The Bad Maharlika and Grand Star RORO Ferries Transformed

It was more than two decades ago when I first became acquainted on a regular basis with the Maharlika ships. This fleet consisted of the Maharlika I, Maharlika II, Maharlika III, Maharlika IV, Maharlika V, Maharlika VI and Maharlika VII. I just used their names with the Roman numerals for consistency because at other times they were also known with the Spanish numerals like “Uno”, “Dos”, “Tres” and so on and so forth. The fleet was basically fielded in the Eastern seaboard routes of the country like Lipata to Liloan, San Isidro or Allen to Matnog, other pioneering Bicol routes which they failed to hold (either too early for the day plus they didn’t know the tactic of subsidizing the buses) like Tabaco to Virac and Bulan to Masbate. Later, they tried the Pilar to Aroroy route where it seems they followed the feasibility study made by three renowned international shipping experts, each of have good Ph.Ds but unfortunately does not know local shipping plus they had a blip in their brains (like if a route has only one motor boat how can it then support a ROPAX?). And so,unfortunately. their data is shot full of holes and so it became a GIGO (Garbage In, Garbage Out).

Maharlika I

Maharlika I by Edison Sy of PSSS.

They also tried routes outside of the Eastern seaboard like Lucena to Marinduque, Batangas to Calapan and Roxas to Caticlan in support of the buses of their sister companies, the storied Philtranco which was fast becoming a shell of its former self and JAM. The Marinduque route did not last long and fortunately for them the two other routes mentioned lasted even though their buses didn’t last long in Panay island (they recently came back after the dominant bus Dimple Star was permanently suspended because of accidents). Maharlika, for brevity, is a long story of failing ships and failing routes. On the other hand, they have a boisterous and humbug CEO who is so full of himself (well, I won’t be surprised if he is a graduate of the Trump School). Like that resident of the White House, Christopher Pastrana also scored a coup with his later FastCat ships. Who said a bad thing can’t be turned in to a good thing?

When I was sailing with the Maharlika ships, I feel a letdown but this was very well-tempered because I am a grad of the even worse ships of Viva Shipping Lines of Batangas and its two legal-fiction companies. That was more palpable in the Maharlika I and Maharlika II which were fielded brand-news just fifteen years earlier (1982 and 1984) and yet were already worn down and beginning to break down (initially, a fault by the government). I did not know it yet then that Archipelago Philippine Ferries was just chartering those two ferries which were the pride of the government in the past. There is a claim that when the ships were already turning a profit the government one-sidedly changed the terms of the agreement. Whatever, it seems Archipelago Philippine Ferries, Pastrana’s company was just milking the ships out of its last value without care for the future life of the ships and the government was letting them. And to think that in the late 1990s there are even shut-outs (vessels can no longer be accommodated aboard) especially in the Liloan-Lipata route. In the main, Maharlika II was in this route and Maharlika I was in the San Isidro or Allen to Matnog route as they have been from the start.

Maharlika II in Liloan port

Maharlika II by Mike Baylon of PSSS.

After the sister ships Maharlika I and Maharlika II, Archipelago Philippine Ferries and its legal-fiction sister companies like Oro Star and Philharbor Ferries acquired two sister ships from Aki Kisen of Japan in 2000, just after the take-over of the of the first two ships, the Maharlika III and Maharlika IV which had the look of a double-ended ferry. They acquired these to bolster their operations as two ferries is not enough for their routes. The two were built in 1987 and 1993 and so in age they were younger than the first ships but just in the same decade of acquisition they are beginning to look worn down too and beginning to be unreliable. Sometimes there are cases when a ship will not sail for months and there was story of one of these newer Maharlika ships not capable of sailing being ordered towed out by the Port Manager of Liloan by a passing tug because it is clogging up his docking space (I saw that non-running ferry). Have anyone heard of ship’s ramp falling while the ship is sailing? There is a story of that in the Lipata-Liloan route and elsewhere but not necessarily running.

So in the 2000s, the period where I was frequently traveling using the Eastern seaboard route, I was wondering where Maharlika was headed. It seemed it was all a grand name (Maharlika is supposedly a legendary name with our national highway named likewise for that and there was even a Marcos plan to rename our country to “Maharlika” until some historians pointed out that “Maharlika” is of Hindu origin) but no substance or trait to support it. This was also the time when Maharlika was trying new routes which mostly bombed out.

Dapdap port

Grand Star RORO 1 and Maharlika Tres in their Dapdap port by Mike Baylon of PSSS.

Next came to them in 2002 the Maharlika V and almost all failed to after having parts of her former substructure cropped out. She first came to a related company in the Allen-Matnog route as the Christ The King when that route had a surplus of bottoms with many shipping companies competing. Her next reincarnation was as the Mindoro Express but she also did not last long in her namesake island and so she plied a route to Puerto Princesa, Palawan. It was there where she took an excursion in a shallow portion of the sea when it seems she had a fire and possibly she capsized in the fire-fighting effort. A ship owner who is a PSSS (Philippine Ship Spotters Society) member shot a photo of her in Keppel shipyard in Batangas. When posted to PSSS, an eagle-eyed member thought that if the superstructure of Mindoro Express is cropped then she will look like the Maharlika V. In her permanent route of Liloan-Lipata, nobody knew what happened to her in Puerto Princesa. But even with this background, Maharlika V proved to be reliable for almost a decade. Until she became sickly too and spent two years in a shipyard in General Santos City not being repaired.

In 2003 and 2004, two old ferries from Norway built in the early 1970s came for Archipelago Philippine Ferries which became the Maharlika Seiz and Maharlika Siete. The two have very robust Wichman and Normo engines which are easy to maintain as told to me by a Norwegian ship spotter which happened to inquire to me where and in what condition they are now. Moreover, Scandinavian ships should have very strong hulls, their pride. These ex-Norwegian ships ran well for some time although the first to come, Maharlika Seiz proved to be very slow because of its small engine. They did not last that long, however, not because of the engines but because of the variable-pitch propellers, a common feature in European ships. This kind of propeller makes the engine last longer because of less stress but when that kind of propeller becomes defective it is supposedly a nightmare to repair.

Maharlika Cuatro

Maharlika Cuatro by Mike Baylon of PSSS.

When Phil-Nippon Kyoei, a new shipping company, gave up operations early this decade, Philippine Archipelago Ferries snapped up two of three ships for sale, the Grand Star RORO 1 and the Grand Star RORO 3 which also resembled double-ended ferries. The two were basically fielded in the Allen-Matnog route but the two were never renamed. In a short time though, like the Maharlika ferries the Grand Star RORO ferries looked worn out too. I can’t fathom why for a company having a sister company that deals in paints (CAPP) can’t have enough paint to have the ferries looking good. Well, maybe, that was the Pastrana standard then, the Pastrana way of doing things. And when Pastrana got his first FastCat, he told the spiel that he dreamed of good ferries serving Philippine waters after seeing bad ferries all around. But, the storyteller that he was, Pastrana does not have the gumption to say he was looking at his own ferries.

Liloan ships

Maharlika Cinco and Maharlika Seiz in Liloan Ferry Terminal. From ppavis.com.

When the first FastCat came, some of his ferries are no longer running especially Maharlika I which was just sidelined. They tried to sell that but of course, the government being the owner calls the shots. The sale of this ship to the breakers made the sister ship Maharlika II a better ship and it was in a long time that I saw her in good paint, and faster. It is possible after all some parts were first transferred to the sister. However, as her wont, Maharlika II stalled off Panaon island and the crew failed to start even one engine (well, Maharlika is also used to running on one engine). It is a big question why Maharlika IV which was just nearby did not come to her rescue for several hours until the seas turned rough with the coming of the night (as if they didn’t know this will happen). A story from a former employee says that if Maharlika IV sails and rescues her more questions will be unearthed. It is just so bad for the passengers of Maharlika II, some of who died in Surigao Strait, a busy shipping lane but there is no Coast Guard rescue ship (it has to borrow ferries on the route to effect a rescue) because most of their better ships as just used as port guards and serve as offices and suites of their commanders in the big cities and ports.

The sinking paved way for the fast disposal of the Maharlika and Grand Star RORO ships. Selling them fast will lessen the questions on their shipworthiness and the stoppage of their use will make people forget easy a tragedy happened and anyway they got suspended too. What remained running before the FastCats came in big numbers are the Grand Star RORO ships and so they only got sold later. That was important for them in the Matnog-Allen route when they were not immediately able to secure a berth where their peculiar docking ramp will be placed. Actually for a time they had no running ships in many routes as the early phase-out of their ships were forced unto them. But maybe that played into their hands as people who don’t normally sail fail to get the connection of Maharlika and FastCat.

Uknown

Maharlika Siete by John Carlos Cabanillas of PSSS.

The Maharlika Cuatro and Maharlika Cinco (their naming then) was sold a “neighbor” in Leyte, the Gabisan Shipping Lines. The Maharlika Cinco was retained by the company and this became the Gloria V and the Maharlika Cuatro was sold to Regina Shipping Lines (RSL) of Catanduanes. Meanwhile, the Maharlika Tres was sold to Atienza Inter-island Ferries of Manila but later they also sold this to Regina Shipping Lines. Maharlika Seiz and Maharlika Siete were sold to breakers in Navotas but the custom there is to “display” the ships first in the hope that someone will buy it whole. And it did not help them that world metal prices were low in the past half-decade. Later, the Grand Star RORO 1 and Grand Star RORO 3 were also sold to Regina Shipping Lines. So, in total of the ships not lost or sold to the breakers only one, the Maharlika V is not in the possession of Regina Shipping Lines which then thereby sold their basic, short-distance ferry-ROROs. Traffic in Catanduanes is on the big upsurge after all.

Maharlika Tres became the Regina Calixta VIII, Maharlika IV became the Regina Calixta VII, the Grand Star RORO 1 became the Regina Calixta VI, the Regina Calixta III became the Regina Calixta IX and later as the second Regina Calixta IV after the former holder of that name, which was the former Grand Star RORO 2 was sold to Dinagat to become the Cab-ilan of Waters-up MPC. Six of the ships of Regina Shipping Lines were former ferries of Christopher Pastrana who treated them badly and just covered it up in media by being noisy and boastful.

Grand Star RORO 3

Grand Star RORO 3 by Joe Cardenas III of PSSS.

And how are these ferries faring under the care of Gov. Joseph Cua of Catanduanes, the owner of Regina Shipping Lines? Very, very well as Albayanos and Catanduganons know. The superstructures changed now (no, they are not taller) and the paint is good. The interiors changed a lot too. Central to the changed motif is to make the journey as experience although it will only last four hours or less, the usual transit time between Tabaco, Albay and San Andres (the former Calolbon), Catanduanes, a route where Regina Shipping Lines (RSL)has no direct competitor (their competitor holds another competing route, that to Virac, the capital of Catanduanes). Regina Shipping Lines is a pioneer on the route. The ships have an airconditioned sections now that is modeled after a KTV lounge where before these ships under Pastrana have no airconditioned sections. And of course everything is spic and span after a long remodeling in Mayon Docks in Tabaco under the supervision of an SNAME naval architect who happens to be a PSSS member.

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Regina Calixta VIII, the former Maharlika Tres by Dominic San Juan of PSSS.

The engines were refurbished too and all are very reliable now aside from running even better than their design speed. And to think these are ferries built in the 1980s (five) and 1990s (one). Maybe the top guns of MARINA, the maritime regulatory body should first do an educational tour of the RSL ferries before they deliberate on the proposal to cull the 35-year old ferries. Maybe they can learn a thing or two there. They should also take note too that no steel-hulled ferry ever sank in the route to Catanduanes.

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Aircon accommodation of Regina Calixta VI, the former Gtand Star RORO 1. Photo by Dominic San Juan of PSSS.

I was not really surprised by all these happenings to the former bad ferries of Pastrana. Gov. Cua operated very good RSL buses from Catanduanes and Tabaco to Manila. Like the premium bus companies of Bicol they invested in good seats and refurbished their buses before it becomes worn out and are no longer looking good. And that has paid off in passenger loyalty and good words and respect to them. RSL (this is how they are called in Bicol) did these refurbishing even though they have no direct competitor and they are always full that at times their ship has to sail back again as there are a good number of shut-outs. That just shows how they care and greed is not their paramount norm in running their shipping business.

