The Biggest Shipping Modernization By Far

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Seacat One by Mark Edelson Ocul of PSSS.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A Report on the Recent Situation of Bicol Passenger Shipping

When I talk of Bicol passenger shipping that includes those that have routes to Samar for in the main Bicol ships do those route with the notable exception of Montenegro Shipping Lines which are dayo (foreigner) to Bicol but have a base in Masbate port. In the main, I don’t refer to the Cebu-Masbate steel-hulled ferries because those routes are just one of the operations of Cebu shipping companies with the notable exception too of Montenegro Lines which has a national operation of short-distance ferry-ROROs.

The biggest shipping companies in Bicol are the sister companies Sta. Clara Shipping Corporation and Penafrancia Shipping Corporation which are legal-fiction companies of each other. They have combined operations, single crewing and maintenance and their ships rotate within their common routes. The only difference is the ships bought out from the defunct Bicolandia Shipping are all in Penafrancia Shipping Corporation (PSC) and Sta. Clara Shipping Corporation (SCSC) is what made Bicolandia Shipping cry, “Uncle!” (which means give up na).

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The twin shipping companies have a total of 10 ROPAX ships plus a Cargo RORO LCT which is a recent acquisition to match that of NN+ATS (more on this later). Their best ship, the beautiful Jack Daniel (no, there isn’t free tasting of the famous drink) was acquired not so long ago and it is almost a fixture in the Masbate-Pio Duran route where her beautiful and luxurious lounge can be fully used and appreciated by the passengers since it is a three-and-a-half-hour route.

SCSC and PSC ply all the Bicol routes except for some parallel routes like the Tabaco-San Andres and Masbate-Pilar routes (more on this later). Which means they ply the Tabaco-Virac, Matnog-Allen (now through their own Jubasan port) and Masbate-Pio Duran routes. They don’t ply the Masbate-Pilar route as their ships are too big for the shallow Pilar port which lies in an estuary. In Catanduanes, it seems they now have a modus vivendi with Regina Shipping Lines (RSL) which now is doing the Tabaco-San Andres route exclusively through Codon port (but that route is not necessarily weaker than the Tabaco-Virac route as buses and trucks going to northern Catanduanes prefer that route because the remaining distance is shorter). Additionally, SCSC and PSC also operate the Liloan-Lipata route (however, after the Surigao quake RORO operations were transferred from Lipata Ferry Terminal to the Verano port of Surigao).

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The new development in Catanduanes shipping is the arrival of a new player, Cardinal Shipping which fielded the High Speed Craft (HSC) Silangan Express 1 which has good schedules and a very interesting fare which is even less than one might expect for a Tourist accommodation in a ROPAX (P320 fare in airconditioned accommodation versus the P230 Economy fare of a ROPAX ship). That is very cheap compared to the fastcrafts of Montenegro Lines in Masbate that charges double of the Economy fare of the ROPAX. The route of Cardinal Shipping is also Tabaco-Codon like that of Regina Shipping Lines or RSL.

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Another ferry was also added to the fleet of Regina Shipping Lines (RSL) when they acquired the former Maharlika Cuatro from Gabisan Shipping which purchased it from Archipelago Ferries. It was in Mayon Docks of Tabaco City last January but as of this writing she is already running as the Regina Calixta VI. RSL now also has an operation in the Batangas-Abra de Ilog route through Aqua Real Shipping and Calixta-III.

Tabaco port is also building an extension again and this is probably the third already. I am thinking, what for? In all my visits there I never saw Tabaco port full and I don’t think port visit is increasing there. There is also not that need for a big back-up area. There are no container vans unloaded there and ships that visit are generally small. To compare now, Masbate port is even busier than Tabaco port and Legazpi port is even their rival in port calls (as they both serve the province of Albay).

I thought before that the refurbishment of Legazpi port was not needed but it seems I was mistaken. There are more ships docking there now and those are bigger than the ones which dock in Tabaco port. For one, when Cebu freighters visit Albay, they use Legazpi port and not Tabaco port because it is nearer from Cebu. And most freighters that use Tabaco are just Bicol ships which are smaller than Cebu ships. I was even surprised by the big, Malaysian coal barge I saw in Legazpi port.

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Like before there are no ROPAXes in Legazpi (as I argued before a population of 100,000 in an island is needed to keep a RORO afloat if there is no strong tourism and Rapu-rapu island does not meet that criteria). Instead it has lots of big passenger motor bancas to Rapu-rapu and Batan islands plus Cagraray island too. The new passenger terminal building of Legazpi looks beautiful and modern. Like in Tabaco, the port and port terminal building (PTB) is open to the public and there is no cloud of suspicion that hovers unlike in ISPS ports. It was just like in the past when ports are just like part of public domain. That openness was the thing changed by this damned ISPS.

With the completion of the bridge from Albay mainland to Cagraray island through the Sula Channel, the old small Michael Ellis LCT to Misibis is now gone. A connecting bridge to an island is always better than a connection by an LCT. Maybe with that Cagraray island will develop faster.

