When The PSSS Went To The Fiesta of Tagbilaran City

Some years back when 2GO was still ATS (Aboitiz Transport System), the Philippine Ship Spotters Society (PSSS) had a tour-meet in Cebu and as usual many of its leaders came from all over the country. We had the usual tour of Cebu Port, Muelle Osmena, the Mactan bridge, Ouano along with some shipyards. Part of the meet, of course, is the usual talks and camaraderie and that will include some eat-all-you-can stuff. And over the years the favorite EAYC place of PSSS became Joven’s in Parkmall. The restaurant became the respite of the group when it became overheated and fagged out. Ship spotting not only needs sturdy legs but also liters of fluids and sustenance after all the trying efforts under sun.

In those days I was still staying in a hotel and I usually choose one which is near Cebu Port for convenience, of course. It was easy to walk to the pier area and take shots even if alone. Usually, there is also a vantage point in the hotel where one can take shots. Members will visit me there if free for some talks and friendship. Plans are also hatched and in this tour the fiesta of Tagbilaran was vaguely mentioned as a Moderator who is Vinze Sanchez will be going home for the said occasion.

While having a rest in the hotel, I received a text message asking if I was interested in going to the Tagbilaran fiesta together with some members. I said “Why not?” although my mind was a little foggy. I was unbelieving if it was possible as the fiesta is already on the next day and it is part of lore that rides to Bohol are so full during summer especially on fiestas (and that even includes the buses from Manila). I also remember that when a former Japanese member of PSSS wanted to tour Bohol on a moment’s notice that he had to call a very high-ranking Aboitiz scion for intervention to be able to secure a ticket. And it took him many hours even though that Aboitiz scion had the rank of Vice-President, if I remember it right. I then went back to sleep thinking my schedule will be unchanged.

Not long after I was awakened by another message telling me we already had tickets in SuperCat. I was in disbelief as we were an additional four excluding Vinze. I was thinking, “Holy cow, how was Vinze able to pull it off?” when the Japanese group was only two. And now we will be five in all, all in one catamaran and on Vinze’s exact schedule. I was amazed but suddenly I remembered that Vinze has an access to the SuperCat reservation system (I can tell this now as the SuperCat situation already changed over the years and Vinze no longer rides the SuperCat regularly as he is now abroad). As they say in Systems Operation the weakest link is the human link and Vinze had an trump card on that.

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And so we went to the SuperCat terminal and frankly I was expecting a hassle of some kind (to me our trip seemed too good to be true). However, there was no hassle whatsoever, only smiles from the employees that know Vinze and that included his friend who rigged the system. I can only shake my head at the thought that a few people won’t make it to their fiesta as they had been bumped off. I felt pangs of guilt as they would have been too disappointed and will be scrambling to get another ride. I know the usual spiel. “Overbooking”.  Now I realized that regular “pasalubongs” and “pakikisama” go a long, long way.

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Upon boarding SuperCat 26 we only put our bags in our assigned seats and forthwith we proceeded to the catamaran’s  bridge. I saw a white man who got startled. I also saw another white took notice of five men in a procession to and opening the door of the bridge which is officially off limits even to most of the crew. I know what was on the head of the startled whites. “Hijack!”. We as a country are notorious after all in the Western embassies’ advisories.

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We were soon in the bridge of the catamaran and Vinze introduced us to Captain Sunga (he is not working locally so he is safe), the co-Captain and the Chief Engineer. They were the three officers occupying the bridge and there were only seats for three. The seats had belts and with armrests and it looked comfortable. The Chief Engineer was monitoring the engines through a CCTV and through instruments and controls in the bridge. No need for a command to the engine room. Joysticks were in command of the ship from the speed to the direction. However, a bridge designed for three was a little jampacked for eight people and I was glad the cat’s officer bore with us. It was of course illegal to stay on the bridge and it violates the operations manuals. However, in our country friendships go a long way. I heard about the simulator given by Vinze to the Captain which is not only entertaining while waiting for the next trip but improves maneuvering skills, too.

