My Trip From Bicol To Cebu Via Masbate (Part 2)

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Arriving in Masbate Port

Upon disembarking from Marina Empress, I immediately went to the Cokaliong ship Filipinas Ozamis, my target ride to Cebu. I wanted to leave my things there and purchase a ticket from the Purser, if possible. I was rebuffed and not in a nice way (maybe they thought of me as just one feeble lolo). So things were no longer the same like when Trans-Asia Shipping Lines still held the Masbate route. Nor was it the same in Mangguino-o port in Calbayog when I rode their ship there to Cebu. So the arrangement is “more advanced” now. Gone was the old provincial port hospitality.

No use arguing with them so I went to their ticketing office outside the port gate. No shipspotting first as want to be ahead of the rest as I fear a big delegation or two might already be ahead of me given that next day was the start of Sinulog week in Cebu. I was the first in line when their office opened at 7am and I was able to get a Lounge ticket. It was my choice because I like the ambience and the space and besides I am a poor sleeper on rides anyway. It was easy except for a snafu as their ticket seller was new. A line was already forming behind me when I got my ticket.

I proceeded next to the newly-opened passenger terminal building (it was not operating before) and I tried to work on the lady guard. I need someone who I can trust my baggage to as I can’t lug it around while I shipspot. I said I need to take breakfast outside (the passenger terminal building has no eateries). She was kind and she took in my baggage. While free of my baggage already, I just took some shots of the port and its ship because my sugar was already dropping down.

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When I was outside the port already, I realized the info I got about Jollibee was bum. I did not like the heavy meals of the eateries near the port. It was then that I decided to take a risk of missing two ferry arrivals and a few fastcraft and motor banca departures. I wanted to see the new Gaisano mall which had a Bigg’s restaurant (the Bicol competitor of Jollibee which is more than their equal). It was somewhat near the market and the other Masbate port and bus terminal. I wanted to visit those places again because it will add to my Masbate photo collection and besides it had been sometime that I was there. It was also my intention to eat a farewell meal at Bigg’s since that is not available in Cebu and Mindanao.

I ate a fast breakfast at Bigg’s mindful that the ferries will arrive anytime. I was not mistaken coz going out of Gaisano I already saw buses from Manila rolling, the telltale sign that a ferry had already arrived. Nothing I can do anymore and so I just asked my tricycle driver to bring me to the Masbate bus terminal. On the way there we passed by the Masbate public market which is practically just across the street.

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The buses and commuter vans of Masbate fascinated me. Rarely do I see them and their spread is already the story of about the latest in Masbate land transportation. Adjacent to the bus terminal by the sea is the fishport, fish landing area and municipal port of Masbate. I found there the Burias motor bancas and other motor bancas aside from the fishing bancas of Masbate. I was lucky one Burias motor banca was already maneuvering to depart. The Burias motor bancas have a slightly different design from the other Masbate bancas.

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The other port of Masbate and the Burias motor bancas

It was just functional spotting there and I did not stay long although I was tempted to ride a van to Aroroy and ship spot there. But I thought if I did that I will miss a lot more in Masbate port and it is possible that when I come back most of the ROROs of Masbate port will have left already. But had I known then that there was a cheap Island Shipping LCT that leaves in the afternoon in Cawayan my plans might have been different (but that was no longer possible as I have already a Cokaliong ticket and I also wanted to ride the Filipinas Ozamis which I have not ridden before).

Back in port, I found the lady guard was really kind and accommodating. She agreed to take care of my things until her shift ends. By this time the port terminal building was beginning to get full of people as they force even the bus passengers to pass through it when actually short-distance ROROs are almost always ready for boarding. The building was already hot and stuffy as it has a bad airconditioning design and some aircon units were not working. Add to that people coming and going with the doors open.

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It was then that I made a full survey of the port. I noticed that the ferries Jack Daniel and Nelvin Jules of Sta. Clara Shipping were already docked there along with a small fastcraft of Montenegro Lines (it seems it had an early departure in Pilar given that at dawn there was no more RORO waiting there). Of course, passenger-cargo motor bancas from Pilar and Ticao island have already arrived too. Although there were some small crafts departures already this was the time (as in before 10am) that Masbate port is becoming already full. From 10am there will begin the RORO departures starting with Montenegro and Denica trips to Pilar (the trips to Pio Duran start later).

