The Basic, Short-Distance Ferry-ROROs of the Batangas-Calapan Route

Basic, short-distance ferry-ROROs are generally the smallest ROROs one can find. They generally average only 30 meters in length and their breadth are generally 10 meters or less. Being basic, they only have a single ramp for vehicles at the front and this is maneuvered by simply hoisting or lowering it through chains and so it cannot compensate for low tide situations. This bow ramp also doubles as the entry and exit of the passengers. The front of the ship has no scantling and so in rainy weather the rain goes direct to the car deck and making it slippery and wet. It is also a disadvantage for the drivers having their vehicle parked there if it is really raining hard.

This type of RORO has only one car deck and only one passenger deck and usually the bridge or pilot house is on the same level as the passenger deck. The basic, short-distance ferry-RORO as refitted here might have two accommodation classes as in an open-air Economy section in the rear and an airconditioned Tourist section at the front which is usually the former sole passenger accommodation in Japan. If that is the case, usually there are benches at the side of the side which is the outside passageway and that is done to increase the passenger accommodation. The Economy section will usually have plastic benches while the seats of the airconditioned Tourist section will usually be foam upholstered seats with no head support. Sometimes fiberglass bucket seats can be found.

Almost all basic short-distance ferry-ROROs have only one engine and it will be 1,000 horsepower at most but in general even less. A few will even have an engine of just 500 horsepower. The most common engine make will be Daihatsu and the usual speed will be 10 to 11 knots which is the common speed too of the common general-purpose cargo ships sailing the Philippine waters.

In Japan, these kind of ferries were classified as “bay and inland ferries” connecting islands/islets or peninsulas of short distance and were expected to be sailing protected waters which means those are waters shielded from the stronger swells of the open seas. That is also the reason why there is no housing at the front of the ship because no rogue waves are expected in their routes in Japan. Some of these ferries will even have windows or openings at the sides and that shows they were really just designed for calm waters.

In the Philippines these ferries will be used even on routes that take several hours. Some were even shoehorned into overnight ferries with bunks and with sailing distances of up to 60 nautical miles and 6 hours of sailing. Talking of make do, that is what we are and that is only a manifestation that we are still a poor country with passengers forgiving the shortcomings of the ferries.

The problem with this is these ferries designed for calm and protected waters are suddenly forced into routes in semi-open waters which we call as “seas”. In order to not get into contradiction because they were “bay and inland” ferries in Japan, our maritime regulatory agency, the MARINA simply renamed the seas where they are sailing into “bays” like the Camotes Sea, the Visayan Sea, the Samar Sea and the Sibuyan Sea were renamed into “Camotes Bay”, “Visayan Bay”, “ Samar Bay” and “Sibuyan Bay”.

The Verde Island Passage that separated Batangas and Mindoro is not really narrow. It is actually a strait where swells can be rough and winds high during the habagat (the southwest monsoon) and it hits the ships there broadside, the worst possible. In the troughs of the high swells it is as if these basic, short-distance ferry-ROROs has been “swallowed” if the observer is far and at sea level. Breaking of the waves really becomes “breaking” where the whole ship shudders and lots of spray are created. Even in bigger ferries this condition results in damages to the loaded vehicles when they scrape against each other or against the bulkhead. Sometimes the wooden stoppers used on the wheels of the vehicles prove not enough.

And yet, two shipping companies regularly use this type of ferry in the Batangas-Calapan route, the Starlite Ferries Inc. and the Besta Shipping Lines Inc. Sometimes, one will also notice this kind of ship bearing the livery of Montenegro Shipping Lines Inc. Normally, the Starlite Polaris and Starlite Nautica of the Starlite Ferries will be running this route. For Besta Shipping it will be their Baleno VII and Baleno Ocho.

Actually, with the fleet of the two mentioned shipping companies they don’t have much choice really unless they dispose of this kind of ship. Even if they bring their basic, short-distance ferry-ROROs to the Batangas-Abra de Ilog route it would be no better as the ferry will still be sailing the same waters, the route is even slightly longer and the seas not any milder. For Starlite Ferries bringing their basic, short-distance ferry-ROROs to their Roxas-Caticlan route would be even worse as a choice for that is a longer route with heavier swells and no island cover along the way unlike in the Batangas-Calapan route where Isla Verde is in the middle and even the “Mag-asawang Pulo” brings some protection. Besta Shipping meanwhile only has the Batangas-Calapan and Batangas-Abra de Ilog routes.

