RORO Cargo Ships And Vehicle Carriers That Were Converted Into ROPAXes In The Philippines

RORO (Roll-on, Roll-off) Cargo Ships differ from ROPAXes (RORO-Passenger Ships) in that the former are mainly for carrying rolling cargo (vehicles mainly but could also be heavy equipment) with their drivers and crew and as such their passenger capacity and amenities like a restaurant or cafeteria are small. They are mainly designed to ferry vehicles across the sea with the least loading and unloading time. Their sizes vary depending on the distance and the traffic volume. Generally, they have higher sides.

In the Philippines, they are represented currently by the Super Shuttle RORO 7, Super Shuttle RORO 8, Super Shuttle RORO 9, Super Shuttle RORO 10, Super Shuttle RORO 11 and the Super Shuttle RORO 12 of the Asian Marine Transport Corporation (AMTC). They are also represented by the Dapitan Bay 1, Panglao Bay 1 and Batangas Bay 1 of Carlos A. Gothong Lines Inc. (CAGLI). But this selection is the relatively large ones by RORO Cargo Ship standard. There were smaller versions of it in the past.

Vehicle Carriers are similar to RORO Cargo Ships but instead of acting like commuters they deliver vehicles from the factories to a destination and so they will come back without load unlike the RORO Cargo Ships.  Vehicle Carriers could be smaller or bigger than RORO Cargo Ships but lately they began growing bigger to be more efficient in bringing new cars from the likes of Japan to the United States. Those delivering cars within Japan only were considerably smaller.

In the Philippines, there were several RORO Cargo Ships and Vehicle Carriers that were converted into ROPAXes or what is commonly called as ROROs here and most became RORO Liners of the major liner companies. Per ton, a RORO Cargo Ship or a Vehicle Carrier is cheaper than a ROPAX as it doesn’t have that much equipment and amenities for passengers. Besides, for the same size, they could have smaller engine/engines and so the speed is a bit less.

In refitting, it is possible that in a RORO Cargo Ship or a Vehicle Carrier that metal has to chopped off. Meanwhile, locally, it is normal to add metal to a ROPAX from Japan to add decks for more passenger accommodation. Viewing areas were not considered in the building of RORO Cargo Ships and Vehicle Carriers and that could be one reason for chopping off metal.

I noticed that RORO Cargo or Vehicle Carrier conversion here goes by streaks by shipping lines that has a liking for them for the benefits they offer like a smaller capital cost for the same capacity and I agree with them it is a route worth taking. Maybe the first who took this route was the K&T Shipping Lines which was later known as the Maypalad Shipping Lines after their ferry Kalibo Star sank in Samar Sea in the late 1990s.

Samar Star

Many do not know that K&T Shipping was among the first in the acquisition of ROROs and maybe one reason for that is their ROROs do not look like the traditional ROROs of the other shipping lines. Their first RORO was the Samar Queen that was later renamed into Samar Star which actually became their last ship existing but not sailing. This ship was classified as a Ferry-RORO in Japan but she has the looks a cargo ship like a trio of sister ships K&T Shipping later acquired – the Leyte Star (a.k.a. Leyte Queen), the Cebu Star (a.k.a. Cebu Queen) and the Kalibo Star (a.k.a. Ocean Star). The difference is these four ships have rear-quarter ramps and a car deck and in order for them to carry passengers, K&T Shipping built a passenger deck atop the car deck. In Japan, the trio was classified as Vehicle Carriers.

Leyte Star

The Leyte Star by Edison Sy of PSSS.

The Samar Queen was smaller than the three sister ships at 56.6m x 9.0m x 5.6m and she arrived in 1980 which was just the dawn of RORO (more exactly ROPAX) shipping in the Philippines. Meanwhile, the Leyte Queen arrived in 1984 and the Cebu Queen arrived in 1986. Then the ill-fated Kalibo Star arrived in 1992. All of the three were former Toyo Maru ships in Japan but they have different owners. The external measurement of the Kalibo Star was 72.0m x 10.4m x 4.5m and the measurements of the other two sister ships hew closely to this.