We were given an introduction of the bridge system and its instruments, its functions and how it helps the bridge officers. We were a little piqued with what is showing in the radar. The SuperCat was designed after all to operate even in nighttime. I noticed that as the craft sped the Captains always jerked the joysticks but I failed to ask why. All through the voyage we bridge visitors were in standing position but we enjoyed it. Anyway, how often would one be treated to a “Bridge Class” accommodation and a whole group at that? It was also enjoyable to watch the views come and pass by in a bridge. It was really different compared when one is in the passenger compartment. Besides we were able to ask a lot of questions enriching our knowledge of cats and of the routes.5981095965_5faa89f09f_b

SuperCat 26 ECDIS

Tagbilaran port came and we had to bid goodbye to the officers. Some of the passengers had an askance look at us. It is maybe because they noticed that five seats were vacant throughout the voyage and it was too noticeable in a full-packed small craft and probably they asked where were we or they noticed where we went. I don’t know if there was a tinge of envy in the looks. For me personally I was a little ashamed. I do not want such attention when I receive some special privilege. Maybe I am already too old for bragging rights haha!

We arrived the night before the fiesta and we just idled and talked the night away, If there will be a tour of the city during the fiesta itself I found out it was not in the works. No parades or spectacles but just plenty more of stories and camaraderie. Of course we met Vinze’s kins and we ate at the home of the No. 1 Councilor of Tagbilaran (we saw him again in Vinze’s wedding). The food was sumptuous and I took a liking for the lechon which is actually not a good food for my health. I ate a lot and my companions noticed and ribbed me for it. I did not care as I was simply enjoying the trip. If I had a worry it was our trip back but I kept quiet for the moment lest I ruin the fun.

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Our group was an eclectic one. If Vinze is from Bohol, I was from Davao and three were from Manila (one had Bohol origins and two had Mindoro origins but I noticed all three had doctor parents). But we are all friends now and we really wanted to experience the Tagbilaran fiesta. These meets are where we get to know each other well and where true friendships are forged.

We did not stay another overnight in Tagbilaran. We actually wanted to take the last ferry out of Tagbilaran, sleep in it and save on hotel expense (the fare was more or less equal to an single aircon hotel room). We were all on a budget and this was the wise course. The ferry leaves at 10pm and this was the Our Lady of Barangay–1 of Lite Ferries which has a sleeping accommodation. We thought it was perfect for our “pagtitipid” (which is skimping like what is done by backpack travelers). Imagine a “hotel room” traveling at sea. That was what our ride should be.

However, when we arrived in Tagbilaran Port there was a problem. The ferry was fully booked, the Lite Ferries ticketing office at the pier said. But having been a traveler for almost all of my life I knew it was not an impossible situation. There had to be a way, there had to be a vacancy because not all that reserved tickets and not all ticket holders would show up especially since it was a fiesta and people forgets the time or are held up. The only question in my mind was if there were enough bunks. I was prepared in any way to just sit up in the ship somewhere as long as we are able to board the ship. And so we begged the Lite Ferries people and camped in the port terminal building. While camped in the empty terminal we were actually in good spirits.

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Just before departure time we got the signal that we can board. I saw my companions perk up. Aboard the ship we were herded to Business Class which was located on the lowest passenger compartment near the bow of the ship at the car deck (and so the sloshing of the water is audible). There were benches there. And so i thought there was where they accommodate overflow passengers. They told us to wait as they will check which bunks were empty. It was obvious to my eyes there were some empty bunks. The question is if we can be all accommodated in Business Class. I saw that the Tourist Class was full and a little crowded.

The Purser counted. Yes, we can all be accommodated in Business Class and the Purser proceeded to issue us our tickets. It was cheaper than an aircon hotel room which was a good deal as were traveling at the same time, we had a bed (a bunk really) to sleep on and with linen (which they call “beddings” aboard a ship) to boot. I noticed early that the air-conditioner of the Business Class was too cold but that was the least of my worries. I just wanted to sleep as I was tired and a little stressed by the ticketing/boarding hassle which was no fault of the shipping company.

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Our ship arrived in Cebu at dawn as expected after a six-hour voyage. I told my companions there was no need to disembark early. We have no hotel rooms to go back to anyway and our ship accommodation was a perfect waiting area. Cebu overnight ships are gracious enough not to wake the passengers early and they let their guests which means the passengers continue their sleep until there was enough light.

I had also another idea why I don’t want the group to get down early. We were inside the port premises and because of ISPS (International System of Port Security) one can’t get inside it unless one is a passenger. My idea is since we were inside already is we will take the opportunity to ship spot at first light and I know the guards won’t really be in a position to challenge and shoo us away.

