RORO Developments in Northern Cebu

In northern Cebu, easily the most busy is Hagnaya port which is so known that it even eclipses its town of San Remigio in name recall in many people. This is so because tourism to Bantayan island has really boomed as it became one of the getaways of Cebuanos. And besides the island is also known for dried fish especially danggit and table eggs which they send to their capital Cebu City.

Super Shuttle Ferry 26, Super Shuttle Ferry 3 and LCT Island II

Hagnaya port

Two shipping companies duke it out in the route to Bantayan — Island Shipping Corporation and the Asian Marine Transport Corporation (Super Shuttle Ferry). The two uses short-distance ferry-ROROs and LCTs to connect to the island. Recently, the bus company Ceres Liner started their run to the island with it loading the buses aboard the ROROs.

A new development in Hagnaya port was the recent start of the Hagnaya to Cawayan, Masbate RORO route of Island Shipping Corporation using an LCT. This is like reopening of the old route to Masbate of the motor boats of yore that also originated from Hagnaya. This new route is meant to compete with the ROROs emanating from the Polambato port of Bogo, Cebu which connect to Cawayan and Cataingan, Masbate. Whether this route will last remains to be seen because of other developments.

New Maya port

New Maya port

And this development I am talking about is the nearing completion of the new Maya port at the northernmost tip of Cebu island which is part of Daanbantayan town. This a RORO port and it will have the advantage of being nearer to Masbate and hence a shorter distance will have to be traveled by the RORO. If the new route offers cheaper RORO rates then Polambato and Hagnaya ports will lose. If not, then the only advantage then of the new route might be a little bit of a shorter transit time and in experience that doesn’t matter much as a decision point for patrons. To remain in contention, maybe the competing ROROs in Polambato and Hagnaya might have to match rates with compensation for the less kilometers traveled by land from Metro Cebu, the main point of origin of the trucks.

Polambato port not only serves Masbate. Actually, it was first built as a RORO connection to Leyte island. A new development there is the recent entry of E.B. Aznar Shipping in the Bogo-Palompon route, a route badly served by Asian Marine Transport Corporation since they have long stoppages when their ferry is not capable of sailing due to mechanical troubles. With that the Ceres Liner bus to Leyte stops and truckers to northwestern Leyte and Biliran will need to find an alternative. This irregularity of service was actually alleviated when Medallion Transport started a Cebu-Palompon service using a RORO and unlike Cokaliong Shipping Lines Incorporated which anteceded them in the route, their RORO is perfectly capable of rolling cargo since it does not have chopped ramps.

Port of Polambato

Polambato port (Photo by jaedee021)

I always wondered how come RORO shipping from northern Cebu to Leyte did not develop like the ROROs to Bantayan when the northwestern district of Leyte has five towns to the three of Bantayan island. Maybe one of the reasons is there might not be enough tourism. Regarding their agricultural produce, maybe it is supplied more to the rest of Leyte and Biliran. Bringing them across the sea to Cebu is additional expense and unless the price differential is high then there is no point in bringing it to Cebu.

There is a resort off Leyte that is slowly being famous now, the Kalanggaman island. But in development as a resort, it seems it is still a long way off that of the very well-known Malapascua island off the northernmost tip of Cebu. Speaking of this island, there are only motor bancas going there which use the old Maya port which is not a RORO port. I do not know if bigger vessels will be used to Malapascua when the new Maya port is finished but probably not since that will require an equally-capable port in the resort island.

Old Maya port

Old Maya port

In the old Maya port there is also a regular motor banca to Esperanza, Masbate. There are also motor boats from Bogo to Cawayan and Placer in Masbate. I just do not know how much those will be impacted when the new Maya port opens. Viewing it from the time the ROROs arrived, a lot of business has already been taken by the ROROs from the motor bancas especially since there is not much need now of point-to-point services to Masbate towns since the roads in Masbate have already improved a lot and so there are already more vehicles rolling.

One thing sure, the ports, the ROROs and the routes in northern Cebu are still evolving. I was anticipating before that it will serve as an alternative to Manila of the people of that part of Cebu rather than backtracking to Cebu City. However, I noticed that the connecting rides still do not mesh very well and it is obvious it is not geared to that. Moreover, there is still not that visible savings in fare. Additionally, the people there are not used to long bus rides whereas one can recline in the liner from Cebu for all they want and have free meals too and good toilets and baths.

Will there be route in the future from northern Cebu direct to the Bicol mainland via Bulan port? Once this port had a Palacio ferry from Cebu City. Or even a route to Calbayog in Samar? This route will be nearer than the one from Cebu City. Now these remain to be seen but I won’t be surprised if those materialize in the future.

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A Small RORO Ship With A Cruiser Stern

A basic, short-distance ferry-RORO with a cruiser stern is indeed rare as most of those type have transom sterns. But such is the case of the VG RORO II. And for a basic, short-distance ferry-RORO of barely 30 meters length, an airconditioned Tourist section with bunks is another rarity (so I wonder if she should still be called “basic”). The reason for that is she doubles as a night ferry (“overnight ferry” is too much of a term because of the short distance she sails to Bohol along with just a few hours of sailing time).

