The MV Isla Simara Is Now In San Bernardino Strait

The MV  Isla Simara of Shogun Shipping was presented to the local media a few days ago in Pier 6 of NorthPort (the old North Harbor) before she departed where the controversial and untrue claim as the first RORO built by Pinoys was issued. The owners also claimed that the ship has the longest ramp in the country which is also untrue. Now, I did not know if Trump-ism has already taken hold in our land. Why claim things that are simply not true?

The Isla Simara’s keel was laid in a Sual, Pangasinan last year and when she was already capable of floating she was towed to Josefa Slipways in Navotas, Metro Manila where she was completed. In launching, there there was enough buoyancy from the shallow waters of the Navotas river plus she is large and so her screws hit and she had to be winched back to port for repairs. Now, I do not know if that was good omen or not.

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While already capable of sailing the Isla Simara cannot sail as she lacked a Certificate of Public Conveyance (CPC) which will allow her to sail a route legally . There was a back and forth where she will be fielded, one option being Cebu-Tagbilaran route but finally the owners were firm she would said the Matnog, Sorsogon to Allen, Northern Samar route using the private BALWHARTECO Port. It was the owners of this port which finally swung the owners in the route determination after pledging support to Shogun Shipping. However, the ferry lost more than two months.

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The other day, on August 26, 2019, Isla Simara finally arrived in Matnog after an economical-speed sailing in heavy rains spawned by the combination of a habagat (Southwest monsoon)intensified by a tropical depression. The next day, she sailed to BALWHARTECO Port and luckily the stormy weather already ceased and she docked uneventfully in the afternoon.

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And so last night, the ferry held an open house while docked at the port, in clear weather and invited were town, barangay (barrio) and port officials plus of course the local detachments of MARINA, the PPA and the Coast Guard. It was actually an semi-formal event and not so exclusive party and it was actually very rare as in a blue moon for a shipping company to invite the public in.

Well, one advantage is BALWHARTECO is not an ISPS port because if she is then it  will be off-limits to the general public because of fear of terrorists will then be the primary consideration. May I note that in my experience BALWHARTECO port is friendly to the general public and one can reach the ferries without much fuss. Inside the port are establishments that cater to the general public.

In BALWHARTECO, Isla Simara dwarfed the competing ROROs of Montenegro Shipping Lines which will be her main competitor (although the ROROs  in Dapdap and Jubasan ports of Allen will also be directly competing). This ferry is big and her size is not what is used in the short-distance routes (she might be the biggest ferry/RORO now in a short-distance route). However, she is a day ferry equipped with seats and lounges as insisted by the owner.

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Isla Simara has been built using many kits from China and even her interiors are not local. Her aesthetic design is impressive as well as her safety features. Of course, the bridge and engine room equipment are also imported. The ship can be considered first-class all the way at least by Philippine standards and her livery is not what is the usual in the local ferries.

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Her Captain said she will be doing six or seven round trips a day. But the question is will there be enough load? In San Bernardino Strait, most of the rolling cargo (the vehicles) is already contracted which means they have contracts with a particular shipping company that assures them of a reserved ride even in the peaks of the peak season (and the sometimes traveler in the peak season do not understand that leading to complaints of “favoritism” and dapat daw “first come, first served”). Well, Virginia, there are reservations everywhere and not only in ports.

Most of the passengers across San Bernardino Strait are intermodal bus passengers and they are tied to their buses, they are not free to choose their ride and almost all are enjoying the “free ferry” perk that means they have free tickets for the ferry which is actually true. Contracts and free tickets are things not yet understood by Shogun Shipping and they might be in for a rough surprise. But for private cars owners, Isla Simara might be a pleasant alternative as for sure there will be no queues and the accommodations and amenities are well above those of the short-distance ferries.

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What bothers me is the fact that Starlite Ferries of Batangas and the big Chelsea Logistics fielded a new ship in the exact route and ports and only lasted over a month when in terms of size, amenities, service and speed she can match the Isla Simara and yet she did not survive in the route. And to think that in MIMAROPA, in her home territory, Starlite Ferries is used to contracting and to rebates like what is present in San Bernardino Strait. Did they find it too hard to wean away the buses and trucks from their contracts? Besides, in San Bernardino Strait there are Cargo RORO LCTs that cater to trucks and they provide lower rates.

Last night, my informant and I were discussing over the phone. We thought Isla Simara could have been a killer if she was fielded as overnight ferry because then her superior amenities and newness will be more on display compared to a one-hour route like that in San Bernardino Strait. But who knows? Shogun Shipping still has three sister ships of Isla Simara on the pipeline. This company is really loaded as aside from ROROs they also have catamarans under the Island Water brand.

Whatever, her arrival to shake up San Bernardino bears watching. Her voyages commence next week.

 

[Photo Credits: Philippine Ship Spotters Society (PSSS), Mervin Go Bon Soon, Dwight and Shogun Shipping]

The Ship That Might Have Eluded the Grasp of TASLI But Helped Medallion Transport Move in Rank

In this decade, Trans-Asia Shipping Lines Inc. (TASLI) has been buying the discards of the other shipping companies. They acquired the Trans-Asia 5 from Carlos A. Gothong Lines Inc. (CAGLI) which was the former Butuan Bay 1. From Gothong Southern Shipping Lines they acquired in a package deal the Trans-Asia 8 and the Trans-Asia 9 which were the former Dona Rita Sr. and Dona Conchita Sr., respectively. And from Philippine Span Asia Carrier Corp. (PSACC), they acquired the Trans-Asia 10 which was the former Princess of the Earth.

In those acquisitions, Trans-Asia Shipping Lines batted only two out of four as the Trans-Asia 5 and the Trans-Asia 9 did not perform according to expectations. After publicized episodes of her single engine conking out, MARINA (Maritime Industry Authority), the maritime regulatory agency, more than gently suggested something radical be done about the Trans-Asia 5 (actually it was the threat of the cancellation of her Certificate of Public Conveyance). Now she is just a RORO Cargo ship albeit a successful one and her superstructure has already been modified and the passenger accommodations had already been taken out.

Trans-Asia 9 now has episodes of late arrivals and word of it has began to seep out. Even as Dona Conchita Sr., it was already known that her engines were no longer than strong and that was even admitted by her Captain then. For the two ships it is a big sayang as Trans-Asia Shipping Lines really poured money into the two vessels so that they will be good overnight ships (the Trans-Asia 5‘s interiors were superb). However, it was the old engines that failed them.

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Photo by James Gabriel Verallo

These gambles of Trans-Asia Shipping Lines backfired on them. After forgetting what brought them to the top before which was buying good ships from abroad, both cruisers and ROROs, it seems they have lost their leadership of the Visayas-Mindanao routes to Cokaliong Shipping Lines Inc. (CSLI) which made it a habit to buy ships from abroad every two years. Now their fleet looks modern by local standards while TASLI’s increasingly looks old.

There is actually nothing wrong with buying cast-offs of other shipping companies. It actually depends on the ship one is buying. The Trans-Asia 8 was predicted to be good for them as this ship had a good record in Gothong Southern and it is not yet that old. The Princess of the Earth was also a reliable ship (except recently) for PSACC although she is also getting on in years now.

There was actually a good cast-off that eluded the grasp of Trans-Asia Shipping Lines. This was the Love-1 of Moreta Shipping Lines of Manila. When I first saw her docked in Ouano for refitting, I thought she was destined for TASLI. Her length, her size and her speed all screamed she was perfect for the routes of TASLI. This ship was not too old and in Moreta Shipping Lines she was not used heavily because she came when the routes of Moreta was already winding down because of the assault of the intermodal system. Late in her career in Moreta, she was sailing just once a week.

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Photo by Edison Sy

The Love-1 was the former Ferry Okiji in Japan of the Oki Kisen. She measures 93.1 meters (88.3 meters in LBP) by 15.3 meters by 6.0 meters. The length is perfect for TASLI although the breadth is maybe less than what they might desire but then that breadth is better than the 15.0 meters of Trans-Asia 2 and that ship has just an LOA of 88.0 meters. So that means Love-1 is a little bigger than Trans-Asia 2, a ship that TASLI loves.

The design speed of Love-1, the maximum speed that can be sustained when new was 18.5 knots while the design speed of Trans-Asia 2 was only 16 knots. Love-1‘s Daihatsu engines are bigger than the Daihatsu engines of Trans-Asia 2. It is 8,400hp vs 6,000hp. Trans-Asia 2‘s passenger capacity is 655 while the passenger capacity of Love-1 was 790.

Actually, Love-1, though originating from Manila was not a true multi-day liner. She was actually an overnight ship as the length of the voyages of her routes takes less than a day (an overnight run plus a few more hours which was similar to the former WG&A ferries that did the Dumaguit and Roxas City routes). In accommodations, though TASLI is known for top class she is not that far behind. In Ouano, it seemed most of the work done in Love-1 so she will fit the needs of buyer Medallion Transport was the construction of wing passenger ramps which is de rigeaur for Cebu ships and the closing of the side ramps.

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Photo by homepage2.nifty

The Ferry Okiji was built by Kanda Shipbuilding Company in Kure, Japan in 1979 (the same year Trans-Asia 10 was built). In Japan she had 2,584gt which rose to 3,184gt here because of the additional metal for the Economy class. Her net tonnage is 964 which looks to be understated. Since she was doing the Okinawa route in Japan which is in the open sea, her sides are high. Her permanent ID is IMO 7927099.

This ferry was sold to Moreta Lines in 2004, a few months after the Roxas-Caticlan route that connected Mindoro and Panay islands was opened. She mainly did the Dumaguit and Roxas City route for Moreta Shipping Lines although she was also used for the San Jose, Occidental Mindoro route of the company. In the middle of the 2000’s, WG&A along with Negros Navigation was already vacating Dumaguit and Roxas City routes due to the onslaught of the intermodal trucks and buses.

