My Ship to Jagna

The months of April and May are known in the Philippines as the summer season. It is also the vacation and fiesta seasons and so a lot of people are on the go. And so the influx of travellers traveling between Cagayan De Oro and Bohol has led  Lite Shipping Corporation to deploy one of their newest and fastest passenger vessels, the Lite Ferry 18 to serve the riding public to Bohol and vice-versa.

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Photo by Mark Edelson Ocul and PSSS

The ship was built in a shipyard in China in the 2001. It is a former HNSS ferry connecting Hainan to China before it was bought by Lite Shipping Corporation in the year 2016 and renamed it the Lite Ferry 18. The ship was first refitted in Ouano yard and final refitting was done in yard in General Santos City before It was taken back to Cebu for its maiden voyage to Cagayan De Oro.

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Lite Ferry 18 in Ouano. Photo by Mark Ocul and PSSS

The vessel’s permanent number is IMO  8773885. Its Philippine call sign number is DUH243 and it’s MMSI Number is 548638500. The ship has an LOA of 89.0 meters, an  LPP of 76.0 meters and has a Beam of 16.0 meters. It has a Gross Tonnage of 3,840 and is powered by two Ningbo diesel engines with a combined output of 7,800 hp. The ship capable of sailing at 16.5 knots but for economical reason it only cruises at 14 to 15 knots depending on the load on board. The ship is authorized to carry 784 passengers on three class accommodations.

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Photo by John Carlos Cabanillas and PSSS

The final structure of the vessel composed of 3 decks. The 1st deck is where all the cargoes are held. The next deck is main passenger deck which is composed of Economy bunk beds at the stern end, a small restaurant found at the center, while the Tourist, Business Class and Cabin accommodation are found towards the bow of the ship. Meanwhile, the uppermost deck portion is composed primarily of the bridge of the ship, a small canteen and Economy bunk beds.

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Photo by Allen V. Amasol and PSSS

The ship’s first route was Cebu to Cagayan de Oro. It held this route until its sister ship Lite Ferry 19 took over her route. The vessel was laid up at Ouano wharf for quite some time due to minor repair on its engine before she was fielded temporarily to the Cebu-Ormoc route. Today,  she is fielded to Cagayan de Oro to Jagna Bohol route in anticipation of the increased traffic due to the fiesta season of Bohol which happens until the month of May.

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Image from Lite Shipping Corporation

I got a chance to board the Cagayan de Oro to Jagna, Bohol trip of the ship. It was raining hard outside and the lights were cut off at the terminal. It was a thrilling experience for me to board the ship as I needed to run all throughout the terminal to board the vessel.

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Photo by El Meer

The boarding procedure was quite eventful. The crew greeted me, checked my ticket and ID card upon boarding to verify my name in the manifest. I was escorted to the Tourist accommodation by the crew.

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Photo by El Meer

The boarding procedure was quite eventful. The crew greeted me, checked my ticket and ID card upon boarding to verify my name in the manifest. I was escorted to the Tourist accommodation by the crew.

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The ship’s Tourist Class accommodation is composed of 8 individual bunk beds within each section. The interior is simple enough for a night voyage. A split-type air-conditioner system was alternately installed between sections to provide cooling to the passengers. I suggest to passengers who easily get cold to instruct the ticketing agent upon claiming your ticket to assign you to a bunk away from the aircon.

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Photo by Allen V. Amasol

I observe each bunk has its own curtain to give privacy to passengers while sleeping inside. Night lamps were individually placed inside the bunk bed but sadly no power outlets were present to charge your device inside. These has led my fellow passengers to become anxious to find a socket to safely charge their devices.  Linens were provider by the crew to the passengers at the entrance of the room. That comes with a blanket and a small pillow case to cover your pillow. The bed was wide and comfortable enough for me to rest throughout the journey.

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Photo by Allen V. Amasol

I was able to roam around the ship after putting my luggage inside the bunk. I was pleased to see the toilet inside the Tourist Class accommodation. I compared it to the toilet found at the Abreeza mall in Davao. It was clean and well-maintained. It has three cubicles, one of which is used as a shower room.

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Photo by Allen V. Amasol

A restaurant is found adjacent to the tourist accommodation. It serves meals upon order by the guest. It’s a nice place to chill out with your friends while waiting for your food to arrive.

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Photo by Allen V. Amasol

The Economy section layout is a rather common thing found on all overnight ferries running in the Philippines. A green cushion integrated with a pillow is placed within each bunk. There are no curtains available on this accommodation, one might expect to be able to lay beside a strangers as each bunk is only separated by a small tube. A passenger travelling alone like me might feel anxious about this set up, but fortunately there are some individual bunk beds were found at accommodation. You would just have to ask your agent upon claiming your ticket to assign you on individual bunk beds.

I went up to the second passenger level. It composed the majority of the Economy accommodations. A small canteen was also located at the rear of the ship. It sells chips, drinks, cup noodles and even emergency medicine to the passengers at a certain price.

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Photo by El Meer

The bridge is found at the second level but unfortunately, I was not able to tour inside the bridge. I found pictures of the bridge at the Internet. It gave me the impression that the bridge has sufficient navigational equipment to safety steer the ship to port.

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Photo by Allen V. Amasol

We were bound to depart at 10 in the evening to Jagna, Bohol. Sadly, there were rolling cargoes having difficulty boarding the ferry. The ship needs to re-position itself to be able for the vehicles to easily board the ship. It took time to properly secure the ship due to the device pulley of the ship. We were able to depart at exactly 10:30 in the evening.

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Photo by Allen V. Amasol

The next morning, I woke up , shocked to know that our ship had already docked alongside the Lite Ferry 8 from Butuan. I was astonished to see that the majority of the passengers had already disembarked from the ship. I asked a crew member what time the ship docked at the port. The crew member informed me that we arrived at exactly 3:30 am. He further told me that I can stay until 6 am. I went back to bunk to take a short nap before preparing my stuff for disembarking the ship. I went down at exactly 6am along with some other passengers. I was greeted by the warm welcome of Boholanos at the gate of the port of Jagna.

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Photo by Allen V. Amasol

Conclusion:

Overall, the Lite Ferry 18 is the best ship servicing Cagayan De Oro to Jagna on a thrice-a-week schedule, so far. I had a good night sleep throughout the voyage. The aircon was functioning well to cool of passengers. The bunk bed was clean, comfortable and properly maintained. I was able to have privacy due to the presence of curtains on all bunk beds on the Tourist Class accommodation. It could have been a perfect ship but for the lack of power outlets inside the bunk which are essential to travellers continuing there their travel. Nevertheless, the crew compensated by giving good and professional service to all passengers regardless of their accommodations. I would highly would recommend this ship to future travellers between Cagayan to Bohol.

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Photo by Allen V. Amasol

AUTHOR: Allen V. Amasol

 

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When The PSSS Went To The Fiesta of Tagbilaran City

Some years back when 2GO was still ATS (Aboitiz Transport System), the Philippine Ship Spotters Society (PSSS) had a tour-meet in Cebu and as usual many of its leaders came from all over the country. We had the usual tour of Cebu Port, Muelle Osmena, the Mactan bridge, Ouano along with some shipyards. Part of the meet, of course, is the usual talks and camaraderie and that will include some eat-all-you-can stuff. And over the years the favorite EAYC place of PSSS became Joven’s in Parkmall. The restaurant became the respite of the group when it became overheated and fagged out. Ship spotting not only needs sturdy legs but also liters of fluids and sustenance after all the trying efforts under sun.

In those days I was still staying in a hotel and I usually choose one which is near Cebu Port for convenience, of course. It was easy to walk to the pier area and take shots even if alone. Usually, there is also a vantage point in the hotel where one can take shots. Members will visit me there if free for some talks and friendship. Plans are also hatched and in this tour the fiesta of Tagbilaran was vaguely mentioned as a Moderator who is Vinze Sanchez will be going home for the said occasion.

While having a rest in the hotel, I received a text message asking if I was interested in going to the Tagbilaran fiesta together with some members. I said “Why not?” although my mind was a little foggy. I was unbelieving if it was possible as the fiesta is already on the next day and it is part of lore that rides to Bohol are so full during summer especially on fiestas (and that even includes the buses from Manila). I also remember that when a former Japanese member of PSSS wanted to tour Bohol on a moment’s notice that he had to call a very high-ranking Aboitiz scion for intervention to be able to secure a ticket. And it took him many hours even though that Aboitiz scion had the rank of Vice-President, if I remember it right. I then went back to sleep thinking my schedule will be unchanged.

Not long after I was awakened by another message telling me we already had tickets in SuperCat. I was in disbelief as we were an additional four excluding Vinze. I was thinking, “Holy cow, how was Vinze able to pull it off?” when the Japanese group was only two. And now we will be five in all, all in one catamaran and on Vinze’s exact schedule. I was amazed but suddenly I remembered that Vinze has an access to the SuperCat reservation system (I can tell this now as the SuperCat situation already changed over the years and Vinze no longer rides the SuperCat regularly as he is now abroad). As they say in Systems Operation the weakest link is the human link and Vinze had an trump card on that.

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And so we went to the SuperCat terminal and frankly I was expecting a hassle of some kind (to me our trip seemed too good to be true). However, there was no hassle whatsoever, only smiles from the employees that know Vinze and that included his friend who rigged the system. I can only shake my head at the thought that a few people won’t make it to their fiesta as they had been bumped off. I felt pangs of guilt as they would have been too disappointed and will be scrambling to get another ride. I know the usual spiel. “Overbooking”.  Now I realized that regular “pasalubongs” and “pakikisama” go a long, long way.

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Upon boarding SuperCat 26 we only put our bags in our assigned seats and forthwith we proceeded to the catamaran’s  bridge. I saw a white man who got startled. I also saw another white took notice of five men in a procession to and opening the door of the bridge which is officially off limits even to most of the crew. I know what was on the head of the startled whites. “Hijack!”. We as a country are notorious after all in the Western embassies’ advisories.

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We were soon in the bridge of the catamaran and Vinze introduced us to Captain Sunga (he is not working locally so he is safe), the co-Captain and the Chief Engineer. They were the three officers occupying the bridge and there were only seats for three. The seats had belts and with armrests and it looked comfortable. The Chief Engineer was monitoring the engines through a CCTV and through instruments and controls in the bridge. No need for a command to the engine room. Joysticks were in command of the ship from the speed to the direction. However, a bridge designed for three was a little jampacked for eight people and I was glad the cat’s officer bore with us. It was of course illegal to stay on the bridge and it violates the operations manuals. However, in our country friendships go a long way. I heard about the simulator given by Vinze to the Captain which is not only entertaining while waiting for the next trip but improves maneuvering skills, too.

We were given an introduction of the bridge system and its instruments, its functions and how it helps the bridge officers. We were a little piqued with what is showing in the radar. The SuperCat was designed after all to operate even in nighttime. I noticed that as the craft sped the Captains always jerked the joysticks but I failed to ask why. All through the voyage we bridge visitors were in standing position but we enjoyed it. Anyway, how often would one be treated to a “Bridge Class” accommodation and a whole group at that? It was also enjoyable to watch the views come and pass by in a bridge. It was really different compared when one is in the passenger compartment. Besides we were able to ask a lot of questions enriching our knowledge of cats and of the routes.5981095965_5faa89f09f_b

SuperCat 26 ECDIS

Tagbilaran port came and we had to bid goodbye to the officers. Some of the passengers had an askance look at us. It is maybe because they noticed that five seats were vacant throughout the voyage and it was too noticeable in a full-packed small craft and probably they asked where were we or they noticed where we went. I don’t know if there was a tinge of envy in the looks. For me personally I was a little ashamed. I do not want such attention when I receive some special privilege. Maybe I am already too old for bragging rights haha!

We arrived the night before the fiesta and we just idled and talked the night away, If there will be a tour of the city during the fiesta itself I found out it was not in the works. No parades or spectacles but just plenty more of stories and camaraderie. Of course we met Vinze’s kins and we ate at the home of the No. 1 Councilor of Tagbilaran (we saw him again in Vinze’s wedding). The food was sumptuous and I took a liking for the lechon which is actually not a good food for my health. I ate a lot and my companions noticed and ribbed me for it. I did not care as I was simply enjoying the trip. If I had a worry it was our trip back but I kept quiet for the moment lest I ruin the fun.

