The Biggest Shipping Company Based in Mindanao (Part 1)

Many people will think that the biggest shipping company in Mindanao is 2GO, the only liner company left in the country with its big ships with large Gross Tonnages, one of the measures of a shipping company’s size. Maybe some will also argue that it has to be the Chelsea Logistics Corp. which controls a slew of shipping companies now including 2GO but I disagree because those shipping companies are not necessarily based in Mindanao. How can one argue that Starlite Ferries or Trans-Asia Shipping Lines, Inc. are Mindanao shipping companies? That argument will be more absurd for 2GO itself as it mainly operates out of Manila and Cebu. It just happened that the 2GO and Chelsea Logistics Chairman, the now very prominent Dennis Uy happens to be from Davao where the current President also happens to hail from.

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The biggest shipping company of Mindanao is actually the Aleson Shipping Lines of Zamboanga City founded by Feliciano N. Tan Sr. Now, they happen to be very low-key, one of the reasons why only a few has heard of them except in their own turf. Another key reason is actually very few especially from Luzon and Visayas have ever been to Zamboanga City because of inordinate fear of reported violence, jihadis or even plain Muslims that was inculcated by their families and exacerbated by the media. Actually, many Christians will rather fly to Hongkong than go to Zamboanga (well, many local Christians even fear going to Zamboanga Port). And lastly, most people when thinking of shipping do not bother to understand that shipping is not only about ferries. Shipping is actually about all kinds of crafts including freighters of which Aleson Shipping Lines has many and so the company seems smaller to not-a-few. And those are the reasons why this particular shipping line skips the public consciousness even though it is actually bigger than the Cebu-based overnight ferry companies.

The first vessel acknowledged by Aleson Shipping Corporation was the Estrella del Mar which was a cruiser ship with a clipper stem (sadly, she was recently gone) and was given the IMO Number 8945220. She was a local-built vessel in 1975 by the Varadero de Recodo in Zamboanga City and she was 38.1 meters in length and 230 in Gross Tonnage (a measure I am loathe to use because there are a lot of under-declarations for “considerations” in the country and so I emphasize the length more which is almost always true and people can relate more to that than the Gross Tonnage or GT). The Estrella del Mar originally sailed at 10.5 knots derived from her single Yanmar engine of 850 horsepower.

Estrella del Mar

Photo by Mike Baylon of PSSS

The Estrella del Mar was originally owned by and registered to Feliciano N. Tan, Sr. and was later transferred when the company came into existence. The Aleson Shipping Lines is owned and controlled by the Tan family of Zamboanga City and officially they declare their founding to be October 1, 1976. It was a saying in the Port of Zamboanga that the Tan family will never let go of the Estrella del Mar as it was their ”lucky” ship but it seems obsolescence finally caught up with her as it is hard to sail now without a respectable amount of cargo because fuel prices is high and the design of the vessel as a cruiser does not afford much cargo. The Estrella del Mar was the only local-built ferry of the Aleson Shipping Lines.

The Tan family was already in the goods trading and distribution business even before they got involved in the shipping business that it seems that the latter was an adjunct to the former when they started. In the process of their growth they overtook many Zamboanga shipping companies which started way before them like the Sampaguita Shipping Corporation which was once the biggest in Zamboanga and Mindanao (it is gone now, a victim of over-expansion), the shipping company of the Atilano family which later moved to Cebu and became more known as the Rose Shipping Company (it lost there and is gone now too), the Magnolia Shipping Corporation, the Ever Lines and the Basilan Shipping/Basilan Lines (which is also gone now). It also had contemporaries like the SKT Shipping Lines and the A. Sakaluran Shipping Corp. (this company had fastcrafts as well as traditional ships and Moro boats) which are also both gone now too. Those are just among the most prominent ones as there are many more small and less-prominent shipping companies in Zamboanga and that includes the operators of the many Moro boats (the Mindanao version of the motor boats or lancha/batel of Luzon and the Visayas) which are patterned after the Arab dhow.

Many of those big and small Zamboanga shipping companies are gone now, victims of the surplus of bottoms in the late 1990’s when the incentives of President Fidel V. Ramos on shipping plus the business optimism after the RAM coups were over resulted in overcapacity and brutal fare wars. Additionally, the barter trade of Zamboanga was already down and restricted. The Asian Crisis of 1997 also resulted in lower growth and soon the disastrous “Erap” presidency came. Among the prominent Zamboanga shipping companies, it is only the Magnolia Shipping Corporation and Ever Lines that are still in existence but they are no longer growing. Meanwhile, the Aleson Shipping Lines continued its growth  and acquisitions although they had missteps too like when they acquired big ferries (the Lady Mary Joy and Lady Mary Joy 2) and when they ventured in Luzon and the Visayas which came to naught (as there was also a surplus of bottoms there).

I have noticed that in shipping the companies that exhibit continuous growth are those whose families are not dependent on shipping but have solid core businesses elsewhere. This is true for the Lua family of Cebu which controls Oceanjet but have many other businesses including their famed bottled water business (the “Nature Spring” brand). That is also true for the Sta. Clara Shipping Corporation/Penafrancia Shipping Corporation combine of Bicol where the principal partner happens to have the biggest trading firm in the region and the other partners have their owns businesses too. The Poseidon LCTs of Concrete Solutions, Inc. and Primary Trident Marine Solutions Inc. of the Liu family from Cebu is also another example of one into shipping but the core businesses are elsewhere.

One notable thing I noticed about Mindanao is the other regions were not able to nurture big shipping concerns. Look at the row of Highly Urbanized Cities (HUCs or cities with a population of over 200,000) in the island. Cagayan de Oro has no big shipping corporation and the same is also true for Butuan. Ditto for Cotabato City and Iligan City. General Santos City is only big in fishing fleets and shipyards and that is understandable because of their access to the Celebes Sea fishing grounds. If Davao City was able to produce any, it is only the Chelsea Shipping Corp. which followed and supplied its pioneering sister company, the Phoenix Petroleum. Even the key gateway of Surigao City has no big shipping company either and Ozamis City was only able to produce Daima Shipping Corporation with its fleet of small double-ended ferries in Panguil Bay. Now, Zamboanga City is a gateway too and there are many islands that she supplies, the reason why there are many shipping lines in the city. The need for connection to these islands, Aleson Shipping Lines was able to exploit successfully and for a long time now.

The second ferry of Aleson Shipping Lines came in 1984 when they purchased from Carlos A. Gothong Lines Inc. (CAGLI) the second Dona Conchita (as differentiated from the original lengthened ex-“F”ship Dona Conchita which was the original flagship of the company). This was a cruiser passenger-cargo ship which they renamed into the Aleson Zamboanga and later as the Aleson 3. This was a ship built in 1963 (the same year as Dona Paz (when ROROs – Roll-on, Roll-off ships — were not yet in vogue) by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries as the Taishu Maru with IMO Number 6402420. She had a Length Over-all (LOA) of 59.3 meters, about the same size of the cruiser ships of Trans-Asia Shipping Lines Inc. when it was just starting, to put the size in context. This ship literally has longer legs (and for that her 14 knots from a single Hitachi engine of 1,500 horsepower comes handy). It can go to places that the Estrella del Mar can’t and also carry more cargo. Moreover,the passengers have more comfort as the ship is air-conditioned. Carlos A. Gothong Lines Inc. sold this cruiser ship because they were already converting then into a pure RORO fleet, the first local shipping company to do so. Later, Aleson Shipping sold this ferry to Indonesia.

It is understandable if for a time after acquiring the Aleson Zamboanga that Aleson Shipping Lines did not invest yet in additional ferries. The period of the 1980’s was an very unsettled one as financial and political crises were dominant in the national and economic life of the country. That was the fact of life in the country in that decade when many businesses even doubted if they will even survive. And I would even say that the purchase of Aleson Shipping Lines of their next ferry in 1990 was still a continuation of the 1980’s business malaise and the general conservatism then in investments.

