The Northern Mindanao Tour of the Philippine Ship Spotters Society (PSSS)

This tour was the first by PSSS in Northern Mindanao (aside from the inauguration of the Trans-Asia 19 which the PSSS attended and we were able to board other ships). This was planned a few months ago and it was designed to coincide with the vacation of PSSS Admin Capt. Josel-Nino Bado from his duty aboard a foreign ship. He was supposed to be the chief organizer of the tour as he has the ideas and connections on how to search for Captains and contacts that can help the PSSS. With regards to entry to the ships in the Port of Cagayan de Oro, it will be a collaboration between Admins who already have connections with the Captains on board. The tour was supposedly a long-distance one because of the many ports existing in Northern Mindanao. Eight Admins and members committed to the tour and four will be bringing vehicles from nearby to afar.

On the evening of October 25, 2019, me and Allen Amasol boarded the 10pm Philtranco bus in the Ecoland bus terminal of Davao City for Pasay to meet Janjan Salas in Sanfranz, Agusan del Sur who was bringing his Hilux to be our vehicle up to the Mukas port in Lanao del Norte. Our route is via Butuan City and this distance is nearly 500 kilometers. However, we had a bad start as we had a bus who should have been an express bus (the reason we chose it) but was acting like a local bus picking up a lot of short-distance passengers for the kita-kita (own profits) of the drivers (even we two had no tickets). The bus was just chugging along at low speed even though I politely said we will be meeting someone in Sanfranz. Worse, the bus was almost battered up already making it expensive for the fare it is charging. Actually, the local buses were way better than our bus.

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Medina port by Janjan Salas of PSSS.

However, our lateness allowed Janjan some sleep while waiting for us. We left Sanfranz at past 3am (to my worry of being late for the tour) but by daybreak we were already in Medina to visit its old port which was well-known in the copra heyday. The San Luis port of Gingoog City was also visible from Medina port and before 7am we were already in Balingoan port which is the jump-off point to Camiguin. We did not try to enter port because we do not want to be late for the PHIVIDEC rendezvous. Meanwhile, Admin Mark Ocul was riding the first bus from Ozamis to Cagayan de Oro at 4am and was hoping to arrive in Cagayan de Oro at 8am. It was actually his arrival that was the basis of the 9am start of the Northern Mindanao tour in PHIVIDEC Industrial Estate. However, Mark’s bus was late and it set back the start of the PSSS tour.

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Balingoan port. Photo by Allen Amasol of PSSS.

We began our tour of the PHIVIDEC Industrial Estate which had its own port in Tagoloan, Misamis Oriental on the morning of October 26. This was arranged through its Administrator and CEO Atty. Franklin Quijano who was the former Mayor of Iligan City and Badz’s (Josel-Nino Bado) townmate. He designated Harbour Master Capt. Gerry Guiuo as the point manand host of the tour and he happened to be from Iligan City also (I also lived there for six years) and he was very cooperative. When initial arrangements with PICMW (Philippine Iron Construction and Marine Works, Inc.) fell through, Capt. Guiuo promised to take care of the arrangements. And he even volunteered to be a member of PSSS!

As constituted, our tour group consisted of Capt. Josel-Nino Bado from Cagayan de Oro and Iligan Cities, Mark Edelson Ocul from Ozamis and Cebu Cities , John Carlos Cabanillas from Opol, Misamis Oriental and Liloan, Cebu, Tristan Fil Lirasan from Digos and Cebu Cities, Janjan Salas from Bislig City, Allen Amasol from Davao and Samal Cities, Dr. Neal Rana, M.D. from Gingoog and Cagayan de Oro Cities and yours truly, Mike Baylon from Bicol and Davao City. The ninth and new member of the group was Harbour Master and Capt. Gerry Guiuo of Iligan City, a new PSSS member and the tenth was Maia Lee Jabines Bado, the wife of Badz who showed very great patience and understanding of the passion and hobby of her husband and she took many of the shots of the members of the group. Now, if only all wives of PSSS members are like her.