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Regina Calixta VII, the former Maharlika Cuatro. Photo by Dominic San Juan of PSSS.

Meanwhile, the only old bad Pastrana ferry not in RSL hands had also be refurbished and re-engined by Gabisan Shipping and is also reliable now except for some hiccups at the start. It looks like the hull might still be okay after re-plating given her stint beneath the waves and the long lay-over in Gensan (well, weakened hull plates can be replaced). The story said from the shipyard there she had difficulty reaching Liloan municipal port where first works was done on her. Now, the ship has a Tourist Class too with decent accommodations. She had had more visits to the shipyards maybe because further repairs might have been needed given the sorry state when Gabisan Shipping first acquired her. Anyway, I give enough credit to Gabisan Shipping for saving her. I thought before she no longer had a chance given her history and condition. Now I wish MARINA can give her more life.

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Regina Calixta VIII (ex-Maharlika Tres) Tourist. Photo by Dominic San Juan of PSSS.

Meanwhile, for the veterans of the Eastern seaboard, they all know Christopher Pastrana has long been in the Hall of Shame but maybe he is now trying to change that with his FastCats. Well, it is easy when one is given new ships and one looks always good at the start when handed new ships. It is credit to him for his innovate catamaran-RORO design whoever is his benefactor may be but the banks deserve the credit too for opening its purses. His challenge now is how to pay for all of those ships. If he fails it will be the banks which will be holding the empty bag.

Philtranco Always Tried Horizontal Integration

Horizontal integration is the setting up or the acquisition of a company at the same level of the value chain and that is meant to help the company compete. It can be a competitive strategy where economies of scale, more efficiency and increase of market power are the objectives. Companies engage in horizontal integration to benefit from possible synergies. But sometimes the resolution of a problem or a bottleneck prods a company into horizontal integration.

Philtranco Service Enterprises, Inc. (PSEI), the leading bus company in the Philippines then tried this strategy over a generation ago. From running a big fleet of buses from Manila to the southern part of the Philippines up to Davao City, they established their own RORO companies in the San Bernardino Strait crossing that linked Sorsogon and Samar. However, the results were certainly very mixed, to say the least, and controversial.

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The Cardinal Ferry 1. Research by Gorio Belen of PSSS in the National Library.

Since 1979, Philtranco buses (they were still known as Pantranco South then) have been rolling across already to Eastern Visayas via the San Bernardino Strait using the newly-fielded RORO Cardinal Ferry 1 of Cardinal Shipping. Newport Shipping which had ferries and cargo ships from Manila to Samar then followed with their Northern Star and Laoang Bay.

This reaction of Newport Shipping was very understandable as Newport Shipping was not really doing well with their Manila to Samar route and maybe they felt they have to defend their home turf as the owner of Newport Shipping is from Laoang, Northern Samar. They might have also felt that this new intermodal route might kill them in the long term and so they have to join the fun.

"Maharllika 1" Ferry unloading Bus

MV Northern Samar. Formerly the MV Northern Star before she was refitted. Photo by Lindsay Bridge of PSSS.

Before the ROROs arrived it was the motor boats of Bicolandia Shipping Lines (this company has legal-fiction companies like E. Tabinas) which dominated the route across San Bernardino Strait. But with the buses now rolling the passengers no longer have to cut their bus trip to Matnog and they do not take a local bus to Allen, Northern Samar to take the lancha (motor boat). Convenience is what the intermodal system offered. Cargo of the passengers that was once a hassle became less with the bus for it afforded less handling and haggling.

Immediately, there was a surplus of bottoms in San Bernardino Strait as the government-owned Maharlika II (later replaced by Maharlika I whom it replaced earlier) was also plying the official Matnog to San Isidro, N. Samar route. Moreover, the passengers to Eastern Visayas did not immediately shift to the buses especially the passengers to Leyte. They were still content with the liners of Sulpicio Lines and William Lines which had calls in Calbayog, Catbalogan, Tacloban and other ports in Leyte and Southern Leyte. In terms of comfort the bus is actually inferior to the liners which has its own toilets and baths, are equipped with bunks with mattresses and even linen (called “beddings”) plus the meals are free and the rice servings are generous. However, they only call in ports unlike buses which roll through the various towns.

Maharlika I

The Maharlika I. Photo from Edison Sy of PSSS.

In the aftermath of that surplus of bottoms, Cardinal Shipping and Newport Shipping teetered especially when Eugenia Tabinas got into the RORO act starting when she was able to acquire the Northern Star in 1981 which she then renamed into the Northern Samar. Eugenia Tabinas was in a strong position as she dominated the intra-Bicol routes with her motor boats and so she can compete in one of her routes at just break-even.

However, with many buses crossing San Bernardino Strait, Philtranco thought they could save money if they operated their own ROROs where they will always have priority. And so they also got caught in the RORO act (they were still strong then and they have just re-fleeted into Hino) and they thereby acquired the Laoang Bay of Newport Shipping which was renamed into the Black Double. In 1984, this became the Philtranco Ferry 1 of Philtranco Services.

1984 0915 MV Philtranco Ferry I

The Philtranco Ferry I. Research of Gorio Belen of PSSS in the National Library.

It is here that things began to get interesting and lively. Eugenia Tabinas or Bicolandia Shipping smelled that Philtranco was operating without a Certificate of Public Conveyance (CPC) and complained to MARINA, the Maritime Industry Authority which is the country’s maritime regulatory agency and which has quasi-judicial powers. Philtranco countered that since they were only loading their own buses then there is no need for them to get a CPC. Now, if MARINA agrees with that then Philtranco will be the only sea carrier without a CPC and that has great implications.

Along the way, Black Double got unreliable as she was built in 1962 and diesel engines were not yet as reliable (with changes in design and technology that changed in the mid-1960s especially when Daihatsu marine engines became dominant). She was sold to Badjao Navigation and she became the Badjao and she plied a route from Cebu island to Leyte.

While the case was pending (as it reached the higher courts as MARINA quasi-judicial decisions can be appealed in the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court), Philtranco acquired the salvaged Mindoro Express from Prince Valiant Navigation which then became the Christ The Saviour and Christ The King. The RORO became the Luzvimin Primo because she was now under the Luzvimin Ferry Services, the new ferry company of Philtranco.

Mindoro Express ( now Maharlika Cinco )

The Mindoro Express just before she became the Christ The King and Luzvimin Primo . Photo by Edison Sy of PSSS.

In due time (which means a long time), the Supreme Court sustained the ruling of MARINA that a shipping company cannot carry passengers without a CPC and the ferry service of Philtranco stopped. By that time Philtranco was already toppling and it was fast losing its Hino buses.

Philtranco then fell into the hands of transportation mogul Pepito Alvarez who then equipped Philtranco with his new MAN and Nissan buses. Soon, he was able to reach a deal with the administration of President Fidel V. Ramos to operate the already-weak Maharlika ferries which in that time consisted only of Maharlika I and Maharlika II (this one was not in San Bernardino Strait but in Surigao Strait).

After settling in, Pepito Alvarez added the Maharlika Tres, Maharlika Cuatro and Lakbayan Uno (this was later sold to Millennium Shipping). And then the Luzvimin Primo became the Maharlika Cinco. Later, the Maharlika Seiz and Maharlika Siete were also also added to be followed by the Grand Star RORO 1 and Grand Star RORO 3 which came from Phil-Nippon Kyoei. This time Philtranco was already careful about the CPC. In these moves, Pepito Alvarez worked through his protégé Cristopher Pastrana.

Liloan ships

Maharlika Cinco and Maharlika Seiz. Photo from the PPA.

The horizontal integration of Philtranco was not necessarily beneficial for the passengers unless maybe in its early years when the dominant Bicolandia Shipping Lines engaged in what is locally-known as “alas-puno” system of departures when a ferry will only leave if it was already full of rolling cargo (and that was the cause of their downfall later). With that system, the buses and its passengers lose time and it could be in the hours.

But when ROROs bloomed in San Bernardino Strait, horizontal integration became a negative because Philtranco buses have to wait for the ferries (Maharlika ferries were not so reliable and it tried many routes in the country including in Catanduanes, Masbate, Marinduque, Batangas and Panay and so its presence in San Bernardino Strait and Surigao Strait was actually diluted and trips were few) as Philtranco buses have no freedom to sail in competing ferries.

I was once a passenger aboard a Philtranco bus from Davao. Our driver was driving fast so we can board the morning RORO of Maharlika in their Dapdap port (owned by sister company Philharbor). We arrived at 8:30am only to see the ferry has just left. There was only one Maharlika RORO then there and we waited for its return. Finally, we left Dapdap port at 1:30pm and everybody was so pissed up including the drivers as we saw several ferries leaving the competing BALWHARTECO port ahead of us. If our Philtranco bus had freedom, we would have been aboard the first of those that left BALWHARTECO port and saved several hours of waiting time.

Dapdap port

Grand Star RORO I and Maharlika Tres in Dapdap port. Photo by Mike Baylon of PSSS.

The Philtranco driver/conductors also didn’t like that they have no freedom to load the buses in competing ROROs. The reason is they can’t avail of the “rebates” offered by the competing shipping companies. This comes in the form of free ferry tickets that can be sold by the driver/conductors to their passengers. Even if only half the tickets are free that can come up to an average of P1,500 for the driver/conductors in additional income.

When Archipelago Philippine Ferries, the name of the shipping company established by Pepito Alvarez) weakened and they just had a limited number of ROROs running, Philtranco finally allowed its buses to ride the competing ferries as passengers began to shun them. However, when the FastCat ROROs came for Archipelago Philippine Ferries, the Philtranco buses were no longer allowed that again. There was also the experiment where the Philtranco buses were no longer boarded aboard the FastCat ROROs and only the passengers and their cargo were loaded. In that system, a Philtranco bus will be waiting at the opposite port.

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Philtranco buses that disembarked from a FastCat. Photo by Mike Baylon of PSSS.

Now, Philtranco’s fleet is whittled and it is already far from its number in the 1980s after they re-fleeted from Leyland to Hino. And the tables turned already. It is so-many FastCats that needs them now and not the other way around.

Now, did you know that founder A.L. Ammen tried horizontal integration too?

The MV Eugene Elson

The MV Eugene Elson of Penafrancia Shipping Corporation of Bicol is one of the oldest ROPAXes (Roll-On, Roll-Off Passenger ship) still sailing in Philippine waters but she is still very reliable and well-appreciated. As a 1965-built ROPAX from Japan she has the looks and lines of the small ROPAX of that era which means she is a little chubby in looks and not that angular like the MV Melrivic Seven of Aznar Shipping which was also built in 1965. However, those looks do not detract from her primary purpose and mission which is to ferry passengers and rolling cargo (i.e. vehicles) safely and reliably.

Eugene Elson 1

Photo by Dominic San Juan of PSSS

This ship’s usual route is Tabaco, Albay to Virac, the capital and main port of the small island-province of Catanduanes. Tabaco City is the gateway to the province and the size of MV Eugene Elson is just right for that route as there are almost no ferries that is 50 meters in length there (except when there rotations due to drydocking). And also there are no 30-meter ferries in that route out of respect for the waves in the sea between the two provinces and besides single-engine ferries are not liked there, for safety and maneuvering reasons. So the MV Eugene Elson with its two engines and screws fits the bill well there too.

The MV Eugene Elson is a RORO ferry built by Hashihama Zosen of namesake city Hashihama in Japan where their yard is located. As said earlier, she was built in 1965 but her IMO Number is already 6601517 (in those days the first two digits of the IMO Number indicate the year the ship was built but that is not the case anymore nowadays). She was completed in December of 1965 and completion date is the date when the ship is already equipped and ready to sail. Her external measurements are 41.7 meters in Length Over-all (LOA), a Registered Length (RL) of 38.5 meters and a Length Between Perpendiculars (LPP) of 37.5 meters. The ferry’s Breadth is 14.6 meters locally although in Japan it was only 12.5 meters (the first one might be the more accurate one). Her Depth is 3.0 meters. As a whole she is not a big ship and a ship that is only a little larger than a basic, short-distance ferry-RORO (by the Philippines Ship Spotters Society definition) which in general is only 30 meters or so in length and sometimes even shorter.