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Photo by Hans Schaefer

The ship, the first Kristel Jane was just a small but beautiful ferry at 33.0 meters LOA (Length Over-all) with a design speed of 11 knots from a single Hanshin engine. She was built by Shin Kochi Jyuko in Kochi, Japan in 1979 as the Orange No. 2 with the IMO Number 7926980. A short-distance ferry which looks like a fastcraft or a Medium Speed Craft (MSC), this vessel had a passenger capacity of 386 and was mainly used for the Basilan route of the company.  However, Aleson Shipping did not keep her very long because in 2000 this first Kristel Jane was sold to Indonesia and became the Indomas 3 (by that year it also appeared that Aleson Shipping already had a small excess of ferries already).

It was only in 1994 when there were already incentives from the Fidel V. Ramos administration (actually in Cory Aquino’s administration we had a shortage of ships brought about by the financial crisis of the closing years of the Ferdinand E. Marcos administration when inflation was rampant) when Aleson Shipping Lines made a big move in the ferry business. This was also about the same time when other shipping companies nationwide made their moves too as business optimism was already rising then as the “Gringo” coups and the paralyzing black-outs were already over. In this year, Aleson Shipping Lines acquired two ferries and that suddenly doubled their then-small ferry fleet.

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Photo by Mike Baylon of PSSS

This ferry duo was led by the Danica Joy which seemed to have been named after a granddaughter of the founder who has a hand in the company now. The Danica Joy was built as the Nakajima in Japan in 1972 by the Nakamura Shipbuilding & Engineering Works in Yanai, Japan and she had the IMO Number 7852414. This ferry is bigger than the basic, short-distance ferry-RORO at 48.0 meters LOA and so she has two passenger decks and two engines. She was the ship used by Aleson Shipping Lines in opening their Sandakan, Malaysia route. For a time her twin Daihatsu engines of 2,000 horsepower which was sufficient for 14 knots when new became unreliable but Aleson Shipping Lines opened the checkbooks and now she is a reliable ship again. Right now, the Danica Joy is already the oldest ship remaining in the fleet of Aleson Shipping Lines by age (both ferries and container ships) and date of acquisition as the older ship by acquisition Aleson 3 and Kristel Jane are already gone from the fleet as were the older cargo ships of the company. The Danica Joy is the long-distance ferry replacement for the Aleson III which foundered in Cebu in 1994. She has a sister ship in the country which is the Lite Ferry 6 of Lite Ferries and she was also the former Salve Juliana of the MBRS Lines of Romblon.

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Photo by Albritz Salih of PSSS

The other ferry acquisition by Aleson Shipping Lines in 1994 was the Neveen which was smaller than the Danica Joy. The Neveen was a cruiser ship and she was built by Maebata Shipbuilding in Sasebo, Japan in 1975. This small ferry with the IMO Number 7509976 which was originally the Mishima Maru No.3 had a length of only 35.0 meters and was also used for the short Basilan route. A basic, short-distance ferry, Neveen has only one passenger deck and a single 1,000-horsepower Daihatsu engine which was good for 13 knots when new (with a “thinner” Breadth or Beam a cruiser will be faster than a RORO of the same length and engine). In the last few years of her life, the Neveen‘s engine had been sickly and she spent most of her time laid up in Varadero de Recodo and for sale. She is gone now from the fleet of Aleson Shipping and maybe they no longer re-engined her as she was obsolescent already as she is a cruiser ship.

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Photo by Karl Sabuga of PSSS

In 1995, the company bought a small RORO of 32.3 meters length and she was unusual for a basic, short-distance ferry-RORO as she had stern ramps (versus the normal bow ramp). This was the Alex Craig which was built in 1972 by the Izumi Shipbuiding in Moji, Japan as the Himeshima Maru No. 1, a ferry to a small island off the Japanese main island of Kyushu. This ferry was the smallest of Aleson Shipping up to that date with Gross Tonnage of only 197. She was also the smallest in passenger capacity in the fleet as she was only good for 154 persons. Besides, the Alex Craig also had the smallest engine in the fleet with only 750 horsepower from its single Yanmar Marine engine. However, she was not the slowest in the fleet as her design speed is 12 knots. This small ferry was one of the ships brought by Aleson in its expansion outside of Mindanao, specifically in Marinduque. When they lost there, they sold the Alex Craig and she was acquired by the Davemyr Shipping of Camiguin where she is now sailing as the Dona Pepita. Her sister in the country is also sailing in Camiguin, the ferry Yuhum of Philstone Shipping.

1996 was the year when Aleson Shipping Lines acquired a rather-big RORO for multi-day voyages that is not confined to Mindanao. This is the 84.3-meter Lady Mary Joy with a Gross Tonnage of 2,300 , the first ship of the company which is over 1,000 GT and the biggest ship of the company up to that time. This ship was used by Aleson Shipping in their long Cebu-Dumaguete-Dapitan-Zamboanga-Sandakan route, the longest route of the company ever. Supposedly, this route gives Central Visayas an access to the Sabah market in Malaysia. I thought this was part of the BIMP-EAGA concept being pushed then by the President Ramos in preparation for the ASEAN Free Trade Area. However, the President failed to define correctly what is “free trade” and it just remained as “restricted trade” and so the route was not successful in the long run. This ferry was also used by Aleson Shipping in their Zamboanga-Manila route.

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Photo by Chief Ray Smith of PSSS

The first Lady Mary Joy was a ship built by Taguma Shipbuilding in Innoshima, Japan in 1971 as the Freesia Maru of the ferry company Tosai Kisen KK of Japan and she was given the IMO Number 7101786. In 1986, she became the Happiness No. 2 of the Bright Eagle International Inc. of Panama. In the Philippines the ship was refitted to be a multi-day liner, the first ship of Aleson Shipping in that classification. The Lady Mary Joy was the first ship of the company with a Net Tonnage (NT) of over 1,000 (at 1,213) and the first ferry of the company with a passenger capacity of over 1,000 (at 1,116 persons). She was also the fastest ferry of Aleson Shipping then with a design speed of 17 knots coming from a pair of Niigata engines with a total of 6,000 horsepower. Sadly, this remarkable ship is gone now.

In 1997, Aleson Shipping Lines acquired a ship they will use to battle Sampaguita Shipping Company and SKT Shipping in what was thought of then as a premier route in Western Mindanao, the Zamboanga-Pagadian route which offered an alternative to bumpy, dusty and sometimes dangerous land route. This was the Ferry Taiko which they then renamed into the Nikel Princely. This ship is actually a RORO with just a small stern ramp. She was built by Kanda Shipbuilding Company in their Hiroshima yard in Japan in 1979 with the IMO Number 7900455 with an original 12.5 knots top speed from a pair of Daihatsu engines with a total of only 2,000 horsepower, the reason why she became a slow ship in the future. Nikel Princely is only 49.0 meters in length and she has two passenger decks. She had a passenger capacity of 400 which was accommodated in bunks as the route is an overnight ferry route of about eight hours sailing time.