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PHIVIDEC Industrial Estate by John Carlos Cabanillas of PSSS.

In PHIVIDEC Industrial Estate there were restrictions as their port is an ISPS port. There is even a separate of operator of the port which is the Mindanao International Container Terminal Inc.(MICT),  a subsidiary of the great ICTSI (International Container and Terminal Services Inc. that is owned by the taipan Enrique Razon. When we visited there was only one ship, the Lorcon Iloilo and the port is not really big but it has a view of a nearby port. The new name of MICT is Mindanao Container Terminal (MCT).

Leaving PHIVIDEC, we proceeded to NAMSSA (National Maritime Safety and Security Agency), a maritime safety institute which was just nearby. We were given a briefing of what they do. NAMSSA is a recognized security organization (RSO) that can do Maritime Intelligence Risk Suite (MIRS), something that probably the PPA and MARINA can’t do  The notable thing in our visit was the discovery of old and new contacts which will be of help to the PSSS in the future. The PSSS was also introduced to them.

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Group photo in Atecle’s Grill. Photo by Capt. Josel-Nino Bado of PSSS.

From NAMSSA, we had our lunch in Atecle’s Grill in Cagayan de Oro which I was told has a reputation for delicious food. Now I can say their reputation is well-deserved. Dr. Neal Rana took care of the lunch although he does not normally partake lunch (!). He didn’t, actually.

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In PICMW shipyard. Photo by Mark Ocul of PSSS.

After lunch, we made our way to the PICMW to tour its shipyard and we were given a briefing by their Vice-President Roberto Quicio of what his company does. PICMW has new-builds but its work is mainly ship repair. They also have contracts for fabrication abroad. What surprised me is their yard is very big and they are far from exhausting their capacity. They use a ship lift and rails to haul ships for repair. It was Naval Architects Wayne Benedict Espejon and Julius Anthony Siarez of PICMW who lead the tour of their shipyard.

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The Bandanaira 2 of Gov. Pepito Alvarez of Palawan. Photo By Mike Baylon of PSSS.

The notable discoveries in PICMW were the two new ships for Daima Shipping, the Royal Dolphin 3 and the Royal Seal 3 and which the PSSS was already aware of but has not seen. The Royal Dolphin, long a habitue of Mukas port and the Royal Dolphin 2 which is in hibernation was also in the shipyard. The surprise was a modern LCT that is almost finished for Gov. Pepito Alvarez of Palawan, the Bandanaira 2 I won’t dwell much on the ships being repaired there as they change anyway except that there were two Aleson ships there, the Trisha Kerstin 1 and the Ciara Joie 2. But it was bittersweet to see the Super Shuttle Ferry 15 of the Asian Marine Transport Corp. (AMTC). It seems she never sailed again after the grounding off Camiguin a few years ago and she is now for sale. But I wonder who will take interest in her given her history and condition (she was once half-submerged in Palawan and it was repeated in Camiguin). This could be the end of her as a ship as her owner is not known for having the perseverance in repairing old and damaged ships.

We also found the Ever Sweet there which was built by Varadero de Recodo in 1963 and was the first ship of Ever Lines Inc. She is supposedly for sale but again I wonder who will take her given that it is only in Zamboanga, her base where cruiser ships are still successful although this is beginning to be doubtful as time pass. The Magnolia Liliflora was also there and like Super Shuttle Ferry 15 and Ever Sweet there were no repair works going on and she is also for sale. She is the former Rizma of A. Sakaluran Shipping and built in Zamboanga in 1989. She was acquired by Magnolia Shipping in 2012 and refitted in Varadero de Recodo. Now I don’t know if again she will hibernate for long like what happened to her as the Rizma. But I do hope she sails again.

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Ship spotters atop a ship they “conquered”. Together with two naval architects of PICMW. Photo by Dr. Neal Rana of PSSS.