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Our Lady of the Barangay – 1 at dawn

When the first light was breaking there came the Lady of Angels of Medallion Transport coming in. Soon after she docked the passengers and the vehicles came down, of course, and it was a good ship spotting opportunity along with some other ships passing by. We were then between Piers 2 and 3 of Cebu Port.

When the port was already bathed in light I told the group we better board a docked ferry because if we don’t the guards will see and challenge us. Aboard a ship it is only the Captain which can challenge us and to Captains of small ferries of small shipping companies “gate crashers” are the least of his worries. Some are even glad there are people who visit and appreciate their ship. A vessel is a peaceful ship spotting platform for ships passing by and docking nearby.

The ship we boarded was the Fiji-I of the South Pacific Transport Corp. It was a cruiser ship built locally in a shipyard (the Fortune ShipWorks in Tayud) that is also controlled by its owners. The crew not sleeping were friendly and welcoming and they let us free roam of the bridge and we were also able to view the engines. It is just like old times when ships and crew didn’t treat people they didn’t know as potential terrorists or saboteurs. Actually it is only the USA which is too squeamish of people in contact with ships because people there commit massacres every now and then. That kind of violence is completely unknown in our country. Deadly psychopaths are only concentrated in the USA.

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We then decided to end our ship spotting activity. Hunger and thirst were already catching up on us and we needed to refill ourselves. And so we hied off to our breakfast with the guards wondering from what ship we came from as there is no new arrival.

All in all it was a good ship spotting adventure. We were able to experience “Bridge Class” in a SuperCat, enjoyed Tagbilaran hospitality with plenty of food and good stories and we were lucky we did not sleep over in the pier and we had a free dormitory-type hotel room that was sailing at sea that brought us back to Cebu again.

If some will think that was the end of our Tagbilaran adventures, nope. We had another visit but as they say that is a different story. Abangan!

 

[Photos by Mike Baylon and Vinze Sanchez]

 

 

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The Disproportionality of the Ferry Losses in the Philippines

Many times the question of if our ferries are safe is asked. This is especially true when a ferry has an accident or is lost especially when the casualty count is high. Rather than answering the question straight, if I am asked, I might answer it “it depends” because that is probably the most exact answer to the question anyway but then many will be puzzled by that answer (pilosopo ba?). Read on and you will be enlightened further and maybe your views about the safety our ferries might change.

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Even if a car is new it doesn’t mean it won’t take a dip into the water. Same principle applies with ships. Photo by Zed Garett (happened just today — what a timely photo for my article). Thanks a lot to the photo owner.

But first a clarification. I am purposely limiting this topic to ferries because tackling all the ship types at once will be very heavy and tedious as we have more freighters than ferries and add to that the other types like the tugs, tankers, etc. The ferry losses is the segment that actually raises the hackles of the people of the country who are mainly uneducated on the topic of maritime losses. This relative ignorance is further fanned by our also-uneducated media whose writers and editors cannot even seem to get the ferries’ names right (it seems they are too lazy to verify with MARINA, the maritime authority). Of course, it is well-known that our media is on the sensationalistic side and so oftentimes accuracy, objectivity and balance are lost with that (do these sell anyway?).

Another limitation I also pose here is I won’t include our wooden-hulled passenger crafts in the discussion. Those crafts are really flimsy especially those equipped with outriggers, the motor bancas. This ship type (those are ships because any sea craft having a passenger capacity of 12 is not a boat) lacks the basic safety equipment that even without a storm they can sink like when an outrigger breaks or when the hull develops a leak big enough that water can’t be bailed fast enough. But I would rather not comment on their seamanship or lack of formal maritime education because in my decades of traveling at sea I found that many of them are actually very good in reading the wind and the waves, a nautical skill that is not taught in maritime schools anymore. Also excluded in the discussion are the wooden-hulled lanchas and batels which were formerly called as motor boats which are not called as motor launches.