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The first notable departure I noticed was the fastcraft Lady Jacqueline which serves as the secure transport of a mining firm in Aroroy which fears the NPA (New People’s Army). Aside from personnel that craft is the daily carrier of the supplies sourced from the city. The fastcraft does not take in paying passengers.

This time around I already made up my mind that I will not try anymore to board all the ferries docked. One reason is to conserve my strength. When I try to do that I tend to distress in a few hours. Second, I have to be on guard regarding the vessels arriving and departures (I sometime miss some when I am touring ships). I know that soon the RORO departures will begin. But I also resolved I will try to visit the beautiful Jack Daniel of Sta. Clara Shipping. No member of PSSS (Philippine Ship Spotters Society) has boarded that vessel yet and I will not pass up the chance.

Soon, as expected, starting just before 10am the basic, short-distance ferry-ROROs Maria Angela of Montenegro Lines, the Odyssey of Denica Lines began leaving along with the small fastcraft of Montenegro Lines. And as usual motor bancas to and from Pilar and Ticao will arrive and depart along with small motor bancas from the other side of Masbate Bay. There was also a Burias motor banca that passed which emanated from the municipal port of Masbate. This was the time that the vessels in Masbate port will begin “thinning”.

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Two ROROs and a cargo in styropor boxes

As usual, docked in the port were a few freighters. In Masbate, freighters usually load copra and they use hoppers aboard trucks for that for ease in unloading (it will just be hooked by the boom of the ship). If the cargo is inbound to Masbate, it will most likely be cement. All other inbound supplies from Masbate is usually trucked. If the truck is outbound it might be carrying livestock as Masbate is known for that. In the bay, there were freighters anchored as usual, waiting.

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One prominent loose cargo that will be seen in Masbate are frozen fish and crustacean that are in styropor boxes. This comes from Sorsogon and it passes through Pilar port. Pilar and Sorsogon Bay is known for crustaceans. Some of the products are crab meat for the consumption of Cebu (most likely a crab omelet). If it is fish, it is the high-value kind which they call “isdang-bato”. Some of these are even for export. If there is a ship for Cebu like that day they will load it onboard. Otherwise, it will be loaded in the ferries in Cataingan port in the southeastern side of Masbate island. This port has connections to Bogo City and Cebu City.

When I came back to the port, there was still buses from Manila going out of the port bound for the far towns of Masbate like Aroroy, Balud, Esperanza and Pio V. Corpus. But soon all the many buses in the port are Manila-bound buses already. Many of them are early for their ships and their passengers contribute to the overflow inside the passenger terminal. It was still peak season and the buses were all full. Those who cannot be accommodated board the vessels bound for Pilar. There will be buses for Manila waiting there like my ride to Pilar.

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Jack Daniel lounge

When the sun was getting high I decided to take a break walking the length of the port by visiting the Jack Daniel. I did this before the lunchtime departures of the ferries began. I had an easy access and I went up immediately to the passenger deck. Her lounge and tourist was magnificent by short-distance RORO standards. Even the color motif was beautiful. At the back of it and at the bridge level there was the usual Economy section. The latter was the one we saw being built when PSSS first saw her in Nagasaka Shipyard.

I was able to talk with the Captain who is Alexander Saplat. He told me he was already the Captain way back in Nagasaka Shipyard and I was amazed when he told me they finished the painting of the ship in Pantao port (to nowhere) because it is cheaper to dock a ship there. He said the Niigata main engines are still good but they have a problem with an auxiliary. I told him his ship for its size has the biggest engine and highest design speed in the Philippines. However, in the Masbate-Pio Duran route they just aim for a three-and-a-half hour sailing time. It seems her good lounge will be appreciated for that voyage. Maybe that is the reason why they keep the ship there. It won’t be appreciated much in the one-hour-ten-minute sailing time between between Allen and Matnog.