Among the 4 ships, actually Starlite Nautica, Starlite Polaris and Baleno Ocho are true sisters and all were built by Naikai Engineering and Shipbuilding Co. in Japan. The Starlite Nautica and the Starlite Polaris were built in the Taguma shipyard of the company while the Baleno Ocho was built in the Setoda shipyard. Meanwhile, Baleno VII was built by the Tokushima Zosen Sangyo in Fukuoka yard in Japan.

The particulars of the four:

Starlite Nautica

Built in 1985 as the Omishima No.7 of the Omishima Ferry with the ID IMO 8505317. She came to the Philippines in 1999. Her measurements are 35.4 meters by 10.0 meters by 3.1 meters. Her dimensional weights are 284 gross tons and 174 net tons with 138 tons in DWT. She is equipped by a single Daihatsu marine engine of 950 horsepower and top speed is 11 knots.

Starlite Polaris

Built in 1975 as the Ehime No.18 with the ID IMO 8895700. She came to the Philippines into the Safeship Marine Corp. as the Prince Kevin. When the company got defunct after the sinking of the Princess Camille in Romblon this ship was sold to Starlite Ferries. Her measurements are 35.4 meters by 9,9 meters by 3.0 meters. Her dimensional weights are 240 gross tons and 153 net tons. She is equipped by a single Daihatsu marine engine of 950 horsepower and top speed is 11 knots.

Baleno VII

Built in 1982 as the New Takashima with the ID IMO 8217702. She came to the Philippines in 2010. Her measurements are 37.2 meters by 8.4 meters by 2.9 meters. Her dimensional weights are 248 gross tons and 143 net tons with 116 tons in DWT. She is equipped with a single Kubota marine diesel engine of 900 horsepower and top speed is 11 knots.

Baleno Ocho

Built in 1984 as the Geiyo No.7 of the Merchant Marine Hub. Later she was known as the Kanon No.11 and Omishima No.5 of Omishima Ferry. She came to the Philippines in 2005. Her measurements are 39.8 meters by 10.0 meters by 3.1 meters. Her dimensional weights are 243 gross tons and 181 net tons with 155 tons in DWT. She is equipped by a single Daihatsu marine engine of 950 horsepower and top speed is 11 knots.

All four are still sailing reliably. All takes in big buses and big trucks and all four sail in both daytime and nighttime.

There are so many of their kind in the Philippines and their number run into the dozens. Some are even older that these four. Almost all are still alive but some have met accidents too and became maritime hull losses like the Sta. Penafrancia 7, Baleno Nine and the Lady of Carmel.

Hope the four won’t follow them.

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The MV Maria Gloria

When Montenegro Shipping Lines Inc. (MSLI) started they were not operators of RORO ships. Instead they were operators of wooden motor boats which were called batel in the Southern Tagalog area. Their batel fleet then consisted of the MB Don Vicente, the MB Don Francisco and the MB Dona Matilde. The first might have been named for the patriarch and founder Vicente Montenegro. The Montenegro Lines batels were dedicated Batangas-Abra de Ilog ships which means that was their only route. However, normally only two of the three will be sailing the route on any given day. Abra de Ilog is the main entry in the north of the province of Occidental Mindoro up to now because it is the nearest to Batangas City, the gateway to the island of Mindoro.

Suddenly, on September 1994, a RORO ship arrived for Montenegro Lines without notice. This was the MV Maria Gloria, the first ever RORO (Roll-On, Roll Off) ship for Montenegro Lines. The ship was also fielded in the Batangas-Abra de Ilog route and at first it competed with their own batels which means one of them has to give up its schedule for MV Maria Gloria. When that ship arrived it was still the time of the complete dominance in Southern Tagalog of Viva Shipping Lines and its legal fiction companies and they were very jealous of any newcomer including in scheduling. This company used to bully their competition and underhanded tactics are routinely ascribed to them. In fact, they are simply feared and many of their wannabe competitors got bankrupted. So when MV Maria Gloria arrived and she was a RORO, the field Viva Shipping Line is very jealous of, there were questions in Batangas how long she would last.

Well, MV Maria Gloria lasted and in 1996, Montenegro Lines added another ship, the MV Marie Kristina, a small, basic short-distance ferry RORO. In 1997 Montenegro Lines added the MV Maria Angela, the MV Maria Isabel and the MV Marie Teresa. From then on Montenegro Lines was adding ships every year and their route system grew. In 2002, it was the turn of Viva Shipping Lines and cohorts to become bankrupt and they quit sailing routes one by one. Montenegro Lines grew to become the country’s shipping line with the most number of passenger ROROs (albeit they were generally small and mainly running short-distance routes).