My tour mates took time to board and tour the new ferries of Daima Shipping and get a view of the new ferry of AMTC, the Super Shuttle Ferry 27. I can understand that as those are newly-arrived ships and rare double-ended ferries at that. I was not able to join as I was conserving strength and instead me and Harbour Master Capt. Gerry Guiuo talked about ships and databases. With that I think we had better rapport although I lost photo opportunities. Sometimes one in the group should sacrifice touring to talk to a biggie.

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PSSS members inside an engine room. Photo by Janjan Salas of PSSS.

It was already late when we left PICMW and it was getting dark early because of rain clouds and we made haste to Cagayan de Oro port to try to gain entry. It was the port which was our problem and not the ship or the shipping company as the PSSS has contacts for that. We tried even though it was getting dark already. In the haste and since my cellphone lost power Jhayz Abao of Cagayan de Oro and PSSS was not able to contact me. He should have been part of the group in Cagayan de Oro port. Our entry was facilitated by Lite Ferries (thanks to them!) and we were able to board and tour their new Lite Ferry 18 which could be the best and biggest ship in their fleet now together with its sister ship Lite Ferry 19. It seems their passenger accommodations are at par now with the best their competition can offer in Northern Mindanao.

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Lite Ferry 18 bridge. Photo by Mike Baylon of PSSS.

We were planning to board the Trans-Asia 18 nearby but we had difficulty in finding the Captain. Suddenly, a heavy rain which lasted long fell and we had to take shelter in the passenger terminal building full of passengers for the St. Therese of Child Jesus of 2GO. By this time the Trans-Asia 19 has already left. We were really short of time. With the big rain we decided to call it a day and look for dinner and a bed. Badz and Mark went separately to look for a lodge and they had difficulty as most were fully-booked. They finally found a cheap but a good value lodge on the road to the old airport. With an extra bed four of us were accommodated in a room. We fell asleep immediately as we were tired. It was only Mark that had enough strength as he came from a nearer place unlike us three – me, Janjan and Allen which practically had no sleep the night before.

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Group photo aboard Lite Ferry 18 with the Purser. Photo by Dr. Neal Rana of PSSS.

We took our breakfast in the hotel and Jhayz joined us. However, there was one member who committed on the second day that did not show up. Jhayz wasn’t joining the tour on the second but a short meet with Dr. Neal was arranged as they are both from Cagayan de Oro and were both in the health field. And so our tour group would remain the same up to Iligan City (Badz and wife would drop out from there and won’t come with us to Ozamis City).

To make up for the past day, we first went to the Coastal Road of Cagayan de Oro City on the morning of October 27 to take photos of ships in Cagayan de Oro port and in Macalajar Bay. We didn’t stay long there and we then went to the MacArthur Memorial Marker near the Port of Cagayan de Oro. We found two vantage points there including a sundowner and a night place above the water. They were friendly but I found out that I already lost my old ability to walk across wooden bridges for people that have no handrail. I can already fall if there is no assistance.

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Port of Cagayan de Oro ships. Photo by Mike Baylon of PSSS.

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MacArthur Memorial Marker from a sundowner. Photo by Tristan Fil Lirasan.

I rested outside while they went to the MacArthur Memorial Marker and then I noticed they were taking long. It turned out they were waiting for the departure of the Lite Ferry 8 for Jagna, Bohol. That is one of the oldest ROROs in the Philippines that is not an LCT and it might have the most years sailing now in the country. We noticed part of her uppermost deck (which is the bridge deck) was chopped off. Maybe she no longer needs that high passenger capacity and shaving off weight will help the ship. This ship first served as the Sta. Maria of Negros Navigation way back in 1980 before going to G&P Lines as the GP Ferry 1.

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A view of Iligan port from the second Iligan public market. Photo by Mike Baylon of PSSS.

We made our way to Iligan City and met Badz in the Iligan Centennial Park which features a tall flag. Forthwith, we proceeded to the motor pool of the Super Five bus company but we were denied entry. We then proceeded to find lunch. Two members took care of it and from the new Robinsons in Iligan we drove west when it was already mid-afternoon with Ozamis as the target. Before that we went to the old Kolambugan port which was the former connection of Lanao del Norte to Ozamiz City. It has been some time already since my last visit there and it is already a port to nowhere now. It is sad to think that it was once a busy port and the base of the old Tamula Shipping Lines which lost to Daima Shipping when they did not convert to ROROs.

