The Misfortune of the Surigao Liner Route

Of all the many ports of Northern Mindanao, the geographical area and not the political-administrative region, it is Surigao that I did not see losing its liner connection to Manila given its history and not its demographic and economic profile. In the old days, Surigao had six passenger-cargo ships from Manila calling and dropping anchor every week whereas the likes of more known and bigger Iligan and Zamboanga did not have that frequency. So for me the loss of Manila connection by Surigao is almost unbelievable when the likes of Nasipit, Cagayan de Oro, Iligan and Ozamis still have their liner connection to Manila.

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Surigao Port by Aris Refugio

After the war, in the 1950’s and 1960’s, the likes of Escano Lines, Philippine Steam Navigation Company (PSNC), General Shipping Company (GSC), the great Compania Maritima (CM) provided Surigao with connection to Manila. Before the war, Surigao had ferry connection even in early American times and so the loss of connection was as shocking to me as the loss of Davao of its liner connection to Manila. I mean, the connections are historical and it was an epoch in local shipping.

In 1954, when the country has basically recovered from the war and there were enough ships already, the Romblon and Basilan of Compania Maritima and the Davao and Vizcaya of Philippine Steam Navigation Company (PSNC) sailed to Surigao. These were augmented by the Fernando Escano of Escano Lines and the General Mojica of General Shipping Company. All of these passenger-cargo ships were former war-surplus “FS” ships used by the US Army in their Pacific campaign during the war. Ex-“FS” ships were the backbone of our passenger shipping fleet in the early Republic years.

In 1955 the Occidental of Carlos A. Go Thong & Company and the Don Manuel of Royal Lines appeared in Surigao. Surigao then was usually paired with Butuan port (the true Butuan and not Nasipit) in voyages to increase the passenger and cargo volume. Combining the two ports was not difficult since the distance of the two is not far and just in the same direction and the additional passengers and cargo is much more than the additional fuel that is consumed.

The routes combined with Surigao got more complex over the years. In some routes Surigao is combined with Masbate, the Samar ports and Tacloban. There was even a ship, the Vizcaya of PSNC that had the route Manila-Romblon-Cebu-Maasin-Cabalian-Surigao-Bislig-Mati-Davao (now how’s that for complexity?). If ever there is again a liner with such route again it will be offer good, free tourism. Never mind if the voyage takes one week as long as the accommodations, passenger service and food are good. By the way that was the time when a dozen passenger ships depart North Harbor every day on the way south. Who said smaller ships of the past were not good? With smaller ships comes more voyages and more voyages means more choices. Smaller ships also mean shorter legs and so it has to call on more ports. More ports means more free tourism. Never mind if the voyage takes long. If one wants shorter travel time there is always the airline.

Some other routes to Surigao pass thru Cebu and/or ports on the western and southern side of Leyte island like Ormoc and Maasin. When I see the Palawan Princess or the Surigao Princess of Sulpicio Lines in the 1990’s and 2000’s, I tend to think they were the remnants of this route when they call in Masbate, Calubian, Baybay, Maasin and Surigao from Manila (and it even extended to Butuan earlier). It was just too bad that the suspension of Sulpicio Lines in 2008 put an end to that long route.

Until 1959 there were six ships from Manila sailing to Surigao and these were the FS-167, Fernando Escano, General Segundo, General Roxas, Rizal and Romblon. All were ex-FS ships except for the Rizal which might have been a lengthened “F” ship. In 1964, Escano Lines increased its ship call to Surigao with the Tacloban and Kolambugan. Later when Sweet Lines became a national liner company they also called in Surigao with their Sweet Peace. Then in 1970 when Aboitiz Shipping Corporation fielded a dedicated ship to their origin, the West Leyte, this ship held a Manila-Romblon-Palompon-Ormoc-Baybay-Cabalian-Surigao-Sogod route. What a way to blanket western Leyte and Surigao! Later this route was taken over by their more modern ship Cagayan de Oro.

In the same year, Go Thong had their Dona Gloria and Gothong  (their flagship) do a Manila-Cebu-Surigao-Mati-Davao-Iloilo-Manila route which goes round Mindanao island. The two alternating ships of Go Thong were no longer ex-“FS” ships but were refitted former cargo-passenger ships with refrigeration from Europe which had air-conditioning already. When I think of the ship routes of the past, I see they were much more exciting that the dry, short routes of today where free tourism (touring the city while the ship is docked) is almost minimal.

When Sweet Lines instituted their eastern Mindanao shortcutter route to Davao via Surigao their ships like the alternating Sweet Bliss and Sweet Dream were also former refrigerated cargo ships from Europe. Later, it was the Sweet Love and Sweet Lord which were alternating in this route. These ships were almost like in size as the Type “C1-M-AV1” war-surplus big ships used right after World War II but the difference is they were faster and had refrigeration which afforded air-conditioned first class accommodations and lounges to be built and hence were more comfortable than the big war-surplus ships that were converted to passenger-cargo use.

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Verano Port of Surigao City by Mike Baylon

With ships getting bigger, it is not surprising that routes and frequencies went down. If some thought that getting bigger is all a plus (like maybe in safety) then there is also a downside to that (and there might be a lesson there too). The ships getting bigger were probably the first that affected the frequency to Surigao. The factor came next maybe after that was the appearance of the fast cruiser liners in the second half of the 1970’s. Fast cruiser liners usually have just one intermediate call so that it can maintain a weekly voyage to a route as far as Southern Mindanao like Davao. With their appearance, other companies tried to speed up their voyages by also cutting down on intermediate calls and I think Surigao got affected by that like when Sweet Lines dropped Surigao on their eastern Mindanao seaboard shortcutter route.

In 1979, when container services was just starting, the frequency to Surigao was down to 3 ships a week with two of that provided by Escano Lines with their Kolambugan and Surigao. The Don Manuel of Sulpicio Lines was the other ship to Surigao. The three were old ships, as in ex-”FS” type and the other probably a lengthened ex-“F” ship. I am not that sure of the reason for the drop except that I know ships on the way to Davao by the eastern seaboard no longer calls in Surigao port. I was thinking of the cargo. Were there a lot of logs, lumber and plywood loaded before? During that time the logging and timber industry was already on the way down. And the Catbalogan and Tacloban ships no longer go to Surigao. Not enough load maybe to extend the route there. Anyway, this time even the Catbalogan and Tacloban routes are already being threatened by the emerging intermodal system when the buses and trucks started rolling up to Leyte from Luzon.

The end due to old age of the ex-”FS “ships definitely affected Surigao. Those type served the smaller ports and weaker routes in the 1970s. With just 1,000-horsepower engines they were certainly thrifty to run and their size fits the weaker and smaller ports especially with their shallow drafts. However, they can’t last forever and entering the 1980’s it was obvious they were already in their last legs as they were already in their fourth decade. By the middle of that decade only a few of those type were still running reliably and they were kept running by just cannibalizing parts from other similar ships, one of the reasons why their number kept steadily falling.

Sulpicio Lines fielded the small but comfortable liner Surigao Princess in the route in 1983 which I said seemed to be a relic of earlier days. The Surigao Princess had air-conditioning and First Class accommodations including Suite. Aboitiz Shipping also resuscitated their complex route with their cruiser liner Legaspi which also had air-conditioning. This ship was acquired from Escano Lines, as the former Katipunan and different from their old Legazpi and sometimes she sports the name Legaspi 1 to differentiate it as the old Legazpi was still sailing. Maybe the ex-”FS” ships were now too old and slow to maintain such route. I am talking here of the late 1980’s. Escano Lines, the old faithful in the route and a “home team” of the area was already fading and what they had left were cargo ships and the Virgen de la Paz maintained their Surigao route for them. However, before Escano Lines was completely gone, Madrigal Shipping entered the Surigao route with their Madrigal Surigao, a comfortable and modern cruiser liner in an era when RORO liners were already beginning to dominate but then Madrigal Shipping lasted only a few years before quitting and selling their ships.

