The MV Maria Lolita

The MV Maria Lolita of Montenegro Shipping Lines Inc. (MSLI) is a classic, double-ended RORO that is not too heavily-made up like some which looks like monument ships. The design is straightforward – ramps at both ends and bridge on both ends too (and so she also belongs to what is called in Japan as “double-headed ROROs” or). Since her bridges are far apart she has two masts mounted on the top of each bridge. Looked from its sides MV Maria Lolita looks like the two front sections of a basic, short-distance ferry-RORO fused together.

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The two fused front section look of Maria Lolita (Photo by Carl Jakosalem)

The MV Maria Lolita is actually a beautiful-looking ship to me and rather sexy (has it a connection to the “Lolita” in the movie?). In Japan her name was actually Beauty Noumi or Beauty Nomi depending on the transliteration. I like her superstructure better than the Royal Seal ships of Daima Shipping in Panguil Bay or some of the double-ended ROROs of her company.

The size of MV Maria Lolita approximates that of a basic, short-distance ferry RORO – 43.0 meters Length Over-all, 39.0 meters Length Between Perpendiculars, 11.0 meters Breadth. A little bigger actually that two trucks and a smaller vehicle can be fitted where there are no bulges. Those pockets serve as extra lane in the car deck. In one row four trucks can be fitted and that means a total of eight trucks which is better than the six of the basic, short-distance ferry-RORO. Plus it can still fit in a few smaller, 4-wheel vehicles in some of the vacant spaces.

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The ship has just one passenger deck and a single car deck and in these regards she approximates a basic, short-distance ferry RORO. The old airconditioned passenger section occupies the entire length of the passenger deck as Tourist section and so Montenegro Lines put benches on the sides to serve as the Economy “section”. There was no addition or alteration whatsoever to the superstructure of the ship. There isn’t an area available for that.

The ship is rather fast for her size because though single-engined she was fitted with a 1,400-horsepower Yanmar Marine diesel engine hence she has about 40% more horsepower than most basic, short-distance ferry-ROROs. Her design speed is 14 knots which is much faster than the 10 to 11 knots of the basic, short-distance ferry-ROROs. With that power she was able to overcome the drag of the extra propeller at the front of the ship.

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Double-ended ROROs actually has two propellers at both ends. This design affords the ship not to turn when leaving the port. Though the double-ended RORO has just one engine it has two transmissions. Whichever end is used there is a bridge available for that if it is double-headed which means the ship has two bridges or pilot houses. Actually there are double-ended ROROs which has just one pilot house but it actually has dual controls (steering wheel, instrument panel and other ancillary equipment).

This ferry was built in Japan by Kawamoto Zosensho in Higashino shipyard in 1986. She possesses the permanent ID IMO 8627593 and the local Call Sign is DUE 2192. She measures 439 in gross tons and 267 in net tons. Locally, she has a passenger capacity of 280, all in benches with no head support. In PSSS (Philippine Ship Spotters Society) classification, she is a short-distance ferry-RORO.

She left Japan after 20 years of service and arrived in the Philippines for Montenegro Shipping Lines Inc. in 2006. In that company she has held many routes since it is the policy of the company to always rotate their ships. Even though 30 years old now she is still fresh-looking and not looking worn-out. She is actually still very reliable and the reason maybe lies in the engine room. When I visited it I found it very clean, very tidy and orderly and in running the NVH  (Noise, Vibration, Harshness) is tolerable with nary a fume in the engine room.

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In sailing, she still runs like an ordinary RORO as in she turns around and that means only one bridge and one ramp is used. With that system, the other bridge is unused and it gave me the opportunity to explore it. Since the bridges and pilot houses are duplicates I imagine and suppose the other bridge will look almost exactly like her. Unused, the bridge then just serves as a supply room especially for the canned beverages that will be sold by its simple canteen that just offer instant food, some biscuits and drinks.

When I rode her in the Liloan-Benit route, I found its passenger sections reasonably clean. The Tourist dominates the space since it is the old passenger section in Japan and it occupies the space between the two bridges. The Economy “section” looked rather small in comparison. I don’t think she can be deployed in routes which load a lot of buses. But Montenegro Lines, her company will not lack for routes which are fit for her.

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This ferry is known to be very reliable and I have not heard of her conking out. So those who say only new ship are “safe”, I think MV Maria Lolita can dispute that.

