans mounted on truck-trailers

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TKB Emerald magically converted into Graceful Stars (Photo by James Gabriel Verallo)

The Graceful Stars is 73.7 meters in length over-all with a breadth of 13.6 meters and a depth of 7.6 meters (which is on the deep side which means greater stability) and an original Gross Tonnage (GT) of 1,953 tons and an original design speed of 11.5 knots (which was not bad then but then a lot of steel has to be added to her in her conversion). She was built by Shin Kochi Jyuko Company Limited in Kochi, Japan in 1984 with the IMO Number 8314312. The ship is of steel construction and had a stern ramp leading to the car deck.

As rebuilt she already has two passenger decks with a little squat appearance (but not looking bad) as the bridge determined the height of the superstructure unlike the Cebu Ferry 1 of Cebu Ferries Corporation. This is not really unusual as Cokaliong Shipping has low-looking ferries too. The bridge was lengthened up to the sides as the original bridge is the small type.

In the lower passenger deck at the front are the highest class which are the Suites and the Cabins. These have a Chinese and wooden motif. Before reaching that from the stern where the passengers board is the Tourist section of the ship. The upper passenger deck of the ship contains the Economy Class which is open-air, as normal. Two gangways serve as the entry and exit for the passengers.

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Cabins and Suites of Graceful Stars (does it still look like a Vehicle Carrier?)

As rebuilt the Gross Tonnage (GT) of the ship went down to 970 which is an under-declaration with a Net Tonnage (NT) of 660. The ratio of the NT to the GT is suspicious. I have yet to learn of the passenger capacity of the ship.

When I rode with her to Baybay, her usual route, our ride was comfortable and it did not disappoint. The ship was clean and the aircon was cool. Our trip to Baybay took eight hours and for a distance of a little under 60 nautical miles that means our cruising speed was some 8 knots or so. I heard the maximum she can do is 10 knots although when first fielded I heard tales of late arrivals as in a breakfast docking already from a 9pm departure in Cebu. I heard most of the passengers did not complain as that is still a good arrival and they appreciated the superior amenities and accommodations compared to the earlier ships that served the Baybay route. Meanwhile, her competitor Rosalia 3 of Lapu-lapu Shipping with 3 engines and speedy for a small overnight ferry sped up her passage as that is all she can improve from being an old ferry of fishing vessel origins. To passengers still going far her 3am arrival will matter (her number matches well with that and so renaming her to Rosalia 3am to highlight her strength might be in order, pun intended).

But right now the Graceful Stars lords over the Baybay route and the funny thing is she is even better than the ships fielded in the premier Ormoc route which costs significantly more. And it is doubly funny because for nearly the same distance the Ormoc ships cost much more than the Baybay ships which turn out to be a bargain. For the P510 Tourist fare of Ormoc one can have a more luxurious and fresher-smelling ride in Graceful Stars for P380 and the difference will be enough for a Jollibee breakfast just outside the port gates of Baybay and the change will still be enough for a bus ride to Ormoc. Baybay by the way is a good alternate point of entry if one is headed to Tacloban or to any Samar town. It is good that she is in Baybay because if she is in Hilongos because if she is in the latter her lack of speed will show because the port is gateway to the Southern Leyte towns and so a pre-dawn arrival is preferred there so the passengers will arrive at their homes at breakfast time.

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Rosalia 3 and Graceful Stars in Baybay

It seems Roble Shipping made a correct bet in acquiring and refurbishing the Graceful Stars. In the Baybay route her lack of speed does not easily show as passengers don’t normally grumble unless the arrival is already past breakfast time already. Many actually don’t want to be bothered from sleep of the anchor dropping and the shrilly announcements in the public address system and the bustle of passengers moving and the porters coming. And her superior accommodations means she will lord over Baybay for a long time that I fear that if other older ships of Roble are rotated to Baybay (like the Joyful Stars and the Theresian Stars) the passengers there might grumble with the change.

It seems the former TKB Emerald has already found a home in Baybay and it seems she will be in there for a long time and dominate that route.

Roble Shipping Is Finally Sailing To Mindanao

Last month, September of 2017, Roble Shipping has finally sailed to Oroquieta, the capital of the small Mindanao province of Misamis Occidental (which actually hosts a lot of ports and among them are Ozamis and Plaridel ports). It is maybe the first port of call in Mindanao ever for Roble Shipping and it is actually a long-delayed move already for Roble Shipping as their namesake-to-the-city Oroquieta Stars has long been in the news that she will sail for that city and port since late last year (but since then although the ship is already ready she was just sailing for Hilongos in Leyte).

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Source: Oroquieta City LGU FB account

I have been observing Roble Shipping for long already and watched its consistent growth both in passenger shipping and cargo and even in cargo RORO LCTs in the recent years. But I am puzzled with their moves or more accurately their lack of moves in developing new passenger routes that their cousin shipping company and Johnny-come-lately Medallion Transport which with their courageous moves in developing new routes seems to have already overtaken them in passenger shipping (it even reached Mindanao ahead of them when Medallion’s Lady of Good Voyage plied a route to Dipolog).

Roble Shipping is actually one shipping company that has more ferries than routes, the exact opposite of another shipping company I am also observing which is Trans-Asia Shipping Lines Inc. (TASLI) which in their tepidness in acquiring replacement ferries has more routes than ferries now. Does that mean the two shipping companies needed a merger? Just a naughty thought but that is actually impossible now as Trans-Asia Shipping Lines took the easy way out of their troubles which is selling themselves to the Udenna group of new shipping king Dennis Uy which is flush in money nowadays and might not need any help.

I remember that before Roble Shipping has an approved franchise to Nasipit but they never got about serving that route from Cebu. To think they had the big and good Heaven Stars then, a former cruiseferry in Japan then which should have been perfect for that route. However, that beautiful ship soon caught unreliability in her Pielstick engines and I thought maybe that was the reason why Roble Shipping was not sailing the Nasipit route (which actually had the tough Cebu Ferries and Sulpicio Lines serving it then and might really be the reason why Roble Shipping was hesitant).

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But then calamitous fate befell Sulpicio Lines when they got themselves suspended after the horrific capsizing of their flagship Princess of the Storm, sorry, I mean the Princess of the Stars in a Signal No. 3 typhoon in Romblon. In the aftermath of that Sulpicio Lines sold for cheap their Cebu Princess and Cagayan Princess to Roble Shipping in order to generate some immediate cash and anyway the two ships were suspended from sailing and were of no use to them.

With the acquisition of the two, suddenly Roble Shipping had some serious overnight ships after the Heaven Stars which was then not already capable of sailing regularly especially when the good Wonderful Stars already arrived for them to compete in the Ormoc route. And one of the two was even a former pocket liner, the Cebu Princess. One of the two is actually a veteran of the Nasipit route, the Cagayan Princess which was fielded there when Sulpicio Lines already had a better ship for the Cebu-Cagayan de Oro route (the ship was named after that city actually as it was the original route of that ship) and their Naval, Biliran route bombed.

But no, the two ships just collected barnacles in the Pier 7 wharf of Roble Shipping, not sailing. I thought maybe there were still ghosts prowling the ships as they were used in the retrieval efforts on the capsized Princess of the Stars. Or maybe they wanted people to forget first as denying the two ferries came from Sulpicio Lines is difficult anyway.

The Cebu Princess and Cagayan Princess finally sailed as the Joyful Stars and the Theresian Stars but not to Nasipit but to Leyte (again!). I thought maybe Roble Shipping got cold feet in exploring Mindanao. And to think the service of the once-powerful and proud Cebu Ferries was already tottering then and everybody knows Gothong Southern Shipping Lines won’t last long in the Nasipit route with their Dona Rita Sr. (they eventually quit and sold their passenger ships).

With a surplus of ferries in their only routes which are all to Leyte (Hilongos and Ormoc), eventually their legendary cruiser Ormoc Star rotted in Pier 7. Soon, Roble Shipping got a reputation of laying up a lot of ships in Pier 7 (this is very evident when one takes a ride aboard the Metro Ferry ships to Muelle Osmena in Mactan island). They are all huddled up there including the cargo ships. Maybe as protection for the cold so they won’t catch flu (rust, that cannot be evaded).

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Taelim Iris, the future Oroquieta Stars

Two sisters ships also joined the fleet of Roble Shipping, the former Nikel Princely of Aleson Shipping Lines of Zamboanga and the former Filipinas Surigao of Cokaliong Shipping Lines. The two became the Blessed Stars and Sacred Stars in the fleet of Roble Shipping, respectively. However, although one route was added, the Baybay route of the former Filipinas Surigao (which is again in Leyte) there was no other route except for the route they opened in Catbalogan in the aftermath of the demise of Palacio Lines, the Samar native shipping line. With their small ferries Roble Shipping also tried a route to Naval, Biliran which was formerly part of Leyte. I thought maybe Roble Shipping really loves Eastern Visayas too much that they simply can’t get away from it.

Two more ferries came, the former vehicle carriers TKB Emerald and Taelim Iris which slowly became the Graceful Stars and Oroquieta Stars, respectively (but then the Wonderful Stars was no longer wonderful as she was already out of commission after a fire in Ormoc port). Still the two just sailed to Leyte. And eventually, Roble Shipping quit Catbalogan which is a marginal destination to begin with because of the intermodal competition (trucks are loaded to western Leyte ports and just roll to Samar destinations and passengers also use that route). Roble then transferred the two sister ships Blessed Stars and Sacred Stars to become the Asian Stars I and Asian Stars II of the Theresian Stars, the new shipping company which was their joint venture with a former Governor of Sulu province. The two should have been alternating the the overnight Zamboanga to Jolo ferry route. But nothing came out of the venture and soon the two were back in Cebu. Technically, that was the first venture of Roble Shipping to Mindanao but not under the flag of Roble Shipping.

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Oroquieta Stars just sailing to Hilongos, Leyte

I thought Roble Shipping was really allergic to Mindanao but soon I was disabused of this thought when the news came out that definitely Oroquieta Stars will sail to Oroquieta City after supposedly some requirements were ironed out. That is good as some things will then be tested. Oroquieta is actually too near the Plaridel port which competitor (in Leyte) Lite Ferries is serving and which the defunct Palacio Lines was serving before. Roble Shipping and Lite Ferries will practically be sharing the same market and I do not know if enough cargo and passengers will be weaned away from Dapitan and Ozamis ports but then Dapitan port is nearer to Cebu with cheaper fares and rates.

Oroquieta Stars is fast among the overnight ferries having relatively big engines and has a design speed of 16 knots. I just thought that if it is worthwhile for Cokaliong Shipping Lines to extend their Ozamis route to Iligan, won’t it be profitable for Roble Shipping to extend their Oroquieta route to Tubod in Lanao del Norte or to Iligan perhaps? Tubod can be one of the origins of the Muslim-owned commuter vans which have a route to Cotabato City via Sultan Naga Dipamoro or Karomatan (these vans go up to Kapatagan in Lanao del Norte).