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Taken from pagadian.com

The Zamboanga-Pagadian route had the best Zamboanga ferries in the late 1990’s as the Nikel Princely battled the Sampaguita Ferry 1 (the former Tacloban City of William Lines) and Sampaguita Ferry 2 (the former Iligan City of  William Lines) of the Sampaguita Shipping Lines and the Pagadian City (the former Madrigal Masbate of Madrigal Shipping) of SKT Shipping. However, in due time, the ferries in the Zamboanga-Pagadian route all lost when the Zamboanga-Pagadian highway was finally paved. I was not surprised by this development as it has been shown in the past and everywhere in the country that in parallel routes the ship cannot compete with the ubiquitous buses and trucks which depart at all times of the day and night, could even be cheaper and it can be hailed right or deliver goods at the gates of the homes of the passengers or shippers. For a time, the Nikel Princely was laid up or was serving as a reliever until the Roble Shipping Corp. of Cebu purchased her in 2009 and she became the Blessed Stars. Later, she was passed on to the new shipping company Theresian Stars and she tried to come back to Zamboanga as the Asian Stars in 2016 doing the Jolo route until she was acquired back by Roble Shipping and she became the Ocean Stars. The sister ship in the Philippines of the Nikel Princely was the former Filipinas Surigao of Cokaliong Shipping Lines Inc. which became the Asian Stars II of the new shipping company Theresians Stars that is plying the Zamboanga-Jolo route.

1998 was a big year for Aleson Shipping Linesas they made their biggest-ever expansion in their history when the acquired four (!) ferries. By this year, it seems that the Aleson Shipping was already the biggest shipping company in Mindanao, arguably, displacing the old Number 1, the Sampaguita Shipping Company. Both companies had many ferries now as well as cargo ships (as both operated cargo ships) but one purchase made Aleson Shipping Lines and that was the acquisition of the Lady Mary Joy 2, the biggest ferry the company has ever acquired and which was as big as some of the smaller liners plying the Manila-Cebu route. Sampaguita Shipping had no ship to match this new flagship of Aleson Shipping which was mainly used for the Zamboanga-Manila route of the company where it battled the liners of WG&A, Sulpicio Lines and Negros Navigation Company.

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Photo by Toshihiko Mikami of PSSS

The Lady Mary Joy 2 was a full-pledged liner and so Aleson Shipping became one of the handful of shipping companies in modern times to operate liners from Manila (and Cebu overnight ferries can’t claim that distinction nor did they have ferries of this size). This ship was not small (she is even bigger than some Manila liners) as she really liner-sized at 122.0 meters length with a Gross Tonnage of 3,330 with a passenger capacity of 850 persons. In size and external lines she was much like the heralded Sweet RORO of Sweet Lines (but she was actually marginally longer). The Lady Mary Joy 2 by built by Fukuoka Zosen in Fukuoka, Japan in 1974 as the Akitsu Maru of Kyodo Kisen KK and she possessed the IMO Number 7402025. Her design speed is a match for liners of her size at 18.5 knots as she had 12,000 horsepower from a pair of Niigata engines. This liner is gone now, broken up, as Aleson Shipping was not able to hold on to their Manila route as there were plenty of liners during her time.

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Stephanie Marie by Mike Baylon of PSSS

Another acquisition in 1998 was a ship that firmed up the position of the company in Western Mindanao shipping and is still a great asset to the company until today. This is the Stephanie Marie which was the former Marima III in Japan. This ship was built in Japan by tne Kanda Shipbuiding Company in their Kure yard. The length of the ship is 63.2 meters, not unlike many Cebu overnight ferries but she is built as a short-distance ferry with seats which means she has a lot of space and capacity and before the coming of Stephanie Marie 2 she dwarfed then all the ferries going to Basilan. This vessel has two-and-a-half passenger decks with a Tourist Class in the former lounge of the ship which even houses a small a small office. The Stephanie Marie was built in 1979 with the IMO Number 8427278 and she is powered by a pair of Daihatsu engines with a total of 3,200 horsepower giving her design speed was 15 knots. By acquisition she is now the second oldest extant ferry in the fleet of Aleson Shipping Lines. For a long time now this ferry is the mainstay of the company in the Isabela, Basilan route.

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Photo by Mike Baylon of PSSS

Another vessel that was also not small was the Danica Joy 2 which was refitted as an overnight ferry and which can also do longer voyages as in as far as Sandakan, Malaysia and as such she has the accommodations similar to a multi-day liner (she did that route when the liners of Aleson Shipping were already gone). This vessel is about the same size as the Stephanie Marie at 67.2 meters length and she had two passenger decks equipped with bunks. The Danica Joy 2 was built by Nakamura Shipbuilding & Engineering Works in Yanai, Japan in 1982. She was formerly the Orange Hope of the Shikoku Ferry in Japan and she had the permanent ID IMO 8135253. This ferry had a sustained speed of 16 knots when coming from two Daihatsu engines with a total of 4,000 horsepower. In 201-, she became unbalanced while unloading and she capsized while docked in Zamboanga port and now she is already gone from the fleet of Aleson Shipping Lines. She has a sister ship in the country, the Asia Philippines of Trans-Asia Shipping Lines of Cebu which was now sold to George & Peter Lines, also of Cebu.

Not all of Aleson Shipping Lines acquisitions in 1998 were big or relatively big ships. One was a basic, short-distance ferry-RORO of only 32.0 meters in Length Over-all (LOA) which is the Kristel Jane 2. This ferry was built by the Nagasaki Shipyard & Machinery Works in Nagasaki, Japan as the Himawari in 1974 with the IMO Number 7396020.  When Kristel Jane 2 was acquired, she one of the five small ferries in the fleet of the Aleson Shipping Lines with the second-smallest passenger capacity at 188 persons, next only to the Alex Craig. However, this ferry had the slowest design speed in the fleet at only 10 knots. But unlike other short-distance ferry-ROROs, the Kristel Jane 2 had two engines and two screws. She had a total of 800 horsepower from her Mitsubishi engines.

After these big acquisitions, Aleson Shipping Lines went into a relative hiatus of four years as far as ferry additions are concerned. Acquiring the four previously mentioned ferries might have brought financial pressure to the company but it seems there is more than to that. In this period there was obviously a surplus of bottoms already in the country plus the acquisition of liner ferries was not panning out well for the company. Moreover, the Luzon and Visayas forays of Aleson Shipping Lines were not doing well also. The emergence of SRN Fastcrafts which is better known as Weesam Express plus the acquisition of fastcrafts by the A. Sakaluran Shipping Corp. (which also possessed conventional crafts) also put pressure on the company until most of these fastcrafts were moved into the Visayas and also Luzon in the case of A. Sakaluran.

(To be continued….)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Aleson Shipping Lines

I really have no command of the history of Aleson Shipping Lines and so that will not be the focus of this article and I will only delve on it on the more recent years. Since many Pinoys have not reached Zamboanga, I want to expose the biggest shipping line of Western Mindanao (and also the whole of Mindanao) and compare it. I have long ago said to ship spotters that Aleson Shipping Lines is bigger than any Cebu overnight shipping company, bar none, and I want to show that so people will know more of one of our great overnight ferry companies.

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There is a saying in Zamboanga that, no matter what, Aleson Shipping will never sell the small cruiser ferry Estrella del Mar. The reason is she is their first ferry ever and they say everything started from that ship. Meanwhile, the second ship of Aleson Shipping is now gone and that is the Aleson 3, a cruiser they bought from Carlos A. Gothong Shipping Lines, Inc. (CAGLI) in 1984 which was the second Dona Conchita.

That was the simple start of Aleson Shipping and in their first decade they did not really expand much. In the first place, they were not a shipping company at the start but a trading company, a regional distributor of goods under Aleson Trading. It seems at the start their shipping was mainly a support to, a horizontal expansion of their trading activities.

It was in the 1990’s when Aleson Shipping made their moves in shipping that featured continuous acquisition of ships that not only involved ferries but also small cargo ships. And that what made them different from some Cebu overnight majors like Trans-Asia Shipping Lines Inc. (TASLI) and Cokaliong Shipping Lines Inc. (CSLI) which for a long time have no cargo ships. And they might have been not that early in ROROs like TASLI but they were not behind CSLI, Palacio Lines and George & Peter Lines. They were ahead in ROROs compared to other overnight ferry companies in Cebu that got big later like Roble Shipping, Lite Shipping, Medallion Transport, etc. Like the mentioned Cebu overnight ferry companies, they might have had ROROs but it was not for vehicles but for palletized and loose cargo that were mainly handled by forklifts. One thing though, they learned how to use container vans much earlier than all those Cebu overnight ferry companies. So who said Zamboanga shipping is behind Cebu shipping in cargo?