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Kolambugan port by Mike Baylon of PSSS.

From Kolambugan we went to Tubod port which was once a connection too to Misamis Occidental via the Silanga port on the other side. The port is now refurbished but it also does not have ships now when Maypalad Shipping gave up and Roble Shipping did not last. There is a sign that it was an ISPS port but then we had easy entry and the guard even offered us to maneuver our vehicle inside the port. Now, if only all ISPS ports are like this. At least there and in Zamboanga port they can detect those who have no ill intent.

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Tubod port by Mike Baylon of PSSS.

It was past 5pm when we able to board the Daima ferry Swallow 2 in Mukas port. We noticed that again there were ferries tied-up and unused in Mukas port. We did not load our vehicle in the ferry and just left it in the gas station outside Mukas port as we won’t really be in need of it in Ozamiz. It was beginning to get dark when we alighted from the ship and so we had no more good shots of the ships docked in Ozamiz port and those we met that were bound for Mukas port. Again, we were late as maybe we were not hurrying enough.

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Our ferry to Ozamis, the Swallow 2, a bombing survivor as Our Lady of Mediatrix. Photo by Mike Baylon of PSSS.

In the port, a Chevy Suburban owned by the couple-doctors JM and Dianne Feliciano who owns the Faith General Hospital in Ozamiz City picked us up and it was nice as it was raining already. The couple is friends of our tour companion Dr. Neal Rana. They served us dinner in their big house together with some other doctors that are friends and medical school classmates of Dr. Neal.

It was already the second to the last trip of the Daima ferry which we were able to board in crossing back to Mukas and our ship was the Royal Seal. It was no longer full both In passengers and cargo. Maybe the night crossing is really slow and that is why the Daima trips stop at 9pm and just resumes at 4am. From Mukas port we took a tricycle back to where our vehicle was parked as there was a drizzle and it is a little far too.

It was a cold night on the trip back with wet roads making it difficult to calculate the asphalted roads that have not been repainted making it hard for Janjan Salas. In Cagayan de Oro we dropped off Dr. Neal at his place and so we were again down to three aboard the Hilux – me, Janjan and Allen. We were the three that started off in Sanfranz two nights before. The only difference was our driver was already tired now.

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Our Ozamis-Mukas ship, the Royal Seal. Weather not kind on our way back. Photo by Mike Baylon of PSSS.

We made good progress without speeding up. We left Mukas at 9pm and by 12 midnight we were already in Cagayan de Oro. We reached Sanfranz between 4:30am and 5am. Janjan said he will take a one-hour break as he was too sleepy already. Meanwhile, me and Allen was fortunate a Philtranco bus arrived in the Sanfranz bus terminal. It was of the same series of our Philtranco bus we took two nights before but the driver was taking his driving seriously and there were few stops. And so in less than four hours me and Allen were already in Davao City. We took breakfast before going our own ways.

Over-all, it was a very good tour despite some glitches which centers on overrunning of the time. Aside from the camaraderie built and the memories that will remain with the participants for a long time, we had breakthroughs in new ship spotting places and in new contacts or contacts that were renewed. That will be of help to the PSSS in the coming days and in the future.

The Ever Sweet

The Ever Sweet is a beautiful, sweet, little ferry that is a relic from the past (but of course I know the young ones will not agree with my description). This ship is probably the second-oldest cruiser ferry that is still sailing that is not an LCT. Ever Sweet and the oldest cruiser ferry extant, the Bounty Cruiser are incidentally both local-built which is a testament to the soundness of the design of local shipbuilders (Sandoval Shipyards has a lot of old ships, too, that are still sailing). The two were also both built in Zamboanga.