MV Maria Gloria is not a short, basic short-distance ferry-RORO. She is a tad bigger at 42.9 meters by 11.0 meters. One characteristic of this type of RORO is they have their bridge or pilot house on a deck above the passenger deck whereas small, basic short-distance ferry-ROROs have their bridge on the same level as the lone passenger deck. MV Maria Gloria has scantling behind her bridge which serves as a short but another passenger deck. And unlike the small, basic short-distance ferry-ROROs which a lone RORO ramp at the bow, she has RORO ramps at the bow and at the stern. Another difference with the small, basic short-distance ferry-ROROs which have only one engine and one propeller, this type have two engines and two propellers (and also two funnels). She also have that square box at the bow which limits the ingress of rain water in the car deck which makes it slippery. It is also a protection against rogue waves coming at the front.

The MV Maria Gloria started as the MV Tenyo Maru in Japan of the Shimabara Tetsudo (“tetsudo” translates to “railway”) and might have been used in the Shimabara Peninsula east of Nagasaki, Japan. This ferry was built by Kanda Shipbuilding Co. in their Kure yard in Japan in 1967 (so she is just short of one year before she turns “golden” or 50). A steel-hulled ship, she has only one mast with a raked stem and a transom stern. She has three RORO lanes in her car deck with an approximate length of 40 meters. The ship has about 400 lane-meters of rolling cargo space. That will be good for about six long trucks and buses at the sides if there is no obstruction and about eight or nine sedans in the middle. However, in loading, seldom is there an ideal combination of rolling cargo load.

The MV Maria Gloria is a two-class accommodation ship with an airconditioned Tourist accommodation at the front of the middle deck with benches. The rest of the passenger accommodations is open-air Economy. All the accommodations are just sitting as the MV Maria Gloria is just used on short-distance routes connecting the near islands. The total passenger capacity of the ship is 413 persons. Her original Gross Register Tonnage (GRT) in Japan was 356 tons but her Gross Tonnage (GT) went down to 267 in the Philippines even though scantlings at the bridge deck were added. The Net Tonnage (NT) is 104 locally and her loading capacity is 140 tons in Deadweight Tonnage (DWT). The ship’s Depth is 2.5 meters which is really not deep.

The MV Maria Gloria is equipped with two 6-cylinder Daihatsu marine diesels with a total of 1,400 horsepower which gives her a top speed of 11.5 knots. She has a normal complement of 24 and her local Call Sign is DUE 2090. Internationally, her permanent ID is IMO 6726668. Originally, in 1994, the ship’s registered owner was Jovanlyn Trading and General Merchandise, an outfit I have not heard of and she was the only ship of that unknown company. In 2000, her ownership was transferred to Montenegro Shipping Lines, Inc. (MSLI). Maybe at the start she was made to look as if she was only chartered.

Montenegro Lines has the long-time custom of rotating their ship assignments every few months or so. And so like here fleet mates, MV Maria Gloria has already been around, so to say, which means she has already run the gamut of the so-many routes of Montenegro Lines. The only routes she has not been to are the eastern seaboard routes of Montenegro Lines and their Iloilo-Palawan route. Most of the time she held Mindoro routes including her original Batangas-Abra de Ilog route. Lately, she is based in Dumaguete port and she is doing the Siquijor route for the company.

From what I heard, Montenegro Lines takes care well of this ship. That is a normal custom for first ships of a company. Of course, there is no connotation here that she is the “flagship” of the company.

With the easiness to change hull plates now and to acquire replacement engine room and bridge machinery, she seems to be destined for a lot more of life. That is also true for the main engine which can easily be replaced now even with brand-new ones like what were done for several ships of the Montenegro Lines fleet. It is really much easier to preserve an old ship now that to acquire an expensive brand-new one. So it seems the “related” Montenegro Lines and Starlite Ferries Inc. have different approaches.

A dozen years from now I expect MV Gloria will still be easily around and sailing. Montenegro Lines is one of the best locally in preserving old ships and it is not their wont to be included in the list of maritime hull losses (they only have one there in the last 22 years).

Long live the MV Maria Gloria!

[Photo Owner: Ramiro Jr. Aranda]