My topic here is about the disproportionality (or lack of proportionality) of our maritime losses to clarify that our ferry losses are not proportional with regards to the area and to the ship type (the implication is not all sink). Like what I just mentioned earlier, our wooden-hulled crafts especially the motor bancas are prone to losses especially in areas notorious for its dangerous waves like in Surigao. But these sea crafts continue to exist because in many cases these are the most practical crafts for certain routes like the routes to our small islands and islets or the coastal barrios that have no roads (or if taking the roundabout road will take too long). Motor bancas can land even on bare shores which the other crafts can’t do and moreover these can operate profitably on the barest minimum of passengers and cargo something which is impossible in steel-hulled vessels which have engines that are much, much bigger and are heavier.

The liners, our multi-day ships, among our class of ferries are also very vulnerable to losses (a surprise?) and much more than others classes pro rata to their small number. Relative to their small number, we have lost a lot of liners in the past for a variety of reasons – capsizing, foundering, beaching, wrecking, collision, fire, bombing and explosion. And this might come as a surprise to many because in the main it is our liners that are the biggest, these hold the highest of the certificates (and in insurance many have the comprehensive P & I or “Protection and Indemnity”), these have our most experienced and best crewmen supposedly (unlike in smaller ferries where a Second Mate can serve as Captain of the ship) and much pride of its shipping company is riding on them (well, not all, as we had liners that were no more than the average overnight ferry).

But this vulnerability is actually completely true. We lost the SuperFerry 3 (fire in a shipyard in 2000), SuperFerry 6 (fire while sailing in 2000 too), the SuperFerry 7 (fire in port in 1997), SuperFerry 9 (capsizing in 2009), the SuperFerry 14 (firebombing in 2000 but the official report says otherwise). A total of five SuperFerries when only a total of 20 ships ever carried the name “SuperFerry” (it seems it is not a good name?). The St. Thomas Aquinas, the former SuperFerry 2 was lost in a collision in 2013 and the St. Gregory The Great, the former SuperFerry 20 was also lost (taking a shortcut and hitting the reefs and she was no longer repaired and just sold after equipment was taken out). These two ferries were already under 2GO when they were lost. Not included here were the groundings of the Dona Virginia and the Our Lady of Banneux (technically under Cebu Ferries Corporation then but an actual liner) from which they were never repaired and ending their sailing careers).

Sulpicio Lines is much-lambasted and derided by most of our people but actually they have less losses from their “Princess” and “Don/Dona” series of ships in the comparative period as the existence of the “SuperFerries” of WG&A (William, Gothong & Aboitiz and its successor company Aboitiz Transport System (ATS). However, it is true that in passenger casualties the total of Sulpicio Lines is much, much higher because they have the tendency to sail straight into storms like the revered Compania Maritima before them (in terms of ship losses and not in casualties) and that historical company took a lot of losses from those risk-takings too (and more than even Sulpicio Lines).

From 1996 when the WG&A was formed, Sulpicio Lines only lost the Philippine Princess (fire while under refitting in 1997), the Princess of the Orient (capsizing in a storm in 1998), the Iloilo Princess (fire and capsizing while under refitting in 2003), the Princess of the World (fire while sailing in 2005) and the Princess of the Stars (capsizing in a storm in 2008) and the Princess of the Pacific (serious grounding incident resulting in complete total loss in 2004). That is until they were suspended in 2008 when only one liner was left sailing for them, the Princess of the South which did not sink.

In the comparative period, WG&A and ATS employed a total of 24 liners (the overnight ferries of Cebu Ferries Corporation was obviously not included here are they are not multiday liners). Sulpicio Lines had a total of 22 liners in the parallel period so their numbers are about even. But the ship loss total of WG&A, ATS and 2GO is clearly higher and the public was never made aware of this. Maybe some good PR works while it seems Sulpicio Lines never took care of that and all they knew was feeding their passengers well (unli rice or smorgasbord, anyone?). But then however those liner losses are scandalous in number, by whatever measure. Imagine losing more than one liner per year on the average.

Some of the liners of WG&A and ATS were not SuperFerries in name but but the Our Ladies, the two Cities and a Dona from William Lines had perfect safety records as none of them was ever lost. Now, does the choice of name matter in safety? Or the “lesser” ferries do try harder and are more careful? That discrepancy certainly made me think and it might be worth a study.