I think she will sail our waters for a long time more, knock on wood.

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A Tale of a Slow Double-Ended RORO

This ferry is more appropriately named as “double-ended ferry” and not “double-headed ferry” like the preferred name in Japan as she does not have two separate bridges or pilot houses like the dead Super Shuttle Ferry 2 although technically she might have dual controls like the other double-ended ferries in the country which number over a dozen including local-builds. But like most double-ended ferries she is slow as having having screws at each end means a lot of drag and thus lower speed. The low speed might also be due to the transmission gearing. If she was designed to cross very narrow channels of water then providing acceleration off the port, the “pull”, might have been given more weight and not the cruising speed.

The ferry is the Lakbayan Uno which is infamous in its routes for its low speed. She might have had 910 horsepower from her Yanmar Marine engine originally but her design speed, her speed when she was new was just 7.5 knots! With such speed a ferry should not have been used in a route such as she had cruised most of her career here, the Bacolod-Dumangas route as such low speed would tell on her and there is no way the passengers and shippers won’t notice as she has competition that are way faster than her. If there is no meaningful discount on fares and rates then as we say it lalangawin siya (there will be few patrons).

Lakbayan Uno originally came to the country in 2000 as part of the contingent brought in by Philtranco in their attempt for horizontal integration. Pepito Alvarez, the great land transport mogul of the recent era has just taken over Philtranco and with his Nissan UD national franchise and Number 1 ranking in buses sold, he was refleeting the old moribund Philtranco South Enterprises Inc. (PSEI) which were formerly equipped with Hino buses that were already all worn down and depleted in numbers through the loss of the old units with bad maintenance and inside irregularities.

I am not really sure which company really owned Lakbayan Uno at the start. What is known through PSSS contributions and through maritime databases is she was part of the three-vessel acquisition in 2000 which all featured double-ended ROROs, the other two being the sister ships from Aki Line of Japan which became the Maharlika Tres and Maharlika Cuatro which were still relatively new when acquired. Lakbayan Uno was the oldie in the group having been built way back in 1973. But the acquiring company could have originally been Philharbor Ferry Services (and that brings us to the trouble of having many legal-fiction companies). At the start she might not have been under the Archipelago Ferries Philippines Corporation.

Lakbayan Uno did not last long under that combine and in 2001 she became part of the still-respectable fleet then of Millennium Shipping which still had LCTs (which later ended up with Maayo Shipping serving the Negros-Cebu connection). Under Millennium Shipping, Lakbayan Uno tried to shore up the Millennium Shipping connection between Ozamis City and Tubod, Lanao del Norte that was spanning the narrow Panguil Bay.

Millennium Shipping originally bridged Panguil Bay from the port of Tubod to the port of Silanga, Tangub City, a very, very short distance. That was the original RORO connection across Panguil Bay. However, when Daima Shipping built their own port and connected direct to Ozamis City, the Millennium Shipping connection was trumped (along with the across-the-Panguil connection of Tamula Shipping featuring small cruisers).

Millennium Shipping tried to counter by building their own port in Tubod and linking direct to Ozamis. To avoid congestion in Ozamis port which had limited docking space they built their own wharf adjacent to the Ozamis PPA port. However, their transit times are longer, their private port in Tubod was located further west (while most of passengers and vehicles come from the east).

Besides those, their route is longer and using LCTs exacerbated the deficiency as LCTs were slow and passengers complained of the inferior passenger accommodations aggravated by the long use already. Meanwhile, competitor Daima Shipping was using then-novel double-ended ferries which had airconditioning for such a small upping in fares.

That was the reason why Millennium Shipping brought in Lakbayan Uno to the Panguil route. However, she was not able to stem the tide of rout. She was slow, her transit times were longer and the killer was Daima Shipping has far too many ferries than them and it gets full easy and so departure times were fast as they can offer 20-minute intervals even then while Millennium Shipping offers hourly departures. If they accelerate the departures they risk sending out nearly-empty ships. But over time that what was what happened – nearly-empty ships sailing and so they quit operations in Panguil Bay and sold their LCTs.