We will have to see if Roble shipping can stick with the Oroquieta route as their competitor Lite Ferries take all challengers very seriously. Funny, but Roble shipping was much ahead of them in the Leyte routes. However, Lite Ferries is very aggressive and is easily the most aggressive shipping company in this decade taking away that mantle from Montenegro Shipping Lines (but then they might just have the same patron saint anyway but the favors and flavors might have changed).

Oroquieta Port

Oroquieta Port by Hans Jason Abao. Might be improved by now.

I wish Roble Shipping all the luck in their Mindanao foray and how I wish they will explore more routes because after all the availability of ferries is the least of their concerns (sabi nga sa bus krudo lang ang kailangan para tumakbo). That could also be their case. Plus franchise and some explorations maybe (well, if Medallion was able to use their cargo ships for that so they can too as they also have a lot of freighters now).

Sayang naman kasi ng mga barko nila.

The China-built LCTs

It seems that just like in buses, in due time China-made LCTs might rule our waves just like China-made buses are now beginning to rule the Luzon highways. The process will not be that sudden though because ships last longer than buses and it is much more costlier to acquire ships. We too have that attachment to our old ships and we don’t suddenly just let them go. But then who knows if some crazy people try to cull our old ferries? I am sure many of the replacements of them will be Cargo RORO LCTs and ROPAX LCTs from China. They are simply that cheap and the terms are good. One thing sure though is the replacements will not be local-built ships. Local-builds generally cost much more than China-builds and the price of the ship is a key decision point.

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A Meiling LCT a.k.a. deck loading ship

A decade ago, China-built LCTs were practically unknown in the country as we were building our own LCTs in many shipyards around the country. Then the first palpable show of LCTs happened early this decade was when a lot of brand-new LCTs suddenly appeared and anchored for long in North Mactan Channel waiting for business. Some of these were rumored to be destined for the mines of Surigao which was then booming. That area already had China-owned and -built LCTs to carry ores to China just like some other provinces which allowed black sand mining had China-owned LCTs docking. But then here, I am talking of China-built LCTs that are locally-operated or owned. However, the Surigao mining boom when world metal prices spiked a decade ago because of China demand was one of our key introduction to China-built LCTs.

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Row of LCTs in North Mactan Channel

Then the demand for ore of China suddenly weakened and so those brand-new China-built LCTs that showed in Mactan Channel owned by Cebu Sea Charterers (of the renowned Premship group), Broadway One Shipping and Concrete Solutions Incorporated went into regular cargo moving. Later, the two companies plus others like Primary Trident Solutions (owner of the Poseidon series of LCTs), and Adnama Mining Resources which also acquired China-made LCTs went into Cargo RORO LCT operations like the Cebu Sea Charterers which meant conveying rolling cargo or vehicles between islands. The Cebu to Leyte routes was the first staple of the Cargo RORO LCTs. Cargo RORO LCTs were also fielded in the key Matnog-Allen and Liloan-Lipata routes to ease backlogs of trucks waiting to be loaded. They became the augmentations to short-distance ferry-ROROs in heavily crowded routes during peak season or when there are disruptions after typhoons.

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Cargo RORO LCTs in Carmen port

The old overnight passenger-shipping companies of Cebu more than noticed the emergence of the Cargo RORO LCTs and felt its threat to their trade and so they also joined the bandwagon in acquiring China-built LCTs. Roble Shipping first chartered LCTs from Asian Shipping Corporation before buying their own and those were China-made LCTs. However, it was Lite Ferries that made a bet in acquiring new China LCTs to be converted into passenger-cargo LCTs after some modifications. Outside of Cebu the shipping company 2GO, under the name NN+ATS and brand “Sulit Ferries” chartered China-built LCTs from Concrete Solutions Incorporated, which are the Poseidon LCTs for use in their Matnog-Allen route.

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A ROPAX LCT operated by Sulit Ferries (LCT Poseidon 26)

Meanwhile, LCTs were also tried by Ocean Transport & Key West Shipping as container ships. When they started they also chartered LCTs from Asian Shipping Corporation like Roble Shipping. They were successful in using LCTs as container ships and they were always full (and maybe to the chagrin of the CHA-RO messiah Enrico Basilio). This mode might be a no-frills way of moving goods through container vans but it is actually the cheaper way as LCTs are cheap to operate. Later, Ocean Transport & Key West Shipping also acquired their own LCTs with the blessings of Asian Shipping Corporation. Ocean Transport & Key West Shipping might have been successful in showing a new mode of transport but the self-proclaimed “shipping experts” never took notice of them nor studied their craft and mode.

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Brizu, a container carrier LCT by Ocean Transport

Asian Shipping Corporation (ASC) which really has a lot of LCTs for charter and probably with the most number in the country started by building their own LCTs right in their yards in Navotas just like some other smaller shipping had their LCTs built in Metro Manila wharves. Asian Shipping Corporation have not completely turned their back of own-built LCTs but more and more they are acquiring China-built LCTs which come out cheaper than local-builds. Shipbuilding on the lower technology level like LCT-building is at times can also be viewed too as selling of steel and China is the cheapest seller of steel in the whole world. Their engines and marine equipment are also on cheap end.

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ASC Ashley of Asian Shipping Corporation

Another big operator of China-built LCTs that must be noted is the Royal Dragon Ocean Transport which owns the Meiling series of LCTs. Many of their LCTs can be found in Surigao serving the mines there. Right now, China-built LCTs are already mushrooming in Central and Eastern Visayas but in other parts of the country they are still practically unknown except in Manila or when passing by or calling. Ironically, it might actually be a typhoon, the super-typhoon “Yolanda” which devastated Leyte that might have given the China LCTs a big break because they were used in Leyte and in the eastern seaboard routes (in San Bernardino Strait and Surigao Strait) when there a big need for sea transport after the typhoon and their potential was exposed. The super-typhoon also showed the need for Cargo RORO LCTs separate from short-distance ferry-ROROs.

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Owned LCTs by Roble Shipping

Ocean Transport of Cebu, as stated earlier, now also have their own China LCTs to haul container vans from Manila after initially chartering from Asian Shipping Corporation. The same is true for Roble Shipping which initially chartered Cargo RORO LCTs from Asian Shipping Corporation for Cebu-Leyte use. Now other Cebu passenger shipping companies are also beginning to acquire their China LCTs. And that even includes Medallion Transport. Actually there are so many LCTs now from China that don’t have a name but just sports a number (i.e. LCT 308, etc.). But among Cebu overnight ferry companies, it is actually Lite Ferries who is betting the biggest on China LCTs that carries passengers too after some modifications.

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PMI-3, a Cargo RORO LCT of Premium Megastructures Inc.

In the following years I still see a lot of China-built LCTs coming and that will include LCTs that have provisions for passenger accommodations. If the government cull the old (but still good) ferries, I bet that type will suddenly mushroom especially in the short-distance routes. But of course it will not have the speed nor the comfort of the basic, short-distance ferry-ROROS. But who knows if that is actually the wish of some decision-making foggy old bureaucrats who don’t ride ships anyway? They will just be giving China yards and engine makers a big break. And a final note – LCTs from China are also called as “deck loading ships”. So don’t get confused.

Now let us just see how these China imports grow in size and importance.

Lite Ferries

Many people know this shipping company simply as “Lite Ferries”. The name of their ships now start with “Danilo Lines Incorporated” and then a number, hence, people easily make the connection . Actually their ships are numbered now (as of May 2017) from Lite Ferry 1 to Lite Ferry 30. Well, even their official website refers to the company as “Lite Ferries”

Lite Ferries is actually the amalgamation of three shipping companies — the Lite Shipping Corporation, the Sunline Shipping Corporation and Danilo Lines Incorporated. The mother company of this combined shipping corporation is Lirio Shipping Corporation which is into cargo shipping. It is not a big shipping company on its own, however, but the big company Lite Ferries started from that.

Lite Ferries is connected to Bohol, the place of origin of the founder Lucio Lim which still has various business interests in that island-province including in Panglao development. In a sense, many in Bohol has a new company to root for after the demise of Sweet Lines, the old favorite and pride of Bol-anons. However, the nerve center of Lite Ferries’ operation is now Cebu City although they still use a Tagbilaran address.

It is hard not to discuss now Lite Ferries because in this decade its ship acquisitions continued almost yearly and almost always multiple ship in a year and its acquisitions have accelerated since 2009. From a second-tier Cebu passenger shipping company, it now has the most ferries in the Visayas. Their ferries are mainly of medium size for non-liners but with their numbers they now cover more routes and their competitors are now feeling their presence and weight.

Lite Ferries started ferry operations in a limited way in 1992 when it was able to acquire the triple-screwed LCT St. Mark, a surplus ship of the US Navy built in 1964 which has limited passenger accommodations like most conventional LCTs. Lite Ferries used this ship to connect Cebu and Bohol via Argao and Loon. Argao is the southern link of Cebu province to Bohol and with it there is no need for a vehicle to still go to Cebu port. In a later renaming of their ships, the LCT St. Mark became the Lite Ferry 20. She was by then a re-engined ship with just two screws.

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The Lite Ferry 20

In 1994, Lite Ferries acquired the former Horai Maru No. 12 in Japan and in the company this ferry became the Sta. Lucia de Bohol which betrayed the place origin of the company. This ship was a basic, short-distance ferry-RORO with external dimensions of just 32.0 meters length of 8.0 meters beam by 3.0 meters depth with a Gross Tonnage of 199. Sadly this ship is no longer around.

Lite Ferries then acquired the former Hayabusa in Japan in 1996 and she became the Lite Ferry, without a number. This was not a small ship for she measured 88.0 meters by 15.0 meters by 4.8 meters in L x B x D with a Gross Tonnage of 1,389 and she had a Cebu to Ozamis route. Maybe in Lite Ferries this ship was too big for them then and so they sold this ship to Trans-Asia Shipping Lines Incorporated (TASLI) where she became the Trans-Asia II.

After this, Lite Ferries was able to acquire the rump of the fleet of San Juan Shipping Corporation. That company plummeted after the loss in an explosion and fire and subsequent sinking of their biggest ship, the San Juan Ferry which was the former Dona Cristina of Carlos A. Gothong Lines Incorporated (CAGLI) and Cebu Ferries Corporation. From San Juan Shipping Corporation, Lite Ferries was able to acquire the Sr. San Jose, a beautiful cruiser but with a weak engine and the John Carrier-1, a basic, short-distance ferry-RORO with problematic engines also. The important thing this purchase gave Lite Ferries were not the ships and these were not used by Lite Ferries for long. Actually, it was the important franchises and route to Leyte which they did not have before and which proved profitable for them in the long run.

In 2004, Lite Ferries acquired the Salve Juliana of the MBRS Shipping Lines of Romblon which was then disposing their earlier ships as it has already acquired bigger ones. This ship became the Sr. San Jose de Tagbilaran (in that period many of the ships of Lite Ferries were still named after saints) and it seems it is this ferry that displaced the Sta. Lucia de Bohol in the Tagbilaran route. Later this ship was also assigned to the Ormoc route. When the ships of Lite Ferries were renamed to “Lite Ferry”, she became the Lite Ferry 6.

