When I Sailed With The Filipinas Maasin Again

Recently, I sailed with the Filipinas Maasin of Cokaliong Shipping Lines Inc. (CSLI) from Masbate when I was going back to Cebu. The truth is I really sought to take her again as I wanted to compare and see what changed with her since I last rode her over a decade ago (and in a different route at that). I really made sure I will be able to take the ship and that even meant cutting my stay in Bicol to just an overnight.

The Filipinas Maasin, over time was offered for sale along with the other older Cokaliong ships but there were no takers and so they just continued sailing. But over the years  Filipinas Maasin got more smokey and significantly slower. And so she was also laid up for long in Ouano yard undergoing refitting starting in 2015 and as we found out she had an engine change. This year, 2017, she was fully back in action for Cokaliong doing various routes.

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Filipinas Maasin being refitted and having an engine change in Ouano. Photo by John Carlos Cabanillas.

This Filipinas Maasin is actually the third Filipinas Maasin as two previous ferries of that name preceded her in the fleet of Cokaliong. The first two were cruiser ships and this is the first Filipinas Maasin that is a RORO (Roll-on, Roll Off) vessel. When she was first fielded she was the biggest ship of Cokaliong then together with her sister ship Filipinas Iloilo and practically the flagship of the Cokaliong fleet. She was then doing the Maasin and Surigao routes which first established Cokaliong Shipping Lines.

The third Filipinas Maasin is a ship built in 1980 as the Utaka Maru, a Japan ferry. She was built by Sanuki Shipbuilding and Iron Works in their Takuma yard. Her external dimensions then were 75.9 meters by 12.5 meters. Her original Gross Register Tonnage (GRT) was 999 tons and her Deadweight Tonnage (DWT) was 250 tons. She was powered by two Daihatsu marine engines of a combined 3,200 horsepower which gave her a top sustained speed of 13 knots when she was still new (this is the design speed).

In 1992, the Utaka Maru went to China to become the Zhong Hai No. 3. But in the same year she was sold to South Korea to become the Car Ferry Cheju No. 3 serving Cheju or Jeju island, a favorite South Korean resort destination. It was from South Korea where Cokaliong Shipping Lines acquired her in the year 2000. This was after their second Filipinas Maasin was sold to Roble Shipping Inc. and was converted into the Leyte Diamond which became a well-known ship in Hilongos, Leyte.

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Filipinas Maasin on her bad day before the engine change. Photo by John Carlos Cabanillas.

The third Filipinas Maasin firmed up the hold of Cokaliong Shipping Lines in Maasin and Surigao, a route which was not competed well by the then regional giant Cebu Ferries Corporation (CFC), the regional subsidiary of the merged company William, Gothong and Aboitiz (WG & A) that was basically using the not-so-reliable Our Lady of Guadalupe in the route which was already a graying ship already then. And that was a puzzle to me up to. Did the supporter of CSLI, President Fidel V. Ramos told WG & A to take it easy on Cokaliong? Dumaguete and Dapitan was another route not well-competed by Cebu Ferries and it also gave the chance for Cokaliong to grow when Trans-Asia Shipping Lines was suffering terribly from the onslaught of Cebu Ferries.

It was there in her primary route when I first rode Filipinas Maasin taking advantage of her cheap fare from Surigao to Maasin when I was on the way to Bicol (I declined the lousy Liloan-Lipata ferry, a Maharlika ship so I can ride her). The Filipinas Maasin was a much, much better ship than the Maharlika ship of Archipelago Philippine Ferries but my good ride turned out to be a mistake as arriving midnight in Maasin there was no bus yet to Manila and I just waited in a street corner fending off mosquitoes as I was advised the terminal was dark and empty at that unholy hour (and by the tricycle drivers’ implication unsafe — I believed the tricycle driver for who would turn down a paid ride?). For the Filipinas Maasin trip I did not stay in the Economy accommodation which my ticket indicated but just whiled my time in the restaurant cum lounge which is air-conditioned. Well, until now two Economy tickets from Surigao-Maasin and Maasin-Cebu is cheaper than taking one ticket straight from Surigao to Cebu but they usually won’t sell the Maasin-Cebu ticket in Surigao. I asked why but I did not get any clear answer except that I can sense it is a subsidized ride for Leytenos and they do not want to be taken for the ride (pun intended). I do not know if that cheap fare is also meant to compete with the Liloan-Lipata ferries (well at P325 the Maasin ticket is just P25 over the ferry to Liloan and a bus further on will cost much more).

