The Motor Banca Replacement

24487702608_6fca5a7475_h

San Antonio, Basey, Samar motor banca by Mike Baylon of PSSS

Recently, the question of the motor banca replacement again got traction after three motor bancas in the Iloilo-Guimaras route floundered in heavy wind and rain. That incident really caught the national attention and again knee-jerk reactions abounded. But in all the discussions, all agreed that the motor banca is really deficient in safety when the weather is rough. They generally have no problem in clear weather unless the motor conks out or if the propeller is damaged.

One problem of the motor banca is its low freeboard. In rough seas a motor banca can get swamped by high waves leading to flotation problems. Even in clear weather the hull of a banca needs to be drained of water (well, that has to be done on all ships actually be they wooden-hulled, FRP-hulled or steel-hulled for there is always ingress of water somehow in the hull). Maybe a motor banca should also be required to be equipped with many plastic pails so that passengers can help bailing out water when the banca is already being swamped with water (which also puts pressure on the outriggers).

Independently, the outrigger of a motor banca can also be damaged and even break and that could lead to the capsizing of the motor banca. That is a common reason why motor bancas dip on one side and then sink. It is better when a motor banca brings bamboos and twines for emergency outrigger repairs at sea. This is common practice in the long-distance Masbate motor bancas especially in the Cebu route which crosses the entire Visayan Sea.

But, whatever, one problem of the motor banca is when they are caught by another, heavier sea and wind when they turn around an island, a sea they did not anticipate. In that case, luck and good seamanship are the things that a motor banca needs plus the cooperation of a non-panicking passenger body. That is why it is always safer if the passengers are locals. More dangerous to stability are the tourists and the others not used to the sea who have the tendency to panic.

The reaction of MARINA (the Maritime Industry Authority, the local maritime regulatory agency) is to ban the motor banca and they have been banned since 2005 during the reign of Maria Elena Bautista who doesn’t really understand the maritime industry. Was any empirical study done before she released her edict? If that rule was really practical then the motor bancas would have been gone many years ago but the truth is they are still around.

There are barrios within a bay or in a coast that have no roads and thus dependent on the motor or fishing banca for transport of people an goods. And then, there are also small islands and islets that have to be connected to the mainland. We have over a thousand islands and rocks after all (the 7,107 count is actually not true; that was just a concoction by the Americans during their rule here to make it sound romantic).

Maria Elena Bautista said the replacement must be the LCT. Maybe her idea is since a motor banca just needs a boat landing area then the LCT that can theoretically land on the beaches is the solution. But then if in a small banca a 12-passenger load is already big enough to break even that will not do for an LCT. And how many times must be the capital for one to acquire an LCT? Twenty-five times? And with bigger fuel and maintenance requirements? So the LCT is not the practical replace for the “primitive” motor banca.

It is really hard to do away the motor banca and it is actually near impossible to ban them. Even tourism through short tours is dependent on them. The first area where MARINA was successful in driving out the passenger motor banca was in the Batangas City to Sabang/Puerto Galera routes across the sometimes-rough Verde Island Passage.

60177764_2533263736693782_6793006733045268480_n

A Minolo Shipping Lines replacement for the motor banca. Photo from MSL.

MARINA has good ammunition there for Sabang and Puerto Galera are the locations of the resorts and operators should really offer a ride better than a motor banca especially since there are foreign tourists there. And since for the decades they have been running already, it can be argued that they have already earned enough to invest in a craft that is better than the old motor banca.

It is one route where I first learned they have indigenous replacements already but still based on the motor banca design and some look like trimarans because the two other small hulls are used to stabilize the sea craft. Well, in the world of boating abroad, the trimaran is already an accepted design to stabilize the craft better and so actually in Sabang they might not be in the wrong track.

13409930373_25e793a5bc_k

Jaziel by James Gabriel Verallo of PSSS

I also look at some Siquijor indigenous sea crafts especially the Jaziel (and Jaylann) and the Coco Adventurer. The two could be prototypes for practical motor banca replacements. Otherwise, one would have to look at the small motor boat designs like what is used in the Davao to Samal routes and if MARINA’s issue is that they don’t like wooden hulls then a composite hull can be used (well, actually the wooden hulls is also coated now with epoxy resin). A light steel hull  is also viable as wood is not too cheap now in the country anyway. That could even look like the Metro Ferry sea crafts in Mactan Channel.