Sta. Clara Shipping Corporation and Penafrancia Shipping Corporation now have their new Jubasan port completed in Allen, Samar and so they already withdrew from using the BALWHARTECO port, their old port of entry to Samar, to the great disappointment and anger of the owner which nearly resulted into a court battle. I wonder if the judge-son-in-law of the owner was able to make clear to the patriarch that if it is all straight law then they would lose eventually and they might even be vulnerable to counter-suits they being the LGU holders (like a graft counter-charge).

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With the withdrawal of SCSC and PSC from their port, BALWHARTECO invited Montenegro Lines to just use their port exclusively. Before, Montenegro Lines used both BALWHARTECO and the Dapdap port of Philharbor, the sister company of Archipelago Ferries which once operated the Maharlika and Grand Star RORO ferries. With the withdrawal of Montenegro Lines from Dapdap port now that port no longer has ferry operations. What is left there are the passenger motor bancas to the island off it which is Dalupiri island.

Before this, Philharbor invited Montenegro Lines to use Dapdap port since Archipelago have sold already their Maharlika ships and was already in the process of disposing their Grand Star RORO ships. If there is no other ferry company that will use the port it will fall vacant since the route allowed by MARINA to the new FastCats of Archipelago Ferries was the Matnog-San Isidro route. Before their withdrawal only Montenegro ferries were still using Dapdap port.

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It seems BALWHARTECO made a good offer to Montenegro Lines. They are known to be flexible and accommodating as their record of the past decades will show. Meanwhile, the Alvarez group which controls Archipelago Ferries, Philharbor and Philtranco is not known for that. They are instead known for quick retreats when subjected to the pressure of competition.

So I was not surprised by the result. Here is the queer situation of a port owner and operator with no ships of their sister companies docking because it is using a different port and a route that is significantly longer (which is the Matnog-San Isidro route). As a change, instead of being a ‘port to nowhere’ the San Isidro Ferry Terminal is now active again (she was active before Montenegro Lines left her for Dapdap and BALWHARTECO ports).

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It seems Montenegro Lines was the winner of the BALWHARTECO-Sta. Clara turmoil. Previously they were using four ferries in the Matnog-Allen route, two in Dapdap and two in BALWHARTECO. Recently they are now just using three ferries. It seems that was enough to have a ferry always on standby in the port which has more traffic (in the day that will be Allen and in the night that will be Matnog).

Another winner in the route is the NN+ATS outfit which is now openly admitted as an operation of 2GO. They are using chartered Cargo RORO LCTs from Primary Trident Solutions, owner of the Poseidon LCTs and now they even fielded a ROPAX LCT, the LCT Poseidon 26. They are operating that LCT under the banner of SulitFerry and the acronym is also “SF”, a reminder of their SuperFerry past before those liners were promoted into saints.

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With the Cargo RORO LCTs, the queue endured by the non-regular trucks in the Matnog-Allen route has come to an end as they are the priority of the Cargo RORO LCTs. These ships does not take in buses with its passengers and so no passenger accommodations are needed. The truck crews are just expected to stay with their vehicles for the duration of the voyage. MARINA is actually too suspicious of Cargo RORO LCTs having areas that can take in passengers on the sly.

The arrival of the Cargo RORO LCTs has affected the dynamics in the Matnog-Allen route. It has definitely taken traffic from the ROPAXes and the weight is significant because the non-regular trucks pay the highest rates. Actually, the rates paid by the regular trucks is heavily discounted and it is not always paid in cash (which means credit).

Another thing, from being second-class citizens the non-regular truck is now king but their loyalty now is on NN+ATS. What a turn-around too. From being largely ignorant of Matnog-Allen route because they were too confident of their CHA-ROs (Chassis-RORO) aboard their container ships and liners, now 2GO is already a player in intermodal route which helped kill their liners.

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It is also good that they use chartered LCTs whose crew is from Primary Trident Solutions. These crews are not graduates of the ‘shooing away’ seminars of 2GO, they have no knowledge of ISPS (and probably they don’t care too) and so like in the past they are very friendly to the passengers which they do not think or treat like potential “terrorists” like what is taught in 2GO seminars.

But even with NN+ATS and SulitFerry around and the concentration of Montenegro operations there, BALWHARTECO port is not too busy like in the past when to think 168 Shipping is still there with its three Star Ferry ships. Really, the weight SCSC and PSC is great especially since they have a lot of trucks and buses under contract.

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The PSSS (Philippine Ship Spotters Society) was impressed by the new Jubasan port of Sta. Clara Shipping Corporation. It was not small and unlike most private ports that will start with portions being unpaved in Jubasan it is a completely paved port. As such it is cleaner having no mud and people and patrons would not find it hard moving around (now one would wonder why after all these decades BALWHARTECO port is still mainly unpaved). They also maintained the slope of the land and so rain water immediately drains into the sea instead of forming puddles. There are a lot of eateries inside and it is a step up compared to what can be found in BALWHARTECO port including the presence of chairs and tables outside the eateries which are good for lounging around and sundowning.

