The Pio Duran Port

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The smallness of Pio Duran town

Pio Duran is a small town and a port in the southern coast of Albay. However, some people spell this as “Pioduran” which is incorrect since the town was named after the Congressman who sponsored the bill creating the town. The town was eventually created after Congressman Pio Duran died.

In the past this place was called “Malacbalac” and it was known for mainly one thing, its abundant fish which was supplied to the rest of Albay towns and even as far as Iriga in Camarines Sur. Before that the place was generally referred to as “Panganiran” and thus the bay where Malacbalac is situated is called Panganiran Bay. There is still a barrio named Panganiran in Pio Duran town.

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Pio Duran port

For decades after the creation of the town, Pio Duran was not an enchanting place to visit because of the really bad state of the road then (it was unpaved and muddy) which was sometimes cut at the peak of the rainy season or when there is a typhoon. In 1984 a new port was built in the town supplanting the old wooden municipal port. This was one of the 12 Bicol ports wangled by then Minister Luis Villafuerte from President Ferdinand Marcos when there was already an arrangement that Villafuerte’s ministry will be absorbed by Roberto Ongpin’s ministry.

The funds for the ports were sourced from JICA (Japan International Cooperation Agency) and these were called “fishports”. But except for Camaligan port, it cannot be compared to the known fishports today like Navotas, Daliao and Sangali because it is just a port and there are no blast-freezing facilities, cold storage and fish processing.

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Pio Duran town and port

After more than 20 years, the old municipal port and “fishport” of Pio Duran were practically gone, weathered by the elements and assaulted by the storm waves generated by the typhoons that pass Bicol and the sometime fierce habagat waves. That is why when President Gloria Arroyo thought of Pio Duran as a RORO port a new, very simple finger port with no back-up area has to be built.

Pio Duran “fishport” is one damning evidence against politicians and bureaucrats who say that when a port is built the ships will come. Usually when the ships try to come many years later the old port is no more. Ports are unlike highways or roads than when built then people and vehicles come. I really don’t know why we have to listen to politicians and bureaucrats who have no knowledge of maritime matters like the former Senator Aquilino Pimentel Jr.

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The old “fishport” of Pio Duran

Even when the new port was built it did not have ships coming immediately. What turned the table in favor of Pio Duran was the bad situation in the nearby port of Pilar in Sorsogon which connects Masbate to the Luzon mainland through ROROs and other kinds of crafts. New players wanted to come in but there were two obstacles. One, the old port of Pilar was only serviceable because the pioneer RORO operator Montenegro Shipping Lines Inc. made improvements.

There were no improvements before because President Arroyo hated the guts of the Congressman then of the place which was Francis Escudero who among other congressmen tried to file an impeachment complaint against her. Now, one can’t do that to a Capampangan without reaping the whirlwind. Pilar port at the start did not even have a RORO ramp and besides the docking area is crowded because it is actually small and there are a lot of passenger-cargo motor bancas and some motor boats.

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Pilar port

The second obstacle was being in a river estuary Pilar port is very shallow and only basic, short-distance ferry-ROROs and LCTs can dock there. In an oncoming low tide, the RORO has to leave early otherwise it might not be able to get out. One competitor of the Montenegro Lines does not even have basic, short-distance ferry-ROROs so Pilar port was automatically out for them.

It was the expanding Medallion Transport which first applied for a Pio Duran-Masbate route. Next followed the dominant shipping line of Bicol, the Sta. Clara Shipping Corp./Penafrancia Shipping Corp. combine which then ditched their unprofitable Bulan-Masbate route (before that they even tried a Pasacao-Masbate route which they abandoned very fast).

The RORO business between the Bicol mainland and Masbate bloomed and many buses and intermodal trucks now cross daily and some are even destined for Cebu through Bogo port. Cebu trader trucks now also cross to the Bicol mainland through Masbate. There are also vehicles destined for CALABARZON and Metro Manila.

There is now an even split between Pio Duran and Pilar in terms of RORO traffic. The Sta. Clara Shipping Corp./Penafrancia Shipping Corp. combine and Medallion Transport operate ferries to Pio Duran while Montenegro Lines operates ROROs and fastcrafts to Pilar and Denica Lines also operates ROROs and motor bancas to Pilar.

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Denica Lines RORO

Recently, I noticed Montenegro Lines got a franchise to Pio Duran. Well, with the construction of a back-up area and a new RORO ramp more vessels can now be accommodated in Pio Duran. Pilar is also improved now and I wonder if the Sta. Clara Shipping Corp./Penafrancia Shipping Corp. combine will “invade” that. Maybe not if the port is not dredged (there had been long calls for this but the government practically have no more dredgers running).

For intermodal buses and trucks coming from Manila and CALABARZON and even Naga, Pio Duran has an advantage in that about 40 kilometers and more than an hour of travel time is shaved. Besides, Pio Duran has no depth problems and so docking and undocking can be done at any time unlike in Pilar.