Lakbayan Uno then found itself in the Bacolod-Dumangas route (and she has been there ever since). At the start she might have been a match for the basic, short-distance ferry-ROROs of Montenegro Lines except for the speed. But in the succeeding years better competitors arrived in the route and she was being badly overwhelmed.

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And that brings me having a cocked eye on Millennium Shipping which was reduced to two-ship fleet, the other the very old and antiquated Millennium Uno which is also heavily outmatched in her route and also very slow. The company bears the name Floirendo which is respected and is a heavyweight in the Banana Country of Davao. Everybody knows they are loaded but why such an underwhelming shipping company and ships derided by many? Why, his PhP 75 million donation to the campaign of then-Mayor Duterte would have been enough to buy a good short-distance ferry-RORO or two.

Lakbayan Uno might not have been that bad but the problem is she is assigned a route where her weakness in speed is too exposed. But then I don’t know of many routes now that are very short where that won’t be exposed. Maybe Davao-Samal but they never seriously threw a look in that route. If they put Lakbayan Uno in that route it would have been superior to the Mae Wess LCTs then.

Lakbayan Uno was built in the Japan as the Shigei Maru No. 11. She has two sister ships in the Philippines, the Shigei Maru No.7 and the Shigei Maru No. 12 which are known locally as the Swallow-I and Swallow-II of Daima Shipping. The latter is the former Our Lady of Mediatrix which was heavily damaged when two of it loaded Super 5 buses were car bombed and she caught fire (she was rebuilt by Daima Shipping over several years). So when she was in Panguil Bay then, Lakbayan Uno used to see her sister ships.

All the three sister ships were built by Kanbara Shipbuilding in Onomichi, Japan. Their dimensions are also about the same. More exactly, Lakbayan Uno‘s external dimensions are 33.8 meters in length over-all, 29.9 meters length between perpendiculars, a breadth of 10.0 meters and a depth of 2.9 meters, very common measurements of a short-distance ferry-RORO but they happened to be double-ended ROROs. With such external measurements, a rolling capacity of 6 trucks or buses maximum is expected. If sedans it will be a little more.

Lakbayan Uno‘s dimensional weights are 221 in gross tonnage and 92 in net tonnage with a load capacity of 170 deadweight tons. She has a passenger capacity of about 200 all in sitting accommodations. She has two ramps, bow and stern, a single car deck, a single passenger deck, a bridge amidship and only one mast. Amazingly, her sisters ships here has even less power than her but their design speeds are higher! The ID of Lakbayan Uno is IMO 7370399.

In this decade, Lakbayan Uno is not only infamous in lack of speed in Bacolod-Dumangas but also in showing unreliability and at times she is not even sailing that some ship spotters in seeing a photo of her in that pose inevitably ask. Recently, however, Lakbayan Uno was re-engined, a declaration of intent by Millennium Shipping that they are not ready to let her go. Well, if they will let go of one it would have been Millennium Uno, probably the oldest RORO around that is not an LCT and barring Star Ferry II which was a cobbled ship from Ace-I.

The new engine of Lakbayan Uno is a Weichai WP-12C-450 from China and it is rated at 450 horsepower. Her new speed is 9.1 knots, an improvement over her design speed. There is a claimed reduction of fuel consumption from 117 liters/hour to 35 liters/hours. Now that is outstanding! That will probably be the life saver of Lakbayan Uno. With a fuel cost of probably only P2,000 per voyage (P70 liters x P27.50/liter of diesel), well, that could be one truck charge only. Who was it who told me RORO rates in Samal are just OK (and I told him it was sky high)? Baka pa nga tubong-lugaw ang operasyon ng ROROs as long as walang nakawan. And of course beyond the speed and lower fuel consumption, a new engine’s contribution is reliability.

Lakbayan Uno is still in the Bacolod-Dumangas route. She has been there since she left Panguil Bay. I hope that somehow she survives the fierce and better competition there (she will with that low fuel consumption!) Well, with a Floirendo as owner they might not really be expecting profits from the ship anymore. If the goal is only to keep the ship alive and to be able to pay the crew then maybe there will be no temptation to sell especially to the breakers.

As a last resort they can bring that home to Davao. Samal still lacks ferries, always been. With tourism and being a get-away place of Dabawenyos, an upward demand has always been the pattern. She will be welcome, I guess.

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Photo Credits: Carl Jakosalem, Britz Salih, John Carlos Cabanillas