The trio of sister ships were powered by a single 1,250-horsepower Hanshin engine which gave a design speed of 12.5 knots. The Samar Star has a single 1,300 Nippatsu-Fuji engine giving a speed of 13 knots. And this brings up one characteristic of small RORO Cargo ships and Vehicle Carriers. They are generally powered by a single engine only whereas ROPAXes of their size almost invariably have two engines and are faster.

Cebu Star

Cebu Star by Rex Nerves of PSSS.

These four K&T ships have one of the minimum conversions in this type of ships. At the start, the passengers just have to unroll cots and look for a place that they prefer.  Their main cargo here was not rolling cargo either. Nothing unusual in that as most Cebu overnight ferries carry loose and palletized cargo in the main. In loading and unloading, forklifts are used just like in the other Cebu overnight ferries.

Before I digress further, the first of this type of ships converted into ROPAX might be the Don Carlos of Sulpicio Lines Inc. which arrived in 1977 and was classified as a Vehicle Carrier in Japan. Actually, the Don Carlos could very well be our very first ROPAX that is not an LCT. This ship was formerly the Daiten Maru of the Masumoto Kisen KK in Japan. She also not carried rolling cargo except for some trucks and heavy equipment destined for the South (her route is to General Santos City) and on the return trip livestock was loaded. She suffered a piracy attack in 1978 and later she was just used as a cargo ship.

1978 0508 Hijacked Ship

Research by Gorio Belen in the National Library.

The Don Carlos measured 71.6m x 10.9m x 4.9m which is almost the same of the measurements of the K&T Shipping sistership trio. However, this Sulpicio ferry looks like a regular ROPAX after refitting. She was equipped with a single Hanshin engine of 1,300 horsepower and her design speed was 12.5 knots and that speed was her one weakness as she was sailing a long route.

The second shipping company that had a liking for this type of ship to be converted as ROPAXes was the Carlos A. Gothong Lines, Inc. (CAGLI). This happened when they were building up their fleet so that they can return to their Manila route after her break-up with Lorenzo Shipping Corporation. After the break-up Gothong Lines concentrated on the Visayas-Mindanao routes but they relied on small ROPAXes. For the Manila route, they needed bigger ships and acquiring this type I am discussing was their route.

Their first of this type converted to ROPAX might have been the Our Lady of Guadalupe which was Asaka Maru No.8 in Japan and was classified as a Ferry-RORO. But to me she has the built of a Vehicle Carrier which meant metal has to be taken off rather than added like what happens in the former ROPAXes of Japan brought here. One thing notable in the Our Lady of Guadalupe is the high sides with few viewing areas for passengers. The two traits are traits of Vehicle Carriers.

Our Lady of Guadalupe (2)

Our Lady of Guadalupe by Toshihiko Mikami of PSSS.

The Our Lady of Guadalupe measured 89.7m x 14.4m x 4.8m with a passenger capacity of 674 persons. She was powered by two Niigata engines with a total of 5,400 horsepower and her top sustained speed when new was 16 knots. She was fielded in the Manila route in 1986 before being downgraded by Gothong Lines to the Cebu-Surigao route in the early 1990s and she had the reputation of being unreliable and that helped the new Cokaliong Shipping Lines Inc. to survive in the route. Her unreliability was never resolved even when she was passed on to the Cebu Ferries Company after the “Great Merger” of 1996.

In 1990, Gothong Lines acquired a pair of sister ships classified as RORO Cargo ships in Japan. The two are the Shinsei Maru which became the Our Lady of Sacred Heart and the Shinka Maru which became first as the Sto. Nino de Cebu. The latter suffered a fire early on after fielding (how can a ship with such a magical name catch fire?) but she was repaired and she was renamed into the Our Lady of Medjugorje. The two are among the better conversions that I have seen and in the latter I love her verandas and she was among my favorite ships.