In Japan, her Gross Tonnage (GT) was 526 (tons is no longer affixed in GT) but locally it was only 488. Her declared Net Tonnage (NT) which is the usable space of the ship for passengers and cargo is 118 which is rather suspiciously low. The ship’s Deadweight Tonnage (DWT) is 138 tons and she has a passenger capacity of 484 persons, all in sitting accommodations. The MV Eugene Elson is actually the smallest ferry in the fleet of the Penafrancia Shipping Corporation (PSC) which was the successor company to the defunct Bicolandia Shipping Lines which used to own her. However small, this ferry still has two passenger decks with an airconditioned Mabuhay Class.

Eugene Elson bridge

Photo by Dominic San Juan of PSSS

The ship’s hull material is steel. She has one mast, two funnels and two RORO (Roll-on, Roll-off) ramps for ingress and egress of vehicles but the bow ramp is also the one used by the passengers for the same purpose as ferries in Bicol do not have separate passenger ramps (the stern ramp of this ship seems to have been welded shut already). The bow ramp of this ship is extended to better cope with low tide conditions. This ferry has a raked stem (which was what was usual in the era) and a transom stern (which is still what is common nowadays).

The MV Eugene Elson is powered by two Daihatsu marine engines with a total output of 1,100 horsepower. This is sufficient to propel her at 11.5 knots when new but nowadays she just chugs along at about 10 knots, the reason she takes four hours for her route which is less than 40 nautical miles. That is not a shame as most ferries in the route have about the same sailing time although some are faster than her.

Our group, the Philippine Ship Spotters Society (PSSS) is familiar with this ship as once the group has already toured her when she was drydocked in Nagasaka Shipyard in Tayud, Cebu and the master then, Captain Jun Benavides was gracious and hospitable enough to let us roam his ship and use her as a ship spotting platform (yes, passengers can reach the roof of this ship which is also the Bridge deck). Of course, he had also shared plenty of stories to us. We whiled our time there savoring the cooling breeze of the late afternoon until it was time to go for daylight was soon dimming.

Eugene Elson

Photo by James Gabriel Verallo of PSSS

This ship, when newly-built was first named as the MV Shimotsui Maru of the Kansai Kisen K.K. of Japan In 1976, under the same name, she was transferred to Kansai Kyuko Ferry K.K. Then in 1984, before her 20th year (the time Japan begins replacing its old ferries), this ferry came to the Philippines as the MV San Agustin of May-Nilad Shipping, a Manila ferry company that was always short in routes. Later, she became the MV Eugenia of Esteban Lul.

After a short time, this ship was transferred to Eugenia Tabinas of E. Tabinas Enterprises under the same name MV Eugenia. I just wonder about the relationship of Eugenia Tabinas and Esteban Lul. E. Tabinas Enterprises and Bicolandia Shipping Lines which are synonymous and the same is headquartered in Tabaco, Albay. These dual companies took over the ships and operations of the pioneering Trans-Bicol Shipping Lines which was then just operating wooden motor boats or MBs then which otherwise were called as lancha in the region.

During its heyday, E. Tabinas Enterprises/Bicolandia Shipping Lines was the dominant Bicol shipping company and had routes from all the relevant Bicol gateways, i.e. Tabaco, Matnog and Bulan (which are both in the province of Sorsogon and Masbate. However, in 1999 a new shipping company with deeper pockets appeared in the critical Matnog-Allen, Samar route. This is the Sta. Clara Shipping Corporation (SCSC) which challenged the claimed “pioneer” status of Eugenia Tabinas’ shipping companies. “Pioneer status” supposedly confers exclusivity to a route.

Eugenia Tabinas and Sta. Clara Shipping Corporation fought initially from MARINA (Maritime Industry Authority), the Philippines’ regulatory agency in shipping and then all the way to the Supreme Court. When Eugenia Tabinas finally lost she offered a lock, stock and barrel sell-out to her enemy which was accepted and so she forever bowed out of shipping. This was the reason why MV Eugenia was transferred not to Sta. Clara Shipping Corporation but to the Penafrancia Shipping Corporation which was created specifically for the take-over of E. Tabinas Enterprises and Bicolandia Shipping Lines. This take-over and hand-off happened in 2006 and from then on the twin companies Sta. Clara Shipping Corporation and Penafrancia Shipping Corporation were already the dominant shipping companies in Bicol (and until now).

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MV Eugene Elson in older livery in Virac port. Photo by Edsel Benavides

Under Penafrancia Shipping Corporation, all the former ferries of Eugenia Tabinas were renamed (except for the sunk MV Northern Samar) and so the MV Eugenia became the MV Eugene Elson. In the fleet of Sta. Clara Shipping Corporation and Penafrancia Shipping Corporation which has combined operations, she is the smallest in terms of Gross Tonnage and Length. But she is not the smallest ever ROPAX to operate in Bicol as there were and are a few that are even smaller than her.

As mentioned before, the Tabaco-Virac route along Lagonoy Gulf is her main route now, a route known for rough seas during the amihan (northeast monsoon) season as that route is exposed to the open sea. But even  though small, she proved capable for that route although once a bus lain to her side even though lashed from the top when a rogue wave hit her in the bow. In the said route she would leave Tabaco port at daybreak and arrive in Virac at mid-morning. She would then depart Virac port after lunch and arrive in Tabaco at about 5pm and lay over in Tabaco port for the night. It is the buses’ schedules that dictate such departure times and buses and its passengers are the priority loads of the MV Eugene Elson like the other ROPAXes based in Tabaco. Nowadays, she always leave full as so many buses and trucks already cross to Catanduanes from the Bicol peninsula.

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Over-the-top lashing is de rigueur in the Catanduanes route

All in all, the MV Eugene Elson had a successful career and it seems she is destined for many more years of sailing (well, unless MARINA loses its mind and cull old ships as that has been their threat for many years already). Barring that scenario, I hope she still sails and sails and sails. And keep the record as the oldest sailing ferry  in Bicol.

On The Safety of Our Ships and Other Related Matters

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Photo from MARINA

Another MARINA (Maritime Industry Authority, the Philippines regulatory body on shipping) administration has passed, that of Marcial Quirico Amaro III which to think was a rarity because he was a true mariner (can we call his predecessor Maximo A. Mejia a mariner too because he was a graduate of Annapolis and he taught at the World Maritime University in Sweden?). When a mariner is appointed Administrator of MARINA the hopes of the mariners goes high because for a long time they have seen their sector ruled by lawyers (well, if they look at the regional heads of MARINA they will find out there are more lawyers there). The maritime field is actually a rarity since the professionals of the trade don’t rule their roost. In the field of Medicine the head of the field are not lawyers but are doctors, of course. That is also true for other fields where professionals of their trade are the heads like in Engineering, Pharmacy, Nursing, Education, Accountancy, etc. But not in the maritime field. It seems there is an assumption that the development and regulation of the field are best left to lawyers who probably don’t know anything about running a ship? Of course, they will promote our mariners as “heroes” after conquering the maritime sector. But I know enough of the field to know that mariners, in the main, seethe against MARINA, for various reasons, and that is not a bull.

Me, however, shudder when a new administration is about to take place in MARINA because I have noticed all these years that when a new Administrator takes seat the first word that will come out of his mouth is “Safety”, as if that is what the field needs most, as if that is the key word that will develop the sector (no, that is not). And with that will come the threat to the lives of our old ships especially the old ferries. Threats of phase-out will soon then follow, as usual. And again the owners will resist, for reason. That is the usual rigmarole for every MARINA administration that will come in. And I would heave a sigh of relief when our old ferries continue sailing despite the threat to sink them. A new administration will again come this April (2008) and I wonder if the script will be the same again or if it will different this time. And for the first time, the new head of MARINA will be a retired general, and a 4-star one at that, someone used to barking orders and be followed (what are generals for anyway?).

I wonder if any MARINA administration ever did a serious, scholarly study by those who really know the field on what the sector needs. It seems to me that all these years a new Administrator will simply stamp his own agenda and understanding no matter how faulty that is (anybody remember Maria Elena Bautista, another lawyer who was threatened with a shipping boycott by all the shipping organizations, the reason she was booted out?). Actually, I know of no serious study about our maritime sector and a blueprint coming out of that especially one that has the universal support of all the players in the industry from the owners to the shipyards down to the mariners. And even with that MARINA thinks they know best what is good for the industry. Scientific, eh?

As I understand it, the function of MARINA is not only regulation of the maritime sector but also the development of it and the latter might even be the more important. Can regulation be defined by just one word which is “Safety” as Administrators are wont to do? Definitely not. Can the word “Safety” be the key word in the development of the industry? Well, development is a multi-faceted thing. I know MARINA has consultations with the likes of the shipping owners and organizations and also the shipyard owners but I also know that consistent or meaningful government support is seldom discussed in those consultations. Hanjin, the foreign shipbuilder in Subic will have all the support including cheap electricity subsidized by the government. But that is one that will never be offered to local shipbuilders. There is now, however, a loan window for acquiring new ships. But a lot of shipping owners are hesitant in acquiring new ships because of the high acquisition cost. It might be a loan but it must still be fully paid for with interest to boot. They will always think that three or four surplus ships are better than a brand-new one no matter what the promoters of new ships will say about the savings in fuel, the supposed better safety, the issue of less pollution, etc.

What muddles the discussion is the presumption that old ships are not safe. The ship owners countered in one consultation when they had their lawyers, “Is there a study that proves that age is the factor for the sinking of the ships?” MARINA was not able to answer that. I know they have no such study. I also know they have no database on ship losses so how can they honestly answer it? A presumption is not always the truth. It needs to be proven.

But the public in our country has long been cooked in the wrong belief that old ships are not safe. They compare it to an old truck or bus that can lose its brakes and crash or collide. But that is not the mechanism in the sea. There are no brakes and even if a ship loses propulsion it is still the equivalent of a barge and barges can sail even for long distances as it still has flotation (which determines it will still float) and stability (which determines it will not capsize).

There will a threat to a ship that loses propulsion (or steering) if the sea is rough like if there is a storm. But now with all the changes in the rules for sailing when there is a storm all our ships are treated like a motor banca and so the old prohibition for their sailing in winds over 45 kilometers per hour is now applied on all our ships including our big liners like the SuperFerry vessels. Well, the Coast Guard even has the right to cancel trips in a particular area if they think the sea is rough which means the swell is already a half-a-foot high. And for good measure to further frighten everybody if there is a storm the weather agency PAGASA which is better called Walang Pagasa will forecast waves of one to four meters when they actually mean waves of only one to four feet max. Ask fishermen and coastal people if there are really waves as high as four meters and they will say they have not seen one in their lives. Now just compare it to the storm surge of six meters in Typhoon “Yolanda” and one can see that forecast of four meters is foolishness. If true, four meters can still completely inundate a small city or a town and we don’t hear such things.

So, if at the slightest rising of the swells and the winds our ships are already forbidden from sailing (when foreign ships in our waters still continue to sail) then how can the our old ships be unsafe when they are not sailing anyway? Of course they can still sink if the typhoon passes over them like what happened in Typhoon “Nina” last December 2016. Worst case of that probably is when Typhoon “Ruping” passed over Cebu in 1990 and a lot of ships went belly up. In non-sailing ships the typhoon won’t ask about the age of the ship. It can capsize, new or not.

When the country became alarmist and began suspending trips because of PAGASA forecasts that cannot be parsed for a specific area (and that means suspension even when the sun is shining) our ship safety record actually improved and I can prove that with my own database of ship hull losses. There will no more be Princess of the Stars, Princess of the Orient, Dona Marilyn incidents, etc. Actually, the new generation of ship passengers will no longer have the experience of sailing with a ship in a storm. That experience will just be the domain of the middle-aged and the oldies.