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In the mid-1990’s, it dawned on her Zamboanga rivals that Aleson Shipping was acquiring more ships than them and that included the old Number 1 Sampaguita Shipping Corporation. This company also had cargo ships and then Aleson Shipping matched it in number. By 1997 it looked as if there was a new throne holder in Zamboanga. And Aleson Shipping did not make the mistake of Sampaguita Shipping in buying cruisers as overnight ferries since they concentrated on ROROs except for their day ships to Basilan which featured small cruisers.

Before the end of the 1990’s, there was an emphatic display of being the new king of Zamboanga shipping when Aleson Shipping ventured into the liner business when they sailed the Zamboanga-Manila route with the Lady Mary Joy and the Cebu-Dumaguete-Zamboanga-Sandakan route with the Lady Mary Joy 2. This also expansion also featured going to Lucena to do a Marinduque route.

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Photo by Ray Smith

These expansions backfired and Aleson Shipping was not able to sustain those. However, they were able to survive it and they sold their liners and the Alex Craig that went to Lucena. There were other upheavals too in Zamboanga shipping at the start of the new millennium that were caused by over-expansion in the late 1990’s. These were so strong that two old shipping lines of Zamboanga shipping, the Sampaguita Shipping Corp. and SKT Shipping Corp., both collapsed. Among the factors too was the loss of a major overnight route, the Zamboanga-Pagadian route because of the cementing of the parallel highway. Like in Batangas, there was a surplus of bottoms in Zamboanga that resulted in heavy discounting of fares or fare wars. Maybe with other lines of business Aleson Shipping was more geared to absorb shocks in the shipping trade.

With the stoppage of two main rivals and also of some minor rivals, Aleson Shipping turned on the screw and acquired more ships. From 2002 they acquired a ferry every year except in 2005 and 2014 was tops when they acquired 3 ships. And aside from their old cargo ships that bore name of persons, they also began their Aleson Con Carrier or ACC series of cargo ships in 2001. As of this year, 2016, they now have an Aleson Con Carrier 15.

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Now the other major competitors remaining of Aleson Shipping, the Magnolia Shipping Corporation and Ever Lines are just in niche routes now. Some other competitors also collapsed like KST Shipping (the revived SKT), Basilan Lines, A. Sakaluran and Monte Alegre Shipping. As a result,they are already very dominant in Zamboanga now. They have routes to Jolo, Siasi, Bongao, Isabela City and Lamitan City. They also expanded but only in routse they can manage, the Dapitan-Dumaguete and Dumaguete-Larena routes and the Cebu-Tubigon route. Their cargo and container ships now reach Manila, Batangas and Bacolod aside from their earlier routes to Cebu, Dapitan and Southern Mindanao.

Like in other shipping companies, after 20 years or so there is a generational change at the helm. But instead of weakening like in most family-held shipping companies, I heard and there is outward evidence that the second generation of Aleson Shipping is even fiercer than the founder. And they were decisive in Aleson Shipping not losing the old ships due to weak engines. They opened their wallets and so now those limping ferries are back in fighting form.

The ferry fleet of Aleson Shipping:

Estrella del Mar (short-distance ferry) IMO 8945220, original name. Cruiser built in 1975 by Varadero de Recodo in Zamboanga, Philippines. 38.1m x 6.7m x 3.0m, 230gt, 143nt, 494 pax, 1 x 850hp Yanmar, 10.5kts.

Stephanie Marie (short-distance ferry) IMO 8427278. ROPAX built in 1979 by Kanda Shipbuilding in Kawajiri, Japan as Marima III. 63.2m x 12.0m x 4.1m, 910+gt, 316+nt, 945 pax, 2 x 1,600hp Daihatsu, 15kts.

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Neveen (short-distance ferry) IMO 7509976. Cruiser built in 1975 by Maebata in Sasebo, Japan as Mishima Maru No. 3. 35.0m x 6.4m x 2.8m, 223gt, 61+nt, 332 pax, 1 x 1,000hp Daihatsu, 13kts. [This is laid up.]

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Danica Joy (built as overnight ferry) IMO 7852414. ROPAX built in 1972 by Nakamura in Yanai, Japan as Nakajima. 48.0m x 11.3m x 3.7m, 483+gt, 245nt, 448pax, 2 x 1,000hp Daihatsu, 13kts.

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Danica Joy 2 (overnight ferry) IMO 8135253. ROPAX built in 1982 by Nakamura in Yanai, Japan as Orange Hope. 62.7m x 12.0m x 4.5m, 998+gt, 491nt, 636pax, 2 x 2,000hp Daihatsu, 16kts. [She capsized in Zamboanga port Sept. 2016; salvageable.]

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Sea Jet (High Speed Craft) No IMO Number. Fastcraft built in 2003 by Far East in Sibu, Malaysia as Sea Jet. 38.7m x 4.2m x 1.6m, 97gt, 26nt, 2 x 1,600 Mitsubishi, 30kts.

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Kristel Jane 3 (overnight ferry) IMO 8313489. ROPAX built in 1983 by Usuki in Usuki, Japan as Ferry Izena. 57.3m x 11.2m x 3.2, 494+gt, 270 nt, 512pax, 2 x 1,620hp Niigata, 16kts.

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Trisha Kerstin 1 (short-distance ferry) IMO 8608509. ROPAX built in 1986 by Fujiwara in Omishima, Japan as Wakashio. 43.8m x 11.6m x 3.3m, 384+gt, 72+nt, 695pax, 1 x 1,300hp Yanmar, 12.5kts.

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Ciara Joie (basic, short-distance ferry) IMO 7824778. ROPAX built in 1979 by Imamura in Kure, Japan as Kamagiri No. 3. 38.2m x 8.6m x 3.0m, 235gt, 139nt, 203pax, 1 x 900hp Daihatsu, 10.5kts.

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Trisha Kerstin 2 (overnight ferry) IMO 8824373. ROPAX built in 1989 by Fujiwara in Omishima, Japan as Geiyo. 59.5m x 12.3m x 3.0m, 699gt+, 241nt, 2 x 1,500hp Daihatsu, 14.5kts.

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Anika Gayle (Low Speed Craft) No IMO Number. Ferry built in 1992 in Japan as Victoria. 86gt, 332pax, single engine, 11kts.

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Trisha Kerstin 3 (overnight ferry) IMO 9125516. ROPAX built in 1995 by Wakamatsu in Kitakyushu, Japan as Camellia 2. 47.9m x 12.0m x 3.6m, 639+gt, 412nt, 1 x 1,300hp Daihatsu, 14kts.

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Lady Mary Joy 3 (overnight ferry) IMO 9006760. Cruiser built in 1990 by Yamanaka in Namikata, Japan as Daito. 73.0m x 11.0m x 5.3m, 835gt, 568nt, 500pax. 2 x 2,000hp Niigata, 17kts.

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Ciara Joie 2 (basic, short-distance ferry) IMO 8216966. ROPAX built in 1982 by Imamura in Kure, Japan as Kamagiri No. 7. 36.1m x 8.7m x 2.9m, 198gt, 100nt, x 386pax, 1 x 750hp Niigata, 10kts.

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Anika Gayle 2 (Medium Speed Craft) No IMO Number. Ferry built in 1990 in Japan as Yamabiko. 27.1m x 6.0m x 2.2m, 116gt, 79nt, 235pax, twin engines, 17kts.