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The Lite Ferry 6

The next year, in 2005, Lite Ferries acquired the former Daishin Maru and made her into a small overnight ferry-RORO. Her dimensions were only 42.6 meters by 11.5 meters by 3.0 meters and forward part of the car deck has to be converted in Tourist accommodation to increase her passenger capacity. The ship was first known as the Our Lady of Barangay-1. Her engines were later not strong and she was put up for sale. When there were no takers, Lite Ferries had her re-engined and now she is known as the Lite Ferry 5 and still sailing for Lite Ferries in her original route which is the Tagbilaran route.

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The Lite Ferry 5

In 2005, Lite Ferries acquired the former Shodoshima Maru No.1 which was the former Zhu Du No.2 in China. In the Lite Ferries fleet she was first known as the San Ramon de Bohol with a flat bow ramp. Later, Lite Ferries fitted her with a conventional pointed bow thereby adding to her length (but I wonder what other things were gained by that). In the renaming of their ships, this became the Lite Ferry 7.

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The Lite Ferry 7

Many will ask where is Lite Ferry 1, Lite Ferry 2 and Lite Ferry 3? Lite Ferries was able to acquire the shipping company Danilo Lines which served the San Carlos-Toledo route in 2006 and the two main ships of that fleet, the Danilo 1 and Danilo 2 became the Lite Ferry 1 and Lite Ferry 2, respectively. The two are actually sister ships and they are actually sister ships too to Lite Ferry 6. Danilo Lines actually has two wooden ships, the Danilo III and Danilo IV but those were not transferred to Lite Ferries anymore which by that time was just sticking to ROROs (well, they even had the Sr. San Jose cut up).

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The Lite Ferry 1

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The Lite Ferry 2

The Lite Ferry 3 was also acquired in 2006. This was the former Noumi No.8 in Japan and she became the second Santiago de Bohol in the Lite Ferries fleet. As an overnight ferry-RORO, the Lite Ferry 3 is small and she has just the external dimensions of a basic, short-distance ferry-RORO at 38.3 meters by 9.0 meters by 2.9 meters with a Gross Tonnage of just 250 but she has one-and-a-half passenger decks. The Lite Ferry 3 is now the shortest ship in the fleet of Lite Ferries.

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The Lite Ferry 3

In 2007, Lite Ferries bought again a relatively big ship, the former GP Ferry-1 of George & Peter Lines which was the former small liner Sta. Maria of Negros Navigation Company. This was no longer renamed to a saint and she directly became the Lite Ferry 8. The ship was fielded to the Ormoc route to battle the Heaven Stars of Roble Shipping Incorporated which by then was having engine unreliability already. Soon after her rival was laid up, Lite Ferry 8‘s engines also began acting up also and so she was spending half of her time laid up. Lite Ferry decided to have her re-engined and the ship was used for Lite Ferry’s foray to Cagayan de Oro.

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The Lite Ferry 8

The next year, in 2008, Lite Ferries purchased a second-hand LCT from the Socor Shipping Lines, the former LCT Socor 1. Like the Lite Ferry 20m she was over 50 meters in length at 55.4 meters but like the conventional LCT, her passenger capacity is small. She was initially named as LCT Sto. Nino de Bohol in the Lite Ferries fleet before she was renamed to Lite Ferry 22.

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The Lite Ferry 22 by James Gabriel Verallo

In 2009, Lite Ferries made a decision to acquire double-ended ferries and this was a surprise to me given the nature of her routes which are not very short actually. In their routes, the double-ended ferries can actually suffer because of the drag and sometimes the lack of speed and their characteristic of having not to maneuver might just be negated.

The Lite Ferry 9 which was actually a beautiful double-ended ferry was the former Daian No.8 and relatively new when acquired in 2009 because the ship was built just in 1997. She was not really small at 45.0 meters length, 10.0 meters breadth and 2.8 meters depth. Her Gross Tonnage was only 170 and her Net Tonnage is only 89 which is small. That is so because double-ended ferries cannot maximize their passenger deck up to the stern of the ship. Now this ship is no longer in the fleet of Lite Ferries and might have been sold elsewhere.

In the Lite Ferry 10, another double-ended ferry, Lite Ferries tried to increase passenger space by adding scantling and bunks. With limitations this ship can also serve as an overnight ferry-RORO and there was not much of a problem with that since its route is only to Tubigon which is some two hours sailing distance away. The ships is also not that small at 46.0 meters by 10.0 meters by 3.8 meters with a Net Tonnage of 165. However, like in Lite Ferry 9, maybe double-ended ferries are not really fit for them and so Lite Ferries sold this ship to Medallion Transport in 2011 where she became the Lady of Miraculous Medal.

Later, another Lite Ferry 10 came into the fleet of Lite Ferries which arrived first as a charter and later a purchase. This ship was the former Ocean King I of Seamarine Transport Incorporated. Ocean King I was an overnight ferry -RORO which abandoned the Liloan-Lipata route and then tried the Leyte route without going anywhere. Lite Ferries then took over her and Seamarine Transport became defunct. Lite Ferry 10 is bigger and has more capacity than the other overnight ferries of Lite Ferries because she has 3 passenger decks.

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The second Lite Ferry 10 by James Gabriel Verallo

In 2010, Lite Ferries acquired 4 surplus ferries. None of them was the expensive kind but as the norm in the Philippines those can be converted into valuable ferries and they were refitted simultaneously in Ouano wharf.

The biggest of the 4 became the Lite Ferry 11 and this was the Misaki No.5 of Oishi Shipping in Japan. In international maritime databases, she is mistaken for the Lite Ferry 12 maybe because that is what reflected is in the AIS transmissions. The Lite Ferry 11 measures 65.7 meters by 15 meters by 3.5 meters but her Gross Tonnage of 498 in Japan shrank to 249 here even when decks were added. The Lite Ferry 11 is now the primary ship of Lite Ferries in the Ormoc route.

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The Lite Ferry 11

The Lite Ferry 12 is a pocket overnight ferry-RORO with a registered length of just 41.6 meters, a breadth of 9.6 meters, a depth of 5.6 meters (which is rather deep) and just a Gross Tonnage of 249 which is low. This ship I found to be densely packed, so to speak. The Lite Ferry 12 rotates among many routes of Lite Ferries but she was the ship that opened the Nasipit-Jagna route for her company.

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The Lite Ferry 12

There is no Lite Ferry 13 (nor a Lite Ferry 4) because those numbers are usually not used by local shipping companies out of superstition. There is also not a Lite Ferry 14 but I don’t know the reason for that. Maybe the owner is just averse to that number.

The Lite Ferry 15 is almost the size of Lite Ferry 11 at 60.3 meters length, 11.4 meters beam and a Gross Tonnage of 827 with a Net Tonnage of 562. From twin Akasaka engines, she has 2,600 horsepower on tap which is higher than the 2,000 horsepower of Lite Ferry 1, Lite Ferry 6 and Lite Ferry 7 but below the 3,000 horsepower of Lite Ferry 11. Most of the time this ship holds the Cagayan de Oro to Jagna route of the company.

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The Lite Ferry 15

The fourth ship to be acquired in 2010, the Lite Ferry 23 is very unique and there is no other of her kind in the country. It is a RORO and looks like an LCT from the side but it has a catamaran hull and so she is wider at 16.0 meters (her registered length is 57.5 meters). Attached and rigged to the stern before were two pusher tugs (in Japan those were free). Two funnels were attached to the ship here because there are now passengers. Modifications were made so a passenger deck could be added to the ship which is a little bigger than the average LCT.

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The Lite Ferry 23

Initially, Lite Ferry 23 was a slow craft barely able to do 7 knots and so she was just assigned the Mandaue to Tubigon route which caters basically to rolling cargo. Later, the tugs were removed and she was given two decent engines and now she can do what a short-distance ferry can do. Still, she is doing the same route and basically catering to rolling cargo with a few passengers mixed in.

2011 was a respite year for Lite Ferries and they did not acquire any ship. But in 2012 they acquired the LCT Dona Trinidad 1 of Candano Shipping Lines, a Bicol shipping company. This ship first became the LCT Sta. Filomena de Bohol and like the other LCT in the Lite Ferries fleet she is over 50 meters at 53.5 meters. Shortly later, this ferry was renamed to Lite Ferry 21.

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The Lite Ferry 21

In the same year 2012, Lite Ferries acquired a brand-new LCT from China, the Lite Ferry 25. Maybe this was the sign that in the future Lite Ferries will also be relying on this type of ship and mainly for rolling cargo with a few passengers mixed in. During this time China LCTs which are cheap (but which has questions on engine reliability) already had an allure for local shipping operators and maybe the Lite Ferry 25 was the test purchase of Lite Ferries from China. The size of this ship is almost the same as the other LCTs of Lite Ferries at 58.0 meters length. Some modifications to the ship was made to increase the passenger capacity.

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The Lite Ferry 25

In 2012, Lite Ferries also ventured into HSC (High Speed Crafts) operation when they acquired the beautiful and modern-looking Japan fastcraft Lite Jet 1 (which are not powered by waterjets anyway). She was fielded in the Tubigon route where the new company Star Crafts was making a heyday. Maybe they perceived the fastcrafts of this company as a threat to their ROROs in Tubigon as it multiplied fast. The Lite Jet 1 was more modern and faster than the Star Crafts.

Next year, in 2013, Lite Ferries acquired two more HSCs but this time from Vietnam. These were actually the former Aquan One and Aquan Two in Hongkong and they were the Nonan 1 and Nonan 2 in Vietnam and both were catamarans built in China. On conduction here one of the two grounded in the Spratly islands and it took longer to be fielded. The Aquan Two/Nonan 2 was named the Lite Jet 8 while the Aquan One/Nonan 1 was named the Lite Jet 9.

These two catamarans proved problematic and hard for the technical resources of Lite Ferries which has not much HSC experience. MTU engines are fast but needs attention to maintenance and can be problematic when it gets old. This is the engine of of the Lite Jet 8. On the other hand, the Lite Jet 9 was powered by Isotta-Fraschini engines, a make not that well-known in the HSC field. That proved balky and slower and Lite Ferries tried to re-engine it with Caterpillar engines.

Not long after, however, Lite Ferries completely gave up and sold all their High Speed Crafts including their good and reliable Oceanjet 1 to Ocean Fast Ferries Incorporated which operates the now-dominant Oceanjet HSCs. Maybe Lite Ferries realized that High Speed Crafts are not their cup of tea and they just better concentrate on RORO operations which they understand deeply as shown by their successful successful expansion.

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The Lite Ferry 26

With this divestment, Lite Ferries bought out two Cargo RORO LCTs that came and challenged them in the Cebu-Tagbilaran route which was proving to be a serious threat to them. These were the Diomicka and the Maria Dulce which were just chartered ships. With the buy-out in 2015, the Diomicka became the Lite Ferry 26 and the Maria Dulce became the Lite Ferry 28. These 2 LCTs are the only ships in the fleet of Lite Ferries that do not carry passengers.

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The Lite Ferry 28

With the remainder, in 2015, Lite Ferries continued the China experiment and purchased another brand-new LCT but which has a different design than the Lite Ferry 25. This was the Lite Ferry 27. It has a taller tower and and modifications were made so there will be two short passenger decks. Bunks were even provided (Lite Ferries is one of the shipping companies that combine bunks with seats). Like the Lite Ferry 25, this LCT is also powered by Weichai engines.

