Montenegro Lines is Challenging in the Zamboanga-Jolo Route

A few months ago, I got the incredulous (at least for me) update that Montenegro Shipping Lines Inc. (MSLI) will be fielding their ship Maria Rebecca in the Zamboanga-Jolo route which is the next foray of the shipping in an exclusive Mindanao route after their Surigao-Dapa, Siargao route in northeast Mindanao (and so the logical next step is a southwestern Mindanao route?).

MV Maria Rebecca

Photo by Arnel Hutalla

A lot of questions come into my mind with their move. First is the question of security. This part of the country has bombings and extortion, of course. Western Mindanao is also known for another kind of taxation, one that does not have receipts. I was wondering, did Montenegro Lines already paid what is “due” them? If not their move is a hazardous proposition especially since they are newcomers and strangers to the place.

The alternative taxation “due” there from businesses probably does not give discounts or grace periods. However, I know the “patron saint” of the company is really strong and influential. Now, how that translates into more lenient or secure terms in that area, that I don’t know. Whatever, their move there is certainly brave. But if something bad happens, I will say it is stupid.

In shipping terms, the more important angle here is that of shipping competition and again I wonder deep about the move of Montenegro Lines. The Zamboanga-Jolo route is actually a crowded route. It is not an underserved route. It might even be an overcrowded route and bringing in a RORO is no advantage either.

The biggest competitor of Montenegro Lines in the Zamboanga-Jolo route is the dominant shipping company of Western Mindanao which is Aleson Shipping Lines, a homegrown shipping company which is even bigger than any Cebu-based overnight ferry company. Practically every night and at least six nights a week, Aleson Shipping Lines will have a ship from Zamboanga to Jolo and vice-versa and six of those will be dedicated ships in the route.

Aside from those, two other competitors of Aleson Shipping Lines with ROROs have up to four voyages to Jolo on the way to Siasi and Sitangkai in Tawi-tawi. These two are the Magnolia Shipping Company and Ever Lines. Actually these two don’t care that much for passengers to Jolo as their bread and butter is cargo. It is the Tawi-tawi route that they care about and they just pass by Jolo for the passengers going further from there.

Like Aleson Shipping Lines, they have ROROs but their rolling cargo is sparse. Cargo to Jolo is basically loose cargo. Trucks and cars are seldom loaded because after Jolo there is not much to go to because of the security situation and because of the ridos. Without proper security those vehicles might just be mincemeat for the extremists that teem in Jolo island. If those can kidnap foreigners that are not even in their land then imagine what they can do to a vehicle chugging along their un-maintained roads.

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Maria Rebecca and an Aleson ferry (Photo by Britz Salih)

Aside from Aleson, Magnolia and Ever with ROROs, the Zamboanga-Jolo route is also home to the Zamboanga cruiser ferries. The shipping companies that operate these are Sing Shipping, Ibnerizam Shipping and Evenesser Shipping and between the three they operate a total of four active cruiser ferries, the Mama Mia, KC Beatrice, Prince Glory and Bounty Cruiser. So on a given night two of the four will be headed to Jolo and two will be headed back to Zamboanga.

Zamboanga is also home to what I call the “Moro boats”, wooden motor boats (before they were wrongly renamed as “motor launches”) that are unique to the area and almost proprietary to the Muslim Filipinos. Several shipping companies operate this kind of vessel between Zamboanga and Jolo and among these the two with the most boats are Katrafar Shipping Lines which operate the Katrina boats and L5 Shipping/Maing Dimdi which operate the Sea Dayang/Sea Sayang boats. Malik Manajil also operates the Karmina boat.

These three operators sail some 8 Moro boats between them although not that regularly because their main load is copra and passengers come as secondary. Most of the time though they will have a boat docked in Zamboanga and at times three or even four of them will be there.

There are also a few unregistered Moro boats that run between Zamboanga and Jolo that use Zamboanga port. Unregistered Moro boats are not novelties in Zamboanga because in truth most of those are actually unregistered with MARINA (Maritime Industry Authority), the local maritime regulatory agency. And in Baliwasan there are also be a few Moro boats running irregularly plus some that sail to the other towns in Jolo island and the other islands of Sulu province. 