8149631339_2d19cde9f8_o

Coco Adventurer by Aris Refugio of PSSS

Actually there are existing ships now with an eye on replacing the motor banca. Maybe among them are the Jash Ley East and Eiryl. But the lack of a truly scientific R & D from the government hampers the effort to come up with a practical motor banca replacement. Even MARINA does not have this capacity.

Jash Ley East by Seacat Boats

Jash Ley East by Seacat Boats

Whatever, a design that costs ten times the acquisition cost of a big motor banca will not be the answer even if the government helps in finding the financing for still the same amount will have to be paid over time. MARINA plans to organize the motor banca owners into cooperatives so that there will be more financial muscle. Organize into one the former competitors? Will they just not bicker? And who will take charge of the books?

68511766_553607291864434_6086150442922803200_n

If a big motor banca costs PhP 2 million the replacement should not cost twice of that to be affordable. To me it won’t matter if they are just equipped with surplus truck engines and just have basic equipment in the pilot house. If the replacement is all-new, fabricated in a factory with all the certifications it will not be cheap for sure and of course they will not be able to charge anywhere near the old fares. That is the situation now in the Iloilo-Guimaras route where the temporary replacements are charging double than that the motor bancas they replaced or supplemented. I think that is an untenable situation.

5217191722_71d3bf8043_b

Davao-Samal motor boats by Mike Baylon of PSSS

Price point is the decision point of Pinoys in most cases. The great majority will always go for what is cheap. What is the point of an impressive replacement if the people cannot afford and thus shun it? It is also not practical if the old operators cannot afford it.

37282248_1868005583493275_6877512817344249856_n

Will the motor banca replacement be an import? Photos/Source: Mtcao Pio Duran

Whatever, MARINA should accept that in many places in the country the motor banca is not yet replaceable. As long as fishing bancas still sail, that is the confirmation we are still in the stage of the motor banca.

 

On The Safety of Our Ships and Other Related Matters

index

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.

The Unsinkable Ferry

Me and Angelo Blasutta, owner of Grosstonnage.com, a very good maritime database but now defunct collaborated in finding the IMO Numbers of Philippine ships so their origins can be traced. This difficulty of tracing our ships is brought about by the continued refusal of MARINA (Maritime Industry Authority), the local maritime regulatory agency, to use IMO Numbers which are unique, lifetime identification numbers of the ships (to be fair, the MARINA of Marcos’ time used IMO Numbers). Me and Angelo were able to trace a few dozen ships but most simply eluded our tracing. Many are impossible to trace because they were local-built and did not possess IMO Numbers from the very start. The sad thing is that consisted the majority of our fleet.

One of the ships that eluded me is about an “unsinkable ship” which has Japan origins. Her specifications is near that of ferry Sanyo Maru but international maritime databases say she was broken up (well, that is not an ironclad guarantee because some “broken” ships ended up in other shores). I asked Rey Bobiles, then the nautical engineer of Sta. Clara Shipping Corp., sister company of the owner Penafrancia Shipping Corp. and he laughed and said they also can’t trace the IMO Number of the ship.

In late 2006, the ferry I am talking about can’t sail. She was then known as the Princess of Bicolandia. The ship was hit by a minor engine room fire and her engine control panel was burned and so she was laid up in Mayon Docks in Tabaco, Albay awaiting parts for repairs in the engine room. While in this condition, the strongest typhoon to ever visit Bicol region in recorded history, the Typhoon “Durian” which was better known locally as Typhoon “Reming” came in November of 2006. This super-typhoon had 10-minute sustained center winds of 195kph and gusts of 250kph.

For comparison, Typhoon “Yolanda” which wrecked Eastern Visayas in November 2013 had 10-minute sustained center winds of 200kph and Typhoon “Ruping”, the strongest typhoon to ever hit Cebu City in November 1990 has 10-minute sustained center winds of 190kph. All three generated powerful storm surges and all were deadly to shipping (Typhoon “Reming” was least deadly for shipping because Bicol has good ship shelters including the legendary and historical Sula Channel). Incidentally, all came in the month of November. We in Bicol know the amihan typhoons are the strongest ones.