Jubasan port is more orderly and it looks more modern. Maybe with the shipping company being the operator it should end up that way as they have full control. By the way, Jubasan port will also have a lodge like in BALWHARTECO port. The structure is already there, that is the area above the eateries but it is not yet operating when PSSS visited the place. Now I don’t know if they will also have a disco like in BALWHARTECO port. Jubasan port also does not have the so-many hawkers of BALWHARTECO port.

Matnog meanwhile has minimal changes. I thought when they twice reclaimed new land the docking space will improve. It did not. There are two new RORO ramps on the left of the finger port (as viewed from the sea) but when I passed through it twice no ship was using it. Actually the docking space of Matnog port did not increase and on high tide a ship will still try to dock askew in the wharf for lack of docking space. During the late afternoon and evening peak hours not all the ships can dock and it has to undock after disgorging their rolling cargo and anchor offshore.

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I still cannot fathom how the PPA (Philippine Ports Authority) inputs ship calls in their planning that they cannot see their docking area is not enough for the number of ships calling. They have two new RORO ramps but they bulldozed rocks beneath it. And so maybe the ships fear damage if they use those. Why can’t they just use the causeway-type of wharf like what is used in BALWHARTECO and Dapdap ports which can dock more ships for their given length of wharf space? The only reason I can see why PPA is too inept in port design is because they really can’t attract qualified people. And to compensate for this lack, their annual reports will be full of praises for themselves and their “achievements”. And now their top honcho says the Makati Car Club will test the RORO system. Now what does Porsche and Ferrari owners know about port design and the RORO system if one is not Enrique Razon? It was not designed for their kind of cars and heels.

Masbate port is actually more impressive than Legazpi or Tabaco in terms of activity. Unlike the two ports which looks semi-fringe in location (as in facing the ocean already), Masbate port is in the center of a nexus and connecting many islands. There are simply more ships there and more types from overnight ferries to short-distance ferry-roros to fastcrafts to motor bancas plus the usual freighters. The new port terminal building is now operating and so there is more try of control now to ensure everybody uses it (this is what I call as “cattle herding”). And I don’t like that system treating passengers not like people but like commodities.

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Actually, they can simply sell a ticket to anyone who wants to buy, passenger or not, like in Zamboanga port. With so many buses boarding their port terminal building is not sufficient (now tell me when did PPA learned how to input numbers). If the old system where buses simply park somewhere in the port and soon board afterwards was enough why try to force down the passengers down the bus so they will pass through the passenger terminal building when it does not have enough capacity anyway even in airconditioning? If terminal fee is all they want then they can just put in a table by the ship ramp. An explanation: bus passengers here already have their ferry tickets issued by the bus conductor so actually they do not need to queue as the buses offer free ferry tickets to their passengers. If the buses can be efficient why can’t the PPA? The reason is simple – they are a government entity.

What I noticed is it seems more passenger motor bancas are now using the Masbate municipal port cum fish landing area. Actually it has the advantage that it is just near the integrated bus, jeep and van terminal of Masbate City. The passenger motor bancas for Burias can also be found here. If I may have a suggestion, it is better if the passenger motor bancas just dock by the integrated terminal. Nothing beats that. If only they will see what is logical (but they might lose the votes of the cargadores and the tricycle drivers).

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The Masbate-Pio Duran route is now stronger compared to the Masbate-Pilar route in terms of RORO operation. It is actually the shorter route to Manila and it can accommodate bigger ships whereas Pilar can only accommodate basic, short-distance ferry-ROROs. Medallion Transport has withdrawn from this route as a fall-out of the sinking of their Lady of Carmel. SCSC and PSC was the big winner in this and they now have made permanent two of their biggest ships in this route which have length of over 60 meters versus the 30 meters plus of the basic, short-distance ferry-ROROs of Pilar.

In the Masbate-Pilar route, Denica Lines now has two ROROs that are running simultaneously and they were able to create a late departure from Bicol (or is it an early one?) when they created an early evening Pilar-Masbate schedule. Denica Lines also have two fastcrafts for refitting now that is moored in Pilar port. Obviously, they want to get a slice of the pie of the MSLI fastcraft business. If they price it like the Silangan Express to Catanduanes then MSLI will be forced to cut their high fares.

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In Pilar, I noticed they now have a Pilar-Mandaon passenger motor banca running. Plus they have pre-dawn departures now from Pilar for three destinations – Masbate City, Aroroy and Mandaon (Mandaon is a gateway to Romblon). They were able to expand Pilar port but its operation is just still like a municipal port as there is no good port lighting (are their charges for the ROROs and passengers not enough?). By the way, the ROROs from Pilar start earlier now. Good for those with still long land travel still remaining in Masbate island.

As before there are a lot of passenger motor bancas in Masbate port going to Pilar, Ticao island, the west bank of Masbate Bay. But maybe the Baleno bancas are gone because there is a van going there now up to Aroroy. The passenger motor bancas are still fighting even though it is already the era of the ROROs and the buses and the trucks aboard them. With no porterage and running at hours when there is no RORO they are still surviving. Well, the buses dictate the schedules of the ROROs and so I can’t see them running 24 hours as the buses have only certain hours of departures from Masbate and Manila.