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Port of Surigao (from a framed PPA photo)

I do not know if the regional ships also contributed to the decline of the Surigao liner route. They got better so much so that connecting to Cebu where great RORO liners were beginning to mushroom is already easy. One only has to check their schedules in Cebu and it is really nice to ride them and with their size they won’t be coming to Surigao and so connecting to Cebu might have become attractive so one can ride those great RORO liners. I am talking from experience but from a different city which is Iligan when it became an option to me to connect to Cebu to be able to ride a great liner. I also did that on the way home because I know that if I arrive before dark in Cebu there will be seamless connecting rides to Iligan and/or Cagayan de Oro.

There was a big change in 1993 when the great Filipina Princess of Sulpicio Lines upon being shunted to Davao called in Surigao. Aboitiz Shipping also for a time tried the Surigao route with their SuperFerry 2. In 1994, William Lines entered Surigao for the very first time with their luxury liner Mabuhay 2. So for the first time the competitors in Surigao were all new and good liners, a development I have not ever seen before. Maybe the deregulation and support extended by the Ramos government was the reason when there was optimism and dynamism in shipping again. But let it be noted that the Surigao Princess which is beginning to be unreliable and the Palawan Princess were still alternating in their complex route to Surigao and so there were 4 voyages a week to Surigao then from Manila.

In 1996, the SuperFerry 6 of WG&A, the former Our Lady of Akita tried to challenge the Filipina Princess in the Manila-Cebu-Surigao-Davao route. SuperFerry 2 also did a Manila-Surigao-Nasipit-Tagbilaran route after the merger. When WG&A started pairing ships in a route one pair that did the Manila-Surigao-Nasipit-Surigao-Manila route was the SuperFerry 3 and Our Lady of Medjugorje pair. When SuperFerry 6 was withdrawn from the eastern seaboard route and WG&A stopped that route and SF6 was paired with SuperFerry 10, the SuperFerry 1 and SuperFerry 8 was paired to do a Manila-Cebu-Surigao-Nasipit route and that was really a fast combination as both ships can do 20 knots. Later, when three-ship pairing was used by WG&A, the SuperFerry 2, SuperFerry 5 and SuperFerry 9 sailed the Manila-Surigao-Nasipit, v.v. route.

I always thought WG&A will maintain a twice a week schedule to Surigao and pair it with Nasipit and Sulpicio Lines will always have two schedules a week with its unchanging routes and schedules. But of course with the sales of ships that transformed WG&A into Aboitiz Transport System (ATS) there will be uncertainties and the greatest change was when ats sold four of their newest liners to take advantage of good prices and earn a handsome profit. Coming at the heels of sales of older liners and container ships to pay off their former partners which withdrew from the merger, ATS suddenly lacked ships and the Surigao schedules became infirm.

But the greatest blow was when Sulpicio Lines was suspended after the capsizing of their Princess of the Stars in 2008. Suddenly, their two schedules to Surigao were cut and those never came back. I thought ATS would be reliable but actually except for the return of SuperFerry 19 from Papua New Guinea, ATS found themselves lacking ships especially since their SuperFerry 14 was lost to firebombing off Bataan in 2004. When they acquired their SuperFerry 20 and SuperFerry 21, I thought that somehow their routes might stabilize. But like their withdrawal from Davao and General Santos City, I did not see that they will be doing just a Manila-Tagbilaran-Nasipit route and leave Surigao. This was the period when they had the system to use the buses i.e. give the passengers bus tickets to connect to their ships like what they did in southern Mindanao (so passengers can ride their liners in Cagayan de Oro). For Surigao, howeverm it seems they were offering their other makeshift system, the use of connecting ships to Cebu by using their Cebu Ferries. Neat but for whom?

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SuperFerry 19 arriving in Surigao Port by Michael Denne

But then their subsidiary Cebu Ferries suddenly left to become the “Batangas Ferries”. What I saw was the ATS world collapsing and not out of financial trouble. They were just no longer that interested in shipping and they admitted as much. The passion was gone and they were already more interested in power generation. Well, their bet and support of Gloria Arroyo paid off handsomely and they were able to earn in Tiwi Geothermal and Mak-Ban in Laguna what they cannot possibly ever earn in shipping.

They sold their shipping to an entity that was less capable than them and which had to get a big loan for the acquisition and was a big burden, so heavy that initially the new company was on the red for the next three years until fuel prices eased and they were back in the black. But that was not any benefit to Surigao as they never came back there for long except for a short period like when St. Joseph The Worker was refurbished and was assigned there and which I was lucky to ride. But after her sale and her sister it was downhill all the way for Surigao. With bean counters ruling, smaller ports had no chance in 2GO, the entity after ATS. And to think there were no longer any other liner company competing. 2GO was just content on routes that will easily make them money. Did they call that “serving the public”? I am not sure.

Now Surigao no longer has a liner, not even one that is paired with Nasipit. But 2GO still call in Nasipit from Cebu and so the extra distance pays. But maybe not when paired with Surigao? Maybe if the hours and the fuel of the ship are measured the metric of Surigao is too low and the 2GO ship is better used elsewhere. That is the quintessential bean counter method. They are not into traditional shipping. They are into business.

I was also wondering about the off and on service of the company to Dapitan until its total withdrawal. Dapitan and nearby Dipolog a combined population of over 200,000. But its commercial level is low and so maybe a population of 200,000 is not enough to sustain a liner per 2GO standard. And so maybe Surigao City with just 150,000 people has no chance even if some incrementals from Siargao tourism is added. In Ormoc with over a population over 150,000, 2GO was not able to maintain a route. Somehow these metrics points to the standards and parameters of 2GO.

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Surigao Port by Lota Hilton

If that is correct then maybe Surigao has no chance really unless a new liner company with true shipping emerges. But then with the situation of the liner industry that is like asking for the moon. I don’t know if the change at the helm of 2GO with the entry of Chelsea Shipping and the SM Group if the metrics and priorities will change. If ATS and 2GO said they were “passionate” in shipping (of course their dictionary is not Webster), I don’t know what will be the adjective of the 2GO/NN-Chelsea-SM combine that will make it better.

I don’t want to be too hopeful and so I will just await developments.

Note: Thanks a lot to the research of Gorio Belen in the National Library.

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An Unheralded and Unknown Liner

William Lines, one the greatest of Philippine shipping companies rose to probably become the country’s Number 1 entering the 1980’s. That rise to paramount position was fueled by their race with Sulpicio Lines to acquire fast cruiser liners from the Misamis Occidental to Cebu City, Tacloban City, Manila City, Cagayan de Oro City and Ozamis City. When they acquired the last-mentioned ship in 1978, they might have been in parity already with the erstwhile Number 1 which was Compania Maritima. But when they acquired the half-RORO, half-cruiser Dona Virginia in 1979 and they joined the race with Aboitiz Shipping and Sulpicio Lines to acquire container ships starting in 1979 with the ROLO Cargo ship Wilcon 1, few will dispute that they were already Number 1 in our seas. That rise was aided by the non-purchase anymore of further ships by Compania Maritima (and the consecutive losses of ships of the company due to maritime accidents) and the split of the old Carlos A. Gothong & Company in 1972 which produced three separate shipping companies — Sulpicio Lines Incorporated, Lorenzo Shipping Corporation and Carlos A. Gothong Lines, Incorporated (CAGLI).

However, while William Lines was mainly Number 1 in the next decade, the company seemed to overly rely on the fast cruiser lines (of which they had the most among the local shipping companies) and were relatively late in the acquisition of RORO liners. After the half-RORO, half-cruiser Dona Virginia, their first acquisition of a full-pledged RORO liner happened in 1987 already when they bought the Masbate I. By the time they acquired that, their main rival Sulpicio Lines has already purchased 4 ROROs and Carlos A. Gothong Lines even more. Sweet Lines had already procured 3 ROROs and and will add two more in 1987 and Negros Navigation has already bought 2. Among the still existent major liner companies, it was only Aboitiz Shipping and Escano Lines which had a zero total liners until 1987. So when Sulpicio Lines acquired 3 big ROROs in 1988, the Filipina Princess, Cotabato Princess and Nasipit Princess, William Lines lost their Number 1 position in the totem pole of local shipping and again few would dispute that.