Moreta Shipping Lines still tried though but even before the end of the last decade it was obvious the ship from Manila won’t last against the buses and the trucks which were multiplying in the route year after year. Love-1 found herself increasingly not being used and at times she was just tied up in North Harbor along with the other ships of the company which were Nikki and Conchita.

Soon, Moreta Shipping Lines offered for sale her three ferries to just concentrate on container shipping. In 2011, Conchita went to Besta Shipping Lines and became the Baleno 168. In 2013, in a package deal, Love-1 and Nikki went to Medallion Transport which was a surprise since before this all the Medallion Shipping had were ships the size of basic, short-distance ferry-ROROs which they try to fit on overnight routes. The only bigger ship they had was the double-ended RORO Lady of Miraculous Medal which is 46.0 meters in length.

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Lady of Love in Cebu for conversion to Lady of Love (Photo by James Gabriel Verallo)

The Love-1 became the Lady of Love. I had a laugh when I heard the name from her guard in Ouano. At first I am not sure if he was pulling my leg. But the name became true and she became a Medallion Transport ferry doing the Cebu-Palompon route which was a new route for the company. This route was overlooked by the other shipping companies doing the Cebu-Leyte routes. Few realized it then that it was a good alternative to the Cebu-Ormoc route like the Cebu-Baybay route.

Cokaliong Shipping Lines was the one doing the Cebu-Palompon route after the smaller shipping companies on that route sunk. But they had no ship permanently fielded there and were just using the 7th day of their ships. Lady of Love has an easy entry because she can match the ships of Cokaliong toe-to-toe and she was even better than the lesser ships of CSLI. With rolling rates more competitive than those offered in Cebu-Ormoc route, soon her car deck was full of trucks and other vehicles.

Passengers also began to notice she was superior than the ships of Roble Shipping and Lite Ferries that were doing the Cebu-Ormoc route. Even her passenger fares were competitive. And she is fast. I once saw her docking in Cebu at 1:30 in the morning. I thought those passengers still going to the northern and southern tip of Cebu have the chance to arrive there by breakfast time should they decide to disembark and go to CNBT or CST.

Now the route of Roble Shipping to Naval, Biliran is already kaput. For rolling cargo, the Palompon route to Biliran is a good alternative especially if the rates are cheaper. Besides, Palompon is also a good and nearer entry to the towns of the northwest corner of Leyte island which has lost their ships from Cebu. Palompon is also a good entry to the towns of Isabel and Matag-ob.

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The Lady of Love proved to be an ace for Medallion Transport which now has a roaring route to Palompon. She also elevated Medallion Transport to the first rank of Cebu-Leyte shipping companies from a second-run position. I even wonder now if Roble Shipping or Lite Ferries can claim that they have a ship better or equal than Lady of Love. The Lady of Love became the queen of the Cebu-Leyte ships and ironically she is not even doing the premier Cebu-Ormoc route.

I just wonder why TASLI did not make a bid for Love-1. Was the package for Nikki a deterrent? But that can be sold if they do not want it (it is too small for TASLI maybe except for their Tagbilaran-Cagayan de Oro route).

Now TASLI obviously looks that they lack passenger ships. I just wonder had the two ships instead went to them. Without the two Medallion Transport can’t claim parity with Roble and Lite in the Cebu-Leyte routes. And TASLI would not have been wanting for passenger ships and they might have had a ship to match the Filipinas Cebu of Cokaliong in the Cebu-Iloilo route.

Maybe it was not in the cards that Love-1 would go to TASLI. Maybe what was in the cards is Medallion Transport would reach first rank in the Cebu-Leyte routes through the Lady of Love and Lady of All Nations (the name of the Nikki in their fleet).

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The Lady of Love certainly helped Medallion Transport establish itself. But then good things certainly does not last and last year engine problems disabled the ferry and she was laid up for half a year and the Lady of All Nations had to carry the load for two routes, the Palompon and the Bato routes. That was certainly a heavy load for an old ferry which was also laid up for half a year after her own share of engine troubles.

The PSSS (Philippine Ship Spotters Society) was told the Lady of Love was waiting for parts from Japan. Well, if re-manufacturing of parts are needed the waiting time is certainly months long. I was told only Japan and Singapore do this kind of job with the former supposedly having better quality. So, for the last few months, the Lady of Love was laid up in Ouano north of the E. Ouano House. She was monitored to do sea trials where she did 15 knots until she “hibernated” again.

Then suddenly a news exploded! The Lady of Love will be doing a Cebu-Surigao route and enter Mindanao and that was just a few days ago. That route was the base of the weakest ferries of Cokaliong Shipping Lines as they have a monopoly of this route after their competitor Cebu Ferries quit the Vismin routes to go elsewhere supposedly for greener pastures.

But not to be outdone and become the butt of jokes, Cokaliong suddenly diverted a good ferry of theirs, the Filipinas Cebu which was formerly doing a Cebu-Iloilo route to run head-on with the Lady of Love (therefore the match happened in another route). So the languid Cebu-Surigao route suddenly had a marquee match-up. The Lady of Love is thought to be the flagship of Medallion Transport, she being their best ship. Meanwhile, many also think the Filipinas Cebu is the flagship of Cokaliong Shipping given her name and route assignment.

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In terms of speed like what was shown in their first night match-up, the Lady of Love will have a slight edge having a higher design speed although she is the older ship. In amenities, the Lady of Love will probably not cede anything being formerly a Manila ship and the best ship of Moreta Shipping. A member of PSSS, James Verallo said in terms of restaurant and food, the Lady of Love has the edge. In passenger service and cleanliness, Cokaliong Shipping is known for that and I wonder if the Lady of Love will be a match.

All in all, the two ferries might be able to slug it out toe-to-toe and so the decisive thing that another member of PSSS Badz Bado weighed in might be the fares. I myself might add the cargo rates can also be decisive. Medallion Transport has the record that when it entered Palompon she suddenly offered the cheapest rolling rates and it was Cokaliong which she challenged there. So this new match of them is like a rubber match. It seems Medallion Transport does not fear challenging Cokaliong in its home route.

I commend Medallion Transport for having the guts to enter the Vismin route, stirring the pot and making it lively again after years of stagnation because of the tailspin of Cebu Ferries and the obvious lack of gusto shown by Trans-Asia Shipping in the last few years. I also criticize two Cebu shipping companies that were ahead of Medallion Transport but which pussyfooted a lot. The two are Roble Shipping and Lite Shipping.

Long ago, the former has a franchise to Nasipit but didn’t serve it. Lately, they had a ship named after Oroquieta in Misamis Occidental, the Oroquieta Stars but they were just using it in a Leyte route. So until now that company has no route to Mindanao when to think the gates to the Vismin route had long been left open by Cebu Ferries.

Meanwhile, Lite Shipping has been able to open two Vismin routes. One of this is their route to Plaridel in Misamis Occidental which seemed to form part of the reason of the demise of Palacio Lines. But in the over-all scheme of Mindanao, Plaridel is just a minor route. It only becomes greater because it also connects to Siquijor and Bohol and becomes the connection of the migrants of the two provinces to Mindanao.

More than a year ago, Lite Shipping used their old Lite Ferry 8 to open a route to Cagayan de Oro. I applaud them for their efforts to extend the life of that old ferry which they even re-engined but for that route that ship is outgunned and maybe that was the reason they have to offer half off the fares. For the size of Lite Shipping which is in a race to match the number of ferries of Montenegro Shipping Lines, they should already be able to afford a ferry worth the premier route to Mindanao from Cebu.

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Photo by John Carlos Cabanillas

I just hope that with this move of Medallion Transport those two mentioned companies will feel challenged. It is certainly time for them to enter new routes and ports. And if they need some “brave pills”, they can maybe ask who is the supplier of that to Montenegro Lines which suddenly entered the dangerous and overcrowded Zamboanga-Jolo route. Well, Roble also tried to enter that route via the Theresian Stars shipping company but then they have a powerful politician of Sulu as partner to that venture.

Who will be the winner then? It will be the riding public and the shippers, of course, as usual.

A Quartet of Sister Ships

The Lite Ferry 1 and Lite Ferry 2 of Lite Ferries, the Maria Helena of Montenegro Shipping Lines Inc. and the Danica Joy of Aleson Shipping Lines share one thing in common which is a common hull design making them all as sister ships. The four were built in different yards and in different years and they have different engines but they share the same superstructure too making them similar from afar though many do not realize that immediately. They also sailed at one time not far from each other and some might even have met in Dumaguete port.

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Among the four, it was Omogo which came first to the Philippines in 1987 from Setonaikai Kisen KK of Hiroshima, Japan to become the Danilo 1 of Danilo Lines. The Sensui Maru of the same Japan company followed in 1989 and she became the Danilo 2 of Danilo Lines. Actually, the two are among our early ferries, a product of the right bet of Danilo Lines on ROROs when they connected the ports of San Carlos and Toledo across the Tanon Strait dividing Negros and Cebu islands. When Danilo Lines was acquired by Lite Shipping Corporation, Danilo 1 became the Lite Ferry 1 and Danilo 2 became the Lite Ferry 2. Officially, however, the two ships still belong to Danilo Lines which was not dissolved yet but everybody knows now they are under Lite Ferries and other ships of Lite Ferries periodically relieve them now in the route and sometimes the two ships are assigned other routes of Lite Ferries.

The third to arrive in the country was the Danica Joy and she was one of the early ROROs of Aleson Shipping Lines when she came in 1994. The last to arrive was the Maria Helena which only came in 2004 after a stint in China with the Qingdao Ferry. Belonging to different companies, the quartet of sister ships have different home ports, the Lite Ferries in Cebu, Danica Joy in Zamboanga and the Maria Helena in Batangas.

Among the four, three were built in 1969 which are the two Lite Ferries and the Maria Helena. The Danica Joy, meanwhile was built in 1972. The Lite Ferry 1 was built by Kanda Zosensho in Kure yard, Japan. The Lite Ferry 2, though having the same owner in Japan was built by a different shipyard in the same year. She was built by Matsuura Tekko in Higashino yard, Japan.