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Our group was an eclectic one. If Vinze is from Bohol, I was from Davao and three were from Manila (one had Bohol origins and two had Mindoro origins but I noticed all three had doctor parents). But we are all friends now and we really wanted to experience the Tagbilaran fiesta. These meets are where we get to know each other well and where true friendships are forged.

We did not stay another overnight in Tagbilaran. We actually wanted to take the last ferry out of Tagbilaran, sleep in it and save on hotel expense (the fare was more or less equal to an single aircon hotel room). We were all on a budget and this was the wise course. The ferry leaves at 10pm and this was the Our Lady of Barangay–1 of Lite Ferries which has a sleeping accommodation. We thought it was perfect for our “pagtitipid” (which is skimping like what is done by backpack travelers). Imagine a “hotel room” traveling at sea. That was what our ride should be.

However, when we arrived in Tagbilaran Port there was a problem. The ferry was fully booked, the Lite Ferries ticketing office at the pier said. But having been a traveler for almost all of my life I knew it was not an impossible situation. There had to be a way, there had to be a vacancy because not all that reserved tickets and not all ticket holders would show up especially since it was a fiesta and people forgets the time or are held up. The only question in my mind was if there were enough bunks. I was prepared in any way to just sit up in the ship somewhere as long as we are able to board the ship. And so we begged the Lite Ferries people and camped in the port terminal building. While camped in the empty terminal we were actually in good spirits.

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Just before departure time we got the signal that we can board. I saw my companions perk up. Aboard the ship we were herded to Business Class which was located on the lowest passenger compartment near the bow of the ship at the car deck (and so the sloshing of the water is audible). There were benches there. And so i thought there was where they accommodate overflow passengers. They told us to wait as they will check which bunks were empty. It was obvious to my eyes there were some empty bunks. The question is if we can be all accommodated in Business Class. I saw that the Tourist Class was full and a little crowded.

The Purser counted. Yes, we can all be accommodated in Business Class and the Purser proceeded to issue us our tickets. It was cheaper than an aircon hotel room which was a good deal as were traveling at the same time, we had a bed (a bunk really) to sleep on and with linen (which they call “beddings” aboard a ship) to boot. I noticed early that the air-conditioner of the Business Class was too cold but that was the least of my worries. I just wanted to sleep as I was tired and a little stressed by the ticketing/boarding hassle which was no fault of the shipping company.

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Our ship arrived in Cebu at dawn as expected after a six-hour voyage. I told my companions there was no need to disembark early. We have no hotel rooms to go back to anyway and our ship accommodation was a perfect waiting area. Cebu overnight ships are gracious enough not to wake the passengers early and they let their guests which means the passengers continue their sleep until there was enough light.

I had also another idea why I don’t want the group to get down early. We were inside the port premises and because of ISPS (International System of Port Security) one can’t get inside it unless one is a passenger. My idea is since we were inside already is we will take the opportunity to ship spot at first light and I know the guards won’t really be in a position to challenge and shoo us away.

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Our Lady of the Barangay – 1 at dawn

When the first light was breaking there came the Lady of Angels of Medallion Transport coming in. Soon after she docked the passengers and the vehicles came down, of course, and it was a good ship spotting opportunity along with some other ships passing by. We were then between Piers 2 and 3 of Cebu Port.

When the port was already bathed in light I told the group we better board a docked ferry because if we don’t the guards will see and challenge us. Aboard a ship it is only the Captain which can challenge us and to Captains of small ferries of small shipping companies “gate crashers” are the least of his worries. Some are even glad there are people who visit and appreciate their ship. A vessel is a peaceful ship spotting platform for ships passing by and docking nearby.

The ship we boarded was the Fiji-I of the South Pacific Transport Corp. It was a cruiser ship built locally in a shipyard (the Fortune ShipWorks in Tayud) that is also controlled by its owners. The crew not sleeping were friendly and welcoming and they let us free roam of the bridge and we were also able to view the engines. It is just like old times when ships and crew didn’t treat people they didn’t know as potential terrorists or saboteurs. Actually it is only the USA which is too squeamish of people in contact with ships because people there commit massacres every now and then. That kind of violence is completely unknown in our country. Deadly psychopaths are only concentrated in the USA.

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We then decided to end our ship spotting activity. Hunger and thirst were already catching up on us and we needed to refill ourselves. And so we hied off to our breakfast with the guards wondering from what ship we came from as there is no new arrival.

All in all it was a good ship spotting adventure. We were able to experience “Bridge Class” in a SuperCat, enjoyed Tagbilaran hospitality with plenty of food and good stories and we were lucky we did not sleep over in the pier and we had a free dormitory-type hotel room that was sailing at sea that brought us back to Cebu again.

If some will think that was the end of our Tagbilaran adventures, nope. We had another visit but as they say that is a different story. Abangan!

 

[Photos by Mike Baylon and Vinze Sanchez]

 

 

The Disproportionality of the Ferry Losses in the Philippines

Many times the question of if our ferries are safe is asked. This is especially true when a ferry has an accident or is lost especially when the casualty count is high. Rather than answering the question straight, if I am asked, I might answer it “it depends” because that is probably the most exact answer to the question anyway but then many will be puzzled by that answer (pilosopo ba?). Read on and you will be enlightened further and maybe your views about the safety our ferries might change.

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Even if a car is new it doesn’t mean it won’t take a dip into the water. Same principle applies with ships. Photo by Zed Garett (happened just today — what a timely photo for my article). Thanks a lot to the photo owner.

But first a clarification. I am purposely limiting this topic to ferries because tackling all the ship types at once will be very heavy and tedious as we have more freighters than ferries and add to that the other types like the tugs, tankers, etc. The ferry losses is the segment that actually raises the hackles of the people of the country who are mainly uneducated on the topic of maritime losses. This relative ignorance is further fanned by our also-uneducated media whose writers and editors cannot even seem to get the ferries’ names right (it seems they are too lazy to verify with MARINA, the maritime authority). Of course, it is well-known that our media is on the sensationalistic side and so oftentimes accuracy, objectivity and balance are lost with that (do these sell anyway?).

Another limitation I also pose here is I won’t include our wooden-hulled passenger crafts in the discussion. Those crafts are really flimsy especially those equipped with outriggers, the motor bancas. This ship type (those are ships because any sea craft having a passenger capacity of 12 is not a boat) lacks the basic safety equipment that even without a storm they can sink like when an outrigger breaks or when the hull develops a leak big enough that water can’t be bailed fast enough. But I would rather not comment on their seamanship or lack of formal maritime education because in my decades of traveling at sea I found that many of them are actually very good in reading the wind and the waves, a nautical skill that is not taught in maritime schools anymore. Also excluded in the discussion are the wooden-hulled lanchas and batels which were formerly called as motor boats which are not called as motor launches.

My topic here is about the disproportionality (or lack of proportionality) of our maritime losses to clarify that our ferry losses are not proportional with regards to the area and to the ship type (the implication is not all sink). Like what I just mentioned earlier, our wooden-hulled crafts especially the motor bancas are prone to losses especially in areas notorious for its dangerous waves like in Surigao. But these sea crafts continue to exist because in many cases these are the most practical crafts for certain routes like the routes to our small islands and islets or the coastal barrios that have no roads (or if taking the roundabout road will take too long). Motor bancas can land even on bare shores which the other crafts can’t do and moreover these can operate profitably on the barest minimum of passengers and cargo something which is impossible in steel-hulled vessels which have engines that are much, much bigger and are heavier.

The liners, our multi-day ships, among our class of ferries are also very vulnerable to losses (a surprise?) and much more than others classes pro rata to their small number. Relative to their small number, we have lost a lot of liners in the past for a variety of reasons – capsizing, foundering, beaching, wrecking, collision, fire, bombing and explosion. And this might come as a surprise to many because in the main it is our liners that are the biggest, these hold the highest of the certificates (and in insurance many have the comprehensive P & I or “Protection and Indemnity”), these have our most experienced and best crewmen supposedly (unlike in smaller ferries where a Second Mate can serve as Captain of the ship) and much pride of its shipping company is riding on them (well, not all, as we had liners that were no more than the average overnight ferry).

But this vulnerability is actually completely true. We lost the SuperFerry 3 (fire in a shipyard in 2000), SuperFerry 6 (fire while sailing in 2000 too), the SuperFerry 7 (fire in port in 1997), SuperFerry 9 (capsizing in 2009), the SuperFerry 14 (firebombing in 2000 but the official report says otherwise). A total of five SuperFerries when only a total of 20 ships ever carried the name “SuperFerry” (it seems it is not a good name?). The St. Thomas Aquinas, the former SuperFerry 2 was lost in a collision in 2013 and the St. Gregory The Great, the former SuperFerry 20 was also lost (taking a shortcut and hitting the reefs and she was no longer repaired and just sold after equipment was taken out). These two ferries were already under 2GO when they were lost. Not included here were the groundings of the Dona Virginia and the Our Lady of Banneux (technically under Cebu Ferries Corporation then but an actual liner) from which they were never repaired and ending their sailing careers).

Sulpicio Lines is much-lambasted and derided by most of our people but actually they have less losses from their “Princess” and “Don/Dona” series of ships in the comparative period as the existence of the “SuperFerries” of WG&A (William, Gothong & Aboitiz and its successor company Aboitiz Transport System (ATS). However, it is true that in passenger casualties the total of Sulpicio Lines is much, much higher because they have the tendency to sail straight into storms like the revered Compania Maritima before them (in terms of ship losses and not in casualties) and that historical company took a lot of losses from those risk-takings too (and more than even Sulpicio Lines).

From 1996 when the WG&A was formed, Sulpicio Lines only lost the Philippine Princess (fire while under refitting in 1997), the Princess of the Orient (capsizing in a storm in 1998), the Iloilo Princess (fire and capsizing while under refitting in 2003), the Princess of the World (fire while sailing in 2005) and the Princess of the Stars (capsizing in a storm in 2008) and the Princess of the Pacific (serious grounding incident resulting in complete total loss in 2004). That is until they were suspended in 2008 when only one liner was left sailing for them, the Princess of the South which did not sink.

In the comparative period, WG&A and ATS employed a total of 24 liners (the overnight ferries of Cebu Ferries Corporation was obviously not included here are they are not multiday liners). Sulpicio Lines had a total of 22 liners in the parallel period so their numbers are about even. But the ship loss total of WG&A, ATS and 2GO is clearly higher and the public was never made aware of this. Maybe some good PR works while it seems Sulpicio Lines never took care of that and all they knew was feeding their passengers well (unli rice or smorgasbord, anyone?). But then however those liner losses are scandalous in number, by whatever measure. Imagine losing more than one liner per year on the average.

Some of the liners of WG&A and ATS were not SuperFerries in name but but the Our Ladies, the two Cities and a Dona from William Lines had perfect safety records as none of them was ever lost. Now, does the choice of name matter in safety? Or the “lesser” ferries do try harder and are more careful? That discrepancy certainly made me think and it might be worth a study.

Negros Navigation was far safer than the WG&A and Sulpicio Lines losing only the St. Francis Xavier in 1999. Do naming of liners after saints enhance their safety? Conversely, do naming of liners with the qualifier “Super” means the ship will sink faster? Questions, questions. But the lightly-regarded and revived Carlos A. Gothong Lines Incorporated (CAGLI) tops them all with absolutely no losses. Now for a company that sometimes have difficulty painting their ships that is something (while the spic-and-span WG&A and ATS which repaints their liners while sailing tops the losses department). Does it mean it is better not to repaint liners well? I observed in the eastern seaboard that the ships that are not painted well have no losses (until the dumb Archipelago Ferries let its stalled Maharlika II sank into the waves in 2014 without rescuing it and thereby breaking the record – that ship was newly painted when it went under so the repainting might have doomed her?). Well, in my earlier thesis and later in this article I find it funny that the ships which are more rusty does not sink as long as it is not a Batangas ship (ah, the disproportionality again). While those that can always afford new paint like WG&A and successor ATS sink. Is a new coat of paint a sign of danger for the ship? Or is it the P & I insurance that did them in? Funny, funny. Negros Navigation when it was already in trouble and lacks the money already did not have one ship sinking. So the illiquidity which Negros Navigation suffered means more safety? Har, har! Whatever, I want to commend them and top honcho Sulficio Tagud for taking the high road and not just let the ships sink just to collect insurance. And last note, in multi-day liner operations before, Aleson Shipping Lines never lost a ship.