William Lines might have seen the handwriting on the wall that the cruiser liners were heading to obsolescence but what I don’t understand was their continued reliance on Arimura Sangyo, the later A” Lines on second-hand liners. To get their RORO liners, Sulpicio Lines did not rely anymore on their old supplier, the RKK Lines and instead diversified their sourcing. In fact, none of the three liners they purchased in 1988 came from RKK Lines and that itself is telling like they really want ROROs fast.

William Lines tried to pursue Sulpicio Lines in the acquisition battle of RORO liners by purchasing their second full-pledged RORO liner in 1989. Just the same their supplier was still A” Lines and what they got was the Ferry Amami (actually many of their further purchases of liners will still come from this company like the Sugbu which was the latter Mabuhay 3, the Maynilad, Mabuhay 2, Mabuhay 6 and what was supposed to be the Mabuhay 7 which turned out to be the SuperFerry 11 and later Our Lady of Banneux). It seems it was the over-reliance of William Lines on A” Lines that doomed her into sliding into the Number 2 position among the local shipping companies and so Sulpicio Lines did well in diversifying their source.

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Photo by Wilben Santos thru PSSS

The Ferry Amami turned out into the ferry Zamboanga City, a ROPAX liner. This ferry was not known by many because she was not a ship with a route to Cebu and instead served her namesake city at first, obviously, and Cebuanos, the most literate among Pinoys about ships normally don’t go to Zamboanga City. This ferry, like many of the ferries of A” Line in the 1970’s had the design of having a stern ramp but having booms in the bow of the ship which is being hybrid also in some way. Most ROROs that came in this country does not have this design. It might have not been so fit here because the other ferries from A” Lines of William Lines had this boom subsequently removed like in Sugbu, Maynilad, Mabuhay 2, Mabuhay 6 and SuperFerry 11 (the later Our Lady of Banneux). When this boom is being operated, the ship also rocks in cargo loading like in cruiser ships and of course the stern ramp will also move and I think that was the contradiction of this kind of design.

The Zamboanga City is not a big RORO liner but it is comparable to most of the RORO liners that came to the Philippines in the period between 1987 and 1992 which were near 100 meters in length up to a little over 120 meters in length. Among that came in this period were the Our Lady of Fatima, Our Lady of Lourdes, Our Lady of Sacred Heart, Sto. Nino de Cebu (the later Our Lady of Medjugorje) of Carlos A. Gothong Lines, the Masbate I, the Tacloban Princess and Manila Princess of Sulpicio Lines, the Sta. Ana and Princess of Negros of Negros Navigation. To this the Our Lady of the Rule of Carlos A. Gothong Lines can be added but she was not used in a Manila route. The notable exceptions were the 3 big liners that came to Sulpicio Lines in 1988 and the Sugbu, Maynilad, Mabuhay 1, Mabuhay 2 of William Lines and the SuperFerry 1 and SuperFerry 2 of Aboitiz Shipping. However, these small RORO liners of 1987-1992 had passenger capacity from over 1,200 to just over 2,000 and the Zamboanga City itself has a passenger capacity of 1,875. It was the period when the country’s economy was recovering, there was a shortage of liners and ferries in general because of lack of acquisitions in the previous years because of the economic crisis and former surplus World War II ships were already being retired. That was the reason why shipping companies tended to push to the limit the passenger capacities of their ships. And it can get full in the peak season and passengers have to be turned away (I have seen this personally many times).

The Zamboanga City was built by Niigata Shipbuilding & Repair in 1975 in Niigata, Japan as the Emerald Amami of and she had the IMO Number 7435527. The ship’s external dimensions were 117.1 meters in length over-all (LOA), a length between perpendicular (LPP) of 105.0 meters and a beam of 19.0 meters and gross cubic measurements was 4,188 in gross register tonnage (GRT). The ferry originally had two and a half passenger decks and its route was to Amami Oshima in Japan. Emerald Amami had a quarter stern ramp leading to its car deck. The ship already has a bulbous stem which was still a novel design in 1975 and that feature aids the speed of the ship. The big cargo boom dominates the front of the ship.

Emerald Amami was equipped with twin Niigata engines with a total horsepower of 16,800 which were the same engines powering the bigger Akatsuki of A” Line also (the Akatsuki became the Maynilad of the same company). With that powerplant, the Emerald Amami had an original sustained top speed of 20 knots (and the Akatsuki 18 knots because it is bigger). It was an unfortunate choice of engines as the Maynilad was only able to generate 15 knots here (because a lot of metal was added) and the Zamboanga City 17 knots (and William Lines suffered in the process). And because of the two, my respect for Niigata engines went down because the other ships of the size of Emerald Amami here can produce the same speed with just about 10,000 horsepower (like the SuperFerry 3, San Paolo and Princess of Negros). And ships of the size of Akatsuki with that engine horsepower can do much better speeds (like the SuperFerry 2 and SuperFerry 5).

In 1987 Emerald Amami was renamed to Ferry Amami. In 1988, when the new Ferry Amami arrived she was put up for sale and in the next year she came to the Philippines for William Lines which then refitted her for Philippine conditions and that means adding decks to increase passenger capacity and to provide for open-air Economy accommodations (the added decks in her were what became the Economy sections). With that the gross tonnage of the ship increased to 5,747 with a net tonnage of 1,176 which is an understated figure (was this the net register tonnage in Japan?). It does not even meet the International Maritime Organization (IMO) requirement that the net tonnage should be at least one-third of the gross tonnage. The deadweight tonnage of the ship meanwhile remained at 2,082. The Call Sign of Zamboanga Ferry was DUZI. This Zamboanga City was the third ship to carry that name in the fleet of William Lines (and at other times she was only referred to as Zamboanga).

Zamboanga City became the replacement ship for the burned Manila City of William Lines in 1991 and thus held the Manila-Zamboanga-Davao route. She was also tried in the Manila-Iloilo-Zamboanga-Cotabato route later to challenge the Cotabato Princess there when Sulpicio Lines transferred the Filipina Princess to the Davao route and the Maynilad was used by William Lines in that route in 1992. When the Mabuhay liner series started arriving for William Lines, the Zamboanga City was shunted to the Manila-Puerto Princesa route without passing Coron and that was her route until William Lines coalesced with Gothong Lines and Aboitiz Shipping at the end of 1995 to form the super-company WG&A.

In WG&A among the ROROs it was Zamboanga City which was subjected to ignominy. She was assigned the route Manila-Zamboanga-General Santos City early in 1996, a route where her relative lack of speed will show. At this time she was only capable of 16 knots when Maynilad was just capable of 14 knots. Her competitor there was the Princess of the Pacific of Sulpicio Lines which can do 18 knots. In mid-1996 she was assigned the Manila-Dipolog (actually Dapitan)-Ozamis route that was held before by another slowpoke, the 16-knot Our Lady of Good Voyage, the former Ferry Kikai of A” Line which first became the Mabuhay 6 (I noticed a lot of former A” Line ships that came to William Lines this period was afflicted with slow speed).

In 1997 Zamboanga City disappeared from the schedules and she was offered for sale together with the Maynilad. The two were the only RORO liners offered for sale by WG&A. The Maynilad I can understand the reason because there is really no liner that just runs at 14 knots and passengers to Zamboanga when she was still with William Lines complained of the too long transit time even though she does not dock at Iloilo port. But at 16 knots the Zamboanga City was just in the league of SuperFerry 3, the Our Lady of Sacred Heart and just marginally below the Our Lady of Medjugorje. When WG&A started pairing of ships on routes, the three were often paired. All were mechanically reliable just like Zamboanga City but Zamboanga City was always left out. What was her jinx, the cargo boom at the front? Ferry Kikai also had that also but was removed and a deck ahead of the bridge, a Tourist accommodation was created. If that was the problem that could have been done also for Zamboanga City. Or was the 16,800 horsepower engine the real killer that was why she was disliked by WG&A Jebsens that manages the fleet? At least Our Lady of Good Voyage only has 7,600hp engines, the Our Lady of Sacred Heart had 8,000hp engine, the Our Lady of Medjugorje had 9,000hp engines and SuperFerry 3 just had 9,300hp engines. And their speeds were the same. Do the math.

