On A Parallel Route Sea Crafts Cannot Compete With The Buses

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The Mindoro-Panay connection scuttled the liners to Panay as they ran on parallel routes

Sometimes I wonder what the MARINA (Mariime Industry Authority, the Philippines’ maritime regulatory agency) really knows about shipping history because off and on I will notice them offering to prospective operators routes where sea crafts have to compete with buses. Almost every time the sea crafts will lose to the buses. Badly.

The reason is simple physics. Drag caused by overcoming water resistance is much higher than the rolling drag that has to be overcome by the buses. The sea crafts’ weight is also far higher than buses because of its thick hull and compartments plus the weight of the machineries and equipments it carries. Thus, on a given distance, the sea crafts’ fuel consumption will be much higher which then converts to a higher fare. Even if the sea craft can carry more passengers and cargo still on a per passenger basis the fuel consumption is higher. Add to that the fact that the sea crafts are much slower than the buses and it only docks in ports while a bus can stop anywhere.

Even four decades ago, ship operators already tried the Manila-Bataan route. One operator even tried the hydrofoil. A decade ago even the venerable SuperCat tried competing in that route by offering a Manila-Orani route. Before them the Prestige Cruises and El Greco Jet Ferries also fielded High Speed Crafts (HSCs) in the route. Sadly, all attempts to compete with the Manila-Bataan buses failed. The High Speed Crafts used might have been faster than the bus here in travel time because it does not have go round like the buses which also have to overcome traffic but still the Bataan passengers are not willing to pay the much higher fare of the High Speed Craft.

A few years ago, the MetroStar Ferry tried to compete with the Cavite buses by offering a Mall of Asia (MOA) to Cavite route. The builders of it tried to generate hoopla about its locally-built catamarans. Now however all its ships are laid up and one even burned and the other damaged. Like those which tried before them the MetroStar Ferry also lost to the buses.

A few years ago, Dans Penta 1, a fastcraft, tried to compete with the Davao to Davao Oriental bus. She only lasted a few month before quitting. And to think she was also faster than the bus. But of course the fare was higher.

Over fifty years ago, Madrigal Shipping had a Manila-Aparri passenger-cargo route. But when the road over the Caraballo mountains of Nueva Vizcaya became passable the ship had to go. It simply cannot compete. That was also the story of the passenger-cargo ships going to different Bicol ports like Larap, J. Panganiban (Mambulao), Mercedes, Tabaco, Legaspi, Bulan and Sorsogon town. When the road to Camarines Norte became passable the routes to Larap, J. Panganiban and Mercedes had to go. That was the story of the Bulan and Sorsogon ships, too. It was even a wonder to me the route to Legaspi and Tabaco lasted even when there was already a train. But when the bus came, again the ship had to go.

This was the story of Samar ports too. Once upon a time Calbayog and Catbalogan were vibrant ports. Other ports in Samar had ships too like Caraingan, Laoang and Victoria. The Leyte ports Tacloban, Ormoc and Maasin were also vibrant then. Other Leyte ports hosting ships were Calubian, Baybay, Cabalian and in recent years Palompon and Isabel. But when the RORO connection between Matnog and Allen (and San Isidro) was established and the San Juanico bridge was built the buses (and trucks) rolled and slowly all the Samar and Leyte port hosting passenger ships went kaput.

The story of Mindoro, Lubang, Marinduque and Masbate is a little different. Once upon a time, small passenger-cargo ships including the batel (a wooden motor boat) were their links to Manila. But when the short-distance ferry-ROROs came the ships from Manila disappeared too. The buses were not crossing yet but the buses already go to Batangas, Nasugbu, Lucena and Pilar ports (the three ports were the connection of the three islands to Luzon). The passengers ride the ships to three ports and in those ports the buses to Manila will be waiting. Now even the buses roll to Mindoro, Marinduque and Masbate.

Panay island had the same story as Samar and Leyte. Before it had vibrant ports especially the great Iloilo port.. It also had other ports with passenger ships like Estancia, Culasi, Dumaguit, Batan, Malay, Lipata and San Jose de Buenavista. But when the Roxas-Caticlan route was opened linking Mindoro and Panay island the ferries left. Now only Iloilo has a ferry from Manila but the frequency is already reduced.

Now even the far Davao also have no ship anymore. The budget airlines is part of the reason. So do the buses rolling into Davao from Manila. The buses passing Surigao is also part of the reason why Surigao has no more liner to Manila. That is also true in Bohol. Currently, there is no more ship to Tagbilaran and part of the reason are the Manila buses going to Tagbilaran via Samar and Leyte.

