My Cebu Trip of December 2019

It has been some time already since I was in Cebu and part of the reason for that was my health which declined this year. Because of that, there were important invites which I was not able to honor. But my health recovered somewhat and I was able to participate in the Northern Mindanao tour of the Philippine Ship Spotters Society (PSSS) which gave me confidence to do a Cebu tour and this was bolstered by the offer of a PSSS member to accompany me. I also wanted to go to the inauguration of the MV Trans-Asia 20 of Trans-Asia Shipping Lines Inc. (TASLI) and meet again President Kenneth Sy and his Vice-President wife Pinky Sy and firm up the cooperation between TASLI and the PSSS. The former actually transferred the making of their advertising materials to PSSS and one such activity under that was the coverage of the arrival and inauguration their new ship from Japan, the MV Trans-Asia 20. Our organization was able to acquire photos of the ship even when she was still in Japan and we were also able to get pictures of her when she was traversing San Bernardino Strait from and also during her arrival in Cebu.

December 5 in the afternoon was the schedule of the inauguration of MV Trans-Asia 20 and on the morning of that date me and my companion took an Air Asia flight from Davao to Cebu. One memorable happening in that flight was when we were allowed into the cockpit to take photos together with the lady First Officer of the plane. I already noticed that a lot of passengers were already able to enjoy this treat and I wonder why it seems that in ferries it is harder to request photos inside the ship’s bridge. It is much easier to sabotage and give a big damage to a plane’s cockpit than a ship’s bridge and I think the ferry’s restrictions are a misplaced. It seems it is simply a slavish kowtowing to the demands of ISPS (International Ship and Port Facility Security) which was actually designed for use in international trade.

We arrived in time for MV Trans-Asia 20’s blessing and inauguration. There were plenty of guests including ship owners and representatives from Japan as well as government functionaries. In the registration area it was obvious that the PSSS was expected (well, in the morning the AV team of the PSSS were still taking additional shots). Our delegation was over the limit set by TASLI and included in our group was a special member who wants to see me.

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Photo by Mike Baylon of PSSS.

Our group attended the press conference presided over by Ms. Pinky Sy and Capt. Ariel Garalde as we were classified as part of the media group. The ship’s specs were rolled out together with the hopes of the company about the ship and the background of its acquisition plus the route of the ship. I did not take notes as I was expecting a hand-out which will be necessary for the article about MV Trans-Asia 20 which I will write. I just listened intently together with the other PSSS members who were not part of the AV team of PSSS.

We did not attend the Mass held at the car deck because we preferred to roam the ship. Through this we were able to visit the bridge and talk to Capt. Garalde.  I also had plenty of short talks with the special member of PSSS. A little later we heard some sort of commotion. It was the priest performing the blessing and he was coming up very fast followed by the PSSS AV Team and some other crewmen. Later, at the stern we saw a ramp was being lowered and still later a body wrapped in white was brought down and loaded into a Port Police car. It was only then that it dawned to us that something bad happened to the priest.

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The dignitaries. Photo by Mike Baylon of PSSS.

The rest of the inauguration was rather uneventful except for the picture taking where we were able to set our sights on the biggies in the event.and we left when it was already dusk. Then there was partaking the catered meal served to the guests. We left when it was already dusk. Actually, our group was among the last to leave the ship as we had to wait for the AV team of the PSSS.

The next day, December 6, we went to the new head office building of Lite Ferries. That was to honor the invitation of Mr. Lucio Lim Jr., the President and CEO of the company. I tried to prepare a little bit before leaving Davao but actually I had no idea of the topic/s that will be discussed. It turned out that what I did not prepare for was the topic and that was about shipping issues. Lite Ferries had read some of my previous articles in the PSSS WordPress site and they got interested so much so that I was invited to a discussion of shipping issues and in the preparation of their position paper (this is still forthcoming). An invitation was also extended for PSSS to become a non-paying member of the newly-formed Philippine Coastwise Shipping Association (PCSA) which is a merger of three old shipping associations, the Philippine RORO Operators Association (PROA), the Visayan Association of Ferry Boat and Coastwise Shipowners Operators (VAFCSO) and the United Trampers Association of the Philippines (UTAP). Mr. Lucio Lim Jr., our host is the Chairman of PCSA.