I was wondering then why the cruiser Our Lady of Naju which has the length of 111.4 meters was retained. Its cargo capacity was measly but her route of Dumaguit and Roxas City had minimal cargo anyway and so maybe her 10,000hp engines is what made her acceptable and she was even marginally faster than Zamboanga City. But why the Our Lady of Lipa with 18,800hp engines on 124.2 meters length survived? Well she at least had the speed and she could be used for the speed wars in Cebu-Cagayan de Oro route if needed. Maybe it was really the big engines with no speed that was the albatross on the neck of Zamboanga City. Now maybe if only Dumaguit and Roxas had more cargo then she might have survived instead of the Our Lady of Naju.

Mind you the accommodations of Zamboanga City are decent and comparable to liners of her period and I can say that because I have ridden her when she was substituted to the Iligan route. I don’t know maybe that was just her role then in WG&A before she was sold – to be a reserve ship. Maybe her size and engine size was really not fit for the Visayas-Mindanao route. Or maybe WG&A prefered the Maynilad there (also known as Our Lady of Akita 2 after one passenger deck was removed). This ferry had better accommodations and bigger cargo capacity and 14 knots can be hidden in a Cebu to northern Mindanao route). Otherwise, she would have taken the slot of the 104.6-meter Our Lady of Manaoag, the former Masbate I. But then that ship only had small engines with 7,600 horsepower.

An unwanted ship, in 2000 the Zamboanga City was finally sold to China breakers. Too unknown, too unheralded that few remember her.

The Princess of the Ocean

The Princess of the Ocean of Sulpicio Lines was one peculiar ship that plied Philippine waters in the sense that she was a full-pledged liner but was just used as an overnight ferry since her fielding. There were other liners that were passed on to the Visayas-Mindanao routes before her but these happened when they were already old and were already at a disadvantage if used as liners and so they became hand-me-downs unlike the Princess of the Ocean which was fielded in the Cebu-Cagayan de Oro route (the premier Visayas-Mindanao route) from the start and stayed there until she stopped sailing. The Cebu Ferries Corporation (CFC) also had a liner that was used in the Cebu-Cagayan de Oro route when it was first fielded, the Our Lady of Lipa but then she was transferred in a liner route which was the Manila-Dumaguit-Roxas route and she was also used in the Palawan route, both of the liner shipping company WG&A.

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I am really not sure about the motives but one thing is sure is when the Our Lady of Lipa was first fielded in the Cebu-Cagayan de Oro route on Christmas of 1995 is that Sulpicio Lines suffered a blow to their prestige as initially they only had the old and small Cagayan Princess to try to fend off the new competitor and clearly their ship was really outmatched by the ship sailing for Cebu Ferries Corporation, the regional shipping subsidiary of the merged shipping line WG&A. It was more than a year before Sulpicio Lines was able to respond because they prioritized great liners first to be able to hold their own against the onslaught of the giant shipping company WG&A. In 1997, they were able to acquire the Princess of the Ocean and instead of fielding her in a Manila route they chose to let her hold the Cagayan de Oro route and maintained her there to probably show who is the boss.

I thought at first that the Princess of the Ocean was just for show in Cagayan de Oro but I was mistaken. I was wondering if the ship was not too big for the route or even too speedy (but there were speed contests then to Cagayan de Oro and the bragging rights who got there first). But then a mariner member of PSSS (Philippine Ship Spotters Society) who worked with Sulpicio Lines before told me the Princess of the Ocean had enough cargo in the route including container vans transferred in Cebu from Manila. On the passenger side I really had a doubt if they can fill her 1,938 passenger capacity which was double than the normal Cebu-Cagayan de Oro ferry. I thought then her passengers were really lucky because that will mean they will usually have their choice of bunks with no regard to where they were assigned to. Whatever, the Princess of the Ocean was the biggest regular overnight ferry ever in the Cebu-Cagayan de Oro and also in Jagna, Bohol as she had a weekly voyage there.

But sometimes I also wondered if it was not all a waste. To show who is the boss in the Cebu-Cagayan de Oro route, Sulpicio Lines had to maintain the old and obsolete cruiser liner Dipolog Princess in the Manila-Tagbilaran-Dapitan-Iligan route where she was already greatly outclassed by the ships of the competition. And another old cruiser and obsolete cruiser liner, the Iloilo Princess has to hold the Manila-Puerto Princesa route and she was also greatly outgunned there. And this is not even to mention another old and more obsolete liner, the Palawan Princess which does not even have airconditioning. I thought then that the Princess of the Ocean can hold route the Manila-Tagbilaran-Dapitan-Iligan route and maybe the Dipolog Princess can be shunted to the Cebu-Cagayan de Oro route for after all she can also carry a limited number of container vans but not in a RORO deck but above the hull, topside. But then she would be no match to the Our Lady of Good Voyage, the Cagayan de Oro permanent ship of Cebu Ferries Corporation. Now if only the Manila Princess‘ engines were more reliable then Sulpicio Lines would have had more options. And I even thought that with weak engines this ship might have been better used as an overnight ferry as the stress on the engines would have been less.

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Emerald Okinawa by Funekichimurase

The Princess of the Ocean started life as the Emerald Okinawa of the RKK Lines of Japan. She was built by the Kanda Shipbuilding Company in Kure, Japan in 1974 with the ID IMO 7370454 which means her keel was laid in 1973. She was completed in February 1975 which means she was launched in 1974. Maybe the Oil Shock of 1973 affected her building as it took too long. As her name and company name shows she had a route to Okinawa which is open ocean and that is why she had a great draft especially since she does not only carry container vans in her RORO deck but also topside in her stern. Originally she only had two passenger decks and her passenger capacity was just over 1,000 persons.

Externally, the ship measured 126.1 meters in length over-all (LOA) and her length between perpendiculars (LPP) was 118.0 meters. Her breadth was 22.0 meters and her original gross register tonnage (GRT) was 6,150 tons. She was powered by twin Mitsubishi-MAN engines totalling 20,000 horsepower giving her a top speed of 21 knots (which I think is rather low given her power). Incidentally, these engines were also the engines mounted on the much longer St. Joseph The Worker, St. Peter The Apostle and St. Ezekiel Moreno, all of Negros Navigation. The first two had design speeds too of 21 knots while being longer and the last had a design speed of 21.5 knots because she was a little shorter. Actually, the true top speed of Emerald Okinawa might have been 22 or 22.5 knots given that she can do 20 knots here even with added metal in the superstructure. That is if she was not limited by the transmission.

The Emerald Okinawa had a sister ship of the same dimensions with her, the Golden Okinawa, also of RKK Lines which also came to the Philippines to the revived Carlos A. Gothong Lines as the Cagayan Bay 1. However, they have different engines as this was only powered by a pair of Mitsubishi-MAN engines with a total of 15,200 horsepower which is the same powerplant in SuperFerry 2, SuperFerry 5, Cotabato Princess and Nasipit Princess. There is also a claim that actually SuperFerry 2 and SuperFerry 5 were sister ships of Emerald Okinawa and Golden Okinawa although those sisters are longer by 12 meters and built by another another shipyard, the Onomichi Zosen but then that claim is very most likely true.