Pilar meanwhile will always host the motor bancas and the motor boats because those connect local passengers and cargo to Masbate. A passenger or a shipment from Daraga, Legazpi or Tabaco will not use Pio Duran because it will then be a longer route and besides there are no motor bancas or motor boats running from Pio Duran to Masbate. This situation is also true for the fastcrafts where the passengers are mainly local. Meanwhile, Pio Duran will continue to host the few motor boats going to the Claveria town in the eastern half of Burias island.

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Pio Duran main road

Whatever, it can be said that Pio Duran town and port has already triumphed. From a sleepy, remote town with no ROROs and not many buses and trucks, it is now beginning to bustle with activity because it became a connecting port to Masbate and part of the intermodal system of transport and an alternative to Pilar.

Pio Duran port is no longer a port to nowhere. Unlike one near port to the west of them, the Pantao port which is the white elephant of Governor/Congressman Joey Salceda and it is still a port to nowhere until now. If only the funds spent for Pantao port to be a “regional port” were given to Pio Duran and Pilar ports.

Well, that is how politics and development intertwine in the Philippines.

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A Sta. Clara Shipping RORO in Pio Duran port

The MV Nikki (a.k.a. MV Lady of All Nations)

When the deadly-for-shipping decade of the 1980’s ended (technically, it ended only at the end of 1990), we still had a few former FS ships sailing. Maybe it was because we really lacked ships them and getting loans was really difficult and interest rates were very high. Maybe, the penchant of Filipinos to squeeze the last ounce of life from mechanical things was also a factor. We are also sentimental in letting go of things that have served us for so long.

One of the last former FS ships still sailing then was the MV Edward of William Lines. The ship was running the short Manila-Tilik (Lubang Island) and Manila-San Jose (Occidental Mindoro) routes. She is running this route but at times it is another former FS ship, the MV Don Jose I, which is in that route. However, it is the MV Edward which is remembered more in the big town of San Jose. She was actually the last on the route, too. This route is a steel-hulled ferry monopoly at that time by William Lines Inc. after other liner companies withdrew or were gone from shipping. They were also able to block the entry of a new competitor. Beside the steel-hulled ferry there were also wooden motor boats (the batel) plying the route but they concentrated on cargo and do not have very regular schedules (it will depend on how full they were and also on the weather).

In 1992, with the coming of the new administration of President Fidel V. Ramos and his call for shipping modernization, there seems to be a sudden realization by the shipping companies still sailing former FS ships that they finally have to go. There were just a few former FS ships still sailing then and their lives were prolonged by retiring other FS ships and cannibalizing them for parts. Their ranks was also further diminished by the very strong Typhoon “Mike” (Typhoon “Ruping”) that visited Cebu in November 1990 which was very deadly for Cebu shipping.

Instead of acquiring a new ship for the Manila-Tilik and Manila-San Jose routes, William Lines instead decided to withdraw from the route. But, instead of holding on to their residual rights on the route, William Lines instead welcomed and helped a successor in the person of Dr. Segundo Moreno who was previously not in shipping. Dr. Moreno established the shipping company Moreta Shipping Lines and he purchased the MV Ariake Maru No. 6 from Japan. With this changeover, San Jose and Tilik was able to re-establish their regular connection to Manila. This was important as they were dependent on the national capital for manufactured goods and Divisoria and Navotas were the main markets for their agricultural and sea products.

Unlike the former FS ships, MV Ariake Maru No. 6 is a RORO (Roll-on, Roll Off) which means she can load vehicles. Even when used in break-bulk cargo, her main use, a RORO is easier to load and unload and forklifts ease the operation especially in handling heavier cargo. It also means a RORO is less dependent for the services of manual laborers, the porters. MV Ariake Maru No. 6 was actually not bigger than the former FS ship she was replacing but a RORO has a taller cargo deck.

MV Ariake Maru No. 6 has the permanent ID IMO 7632307. She was built by Hayashikane Shipbuilding & Engineering Company in their Nagasaki shipyard in Japan in 1977 for Ariake Ferry. She measured 54.0 meters by 12.8 meters with a Gross Tonnage (GT) of 695, which are all about the same as an FS ship. However, her DWT (Deadweight Tonnage) of 284 tons was way less than the 711 tons of MV Edward, a lengthened FS ship measuring 62.9 meters by 9.8 meters. She was equipped with two Niigata diesel engines with a total of 2,400 horsepower. Her original top speed in Japan was 13.5 knots.

Arriving for Moreta Shipping Lines, she was renamed the MV Nikki and she was converted into an overnight ferry equipped with bunks with a local passenger capacity of 440. She was two-class ship: an airconditioned Tourist with free linen and pillow and a better toilet and bath and an open-air Economy with no free “beddings” (linen). She was considered by her passengers to be more comfortable than the former FS ships she was replacing. As to speed, she was not faster than the former FS ships which only had less than ½ of her engine power at 1,000 horsepower.