Liners sink at a faster rate pro rata compared to overnight ferries (if the wooden-hulled ferries of the past are not counted) and that is a big puzzle to me. And of course nobody will know for sure because nobody studied that as we don’t have the equivalent of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) of the USA which call in true experts and go in depth why the transportation accidents happened. Is it because while on a voyage the liners are practically running 24 hours a days and systems, equipment and personnel are stressed more? Is it because the ships reach their reliability/cycles earlier in terms of hours of usage like the electrical lines which is a cause of fire? Or are their crew simply more tired and believes that their ships with high certifications are less vulnerable to sinking (as if those certificates will keep the ship afloat)?

In the earlier decades and even recently it is known that liners take more chances with storms and maybe because they think they can battle the waves better because they are bigger. There are shipping companies who were known to be more brave (or foolhardy?) in sailing ships when there are storms about and among them the old Compania Maritima and Sulpicio Lines almost surely top the list. Now, however, the field is more level as all Philippine ships are barred from sailing when the center wind of the storm reaches 60kph. And for the smaller ships less than 250gt they are not permitted to sail when the center wind is already 45kph or when the local weather agency PAGASA declares a “gale warning” even though there is no a gale. When the suspensions are in effect better just watch the foreign ships still continue sailing for they are not covered by the suspension and most actually use INMARSAT or equivalent which is just a curiosity in the local maritime world until now when that is already well-established outside of the Philippines (the lousy PAGASA which can’t do localized forecasts seems to be already good for them since it is free while they have to pay for INMARSAT).

Liners also sink faster than short-distance ferries whose sailing durations are all short and whose crews probably know their particular seas and routes more. When to think most short-distance ferries which are always small are captained in the main by Second or Third Mates and whose engine department are headed by Second or sometimes by just Marine Diesel Mechanics who have not even finished college but passed an exam just the same (well, competence in running and maintaining a machine well is not necessarily dictated by diplomas, trust me). Even though liners might be using ECDIS don’t be too sure they will reach their destination better than the lowly short-distance ferry using just what is called as dead reckoning. In truth, ECDIS or whatever better bridge equipment does not guarantee better seamanship or navigation. After all it will not show the wind and wave which only something like INMARSAT can.

So in liners disproportionality already exist. And their international certifications don’t even save them from disasters. So, I advise those who take liners, don’t be very sure and make the necessary precautions like memorizing the different alarms and making sure where your life vests are. And don’t jump to the water too early. Liners are tall and that plunge could hurt you. And when in the water at night tie yourselves together so as not to drift (a whistle is a big help in calling attention if you are drifting). Note the water can be cold at night and hypothermia can set in. Take a selfie too before jumping and upload it. Who knows if it will be your last photo. Your loved ones will sure prize it. Ah, don’t take all I said in this paragraph too seriously.

In overnight ferries there seems to be disproportionality with regards to companies and not to home port (if analyzed pro rata to the size of the fleet which means the size of the fleets are taken into consideration) and to the routes. Well, for practical purposes there are only a few home ports for overnight ferries – Cebu, Zamboanga, Batangas, Manila, Lucena and Iloilo, in that order maybe in terms of sailings (a clarification, there are overnight ships originating from say northern Mindanao but all of those ferries are actually based in Cebu). Analyzing, some overnight ferry companies deserve the Gold Award while some should be suspended from service, maybe.

It must be noted that one of the biggest overnight ferries two decades ago and which dominated the Visayas-Mindanao waters for nearly a decade, the Cebu Ferries Corporation (CFC), a subsidiary of WG&A and successor Aboitiz Transport System (ATS) did not lose a single ship ever until it they left Cebu for Batangas and became the “Batangas Ferries” and even there their perfect streak continued. Maybe some of their people need to be recruited by other companies or sent there by MARINA to share the experience. They can lecture on the topic, “On How Not To Sink”. Maybe it is not just with the choice of name that they were safe? Or was it in the livery? The only problem it seems is they did not send their Captains to their liners like the St. Thomas Aquinas who made a dumb mistake trying to test the hardness of the ice-classed bow of the Sulpicio Express Siete.

In the Cebu-based regional shipping companies which are operators of overnight ferries it is probably Lite Ferries who is the Valedictorian having lost no ships even though their fleet is already big. Maybe that will come as a surprise to many but whatever they deserve a big round of applause. Another company whose Captains might need to be recruited by other shipping companies or pry open their secret if there is any. Are they better readers of SOLAS? One thing I am sure though is its owner does not belong to the same fraternity as one former Batangas shipping company owner who threatens mayhem if his ship sinks.

There are other overnight ferry companies in Cebu that could have shared First Honors with Lite Ferries but in a tie-breaker Lite Ferries wins because they have the most ships and not by a small margin at that. Others with perfect records are the defunct Palacio Lines (well, some might argue that that is a Samar shipping company but I digress). Now I can’t understand why an overnight ferry company with a perfect safety record will go under as a company. Seems something is not right. Aside from Palacio Lines there are a lot of there Cebu-based overnight ferry companies that have perfect safety records in terms of having no ship losses. Some of these are still extant and sailing and some have already quit the business (it’s a waste, isn’t it, for them to just go away like that).

Among these is the legendary Gabisan Shipping Lines, VG Shipping, Kinswell Shipping, Roly Shipping, Jadestar Shipping, South Pacific Transport and many other smaller shipping lines with just one or two ships (most of these are already gone now but still their perfect records remain). I just don’t know why they can’t catch a break from MARINA as in they are not given special citations and handed more privileges in sailing because after all they have proven they know their stuff in shipping. But no, when MARINA goes headhunting in safety they are lambasted in the same vein as those which had sunk ships as if they are just as guilty. Actually, to set the record straight about half of the overnight ferry companies in the whole Philippines never had any ship losses. This is true even in Zamboanga where Magnolia Shipping Lines, Ever Lines and a lot of other operators with just one or two steel-hulled ferries have perfect safety records. Now, can’t MARINA even for once credit them properly and publish their names because the way I feel at times with media reports and with MARINA statements it is as if all our shipping companies already had sunk ships which is simply not the case. In the liner sector that is true but in the overnight ferry and short-distance sector, combined, most shipping companies never had any ship losses. Don’t they deserve credit and more respect and recognition? But no, they are sunk not beneath the waves but in obscurity and that is one of the purpose of this article, to set the record straight.

In Manila, the old MBRS Lines and its successor Romblon Shipping Line never lost a ship (but the company is dead now anyway, sunk by the intermodal). In Lucena, Kalayaan Shipping Lines might have a perfect safety record too at least in steel-hulled ferries. In Batangas, there are operators of just one or two ferries which have not lost a ship (do they take care not to lose one because that will mean the shutdown of operations?). In Iloilo, did Milagrosa Shipping Lines already lost a ship? In number half of the overnight ferry operators never lost a ship although in the number of ships owned theirs comprise just the minority, to clarify.

It is in short-distance ferries that I noticed a lot more of disproportionalities especially in the recent decades when maritime databases were able to keep track with them (the wooden-hulled short-distance ferries generally doesn’t have IMO Numbers so keeping track of them is difficult but these lanchas or batels were our early short-distance ferries aside from the motor bancas). For this sector or segment I would rather stick to steel-hulled ferries like what I mentioned early on especially since there is no way to track the hundreds and hundreds of motor bancas and their losses which are not even properly reported at times.

There are areas, routes and short-distance companies that have perfect safety records (again, wooden hulled ferries are not included here and that also mean the earlier years). In the eastern seaboard where the typhoons first strike and where it is fiercest the routes and shipping companies there have a perfect safety record ever since the steel-hulled ships first appeared in 1979. This was only broken in 2013 due to the dumbness of a stranger which invaded the Masbate waters (is that part of the eastern seaboard anyway? but Masbate is in Bicol). They withdrew from Bicol after that incident to just sail the more benign Camotes Sea waters. And that is one of the reasons why I was furious at Archipelago Ferries for not coming to the aid of their stalled ship for 6 hours when their good ship was just just two hours sailing away and so the stricken ship slid off the waves (shouldn’t someone be hanged for that?). Because of that the perfect record of the local shipping companies based in the eastern seaboard was broken. I just hope the crewmen of Maharlika Cuatro which failed to respond to an SOS then are not employed in the FastCats now.

Short-distance ferries also does not sink in the Tablas Sea crossings or in the routes to Marinduque from Lucena. However, I do not know what is the curse of the Verde Island Passage that many ships have been already lost there when to think practically the same shipping companies ply the three routes mentioned. To think the Tablas Sea wind and waves could be rougher than that in Verde Island Passage. Did they assign their lousier crews there? Just asking. As they say the proof is in the pudding (and the pudding tastes bad).

I just wonder too about the luck of the Mindanao Sea crossings. The waves there could also be rough and the crossing is longer but none was ever lost among the short-distance ferries running the Dumaguete-Dapitan, Samboan-Dapitan and Jagna-Balingoan routes. Like in Tablas Strait, do the longer route makes the crews more careful? Are the crews there better trained and has better seamanship?

The many routes connecting Cebu island and Negros island and Negros island and Panay island are also safe. Hard to find there a short-distance steel-hulled ferry that sank. That is also true for the steel-hulled ferries connecting Masbate island to Cebu island when the distance there is also long for a short-distance ferry and the wind and waves are no less dangerous. What is their secret there? Is it just that Camotes Sea navigators are lousier? With exceptions, of course because Gabisan Shipping surely will not agree.

I could go to the less obscure, short-distance routes. Just the same I will tell you these are also safe. Never heard of a steel ferry going to Alabat that sank. Or to Dinagat and Siargao islands (sure their motor bancas sink). Or the routes to Basilan from Zamboanga. Not even a RORO to Guimaras have sunk or a RORO to Bantayan island. That is also true for the short-distance connections within Romblon island served by steel-hulled ships (the Princess Camille that capsized in Romblon port in 2003 was an overnight ferry from Batangas). No steel-hulled ferry connecting Leyte and Bohol was ever lost too. And that is also true for the route connecting Siquijor to Dumaguete.

So a lot of our short-distance routes and the ferries plying them are actually safe. Who can argue against a perfect safety record? A little rust will not sink ships nor would a non-functioning firefighting pump (and the ship is not in the middle of an ocean anyway). Those are just a little margins that are not that critical. Does not look good to the eye but to a passenger like me it is more important if MARINA enforces their Memorandum Circular that ferries should feed its passengers if the arrival of the ship exceeds 7am. And I am more concerned if the ship is clean especially the rest rooms and if there is clean drinking water. Besides, trust me, our mariners are not that negligent or dumb that they will leave the ramps unclosed and then sail like what some Europeans did.

So are our ferries safe? Yes, it is except for the liners, some shipping companies and some routes and areas. Never mind if they are old. It is not necessarily the factor that will sink ships (a ship if it loses motive power still has the flotation of a barge). It is actually the lack of seamanship that sinks ships (old ship, new ship can both collide or fail to heed the weather). And trust the short-distance ferries on the fringes and don’t underestimate them. The crew won’t let their ships sink if their families, relatives, friends, schoolmates, etc. are aboard. Well, not all. Be a little wary in Verde Island Passage and in Camotes Sea.

Let us be more objective. Our ferries and mariners are not really that bad, contrary to what hecklers say.

Roble Shipping Is Finally Sailing To Mindanao

Last month, September of 2017, Roble Shipping has finally sailed to Oroquieta, the capital of the small Mindanao province of Misamis Occidental (which actually hosts a lot of ports and among them are Ozamis and Plaridel ports). It is maybe the first port of call in Mindanao ever for Roble Shipping and it is actually a long-delayed move already for Roble Shipping as their namesake-to-the-city Oroquieta Stars has long been in the news that she will sail for that city and port since late last year (but since then although the ship is already ready she was just sailing for Hilongos in Leyte).

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Source: Oroquieta City LGU FB account

I have been observing Roble Shipping for long already and watched its consistent growth both in passenger shipping and cargo and even in cargo RORO LCTs in the recent years. But I am puzzled with their moves or more accurately their lack of moves in developing new passenger routes that their cousin shipping company and Johnny-come-lately Medallion Transport which with their courageous moves in developing new routes seems to have already overtaken them in passenger shipping (it even reached Mindanao ahead of them when Medallion’s Lady of Good Voyage plied a route to Dipolog).

