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 Sister Ships Starlite Jupiter and Lite Ferry 11

When I first saw a photo of Starlite Jupiter of Starlite Ferries in Batangas Bay that was uploaded in the Philippine Ship Spotters Society (PSSS) photostream, I immediately knew she was a Honda ship. There is the same tough-looking stance, the sharp-edged front and the tall bridge I noticed in the other Honda ships. Later, I began to realize she looked the same as a ferry in Cebu, the Lite Ferry 11 of Lite Shipping Corporation which was better-known as Lite Ferries. When I checked in Miramar Ship Index, yes, they were true sister ships but the Lite Ferry 11 was built two years earlier than Starlite Jupiter and they came from the same shipping company in Japan. Yes, that is the beauty of international maritime databases and of the IMO Numbers – authoritative checking is easier. No guessing, no speculation. Now if only MARINA, the local maritime regulatory agency knows how to use IMO Numbers. No they don’t; they will insist on their own registry numbers which is not searchable anywhere else and the international maritime databases have no idea of its existence or use.

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Photo by Jefferson Provido

Starlite Jupiter was first known as the Ferry Misaki No.38 of the Oishi Kaiun (or the O.K. Line) of Japan and her date of build (DOB) is 1989. Meanwhile, Lite Ferry 11 was first known as the Ferry Misaki No.5 of Oishi Kaiun, too and her date of build was 1987. Both were built by the Honda Shipbuilding Co. Ltd. in Saiki yard, Japan. Originally the company was known as the Higashi-Kyushu Zosen Co. Ltd. Saiki Works and was founded in 1943. The company is now known as the Honda Heavy Industries Co. Ltd. With such beginnings I assume this is a different company from the world-famous Honda Motor Co. Ltd. which was founded by the great engineer Soichiro Honda in 1948 and whose description of products does not include ships.

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Ferry Misaki No.5 was the first to arrive in the Philippines in 2010 and she was refitted not in a shipyard but in Ouano wharf in Mandaue, Cebu, a cheap refitting place where charges are practically just the docking fees and sub-contractors like Eliezer Shipworks and Industrial Services will come and do specific steel and other works complete with their own generators for power since Ouano does not provide electricity. This is the reason why Ouano wharf is a favorite of Cebu overnight ferry companies for drydocking (its actually “afloat ship repair” or ASR) and refitting. Well, even Cebu Ferries Corporation used Ouano then along with Lite Ferries, Trans-Asia Shipping Line, Cokaliong Shipping Lines, Medallion Transport, George & Peter Lines and others.

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Ouano wharf

In Ouano, from a Cargo RORO ship, Ferry Misaki No. 5 was converted into an overnight ferry with two class accommodations – Tourist and Economy over two passenger decks, both of which are below the bridge or navigation deck. With such arrangement Lite Ferries did not bother to extend anymore the pilot house side to side since visibility is good already (however, many think, it gave Lite Ferry 11 some kind of a funny look). However, the look from the sides might fool some to think she has three passenger decks. Her roof on the top passenger deck is not full so there is a small poop deck.

Officially, Lite Ferry 11 has a passenger capacity of 800 but her general arrangement plan (GAP) shows only 492 and about 170 of that are in fiberglass seats, the infamous “cruel” seats that is a Lite Ferries and Roble Shipping staple which a crude offering for a 6-hour Camotes Sea night crossing (as if one can sleep in that). I have long wondered why they can’t offer seats even as good as ordinary bus seats which has cushioning and headrests. And mind you, the fare for that is just a few pesos less than that of a bunk.

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Lite Ferry 11 has a narrow stern ramp (the only cargo ramp) and two passenger ramps on each of that seems to be too prominent. The cargo ramp is not the three-piece kind but adequate in most cases. The car deck meanwhile has three lanes and with a length between perpendiculars of 60.0 meters it can be surmised she has about 165 lane-meters in rolling cargo capacity. She typically carries a mix of trucks and lighter vehicles in her Cebu-Ormoc route.

Meanwhile, Ferry Misaki No. 38 arrived in Batangas in 2013 and was refitted into a short-distance ferry-RORO and just equipped with just seats and benches and that can be uncomfortable if the ship is used in the four-hour Roxas-Caticlan route crossing Tablas Strait. Starlite Jupiter had a minimum of modifications and the old Japan passenger section which has airconditioning became the Tourist section and it is equipped with seats that look like bus seats but in longer rows. There is a makeshift deck at the bridge level that houses the Economy section of the ship (which looks hot on a sunny day). It is equipped with cheap plastic benches. There is no passenger accommodation behind the funnel hence the passenger capacity of the ship is small at only 276 passengers. The deck behind the funnels has no roofing.

Starlite Jupiter (Economy Section)

Photo by Raymond Lapus

With such minimal redesign, Starlite Jupiter still looks like a Cargo RORO ship. This is not a ferry that can take in a lot of buses, however, since MARINA rules forbid passengers staying in the bus during the voyage. Reason? There are no lifejackets in the bus. Starlite Ferries tried to extend the pilot house but it also looked makeshift too and the net effect on the eyes is not impressive. Starlite Jupiter is the speedier of the sister ships at 15 knots since she has 2,000 horsepower from 2 Niigata diesels (while Lite Ferry 11 has only 1,500 horsepower from two Niigata engines and just capable of 13.5 knots). The sides of Starlite Jupiter looks high because there are no windows.

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Now, I just wonder what is the reason why the international maritime databases confuse Lite Ferry 11 and Lite Ferry 12 of Lite Ferries. They think Lite Ferry 11 is Lite Ferry 12 and vice-versa. Did Lite Ferries swap the AIS? But Lite Ferry 12 is not in the international maritime databases and in fact I can’t find her IMO Number.

Other specifications of Lite Ferry 11:

IMO 8618499, built 1987 by Honda in Saiki, Japan

Bulbous stem, transom stern

65.7m x 15.0m x 3.5m

Japan GT=498, Philippine GT=249, DWT=174

*one of the ships “shrunk” by the MARINA “magic meter”

Lite Ferry 11

Other specifications of Starlite Jupiter:

IMO 8822076, built 1989 by Honda in Sasebo, Japan

Bulbous stem, transom stern

65.1m x 12.0m x 4.6m

Japan GT=441, DWT=216

Starlite Jupiter has a Mindoro route while Lite Ferry 11 is a Cebu-Ormoc ship. Hence, the sister ships do not meet. Both sail at night and both are still reliable.

Good acquisitions for both companies!