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In 1997, the Emerald Okinawa was sold to Sulpicio Lines and she was last RKK Lines ship that came to Sulpicio Lines (RKK lines supplied many liners to Sulpicio Lines before especially fast cruiser liners). She was then 23 years old at that time, three years more than what some falsely claim (because they have vested interests) that in Japan there is a rule that ships 20 years of age are mandatorily retired. A deck was added to her and so she became a three-passenger-deck ship with a passenger capacity now of nearly 2,000. Where before she can carry container vans topside in the stern, now that area had new scantling for the Economy Class. With the way she was rebuilt her stern had the looks now of a square-end stern. Her new depth was 8.1 meters and her new gross tonnage (GT) was 7,297. The ship’s new net tonnage (NT) was 4,218 and her deadweight tonnage (DWT) as registered here was 3,079 tons. Princess of the Ocean‘s TEU capacity was about 90.

When she came to the Cebu-Cagayan de Oro route, the Our Lady of Lipa of Cebu Ferries Corporation refused a head-on clash. That would have been a battle royale as they are about the same size (the Princess of the Ocean was a little bigger although their lengths are almost the same) and they have about the same speed that can be sustained which is 20 knots (not over time though). With 20 knots a 2am arrival in Cagayan de Oro is feasible with favorable tide and wind from an 8pm departure in Cebu. Watta way to titillate passengers and afford those with long connecting trips a chance to be in their homes before lunch even though it could be as far as Davao (that was the time when bus drivers still know how to press their pedal to the metal; now that is a big sin).

Cebu Ferries Corporation instead pulled out the Our Lady of Good Voyage from her Manila-Dumaguete-Dapitan and Manila-Puerto Princesa routes and she was the one which battled the Princess the Ocean for a long time but at an obvious disadvantage in size and speed and so Princess of the Ocean possessed the bragging rights. But funny the Princess of the Ocean is long gone now but the Our Lady of Good Voyage is still sailing the route as the Trans-Asia 9 (but this might not be for long now). But then who would have foreseen that Sulpicio Lines will quit passenger shipping in the aftermath of the restrictions and public furor caused by the sinking in a strong typhoon of their flagship Princess of the Stars? Who knows if that did not happen if the Princess of the Ocean is still sailing too now?

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So for 11 years the Princess of the Ocean continued to sail and serve the Cebu-Cagayan de Oro route until the disaster of 2008 when Sulpicio Lines was suspended by the maritime officials from sailing (later the license to carry passengers of Sulpicio Lines was even withdrawn). However, there was also a time when she left the route like in the aftermath of the sinking of the Sulpicio Lines flagship Princess of the Orient in a typhoon too in 1998 when she was assigned the Manila-Estancia-Iloilo-Zamboanga-Cotabato route of Cotabato Princess and that was a proof that she can be a liner if Sulpicio Lines chose so. Actually her dining rooms are not the usual that can be found in overnight ferries in the Cebu-Cagayan de Oro route as it is a full-pledged dining area that can sit hundreds at any given time and with the opulence if it can be called that that was handed down from Emerald Okinawa. That also means her galley was ready for a days-long voyages and passengers can be fed free three square meals a day.

As rebuilt here the Princess of the Ocean was a little squarish in lines and she had a forecastle. On the sun deck a playground and a promenade were built. She had a quarter-front ramp on the starboard and also a quarter-rear ramp on the starboard as she was designed to dock on the starboard side (there are no passenger ramps on the port side). Of course that quarter-rear ramp can also be deployed if the docking is stern-ways or Meditteranean. Another notable feature of the Princess of the Ocean was she was a bridge-control ship which means her engines can be controlled from the bridge, the reason she had more controls and instrumentation in the bridge compared to the usual liner. In bridge-control ships the navigators also know the actual situation in the engine room.

The Princess of the Ocean was a fine liner and a better overnight ship although like in half of the Sulpicio Lines fleet sometimes the maintenance of the facilities lags. When I had two female friends ride with her on the way to a visit to my place they reported some unsatisfactory observations and that detracted from the enjoyment of their trip. Of course on the flip side the fares of Sulpicio Lines are a little cheaper than that of the competition. But then who can believe now that they only charged P187 for Economy and P245 for Tourist in the Cebu-Cagayan de Oro route? That was how cheap it was then. Now if only those fares can be brought back then tourism will fly and the budget airlines will be dead.

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Whatever, this good ferry was killed way ahead of its time because of the great misfortune that befell Sulpicio Lines which was also a misfortune to the general ship-riding public with the exception of the victims, of course (but the general ship-riding public does not know that except for a few). Laid up from August 2008, she was finally sold in the third quarter of 2010 and was broken up on January 23, 2011 by the Jiangmen Yinhu Shipbreaking Company in Xinhui, China.

Now all that are left of this peculiar ship are memories and photographs.

If Only Cokaliong Shipping Lines Would Use the Filipinas Nasipit in the Cebu-Batangas Route

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For me, the Filipinas Nasipit which was the former Taiko is striking in two ways. One is its sleek design that is beautiful to behold. She looks modern and fast, which she is. And that brings us to the second striking characteristic of Filipinas Nasipit – her design speed is high at 21.5 knots which is liner range in the Philippines. The only overnight ferry that is close to her in design speed is the Trans-Asia 3 at 20 knots. And we know Trans-Asia 3 is still capable of 18 knots if only the fuel cost is not a consideration. Nowadays, with capitulation of Cebu Ferries there was no need for overnight races anymore.

At a design speed of 21.5 knots and at her age, I believe Filipinas Nasipit is still capable of over 18 knots even though some metal were added to her in refitting here (it was not really much). My guess is at full trot she can still run at 19-20 knots which is easily in the range of the best liners of 2GO at present. So, she is liner in speed capability.

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Photo by John Carlos Cabanillas

In the past, the Aboitiz Shipping Corporation liners SuperFerry 2 and SuperFerry 5 sail the 394-nautical mile Cebu-Manila route in 22 hours by sailing at the 17.5-18 knots range (those two sister ships had a design speed of 19 knots which is the maximum sustained speed when new). I want to use it as comparison since they go under the Mactan bridges. I assume Filipinas Nasipit is also capable of sailing under the two Mactan bridges and need not go round Mactan island which adds to transit time and fuel cost.

Batangas is 6 hours away from Manila. So, if Filipinas Nasipit is used in the Cebu-Batangas route and assuming she sails at 18 knots then she will be in Batangas in 16 hours. It could even be less if she turns on the speed like liners do. I want to stress this because at 15-16 hours sailing time then she will then be ready to sail the next night. Therefore, theoretically, a three times a week Cebu-Batangas sailing is possible. If the extra day in a week is used in a short route like Dumaguete then actually she would also act as a Batangas-Cebu-Dumaguete ferry once a week. Neat?

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Photo from James Gabriel Verallo

I believe the Cebu-Batangas route has enough potential in passengers and cargo. If 2GO still finds their Cebu-Manila route profitable now, there is a percentage of those passengers that will be amenable to a Batangas drop-off or disembarkation like the passengers going to CALABARZON except Rizal. There is also the potential enticements of lower fares, shorter sailing hours and without the hassle of going to or going out of North Harbor (because access to that national port is horrible with all the road congestion and traffic of Manila plus the crime and grime). Cokaliong Shipping Lines can also have a tie-up with a bus company going to Manila for the convenience of the passengers and its luggages.

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Photo from James Gabriel Verallo

The Asian Marine Transport Corporation (AMTC) was not successful in the Cebu-Batangas route in the passenger category because the sailing time was long since it passes through Masbate and their ship Super Shuttle RORO 3 was not fast since its speed was in the overnight ferry range and not in the liner range. The fare was cheap but the food is not free and there is not even a Tourist Class (there was a space for it but it was never opened). The ship also lacks amenities and the NVH (Noise, Vibration, Harshness) at the stern where the Economy was located was not good. It was also hot since air flow even during sailing is restricted. I don’t think Super Shuttle RORO 3 ever made a dent on the passengers of Aboitiz Transport System and 2GO especially since she only sailed once a week.

Filipinas Nasipit State-of-the-Art Bridge

Photo by Mark Ocul

But in speed the Filipinas Nasipit is a match to the 2GO liners. The frequency always matters too. Waiting for two days is not long unlike waiting for a week like in the AMTC ship. The Filipinas Nasipit might be small but she has enough capacity and the route is much just like an extended overnight route. And besides the Filipinas Nasipit is well-designed unlike Super Shuttle RORO 3 and it is already modern. Cokaliong Shipping Lines Incorporated was lucky to acquire her since it can be used in a route like that.