Roble Shipping is actually one shipping company that has more ferries than routes, the exact opposite of another shipping company I am also observing which is Trans-Asia Shipping Lines Inc. (TASLI) which in their tepidness in acquiring replacement ferries has more routes than ferries now. Does that mean the two shipping companies needed a merger? Just a naughty thought but that is actually impossible now as Trans-Asia Shipping Lines took the easy way out of their troubles which is selling themselves to the Udenna group of new shipping king Dennis Uy which is flush in money nowadays and might not need any help.

I remember that before Roble Shipping has an approved franchise to Nasipit but they never got about serving that route from Cebu. To think they had the big and good Heaven Stars then, a former cruiseferry in Japan then which should have been perfect for that route. However, that beautiful ship soon caught unreliability in her Pielstick engines and I thought maybe that was the reason why Roble Shipping was not sailing the Nasipit route (which actually had the tough Cebu Ferries and Sulpicio Lines serving it then and might really be the reason why Roble Shipping was hesitant).

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But then calamitous fate befell Sulpicio Lines when they got themselves suspended after the horrific capsizing of their flagship Princess of the Storm, sorry, I mean the Princess of the Stars in a Signal No. 3 typhoon in Romblon. In the aftermath of that Sulpicio Lines sold for cheap their Cebu Princess and Cagayan Princess to Roble Shipping in order to generate some immediate cash and anyway the two ships were suspended from sailing and were of no use to them.

With the acquisition of the two, suddenly Roble Shipping had some serious overnight ships after the Heaven Stars which was then not already capable of sailing regularly especially when the good Wonderful Stars already arrived for them to compete in the Ormoc route. And one of the two was even a former pocket liner, the Cebu Princess. One of the two is actually a veteran of the Nasipit route, the Cagayan Princess which was fielded there when Sulpicio Lines already had a better ship for the Cebu-Cagayan de Oro route (the ship was named after that city actually as it was the original route of that ship) and their Naval, Biliran route bombed.

But no, the two ships just collected barnacles in the Pier 7 wharf of Roble Shipping, not sailing. I thought maybe there were still ghosts prowling the ships as they were used in the retrieval efforts on the capsized Princess of the Stars. Or maybe they wanted people to forget first as denying the two ferries came from Sulpicio Lines is difficult anyway.

The Cebu Princess and Cagayan Princess finally sailed as the Joyful Stars and the Theresian Stars but not to Nasipit but to Leyte (again!). I thought maybe Roble Shipping got cold feet in exploring Mindanao. And to think the service of the once-powerful and proud Cebu Ferries was already tottering then and everybody knows Gothong Southern Shipping Lines won’t last long in the Nasipit route with their Dona Rita Sr. (they eventually quit and sold their passenger ships).

With a surplus of ferries in their only routes which are all to Leyte (Hilongos and Ormoc), eventually their legendary cruiser Ormoc Star rotted in Pier 7. Soon, Roble Shipping got a reputation of laying up a lot of ships in Pier 7 (this is very evident when one takes a ride aboard the Metro Ferry ships to Muelle Osmena in Mactan island). They are all huddled up there including the cargo ships. Maybe as protection for the cold so they won’t catch flu (rust, that cannot be evaded).

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Taelim Iris, the future Oroquieta Stars

Two sisters ships also joined the fleet of Roble Shipping, the former Nikel Princely of Aleson Shipping Lines of Zamboanga and the former Filipinas Surigao of Cokaliong Shipping Lines. The two became the Blessed Stars and Sacred Stars in the fleet of Roble Shipping, respectively. However, although one route was added, the Baybay route of the former Filipinas Surigao (which is again in Leyte) there was no other route except for the route they opened in Catbalogan in the aftermath of the demise of Palacio Lines, the Samar native shipping line. With their small ferries Roble Shipping also tried a route to Naval, Biliran which was formerly part of Leyte. I thought maybe Roble Shipping really loves Eastern Visayas too much that they simply can’t get away from it.

Two more ferries came, the former vehicle carriers TKB Emerald and Taelim Iris which slowly became the Graceful Stars and Oroquieta Stars, respectively (but then the Wonderful Stars was no longer wonderful as she was already out of commission after a fire in Ormoc port). Still the two just sailed to Leyte. And eventually, Roble Shipping quit Catbalogan which is a marginal destination to begin with because of the intermodal competition (trucks are loaded to western Leyte ports and just roll to Samar destinations and passengers also use that route). Roble then transferred the two sister ships Blessed Stars and Sacred Stars to become the Asian Stars I and Asian Stars II of the Theresian Stars, the new shipping company which was their joint venture with a former Governor of Sulu province. The two should have been alternating the the overnight Zamboanga to Jolo ferry route. But nothing came out of the venture and soon the two were back in Cebu. Technically, that was the first venture of Roble Shipping to Mindanao but not under the flag of Roble Shipping.

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Oroquieta Stars just sailing to Hilongos, Leyte

I thought Roble Shipping was really allergic to Mindanao but soon I was disabused of this thought when the news came out that definitely Oroquieta Stars will sail to Oroquieta City after supposedly some requirements were ironed out. That is good as some things will then be tested. Oroquieta is actually too near the Plaridel port which competitor (in Leyte) Lite Ferries is serving and which the defunct Palacio Lines was serving before. Roble Shipping and Lite Ferries will practically be sharing the same market and I do not know if enough cargo and passengers will be weaned away from Dapitan and Ozamis ports but then Dapitan port is nearer to Cebu with cheaper fares and rates.

Oroquieta Stars is fast among the overnight ferries having relatively big engines and has a design speed of 16 knots. I just thought that if it is worthwhile for Cokaliong Shipping Lines to extend their Ozamis route to Iligan, won’t it be profitable for Roble Shipping to extend their Oroquieta route to Tubod in Lanao del Norte or to Iligan perhaps? Tubod can be one of the origins of the Muslim-owned commuter vans which have a route to Cotabato City via Sultan Naga Dipamoro or Karomatan (these vans go up to Kapatagan in Lanao del Norte).

We will have to see if Roble shipping can stick with the Oroquieta route as their competitor Lite Ferries take all challengers very seriously. Funny, but Roble shipping was much ahead of them in the Leyte routes. However, Lite Ferries is very aggressive and is easily the most aggressive shipping company in this decade taking away that mantle from Montenegro Shipping Lines (but then they might just have the same patron saint anyway but the favors and flavors might have changed).

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Oroquieta Port by Hans Jason Abao. Might be improved by now.

I wish Roble Shipping all the luck in their Mindanao foray and how I wish they will explore more routes because after all the availability of ferries is the least of their concerns (sabi nga sa bus krudo lang ang kailangan para tumakbo). That could also be their case. Plus franchise and some explorations maybe (well, if Medallion was able to use their cargo ships for that so they can too as they also have a lot of freighters now).

Sayang naman kasi ng mga barko nila.

The Unique Nasipit Port and Bay

Nasipit is the main port of Agusan after the Butuan ports (Butuan and Lumbocon) lost that status because the ships no longer came. That was because of the siltation of Agusan River and the general increase in the size and depths of the ships. Nasipit port is unique in topographic sense. It is located in a nearly enclosed bay which looks like a pond. Two enclosing spits of land nearly closes the outlet of the bay. As such Nasipit port is probably the most protected port in the Philippines. But it is deep enough that 160-meter ferries used to dock before in Nasipit. Those were great liners Princess of Paradise of Sulpicio Lines Inc. and the Our Lady of Akita of Carlos A. Gothong Lines Inc. which later became the SuperFerry 6 of WG&A.

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Photo by Janjan Salas

The very small Nasipit Bay was once the home of the famed Nasipit Lumber Inc. which used to produce veneer, plywood and other types of processed wood products. The plant of the company was once the original user of that bay and the bay also served as the stocking pond of their logs and their wharf inside the bay was where the cargo ships loading their products once docked. Nasipit port was built adjacent to Nasipit Lumber with the latter nearer the entrance of the bay. Nasipit Lumber has closed long ago when logs and lumber became scarce and new rules protecting the ancestral domain were drawn. Now that plant is even gone now including the buildings. What remained are some the concrete floors and just parts of their old wharf.

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The former location of Nasipit Lumber

Now the permanent resident of the bay is the power barge of Therma Marine Inc., an Aboitiz Power Corporation subsidiary and this is located in the inner part of the nearly-enclosed bay. Also in Nasipit Bay, inside the port is the Port Maritime Office (PMO) of the Philippine Ports Authority (PPA) which is in charge of all the ports in the Caraga Region. The manager of it and the employees wants it transferred to Butuan, however, because it is there that where most of them live. I don’t know if that will push through. Nasipit Bay is also home to swirling rains I have not observed anywhere else and maybe that is due to the peculiar topography of the Nasipit inlet which are surrounded by high hills in a particular way.

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The power barge of Therma South

Nasipit port is a straight quay where the middle it was broken by a slanted RORO ramp which is just a recent alteration. In the inner end smaller ships like tugs and Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) patrol boats are docked. There is a transit shed for cargo and a passenger waiting area in the port terminal building. Docking for big ships is a precise maneuver inside the Nasipit inlet as the bay is very small and there are shallow portions and it is especially dangerous when it is low tide. However, there are not s to contend unlike in the exposed ports.

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Nasipit port has been the port of passenger ships for a long time now not because it is convenient or near the city (it is actually out of the way and relatively far from the town and highway). The change happened in the 1970’s when the ports of Butuan became shallower because of siltation and there was lack of dredging (the results of which are often just undone by raging annual floods of the great Agusan River). By the 1980’s, Nasipit port has already supplanted the Butuan ports especially since the shallow-draft ex-”FS” ships were already dying from old age and the replacements of that type were already bigger. However, even though the ports have changed many passenger shipping companies still used the name “Butuan Port” when actually they were already docking and using Nasipit port and this entailed confusion to the uninitiated including land-bound researchers doing shipping studies.

There were passenger vessels which did both the Butuan and Nasipit ports. They just gave up on Butuan port when docking there became much dependent on high tide (and risk waiting until noon at times when this would already jeopardize departure time because loading and unloading using booms and porters is slow). One example of this were the former “FS” ships of the Bisaya Land Transport Company of the Cuencos of Cebu (no typo there, that is the actual name of a shipping company which is a division of their land transport). When they find it impossible to dock in Butuan, they then proceed to Nasipit port (to the complain of many passengers).

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The MV Samar of Compania Maritima (Credits to Philippine Herald and Gorio Belen)

Compania Maritima, the leading shipping company after the Pacific War was one of the earliest to use Nasipit port. Their passenger-cargo ship Samar which is the bigger type of US war-surplus ship used to dock in Nasipit port. That was also true for their passenger-cargo ship Mactan which was in the 80-meter class and whose depth is two meters over the depth of an ex-”FS” ship, the last type of passenger ship that can be shoehorned in the shallow Butuan ports. Their Mindoro and Romblon, both converted ex-”FS” ship docked at both Butuan and Nasipit ports (and maybe that is to increase the passengers and cargo). Their Panay, a bigger ship docked at Nasipit when it can’t in Butuan. Later, even their ex-”FS” ship Leyte was calling exclusively in Nasipit port. Compania Maritima was the first to dominate Nasipit port when the Chinoy shipping companies were just on their way up and not calling on Nasipit port. In the main they came to Nasipit port when Compania Maritima was already gone.

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The MV Panay of Compania Maritima (Credits to Philippine Herald and Gorio Belen)

Some actually just gave up on the Agusan trade when their ships can no longer dock in Butuan and they did not really try to earnestly use Nasipit port like Escano Lines which used to be strong in Butuan. Well, it must have been frustrating for them when the ship can’t dock after a few hours of waiting and then would have to go to Nasipit port anyway to load and unload. Moreover, the floods of Agusan River that happen many months of the year with its floating logs and other debris which can damage the ship propellers and rudders also added to the vagaries in docking in Butuan.

By the 1980’s the passenger ship calls on Nasipit, Butuan and Surigao which are all connected ports went down considerably. There was a big, general downturn in the economy because of economic crisis and container ships began supplanting the passenger-cargo ships in carrying cargo (where before this type carried a lot of the express cargo that are not in bulk or liquid). These new container ships cannot fit in the Butuan ports. However, few of them are coming in Butuan anyway. Another thing, the cargo ace of Nasipit before which were the forest products began slumping as the forest cover was fast going down and it raised a howl and therefore restrictions on logging were placed by the new Aquino administration.