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Our Lady of Sacred Heart by Chief Ray Smith of PSSS.

The sister ships have already been lengthened in Japan and they measured an identical 123.0m x 18.0m x 12.3 meters and that size was average for many of the liners that came in 1990-92 although their passenger capacity did not reach 2,000 persons. The two were not built in the same shipyard. The Our Lady of Sacred Heart was built by Tsuneishi Shipbuilding in 1978 and the Our Lady of Medjugorje was built by the Mitsui Engineering & Shipbuilding in 1979. The first had a single 9,000 horsepower Mitsui engine while the latter had a single 8,000 horspower engine but both had a design speed of 17 knots which became 16.5 knots in the country. In the “Great Merger” they were transferred to WG&A and they continued to ply a route from Manila and sometimes pairing with each other as they have the same speed (sometimes with SuperFerry 3 too that also has the same speed with them).

Our Lady of Medjugorje (Aboitiz)

Our Lady of Medjugorje by Albritz Salih of PSSS.

A related company, the Cebu Ferries Corporation (CFC) acquired in 2009 and 2010 two ships, the Asakaze and Esan which became the Cebu Ferry 2 and Cebu Ferry 3. In Japan they were classified as Ferry-ROROs but they do not look like the type. They might have a small passenger capacity but both featured open car decks and so plenty of metal has to be added in them to become ROPAXes. I do not consider the two part of the type I am discussing.

When Carlos A. Gothong Lines Inc. divested from WG&A, their first acquisition in 2001 when the divestment was not yet complete was actually a RORO Cargo ship, the Koyo Maru of Keiyo Kisen which became the Butuan Bay 1 in their fleet. At 114.8m x 19.0m x 9.6m, she was not a small ship. What are striking about her was her height and the length of her ramp. The ship was built by Iwagi Zosen in 1989 and she is powered by a single Mitsubishi-MAN engine with 9,600 horsepower that gave her a speed of 17.5 knots.

Butuan Bay 1 in Iligan City

Butuan Bay 1 by Josel Nino Bado of PSSS.

However, her refitting was not first-class (two passenger decks were just added atop her decks) and so when she was sold to Trans-Asia Shipping Lines Inc. (TASLI) in 2010 after an engine room explosion, TASLI remodeled the ship comprehensibly and she became a looker as the Trans-Asia 5. However, when MARINA took exception to her conking out and wallowing in water (the disadvantage of a single-engine design), she was reverted into a cargo ship and parts of her superstructure were removed. Still, she is a good-looking ship.

Trans Asia 5

The old Trans-Asia 5 by Michael Roger Denne of  PSSS.

Trans-Asia 5

The new Trans-Asia 5 by Mike Baylon of PSSS.

Recently, another shipping company took as liking for this type to be converted into ROPAXes. This is the Asian Marine Transport Corporation (AMTC) which also operates many RORO Cargo ships for their cargo liner operations. Their conversions started their Super Shuttle RORO series but it stopped at three as it seems they found out they were not really good in passenger liner operations.

Their first ship converted was the small RORO Cargo ship Cebu Trader which became the Super Shuttle RORO 1. This ship was built in 1978 by Trosvik Verskted in Norway and has passed into many hands already which is normal in Europe especially for this type. She measured 97.2m x 16.6m x 6.4m and she was powered by two Hedemora engines with a low total of 2,600 horsepower but still her design speed was 14.5 knots (which is a little doubtful).

Super Shuttle Roro 1

Super Shuttle RORO 1 by Fr. Bar Fabella, SVD of PSSS.

AMTC acquired this ship in 2011 and she was tastefully and even moderniscally refitted in Ouano port for ASR in Mandaue, Cebu which showed none of her age. However, she did not serve long as in 2012 she caught fire in heavy downpour while taking shelter from a tropical storm in Looc Bay in Tablas Island, Romblon on a route from Batangas to Dumaguit via Odiongan. She was never repaired.

