The Passenger-Cruiser Shipping Company That Won’t Sink

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It is really true that nowadays a cruiser ship really can’t compete with a RORO ship. Since cargo is the main source of revenue and loading vehicles is the biggest source of revenue, it cannot be overemphasized that the loose cargo loaded on cruiser ships will seem paltry compared to what can be loaded by a RORO ship. The cargo holds of cruiser ships are actually even smaller than that of the car/cargo decks of RORO ships. Plus, a RORO ship can load and unload faster as they can use forklifts while in cruisers it is still mano-mano. I am talking here mainly of overnight ships.

In Cebu, I noticed there are only three ferry companies still operating an all-cruiser fleet – Lapu-Lapu Shipping Lines, Gabisan Lines (and Gabisan has already acquired ROROs which are not sailing yet as of the time of the writing of this article) and South Pacific Transport Company. In Zamboanga, the ratio of cruiser ships to the whole ferry fleet is better as Zamboanga is still a cruiser ship stronghold if Moro boats are included in the count. In all other places of the country, the cruiser ships are a dying breed. They are just following the wakes of the motor boats (the lanchas and batels) into obsolescence and death.

Outside of Zamboanga, there are no more cruiser ships that arrived in the recent years. In Cebu, the last time one was launched was when the former cruiser ship Honey was remodeled to become the Lapu-lapu Ferry 8. Meanwhile, LCTs just keep on multiplying in Cebu and LCTs whether it is just pure cargo or ROPAX are also ROROs.

The three mentioned cruiser shipping companies in Cebu won’t probably sink anytime soon. They are after all the survivors now and all are resilient. But one, the last-mentioned, the South Pacific Transport is the one that will not sink in any event. The reason? The owner of South Pacific Transport is an established shipyard in Tayud, the Fortune ShipWorks which also owns a cargo shipping company, the Fortune Sea Carrier, Inc.

South Pacific Transport has only two ships, the South Pacific and the Fiji – II and both are small cruiser ships. Fortune ShipWorks, the main company, were the builders of the two. The ships have only one route, the Cebu-Bato (Leyte) route and the two ships alternate to maintain a daily voyage. A few years ago, South Pacific Transport tried a route to Cabalian (Southern Leyte) but it did not last long. The van and bus extensions to Cabalian and beyond of the competing ferries to Hilongos can no longer be beaten.

South Pacific was the first one to be built, in 1975. This ferry measures 38.5 meters by 7.3 meters by 2.2 meters with a gross tonnage of 230. Her net tonnage is 115 and the DWT is 300 tons. The passenger capacity is 302 spread over two passenger decks. This ship is an overnight ferry with bunks in just a single Economy class. The amenities are basic but the fare is cheap.

The ship has a raked stem and a cruiser stern with just one mast and a single funnel. The South Pacific is powered by a single Isuzu marine engine of 500 horsepower and the ship has a top speed of 13 knots. The permanent ID of the ship is IMO 8428002 and her Call Sign is DYFQ. She has no MMSI Number.

Meanwhile, Fiji – II came in 1982. She measures 37.9 meters by 6.7 meters by 2.9 meters and her gross tonnage is just 180. The ship has a net tonnage of 111. Her passenger capacity is 300 which is almost the same as that of South Pacific and that is also spread over two decks. The ship as an overnight ferry is also equipped with bunks in a single, no-frills Economy class.

The two ships have similarities in the superstructures and like the South Pacific the Fiji – II has a raked stem, a cruiser stern and a single mast and funnel. However, this ship is equipped by a single 500-hp Cummins engine which gives the same top speed of 13 knots. The permanent ID of Fiji – II is IMO 8426221 and her Call Sign is DUH2039. Like the South Pacific she has no MMSI Number.

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The two ships are still very reliable and still has enough patronage although they are under pressure now by the bigger ship of competitor Medallion Transport, the Lady of All Nations. Two shipping companies can be accommodated by the small town and port of Bato because many of the passengers there are still going to the many other towns of Southern Leyte.