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In a break, I asked Mr. Lim if it is true that they are buying the George & Peter Lines (G&P) and he seemed surprised that PSSS knows it. He uttered, “Antaas ng antenna ninyo (your antenna is really tall)” and he let the cards down. There is really negotiations going on and they are weighing their options but of course this is how far I can go as some other things are better kept under wraps. Mr. Lim then ordered lunch for the group and we continued sharing ideas while eating.

That afternoon we went to Nagasaka Shipyard upon the invitation of the shipping company exec who is also a PSSS member and we visited their ships drydocked there. We were not able to take much pictures of the other ships in the shipyard as it seems there is already a restriction. Anyway, we were full of talks related to their company and competition and the talk also veered to a ferry nearby that has a problem with MARINA, the maritime regulatory agency and is not able to sail because of that. Visiting shipyards is always nice as there are a lot of ships inside and it has been some time now that I haven’t been inside Nagasaka Shipyard since getting inside got difficult. The ship we boarded was the LCT Aldain Dowey.

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In the night of the same day we had dinner in “Azotea”, the restaurant at the rooftop of the Mariners Court. It was an all-Admin gathering to review things that happened in the last few months which was very good for PSSS as it left its competition in the dust. But I was a little surprised by the bill. I didn’t know that restaurant is expensive.

The next day I went solo to Mactan via Metro Ferry to visit C/E Mendoza, an old friend of PSSS who is now retired. He grew up working in the old Cebu port and he sent himself to school by being a working student and being employed  in the old Cebu Shipyard and Engineering Works of the Aboitizes (this is the current Mactan Shipyard). With such background he knows the ships of the 1960s. Going back to Cebu I took the Topline ferry. It really covers more ships in Mactan Channel than Metro Ferry. However, it is slower but that is not a really a disadvantage in ship spotting.

On December 8 there was a ship spotting meet open to all the members. I met a few members I haven’t met before but before that I went to the end of Pier 3 and talked someone from Seacat. I also boarded the MV Star Crafts 6 which was the former MV AS Express of A. Sakaluran. The ship spotting meet was a round trip affair aboard Topline and all apparently enjoyed it not only because of the ships around but also because of the talks and banter. From that trip we proceeded to SM to have dinner. A little advanced but the night was also PSSS anniversary night. We decided to advance it as I was not staying in Cebu until December 13, the true anniversary of PSSS. It was the Admins who spent for the dinner like in some other gatherings and there was a raffle for gifts courtesy of a PSSS Admin in Singapore, Vinze Sanchez. Everybody went home with a gift. So much story was shared but somebody noticed that half of those present came from the other group.

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Photo by Mike Baylon of PSSS.

Me and my companion spent the morning of the next day ship spotting at the 7th floor of the City Hall. I was interested to go there to see with my own eyes the progress of the work on the 3rd Mactan bridge. Besides it is also a good vantage point for ship spotting. From there we proceeded to Cansaga Bay bridge to take a motor banca tour of the bay and the shipyards along Tayud. The motor banca tour extended up to Labogon by the Goldenbridge facility there. This tour developed by PSSS yields a lot of photos. I was happy because of the assistance of my companions. Without them I wouldn’t be able to ride a banca anymore as I have already lost my knees and balance due to age and disease.

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Some Cansaga ships. Photo by Mike Baylon of PSSS.

From Cansaga we motored back to Mariners Court to take shots from the rooftop. We were not able to take many shots because of the fading light. Instead of patronizing other restaurants we went to “NOAK” which was just nearby. It is an eatery owned by a PSSS Admin and which becomes a gathering place at times by PSSS members.

The next day, December 10, we went to Ouano, the one near the new Mandaue market and the one near the E. Ouano house. There were not many ships in the first but I noticed that the store/canteen there that was friendly to PSSS is no longer around. In the second, I forced my way into the hulk of the MV Lite Ferry 16 where I learned they will rebuild the ship. They were then ripping the car deck to expose the engines that caught fire which will be replaced by new ones. From there we went to the former facility of Villa Shipping and we were lucky an exec of Medallion Transport was there whom we are already familiar with. We got the latest about their two ships there and we got an invitation to the relaunch of the MV Lady of Love and the future inauguration of the MV Lady of Perpetual Help.