In terms of cargo, I think the Cebu-Batangas route has potential from the trucks going to Manila and CALABARZON and new cars destined for Cebu (and also the trucks going back). Batangas is a drop-off port of many imported new cars and also cars that comes from assembly plants in Laguna. I heard the cargo capacity of Filipinas Nasipit is small but if she is viable in an overnight route to Mindanao then if her load in the Batangas-Cebu route is good then she will also be profitable, why not?

Cafeteria

Photo by Mark Ocul

A departure of 6pm means the ship is not obliged to serve dinner to the passengers, according to traditional rules. The arrival then will be 9 or 10am and if breakfast is required then it will not be hard for the ship since breakfast is easier to prepare as it can just be continental breakfast (prito-prito lang plus coffee). However, some adjustments might be needed in the ship since overnight ships does not really have big restaurants. A shortcut that can be applied is breakfast that is served in styropor boxes.

Tables at the Sundeck

Can be used for serving breakfast on-the-go; photo by Mark Ocul

I have long thought that a Cebu-Batangas ship, as long as it is fast and it is fit in terms of accommodations will be viable in the long run when it is well-advertised as an alternative to Manila, its schedule is reliable, its accommodations are topnotch and it has a decent service. In cleanliness, Cokaliong Shipping Lines Inc. no longer need to adjust since their ships are even cleaner than the liners. The Filipinas Nasipit will fit the bill here.

A 15- or 16-hour sailing is not really that taxing to the crew. An 8-hour lay-over is enough for the rest of the crew and for cargo loading and unloading. That is also long enough for loading supplies and cleaning and preparing the ship for the return voyage. As for the company, the ship will have greater usage and profit because that is just like doing a Cebu-northern Mindanao route twice a day (in terms of sailing time as in fast sailing time).

Camagong Business Class

Photo by Mark Ocul

Filipinas Nasipit has a passenger capacity of 685 and I think that is already enough especially at the start. If some of the accommodations are the equivalent of jetseaters of before then it will not matter as liners also offered jetseaters in the past. And actually it offers good savings if priced right.

I just hope Cokaliong Shipping Lines thinks about a Cebu-Batangas route and gives it a try. They will have no competition in the route in passengers, the route has great potential, they have the right ship for a start and they already have the passenger service and cleanliness plus the attitude needed to compete in a route to Luzon (actually they are well above the overnight ships from Batangas).

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I hope to see a service from them soon. I will ride, why not?

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M/V St. Thomas Aquinas

The MV St. Thomas Aquinas was a former 2GO liner that was rammed on the side by the container ship Sulpicio Express Siete of Philippine Span Asia Carrier Corporation (PSACC) just south of Mactan Channel near Lauis Ledge lighthouse on the night of August 16, 2013. She sank in a matter of minutes because the PSACC ship feared being a sinking casualty and she pulled back allowing water to rush inside the hull of St. Thomas Aquinas (this is what usually happens when there is an underwater gash in the hull). A total of 137 persons died in the collision and a large oil spill affecting Mactan island resulted. St. Thomas Aquinas was better known locally as SuperFerry 2 and she is included in the book “The Great Passenger Ships of the World” by Frank Heine and Frank Lose (the original title was in German), a book where the Philippine Ship Spotter Society (PSSS) was a contributor.

M/V Superferry 2 folio ©John Aringay

St. Thomas Aquinas started life as the Ferry Sumiyoshi of Meimon Car Ferry K.K. of Kitakyushu, Japan. She was built in the Onomichi yard of Onomichi Zosen and she was the sister ship of Ferry Hakozaki which was better known locally as SuperFerry 5 and later as the St. Joan of Arc of 2GO (this ship is still sailing). Ferry Sumiyoshi’s keel was laid on August 1, 1972, launched on December 19, 1972 and completed on March 20, 1973. Her Length Over-all (LOA) was 138.6 meters and her Length Between Perpendiculars (LBP) was 128.0 meters with a Breadth of 22.15 meters. Originally, her Gross Register Tonnage (GRT) was 7,270 with a Deadweight Tonnage (DWT) of 2,596.
Ferry Sumiyoshi was powered by two Mitsubishi-MAN diesels (MAN engines built under license by Mitsubishi in Japan) of a combined 15,200 horsepower which gave her a service speed of 19 knots. She carried the international ID IMO 7304663 and she was a RORO-Passenger (ROPAX) Ferry. The ship originally had one and a half passenger decks, two and a half cargo decks, a full bridge deck and vehicle ramps at the bow and at the stern. Her original passenger capacity was 900 and she was first fielded in the Osaka-Shinmoji route in Japan.

Ferry Sumiyoshi ©Fakta om Fartyg

In April of 1992 she came to the Philippines to become the Aboitiz SuperFerry 2 (also SuperFerry II) of Aboitiz Shipping Corporation where she was converted into a 4-deck multi-day passenger liner originally serving the Manila-Cebu-Cagayan de Oro route (displacing the SuperFerry 1 in the latter port of call). She was the first liner fielded again by Aboitiz Shipping Corporation in the Manila-Cebu route after the shipping company gave up on that route for paucity of suitable liners (they were however serving the Cebu-Leyte route).

Superferry 2 ©Britz Salih

As reclassified, she had a Gross Tonnage (GT) of 11,405, a DWT of 2,947 and a passenger capacity of over 2,643 divided into the following classes: Stateroom, Cabin (for 2 and 4), Tourist, Deluxe and Economy. Adding weight her depth rose to 8.2 meters and her service speed dropped to 17.5 knots which meant a transit time of 22 hours in the Manila-Cebu route. Having a folding rear mast she can pass under the Mactan bridge. Her car deck can accommodate 108 trailers (she loads “CHA-RO” or container vans mounted on trailers and parked separate from the tractor heads).

Superferry 2 ©Gorio Belen

Aboitiz Shipping Corporation did not provide free meals to the passengers then but the fares were a little lower compared to competition to compensate for that. A passenger then will have his choice of what to eat. One orders meal a la carte in the cafeteria that was centrally located which was open from early morning to just past midnight. Passengers can also lounge here and while away time and various drinks can be ordered any time. The first class passengers have their separate restaurant. There was also a disco-karaoke and a coffee shop.

The ship featured a lounge for upper class passengers and a lobby and front desk for everyone along with other amenities and offerings like a video game arcade, a kiosk and books/magazines and board games for rent and a beauty salon. The ship sides were open and served as passageway and it also served as a viewing deck and smoking area. The sun deck of the ship also serves as a promenade area.

Superferry 2 interior ©Wakanatsu

On January 1, 1996 she passed on to the merger company William, Gothong & Aboitiz (WG&A) and in the renaming of the ferries of the merged fleet she retained the same name as WG&A decided to use the SuperFerry brand with the lesser ferries branded the “Our Lady”, a brand from Gothong Shipping. Initially she held on to her same route but a little later she did other routes (but not the prime Cebu route). Then she was paired with SuperFerry 5 to do rotational routes and a little later more this pairing included the SuperFerry 9 (in rotational pairings WG&A matches the ferries in speed and size). Doing rotational routes that varied over time along with differing assignments and schedules were a WG&A trademark which was hard to track unless one monitors their advertisement in the dailies.

Superferry 2 in WG&A livery ©Wakanatsu

With the divestment of the Chiongbian and Gothong families in WG&A (with the notable exception of Bob Gothong), the company was renamed the Aboitiz Transport System (ATS) in 2003. With sizable sell-off of ships (liners, overnight ferries and container ships), ATS found themselves lacking container capacity especially when they sold off SuperFerry 15, 16, 17 and 18. Part of their remedy aside from chartering container ships was to convert 4-deck liners into liners with only two passenger decks with two container decks. This halved the passenger capacity of the converted ships but almost doubled the container capacity. ATS thought this was the correct solution to declining passenger patronage and lack of container capacity (but later developments proved them wrong).