Negros Navigation was far safer than the WG&A and Sulpicio Lines losing only the St. Francis Xavier in 1999. Do naming of liners after saints enhance their safety? Conversely, do naming of liners with the qualifier “Super” means the ship will sink faster? Questions, questions. But the lightly-regarded and revived Carlos A. Gothong Lines Incorporated (CAGLI) tops them all with absolutely no losses. Now for a company that sometimes have difficulty painting their ships that is something (while the spic-and-span WG&A and ATS which repaints their liners while sailing tops the losses department). Does it mean it is better not to repaint liners well? I observed in the eastern seaboard that the ships that are not painted well have no losses (until the dumb Archipelago Ferries let its stalled Maharlika II sank into the waves in 2014 without rescuing it and thereby breaking the record – that ship was newly painted when it went under so the repainting might have doomed her?). Well, in my earlier thesis and later in this article I find it funny that the ships which are more rusty does not sink as long as it is not a Batangas ship (ah, the disproportionality again). While those that can always afford new paint like WG&A and successor ATS sink. Is a new coat of paint a sign of danger for the ship? Or is it the P & I insurance that did them in? Funny, funny. Negros Navigation when it was already in trouble and lacks the money already did not have one ship sinking. So the illiquidity which Negros Navigation suffered means more safety? Har, har! Whatever, I want to commend them and top honcho Sulficio Tagud for taking the high road and not just let the ships sink just to collect insurance. And last note, in multi-day liner operations before, Aleson Shipping Lines never lost a ship.

Liners sink at a faster rate pro rata compared to overnight ferries (if the wooden-hulled ferries of the past are not counted) and that is a big puzzle to me. And of course nobody will know for sure because nobody studied that as we don’t have the equivalent of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) of the USA which call in true experts and go in depth why the transportation accidents happened. Is it because while on a voyage the liners are practically running 24 hours a days and systems, equipment and personnel are stressed more? Is it because the ships reach their reliability/cycles earlier in terms of hours of usage like the electrical lines which is a cause of fire? Or are their crew simply more tired and believes that their ships with high certifications are less vulnerable to sinking (as if those certificates will keep the ship afloat)?

In the earlier decades and even recently it is known that liners take more chances with storms and maybe because they think they can battle the waves better because they are bigger. There are shipping companies who were known to be more brave (or foolhardy?) in sailing ships when there are storms about and among them the old Compania Maritima and Sulpicio Lines almost surely top the list. Now, however, the field is more level as all Philippine ships are barred from sailing when the center wind of the storm reaches 60kph. And for the smaller ships less than 250gt they are not permitted to sail when the center wind is already 45kph or when the local weather agency PAGASA declares a “gale warning” even though there is no a gale. When the suspensions are in effect better just watch the foreign ships still continue sailing for they are not covered by the suspension and most actually use INMARSAT or equivalent which is just a curiosity in the local maritime world until now when that is already well-established outside of the Philippines (the lousy PAGASA which can’t do localized forecasts seems to be already good for them since it is free while they have to pay for INMARSAT).

Liners also sink faster than short-distance ferries whose sailing durations are all short and whose crews probably know their particular seas and routes more. When to think most short-distance ferries which are always small are captained in the main by Second or Third Mates and whose engine department are headed by Second or sometimes by just Marine Diesel Mechanics who have not even finished college but passed an exam just the same (well, competence in running and maintaining a machine well is not necessarily dictated by diplomas, trust me). Even though liners might be using ECDIS don’t be too sure they will reach their destination better than the lowly short-distance ferry using just what is called as dead reckoning. In truth, ECDIS or whatever better bridge equipment does not guarantee better seamanship or navigation. After all it will not show the wind and wave which only something like INMARSAT can.

So in liners disproportionality already exist. And their international certifications don’t even save them from disasters. So, I advise those who take liners, don’t be very sure and make the necessary precautions like memorizing the different alarms and making sure where your life vests are. And don’t jump to the water too early. Liners are tall and that plunge could hurt you. And when in the water at night tie yourselves together so as not to drift (a whistle is a big help in calling attention if you are drifting). Note the water can be cold at night and hypothermia can set in. Take a selfie too before jumping and upload it. Who knows if it will be your last photo. Your loved ones will sure prize it. Ah, don’t take all I said in this paragraph too seriously.