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Lite Ferry 16 car deck being ripped out. Photo by Mike Baylon of PSSS.

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Medallion Transport ships in Ouano. MV Lady of Perpetual Help in front. Photo by Mike Baylon of PSSS.

We then went to the old facility of Asian Marine Transport Corporation (AMTC) in Mandaue Pier 8 to visit the Trans-Asia ships there including MV Trans-Asia 20 which was not yet sailing and MV Trans-Asia (1) which was also not sailing. Also there was the old MV Trans-Asia 9 which is headed to the breakers.

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A goodbye image of the old Trans-Asia 9. Photo by Mike Baylon of PSSS.

From there we proceeded to a dinner in Robinsons Galleria which was open to all members. I was hoping to meet members who were not able to make it to the anniversary dinner. What I got instead was a pasalubong from a member to whom I extended help previously in a thesis.  That was practically the last point of my Cebu trip. We were just waiting for our ship back to Mindanao, the MV St. Francis Xavier of 2GO that was several hours late. To kill time, we made a standby in “NOAK”.

Me and my companion opted for MV St. Francis Xavier of 2GO, a ship we haven’t rode before because we thought a liner is better than an overnight ship like before but we were wrong. First, I had a run-in with her vessel escorts who ordered passengers to put their things in the  pier apron which was covered with a third of an inch of dust so that their canine can do its work. I flatly refused, of course. I told them they should use a platform. As compromise they laid down a sack. They were able to meet someone whom they cannot bamboozle.

The next morning we were disappointed by the free breakfast. I didn’t know the 2GO Tourist breakfast is now below the level of the Economy breakfast of before and there was not even coffee. Many did not finish their meal as it was not tasty. The other offerings of the restaurant for snacks are just Goldilocks products that are wrapped in plastic and a few salads. Our lunch fare was also not tasty and there was just one viand. Economy meals of the past always consisted of two viands. Seems there is a lot of cost cutting in 2GO now. Is this a policy of SM which runs the company now? Well, they did not also gave breakfast to Ozamis passengers although it was already 8am.

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The kind of snacks now in 2GO. Photo by Mike Baylon of PSSS.

We were able to depart Cebu after two hours of in-port time and it was a surprise to me. Does it mean there was not much cargo? It was a different matter in Ozamis port where our ship was docked for five hours. Most of the passengers disembarking did not disembark at once because of the long line for vehicles under the sun outside the port so they tend to wait in the ship which is air-conditioned. And 2GO cannot handle simultaneous embarkation and disembarkation. Maybe they should do something about it especially if they want to resolve the delay in the schedule of the ship.

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Ozamis port. Photo by Mike Baylon of PSSS.

Me and my companion got off in Iligan port to take a bus to Cagayan de Oro. It was a long walk as there was no shuttle. However, the wish of my companion to ride a Super Five hybrid bus was rewarded and our unit was just in its 5th day of service and so it was still very fresh.

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Iligan port. Photo by Mike Baylon of PSSS.

In the Bulua bus terminal of Cagayan de Oro a PSSS Admin picked us up together with his retired Chief Engineer-father and we had dinner and some lively talk. On arriving in the Agora bus terminal of Cagayan de Oro someone offered us a ride in a Montero and the front seat was offered to me. The ride was much better than a commuter van and the fare was only P500 which is lower than that of an aircon bus. Our ride was faster and more comfortable. We arrived in Davao in the dawn of the next day and instead of hailing a taxi I offered the Montero driver the amount I would be paying if I took the taxi and he agreed. And so I arrived in style.

It was a hectic and tiring trip with plenty of talks and ship spotting but it was all worth it in terms of results and in terms of probable future results.

 

The China Ferries Are Coming

It’s been a long time now that our newly-fielded ferries were surplus ferries from Japan, be it liners, overnight ships or short-distance ROROs. But in the last 5 years about half of our newly-fielded ferries from outside were already from China, both in surplus and in newbuilds. And that only shows the big changes that are happening in shipping vis-à-vis Japan and China. The latter is a rising power in shipping and the former is a rising one which has surplus ships to sell now. Also, other countries which are not too competitive but are good in ship design are designing ships that will be built in China. We had that kind of arrangement too in Hyundai shipbuilding in Subic. But even when that was still operating we were not that competitive vis-à-vis China in terms of price.