Maybe her lack of speed was due to what I heard that she has a spoon hull. That means the design of her hull is similar to a bathtub. Maybe in Japan she was only used for very short-distance routes where the shape of the hull will not matter. Incidentally, this hull is similar to the hull of the barges and LCTs. Assigned to the 120-nautical mile Manila-San Jose route she can’t meet the promised 12-hour sailing time especially when swells are around. Two years after fielding, she settled on a 14-hour sailing time for her route. So sailing at 6pm means a stomach already looking for food once one disembarks.

In Moreta Shipping Lines, the Tilik and San Jose routes destinations were also split into separate routes. However, when the MV Kimelody Cristy arrived for Moreta Shipping Lines in 1994, MV Nikki became a dedicated Tilik (Lubang) ship. There her lack of speed did not matter as Lubang island is just a short distance from Manila. A 10pm departure to that port is already assured of a dawn arrival. 

Moreta Shipping Lines and MV Nikki did good sailing for about a decade or so. But in due time, their Mindoro routes were slowly taken over by the intermodal trucks and buses that was using the short Batangas-Abra de Ilog (Occidental Mindoro) route. As always, the advantage of the intermodal were 24-hour departures and direct delivery to the particular towns or barrios. With such changes, Moreta Lines had to develop other routes and they tried the Panay island routes abandoned by WG&A. But soon, they found out there was nothing much left there and the intermodal was already ascendant there, too.

The staple route of Manila-Tilik by MV Nikki was affected in another way. Slowly, the motor banca to Lubang from Nasugbu in Batangas became a competitor. With a combined bus and banca, daytime trips became possible with direct disembarkation (unlike the RORO which only dock in Tilik port). The syndrome was much like how the motor banca drove out the RORO in Puerto Galera. Tilik port is not located in either town of Lubang or Looc and the local road was not good either.

By the last half of the 2010’s, the ships of Moreta Lines were barely sailing. At times, only one of their three ferries might be sailing. Reading the writing on the wall, they started cargo shipping in 2009. Not long after, they decided to get out of passenger shipping altogether, sold their passenger ships and used the proceeds to acquire more cargo ships. They then became a pure cargo shipping line (this trying to survive as a shipping line was one characteristic missing in their benefactor William Lines Inc. which decided to go down quietly).

MV Nikki came to Medallion Transport in 2012 which was soon followed by the MV Love-1 of Moreta Shipping Lines also. The two ships were used by Medallion Transport to develop new Medallion routes between Cebu and Leyte together with two other ships (always less one because one is used in Masbate). In Medallion Transport, the MV Nikki was renamed to MV Lady of All Nations and she was used to grab traffic from a competitor in the Cebu-Bato route. Medallion Transport was already sailing this route before but they were just shoehorning short-distance ferries in this overnight route (it has also day trip on the reverse). With the fielding of MV Lady of All Nations, Medallion Transport finally had a true overnight ship in this route, their pioneer route to Cebu from their original home port of Bato, Leyte.

MV Lady of All Nations is still the Medallion Transport mainstay in the Cebu-Bato route. The competition is suffering because it is using single-class cruisers (admittedly, they are faster, however). Meanwhile, Medallion Transport retrofitted MV Lady of All Nations to have Cabin class and Deluxe class (which approximates the Suite class). So, she is now a four-class ship. Five, if the Sitting Economy, a Cebu-Leyte and Cebu-Bohol fixture is included. Her fares starts at P245 per person which is very cheap for a 55-nautical mile distance. Actually, the Cebu-Bato route is known for having the cheapest fares between Cebu and Leyte. The Tourist fare of Ormoc will actually be already Cabin class in MV Lady of All Nations.

In her last drydock in 2014, two years after coming to Medallion Transport, the MV Lady of All Nations spent some time in Star Marine Shipyard in the shipyard row of Cebu in Tayud off Cansaga Bay and the one nearest to the Cansaga bridge. I heard included in the works done in her were upgrading in the engines. It seems it showed as after the drydocking, the MV Lady of All Nations became a faster ship.

She does two departures in a day and this means much more revenues for a medium-distance regional ferry. As such, she approximates in the a day a sailing distance from Cebu to the likes of Surigao, Dapitan, Dipolog, Iloilo, Masbate, Calbayog or Catbalogan. At nighttime, she leaves Cebu for Bato arriving there at dawn. She leaves at mid-morning in Bato to arrive in Cebu at mid-afternoon. She is the favorite there since she a bigger and more comfortable ship than her competition.

It seems it will be a long time before the competition will come out with a ship that will displace her in the Cebu-Bato route. Her main competition are actually the slightly better ships to Hilongos, another port north of Bato and on a parallel competing route to Cebu-Bato route. Maybe that was the reason why Cabin and Deluxe were added to her since the ships in Hilongos have Cabins and Suites. However, with slightly lower fares and the advantage of a shorter distance to the Southern Leyte towns, she has competitive advantages of her own. And with the short distance to Leyte her speed is not that much of an issue and being nearer to the farther destination then that cancels out the speed disadvantage (but this is not applicable to a very slow ship of a competitor in the Hilongos route, a cousin of theirs).

