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.

 

 

The MV Isla Simara Is Now In San Bernardino Strait

The MV  Isla Simara of Shogun Shipping was presented to the local media a few days ago in Pier 6 of NorthPort (the old North Harbor) before she departed where the controversial and untrue claim as the first RORO built by Pinoys was issued. The owners also claimed that the ship has the longest ramp in the country which is also untrue. Now, I did not know if Trump-ism has already taken hold in our land. Why claim things that are simply not true?

The Isla Simara’s keel was laid in a Sual, Pangasinan last year and when she was already capable of floating she was towed to Josefa Slipways in Navotas, Metro Manila where she was completed. In launching, there there was enough buoyancy from the shallow waters of the Navotas river plus she is large and so her screws hit and she had to be winched back to port for repairs. Now, I do not know if that was good omen or not.

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While already capable of sailing the Isla Simara cannot sail as she lacked a Certificate of Public Conveyance (CPC) which will allow her to sail a route legally . There was a back and forth where she will be fielded, one option being Cebu-Tagbilaran route but finally the owners were firm she would said the Matnog, Sorsogon to Allen, Northern Samar route using the private BALWHARTECO Port. It was the owners of this port which finally swung the owners in the route determination after pledging support to Shogun Shipping. However, the ferry lost more than two months.

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The other day, on August 26, 2019, Isla Simara finally arrived in Matnog after an economical-speed sailing in heavy rains spawned by the combination of a habagat (Southwest monsoon)intensified by a tropical depression. The next day, she sailed to BALWHARTECO Port and luckily the stormy weather already ceased and she docked uneventfully in the afternoon.

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And so last night, the ferry held an open house while docked at the port, in clear weather and invited were town, barangay (barrio) and port officials plus of course the local detachments of MARINA, the PPA and the Coast Guard. It was actually an semi-formal event and not so exclusive party and it was actually very rare as in a blue moon for a shipping company to invite the public in.

Well, one advantage is BALWHARTECO is not an ISPS port because if she is then it  will be off-limits to the general public because of fear of terrorists will then be the primary consideration. May I note that in my experience BALWHARTECO port is friendly to the general public and one can reach the ferries without much fuss. Inside the port are establishments that cater to the general public.

In BALWHARTECO, Isla Simara dwarfed the competing ROROs of Montenegro Shipping Lines which will be her main competitor (although the ROROs  in Dapdap and Jubasan ports of Allen will also be directly competing). This ferry is big and her size is not what is used in the short-distance routes (she might be the biggest ferry/RORO now in a short-distance route). However, she is a day ferry equipped with seats and lounges as insisted by the owner.

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Isla Simara has been built using many kits from China and even her interiors are not local. Her aesthetic design is impressive as well as her safety features. Of course, the bridge and engine room equipment are also imported. The ship can be considered first-class all the way at least by Philippine standards and her livery is not what is the usual in the local ferries.

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Her Captain said she will be doing six or seven round trips a day. But the question is will there be enough load? In San Bernardino Strait, most of the rolling cargo (the vehicles) is already contracted which means they have contracts with a particular shipping company that assures them of a reserved ride even in the peaks of the peak season (and the sometimes traveler in the peak season do not understand that leading to complaints of “favoritism” and dapat daw “first come, first served”). Well, Virginia, there are reservations everywhere and not only in ports.

Most of the passengers across San Bernardino Strait are intermodal bus passengers and they are tied to their buses, they are not free to choose their ride and almost all are enjoying the “free ferry” perk that means they have free tickets for the ferry which is actually true. Contracts and free tickets are things not yet understood by Shogun Shipping and they might be in for a rough surprise. But for private cars owners, Isla Simara might be a pleasant alternative as for sure there will be no queues and the accommodations and amenities are well above those of the short-distance ferries.