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Some things of note. One, the Super Shuttle Ferry 19 of Asian Marine Transport Corporation has been sold and Olmillo Shipping has taken over the Bogo-Cawayan route. A new development too in this area was the fielding of Island Shipping of a ROPAX LCT in the Hagnaya-Cawayan route. The MSLI ferry is still running the Bogo-Cataingan route and ditto for Lapu-lapu Shipping that runs the Cataingan-Cebu route. In the future, however, the Bogo and Hagnaya ferries will most likely transfer to the new Maya RORO port because it is simply nearer to Masbate. Meanwhile, the big passenger- cargo motor bancas running between Masbate and northern Cebu are still running and their business not threatened after the initial cut made by the arrival of the ROROs.

Recently, Trans-Asia Shipping Lines don’t have a ship anymore to Masbate from Cebu, a victim of their lack of ferries. Cokaliong Shipping Lines has not fully filled up the slack and it has only a once a week Cebu-Masbate sked but they are always fielding a new good overnight ferry of theirs in the route. Meanwhile, for a year now Asian Marine Transport Corporation (AMTC) doesn’t have an operation anymore to Masbate since their SuperShuttle RORO 3 had engine problems. It has been over a year since 2GO withdrew their liner that passes through Masbate on the way to Ormoc and Cebu. Can’t really beat the intermodal buses and trucks now and as the saying goes if one can’t beat then join them and so they already had that NN+ATS in the Matnog-Allen route.

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Burias motor banca arriving in Pasacao

In other Bicol routes, passenger motor bancas still connect Burias island to Pasacao and Pio Duran while Ticao island has passenger motor bancas sailing to Bulan and Masbate ports. Masbate is also connected by passenger motor bancas from Cataingan to Calbayog in Samar and to Roxas City in Panay from Balud and Milagros and to Romblon from Mandaon. Caramoan through Guijalo port also has passenger motor banca to San Andres in Catanduanes through the Codon port. San Miguel island is connected by passenger motor bancas to Tabaco port.

And that above is what comprises Bicol shipping all in all. Not tackled here are the minor routes served by small passenger bancas that go to small islands that does not have a municipality and to coastal barrios which has no roads.

[Written based on January 2017 data.]

The Magnolia Grandiflora

The cruiser-type long-route ferry Magnolia Grandiflora is the biggest ship in the fleet of Magnolia Shipping Company of Zamboanga City although it is not the tallest (that distinction belongs to Magnolia Liliflora). What is notable in this ship is not her looks but her age and what is unique with her is she started out as a fishing vessel and then she was converted locally into a passenger-cargo ship. There are only a few converted ships like that here and that includes the Lady Mary Joy 1 of Aleson Shipping Lines which has good lines and does not look like a former fishing vessel and the Gloria Two and Gloria Three of Gabisan Shipping Lines which looks like Magnolia Grandiflora as in low, squat and wide, no offense meant (however, she is slightly bigger than the two Gabisan ships, a comparison that is needed so some can imagine her size). The endearing quality of the three is they may be old but they still very reliable and it seems they are not ready to go anytime soon (especially since surplus and replacement engines are now readily available).

Magnolia Grandiflora started as the Shinnan Maru No. 18 of Izumi Gyogyo KK of Muroto, Japan. She was a trawler built by Kanasashi Heavy Industries (builder too of St. Gregory The Great, St. Leo The Great, among others) in Shimizu shipyard in Japan in 1969 with the permanent ID IMO 7003348. She has a steel hull, a raked stem and a cruiser stern. She was a big trawler at 52.5 meters length over-all, 45.5 meters in length between perpendiculars with a maximum breadth of 8.7 meters. She was originally 344 tons in gross register tons (GRT) with a deadweight tonnage (DWT) of 241 tons. This ship has a single Hanshin marine diesel engine of 1,300 horsepower which was enough for a speed of 12 knots originally.

In 1977, Shinnan Maru No. 18 was sold to Ricsan Development Corporation of Manila and she was used as a fishing vessel. In that fishing company, the Shinnan Maru No. 18 was known as the Ricsan 3. However, Ricsan Development Corporation was also one of the companies that was not able to ride out the deadly decade for shipping that was the 1980’s. In 1989, she was sold to Magnolia Shipping Corporation and she was brought to Varadero de Recodo (“varadero” is the Spanish word for shipyard and Zamboanga’s lengua franca is Chavacano which is a Spanish creole language). Varadero de Recodo is the premier shipyard of Zamboanga City and aside from repairs they are builders of ships, the Zamboanga-style of cruiser passenger ships aside from general cargo ships. Varadero de Recodo then converted Ricsan 3 into a passenger ship, one of the conversions made by that famous shipyard in Zamboanga. From then on the ship was known as the Magnolia Grandiflora. Her name was derived from a large evergreen tree in the US which can grow up to 30 meters tall.