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The Lite Ferry 27

At the same time of acquiring the Lite Ferry 27, Lite Ferries uncorked a new China experiment (well, their patron seems to really have strong China connections). Among these were two laid up Hainan Strait Shipping Company (HNSS) vessels that once connected Hainan island to the China mainland and which they acquired in 2015 and 2016. When the two arrived here they all looked very rusty but to the knowing they know once refitted the two will become beautiful and useful ferries (is there a rust that cannot be removed?).

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The Lite Ferry 16

The two were renamed to Lite Ferry 16 and Lite Ferry 19 look to be modified LCTs with a car ramp at the bow and two partial decks of passenger accommodations below the bridge where one extend to near amidship which means the passenger area is far higher than the conventional LCT. With extensions of both decks that becomes passenger promenades, the feeling of being too enclosed in an LCT with nowhere to go is gone. Lite Ferry 16 and Lite Ferry 19 look to be sister ships.

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The Lite Ferry 19 by Mark Ocul

Two other rusty ferries from China which are sister ships also arrived for Lite Ferries in 2016, the Bao Dao 5 and the Bao Dao 6 which will become the Lite Ferry 17 and Lite Ferry 18. The two looks to be conventional ROROs with the bridge at the bow and with car ramps at the bow and the stern. When finished, at 89.0 meters length and 16.0 meters breadth, these two ships will give Lite Ferries a size that can already challenge the ships of Cokaliong Shipping Lines Incorporated and Trans-Asia Shipping Lines Incorporated and it is titillating to think where Lite Ferries intend to field the two.

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The Lite Ferry 18 and Lite Ferry 17 by Mark Ocul

While three of these rusty ships were still being refitted, Lite Ferries also took delivery of another two brand-new LCTs from China, the Lite Ferry 29 and the Lite Ferry 30 which look sleek for an LCT. Slight modifications were also made in Ouano wharf to build passenger accommodations a la Lite Ferry 27. Right now these two LCTs which are obviously sister ships are now sailing.

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The Lite Ferry 29 by Edison Sy

Lite Ferry 30

The Lite Ferry 30 by R. Sanchez

Currently at the start of June 2017, Lite Ferries have 23 ferries that are ROPAXes plus 2 Cargo RORO LCTs. Of the 23 ferries, 9 are passenger-cargo LCTs while 1 is a passenger-cargo catamaran-RORO. Lite Ferries might have started behind other Cebu shipping companies as they are a relatively new company but with their turbo expansion in the last few years they have already overtaken most other operators of medium sized ferries and not only in the Visayas.

Aside from the old routes from Cebu to the Bohol ports of Tagbilaran and Tubigon and the route from Mandaue to Tubigon, the Cebu to Ormoc route is another old route that is a stronghold of Lite Ferries. That also includes the old route of Danilo Lines, the San Carlos-Toledo route.

Lite Ferries also serves the Cebu-Tagbilaran-Larena-Plaridel route that was already abandoned by Palacio Shipping. They were also successful in the expansion to the Cagayan de Oro to Jagna route. However, their Nasipit-Jagna route seems to be little seasonal. Recently they also tried the Cebu to Cagayan de Oro route.

Their Samboan to Dapitan route also proved successful as they offered a shortcut to the truckers that once had to go to Dumaguete first. They are also connecting Cebu to Negros with the Samboan to Sibulan route. A PSSS (Philippine Ship Spotters Society) member recently called and he was told the Dumaguete-Cagayan de Oro route is already off.

But with such a great fleet now Lite Ferries is seriously needing to expand already and I just hope they go to the underserved routes. With many profitable routes already they can actually afford to experiment with new routes now.

The expansion of Lite Ferries in the last 8 years is simply breathtaking with 17 ships added net. Lately their fleet addition even accelerated. They now have a critical mass and I will be watching where they will be headed.

Liners like the old Bohol shipping great Sweet Lines?

The Bill Rider To Kill 35-Year Old Ships

Maybe they are golfing buddies but one thing sure is both of them are in the Cabinet of President Rodrigo Duterte. And maybe Secretary Arthur Tugade offered to carry the cudgels (or golf bags) for Secretary Alfonso Cusi for the latter’s new ships cannot win over the competition in a level playing field because it has no definite technical advantage unlike the FastCats which definitely have low fuel consumption relative to their rolling cargo capacity. The new Starlite ferries might be new and are thrifty compared to the old ferries but they still have to amortize their ships whereas their competitors’ ships are already basically paid for already and that really matters a lot.

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A very good ferry that is 35 years old

There was a bill to give President Rodrigo Duterte new Starlite ferries to solve our traffic problems. And it seems a rider was inserted that will cull ferries that are already 35 years old which meant ferries built in 1982 or earlier. There was even a rumor that new ferries will be given exclusive routes. This is what I was saying in another article of mine that there seems to be moves to target and retire old ship via legislative or administrative fiat. It seems that without that kind of assistance the new Starlite ferries or the new SWM ferry would have a hard time competing. Knowing short-distance ferries have fixed schedules and two-hour gaps are in the rules then that just simply negates the advantage of new ferries as passengers, drivers and car owners normally take the next available RORO. And besides they don’t perceive the old ferries have a definitely disadvantage in safety.

The fact is in many routes no steel-hulled ferry has ever sunk and that includes many heavily-traveled routes like the Matnog-Allen/San Isidro route, the routes from Tabaco to Catanduanes, the Pilar-Masbate route, the routes from Bogo to Cawayan, Cataingan and Palompon, the routes connecting Leyte and Bohol, the Roxas-Caticlan route, the routes from Lucena to Marinduque, the Bacolod-Dumangas route, the Iloilo-Bacolod route, the routes from southwest Cebu to southeastern Negros Oriental, the Dumaguete-Siquijor routes, the Dumaguete-Dapitan route, the Ozamis-Mukas route, the routes from Balingoan to Camiguin, the Zamboanga-Basilan routes and many, many other routes too numerous to list. And old ferries basically plied these routes.

In a conference called by MARINA earlier this year (2017), they admitted that they have no study that says old age is the cause of the loss of ships (well, they can’t even if they make a study because actually one big cause of the mishaps is navigational errors and some ships were lost while not sailing like a force majeure caused by a typhoon and accidents in shipyards or while doing afloat ship repair or ASR). Now after a stalemate where MARINA can’t force its way it seems they simply passed the (golf )ball to Secretary Tugade’s club who I suspect can be influenced but does not know shipping. I don’t think he is even aware that culling 35-year old ship will mean cutting up approximately half of our short-distance and overnight ferry-RORO fleets which are very essential in bridging our islands by moving cargo, people and vehicles. These sectors are actually more important than the liners and the container ships as they connect ports that are beyond the reach of their Manila-based counterparts.

If half of our RORO fleet outside the liners and container ship is suddenly discarded there would definitely be a shipping crisis of major proportion. Some shipping firms like George & Peter Lines, VG Shipping, J&N Shipping, Southern Pacific Transport, Denica Lines, JVS Shipping, Aurelio Shipping, CSGA Ferry, Millennium Shipping, Milagrosa J Shipping and the Camiguin ferry companies will suddenly end up defunct for they will lose all their ferries. And some shipping companies will only retain one ferry out of a former fleet. Actually ferry companies in Cebu province will lose more than half of their ferries and there is no need to emphasize the importance and weight of Cebu shipping to the country. The would be like that of 1986 (or even worse) when we severely lacked ferries because so many shipping companies collapsed in the crisis spawned by the Aquino assassination and the former “FS” ships also gave out because of old age (but unlike now the old ships are not expiring yet because of advances in metallurgy and technology and the availability of replacement engines). I thought the current administration is seeking growth. Is killing ships the way to do that? Replacing nearly 200 ferries is never easy. Can anybody guess how much will that cost?

I have always wondered why in our government the decision-makers in transport are the ones who do not ride them. Like in shipping I wonder if Secretary Tugade ever rode a scheduled ferry for I know he is a certified landlubber from Cagayan province. That is also true in buses and jeeps; the decision-makers also don’t ride those. These decision-makers do not really know their fields inside-out and yet they decide its fates and maybe it is only the whispers to their ears that count. I thought when I was still studying that it should be the experts that should decide and not the political hacks. It has been a long time already when our Cabinet was dominated by technocrats or those who really studied their fields. In the US most of the men in Cabinet are there because of political connections. But at least they know when to bring in and to consult the experts. Not here because for a long time already those who feel and act like they are the “experts” are the politicians, the media people and the bishops when actually they practically know nothing and true experts are just used as decoration.

We only have just over 300 ferry-ROROs (there are also a few cruisers and true motor launches but our liners is just over a dozen). So that means we are practically just talking about overnight ferries and short-distance ferries in this issue. Add to that a little over 40 HSCs (High Speed Crafts) too. The others are Moro boats, motor boats and motor bancas which are too numerous to count (they are much more than in numbers than our steel-hulled crafts) and should not be included here (anyway practically none of them are over 35 years old, amazingly). In the ROROs, the LCTs are included.

If 35-year old ferries are to lose licenses the following will have to be sent to the breakers (or be converted into cargo ships if cargo ships over 35 years old will not be culled but the freighter Fortuner breaking into two recently after loading with steel bars will not help their case):

Montenegro Lines/Marina Ferries: Maria Angela, Maria Beatriz, Maria Diana, Maria Erlinda, Maria Gloria, Maria Helena, Maria Isabel, Maria Josefa, Marie Kristina, Maria Matilde, Maria Rebecca, Maria Sofia, Marie Teresa, Maria Xenia, Maria Yasmina, Maria Zenaida, City of Sorsogon, City of Masbate, City of Tabaco, City of Calapan, Maria Timotea, Reina del Rosario, Reina Genoveva, Reina Hosanna, Reina Neptuna and Reina Quelita. A total of 26 ferries and fastcrafts. The four whose names start with “City” are fastcrafts. Hernan Montenegro will cry a bucket of tears and expect Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to fight like hell against the bill in Congress.

Asian Marine Transport Corporation (AMTC): Super Shuttle Ferry 1, Super Shuttle Ferry 2, Super Shuttle Ferry 3, Super Shuttle Ferry 5, Super Shuttle Ferry 6, Super Shuttle Ferry 9, Super Shuttle Ferry 15 and Super Shuttle Ferry 23. A total of 8 ferries.

Trans-Asia Shipping Lines Inc. (TASLI): The new Trans-Asia that is not yet finished, Trans-Asia 2, Trans-Asia 9, Trans-Asia 10 and Asia Philippines. A total of 5 ferries.

Cokaliong Shipping Lines Inc. (CSLI): Filipinas Iligan, Filipinas Butuan, Filipinas Iloilo, Filipinas Maasin, Filipinas Dapitan, Filipinas Dinagat and Filipinas Dumaguete. A total of 7 ferries.

Roble Shipping: Wonderful Stars, Joyful Stars, Theresian Stars, Beautiful Stars and Ormoc Star. A total of 5 ferries. Add to this the Asian Star and Asian Star II which were the former Blessed Star and Sacred Stars sent to Theresian Stars shipping company.