The Ever Sweet was built by the Varadero de Recodo in 1963 for Ever Lines, Inc. This ship is an overnight ferry-cruiser which means she is fitted with bunks. Her main route is to the Olutanga island and Payao, the municipality in Zamboanga mainland that is opposite Olutanga island.

One of the reason she still exists in the route is the poor security in the area. Although the road to Zamboanga City is mainly paved now night trips are still precluded and besides the main LCT connection of Olutanga goes to Alicia town which is farther.

And besides gathering of the goods and merchandise are done during daytime and so a night run by a ferry direct to Zamboanga City is just perfect. Selling of the goods then and marketing in Zamboanga City is also done daytime and so a trip back by night to Olutanga or Payao is also perfect.

By the way, these areas being mentioned are part of the province of Zamboanga Sibugay except for Zamboanga City and the city is the commercial lifeline of Olutanga and Payao. The better-off of Olutanga also send their children to study in Zamboanga City.

The Ever Sweet was built in Recodo, Zamboanga City and she is just a small ship at 36.3 meters length over-all, 33.3 meter length between perpendiculars by 5.9 meters beam with a depth of just 1.9 meters. Her dimensional measurements are just 135 in gross tonnage (GT)and 66 in net tonnage (NT).

The ship carries 252 passenger in a single Economy class in two decks. The ship is equipped by a small engine, a single 285hp Yanmar Marine diesel which propels her to a top speed of (gulp!) 8 knots! But that speed already guarantees a daybreak arrival in Olutanga and probably a good night’s sleep.

The ship has a steel hull with a raked stem and a transom stern (it was originally a cruiser stern). She has just one mast and a single side funnel and the bridge is above the passenger decks and ahead of the bridge is a forecastle. The ship has no cargo booms and cargo is just slid to the lower passenger from the wharf and it goes to the cargo hold. Sensitive or extra cargo is also stowed on the lower passenger deck which is a twin-purpose deck actually.

She does not sail three times a week in one direction except in peak seasons and sometimes it is just once a week. The trip will actually depend on the cargo and seasonality of goods and the demand also factors in. We heard with such flexibility she still manages to be profitable. Anyway, she has only one competitor in her route, a ship of Magnolia Shipping Corporation.

It is always a joy to see Ever Sweet in Zamboanga port which can only mean she is still healthy and sailing. Sentimentalists like me and Britz, the Zamboanga ship spotter do not really want old ships to go and we really prize them. Now, if only they can sail forever….

The “Golden Ferries” of the Philippines

“Golden ferries” are passenger ships that are already 50 years old or even older which means they were built in 1966 or earlier. There are a handful of them in the Philippines, a country known for keeping ferries long. Filipinos are sentimentally attached to old ferries and wish that they will sail forever as long as they are decent shape and does not conk out. From the owner to the crew to the yard and the passengers and shippers there is the thinking, “Why dispose of the ship when it is still sailing nicely?”. The banking system is also not keen on lending for ship purchases. Being poor, the passengers does not welcome newer ships if will mean increased fares. Hence, the shipping operators tend to try to keep their ferries sailing for as long as possible. Meanwhile, the shipyards of the country which are actually more in the repairing and refitting business are more than cooperative to these wishes of the ship owners.

Trying to keep these old ferries continually running is easier compared to 30 years ago when the ex-FS ships and the former cargo ships used by the USA in World War II began to die. Changing steel plates and buttressing beams have always been easy unless poor maintenance has already compromised the structural integrity of the hull. Nowadays, with CNC manufacturing, it is easy to have parts duplicated with precision. Many surplus parts are also available from the ship breakers and there are companies worldwide that specialize on surplus parts and engines. If needed, replacement engines are also available on the market and looking for them is easy in this time of the Net. Meanwhile, all kinds of surplus equipment is available from the breakers and the open market whether they are auxiliary engines or bridge equipment.

Our oldest ferries are actually LCTs. The oldest is the “LCT Trans-Olango” servicing the route to their namesake island resort of Olango. She is a World War II LCT of the USA built in 1944 and her appearance certainly betrays her age. Next oldest to her is the “LCT Island Princess” of Zamboanga del Sur which connects the island of Olutanga to the Zamboanga peninsula. This LCT was built locally in 1947.