As a passenger-cargo ship, the design of this ferry features two-and-a-half passenger decks of the basic, spartan kind with bunks and mattresses. Below that is a cargo/passenger deck and below that still is the engine deck and the cargo holds. This ship has a prominent high prow as well as a prominent, wide, rounded stern.

The design of this passenger-cargo ship is of the spartan kind similar to the ships of the old days. This kind of ship is the workhorse of the theroutes from Zamboanga to Bongao in Tawi-tawi, Jolo, the “3S” (Sibuco, Sirawai, Siocon) and Cagayan de Sulu before, Olutanga, Ipil, Kabasalan, Margosatubig and Pagadian before and many other destinations. This kind of ship is distinguished by the presence of large cargo holds in the engine deck. Above that is a deck that was both for the passenger and cargo but primarily for the latter (so as not to obstruct cargo loading and unloading this deck features folding cots or tejeras in the native languages. In Zamboanga, large cargo carrying capacity is prized as these ships are more like the cargo-passenger ships like the liners of the old days before containerization. These ships are loaded by sliding the cargo through wooden planks that are already shiny by years of use and thrown to porters waiting inside the hot cargo holds (now, some have industrial fans already to moderate the heat inside and to prevent the copra from combusting spontaneously). Unloading, the process is reversed. Loaded sacks of copra are arranged inside the hold to act as stairs and the cargo is handed to porters on the deck above and it is ported through a wooden ramp (a catwalk) connected to the wharf. Arriving at dawn unloading can sometime last until noon especially if the ship has a full load of copra and after a few hours of rest the porters should already be ready before mid-afternoon with loading (some too tired in unloading already beg off and would prefer to vend). By the way, with cargo that cannot be slid a ramp for porters like a catwalk.

Above the passenger/cargo deck is a pure passenger deck and above that is another half-deck for passengers. This ship is a one-class ship as is it is an all-Economy affair. There is actually no bunk assignment. One just chooses the bunk he fancies and get a mattress from a stack, clean it and it is ready for occupancy. One can board anytime, really. Actually one can board even if not a passenger and the crew won’t mind you. Magnolia Grandiflora is also used as a resting place by the porters and a vending place of the vendors (who plays a hide-and-seek game with the Philippine Ports Authority guards – at least in the ship it is the Captain who has the jurisdiction). Magnolia Grandiflora is also a favorite resting place of mine in ship spotting and in resting. What I like about her is when she loads blocks of ice near the galley at the stern – that cools down that portion of the ship. Those blocks of ice are meant for the fishes she will carry back from ports of Tawi-tawi and Siasi. So in arriving in Zamboanga that portion of the ship will be full of fishes in wooden boxes. That portion of the ship is actually always wet and cool most of the time.

Magnolia Grandiflora has two masts which looks like those were fabricated locally. She has a short center funnel and also not of the fancy kind. As a passenger ship, her declared passenger capacity is 400. It is now all bunks in the upper two passenger decks but in the old days tejeras (folding cots) was the order of the day (until it was banned by MARINA). Her declared gross tonnage (GT) went down to 247 which is an impossibility. Again the MARINA “magic meter” was at work here. If her Net Tonnage of 150 is taken as a guide and with the International Maritime Organization (IMO) rule is used that the NT should be at least a third of the GT we can assume that her true GT is 450 or more. This ship has a very prominent rounded cruiser stern.

The route of this ship is Zamboanga-Jolo-Siasi-Bongao-Sitangkai, a route that will guarantee a lot of fishes back. She leaves Zamboanga, her base port every Friday at 7pm. She only does this route once a week as she leaves her ports of call only at night with a day lay-over. Leaving Zamboanga, she if full of manufactured goods including groceries. Going back to Zamboanga, the ship is full of marine products including frozen fish in boxes and copra. She is actually more reliant on cargo than on passengers. The passenger fares on this part of the Philippines is actually very low (and there are many passes; and that is customary to shippers). But then on the obverse side don’t expect too much in creature comforts. In Magnolia Grandiflora a TV set is practically the only amenity available. And if one is travelling be sure to buy food at every port because although Magnolia Grandiflora and the other in the route are multi-day ships (it is too much to call them “liners”) there is no restaurant to speak of (some passengers will sell though). The passenger ships in this route are really spartan. No frills really. By the way, it is Magnolia Fragrance of the same company which also does her same route. Her competitor companies in her route are Ever Lines (the ships Ever Queen of Asia and Ever Queen of Pacific 1) and Aleson Shipping (the ship Lady Mary Joy 1 which has airconditioned accommodations).

Although Magnolia Grandiflora is already over 45 years old, she is still a very sturdy ship. Her Hanshin engine is still reliable and if need be it can be replaced. The shipyards of Zamboanga are very good in that and over-all they are very good in prolonging the life of old ships. Ships almost never die in Zamboanga unless the shipping company itself got bankrupt or else quit shipping and there are no buyers.