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FastCat M11 by Mark Ocul of PSSS.

The most prominent ferries built in China are the brand-new FastCats of the Archipelago Philippine Ferries Corporation. These catamaran-ROROs were designed in Australia but built in different shipyards in China and that design and arrangement proved to be a winner. More of these ships are coming and recently the FastCat M15 and FastCat M16 arrived in the Philippines. There are now 14 of these catamaran-ROROs in the country and these are serving half of the regions of the country. Most of these ferries were built by the Marine Expert Xijiang in Zhaoqing, China.

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Lite Ferry 18 by Ryan Diel of PSSS.

The other prominent group of ferries that arrived in the Philippines are the old ferries mainly of the HNSS (Hainan Strait Shipping) which connects Hainan island-province to the mainland of China. Most of these ferries went to Lite Shipping Corporation and to its competitor Medallion Transport. For Lite Ferries these ships are the latter Lite Ferry 16, Lite Ferry 17, Lite Ferry 18 and Lite Ferry 19. The four took long in refitting as the ferries needed to be re-engined. The four are among the biggest ferries of Lite Ferries. Let it be noted that Lite Ferries also ordered brand-new passenger-cargo LCTs from China, their Lite Ferry 27, Lite Ferry 29 and Lite Ferry 30.

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Lite Ferry 30 by Jose Zeus Ranoco Bade of PSSS.

For Medallion Transport their ex-China ferries are the Lady of Joy, Lady of Rule, Lady of Good Voyage and the Lady of Triumph. They also have a passenger-cargo LCT from China which is the Lady of Smile. Roble Shipping also tried passenger-cargo LCTs from China, their LCT Immaculate Stars and the LCT Jacqueline Stars. Montenegro Lines also has this type in their Reina Urduja which was the former Poseidon 26 of the Primary Trident Marine Solutions. These passenger-cargo LCTs are not necessarily better but they are cheap to operate. The downsides are the lack of passenger accommodations and amenities and the lack of speed, too.

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Reina Urduja by Albritz Salih of PSSS.

Of course, in the country there are so many LCTs now from China and they are counted in the dozens. Most are the traditional LCTs which are trampers but a growing number and maybe about a dozen or so are in the Cargo RORO LCT role which carries trucks and its crews and a car at times. It is so easy to assign a regular LCT into the Cargo RORO LCT role and no conversion is needed. The Cebu Sea Charterers are the best known for this together with the Primary Trident Marine Solutions of Leyte. But I am excluding them in my count as they are not primarily ferries in the sense that the term “ferry” is understood in this country.

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The new Lite Ferry 5 by Mark Ocul of PSSS.

Recently, aside from the FastCats, Lite Ferries also got new ferries from China, the new Lite Ferry 5 and the new Lite Ferry 9 (they have two previous ships which carried these names in their fleet but both were disposed of already). Starlite Ferries also got a new ferry from China, a fastcraft with the name Starlite Sprint 1 and supposedly more of this type is coming. Jomalia Shipping also acquired a fastcat from China, the new Maica 5 in their fleet.

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Maica 5 by Capt. Emzrenz Miramontes of PSSS.

But the biggest importer of new Medium Speed Crafts (MSCs) is the new shipping company Island Water, a subsidiary of Island Shipping. Island Water has the MSCs Island Biri, Island Calaguas, Island Calayan, Island Dalupiri, Island Balabac and the small Island Sabtang which looks like a modernized motor banca. All of these are from Jianlong Shipbuilding of China. These MSCs have tried many routes in the country but not all have running routes yet.

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Island Biri and a FastCat by Don Zian Encarnacion of PSSS.

This is a little historical now and some of you might be surprised that before all these came a pair of China sister ships already arrived in in the country in 2011. These are the Regina Calixta V of Regina Shipping Lines (RSL) and the Star Ferry 7 of the 168 Shipping Lines which are both Bicol shipping companies. The two were offered for sale as two bridges will not longer allow them to sail. Paradoxidally, they were actually river boats in China but they were ROROs.

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So that was the change. We are no longer dependent on Japan for ferries. More and more China is becoming our primacy source of ferries and that is not even including LCTs. That will continue in the future as China is the cheapest source of ships nowadays. Figures speak and we will have to get used to that although in quality they are still behind.