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There were three Montenegro fastcrafts which I saw in Masbate Port. One is a small one and then the fastcraft City of Sorsogon. What attracted me, however, was the fastcraft City of Angeles that is the newest fastcraft of Montenegro Lines which I haven’t seen before. She was just the size of the City of Sorsogon.

At lunchtime the Maria Sophia of Montenegro Lines, the Marina Empress of Denica Lines left to be followed by Nelvin Jules of Sta. Clara Shipping which is still sporting the old blue and white livery of the company. We all took notice when she stopped at the middle of Masbate Bay still near the port. Soon we noticed a motor banca sidled with her. It turned out that a well-wisher was aboard when she departed. The motor banca then docked not for from us and soon a Montero SUV was flying inside the port (it was the fastest drive ever I saw inside a port). The driver must still be fuming.

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Nelvin Jules disembarking a well-wisher

Had a field day taking photos in Masbate port. I was so busy I decided to forego lunch and just relied on knick-knacks. Hard to go outside when one knows about four vessels will be departing around lunchtime and all the time buses (which I take shots of) were being loaded aboard.

I used the port terminal building to get some respite from the sun and have some rest. I registered a complaint to the highest official around that the airconditioning is not sufficient. He said even the Masbate local authorities have already complained but the Philippine Ports Authority (PPA) has not acted on the matter. I said that they should discount their fees then. Their terminal fee is even higher than the port of Cebu when that port even supplies free shuttle and the airconditioning and seats are good.

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I also found another issue inside the port terminal. I noticed that the area reserved for kids with a playpen which is also the cooler portion of the terminal building was being occupied by Coast Guard men and their K-9 dog. Without much ado, I asked them to leave and they did (I prefaced it with the fact that they are college graduates hence should be act educated). After that some kids and a few adults used the place. The highest-ranking official of the port was there all the time and he did nothing and it seems that practice has been going on for some time. A Coast Guardsman went back and we had a polite but not a dry talk. Maybe it was the first time they faced someone like me. I said the Filipinos have a legacy of martial law in their brains – usually they can’t complain if across him was a man in uniform with guns.

The last ferry that was scheduled to leave Masbate port was the Jack Daniel. But past its ETD of 4pm I noticed she was still docked although most of her load was already inside her RORO deck. They said they were still waiting for some buses. Buses have contracts with ROROs in Bicol and it will not leave until all buses it should load were already accounted for. This reserved slot, this waiting for them is what new-to-intermodal private car owners do not understand in the intermodal system. It usually infuriates them because they thought everything is “first come, first served”. They don’t understand the the system of reservations works anywhere and everywhere.

By this time nearing late afternoon the only passengers left at the passenger terminal building were the passengers bound for Cebu. If one arrives he is immediately asked it he is for Pio Duran and if yes they will immediately tell him to go direct to the ship. With two ferries left and fastcrafts done for the day and just a few buses and cars inside the port there was no longer the bustle and the hubbub of the peak hours. Together with the sun beginning to dim I already feel a pang of loneliness inside the port. I went out. The pall is the same there. The business of the port for the day was drifting to a close. Even the kind lady guard was no longer around.

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I was charging my camera batteries and it so happened the young lady near the outlet turned out she was from Rinconada (and a Cebu student) and we had a talk. She was not able to get a good accommodations because she was rather late in arriving because she just took the 6am van to Legazpi and so she arrived at mid-afternoon. It was her usual ride, a ride I do not take for twice it resulted in photo finishes years before. But it seems the Montenegro fastcraft have turned around some things. But still it cannot be the ride for me because if I arrive at 2pm or 3pm most of the ROROs except one will be gone already and that is shipspotting failure already (shows what shipspotters have to endure at times as in this case in have to take a midnight ride).

Boarded my ship before 5pm with the lady student. That was the most we can do with our charging in the terminal. I tried to notice the crew if Cokaliong is different. Nope, as one told me before, there are no more able-bodied seamen now. Just all apprentices or interns. Made my first round, a quick one of the Filipinas Ozamis. I was glad I had a good accommodation as the ship was nearly full. Took my first shots of the inside of the ship before it got too dark. I may not have that chance when we reach Cebu.

