The Passenger-Cruiser Shipping Company That Won’t Sink

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It is really true that nowadays a cruiser ship really can’t compete with a RORO ship. Since cargo is the main source of revenue and loading vehicles is the biggest source of revenue, it cannot be overemphasized that the loose cargo loaded on cruiser ships will seem paltry compared to what can be loaded by a RORO ship. The cargo holds of cruiser ships are actually even smaller than that of the car/cargo decks of RORO ships. Plus, a RORO ship can load and unload faster as they can use forklifts while in cruisers it is still mano-mano. I am talking here mainly of overnight ships.

In Cebu, I noticed there are only three ferry companies still operating an all-cruiser fleet – Lapu-Lapu Shipping Lines, Gabisan Lines (and Gabisan has already acquired ROROs which are not sailing yet as of the time of the writing of this article) and South Pacific Transport Company. In Zamboanga, the ratio of cruiser ships to the whole ferry fleet is better as Zamboanga is still a cruiser ship stronghold if Moro boats are included in the count. In all other places of the country, the cruiser ships are a dying breed. They are just following the wakes of the motor boats (the lanchas and batels) into obsolescence and death.

Outside of Zamboanga, there are no more cruiser ships that arrived in the recent years. In Cebu, the last time one was launched was when the former cruiser ship Honey was remodeled to become the Lapu-lapu Ferry 8. Meanwhile, LCTs just keep on multiplying in Cebu and LCTs whether it is just pure cargo or ROPAX are also ROROs.

The three mentioned cruiser shipping companies in Cebu won’t probably sink anytime soon. They are after all the survivors now and all are resilient. But one, the last-mentioned, the South Pacific Transport is the one that will not sink in any event. The reason? The owner of South Pacific Transport is an established shipyard in Tayud, the Fortune ShipWorks which also owns a cargo shipping company, the Fortune Sea Carrier, Inc.

South Pacific Transport has only two ships, the South Pacific and the Fiji – II and both are small cruiser ships. Fortune ShipWorks, the main company, were the builders of the two. The ships have only one route, the Cebu-Bato (Leyte) route and the two ships alternate to maintain a daily voyage. A few years ago, South Pacific Transport tried a route to Cabalian (Southern Leyte) but it did not last long. The van and bus extensions to Cabalian and beyond of the competing ferries to Hilongos can no longer be beaten.

South Pacific was the first one to be built, in 1975. This ferry measures 38.5 meters by 7.3 meters by 2.2 meters with a gross tonnage of 230. Her net tonnage is 115 and the DWT is 300 tons. The passenger capacity is 302 spread over two passenger decks. This ship is an overnight ferry with bunks in just a single Economy class. The amenities are basic but the fare is cheap.

The ship has a raked stem and a cruiser stern with just one mast and a single funnel. The South Pacific is powered by a single Isuzu marine engine of 500 horsepower and the ship has a top speed of 13 knots. The permanent ID of the ship is IMO 8428002 and her Call Sign is DYFQ. She has no MMSI Number.

Meanwhile, Fiji – II came in 1982. She measures 37.9 meters by 6.7 meters by 2.9 meters and her gross tonnage is just 180. The ship has a net tonnage of 111. Her passenger capacity is 300 which is almost the same as that of South Pacific and that is also spread over two decks. The ship as an overnight ferry is also equipped with bunks in a single, no-frills Economy class.

The two ships have similarities in the superstructures and like the South Pacific the Fiji – II has a raked stem, a cruiser stern and a single mast and funnel. However, this ship is equipped by a single 500-hp Cummins engine which gives the same top speed of 13 knots. The permanent ID of Fiji – II is IMO 8426221 and her Call Sign is DUH2039. Like the South Pacific she has no MMSI Number.

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The two ships are still very reliable and still has enough patronage although they are under pressure now by the bigger ship of competitor Medallion Transport, the Lady of All Nations. Two shipping companies can be accommodated by the small town and port of Bato because many of the passengers there are still going to the many other towns of Southern Leyte.

Although Maasin is officially the gateway port of the province, in actuality it is Bato and a port north of Bato, the Hilongos port which are the actual gateways of Southern Leyte. The reason is the shorter distance to Cebu plus the presence of the shortcut mountain road from Bato to Tomas Oppus town of Southern Leyte which brings the passengers faster by vans and buses to the towns along Sogod Bay and beyond. This combination of ferry and van actually sunk the ports of Sogod, Liloan and Cabalian which once had direct connections by ferry to Cebu, their main commercial and educational center.