The country is too skittish now about ship accidents when in other countries that is considered part and parcel of sailing. If one reads maritime news abroad one can easily glean that there are ship accidents daily around the world and many of those are even relatively new ships of less than fifteen years of age. One reason probably is they sail in almost any kind of weather unlike here. There are collisions too (that does not happen here at least in the recent decades). Fire, too (but again that did not happen here in the recent decades). Yes, our ships though old are the safe, empirically. That is why abroad they stress SOLAS (Safety of Life at Sea). Here, many ships do not care so much about that but it does not matter much anyway. If there is a collision or fire the crew will probably just dive into the sea and swim for after all there will be near islands or fishermen (which is always first in the scene of an accident). It could be possibly bad news, however, if it is a ferry as their crew is now dominated by apprentices who paid to get aboard rather than the other way around. And so I would not be surprised if they save their hide first. Ditto for the true ship crew which are poorly paid. But for sure there will be heroes and the conscientious too. There will always be such kind of people and they will always have my respect and admiration.

Actually, many of our ships will not pass a serious ship inspection like what is done abroad. It is not only the factor of age. We are simply that lax and ship owners don’t budget well in many cases. The letterings might say “Safety First” but it is actually “Safety Second” or “Sadety Also”. We have that “Bahala Na” attitude which is the equivalent in Spanish of “Que Sera, Sera” (Whatever will be, will be) which is a certain kind of fatalism. But whatever, if we pro rata it our safety is not worse compared to other countries especially when the 45kph suspension rule was already in effect (it was even effective when it was still 60kph). We only got a bad repute because of “Dona Paz” which was affirmed by the capsizing of the “Princess of the Stars”. But that won’t be repeated anymore as we don’t have Sulpicio Lines any longer.

Now, back to the more serious thing, I wonder what a 4-star general will hold for our maritime sector. Will he plug the board “leakages” which has been there for eons already? Will he listen to the mariners (or will he even recruit mariners in MARINA or will he be just another Faeldon who will pack in the bureau with his own people?). Can he get the respect of the ship and shipyard owners and will he have answers to their questions and concerns? Or will he be just another overlord of the sector and worse another one spouting the mantra, “Safety…safety…safety…safety….” like a Tibetan monk.

Recent Developments in Bicol Passenger Shipping

A Backgrounder

A few years ago, Montenegro Shipping Lines Inc. (MSLI) of Batangas entered the Matnog-San Isidro route using the government-owned San Isidro Ferry Terminal in San Isidro, Samar. Before that the company already plied before the Masbate City-Lucena route but got suspended when their MV Maria Carmela burned just before reaching Lucena and there were protests in Masbate backed up by their politicians. But aside from that route, Montenegro Shipping Lines had a route from Masbate City to Pilar using basic, short-distance ferry-ROROs and hybrid LCTs (Pilar port can’t accommodate anything bigger because of its shallowness) and fastcrafts. In that route they were able to outlast the fastcrafts of Lobrigo Lines and the route became their staple and stronghold after they were driven out of the Batangas-Calapan route because the SuperCats there were simply superior than them.

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San Isidro Ferry Terminal

They then entered the Matnog-San Isidro route across San Bernardino Strait using the government-owned San Isidro Ferry Terminal. I knew it was a creeping move on their part and entry to the San Isidro route is easy since no ferry is using that route ever since Archipelago Philippine Ferries and Philharbor Ferries and Port Services left that port when they built their own port in Dapdap which is much nearer to Matnog than San Isidro. I knew MARINA, the maritime authority will easily grant a franchise since there is no ferry using that terminal and the 50-kilometer restriction has already been lifted by MARINA per Pres. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s instruction. Before, on parallel routes no franchise will be issued if the competing port is less than 50 kilometers away (but it seems that did not apply to the likes of western Leyte ports and the ports of near Dumaguete).

I was not worried for Bicol ferry companies as long as Montenegro Lines is in San Isidro because that route carries a significant penalty in distance as BALWHARTECO port which is being used by the Bicol ferry companies is just 11 nautical miles in distance while the San Isidro port is 15 nautical miles in distance from Matnog Ferry Terminal. I knew Montenegro Lines had to give near parity in rates if they want patronage. And they will have to field a faster ferry which they did and they suffered the fuel penalty. It was obvious that in using San Isidro Ferry Terminal that they are handicapped in competing with the Bicol ferry companies (Sta. Clara Shipping Corporation, Penafrancia Shipping Corporation, 168 Shipping Lines and Regina Shipping Lines).

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Dapdap port

But then it happened that the Archipelago/Philharbor operation which operated the Maharlika and Grand Star RORO ferries was tottering they opened up Dapdap port for Montenegro Lines. And that is where I began to worry for the Bicol ferry companies as Montenegro Lines is a big shipping company (they even tout they have the most number of ferries which is actually true) and if transfer pricing was used by the big oil companies and by the bus group Vallacar Transportation Inc. locally then they can engage in price wars and the smaller Bicol ferry companies will suffer. With the move to Dapdap port and with the lessening of Archipelago and Philharbor ferries it is as if those twin companies are giving Montenegro Lines free business. Dapdap port is a little farther than BALWHARTECO port which the Bicol ferry companies are using but the difference in distance is minimal at about 11 nautical miles to 11.5 to 12 nautical miles. Of course, the shipping companies have their regular and locked patrons but there are a lot of non-committed vehicles especially the private vehicles (as differentiated from company vehicles) which pay the full, published rates unlike the regular and locked patrons.

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Jubasan port

A little later when the Sta. Clara Shipping Corporation (SCSC) built its own port in Jubasan, also in Allen, for their and their sister company Penafrancia Shipping Corporation’s use, BALWHARTECO then opened its gates to Montenegro Lines and so the company finally had access to the most advantageous port in Samar (this port is in direct line to the vehicles from Catarman and Rawis). It seems the creeping strategy of Montenegro was finally working. In shipping it is not necessary that a company will get the most advantageous port or route at the start. With patience and resources, better arrangements and opportunities soon open.

Developments and the Current Situation

I was watching what will be the fate of the Bicol ferry companies especially since the long bond and partnership between BALWHARTECO and Sta. Clara Shipping Corporation, the biggest Bicol ferry company was broken with the building of the Jubasan port against the wishes and objection of the owners of BALWHARTECO (this episode almost reached the courts since the owner tried to stop the construction as he was the Mayor of Allen where the ports are located and bitterness was really high). Well, none sank, most even grew and that was a surprise for me.

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Denica ferries in Masbate port

In Masbate, Denica Lines, which was basically only in motor bancas and cargo motor boats before fought back magnificently with the acquisition of the MV Odyssey to be followed by the MV Marina Empress which were just poor discards of other shipping companies. Both suffered engine troubles at the start and Denica Lines had to spend money for the two. Then this year Denica Lines was able to purchase a third basic, short-distance ferry-RORO, the MV Regina Calixta II of Regina Shipping Lines of Catanduanes which was already buying bigger ferries. The MV Regina Calixta II is unrenamed as of this moment as changing names is actually not peanuts with regards to MARINA.

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Denica fastcrafts refitting in Pilar port

And last year Denica Lines got two rundown fastcrafts which they are slowly refitting right in Pilar port. So right now or soon, it seems Denica Lines is already ready to slug it out with Montenegro Lines toe-to-toe in the Masbate City-Pilar route. Meanwhile, Sta. Clara Shipping Corporation and twin company Penafrancia Shipping Corporation is doing roaring business in the parallel Masbate City-Pio Duran route especially since Medallion Transport was driven away from that route after their MV Lady of Carmel sank. The truck loading in that route is so good that Sta. Clara Shipping Corporation bought the LCT Ongpin, lengthened it and fielded it in the route as the LCT Aldain Dowey. And that is aside from two 60-meter ROPAXes they maintain in the route. So if the ferries of Denica Lines and Sta. Clara Shipping Corporation in the route from Masbate City to the Bicol mainland is totaled then Montenegro Lines is outmatched already except in the High Speed Crafts segment which competes with the big motor bancas of different companies.

In the Matnog-Samar routes, the Bicol ferry companies are more than holding its own although both has not grown except in frequency. If there was growth it was taken by Archipelago Ferries Corporation which fielded a brand-new FastCat in the Matnog-San Isidro route which is also doing good business. But in terms of net, Archipelago Ferries is not ahead as the business they gained with the fielding of FastCat might not be greater than the business they lost with the disposal of the Maharlika and Grand Star RORO ferries (and they are paying docking fees in San Isidro Ferry Terminal while their own Dapdap port is unused). In my comparisons, I still consider Archipelago and Philharbor as Bicol ferries since they started as such although with the good FastCats now they are trying to erase their connection to the lousy Maharlika and Grand Star RORO ferries because obviously they are ashamed of their record there.

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FastCat in San Isidro Ferry Terminal

And Montenegro Lines did not gain either in the Matnog-Allen route as the Bicol ferry companies was able to hold their own relative to them. If there was growth it was taken by the subsidiary of 2GO, the SulitFerry which operates a brand-new ROPAX LCT, the LCT Poseidon 26 and another one or two Cargo RORO LCTs depending on the season. Finally, 2GO discovered what was eating up their container shipping and passenger liner business and decided to compete (“if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em”). Lacking enough resources, they started conservatively by just chartering new LCTs from Concrete Solutions Incorporated (CSI), owner of the Poseidon LCTs, whose fleet seems to be ever growing.

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The Poseidon 26 of Concrete Solutions and SulitFerry

In the routes to Catanduanes, there was obvious growth and changes. Initially, the most striking perhaps is the appearance of the two High Speed Crafts (although technically one is already a Medium Speed Craft) of the Cardinal Shipping Lines Incorporated, the MV Silangan Express 1 and the MV Silangan Express 3. I had my doubts early on about the viability of the two but it turned out they were doing okay. One reason maybe is their reasonable fares which is just about one will expect from a Tourist accommodation in a regular ferry and not double the Economy fare like what is charged in other parts of the country. The two HSCs of Cardinal Shipping also run in the hours not served by the regular ROPAX whose schedules are dictated by the arrivals of the buses (which means a morning departure from Tabaco and a noon departure from Catanduanes).

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The Regina Calixta VII (ex-Maharlika Cuatro). Photo by Dominic San Juan

One Catanduanes ferry company and a native of Catanduanes which made a great stride recently was Regina Shipping Lines or RSL. This company has already disposed their basic, short-distance ferry-ROROs and instead bought bigger ferries. Part of their new acquisitions were the former MV Maharlika Tres, acquired from Atienza Shipping Lines and the former MV Maharlika Cuatro from Gabisan Shipping Lines. The two double-ended ferries became the MV Regina Calixta VI and and MV Regina Calixta VII in their fleet. The company was also able to acquire the former MV Grand Star RORO 3 which became the MV Regina Calixta VIII in their fleet. Rounding off the fleet is the MV Regina Calixta V which they acquired from China.

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The Regina Calixta VIII (ex-Grand Star RORO III)

The former ferries from Archipelago Ferries and Philharbor Ferries are no longer the sad ferries of Christopher Pastrana, the boastful. All feature Tourist accommodations now (there was none before) with a disco motif and sounds where good videos are played during the trip and all feature good, brand-new seats in Tourist (Regina Shipping Lines was in buses before and they know these things). Even the engines were refitted that the former MV Maharlika Tres is already running faster than her design speed (the maximum speed when new). The owner of Regina Shipping Lines simply opened his checkbook unlike Christopher Pastrana (who opened the checkbook of DBP instead) and the Mayon Docks of Tabaco City forthwith did the make-overs of the former lousy Archipelago and Philharbor ferries derided in the eastern seaboard. Now those ferries are already the favorites by the passengers.

There was also another change in the Masbate ferries. This was when Asian Marine Transport Corporation (AMTC) sold their MV Super Shuttle Ferry 19, a double-ended ferry that was off-and-on doing the Bogo-Cawayan route. She was bought by the D. Olmilla Shipping Corporation, refitted also in Mayon Docks and she became the MV Cawayan Ferry 1. She still plies the same route and schedule.