 

 

The Sinulog Fluvial Procession, the Ouano House, Piers 8 and 7

One morning I went to the foot of the SRP Road in Cebu to cover the remnant of the Sinulog fluvial procession. I just make do in that area because I will still see most of the participants and besides it is great effort to fight for a good view in the earlier parts of the fluvial procession. Anyway, it is in the vessels that I am more interested in.

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I was just in time. It was still early morning and there was a constant drizzle. But the position of the sun, the early morning and the drizzle made visibility and shots terrible. I have to make do with what is presented by nature. It seems more small crafts participated compared to the last time I covered the fluvial procession but less ferries going to Cebu port were forced to wait near the SRP. The Filipinas Iligan and the Oceanjet 6 were the only prominent ships waiting.

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There were motor bancas which stopped and disgorged the participants in the rocks by the SRP approach and I also covered those. The viewers did not stay long as the drizzle was continuous and there was no sight anymore in that areaexcept for the Coast Guard patrol ships, the Filipinas Butuan plus participant boats which were just idling.

I then decided to make my way to Ouano-House. I called it such because it is there that the E. Ouano house is located. Actually it is more like an office (I have already entered it). And I doubt if it is the ancestral house of the Ouanos because from what I can gather it is also located on reclaimed land like the other facilities in the area.

The jeep driver I rode was kind as he insisted on driving me to the wharf area. I appreciated it since there was a slight precipitation and I did not have to pay for a pedicab. The entry is easy as the guards didn’t mind. I thought it would be like that if the Lite Ferry LCTs to Tubigon have already transferred there. I might look like just one of its passengers.

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After the gate, however, it was a different matter. With the never-ending rains and the constant movement of trucks, the surface of the wharf area was already muddy though firm that one’s shoe will not get stuck. I was not surprised. If Ouano can’t maintain the road in the Ouano near the Mercado then they won’t maintain this one either. I thought FastCat would not have to worry for passenger competition to Tubigon. The muck here is already an advertiser for them. Ditto for the rolling cargo or vehicle loading trade.

It was a maze to get inside because the only firm ground with no mud was occupied by the new Litexpress CHA-ROs parked and blocking the pathways. I would go in one direction and pull back because I can’t go on. Finally I had to cross the muddy road where the trucks roll. I ended up in the Star Crafts area but this time it was already too crowded because the future Lite Ferry 17 and Lite Ferry 18 were being refitted there and steel sheets, acetylene tanks, generators and other equipment were occupying the spaces. The only open area is the road going to Star Crafts and it is also muddy.

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The Lite Ferry 17 and Lite Ferry 18 are ROPAX LCTs that came from China. Those were former HNSS vessels already phased out. HNSS means Hainan Strait Shipping and that tells where it formerly plied routes. One of them arrived earlier and is already sailing here, the Lite Ferry 16 which looked like a sister ship of them. It looked derelict then like the two now docked in Ouano-House but as always Filipino ship repairers will make them look good again.

Besides them was the new Lite Tug 1. It seems tugs are the vogue now of these competing overnight ferry companies. Roble have theirs already, Asian Marine Transport Corporation (AMTC) also got one, Cokaliong Shipping Lines followed suit and now Lite Shipping also have one too.

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Also there were Lite Ferry 26 and Lite Ferry 23. It seems those two were the ones doing the Mandaue-Tubigon route last December altho the latter is not the normal LCT but a catamaran-RORO (a slow one tho). Also there near the SMC Shipping and Lighterage facility was the brand-new Lite Ferry 30. It seems like what they did in the earlier Lite Ferry 27 they were building additional passenger accommodations. It looks like they are sister ships together with the Lite Ferry 29.

I did not stay that long in that wharf. Sometimes it is the rain that makes you decide that. I left after my functional shipspotting and I have to go through the maze again but that was easier than navigating the mud in various parts of that wharf. I really wonder how the passengers make do with such situation. Is the cheapness enough to make them stick? I was able to see the tail end of their way out when one LCT just arrived. I saw no shuttle and here the walk to the jeepney terminus is even longer with less shade.

