The Sea Connections of Camiguin and the Ferries From Balingoan

Camiguin, which is a medium-sized island off the coast of northern Misamis and which lies south of Bohol is a province that was once part of the province of Misamis Oriental before it became a separate province in the 1970’s. Camiguin was once a prosperous island and even more prosperous than Cagayan de Misamis during the first peak of copra and coconut oil during World War I and the period right after that. Maybe the reason was because the sea lanes there was more defensible in the late period of Moro attacks when the Mindanao interior was not yet open and so it became more developed first. And being nearer to Cebu might have also helped.

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Photo by Michael Denne

However, when the interior of Mindanao was opened for exploitation and Cagayan de Misamis bloomed, Camiguin slowly became a backwater. If Camiguin is still known today it’s maybe because of its lanzones which is probably the best in the entire Philippines (I hail from Luzon and I will say it easily beats the Paete lanzones). In recent decades, however, Camiguin’s tourism boomed. It is a destination place now like Siargao and Samal. These are the three islands of Mindanao that glitters in the tourists’ minds (why is it that islands are the tourist meccas?).

Per capita, Camiguin has the most number of ferry crossings in a day next only to Samal. Some islands like Mindoro are sky high in this count but if divided by the population then Camiguin will still be ahead. Of all the other islands maybe only Guimaras can tie with Camiguin in this statistic. I intentionally did not count Mactan because it is an unusual case and there is no RORO connecting it to Cebu. I also omitted Boracay which is also a unique case.

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Photo by Travis Break

Camiguin’s main connection to the outside world to the town of Balingoan in Misamis Oriental. Once, it has two ports having connection to that port, the Guinsiliban and Benoni ports but lately only Benoni still has a connection to Balingoan. Besides the Balingoan connection, Camiguin also has a daily connection to Jagna town in Bohol which is served by Asian Marine Transport Corporation. Its ferries leave Balbagon port in Mambajao in the morning and the return trip will be after midday and arriving again in Mambajao in the late afternoon.

Asian Marine Transport Corporation also has a weekly Cebu-Mambajao connection leaving Cebu Friday night and arriving Saturday morning which will then depart Mambajao Sunday night. The Camiguin connection to Cebu is no longer strong because people of Camiguin already treats Cagayan de Oro as their commercial and trading center. In this way, Camiguin really belongs to Mindanao.

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Kalinaw and Yuhum by Bemes Lee Mondia

The Jagna-Mambajao connection is stronger. The proof is a daily connection can be sustained. The reasons are many. For some the Cebu-Bohol-Camiguin-Balingoan connection is the best way to get a vehicle across as the overnight ferries connecting Cebu and Cagayan de Oro do not stress that and thus rates are high. For Bol-anons in Mindanao this is an alternate way to visit their province. And there is maybe enough trade and people crossing between the two islands. The two islands actually had been connected for so long already.

There are many ferries connecting Balingoan and Benoni ranging from basic, short-distance ferry-ROROs to steel-hulled motor launches. The trips start from dawn and lasts up to dusk with an interval of about an hour or even less. The crossing times vary slight with about an hour or less being the normal. Fares are on the cheap side, just like a bus and so people from both directions just cross either to take a vacation or from the other side to make pasyal or laag in Cagayan de Oro and shop and visit. Many families in Camiguin also have sons and daughters studying in Cagayan de Oro.

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Royal Princess by Bemes Lee Mondia

Asian Marine Transport Corporation (AMTC) is the strongest ferry serving the route to Balingoan. Usually their Super Shuttle Ferry 1, Super Shuttle Ferry 6 and Super Shuttle Ferry 9 alternates in the route. All are basic, short-distance ferry-ROROs. ROROs are superior in this routes as there are a lot of vehicles crossing and rolling cargo earns much more than passenger revenues. It seems the coming of AMTC practically sealed the fate of the old but once fine cruisers of Camiguin, the Camiguin Oro and Jagna Oro which both belonged to Sea Jade Express which are both gone now. Also gone were the cruisers of Tamula Shipping.

Among the locals fighting AMTC are Philstone Shipping Corporation, Davemyr Shipping and Hijos de Juan Corrales. Philstone is the strongest of the three with three ferries, the basic, short-distance ferry-ROROs Kalinaw and Yuhum and the small cruiser Royal Princess. Meanwhile, Davemyr Shipping operates the basic, short-distance ferry-RORO Dona Pepita. Hijos de Juan Corrales operates the ancient but still good motor launch Hijos-1, the longest-serving steel-hulled ferry in the route.