Meanwhile, Sta. Clara Shipping Corporation was able to acquire last summer two former Tamataka Maru ships from Japan, the MV Tamataka Maru No. 85 and the MV Tamataka Maru No. 87 in a buy one, take one deal and the two ferries were refitted in Nagasaka Shipyard in Tayud, Cebu (Sta. Clara Shipping Corporation is a stockholder in the said yard). The MV Tamataka Maru No.85 is now running the new route of Sta. Clara Shipping Corporation, the Liloan-Lipata route across Surigao Strait, an expansion route outside Bicol acquired by the company some two or three years ago. The ship is now renamed as the MV Adrian Jude and she is meant to compete with the MV SWM Stella del Mar of the Southwest Premier Ferries, a new operator in that route using a brand-new ferry similar to and the sister ship of the new vessels of Starlite Ferries of Batangas.

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The Adrian Jude. Photo by Capt. John Andrew R. Lape

The former MV Tamataka Maru No.87 is also ready now, she is already in Bicol and waiting but unrenamed yet according to the last information I received a day ago. She is meant to ply the new route of Sta. Clara Shipping Corporation from Masbate to Cebu, another new expansion route of the company but the exact route is still being applied for. Sta. Clara Shipping Corporation is one Bicol company aside from Denica Lines which has shown aggressive growth in the past years.

Meanwhile, it seems Montenegro Lines has lost its aggressiveness. Their fleet size in Bicol is practically the same although they rotate ships especially in the Matnog-Samar route (except for the MV Reina Emperatriz there and the MV Maria Angela in Masbate). Their only addition in Bicol is their new catamaran MV City of Angeles, a High Speed Craft in the Masbate-Pilar route.

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The City of Angeles

I was trying to analyze the lack of zest and the lack of pep of Montenegro Lines in the recent years especially in the context of Bicol shipping. It seems that when their “patron saint” went out of power and was made an enforced guest, Montenegro Lines’ drive faltered. It also seems that the blessings usually going to Montenegro Lines already went to another shipping company and so Montenegro Lines had to scrounge for additional ferries whereas before, they were buying ferries as if the supply of it won’t last (now it is the new favorite which is precisely doing that). Now, i don’t really know how come their blessings went away.

I do not know. Things can always change and it seems Montenegro Lines is no longer that great a threat to the Bicol ferry companies which showed spunk in the recent years except for 168 Shipping Lines, the owner of the local Star Ferry ships which seems to be languishing with no ship additions.

One loss, however, is something that cannot be averted and has long been expected. This is the discontinuance of the LCT to Cagraray island from the Albay mainland across the very narrow Sula Channel which has been a ship shelter for centuries now. A new bridge has been built connecting the fabled island which hosts the well-promoted Misibis Resort, the best resort in Albay province.

But as a whole Bicol ferry shipping was on the rise in the recent years and that is surely a good thing for the region.

The Uneven and Controversial Record of Breaking of Passenger Ships in the Philippines

In the recent decades it is only in the 1980’s where I saw a relatively massive ship-breaking of Philippine ferries. Two big factors worked in confluence in that. One, the backbone of Philippine ferries of the postwar years, the former “FS” ships were already breaking down on its own because they were already 40 years old on the average which was already far beyond their estimated design life. Moreover, there was already a shortage of parts and to keep other “FS” ships running some others have to be cannibalized. And these ships were actually badly outgunned already by the newer ferries and as cargo carriers (some were used in that role when they were no longer competitive), they were already overtaken already by the newly-fielded container ships and by cargo ships with fixed schedules like the ships of Sea Transport.

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An example of a former “FS” ship (Credits to Manila Chronicle and Gorio Belen)

The other big factor was the great economic crisis of the 1980’s, the greatest since World War II when there was a contraction of the economy, inflation and the exchange rate were runaway and there was simply no loans available then and interest rates were sky high. Such situation will simply contract the need for ships. This was exacerbated by companies falling by the wayside, bankrupt and shuttered. That even included our auto manufacturing plants. In shipping, a significant percentage of our shipping companies folded and with it went their ships because the remaining shipping companies were just in survival mode and in no mood to take over their ships. That was the second main reason why many of our former “FS” were broken up in the 1980’s. Most of them were scrapped locally specifically in Navotas. The passenger ships of the shipping companies that went belly up in the 1980’s like Compania Maritima also ended up in the breakers and they were not limited to ex-”FS” ships. The 1980’s was really a cruel decade for shipping.

Earlier, in the 1970’s, the former Type “C1” ships were also lost as a class because their engines were no longer good. That also was true of the former Type “N” ships. These ships simply surrendered because they were no longer reliable and parts were hard to come by. And that is one truth in shipping. If a ship is no longer good especially the engines and it cannot be re-engined anymore then it goes to the breakers and no government order to cull is needed for that.

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An example of a former Type “C1” ship (Credits to Phil. Herald and Gorio Belen)

After the 1980’s, ship-breaking followed three main trends. One is the trend set by William, Gothong and Aboitiz (WG&A) and later by its successor Aboitiz Transport System (ATS). WG&A has the penchant to dispose of ship they think are already superfluous. That is actually what happens in mergers and acquisitions (M&A’s). There will always an excess in assets including ships and personnel and the new entity will try to dispose of them to junk “non-performing assets” (NPA’s). That is the reason why still-good liners and overnight ships were disposed to the breakers. There was really no good technical reason to send them there and die.

On the other hand, WG&A and its subsidiary Cebu Ferries Corporation (CFC) had some ships that were nearly ready for the breakers because their engines were already beginning to get unreliable. WG&A tried to sell them as still “good” ships and a few shipping companies got conned buying ROROs with problematic engines and obsolete cruisers. The stinged companies like Sampaguita Shipping had to dispose later these ships.

Our Lady of Banneux (Mis-identified as SF10)

Our Lady of Naju (Mis-identified as OLO Banneux)

Probably the OLO Banneux but Identified as OLO Naju

Sold to raise cash (From http://www.greenshipbreaking.com)

When the two partners in WG&A divested, the Aboitiz family had to dispose of ships to pay them off. This was the reason why Aboitiz Transport System (ATS), the successor company to WG&A had to sell a series of still-good ships, passenger and container, to China breakers early this millennium. In effect, the Gothong and Chiongbian families were paid with cash from scrap metal and their old ships were gone forever.

Aboitiz Transport System also had to sell other ships to the breakers (their liners are too big to be overnight ferries) in order to acquire newer ferries. That was done in the middle of the 2000’s.This is called renewal of the fleet and this is done all the time in other countries. Of course, a company will try to sell their weaker ferries in order to acquire new ones. This pattern also carried over into the successor company of ATS, the shipping company 2GO.

But again the reason to sell was not always based on technical reasons (as in the ship is no longer reliable) but on other considerations. I have observed that the creation of WG&A and its subsequent dissolution created a lot of crooked reasons for selling ships that were not based on the condition of the ship. Some of those were simply connected to cutting of routes and frequencies and the need to come up with cash.

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Sold before its time for crooked reasons (Photo by Vinz Sanchez)

Meanwhile, competitor Negros Navigation Company (NENACO) was hit with illiquidity after their massive expansion fueled by bank loans backfired and they had to seek court protection from garnishment proceedings. However, these resulted in ships being laid up and offered for sale. These ships ended up in the hands of foreign breakers because liners were in excess then (and ATS does not buy ferries from competitors) as budget airlines and intermodal buses cut into their revenue..

But the next chopping of ships en masse was even more cruel. This was as a consequence of Sulpicio Lines getting suspended from sailing after the Princess of the Stars capsized in 2008. Stringent conditions were placed by MARINA, the maritime regulatory agency on Sulpicio Lines’ return to passenger operations. Meanwhile, the bulk of their fleet rotted in their Mandaue wharf and in the middle of Mactan Channel. Along with strong public backlash, Sulpicio Lines lost heart and sold off their entire fleet to foreign breakers and a great passenger fleet that took five decades to build was lost in just one stroke. Those who knew shipping knew this great passenger fleet won’t ever be replaced again. Ironically, it is the government bureaucrats regulating them which did not know that.

Princesses laid up

None of these survived the suspension

As a general rule, companies that do not run into trouble do not send ships to the breakers. WG&A (divestment of partners), Negros Navigation (illiquidity) and Sulpicio Lines (suspension) all ran trouble (and MARINA, the maritime regulatory agency tasked with the country’s maritime development was of no help to them whatsoever). Non-liners frequently do not run into trouble and if ever they fold, many of their ships are taken over by other shipping companies (as their ships are easier to sell). That is what happened to the likes of Bicolandia Shipping Lines, San Juan Ferry, Western Samar Shipping Lines, Kinswell Shipping Lines, Shipsafe/Safeship, Mt. Samat Ferry Express, Moreta Shipping Lines, etc. But this did not happen to most of the big fleet of Viva Shipping Lines and its legal-fiction companies, to Sampaguita Shipping and SKT Shipping/Kong San Teo Shipping, both of Zamboanga, Tamula Shipping and many others..

Again, another rule, it is easier taking over a failed small company and small ferries because the sums involved are not astronomic. If it is a big liner company that gets into trouble, it is only the foreign ship-breakers that have the money to buy their ships.

Princess of Negros when she was for sale

A photo when this ship was for sale; ended in the breakers

I just hope our government understands more our ferry companies, their travails and the difficulty of keeping ferry companies afloat. From my observation with government it seems many of them think ferry companies are raking in money. It is not the lure of money which keeps them in shipping but simply their passion for shipping.

Our shipping sector is actually in distress but I still have to hear or read a government pronouncement acknowledging that. They push the shipping companies to modernize in a tone that as if buying ships is just as easy as acquiring buses. But the inescapable truth is our ferries are actually graying now. And so I fear for them, not because they will sink but we all know nothing lasts forever. I wonder if there will be a mass extinction of ferries in the future, say a decade from now like what happened to the “ex-FS” and ex-”C1” ships. If that happens maybe we will more LCTs and maybe surplus ferries from China.

The Leyte-Surigao Crossing Is Heating Up

Just after Super-typhoon “Yolanda” in 2013, long lines of trucks formed in the Surigao Strait crossings connecting Leyte and Mindanao when the relief and reconstruction efforts were in full swing. I thought it was just a temporary phenomenon brought about by the typhoon destruction but the truck queues persisted after that (but the buses were not affected by that in the main because bearing passengers they always have the highest priority in boarding short-distance ROROs). Cargo RORO LCTs requested by the government helped in transporting trucks months after the super-typhoon passed until the situation more or less returned to normal.

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LCT sent by Asian Shipping Corporation to the Typhoon Yolanda relief effort (Photo by ASC)

But further developments showed there was really increased vehicle traffic already in the Liloan-Lipata and Benit-Lipata parallel routes that connect Leyte and Mindanao. So in the recent years the Surigao Strait saw more short-distance ferry-ROROs sailing the north-south direction. These included new players plus a dedicated Cargo RORO LCT plying the route and carrying trucks. With such there is a palpable increase in the sailing frequencies between Leyte and Surigao.

The once-oldest ferries in the route, the Maharlika ferries are now gone after the sinking in 2013 of its Maharlika Dos off the southwest tip of Panaon island when its engines conked out and she was swamped by waves when no help came after she drifted for hours. Archipelago Philippine Ferries, the owners of the Maharlika series then stopped operations until they were able to bring their new catamaran-ROROs which are part of the FastCat series.

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Now these new type of ROPAXes (RORO-Passenger ships) hold different time slots. Even with just a single ferry which is currently the FastCat M7, it can do three round trips in a day with its superior speed (17 knots) and favorable passenger and shipper response. The FastCat is gaining popularity in the route by offering the same rates but employing a brand-new craft with the best passenger service in the short-distance routes together with the legendary 2GO liners. They are practically the horse to beat there now from being derided in the past because of the lousiness of their Maharlika series.

FastCat still uses the Liloan-Lipata route even though Lipata port was damaged by an earthquake in 2016 which forced other ships to use the other port of Surigao City which is Verano port. This is the port that caters before to the passenger ships from Cebu (there are no more liners from Manila) and freighters plus different crafts to Dinagat, Siargao and various small islands off the Surigao mainland.