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What bothers me is the fact that Starlite Ferries of Batangas and the big Chelsea Logistics fielded a new ship in the exact route and ports and only lasted over a month when in terms of size, amenities, service and speed she can match the Isla Simara and yet she did not survive in the route. And to think that in MIMAROPA, in her home territory, Starlite Ferries is used to contracting and to rebates like what is present in San Bernardino Strait. Did they find it too hard to wean away the buses and trucks from their contracts? Besides, in San Bernardino Strait there are Cargo RORO LCTs that cater to trucks and they provide lower rates.

Last night, my informant and I were discussing over the phone. We thought Isla Simara could have been a killer if she was fielded as overnight ferry because then her superior amenities and newness will be more on display compared to a one-hour route like that in San Bernardino Strait. But who knows? Shogun Shipping still has three sister ships of Isla Simara on the pipeline. This company is really loaded as aside from ROROs they also have catamarans under the Island Water brand.

Whatever, her arrival to shake up San Bernardino bears watching. Her voyages commence next week.

 

[Photo Credits: Philippine Ship Spotters Society (PSSS), Mervin Go Bon Soon, Dwight and Shogun Shipping]

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.

The Biggest Shipping Modernization By Far

When the early 2010s entered, it was depressing for both the ship spotters and liner passengers. The Sulpicio Lines fleet was basically grounded by MARINA (Maritime Industry Authority), a consequence of the capsizing of the Princess of the Stars in a strong typhoon and the company had begun disposing liners. The Aboitiz Transport System (ATS) including the SuperCat had already stopped from buying ferries and was more intent on a sell-out in order for them to concentrate on the more lucrative power generation field.

If there was growth, it was in the sector of short-distance ROROs (but only slightly) plus in the Cargo RORO sector (those ROROs that just load container vans and vehicles). Overnight ferries also increased but oh-so-slowly. There was not much to be excited then and in the main the observers are not excited by the LCTs of some shipping companies concentrating here like those of Broadway One Shipping, Seen Sam Shipping/Cebu Sea Charterers, Concrete Solutions/Primary Trident Marine Solutions, Asian Shipping Corporation, etc. Nor would they be impressed by a few brand-new tankers by Chelsea Logistics and a few container ships of Solid Shipping Lines. Very few noticed the new local-builds of Tri-Star Megalink, the unrecognized shipping company of Negros.

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The latest brand-new ship of Tri-Star Megalink in her maiden voyage. Photo by ‘wandaole’ of PSSS.

I myself did not expect much in the last half of the 2010s (I even thought the liners will be singing their swan song). The decade was dominated by a landlubber President and we had lackluster MARINA Administrators who seem to be short on vision and also in budget. We did not seem to have a direction in maritime development early in this decade. If there was any bright light in that darkness is there was a new type of ship starting to come, the catamaran-ROROs of Archipelago Philippine Ferries, the FastCats.

But miracles do happen at times. The country unexpectedly had a President whose mantra is “Build, Build, Build” and soon that also spilled over to the transportation sector and not only in infrastructure. And that included the maritime sector. Soon I saw a procession of new-build ROROs, High-Speed Crafts (HSCs) along with the usual LCTs which is now filling a new sector, the Cargo RORO LCT sector.

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The latest in the FastCat series. Photo by GoukaMaekkyaku of PSSS.

The FastCat series continued and is now of its 13th ship as of this writing (July 2019) and news said the series will comprise of 20 ships. And there is even a rumor that it will be 30 ships in total with some plying foreign routes (there is really an effect when the banks open their lending to shipbuilding). As such this catamaran-RORO will be the most successful design in the country although its plans came from Australia and the ships were built in China. What a comeback for a shipping company that used to operate ferries that were derided by the public and observers. The FastCat series started in 2013 and on the average two ships per year come.

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The newest ROPAX of Starlite Ferries. Photo by Mark Anthony Arceno of PSSS.

The Starlite series of new ferries which started in 2015 with the Starlite Pioneer also continued and this should be 10 in number and is now on its 5th ship. But that does not include 2 Southwest Maritime (SWM) ferries that are also now also in the fleet of Starlite Ferries. These ferries were designed and built in Japan. Now, just the FastCat and Starlite fleets already comprise of 20 brand-new ships as of today and more are coming.