Meanwhile, the Maria Helena was built as the Yanai by Nakamura Shipbuilding and Engineering Works in Yanai yard, Japan for Boyo Kisen KK of Yanai, Japan. She went to China as the Lu Jiao Du 1 in 1993. Lastly, the Danica Joy was built as the Nakajima by Nakamura Zosen in Matsue yard, Japan. [Note: Danica Joy is the same ship as the earlier Danica Joy 1.]

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Photo by James Gabriel Verallo

Lite Ferry 1 has the permanent ID IMO 7005530. Lite Ferry 2 has the permanent ID IMO 6926969. That means her keel was laid ahead of Lite Ferry 1. Maria Helena is also identified as IMO 7535274 and Danica Joy is IMO 7852414. I do not know why the IMO Numbers of Maria Helena and Danica Joy are out of sequence.

The four are not basic, short-distance ferry-ROROs but belongs to the next class higher which are over 40 meters in length (in fact, just below 50 meters LOA). The distinguishing characteristic of the four is the rectangular box at the front or bow of the ship which serves as protection for rain, sea splash and rogue waves. The four looks rectangular from the sides. All except Danica Joy have full two passenger decks here and a single car deck (Danica Joy just have a partial second passenger deck).

The car decks of the four have three lanes and four trucks or buses can be accommodated in each lane (more if it is sedans, SUVs or jeeps). Originally and until now, the four have RORO ramps at the bow and at the stern although all basically just use the stern ramp now for handling rolling cargo hence they dock stern-wise.

All the four have combined bunks and seats so all can be used either as a short-distance RORO or as an overnight ship. All have an airconditioned Tourist class and the usual open-air Economy class. The size of the Tourist class varies among the four, however and so do the passenger capacity. Maria Helena has the smallest passenger capacity among the four at only 310 passengers.

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Maria Helena by John Carlos Cabanillas

The gross tonnage (GT) of Maria Helena might be a little bloated at over 1,000, a pattern I noticed among ships that passed through China (if it is compared to its Japan GT). Meanwhile, the GT of the three others might be a little understated because it was practically unchanged from the Japan GT (when scantlings were added to ships). Until now, the Philippines have no true reliable GT figures (because MARINA does not know how to compute that?).

The four sister ships are equipped with a pair of Daihatsu marine main engines. Three have a total of 2,000 horsepower but the Lite Ferry 2 only has a total of 1,700 horsepower making it the slowest at 13 knots when new. Lite Ferry 1 was capable of 13.5 knots when new while the two others were capable of 14 knots when new. Realistically, they are only capable now of 11-12 knots given their age and the additional metal. Some might even sail at just 10 knots given the demand of the route.

The quartet all have raked bows and transom sterns. All have two masts and two funnels at the sides. However, only Lite Ferry 1 and Lite Ferry 2 have stern passenger ramps which is a trademark of Cebu overnight ferries. This design does not interfere with the car or cargo loading of the ship. This is not possible with Maria Helena because she has no full scantling.

The four have no permanent assigned routes. The nearest to having a permanent route is the Danica Joy in the Dumaguete-Dapitan (Pulauan) route where she was the first short-distance RORO with bunks. Montenegro Lines always rotate their ships but for a time Maria Helena was always in the Bogo-Cataingan route. Meanwhile, Lite Ferries always rotate their ships every so few months.

These four are all starting to advance in years now. However, all are still very reliable. Their metal seems to be still good too. So I don’t see them quitting anytime soon as all are still good ferries especially in the short routes, the routes that loads a dozen vehicles and a few hundred passengers.

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If there is anything that will kill them it will be the wrong proposal being pushed now by some quarters to retire ferries that are over 35 years in age. As if safety in ships is determined by the age of the ships when empirically it is not. Actually, it is vested interests and not just concern for safety that is fueling that push.

Anyway, I hope to see this quartet continue to sail for many more years. They are still capable ferries.

Note: It is possible that Ruby-1 or Ruby-2 of Alexis Shipping that plied the Batangas-Calapan route is also a sister ship of the four. But they are already missing.

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 Reina Veronica and Reina Magdalena

Montenegro Shipping Lines Inc. (MSLI) has six basic, short-distance ferry-ROROs, the Maria Angela, Maria Beatriz, Maria Josefa, Marie Kristina, Marie Teresa and Maria Yasmina. There are no equal basic, short-distance ferry-ROROs in the fleet of their legal-fiction company Marina Ferries but it has two ferries, sister ships in fact, that has the dimensions of a basic, short-distance ferry-RORO but do not look like one. People will easily assume they are bigger than basic, short-distance ferry-ROROs and among the fooled was me. Smart design, if there was one. These two are the Reina Veronica and Reina Magdalena. I mentioned Reina Veronica first because I have already boarded her and was able to ask a tour from the Captain. She is also on a more prominent route.

Unlike basic, short-distance ferry-ROROs that have only one ramp at the bow the Reina Veronica and Reina Magdalena have ramps both at the bow and at the stern. Another distinguishing feature of the sister ships is their bridge is not located on the passenger deck level like the basic, short-distance ferry-ROROs but on a deck higher. This gives the sister a higher stance which I think contributed to them looking bigger than they actually are. The presence of a box structure at the bow also contributed to that illusion. The box structure is usually a feature of ferries next higher to them in size, those of the 40- and 50-meter class or even longer. Those box structure protects against rogue waves and lessens the ingress of rain in the car deck. In sunny weather it is also not that hot in the car deck unlike the LCTs.ian-rm

Reina Veronica and Reina Magdalena were both built in 1984 but Reina Veronica was completed earlier. They were built by Nakamura Shipbuiding & Engine Works in Yanai shipyard, Japan. Reina Veronica has the ID IMO 8408143 and was first known as the White Marlin. Reina Magdalena has the ID IMO 8621771 and was first known as the Blue Marlin.

The sister ships had identical dimensions of 41.0 meters length over-all, 37.6 meters length between perpendiculars, breadth of 9.6 meters and a depth of 3.4 meters. Their depth is a little deeper than most basic, short-distance ferry-ROROs maybe because it was needed to compensate for the higher stance of the sisters. Their dimensional weights are 443 gross tons (their original GRTs are different) with 263 net tons. They have different DWTs however. Reina Veronica has 134 deadweight tons and Reina Magdalena has 117 deadweight tons.

The sister ships also has another difference from the basic, short-distance ferry-ROROs. They have two engines and two funnels and these funnels were the ones which fooled me because you can’t almost find a basic, short-distance ferry-ROROs with two funnels. Originally, the sisters had a pair of Daihatsu marine engines developing a total of 1,800 horsepower which gave them a top speed of 13 knots when new. One can’t find a basic, short-distance ferry-ROROs that has that power on tap and 13 knots in speed.rm-nowell

Reina Veronica and Reina Magdalena both have two masts. Since the bridges are on a deck higher and there is a sun deck that is accessible to passengers thereby adding to the available space for the passengers. Atop the box structure at the front of the ship there is a foredeck accessible from the bridge. All these also contributed to them looking bigger. Both have raked stems and transom sterns. At the stern the scantling of the two ships are not full.

The capacity of the car deck of the sisters is not big. Only two trucks can be loaded across and three the entire length. So if the load is all big trucks they can carry only six and that is the usual for a basic, short-distance ferry RORO.

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In 1991 the sister ships were sold to South Korea to Dae Yang Car Ferry. In that company Reina Veronica became known as the Dae Yang Car Ferry No. 1 and Reina Magdalena was the Dae Yang Car Ferry No. 2. In 2009 the sister ships were conducted to the Philippines and they became part of Marina Ferries. Arriving here almost no part of the superstructures of the ships were modified. Anyway Montenegro Shipping Lines Inc. is always loath to do that.

The sister ships have an airconditioned Tourist section section at the front passenger deck and an open-air Economy section to the rear of that which is the typical arrangement for short-distance ferry-ROROs in the Philippines. The accommodations consist of benches. There is also a small canteen or kiosk which has pretty basic offerings and no meals. The total passenger capacity of the sisters is only 189 persons which is rather small and it would be hard to field them in routes which carry a lot of buses. Only Reina Veronica carries buses since she is in the Dumaguete-Dapitan route and she only carries one Ceres Liner bus. Reina Magdalena which is on the Surigao-Dapa (Siargao) route does not carry buses. They have almost permanent route assignments which is not the norm in Montenegro Lines.rv4.jpg

The two has a reputation of having weak engines when they arrived here although they were built in the 1980’s (there are a lot of ferries built in the 1970’s that came here that still have strong engines). That might not be too surprising as South Korea has a reputation of not taking care of well of the engines of the ferries they acquired from Japan as they simply sell them to other countries after a few years of use and they have no plans of keeping them for the long term. Reina Veronica was the first to be re-engined and she now has a pair of Weichai engines that develops a total of 1,430 horsepower which was less than her original 1,800 horsepower. However, with such new engines she is back to 13 knots in speed where before she can only do 10 knots. At full trot she can even do better than 13 knots and surprise the ferry ahead of her by nearly drawing level before they reach Dapitan. Of course with new engines she is reliable.

It might not be long before Reina Magdalena is also re-engined but with spares from Reina Veronica she might shoulder on with her old engines for the moment especially since there is no competition in the RORO category in her Siargao route. For the passengers that want a speedier ferry, Montenegro Shipping Lines Inc. has a fastcraft on that route (and her competition has Medium Speed Crafts). So she is relative safe at the moment there while Reina Veronica has to fend off a lot of competition in her Dumaguete-Dapitan route which recently saw the arrival of the paradigm-changing FastCats of Archipelago Ferries that can do 17 knots and which arrived brand-new. In that relatively long short-distance ferry route that means a sailing of just a little over 2.5 hours and that will tell on the 4 hours of the 11-knot ROROs. Reina Veronica does that route in 3.5 hours but the difference is still telling.rv3

Will she leave that route and will Montenegro Lines field a faster ship? Not necessarily because actually Montenegro Lines have few ROROs over 13 knots and the ones that are faster than that are already bigger and their current speeds are not much better than Reina Veronica. Maybe their Maria Oliva or Maria Ursula can do the trick but they are also needed in the Roxas-Caticlan route where Montenegro Lines is also under pressure by better competition that recently just came and that also included FastCats in the Bulalacao-Caticlan route and the new Starlite Ferries on the same route they are plying.