Acquiring her seems to be a genius stroke for Medallion Transport. She is a definite asset for the company. What a definite change of fortune by being a castaway in another route that lost (well, that is also true for MV Lady of Love – an advanced preview)!

Photo Credit: James Gabriel Verallo

The Dumaguete-Dapitan RORO Connection – A Connection That Took Too Long in Coming

Dumaguete and Dapitan have been blessed with relatively good ports (by Philippine standards) since decades ago because they have Manila connections. True liners and Manila passenger-cargo ships like the former “FS” ships called on them regularly in the past. But what puzzled me is the short-distance RORO connection between them took too long to materialize. Looking at the map, this is the obvious connection point between Mindanao and Negros (and Cebu by extension through the Negros-Cebu connections) because of the relatively short distance (the second shortest after Leyte-Surigao but that is too far away). Compared to the Sorsogon-Samar, Leyte-Surigao and Batangas-Mindoro short-distance ferry connections, the Dumaguete-Dapitan short-distance RORO connection came many, many years too late.

If there was ever a RORO connection before between the two ports, it was the ROROs of the overnight ferries serving the Cebu-Dumaguete-Dapitan route. However, the peculiarity of the Cebu overnight ferry companies is that they stress break-bulk cargo (like those in sacks and cartons) and loose cargo (those not in containers like pieces of GI sheets or rolls of wire) and not rolling cargo (which means vehicles) or containerized cargo. So these Cebu overnight ferry companies like Trans-Asia Shipping Lines, Cokaliong Shipping Lines or George & Peter Lines, to name a few that called on Dumaguete and Dapitan ports didn’t see the need for short-distance ferry-ROROs loading trucks. Maybe that was the reason they did not acquire that type of ferry. But actually it is that type that was really fit for the Dumaguete-Dapitan route and just shuttling between the two ports like what is the practice now.

The Cebu overnight ferry companies which were established later than the three were the ones which saw the need for short-distance ferry-ROROs. The prime example of that is Lite Ferries which had a passenger-cargo LCT at the start and later acquired ROROs in the 40-meter and 50-meter class for dual short-distance and overnight ferry operations. And maybe that is the reason why Lite Ferries is flying high now because they were able to tap a business and a paradigm overlooked by their overnight ferry competitors. Probably this is the reason too for the fast success of a late entrant, the Medallion Transport which started with basic short-distance ferry-ROROs and doing a lone short-distance route. Later they branched into overnight routes using small ROROs. Now they already have true overnight ferry-ROROs.

In comparison, in the Sorsogon-Samar, Leyte-Surigao and Batangas-Mindoro short-distance ferry connections, the shipping companies there started as short-distance ferry companies. They were then able to specialize in this kind of service and type of market which means they carry vehicles almost exclusively including the intermodal buses. Their passengers are mostly passengers of the buses loaded on them. The intermodal trucks they load especially the wing van trucks are long-distance carriers and those eventually developed into the competitors of container shipping with the support of this short-distance ferry-ROROs which became the “bridges” between the islands.

If these short-distance ferry companies have a near-contemporary that tried in that Dumaguete-Dapitan route it was the obscure shipping company Jones Carrier Inc. But that company did not last long as it had too many diverse routes, its ships were too small and old and maybe they were undercapitalized and not strong enough for the long run needed to establish and hold and a new shipping connection. And most likely the presence of the three overnight ferry companies from Cebu also impacted them. On the other hand, I also wonder why the “locals” Maayo Shipping, DIMC Shipping or Tanjuan Shipping which all have routes to or near Dumaguete did not try that route. Or maybe even the nearby Millennium Shipping which just sold its LCTs to Maayo Shipping rather than compete. At the start of a company or route in those earlier times an LCT is enough like what Lite Shipping did in the Argao-Loon route connecting south Cebu and mid-Bohol. But maybe except for the Millennium Shipping of the Floirendos, maybe it is capitalization and lack of vision that was the problem of these Dumaguete ferry companies.

Looking back, maybe it was overnight shipping company Palacio Lines which could have taken advantage of the opportunity offered by the short-distance RORO shipping in this route. They were not unfamiliar with Dumaguete as they had a ship then going to Dumaguete from Tagbilaran and Cebu but it was a cruiser ferry. They were then using their first ROROs on overnight routes much like what the Cebu overnight ferry companies as in concentrating on breakbulk and loose cargo. Maybe if they only looked north and south of them, they might have gotten the idea that short-distance ferry-RORO service is the wave of the future. After all they were a shipping company from Calbayog City in Samar and a little north of that was the Sorsogon-Samar short-distance ferries and down south to them were the Leyte-Surigao short-distance ferries that were both making good. But then they seemed to have been also be too protective of their route to Oroquieta which is not far from Dapitan.