Ten years from now, we might still see Magnolia Grandiflora sailing (maybe she will still be the carrier of the goods to that section of the Philippines). After all, the Bounty Cruiser of Evenesser Shipping which was built in 1956 is sailing up to now (60 years old!). Hanshin engines are actually easy to replace (that is a favorite engine of the small cargo ships). And that is also true for the hull plates and bridge equipment.

Well, unless Dick Gordon gets crazy and makes some legislative fiat approved by dumb legislators.

The Samar Star

In 2011, members of the Philippine Ship Spotters Society (PSSS) doing ship spotting by the Cansaga Bay bridge were excited because it seemed the lengthy drydock of Samar Star in Star Marine Shipyard by the that bay was already finished. She was already repainted and from afar it looked like the passenger accommodations were also spiffed up. The members of PSSS were all wishing that Maypalad Shipping Corporation can still get back to sailing. That shipping society is on the sentimental side like most Pinoys and it wishes that the ships they know will sail on forever, if that wer only possible. The members were sad that the Maypalad Shipping fleet including its cargo ships was just anchored and tied up in Mactan Channel since 2009. Samar Star was the only one not tied up there and it seems she was the last one sailing among the fleet. However, another ship of theirs, the Cabalian Star was already a long time “resident” of Philippine Trigon Shipyard Corporation in San Fernando, Cebu.

Samar Star together with a trio of true sister ships of Maypalad Shipping, the Leyte Star, Cebu Star and Kalibo Star is a unique kind of ferry. Her hull and superstructure very much looks like a cargo ship but she is equipped with a quarter RORO ramp in the port side and she has a car deck. Even in Japan her classification was not as a cargo ship but as a RORO Ferry. It looks like her role there is that of a vehicle carrier with a limited, basic passenger accommodation and used as a short-distance RORO ferry. In the Philippines, to increase her passenger capacity, a passenger deck was built over her car deck.

With the lines and superstructure of a cargo ship, the Samar Star is not by any means a looker. Some will even say she is downright ugly. Most people, after all don’t find the design and lines of small general cargo ships to be beautiful and Samar Star very much resembles that type. However, this ship has a story and a history.

Samar Star was first known as the Samar Queen when she arrived in the Philippines in 1980. As a RORO ship, she was one of the earliest in the country although at first glance she might not look like one. Even me when I first saw this kind of ship of Maypalad Shipping thought she was just a converted cargo ship until I saw her classification in Miramar Ship Index as RORO Ferry.

She was the first RORO ship of the K&T Shipping Lines, as Maypalad Shipping Corporation was known then. The ships of K&T Shipping were named “Queens” then and so she was Samar Queen. Later, they were named as “Stars” but not all as their ferry Guiuan remained the Guiuan. Their cargo ships also carried the “Stars” name. K&T Shipping Lines changed their name to Maypalad Shipping Corporation when the ferry Kalibo Star, their flagship, capsized and sank early one afternoon in the heavy swells of Samar Sea near Biliran island on August 15, 1997 with the loss of many lives.

In Japan, Samar Star was known as the Asaka Maru of the shipping line Saito Kaiun KK. This ship was built by Wakamatsu Shipbuilding in Kitakyushu, Fukuoka Prefecture, Japan in 1968 and she carried the IMO Number 6817089. She measured 56.6 meters in length over-all (LOA) with 9.1 meters in extreme breadth (this is akin to the measurements of an “FS” ship). The ship has an original gross register tonnage (GRT) of 482 and deadweight tonnage (DWT) of 203. The Asaka Maru was powered by a single 1,300-horsepower Nippatsu (Fuji) engine which propelled her to a top speed of 11 knots.

In the Philippines, aside from the passenger deck constructed above the car deck a portion of the car deck was also converted for passenger use and fitted with bunks like the passenger deck above. This is so because her primary function in the Philippines was as passenger carrier and carrying vehicles was just a sometime load. The rear or aft portion of the car deck was being used more as a cargo deck for loose cargo. The authorized maximum passenger load of the ship is 280 persons. Whereas in Japan her gross tonnage was 482 that went down to 233 when scantling and a passenger deck was added to her. The MARINA “magic meter” seemed to be at work on her.

K&T Shipping/Maypalad Shipping operated a diverse set of routes from Cebu like routes to Tacloban, Naval (Biliran), Sogod, Liloan, Cabalian (all in Southern Leyte) and even San Jose which was then in Surigao del Norte. They also operated a Guiuan (Eastern Samar)-Tacloban route. I have not confirmed if they operated a Samar or Aklan route before but the names of their ships indicated that. None of their routes seemed to be particularly successful for a long time.

One reason perhaps for this is the type and quality of the ships they were using. Equipped with freighter engines and freighter engine ratings they were not speedy even when new. And so they suffered from the faster competition especially in the longer overnight routes when their ships can’t arrive before breakfast. Aside from that their passenger accommodations are more on the spartan side and cannot compare with or compete with contemporaries. Sometimes, it is also a disadvantage if a ship has no airconditioned accommodations. And early on they were just furnished with foldable cots or tejeras in the local languages.