Whatever, Reina Veronica will not be wanting for routes. She is better than a basic, short-distance ferry-RORO especially with her new engines. Meanwhile, the Reina Magdalena is sitting pretty in Surigao.rm-boy-bacolod

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Photo Credits: Nowell Alcancia, Ian Lasaca, Ramiro Aranda Jr., Mike Baylon, PSSS, Philippine Ship Spotters Society

The Biggest Shipping Combine in Bicolandia

The Bicol Region has a handful of shipping companies of significant size and that includes the Candano Shipping Lines that is probably the most well-known before and it has clout because they also own the only significant shipyard in the Bicol region, the Mayon Docks in Tabaco, Albay. But among this handful, the biggest is the shipping combine of Sta. Clara Shipping Corporation and Penafrancia Shipping Corporation which have practically the same group of partner-owners. This handful does not include the Archipelago Ferries Philippines Corp. which no longer acts as a Bicol shipping company and is in fact willing to forget and shut the doors on their Bicol roots because they know it is not something they cannot be proud of.

Sta. Clara Shipping Corporation, like Penafrancia Shipping Corporation is into RORO ferries and not cargo ships. Sta. Clara Shipping Corporation antedates Penafrancia Shipping Corporation because of the peculiar circumstances wherein they were born. Sta. Clara Shipping Corporation was formed in 1999 in order to challenge the then-dominant (dominant as in a near-monopoly) Bicol ferry company, the Bicolandia Shipping Lines which was known by other names like Eugenia Tabinas, E. Tabinas or Eugenia Tabinas-San Pablo (well, using legal-fiction companies is not uncommon in inter-island shipping). When Sta. Clara Shipping Corporation came into the Bicol shipping picture with its superior ships, Bicolandia Shipping Lines argued they are entitled to “protection” using what was known as the “prior operator rule”. That was interpreted by shipping companies being challenged as an equal to a near- and legalized monopoly — they argued that nobody else can enter their routes (ahem! ahem! and wow!). If there is a need to increase ships, they argued that they should be the ones that should add ships (hey, aren’t the saying they “bought” the route already?).nm-dominic-san-juan

In this fight, Sta. Clara Shipping Corporation had the backing of the Eastern Visayas mayors especially those from Leyte because their populace had already enough of the lousy service of Bicolandia Shipping Lines which practiced the “alas-puno” system wherein ships depart when it is already full or near-full, in contravention of the published times of departures. However, the Bicolandia Shipping Lines lost in the sala of the maritime regulatory agency, the Maritime Regulatory Agency or MARINA which actually has quasi-judicial powers and can become the court of first instance in maritime cases. That was the turn of the decision because that time the liberalization policy of Fidel V. Ramos on shipping was already the new norm.

Bicolandia Shipping Lines then appealed to the higher court, the Court of Appeals and upon losing again there they brought the case to the highest court of the land, the Supreme Court which also ruled against them. The Supreme Court held any incentive given by government does not mean a company gaining monopoly rights (obviously, I say). Having lost in the courts and being also losing in the seas of Bicol not only to Sta. Clara Shipping Corporation but also to other newcomers like Regina Shipping Lines (which also has deep pockets, heavy political clout and a bus company) and 168 Shipping Lines, Bicolandia Shipping Lines offered to sell themselves lock, stock and barrel. Maybe it was a good move instead of finding themselves depreciated or worse bankrupt in the long run. Sta. Clara Shipping Corp. was losing because its ships were already older than competitions’ and besides having tried the patience of the customers with their always-delayed departures they had already lost the goodwill of the public.

It was Sta. Clara Shipping Corporation that had the pockets deep enough to buy Bicolandia Shipping Lines lock, stock and barrel. They might be new but their stockholders were already established in other businesses and that even included shipping. But instead of buying Bicolandia Shipping Lines and integrating its fleet with theirs, Sta. Clara Shipping Corporation decided to form the Penafrancia Shipping Corporation for said acquisition. Penafrancia Shipping Corporation has almost the same ownership group as Sta. Clara Shipping Corporation. When the acquisition was complete Sta. Clara Shipping Corporation and Penafrancia Shipping Corporation acted just like one company much like one or the other is a legal-fiction company. Their scheduling are united and their ticketing, berthing, crewing and supplies are unified too. That also goes through for their customer relations, the corralling of vehicles to contracts, negotiations and arrangements with the different ports and LGUs (local government units) and the maintenance of friendly relations with MARINA, the maritime regulatory agency. Drydocking and repairs are also unified.dh

Sta. Clara Shipping Corpo and Penafrancia Shipping Corporation operates four routes which are all short-distance ferry routes using ROROs. Their primary one is the Matnog-Allen route and the other routes are the Tabaco-Virac route, the Masbate-Pio Duran route and the Liloan-Lipata route, their recent expansion. In serving these routes, Sta. Clara Shipping Corp. has six ROROs and Penafrancia Shipping Corp. has four ROROs. The two companies do not operate cruisers and practically all their load are rolling cargoes which means trucks, buses, panel trucks, jeeps, cars and SUVs and even long vehicles and heavy equipment (though they don’t prefer the last two).

The six ROROs of the Sta. Clara Shipping Corp. are the following:

King Frederick: IMO 8704315. Built in 1987 by Kanda Shipbuilding Co. in Kawajiri yard, Japan. 58.6m x 14.0m x 3.8m. 694gt, 357nt, 304dwt, 750 pax. 2 x 1,200hp Daihatsu, 13.5kts when new.

Nelvin Jules: IMO 8504404. Built in 1985 by Kanda Shipbuilding Co. in Kawajiri yard, Japan. 58.6m x 14.0m x 3.8m. 694gt, 357nt, 304dwt, 750 pax. 2 x 1,000hp Daihatsu, 13.5kts when new.

Hansel Jobett: IMO 7927075. Built in 1979 by Kanda Shipbuilding Co. in Kawajiri yard, Japan. 51.1m x 14.0m x 3.4m. 610gt, 288nt, 208dwt, 580 pax. 2 x 1,000hp Daihatsu, 13.5kts when new.

Mac Bryan (ex-Ever Queen of Pacific): IMO 7034452. Built in 1970 by Shimoda Dockyard Co. in Shimoda yard, Japan. 54.0m x 12.0m x 3.8m. 499gt, 239nt, 2 x 900hp Niigata, 14kts when new.

Nathan Matthew (ex-Asia Japan): IMO 7326582. Built in 1973 by Naikai Zosen Corp. in Taguma yard, Japan. 64.0m x 13.1m x 3.3m. 1,030gt, 359nt, 443dwt. 2 x 2,000hp Daihatsu, 16kts when new.

Jack Daniel: IMO 8848604. Built in 1990 by Fujiwara Zosensho Co. in Omishima yard, Japan. 65.0m x 14.0m. 965Gt, 252dwt. 2 x 2,150 Niigata, 17kts when new.

The four ROROs of Penafrancia Shipping Corp. are the following:

Don Benito Ambrosio II (ex-Princess of Mayon): IMO 7629520. Built in 1967 by Hashihama Zosen in Imabari yard, Japan. 64.0m x 11.3m x 3.6m. 1,010gt, 686nt, 175dwt, 494 pax. 2,000hp Daihatsu + a Yanmar replacement engine, 13kts when new.

Don Herculano (ex-Princess of Bicolandia): unknown IMO Number. Built in 1970 by Shin Nihon(?) in Japan. 46.4m x 12.0m x 2.8m. 1,029gt, 454nt, 855pax. 2 x 1,000hp Daihatsu, 13.5kts when new.

Eugene Elson (ex-Eugenia): IMO 6601517. Built in 1965 by ImabariShipbuilding Co. in Imabari yard, Japan. 41.7m x 14.6m x 3.0m. 488gt, 118nt, 138dwt, 484 pax. 2 x 550hp Daihatsu, 11.5kts when new.

Anthon Raphael: IMO 8921781. Built by Naikai Zosen Corp. in Setoda yard, Japan. 61.4m x 14.0m x 3.2m. 1,093gt, 688nt, 270dwt, 400pax. 2 x 1,700hp Daihatsu, 15.5kts when new.

Note: Sta. Clara Shipping Corp. and Penafrancia Shipping Corp. do not use single-engined, single-screw ships because of its weakness in handling the strong swells of Bicol especially during the habagat (southwest monsoon) season.

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Sta. Clara Shipping Corporation and Penafrancia Shipping Corporation are very good in locking in the buses. That means the buses are contracted to be loaded in them in contracts. That also means these buses are paying what is called in the trade as “special rates” or even “super special rates” or even better. In this trade, the charge on buses are way lower than the published rates because the fares of the passengers makes additional revenue. With these contracts, the buses have guaranteed loading even in peak season and the ships will even wait for them if they are a little late. The driver/conductors need not even go to the windows to transact. The “Super Angels” of Sta. Clara Shipping Corporation will then just go to them inside the car deck of the ship and if it is a company account then all they have to do is just sign and it will be settled company-to-company.

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Sta. Clara Shipping Corporation also gives the driver/conductors what is called in the trade as “rebates”. That consists of complimentary tickets that can then be sold to the passengers and the equivalent money will go to the driver/conductors as extra income for their kabuhayan (meals and many other things for their upkeep and pleasure). This practice is recognized and tolerated by the bus companies as incentives to their their driver/conductors but the general riding public does not know that (that, however, is open knowledge in the ports). So even without a contract the driver/conductors themselves will herd their buses to Sta. Clara Shipping Corporation and Penafrancia Shipping Corporation except for Philtranco driver/conductors who are locked in to Maharlika ships without the discount their counterparts in other companies enjoy. In this world, the greatest advertisement is actually cold cash.