Actually, if one analyzes, it might not only be the overnight ferry companies which might be at fault in the late RORO connection between Dumaguete and Dapitan. For after all, as a general principle, if there is a demand then a supplier responds. But then maybe the shippers were also not aware that there is a better mode than the one they were used to. Actually, the goods from Mindanao sent over that connection eventually find their way to Cebu, the biggest market after Manila. But for too long I noticed the shippers tend to rely on Zamboanga and Ozamis ports. Of course, the bad roads then in the Zamboanga provinces was a hindrance along with the presence of some banditry. So before, Dapitan might have looked too far and unsafe for those from Zamboanga City. And those from Baganian Peninsula, Pagadian and Panguil Bay were too used, too dependent on Ozamis port, their old port of departure (well, with Ozamis, they have a Manila and Dumaguete connection, too).

It took a push from President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo for the Dumaguete-Dapitan connection to come true and hold. Half of the push needed was actually the cementing of the roads of Zamboanga Peninsula. The roads should have been completed much earlier since AusAid (Australian Agency for International Development) is funding the road construction but that stalled for many years because AusAid only wanted to employ Korean construction companies, for quality reasons. However, the local politicians wanted local contractors (for “percentage” reasons, of course). A compromise was worked out and the roads were finally completed (though the Filipino-built sections were obviously substandard). Moreover, the military took control of the mountain pass near Vitali and security was improved after that. After those, travel at night was already possible and that was key to using Dapitan port especially from Zamboanga City. Soon, Dapitan port no longer look too distant. Passengers, instead of waiting for the ship that was not daily even then were soon taking the bus to Dipolog to connect to Dapitan. The trucks followed suit soon, too.

The shipping companies which pioneered the RORO connection between Dumaguete and Dapitan were actually “foreigners”, which mean they were not natives of the area. The first two in the route were the Asian Marine Transport Corporation (AMTC), a Cebu shipping company and Aleson Shipping Lines, a Zamboanga City shipping company. Later, Montenegro Shipping Lines Inc. (MSLI) also came and they are a shipping company from Batangas. The common characteristic of the three is they have a good understanding of short-distance ferry shipping, an understanding which was clearly lacking in the earlier Cebu overnight ferry companies. And all three have the type of ROROs needed here, the basic, short-distance ferry RORO which the old Cebu overnight ferry companies simply didn’t have.

Today, all these three shipping companies are still in the Dumaguete-Dapitan route and thriving, adding ships and frequencies. Now, Montenegro Lines and Aleson Shipping have even invaded the Siquijor route using ROROs from Dumaguete and so maximizing their ships and personnel stationed there. Meanwhile, DIMC Shipping, Maayo Shipping and Tanjuan Shipping all seem to have steam and two of them are obviously floundering while another, the Maayo Shipping company was selling off excess ships (the coming of a competitor in their route is the primary reason for that). Palacio Shipping is even gone now as in they are already defunct and their ships have been sold already. Well, talk of a wrong bet, lack of vision and maybe even too much conservatism.

Why would the Dapitan-Dumaguete route hold? Actually, there is plenty of cargo emanating from that portion of Mindanao and going to Central Visayas. After all Cebu is the second biggest market after Manila and it has sea connections to many islands for further distribution of goods. One of the biggest and most valuable produce being sent from way back by Zamboanga Peninsula to Cebu is fish, the frozen and the canned varieties. Most of the frozen fish emanate from the many “pulo”. This is what they call there Basilan, the Pangutaran group, Jolo, the Tawi-tawi group and the many other islands off Zamboanga. The Sangali Fishport, the regional fishport is also located in Zamboanga City and it is there where many basnigs, trawlers and purse seiners fishing in the Moro Gulf unload their catch. Zamboanga City meanwhile is host to seven canneries. Dapitan is now the ports of choice in bringing the frozen fish through fish carrier trucks. However, a ship is still preferred for canned fish as it is heavy. Meanwhile, Spanish sardines in bottles also became a hit produce in the Dipolog area and they use Dapitan port in bringing their goods to the Visayas.

There is also plenty of freshwater and brackish fish from the fishponds of Zamboanga Sibugay especially those located in the marshes of Sibuguey Bay. Meanwhile, fishing vessels catching off Zamboanga del Sur, Lanao del Sur and Maguindanao unload in Pagadian and Tukuran ports and fish carriers pick them up these catches. Practically all of them now use Dapitan port to bring the fish destined for Negros island and Cebu province instead of Ozamis port. This portion of Mindanao has finally discovered the superiority of the intermodal truck (including the intermodal fish carriers) which can deliver goods along the way and not be dependent on distributors or wholesalers. That flexibility and ubiquity was also discovered by the company and distributor trucks from Cebu. Instead of just relying on distributors based in Ozamis City like before, their trucks now normally roll to up to Ipil, the capital and trade center of Zamboanga Sibugay and along the way they deliver their products to the markets, stores and groceries. Now, there are even intermodal buses with routes from the Visayas to Zamboanga City. First to roll was the Bacolod-Zamboanga Ceres Lines bus and recently they also have a Cebu-Zamboanga bus service too.