Aside from all those mentioned, SRN Fastcrafts, the operator of the Weesam Express fastcrafts also runs the Zamboanga-Jolo route with a day trip of their Weesam Express 1.

So all in all, maybe in a day some eight vessels are due to depart in Zamboanga for Jolo (if none is drydocked) and the Maria Rebecca of Montenegro Lines will be the ninth every other day. Now, is that 49.9-meter ferry already converted into an overnight ferry? By the way, her size is about average of the steel-hulled ferries that sail in the Zamboanga-Jolo route.

So what gives? Sulu only has a population of a little over 800,000 and some of the islands and towns in that archipelago have direct links to Zamboanga. It does not have tourism but it has lots of copra and rubber, crops that can be left behind when there is fighting. Plus, it has cottage industries producing additional millions and those are not the normal kind.

But nine vessels going there in a day? Come on!

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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 Jadestar Tres and the Jadestar Seis

The Jadestar Tres and Jadestar Seis were once small short-distance ferry-cruisers by Philippine Ship Spotters Society (PSSS) definition. These two are sister ships and before they plied the Cebu-Tubigon short-distance route for Jadestar Shipping Lines. This company has folded now after initial success and these sister ships are the only ones still sailing from the old Jadestar fleet although in different capacities and in different places now.

Among the two it was Jadestar Seis that was built earlier in 1982 and she was originally known as the Tsuya Maru. Jadestar Tres was built in 1984 and she was first known as the Sei Maru. Both ships were built by Nagasaki Shipyard & Machinery Works in Nagasaki, Japan. Tsuya Maru/Jadestar Seis has the ID IMO 8204377 and Sei Maru/Jadestar Tres has the ID IMO 8408117. Jadestar Tres had the local Call Sign DUH 2428 and Jadestar Seis had the local Call Sign DUH 2436. The closeness of the two call signs means they arrived in the Philippines not far apart and of course the Jadestar Tres arrived first.

Both ships arrived in 2005 and were once the workhorses of Jadestar Shipping in the Cebu-Tubigon route together with the Jadestar, the first ferry of the company as the Jadestar Nueve and Jadestar Doce did not play prominent roles for the company. Maybe that was because their different designs might not have been well too-suited even from the start (Jadestar Nueve, a former Hongkong ferry was very tall and sways in the Bohol Strait wind and Jadestar Doce was a Low Speed Craft catamaran). It was the three which then can be usually found in docked in Pier 3 or sailing in Bohol Strait with their distinctive red livery.

The two ships have steel hulls with  raked stems and  transom sterns. The sister ships have a single mast, two low funnels and two passenger decks. As cruiser ships, they did not carry vehicles and hence they did not have ramps for rolling cargo nor did they have car decks and this could have what was fatal to their careers in the Cebu-Tubigon route.

The sister ships had the same external dimensions at 36.0 meters LOA, 33.2 meter LBP, 7.2 meters breadth and 2.9 meters depth. However, Jadestar Seis‘ GT (gross tonnage) is 225 while that of Jadestar Tres is only 172. The NT (net tonnage) of Jadestar Seis is 116 and that of Jadestar Tres is 101 (these are nominal numbers and no “tons” are attached). The DWT (deadweight tonnage) of Jadestar Seis is 50 tons while the DWT of Jadestar Tres is 53 tons.

Jadestar Seis has a declared capacity of 502 persons while that of Jadestar Tres is 512 persons. These are all in sitting accommodations. The sister ships are both powered by single Daihatsu engines of 1,000 horsepower and they have a design top speed of 12 knots. However, in Bohol Strait they were usually doing 10 or 10.5 knots only.

The sister ships have an airconditioned Tourist class accommodation at the front of both the upper deck and the lower deck, the original passenger accommodations in Japan. At the rear of those are the open-air Economy accommodations. Some luggage and cargo can be stowed in the rear of the lower deck above the open engine room which is noisy (and so passengers avoid that area). However, few take the Tourist class as anyway the aircon and the smell were not first rate and nor are the seats.

At the start of their passenger operation in 2004, Jadestar Shipping found early success as people of Bohol are wont to going to Cebu for their needs. Cebu is also the transit point for many coming from other places like Mindanao if they are going to Bohol. Bohol’s tourism was also picking up and there are many Bol-anons studying or working in Cebu. Tubigon was also fast developing to be the alternate port to Tagbilaran and actually it was a cheaper alternative as it was nearer to Cebu at only half of the distance to Tagbilaran.