Later on their routes were unfortunately torpedoed by paradigm changes. With the improvement of the land transport system, slowly the routes to Samar and Tacloban wilted when passengers learned how to use the western Leyte ports and the cheap, unticketed rides offered by the buses from Manila (this practice is extra income or kita-kita by the driver-conductors of the buses and unofficially allowed by the bus companies). The Tacloban route lost heavily to Ormoc port as the ship plus bus/van combination of the latter was cheaper and faster and arrives before breakfast.

The Sogod, Liloan and Cabalian routes also began losing to the ship plus bus/van combination emanating from Hilongos and Bato ports which was cheaper, arrives sooner and was reliable as it is connected to the shipping companies serving those ports. Sogod and Liloan voyages arrive late but the Cabalian route will really test one’s stomach. Again, the lack of engine power and speed of the Maypalad Shipping ships jeopardized them as their ships cannot speed up to compensate for the longer distances of their routes. A ship capable of doing only 11 knots when new in Japan can only be expected to sail at 9 knots here max and on longer routes that simply is not enough.

San Jose in Dinagat island as a destination was a dead duck too as the ship going there would already arrive in the afternoon and that is challenging for the passengers both in patience and in their sustenance. The Cokaliong ship will easily beat them even though the passengers have to transfer in Surigao because at least they can partake of breakfast outside the port gates. Meanwhile, all the Guiuan-Tacloban ships simply lost when the new direct highway from Basey, Samar to Guiuan was finally built and the buses, vans and trucks began rolling.

By the time these challenges of paradigm changes happened it seemed Maypalad Shipping was already weakened financially and they can no longer refleet. They also can’t bring their ships to ports serviced by competition as they were simply outgunned. At this time their ships were already a decade older than competition’s reckoned from the time they arrived here in the Philippines. So, one by one Maypalad Shipping stopped sailing from their routes as they were losing. It seems the last route they were holding was the Cebu-Liloan route and Samar Star was the holder of that route (there they were using the Liloan municipal port). When Maypalad Shipping drydocked the Samar Star they did not field a replacement ship anymore.

After being tied up for five years in Star Marine Shipyard, the fresh coat of paint of Samar Star in 2011 is now peeling off and rust is already beginning to grow in her hull. The tarpaulin covering of the passenger deck is now cracked and the state of her bridge and engine machinery is now questionable at best. As an untended ship built in 1968 she must now be in an advanced graying state. Meanwhile, her fleet mates in Mactan Channel are now disappearing one by one through breaking.

I wish Samar Star will live on but that might just be a wish that cannot be fulfilled.

The MV Lite Ferry 6

The MV Lite Ferry 6 is one of the ferries of Lite Shipping that can be used either as an overnight ferry or as a short-distance ferry (as Lite Ferry route assignments always changes every so often). She can be used for overnight routes since she have bunks aside from seats (which become “cruel” seats on overnight routes since those are made of fiberglass and have no head support and are built for individuals like terminal seats). In some routes, she is also used as a short-distance ferry. There is a route, the Samboan-Dapitan route when she is used as both. Going to Dapitan on a night voyage, she is used as an overnight ferry. On a day trip going back, she is used as a short-distance ferry because they don’t sell tickets for the accommodations that have bunks (but when I sailed with her they allowed me and a few passengers to sleep in the Tourist section; however, the aircon was not on). One cannot predict on a given day where she is because it is the policy of Lite Shipping, together with its legal-fiction sisters companies, the Sun Lines and the Danilo Lines to switch ship route assignments every few months or so. She can be found on the aforementioned Samboan-Dapitan route or she can also be found in the Cebu-Tagbilaran route (another route where she is used both as a short-distance ferry and an overnight ferry) or on the Cebu-Tagbilaran-Larena-Plaridel route, an overnight ferry route because of its distance and many ports of call.

The MV Lite Ferry 6 is a RORO (Roll-on, Roll-Off) ship. She has her bow ramp now closed but she still has a stern ramp for the handling of rolling cargoes. In a refitting a few years ago in Star Marine Shipyard, her bow was converted to a traditional bow (and the ramp closed) and lengthened. On handling cargo, she takes in both rolling and break-bulk cargo, a characteristic of the routes of Lite Shipping and of any other Cebu shipping company (this is not so in other routes of short-distance ferries in the eastern seaboard, in Bicol and MIMAROPA, etc. which only takes in vehicles). The break-bulk cargoes of Lite Ferry 6 are generally handled by forklifts, with one forklift on the wharf and other one on the car/cargo deck, passing the palletized cargo from one to another. In discharging cargo, the process is simply reversed. Amazingly, for easier handling of palletized or break-bulk cargo, the lip of the cargo ramp has to be deleted for the safety of the forklifts (they tend to slip on the slanted tip when rainy or muddy). This however, makes the loading of true rolling cargo more difficult if the wharf is not equipped with a slanting RORO ramp.