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The pocket liner Surigao Princess (Photo by Edison Sy)

At the tail end of the Compania Maritima dominance a new liner was calling in Nasipit, the Surigao Princess of Sulpicio Lines which was a pocket liner. In the post-martial law period the Our Lady of Guadalupe of Carlos A. Gothong Lines, Inc. (CAGLI) came. And so these two liners succeeded Compania Maritima were gone as the company went out of business at the height of the political and economic crisis of the mid-1980’s. Soon, the better Our Lady of Lourdes of CAGLI replaced the Our Lady of Guadalupe in that route. In 1988, the big Nasipit Princess of Sulpicio Lines began calling in Nasipit port. But her route was mainly Cebu only as it was still Surigao Princess that was the liner there of Sulpicio Lines Inc. And, the Dona Lili of Gothong was also sailing from Nasipit to Cebu.

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The Nasipit Princess by Suro Yan

William Lines, Lorenzo Shipping Corporation and Negros Navigation Company, among the great survivors of the crisis of the 1980’s did not have Nasipit among their ports of call when the 1990’s started. Escano Lines will soon be leaving passenger shipping as well as Bisaya Land Transport. Aboitiz Shipping Corporation is also much-weakened in passenger shipping then as they did not buy liners for 15 long years (however, the will be back with a flash with their SuperFerry series and the were strong in container shipping)

It was Carlos A. Gothong Lines and Sulpicio Lines which were competing in Nasipit port in the 1990’s both in the liner route to Manila and the overnight route to Cebu. Although Nasipit was no longer as grand a destination like when Butuan still had a lot of ships calling, the two companies brought some great liners in Nasipit port like the Our Lady of Akita and the Princess of Paradise and what a show of confidence it was for Nasipit port. That was the heyday of competition when there was much optimism in business and the shipping liberalization and modernization policies of the administration of Fidel V. Ramos (FVR) took effect. A little before the “Great Merger” William Lines will also enter Nasipit port with their liner Mabuhay 2.

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The Our Lady of Akita (Credits to Manila Chronicle and Gorio Belen)

When the Great Merger that produced the giant shipping company WG&A came there was a plethora of ever-changing ships that got assigned to Nasipit port unlike in the past when a ferry will hold a route for a decade or even longer. In WG&A, routes and route assignments happen at least once a year and so tracking of ships that served a port became difficult. However, Nasipit was a regular route of the company. That liberalization of FVR also brought the expanding Negros Navigation Company (NENACO) to Nasipit where they used their beautiful St. Francis of Assisi. Unfortunately, that liner burned right in Nasipit quay not long after in 1999 which resulted in the destruction of the ship. The revived Carlos A. Gothong Lines Inc. (CAGLI) also tried the Manila to Nasipit liner route before it just became a Cargo RORO route when they got suspended from passenger shipping. Nasipit still has lots of load, no longer forest products but bananas.

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The Our Lady of Lourdes by Chief Ray Smith

With the “Great Merger” and the creation of Visayas-Mindanao subsidiary Cebu Ferries Corporation (CFC), that company also paraded a succession of ships in Nasipit port that is bound to Cebu on an overnight route. It began from the old Our Lady of Lourdes and it ended with Cebu Ferry 2 when CFC was already under the Aboitiz Transport System (ATS), the successor company of WG&A. Sulpicio Lines, their only competitor in the overnight route brought the Cagayan Princess in Nasipit when the Nasipit Princess can no longer sail. This was later followed by the much-better Princess of the Earth. And for a while, the Gothong Southern Shipping Lines Inc. (GSSLI) brought their Dona Rita Sr. to Nasipit port after they acquired the Our Lady of Good Voyage of Cebu Ferries.

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Filipinas Butuan in Nasipit port

The port has also a link to Jagna port in Bohol as service to the Bol-anons residing in Mindanao. Usually the Cebu-Nasipit ship of a company will do a once a week call to Jagna on their seventh day and the ship will go back to Nasipit within that seventh day and then resume their route to Cebu.

This decade saw a great downturn for Nasipit in sailing ships. There was only one liner left doing a once a week voyage to Manila and this was usually the St. Leo The Great of 2GO. Sulpicio Lines quit passenger sailing and Gothong Southern also gave up that segment. Even Cebu Ferries quit the Nasipit overnight route to Cebu when they transferred their ships to Batangas.

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The St. Leo The Great

Now, a completely new cast is in Nasipit port headed by Cokaliong Shipping Lines Inc. (CSLI) which use either their Filipinas Butuan or Filipinas Iligan in the Cebu to Nasipit overnight route with an off day diversion to Jagna. Lite Ferries also has a Nasipit to Jagna ship on the stronger months for sailing but there is no permanently assigned ship. 2GO still has that once a week liner from Manila. Nasipit is not a favorite of container ships except for Carlos A. Gothong Lines.

Passenger shipping which is down already ia affected by the intermodal buses and the budget airlines, both of which offer competitive fares compared to ships and with the advantage of daily departures. Nasipit is also not helped by it being out of the way from the city and the municipality’s policy of barring the buses and commuter vans from the port doesn’t help the case of Nasipit port either in attracting passengers who are turned off the expensive and very cramped tricycle ride which is also vulnerable from the rains driven by the swirling winds of Nasipit inlet.

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The legendary white-out of Nasipit port

I wonder when and how Nasipit port will have a renaissance. Somehow, some day, I just hope that it will come.

My Bohol Tour

When I went to Cebu last time I resolved I will also go to Bohol and do a tour, a real tour which means going around and not just going to some tourist spot (which I don’t do as I have no taste for that as I am old school in that I really want to go around). It was not just for ship spotting but also for buses as I needed to replenish my stock of Bohol bus photos which was already depleted. And for another reason, I wanted to see Bohol again after two years to update myself, see how its recovery from its earthquake went.

My planned entry was via Tubigon on an early morning trip on the cheap Lite Ferries ship as that is a good platform for ship spotting and spacious too (for ship spotting I don’t have a taste for High Speed Crafts as the view it affords is limited). However, on the morning I was due to depart the queue was long (wished I purchased the ticket the day before but their ticketing office outside Pier 1 always had a line). They also had no separate window for senior citizens and for the disabled (is that a violation of any law?). When I was already nearing the window the guard announced the closing of the ticketing since we wouldn’t make the 7am departure of the ferry. And that is one bad effect of the “cattle herding” of the Cebu Port Authority (and by PPA for that are ISPS) forcing passengers to use the passenger terminal and the X-ray machines when in earlier days one goes direct to the ship especially when time is running out (and just be ticketed aboard the ship). The guard announced they have a 12:30pm departure but I wonder who is the crazy passenger that will wait for that when it is just 7am.

I mulled my alternatives. It was not to be Star Crafts on the opposite side of the road. A fastcraft with its low windows dirtied by sea water splash is never good for ship spotting and one can’t anticipate a ship coming by. If it has an open-air accommodation it isn’t as comfortable as that missed Lite Ferry and besides it will be noisy. Wanting to make up for lost time since I will still be touring I decided on the FastCat in Pier 3 although I know it will cost more and I have to walk the distance.

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And that is where my bad experience with FastCat began. There was a line of apprentices in the ticket window and they said there was no more ticket for Premium Economy (which is the Tourist class) and Economy which is the open-air accommodation at the upper deck. And so I took the Business Class since there are no other ship alternatives left that leaves in the early morning for Tubigon.

I will then get ahead of the story. When the vessel departed I found out and so did other passengers forced to take the Business Class that there were still a lot of vacant seats in Economy and Premium Economy. We then knew we were scammed. I then asked one of the personnel attending to the passengers and the flippant reply was they know nothing about the booking. Huh! Is that all? I thought they had better training now but this is straight from the book of the old-style ferries whose favorite trick is handwashing. I told her straight into her face that it was scamming and bad for them since Archipelago Philippine Ferries, their company is beginning to make inroads in covering its unsavory reputation from its bad Maharlika ships of the recent past.

Then a second incident happened which made us Business Class passengers feel scammed again – there was no free snacks. Actually, the seats and accommodation of the premium Economy and the Business Class are the same. The former even have the advantage that its farther seats are by twos only and the canteen is located right there. Plus its air conditioning is stronger because the Business Class front is a door to the storage room covered with only a curtain and cold air is lost there.

I asked a steward why there is no free snacks when it is the only feature that can justify the higher fare when Business Class which is not superior in any way to Premium Economy (what a way to degrade the name of the Tourist class!). He said they have long ago requisitioned for supplies but it seemed management thinks passenger ridership to Tubigon is like the Bulalacao-Caticlan route (aha! so that route is weak in passengers?).

I told the steward that in this age of the internet and smartphone that excuse will not fly. So what is the use of computers and unlimited calls over the smartphone? So they cannot monitor? And management needs months to adjust? I told him that was a very lousy excuse and if that is true then that reflects badly on management. Maybe the owner Christopher Pastrana and his wife should better attend to things like these rather than bragging too much in media and in their own video. I told the steward that it seems FastCat is already sliding to their lowly Maharlika standard and everybody knows how lousy their Maharlika ships were (well, except for Archipelago Philippine Ferries employees which seem to have convenient amnesia).

I got many ship pics alright since a route from Pier 3 is better than a route to the south compared to from Pier 1 since up to Pier 4 can be covered well unlike in the Lite Ferry originating in Pier 1 that can only cover the Cokaliong ships. Then in the Talisay anchorage I was able to capture more ships. And there I took a rest and did not gamble anymore on chance encounters as I have a long day ahead. However, I was lucky to notice the coming Anika Gayle 2 of Aleson Shipping and I also caught her on cam.

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The promised one-and-a-half hour cruising time of FastCat M11 did not materialize. Our trip lasted nearly two hours and to make it worse we left Cebu late because they had difficulty in loading an empty truck because FastCat can’t ballast (so much for their ads that the ship does not have ballast water). Since the tide was high the underside of the truck was scraping the port. So I did not gain any time by riding FastCat. It seems they are saving on fuel and was no longer running at 100% speed (is this the start of their run that will just manage to outspeed a little their competitor Lite Ferries?)

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In Tubigon port there was already the missed Lite Ferry and Star Crafts 6 when we arrived. I did not linger long in port and immediately took a pedicab (it is better than a cramped tricycle albeit slower of course). I then took a nearly empty commuter van bound for Talibon (well, I was glad the driver was true to his announced ETD and did not regret taking the van) and I got off in Inabanga and made a short tour of it. I found out everything was completely normal as if no fighting occurred within its territory. There was no suspicious looks nor questions and I was surprised by that (good its people are not “praning” and its officials not over-reactive unlike in Cebu South Bus Terminal which is under the Provincial Capitol). And so I thought the heightened security I saw in other parts of the country are just “arte” or overreaction including the Capitol of Cebu which has barriers and questioning guards already (but go by its back entrance and anybody can enter without question). And to think Cebu City has no serious incidents yet. I wonder what will be their reaction when they have one (but I know Mayor Tommy Osmena is not “praning” as one can easily access the 8th floor of his City Hall where his office is located, take photos of ships from there and not once was I questioned what I was doing).

From Inabanga I then took a commuter van to Tagbilaran and upon reaching Tubigon we were transferred to another van that is already more full. I welcomed it rather than waiting for passengers and losing more time. I was right in the choice of the ride as the van proved faster because we were overtaking buses. Of course I was enjoying the views that were always changing. Much better than being cocooned in some beach resort that is not free anyway.

I then made a fast check of the Dao integrated terminal of Tagbilaran while taking quick shots of buses. I asked the ride to Loboc and they pointed to me the converted Canter (into a jeep equivalent) parked by the market just outside the terminal. While waiting for it to depart (it was nearly full already) I asked permission to take more shots of buses and I darted inside the terminal.

When I returned after ten minutes as I promised I found out that they positioned three short benches in the middle of the Canter (and so I understood why it was wider) for eight more passengers. I counted the capacity. 35 sitting passengers not including five others clinging at the rear or “sabit”. I thought not a bad replacement for a minibus. And I have to thank the lady student who exchanged her better seat than my uncomfortable one.

The route of the Canter was Tagbilaran-Sikatuna-Loboc, a different route from the Loay route which me and Vinz Sanchez (a PSSS Moderator from Bohol) took when he toured me the whole coastal roads of Bohol a few years ago, a favor I still cherish. Sikatuna is a town by the hills of Bohol and so what we passed looked like a mountain road. I was glad I saw different vistas. It seemed to me the people, my co-passengers, were friendlier too. It rained very hard however after Sikatuna town until we reached Loboc. The fare looked cheap to me. P25 for what seems to be 29 kilometers (and so when did the LTFRB which only listens to big operators but not the people learned how to set correct fares?).