Among the cruiser ferries, it is the “Bounty Cruiser” of Evenesser Shipping which is the oldest. She was built in Zamboanga in 1956 and trades the Zamboanga-Jolo route. She is followed by the “Georich” of George & Peter Lines. This ship was built in Japan in 1961 and does the Cebu-Dapitan route. The Zamboanga-built “Ever Sweet” of Ever Lines follows next in age. She was built in 1963 and she plies the Zamboanga-Olutanga route.

Among the ROROs that are not LCTs, it is now the “Star Ferry II” of 168 Shipping that must be recognized as the oldest now after it was verified she is the rebuilt “Ace 1” of Manila Shipping. Actually, she does not resemble that ship at all anymore except in the bridge area. She plies the Matnog-Allen route.

The next oldest RORO is probably the “Millennium Uno” of Millennium Shipping. She was built in Japan in 1964 and she serves the Liloan-Lipata route, if she can. There are stretches when this ship cannot sail but they just wouldn’t let her go. I thought she was done when she voluntarily stopped sailing in the aftermath of the sinking of “Maharlika II” but then she still came back to sail her old schedule and route.

Actually, all the ferries mentioned above are already showing signs of mortality (except the “Ever Sweet”) and it is a wonder for how long they can hold up. Their speeds are even compromised now. But still they sail. If landlubbers think they should go, well, they simply do not know shipping. It is the ships younger than them that actually sink.

The “Elreen 2” of Rolly Frueda is a motor boat that was built locally in 1964. She plies the Romblon waters. She might be the oldest wooden-hulled vessel still sailing in the Philippines but this is a little hard to verify. Lite Ferries have the 1964-built ship from the US Navy, the “Lite Ferry 20” which was recently re-engined. Lite Ferries rotates her ship assignments so it is hard to pin down “Lite Ferry 20” at any given moment.

The “Melrivic Seven” of E. B. Aznar Shipping is another RORO built in 1964. Like the “Lite Ferry 20”, she is a reliable ship together with the next oldest, the “Eugene Elson” of Penafrancia Shipping which was built in 1965. The first plies the Tabuelan-Escalante route while the latter sails the Tabaco-Virac route. Both ferries were built in Japan.

For ships built in 1966, we have the local-built “Hijos 1” of Hijos de Juan Corrales. She is a very small Camiguin cruiser ship linking the island to Balingoan, Misamis Oriental. For ROROs, there is the “Maria Erlinda” of Montenegro Lines which are assigned various routes. It is a practice of her company to also rotate their fleet assignments so her exact route is hard to determine.

Last but not the least in this list is the “Ever Queen Emilia” of Ever Lines built in 1966, too. This RORO is a Zamboanga-Bongao ferry which also calls on various islands of Tawi-tawi. Actually, among the “golden ferries” this ship has the longest route which only shows she is still a very reliable ship at 50 years of age. The Ever ships are actually very well taken cared of by Varadero de Cawit.

Next year, in 2017 more ferries here will join the “golden ships” list. The graph will actually go up as the years come because we have a lot of ferries that are 40 years old and over. In Europe, they have “golden ferries” too. Japan have ferries that are over 40 years old. That is also true in Canada. There is actually no rule that says ferries over 40 years old must be disposed of already contrary to what some landlubbers say.

Many who really know shipping says it is not the age of ships that matter but it is in the maintenance and the care attended to them. Landlubbers think an old ship will easily be holed. That is true if there is no proper maintenance because speaking of hulls it is easy to replace the plates. Unreliable main engines can also be replaced and good parts sourced or ordered in Japan and Singapore. China is also now aggressive in promoting replacement engines.

In such a situation, I think many of our old ferries will still have long lives. And, our list of “golden ferries” will probably grow longer, too.

[Image: MV Bounty Cruiser]
[Photo Owner: Mike Baylon]