Lite Ferries: Lite Ferry 1, Lite Ferry 2, Lite Ferry 3, Lite Ferry 6, Lite Ferry 7, Lite Ferry 8, Lite Ferry 15, Lite Ferry 20 and Lite Ferry 21. A total of 9 ferries.

Island Shipping: Island RORO I, Super Island Express I, Super Island Express II, Super Island Express III, Island Express II, Island Express III and Island Express V. A total of 7 ferries although I doubt the existence of some now.

Medallion Transport: Lady of Love, Lady of All Nations, Lady of Miraculous Medal, Lady of Sacred Heart, Lady of Charity, Lady of Guadalupe-Cebu and Lady of Angels. A total of 7 ferries and I am not even sure the Lady of Good Voyage will survive.

Aznar Shipping: Melrivic 1, Melrivic Two, Melrivic Three, Melrivic Seven, Melrivic Nine and their fastcrafts.

George & Peter Lines: GP Ferry-2, Zamboanga Ferry and Georich

Gabisan Shipping: Gloria Two, Gloria Three, Gloria V

Jomalia Shipping: Mika Mari, Mika Mari III, Mika Mari V, Mika Mari VI

Maayo Shipping: LCT Giok Chong, LCT Martin, LCT Wilcox

Cuadro Alas Navigation: Santander Express, Santander Express II, Santander Express IV

GL Shipping: GL Express and probably GL Express 2

J&N Shipping: J&N Carrier and J&N Ferry. Ubay will suddenly lose its connection to Cebu.

Southern Pacific Transport: South Pacific and Fiji-II

VG Shipping: VG RORO II and VG 1.

Rose Shipping: Yellow Rose

Maypalad Shipping: Samar Star

Lapu-lapu Shipping: Lapu-lapu Ferry 1

Golden Star: Anluis

Metro Ferry: Princesa (but not Carmen Uno)

PAR Transport: Leonor 3 and probably Leonor 5

R&D: Lady Star (this is laid up)

Orlines Sea-Land Transport: Siquijor Island 1

Sta. Clara Shipping/Penafrancia Shipping: Hansel Jobett, Mac Bryan, Nathan Matthew, Don Benito Ambrosio II, Don Herculano and Eugene Elson. A total of 6 ferries.

Regina Shipping Lines: Regina Calixta IV

168 Shipping: Star Ferry-II

Denica Lines: Marina Express and Odyssey

Province of Camarines Sur: Princess Elaine (a fastcraft)

Kalayaan Shipping: Kalayaan VII

Rolly Fruelda: Elreen 2

Tour-cruise ships of Manila: Pacific Explorer, Eco Explorer, Discovery Palawan, 7017 Islands, Oceana Maria Scuba

Atienza Shipping Lines: April Rose

JVS Shipping: D’ASEAN Journey, D’Sea Journey

Aurelio Shipping: San Carlo Uno

Quincela Shipping: Q-Carrelyn VII

Starlite Shipping: Starlite Annapolis, Starlite Ferry, Starlite Navigator and Starlite Polaris. A total of 5 ferries.

Besta Shipping Lines: Baleno VII

Navios Shipping Lines: Grand Unity and Grand Venture 1

CSGA Ferry: Princess Annavell

Tri-Star Megalink: LCT Tabuelan Navistar

Millennium Shipping: Lakbayan Uno and Millennium Uno

Milagrosa J Shipping: Milagrosa J-3 and Milagrosa J-5

Aleson Shipping: Estrella del Mar, Stephanie Marie, Neveen, Danica Joy, Ciara Joie, Ciara Joie 2. A total of 6 ships.

Ever Lines: Ever Queen of Asia, Ever Queen Emilia, Ever Transport, Ever Sweet, Ever Queen of Pacific. A total of 5 ships.

Magnolia Shipping: Magnolia, Magnolia Grandiflora, Magnolia Fragrance

Evenesser Shipping/Ibnerizam Shipping/Sing Shipping: Bounty Cruiser, Jadestar Legacy, KC Beatrice

Province of Tawi-tawi: Tawi-tawi Pearl 1, LCT Tanah Tawi-tawi

ZDS-ATOM FSA: LCT Mabuhay

Sarangani Transport: Song of Dolly-3

Mae Wess/CW Cole: The Venue, LCT Nicole II Starferry

KSJ Shipping: Fortune Angels

Philstone Shipping: Yuhum, Kalinaw, Royal Princess

Davemyr Shipping: Dona Pepita

Hijos de Juan Corrales: Hijos-1

Daima Shipping: Swallow I and Swallow II

Ocean Fast Ferries: Oceanjet 7

A total of about 187 steel-hulled ferries to be culled including a few fastcrafts. Again, Moro boats (whose number is about 130 plus), motor boats, motor launches (like most of the crafts of Metro Ferry) and passenger-cargo motor bancas, big and small are not included. Anyway almost all of them will survive as the local-built, wooden-hulled crafts are generally below 35 years old in age (few wooden-hulled crafts reach 35 years of age).

In my database about 250 steel-hulled ferries will survive including over a dozen liners and more than 3 dozen HSC plus a sprinkling of Medium Speed Crafts (MSCs) like the two Anika Gayle ships (this count does not include the FastCats). If liners, HSCs and MSCs are not included (but the FastCats are included) so the comparison will be basically ferry-ROROs (that are not liners) then about 180 will be culled and about a little less 200 will survive (very few of the 180 and 200 are cruisers like the Georich and Yellow Rose). So that means killing nearly half of our ROPAXes.

If the plan to cull 35-year old ships is immediately implemented one sure response will the be multiplying of LCTs from China (not the local LCTs as basically those are not people carriers although some can and will be converted and the bulk of them are less than 35 years old). Will they call the transition from ferry-ROROs to passenger-cargo LCTs as “progress”?

If ships that are not ferries will not be culled then many of the ferries that will be culled might be converted into Cargo RORO ships that will not carry passengers like what happened to Trans-Asia 5 (but she is too beautiful as a comparison). People then will have to find alternate means of transport. Maybe the intermodal buses will mushroom. Or probably the Camotes motor boats like the Junmar ships will multiply. Otherwise there is our trusty motor banca to take. But I thought they want to phase that out too including the motor boats? Again, will they call that as “progress”?

I imagine for the remaining ferries, passenger loads of 100% will be a daily common occurrence, peak season or not. Maybe the ticket scalpers will return too to make a living. And it will matter a lot if one knows a crewman of a ship. Or better yet one of the owners. But if I talk of shipping of the 1980’s, will Secretary Tugade understand? I am sure he has no understanding of the shipping difficulties of that period.

Do MARINA and Secretary Tugade think that passengers are that important to the shipping companies? Those in the know knows that is not so and shipping companies can live by cargo and rolling cargo alone and that is the reason why the Cargo RORO LCTs are thriving. If the bill is passed I imagine the likes of Roble Shipping will just be doing cargo and rolling cargo basically plus maybe two ROPAXes to Ormoc and Hilongos, their prized ports and that will also include their freighters and Cargo RORO LCTs. I don’t think Secretary Tugade knows that the bulk of the sailing ships of Roble Shipping is not into passengers (and that includes their freighters). So in the end it will be the passengers that will really suffer. 

I wonder if Secretary Tugade knows some of the ships he wants to cull are actually re-engined now and some do not have any history of trouble and are still very good condition like the sister ships Filipinas Iligan and Filipinas Butuan. In other countries they base renewal of ship papers on technical inspection and not in some kind of arbitrary cut-off in age. As pointed out by the ship owners and PSSS (Philippine Ship Spotters Society), there is no mandatory retirement of ships in other countries and the IMO (International Maritime Organization) has no protocol on that (gusto yata mas magaling pa tayo sa kanila; mahilig din naman ang Philippine bureaucrats sa hambog). For the haters of old ships to say there is such a thing is just a bald lie and they resort to that because they have their own vested interest. Now what they want is a legislative fiat which is clearly anti-competition.

Give exclusive routes to the new ships? To where? To Sabah and Indonesia? Does Secretary Tugade think he can simply dissolve the franchises held by the shipping companies? It seems that Secretary Tugade is also applying into the Impunity Club a.k.a “What Are We In Power For” Club. It can smash a ship owner’s head like a golf ball.

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A very good ship that is over 35 years old (Photo by Jonathan Bordon)

The current dispensation is saying that former Secretaries Roxas and Abaya left a lot of mess in transport. Do they want their own mess too?

A Report on the Recent Situation of Bicol Passenger Shipping

When I talk of Bicol passenger shipping that includes those that have routes to Samar for in the main Bicol ships do those route with the notable exception of Montenegro Shipping Lines which are dayo (foreigner) to Bicol but have a base in Masbate port. In the main, I don’t refer to the Cebu-Masbate steel-hulled ferries because those routes are just one of the operations of Cebu shipping companies with the notable exception too of Montenegro Lines which has a national operation of short-distance ferry-ROROs.

The biggest shipping companies in Bicol are the sister companies Sta. Clara Shipping Corporation and Penafrancia Shipping Corporation which are legal-fiction companies of each other. They have combined operations, single crewing and maintenance and their ships rotate within their common routes. The only difference is the ships bought out from the defunct Bicolandia Shipping are all in Penafrancia Shipping Corporation (PSC) and Sta. Clara Shipping Corporation (SCSC) is what made Bicolandia Shipping cry, “Uncle!” (which means give up na).

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The twin shipping companies have a total of 10 ROPAX ships plus a Cargo RORO LCT which is a recent acquisition to match that of NN+ATS (more on this later). Their best ship, the beautiful Jack Daniel (no, there isn’t free tasting of the famous drink) was acquired not so long ago and it is almost a fixture in the Masbate-Pio Duran route where her beautiful and luxurious lounge can be fully used and appreciated by the passengers since it is a three-and-a-half-hour route.

SCSC and PSC ply all the Bicol routes except for some parallel routes like the Tabaco-San Andres and Masbate-Pilar routes (more on this later). Which means they ply the Tabaco-Virac, Matnog-Allen (now through their own Jubasan port) and Masbate-Pio Duran routes. They don’t ply the Masbate-Pilar route as their ships are too big for the shallow Pilar port which lies in an estuary. In Catanduanes, it seems they now have a modus vivendi with Regina Shipping Lines (RSL) which now is doing the Tabaco-San Andres route exclusively through Codon port (but that route is not necessarily weaker than the Tabaco-Virac route as buses and trucks going to northern Catanduanes prefer that route because the remaining distance is shorter). Additionally, SCSC and PSC also operate the Liloan-Lipata route (however, after the Surigao quake RORO operations were transferred from Lipata Ferry Terminal to the Verano port of Surigao).

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The new development in Catanduanes shipping is the arrival of a new player, Cardinal Shipping which fielded the High Speed Craft (HSC) Silangan Express 1 which has good schedules and a very interesting fare which is even less than one might expect for a Tourist accommodation in a ROPAX (P320 fare in airconditioned accommodation versus the P230 Economy fare of a ROPAX ship). That is very cheap compared to the fastcrafts of Montenegro Lines in Masbate that charges double of the Economy fare of the ROPAX. The route of Cardinal Shipping is also Tabaco-Codon like that of Regina Shipping Lines or RSL.