Trans-Asia Shipping Lines Inc. (TASLI) also has a new-build in an overnight route and a second brand-new ship for them has just been very recently launched in Japan and one more of this type will be built for them.

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The brand-new ferry of TASLI. Photo by Jose Zeus Bade of PSSS.

The Ocean Fast Ferries which is more popularly known as Oceanjet continues to locally assemble fastcraft kits from Australia in Mandaue that started with the Oceanjet 8 in 2011. As of the moment they already have 10 own-build fastcrafts. Actually once they launch a new fastcraft, they already have another one being built. As of today they are already the biggest HSC (High Speed Craft) company in the country with more than half of its fleet acquired brand-new.

The Aboitiz shipyard in Balamban, Cebu which was taken over by Austal of Australia re-started making HSCs for local use and so far they have delivered two as part of the SuperCat fleet and one to Grand Ferries of Calbayog, the Seacat One. It seems there are still about 3 or 4 of this kind of ship that that is being built by Austal Philippines in Balamban.

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Seacat One by Mark Edelson Ocul of PSSS.

Lite Ferries also took the brand-new route when the built 4 passenger-cargo LCTs from 2012 to 2016. These were built in China and finished in Mandaue. Island Shipping also bet on passenger-cargo LCTs but all were just locally-built in Hagnaya, Cebu. They had some 5 LCTs built in this decade and 4 of these were in the last 5 years when they began dumping their old cruiser ferries. Orange Navigation which is related to Besta Shipping Lines also had three passenger-cargo LCTs built locally starting in 2014 maybe to replace the losses of the mother company.

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A new-build from China of Lite Ferries. Photo by Russell Sanchez of PSSS.

Tri-Star Megalink of Negros had 7 ferries built this decade in a shipyard in Sagay City. Their design started with passenger-cargo LCTs albeit with extended passenger accommodations. Their design evolved until the later ones looked like conventional ferries already with bridges on the bow and no longer at the stern like those in LCTs. This meant a bigger and more comfortable passenger accommodation with the vehicle deck less hot or less wet depending on the season.

In Davao, Mae Wess/CW Cole also built two LCTs to connect Davao and Samal in their own shipyard in Samal. In Albay, the RLMC Ferry also came with two new ferries to serve Rapu-rapu and Batan islands.

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A new-build ferry of Mae Wess. Photo by Mike Baylon of PSSS.

And, in the past two years two new HSC companies came into being. Lucio Tan established a HSC company, the Mabuhay Maritime Express to ferry Philippine Airline (PAL) passengers from Kalibo to Boracay utilizing two beautiful catamarans. The other one was Island Water, a subsidiary of Shogun Shipping, a tanker company. This new company acquired 7 HSCs from Jianlong Shipbuilding of China. With such fast expansion their problem now is lack of viable routes. Shogun Shipping also contracted for 4 new ROPAXes (RORO-Passenger ships)and the first was already completed while three are still being built.

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A brand-new cat of Island Water from Jianlong Shipbuilding. Photo by Mark Ocul of PSSS.

Last but not least, Jomalia Shipping also ordered a brand-new HSC from Jianlong Shipbuilding, the Maica 5.

As of my count, there are now over 40 ferries of various types that have arrived in the last half of this decade and more are definitely coming. I have not seen or have known a rate of new-builds arriving in the country at this rate. And this does not even include more than two dozen brand-new LCTs for Cargo RORO LCT use. Those will ferry vehicles across short sea distances or container vans from Manila to the Visayas and Mindanao like what Ocean Transport does.

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A Cargo RORO LCT of Ocean Transport. Photo by John Carlos Cabanillas.

Liners, when they come have more impact in the imagination of the people. But their time has come and gone and we should acknowledge that the intermodal is already catching up with the container ships and the express container service of the liners. That is why these new-builds are mainly serving short-distance routes. The growth is already there.

I am glad that I was wrong when I thought our shipping doldrums will continue for a long time. I now look forward to more new ships coming into our seas.