Although Maasin is officially the gateway port of the province, in actuality it is Bato and a port north of Bato, the Hilongos port which are the actual gateways of Southern Leyte. The reason is the shorter distance to Cebu plus the presence of the shortcut mountain road from Bato to Tomas Oppus town of Southern Leyte which brings the passengers faster by vans and buses to the towns along Sogod Bay and beyond. This combination of ferry and van actually sunk the ports of Sogod, Liloan and Cabalian which once had direct connections by ferry to Cebu, their main commercial and educational center.

Maybe such characteristic of Bato helps preserve the viability of South Pacific Transport to Bato when the like of Maypalad Shipping which had routes to Sogod and Liloan had already given up a few years ago. The ship to Cabalian has been gone much earlier.

Will South Pacific Transport last? An officer of theirs told me their ships will sail as long as the owners want them to for they have no problem in maintenance as they have their own shipyard. And also implied maybe is the owners have other sources of revenues like the other shipping company.

Will South Pacific Transport junk their cruisers and get ROROs in place of them? Now only the owners of the company can answer that, of course. Whatever, there is no question that they can afford to buy ROROs because as shown in their cargo ships, they can continuously buy additional ones.

I just hope Southern Pacific Transport don’t give up their cruisers and continue to maintain them sailing even for the memories and for history’s sake.

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The Ferry That Won’t Die

A few months ago, out of a sudden, a PSSS (Philippine Ship Spotters Society) member espied a ship docked in Hilongos port. Even though it was dark he was able to recognize the silhouette since he has already sailed with it in crossing Surigao Strait. It was a surprise to the PSSS community since many thought she was already dead since it has been three years since she disappeared from the Liloan-Lipata route. The last that was heard of her was that she was in a General Santos City shipyard. That time the new FastCats of Archipelago Philippines Ferries were also due to arrive (and it did) and so they have no more need for their old and unreliable Maharlika ferries. In fact, they were also disposing off already their Grandstar RORO ferries which was even a later acquisition of theirs from Phil-Nippon Kyoei.

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Photo credit: Joel Bado

The ferry was the Maharlika Cinco which has long held the Liloan-Lipata ferry route for Archipelago Philippine Ferries. She was actually their most reliable ferry in the route, she was always there as if she had never heard of the two-year rule for mandatory drydocking. Maharlika Dos might be in and out of service like Millennium Uno but Maharlika Cinco will always be there.

If one who doesn’t know her will think she is just another bland ferry then maybe he will be surprised if he will know that this ferry has a colorful history. Maharlika Cinco had actually bounced between routes and owners, has had a trip to the seabed, had her superstructure ripped, etc. Her bounces were actually too fast that international maritime databases has a hard time catching up with her thus it has lots of errors.

This ferry was first known as the Sata Maru No. 3 of Kinkowan Ferry KK and home ported in Kagoshima, Japan. She was supposed to be built by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries in Kobe, Japan but instead she was subcontracted to a shipbuilder that was not well-known, the Tokushima Sangyo in Komatsushima, Japan. Her keel was laid in November 1971 and she was launched in April 1972. She possessed the permanent ID IMO 7205221.

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Photo credit: To the lady in the photo

The ship is a RORO with ramps at the bow and at the stern. She measures 70.9 meters in length over-all (LOA) with a beam of 12.5 meters and a load capacity of 500 deadweight tons. Her original gross register tonnage (GRT) was 997 tons. She has a raked stem, a transom stern with two masts and two side funnels. Sata Maru No. 3 was equipped with two Niigata diesels with a total of 2,600 horsepower giving her a top speed of 14 knots when new.

In 1981, when Kinkowan Ferry quit operation she went to Nankai Yusen KK. A few years later she was sold to Badjao Navigation in the Philippines and she became the Christ The Saviour. Badjao Navigation had a route from Cebu to Samar among others but it was not really successful. Maybe like Newport Shipping that had a route from Manila to Samar she thought that it would be better if they will do a Matnog-Allen route which was growing then. By this time she was already known as the Christ The King. However, ROROs in the route multiplied fast.