And I give respect to Sta. Clara Shipping Corp. for developing this practice of rebates to the bus companies and drivers/conductors. With it, development of routes is easier because the bus company need not shoulder all the expenses of bringing the bus across the strait since by rules and previous decisions they cannot charge that to the passengers. Oh, well, only slyly in case, in such a way that passengers won’t notice. But how can the passengers there in Bicol notice when fares are discounted almost whole year round? Well, with this practice the ships of Sta. Clara Shipping Corporation and Penafrancia Shipping Corporation are almost always full of vehicles. This duo really knows their business.

The duo are also very good in locking in the trucks. The system works the same as in buses but the discounts are not that steep because there are no passengers as additional revenue. And in terms of priority in loading they come second to the buses because unlike the buses they don’t have that tight schedule to meet and there are no passengers that will complain when a ferry is missed. There are also company accounts where only the signature of the driver is needed (no payments are made) and it is settled company-to-company. There are discounts for the suki (regular customers) which can be enjoyed by the truck crew especially by the driver. As suki these trucks get priority boarding over other trucks and private vehicles.hj

This then brings us to the complaints of the driver-owners of private vehicles which only cross during vacations. When they arrive in the port they think the system is on a first-come, first-served basis and they grit their teeth and vent their frustration even over the media when they see buses and trucks that came later than them board first. Their charge is “favoritism” but they do not understand that like in many other things reservations trump their case and these suki or company accounts are just like reservations. Actually, dozens of kilometers away these priority boardings already confirm their coming arrival and in case of buses or panel trucks the reservations can be year-round and if it will not be availed they cancel the reservations over the cellphone so their space can be given to others. Reservations works in the airlines, the shipping industry, in theaters or concerts, in restaurants and in many other industries. It is otherwise called as “bookings”.

Sta. Clara Shipping Corporation and Penafrancia Shipping Corporation are very good in cultivating the drivers. Aside from rebates, they can arrange a lot of personal services aboard the ships be it massage, manicure, services that are more personal, a good sleeping place and that also include free meals that are good. When I had access to their hospitality area inside Hansel Jobett I saw three viands for lunch including sugpo (tiger prawns) and those were free and the mess was airconditioned. That area was beneath the car deck on the engine level and I was surprised it existed. If Hansel Jobett has that then King Frederick and Nelvin Jules also have that since the three ships are related in design. It is not accessible to ordinary passengers but I was a VIP then (ehem! ehem!) and they gave me use of one the cabins. It was the equivalent of a first-class cabin of a liner although smaller.

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Sta. Clara Shipping Corporation are also very good in cultivating relationships with owners. Aside from hefty discounts and priority boardings with their trucks (and no hours lost waiting in ports means extra available trucks, satisfied customers and less labor cost) there are other benefits too like company-to-company singilan (reconciliation of accounts) which in effect means a loan. I heard settling takes months and that is extra working capital for forwardersand truckers while that might just be empty space for the ship otherwise. Even if the truck crew has no more money to board the ship they will not be denied boarding. Now that is one big utang na loob.

Sta. Clara Shipping Corp. had a long, beneficial and mutually supportive relationship with BALWHARTECO, the operator of the premier port in Allen, Northern Samar which is a private port. They grew together and had a relation like brothers. Sta. Clara Shipping Corp. and Penafrancia Shipping Corporation brought in traffic to BALWHARTECO not only because they had the most number of ships but with the support of the duo to buses and trucks the traffic volume increased and BALWHARTECO earns with wharfage and other port fees.

With their cooperation together, the duo and BALWHARTECO were able to trump the other ports in Northern Samar that link to Matnog. First to be defeated was the official government port, the San Isidro Ferry Terminal. Though vehicles see San Isidro first it had an Achilles heel — it was by far the most distant port from Matnog at 15 nautical miles compared to the 11 nautical miles of BALWHARTECO and the 12 nautical miles of the Dapdap port of Philharbor which was the second to be defeated and not by distance alone since the distance difference is not significant.dba-nj-edsel

In port and ferry patronage, one that wins is the one with the most number of ships because that means there will be no long waits before departures. And it is reassuring to drivers if there are always ships in port and with multiple ones (which means a choice). That became the weakness of San Isidro port and Dapdap port even though they come into view earlier as the vehicles won’t come to them if it sees that there are no ships in port. The driver soon had the mentality to go straight to BALWHARTECO since there are always ships there.

With the acquisition of Bicolandia Shipping Lines plus other ship acquisitions, Sta. Clara Shipping Corp. became the dominant shipping company in Bicol engaged in RORO operations. They defeated the Archipelago Ferries+Philharbor Ferry combine which were more known as the Maharlika ships. That duo had no focus, were lousy in maintaining ships and were also lousy in competing, all the diseases prevalent in former crony companies. That combine supported another lousy sister company, the Philtranco Service Enterprises Inc. but their pairing actually doomed them both. Philtranco buses would wait in the port even though there are no Maharlika ships in port thus losing hours, And with a captive bus company, Archipelago Ferries+Philharbor Ferry did not learn how to play well the rebate-vehicle locking game (in fact they never seemed to learn it).

The stockholders of Sta. Clara Shipping Corporation+Penafrancia Shipping Corporation might not really need to take profit, so to speak. They are very good in their other businesses and their owners are established businessmen with some dominant in their regional sphere. Some are even engaged in shipping too. In shipping, I glimpse the method they use in their other businesses especially the locking game.

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Soon, the duo’s owners engaged in horizontal expansion. They were able to establish a partnership with the Villono Shipyard in Tayud, Cebu. With the creation of that partnership, they withdrew patronage of the Mayon Docks in Tabaco City, Albay and brought their ships for drydocking and maintenance in the far-off Tayud. Maybe one of the benefits of this partnership is they then had a reputation of taking care well of of their old ships. Well, with a profitable operation and well-heeled owners that might not be a surprising thing.

The duo has also shown they can defend and hold turf and can also expand. The stronger Montenegro Lines (Montenegro Shipping Lines Inc. of Batangas) came but they did not buckle. At the same time they were also able to expand like when they tried the Pasacao-Masbate route being promoted by MARINA (they soon withdraw from this route). The also tried the Bulan-Masbate route which made no sense for bus passengers and for the trucks as it is farther from Manila (they can’t operate in the Pilar-Masbate route because they have no basic, short-distance ferry-ROROs and the Pilar port is shallow). However, they struck gold in the Masbate-Pio Duran, Albay route. With rebate support the buses were able to roll into Masbate even though the land kilometerage within Masbate island is short to be able to recoup the rolling cargo rate (this was the failure of the Maharlika ferries + PSEI attempt a decade before them). Recently they also went to Liloan-Lipata route.

In recent years, the duo tried another horizontal expansion, the building and operating of a port in Allen, Samar too where BALWHARTECO is also located.

This led to the split of Sta. Clara Shipping Corporation+Penafrancia Shipping Corporation and BALWHARTECO. Sta. Clara Shipping Corporation said they resented the coming of 168 Shipping in BALWHARTECO (or was it the entry of Montenegro Lines that broke the camel’s back actually?) which supposedly was against an agreement (sorry, I cannot verify this). Or maybe they also saw how profitable is a port operation and the formula they already saw in the operation of BALWHARTECO. And so they built their own port in Jubasanbut this was stopped by the Mayor of Allen who happened to be the owner of BALWHARTECO. Construction continued even though the gates were shuttered and the knowledgeable knew the Mayor will lose since a Mayor’s permit can be demanded thru a court mandamus (or even ask the Department of Interior and Local Government for his suspension). The Mayor actually has no legal leg to stand on and jurisprudence said they always lost. And so Sta. Clara Shipping Corporation was able to finish the port and it is now operating.

However, I have doubts if that is a good move in the long term. They no longer have the backing of BALWHARTECO and the Mayor of Allen town and it might just lead to a war between them. After all they both know the formula and bad blood exists now. Admittedly, Sta. Clara Shipping Corporation might have the edge as they have the ships and can do transfer pricing, that is, charge low in the rolling cargo to attract the vehicles and they can “correct” in port charges. Both of them know how to make a port attractive – loading even if the truck has no budget (but here Sta. Clara Shipping Corporation can do it both ways not only in port charges but also in shipping charges), diesel fuel loan, other rebates, the presence of shops along with eateries, lodging and a blaring disco along with many personal services to the drivers.

The problem of the two is they are not competing in a vacuum. They actually have a threat in the Fastcats, the big Montenegro Lines and the new Cargo RORO LCTs. Montenegro Lines will always be around as it has a big fleet and a deep bucket and probably supported by a heavyweight (literally and figuratively) former powerful figure, a “patron saint”. Recently, it was able to get a franchise for the Masbate-Pio Duran route and that can cut into the income of Sta. Clara Shipping Corporation and Penafrancia Shipping Corporation. Montenegro Lines can also apply for the Tabaco-Virac route especially since Regina Shipping Lines abandoned this in favor of the Tabaco-San Andres route (hence, there is an apperance of a “monopoly”). After all this is the era of liberalization. And Sta. Clara Shipping Corporation can find itself in the shoes of Bicolandia Shipping Lines before, that is defending turf via the “legal” way. Actually they are already doing the denial game with their blocking of the entry of FastCats in Allen.

The FastCats could be the more serious threat in the long run as it has new ships, a new paradigm that could be dangerous if it is able to run many trips a day which they will certainly do. What they are showing is they will not play the old game of running just a few trips a day. It seems they will try to run to the ground the opposition because that is the only way they can win because they are carrying a lot of amortization weight.

