The Lite Ferry 16

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The Lite Ferry 16 one week before the fire. Photo by Mark Edelson Idulsa Ocul of PSSS.

The other night, on August 27, 2019, the Lite Ferry 16 suffered an engine room fire while in the waters of Dapitan City and nearing already the port of Pulauan. The reference point used was Tag-ulo Point. Pulauan port is located on a J-shaped cove and Tag-ulo Point, some 1.5 nautical miles from the port is where a ship turns from a northward heading to a westward heading if going to Zamboanga from Pulauan like what Zamboanga Ferry used to do then. The remaining question was how far Lite Ferry 16 was that from that point when she lost power.

Witnesses said there was an explosion and electricity was lost just before that. The fire did not engulf the whole ship as it was mainly contained in the engine room but the part of the superstructure over that was affected too and so all the passengers could do was to gather at the forward portion of the ship that is basically an LCT in design which means the forward part have no structure above the car deck. Crowding the area were the various loaded vehicles and so some passengers jumped into the water. The ramp was deployed to increase the area were passengers can gather.

The fire started at 12:30am and three hours have to pass before any rescue came in the form of a FastCat from Dumaguete that was also headed to Pulauan port. There was no Coast Guard ship that arrived and the Coast Guard itself said that their nearest big patrol boat was in Cagayan de Oro which is almost the same distance as Cebu. The passengers complained of it and it has been my wonder for a long time now why the big Coast Guard ships are being used as “floating offices” in the big cities and ports where there are a lot of ships that can help while busy sea lanes where accident can happen have no Coast Guard ships except for very small ones. Like when Maharlika II distressed, the nearest Coast Guard detachment in Benit, San Ricardo, Southern Leyte just had an oar-powered launch. In Pulauan, usually there is no tug there that can assist in case of fire. But I wonder if there were no other ships docked then in Pulauan port that can come to the rescue of the passengers of Lite Ferry 16.

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The Lite Ferry 16 when she was newly-arrived in 2015. Photo by Mike Baylon of PSSS.

The Lite Ferry 16 is not a new ship (well, that kind is still rare in the Philippines). She arrived for Lite Ferries in mid-2015 and she was formerly a Hainan ferry that connected that island-province to the China mainland and she was originally built in 1995. The ferry was refitted in Ouano using Afloat Sea Repair (ASR) and that took nearly a year. The basic structure was preserved although a lot of metal was replaced. They also took out the engines and installed in place of it two brand-new Weichai diesel engines. I am not sure which company really owns her as Lite Ferries have three legal-fiction companies. An early communique said she belonged to Danilo Lines but when I checked the MARINA database of 2017, it said she belonged to Sunline Shipping Corporation.

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The old engine of Lite Ferry 16. Photo by James Gabriel Verallo of PSSS.

The ship was average in size for an overnight ferry at 64.6 meters x 16.0 meters and 992 gross tons but her passenger capacity is not big owing to having an LCT design. For most time, she holds the Samboan, Cebu to Pulauan, Dapitan route, a route pioneered by Lite Ferries which is a direct route from Cebu island to Mindanao that bypasses Dumaguete port in Negros island. The voyage usually takes six hours and she usually leaves Samboan at 7 in the night with a return trip the next morning.

As of now the fire in Lite Ferry 16 is already out and she is floating in Pulauan Bay. Her condition is actually repairable. If they do that, I do not know if they will try to change the superstructure so she will resemble less her former silhouette. She will most likely not head to the breakers as we are too considerate and sentimental of our ships. We actually have ferries that are still sailing that have already seen the bottom of the sea. What happened to Lite Ferry 16 is a minor mishap compared to that.

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Photo by Czed Flores.

However, Lite Ferries should pay more attention to their ships. It was not that long ago that another ship of theirs was also hit by an engine room fire, the Lite Ferry 28. The passengers of that were luckier as the ship was already very near the Taloot port of Argao, Cebu and another ship, the LCT Miami was immediately able to rescue the passengers of Lite Ferry 28. The circumstances of the Lite Ferry 16 and Lite Ferry 28 incidents are eerily similar, an engine room near the end of the voyage.

Now, let us just wait for the formal investigation that will determine what really happened in Lite Ferry 16.

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A Quartet of Sister Ships

The Lite Ferry 1 and Lite Ferry 2 of Lite Ferries, the Maria Helena of Montenegro Shipping Lines Inc. and the Danica Joy of Aleson Shipping Lines share one thing in common which is a common hull design making them all as sister ships. The four were built in different yards and in different years and they have different engines but they share the same superstructure too making them similar from afar though many do not realize that immediately. They also sailed at one time not far from each other and some might even have met in Dumaguete port.

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Among the four, it was Omogo which came first to the Philippines in 1987 from Setonaikai Kisen KK of Hiroshima, Japan to become the Danilo 1 of Danilo Lines. The Sensui Maru of the same Japan company followed in 1989 and she became the Danilo 2 of Danilo Lines. Actually, the two are among our early ferries, a product of the right bet of Danilo Lines on ROROs when they connected the ports of San Carlos and Toledo across the Tanon Strait dividing Negros and Cebu islands. When Danilo Lines was acquired by Lite Shipping Corporation, Danilo 1 became the Lite Ferry 1 and Danilo 2 became the Lite Ferry 2. Officially, however, the two ships still belong to Danilo Lines which was not dissolved yet but everybody knows now they are under Lite Ferries and other ships of Lite Ferries periodically relieve them now in the route and sometimes the two ships are assigned other routes of Lite Ferries.