Maybe such characteristic of Bato helps preserve the viability of South Pacific Transport to Bato when the like of Maypalad Shipping which had routes to Sogod and Liloan had already given up a few years ago. The ship to Cabalian has been gone much earlier.

Will South Pacific Transport last? An officer of theirs told me their ships will sail as long as the owners want them to for they have no problem in maintenance as they have their own shipyard. And also implied maybe is the owners have other sources of revenues like the other shipping company.

Will South Pacific Transport junk their cruisers and get ROROs in place of them? Now only the owners of the company can answer that, of course. Whatever, there is no question that they can afford to buy ROROs because as shown in their cargo ships, they can continuously buy additional ones.

I just hope Southern Pacific Transport don’t give up their cruisers and continue to maintain them sailing even for the memories and for history’s sake.

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The LADY MARY JOY 3

In the current era when cruisers were no longer in vogue and fast disappearing, there is still one ferry proudly flying the cruiser flag, the Lady Mary Joy 3 of Aleson Shipping Corporation. Actually, she is even the best and fastest ferry of her company which owns the biggest shipping fleet based in Zamboanga City. Lady Mary Joy 3 might be a non-RORO cruiser but funnily her stern is transom! For Aleson Shipping she holds the premier route of western Mindanao, the Zamboanga City-Jolo, Sulu route. With her speed, she is always the first arrival in either port and arrivals of 2am is not uncommon which means a traverse time of just 6 hours for the 93-nautical mile route. That converts to a actual cruising speed of 15.5 knots with allowance for speeding up and slowing down.

Lady Mary Joy 3 ©Mike Baylon

Lady Mary Joy 3 was born as the Daito in Japan with the IMO Number 9006760. She was owned by Daito Kaiun which provides the shipping connection to Daito islands in the Ryukyus. She was built by Yamanaka Shipbuilding Co. in their Namitaka shipyard and was launched in February of 1990 and completed in April of the same year. Her Length Over-all (LOA) is 73.0 meters and the Length Between Perpendiculars (LBP) is 67.0 meters with a Beam of 11.0 meters which means she is a narrow ship, a reflection of her not being a RORO and being of cruiser design. The ship had an original Gross Tonnage (GT) of 699 nominal tons and a Deadweight Tonnage (DWT) of 852 nominal tons. She is powered by twin Niigata marine diesel engines developing a total of 4,000 horsepower giving her a service speed of 17 knots when new. Lady Mary Joy 3 has a semi-bulbous stem and tall center mast.

Daiko ©Wakanatsu

In the year 2011 when the new replacement Daito came, the old Daito was sold to Aleson Shipping Lines of the Philippines. She was refitted while anchored off Zamboanga port  and Paseo del Mar park and two passenger decks were added astern of the funnel and another scantling was built between the bridge and the funnel which raised her passenger capacity to 500 which is just enough for the Zamboanga City-Jolo route. The cargo deck at her bow was retained but the cargo deck beneath the old passenger deck was converted into an additional Tourist section.

Refitting process ©Mike Baylon

Lady Mary Joy 3 actually has three passenger decks. The lowest which has no opening at the sides is the aforementioned additional airconditioned Tourist section. At the second deck at the front are Cabins and the original Tourist accommodations. Astern of that behind the funnel is Economy and dividing the front and the rear of the second deck is an original Japan lounge with a small front desk. The third and uppermost deck at the bridge level are all Economy which also includes the ship canteen or kiosk.

Cabin Row of the vessel ©Mike Baylon
Tourist Section ©Mike Baylon
Lounge ©Mike Baylon

With additional scantlings the GT of the ship rose to 835 nominal tons and her new Net Tonnage (NT) is 568 tons with a Depth of 5.3 meters and a Draught of 4.11 meters. Her Estimated Time of Departure (ETD) in either direction is 8pm, a very convenient post-dinner departure time. With a pre-dawn arrival this affords passengers travelling beyond Zamboanga City an early start. Those not inclined to go down early can opt to sleep further (a traditional ship courtesy) but visiting the ship at dawn I found almost all the passengers to be off already.