But the Princess of Bicolandia can’t run and can’t hide. Mayon Docks secured the ships in their shipyard but with the strength and height of the storm surge the Princess of Bicolandia was pulled from her docking place by the storm surge. The people in Mayon Docks never thought they would see her again. After all, so, so many ships with crews and running engines got sunk in lesser typhoons and here is a super-typhoon for the ages and the ship was crewless and powerless (literally). And this is a RORO with no scantling at the bow area and at the stern and so water will easily slosh through her semi-open vehicle deck.

But lo and behold! The next morning, some rescue personnel braving the highway of the next town of Malilipot, Albay saw an unusual scene. There was a RORO ship sitting on a sandbar just off the shore. Not wrecked, not listing, not capsized. And so the news reached the shipyard and they can’t believe it. She was left there for a time and so the Princess of Bicolandia became an unusual “tourist spot”. Most thought the ship was gone, dead and will just be a “sitting monument” that will be chopped later on. That time was a period of indetermination because it happened during the sale and turn-over of Bicolandia Shipping Lines, the previous owner of the Princess of Bicolandia to Sta. Clara Shipping Company and Bicolandia Shipping Lines became the Penafrancia Shipping Company. The sale was lock, stock and barrel.

In May 2010, while in the company of fellow ship spotters of PSSS (Philippine Ship Spotters Society) I was jolted while in Villono Shipyard in Tayud, Cebu. I saw a gray ship and I was electrified (really! I had goose bumps) because I immediately recognized she was the former Princess of Bicolandia which was then known in Bicol as a lost ship. I drew closer, to ask the skeleton crew. No, they said they do not know the name. I told them the name and the origins and the accident. It drew a blank stare. I did not know if they were playing poker with me.

The repairs in Villono Shipyard took over one-and-a-half years. On December 19, 2011 Vincent Paul Sanchez of PSSS espied her pulling out of the shipyard and heading north to Bicol. When he posted the photo I felt proud and ecstatic. Imagine a ship surviving such ordeal and sailing again! The great ships Princess of the Orient and Princess of the Stars did not even manage to survive typhoons of lesser magnitude than Princess of Bicolandia. Maybe the Bicol sili and Bicol Express were her charms. I knew when she reaches Bicol that jaws will drop (later Matnog porters confirmed to me that when they saw the ship they cannot believe their eyes too). Many really thought she was gone already, chopped up and dead. Her new name under Penafrancia Shipping was Don Herculano.

Don Herculano was a ship built in 1970 according to MARINA records. She is supposedly built by Shin Nihon, a shipyard I have difficulty in tracing. I am not sure if that is the same as Nihon Zosen Tekko KK which has records. This ship is a short-distance ferry-RORO with steel hull and ramps in the bow and at the stern (now closed). She has two masts, two funnels (only one before), two passenger decks, a forecastle and a single vehicle deck. Don Herculano has a raked stem and a transom stern.

The ship’s measurements are 46.4 meters length by 12.0 meters beam with a depth of 3.2 meters. Her original gross tonnage was 490 which was probably correct but this was re-declared to 1,029 so she can sail at typhoon signal number 1 (1,000gt ships can sail then at that storm signal but that is useless now since the rule changed; the rule for motor bancas are now the one used for steel-hulled ferries of whatever gross tonnage).

Don Herculano‘s net tonnage is 454 now and up from just 98 (which is probably underdeclared) as Princess of Bicolandia. She packs in 855 passengers all in seating accommodations and she has about 130 lane-meters in RORO capacity. She is powered by twin 1,000hp Daihatsu engines which propelled her to 13.5 knots in her better days.

I was able to interview her Captain when I sailed with her in the Allen-Matnog route. He confirmed to me that when found in the sandbar her engine room was half-flooded. I asked if they were able to order a new engine control panel. “No” was the answer because none was available in the surplus market, there are no more manufacturers and so they simply rigged switches and controls. There was even no oil separator available and so they just do things manually.

In the shipyard, they made repairs to the engines, the hull, the rudder and the propellers which were damaged by the typhoon. That was why she stayed a long time in Villono Shipyard. I moved around the ship. All traces of storm damage were no longer visible and not even in the engine room which I also visited. The Yanmar auxiliary engine was new, they said. The bridge was clean, spic and span.

Today, she mainly sails the Matnog-Allen route. She holds a powerful reputation there as people know the trials she went through and which she survived. “Hindi lulubog” (She will not sink.), that is what some whisper. I do agree.