When the ferry became a Philippine ship there was a change in the external dimensions of the ferry. She is now 81.3 meters by 14.8 meters. In my years of studying the specifications of Philippine ship this is one very rare instance when a ship grew in dimensions! Her Gross Tonnage (GT) is now 2,661 from a Gross Register Tonnage of 999 (now that is honest) and her Net Tonnage (NT) is now 1,684. I have observed that some ships that passed through China had their dimensions and tonnages bloat and maybe that is also the case for the Filipinas Maasin and Cokaliong no longer tried to “downsize” her here.

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The Filipinas Maasin arriving in Masbate after a 15-hour voyage from Cebu

The General Arrangement Plan (GAP) of Filipinas Maasin is very simple. There are only two passenger decks and the top deck which is on the same level of the bridge is an all-Economy deck with double bunks with mattresses. The lower passenger deck is Economy at the stern and Tourist section and Cabins/Suites at the bow. The latter is ahead of the Tourist section. In the lower deck the restaurant cum lounge divides the higher accommodations from the Economy section. It is a neat arrangement as the higher and lower accommodations both have a direct access to the restaurant. There is a small cubicle that serves as a karaoke room in the restaurant-lounge and together that is a row of video game consoles, both of which seem archaic now (in my ride nobody used the two).

The restaurant serves hot meals with rice and a limited choice of viand plus there is the usual instant noodles, some sandwiches, bread, biscuits, knick-knacks (locally known as chicheria) and a good selection of hot and cold drinks. Not that grand but maybe enough for one not to get hungry. In overnight ships it seems there is no provision for breakfast if a ship’s arrival is beyond 7am unlike in liners from Manila. So a late arrival is sure business for the ship’s restaurant and I wonder if they do it on purpose.

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The Filipinas Maasin is a very clean ship like the other ferries in the Cokaliong fleet. There is no dust or grime and even the floor is very clean that one can almost lie in it. One thing I noticed that changed in Filipinas Maasin is the flooring. The material now is like what they use in buses and it does not need painting. But like in all Cokaliong ships the lower bunks is almost near the floor and for oldies like me I need to use my hand to raise myself up. The plus side is the upper bunk does not seem to be too high.

Another notable change I noticed in the third Filipinas Maasin is the availability now of individual lights and a charging outlet per bunk in the Tourist section (sorry I was not able to check the Economy section as I was already tired with an all-day ship spotting in Masbate). With that the charging of devices is easy which is important nowadays. So I really wonder about the greed of 2GO that charges five pesos per ten minutes of charging time when Cokaliong can give the electricity for charging free. I never noticed any paid charging outlet in Filipinas Maasin.

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Filipinas Maasin Tourist with its big airconditioners

The Tourist section of the ship which was my accommodation was overly cold when they set four big packaged-type air-conditioners at 16 degrees Celsius when the Tourist section is not that big and just half-full. I tinkered with the air-conditioners because otherwise we will all suffer the entire night. They should have set the air-conditioners at full blast only during boarding time. There is no need to chill the passengers when they are already sleeping because their linen and blanket are not enough for that level of coldness. Some of my co-passengers already know that but who said one can’t tinker with the air-conditioners? I always do that when it is too cold for me.

My second ride with the third Filipinas Maasin was okay except that I miss the old cheaper Trans-Asia Shipping Lines fare from Masbate and the ship is slow for the Masbate-Cebu route especially since her departure time is 7pm (I should have taken her arrival of 10:30am in Masbate as a warning and the porters said that was normal arrival time for Filipinas Maasin). The old Trans-Asia Shipping ferries were all faster and arrive earlier than her. The sound of the engines seem okay and the propeller shaft does not make a racket but I just wonder what is the horsepower of her new China-made engines. Maybe she is better kept in the Maasin and Surigao route which is shorter than the Masbate route. But then the people of the two cities might have tired of her already and she can’t go head-to-head with the superior Lady of Love of Medallion Transport which is new and competing with Cokaliong in the Surigao route.

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The Filipinas Maasin after I disembarked from it in Cebu

In Cebu, we arrived some minutes past 9am. Well, it is good as it was already easy to hail a taxi (hard if it is between 6 to 8am). It is also good since we will be approaching Cebu when the sun is already up. But the early-morning smog of Cebu was still around when we passed by Tayud and Mactan Bay (this smog usually stays up to 8am, the product of all the sinugba of Cebu) and so my shots there were lousy especially since some ships are far. Ship spotting from Liloan to Cebu was my second reason why I took the Filipinas Maasin from Masbate.