Once upon a time, Pagadian was a very alive port with ships going to Zamboanga and Cotabato. Then the highways east and west of that city were cemented. Now Pagadian has no more passenger ships. But in the Pagadian-Cotabato route it was the vans that drove off the ships. That is also true for the motors boat going to Malabang and Balabagan from Cotabato. Maybe soon even the Lebak-Palimbang motor boats from Cotabato will be gone because the road going there is already completed and the vans are already rolling. But clearly gone now are the Guiuan to Tacloban ships which lost to the bus and vans when a direct road to Guian from Tacloban was built not so long ago.

Well, once upon a time too, ships were going round Mindanao to connect the different ports. But with the coming of roads they had to go too. Well, once, motor boats connected the Mindoro towns too. That was also true for Samar and Palawan islands.

The losing streak of the ships is almost perfect except for one special case. This is the Metro Ferry ships connecting Cebu Pier 3 and Muelle Osmena in Mactan island over Mactan Channel. This is one case where the ferry is faster than the jeep and even cheaper. They do not take long to fill up and has many trips day round and even into the night. The single trip was actually the weak point of ships versus the bus or van when they lost in other places. Metro Ferry is different. They are almost like a big bus in departures.In Pasig River, the ferry might have a chance against the land transport with all the traffic it has to go through. But it seems another factor might torpedo it – the stench of the decaying Pasig River.

In Davao, the motor boats going to Samal are still fighting against the bus. And they recently even gained a victory when the bus to Kaputian District quit. And so the motor boats immediately raised their fares (when before they have to slash it for parity versus the bus). There are still some Western Samar big motor bancas putting up a fight against the bus (and the jeeps and the vans). It seems like in Samal it is too early to predict the demise of these small sea crafts. That is also true for the motor bancas crossing Ragay Gulf.

I can go on with more minor examples of sea crafts losing to the bus when roads were built and they had to compete with land transports. And lose. There are just so many and one of the more recent ones was when the Abuyog to Silago road in Leyte was finally built.

I think it would be best for MARINA to study cases of the gone ships and routes now. Before they start vending routes again. Vending losers is simply an irresponsible act. And never mind if what they are vending are “supported” by “feasibility studies” done by people who have no real knowledge of our seas and routes. Their Ph.D. titles are just decorations anyway.

Manila to Bataan HSC again?

HIGH SPEED CRAFTS IN THE PHILIPPINES

In the recent era, the High Speed Crafts (HSCs) industry in the Philippines has been consisted only of Fastcrafts and Catamarans (which are colloquially called “FCs” and “cats”). In the earlier years though we had Hydrofoils like the “Flying Fish” which sailed in Manila Bay. One extant but non-running example of a hydrofoil here is in Ouano in Cebu but it cannot yet be identified at the moment.

Flying Fish hydrofoil ©Gorio Belen

Fastcrafts are monohulled vessels with overpowered engines to give them high speeds. On the other hand, catamarans are twin-hulled and some are even triple-hulled and these are sometimes called as trimarans. We also had such examples here of that in the Jumbo Cats of Universal Aboitiz.

Supercat TriCat ©Gorio Belen

Many High Speed Crafts have aluminum alloy hulls to lessen weight and thus increase the ‘power to weight ratio’ to give them better speed. Our HSCs are not big and they are among the smallest in the world. We do not have a High Speed Craft that can carry vehicles.

Fastcrafts usually have propellers (screws) as means of propulsion. Catamarans, however, can have propellers or water jets. The latter type is no longer preferred here since water jets has a higher fuel consumption rate compared to propellers. Additionally, water jets are prone to fouling due to the rubbish and flotsam found in the waters of or near our ports.

Oceanjet 8, a fastcraft and St. Jhudiel, a catamaran. ©Mike Baylon

In general, catamarans are faster than fastcrafts since one advantage of twin hulls is the lower water resistance. The speed advantage is more pronounced with the use of water jets. However, there are some fastcrafts that can give ‘cats’ a good run for their money and sometimes speed races between the two happen especially when the cost of fuel was not yet high.

The catamarans, being wider, can carry more passengers than fastcrafts. However, their center of gravity is higher and if there is no motion dampening system the ‘cats’ roll (‘sway’ in layman’s term) more. It does not mean, however, that they are less safe but some passengers are more prone to motion sickness.

Fastcrafts in the country are mainly of two different designs. The more numerous are the fastcrafts made in Malaysia which were derived from a riverboat design. They were mainly built by several yards in Borneo with fastcraft-building centering in Sibu. The Malaysian FCs are long and sit low and have steel hulls. If crippled, a Malaysian FC can be tied to another and not towed. On a rough sea, waves will pass over its roof and splash on its windows and the craft will rock a little but sitting low nausea does not easily set in. it is actually a formula for a good sleep. Many doubted the Malaysian FCs at the start but when tried on a choppy sea it is then people realize they are more stable.

