Denica Lines

This small shipping company probably won’t be much heard outside Bicol and they might be small but they also carry some weight and they won’t topple easily. Alternately, the vessels of Denica Lines are also listed under the owner Carolyn Cua Sy-Reyes. The home port of Denica Lines is Pilar, Sorsogon and they are among the shipping companies connecting that town to Masbate island.

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The Lady Regina

Denica Lines started as a shipping company by operating big motor bancas. When I say “big” it is because its passenger capacity will run upward to 100 persons. Alternately, if loaded with just cargo it can take in the load of a mini-truck or cargo jeep (well, it cannot be all cement or rice because the weight of that might exceed the DWT of the banca thus sinking it).

The owners of Denica Lines actually started as sub-regional distributors and traders and like in many places elsewhere the possession of own motor bancas is a needed horizontal expansion as it gives flexibility to trading and also generate savings. Usually a shipping operator with its own trading business is much more stable than its competitors. One part might not earn much but then the other part will carry it through. And there will also be no problem with what is called in shipping as “shut-outs” which is the failure to have a cargo loaded. For perishables that could be disaster.

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Denica Lines has many big motor bancas. These are fast because those are powered by surplus truck engines and usually it is twin-engined. The total of the horsepower will be over 400 and that will guarantee the motor banca will travel at at least 13 knots which are even faster than the basic, short-distance ferry-RORO which usually travels at only 10 knots. I have seen in Ticao Pass and Masbate Pass that they are really faster. [Well, if used for heavy cargo then all that horsepower will be needed.] Of course, their weakness is the choppy waters and cross-swells. The motor bancas have to time the crests and throughs of the waves and look out for the cross-swells which can damage the outriggers which is called katig locally.

As of now the motor banca fleet of Denica Lines consist of the Lady Regina, Gloria Express, Gloria 7, Gloria 8, Gloria 9, Gloria 10, Phoenix Express I, Phoenix Express II, Hammity and Hammity 2 plus the motor boat Golden Blossom. I would assume that the missing in the series Gloria 1 to Gloria 6 were their earlier motor bancas that are no longer around. The first two, the Gloria Express and Lady Regina are supposedly the fastest in the fleet of Denica Lines including their steel-hulled ships. The two can do at least 14 knots in calm waters.

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In motor bancas, the biggest competitor of Denica Lines is the Lobrigo Lines which have a fleet as big as theirs and which operated buses before (which lost when the intermodal buses came as they didn’t have ROROs). Aside from Lobrigo Lines there are many other operators of motor bancas as Pilar is a motor banca haven after all. Aside from motor bancas there are also motor boats going to Aroroy, Masbate. This town also have many motor bancas from Pilar.

In 2002, Denica Lines ventured into steel-hulled ferries when the purchased the laid-up cruiser Elizabeth Lilly of the defunct Western Samar Shipping Lines. They refurbished the engines of the ship and it was again reliable. They renamed the ship as the Bikol Express but she was not really fast as she had only a single 550-hp Yanmar Marine engine and her design speed was only 11 knots. The size of the ship was just the equivalent of a basic, short-distance ferry-RORO at 29.3 meters by 6.0 meters and 189 in gross tons.

As a ferry, Bikol Express was not much. She didn’t even have bolted seats, just plastic benches that can be moved. The reason is like some of the motor bancas of Denica Lines is she doubles as a cargo ship with passengers. What cannot be carried by the motor bancas like a truckload or two of rice or cement, she will carry. Her DWT of 100 tons comes in handy for such loads.

M/V Marina Empress

Marina Empress by Irvine Kinea

But then ROROs of Montenegro Shipping Lines came and so Denica Lines has to adjust as the trucks instead of unloading their cargo in Pilar just board the RORO now and goes direct to Masbate. They sold the Bikol Express to Batanes Multi-purpose Cooperative (BMPC) and went hunting for a RORO. Again, true to form they settled on a RORO that was not sailing, the Torrijos or Vanessa P2 of the Sta. Cruz Shipping of Marinduque which was already then in the process of winding up their shipping operations having been on the receiving end of the pressure from stronger shipping companies like Montenegro Lines.

The ship was taken from a Navotas yard and she was renamed as the Marina Empress. The Marina Empress is a basic, short-distance ferry-RORO of just 700 horsepower from her single Daihatsu marine engine and with the external measurement of 32.3 meters by 7.8 meters and a gross tonnage of 195. However, like the earlier rumor, her engine was no longer strong.

With Alabat Shipping Corporation of Alabat island going out of operations too, Denica Lines purchased its only ferry, the Odyssey which was the former Starlite Odyssey of Starlite Ferries. This is another basic, short-distance ferry-RORO with a not-so-strong engine anymore. She is powered by a 550-hp Kubota marine engine and her external measurements are 30.5 meters by 7.0 meters with a gross tonnage of 176 which means she is slightly smaller than the Marina Empress. Denica Lines did not bother to rename the Odyssey.

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Denica Lines rarely sails the two ferries simultaneously as both are not really that reliable. Their ferries are in direct competition with the basic, short-distance ferries of Montenegro Lines which also do the Pilar-Masbate route. Their ferries might not be spic-and-span (it will remind one of the E.B. Aznar Shipping basic, short-distance ferry-ROROs) but most times their competition from Montenegro Lines are also basic, short-distance ferry-ROROs of the same age (which means old). Unless Montenegro Lines bring in the Reina Banderada which is a bit better.

If one considers that Denica Lines has a lot of motor bancas that carry not only people but also cargo it will not look that Montenegro Lines dominates them in the Pilar-Masbate route. The two might have some rough equality since Montenegro Lines has fastcrafts in the route. In glitz and glamour, of course, Montenegro Lines exceeds them.

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Pilar port and market

The owners of Denica Lines are also “well-positioned”, as they say. The husband was the Mayor of Pilar until 2016. In the May elections of this year Carolyn Cua-Sy Reyes was elected the Mayor and whitewashing her five opponents with 84% of the votes going to her. Well, it seems they are really respected in Pilar (in 2013 the husband also whitewashed his opponents). I do not know Pilar that much but from what I know it does not have the bokong of Leyte nor the use of muscles and influence in gaining an advantage for ship operations or in locking out the opponent.

Such is Denica Lines.

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