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Actually it seems duo lacks the ships now especially since they have to respond to the moves of Archipelago Philippine Ferries Corporation with its FastCats which is a different animal than they competed with in the past. Montenegro Shipping Lines presence in Bicol is also increasing as Archipelago Ferries collaborated with them and recently they even were able to get a franchise in the Masbate-Pio Duran route. In Liloan-Lipata route they had to bring a better RORO to be able to compete with the speed and newness of FastCats. The will have to respond in Masbate-Pio Duran by maybe with also plying a route to Pilar port which is improved now. They will need three ships in Masbate, one in Liloan, two in Tabaco and that will leave them with just four ships in Samar and not all might be running because of drydock requirements and the sometimes trouble like what happened to the Nathan Matthew recently which is docked in San Isidro port for repairs. Remember one of the most important factor to attract drivers is the always-presence of ships waiting in the port. They might be stretched too thin now unless they acquire new ships (they have the financial capability for that).

Another new threat also and a possible paradigm change is the new Cargo RORO LCTs that are plying routes in Matnog-Allen and in Liloan-Lipata. NN+ATS (euphemistically called “2GO” but that is near the truth) operates them by chartering big China-made LCTs. Cargo RORO LCTs is the recent bane of short-distance ferry-ROROs and overnight ferry-ROROs because these can offer rates as much as half off the current rates because they have no investment in passenger comfort and service, they are fuel misers albeit slow and they have to discount to gain rolling cargo.

What I see is a lot of labu-labo (free-for-all) in Bicol in the coming years. Many will be bruised and I don’t know which will fall to the ground. Well, I just wish it will not turn out that Sta. Clara Shipping Corporation bit more than what it can chew.

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Photo Credits: Dominic San Juan, Edsel Benavides, Aris Refugio, Mike Baylon, PSSS

The Long-Careered Delta III

The people of Central Visayas know this fastcraft because for a number of years she was sailing from Dumaguete to Siquijor which was probably her most successful route locally. She would leave at early morning and people at the port and at the Dumaguete Boulevard would watch her powerful wakes and wash that only a High Speed Craft can make. She also have that striking livery which was unlike other fastcrafts.

When I first saw her in Dumaguete, I was deceived. It did not enter my mind that Delta III was a fastcraft I once probably knew and might have even ridden. But thanks to the PSSS collaboration with grosstonnage.com of Angelo Blasutta which was a very good database when it was still functional, I was able to trace who she was. I must admit though that there are still a few uncertainties in her career especially since one company that owned her in the past, the Viva Shipping group had name and ownership changes in the fastcrafts they owned.

Another faction in my deception is the livery made her seem bigger, I think, and the truth is I did not think she would have survived the downs of the shipping companies which once owned her. Add to add her age. Fastcrafts are not known to live very long unlike the conventional ferries. In most cases, when the engines go that is also the end of this kind of craft. High speed engines also do not last as long as low speed engines (in metallurgical engineering they it is the total number of revolutions made that determines when the engine will give way). Another angle is the engines might still be alive but the revenues might no longer be enough for the fuel consumption That is quite true in High Speed Crafts whose engines are no longer efficient. And that is the reason why so many High Speed Crafts built in the 1980’s and 1990’s are on the market today because they are no longer profitable to operate.

Delta III is one of the oldest fastcrafts still running locally. She was built by Sumidagawa Shipyard Company of Tokyo, Japan in 1979 and she was first known as Shiokaze and her ID was IMO 7913945. grosstonnage.com says she was once known too as Marine Star and that was probably when she was still in Japan.

This fastcraft is not big although she is bigger than the smallest fastcrafts around like the Santander Expresses or the FastCraft Aznars which sail near the seas where Delta III sail. She is 26.7 meters in length over-all and she measures 25.9 meters in length between perpendiculars. Her breadth is 5.8 meters and she has a depth of 2.6 meters. Her dimensional weights are 152 gross tons and 43 net tons and her deadweight tonnage is 14 tons. Two of her sister ships were the Sachikaze and Oikaze which both went to Sun Cruises of Manila as the Island Cruisers and which then went to Viva Shipping Lines in 1994 to battle the newly-arrived SuperCats then in the Batangas-Calapan route. She is also sister ship to the Sazanami which went to Viva Shipping Lines also.

The Delta III has an aluminum alloy hull and she has a raked stem and transom stern. She has a single mast and and one passenger deck in serrated arrangement. Her original powerplant were most likely Detroit Diesels of over 2,000 horsepower and the original speed will be about 25 or 26 knots.

In 1995, she came to the Philippines to Viva Shipping Lines as the Our Lady of Fatima II. She was one of the six fastcrafts that came into the fleet of Viva Shipping Lines combine. There are confusions though in the maritime databases because of the renamings and the situation that not all fastcrafts and even those from Japan have IMO Numbers.

When Viva Shipping Lines began spiralling down in 2002 because of overcompetition, internal troubles and loss of patronage, she went to the fleet of the Blue Magic Ferries which was a successor company to Viva Shipping Lines and owned by the scions of that company. This company is headquartered in Lucena City, Quezon and is using the old base there of Viva Shipping Lines. Blue Magic Ferries tried to continue sailing from Lucena in alliance with the rump of ACG Express Liner, a Cebu shipping company which tried its fate in Batangas but which also lost. In Blue Magic Ferries Shiokaze was known as the Blue Water Lady II. Along this way, the fastcraft was re-engined to twin Caterpillar engines of 2,200 horsepower which lengthened her life and she was again capable of 25 knots.

In 2007, the struggles of Blue Magic Ferries intensified when their RORO ferry Blue Water Princess which came from ACG Express Liner capsized off Bondoc Peninsula of the province of Quezon in foul weather while doing a Lucena-Masbate route. In 2008, Blue Magic Ferries stopped sailing because of a franchise problem supposedly emanating from a dispute between the scions of the founder of Viva Shipping Lines.

After a lay-up in Lucena, the Blue Water Lady II was sold to DIMC Shipping of Dumaguete where she became the Delta III. She plied a regular route between Dumaguete and Siquijor even though at times DIMC Shipping had problems with competition. This was exacerbated when the invading ROROs of Montenegro Shipping Lines Inc. came which was later followed by the ROROs of Aleson Shipping Lines. DIMC Shipping then earned bad repute by outright cancelling of trips when there are only a few tickets purchased for a trip and citing some weak reasons.

In 2014, DIMC Shipping quit and sold their last vessel, the Delta III to a Siquijor-based competitor, the GL Shipping Lines which was successful despite of “foreign” vessel entries to the island. She was renamed then as the GL Express 2. In a sense too, she is a replacement to the sunk GL Express of the company, the former Canoan Jet which in actuality was just a Medium Speed Craft already then. 

Where is this long-careered fastcraft headed? Honestly, I don’t know. All I know is I want her to continue to survive and continue sailing. As things stands now, she might already be in better hands as GL Shipping, to which Siquijodnons seem to have parochial loyalty. This company is thriving especially since she has the shorter route to Siquijor, Siquijor compared to competition.

GL Express 2 is now one of the oldest fastcrafts still existing in the country, a longevity earned despite going through many ownership changes. May she sail more in the future.

When An Overnight Ship Not High On The Cebu Totem Pole Of Ships Became Highly Regarded in Batangas

Before 2009, Trans-Asia Shipping Lines Inc. (TASLI) already had a problem with their Asia Hongkong as it was no longer that reliable. This ship had quadruple engines and to transfer the power generated by that two synchronizers are used. As said in the mechanical world, more complications means more possibility of failure. Or more maintenance and probably more trouble. Trans-Asia Shipping Lines was not lucky with that kind of arrangement with their sister ships Trans-Asia and Asia China which happened to have quadruple Niigata engines too. Sulpicio Lines was not lucky too with that kind of arrangement with the quadruple Pielsticks of their Princess of New Unity.

Asia Hongkong was sold to Montenegro Shipping Lines, Inc. of Batangas and this company has the patience and the resources to nurse back ailing ships to become reliable once more. And after half a year of so and after some unreliability early on they were able to nurse back Asia Hongkong which was now known as the Reina del Rosario. As Asia Hongkong this ship was not highly rated in Cebu which has a lot of good overnight ships, the type where this ship belongs. Ahead of her then in Cebu was nearly 20 overnight ship better than her. And so when news filtered back to Cebu that Reina del Rosario was well-appreciated in Batangas, it drew some laughs.

The problem actually lies in Batangas shipping. For too long they did not really invest in good overnight ships. For distances and voyage durations that last half a night including loading time and waiting, they will make do with benches and just let passengers try to curl in there or else hang their heads on the bench ahead of them. A survey of their passengers at midnight is a scene of various levels of discomfort and lack of sleep.

This problem started during the time of the dominance of Viva Shipping Lines. For overnight routes they will use ships simply equipped with benches and very poor toilet facilities. It took for Paciencio Balbon of MARINA to end this after a long struggle. Even after Viva Shipping Lines sank, their successors never learned how to make their passengers more comfortable. Or to really learn and invest in passenger service. Well, they will even skimp on ships’ scantlings just to save a little money. For me, it is obvious they don’t really care for the passengers’ comfort.

Meanwhile, since there is competition in Cebu and there is pride among the shipping owners, the ships of Cebu were better in everything. From the very start there is a Suite Class or at the very least a First Class Cabin. Those classes were completely foreign in Batangas then. If Cebu overnight ships have restaurants, in Batangas the highest equivalent will be a small kiosk with no meals offered. And they do not know how to spell “lounge” in Batangas because it simply cannot be found there then. If there is a front desk in Cebu ships, there is none of that in Batangas ships. Ask for linen (beddings) or towel, well, they have never heard of that in Batangas.

In Cebu, when they use a small RORO as an overnight or night ferry they will try to convert part of the accommodations equipped with bunks. And even have a small, airconditioned Tourist section. Well, if a ship arrives early, they won’t force you down. It is your free “lodging” until you wake up. That is not the practice in Batangas ships.

That was the reason why Asia Hongkong/Reina del Rosario, an old ship not high in Cebu rankings got appreciated in Batangas. Suddenly, Batangas passengers learned there is something better. And the aircon is even cooler. This was the time the Cebu Ferries were not yet Batangas Ferries. Now when that trio came, they easily set new standards in Batangas shipping, a standard that has not yet been matched until now. But before they came, Asia Hongkong/Reina del Rosario set the new standards in comfort among Batangas ships.