The third to arrive in the country was the Danica Joy and she was one of the early ROROs of Aleson Shipping Lines when she came in 1994. The last to arrive was the Maria Helena which only came in 2004 after a stint in China with the Qingdao Ferry. Belonging to different companies, the quartet of sister ships have different home ports, the Lite Ferries in Cebu, Danica Joy in Zamboanga and the Maria Helena in Batangas.

Among the four, three were built in 1969 which are the two Lite Ferries and the Maria Helena. The Danica Joy, meanwhile was built in 1972. The Lite Ferry 1 was built by Kanda Zosensho in Kure yard, Japan. The Lite Ferry 2, though having the same owner in Japan was built by a different shipyard in the same year. She was built by Matsuura Tekko in Higashino yard, Japan.

Meanwhile, the Maria Helena was built as the Yanai by Nakamura Shipbuilding and Engineering Works in Yanai yard, Japan for Boyo Kisen KK of Yanai, Japan. She went to China as the Lu Jiao Du 1 in 1993. Lastly, the Danica Joy was built as the Nakajima by Nakamura Zosen in Matsue yard, Japan. [Note: Danica Joy is the same ship as the earlier Danica Joy 1.]

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Photo by James Gabriel Verallo

Lite Ferry 1 has the permanent ID IMO 7005530. Lite Ferry 2 has the permanent ID IMO 6926969. That means her keel was laid ahead of Lite Ferry 1. Maria Helena is also identified as IMO 7535274 and Danica Joy is IMO 7852414. I do not know why the IMO Numbers of Maria Helena and Danica Joy are out of sequence.

The four are not basic, short-distance ferry-ROROs but belongs to the next class higher which are over 40 meters in length (in fact, just below 50 meters LOA). The distinguishing characteristic of the four is the rectangular box at the front or bow of the ship which serves as protection for rain, sea splash and rogue waves. The four looks rectangular from the sides. All except Danica Joy have full two passenger decks here and a single car deck (Danica Joy just have a partial second passenger deck).

The car decks of the four have three lanes and four trucks or buses can be accommodated in each lane (more if it is sedans, SUVs or jeeps). Originally and until now, the four have RORO ramps at the bow and at the stern although all basically just use the stern ramp now for handling rolling cargo hence they dock stern-wise.

All the four have combined bunks and seats so all can be used either as a short-distance RORO or as an overnight ship. All have an airconditioned Tourist class and the usual open-air Economy class. The size of the Tourist class varies among the four, however and so do the passenger capacity. Maria Helena has the smallest passenger capacity among the four at only 310 passengers.

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Maria Helena by John Carlos Cabanillas

The gross tonnage (GT) of Maria Helena might be a little bloated at over 1,000, a pattern I noticed among ships that passed through China (if it is compared to its Japan GT). Meanwhile, the GT of the three others might be a little understated because it was practically unchanged from the Japan GT (when scantlings were added to ships). Until now, the Philippines have no true reliable GT figures (because MARINA does not know how to compute that?).

The four sister ships are equipped with a pair of Daihatsu marine main engines. Three have a total of 2,000 horsepower but the Lite Ferry 2 only has a total of 1,700 horsepower making it the slowest at 13 knots when new. Lite Ferry 1 was capable of 13.5 knots when new while the two others were capable of 14 knots when new. Realistically, they are only capable now of 11-12 knots given their age and the additional metal. Some might even sail at just 10 knots given the demand of the route.

The quartet all have raked bows and transom sterns. All have two masts and two funnels at the sides. However, only Lite Ferry 1 and Lite Ferry 2 have stern passenger ramps which is a trademark of Cebu overnight ferries. This design does not interfere with the car or cargo loading of the ship. This is not possible with Maria Helena because she has no full scantling.

The four have no permanent assigned routes. The nearest to having a permanent route is the Danica Joy in the Dumaguete-Dapitan (Pulauan) route where she was the first short-distance RORO with bunks. Montenegro Lines always rotate their ships but for a time Maria Helena was always in the Bogo-Cataingan route. Meanwhile, Lite Ferries always rotate their ships every so few months.

These four are all starting to advance in years now. However, all are still very reliable. Their metal seems to be still good too. So I don’t see them quitting anytime soon as all are still good ferries especially in the short routes, the routes that loads a dozen vehicles and a few hundred passengers.

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If there is anything that will kill them it will be the wrong proposal being pushed now by some quarters to retire ferries that are over 35 years in age. As if safety in ships is determined by the age of the ships when empirically it is not. Actually, it is vested interests and not just concern for safety that is fueling that push.

Anyway, I hope to see this quartet continue to sail for many more years. They are still capable ferries.

Note: It is possible that Ruby-1 or Ruby-2 of Alexis Shipping that plied the Batangas-Calapan route is also a sister ship of the four. But they are already missing.