The next in the series actually came in 2010 and was a small Vehicle Carrier. This was the former Koyo Maru No. 23 in Japan which became the Super Shuttle RORO 2 for AMTC after conversion. The ship measures 90.0m x 14.2m x 11.6m and she is powered by a single Hanshin engine of 3,200 horsepower which gave her a top speed of 14.5 knots when was still new.

Super Shuttle Roro 2

Super Shuttle RORO 2 by Raymond Lapus of PSSS.

However, even with an equal design speed it was said she was faster than the Super Shuttle RORO 1 in the same route to Dumaguit port in Aklan. Well, this ship was built later in 1987 by Imamura Shipbuilding in Japan and that could be a difference. Super Shuttle RORO 2 still sails in the same route but sometimes she takes long breaks.

The last ship in the series is the biggest of the three at 128.8m x 19.9m x 6.6m which is already not small for a liner but she was not developed well and her Tourist section was not even finished. This ship was the Vehicle Carrier Atsuta Maru in Japan that was built by Kanda Shipbuilding and she was named as the Super Shuttle RORO 3 in AMTC. Her route is Batangas-Masbate-Mandaue-Cagayan de Oro and with unfavorable arrivals and departures she never became popular with the passengers especially when her departure times became hard to divine as the company gave priority to cargo. However, her cargo load is always good.

Super Shuttle Roro 3

Super Shuttle RORO 3 by Aris Refugio of PSSS.

Recently, she no longer takes in passengers. Before she was a cheap, direct ride to Batangas but the passengers have to bear hardships. I was lucky I was able to ride her when she was still taking passengers. There were times too when she became unreliable and can’t sail for extended periods of time. She has a single 8,000 horsepower Hitachi engine which powers her to 18 knots when still new. Her unreliability seems to stem from maintenance problems.

Roble Shipping Inc. also tried this type of conversion when they acquired the Vehicle Carrier Taelim Iris from South Korea in 2015. They did not immediately do work on the ship and when work commenced it was just done in their wharf in Pier 7 in Mandaue, Cebu. A lot of metal was added but after the work was finished a beautiful Oroquieta Stars emerged which became their pride. Originally meant for Misamis Occidental, she became a regular to Baybay, Leyte where she is a favorite.

Oroquieta Stars

Oroquieta Stars by James Gabriel Verallo of PSSS.

The Oroquieta Stars measures 77.4m x 12.0m x 8.1m and she is equipped with two Akasaka engines with a total of 4,900 horsepower. Her design speed is 16 knots and that is more than enough for a Leyte overnight ship. She was built by Sanyo Shipbuilding in Japan in 1994.

Another company which tried this conversion route was the Aleson Shipping Lines of Zamboanga. They acquired the Ariake Maru No.18 in 2016, a Vehicle Carrier in Japan built by Honda Shipbuilding. This ship has high sides and to have passenger viewing areas and access, metal has to sloughed off. In the Aleson fleet, this ship became known as the Antonia 1 and named after the matriarch of the company.

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Antonia 1 by Albritz Salih of PSSS.

The Antonia 1 measures 103.6m x 15.5m x 11.5m and she is powered a single Akasaka-Mitsubishi engine of 4,000 horsepower. Her design speed is 15 knots. Presently, the ship’s route is Zamboanga-Sandakan, our only international passenger ship route.

The last company which tried this route of conversion is the Trans-Asia Shipping Lines Inc. (TASLI). They acquired the Warrior Spirit in 2016 and even earlier than the Antonia 1. While the Antonia 1 sailed in 2017, the Warrior Spirit which was renamed into the third Trans-Asia still can’t sail as a host of ailments that defied easy solutions bugged her especially in the engine department.