In overnight ferries there seems to be disproportionality with regards to companies and not to home port (if analyzed pro rata to the size of the fleet which means the size of the fleets are taken into consideration) and to the routes. Well, for practical purposes there are only a few home ports for overnight ferries – Cebu, Zamboanga, Batangas, Manila, Lucena and Iloilo, in that order maybe in terms of sailings (a clarification, there are overnight ships originating from say northern Mindanao but all of those ferries are actually based in Cebu). Analyzing, some overnight ferry companies deserve the Gold Award while some should be suspended from service, maybe.

It must be noted that one of the biggest overnight ferries two decades ago and which dominated the Visayas-Mindanao waters for nearly a decade, the Cebu Ferries Corporation (CFC), a subsidiary of WG&A and successor Aboitiz Transport System (ATS) did not lose a single ship ever until it they left Cebu for Batangas and became the “Batangas Ferries” and even there their perfect streak continued. Maybe some of their people need to be recruited by other companies or sent there by MARINA to share the experience. They can lecture on the topic, “On How Not To Sink”. Maybe it is not just with the choice of name that they were safe? Or was it in the livery? The only problem it seems is they did not send their Captains to their liners like the St. Thomas Aquinas who made a dumb mistake trying to test the hardness of the ice-classed bow of the Sulpicio Express Siete.

In the Cebu-based regional shipping companies which are operators of overnight ferries it is probably Lite Ferries who is the Valedictorian having lost no ships even though their fleet is already big. Maybe that will come as a surprise to many but whatever they deserve a big round of applause. Another company whose Captains might need to be recruited by other shipping companies or pry open their secret if there is any. Are they better readers of SOLAS? One thing I am sure though is its owner does not belong to the same fraternity as one former Batangas shipping company owner who threatens mayhem if his ship sinks.

There are other overnight ferry companies in Cebu that could have shared First Honors with Lite Ferries but in a tie-breaker Lite Ferries wins because they have the most ships and not by a small margin at that. Others with perfect records are the defunct Palacio Lines (well, some might argue that that is a Samar shipping company but I digress). Now I can’t understand why an overnight ferry company with a perfect safety record will go under as a company. Seems something is not right. Aside from Palacio Lines there are a lot of there Cebu-based overnight ferry companies that have perfect safety records in terms of having no ship losses. Some of these are still extant and sailing and some have already quit the business (it’s a waste, isn’t it, for them to just go away like that).

Among these is the legendary Gabisan Shipping Lines, VG Shipping, Kinswell Shipping, Roly Shipping, Jadestar Shipping, South Pacific Transport and many other smaller shipping lines with just one or two ships (most of these are already gone now but still their perfect records remain). I just don’t know why they can’t catch a break from MARINA as in they are not given special citations and handed more privileges in sailing because after all they have proven they know their stuff in shipping. But no, when MARINA goes headhunting in safety they are lambasted in the same vein as those which had sunk ships as if they are just as guilty. Actually, to set the record straight about half of the overnight ferry companies in the whole Philippines never had any ship losses. This is true even in Zamboanga where Magnolia Shipping Lines, Ever Lines and a lot of other operators with just one or two steel-hulled ferries have perfect safety records. Now, can’t MARINA even for once credit them properly and publish their names because the way I feel at times with media reports and with MARINA statements it is as if all our shipping companies already had sunk ships which is simply not the case. In the liner sector that is true but in the overnight ferry and short-distance sector, combined, most shipping companies never had any ship losses. Don’t they deserve credit and more respect and recognition? But no, they are sunk not beneath the waves but in obscurity and that is one of the purpose of this article, to set the record straight.

In Manila, the old MBRS Lines and its successor Romblon Shipping Line never lost a ship (but the company is dead now anyway, sunk by the intermodal). In Lucena, Kalayaan Shipping Lines might have a perfect safety record too at least in steel-hulled ferries. In Batangas, there are operators of just one or two ferries which have not lost a ship (do they take care not to lose one because that will mean the shutdown of operations?). In Iloilo, did Milagrosa Shipping Lines already lost a ship? In number half of the overnight ferry operators never lost a ship although in the number of ships owned theirs comprise just the minority, to clarify.

It is in short-distance ferries that I noticed a lot more of disproportionalities especially in the recent decades when maritime databases were able to keep track with them (the wooden-hulled short-distance ferries generally doesn’t have IMO Numbers so keeping track of them is difficult but these lanchas or batels were our early short-distance ferries aside from the motor bancas). For this sector or segment I would rather stick to steel-hulled ferries like what I mentioned early on especially since there is no way to track the hundreds and hundreds of motor bancas and their losses which are not even properly reported at times.