In recent years, it is obvious that the Dapitan-Dumaguete route has impacted the Cebu-Zamboanga and Cebu-Sindangan routes heavily. There is now just one regional passenger ship left sailing the Zamboanga-Cebu route, the Zamboanga Ferry of George & Peter Lines where before Trans Shipping Lines Inc. (TASLI) and George & Peter Lines put emphasis in that route. There is also one liner of 2GO from Dumaguete and Manila, a liner route that was previously abandoned. Meanwhile, Cokaliong Shipping Lines has already abandoned the Cebu-Sindangan route.

Intermodal trucks rolling long distances to other parts of Mindanao and Negros island also use this connection and some even go as far as Panay island. This is especially true after the liner service to Southern Mindanao was halted by Aboitiz Transport System (ATS). With that halt, the shippers of Southern Mindanao also began rolling their trucks. Private vehicles running to or from Cebu to Mindanao also use this connection since the rolling rate from Cebu to Ozamis, Iligan and Cagayan de Oro is very high (rolling sea rates by kilometer is far, far higher than rolling a vehicle in the highway). And again, rolling cargo is not the specialization or priority of the overnight ferries. For many, this western route is preferred over the eastern route that passes through Leyte and Surigao unless the destination or origin is eastern Mindanao or southern Mindanao.

Unless threatened by the direct Samboan-Dapitan route (or a possible Samboan-Dipolog route), the Dumaguete-Dapitan route will continue to grow.

That we will have to see in the future.

Medallion Transport “Has Arrived”


Medallion Transport 2014 Calendar © John Carlos Cabanillas

 

Like many other shipping companies, Medallion Transport had simple beginnings. They had a relatively recent start as in about 1998. Their first route was bridging the Canigao Channel using the ports of Bato, Leyte and Ubay, Bohol. Their start was propitious for this was the time intermodal travel using short-distance ferry-ROROs was beginning to take off. In Cebu, I had many queries regarding their offices or sites. They assumed Medallion Transport is a Cebu shipping company. But, in fact, Medallion is a Leyte shipping company and that gives me pleasure to point that out since not many shipping companies not in shipping centers made it successfully.

Medallion Transport did not really reinvent a lot of things and I am not saying this in a negative way. They are relatives of the owners of Roble Shipping who seem to have been supportive of and friendly to them. Not my type to really highlight personalities (I would rather highlight the moves and the circumstances) but I found it funny that when they had their first hull loss, the sinking of the MV Lady of Carmel, few in media got the last name of the owner and founder correct which is Fulache (another instance when reporters should realize they have to have the names spelled out to them or they should go to an otologist).

Medallion Transport started with basic, short-distance ferries. Among these are the MV Lady of Guadalupe-Cebu, the MV Lady of Hope, the MV Lady of Charity and the MV Lady of Carmel. All are ROROs except for the second one which was the former MV Talibon Cruiser. The MV Lady of Hope they did not source from Japan but from a defunct Bohol shipping company. For nearly a decade, they relied on these four vessels. Two of them are gone now. The MV Lady of Hope was broken up and the MV Lady of Carmel sank off Burias Island in Masbate province.


M/V Lady of Charity © Jun Yu Marquez

From the Bato-Ubay route, Medallion Transport sailed the Bato-Cebu route and they simply shoehorned then their basic, short-distance ferry-ROROs into an overnight route. The advantage they had over their competition South Pacific Transport (which had the cruiser ships MV Fiji-II and MV South Pacific) was they had ROROs (well, vehicles generate much more revenues compared to passengers and if these are traders’ trucks then these will probably return to its origin and do repeated journeys).

I thought then that Medallion Transport would follow the experience of Roble Shipping on giving a higher priority on ferries at the start. I was mistaken. What I noticed was their Phase 2 consisted of acquiring small freighters to be used as trampers. Some of these were dredgers when they were in Japan (and one would wonder why our government can’t purchase dredgers when many of their old ones are no longer running). These recent years, one staple cargo of these freighters is cement and I notice companies which can transport cement cheaply are doing well. Like Medallion. Along the way, Medallion Transport established the twin legal fiction company, the MC Phil Maru Shipping Company. Some of their freighters are registered under that company.

For nearly a decade, Medallion Transport did not acquire ferries. What they acquired were the freighters MV Lady of Prosperity, MV Lady of Peace, MV Lady of Faith, MV Lady of Courage, MV Lady of Rosary, MV Lady of Remedy, MV Lady of Wisdom, MV Lady of Divine Grace and the MV Lady of Good Success. With such fleet, I sometimes looked then at Medallion Transport as more of a cargo shipping company. But looking back this was the right move then because at the start of the new millennium there was still a surplus of bottoms in the Camotes Sea routes (and a lot of companies would fail there in the first decade of the new millennium).