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Dona Pepita by Joel Bado

The ferries of Camiguin in the south are all small. Maybe because of the small population it is the only size that can be maintained there without the passengers waiting too long for the vessel to depart. However, small size also has its negative. In a strong swell that sometimes visit the strait separating Camiguin from Mindanao, when hit broadside these ferries suffer along with the passengers. This is true when there is a storm somewhere or when the monsoons are acting up or simply when the barometer is low and the wind is blowing hard.

Before, Camiguin also had High Speed Craft (HSC) connections. Pioneer was the Paras Sea Cat which had a daily Cagayan-Mambajao-Jagna route. Oceanjet also tried a Balingoan-Benoni-Jagna route. The two quit and both did not come back. Maybe they found out that the demand for premium service to Camiguin is highly seasonal. For a very short route, the locals do not take too much to the HSCs which has double the fares for so little a time-saving. Ironically, it was Oceanjet which was the buyer of the Paras Sea Cat.

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Hijos-1 by Janjan Salas

So aside from the ferries from Jagna and Cebu, Camiguin has 8 ferries on the south side connecting to Balingoan. Not a bad number for an island of Camiguin’s size and population.

Camiguin is not a backwater anymore.

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In the Philippines, No-Name, Shoddy Ferries Have a Better Safety Record Than Internationally-Certificated Ferries

A candidate for Ripley’s “Believe It or Not”? That’s true and so better read on.

Yesterday, it was in the news that Christopher Pastrana, The Boastful is hosting the 41st Interferry Conference that will be held in Manila starting today, October 15. There will be many sponsors for that and it is usually attended by shipping owners, shipbuilders, marine engine makers, various suppliers and other entities connected to shipping to exchange notes and learn about the latest trends and products. By the way, Interferry is not the sole organizer of maritime conferences.

A news item said the FastCats of Pastrana can provide safe ferries as do the ferries of Starlite and the implication is because those are new. Well, not so fast as it is not just the newness of the ship that is a factor in safety. May I remind too that Pastrana lost the Maharlika Dos to capsizing and sinking near Panaon island in 2014 after its engines failed and his Maharlika Cuatro, though just nearby, did not come to its rescue. And Starlite Voyager grounded and reached BER status when it was on the way to a shipyard in 2011. Are they blaming now the oldness of their vessels that sank?

I was angry when Maharlika Dos capsized and sank in 2014 because Pastrana broke the 35-year record of Bicol steel-hulled ferries not sinking while sailing ever since the RORO Cardinal Ferry 2 of Cardinal Shipping came in 1979. The Northern Samar sank in 2006 in a storm but she was not sailing and was just moored in Tabaco port. This perfect record extends to Surigao Strait because no steel-hulled ferries ever sank there since Cardinal Ferry 2 came in 1980, a record that Maharlika Dos broke infamously.

And to think the eastern seaboard short-distance ferry routes are home to the some of the most shoddy ROROs in Philippine waters led by the Maharlika ships of Christopher Pastrana and the Millennium Uno of Millennium Shipping. Well, the ships of Bicolandia Shipping then were also not topnotch and are old. But no matter what these ferries don’t sink even though the eastern seaboard straits are among the most dangerous in the country. As I have said in an earlier article it is seamanship that carried them through. The seamen there would not let their ships sink because they know that among their passengers might be their kins, their friends, their school mates or somebody known to them. But Maharlika Cuatro‘s captain didn’t know that and so he let Maharlika Dos wallow in the ever-strengthening swells until it capsized. And now since he got new FastCats, Pastrana always boasts now about safety and misses no chance to deride the “lack of safety” of his rivals. What gall!

Before Pastrana or even Cusi of Starlite Ferries, another boastful owner, gets carried away let me state that going by the records and empirically there are a lot of ferry companies which are their rivals which have a perfect safety record, i.e. they did not lose ships to sinking. In Bicol, Sta. Clara Shipping, Penafrancia Shipping, Regina Shipping Lines and 168 Shipping Lines have never lost a ferry of theirs. That goes true to the defunct ferry companies that served Bicol like Cardinal Shipping, Newport Shipping, Badjao Navigation and the short-serving Luzvimin Ferry Services. Well, even Denica Lines have not lost a steel-hulled ferry so far.

Going to Quezon, the safety record of the decrepit-looking ships of Kalayaan Shipping have a perfect safety record as do the defunct Sta. Cruz Shipping. Alabat Shipping also has a perfect safety record as do Phil-Nippon Kyoei when they were still existing. Noting these ferry companies, I purposely omitted those that have short service records like Starhorse Shipping.