As converted, the passenger capacity of SuperFerry 2 dropped to only 904 with only two Staterooms and two Cabins. With some engine efficiency adjustments the service speed went up to 18.5 knots (with a maximum equaling her old 19 knots) and with only a few passengers the ship tended to be very cold at night especially when it is raining. The ship moreover became an all-airconditioned ship. Her Net Tonnage (NT) dropped to 5,869. As a two-passenger deck ferry there was much less space for passengers to roam and amenities and facilities were less. The dining area of the upper and lower classes became shared.

Superferry 2 ©Mike Baylon

Later on with the buy-out of Aboitiz Transport System by Negros Navigation using the China-ASEAN Fund loan in 2012 she passed on to the newly merged company 2GO. She was renamed as the St. Thomas Aquinas and she did the Manila-Cebu-Zamboanga and Manila-Cebu-Nasipit routes among other always-changing routes and schedules. In 2GO she was still speedy but with more emphasis put on the declining cargo and because of that like other ships in the fleet she tended to be late because of delayed departures waiting for cargo.

St Thomas Aquinas in 2GO livery. ©Mike Baylon

To make up for lost time because she was four hours late, she was speeding in the early night of August 13, 2013 in Hilutungan Channel and in rounding the southern coast of Mactan island. The area is notorious for radar scatter because of the ship facing land formation with hills, towers and plenty of buildings and vehicles. Also rounding Mactan island the radar won’t give an image of the ships exiting Cebu port and Mactan Channel. The early night too is the peak departure time of ships leaving Cebu. Nearing Lauis Ledge and the reefs of Cordova, Mactan and the narrows and shoals off Talisay, Cebu, the ship barreled into the narrowing shipping lane at over 16 knots when ships were expected to do 15knots or less in that area where the shipping line is curving like in a continuous arc.

At that time Sulpicio Express Siete with an ice-classed bow (reinforced as she was originally a Baltic Sea ship) was exiting Mactan Channel at slow speed. Meanwhile, Trans Asia 9 which was late in departure was catching up and asked permission to overtake on the right or starboard of Sulpicio Express Siete. The shallows of Talisay were looming ahead (a ship of Cokaliong Shipping Lines made a mistake here and ended up high and dry). So Sulpicio Express Siete gave her a wide berth and moved to the middle of the channel and slowed down a bit as she will be veering right soon as she was headed in the direction of Dumaguete while Trans Asia 9 is headed to Cagayan de Oro.

While the gap between Sulpicio Express Siete and Trans Asia 9 was getting bigger, the late-running Oceanjet 8, a fastcraft of Ocean Fast Ferries speeding from Tagbilaran moved into the gap between the ships and went into the starboard of Sulpicio Express Siete which was not her correct lane and in violation of maritime rules of the seaway. This had the effect of delaying of the veering of Sulpicio Express Siete in her correct lane in a shipping line with divider without marking buoys (AIS showed that at the time of passing of Trans Asia 9 Sulpicio Express Siete was slightly to the left of the median).

After Oceanjet 8 passed and when Sulpicio Express Siete was veering into her lane a reckless maneuver was made – St. Thomas Aquinas sped up and tried to follow Oceanjet 8, a classic case of brinkmanship. Ships don’t slow down and can’t maneuver like cars and the reinforced bow of Sulpicio Siete scraped against the hull and the passenger ramp of St. Thomas Aquinas, cut it up to below the waterline near the stern and the engine room. In moments, St. Thomas Aquinas had a fatal wound and power was knocked out and complete darkness fell in St. Thomas Aquinas with the bow on Sulpicio Express Siete lodged inside the rear hull of the 2GO liner. Some passenger took advantage of this momentary coupling of the two ships and jumped to the bow of the container ship. They were among the luckier ones because in minutes it was obvious their liner was stricken with a mortal blow worse than the Italian liner Andrea Doria.

Timeframe of collision ©Marinetraffic.com/Jeth Casagan

While the Andrea Doria had a good design that limited water intrusion and which kept her afloat for many hours St. Thomas Aquinas was a RORO which lacked watertight doors and compartments. When Sulpicio Express Siete reversed screws and disengaged she immediately developed a dangerous list and she capsized within minutes not affording enough time for proper evacuation which was made more difficult by the darkness. Trans Asia 9 also did not come to the rescue unlike the French liner Ile de France which illuminated Andrea Doria and launched lifeboats to the rescue.

Immediately after the accident charges and counter-charges of fault and recriminations were hurled and mainly by 2GO and netizens were quick to blame PSACC, the former Sulpicio Lines. Their former bad reputation hurt PSACC’s case in the bar of public opinion and it was even made worse by the fact that it was their ship which rammed and sank the other and was beyond the median line initially. Almost to a man almost everybody was blaming PSACC except maybe PSSS and a few others including mariners who understand COLREG (Collision Regulations) which governs rules of the road at sea. A Special Board of Marine Inquiry (SBMI) made an investigation that drew mainly on eyewitness account which tend to be biased depending of which ship they were boarded. In PSSS we noted there was almost no use of AIS which is the ship’s transponder and St. Thomas Aquinas was visible because their MMSI module was active and that gave her location, direction, speed and identity along with other data. It was her AIS which said she was overspeeding and she crossed the bow of the PSACC ship, a maneuver not permitted unless the other ship gave permission (this was also established later by the official investigation report).

Damage on Sulpicio Express Siete ©John Cabanillas

After over a year, the Philippine body tasked with determining fault, the Board of Marine Inquiry (BMI) determined liabilities and this was affirmed by their supervisory body, the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC). It sidestepped a purely COLREG-based decision and instead looked at other technicalities. The result said the St. Thomas Aquinas was mainly at fault because it held that ships moving out of port have priority over incoming ships. The report also noted a collision could have been avoided if both ships slowed down especially since they are not in radio contact.

Up to now the remains of St. Thomas Aquinas still lay near the collision site and lays precariously by her side in a sea ledge like the Costa Concordia. The maritime authority has already decided that 2GO should remove her as she poses hazard to navigation. Meanwhile, the municipality of Cordova is pressing payment for damage to their mangroves and fishing ground due to the oil spill in the aftermath of the sinking. Victims are still seeking further compensation while the two captains directly involved in the collision remain suspended. The other ships involved were not called to bar to answer for their actions.

Pumping oil from the remains of M/V St. Thomas Aquinas

Now, the liner St. Thomas Aquinas is just a memory but a bitter one at that especially for the victims who are not holding on to solid hopes as deadly maritime accidents in the Philippines take the courts up to over a generation to make a final decision.

MORE PHOTOS HERE: https://www.flickr.com/photos/29421855@N07/sets/72157632985526375

The Manila Princess

In Philippine liner history, if there is ever one ship that never had a permanent route then that ship would probably be the “Manila Princess” of Sulpicio Lines (although in earlier times there might be such ships in General Shipping Company as that defunct shipping company can’t make a ship stick to one name). When I first heard the name of the ship, I thought she was a grand liner much like the “Philippine Princess” or the “Filipina Princess” (that was still the time there were still no online databases). When I saw her, I was a little disappointed but not by much as she was not a bad ship and I would say she was about “average”.

Manila Princess ©Wakanatsu and Toshihiko Mikami

Studying her lines and superstructure, I noticed her similarity to “Filipina Princess” although she was a much smaller ship. I saw that same cargo boom in the stern combined with a stern ramp. “Cotabato Princess” also had a cargo boom at the stern but it was of a different design and had two posts. I chuckled and it played in my mind that the William Lines ROROs of the period also had stern ramps and cargo booms but their booms were at the bow or the front. Asking around, I slowly became aware that the similarities and differences of the designs were partly due to the sources of the ships in Japan.
As said at the start, “Manila Princess” never had a permanent route. The main reason for this was her unreliable engines that were her problem from the start. Her role became that of a permanent reliever when a ship of the Sulpicio Lines fleet was drydocked. Of course, she won’t be assigned the route of a fast liner of Sulpicio Lines and so some reshuffle would be done. I would notice that sometimes she is assigned the route of “Dipolog Princess”, sometimes the route of “Surigao Princess”, sometimes the route of “Cotabato Princess”, sometimes the route of “Princess of the Pacific”, etc.

