The China Ferries Are Coming

It’s been a long time now that our newly-fielded ferries were surplus ferries from Japan, be it liners, overnight ships or short-distance ROROs. But in the last 5 years about half of our newly-fielded ferries from outside were already from China, both in surplus and in newbuilds. And that only shows the big changes that are happening in shipping vis-à-vis Japan and China. The latter is a rising power in shipping and the former is a rising one which has surplus ships to sell now. Also, other countries which are not too competitive but are good in ship design are designing ships that will be built in China. We had that kind of arrangement too in Hyundai shipbuilding in Subic. But even when that was still operating we were not that competitive vis-à-vis China in terms of price.

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FastCat M11 by Mark Ocul of PSSS.

The most prominent ferries built in China are the brand-new FastCats of the Archipelago Philippine Ferries Corporation. These catamaran-ROROs were designed in Australia but built in different shipyards in China and that design and arrangement proved to be a winner. More of these ships are coming and recently the FastCat M15 and FastCat M16 arrived in the Philippines. There are now 14 of these catamaran-ROROs in the country and these are serving half of the regions of the country. Most of these ferries were built by the Marine Expert Xijiang in Zhaoqing, China.

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Lite Ferry 18 by Ryan Diel of PSSS.

The other prominent group of ferries that arrived in the Philippines are the old ferries mainly of the HNSS (Hainan Strait Shipping) which connects Hainan island-province to the mainland of China. Most of these ferries went to Lite Shipping Corporation and to its competitor Medallion Transport. For Lite Ferries these ships are the latter Lite Ferry 16, Lite Ferry 17, Lite Ferry 18 and Lite Ferry 19. The four took long in refitting as the ferries needed to be re-engined. The four are among the biggest ferries of Lite Ferries. Let it be noted that Lite Ferries also ordered brand-new passenger-cargo LCTs from China, their Lite Ferry 27, Lite Ferry 29 and Lite Ferry 30.

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Lite Ferry 30 by Jose Zeus Ranoco Bade of PSSS.

For Medallion Transport their ex-China ferries are the Lady of Joy, Lady of Rule, Lady of Good Voyage and the Lady of Triumph. They also have a passenger-cargo LCT from China which is the Lady of Smile. Roble Shipping also tried passenger-cargo LCTs from China, their LCT Immaculate Stars and the LCT Jacqueline Stars. Montenegro Lines also has this type in their Reina Urduja which was the former Poseidon 26 of the Primary Trident Marine Solutions. These passenger-cargo LCTs are not necessarily better but they are cheap to operate. The downsides are the lack of passenger accommodations and amenities and the lack of speed, too.

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Reina Urduja by Albritz Salih of PSSS.

Of course, in the country there are so many LCTs now from China and they are counted in the dozens. Most are the traditional LCTs which are trampers but a growing number and maybe about a dozen or so are in the Cargo RORO LCT role which carries trucks and its crews and a car at times. It is so easy to assign a regular LCT into the Cargo RORO LCT role and no conversion is needed. The Cebu Sea Charterers are the best known for this together with the Primary Trident Marine Solutions of Leyte. But I am excluding them in my count as they are not primarily ferries in the sense that the term “ferry” is understood in this country.

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The new Lite Ferry 5 by Mark Ocul of PSSS.

Recently, aside from the FastCats, Lite Ferries also got new ferries from China, the new Lite Ferry 5 and the new Lite Ferry 9 (they have two previous ships which carried these names in their fleet but both were disposed of already). Starlite Ferries also got a new ferry from China, a fastcraft with the name Starlite Sprint 1 and supposedly more of this type is coming. Jomalia Shipping also acquired a fastcat from China, the new Maica 5 in their fleet.

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Maica 5 by Capt. Emzrenz Miramontes of PSSS.

But the biggest importer of new Medium Speed Crafts (MSCs) is the new shipping company Island Water, a subsidiary of Island Shipping. Island Water has the MSCs Island Biri, Island Calaguas, Island Calayan, Island Dalupiri, Island Balabac and the small Island Sabtang which looks like a modernized motor banca. All of these are from Jianlong Shipbuilding of China. These MSCs have tried many routes in the country but not all have running routes yet.

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Island Biri and a FastCat by Don Zian Encarnacion of PSSS.

This is a little historical now and some of you might be surprised that before all these came a pair of China sister ships already arrived in in the country in 2011. These are the Regina Calixta V of Regina Shipping Lines (RSL) and the Star Ferry 7 of the 168 Shipping Lines which are both Bicol shipping companies. The two were offered for sale as two bridges will not longer allow them to sail. Paradoxidally, they were actually river boats in China but they were ROROs.