Asia Hongkong/Reina del Rosario started her career in Japan as the Hakodate Maru No. 10 of Hakodate Shosen KK. She was once a ferry connecting Hokkaido island to the main island of Honshu (ferries are now gone there when the tunnel was built). This ferry was built Narasaki Zosen in their Muroran yard in 1971 but it was Hakodate Dock that completed the ship. The ship is a RORO (Roll On, Roll Off) ship with bow and stern ramps for loading vehicles on the single-level car deck. The ship originally has only one passenger deck with the bridge on a deck higher than that. The ship has no full scantling in Japan.

Hakodate Maru No. 10 has a raked stem and a transom stem, two masts and two funnels. The external dimensions are 82.8 meters length over-all (LOA), 76.2 meters length between perpendiculars (LBP) and a breadth (B) of 14.0 meters. The original gross register tonnage (GRT) was 1,034 and the original deadweight tonnage (DWT) was 1,495. Her four Niigata engines totalled 5,320 horsepower and her top speed was 17 knots when new. She has about 300 lane-meters of rolling cargo space. Her permanent ID is IMO 7109465.

In 1978, she was sold to Higashi Nippon Ferry KK, a source of many ships that came to the Philippines including the Asia Brunei of Trans-Asia Shipping Lines. After 10 more years, she was sold to the Philippines and she became the Asia Korea of Trans-Asia Shipping Lines. In refitting, the scantling and deck was extended to the stern and a second passenger deck was added. Initially, the second deck was not extended full to the stern and it served a poop deck and observation deck. And in line with Trans-Asia’s common design, a barbecue place was built there next to the canteen and restaurant (these are two separate facilities in Trans-Asia Shipping Company.

With the extensions the gross tonnage of the ship rose to 1,842 and with further extensions this eventually rose to 2,093 with the net tonnage now 1,350. The passenger capacity then rose to 784 with the majority of it in Economy class. The deadweight tonnage (DWT) was practically unchanged (this does not necessarily change). However, her speed was down to about 15 knots due to age and the added weight.

The ship became a four-class ship with Suite, First Class Cabin, Tourist and the usual open-air Economy for the masses. The new deck and the extension of the first or lower deck became the Economy sections. An upper-class restaurant and a lounge was also present in the airconditioned portion that held the higher classes. The barbecue place, canteen and restaurant near the poop deck was open for all (after all barbecue is always a hit among Visayans).

Asia Korea was not the usual overnight ferry ship of Cebu because its original route was Cebu-Iloilo-Zamboanga-General Santos City (and that explains her accommodations and amenities that were later appreciated in Batangas). That was the time when Trans-Asia Shipping Lines still had long routes. Her role was actually that of a multi-day liner much like the Asia Japan which came in the same year as Asia Korea that had a Cebu-Dumaguete-Dapitan-Zamboanga route. This was also the time when Trans-Asia Shipping Lines was still a Zamboanga player in the passenger segment of the market.

Later, Trans-Asia Shipping Lines withdrew from their long routes and she was assigned to the other major routes of the company. Heading into the mid-1990’s, the shipping competition was getting fierce as there was optimism in the shipping sector and many invested when President Fidel Ramos rolled out his liberation and modernization program. In her original route she was being slowly squeezed by the superior liners coming from Manila especially in the Iloilo-Zamboanga-General Santos segment and cargo in her route from Cebu to Zamboanga or vice-versa is not that strong.

Withdrawn from her route she was assigned to the different major routes of the company as Trans-Asia Shipping Lines also rotate their ships. But to avoid confusion let it be said that this is a different ship from the smaller Asia South Korea which grounded and sank near Bantayan island. Actually to avoid confusion Asia Korea was renamed as the Asia Hongkong.

In the latter days with Trans-Asia Shipping Lines when her engines are no longer that strong Asia Hongkong was assigned the shorter Tagbilaran-Cagayan de Oro route of the company which was probably the shortest remaining route of the company then.

In 2009 she was sold to Montenegro Shipping Lines Inc. (MSLI) and she was renamed as the Reina del Rosario and officially under that company early on but currently she is now under their legal-fiction company Marina Ferries Inc. In that twin company, as an overnight ferry company, she is usually assigned the overnight Batangas-Odiongan route although at times she can be found on other routes.

Her passenger capacity rose again to 930 with internal modifications. Her usual maintained speed is 11-12 knots. I just wonder if in Batangas people realize she is the sister ship of the dead San Lorenzo Ruiz of the defunct Sto. Domingo Shipping Lines, a legal-fiction company of Viva Shipping Lines which was the Hakodate No. 11 in Japan. The scantling of that ship was not full so the resemblance is not that great. The San Lorenzo Ruiz was gone in the early 2000’s with the bankruptcy of her company. For clarity, let is be said that this ship is different from the San Lorenzo Ruiz, a liner of the Negros Navigation Company.

Reina del Rosario is now a reliable ship as her new owner is good in maintaining old ships and have the resources to lengthen their lives. She is the biggest ship in Montenegro Shipping Lines/Marina Ferries which is a testament that Cebu ferries are bigger than Batangas ferries.

I guess Batanguenos (and Romblomanons) will still be seeing her for a long time. Well, unless Art Tugade gets his way and treat ships as if their lifespan are just as good as the buses, wrongly.

[Photo from a framed TASLI photo.]

It’s An Uphill Fight Now For The Pilar-Masbate Big Motor Bancas

Once upon a time, some 50 years ago and earlier, the main connection of Masbate island through its main port of Masbate to the Bicol mainland was the progressive town of Bulan in the southernmost tip of Sorsogon. Masbate then had good and links to Manila through passenger-cargo liners. All of those that drop anchor in Masbate port were still proceeding to Sorsogon and the northern ports of Bicol, Samar, Leyte, Cebu and with some still going to northern Mindanao ports.

These links had been around right after the war and even before the war. The trade driving it was copra and the port ’round Samar Sea and environs and the northern Bicol ports were great funnels of copra. Copra then was a powerful commodity such that there was even a “Coconut Alliance” in the same manner that there was a “Sugar Alliance” in the Philippine Congress and at the apex of that early on was presidentiable Jose Avelino of Samar which later passed on to Emmanuel Pelaez of Misamis Oriental with Emilio Espinosa of Masbate the local linchpin in the area. These “alliances” were pressure groups and plays a key role in selecting and supporting the national candidates.

Masbate port was a hub where goods can be exchanged with other ports in that area. This also involved goods to and from the national capital center and that was one of the reasons of the strong Masbate-Bulan connection. However, at the tail end of the 1970’s these nexus of links where Masbate was a major player began to go downhill. There were plenty of interconnected reasons for that and that will require a long discussion and hence will be left out of this article but two of those were the development of the highways and the rise of the intermodal transport system.

In the next phase when Masbate port just became a sideshow in the national liner network, the Masbate-Bulan link just became more of a purveyor of local goods. Masbate will no longer supply goods from Manila since Bulan has already a good road connection to Manila (courtesy of the buses Pantranco South and JB Lines). Motor boats and big motor bancas made the link between the two ports. However, in the same period emerged a new challenger to Bulan which was the port and town of Pilar in Sorsogon and in due time the Pilar-Masbate connection superseded in importance the Bulan-Masbate connection.

What tilted the balance was Pilar is much nearer than Bulan to the regional trade center of Legazpi-Daraga and to Manila. The bus factor got into the picture too. Where before JB Line and Pantranco South bus waited for passenger in Bulan terminal right beside the port, slowly “colorum” buses and Pantranco South buses began waiting for passengers in Pilar terminal right beside the port too. Pilar is significantly nearer to Manila than Bulan and so the fare is cheaper and the travel time shorter. Really, when roads get good, some paradigm changes are induced. Through the sea, Pilar and Bulan are nearly equidistant to Masbate port.

Big motor bancas and small motor boats connected Pilar and Masbate with the former much more in abundance. Both are powered by surplus truck engines (some are twin V-8s!) but the big motor boat being lighter is nimbler and faster. Another change that tilted the balance for Pilar was the reawakening of the Aroroy gold mines which was started by the small miners. This mine like the Larap mine shuttered in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s due to the drop of the world prices of copper and iron. Now such reawakening fueled people movement and the bus in Pilar and Pilar-Aroroy big motor bancas and small motor boats were there to serve it. Bulan cannot be the port of departure because it is simply too far from Aroroy. And so the start of the 1980’s saw the beginning of the heyday of the Pilar-Masbate big motor bancas.

The traffic in the route is heavy both ways in the early morning and approaching mid-afternoon. The reason for latter is these big motor bancas do not run at night and not because of MARINA or Coast Guard edicts. The trips last 3.5 to 4 hours and they hightail it before dusk settles. The reason, as anyone who is familiar with the coastal sea is the winds begin to get active and so do the swells when night is approaching. And the seas here, the Ticao Pass, the Masbate Pass and the Black Rock Pass have a high level of notoriety in showing no mercy to small crafts. These waters are graveyards of many motor bancas especially the fishing bancas. These three bodies of water are considered the most dangerous waters of Bicol, bar none.

There are many operators of big motor bancas in the Pilar-Masbate route but two entities dominated, the Denica Lines and the Lobrigo Lines and their rivalry is intense but not destructive. The two then raced with bigger and faster motor boats but their rivalry did not end in that sphere. Lobrigo Lines went into the bus business as vertical integration. So you ride their motor banca and you are assured of a bus seat (that was not sure in the past when there were not so many buses yet). In the reverse route, their bus passenger goes to their motor bancas. Of course all assistance and courtesy is extended and it was not simply like hauling cattle as this route is an epitome of free market competition. So aside from plenty of choices in bus and motor banca, the fares are fair game to haggle and courtesies are on full display. Pilar and Masbate are ports where there is no talk of porterage for motor banca passenger cargo. One does not queue for tickets also. They ask you inside the boat if you are already ready to pay and there is just a minimal charge for cargo.