Not being an old ship, Lady Mary Joy 3 is still fast and very reliable and she easily outguns the other cruisers and Moro boats in her route. She might not be a RORO    but that is not much a concern to the company as her pair in the route is a RORO ship. When I last visited Zamboanga City, she was easily the cleanest ship in the Zamboanga City-Jolo route. Though the best ship in the route her fares are comparable to her competitors and this makes her a popular ship for the travelers in this area.

In her current state it looks like many, many years of service can still be expected of her. In fact, it seems she is simply starting.

Lady Mary Joy 3 ©Mike Baylon

WHEN IS A RORO VIABLE?

This article was originally posted on the old PSSS Website, and is reposted for archive purposes. No changes are made, including grammatical changes.

Written by Mike Baylon

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ROROs (Roll On, Roll Off ships) have long been viable as connectors of our major islands in the last three-and-a-half decades. All our big and medium islands have been connected already along with a few minor islands. One major factor for this was the completion of good roads in the major islands. With good roads the vehicle density then correspondingly shot up.

With good roads the cargo jeeps, trucks and the buses rolled along the new intermodal sea lanes. The sedans, AUVs and pick-ups soon followed. The booming of trucks was helped by the entry of surplus units in the free ports while financing for buses became easier with the availability of more money during the economic recovery. Versatile and fast wing van trucks also arrived and these became serious competitors to container shipping especially since they can depart daily and at any hour and need not queue in the North Harbor. Refrigerated trucks, too, revolutionized how we moved goods from place to place and they carried a variety from sea foods to processed or fresh meat to fresh produce and fruits.

M/V Odyssey loading a wingvan truck. ©Mike Baylon

RORO connection from Luzon to Samar and Leyte up to Mindanao immediately became successful and later connection from Luzon to Mindoro and Panay became  viable too. RORO connections between the main Visayan islands of Leyte, Bohol, Cebu, Negros and Panay also took off early. Soon there came also the connection of Negros and Bohol to Mindanao. In later years we also saw RORO connections to Alabat, Marinduque, Masbate, Catanduanes, Palawan, Cuyo, Guimaras, Bantayan, Siquijor, Camiguin, Siargao, Samal, Olutanga, Basilan and Jolo islands and the Romblon, Calamian, Camotes and Tawi-tawi groups of islands.

A privately-owned port. Click to open full-size to better appreciate the details. ©Mike Baylon

Not too long ago there was a push to connect smaller islands by RORO with MARINA  offering “missionary route” status to entrants. Along with a host of incentives, this status conferred to entrants exclusivity in the route and other and protection from entry of competitors in nearby connections up to a distance of 50 kilometers away. MARINA even produced feasibility studies made by foreign shipping experts with doctorate degrees but who have no knowledge of local shipping to support this project. But alas, as expected their recommendations bombed as in the ROROs stopped sailing and transferred routes because as they say in analytics it is “garbage in, garbage out”.

This way of thinking was exacerbated by a Ph.D thesis of someone who has no knowledge of shipping who did a paper on the state of competition in the Philippine shipping industry. The basic thesis was the assumption that if in a route there are only one or two competitors then “there is lack of competition”. The lady never thought some routes can barely support a ship and years later many routes she thought “lacks competition” are actually already gone or the shipping company or companies serving then are already bankrupt or defunct now. In actuality, one thing the so-called local “experts” in shipping and the government do not understand is the short-distance ROROs are actually eating up the market of the liner and even the overnight ferry sector including container shipping.

A law professor who has no background in shipping who headed a maritime agency also pushed LCTs (Landing Craft Transports)to connect small islands and coastal barrios in the interest of safety. This never really took off as motor bancas can land anywhere while LCTs can’t in the main (they still need wharves) and passengers and traders prefer point-to-point service rather than a single LCT covering many coastal barrios and minor islands that will result in delay. Nor did the lady lawyer understand that coastal island or small island people travel at dawn especially if they have catch to sell and if there is no passenger-cargo motor banca then fishing bancas will do the trip and they will not wait for an LCT that will still drop by many points. Maybe she also didn’t know that motor bancas are faster than LCTs in cruising speed. She maybe did not reckon also that LCTs consumed much more fuel than a motor banca and so what will be a viable route for a motor banca might not be so for an LCT. Finally, an LCT will cost in the mid-8-figure money while a motor banca will cost much less than a million and if a trader has mid-8-figure money he would probably not be living in a coastal barrio or a remote town.