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Another ferry was also added to the fleet of Regina Shipping Lines (RSL) when they acquired the former Maharlika Cuatro from Gabisan Shipping which purchased it from Archipelago Ferries. It was in Mayon Docks of Tabaco City last January but as of this writing she is already running as the Regina Calixta VI. RSL now also has an operation in the Batangas-Abra de Ilog route through Aqua Real Shipping and Calixta-III.

Tabaco port is also building an extension again and this is probably the third already. I am thinking, what for? In all my visits there I never saw Tabaco port full and I don’t think port visit is increasing there. There is also not that need for a big back-up area. There are no container vans unloaded there and ships that visit are generally small. To compare now, Masbate port is even busier than Tabaco port and Legazpi port is even their rival in port calls (as they both serve the province of Albay).

I thought before that the refurbishment of Legazpi port was not needed but it seems I was mistaken. There are more ships docking there now and those are bigger than the ones which dock in Tabaco port. For one, when Cebu freighters visit Albay, they use Legazpi port and not Tabaco port because it is nearer from Cebu. And most freighters that use Tabaco are just Bicol ships which are smaller than Cebu ships. I was even surprised by the big, Malaysian coal barge I saw in Legazpi port.

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Like before there are no ROPAXes in Legazpi (as I argued before a population of 100,000 in an island is needed to keep a RORO afloat if there is no strong tourism and Rapu-rapu island does not meet that criteria). Instead it has lots of big passenger motor bancas to Rapu-rapu and Batan islands plus Cagraray island too. The new passenger terminal building of Legazpi looks beautiful and modern. Like in Tabaco, the port and port terminal building (PTB) is open to the public and there is no cloud of suspicion that hovers unlike in ISPS ports. It was just like in the past when ports are just like part of public domain. That openness was the thing changed by this damned ISPS.

With the completion of the bridge from Albay mainland to Cagraray island through the Sula Channel, the old small Michael Ellis LCT to Misibis is now gone. A connecting bridge to an island is always better than a connection by an LCT. Maybe with that Cagraray island will develop faster.

Sta. Clara Shipping Corporation and Penafrancia Shipping Corporation now have their new Jubasan port completed in Allen, Samar and so they already withdrew from using the BALWHARTECO port, their old port of entry to Samar, to the great disappointment and anger of the owner which nearly resulted into a court battle. I wonder if the judge-son-in-law of the owner was able to make clear to the patriarch that if it is all straight law then they would lose eventually and they might even be vulnerable to counter-suits they being the LGU holders (like a graft counter-charge).

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With the withdrawal of SCSC and PSC from their port, BALWHARTECO invited Montenegro Lines to just use their port exclusively. Before, Montenegro Lines used both BALWHARTECO and the Dapdap port of Philharbor, the sister company of Archipelago Ferries which once operated the Maharlika and Grand Star RORO ferries. With the withdrawal of Montenegro Lines from Dapdap port now that port no longer has ferry operations. What is left there are the passenger motor bancas to the island off it which is Dalupiri island.

Before this, Philharbor invited Montenegro Lines to use Dapdap port since Archipelago have sold already their Maharlika ships and was already in the process of disposing their Grand Star RORO ships. If there is no other ferry company that will use the port it will fall vacant since the route allowed by MARINA to the new FastCats of Archipelago Ferries was the Matnog-San Isidro route. Before their withdrawal only Montenegro ferries were still using Dapdap port.

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It seems BALWHARTECO made a good offer to Montenegro Lines. They are known to be flexible and accommodating as their record of the past decades will show. Meanwhile, the Alvarez group which controls Archipelago Ferries, Philharbor and Philtranco is not known for that. They are instead known for quick retreats when subjected to the pressure of competition.

So I was not surprised by the result. Here is the queer situation of a port owner and operator with no ships of their sister companies docking because it is using a different port and a route that is significantly longer (which is the Matnog-San Isidro route). As a change, instead of being a ‘port to nowhere’ the San Isidro Ferry Terminal is now active again (she was active before Montenegro Lines left her for Dapdap and BALWHARTECO ports).

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It seems Montenegro Lines was the winner of the BALWHARTECO-Sta. Clara turmoil. Previously they were using four ferries in the Matnog-Allen route, two in Dapdap and two in BALWHARTECO. Recently they are now just using three ferries. It seems that was enough to have a ferry always on standby in the port which has more traffic (in the day that will be Allen and in the night that will be Matnog).

Another winner in the route is the NN+ATS outfit which is now openly admitted as an operation of 2GO. They are using chartered Cargo RORO LCTs from Primary Trident Solutions, owner of the Poseidon LCTs and now they even fielded a ROPAX LCT, the LCT Poseidon 26. They are operating that LCT under the banner of SulitFerry and the acronym is also “SF”, a reminder of their SuperFerry past before those liners were promoted into saints.

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With the Cargo RORO LCTs, the queue endured by the non-regular trucks in the Matnog-Allen route has come to an end as they are the priority of the Cargo RORO LCTs. These ships does not take in buses with its passengers and so no passenger accommodations are needed. The truck crews are just expected to stay with their vehicles for the duration of the voyage. MARINA is actually too suspicious of Cargo RORO LCTs having areas that can take in passengers on the sly.

The arrival of the Cargo RORO LCTs has affected the dynamics in the Matnog-Allen route. It has definitely taken traffic from the ROPAXes and the weight is significant because the non-regular trucks pay the highest rates. Actually, the rates paid by the regular trucks is heavily discounted and it is not always paid in cash (which means credit).

Another thing, from being second-class citizens the non-regular truck is now king but their loyalty now is on NN+ATS. What a turn-around too. From being largely ignorant of Matnog-Allen route because they were too confident of their CHA-ROs (Chassis-RORO) aboard their container ships and liners, now 2GO is already a player in intermodal route which helped kill their liners.

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It is also good that they use chartered LCTs whose crew is from Primary Trident Solutions. These crews are not graduates of the ‘shooing away’ seminars of 2GO, they have no knowledge of ISPS (and probably they don’t care too) and so like in the past they are very friendly to the passengers which they do not think or treat like potential “terrorists” like what is taught in 2GO seminars.

But even with NN+ATS and SulitFerry around and the concentration of Montenegro operations there, BALWHARTECO port is not too busy like in the past when to think 168 Shipping is still there with its three Star Ferry ships. Really, the weight SCSC and PSC is great especially since they have a lot of trucks and buses under contract.

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The PSSS (Philippine Ship Spotters Society) was impressed by the new Jubasan port of Sta. Clara Shipping Corporation. It was not small and unlike most private ports that will start with portions being unpaved in Jubasan it is a completely paved port. As such it is cleaner having no mud and people and patrons would not find it hard moving around (now one would wonder why after all these decades BALWHARTECO port is still mainly unpaved). They also maintained the slope of the land and so rain water immediately drains into the sea instead of forming puddles. There are a lot of eateries inside and it is a step up compared to what can be found in BALWHARTECO port including the presence of chairs and tables outside the eateries which are good for lounging around and sundowning.

Jubasan port is more orderly and it looks more modern. Maybe with the shipping company being the operator it should end up that way as they have full control. By the way, Jubasan port will also have a lodge like in BALWHARTECO port. The structure is already there, that is the area above the eateries but it is not yet operating when PSSS visited the place. Now I don’t know if they will also have a disco like in BALWHARTECO port. Jubasan port also does not have the so-many hawkers of BALWHARTECO port.

Matnog meanwhile has minimal changes. I thought when they twice reclaimed new land the docking space will improve. It did not. There are two new RORO ramps on the left of the finger port (as viewed from the sea) but when I passed through it twice no ship was using it. Actually the docking space of Matnog port did not increase and on high tide a ship will still try to dock askew in the wharf for lack of docking space. During the late afternoon and evening peak hours not all the ships can dock and it has to undock after disgorging their rolling cargo and anchor offshore.

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I still cannot fathom how the PPA (Philippine Ports Authority) inputs ship calls in their planning that they cannot see their docking area is not enough for the number of ships calling. They have two new RORO ramps but they bulldozed rocks beneath it. And so maybe the ships fear damage if they use those. Why can’t they just use the causeway-type of wharf like what is used in BALWHARTECO and Dapdap ports which can dock more ships for their given length of wharf space? The only reason I can see why PPA is too inept in port design is because they really can’t attract qualified people. And to compensate for this lack, their annual reports will be full of praises for themselves and their “achievements”. And now their top honcho says the Makati Car Club will test the RORO system. Now what does Porsche and Ferrari owners know about port design and the RORO system if one is not Enrique Razon? It was not designed for their kind of cars and heels.

Masbate port is actually more impressive than Legazpi or Tabaco in terms of activity. Unlike the two ports which looks semi-fringe in location (as in facing the ocean already), Masbate port is in the center of a nexus and connecting many islands. There are simply more ships there and more types from overnight ferries to short-distance ferry-roros to fastcrafts to motor bancas plus the usual freighters. The new port terminal building is now operating and so there is more try of control now to ensure everybody uses it (this is what I call as “cattle herding”). And I don’t like that system treating passengers not like people but like commodities.

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Actually, they can simply sell a ticket to anyone who wants to buy, passenger or not, like in Zamboanga port. With so many buses boarding their port terminal building is not sufficient (now tell me when did PPA learned how to input numbers). If the old system where buses simply park somewhere in the port and soon board afterwards was enough why try to force down the passengers down the bus so they will pass through the passenger terminal building when it does not have enough capacity anyway even in airconditioning? If terminal fee is all they want then they can just put in a table by the ship ramp. An explanation: bus passengers here already have their ferry tickets issued by the bus conductor so actually they do not need to queue as the buses offer free ferry tickets to their passengers. If the buses can be efficient why can’t the PPA? The reason is simple – they are a government entity.

What I noticed is it seems more passenger motor bancas are now using the Masbate municipal port cum fish landing area. Actually it has the advantage that it is just near the integrated bus, jeep and van terminal of Masbate City. The passenger motor bancas for Burias can also be found here. If I may have a suggestion, it is better if the passenger motor bancas just dock by the integrated terminal. Nothing beats that. If only they will see what is logical (but they might lose the votes of the cargadores and the tricycle drivers).

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The Masbate-Pio Duran route is now stronger compared to the Masbate-Pilar route in terms of RORO operation. It is actually the shorter route to Manila and it can accommodate bigger ships whereas Pilar can only accommodate basic, short-distance ferry-ROROs. Medallion Transport has withdrawn from this route as a fall-out of the sinking of their Lady of Carmel. SCSC and PSC was the big winner in this and they now have made permanent two of their biggest ships in this route which have length of over 60 meters versus the 30 meters plus of the basic, short-distance ferry-ROROs of Pilar.

In the Masbate-Pilar route, Denica Lines now has two ROROs that are running simultaneously and they were able to create a late departure from Bicol (or is it an early one?) when they created an early evening Pilar-Masbate schedule. Denica Lines also have two fastcrafts for refitting now that is moored in Pilar port. Obviously, they want to get a slice of the pie of the MSLI fastcraft business. If they price it like the Silangan Express to Catanduanes then MSLI will be forced to cut their high fares.