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The Loboc tour boats

My tour and shots of Loboc were forgettable. The rain did not abate and there was no banca ride to Loay (they say I should have taken it by the Loay bridge which I visited before with Vinz). With such rain I was not interested to take the boat tour upriver with its native banquet food (I did not go to Loboc to partake food).

I went to the town where a I found a nice eatery, the biggest in the town where there was a wide selection. I found out that the food prices were very moderate and the owner friendly. I was tempted to enter it because I saw foreigners eating there (and so I thought there must be a reason for that). It was there when the rain subsided a little. Over-all it was a lousy tour of Loboc but I saw the restoration work of their church that was heavily damaged by the quake was already underway. In Loboc nearly a lot of the tourists were foreigners.

A commuter van arrived and enticed me again. I took it to Tagbilaran. I did not try to go anymore to Carmen, the site of the Chocolate Hills because I do not want to be disappointed again by the rain and there might not be enough time already (but a motorcycle driver was offering me a private ride). I thought maybe it was not my day. And it was there that I realized my mistake. From Inabanga I should have gone straight to Carmen via Sagbayan. It happened I was not that sure though how fast the ride there will be and it also happened Chocolate Hills was not on the top of my priority being just a simple tourist spot to me (in Loboc at least there are bancas).

With an early arrival back in Tagbilaran I had time to take more photos of buses in the terminal. I noticed that compared to two years ago the remaining rivals of the dominant Southern Star bus have essentially re-fleeted and some have air-conditioned units already. I thought that was good and it seems they will not be simply swept away or gobbled by the giant yellow bus company like what I feared before.

I next made a round of the Island City Mall which is conveniently near the Dao terminal. I planned to take dinner there before I proceed to Tagbilaran port to take the 10pm Lite Ferry ship back to Cebu. In the said mall there was a trade fair in the upper floor and that for me somehow made up the failure in Loboc as I enjoy seeing the displayed products of so many places as it gives me a glimpse of what their place is (and later google the Net for more information about them). I also took note of the places where the PSSS (Philippine Ship Spotters Society) group made tambay when we attended the wedding of Vinz Sanchez in Panglao.

I arrived in Tagbilaran port at 7:30pm only to found out there were no more tickets available in whatever class of the Lite Ferries ship (and it seems I have bad luck with this shipping company). I waited a little since a few years back our PSSS group that attended the Tagbilaran fiesta was able to still board as chance passengers and we were even five then, a relatively big group. But this time instead of being encouraging the Lite Ferries ticketing office suddenly closed. I was marooned as I was told the last trip of the bus to Tubigon was 8pm (there is still a midnight ferry there to Cebu and Mandaue). I suddenly remembered the fate of the PSSS group three years ago during Vinz’s wedding when they slept in Dao terminal.

I then pulled my way into Harborview Inn which has a commanding view of the port right outside the port gates and no more sleeping in the terminal as I was thinking of another day’s tour if I can’t go home. It was not cheap if going by its age. The greater negative was the noise and vibration of the trucks going in and out of the port. But the big plus is it has a view of the ships in Tagbilaran port. As an ISPS port there was no chance for me to go inside the port if I am not a passenger and Tagbilaran will no longer be my exit later in the day.

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The next morning, after taking shots of Tagbilaran port I walked to the mall near the old bus terminal and partook breakfast there. It was near the place where we took a taxi to Loon when Aris Refugio, a PSSS Moderator will be having a short vacation in Sandingan island in her sister’s place (it was a nice place with a commanding view of the sea). I was able to take photos of the buses inside that minor terminal now and then I made my way back to Dao, the main terminal. There was a cheaper multicab that I found and I an-seminarian as co-passenger who was engaging and helpful.

Upon reaching the terminal another van called offering a cheap fare to Tubigon and a promise of an immediate departure (am I that a magnet for commuter vans in Bohol?). But I declined as I said I needed to take bus photos first for my collection and I was not yet on that direction I actually wanted to stay first in the terminal, get a feel of the possibilities and mull my options (yes, I tend to feel my guts when I am on a trip in a not-so-familiar place and my plans did not fall into place). What I just wanted was a bus going to northern Bohol because the ferries back to Cebu are there. I noticed a bus going to Talibon passing through Carmen (and I know the Chocolate Hills are located over there). I can’t resist riding that bus even though I haven’t finalized yet where my exit will be (now isn’t that touring in the finest sense?). But the bus will pass by Dagohoy town and that to me was another bonus.

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Baclayon port and lighthouse

The route was by Baclayon and Loay this time and I was able to get shots of their ports). It was the seaside route and after a junction Loboc came into view again. I was not tempted to get off as I know a route to Talibon will take long knowing how slow are the buses in Bohol (nope, they will never need a GPS-based warning device telling them they are already over the speed limit as buses there don’t run over 60kph anyway). And the bus driver quoted 4 hours of travel time but I always assume that is an optimistic estimate.

I was fascinated by the views and landscape right after Loboc. The scenery looks like a forest from there up to Bilar and Batuan, two places I have special interest in. It was an ascending road to the hills of Bohol up to its plateau. Comparing later to Chocolate Hills that world-famous tourist site looked unexciting to me. Just the site of mint-chocolate mounds although admittedly I did not get off then junction leading to its viewing point where there are habal-habals (chartered motorcyle rides) waiting. Later, I realized I could have gotten off there and just take the night ship back to Cebu (and that is the consequence of trip out of plan already). And not having a map or a pocket Wi-Fi also took its toll. But then I was generally tired too (my batteries are not that fast to recharge anymore) and I had wounds to take care of.

The cruising speed of the Southern Star bus was just 50kph even though it is an aircon bus (well, it was good for sightseeing). The passenger load was not high including that of the other buses I saw and to think buses in Bohol does not come one after another. I was even wondering if there were more ship passengers than bus passengers in Bohol (well, the commuter take a big chunk off their load). But at least I found out in Bohol that buses do not have many meal stops like in Cebu and Mindanao.

I was tempted to get off the bus in Trinidad town and head east to Ubay and take the night ship there. I found out that the J&N Ferry ship there to Cebu is very cheap compared to the Tagbilaran ship when the distance of Cebu from Ubay is about the same (now how did that happen?). Now I understand part of the reason why they are still existing. If one is going to Jagna from Cebu to take a ferry there the proper connection is the J&N Ferry to Ubay and not the ferry to Tagbilaran but it seems few realize that. Jagna is roughly equidistant from Ubay and Tagbilaran.

In Talibon I was able to take long-distance shots of the port. I did not go into the port and just felt the atmosphere of the bus terminal and the market (because I was already worrying about the time). I was divided into going to Tubigon (which will afford me daylight ship spotting) or going back to Ubay in order to extend my Bohol tour and visit Ubay again. But I did not have time to mull as the Tubigon bus was already honking. I was just intent on catching the 4:30pm Anika Gayle 2 ferry to Cebu which has a much better ship spotting view than the Star Crafts (there were no Lite Ferries ships in the late afternoon in Tubigon and I do not want to ride the FastCat again).

I asked the driver how long the ride to Tubigon will take. He answered one hour. But then our driver turned out he can just ride his mount at 50kph and so we took nearly 2 hours for the route. We passed by Inabanga again.

But with our slow speed I missed the Anika Gayle 2 and there was a long line in Star Crafts. But I was fortunate the guard pulled me to the senior citizens’ window and I was able to get a ticket leapfrogging over a dozen people. Otherwise I would have experienced shut-out again and I would be forced to take the FastCat (horrors!). This time the vessel was fully booked and I was in the very last row of seat near the toilet.

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It then happened that I was also very interested in our vessel the Star Crafts 7 (good she was on that schedule) and I already forgot my disappointment in not having made the Anika Gayle 2. The reason is because Star Crafts 7 was the former MS Express of A. Sakaluran in Zamboanga which I have already visited before in Varadero de Recodo, a shipyard in Zamboanga City. I want to see what changed and I want to feel her again.

One big change I noticed is she was already much less comfortable (and much less than Starcrafts 1). Instead of trying to put in some comfort like in Weesam Express now as Star Crafts she is just trying to pack as much people in. I have not seen seats as narrow and uncomfortable in a fastcraft. Fastcrafts are generally more cramped compared to catamarans but I have been to Weesam Express, A. Sakaluran, Oceanjet and the Montenegro Shipping Lines fastcrafts including its small ones and Medium Speed Crafts (MSCs) like the Anika Gayles of Aleson Shipping but all have sufficient level of comfort and space unlike the Star Crafts 7. And another, the good air-conditioning central vents of the MS Express were already gone in Star Crafts 7.

With its fare almost level with FastCat I wonder why Boholanos still patronize them when the like of FastCat is much more superior in terms of accommodations and passenger service (no, this is not a plug for FastCat). The seats of Star Crafts is even narrower and less comfortable than bus seats. With a 4+4 seating, maybe its fares should be much less. Is it time for FastCat to field a second MSC in Tubigon? Or Oceanjet should field one of their fastcrafts? But maybe the franchises of the Lite Jets were not sold to them to preclude competition with them.

The Star Crafts 7 is a full two-deck fastcraft now when it had only one-and-a-half passenger decks as MS Express. We took just over 1 hour for the voyage so that means we were cruising at about 20 knots. Its engines are Yuchai diesels now with a total of 1,850 horsepower, down from her former 3,100-horsepower Mitsubishi diesels, the same powerplant as her rival Sea Jet of Aleson Shipping which is not on the route now and replaced by the Anika Gayle 2 which we overtook before reaching the reef shallows south of Mactan island.

There was no ship spotting whatsoever when I was on board Star Crafts 7. No possibility as there was no open-air accommodation and the doors of fastcrafts are closed when sailing. I was only able to take some shots upon alighting in Cebu Pier 3 but it was already getting dark. Before I disembarked I tried to tour the fastcraft but it was too dour and there is no access to the bridge. I am imagining though that it might not have changed much since I visited her as MS Express.

It was a full two-day visit of Bohol. Nice but tiring too (and I had an accident but that is another thing).

A Quartet of Sister Ships

The Lite Ferry 1 and Lite Ferry 2 of Lite Ferries, the Maria Helena of Montenegro Shipping Lines Inc. and the Danica Joy of Aleson Shipping Lines share one thing in common which is a common hull design making them all as sister ships. The four were built in different yards and in different years and they have different engines but they share the same superstructure too making them similar from afar though many do not realize that immediately. They also sailed at one time not far from each other and some might even have met in Dumaguete port.

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Among the four, it was Omogo which came first to the Philippines in 1987 from Setonaikai Kisen KK of Hiroshima, Japan to become the Danilo 1 of Danilo Lines. The Sensui Maru of the same Japan company followed in 1989 and she became the Danilo 2 of Danilo Lines. Actually, the two are among our early ferries, a product of the right bet of Danilo Lines on ROROs when they connected the ports of San Carlos and Toledo across the Tanon Strait dividing Negros and Cebu islands. When Danilo Lines was acquired by Lite Shipping Corporation, Danilo 1 became the Lite Ferry 1 and Danilo 2 became the Lite Ferry 2. Officially, however, the two ships still belong to Danilo Lines which was not dissolved yet but everybody knows now they are under Lite Ferries and other ships of Lite Ferries periodically relieve them now in the route and sometimes the two ships are assigned other routes of Lite Ferries.

The third to arrive in the country was the Danica Joy and she was one of the early ROROs of Aleson Shipping Lines when she came in 1994. The last to arrive was the Maria Helena which only came in 2004 after a stint in China with the Qingdao Ferry. Belonging to different companies, the quartet of sister ships have different home ports, the Lite Ferries in Cebu, Danica Joy in Zamboanga and the Maria Helena in Batangas.

Among the four, three were built in 1969 which are the two Lite Ferries and the Maria Helena. The Danica Joy, meanwhile was built in 1972. The Lite Ferry 1 was built by Kanda Zosensho in Kure yard, Japan. The Lite Ferry 2, though having the same owner in Japan was built by a different shipyard in the same year. She was built by Matsuura Tekko in Higashino yard, Japan.

Meanwhile, the Maria Helena was built as the Yanai by Nakamura Shipbuilding and Engineering Works in Yanai yard, Japan for Boyo Kisen KK of Yanai, Japan. She went to China as the Lu Jiao Du 1 in 1993. Lastly, the Danica Joy was built as the Nakajima by Nakamura Zosen in Matsue yard, Japan. [Note: Danica Joy is the same ship as the earlier Danica Joy 1.]