Medallion Transport freighters M/V Lady of Faith and M/V Lady of Prosperity © ZoSeL_BaDz (Flickr)

Then came Phase 3 of the expansion of the company which was intertwined with the later freighter acquisitions. From 2007 came a series of ferries starting from small into bigger ones. The MV Yellow Rose was acquired from the troubled Rose Shipping Lines (but they later gave up this ferry). Then the MV Ayako was acquired from the troubled R&D Philippine Company and she was refitted into the MV Lady of Angels. After her came two small ferry-ROROs, the MV Lady of Miraculous Medal (which was the first MV Lite Ferry 10 of Lite Ferries) and the very small MV Lady of Sacred Heart. By this time, Medallion Transport was able to penetrate the Bicol waters and ply the Masbate City-Pio Duran, Albay short-distance ferry route where they initially used the MV Lady of Carmel and the MV Lady of Miraculous Medal. Maybe to endear themselves to the locals (as their competitor in the route is a true Bicolano), they also named the MV Lady of Carmel as the “Barko Masbateno”.

Phase 3A of their expansion then came and this was the acquisition of true overnight ferries. I was astounded that they were able to purchase two overnight ferries from Moreta Shipping Lines of Manila that were barely sailing then as they had already lost to the intermodal buses and trucks. First to come was the MV Nikki, the first ship of Moreta Lines which was renamed into the MV Lady of All Nations. Then came the flagship of Moreta Lines, the MV Love-1 which was refitted into the MV Lady of Love. The latter ship, ship spotters said, was even fit to belong to Trans-Asia Shipping Lines. This was not a derogatory opinion and there is no implication whatsoever that Medallion Transport is unworthy of her. It is more in admiration as she is the first proof that Medallion Transport has already “arrived”. By this time, the company already had the Cebu-Palompon route, a route whose potential was not realized by the other companies.


M/V Lady of Love © James Gabriel Verallo

Then the MV Lady of Good Voyage came. Originally, she was used in the Masbate-Pio Duran route. Then she was refitted, scantlings were added and she was converted into an overnight ferry-RORO. She was then fielded in the Cebu-Dipolog route, a route Medallion Transport pioneered. This route is potentially a blockbuster in the future, at least on the passenger side since it is a direct ship to the center of that part of Mindanao and a key connection point to other towns of Zamboanga del Norte and Zamboanga Sibugay and to as far as Zamboanga City.

Now the assignment of the overnight ferry-ROROs of Medallion Transport are: for Palompon, the MV Lady of Love, for Dipolog, the MV Lady of Good Voyage and for Bato, the MV Lady of All Nations. They also still sail the smaller MV Lady of Miraculous Medal and MV Lady of Angels to their Leyte routes.


M/V Lady of All Nations © Vincent Paul Sanchez

At the same time these overnight ferries came, Medallion Transport also built their new building in the ticket booth row outside Pier 3 of Cebu. Aside from being the newest, it is the best and most handsome in that row. When I saw that building, I said to myself, “That is the statement of Medallion Transport to the Cebu shipping scene that “they have already finally arrived”.

The Emergent Port of Masbate

Twenty years ago, the port of Masbate was mainly known for the so-many motor bancas (and a few motor boats) that ply routes to Pilar, Sorsogon, to Ticao Island and to the western portion of Masbate Bay up to the town of Baleno, Masbate. The only liners from Manila that call then in the port were the MV Cebu Princess of Sulpicio Lines and a liner of WG&A Philippines. Surprisingly, they were not the RORO connection of Masbate Island and neither is the overnight ferry from Cebu of Trans-Asia Shipping Lines. Actually, the RORO connection of the Masbate then was the unlikely ferry of Viva Shipping Lines that originates from Batangas Port.

Pilar then was the main connecting port to Masbate. Buses from the semi-regional trade center of Daraga, Albay roll to Pilar. Then, there are many buses from Manila whose end point is Pilar. The motor bancas that ply the Pilar-Masbate route usually have already an arrangement with the buses. Motor banca tickets can even be issued aboard the buses in many cases. In the reverse route from Masbate, aboard the motor bancas, bus tickets can also be issued. But for those who are experienced enough, they won’t buy those tickets and instead look for discounts in the buses to Manila waiting in Pilar. They know that the buses with only a few passengers are vulnerable to these discounting tactics.

Pilar-Masbate motor bancas also take in a lot of cargo either way when there were no ROROs yet (actually, they still do today but on a comparatively smaller scale). One advantage offered by these motor bancas is there is no porterage. The crew takes care of the cargo and one just goes direct aboard and the purser will take care of charging the fare so there is no need to queue for tickets. Two motor boat companies dominated this trade here, the Denica Lines and the Lobrigo Lines. Though not comfortable, their motor bancas are fast.

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M/B Gloria Express at Masbate Port. © Mike Baylon

 

There were also a few cargo ships that called on Masbate Port aside from a few cargo motor boats. One regular incoming bulk cargo is cement and one regular outgoing bulk cargo is copra.