It is obvious that with her re-engining Cokaliong Shipping Lines intends to keep the third Filipinas Maasin long-term. Well, unless the Department of Transportation of Arthur Tugade favors some shipping companies and culls the old but still reliable old ferries. But as things stand I expect to see the third Filipinas Maasin a long time more. And now she is already capable of sailing up to 12 knots, as the company said.

Well done, Cokaliong, for giving the third Filipinas Maasin a second lease of life. With new engines what will the bashers of old ships say now? The thickness of the hull can easily be proven by the magnetic anomaly detector. I assume the other equipment including the auxiliary engines are still in order (Dynamic Power, your main engine supplier also supplies that). There are lot of surplus parts including that of bridge equipment in the second-hand market, in case some needs replacement. You know that very well also.

So, right now your Filipinas Maasin is a living example on how to nay-say the bashers of old ships. Good!

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The Third Filipinas Maasin

The Filipinas Maasin is a line of ships of Cokaliong Shipping Lines Inc. (CSLI) bearing the same name. The current, existing Filipinas Maasin that almost everyone knows is actually the third in that line. It is the first RORO (Roll On, Roll Off) Filipinas Maasin and the biggest in the series. Maybe it can also be added that she was the best in the three.

The first Filipinas Maasin was the third-ever ship of Cokalong Shipping Lines Inc., which was a hand-me-down cruiser ship from Trans-Asia Shipping Lines Inc. (TASLI) where she was known as the first Trans-Asia. However, the first Filipinas Maasin was renamed to the second Filipinas Tandag after the very first ship of Cokaliong Shipping Lines Inc. bearing that name caught fire in Mactan Channel during the Christmas rush of 1991. This ship was later sold to Roble Shipping Inc. in 1998 where she became the Cebu Diamond. In Japan, she was the Shimaji Maru.

Since there was no Filipinas Maasin (and so they lacked ships) and Cokaliong Shipping Lines names ships from places they are connected (the founders of Cokaliong has Surigao origins) and Surigao ships to Cebu traditionally call on Maasin at it lies near the route, another Filipinas Maasin was procured in 1992. This ship was known in Aboitiz Shipping Corp. by three names – as the second Aklan and the second Ormoc. Since there was much renaming in the ships then that results in confusion she should also be identified by her Japan origins where she was known as the the Yasaka Maru with the IMO Number 5395254 and she was built in 1960. Later she was also sold to Roble Shipping where she became the Leyte Diamond.

The third Filipinas Maasin arrived in 2000, a year after the arrival of her sister ship, the Filipinas Iloilo. Their coming, along with other ROROs was part of the whole-fleet conversion of Cokaliong Shipping Lines into ROROs which began in 1997. That was the reason they consecutively sold the Filipinas Siargao, the Filipinas Tandag and the second Filipinas Maasin.

The third Filipinas Maasin was built as the Utaka Maru in Japan in 1980 with the ID IMO 8014887. She was built by Sanuki Shipbuilding and Iron Works in their Takuma yard. The ship has a steel hull with bow and stern ramps as access to her single-level car deck which is divided in the middle. Hence, she is classified as a RORO (Roll-On, Roll Off) ship. She has two masts but only a single stylized center funnel (and that bisects the car deck into two), a raked stem and a transom stern.

Her external dimensions, as built, is 81.3 meters length-all by 14.8 meters extreme breadth by 4.6 meters depth. The ship’s gross register tonnage (GRT) as built was 999 tons and her load capacity was 250 tons in deadweight tonnage (DWT). She was equipped with two Daihatsu marine diesels of 1,600 horsepower each for a total of 3,200 horsepower. That propelled her to a top sustained speed of 14 knots when she was still new.

In 1992, she was sold to China where she was known as the Zhong Hai No.3. Then she was reconveyed to South Korea the same year where she became a dedicated Jeju ferry. Jeju island is the famed island for vacationers and honeymooners in South Korea. Her name there was Car Ferry Cheju No.3. Cheju is another transliteration equivalent to Jeju but Jeju is the name now more used internationally like when a ferry there capsized and sank.