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Lady Mary Joy 1 (overnight ferry) IMO 9088081. Cruiser built in 1994 by Niigata in Niigata, Japan as Funakawa Maru. 57m x 9.0m x 3.9m, 488gt, 1 x 1,800hp Niigata, 13.5kts.

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Ciara Joie 3 (basic, short-distance ferry) IMO 9118862. ROPAX built in 1995 by Izutsu in Japan as Ferry Yumutsu. 10.0m breadth, 191gt, single engine.

Ciara Joie 5 (basic, short-distance ferry) IMO 8615734. ROPAX built in 1987 by Imamura in Kure, Japan as Kofuji No. 8. 36.3m x 10.5m x 3.0m, 264gt, 131nt, 1 x 1,000hp Niigata, 10kts.

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Stephanie Marie 2 (short-distance ferry) IMO 8602062. ROPAX built in 1986 by Kanda in Kawajiri, Japan as Otagawa. 55.9m x 14.0m x 3.8m, 983gt, 1,073pax, 1,300hp Daihatsu, 14kts.

The cargo fleet of Aleson Shipping:

Nico Bryan (used as container ship) IMO 8951956. Small GP ship built in 1976 by Yoshida in Arida, Japan as Meiji Maru No. 11. 53.6m x 9.3m x 3.5m, 244gt, 132nt, 667dwt, 10kts

Aleson Con Carrier 1 (used as container ship) IMO 8720565. Small GP ship built in 1988 by Masui in Nandan, Japan as Kazuhisa Maru. 51.5m x 10.5m x 5.4m, 248gt, 167nt, 601dwt, 10kts.

Aleson Con Carrier 2 (used as general cargo ship) IMO 8718665. Small GP ship built in 1988 by Onoda in Taiyo, Japan as Hamako Maru. 53.1m x 9.5m x 5.1m, 247gt, 167nt, 662dwt, 10kts.

Aleson Con Carrier 3 IMO 8822193. Small GP ship built in 1989 by Miura in Saiki, Japan as Hakko Maru No. 31. 58.7m x 9.6m x 5.0m, 247gt, 170nt, 650dwt, 10kts.

Aleson Con Carrier 5 (used as container ship) IMO 8905505. Small GP ship built in 1989 by Taiyo in Onoda, Japan as Shin Chitose. 53.3 x 9.5m x 5.1m, 246gt, 166nt, 668dwt, 10kts.

Aleson Con Carrier 6 (used as general cargo ship) IMO 8708921. Small GP ship built in 1987 by Miura in Saiki as Sanko Maru. 58.0m x 9.5m x 5.2m, 246gt, 159nt, 680dwt, 10kts.

Aleson Con Carrier 8 (used as container ship) IMO 8708921. Small GP ship built in 1989 by Yamanaka in Namitaka, Japan as Kiku Maru No. 8. 55.8m x 9.3m x 5.5m, 246gt, 168nt, 661dwt, 10kts.

Aleson Con Carrier 9 (used as container ship) IMO 7903146. Small GP ship built in 1979 by Kanda in Kure, Japan as Ashidagawa. 63.3m x 14.2m, 942gt, 324nt, 349dwt, 15kts.

Aleson Con Carrier 10 (used as container ship) IMO 8630796. Small GP ship built in 1987 in Japan. 50.1m x 10.5m, 287gt, 195nt, 674dwt.

Aleson Con Carrier 11 (used as container ship) IMO 8840030. Small GP ship built in 1989 in Japan. 53.3m, 611gt, 348nt, 619dwt.

Aleson Con Carrier 12 IMO 9001370. GP ship built in 1991 by Banguhjin in S. Korea as Dongjin Yokohama. 94.0m x 3.8m x 6.7m, 2448gt, 1349nt, 3386dwt.

Aleson Con Carrier 14

Aleson Con Carrier 15 (used as general cargo ship) IMO 9153848. GP ship built in 1996 by Imamura in Kure, Japan as Mercury Seven. 83.8m x 14.5m, 2921gt, 3773dwt, 12kts.

A total of 19 ferries and 13 cargo/container ships. They are now one of the biggest regional shipping companies in the Philippines. And yet even among ship spotters she is barely known because so few have ever been in Zamboanga.

Maybe in due time the company will earn her merited recognition.

The Cruel Loss of the Southern Mindanao Liner Routes

Talking here of Southern Mindanao ports, I am not only referring to Gensan (General Santos City) and Davao but also of Zamboanga and Cotabato which are technically Western Mindanao and Central Mindanao ports. But once the four were all closely interrelated as the routes through them are inter-connected. This connection also goes all the way to Iloilo port which was the intermediate port then of the Southern Mindanao liners.

In the late 1990’s, Davao had six liners to Manila per week which was about the same number Gensan and Zamboanga had. Cotabato had less as in only about two or three as it was not as big as the three other cities. Cotabato port, by the way, is actually the Polloc port in Parang, Maguindanao, a nearby town and not the river port in the city which is too shallow for liners.

I cannot believe that in just over a decade’s time from that all four ports will lose their liner connection to Manila or to Iloilo and Cebu. To think that since the Spanish times all had steamers from Manila with the exception of Gensan which was not yet existing then. Zamboanga has one ship a week now to Manila but several years ago she also lost her liner to Manila. The intermediate port of her liner now is Dumaguete and not Iloilo any more.

The slide first started when Negros Navigation Company (NENACO) shrunk operations due to financial difficulties. Among the routes they abandoned early were their routes to Southern Mindanao (but they held on to the Zamboanga route). The frequency they held was never filled up. Among that could be added to the early loss here was when Aleson Shipping Line of Zamboanga also dropped their liner route when they sold their Lady Mary Joy (not to be confused with the current Lady Mary Joy 1 which is a different ship) to the breakers because its run was not profitable.

But the big slide came when Sulpicio Lines got suspended in 2008 after of the floundering of the Princess of the Stars in a typhoon which drew international and local outcries. In the aftermath of that, stringent regulations were laid out for Sulpicio Lines in order for them to come back to passenger shipping. Only two liners were maintained by Sulpicio Lines after that and they withdrew from all routes in Southern Mindanao (among many other routes too).

I was saddened and worried by the departure of Sulpicio Lines. I know the passenger liner segment of shipping was weakening already as budget airlines and the intermodal buses were getting stronger but Sulpicio Lines is not the ordinary shipping company that will immediately withdraw from routes as soon as that route is no longer showing profit. It was one resilient liner that was actually needed then to shore up the weakening passenger liner sector.

I was apprehensive even then of that development because the only remaining liner company in Mindanao which is governed by bean counters is very fast in junking routes and in selling liners to breakers. Even when they fielded the SuperFerry 20 and SuperFerry 21, my apprehensions were not quelled especially since I know they are fast weakening in container shipping because they have the highest rates and new challengers with lower rates are already around and challenging them.

And I was not mistaken in that apprehension because in just over a year they withdrew from Davao but still temporarily retained Gensan. But in about one or two years’ time again they withdrew from Gensan, Cotabato and Zamboanga. With that withdrawal the Iloilo-Zamboanga route was also eliminated.

At about that time, the buses for Manila leaving Ecoland terminal in Davao grew in number. It was not just Philtranco anymore but PP Bus came and soon the so-called “colorums” followed. It was not just the budget airlines that benefited from the withdrawal of the liners.

Davao was at least more fortunate because there are many Manila flights to it and there are plenty of intermodal buses to Manila. Gensan and Cotabato was not that fortunate because even though they have planes to Manila they do not have buses to Manila. Now some people are simply afraid to take flights and some do not have the identification papers needed to board planes. Some are too terrified to enter an airport because they fear losing their way around (well, I found out there were even people who do not know how to order in Jollibee) and also be exposed as stupid barrio folks. They may not really like the buses but they dislike the plane even more.