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In Pilar, I noticed they now have a Pilar-Mandaon passenger motor banca running. Plus they have pre-dawn departures now from Pilar for three destinations – Masbate City, Aroroy and Mandaon (Mandaon is a gateway to Romblon). They were able to expand Pilar port but its operation is just still like a municipal port as there is no good port lighting (are their charges for the ROROs and passengers not enough?). By the way, the ROROs from Pilar start earlier now. Good for those with still long land travel still remaining in Masbate island.

As before there are a lot of passenger motor bancas in Masbate port going to Pilar, Ticao island, the west bank of Masbate Bay. But maybe the Baleno bancas are gone because there is a van going there now up to Aroroy. The passenger motor bancas are still fighting even though it is already the era of the ROROs and the buses and the trucks aboard them. With no porterage and running at hours when there is no RORO they are still surviving. Well, the buses dictate the schedules of the ROROs and so I can’t see them running 24 hours as the buses have only certain hours of departures from Masbate and Manila.

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Some things of note. One, the Super Shuttle Ferry 19 of Asian Marine Transport Corporation has been sold and Olmillo Shipping has taken over the Bogo-Cawayan route. A new development too in this area was the fielding of Island Shipping of a ROPAX LCT in the Hagnaya-Cawayan route. The MSLI ferry is still running the Bogo-Cataingan route and ditto for Lapu-lapu Shipping that runs the Cataingan-Cebu route. In the future, however, the Bogo and Hagnaya ferries will most likely transfer to the new Maya RORO port because it is simply nearer to Masbate. Meanwhile, the big passenger- cargo motor bancas running between Masbate and northern Cebu are still running and their business not threatened after the initial cut made by the arrival of the ROROs.

Recently, Trans-Asia Shipping Lines don’t have a ship anymore to Masbate from Cebu, a victim of their lack of ferries. Cokaliong Shipping Lines has not fully filled up the slack and it has only a once a week Cebu-Masbate sked but they are always fielding a new good overnight ferry of theirs in the route. Meanwhile, for a year now Asian Marine Transport Corporation (AMTC) doesn’t have an operation anymore to Masbate since their SuperShuttle RORO 3 had engine problems. It has been over a year since 2GO withdrew their liner that passes through Masbate on the way to Ormoc and Cebu. Can’t really beat the intermodal buses and trucks now and as the saying goes if one can’t beat then join them and so they already had that NN+ATS in the Matnog-Allen route.

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Burias motor banca arriving in Pasacao

In other Bicol routes, passenger motor bancas still connect Burias island to Pasacao and Pio Duran while Ticao island has passenger motor bancas sailing to Bulan and Masbate ports. Masbate is also connected by passenger motor bancas from Cataingan to Calbayog in Samar and to Roxas City in Panay from Balud and Milagros and to Romblon from Mandaon. Caramoan through Guijalo port also has passenger motor banca to San Andres in Catanduanes through the Codon port. San Miguel island is connected by passenger motor bancas to Tabaco port.

And that above is what comprises Bicol shipping all in all. Not tackled here are the minor routes served by small passenger bancas that go to small islands that does not have a municipality and to coastal barrios which has no roads.

[Written based on January 2017 data.]

My Trip to Danao and Carmen Ports

When I was in Cebu I had other tours and trips for I was always out in my 11 days there, rain or shine but it was almost always rain and so I bought a small, cheap umbrella from Prince upon the suggestion of the TASLI guard. The umbrella served me very well and without it I wouldn’t have been able to shipspot much. I also want to show that as I said we eat LPAs for breakfast when I was still studying in elementary and high school. A whole day rain for several days was not stranger to us then and it was even stronger like what I experienced in Allen.

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The view from the roof deck of the Danao fishport

Once I took a trip to Danao and Carmen ports. One reason is I also have to get a Sugbo Transit ticket for my friend Grek as he is a ticket collector. I got off before the bridge leading to Danao fishport, walked and took stock. The fishport trading section and its restaurants in the upper deck which we patronized in a PSSS tour then was already gone, not repaired after Typhoon “Yolanda”. They let me in but it was sad moments for I was all alone in the top deck. I can still imagine the laughter and gaiety of the group when we were there.

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I know how to time shipspotting events and I was there before lunchtime. As I expected two ferries from Camotes arrived, the Maica One of Jomalia Shipping and the Super Shuttle Ferry 24 of Asian Marine Transport System (AMTC). They joined the Mika Mari VI of Jomalia Shipping which was in port when I arrived. All throughout I used the fishport top deck as vantage point since I know getting inside the port will mean negotiations like last time and that will take time.

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One new thing in the area is a Jollibee restaurant by the port called the “Sands”. Its patronage is strong and I wonder if that was the one who sank the restaurants in the fishport. I queued but I realized my sugar will not hold and so I went instead to the fishport and ordered a meal in one of the carinderias there. After my meal I took notice of things I should take pictures of and it turned out mainly to be the ticketing offices there plus ship shots from the outside of the gates. Another thing also was they called the Maica One as the “Express”. It might have basis as her designed speed was 17 knots.

From the port I went to the Danao integrated terminal. I found out that the Carmen buses do not use the that and so there were no buses. Instead there were a lot of other vehicles including mountain, double-tire jeeps. I took one of the Multicabs and got off in Republic Drydock in Dunggo-an. Sad to say I was not able to gain entry (they want a recommendation from the Mayor but that will waste my time) and have to content myself with ships that were visible outside. It was mainly fishing boats that were there including derelict ones.

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Marker at the entrance of Republic Drydock

I then took a ride to Carmen and got off at the port junction near the Carmen campus of Cebu Technological University (CTU) and took a tricycle. I did not make the tricycle wait and so I know I am in for a long walk later. In the port I saw two Cargo RORO LCTs of Cebu Sea Charterers of the Premship group, the LCT 208 and the (yes, they will always have the number “8” because that is supposedly lucky. They were not loading yet (actually there was just one truck in the port) and so port activity was almost dead.

These Cargo RORO LCTs are what is threatening now the old overnight ROPAXes to Leyte (and Bohol) like that of Roble Shipping and Lite Shipping with their very cheap rates as in just barely over half of the usual rates. Of course it is a no-frills ride intended just for trucks and its crews. A memo in the Cebu Sea Charterers office made clear that they are only taking trucks and not passengers. The pioneer Cargo RORO LCT in Carmen, the LCT Mabuhay Filipinas was not there (later I found out she was undergoing Afloat Ship Repair or ASR near the Second Mandaue bridge).

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There was also a very small tanker in Carmen port, the Anna Rose. She was the smallest tanker I have seen and she was just powered by a single surplus Isuzu 10PE1 engine. Well, in the past there were tankers of just 300 horsepower too so I thought maybe that engine was sufficient. Of course she will not run fast. She was tied up there because of an engine problem (but there are many mechanics who can tackle that and parts are easy to source).

As usual, at a distance were the many yachts anchored in Carmen marina. There were about a dozen of them and many of those are actually owned by foreigners. I thought Carmen is also a good storm shelter. Again the decaying yachts and motor boats of Carmen port were still there. However, their decomposition are more advanced now compared to several years ago in my last visit with PSSS. There was also a DA-BFAR patrol boat (I wonder, Carmen is not a lair of fishing boats).

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With me just walking back to the highway, I was able to distill more info and understanding of Carmen. I found out that the enclosed marina leading to the visible stadium were the experimental fish farm of the College of Fisheries of CTU. And near Carmen port was an experimental station for fisheries research. Also visible in the enclosed marina was the “dunking machine” used to train the nautical students of the said university (Marine Engineering and Marine Engineering are the main offerings of CTU-Carmen).

I made a mistake once I got back to the highway after walking past the entrance of CTU-Carmen. I immediately took a bus going back to Cebu. What I should have done was go to Carmen poblacion, took a tour there and rode the Carmen-Cebu buses. I only realized that on my later trip north when I went to Maya and Hagnaya that were enough sights in Carmen town.

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The enclosed marina of Carmen

Got back to Cebu earlier but not really because of the traffic (which is worse now in Metro Cebu compared to the past years) and it was already a little late already for shipspotting. Darkness comes earlier on rainy days and Cebu was almost always raining during the Sinulog Festival week. And so I just instead went for bus spotting in the Cebu North Bus Terminal.

Glad to visit Danao and Carmen ports again and see what changed there. However, I can’t view my trip as very fruitful. Actually I felt a little bitin after that trip.

The Developments in the San Bernardino Strait Routes When the PSSS Visited in December of 2016

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Photo of Jubasan port by James Gabriel Verallo

I was able to visit the area twice, actually, the first one with the official PSSS (Philippine Ship Spotters Society) tour-meet and the second one in my private tour with Joe Cardenas, the PSSS member from Catarman (so he was a native of the area). I stayed longer the second time because I wanted to do some interviews in the ports of Allen and in the ships there (which I was able to do).

My first visit to the San Bernardino Strait area happened with the big group of the PSSS (the Philippine Ship Spotters Society). Joe Cardenas provided the car, a very good one and James Verallo provided the gas money. We were eight in the group including an American guest of Chimmy Ramos. He was Tim Alentiev, a retired B747 pilot from Seattle. Others in the group were Raymond Lapus from Los Banos, Nowell Alcancia from Manila. Mark Ocul from Ozamis and yours truly.

On the first day on the way to Allen, the first port of Northern Samar we visited was the San Isidro Ferry Terminal. It was already getting late in the afternoon when we reached the port as we came all the way from Tacloban and have visited already the ports of Catbalogan, Calbayog and Manguino-o. We were not able to start early because me and Mark’s ship from Cebu, the Oroquieta Stars of Roble Shipping departed four hours late because of the company’s Christmas party.

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The FastCat M9

Though late, it was just perfect as the FastCat M9 of Archipelago Ferries has just docked and was beginning to disembark passengers and vehicles. This catamaran RORO is the only regular user of the government-owned port and without it it would have been an empty visit save for the lone regular beer carrier which happened to be also docked and unloading that day. For some in the group it was a first experience to see short-distance ferry-ROROs in action.

We did not stay long and we hied off fast to the next port which was the Jubasan port of Sta. Clara Shipping. This port is a new development of the company and was built against the opposition of the Mayor then of Allen, Northern Samar which happened to be the owner of BALWHARTECO, the old dominant port in the area. It is a modern port, very clean and orderly, spacious and with lots of eateries that is more decent than the usual carinderia. There is not that mell of vendors and the hubbub one usually associates with ports that are not ISPS (International System of Port Security).

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From Jubasan, we passed by the Dapdap port of Philharbor. We did not enter the port any more and just viewed it from outside as we knew there were no more operations there as related company Archipelago Ferries was using San Isidro Ferry Terminal instead of their own port and the Montenegro Lines vessels transferred to BALWHARTECO when Sta. Clara Shipping and sister company Penafrancia Shipping left it for their own port.