Archipelago Ferries (actually it could be another of their legal fiction companies) attempted the first short-distance ferry connection to Masbate through the MV Maharlika Tres. They used the Bulan Port since at the time the Pilar Port was not RORO-capable. With it also came the Philtranco buses rolling to Masbate. However these ferry and bus services did not last long. One problem is without RORO company support, the buses won’t last long because it was upheld by the maritime regulators that they cannot charge the RORO rate to the passengers (although some try to charge that on the passengers part of that, slyly). And without a good number of vehicles regularly boarding, the ferry companies would be hard put to give discounts.

Viva Shipping Lines and then its new competitor Montenegro Shipping Lines also tried a RORO connection from Lucena to Masbate. Parallel with this, the twin company of Viva, the DR Shipping Lines tried a fast ferry service from Lucena to Masbate using their own-designed and built ships, the MV Penafrancia 10 and MV Penafrancia 11. These services stopped after a few short years for different reasons. For Montenegro Lines, their RORO MV Maria Carmela burned in 2002 just before reaching Lucena, with casualties. Its local government authorization was canceled and they were embroiled in lawsuits. For Viva Shipping and DR Shipping, it was already the beginning of the tailspin of the Don Domingo Reyes shipping companies which ended with them defunct and their ferries sold or broken up.

Montenegro Lines then built their own ramp in Pilar and they were able to operate a basic, short-distance ferry-RORO from it. They have to do it themselves because the administration then of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo wouldn’t provide funds for the construction of a RORO port because the Representative then of the congressional district encompassing Pilar was a bitter political opponent (he is now a vice-presidential candidate).

Lobrigo Lines tried to operate two fastcrafts between Pilar and Masbate. Montenegro Lines also did so. Lobrigo Lines later quit and their fastcrafts ended up with Montenegro Lines. Later, this route became the niche of Montenegro fastcrafts driven out by superior competition in the Batangas-Calapan route (until now they are the only operator of High Speed Crafts in the route).

Sta. Clara Shipping with twin company Penafrancia Shipping tried to enter Masbate through different routes. They tried a Bulan-Masbate route (their ships are not fit for the shallow Pilar Port which is located in a river estuary) but the bus passengers from Manila were not willing to pay extra for the longer Manila-Bulan land route. They also tried a Pasacao-Masbate route but they found out early that the strong habagat swells were dangerous for their ship. Finally, they found the Pio Duran, Albay Port with its new RORO ramp as the Masbate connection and they stuck here along with newcomer Medallion Transport.

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M/V King Frederick of Sta. Clara Shipping Corp. © Mike Baylon

From Cebu, another player also entered the Masbate route, the MV Super Shuttle Ferry 3 of Asian Marine Transport Corporation and this ship continues its voyage to Batangas. Trans-Asia Shipping Lines continued plying its route until recently. However, a shortage of ferries forced them to stop but they replaced the service with a former ferry that was converted into a cargo ship, the MV Trans-Asia 5. The cargo was simply too big and too important for them to lose to competition. Cokaliong Shipping Lines is the new entrant from Cebu lately using a ferry. The Sulpicio and WG&A liners are gone now for different reasons but they have been more than replaced. Actually, they might not even be missed in Masbate.

Nowadays, Masbate is already a busy port and growing in importance because it is already the fulcrum of a growing intermodal route between Cebu and Luzon (that includes the National Capital Region, Bicol and CALABARZON). Many of the trucks loaded in Polambato Port in Bogo, Cebu that are unloaded in Cataingan and Cawayan ports still connect to Luzon (and they have to use Masbate Port on the way to that). Meanwhile, distribution trucks from Manila and CALABARZON now roll direct to Masbate along with the trucks of the Bicol traders (incidentally, some of them used motor boats and motor bancas in the past).

Today, fewer and fewer Masbate passengers still take the motor bancas. They now prefer the intermodal buses that come from Manila that roll to the various destinations in Masbate Island like Masbate City, Aroroy, Milagros, Esperanza, Cataingan and Placer. Because of the needs of the buses and trucks, Montenegro Lines now operates several ROROs and so do the twin company Sta. Clara/Penafrancia Shipping (and with even bigger ships) and Medallion Transport. Another new operator from Pilar is Denica Lines which bought their own small ROROs.

 

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Ferries at Masbate Port © zheek / Flickr

The fastcrafts are still operating between Pilar and Masbate and the motor bancas did not seem to lessen in number. More cargo ships are also now calling in Masbate Port. The port was expanded a decade ago and now a second phase of expansion is near completion. In Region 5, the Bicol Region, it is clear that Masbate Port is now the busiest port. Good thing it is not yet an ISPS (International System of Port Security) port and so it also functions as a people’s park (and a jogging area in the morning) and anyone can go in and go out.

As said by old timers, shipping activity is a accident of geography that cannot be dictated by the maritime authorities nor by legislation. In this sense, Masbate is fortunate because she lies between Luzon and Cebu, the commercial center of Central Visayas, part of Eastern Visayas and of northern Mindanao. As such, her growth as a port will surely continue in the coming years and probably she will be more well-known by then.