So some Cotabato folks would take the bus to Davao and transfer to the Davao-Manila bus. People from near Cotabato City also has the option to take the commuter van to Marawi-Iligan so they can take the ship there. Some can also opt for the commuter van for Kapatagan, Lanao del Norte and from there they can connect to Ozamis which both has a ship and a plane. Well, people from Davao or Cotabato province also take the bus or commuter van to Cagayan de Oro where there is also a plane and a ship.

But what kind of cruelty is that of forcing people to travel long land distances in order to catch a ship? Maybe to ameliorate that the only liner company offered tickets to Manila which included a bus ticket of Rural Transit of Mindanao to Cagayan de Oro for a ride that is 320 kilometers from Davao.

With the loss of the Southern Mindanao liners, people also lost their transport for the intermediate routes like Davao-Zamboanga, Gensan-Zamboanga and Cotabato-Zamboanga. Also lost was the intermediate route Iloilo-Zamboanga. Taking a ship then was cheap, relaxing and one disembarks freshened (after taking a bath) and probably fed and ready for the next trip. Now one has to take the plane or the very long bus or commuter van ride.

There is a Davao-Zamboanga plane but it is more expensive than the Tourist class of the former liners. There is no Gensan-Zamboanga or Cotabato-Zamboanga plane as of the present. There is a Zamboanga-Iloilo plane but not daily and it is more expensive than the former liners. Saying it is more expensive does not even include the airport terminal fee nor the airport transfer expenses.

From Zamboanga, people now take the cruel route of a Rural Transit bus up to Bacolod which takes over a day. Mind you the ordinary bus has no comfort room nor meals on board and one is tossed around for that length of time. So the meals are extra expense (it is automatically included in the ticket of Sulpicio Lines). I tell you that ride is backbreaking and it is hard to sleep because at every terminal the bus will stop, open its lights, vendors will board or hawk and there is the general shuffling of people coming up and going down. One also had to look if his luggage is already being taken down by other people.

I also take the very difficult bus-commuter van-bus ride from Davao to Zamboanga and it is backbreaking too and lasts nearly a day if via the Narciso Ramos Highway of Lanao del Sur. The trip is longer and more expensive if it is via Cagayan de Oro. All these alternatives to the ship I am mentioning are all more expensive and the wear to the body is maybe twenty times that of the ship. One reaches his destination fagged out, dehydrated, hungry and stinky.

The Gensan-Zamboanga land trip is no less arduous than the Davao-Zamboanga land trip. Look at the map and one can see the distance is almost the same. If it is via Cagayan de Misamis the distance is even greater. It is only Cotabato-Zamboanga which is a little nearer but the distance is still about 450 kilometers and the waiting time for the commuter van to leave is long as it is basically alas-puno. There is a certain minimum number of passengers before a van will leave (it will cancel the trip if filling up takes too long or the minimum is not reached). And mind you those commuter are not even airconditioned. And in the Pagadian-Zamboanga stretch, the Rural Transit bus is oh-so-slow because there is no competition. Expect up to 12 hours for a 280-kilometer route.

This is the cruel condition left to the passengers when the only remaining liner company in Southern Mindanao jilted and left them. There was a merger again later between the last two liner companies which produced 2GO but still the liners did not return and there is no hope on the horizon that they will return.

Now if only MARINA will relent and allow again some cargo or container ships to take in passengers again that will be better but I don’t see it happening. All they know is to say they are open for new liners companies applying but entering the liner business is too unattractive for all the shipping companies. There are more regulations, more investments needed including in service people and supplies, passenger can balk at delayed arrival or of anything in the service if it is below par. And if there is an accident, for sure, the press and the social media will be baying at their door.

If MARINA knows anything about liner shipping and the plight of Southern Mindanao passengers they should even encourage Asian Marine Transport Corporation (AMTC) to take in passengers because their Cargo ROROs need no modifications to carry people. But does MARINA really know anything about passenger liner shipping? They didn’t even understand that with their too strong restrictions on Sulpicio Lines they will be killing a liner company and that there won’t be a replacement anymore.

Now that is the sad fate of us Southern Mindanao passengers.

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The Well-Travelled MV Asia Japan, the Third

The MV Asia Japan, the third to carry such name in the Trans-Asia Shipping Line, Incorporated (TASLI) fleet is the Asia Japan most would likely remember. But she was already the third to carry such name in the Trans-Asia fleet as two previous cruiser ships named Asia Japan came before her in the Trans-Asia fleet Shipping Line. The third Asia Japan I am describing here is a RORO (Roll-on, Roll-off) ship and not a cruiser ship like the first two to carry that name. Her company, the Trans-Asia Shipping Line, Incorporated is a regional shipping company based in Cebu that is sailing Visayas-Mindanao routes.

The first Asia Japan was the former Ishu Maru from Kyushu Yusen of Japan with the IMO Number 5164459. She was built in 1957 and she came to the Trans-Asia Shipping fleet in 1975. This ship was later sold to Roble Shipping Incorporated where she became the second Guada Cristy of that company. The second Asia Japan, meanwhile, was the former Nankai Maru from Nankai Kisen of Japan with the IMO Number 7130191. She was built in 1956 and she came to the Trans-Asia Shipping fleet in 1974 where she was first known as the Solar before she became the second Asia Japan (Trans-Asia Shipping Line Incorporated was first known as Solar Shipping Line Incorporated). This ship was later sold also to Roble Shipping Incorporated where she became the first Guada Cristy. She was wrecked in 1990, the reason why there became a second Guada Cristy.

The second Asia Japan was sold by Trans-Asia Shipping Line Incorporated in 1988 when the third Asia Japan was purchased by the company from Ise Bay Ferry or Ise-wan Ferry. This Japanese company sold this ship, their Atsumi Maru because their brand-new Atsumi Maru was already delivered to them. Incidentally, this successor Atsumi Maru also came to the Philippines in 2007 to the fleet of Montenegro Shipping Lines Incorporated (MSLI) where she is known as the Maria Oliva.

The earlier Atsumi Maru was built by Naikai Zosen Taguma Works in Taguma, Innoshima, Japan in 1973. She is steel-hulled ship with a raked stem and a transom stern, two masts and a single passenger deck. A RORO ship, she has a bow ramp and a stern ramp and a single car deck. She has an over-all length of 64.0 meters, a length between perpendiculars of 60.3 meters and a maximum breadth of 13.1 meters. Her original Gross Register Tons (GRT) was 990 and her Deadweight Tonnage (DWT)was 403 tons. She is equipped with 2 x 2,000hp Daihatsu engines which propelled her to 16 knots on two screws. In the Philippines, her probable sister ships are the late Starlite Voyager of Starlite Ferries Incorporated (though their bows are different) and the Reina Timotea of Marina Ferries, the legal-fiction sister company of Montenegro Shipping Lines Incorporated.

When Atsumi Maru arrived in the Philippines in 1988 to become the third Asia Japan, another deck was added to her to increase the passenger capacity. She was also converted into an overnight ferry with bunks. With that, her Gross Tonnage rose to 1,302 with a Net Tonnage of 359 and her Deadweight Tonnage also increased to 443 tons. Her new passenger capacity was 454 persons in a three-class configuration – Cabin, Tourist and open-air Economy. She had a good restaurant, a bar-lounge, a lobby and a front desk. This Asia Japan already had a Hotel Department aside from the Deck Department and Engine Department, one of the first regional ships to have such distinction. Maybe that has a connection to its first route Zamboanga which I will discuss later. For easier docking this ship is also already equipped with side thrusters at the bow. She also had a cargo ramp at the port side and two passenger ramps at the stern and another ramp at the port side.