LCT being built. Currently LCT St. Brendan. ©Mike Baylon

What makes a RORO route successful? I think the main determinants in this are the number of population and economic activity of the island including tourism. This is assuming there is no competitor route halving patronage or parallel routes dividing the market.

The magic number needed for viable RORO operation, in my observation, is between 50,000 and 100,000 and depending too on economic activity and tourism. There are some islands which have a population of 100,000 but cannot support a RORO and examples of these are Polillo and Dinagat islands. Located in far-flung places, there is really not that much economic activity in those islands. Meanwhile, the similarly-sized Siargao island in the same place as Dinagat can support a RORO because of its tourism.  The island-provinces of Guimaras, Siquijor and Camiguin which all have about 100,000 in population are able to support ROROs especially being independent provinces there is more money from the national government pouring in. if the tourism is stronger like in Camiguin (where the abundance of lanzones does not hurt) then there are more ROROs. Population in Marinduque, Palawan, Catanduanes and Masbate is even bigger. And Jolo island, the main island of the province of Sulu and Bongao island, main island of Tawi-tawi, both have populations well in excess of 100,000.

Lipata Port. Click to view full-size. ©Mike Baylon

Samal, Bantayan and Camotes, all islands which are not provinces, all have 100,000 people and tourism too especially in the first and the second have an egg industry. The population of Tablas is even bigger. Romblon island have ROROs because it is still a gateway to the province, the capital is there and it is the gateway to the nearby Sibuyan island. Romblon island might just have have a population of 40,000 but combined with Sibuyan’s nearly 60,000 the magic number of 100,000 is reached. It is also in this sense why Calamianes can support ROROs. The island group’s population might not reach 90,000 but it has tourism, fish and it is an intermediate point to Palawan and Cuyo.

That brings us to the peculiar cases of the islands of Alabat, Cuyo and Olutanga. Alabat island has a population of just 45,000. Maybe it is the tourism and economic activity which buoys up the place to merit a RORO. Cuyo group of islands has a population of about equal to Alabat and not much short of 50,000 too. Originally cruisers and motor boats (“batel”) served the route and operators maybe just used a RORO as a substitute for a cruiser. Montenegro Shipping, which serves the route from Iloilo and Palawan, likewise has no cruisers.

M/V Catalyn-E ©Mike Baylon

Olutanga island, meanwhile, which has about the same population of Alabat and Cuyo is just very near the mainland. Besides it is the Provincial government which owns and operates the LCT connecting the island as a public service. And that brings us to the case of the small islands of Sibutu and Simunul which have an LCT too. Same case, it is the Provincial Government which owns and operates the LCT. And by that what I imply is the service is not a strictly commercial service. The case of Cagraray island in Albay is somewhat similar. The operator of the classy resort Misibis Bay fielded an LCT so that vehicles can cross – for more patronage. It didn’t hurt that the resort owners were already LCT operators previously (but the LCT is already withdrawn now as the bridge connecting the island is already operational).

Among island-municipalities it is only Samal (which is a city) that I know can support a RORO. All others cannot, historically, so it is puzzle to me why the previous administration pushed for ROROs in these places and it even built ports with RORO ramps to support that (well, that administration was infamous for building “ports to nowhere”).

Caliclic Wharf ©Mike Baylon

Can islands with two towns without much economic activity support a RORO? I have not seen it in the cases of Burias, Buad (in Samar) and Dumaran (in Palawan) islands. Lubang island with two towns was able to support a RORO before but with the advent of motor bancas in a competitor route from Nasugbu, Batangas, the RORO lost. It remains to be seen if Atienza Shipping will be successful in reinstating the RORO there. It might be if Lubang is used a midway point to a longer route.

Ticao island with four towns and a population of over 50,000 cannot support a RORO. There is also no RORO now to the Batanes. There is also no RORO doing coastal barrio routes like in the southern Bicol coast which has no road or in the Samar Sea linking the island-towns there.  That is also the case in the many small islands between Basilan and Jolo and the Babuyan islands in Cagayan and the Polillo group of islands. MARINA (Maritime Industry Authority) should really do empirical studies first before pushing for RORO routes and not just hypothesize from their air-conditioned offices.

Maybe in the future when economic activity rises and the disposable income of the peoples there improve significantly our island-towns and other small islands might have a RORO of their own. But until that happens it will still be the motor bancas which will do the job and that might still be for a long while.

Motor Bancas of Surigao. Click to view full-size. ©Mike BaylonBASI