Sometimes I cannot imagine in this era that such hardship can still be thrown to the passengers. Those LCTs, the wharf and the road were just really designed for trucks. Not passenger-friendly in any way. Maybe the FastCat and Star Crafts are a little more expensive but there is still the Lite Ferry 1 which also does a route to Tubigon. I also wonder. Why don’t the Super Island Express II just come back and maybe hold some off-hour schedule versus the Lite Ferry 1. Pier 1 might even have less expensive connections to the buses and jeeps of Cebu. Sorry not jeeps because that type is so few in Cebu. What I mean are the AUVs, Multicabs and converted Elfs and Canters of Cebu.

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From the wharf I made my way to the old Villa Shipping wharf which was just rented from Ouano. I was glad the K-9 guard of Ouano was not there. Their compound was closed and it seems no one is around. Good. I can approach their Elvira-1 and take shots. I wonder why they were too jealous of this old, derelict and bad-looking now former hydrofoil converted into a fastcraft which did not last in service. They should even be glad someone is taking interest. It seems they have a different psychology from us.

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There were no more Villa ships there and it seems they have already left as I can see no more ships and facility of them there. What was docked there was the West Ocean 1 of Ocean Transport. I can’t make of the the jumble there. It seems different entities are using that area and not all are connected to shipping.

It was at the far end where I was interested because I want to go near the Lady of Love of Medallion Transport which has not been sailing for some time already. Got some shots but it was not easy as the rain got heavier. Beyond Lady of Love the LCT Poseidon 19 was also docked. Last December this ship was still running the Matnog-Allen route for NN+ATS as a Cargo RORO LCT. Primary Transport Solutions owns this vessel and NN+ATS only charters it.

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Again I did not stay long. On the way out I took shots of the old derelict F/C Magallanes, a fastcraft for private use. I was told before it was a Durano gift to Ouano. I did not know enough of Cebu politics and shipping of before to work out how that happened. All I heard was before Durano has shipbuilding and was a Cebu shipping player. In fact one of their derelicts is there in Labogon by the Goldenbridge wharf.

I thought Ernesto Ouano was lucky (except he died prematurely). Well, just to have a big reclaimed area near Cebu, how much is that in legacy worth? Plus their wharves. It is practically a Lite Ferries wharf now but Lite pays them. They are rich just because of the payments for the use of the wharves. But later it seems F.F. Cruz and Lua stole their thunder in Cebu reclamation. And I don’t think they are players in the future Cordova reclamation. But still they are very lucky.

I no longer pushed my ship spotting that day. Too much rain and I am not a farmer. Rain would have been nice in April but the programmer is a little awry. But the next day I came back to the same area but this time my targets were Pier 8 and Pier 7. It was a Sunday and there was no activity there past CDU. I first asked the guard of Ravago/Asian Shipping Corporation. A little canine too but I didn’t mind, didn’t press. Can’t call their GM as all mobile lines of Metro Cebu were down to prevent bombing. I was really more interested to see what was the denouement in the AMTC (Asian Marine Transport Corporation) eviction case nearby.

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The AMTC yard was deserted now along with the Dakay Construction yard which was also part of the AMTC lot that was in dispute with F.F. Cruz through the MARRECO entity. MARRECO sought the eviction of AMTC for non-payment and they won in the court. MARRECO then blockaded the facility to prevent AMTC from using it. And AMTC left and transferred to Ouano after a failed bid for the Talisay fishport.

The guards by MARRECO there were suspicious but they told the reason why the Super Shuttle RORO 8 was docked there last December was to take in all AMTC materials left that can still be loaded. But I don’t really know why Super Shuttle RORO 3 and Super Shuttle RORO 2 were also there last December. The two had long been just anchored and not sailing for the best part of 2016.

From there I made my way to the Roble wharf. The left side of that if facing to the sea actually belongs to F.F. Cruz and it is where aggregates carrier LCTs and barges dock. The right side belongs to Roble Shipping. There were three newly-arrived freighters there and I was told two belongs to the scions already. There was also the many docked ships of Roble including the non-running ones. The Ormoc Star was there. She is really ready now for the breakers. On the far end was the fire-hit Wonderful Stars where no work is going on.

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It was lonely in that area on a Sunday Sinulog. Almost no people and movement. I caught a jeep going to Mactan and then I walked again the old Mactan bridge. From there I took a Multicab to Muelle Osmena and took the Metro Ferry. The light was dying when I reached Pier 3 and that ended my ship spotting for that day.