The Motor Banca Replacement

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San Antonio, Basey, Samar motor banca by Mike Baylon of PSSS

Recently, the question of the motor banca replacement again got traction after three motor bancas in the Iloilo-Guimaras route floundered in heavy wind and rain. That incident really caught the national attention and again knee-jerk reactions abounded. But in all the discussions, all agreed that the motor banca is really deficient in safety when the weather is rough. They generally have no problem in clear weather unless the motor conks out or if the propeller is damaged.

One problem of the motor banca is its low freeboard. In rough seas a motor banca can get swamped by high waves leading to flotation problems. Even in clear weather the hull of a banca needs to be drained of water (well, that has to be done on all ships actually be they wooden-hulled, FRP-hulled or steel-hulled for there is always ingress of water somehow in the hull). Maybe a motor banca should also be required to be equipped with many plastic pails so that passengers can help bailing out water when the banca is already being swamped with water (which also puts pressure on the outriggers).

Independently, the outrigger of a motor banca can also be damaged and even break and that could lead to the capsizing of the motor banca. That is a common reason why motor bancas dip on one side and then sink. It is better when a motor banca brings bamboos and twines for emergency outrigger repairs at sea. This is common practice in the long-distance Masbate motor bancas especially in the Cebu route which crosses the entire Visayan Sea.

But, whatever, one problem of the motor banca is when they are caught by another, heavier sea and wind when they turn around an island, a sea they did not anticipate. In that case, luck and good seamanship are the things that a motor banca needs plus the cooperation of a non-panicking passenger body. That is why it is always safer if the passengers are locals. More dangerous to stability are the tourists and the others not used to the sea who have the tendency to panic.

The reaction of MARINA (the Maritime Industry Authority, the local maritime regulatory agency) is to ban the motor banca and they have been banned since 2005 during the reign of Maria Elena Bautista who doesn’t really understand the maritime industry. Was any empirical study done before she released her edict? If that rule was really practical then the motor bancas would have been gone many years ago but the truth is they are still around.

There are barrios within a bay or in a coast that have no roads and thus dependent on the motor or fishing banca for transport of people an goods. And then, there are also small islands and islets that have to be connected to the mainland. We have over a thousand islands and rocks after all (the 7,107 count is actually not true; that was just a concoction by the Americans during their rule here to make it sound romantic).

Maria Elena Bautista said the replacement must be the LCT. Maybe her idea is since a motor banca just needs a boat landing area then the LCT that can theoretically land on the beaches is the solution. But then if in a small banca a 12-passenger load is already big enough to break even that will not do for an LCT. And how many times must be the capital for one to acquire an LCT? Twenty-five times? And with bigger fuel and maintenance requirements? So the LCT is not the practical replace for the “primitive” motor banca.

It is really hard to do away the motor banca and it is actually near impossible to ban them. Even tourism through short tours is dependent on them. The first area where MARINA was successful in driving out the passenger motor banca was in the Batangas City to Sabang/Puerto Galera routes across the sometimes-rough Verde Island Passage.

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A Minolo Shipping Lines replacement for the motor banca. Photo from MSL.

MARINA has good ammunition there for Sabang and Puerto Galera are the locations of the resorts and operators should really offer a ride better than a motor banca especially since there are foreign tourists there. And since for the decades they have been running already, it can be argued that they have already earned enough to invest in a craft that is better than the old motor banca.

It is one route where I first learned they have indigenous replacements already but still based on the motor banca design and some look like trimarans because the two other small hulls are used to stabilize the sea craft. Well, in the world of boating abroad, the trimaran is already an accepted design to stabilize the craft better and so actually in Sabang they might not be in the wrong track.

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Jaziel by James Gabriel Verallo of PSSS

I also look at some Siquijor indigenous sea crafts especially the Jaziel (and Jaylann) and the Coco Adventurer. The two could be prototypes for practical motor banca replacements. Otherwise, one would have to look at the small motor boat designs like what is used in the Davao to Samal routes and if MARINA’s issue is that they don’t like wooden hulls then a composite hull can be used (well, actually the wooden hulls is also coated now with epoxy resin). A light steel hull  is also viable as wood is not too cheap now in the country anyway. That could even look like the Metro Ferry sea crafts in Mactan Channel.

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Coco Adventurer by Aris Refugio of PSSS

Actually there are existing ships now with an eye on replacing the motor banca. Maybe among them are the Jash Ley East and Eiryl. But the lack of a truly scientific R & D from the government hampers the effort to come up with a practical motor banca replacement. Even MARINA does not have this capacity.

Jash Ley East by Seacat Boats

Jash Ley East by Seacat Boats

Whatever, a design that costs ten times the acquisition cost of a big motor banca will not be the answer even if the government helps in finding the financing for still the same amount will have to be paid over time. MARINA plans to organize the motor banca owners into cooperatives so that there will be more financial muscle. Organize into one the former competitors? Will they just not bicker? And who will take charge of the books?

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If a big motor banca costs PhP 2 million the replacement should not cost twice of that to be affordable. To me it won’t matter if they are just equipped with surplus truck engines and just have basic equipment in the pilot house. If the replacement is all-new, fabricated in a factory with all the certifications it will not be cheap for sure and of course they will not be able to charge anywhere near the old fares. That is the situation now in the Iloilo-Guimaras route where the temporary replacements are charging double than that the motor bancas they replaced or supplemented. I think that is an untenable situation.

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Davao-Samal motor boats by Mike Baylon of PSSS

Price point is the decision point of Pinoys in most cases. The great majority will always go for what is cheap. What is the point of an impressive replacement if the people cannot afford and thus shun it? It is also not practical if the old operators cannot afford it.

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Will the motor banca replacement be an import? Photos/Source: Mtcao Pio Duran

Whatever, MARINA should accept that in many places in the country the motor banca is not yet replaceable. As long as fishing bancas still sail, that is the confirmation we are still in the stage of the motor banca.