In Western Visayas, Milagrosa-J Shipping and Tri-Star Megalink both have perfect safety records even though Milagrosa-J Shipping regularly crosses the Sulu Sea which has rough seas and strong winds many months of the year. And to think their sea crafts are small and are already old. It is really in the seamanship.

Batangas shipping companies have no great safety record especially Besta Shipping. But I would like to point out that for a ferry company which has a fleet of over 30, Montenegro Shipping Lines lost only one ferry in 20 years even though they can be found almost anywhere in the Philippines including those that have rough seas. They only lost the Maria Carmela when somebody threw a cigarette butt into a copra truck and thereby igniting a conflagration which was rather unfortunate. And Montenegro Lines have some of the oldest ships hereabouts.

Zamboanga is home to some of ferries that will not look so clean internally and many are also old. But two sailing companies there, Ever Lines and Magnolia Shipping, probably the Number 2 and Number 3 there have perfect safety records as they have not lost a ship even in their freighters. And Sulu, Tawi-tawi and Celebes Sea have strong seas when there is a storm somewhere in eastern Philippines or when the monsoons are blowing hard. Minor shipping companies of Zamboanga like Sing Shipping and Ibnerizam Shipping also have perfect records. The defunct Basilan Lines/Basilan Shipping of the Alanos also did not lose a ship although their Dona Ramona was bombed in Lamitan City.

Mae Wess of Davao has not also lost a ship as do the KSJ Shipping of Surigao. And as far as I know, the currently operating ferry companies of Camiguin – Philstone Shipping, Davemyr Shipping, and Hijos de Juan Corrales have not lost a ship too and it seems that also goes true for the defunct P.N. Roa and and Jade Sea Express. In Panguil Bay, Daima Shipping has not also lost a ship even though their Our Lady of Mediatrix was burned because of the firebombing of two Super 5 buses aboard her in 2000.

In Cebu, for all the size of their fleet Lite Ferries may not lost a vessel (was the Sta. Lucia de Bohol lost at sea?). FJP Lines/Palacio Shipping, defunct now, also has a perfect safety record. There are other defunct shipping companies of Cebu which has not lost a ship through accident and that includes VG Shipping, Roly Shipping/Godspeed, Kinswell Shipping, Jadestar Shipping, Goldenbridge Shipping, Maayo Shipping, Cuadro Alas Navigation, PAR Transport plus many smaller ferry companies. In the recent era, Gabisan Shipping are known for safety and the ability to “read” the waves and have not yet lost one.

If I go by routes, there was not a ferry lost in Roxas-Caticlan and Dapitan-Dumaguete even though their seas can sometimes be rough. No steel-hulled ferry was ever lost in any route in Bicol too except for the Blue Water Princess 2 which is a Quezon ferry going to Masbate and the Rosalia 2, a Cebu craft going to Cataingan, Masbate. There are many, many other routes in the country which has not seen a ship sink even though they are not using a new ship. It is all in the seamanship really. To say a new ships is “safer” is just like claiming a new car will not be involved in a collision.

Some of our HSC companies too are very safe. Oceanjet, the Number 1 now in HSCs, has not lost a ship ever and they did not always use new crafts. Weesam Express also has a perfect record. Even the defunct Bullet Express, the fastcrafts of the Viva Shipping Lines combine and the fastcrafts of A. Sakaluran have perfect safety records. The are a lot of other HSC companies which had perfect records but their service record was short like Star Crafts. Not included here is SuperCat which has lost one.

And which brings me to our liners which in the recent years are internationally-certificated, have P&I insurance and are mostly spic-and-span but unfortunately have a bad safety record. In the last 20 years, WG&A/CFC lost SuperFerry 3, SuperFerry 6 and SuperFerry 7, all to fire and Dona Virginia and Our Lady of Banneux due to grounding. Aboitiz Transport System (ATS) also lost the SuperFerry 14 to a terrorist act and the St. Gregory The Great to grounding. Sulpicio Lines lost the Princess of the Stars and Princess of the Orient to capsizing and lost the Princess of the World, Philippine Princess and the Iloilo Princess to fire and the Princess of the Pacific to grounding. Negros Navigation also lost the St. Francis of Assisi to fire.

Between the end of the World War II and 1995 I know of 75 (that is seventy-five) liners which were lost and mainly at sea. That is 75 in only 30 years! Can anybody believe that? So how can I be impressed by liners and international certificates in safety? Or in their being spic and span? The records say otherwise. And believe me I can easily name the 75 as I have my own database about maritime hull losses. This 75 does not even include regional ships like the Boholana Princess which was an overnight ship when she was lost.