Her first route was the Cebu-Dumaguete-Dipolog-Zamboanga route. This was still the time when big Cebu regional shipping companies Trans-Asia Shipping Lines, George & Peter Lines and the Zamboanga-based Aleson Shipping Lines were still giving much importance to the Cebu-Zamboanga connection via Dumaguete (this was later downgraded by the opening of the Dapitan-Dumaguete RORO connection). It was amazing then that a new ship like the third Asia Japan will be fielded to this route when Trans-Asia Shipping Lines was still using their older overnight ferry-cruisers in the Cebu-Cagayan de Oro route which was the premier Visayas-Mindanao route.

Later, the third Asia Japan was also fielded in the Cebu-Cagayan de Oro route when Trans-Asia Shipping Lines began selling their old overnight cruisers in the early 1990’s. But with the arrival of the new and bigger RORO series of Trans-Asia Shipping Lines – the Trans-Asia (1) in 1993, the Asia Philippines in 1994 and the Asia China in 1995, Asia Japan was relegated to the secondary routes of the company like Cebu-Iloilo. Very soon the Visayas-Mindanao overnight ferry wars which was started with the creation of the big Cebu Ferries Company started and Trans-Asia Shipping Lines had to reserve her best and biggest ferries to the Cebu-Cagayan de Oro premier route. This was also marked by the withdrawal of Trans-Asia Shipping Lines in the Cebu-Zamboanga route and just sticking to cargo there with the Asia Pacific. The coming of the more superior Lady Mary Joy (1) of Aleson Shipping Lines practically closed the door to them in Zamboanga (this Aleson ship is different from the current Lady Mary Joy 1 of the company). Trans-Asia Shipping Lines was immediately under siege by the much bigger Cebu Ferries Corporation as they bore the brunt of the offensive of that subsidiary of the giant William, Gothong & Aboitiz (WG&A) shipping line.

The third Asia Japan sailed many secondary routes for Trans-Asia Shipping Lines. Before the end of the old millennium the assignments of the fleet got quaky with the losses of the Asia South Korea (grounding and sinking) and Asia Thailand (fire) with no clear replacement. Not long after, this the RORO Asia Singapore, the Second, was also sold to F.J. Palacio Lines. Later, the third Asia Japan was assigned to the Cebu-Masbate route of the company. She was a big success there as that route of Trans-Asia Shipping Lines was practically a monopoly. And Masbatenos were not disappointed at her appointments especially since she was a former Cebu-Zamboanga ferry, a route which takes about a day with its two stop-overs. In routes such as this, the passengers’ comfort and sustenance needs are greater than that of a simple overnight ferry.

Once, I booked a ticket from Cebu to Cagayan de Oro hoping to catch either the Trans-Asia (1) or Asia China. Lo and behold, when I reached the waterfront what I saw waiting for us was the Asia Japan. I actually grumbled and said we are entitled to a discount as our fare was supposedly on that superior-than-her sister ships. I can accept the third Asia Japan as a Cebu-Masbate ferry as there was none better than her in that route (her reliever Asia Brunei was just as good) but the Cebu-Cagayan route is littered with superior overnight ferries that was at or near the level of Manila liners like the Princess of the Ocean, the Our Lady of Good Voyage, the Our Lady of the Rule and the Dona Rita Sr.

I was disappointed. The aircon was not strong and the restaurant was no longer as good as before. Maybe her best Hotel Department crewmen were already assigned to the better overnight ferries of Trans-Asia Shipping Lines. And then I was furious that when I woke up we were still just at the entrance of Macalajar Bay and still distant from Cagayan de Oro. Other passengers were already impatient and I even saw one flash the pumping arm sign to the bridge which is a universal sign of “Hurry up!”. Passengers in this route were used to daybreak or even dawn arrivals which were needed by passengers still travelling 300 land kilometers or over by buses or commuter vans like me.

Soon, some were groaning they were already hungry. I was, too. I know that by MARINA rules they should have fed us breakfast but there was no decent breakfast to speak of even if one was willing to pay. It was a personal disaster to me as I was a diabetic. We finally reached Cagayan de Oro port and to a man I know all were disappointed. They should never have substituted Asia Japan in that route because it will just be a disaster for the goodwill and reputation of the company like what happened. I asked of the speed and a crewman grimly admitted she can just do 10 knots then, best. Use that in a 134-nautical mile route with a departure of 8PM and no breakfast; it does not need coconuts to foresee the consequences. I thought they should just better stick Asia Japan to the 110-nautical mile Cebu-Masbate route where the expectations of the passengers is not so high. In an afterthought, yes, I also realized she has been sailing for nearly nearly twenty years already and it seems time has not been very kind to her engines.

Not very long after that Asia Japan was seen by members of the Philippine Ship Spotters Society (PSSS) to be just laid up in the Ouano wharf in Mandaue, tied up. It was intriguing the members especially since the fleet of Trans-Asia Shipping Lines was very thin for its routes. Already gone were the Asia Brunei, Asia Hongkong which were both sold and soon Asia Malaysia was gone, too (she capsized and sank off Iloilo). And there was the third Asia Japan just lying around there. That time, Trans-Asia Shipping Lines cannot even serve her Nasipit route and just a single ship from two was serving her Iloilo route.

Once, on a visit to Ouano wharf, we were able to ask the in-charge of the ship her state. He told us third Asia Japan was sold by Trans-Asia Shipping Line to Key West Shipping Line Corporation which were operators of tugboats and partner then in the West Ocean Lines & Transport Incorporated operating container ships. We saw some works being done and the in-charge told us the ship will be used for a Cebu-Zamboanga run. That was intriguing as she was a former Cebu-Zamboanga ship and neither Key West Shipping Line Corporation nor West Ocean Lines & Transport Incorporated have operated ferries before. I am not even sure if they were holders of a franchise (CPC) in that route but in case it will be a welcome development since there was just one ferry left in the Cebu-Zamboanga route, the Zamboanga Ferry of George & Peter Lines and she was already very slow then.

Soon the little works we observed in Ouano wharf stopped and the next thing we knew was she was already in Nagasaka Shipyard in the shipyard row of Cebu in Tayud by the Cansaga Bay and bridge. We thought then further works will done there especially since the in-charge in Ouano admitted to us that the third Asia Japan doesn’t have strong engines anymore. Then me and a fellow ship spotter were able to board the ship and meet her new officer-in-charge, Engr. Rey Bobiles, the naval architect of Sta. Clara Shipping Corporation, a Bicol shipping company. It was a surprise and a further intrigue!

Yes, the third Asia Japan was renamed into Strong Heart 1, a show she was really transferred to the Key West Shipping Line Corporation as all the names of the vessels of the company starts with “Strong” like Strong Will, Strong Devotion, Strong Desire, Strong Dignity, Strong Bliss, etc. No, she will no longer be sailing for Zamboanga as she has already been sold to Sta. Clara Shipping Corporation and will become a Bicol ferry. It turned out that Trans-Asia Shipping Line sold her to Key West Shipping Line Corporation to settle fuel debts dacion en pago. I suddenly realized the connection. Trans-Asia Shipping Line was also intending to sell Trans-Asia 3 because “she consumes too much fuel”. It seemed believable at first glance because she has 2 x 4,500 horsepower engines. Then an investigation with the proper authorities commenced and it turned out Trans-Asia Shipping Line was simply a victim of a fuel scam as in fuel pilferage, a scourge of our local transport fleet. It happens even in the tankers, in the fishing fleets, in land tankers and in trucks.