Maharlika Cinco

Photo credits: Philtranco Heritage Museum and Dennis Obsuna

In time, Badjao Navigation quit the shipping business and she passed on to Luzvimin Ferry Services of the Philtranco Service Enterprises Inc. (PSEI), an intermodal bus operator with routes from Manila to Visayas and up to Mindanao where she became the Luzvimin Primo. Maybe when Badjao Navigation was still doing the Matnog-Allen route she was just under Provisional Authority (PA) because soon after Luzvimin Ferry Services started operations the ruling shipping company of San Bernardino Strait protested, the Bicolandia Shipping Lines, and pointed out that her competitor has no Certificate of Public Conveyance (CPC) or franchise.

Luzvimin Ferry Services defended itself by saying that their ferries were just meant to carry their buses. The case was first heard in MARINA, the local maritime regulatory body which has quasi-judicial powers but eventually it reached the courts (the higher court even) which held that any ship transporting vehicles must secure a franchise from MARINA. And that was the end of Luzvimin Ferry Services and the career of the former Badjao Navigation ferries in San Bernardino Strait.

In about 1990, Christ The King next found itself in Batangas under a new company, the Prince Valiant Navigation where she was known as the Mindoro Express. When she went to that new area there was also a ruling shipping company there which was even tougher in challenging newcomers and sometimes the challenge is even outside the legal plane. I don’t know exactly why but soon she was doing a route to Palawan. There she sank in Honda Bay near Puerto Princesa port.

Mindoro Express ( now Maharlika Cinco )

Photo credit: Edison Sy

It turned out she was eventually refloated and brought to Keppel Batangas shipyard where a shipping owner who later became a PSSS member caught her in cam. This was in late 1991. From his analysis, he thinks the sooty exterior in the starboard side indicated the ship had a fire. He says firefighting water on just one side of a ship can capsize a ship. The ship bore other damages too like a missing port funnel and deformations in the structure.

Mindoro Express ( now Maharlika Cinco )

Photo credit: Edison Sy

Much later, sometime about 2002, a ferry for Archipelago Philippine Ferries turned up in the Liloan-Lipata route to double their unreliable 18-year old Maharlika II. The name of the ship was Maharlika V. To almost everyone including me they thought this was just another ferry that just arrived from Japan. It seems even Philtranco bus drivers did not recognize her (or they were playing poker?). One thing though is she seems a little rusty but I think nobody thought much of it since being a bit rusty was an Archipelago Philippine Ferries trademark. And maybe nobody gave a damn as long as the ship was reliable. After all, the Liloan-Lipata route was home to unreliable ferries until Super Shuttle Ferry 5 appeared on the route.

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Photo credit: PDO-Visayas of PPA

Fast forward to December 2008, the Philippine Ship Spotters Society (PSSS) was born. With its growing photostream from the members’ contribution, it afforded members (and the world) a view of the different ships from all over the Philippines from ferries to freighters to tankers and tugs and everything in between. A member then contributed a photo of Maharlika Cinco when their family had a vacation in Southern Leyte and they crossed Surigao Strait. That was 2009.

It was here that the PSSS member who caught a photo of Mindoro Express in Keppel Batangas in 1991 realized that if the superstructure of Mindoro Express is cropped then it would look almost exactly the same as Maharlika Cinco and he alerted me. When a collage of the two was posted in PSSS the riddle of Maharlika Cinco‘s origin was solved. The two were exactly the same ship. Later, upon researching, the two ships had identical IMO Numbers and that was the final confirmation since IMO Numbers are unique numbers and only one hull can possess a particular number.