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Photo by James Gabriel Verallo

Lite Ferry 1 has the permanent ID IMO 7005530. Lite Ferry 2 has the permanent ID IMO 6926969. That means her keel was laid ahead of Lite Ferry 1. Maria Helena is also identified as IMO 7535274 and Danica Joy is IMO 7852414. I do not know why the IMO Numbers of Maria Helena and Danica Joy are out of sequence.

The four are not basic, short-distance ferry-ROROs but belongs to the next class higher which are over 40 meters in length (in fact, just below 50 meters LOA). The distinguishing characteristic of the four is the rectangular box at the front or bow of the ship which serves as protection for rain, sea splash and rogue waves. The four looks rectangular from the sides. All except Danica Joy have full two passenger decks here and a single car deck (Danica Joy just have a partial second passenger deck).

The car decks of the four have three lanes and four trucks or buses can be accommodated in each lane (more if it is sedans, SUVs or jeeps). Originally and until now, the four have RORO ramps at the bow and at the stern although all basically just use the stern ramp now for handling rolling cargo hence they dock stern-wise.

All the four have combined bunks and seats so all can be used either as a short-distance RORO or as an overnight ship. All have an airconditioned Tourist class and the usual open-air Economy class. The size of the Tourist class varies among the four, however and so do the passenger capacity. Maria Helena has the smallest passenger capacity among the four at only 310 passengers.

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Maria Helena by John Carlos Cabanillas

The gross tonnage (GT) of Maria Helena might be a little bloated at over 1,000, a pattern I noticed among ships that passed through China (if it is compared to its Japan GT). Meanwhile, the GT of the three others might be a little understated because it was practically unchanged from the Japan GT (when scantlings were added to ships). Until now, the Philippines have no true reliable GT figures (because MARINA does not know how to compute that?).

The four sister ships are equipped with a pair of Daihatsu marine main engines. Three have a total of 2,000 horsepower but the Lite Ferry 2 only has a total of 1,700 horsepower making it the slowest at 13 knots when new. Lite Ferry 1 was capable of 13.5 knots when new while the two others were capable of 14 knots when new. Realistically, they are only capable now of 11-12 knots given their age and the additional metal. Some might even sail at just 10 knots given the demand of the route.

The quartet all have raked bows and transom sterns. All have two masts and two funnels at the sides. However, only Lite Ferry 1 and Lite Ferry 2 have stern passenger ramps which is a trademark of Cebu overnight ferries. This design does not interfere with the car or cargo loading of the ship. This is not possible with Maria Helena because she has no full scantling.

The four have no permanent assigned routes. The nearest to having a permanent route is the Danica Joy in the Dumaguete-Dapitan (Pulauan) route where she was the first short-distance RORO with bunks. Montenegro Lines always rotate their ships but for a time Maria Helena was always in the Bogo-Cataingan route. Meanwhile, Lite Ferries always rotate their ships every so few months.

These four are all starting to advance in years now. However, all are still very reliable. Their metal seems to be still good too. So I don’t see them quitting anytime soon as all are still good ferries especially in the short routes, the routes that loads a dozen vehicles and a few hundred passengers.

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If there is anything that will kill them it will be the wrong proposal being pushed now by some quarters to retire ferries that are over 35 years in age. As if safety in ships is determined by the age of the ships when empirically it is not. Actually, it is vested interests and not just concern for safety that is fueling that push.

Anyway, I hope to see this quartet continue to sail for many more years. They are still capable ferries.

Note: It is possible that Ruby-1 or Ruby-2 of Alexis Shipping that plied the Batangas-Calapan route is also a sister ship of the four. But they are already missing.

The Sister Ships Starlite Jupiter and Lite Ferry 11

When I first saw a photo of Starlite Jupiter of Starlite Ferries in Batangas Bay that was uploaded in the Philippine Ship Spotters Society (PSSS) photostream, I immediately knew she was a Honda ship. There is the same tough-looking stance, the sharp-edged front and the tall bridge I noticed in the other Honda ships. Later, I began to realize she looked the same as a ferry in Cebu, the Lite Ferry 11 of Lite Shipping Corporation which was better-known as Lite Ferries. When I checked in Miramar Ship Index, yes, they were true sister ships but the Lite Ferry 11 was built two years earlier than Starlite Jupiter and they came from the same shipping company in Japan. Yes, that is the beauty of international maritime databases and of the IMO Numbers – authoritative checking is easier. No guessing, no speculation. Now if only MARINA, the local maritime regulatory agency knows how to use IMO Numbers. No they don’t; they will insist on their own registry numbers which is not searchable anywhere else and the international maritime databases have no idea of its existence or use.

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Photo by Jefferson Provido

Starlite Jupiter was first known as the Ferry Misaki No.38 of the Oishi Kaiun (or the O.K. Line) of Japan and her date of build (DOB) is 1989. Meanwhile, Lite Ferry 11 was first known as the Ferry Misaki No.5 of Oishi Kaiun, too and her date of build was 1987. Both were built by the Honda Shipbuilding Co. Ltd. in Saiki yard, Japan. Originally the company was known as the Higashi-Kyushu Zosen Co. Ltd. Saiki Works and was founded in 1943. The company is now known as the Honda Heavy Industries Co. Ltd. With such beginnings I assume this is a different company from the world-famous Honda Motor Co. Ltd. which was founded by the great engineer Soichiro Honda in 1948 and whose description of products does not include ships.

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Ferry Misaki No.5 was the first to arrive in the Philippines in 2010 and she was refitted not in a shipyard but in Ouano wharf in Mandaue, Cebu, a cheap refitting place where charges are practically just the docking fees and sub-contractors like Eliezer Shipworks and Industrial Services will come and do specific steel and other works complete with their own generators for power since Ouano does not provide electricity. This is the reason why Ouano wharf is a favorite of Cebu overnight ferry companies for drydocking (its actually “afloat ship repair” or ASR) and refitting. Well, even Cebu Ferries Corporation used Ouano then along with Lite Ferries, Trans-Asia Shipping Line, Cokaliong Shipping Lines, Medallion Transport, George & Peter Lines and others.

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Ouano wharf

In Ouano, from a Cargo RORO ship, Ferry Misaki No. 5 was converted into an overnight ferry with two class accommodations – Tourist and Economy over two passenger decks, both of which are below the bridge or navigation deck. With such arrangement Lite Ferries did not bother to extend anymore the pilot house side to side since visibility is good already (however, many think, it gave Lite Ferry 11 some kind of a funny look). However, the look from the sides might fool some to think she has three passenger decks. Her roof on the top passenger deck is not full so there is a small poop deck.

Officially, Lite Ferry 11 has a passenger capacity of 800 but her general arrangement plan (GAP) shows only 492 and about 170 of that are in fiberglass seats, the infamous “cruel” seats that is a Lite Ferries and Roble Shipping staple which a crude offering for a 6-hour Camotes Sea night crossing (as if one can sleep in that). I have long wondered why they can’t offer seats even as good as ordinary bus seats which has cushioning and headrests. And mind you, the fare for that is just a few pesos less than that of a bunk.

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Lite Ferry 11 has a narrow stern ramp (the only cargo ramp) and two passenger ramps on each of that seems to be too prominent. The cargo ramp is not the three-piece kind but adequate in most cases. The car deck meanwhile has three lanes and with a length between perpendiculars of 60.0 meters it can be surmised she has about 165 lane-meters in rolling cargo capacity. She typically carries a mix of trucks and lighter vehicles in her Cebu-Ormoc route.

Meanwhile, Ferry Misaki No. 38 arrived in Batangas in 2013 and was refitted into a short-distance ferry-RORO and just equipped with just seats and benches and that can be uncomfortable if the ship is used in the four-hour Roxas-Caticlan route crossing Tablas Strait. Starlite Jupiter had a minimum of modifications and the old Japan passenger section which has airconditioning became the Tourist section and it is equipped with seats that look like bus seats but in longer rows. There is a makeshift deck at the bridge level that houses the Economy section of the ship (which looks hot on a sunny day). It is equipped with cheap plastic benches. There is no passenger accommodation behind the funnel hence the passenger capacity of the ship is small at only 276 passengers. The deck behind the funnels has no roofing.

Starlite Jupiter (Economy Section)

Photo by Raymond Lapus

With such minimal redesign, Starlite Jupiter still looks like a Cargo RORO ship. This is not a ferry that can take in a lot of buses, however, since MARINA rules forbid passengers staying in the bus during the voyage. Reason? There are no lifejackets in the bus. Starlite Ferries tried to extend the pilot house but it also looked makeshift too and the net effect on the eyes is not impressive. Starlite Jupiter is the speedier of the sister ships at 15 knots since she has 2,000 horsepower from 2 Niigata diesels (while Lite Ferry 11 has only 1,500 horsepower from two Niigata engines and just capable of 13.5 knots). The sides of Starlite Jupiter looks high because there are no windows.

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Now, I just wonder what is the reason why the international maritime databases confuse Lite Ferry 11 and Lite Ferry 12 of Lite Ferries. They think Lite Ferry 11 is Lite Ferry 12 and vice-versa. Did Lite Ferries swap the AIS? But Lite Ferry 12 is not in the international maritime databases and in fact I can’t find her IMO Number.

Other specifications of Lite Ferry 11:

IMO 8618499, built 1987 by Honda in Saiki, Japan

Bulbous stem, transom stern

65.7m x 15.0m x 3.5m

Japan GT=498, Philippine GT=249, DWT=174

*one of the ships “shrunk” by the MARINA “magic meter”

Lite Ferry 11

Other specifications of Starlite Jupiter:

IMO 8822076, built 1989 by Honda in Sasebo, Japan

Bulbous stem, transom stern

65.1m x 12.0m x 4.6m

Japan GT=441, DWT=216

Starlite Jupiter has a Mindoro route while Lite Ferry 11 is a Cebu-Ormoc ship. Hence, the sister ships do not meet. Both sail at night and both are still reliable.

Good acquisitions for both companies!

It Seems They Are Beginning To Fear The Cargo RORO LCTs Now

Once upon a time, in the early days of connecting islands, LCTs had a place as exemplified by Millennium Shipping in the 1970’s and the LCTs connecting Mactan island and the islands of Samar and Leyte. But as it moved into the 1980’s and the 1990’s, it was the short-distance ferry-ROROs that began connecting the islands like in San Bernardino Strait, in Surigao Strait, in Verde Island Passage, in Guimaras Strait, in Tanon Strait, in Bohol Strait, across Camotes Sea, in Basilan Strait and in Panguil Bay. LCTs began losing favor then and some of the reason might be psychological. There was a belief then that LCTs were “less safe”.

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It was actually only Maayo Shipping and Tri-Star Megalink which bucked the trend in those decades before the change of the millennium by still using LCTs as passenger-cargo carriers. To some extent, Asian Marine Transport Corporation (AMTC) can also be counted here before the start of the new millennium. Among the the most notable operator of passenger-cargo LCTS in this millennium are Lite Ferries and Starhorse Shipping Lines. Of course, LCTs also connected Samal island, Guimaras and Olutanga islands but I would rather exclude it here as they were very short connections like the connection across Sula Channel of Albay to Cagraray island.

LCTs as means of transport are slow and slower than short-distance ferry-ROROs. Their passenger accommodations are also very basic and small and can be uncomfortable. They were never really meant to be people carrier unless one is talking of the hybrid Korean LCTs (like the Ma. Angelica Grace, Reina Banderada, Reina Justisya and Star San Carlos among others) which have more comfortable passenger accommodations and even airconditioning plus bigger engines which afford speeds higher than the basic, short-distance ferry-ROROs.

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I do not know which started the trend of using LCTs for vehicles mainly with not much intent to carry passengers. The most significant I noticed that had an operation like this was Golden Bridge Shipping of the Lua family (owner of a tramper company and Oceanjet) which has its base in Cansaga Bay and had a route to Hindang, Leyte. Early on they were known as Socor Shipping. Of course, Mandaue Transport also had a route from Mandaue to Tagbilaran and Simpoi Shipping had a route from Carmen to Ormoc.

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There were also LCTs that were used not for rolling cargo but as container van carriers. Ocean Transport chartered LCTs from Asian Shipping Corporation for this purpose which was copied by others until they were able to acquire their own LCTs. But of course, transit time from Manila to Cebu can take up to 4 days but container vans won’t protest unlike passengers. Some Asian Shipping Corporation LCTs were also chartered to load container vans from Manila to Cagayan de Oro.