There are areas, routes and short-distance companies that have perfect safety records (again, wooden hulled ferries are not included here and that also mean the earlier years). In the eastern seaboard where the typhoons first strike and where it is fiercest the routes and shipping companies there have a perfect safety record ever since the steel-hulled ships first appeared in 1979. This was only broken in 2013 due to the dumbness of a stranger which invaded the Masbate waters (is that part of the eastern seaboard anyway? but Masbate is in Bicol). They withdrew from Bicol after that incident to just sail the more benign Camotes Sea waters. And that is one of the reasons why I was furious at Archipelago Ferries for not coming to the aid of their stalled ship for 6 hours when their good ship was just just two hours sailing away and so the stricken ship slid off the waves (shouldn’t someone be hanged for that?). Because of that the perfect record of the local shipping companies based in the eastern seaboard was broken. I just hope the crewmen of Maharlika Cuatro which failed to respond to an SOS then are not employed in the FastCats now.

Short-distance ferries also does not sink in the Tablas Sea crossings or in the routes to Marinduque from Lucena. However, I do not know what is the curse of the Verde Island Passage that many ships have been already lost there when to think practically the same shipping companies ply the three routes mentioned. To think the Tablas Sea wind and waves could be rougher than that in Verde Island Passage. Did they assign their lousier crews there? Just asking. As they say the proof is in the pudding (and the pudding tastes bad).

I just wonder too about the luck of the Mindanao Sea crossings. The waves there could also be rough and the crossing is longer but none was ever lost among the short-distance ferries running the Dumaguete-Dapitan, Samboan-Dapitan and Jagna-Balingoan routes. Like in Tablas Strait, do the longer route makes the crews more careful? Are the crews there better trained and has better seamanship?

The many routes connecting Cebu island and Negros island and Negros island and Panay island are also safe. Hard to find there a short-distance steel-hulled ferry that sank. That is also true for the steel-hulled ferries connecting Masbate island to Cebu island when the distance there is also long for a short-distance ferry and the wind and waves are no less dangerous. What is their secret there? Is it just that Camotes Sea navigators are lousier? With exceptions, of course because Gabisan Shipping surely will not agree.

I could go to the less obscure, short-distance routes. Just the same I will tell you these are also safe. Never heard of a steel ferry going to Alabat that sank. Or to Dinagat and Siargao islands (sure their motor bancas sink). Or the routes to Basilan from Zamboanga. Not even a RORO to Guimaras have sunk or a RORO to Bantayan island. That is also true for the short-distance connections within Romblon island served by steel-hulled ships (the Princess Camille that capsized in Romblon port in 2003 was an overnight ferry from Batangas). No steel-hulled ferry connecting Leyte and Bohol was ever lost too. And that is also true for the route connecting Siquijor to Dumaguete.

So a lot of our short-distance routes and the ferries plying them are actually safe. Who can argue against a perfect safety record? A little rust will not sink ships nor would a non-functioning firefighting pump (and the ship is not in the middle of an ocean anyway). Those are just a little margins that are not that critical. Does not look good to the eye but to a passenger like me it is more important if MARINA enforces their Memorandum Circular that ferries should feed its passengers if the arrival of the ship exceeds 7am. And I am more concerned if the ship is clean especially the rest rooms and if there is clean drinking water. Besides, trust me, our mariners are not that negligent or dumb that they will leave the ramps unclosed and then sail like what some Europeans did.

So are our ferries safe? Yes, it is except for the liners, some shipping companies and some routes and areas. Never mind if they are old. It is not necessarily the factor that will sink ships (a ship if it loses motive power still has the flotation of a barge). It is actually the lack of seamanship that sinks ships (old ship, new ship can both collide or fail to heed the weather). And trust the short-distance ferries on the fringes and don’t underestimate them. The crew won’t let their ships sink if their families, relatives, friends, schoolmates, etc. are aboard. Well, not all. Be a little wary in Verde Island Passage and in Camotes Sea.

Let us be more objective. Our ferries and mariners are not really that bad, contrary to what hecklers say.