However, things always change and sometimes paradigm changes happen that upsets the old order of things. Lite Shipping, buoyed by many and fast ship acquisitions fielded the double-ended RORO ferries Lite Ferry 9 and Lite Ferry 10 in the Cebu-Tubigon route in 2009. Their challenge to the route was also tightened by the fielding of the Lite Ferry 22, a ROPAX LCT and the Lite Ferry 23, a low-speed catamaran RORO in the Mandaue-Tubigon route. These two were concentrating on the rolling cargo (i.e. vehicles) to Bohol.

Since rolling cargo revenue far outweighs passenger revenues (while rolling cargoes also bring passenger revenues from the vehicles’ passengers) these ROROs can run with less than half full of passenger load as long as they have a good load of vehicles. And Jadestar Shipping do not have that advantage since their ships are cruisers. Cruisers, by its very nature cannot carry a significant amount of cargo, even loose cargo.

In 2010, the Star Crafts fastcrats of Malaysian origin began appearing in the route. At double the speed of the Jadestars they can do the Cebu-Tubigon route in just an hour versus the two hours of the Jadestar while the fare is not double. This proved to be a big come-on especially since the Star Crafts were airconditioned. The aircon vs. aircon fare difference of the competitors was actually not big but the speed difference and transit times were great.

Come the second decade of the new millennium Jadestar Shipping was obviously being squeezed by Lite Shipping and by Sea Highway Carrier (including its legal-fiction companies), the company of the Star Crafts fastcrafts. One disadvantage of a shipping company with only one route like Jadestar Shipping is there is no other route that can buoy up the company if squeezed in one route. The Island Shipping Corp. cruisers were also being squeezed in the route but that company has a strong presence in the Cebu-Bantayan island route.

By 2012, Jadestar Shipping was already kaput, a victim of declining patronage and of revenues not enough to sustain operations. They stopped sailing and brought their ships to the shipyards. The useless Jadestar Nueve and Jadestar Doce were also sold for scrap. Once in a while, some PSSS ship spotters would view them in Tayud using ultrazoom or superzoom cameras. The distance was far.

In 2013, a Jadestar was first espied in the PPA vessel arrival/departure site. It carried the name Jadestar Legacy. A check by a PSSS Admin proved she was Jadestar Seis (the name is etched in the hull) in practically the same livery. Only the name “Legacy” was added but she was now registered in Zamboanga. Further check showed the seats in the rear of the lower deck were removed so more cargo can be stowed. There is more amount of cargo in Zamboanga than in Bohol.

The ship is now owned by Ibnerizam Shipping and she is doing the Zamboanga-Isabela City, Basilan route, an even shorter route than the 22 nautical miles of Cebu-Tubigon at only 14 nautical miles. Her passenger load in the new route is stronger. She has a very old, salty captain who was too fearful of the owner who is always aboard. This is the only captain I met who is not appreciative of a ship spotter admiring his old smoky bathtub. The old cruiser is now down to 8 to 8.5 knots although at times she would take two hours on the route if the sea is rough or the sea is against her.

Meanwhile, while visiting Nagasaka Shipyard in Tayud, Cebu my fellow ship spotter from PSSS suddenly recognized a ship now in green livery being refitted and converted. I was not sure of the identification but he was certain. Then the engraved name came. Sure she was the Jadestar Tres and she was being converted into a Gemini ship, the Gemini 10 specifically. This company is known for having cargo ships that look like passenger-cargo cruisers. It is owned by Wellington Chan Lim of Isla de Bantayan Shipping.

In a few months, ship spotters began seeing her between Pier 2 and Pier 3 in Cebu near the Lapu-lapu Shipping ferries in the cruiser ship row of Cebu Port. There is wide vacant spaces in the upper and lower decks. She loads cargo in boxes and also day-old chicks, among other goods. She supposedly does a route to Masbate. Her schedule to Cebu is irregular and it cannot be predicted when she will appear there. Maybe she is also sails to the other islands and ports.

These sisters are now just the survivors of the Jadestar Shipping fleet which even had a cargo ship before, the Jadestar Dos. Somehow, it is heartwarming that they are still sailing and did not end up as plain scrap metal.

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