Notably, for a ship born 44 years ago in 1972, the Lite Ferry 6 is still a very reliable ship. She was built starting in 1971 by Nakamura Shipbuilding & Engine Works Company in the Matsue shipyard of this shipbuilder and she was completed in January of 1972. She was first named as the MV Hagi and she was given the permanent ID IMO 7225477. In Japan, she measured 48.7 meters in Length Over-all (LOA) with Length Between Perpendiculars (LBP or LPP) of 44.0 meters and she has a Breadth of 13.2 meters. The ship had a Gross Register Tonnage (GRT) of 684 tons and a Deadweight Tonnage (DWT) of 274 tons at birth. She was not a big ship by any means but she is bigger than the basic, short-distance ferry-RORO which only has a length of about 30 meters or so and sometimes even less and which just have one passenger deck.

In 1989, MV Hagi was sold and left Japan to become the MV Martin Perillo as a temporary name. In 1990, she became the MV Salve Juliana of the MBRS Shipping Lines of Romblon. She was the first steel ship of that newly-reformed shipping company and she was also the first RORO of the company. In the Philippines, the ship was fitted with an additional passenger deck to increase passenger capacity. Accommodations of an overnight ferry especially bunks were constructed into her. She was a two-class ferry with an open-air Economy class and an airconditioned Tourist class in a separate, enclosed section in the middle. The ship was provided with a small canteen and dining area at the stern, a characteristic of overnight ferries (short-distance ferries only have kiosks).

The MV Salve Juliana sailed the overnight Manila-Romblon province route which has been already abandoned by the Visayan liner shipping companies. However, as a true native ferry owned by Romblomanons, she also connected the three Romblon islands with calls in San Agustin town in Tablas island, the Romblon capital town in Romblon island and Cajidiocan town in Sibuyan island. She was a good success in this role and route and was prized by the islanders. With the ship, they now have a direct ship again to Manila bringing with it the produce of the province to the national capital. In the return trip, manufactured goods and supplies were brought to the out-of-the-way province. It also gave the Romblomanons a better and more comfortable vessel direct to the national capital region.

The end of the 1990’s and the start of the new millennium was not good for the MBRS Shipping Lines and this ship, however. More ships arrived for MBRS Shipping Lines and that means MV Salve Juliana had to make adjustments in routes like the other ships in the fleet. With the arrival at the same time of the tight competition from the new ferries using Batangas as port of origin, MBRS Lines had to create new and farther routes. So by this time the company was no longer an exclusive Romblon ferry company and they created experimental routes to Calamian islands of Palawan (Coron and Culion), Caticlan, Lipata town of Antique, Ticao island of Masbate, San Isidro town in Northern Samar and even San Carlos City in Negros Occidental. None of the new routes of MBRS Lines lasted though.

With too many competitors dividing a limited market, MBRS Lines realized they had too many ships in their fleet. So in 2002 they sold MV Salve Juliana to Lite Ferries of Cebu (and that was propitious as she is now the only survivor of the entire MBRS fleet). In this shipping company, she became the MV Sr. San Jose de Tagbilaran. Early in Lite Ferries she did routes to Tagbilaran (and Ormoc too) from Cebu. Later, she was withdrawn from the Ormoc route when better and bigger ships were acquired by the company. She was then reassigned to the other newly-created routes of Lite Ferries like what was mentioned before.

I do not know when the MARINA “magic meter” was applied to this ship. Right now she is a slightly shrunk version of what she was in Japan, if her current measurements are to be believed (for sure she is not like timber subjected to kiln drying). From 48.7 meters in length she is just now measured at 44.0 meters even though her bow has been lengthened. And from 13.2 meters breadth she is down to 11.0 meters (for sure the ship did not undergo compression). From 684 GT she is now down to just 618 GT although a passenger deck was added to her. She is declared to be 162 in Net Tonnage (NT) and it seems MARINA, which claims they are “IMO-compliant” is oblivious to an IMO rule which says that any ship’s NT can not be less than 1/3 of its GT.

This ship is equipped with a pair of tough Daihatsu marine engines that develop a total of 2,000 horsepower. Through two propellers, those engines gave her an original top speed of 14 knots. Nowadays, 12 knots is the maximum that can be coaxed from her engines. As a side note, this ship is among the ships with the most sister ships currently sailing Philippine waters. Among them is MV Lite Ferry 1 and MV Lite Ferry 2 of the same company (formerly known as MV Danilo 1 and MV Danilo 2 of Danilo Lines but this shipping company was bought was Lite Ferries), the MV Danica Joy (1) of Aleson Shipping and the MV Maria Helena of Montenegro Shipping Lines. As a show of her MBRS origin, this ship is still bears Manila registry and has the official number MLND000333.

Even though she is in the middle of her fifth decade now, this ship is still going strong. Looking at her sister ships which are even older than her and looking at the record of her owner Lite Ferries which is good in taking care of old ships I still see a long sailing career ahead of her, knock on wood, and hopefully Dick Gordon does not get his way and makes some legislative fiat against old ships, dumbly.

Long live our old ferries!