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Trans-Asia by C/E John Nino Malinao Borgonia of PSSS

The ship was built by Nouvelle Havre in France in 1980. Trans-Asia, the third, measures 126.2m x 21.0m and her design speed is 19 knots. With high sides and being tall, this ship is the biggest-ever of Trans-Asia Shipping Lines. And I hope that finally they will be able to solve her problems.

I am not too sure if my list is complete. But I would want to see in the future what other ships of this type will be converted into ROPAX in our country again.

 

 

 

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The Unique Nasipit Port and Bay

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

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Photo by Janjan Salas

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

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The former location of Nasipit Lumber

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

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The power barge of Therma South

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Surigao Princess

The pocket liner Surigao Princess (Photo by Edison Sy)

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

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The Nasipit Princess by Suro Yan

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

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

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

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

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The Our Lady of Lourdes by Chief Ray Smith

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

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Filipinas Butuan in Nasipit port

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

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

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The St. Leo The Great

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

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

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The legendary white-out of Nasipit port

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

RORO Cargo Ships and Vehicle Carriers Can Be Good ROPAX Liners

In shipping, wherever that be in the world, fuel consumption is a critical factor because it takes up 40% of the operational costs of the ship. Here it might even be higher as our ships are old and our mariner rates are so low and apprentices comprise about half of the crew and they are the ones that pay and not the shipping company. So when fuel prices went really high a decade ago even the Fast ROPAXes of Europe capable of 30 knots slowed down to save on fuel. High Speed Crafts (HSCs) suffered also, had to slow down too and some stopped sailing for they were simply unprofitable even at very high load factors.

We too had been victims of that fetish with speed that in the 1990’s and so, many liners capable of 20 knots, locally, came into the country. The list of this is long and I would list it: Filipina Princess, Princess of Paradise, Princess of the Stars, Princess of the Universe, Princess of the World, Princess of the Ocean and Princess of New Unity, all of Sulpicio Lines; SuperFerry 1 of Aboitiz Shipping; Mabuhay 1 and Mabuhay 3 of William Lines; Our Lady of Lipa, SuperFerry 12, SuperFerry 14, SuperFerry 15, SuperFerry 16, SuperFerry 17 and SuperFerry 18 of WG&A; SuperFerry 20 and SuperFerry 21 of Aboitiz Transport System; St. Francis of Assisi, St. Joseph The Worker, St. Peter The Apostle, Mary Queen of Peace, St. Ezekiel Moreno, St. Michael The Archangel and St. Francis Xavier of Negros Navigation. SuperFerry 16 then came back to become the St. Therese of the Child Jesus of 2GO. A total of 26 liners. Now isn’t that too many? And most are 150 meters in length or over and the average passenger capacity is over 2,000 with 3 even breaching the 3,000 mark.

I argue that most proved to be oversized.

That speed came from oversized engines, usually 20,000 horsepower and over which means more fuel consumption and I was not happy with that trend in speed and the trend of upsizing the ships because I know that in the past when liners became bigger than the ex-”FS” ship, many ports with previous connection to Manila were left out because the liners were already too big and their drafts too deep for the small and shallow ports. Then later, the fast cruisers became the new paradigm and more ports have to be left out because to shorten voyage duration the interports were reduced. Gone were the old routes which featured four, five or even six ports of call and with voyages lasting several days.

Those big, fast liners might have been okay when ship passengers were still overflowing when there were still no budget planes and intermodal buses as competition. But that was not okay for the passengers left behind in the abandoned ports. It just created a generation or two of passengers not catered to by ships and grew up not relying on them.

And in the end the liner companies paid dearly for that. Even with advertisements they can no longer be coaxed into riding ships (even if they are painted pink). And that became a disaster for liner shipping when passengers thinned. Too few port calls mean less passengers and cargo – when the ships were already big and guzzling fuel and heavily needing those. And that just helped sink the liner sector of our shipping which has not recovered until now.