Comparison

Photo credits: Edison Sy and Joel Bado

Maharlika Cinco continued sailing but in this decade her engines were already beginning to get less reliable. Not soon after she disappeared from the route with the last news saying she was in a General Santos shipyard with an uncertain return. With Maharlika Cuatro and a rejuvenated Maharlika Dos (she was regenerated when her sister ship Maharlika Uno went to the breakers), it looked like Archipelago had no more use for her. To me, I no longer expected to see her again. Her metal before she disappeared also seemed to be on the soft side already. Soft metal plus unreliable engines plus no more use to me looked like equal to goodbye.

It was like waking to a stupor when somebody called me from Hilongos to report that discovery of an apparition of a ship in the night. The PSSS member then proceeded to investigate. She would be the Gloria V of Gabisan Shipping which has a Hilongos-Cebu route. Yes, it was a buy one, take one deal. They also acquired the Maharlika Cuatro which stopped operation in the aftermath of the Maharlika Dos sinking. He asked what was the former name of the ship. “Mindoro Express”, they said, as if they can fool the PSSS ship spotter (and our ship spotter laughed). Maybe they were ashamed to admit it was the Maharlika Cinco because Liloan is too near and the ship does not really have a sterling reputation there.

Decrepit Maharlika Cinco

Photo credit: Rex Nerves

They latter admitted a difficult sailing from General Santos City via Zamboanga (they were afraid of the rough waters in the eastern seaboard of Mindanao). The engines failed several times and they had to seek shelter and assistance. The trip took long but finally they made it to Hilongos in one piece. No, sorry, they would not honor a ship tour. It’s understandable.

After some preliminary work, Maharlika Cinco disappeared from Hilongos. From checking, PSSS members said she was not in Tayud, the great shipyard row of Cebu (she is too big not to be noticed from offshore). Then she was discovered in Liloan municipal port. They would finish the refitting there. They brought it over there since in Hilongos she would often be forced to undock if a ship is coming.

Maharlika Cinco

Photo credit: Rex Nerves

Gabisan Shipping intends to sail her in the Cebu-Hilongos route. They say one of the Gloria cruisers will be sold and the Maharlika Cuatro which is in Tayud is for sale. It seems even Gabisan Shipping, a staunch believer in cruisers is also getting aboard now in the RORO bandwagon to Leyte. After all the Cargo RORO and the other ROROs are making a killing. Speculation says she will be spruced up to be able to compete with the Graceful Stars of Roble Shipping.

This is simply a ferry that wouldn’t die and I don’t know if she has a charm embedded in her hull. If she will survive now, I just hope the MARINA plan which is fanned by some politicians and columnists that 35-old ferries will be retired will not snuff out her life. Finally.

The MV Nikki (a.k.a. MV Lady of All Nations)

When the deadly-for-shipping decade of the 1980’s ended (technically, it ended only at the end of 1990), we still had a few former FS ships sailing. Maybe it was because we really lacked ships them and getting loans was really difficult and interest rates were very high. Maybe, the penchant of Filipinos to squeeze the last ounce of life from mechanical things was also a factor. We are also sentimental in letting go of things that have served us for so long.

One of the last former FS ships still sailing then was the MV Edward of William Lines. The ship was running the short Manila-Tilik (Lubang Island) and Manila-San Jose (Occidental Mindoro) routes. She is running this route but at times it is another former FS ship, the MV Don Jose I, which is in that route. However, it is the MV Edward which is remembered more in the big town of San Jose. She was actually the last on the route, too. This route is a steel-hulled ferry monopoly at that time by William Lines Inc. after other liner companies withdrew or were gone from shipping. They were also able to block the entry of a new competitor. Beside the steel-hulled ferry there were also wooden motor boats (the batel) plying the route but they concentrated on cargo and do not have very regular schedules (it will depend on how full they were and also on the weather).