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So that was the change. We are no longer dependent on Japan for ferries. More and more China is becoming our primacy source of ferries and that is not even including LCTs. That will continue in the future as China is the cheapest source of ships nowadays. Figures speak and we will have to get used to that although in quality they are still behind.

 

 

Masbate City to Castilla, Sorsogon: An Unexplored Route

 

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Photo by Adecer X. Bogart of PSSS

Very recently, the Shogun Ships Co. Inc. (Shogun Shipping) announced the opening of their Masbate City to Castilla, Sorsogon route through Island Water, their Medium Speed Craft (MSC) subsidiary that is using small catamarans from China. This has the support of the LGU of Castilla especially the Mayor.

When I heard many weeks ago that Island Water was applying for this route I was surprised because I have never heard in the past that a ferry plied this route and there were inconceivable considerations. The natural competitor of that route is the Masbate City to Pilar, Sorsogon route held by the High Speed Crafts (HSCs) of Montenegro Shipping Lines Inc. (MSLI) and the ROPAXes of two companies of which one, the Denica Lines, is already refitting their own HSCs.

I wonder if the two shipping lines won’t lodge an objection as the route falls within the 50-kilometer restriction of MARINA (Maritime Industry Authority, the Philippines’ maritime regulatory body) that no competing route will be allowed if the ports are within 50 kilometers of each other and definitely the distance of Pilar and Castilla ports are less than 50 kilometers.

But then MARINA always has exceptions to their rules like when they allowed a ferry in the Pilar, Sorsogon to Aroroy, Masbate route (well, it did not last even though it has a high fallutin’ feasibility study) when the distance between Aroroy and Masbate City is less than 50 kilometers.

Castilla port is also at a disadvantage compared to Pilar port because it is farther than Daraga, Albay and Legazpi City in Albay where most of the HSC passengers are headed (no, it is not Sorsogon City). Besides, the route to Castilla is longer than the route to Castilla and so it must consume more fuel. Besides, inside Sorsogon Bay where Castilla is located there are shifting sandbars especially in the habagat (the Southwest monsoon season). Even in the past the freighters going inside the bay restrict their speed.

And part of what I feared happened right this afternoon. The Island Water vessel, the Island Calaguas took nearly four hours in the route and I think part of the reason is that they cannot speed up inside Sorsogon Bay. The Captain was instructed to say to the media that the trip took two hours and forty-five minutes as scheduled but the Captain admitted the actual sailing time and he might have been sacked for that. There is actually no way Island Water can match the two hours sailing time of the MSLI HSCs of two hours because those are simply faster than them with a shorter route to boot.

Castilla is also a little bit out of the way and few people aside from the locals go there as it is not on the highway. That was the reason why the municipal government transferred their old municipal hall which was near the port to a new municipal hall near the national highway.

There are just a few public transports to the old town proper and in a good anticipatory move, Shogun Shipping brought along two P2P (point to point) buses from Manila to serve as shuttle between Castilla and Legazpi. Without those they would have been dead already. In Pilar there are vans that wait for the ferries from Masbate and the vans in Legazpi go right to Pilar port. Castilla has no such equivalent.

I wish the Island Water experiment sticks as Castilla needs them because it is such an underdeveloped place as the Mayor himself insinuated. And if I am travelling next time, I might try them just to see Castilla and what it has to offer.

But then when moves become offbeat there usually are reason or reasons for that. I have never been aware of a Masbate-Castilla route in the past and I even wonder why the government put up a port in the place. Castilla has long ceased as a point of entry to Daraga and Ibalon since the early Spanish times when it was the easiest protected route to the Bicol Valley (the Moros controlled the seas there until the 1850s).

I have checked. When liners was still the main connection to Manila they would dock in Donsol, Pilar, Magallanes, Casiguran, Sorsogon and Bulan towns but not in Castilla. And Masbate town was not also a port of call of the liners from Manila until it reached the 1930s. The historical connection of Masbate town to the Bicol mainland was actually through the Pilar and Bulan towns of Sorsogon.

I do not know if Island Water will repeat their Island Sabtang mistake of connecting Masbate City and Pio Duran town in Albay. It seems they did not realize that the only passengers there are bus passengers going to Manila. Masbate City and Pio Duran have no real connection and the problem is that might be also true for Masbate and Castilla. The shuttle bus is really needed so that the Masbate to Daraga/Legazpi connection can also be replicated through Castilla.

Whatever, I am astounded by the bravery of Island Water and Shogun Shipping in trying new routes, even routes that did not exist in the past. May I note though that the ship they are using in the old route was the ship they used in the Cebu to Bantayan (Hagnaya to Santa Fe) last summer but was not able to stick when the lean months entered. That old route of the Island Calaguas even has more passengers that this new route because it has tourism.

Well, hope springs eternal.

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Island Calaguas in Castilla, Sorsogon. Photo by Mr. Edwin Jamora.