The Don Juan and Cebu City were brand-new ships when they were fielded in the Philippines. But they sank in collisions at night. So Pastrana and Cusi be better warned by their boastfulness of their new ships. They better be more humble before shipping companies which have not ever lost a ship.

Newness of a ship is not a guarantee of anything except in shininess.

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Photo credit: Masahiro Homma

The Hijos-1

The motor launch Hijos-1 is one of the country’s smallest steel-hulled ferries, if not the outright smallest (the Anrans of Golden Star Manning and Management is smaller but it might not be steel-hulled). The comparison does not include what the Philippine Ship Spotters Society (PSSS) call as Moro boats which are concentrated in Zamboanga (anyway, the bulk of them are bigger than Hijos-1). Generally, the batels (wooden motor boats) of Luzon and Visayas (also called lancha here) which were once called as “motor boats”, officially, are also bigger than Hijos-1, in the main. That is how small Hijos-1 of Hijos de Juan Corrales, the shipping company owning and operating the passenger motor launch.

Hijos-1 was built in Mambajao, Camiguin by local shipbuilders. The hull design was very simple – it was an outright motor launch design but only bigger than what can be found in most US marinas. There is only a single passenger deck with benches in an open-air Economy class. The pilot house is above the passenger deck and it has a little extension to accommodate additional passengers. The roof of the passenger deck can also be used for stowing things including life rafts. There is a single mast and two funnels. The passenger accommodation is also used for loose cargo.

The external measurements of Hijos-1 are only 19.5 meters registered length. At that length the big motor bancas are longer than her by 10 meters! Her breadth is 4.5 meters which is narrower than the batels and Moro boats. The ship’s depth is 2.8 meters and I would say this is a little deep for her size. Her dimensional weights are 47 in gross tonnage and 35 in net tonnage. She has a passenger capacity of just 90 persons which is even less than the big motor bancas.

The Hijos-1 is also one of our oldest ferries around being built way back in 1966 so that means she is on her golden anniversary. Good she is steel-hulled because if she was wooden-hulled MARINA would have long ago pressured her out of passenger service for being “unsafe”. Well, unless it hit a rock a wooden motor boat or batel/lancha hulls do not leak and I don’t see how a steel-hulled motor launch which has practically the same hull design as our motor boats is any safer.

Like when the steel-hulled Pilar II floundered when hit by heavy swells between Linapacan and Busuanga islands. Of minesweeper origin, her steel hull did not save her from the heavy seas she encountered. Just like motor boats flounder there later also.

But Hijos-1 is lucky all these years as her Balingoan-Benoni route might be short but that narrow strait between the Mindanao mainland and Camiguin island also produces heavy swells that hit the sea crafts there broadside (a member of PSSS hit by that can attest to it). Or maybe there is also good seamanship and familiarity with the seas in her route which is a definite plus for survivability. Whatever, she has a good reputation for being stable if rough seas visit her route.

Hijos-1 is not a RORO and rolling cargo is the great source of revenue these days (or even way back). But she continues to survive financially. I have been told the reason – with only a few crew and a thrifty 440-horsepower Yanmar engine (is this still correct? someone said it is a Cummins but officially in MARINA that’s that) that keeps her above water (and may I add, loyal passengers maybe who are willing to make do with an old sea craft but which perhaps they have grown to love).

Well maybe at even hall-full that will already mean P5000 plus in revenue including from a little of  loose cargo. For sure she will not consume P3000 worth of diesel fuel and motor oil on the route. I think her break-even point might just be a third of the passenger load. The Yanmar engine doesn’t need to push a lot of weight also. There is also a tale that she can carry a small vehicle. I will not be surprised. In some far-off areas they shoehorn that even today in wooden motor boats or on a pair of motor bancas.

The hull of a vessel is easy to maintain (unlike what most landlubbers think otherwise). All it needs is re-plating when it gets thin. Unless there is major damage from having a romance with rocks (true rocks) when beams buckle. Old sea crafts of still-good hulls surrender if their engine finally quit for good. But Yanmar engines are very long-lasting, spare parts are easy to secure and so I hope her engine is still trusty. Well, at the worst there are surplus 420hp truck engines in the market. It might be demeaning but truck engines work in motor boats, big motor bancas and even the Metro Ferry boats in Cebu (though steel-hulled too I did not compare them to Hijos-1 in size because their hull looks more like that of motor bancas to me without the outriggers).

Such a cute little craft. I hope she continues to sail on past her 50 years.

Photo Credit: Janjan Salas