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Benit port and MSLI ferry

Giving them stiff competition because it enjoys a short route are the ferries of Montenegro Shipping Lines Inc. (MSLI) which uses the Benit port exclusively to sail the Benit-Surigao route. Normally, this shipping company deploys two big short-distance ferry-ROROs in the route and these are usually the sister ships Maria Felisa and Maria Vanessa. The Benit-Surigao route is only a little over a third of the Liloan-Lipata route but the MSLI rates are only a little less than Liloan-Lipata rates and so MSLI enjoys greater profitability than competition and I wonder why MARINA allows the shipping company to prey on the passengers and vehicle owners when I thought they are the maritime regulatory agency (and they are regulating what and are they for the shipping owners or for the passengers and shippers?).

A newcomer on the route is the Southwest Premier Ferries which is using a brand-new ferry, the SWM Stella del Mar which is a sister ship of the new vessels of Starlite Ferries of Batangas. This company promised several trips in a day but I wonder how they can live up to that if they don’t have enough rolling cargo as many of the vehicles there are already locked to their competitors (well, they can offer discounting to attract the clientele of competition). Southwest Premier Ferries is just a few months on the route.

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Photo from Scoopnest.com

A Bicol shipping company has also invaded the route, the Sta. Clara Shipping Corp. which rotates some of their bigger ships in the route and sometimes it uses a ferry of its legal-fiction company Penafrancia Shipping Corp. As of the time of this writing they are using the ship King Frederick but with two ferries from Japan being refitted right now in Nagasaka Shipyard in Tayud, Cebu, it is probable that one of the two might be assigned to their Liloan-Surigao route to better handle the challenge of the new ferries in the route.

Another old shipping company still plying the route through Liloan and Surigao is the Millennium Shipping Inc. which uses its old and slow Millennium Uno, a ferry with over half a century of sailing experience. At several times in the past this ferry was thought by observers to be already gone only to rise again like a phoenix and one of the recent episode was when they voluntarily stopped sailing after the hot eyes that came with the sinking of the Maharlika Dos (she has her own deficiencies after all). When the ruckus died down the ship quietly went back to sailing with some cosmetic changes and engine improvements so that from 4 hours plus she can now sail the 38-nautical mile distance in a little over 3.5 hours.

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Added to that mix of ships is a Cargo RORO LCT, the GT Express I of GT Express Shipping which was once connecting Negros and Panay islands through the Banago-Dumangas route. This LCT actually uses the Liloan municipal port which once had overnight ships to Cebu and not the Liloan Ferry Terminal. The two ports are just a kilometer apart in a very small bay. As a Cargo RORO LCT, the GT Express 1 can only take in trucks.

One shipping company that is gone now in the route is Asian Marine Transport Corporation (AMTC) which stopped their sailing when they found themselves lacking ferries because of mechanical failures on their other ferries. It is a loss and a perplexity because they fielded in the route the first decent ferry when all that was available 15 years ago were the lousy Maharlika and Millennium ferries. I don’t think they will come back in the route because they still lack short-distance ferry-ROROs.

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Verano Port of Surigao City

So right now 6 different ROROs ply the routes across Surigao Strait from 5 different shipping companies and total of about a dozen voyages in a day with a capacity for over 200 assorted vehicles each way excluding motorcycles plus a passenger capacity of more than 4,000. Such is the available capacity now on the route which is a far cry from that of a decade ago when shut-outs happen.

One reason from the increased demand in the route is Surigao Strait became a favorite crossing point of vehicles to or from Cebu of vehicles not only from CARAGA Region but also from Southern Mindanao as Northern Mindanao is not a viable entry for the rates there are very high. This is aside from the fact that that strait is the old crossing point of buses and trucks coming from Luzon and going to Mindanao.

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“The Saddle” dominates the view of the Surigao Strait crossings

The competition in the route might be heating up for now with some threatened over-capacity but in a few years, with the growth in traffic being shown by the route then maybe more ships and frequencies will again be needed. Actually there is a report that a new port will be built in San Ricardo east of Benit and it will be connected to the eastern coastal road being built in Panaon island that will bypass the mountain pass called “The Saddle” which gives some trucks problems because of the inexperience now of drivers in mountain passes.

Maybe by then there will also be more routes across Surigao Strait in the future. More is merrier and normally that redounds to the benefit of the passengers and shippers if only MARINA will do its job. Let us see it then.

The Bill Rider To Kill 35-Year Old Ships

Maybe they are golfing buddies but one thing sure is both of them are in the Cabinet of President Rodrigo Duterte. And maybe Secretary Arthur Tugade offered to carry the cudgels (or golf bags) for Secretary Alfonso Cusi for the latter’s new ships cannot win over the competition in a level playing field because it has no definite technical advantage unlike the FastCats which definitely have low fuel consumption relative to their rolling cargo capacity. The new Starlite ferries might be new and are thrifty compared to the old ferries but they still have to amortize their ships whereas their competitors’ ships are already basically paid for already and that really matters a lot.

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A very good ferry that is 35 years old

There was a bill to give President Rodrigo Duterte new Starlite ferries to solve our traffic problems. And it seems a rider was inserted that will cull ferries that are already 35 years old which meant ferries built in 1982 or earlier. There was even a rumor that new ferries will be given exclusive routes. This is what I was saying in another article of mine that there seems to be moves to target and retire old ship via legislative or administrative fiat. It seems that without that kind of assistance the new Starlite ferries or the new SWM ferry would have a hard time competing. Knowing short-distance ferries have fixed schedules and two-hour gaps are in the rules then that just simply negates the advantage of new ferries as passengers, drivers and car owners normally take the next available RORO. And besides they don’t perceive the old ferries have a definitely disadvantage in safety.

The fact is in many routes no steel-hulled ferry has ever sunk and that includes many heavily-traveled routes like the Matnog-Allen/San Isidro route, the routes from Tabaco to Catanduanes, the Pilar-Masbate route, the routes from Bogo to Cawayan, Cataingan and Palompon, the routes connecting Leyte and Bohol, the Roxas-Caticlan route, the routes from Lucena to Marinduque, the Bacolod-Dumangas route, the Iloilo-Bacolod route, the routes from southwest Cebu to southeastern Negros Oriental, the Dumaguete-Siquijor routes, the Dumaguete-Dapitan route, the Ozamis-Mukas route, the routes from Balingoan to Camiguin, the Zamboanga-Basilan routes and many, many other routes too numerous to list. And old ferries basically plied these routes.

In a conference called by MARINA earlier this year (2017), they admitted that they have no study that says old age is the cause of the loss of ships (well, they can’t even if they make a study because actually one big cause of the mishaps is navigational errors and some ships were lost while not sailing like a force majeure caused by a typhoon and accidents in shipyards or while doing afloat ship repair or ASR). Now after a stalemate where MARINA can’t force its way it seems they simply passed the (golf )ball to Secretary Tugade’s club who I suspect can be influenced but does not know shipping. I don’t think he is even aware that culling 35-year old ship will mean cutting up approximately half of our short-distance and overnight ferry-RORO fleets which are very essential in bridging our islands by moving cargo, people and vehicles. These sectors are actually more important than the liners and the container ships as they connect ports that are beyond the reach of their Manila-based counterparts.

If half of our RORO fleet outside the liners and container ship is suddenly discarded there would definitely be a shipping crisis of major proportion. Some shipping firms like George & Peter Lines, VG Shipping, J&N Shipping, Southern Pacific Transport, Denica Lines, JVS Shipping, Aurelio Shipping, CSGA Ferry, Millennium Shipping, Milagrosa J Shipping and the Camiguin ferry companies will suddenly end up defunct for they will lose all their ferries. And some shipping companies will only retain one ferry out of a former fleet. Actually ferry companies in Cebu province will lose more than half of their ferries and there is no need to emphasize the importance and weight of Cebu shipping to the country. The would be like that of 1986 (or even worse) when we severely lacked ferries because so many shipping companies collapsed in the crisis spawned by the Aquino assassination and the former “FS” ships also gave out because of old age (but unlike now the old ships are not expiring yet because of advances in metallurgy and technology and the availability of replacement engines). I thought the current administration is seeking growth. Is killing ships the way to do that? Replacing nearly 200 ferries is never easy. Can anybody guess how much will that cost?

I have always wondered why in our government the decision-makers in transport are the ones who do not ride them. Like in shipping I wonder if Secretary Tugade ever rode a scheduled ferry for I know he is a certified landlubber from Cagayan province. That is also true in buses and jeeps; the decision-makers also don’t ride those. These decision-makers do not really know their fields inside-out and yet they decide its fates and maybe it is only the whispers to their ears that count. I thought when I was still studying that it should be the experts that should decide and not the political hacks. It has been a long time already when our Cabinet was dominated by technocrats or those who really studied their fields. In the US most of the men in Cabinet are there because of political connections. But at least they know when to bring in and to consult the experts. Not here because for a long time already those who feel and act like they are the “experts” are the politicians, the media people and the bishops when actually they practically know nothing and true experts are just used as decoration.

We only have just over 300 ferry-ROROs (there are also a few cruisers and true motor launches but our liners is just over a dozen). So that means we are practically just talking about overnight ferries and short-distance ferries in this issue. Add to that a little over 40 HSCs (High Speed Crafts) too. The others are Moro boats, motor boats and motor bancas which are too numerous to count (they are much more than in numbers than our steel-hulled crafts) and should not be included here (anyway practically none of them are over 35 years old, amazingly). In the ROROs, the LCTs are included.

If 35-year old ferries are to lose licenses the following will have to be sent to the breakers (or be converted into cargo ships if cargo ships over 35 years old will not be culled but the freighter Fortuner breaking into two recently after loading with steel bars will not help their case):

Montenegro Lines/Marina Ferries: Maria Angela, Maria Beatriz, Maria Diana, Maria Erlinda, Maria Gloria, Maria Helena, Maria Isabel, Maria Josefa, Marie Kristina, Maria Matilde, Maria Rebecca, Maria Sofia, Marie Teresa, Maria Xenia, Maria Yasmina, Maria Zenaida, City of Sorsogon, City of Masbate, City of Tabaco, City of Calapan, Maria Timotea, Reina del Rosario, Reina Genoveva, Reina Hosanna, Reina Neptuna and Reina Quelita. A total of 26 ferries and fastcrafts. The four whose names start with “City” are fastcrafts. Hernan Montenegro will cry a bucket of tears and expect Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to fight like hell against the bill in Congress.

Asian Marine Transport Corporation (AMTC): Super Shuttle Ferry 1, Super Shuttle Ferry 2, Super Shuttle Ferry 3, Super Shuttle Ferry 5, Super Shuttle Ferry 6, Super Shuttle Ferry 9, Super Shuttle Ferry 15 and Super Shuttle Ferry 23. A total of 8 ferries.

Trans-Asia Shipping Lines Inc. (TASLI): The new Trans-Asia that is not yet finished, Trans-Asia 2, Trans-Asia 9, Trans-Asia 10 and Asia Philippines. A total of 5 ferries.

Cokaliong Shipping Lines Inc. (CSLI): Filipinas Iligan, Filipinas Butuan, Filipinas Iloilo, Filipinas Maasin, Filipinas Dapitan, Filipinas Dinagat and Filipinas Dumaguete. A total of 7 ferries.

Roble Shipping: Wonderful Stars, Joyful Stars, Theresian Stars, Beautiful Stars and Ormoc Star. A total of 5 ferries. Add to this the Asian Star and Asian Star II which were the former Blessed Star and Sacred Stars sent to Theresian Stars shipping company.

Lite Ferries: Lite Ferry 1, Lite Ferry 2, Lite Ferry 3, Lite Ferry 6, Lite Ferry 7, Lite Ferry 8, Lite Ferry 15, Lite Ferry 20 and Lite Ferry 21. A total of 9 ferries.

Island Shipping: Island RORO I, Super Island Express I, Super Island Express II, Super Island Express III, Island Express II, Island Express III and Island Express V. A total of 7 ferries although I doubt the existence of some now.

Medallion Transport: Lady of Love, Lady of All Nations, Lady of Miraculous Medal, Lady of Sacred Heart, Lady of Charity, Lady of Guadalupe-Cebu and Lady of Angels. A total of 7 ferries and I am not even sure the Lady of Good Voyage will survive.

Aznar Shipping: Melrivic 1, Melrivic Two, Melrivic Three, Melrivic Seven, Melrivic Nine and their fastcrafts.