Weesam Express-I, a Malaysian FC design. ©Mike Baylon

The other design of our fastcrafts come from Japan and they are based on the motor launch. Many are aluminum alloy or FRP-hulled  (FRP is Fiberglass Reinforced Plastic) and both are light compared to steel. One disadvantage though of an FRP hull is in the event of an engine fire, the hull simply melts and none are almost saved from sinking. Like aluminum alloy hulls, when burning, FRP hulls produce noxious fumes. Montenegro Lines operates the most number of ex-Japan fastcrafts in the Philippines. Many of the Japanese fastcrafts here are actually sister ships having come from one basic design.

City of Masbate and City of Dapitan, two different Japanese design fastcrafts operated by Montenegro Lines ©Mike Baylon

There is also a third fastcraft design used in the country, the ones that came from Hongkong which looks like an oversized boat. It has good passenger capacity but with a wide hull it cannot match the Malaysian fastcrafts in speed. Only Oceanjet uses this type of fastcraft in the Philippines, the Oceanjet 3, 5 and 6.

Oceanjet 6, a Hong Kong-style fastcraft. ©Jonathan Bordon

Recently a new type of Fastcraft showed in the country, the Australian type which was built from kits sent here and assembled by Golden Dragon Fastcraft Builder in Labogon, Mandaue, Cebu. The examples are Oceanjet 8, 88 and 888 with another still being assembled and expected to be completed in the year 2015.

OceanJet 88 ©Mike Baylon

The primary exponent of catamarans in the country was the old Universal Aboitiz as represented by the SuperCat series. Aboitiz even established FBM Aboitiz Marine to build catamarans of Australian design in Balamban, Cebu. They sold this shipyard now to Austal but the facility still build ships including catamarans of Australian design which are meant for the international market (the local market can no longer afford such brand-new catamarans).

Most of the Aboitiz SuperCats are gone now along with its former competitors — the Sea Angels of Negros Navigation and the Waterjets together with many competitors that tried the Batangas-Mindoro and Iloilo-Bacolod routes. The SuperCats  recently passed on to 2GO in the merger of Negros Navigation and Aboitiz Transport System and they have since been renamed into saints.

St. Jhudiel, a catamaran operated by SuperCat/2GO Travel ©Mike Baylon

Gone too were most of the other shipping companies that tried catamarans in the ‘90s along with their crafts and routes. Among them are Prestige Cruises (operator of the Mt. Samat catamarans), El Greco Jet Ferries, ACG Express Liner (operator of the SeaCats), Royal Ferry, etc. The short-lived HSC boom happened when the price of fuel was still low. It seems the companies simply overestimated the market and maybe forgot most of the riding public are poor and will not readily pay double the fares of the ROPAXes. Even the boom of tourism in the recent years was not enough to lift our HSC sector. It was still the short-distance ferry-ROROs that thrived.

Mt. Samat Ferry ©rrd5580, flickr

Magsaysay Lines through Sun Cruises also operate cruise tours using High Speed Crafts from Manila to Corregidor.

Sun Cruiser II and Sole Cruiser of Sun Cruises ©Ken Ledesma

The biggest remaining operators of High Speed Crafts nowadays are Oceanjet Fast Ferries, 2GO, Weesam Express (SRN Fastcrafts), Starcrafts and Montenegro Lines. Lite Ferries recently entered this field and they now have three HSCs with two of them Hongkong examples but different from that used by Oceanjet.

Lite Jet 1 of Lite Ferries ©Jonathan Bordon

These are also several High Speed Crafts laid up in Manila, Lucena and Cebu and most of them are no longer in sailing condition. Most were victims of the HSC wars in the Batangas-Mindoro routes.

The Philippines has no formal definition of what is a High Speed Craft but in other countries HSCs are vessels that run faster than the ROPAXes. Our fastest ROPAXes sail at 20 knots and so the Philippine Ship Spotters Society (PSSS) has adopted 20 knots as the minimum speed to be considered a High Speed Craft. Older HSCs no longer capable of this speed are then downgraded into Medium Speed Crafts (MSCs). There are also vessels that came into the Philippines as original MSCs not capable of 20 knots and the prime examples of these are the sister ships Anika Gayle, Anika Gayle 2 and Anstephen. The Kinswell crafts were MSCs too.

Anika Gayle ©Mike Baylon

Though this sector is not growing it won’t go away, however. Maybe the recent collapse of the oil prices might see a renaissance if the price holds steady at the low level. Otherwise, the only hope is if the shipping companies can import fuel from Singapore tax-free but that is just like shooting for the moon or the stars. If this is not possible then the only hope will be is when the real income of the Filipinos go high enough so they will look for and be able to afford better sea crafts than they are used to. But then that will still be at least one generation away or even two given the glacial pace of change in this country.

For more photos of High Speed Crafts, please click here.