The ship was taken by Cokaliong Shipping Lines from Busan (formerly known as Pusan), South Korea and was conducted from Aug. 19 to Aug. 26 in 2000. The conduction took double the usual duration because the ship had to take shelter in Ikema Shima island in Japan because of a strong typhoon. A 12-man conduction crew manned the ship during the voyage that ended in Cebu.

Upon refitting, the gross tonnage (GT) of the ship shot up to 2,661 nominal tons with 1,684 nominal tons in net tonnage (NT). The DWT of the ship also rose significantly to 674. As of now the passenger capacity of the ship is 704 in 4 classes: Suite, Cabin, Tourist and Economy. There are only two passenger decks with the upper one all-Economy. The rear of that deck is a poop deck which serves as the viewing deck of the ship.

The upper classes are in the forward section of the lower passenger deck. This ship has a canteen (not a kiosk) in the airconditioned section and it has seats and tables around and this serves the lounge of the ship for the upper classes. At the rear of the lounge are additional bunks of the Economy class. Economy class passengers have also access to the canteen and can also seat themselves at the lounge.

She has two prominent passenger ramps at the stern which leads to two wing-type passenger passageways at each side which has curved blue plastic roofing, a Cokaliong trademark. She also has two side ramps at each side to assist loading and unloading of cargo. In the main, her cargo is not the rolling type but loose and palletized cargo handled by forklifts which she carries aboard. When newly-fielded here her top speed was already down to 13 knots but that was still enough for the Cebu-Maasin-Surigao route.

I have memories of this ship because she was the first-ever ship of Cokaliong that I have sailed with. I was not yet aware of the legendary cleanliness of the Cokaliong Shipping Lines and I was amazed. I have long sailed with liners and she easily beats most especially when there was no WG&A yet. However, I disembarked in Maasin from Surigao as I will transfer to a Manila bus (but that was one experience I half-regretted, the time I was still in the trial and error mode in rides in the eastern seaboard). My main regret was with the bus connection then (I was too early for the buses in Maasin and I did not know Maasin becomes a deserted place when the ship leaves; but things are different now). I just rode Filipinas Maasin because I want to try Cokaliong and the Surigao-Maasin route.

I also recommended this ship to a friend travelling from Davao to Bicol. But I told him not to get Tourist accommodation but only Economy and stay the whole time there at the lounge. The difference in the fares will be enough for the food and drinks ordered at the canteen. When he travelled the first bus from Maasin is already earlier and Filipinas Maasin is already slower and so she arriver later than before. I even warned him not to tarry too long at the port lest the Philtranco bus pass him because it will be another hour of wait with only mosquitoes as company.

In her earlier days, Filipinas Maasin was the main ship of the Cebu-Maasin-Surigao route of the Cokaliong Shipping Lines. It still is somehow but she also got assigned extra routes especially in her weekly off-day schedule.

In the last few years, she got smokey and her speed dropped. That was about the time she and her sister ship was offered for sale (but there were no takers). There was rumors that her engines were no longer that strong and sometimes we noticed she was arriving past her arrival time. But she is not the type that was conking out. Aside from legendary cleanliness Cokaliong Shipping Lines was also known for rigorous maintenance of old ships. Like clockwork their ships will enter the shipyards every two years for drydocking.

Their paint will also not be left tarnished while sailing. That was why I was furious about one article done by a Hongkonger in Shippax International. That idiot who only visited here said the livery choice of Cokaliong was done “to better hide the rust” (actually all his articles of Philippine ship companies was very derogatory save for one). We ship spotters know that is completely baseless and we know Cokaliong takes care of its ships very well. I actually protested to the late Klas Brogren, the Shippax founder who is a friend of PSSS (Philippine Ship Spotters Society). That article on Philippine ships was first offered to a former Moderator of PSSS and he declined but he did not inform me. If he offered that to me instead I would have gladly wrote that article about Philippine ship companies.

Last year, we noticed Filipinas Maasin was taking an unusually long time in Ouano wharf in Mandaue. We later learned she will be re-engined with brand-new Weichai marine diesels from China.

Filipinas Maasin is again sailing now in her old route. Noticeably, the thick smoked has vanished (before her smoke can almost hide a building). She is also a little faster now. We also learned from sources before she and her sister Filipinas Iloilo is off the market now. It seems Cokaliong Shipping Lines will already ride them for the long term. They should, the interior is still good. She does not look worn or aged. No need to waste her like the TASLI ships Trans-Asia and Asia China.

I expect to see her sailing for a long time more.