In 1992, with the coming of the new administration of President Fidel V. Ramos and his call for shipping modernization, there seems to be a sudden realization by the shipping companies still sailing former FS ships that they finally have to go. There were just a few former FS ships still sailing then and their lives were prolonged by retiring other FS ships and cannibalizing them for parts. Their ranks was also further diminished by the very strong Typhoon “Mike” (Typhoon “Ruping”) that visited Cebu in November 1990 which was very deadly for Cebu shipping.

Instead of acquiring a new ship for the Manila-Tilik and Manila-San Jose routes, William Lines instead decided to withdraw from the route. But, instead of holding on to their residual rights on the route, William Lines instead welcomed and helped a successor in the person of Dr. Segundo Moreno who was previously not in shipping. Dr. Moreno established the shipping company Moreta Shipping Lines and he purchased the MV Ariake Maru No. 6 from Japan. With this changeover, San Jose and Tilik was able to re-establish their regular connection to Manila. This was important as they were dependent on the national capital for manufactured goods and Divisoria and Navotas were the main markets for their agricultural and sea products.

Unlike the former FS ships, MV Ariake Maru No. 6 is a RORO (Roll-on, Roll Off) which means she can load vehicles. Even when used in break-bulk cargo, her main use, a RORO is easier to load and unload and forklifts ease the operation especially in handling heavier cargo. It also means a RORO is less dependent for the services of manual laborers, the porters. MV Ariake Maru No. 6 was actually not bigger than the former FS ship she was replacing but a RORO has a taller cargo deck.

MV Ariake Maru No. 6 has the permanent ID IMO 7632307. She was built by Hayashikane Shipbuilding & Engineering Company in their Nagasaki shipyard in Japan in 1977 for Ariake Ferry. She measured 54.0 meters by 12.8 meters with a Gross Tonnage (GT) of 695, which are all about the same as an FS ship. However, her DWT (Deadweight Tonnage) of 284 tons was way less than the 711 tons of MV Edward, a lengthened FS ship measuring 62.9 meters by 9.8 meters. She was equipped with two Niigata diesel engines with a total of 2,400 horsepower. Her original top speed in Japan was 13.5 knots.

Arriving for Moreta Shipping Lines, she was renamed the MV Nikki and she was converted into an overnight ferry equipped with bunks with a local passenger capacity of 440. She was two-class ship: an airconditioned Tourist with free linen and pillow and a better toilet and bath and an open-air Economy with no free “beddings” (linen). She was considered by her passengers to be more comfortable than the former FS ships she was replacing. As to speed, she was not faster than the former FS ships which only had less than ½ of her engine power at 1,000 horsepower.

Maybe her lack of speed was due to what I heard that she has a spoon hull. That means the design of her hull is similar to a bathtub. Maybe in Japan she was only used for very short-distance routes where the shape of the hull will not matter. Incidentally, this hull is similar to the hull of the barges and LCTs. Assigned to the 120-nautical mile Manila-San Jose route she can’t meet the promised 12-hour sailing time especially when swells are around. Two years after fielding, she settled on a 14-hour sailing time for her route. So sailing at 6pm means a stomach already looking for food once one disembarks.

In Moreta Shipping Lines, the Tilik and San Jose routes destinations were also split into separate routes. However, when the MV Kimelody Cristy arrived for Moreta Shipping Lines in 1994, MV Nikki became a dedicated Tilik (Lubang) ship. There her lack of speed did not matter as Lubang island is just a short distance from Manila. A 10pm departure to that port is already assured of a dawn arrival. 

Moreta Shipping Lines and MV Nikki did good sailing for about a decade or so. But in due time, their Mindoro routes were slowly taken over by the intermodal trucks and buses that was using the short Batangas-Abra de Ilog (Occidental Mindoro) route. As always, the advantage of the intermodal were 24-hour departures and direct delivery to the particular towns or barrios. With such changes, Moreta Lines had to develop other routes and they tried the Panay island routes abandoned by WG&A. But soon, they found out there was nothing much left there and the intermodal was already ascendant there, too.

