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).

Eugene Elson Virac

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.

Eugene Elson top lash

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.

The “Golden Ferries” of the Philippines

“Golden ferries” are passenger ships that are already 50 years old or even older which means they were built in 1966 or earlier. There are a handful of them in the Philippines, a country known for keeping ferries long. Filipinos are sentimentally attached to old ferries and wish that they will sail forever as long as they are decent shape and does not conk out. From the owner to the crew to the yard and the passengers and shippers there is the thinking, “Why dispose of the ship when it is still sailing nicely?”. The banking system is also not keen on lending for ship purchases. Being poor, the passengers does not welcome newer ships if will mean increased fares. Hence, the shipping operators tend to try to keep their ferries sailing for as long as possible. Meanwhile, the shipyards of the country which are actually more in the repairing and refitting business are more than cooperative to these wishes of the ship owners.

Trying to keep these old ferries continually running is easier compared to 30 years ago when the ex-FS ships and the former cargo ships used by the USA in World War II began to die. Changing steel plates and buttressing beams have always been easy unless poor maintenance has already compromised the structural integrity of the hull. Nowadays, with CNC manufacturing, it is easy to have parts duplicated with precision. Many surplus parts are also available from the ship breakers and there are companies worldwide that specialize on surplus parts and engines. If needed, replacement engines are also available on the market and looking for them is easy in this time of the Net. Meanwhile, all kinds of surplus equipment is available from the breakers and the open market whether they are auxiliary engines or bridge equipment.

Our oldest ferries are actually LCTs. The oldest is the “LCT Trans-Olango” servicing the route to their namesake island resort of Olango. She is a World War II LCT of the USA built in 1944 and her appearance certainly betrays her age. Next oldest to her is the “LCT Island Princess” of Zamboanga del Sur which connects the island of Olutanga to the Zamboanga peninsula. This LCT was built locally in 1947.

Among the cruiser ferries, it is the “Bounty Cruiser” of Evenesser Shipping which is the oldest. She was built in Zamboanga in 1956 and trades the Zamboanga-Jolo route. She is followed by the “Georich” of George & Peter Lines. This ship was built in Japan in 1961 and does the Cebu-Dapitan route. The Zamboanga-built “Ever Sweet” of Ever Lines follows next in age. She was built in 1963 and she plies the Zamboanga-Olutanga route.

Among the ROROs that are not LCTs, it is now the “Star Ferry II” of 168 Shipping that must be recognized as the oldest now after it was verified she is the rebuilt “Ace 1” of Manila Shipping. Actually, she does not resemble that ship at all anymore except in the bridge area. She plies the Matnog-Allen route.

The next oldest RORO is probably the “Millennium Uno” of Millennium Shipping. She was built in Japan in 1964 and she serves the Liloan-Lipata route, if she can. There are stretches when this ship cannot sail but they just wouldn’t let her go. I thought she was done when she voluntarily stopped sailing in the aftermath of the sinking of “Maharlika II” but then she still came back to sail her old schedule and route.

Actually, all the ferries mentioned above are already showing signs of mortality (except the “Ever Sweet”) and it is a wonder for how long they can hold up. Their speeds are even compromised now. But still they sail. If landlubbers think they should go, well, they simply do not know shipping. It is the ships younger than them that actually sink.

The “Elreen 2” of Rolly Frueda is a motor boat that was built locally in 1964. She plies the Romblon waters. She might be the oldest wooden-hulled vessel still sailing in the Philippines but this is a little hard to verify. Lite Ferries have the 1964-built ship from the US Navy, the “Lite Ferry 20” which was recently re-engined. Lite Ferries rotates her ship assignments so it is hard to pin down “Lite Ferry 20” at any given moment.

The “Melrivic Seven” of E. B. Aznar Shipping is another RORO built in 1964. Like the “Lite Ferry 20”, she is a reliable ship together with the next oldest, the “Eugene Elson” of Penafrancia Shipping which was built in 1965. The first plies the Tabuelan-Escalante route while the latter sails the Tabaco-Virac route. Both ferries were built in Japan.

For ships built in 1966, we have the local-built “Hijos 1” of Hijos de Juan Corrales. She is a very small Camiguin cruiser ship linking the island to Balingoan, Misamis Oriental. For ROROs, there is the “Maria Erlinda” of Montenegro Lines which are assigned various routes. It is a practice of her company to also rotate their fleet assignments so her exact route is hard to determine.

Last but not the least in this list is the “Ever Queen Emilia” of Ever Lines built in 1966, too. This RORO is a Zamboanga-Bongao ferry which also calls on various islands of Tawi-tawi. Actually, among the “golden ferries” this ship has the longest route which only shows she is still a very reliable ship at 50 years of age. The Ever ships are actually very well taken cared of by Varadero de Cawit.

Next year, in 2017 more ferries here will join the “golden ships” list. The graph will actually go up as the years come because we have a lot of ferries that are 40 years old and over. In Europe, they have “golden ferries” too. Japan have ferries that are over 40 years old. That is also true in Canada. There is actually no rule that says ferries over 40 years old must be disposed of already contrary to what some landlubbers say.