George & Peter Lines: GP Ferry-2, Zamboanga Ferry and Georich

Gabisan Shipping: Gloria Two, Gloria Three, Gloria V

Jomalia Shipping: Mika Mari, Mika Mari III, Mika Mari V, Mika Mari VI

Maayo Shipping: LCT Giok Chong, LCT Martin, LCT Wilcox

Cuadro Alas Navigation: Santander Express, Santander Express II, Santander Express IV

GL Shipping: GL Express and probably GL Express 2

J&N Shipping: J&N Carrier and J&N Ferry. Ubay will suddenly lose its connection to Cebu.

Southern Pacific Transport: South Pacific and Fiji-II

VG Shipping: VG RORO II and VG 1.

Rose Shipping: Yellow Rose

Maypalad Shipping: Samar Star

Lapu-lapu Shipping: Lapu-lapu Ferry 1

Golden Star: Anluis

Metro Ferry: Princesa (but not Carmen Uno)

PAR Transport: Leonor 3 and probably Leonor 5

R&D: Lady Star (this is laid up)

Orlines Sea-Land Transport: Siquijor Island 1

Sta. Clara Shipping/Penafrancia Shipping: Hansel Jobett, Mac Bryan, Nathan Matthew, Don Benito Ambrosio II, Don Herculano and Eugene Elson. A total of 6 ferries.

Regina Shipping Lines: Regina Calixta IV

168 Shipping: Star Ferry-II

Denica Lines: Marina Express and Odyssey

Province of Camarines Sur: Princess Elaine (a fastcraft)

Kalayaan Shipping: Kalayaan VII

Rolly Fruelda: Elreen 2

Tour-cruise ships of Manila: Pacific Explorer, Eco Explorer, Discovery Palawan, 7017 Islands, Oceana Maria Scuba

Atienza Shipping Lines: April Rose

JVS Shipping: D’ASEAN Journey, D’Sea Journey

Aurelio Shipping: San Carlo Uno

Quincela Shipping: Q-Carrelyn VII

Starlite Shipping: Starlite Annapolis, Starlite Ferry, Starlite Navigator and Starlite Polaris. A total of 5 ferries.

Besta Shipping Lines: Baleno VII

Navios Shipping Lines: Grand Unity and Grand Venture 1

CSGA Ferry: Princess Annavell

Tri-Star Megalink: LCT Tabuelan Navistar

Millennium Shipping: Lakbayan Uno and Millennium Uno

Milagrosa J Shipping: Milagrosa J-3 and Milagrosa J-5

Aleson Shipping: Estrella del Mar, Stephanie Marie, Neveen, Danica Joy, Ciara Joie, Ciara Joie 2. A total of 6 ships.

Ever Lines: Ever Queen of Asia, Ever Queen Emilia, Ever Transport, Ever Sweet, Ever Queen of Pacific. A total of 5 ships.

Magnolia Shipping: Magnolia, Magnolia Grandiflora, Magnolia Fragrance

Evenesser Shipping/Ibnerizam Shipping/Sing Shipping: Bounty Cruiser, Jadestar Legacy, KC Beatrice

Province of Tawi-tawi: Tawi-tawi Pearl 1, LCT Tanah Tawi-tawi

ZDS-ATOM FSA: LCT Mabuhay

Sarangani Transport: Song of Dolly-3

Mae Wess/CW Cole: The Venue, LCT Nicole II Starferry

KSJ Shipping: Fortune Angels

Philstone Shipping: Yuhum, Kalinaw, Royal Princess

Davemyr Shipping: Dona Pepita

Hijos de Juan Corrales: Hijos-1

Daima Shipping: Swallow I and Swallow II

Ocean Fast Ferries: Oceanjet 7

A total of about 187 steel-hulled ferries to be culled including a few fastcrafts. Again, Moro boats (whose number is about 130 plus), motor boats, motor launches (like most of the crafts of Metro Ferry) and passenger-cargo motor bancas, big and small are not included. Anyway almost all of them will survive as the local-built, wooden-hulled crafts are generally below 35 years old in age (few wooden-hulled crafts reach 35 years of age).

In my database about 250 steel-hulled ferries will survive including over a dozen liners and more than 3 dozen HSC plus a sprinkling of Medium Speed Crafts (MSCs) like the two Anika Gayle ships (this count does not include the FastCats). If liners, HSCs and MSCs are not included (but the FastCats are included) so the comparison will be basically ferry-ROROs (that are not liners) then about 180 will be culled and about a little less 200 will survive (very few of the 180 and 200 are cruisers like the Georich and Yellow Rose). So that means killing nearly half of our ROPAXes.

If the plan to cull 35-year old ships is immediately implemented one sure response will the be multiplying of LCTs from China (not the local LCTs as basically those are not people carriers although some can and will be converted and the bulk of them are less than 35 years old). Will they call the transition from ferry-ROROs to passenger-cargo LCTs as “progress”?

If ships that are not ferries will not be culled then many of the ferries that will be culled might be converted into Cargo RORO ships that will not carry passengers like what happened to Trans-Asia 5 (but she is too beautiful as a comparison). People then will have to find alternate means of transport. Maybe the intermodal buses will mushroom. Or probably the Camotes motor boats like the Junmar ships will multiply. Otherwise there is our trusty motor banca to take. But I thought they want to phase that out too including the motor boats? Again, will they call that as “progress”?

I imagine for the remaining ferries, passenger loads of 100% will be a daily common occurrence, peak season or not. Maybe the ticket scalpers will return too to make a living. And it will matter a lot if one knows a crewman of a ship. Or better yet one of the owners. But if I talk of shipping of the 1980’s, will Secretary Tugade understand? I am sure he has no understanding of the shipping difficulties of that period.

Do MARINA and Secretary Tugade think that passengers are that important to the shipping companies? Those in the know knows that is not so and shipping companies can live by cargo and rolling cargo alone and that is the reason why the Cargo RORO LCTs are thriving. If the bill is passed I imagine the likes of Roble Shipping will just be doing cargo and rolling cargo basically plus maybe two ROPAXes to Ormoc and Hilongos, their prized ports and that will also include their freighters and Cargo RORO LCTs. I don’t think Secretary Tugade knows that the bulk of the sailing ships of Roble Shipping is not into passengers (and that includes their freighters). So in the end it will be the passengers that will really suffer. 

I wonder if Secretary Tugade knows some of the ships he wants to cull are actually re-engined now and some do not have any history of trouble and are still very good condition like the sister ships Filipinas Iligan and Filipinas Butuan. In other countries they base renewal of ship papers on technical inspection and not in some kind of arbitrary cut-off in age. As pointed out by the ship owners and PSSS (Philippine Ship Spotters Society), there is no mandatory retirement of ships in other countries and the IMO (International Maritime Organization) has no protocol on that (gusto yata mas magaling pa tayo sa kanila; mahilig din naman ang Philippine bureaucrats sa hambog). For the haters of old ships to say there is such a thing is just a bald lie and they resort to that because they have their own vested interest. Now what they want is a legislative fiat which is clearly anti-competition.

Give exclusive routes to the new ships? To where? To Sabah and Indonesia? Does Secretary Tugade think he can simply dissolve the franchises held by the shipping companies? It seems that Secretary Tugade is also applying into the Impunity Club a.k.a “What Are We In Power For” Club. It can smash a ship owner’s head like a golf ball.

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A very good ship that is over 35 years old (Photo by Jonathan Bordon)

The current dispensation is saying that former Secretaries Roxas and Abaya left a lot of mess in transport. Do they want their own mess too?

Some People With Vested Interest Always Raise the Issue of the Age of Our Ferries

For the past five years or so, I often notice that some people with vested interest in shipping always raise the issue of the age of our ferries imputing that our old ferries are not safe. That include their friends who parrot their line but actually have no knowledge whatsoever of local shipping. One thing they have in common is their lack of objectivity and empirical knowledge of our shipping. They are the type of bashers of our shipping who will pass on lies to “justify” their position. The bad thing is they have access to media which will simply broadcast what they say or worse simply reprints “praise releases”. And the baddest is millions of people who have no knowledge of shipping are fooled by them.

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The Maharlika II which capsized and sank after losing engine power and no help came

MARINA (the regulatory agency Maritime Industry Authority) itself in a very recent consultation with shipping company and shipyard owners admitted they have no study linking maritime accidents to the age of ships. I am not surprised here because I know MARINA has no database of our shipping losses and accidents. I guess even if they study the findings of Board of Marine Inquiry (BMI) proceedings on maritime accidents, they will be hard put to correlate the accidents to the age of ships because the BMI generally proceeds with facts on records and most conclusions point to human or navigation error.

Major accidents that resulted in hull losses, the type that generally provoke ignorant public outcry, generally can be classified into three:

Capsizing/foundering/sinking

Fire and explosion

Beaching/grounding that resulted in complete total loss or CTL

For the last 30 years from 1986 when radar was already generally available and weather forecasting was already better, capsizing/foundering/sinking composed about 45% of the cases of ship losses while fire and explosion composed 40% of the cases and the remaining 15% were due to beaching/grounding that resulted in CTL. In the sample, the motor bancas and small motor boats were excluded but batels and Moro boats are included. But if they are included it can be easily seen that most of them were lost in bad weather and few of them are over 20 years old (wooden-hulled crafts don’t last long anyway) and so it is hard to connect their loss to age.

In capsizing/foundering/sinking, most of them can be connected to the prevalent bad weather or storm. Such cases of losses are also hard to connect to the age of the ship especially since with hull scanners replacing the hammer in testing the hull integrity of the ships few sink now because the ship developed a hole while sailing. Well, capsizing/foundering/sinking is even easier to connect to the hardheadedness of their captains and owners. Their only connection to age is captains and shipping owners are generally old, pun intended.

In fire and explosion, the age of the ships can be suspected to be a factor. But so do simple lack of maintenance and lack of firefighting capabilities. A relatively new ship with poor maintenance will be mechanically old especially if parts are not replaced. An old ship with replacement engines and bridge equipment is mechanically newer like Mabuhay 3 that although built in 1977 was modernized in Singapore when she was lengthened. Understand too that some of the fires happened in the shipyard or while undergoing afloat ship repair (ASR). Fire is a risk while doing hot works like welding in a shipyard and many times this was what caused the fire and not the age of the ship.

In beaching and grounding, this is almost the province of bad weather and bad seamanship and navigation. The only connection to age here is when the navigator used old and obsolete nautical charts, pun intended again. The age of the ship practically has no connection to this unless some machinery broke like in Baleno 168 when the shaft broke free. By the way, the total number of ship losses here I consider as ship losses is over 75 ferries. Not included are other types of ships like freighters, tankers, container ships, barges and tugs.

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The Starlite Atlantic floundered while maneuvering in a strong typhoon

But these people with vested interests and that even includes MARINA would not dwell on the actual causes of ship losses. What they just is just an administrative fiat where ships will be phased out after a certain age (30 or 35 years) irregardless of the actual condition of the ship. They cite “safety”. But what they actually want is to have the whole field for themselves because they are the ones which have new ships. They do not want fair competition. What they want is to simply banish the competition.

For me, because I believe in laissez-faire competition, it should be “Let the market decide”. If they think their ferries are better then let them charge higher or with a premium (as anyway they need to amortize their ships). And see how the market reacts. That is how it is in the deregulated areas for buses. The better buses charge higher, of course, and why not? The market then decides which they want or which they can afford. Like my friend in Naga. When business is good he might take a premium Lazy Boy bus. But when business is slow, he will settle for the very common aircon bus. It should be that way in shipping too. Please no administrative fiats. It is simply not fair. If you want to argue about the age of the ships then put forward a worthy scholarly study that have gone through a panel of knowledgeable shipping persons (and please no landlubber Ph.D’s).

In Youtube, there is a Captain who said most of the accidents are caused by human error. I agree fully (and please invite him to the panel which will check the scholarly study). It is just like in a car, a truck or a bus. It is not the age of the vehicle which will be cause of the collision or it falling in a ditch or running over a pedestrian. It will most likely be human error on the part of the driver (unless there was a mechanical failure which can also be attributed to poor maintenance).