The staple route of Manila-Tilik by MV Nikki was affected in another way. Slowly, the motor banca to Lubang from Nasugbu in Batangas became a competitor. With a combined bus and banca, daytime trips became possible with direct disembarkation (unlike the RORO which only dock in Tilik port). The syndrome was much like how the motor banca drove out the RORO in Puerto Galera. Tilik port is not located in either town of Lubang or Looc and the local road was not good either.

By the last half of the 2010’s, the ships of Moreta Lines were barely sailing. At times, only one of their three ferries might be sailing. Reading the writing on the wall, they started cargo shipping in 2009. Not long after, they decided to get out of passenger shipping altogether, sold their passenger ships and used the proceeds to acquire more cargo ships. They then became a pure cargo shipping line (this trying to survive as a shipping line was one characteristic missing in their benefactor William Lines Inc. which decided to go down quietly).

MV Nikki came to Medallion Transport in 2012 which was soon followed by the MV Love-1 of Moreta Shipping Lines also. The two ships were used by Medallion Transport to develop new Medallion routes between Cebu and Leyte together with two other ships (always less one because one is used in Masbate). In Medallion Transport, the MV Nikki was renamed to MV Lady of All Nations and she was used to grab traffic from a competitor in the Cebu-Bato route. Medallion Transport was already sailing this route before but they were just shoehorning short-distance ferries in this overnight route (it has also day trip on the reverse). With the fielding of MV Lady of All Nations, Medallion Transport finally had a true overnight ship in this route, their pioneer route to Cebu from their original home port of Bato, Leyte.

MV Lady of All Nations is still the Medallion Transport mainstay in the Cebu-Bato route. The competition is suffering because it is using single-class cruisers (admittedly, they are faster, however). Meanwhile, Medallion Transport retrofitted MV Lady of All Nations to have Cabin class and Deluxe class (which approximates the Suite class). So, she is now a four-class ship. Five, if the Sitting Economy, a Cebu-Leyte and Cebu-Bohol fixture is included. Her fares starts at P245 per person which is very cheap for a 55-nautical mile distance. Actually, the Cebu-Bato route is known for having the cheapest fares between Cebu and Leyte. The Tourist fare of Ormoc will actually be already Cabin class in MV Lady of All Nations.

In her last drydock in 2014, two years after coming to Medallion Transport, the MV Lady of All Nations spent some time in Star Marine Shipyard in the shipyard row of Cebu in Tayud off Cansaga Bay and the one nearest to the Cansaga bridge. I heard included in the works done in her were upgrading in the engines. It seems it showed as after the drydocking, the MV Lady of All Nations became a faster ship.

She does two departures in a day and this means much more revenues for a medium-distance regional ferry. As such, she approximates in the a day a sailing distance from Cebu to the likes of Surigao, Dapitan, Dipolog, Iloilo, Masbate, Calbayog or Catbalogan. At nighttime, she leaves Cebu for Bato arriving there at dawn. She leaves at mid-morning in Bato to arrive in Cebu at mid-afternoon. She is the favorite there since she a bigger and more comfortable ship than her competition.

It seems it will be a long time before the competition will come out with a ship that will displace her in the Cebu-Bato route. Her main competition are actually the slightly better ships to Hilongos, another port north of Bato and on a parallel competing route to Cebu-Bato route. Maybe that was the reason why Cabin and Deluxe were added to her since the ships in Hilongos have Cabins and Suites. However, with slightly lower fares and the advantage of a shorter distance to the Southern Leyte towns, she has competitive advantages of her own. And with the short distance to Leyte her speed is not that much of an issue and being nearer to the farther destination then that cancels out the speed disadvantage (but this is not applicable to a very slow ship of a competitor in the Hilongos route, a cousin of theirs).

Acquiring her seems to be a genius stroke for Medallion Transport. She is a definite asset for the company. What a definite change of fortune by being a castaway in another route that lost (well, that is also true for MV Lady of Love – an advanced preview)!

Photo Credit: James Gabriel Verallo