Many who really know shipping says it is not the age of ships that matter but it is in the maintenance and the care attended to them. Landlubbers think an old ship will easily be holed. That is true if there is no proper maintenance because speaking of hulls it is easy to replace the plates. Unreliable main engines can also be replaced and good parts sourced or ordered in Japan and Singapore. China is also now aggressive in promoting replacement engines.

In such a situation, I think many of our old ferries will still have long lives. And, our list of “golden ferries” will probably grow longer, too.

[Image: MV Bounty Cruiser]
[Photo Owner: Mike Baylon]

Quo Vadis, Lite Ferry 8?

Nobody might have realized it but Lite Ferry 8 might now be the RORO ferry with the second-most number of years of service in the Philippines after “Melrivic Seven” (excepting also the LCT’s). She first came to our country in 1980 as the “Sta. Maria” of Negros Navigation, the first RORO ship in their fleet. Later, in 2001 she was sold by Negros Navigation to George & Peter Lines where she became the “GP Ferry-1”. After several years, in 2007 she was sold by G&P Lines to Lite Ferries where she became the “Lite Ferry 8” and was designed to compete in the prime route across Camotes Sea, the Cebu-Ormoc route. She is certainly a well-traveled ferry.

“Lite Ferry 8” started life as the “Hayabusa No. 3” of Kyouei Unyu of Japan with IMO Number 7323205. She was built by Yoshiura Zosen in their Kure shipyard and she was completed on April of 1973. As built, her Length Over-all (LOA) was 72.0 meters and her Breadth was 12.6 meters with a Gross Tonnage (GT) of 691 and a Deadweight Tonnage (DWT) of 1,680. She was powered by two Akasaka marine diesel engines totaling 4,200 horsepower routed to two screws. She had a maximum service speed of 15 knots when she was still new.

Sta. Maria ©Gorio Belen

Before leaving Japan, she was renamed as the “Hayabusa No.8”. In December of 1980 she came to Negros Navigation of the Philippines which added decks and passenger accommodations to her. She was among the first RORO’s in the Philippines and the first for Negros Navigation. She could actually be the first RORO liner in the country (as distinguished from short-distance and overnight ferries). Originally, she held the route from Manila to Iloilo and Bacolod and calling on Romblon port along the way. In one sense she replaced the flagship “Don Juan” of the Negros Navigation fleet which sank in a collision on April 22, 1980.

Sta. Maria ©Gorio Belen

With the advent of additional liners in the Negros Navigation fleet, the smaller and slower “Sta. Maria” was withdrawn from the Manila route and shunted to regional routes. Among the routes she did was the Cebu-Iloilo-Puerto Princesa route and later the Iloilo-Bacolod route. In 2000, when Negros Navigation already had a surplus of ships and the parallel route Dumangas-Bacolod was already impacting the Iloilo-Bacolod route she was sold to George & Peter Lines which needed a replacement ship after the loss of their ship “Dumaguete Ferry” to fire.

GP Ferry-1 ©Wakanatsu and Toshihiko Mikami

In George & Peter Lines, she became the “GP Ferry-1” where she basically did the staple Cebu-Dumaguete-Dapitan route of the company which was an overnight and day route on the way to Dapitan and an overnight route on the way back to Cebu. When there were still no short-distance RORO ferries between Dumaguete and Dapitan this was a good route. But when short-distance ferries multiplied in the route and with it dominating the daytime sailing, slowly George & Peter Lines saw their intermediate route jeopardized and the process accelerated with the entry of Cokaliong Lines in the Cebu-Dapitan-Dumaguete route.

I think it is in this context that G&P Lines sold her to Lite Ferries in 2007. By this time her engines were also beginning to get sickly, a factor of age exacerbated with longer route distances. Lite Ferries designed her to compete in the prime Camotes Sea route where the “Heaven Stars” of Roble Shipping Lines and the good overnight ferries of Cebu Ferries were holding sway. However, she was not too successful for Lite Shipping as her old engines seemed to be too thirsty and not too solid for the route. Sometime in 2010, Lite Ferries began using the Lite Ferry 12 for the Ormoc route and after that Lite Ferry 8 already spent considerably more time in anchorage than in sailing. Lite Ferry 12 had considerably smaller engines than “Lite Ferry 8” and her size was just a match for the like of “Wonderful Stars” which was also doing the Cebu-Ormoc route.

Lite Ferry 8 ©Jonathan Bordon

“Lite Ferry 8” was also put up for sale but with the history of her engines any sale except to the breakers will not be easy. Her accommodations and size is not what is used for the short-distance ferries and her engines are also too big for that route class. The only RORO now of her length, engine size and passenger accommodations are the overnight ferries from Cebu to Northern Mindanao but Lite Ferries do not sail such routes except for their route to Plaridel, Misamis Occidental and even in such route lengths the company prefers to use ROROs in the 60-meter class with engines totaling less than 3,000 horsepower.

As of now, “Lite Ferry 8” is almost a ship without a route. She is difficult to find a soft landing spot and she does not have the endurance of the Daihatsu-engined ex-“Asia Indonesia” and ex-“Asia Brunei” which more or less shares her age and size and engine power. Kindly to her, Lite Ferries is not a company known for contacting fast the breakers’ numbers unlike Cebu Ferries and its former mother company.

Lite Ferry 8 ©Aristotle Refugio

So the question lingering about her now is, Quo vadis?.