We next visited BALWHARTECO port when dusk was setting in. We did not tour the port any longer as we decided it will be more worthwhile the next day when there is light. In the original plan, we should have stayed for the night in the lodge of BALWHARTECO (and do some night shipspotting for those still interested) but Chimmy suggested that it might be better to stay in Catarman where there might be better accommodations and food. The group agreed as anyway Joe and Nowell are headed for Catarman as the latter has an early morning flight back to Manila.

The bonus of the Catarman sleep-over was we were able to see Catarman, the town, and see off Nowell to the airport. Maybe except for me and Joe, nobody in the group has been to Catarman before and visiting it was an added treat. On the way back there a bonus shipspotting too because we made short tours of Caraingan and Lavezares ports. The first is the main inter-island port of Northern Samar and the second is the gateway to the destination being slowly discovered which is Biri, an archipelago offshore Northern Samar.

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Star Ferry II

Because of these extra tours and the need to secure first in Catarman a good bus ride for the members heading back to Manila, we were not able to cross early to Matnog. Even our tour of BALWHARTECO was peremptory and it was mainly just part of the effort to cross to Matnog. Still, it was enough as a ferry not yet leaving is a very good vantage point for shipspotting and the Reina Olimpia of Montenegro Lines proved to be that. The encounters with other ships in San Bernardino Strait added to the shipspotting prize.

We were not able to cross ahead of the bus and so the Manila-bound members have to board the bus immediately in Matnog. That in itself already shortened the Luzon part of the tour. When the bus rolled off, a member shouted to me (seems it was James) that the ramp of the Don Benito Ambrosio II of Penafrancia Shipping was already being raised. I looked at the bridge and I saw Capt. Sacayan, a friend of PSSS and I don’t know what reflex pushed me that I blurted out, “Capt, pasakay” and Capt. Sacayan immediately ordered the lowering of the ramp to the surprise of his deck hands. The Sta. Clara “Angels” (the three beautiful ladies in charge of arranging the passages of company-account trucks and buses) asked if we have a ticket and I pointed to Capt. Sacayan and from lip reading I think Capt. Sacayan said, “Oo, sa akin.”

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The Don Benito Ambrosio II by James Gabriel Verallo

I told my remaining tour mates not to wait for the ramp to land as I don’t think it would lest the ship incur the penalty of another docking and so we hopped on the ramp that was still a foot above the wharf. And from there we went straight to the bridge where Capt. Sacayan warmly welcomed us and turned on the airconditioners to full. We were sailing “Bridge Class” like in the Reina Olimpia on the crossing to Matnog. But the letdown was Mark failed to taste the “Bicol Express”. However, the free ride on the bridge with its unmatched viewpoint more than made up for that.

We disembarked in the new Jubasan port where we took our dinner and whiled some time trying to soak the atmosphere of the port. Funny, but our car was parked in BALWHARTECO, our point of departure earlier where our group had an incident with the LGU collectors of “illegal exactions” as we call it in PSSS for it is actually against Supreme Court decisions and DILG memorandum circulars. I wondered if Joe was worrying then for his car.

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The Nathan Matthew in Jubasan port (by James Gabriel Verallo)

After getting the car in BALWHARTECO we tracked back to Tacloban. It was uneventful as it was already night and it was just me and Joe keeping on the conversation.

I visited again the San Bernardino Strait area after the trip to Surigao del Sur where I accompanied Joe. This time my focus was BALWHARTECO and it is there where me and Joe separated, he headed back to Catarman and me on the way to Bicol but with an Allen stop-over. Night has set in when we parted ways and I stayed in the lodge of BALWHARTECO as I planned to do interviews the next day.

If there was still sunlight on our first visit to Allen, my second one was all rain and it was heavy with winds and so the swells were up, of course. But as Joe noted it was just the usual amihan (northeast monsoon) weather (with regards to this kind of weather, Joe and me are pretty much in agreement and so with typhoons). Good the Coast Guard in the area were not as praning (kneejerkish) as their counterparts in Cebu so they were not as trigger-happy in voyage suspensions. And to think the ferries that time in BALWHARTECO were barely able to hold position while docked even while ropes were already doubled. Some even anchor offshore to avoid damage to their hull.

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The Star Ferry 7 in the rain

In the next morning when the rain was still light I managed to find the oldest living porter of Allen who was in his 80’s and who had been a porter since 1943. He is the father of the caretaker of the lodge and from him I was able to get the history of the private port of Allen owned by the Suan family which owns the present BALWHARTECO. I was also able to get the ships of the past in the area from the time of the motor boats (lancha) including the motor bancas which then connected Allen and Calbayog for then there was no road connecting the two localities.

It was a funny interview as the old man was speaking in Allen Waray which I found I can understand 95% by using my knowledge of the different dialects of Bicol including what was then known as Bicol Gubat and Bicol Costa which are now no longer classified as part of the Bicol language. The Bicolanos and the Pintados share the same seafaring history in the past and maybe this was the reason of the close association of the languages of Bicol, Masbate and Samar including the Balicuatro area of Samar where Allen is located.

From the father and son pair, I was able to get referrals to old mariners in the area and I visited one in his home and the other one in his ship. Both came from Virac and first became crewmen of the Trans-Bicol Shipping Lines, the predecessor of Bicolandia Shipping Lines in operating motor boats (lancha) which connected the Bicol island-provinces and Samar to the Bicol mainland. The latter is actually the Chief Engineer of the Star Ferry II of 168 Shipping and this provided a bonus because we were able to have a discussion about the oldest RORO sailing in Philippine waters that is not a Navy ship and is not an LCT.

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I stayed a day more in BALWHARTECO because peak season caught me suddenly on a Friday afternoon and it was very difficult to get a ride with the sustained strong rains which produced landslides in Victoria town thus throwing the bus schedules into disarray (few were really coming). It was a nice courtesy stay which afforded me more opportunities to shipspot (and also do bus spotting) and to observe in general.

I absorb things fast even on limited time and even without asking too many questions. I just retrieve files in my head and add what I saw new, what changed and other observations. And from that I have a new mental picture of the port and area I visited. A two-day stay in Allen is a boon for observation and absorption of the movements and patterns in the area.

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After two nights, I tried to wangle a trip to Matnog where I planned to take a local bus to Naga. There was no hope in hitching a ride with the buses from the south because of the landslides and anyway all that arrive in Allen were full and it was sellers’ market and even the colorum vans to Manila were having a field day (they were charging fares from Catarman while waiting for passengers in Allen).

It wasn’t easy booking a crossing as the combination of rough swells and high tide plus the strong wind delayed dockings. Even with tickets, we passengers feared cancellation of voyages by the Coast Guard anytime given the wind and seas prevailing. After a long wait onboard, we finally all heaved a sigh of relief when we were given clearance to sail.

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The LCT Poseidon 26 of might have been the first to sail after the lull of sailings from Allen but she takes 2 hours for the 11-nautical mile route since her cruising speed is only 5-6 knots. She is a new ROPAX Cargo LCT and although her accommodations are all-Economy it is good, spacious and the seats are individualized with a row of industrial fans at the sides. Passengers are also allowed to visit the bridge which is a boon. She is sailing for NN+ATS or 2GO under the name SulitFerry.

We landed in Matnog at past mid-afternoon and the port was crawling with passengers and vehicles when normally such hour was already dead hour for the Matnog to Allen sailing. That is what usually results from voyage suspensions even though it is only for a few hours because everything piles up. I did not tarry at the port because I feared that I will be left  by local buses leaving Matnog if I did not hurry up. Being left by the last trip would probably mean staying the night in Matnog. But like Mark, I ended up not being able to tour Matnog port. I tried to make up for this by touring the market and terminal area of Matnog and trying to take shots of the port from there.

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What did I learn new in the San Bernardino Strait routes? Well, maybe the biggest development was the opening of the Jubasan port of Sta. Clara Shipping. That meant the break of Sta. Clara Shipping (and its sister company Penafrancia Shipping) and BALWHARTECO, a long partnership that benefited both greatly. Well, maybe some things really have to end but I feared the parting of ways weakened both but only time can tell that.

With the break, BALWHARTECO which was crowded and very busy in the past suddenly had a slack and maybe that is the reason why they invited Montenegro Lines to concentrate all their ships there thereby emptying the Dapdap port of Philharbor. Meanwhile, Jubasan port is just serving Sta. Clara Shipping and Penafrancia Shipping. One advantage of that is they have full control and so everything is orderly.

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A Cargo RORO LCT

The second biggest development in the strait crossing might be the emergence of Cargo RORO LCTs that takes on only trucks. One or two of them sail depending on the season plus there is a ROPAX Cargo LCT, the LCT Poseidon 26. These are operated by NN+ATS or 2GO and the LCTs are chartered from Primary Trident Solutions. The ferry is being billed as SulitFerry. Though brand-new and nice, it is cheaper than the rest. The drawback is its cruising speed is slow. Their ticketing office hands, however, are nicer than the rest and are better trained. It showed.

With the fielding of the Cargo RORO LCT and the ROPAX Cargo LCT, the long queues of trucks which were legend in the past seemed to have disappeared. These trucks are actually the “non-priority” ones which means they are not priority because they has no prior arrangements with the shipping companies. Trucks were singled out because buses which have passengers and fixed schedules always had the higher priority and so these trucks get shunted out.

The LCTs of NN+ATS definitely took rolling cargo from the other companies. Some seem to overstate it but hard figures will show there are usually ten short-distance ferry-ROROs by Sta. Clara Shipping, Penafrancia Shipping, Montenegro Lines, 168 Shipping, Regina Shipping Lines in the strait plus the catamaran RORO of Archipelago Ferries. Two or three LCTs were added in the route so it was a significant increase but not by much.

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Dapdap port

Another notable development in the strait was the closing of the Dapdap port of Philharbor. It seems it was not able to weather the rearrangements brought about by the opening of Jubasan port. It is ironic that its sister company Archipelago Ferries is instead using the San Isidro Ferry Terminal (but maybe that is what their franchise demanded). Maybe if the Grand Star ROROs were not disposed off it might still be operating. However, the motor bancas to the island off it are still there.

Meanwhile, Matnog Ferry Terminal has added two ramps plus an expansion of the back-up area but one of its ramps is now just for the use of FastCat which need a specific mechanism wherein to attach their catamaran ROROs. With four ramps available (and I doubt if all are usable) plus a docking area without ramp (which is only good if the tide is not low), one would wonder how it can possibly cope with the twelve vessels or so operating in the strait especially in the hours that the buses and trucks are concentrated in Matnog.

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Reina Emperatriz and BALWHARTECO port by James Gabriel Verallo

Me, I always have questions and doubts about the ability of the PPA (Philippine Ports Authority) regarding port planning and design. BALWHARTECO and Jubasan ports are clearly better than Matnog Ferry Terminal in its capacity to absorb ships. Imagine there are four ports on Samar side while there is only one in Sorsogon side. Maybe the town of Matnog should just develop their own port so capacity will be increased and they will have revenues at the same time.

San Bernardino Strait is one of the most important crossings in the country as it is the main connection between Luzon and the Visayas on the eastern side. It is used by a lot of buses and trucks plus private vehicles 24/7 and a lot of people move through it. In that way alone it is already fascinating to me.

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The Nathan Matthew and ship spotters of PSSS (by James Gabriel Verallo)