It is in Camotes Sea and Bohol Strait where I noticed that there is a proliferation of small ferries that have night or overnight accommodations and VG RORO II is one of them. In other regions, night routes might last 4-6 hours but there are no bunks so passengers try to fit themselves into benches (and this leads to arguments many times). That is the negative specialty of Montenegro Shipping Lines Inc. (MSLI). Maybe they should attend a seminar aboard small, night ships to Bohol and Leyte to see where they are failing in passenger service.

The VG RORO II is one of the two remaining sailing ships of VG Shipping Lines (the other one is Andy Two). She first started out as the Ferry Oseto of The Yellow Sea Merchant Company in Japan. The Ferry Oseto was built by the Mukai Zosensho YK in their yard in Nagasaki, Japan in 1978. She measures just 34.0 meters by 8.6 meters with a depth of 2.9 meters which are typical measurements for a basic, short-distance ferry-RORO. Her Gross Tonnage (GT) is 196 nominal tons and she has a Net Tonnage of 96 nominal tons.

A steel-hulled ship, Ferry Oseto has the typical single RORO ramp of a basic-short-distance ferry-RORO at the bow and a single car deck with a single passenger deck above that. As mentioned, her stern is cruiser and she has just a single mast. The ship is equipped with a single Daihatsu engine of 750 horsepower rating which gave her an original top speed of 10.5 knots. Her IMO Number is 7740233 but she has the alternate ID Number 17989.

In 2004, Ferry Oseto was sold to Island Shipping Corporation, the Bantayan island specialists. In that company she was known as the Island RORO II and her route was from Hagnaya port in San Remigio town in Cebu island to Sta. Fe port in Bantayan island. In that route, she was used as a basic short-distance ferry-RORO to Bantayan island which has a booming tourism and table egg business and is a favorite weekend jaunt of Cebuanos.

After a few years, Island Shipping Corporation decided to sell the ship to VG Shipping Lines of Cebu, a shipping company doing routes between Cebu and Talibon, an alternate port of entry in northern Bohol to Tubigon port, the main port of entry in that part of Bohol. Initially, there was not a change of name. Rumor said VG Shipping Lines was loath to pay MARINA, the shipping regulatory agency of the Philippines the required fees which is no small amount (yes, all signatures in MARINA has a corresponding fee and usually that is accompanied by an amount which is not reflected in the official receipt).

It seems Island Shipping Corporation decided to sell her because more and more what they want to use in the Bantayan route are their Cargo RORO LCTs which have higher rolling cargo capacity and that means more vehicles can be loaded. Vehicles are actually the bigger source of revenue in RORO shipping (which means it is not the passengers). The ship is operated by VG Shipping Lines but the database says the registered owner is Vicenta vda. de Garcia, the matriarch and from whom the shipping company was named. Currently the ship is already named the VG RORO II.

Although small, VG RORO II is a comfortable ship. Her Economy seats in the upper deck are not benches or single fiberglass seats (the “cruel seat” forte of Lite Shipping and Roble Shipping). Instead they use garden chairs which are softer, wider and have arm supports. Those are fixed to the floors with sufficient spacing. At the back of these are open-air Economy bunks with mattresses. So passengers really have a choice.

The ship also has an Economy section at the mezzanine between the upper aft Economy section and the small car/cargo deck at the forward section of the ship. That section is equipped with simple plastic benches and it is a little bit dark but airy especially when the ship is already underway. This section divides into two the lower portion of the ship.

Between the Economy section at the stern and the bridge, there is a small airconditioned Tourist section equipped with bunks and mattresses. It seems this was the original passenger accommodation in Japan if judging by its windows. For weary shoppers or traders who spent their day crisscrossing Metro Cebu this section is a welcome respite and an early rest area.

The ship has only a small car/cargo deck because the aft or rear portion of the car deck was converted into an additional passenger section. This has plastic bench seats and a few tables which can be used for eating or sightseeing. A stair connects this to the upper Economy section and in between them a kiosk is located near the smokestack (the ship has a single center funnel).

The ship leaves for Talibon at 9pm and departs Talibon for Cebu at 2pm the next day. The entire voyage takes less than three hours and usually before 5pm she will already be in Mactan Channel. In Talibon, it seems she is a “free hotel” for the non-residents passengers after she arrives there at midnight.

Many of her cargo are not rolling cargo but breakbulk or loose cargo. She also takes in a few vehicles, however, when some show. These are the vehicles going to or from northeastern Bohol which find Tubigon too far or which find the schedule of VG RORO II more convenient for them. She is the only RORO ship serving Talibon port. In Cebu she docks in Pier 4 just across the venerable Gothong Building.

The ship is not equipped with forklifts. In loading or unloading, the trucks bringing in the cargo just enters the ship so true porters can handle it. If it is too heavy then the arrastre should bring in the forklift. After all they have already been paid for the cargo handling. Company forklifts normally do most of this job so as to speed up loading and unloading and so that there will be less damaged items. Arrastre in most places should simply just be dissolved as they just act as a tong collection agency. Sometimes their only job is to put the ropes on the bollards and remove it when the ship is leaving and make some strange signs and yells to the drivers. Yet shippers and truckers pay for their “services”.

Sometimes I notice this ship gets a little rusty. Maybe the revenues are not enough for a new coat of paint. However, she is clean inside and the crew are friendly. Moreover, she is not known for conking out at sea and those are the more important things.

I wish she will sail on for long time. And be an example to other shipping companies that passengers deserve better than hard seats on night voyages even though it is just short.