I argue that for the passenger loads and cargo sizes now our liners sailing are simply too big and that is the reason why they can’t or won’t call in the smaller ports served by liners until the end of the millennium like Ormoc, Surigao, Tagbilaran, Dapitan and others. It should go down in size and maybe add ports of call and damn if transit times are longer. What is more important is that the ships become fuller so that it will be more profitable. Anyway, those who want fast travel will simply take the budget planes. But still there are still many people which prefer the ships to the planes.

Moreover, the remaining liners now have engines too big to be profitable on marginal routes and smaller ports. I think the engines also have to be downsized. If fuel prices go up once more the liners won’t be profitable again.

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Our Lady of Sacred Heart by Chief Ray Smith

In downsizing and saving on fuel, there is one type of ship that is actually fit for us. These are the former RORO Cargo ships and Vehicle Carriers and we have several  examples of that in the past. Actually for the same size and length, RORO Cargo ships have smaller engines than ships which were ROPAXes from the start. They were not really built for speed but for economy while having a decent speed. And moreover on RORO Cargo ships not much steel has to be added as additional decks.

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Our Lady of Medjugorje by Nat Pagayonan

In the past when liners were not that yet big and fast we had very successful liners whose origins were as former RORO Cargo Ships. I think the most famous of these were the sister ships Our Lady of Sacred Heart and the Our Lady of Medjugorje of Carlos A. Gothong Lines Incorporated (CAGLI) which both came in 1990. Beautifully renovated, few suspected their true origins. Weighing the amenities of the ship, they were not inferior to liners of their size. And nor in speed although they have engine horsepowers less than the liners of their size.

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Butuan Bay 1 by Vinz Sanchez

It was the revived Carlos A. Gothong Lines (when they split from WG&A) which brought in the next batch of RORO Cargo ships for conversion into liner ROPAXes when they acquired the Butuan Bay 1 and the Ozamis Bay 1 in the early 2000’s. But what puzzled me is they forgot how to convert them into beautiful ROPAXes like before and almost everybody that rode them said they were ugly. And that maybe helped doom the return of Gothong Lines into passenger shipping. When Butuan Bay 1 became the Trans-Asia 5 it became a beautiful ship with first-class interiors. Butuan Bay 1 should have been like that from the very start and if it were, the trajectory of Gothong Lines might have been different (of course they had other problems too).

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Ozamis Bay 1 by Mike Baylon

It was the Asian Marine Transport Corporation or AMTC that next brought RORO Cargo ships here for conversion into RORO liners. In their Super Shuttle RORO series, they started with the first three converted in to ROPAXes and these were the small Super Shuttle RORO 1, Super Shuttle RORO 2 and Super Shuttle RORO 3. However, the conversions were also not done well and were not worthy of the beautiful small liners of the past. Were they scrimping too like the revived Carlos A. Gothong Lines? Or were they thinking more of the cargo than the passenger revenue?

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Super Shuttle RORO 1 by Fr. Bar Fabella

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Super Shuttle RORO 2 by Nowell Alcancia

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Super Shuttle RORO 3 by Mike Baylon

The next batch of Super Shuttle ROROs which were former RORO Cargo ships or variants from the Super Shuttle RORO 7 to Super Shuttle RORO 12 were all big, all former RORO Cargo ships but all were no longer converted in ROPAXes because maybe the first three of AMTC were not particularly successful. I was able to board all of them and their interiors were all good. The cabins for the vehicle drivers were still in good condition and being used along with ships’ drawing rooms and the good, functional galleys. Some even have gyms. Actually what was only needed is to maybe convert the top deck or another deck into good passenger accommodations. Our shipbuilders were good at that in the 1950’s and 1960’s when refrigerated cargo or cargo-passenger ships from Europe were converted into liners for Sulpicio Lines, William Lines and Sweet Lines aside from Compania Maritima.