In Sulpicio Lines, it seemed she earned the monicker of “Puli-puli Princess”. “Puli” is a Cebu word which means “to change” or “to relieve”. For a time, I thought that Sulpicio Lines’ strategy was good as it never leaves a route of them vacant (except when more than one ship was out of service). Once, however, I also saw her do an independent route once, the Manila-Zamboanga-Davao-Dadiangas-Zamboanga-Manila route. I think that was done to match her with the slow “Maynilad” of WG&A as the “SuperFerry 6” was matched by WG&A to the Mindanao eastern seaboard of the “Filipina Princess” of Sulpicio Lines.

“Manila Princess” started life as the “Ferry Orange” of Shikoku Kaihatsu Ferry of Japan with the ID IMO 7522485. She was built by Imabari Zosen in Imabari yard and was completed in March of 1976. Her Length Over-all (LOA) was 123.0 meters and her Beam or Breadth was 19.6 meters with a Depth of 6.5 meters. She has a declared Gross Register Tonnage (GRT) of 3,422 and a Deadweight Tonnage (DWT) of 699. “Ferry Orange” had a total of 11,200 horsepower from her Hanshin engines that were channeled to two screws that propelled her to a service speed of 20 knots and a maximum speed of 21 knots.

Originally, “Ferry Orange” had a passenger capacity of 470 persons, a cargo capacity of 60 trailers and 60 cars. Her bale capacity was 13,800 cubic feet and her grain capacity was 15,000 cubic feet.

Manila Princess ©Wakanatsu and Toshihiko Mikami

In October of 1991, “Ferry Orange” was sold to Sulpicio Lines where she became the “Manila Princess”. Additional passenger accommodations were built and she became a three-deck passenger ship with a passenger capacity of 1,744 persons. She is one ship where there were outside passageways at every level. Her accommodation classes were Suite with T&B, Cabin for 4 with T&B, Cabin for 2/4/6 w/o T&B, Tourist. Economy Deluxe and Economy.

Under the new measurements, she was 4,194 Gross Tons (GT) and 1,097 Net Tons (NT). Her new Deadweight Tonnage (DWT) was 1,558. Sailing here, her usual speed was 16.5 knots which was about the same as liners of her size like “SuperFerry 3”, “Our Lady of Medjugorje”, “Our Lady of Sacred Heart”, “San Paolo” and “Zamboanga City”. Her Philippine Call Sign was “DUHB8”.

In 2004, together with the unreliable liners with problematic engines “Princess of New Unity” and “Surigao Princess”, the “Manila Princess” was packaged to China breakers to raise funds for the grandest liner that ever came the Philippine seas, the “Princess of the Stars”. It was simply a master stroke of Sulpicio Lines – a new giant liner for three old liners that were already beyond redemption. Anyway, Sulpicio Lines is not known for selling ships to breakers that are still serviceable.

In July of 2004, “Manila Princess” was broken up in a China shipyard.

Manila Princess Drawing ©Ken Ledesma

Quo Vadis, Lite Ferry 8?

Nobody might have realized it but Lite Ferry 8 might now be the RORO ferry with the second-most number of years of service in the Philippines after “Melrivic Seven” (excepting also the LCT’s). She first came to our country in 1980 as the “Sta. Maria” of Negros Navigation, the first RORO ship in their fleet. Later, in 2001 she was sold by Negros Navigation to George & Peter Lines where she became the “GP Ferry-1”. After several years, in 2007 she was sold by G&P Lines to Lite Ferries where she became the “Lite Ferry 8” and was designed to compete in the prime route across Camotes Sea, the Cebu-Ormoc route. She is certainly a well-traveled ferry.

“Lite Ferry 8” started life as the “Hayabusa No. 3” of Kyouei Unyu of Japan with IMO Number 7323205. She was built by Yoshiura Zosen in their Kure shipyard and she was completed on April of 1973. As built, her Length Over-all (LOA) was 72.0 meters and her Breadth was 12.6 meters with a Gross Tonnage (GT) of 691 and a Deadweight Tonnage (DWT) of 1,680. She was powered by two Akasaka marine diesel engines totaling 4,200 horsepower routed to two screws. She had a maximum service speed of 15 knots when she was still new.

Sta. Maria ©Gorio Belen

Before leaving Japan, she was renamed as the “Hayabusa No.8”. In December of 1980 she came to Negros Navigation of the Philippines which added decks and passenger accommodations to her. She was among the first RORO’s in the Philippines and the first for Negros Navigation. She could actually be the first RORO liner in the country (as distinguished from short-distance and overnight ferries). Originally, she held the route from Manila to Iloilo and Bacolod and calling on Romblon port along the way. In one sense she replaced the flagship “Don Juan” of the Negros Navigation fleet which sank in a collision on April 22, 1980.

Sta. Maria ©Gorio Belen

With the advent of additional liners in the Negros Navigation fleet, the smaller and slower “Sta. Maria” was withdrawn from the Manila route and shunted to regional routes. Among the routes she did was the Cebu-Iloilo-Puerto Princesa route and later the Iloilo-Bacolod route. In 2000, when Negros Navigation already had a surplus of ships and the parallel route Dumangas-Bacolod was already impacting the Iloilo-Bacolod route she was sold to George & Peter Lines which needed a replacement ship after the loss of their ship “Dumaguete Ferry” to fire.

GP Ferry-1 ©Wakanatsu and Toshihiko Mikami

In George & Peter Lines, she became the “GP Ferry-1” where she basically did the staple Cebu-Dumaguete-Dapitan route of the company which was an overnight and day route on the way to Dapitan and an overnight route on the way back to Cebu. When there were still no short-distance RORO ferries between Dumaguete and Dapitan this was a good route. But when short-distance ferries multiplied in the route and with it dominating the daytime sailing, slowly George & Peter Lines saw their intermediate route jeopardized and the process accelerated with the entry of Cokaliong Lines in the Cebu-Dapitan-Dumaguete route.

I think it is in this context that G&P Lines sold her to Lite Ferries in 2007. By this time her engines were also beginning to get sickly, a factor of age exacerbated with longer route distances. Lite Ferries designed her to compete in the prime Camotes Sea route where the “Heaven Stars” of Roble Shipping Lines and the good overnight ferries of Cebu Ferries were holding sway. However, she was not too successful for Lite Shipping as her old engines seemed to be too thirsty and not too solid for the route. Sometime in 2010, Lite Ferries began using the Lite Ferry 12 for the Ormoc route and after that Lite Ferry 8 already spent considerably more time in anchorage than in sailing. Lite Ferry 12 had considerably smaller engines than “Lite Ferry 8” and her size was just a match for the like of “Wonderful Stars” which was also doing the Cebu-Ormoc route.

Lite Ferry 8 ©Jonathan Bordon

“Lite Ferry 8” was also put up for sale but with the history of her engines any sale except to the breakers will not be easy. Her accommodations and size is not what is used for the short-distance ferries and her engines are also too big for that route class. The only RORO now of her length, engine size and passenger accommodations are the overnight ferries from Cebu to Northern Mindanao but Lite Ferries do not sail such routes except for their route to Plaridel, Misamis Occidental and even in such route lengths the company prefers to use ROROs in the 60-meter class with engines totaling less than 3,000 horsepower.

As of now, “Lite Ferry 8” is almost a ship without a route. She is difficult to find a soft landing spot and she does not have the endurance of the Daihatsu-engined ex-“Asia Indonesia” and ex-“Asia Brunei” which more or less shares her age and size and engine power. Kindly to her, Lite Ferries is not a company known for contacting fast the breakers’ numbers unlike Cebu Ferries and its former mother company.

Lite Ferry 8 ©Aristotle Refugio

So the question lingering about her now is, Quo vadis?.