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These operations are of course Cargo RORO operations. The only difference is instead of using Cargo RORO or RORO Cargo ships, LCTs are used. That is why I termed these LCTs as “Cargo RORO LCTs”.

Starting in 2012, LCTs from China began appearing in great number in Mactan Channel and the biggest owners were Cebu Sea Charterers, Broadway One Shipping, Concrete Solutions/Primary Trident Marine Solutions and Royal Dragon Ocean Transport. The first two simply had numbers as names of the LCTs. The third one was the owner of the Poseidon LCTs and the last one was the owner of the Meiling LCTs. Asian Shipping Corporation also bulked up their LCT fleet. Supposedly, these LCTs which were called “deck loading ships” in China will be used to transport ores from Surigao to China.

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However, two major happenings intervened. One, the need of China for ores declined and in November of 2013, Typhoon “Yolanda” wreaked havoc in Eastern Visayas. In the aftermath, in the need for relief and rehabilitation of the region, trucks and trailers have to cross. This happened during a time that the long-distance trucks were already running via Eastern Visayas as substitute for the ship-borne container vans and many of these are still destined for Mindanao.

Immediately, mile-long queues of trucks formed in the ports of Matnog, Allen, Liloan, Benit and Lipata leading to loud protests. MARINA then allowed the temporary use of LCTs which became de facto permanent until today. Meanwhile, there was also a great demand for bottoms to be used by trucks across Camotes Bay. Suddenly, the moored “deck loading ships” in Cansaga Bay was crossing Camotes Bay, San Bernardino Strait and Surigao Strait. Cebu Sea Charterers and the Poseidon LCTs slowly begans Cargo RORO LCT operations together with the Adnama LCTs (many more were used in Surigao and elsewhere). Roble Shipping meanwhile chartered LCTs from Asian Shipping Corporation which they replaced when they were able to acquire their own LCTs.

There was also an upsurge in LCT demand to Bohol and some old LCT began plying routes. Feeling their grip threatened, Lite Ferries bought them all lock, stock and barrel aside from buying additional LCTs. Meanwhile, Cebu Sea Charterers invaded other routes like the Carmen-Ormoc, the Dumangas-Banago and the Tuburan-Escalante routes. Suddenly, the lowly LCTs which became Cargo RORO LCTs looked menacing. Even the pioneer Golden Bridge Shipping which had queues even before “Yolanda” feels threatened now.

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How did this come to be? One reason is at the start, the overnight ferry companies crossing Camotes Sea did not give due regard to the rolling cargo or vehicles. They were too content in their successful palletized and loose cargo operations and they underestimated the need of the rolling cargo. At the start only Golden Bridge Shipping, Simpoi Shipping and Asian Marine Transport Corporation were servicing them. It seems Lite Ferries saw the need earlier than their fellow overnight ferry companies. Well, they are strong in rolling cargo operation in Bohol and is even dominating it.

Secondly, in terms of rates none can beat the Cargo RORO LCTs. They might be slow but in terms of rates they are far cheaper than the overnight ferry companies as in they can give rates that are cheaper by 40%. Well, they don’t need to invest in passenger services and accommodations and they have small engines compared to overnight ROROs. Now they even carry container vans not in trailers to Leyte from Cebu superseding the container ships that used to call in Leyte ports from Manila.

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That is always the danger brought by Cargo RORO LCTs, the low rates. Now feeling they can’t beat it, the overnight ferry companies are beginning to acquire their own LCTs. Lite Ferries is so well ahead in this game but Roble Shipping is already following suit. Medallion Transport seems not to be that worried yet because compared to other they saw immediately the need for rolling cargo operations and were not too dependent on palletized and loose cargo operations. After all they started in short-distance ferry-RORO operations and so they might have had a better understanding of rolling cargo from the start.

The old ROROs better adjust now. From what I heard even the big Asian Shipping Corporation which has the most number of ships in the Philippines is joining the fray. It seems they might have already tired of just chartering LCTs.

In the eastern seaboard, I heard the Cargo RORO LCTs are already the favorites of the truckers. As they say money talks. Price point as decision point is simply too easy not to miss. Everybody wants savings.

To me, it is no longer a question if the Cargo RORO LCT sector will take a slice of the pie. The question is how much. From container ships to liners to overnight ships to short-distance ferries, all are threatened. They will not be overwhelmed but they must be prepared to share the pie with the Cargo RORO LCTs. By how much, now that is the guessing game. All I know is the Cargo RORO LCT rates are simply unbeatable. And that might be sending shivers now down the spine of the competition.

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And I dare say this development is good. Rolling rates are simply too high in the Philippines because the regulatory agency MARINA never learned how to compute rates. It is as if fuel and distance are never really factored in.

Rolling cargo rates of the LCTs across Camotes Sea is now lower than RORO rate across Surigao Strait. How did that happen?

The Second Lite Ferry 10

I call this ship the second Lite Ferry 10 because there was an earlier one to bear that name in Lite Shipping Corporation which is more commonly known as Lite Ferries. The first Lite Ferry 10 was a small double-ended RORO which was used in the Cebu-Tubigon route. She was the former Ferry Ezaki No. 11 of the Ezaki Land and Sea Transport of Japan and she came to Lite Ferries in 2009. Subsequently, this ship was sold to Medallion Transport Inc. where she became the Lady of Miraculous Medal and used in the Masbate-Pio Duran, Albay route. Maybe she was sold by Lite Ferries because her passenger capacity is limited and maybe also because Ocean King I became available and was more fit for the needs of Lite Ferries.

The second Lite Ferry 10 was the former Ocean King I of Seamarine Transport Inc., a new Cebu shipping operator then. This was a new company started only in 2009 and they were only able to acquire two ships for their fleet. As a new company in the Camotes Sea/Bohol Strait area that was a little crowded, the company was not able to stabilize a route. Among the other routes they tried was the Liloan-Lipata route which was also crowded especially since there is a competing parallel route, the Benit-Lipata route held by Montenegro Shipping Lines Inc. or MSLI. The first RORO ship they tried in this route was their Ocean King II. However, in a few months of sailing, that ship met an accident and capsized (but not sunk) in Benit port. To hold on to the route and since she has no other good route, Seamarine Transport Inc. transferred Ocean King I to the Liloan-Lipata route.

Built as an overnight ship and much bigger than Ocean King II, Ocean King I was a little of an anomaly in that route which has the characteristics of the short-distance ferry route although ferries run even at night. But some tired passengers actually appreciated her because she has an airconditioned Tourist section with bunks aside from also having bunks in Economy. The only problem was the 3-hour cruising time was not really enough to enjoy those accommodations or to wake up really refreshed after being already more than 24 hours on the road. The only other complaint was that the airconditioned accommodation was too cold. She was the only overnight ferry in that route connecting Leyte and Surigao.

Aside from the bunks, there is one feature that truckers and bus drivers appreciated in her that was not present in the other ships sailing to Lipata, whether from Liloan or Benit. Ocean King I was equipped with three-piece hydraulic ramps. So whatever the situation of the tide the vehicles have no problem loading or unloading. And besides having a three-piece hydraulic ramp means the ship moves less when the swells are active.

She was then holding the morning route from Liloan to Lipata and she goes back to that same port from Lipata in the afternoon and she will have a night lay-over in Liloan port. Her Economy fare was P300 but I can’t understand why people balk at the P400 Tourist fare. Maybe that was a little high compared to Camotes Sea routes if the distances are factored in (36 nautical miles versus an average of 55 nautical miles in the Cebu-Leyte routes and the most a Tourist fare there will be P500 and there are Economy fares that are only P300). But fares are really high in the eastern seaboard because they make the passengers pay unwittingly the cost of the discounts they give to the buses and the trucks which regularly cross (the suki). Ocean King I, however, had the disadvantage then that its Economy section is hot because the superstructure fully encompasses the ship. That superstructure was an inheritance from her design in Japan.

Ocean King I and Lite Ferry 10 was known as the Ferry Yamato in Japan and she was owned and operated by the Kochi Sea Line. This ship was built in Japan by Miura Shipbuilding Company in their Miura shipyard in 1987. She then measured 63.0 meters by 12.0 meters with a Gross Tonnage (GT) of 1,020 nominal tons and a loading capacity of 423 tons which was measured in Deadweight Tonnage (DWT). She was equipped with two Niigata marine diesels with a total of 3,200 horsepower shafted to two propellers and her original sustained top speed was 16 knots. She had a unique design. Being thin, she look long and not only that. Her superstructure in the forward stern section were very low but she has a very high bridge. She does not look like the ordinary ship from Japan.

She was refitted and converted in Ouano wharf in Mandaue. An additional deck was built and after that she already look more like a regular ship. However, her bridge still stood out. The front added section became the Tourist section of the ship. The rear of that held the Economy section and in between the two is a very small kiosk which also masqueraded as the “front desk”. She still looked sleek with her long and sharp bow. Passenger walkways were added on each side of the ship but still there is a very long passenger ramp at the stern.

She was actually already a beautiful ship especially with her raked funnels. She had a declared passenger capacity of 452 persons and her Net Tonnage (NT) rose to 679 nominal tons. However, her declared length her rose to 72.0 meters. Now, even though her superstructure gained in size her Gross Tonnage remained at 1,020 nominal tons. Of course this is a concession from MARINA, the local maritime regular for maybe “considerations”. And so the “magic meter” was applied. However with the added weight and the engines not that healthy anymore, all she can do locally was 13 knots maximum.

After two years in the Liloan-Lipata route she was pulled out. Maybe she was not earning especially since her engines are a little big. Her schedules were not really favorable too. A mid-morning departure from Liloan means most vehicle from afar have not yet reached Liloan. And a 1pm departure from Lipata means too that most vehicles crossing the Surigao Strait have not yet reached Lipata. While her car deck is bigger than most in the route, many of the trucks and buses crossing Surigao Strait was already contracted by the other ferries in the route. It is a suki-suki system with with the suki held by heavy discounts.

Like the Bachelor bus pays only P800 then when the advertised rate is P8,000. This is so because, rightly or wrongly, the passengers still pay for the ferry fare and that can be more than P8,000 worth. This is the system in almost any short-distance route that loads buses – they charge the buses low since the passengers still pay. Actually the buses don’t really pay anything because the bus ticket fare actually has hidden charges which I found out because I can computer the fare by the kilometers. That means they charge additional fare when the ferry was actually not running land kilometers because it is crossing the sea. Philtranco also does this and they gave me another ticket when I protested. But as they defended, “You don’t have to carry your baggage anymore”.

Ocean King I then tried some Cebu-Leyte and some Cebu-Bohol routes. We suggested to the Captain a Cebu-Palompon route (this was before Medallion Transport discovered this route; as a note, she withdrew too early in Liloan-Lipata route; in not a long time there was already long queues of trucks there). Then Lite Ferries chartered her for the Cebu-Tagbilaran route. Later, the arrangement went into a direct sale and she became the second Lite Ferry 10. As Lite Ferry 10, her route extends now up to Siquijor and Plaridel in Misamis Occidental.

Not long after acquiring her, Lite Ferries brought her in Tayud, Cebu for another conversion and refitting. Two passenger deck were added to her and her tall bridge deck now has a passenger deck. Her superstructure was cut and more “windows” appeared on her superstructure and those were slanted in a beautiful way and so now she looks sleekier. With that her Economy section is no longer as stuffy.

Her Gross Tonnage should have come up with an additional deck. But her Gross Tonnage actually went down to 999. Her Net Tonnage is now 679 nominal tons. Her length went back 63.6 meters with a depth of 4.0meters. With those changes her passenger capacity which should be over 700 persons by now. Maybe Lite Ferries also did those alterations so she will have a Cabin class that was not available before.

She is probably the most beautiful ship of Lite Ferries as viewed from the outside. She is also one of the biggest. The only one clear-cut bigger than her is Lite Ferry 8 which was once a Negros Navigation liner. Although her Captain as Ocean King I admitted her engines were not that strong anymore, he was really referring to the speed and not to reliability as she is still a a very reliable ship. Engines getting grey and weak is actually not that much of a problem anymore as surplus and brand-new replacement engines are already readily available in the market. In fact in the Lite Ferries fleet, the Lite Ferry 5, the Lite Ferry 8 and the Lite Ferry 20 were recipients of the re-engining treatment.

This is one ferry that will still last long and she is a beauty to watch. She will turn out to be a good buy for Lite Ferries.