Strong Heart 1 stayed very long in Nagasaka Shipyard with few works being done. She simply became the office of Sta. Clara Shipping Corporation and clearing house for the new crew recruits of the company and dormitory at the same time. She can stay in the shipyard long because Sta. Clara Shipping Company and her sister company Penafrancia Shipping Corporation are stockholders in Nagasaka Shipyard. Actually, vessels of the companies were withdrawn from the servicing of Mayon Docks Incorporated in Tabaco City in Albay and transferred to the care of Nagasaka Shipyard. Bicol ships also owned by the related stockholders of the two companies were also being transferred to the care of Nagasaka Shipyard. Nagasaka Shipyard was the former Villono Shipyard before the change in the ownership structure (Engr. David Villono, the founder is still the head of this shipyard).

While in the shipyard engine parts were ordered fabricated in Japan. When that arrived in 2014, serious restoration work was done on Strong Heart 1 which was already renamed to Nathan Matthew. Since she has lain untended in sea water for several years she was already rusty and when walking around one has to be careful not to fall in the weak deck plates and stairs. It was even raining at times inside some portions of her already. So, she was stripped to metal by sandblasting, her weak hull and deck plates were replaced and her engines were repaired.

A portion of her superstructure in the aft of the second deck was removed too since it was thought her space for passengers as a short-distance ferry will be enough since she will simply be fitted with sitting accommodations. With this, her gross tonnage was reduced to 1,030 nominal tons and her net tonnage was also reduced to 357 nominal tons. Her passenger capacity increased to about 800, however. So the rumor and the wish that she will still be an overnight ferry in the Liloan-Lipata route never materialized. Drivers and passengers in that route wished there will be a replacement of the Ocean King I in that route since when they arrive from Manila or Luzon they are already badly in need of an accommodation where they can lie down and sleep.

Upon finishing works in Nagasaka, the Nathan Matthew was first fielded in the Masbate-Pio Duran, Albay route. I don’t know if they want to tickle the Masbatenos but for sure many there will be many there who will recognize her even if she was already converted to a short-distance ferry, even though the bow ramp has changed and even though they chopped off part of the second passenger deck and even though the name has changed. Even with alterations, I noticed passengers really familiar with a ship still recognize them even after a long absence. Nathan Matthew won’t be an exemption.

She did not stay long there in that route, however. In not a long time she was transferred to the new Liloan, Southern Leyte to Lipata, Surigao route of Sta. Clara Shipping Corporation. The company has long been a holder of a franchise (formally Certificate of Public Convenience) in that route but it is only now that they had a ship that can serve there. Right now, Nathan Matthew is the biggest ship in that route especially since the Archipelago Ferries Philippines Corporation ships (the Maharlika Dos, Maharlika Cuatro and Maharlika Cinco) are already gone in that route.

There, Nathan Matthew is directly competing with the newly-fielded FastCats of Archipelago Philippine Ferries, the obsolescent Millennium Uno of Millennium Shipping and the Cargo RORO LCTs chartered by NN+ATS which is aimed against the truck congestion in that route (also for really heavy load like earth movers and trailers capable of carrying that). However, that route is slowly being squeezed by the shorter Benit, San Ricardo to Lipata route held by Montenegro Shipping Lines Incorporated (MSLI). Now it seems a new port will be built in San Ricardo, S. Leyte and if that will materialize that might be the end of the Liloan-Lipata route.

In won’t mean the end of Nathan Matthew, however, as she might simply be transferred to the new San Ricardo route. Otherwise, she can also be fielded in the other routes of owner Sta. Clara Shipping Corporation (making her more well-travelled). It won’t be much of a burden for them because her owners are known also for having deep pockets, relative by Bicol standards. They are even operating their own port now in Allen, Northern Samar.

Sta. Clara Shipping Corporation is known for taking care well of old ships. They are actually allergic to breakers, to put it in another way. And with the support of Nagasaka Shipyard, this refurbished ship looks like it still has a long way to go. With the Sta. Clara Shipping Corporation officers and crew steeped and trained in the dangerous swells of San Bernardino Strait I don’t see her suffering the fate of the capsized and sank Maharlika Dos in Surigao Strait, knock on wood.

Long live then this well-travelled ship!

The LADY MARY JOY 3

In the current era when cruisers were no longer in vogue and fast disappearing, there is still one ferry proudly flying the cruiser flag, the Lady Mary Joy 3 of Aleson Shipping Corporation. Actually, she is even the best and fastest ferry of her company which owns the biggest shipping fleet based in Zamboanga City. Lady Mary Joy 3 might be a non-RORO cruiser but funnily her stern is transom! For Aleson Shipping she holds the premier route of western Mindanao, the Zamboanga City-Jolo, Sulu route. With her speed, she is always the first arrival in either port and arrivals of 2am is not uncommon which means a traverse time of just 6 hours for the 93-nautical mile route. That converts to a actual cruising speed of 15.5 knots with allowance for speeding up and slowing down.

Lady Mary Joy 3 ©Mike Baylon

Lady Mary Joy 3 was born as the Daito in Japan with the IMO Number 9006760. She was owned by Daito Kaiun which provides the shipping connection to Daito islands in the Ryukyus. She was built by Yamanaka Shipbuilding Co. in their Namitaka shipyard and was launched in February of 1990 and completed in April of the same year. Her Length Over-all (LOA) is 73.0 meters and the Length Between Perpendiculars (LBP) is 67.0 meters with a Beam of 11.0 meters which means she is a narrow ship, a reflection of her not being a RORO and being of cruiser design. The ship had an original Gross Tonnage (GT) of 699 nominal tons and a Deadweight Tonnage (DWT) of 852 nominal tons. She is powered by twin Niigata marine diesel engines developing a total of 4,000 horsepower giving her a service speed of 17 knots when new. Lady Mary Joy 3 has a semi-bulbous stem and tall center mast.

Daiko ©Wakanatsu

In the year 2011 when the new replacement Daito came, the old Daito was sold to Aleson Shipping Lines of the Philippines. She was refitted while anchored off Zamboanga port  and Paseo del Mar park and two passenger decks were added astern of the funnel and another scantling was built between the bridge and the funnel which raised her passenger capacity to 500 which is just enough for the Zamboanga City-Jolo route. The cargo deck at her bow was retained but the cargo deck beneath the old passenger deck was converted into an additional Tourist section.

Refitting process ©Mike Baylon

Lady Mary Joy 3 actually has three passenger decks. The lowest which has no opening at the sides is the aforementioned additional airconditioned Tourist section. At the second deck at the front are Cabins and the original Tourist accommodations. Astern of that behind the funnel is Economy and dividing the front and the rear of the second deck is an original Japan lounge with a small front desk. The third and uppermost deck at the bridge level are all Economy which also includes the ship canteen or kiosk.

Cabin Row of the vessel ©Mike Baylon
Tourist Section ©Mike Baylon
Lounge ©Mike Baylon

With additional scantlings the GT of the ship rose to 835 nominal tons and her new Net Tonnage (NT) is 568 tons with a Depth of 5.3 meters and a Draught of 4.11 meters. Her Estimated Time of Departure (ETD) in either direction is 8pm, a very convenient post-dinner departure time. With a pre-dawn arrival this affords passengers travelling beyond Zamboanga City an early start. Those not inclined to go down early can opt to sleep further (a traditional ship courtesy) but visiting the ship at dawn I found almost all the passengers to be off already.

Not being an old ship, Lady Mary Joy 3 is still fast and very reliable and she easily outguns the other cruisers and Moro boats in her route. She might not be a RORO    but that is not much a concern to the company as her pair in the route is a RORO ship. When I last visited Zamboanga City, she was easily the cleanest ship in the Zamboanga City-Jolo route. Though the best ship in the route her fares are comparable to her competitors and this makes her a popular ship for the travelers in this area.

In her current state it looks like many, many years of service can still be expected of her. In fact, it seems she is simply starting.

Lady Mary Joy 3 ©Mike Baylon