In 2011, I had a friendly discussion with a Japanese ship spotter who is very knowledgeable about Philippine shipping. I was dismissive of these ships having these expensive P&I (Protection and Indemnity) insurance and being classed by classification societies affiliated with IACS (International Association of Classification Societies). I asked him a conondrum to please explain to me why ferries in the eastern seaboard of the country never sank while sailing (that was true before the Maharlika Dos sank in 2014). The ferries there are old, some even have problems with their painting, none have MMSI or INMARSAT, nobody has heard of P&I and IACS and yet they do not sink since steel ferries arrived there in 1979 (a total of 22 years) while the proud SuperFerry lost the SuperFerry 3, SuperFerry 6, SuperFerry 7 and SuperFerry 14 in just a span of a few years. I was needling the guy a little since he was a big SuperFerry fan. He was speechless and can’t provide an answer. So I told him P&I and IACS might look good in Japan but here evidently it does not translate to greater safety, empirically and arguably. So then why are these people with vested insterests pushing for IACS classification when it actually means nothing here? Hell, no ship sank in the Dumaguete-Dapitan route, the Bacolod-Dumangas route, the San Bernardino routes, the routes to Catanduanes, etc. There is no IACS-classificated ships there except for the recently arrived FastCat. There is also no lost ship in Roxas-Caticlan and probably the only IACS-classed ships there are the new Starlite Ferries and FastCat. So that means an IACS classification is not really necessary. If we proceed empirically then higher classification should only be required by route and by shipping company. If a route or a shipping company has no major accident then just require them the usual local classification because it proved it was enough, isn’t it? Then require IACS or even higher classification for the likes of 2GO, Archipelago Philippine Ferries and Starlite Ferries because it had major accidents already in the past. Now isn’t that simple? Why should the curse be suffered by shipping companies which had no major accidents? Is that fair? And the irony is that those who prate safety and which called for the throw-out of old ships are those which had history of sunk ships already.

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Report says she grounded, was declared CTL and broken up (Pic by M. Homma)

The eastern seaboard with more ships than the fleet of Starlite Ferries or Archipelago Ferries only lost two ships until today and one of that was when a ferry was moored during a typhoon and therefore not sailing (the Northern Samar) and the other one was the Maharlika Dos of Archipelago Philippine Ferries. Now the fleet of one of these guys has already lost two, the Starlite Voyager and the Starlite Atlantic when his company started operations just in 1996 as they claimed. Eastern seaboard ferries have been in operation since 1979, much earlier than his. The only eastern shipboard ferry lost while sailing belongs to another loud guy with vested interest and his ship was the Maharlika Dos which sank because it wallowed for many hours without power when his Maharlika Cuatro was just nearby and failed to help until Maharlika Dos sank with loss of lives.

Actually safety and seamanship are not the result of paid certificates. Just like there is no presumption one is a capable and safe driver after getting a driver’s license or a car is safe because it was registered in the Land Transportation Office or a bus is safe because it was registered in the LTFRB. Just like the Supreme Court said in a recent decision a ship is “seaworthy” (because it has seaworthiness certificates) until the moment the hull the develops a hole and sinks. Certificates actually confer nothing in the true world of Philippine shipping.

In Typhoon “Ruping”, the strongest typhoon to visit Cebu in history in 1990 a lot of ships sank, capsized or were beached. The typhoon did not ask the ships their age. Ditto when Typhoon “Yolanda” struck in 2014 with the loss of many ships too all over the country. Typhoons are not selective with regards to age. Unless one will argue the anchor broke because of age.

But these people with vested interest peddle lies that in Japan ships after reaching twenty years of age are retired. That is simply not true. Even the Japanese ship spotter said that. I once thought the 35-year limit proposal was a European Union standard. Not true also. They do it by actual inspection or classification of ships. If the ship has too many violations it is detained until corrections are made. It stops sailing when corrections can no longer be made or it is already too expensive to be economical and when that happens the ship is sold to the breakers or a Third World country. The process there is objective unlike the proposed arbitrary rule here to base it on age.

Passenger ship sinks off Calapan City

The Baleno 168’s propeller shaft broke loose and water rushed inside making her capsize (Photo by Edison Sy)

I just cannot understand these people resorting to lies just to promote their product. I thought in the past these were subject to boycott. The problem with the Philippines is there is no Fact Check like in the USA. Here things are reduced to “batuhan ng lies”. I am just glad in our society, the PSSS (Philippine Ship Spotters Society) that has never been the rule or custom because we always stick to the facts and TO the truth.

And that is the raison d’etre for this article. I do not like liars nor do I like people who wants to pull a fast one or those who try fool people or hood their eyes.

The Wrong Way of Treating Passengers in Intermodal Ports

The intermodal system by container ships has long been hailed as convenient and that is generally true. Goods no longer have to be brought to ports to be unloaded, reloaded, unloaded and again reloaded aboard trucks. This process is true especially in loose cargo. It might be more efficient if the goods are aboard container vans mounted on trailers. But then the trailers would have no other use while laden with container vans and there is no guarantee the container van will not lay still in the ports for days.

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It is different in the intermodal system by buses and trucks in terms of efficiency. When the truck leaves the factory it is already on the go and it will reach the destination faster, in general. And it can already make deliveries along the way especially if it is a wing van truck which opens on the side. So the intermodal system by buses and trucks is superior than the intermodal system by container ships in terms of flexibility and speed.

On the passenger side, the passengers no longer have to hazard a ride to the North Harbor (now called stylistically as “North Port”) and haggle with porters re luggage (and haggle again in the destination). Now they can take the bus to their destination and it need not even be in Cubao, Pasay or other terminals. It can be Alabang, Turbina or somewhere along the way as many buses have designated pick-up points. It is now easy with mobile phones. And the passenger will alight right by their gate or else there is a good connecting ride and it can be a bus, a van or even a jeep. And intermodal bus rides are available daily and in many hours of the day.

Whatever the convenience of the intermodal bus, what I found that what did not change is the boarding and the disembarking process in the intermodal ports. The passengers have to disembark from the bus, queue for many tickets, wait a little in the lounge before boarding, then board the ferry, disembark from the ferry, look for their bus, embark and be on the way again. It will not matter if it is midnight or if it is raining hard. A passenger must follow that routine like cattle being herded (“iyon ang patakaran, e”).

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Now they have to walk in the rain and look for their bus (Matnog port)

Come analyze it. Isn’t that the same as cargo being loaded in North Harbor and being unloaded in a destination port? Yes, people are treated just like cargo. And “dangerous cargo” at that because “people can sabotage” and “all are potential terrorists”. Yes, that is the ISPS (International System of Port Security) which applies like law in our busier ports even if it was not passed by our Congress and we were not asked if we agree to it (well, talk about “representation”). It is just like an imposition by a foreign power.

Well, that onerous procedure in ports against passengers is not surprising for me because the boss in the ports is the PPA (Philippine Ports Authority) and for too, too long they were used to bossing cargo and so they also boss people like cargo.

Can’t not the various tickets queued at the port be remanded to the bus companies so it can be bought and paid for together with the bus ticket? But the problem with the Philippines is we always suspect daya, palusot and rackets. Yes, that is what we are as a people and society. We may really be too crooked a society so we suspect in anything and everything that there are crooks and crookery. As if controls cannot work. It also betrays a lack of trust in the justice (justiis) system that true crooks can be punished and also lack of trust in the bureaucrazy that crookery can be stopped. Immediately.

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Now, because of all those ticket requirements in the port the passengers can’t board with the bus (well, the port authorities will also say “passengers can be hidden”). So it doesn’t matter if it is raining like hell, the bus passengers will have to disembark from the bus and walk scores of meters to the ferry without any shade. It also doesn’t matter if it is midnight and the passengers are too sleepy. It is PPA rules so one has to follow it. Fiats. And that is the PPA concept of “passenger service”. And they won’t mind if it takes you 30 minutes in queue. Or if you are already old and visually-impaired and can’t find your bus after disembarking from the ferry (a common occurrence at night in Matnog port when buses are sent outside the port gates at peak hours because there is not enough back-up area).

Once there was a change in Matnog port. In midnight when raining hard some hustlers will board the bus and solicit service for queuing. That means they will do the queuing. For a P12 PPA terminal fee they will accept P15 or P20 depende na sa buot kan pasahero (depending on the graciousness of the passengers). Practically all passengers wouldn’t mind the difference. Imagine the comfort of just riding the bus up to the car deck or the ramp of the ferry.

Then came the bureaucratic reaction (which always implies lack of understanding). They banned it. They called those hustlers as “fixers”. Many international economic experts understand that “fixers” have a place in the bureaucratic maze. After all, many people don’t want to lose their time or be hassled. It is a willing transaction anyway. The only problem with the Matnog “hustlers”? They lack a law degree. If it were in other cases and the “fixer” is an attorney he will be greeted with far, far more respect and will not be called a “fixer”. But actually the attorney is also “fixing” things. So what is the difference?

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Now came another bureaucratic kneejerk. MARINA questioned buses embarking on ships with its passengers. They say it is “dangerous”. Huh! Not for the drivers? Yes, they will also willingly let you get the “rain treatment” (plus the little mud and water in your shoes). Misplaced concern, I will say.

Aboard the ship MARINA wouldn’t let the passengers stay in the vehicles. The reason? There are no lifejackets in there. Yeah, really. Now, why don’t they require the ferries to have lifejackets in there? They say car deck is just for vehicles. Actually I have been aboard ferries where trucks stay with their trucks especially if it is “Stairs” Class upstairs (that means there are no more seats). I can understand the reluctance of the bus crew to have some passengers stay aboard the bus. Theft is possible and they will be the ones liable. But if it is midnight the drivers sleep with the bus and lucky is the passenger invited aboard for he can lay flat and sleep well unlike upstairs when one has to curl and contort in search of sleep, if that is possible. I have been invited aboard by drivers and I have slept atop the aluminum vans of trucks. It’s nice especially if there is carboard as mattress.

Actually there is also a problem with letting passengers sleep with the bus. If it is an aircon bus and the air-conditioner is running then slowly the car deck will get full of fumes and that will seep upstairs through the stairs. Well, unless ventilation fans are installed or the bow ramp is partially lowered (which is against regulations, too). Unless it is daytime, the ordinary buses can take passengers better. But if it is full and it is daytime and the bow ramp is not partially lowered or if there is no good breeze then the bus will soon be also uncomfortable with heat.

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In daytime and if the route is short there is no problem staying aboard the passenger compartments of the ferry. However, if the transit time is 4-6 hours then not even a TV is enough to while away the time and rest (well, unless one was able to hunt a girl or was hunted if female). Ferry seats are notoriously less comfortable than the bus seats and there is not enough change of scenery to distract the passengers.

Disembarking the passengers are also not allowed to board the buses while on the ship. Well, the car deck will be soon full of fumes if the buses wait for the passengers and sometimes the gap between vehicles is too narrow. But the problem again if it is raining hard and they require the buses to park a distance away from the ferry. It is doubly hard during the night and if there are many buses especially of the same company when the only distinguishing mark is a small number. I have always seen seniors lose their way or board a different bus. It is not unusual if a bus can’t leave for 20 minutes because they have a passenger or two “missing”. Even a veteran like me can make a mistake. I once boarded a bus wrongly. Good I saw the baggage lay-out was different and the driver does not look familiar. So I just asked him where the bus with a particular number is. They usually know.

I just wish the PPA and its guards don’t require the bus to park too far away from the ship and more so when it is raining. And I also hope that near the ramps they have covered areas. That is more important than the lounges that they have. The walks should also be covered. BALWHARTECO, a private port has a covered walk. Why can’t they copy it? Does it mean BALWHARTECO cares more for the passengers than the PPA? They should also bulk up their back-up area to match the traffic. If it means reclamation then they should do it. Is the terminal fee not enough? Or are their funds diverted to construction and maintenance of “ports to nowhere” and other ports that do not have enough revenue? I think the services and facilities of the port should be commensurate to the terminal fee being raked in.

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Covered walk of BALWHARTECO

I just hope that the PPA and MARINA change and look at things from the point of view of the passengers. They are not cargo, they are not cattle.