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No good meal

I went out of the port again to my dinner outside before it became dark. I noticed the Jack Daniel was still there and she was already one-a-half hours past her departure time. I was intrigued and so I visited her again even though she lies at the farther part of the port. I asked around. They were still waiting for three buses of Mega Bus. This bus being trounced already by competition is already the last bus that leaves their destinations. I hope some passengers were not stewing.

Our ETD was 7pm so there was really no rush in my meal. But I was surprised that when I came back the Jack Daniel was still there. The port was already dark by then and there was not much activity anymore except near the two ferries remaining, our Filipinas Ozamis and the Jack Daniel. Filipinas Ozamis was already rushing her loadings. Nearly all of her passengers were already aboard.

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If they can only load a bus on the roof

I cannot resist going again to Jack Daniel. I asked around again. The Mega Bus buses which the Jack Daniel waited for were already there. But there was a hitch. They can load only two of the buses and passengers of one of the buses were being asked to alight from Jack Daniel. What a horrible development and I pitied the passengers. Usually there are sure slots for the buses as their places are already confirmed hours before they arrived. I thought some Masbate bigshot might have bulldozed his way in.

We left at 7pm and Jack Daniel was still there. I thought it would be smooth for us. But then we circled and the stern ramp was dropped. I thought there was a problem and we will be going back to the port. But then after stopping near the Jack Daniel, our ship then finally departed at about 7:25pm. A passenger asked me what was that all about. I don’t really know so I just joked they must be letting out some bad air.

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Leaving Jack Daniel behind

Made a tour of the ship after boarding again . It was already all night shots and sometimes the result was not good. But I want to do it because usually at Cebu there won’t be a chance anymore. And a tour like this with the ship already sailing and all the passengers onboard telegraphs a different feel. I saw that the lounges near the canteens and the open-air passenger area with tables and seat where the ones the passengers that are not resting were gathered. Filipinas Ozamis does not have the usual restaurant.

Filipinas Ozamis was not that big, I thought. Being full it felt even cramped. I was glad I got the Lounge Class. The lounge itself is not ticketed; it is the jetseater seats that are. So the total space for so few passengers in this class is big. The class accommodations of Filipinas Ozamis is not balanced. Lots of cabins whose total capacity is even bigger than Tourist, I found out in the General Arrangement Plan (GAP). That is why Tourist is almost all sold out while there are vacancies in Cabin. I thought some of the Cabins in the center should have been converted into an additional Tourist section.

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Filipinas Ozamis Lounge class

The ship was clean and our voyage was smooth. Soon I was back in lounge and I noticed the passengers are angling to sleep on the couches. I also did the same and I had a pleasant lie. I noticed few were occupying the jetseaters anyway when actually we are full in that class. The lounge had a wonderful ambience by the way. Very nice if with a group of friends.

Was able to get a reasonably good sleep for my age and I was up in Cebu when we were nearing the Mactan bridges. Once they broadcast to the crew, I will surely be up. I just wished our arrival was some 30 minutes later. Nothing good to capture on my lens even when we were already docking on Pier 1. Sayang. Had we had a late arrival it would have been grand shipspotting. I had enough batteries for that.

I had a good Bicol to Cebu trip via Masbate over-all. I was not that tired as I already learned how to pace myself. The cool weather was also a factor. It was a good shipspotting trip by all means.

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The OVERNIGHT FERRIES in the PHILIPPINES and its BASE PORTS

written by Mike Baylon

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

Cebu Ships at Ozamiz Port
Overnight Ferries ©Mark Ocul

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

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

Trans-Asia 10 ©James Gabriel Verallo

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

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

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

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

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

Magnolia Fragrance
Magnolia Fragrance ©Mike Baylon

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

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

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

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

Outer wharf of Zamboanga port
Zamboanga International Port ©Mike Baylon

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

Batangas International Port ©Michael Gutib

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

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

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

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

MV May Lilies ©Irvine Kinea

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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