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Super Shuttle RORO 7 by James Gabriel Verallo

The Super Shuttle RORO 7 and Super Shuttle RORO 8 were the two AMTC ships that were intriguing for me. At 145 and 146 meters length the size is good especially since this is a tall ship with at least 4 RORO decks. The original top sustained speeds are 17 and 17.5 knots from only 6,900 and 7,800 horsepower which is even less than the horsepowers of the Our Lady of Sacred Heart and the Our Lady of Medjugorje which both had top sustained speeds of 17 knots when new and did 16 knots here even with additional metal and age. If 16 knots can be coaxed from the small engines of the two AMTC ships then it might have been enough especially if compared to the speeds the former Cebu Ferries series converted liners are doing now. It will have a good container load with a decent passenger size if one deck is converted into passenger accommodations and the cabins for drivers are used for passengers here. I was hoping AMTC will go in that direction but they did not. It turned out AMTC was no longer interested in liner shipping and was more interested in container shipping and especially the loading of brand-new vehicles destined for car dealers in the south.

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Super Shuttle RORO 8 by Aris Refugio

A design speed or original top sustained speed of 15 or 16 knots might not do because converted here with additional metal and with age already they will probably just run at 13 or 14 knots and that is slow for a liner. 15 knots locally is still acceptable but 16 knots is better as proven by the Our Lady of Sacred Heart and Our Lady of Medjugorje. But then on the other hand the last time the former Cebu Ferry 2 ran as a liner to Cebu from Manila she was just being made to run at 14 to 15 knots. Does it mean that speed is already acceptable? That will mean a 28 or 29 hour run to Cebu versus the 22 hours of the big liners. But then passing through interports will mask that. Just feed the passengers well. And I always wondered why liners to Cebu don’t pass Roxas City anymore when it is just on the way. Of course the big ones can’t. At least 2GO tried Romblon port with the St. Anthony de Padua (the former Cebu Ferry 2) the last time around. But then maybe small liners shouldn’t be doing the Cebu route.

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St. Anthony of Padua by Mike Baylon

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St. Ignatius of Loyola by Mike Baylon

It was Aboitiz Transport System which next brought in RORO Cargo ships for conversion into ROPAXes with their Cebu Ferry 2 and Cebu Ferry 3. Originally these two ships were refitted to be overnight ferries but later when they were transferred out of their Cebu base they were refitted again to become liners. The two are known now as St. Anthony of Padua and St. Ignatius of Loyola under 2GO. Aside from the two, there are other RORO Cargo ships which were converted into ROPAXes but they were not liners but overnight ships. Among these are the Graceful Stars and Oroquieta Stars of Roble Shipping.

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The future Trans-Asia (1) by Mike Baylon

I think there are many RORO Cargo ships around that are about 120-130 meters in length that have a design speed of 18 or 19 knots which can still run here at 16.5 to 17.5 knots and they might just be perfect. I don’t know if that is the case of the Warrior Spirit which recently arrived to become the third Trans-Asia (1) of Trans-Asia Shipping Lines. This might be good as a test case. The length of 126.2 meters is perfect and the design speed is 19 knots from twin engines is also perfect. Trans-Asia Shipping Lines has a good record in conversion. But then she will just be an overnight ship but a big one at that. But the coming Panglao Bay 1 of Carlos A. Gothong Lines might not prove to be a test case as she will not be converted to ROPAX, per report.

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Panglao Bay 1 by Mark Ocul

Trying these former RORO Cargo ships for conversion into ROPAXes might be a safe bet. These RORO Cargo ships might be low-risk in acquisition as their purchases might just be above breaker prices. So if it does not make money the worth of metal as scrap might still pay for the acquisition price. In the future Trans-Asia (1) they are even cutting off metal so windows can be made. That is different from the experience of the Cebu Ferries ships were a lot of metal has to be added because decks have to built.

I think it is good time to try acquiring RORO Cargo ships as our future liners. They might turn out to be good bets and worthwhile liners a la Our Lady of Sacred Heart and Our Lady of Medjugorje.