Meanwhile, Denica Lines ventured into passenger ferries first with the cruiser ferry Bikol Express which was the former Elizabeth Lilly of Western Samar Shipping Lines. When they sold that Batanes Multipurpose Cooperative, they then acquire the Odyssey of Alabat Shipping Corporation which is a basic, short-distance ferry-RORO. Later, they also acquired the Vanessa P2 (ex-Torrijos) of Sta. Cruz Shipping which served the Lucena-Marinduque route and they renamed this the Marina Empress. This ship is another basic, short-distance ferry-RORO.

Lobrigo Lines took a different approach. They bought two fastcrafts from Japan which became the Maria Natasha and Maria Querubin. Not long after they sold the fastcrafts to Montenegro Shipping Lines Inc. of Batangas which became the point of entry for that company in Bicol waters. The buses of Lobrigo Lines did not last that much long either. After less a decade only a few were still running until operations were nearly shut. It came back but other operators are merely riding on their permits. Maybe being good in seacrafts do not guarantee one will be good in land transport.

Montenegro Shipping Lines Inc. whose inferior fastcrafts was trounced in the Batangas-Calapan route then was able to find a profitable haven in Pilar-Masbate. They actually invested in a jetty so their fastcrafts can safely use Pilar port which has notorious shallow waters because it lies in an estuary. They also invested in wharf improvement so they can also operate safely the basic-short distance ferry-ROROs they brought to the route. Then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo never saw fit to improve Pilar port because that happened to be under the district of a political opponent which was Francis Escudero. She would rather waste money in dozens of “ports to nowhere” than invest in one opposition port which has a true and growing traffic.

With the success of the fastcrafts and the basic-short distance ferry ROROs and with it the buses now crossing to and now rolling in Masbate island in its entirely, the Pilar-Masbate big motor bancas felt severe pressure. In most instances now, they are just the carriers of local passengers and cargo since Manila passengers and small cargo is now borne by the buses. Intermodal trucks has also invaded Masbate island and that further lessened the load of the Pilar-Masbate motor bancas.

Still the Pilar-Masbate motor bancas are still plying the route bravely and with elan. In the early morning from Masbate they rule the route since the buses and trucks are still not yet around and so the earliest RORO leaves around 10am. In the early morning hours from Masbate their competition are the fastcrafts. But the fare of those are double compared to them and so it is generally the middle and upper classes including the government workers who are patrons of that. The hoi polloi and the early cargo belongs to them because the fastcrafts don’t carry cargo.

In Pilar many leave too in the early morning hours especially if the ROROs are gone. The ROROs depart before morning since the buses and trucks are already there and those are early because most will still roll the length of Masbate island and it is their target to finish the route before lunch is well past. In the midmorning there will be no more ROROs in Pilar that will be crossing to Masbate and in Masbate there are no more ROROs after 1 pm. When there are no more ROROs that is the opening for the motor bancas. But it does not mean they will not leave if there are ROROs running. They will and they will try to overtake the RORO since they are faster (what are twin V-8s for anyway?).

However, a new development ratcheted up the pressure on the Pilar-Masbate motor bancas. A new route was developed, the Masbate-Pio Duran, Albay route. Pio Duran is nearer to Manila than Pilar and it has deeper waters and so there are no low tide restrictions. This route further took away traffic from the Pilar-Masbate motor bancas and since they are not running that route they cannot compete directly.

The Pilar-Masbate motor banca is not laying over and die. They are fighting hard especially on local cargo and passengers. They really try to lasso passengers and cargo. They will even take in cargo even without accompanying passengers and deliver it within the town through tricycles. They will treat the passengers well. Well they have to since they are no longer as full as before. There is no more way to take back the bus passengers although the knowing and especially those just from Masbate City or nearby know they can still take the motor banca which is cheap and they can haggle with the fare in the buses waiting in Pilar. Or be even to leave earlier if they will choose to proceed to Legazpi which has day morning bus trips which are faster (the buses from Pilar will still look for passengers along the way).

But still it is clear that the heyday of the Pilar-Masbate motor bancas is now over and it is already an uphill fight for them. I just hope it does not degenerate to a struggle for survival.

A Small RORO Ship With A Cruiser Stern

A basic, short-distance ferry-RORO with a cruiser stern is indeed rare as most of those type have transom sterns. But such is the case of the VG RORO II. And for a basic, short-distance ferry-RORO of barely 30 meters length, an airconditioned Tourist section with bunks is another rarity (so I wonder if she should still be called “basic”). The reason for that is she doubles as a night ferry (“overnight ferry” is too much of a term because of the short distance she sails to Bohol along with just a few hours of sailing time).

It is in Camotes Sea and Bohol Strait where I noticed that there is a proliferation of small ferries that have night or overnight accommodations and VG RORO II is one of them. In other regions, night routes might last 4-6 hours but there are no bunks so passengers try to fit themselves into benches (and this leads to arguments many times). That is the negative specialty of Montenegro Shipping Lines Inc. (MSLI). Maybe they should attend a seminar aboard small, night ships to Bohol and Leyte to see where they are failing in passenger service.

The VG RORO II is one of the two remaining sailing ships of VG Shipping Lines (the other one is Andy Two). She first started out as the Ferry Oseto of The Yellow Sea Merchant Company in Japan. The Ferry Oseto was built by the Mukai Zosensho YK in their yard in Nagasaki, Japan in 1978. She measures just 34.0 meters by 8.6 meters with a depth of 2.9 meters which are typical measurements for a basic, short-distance ferry-RORO. Her Gross Tonnage (GT) is 196 nominal tons and she has a Net Tonnage of 96 nominal tons.

A steel-hulled ship, Ferry Oseto has the typical single RORO ramp of a basic-short-distance ferry-RORO at the bow and a single car deck with a single passenger deck above that. As mentioned, her stern is cruiser and she has just a single mast. The ship is equipped with a single Daihatsu engine of 750 horsepower rating which gave her an original top speed of 10.5 knots. Her IMO Number is 7740233 but she has the alternate ID Number 17989.

In 2004, Ferry Oseto was sold to Island Shipping Corporation, the Bantayan island specialists. In that company she was known as the Island RORO II and her route was from Hagnaya port in San Remigio town in Cebu island to Sta. Fe port in Bantayan island. In that route, she was used as a basic short-distance ferry-RORO to Bantayan island which has a booming tourism and table egg business and is a favorite weekend jaunt of Cebuanos.

After a few years, Island Shipping Corporation decided to sell the ship to VG Shipping Lines of Cebu, a shipping company doing routes between Cebu and Talibon, an alternate port of entry in northern Bohol to Tubigon port, the main port of entry in that part of Bohol. Initially, there was not a change of name. Rumor said VG Shipping Lines was loath to pay MARINA, the shipping regulatory agency of the Philippines the required fees which is no small amount (yes, all signatures in MARINA has a corresponding fee and usually that is accompanied by an amount which is not reflected in the official receipt).

It seems Island Shipping Corporation decided to sell her because more and more what they want to use in the Bantayan route are their Cargo RORO LCTs which have higher rolling cargo capacity and that means more vehicles can be loaded. Vehicles are actually the bigger source of revenue in RORO shipping (which means it is not the passengers). The ship is operated by VG Shipping Lines but the database says the registered owner is Vicenta vda. de Garcia, the matriarch and from whom the shipping company was named. Currently the ship is already named the VG RORO II.

Although small, VG RORO II is a comfortable ship. Her Economy seats in the upper deck are not benches or single fiberglass seats (the “cruel seat” forte of Lite Shipping and Roble Shipping). Instead they use garden chairs which are softer, wider and have arm supports. Those are fixed to the floors with sufficient spacing. At the back of these are open-air Economy bunks with mattresses. So passengers really have a choice.

The ship also has an Economy section at the mezzanine between the upper aft Economy section and the small car/cargo deck at the forward section of the ship. That section is equipped with simple plastic benches and it is a little bit dark but airy especially when the ship is already underway. This section divides into two the lower portion of the ship.

Between the Economy section at the stern and the bridge, there is a small airconditioned Tourist section equipped with bunks and mattresses. It seems this was the original passenger accommodation in Japan if judging by its windows. For weary shoppers or traders who spent their day crisscrossing Metro Cebu this section is a welcome respite and an early rest area.

The ship has only a small car/cargo deck because the aft or rear portion of the car deck was converted into an additional passenger section. This has plastic bench seats and a few tables which can be used for eating or sightseeing. A stair connects this to the upper Economy section and in between them a kiosk is located near the smokestack (the ship has a single center funnel).

The ship leaves for Talibon at 9pm and departs Talibon for Cebu at 2pm the next day. The entire voyage takes less than three hours and usually before 5pm she will already be in Mactan Channel. In Talibon, it seems she is a “free hotel” for the non-residents passengers after she arrives there at midnight.

Many of her cargo are not rolling cargo but breakbulk or loose cargo. She also takes in a few vehicles, however, when some show. These are the vehicles going to or from northeastern Bohol which find Tubigon too far or which find the schedule of VG RORO II more convenient for them. She is the only RORO ship serving Talibon port. In Cebu she docks in Pier 4 just across the venerable Gothong Building.

The ship is not equipped with forklifts. In loading or unloading, the trucks bringing in the cargo just enters the ship so true porters can handle it. If it is too heavy then the arrastre should bring in the forklift. After all they have already been paid for the cargo handling. Company forklifts normally do most of this job so as to speed up loading and unloading and so that there will be less damaged items. Arrastre in most places should simply just be dissolved as they just act as a tong collection agency. Sometimes their only job is to put the ropes on the bollards and remove it when the ship is leaving and make some strange signs and yells to the drivers. Yet shippers and truckers pay for their “services”.

Sometimes I notice this ship gets a little rusty. Maybe the revenues are not enough for a new coat of paint. However, she is clean inside and the crew are friendly. Moreover, she is not known for conking out at sea and those are the more important things.

I wish she will sail on for long time. And be an example to other shipping companies that passengers deserve better than hard seats on night voyages even though it is just short.