The OVERNIGHT FERRIES in the PHILIPPINES and its BASE PORTS

written by Mike Baylon

The Overnight Ferry sector is the middle sector of passenger shipping in the Philippines and it bridges the multi-day, long-distance Liner sector and the ubiquitous and important-to-the-intermodal-system Short-Distance Ferry sector. The sector’s most visible characteristic is its overnight voyage and normally it is the route distance that dictates the sailing time. Secondary is the requirement of cargo handling – purchasing of goods to be transported is done during the day when stores are open. And for the purchaser the overnight ship is the perfect respite after a day’s tiring shuttle around the city to buy goods.

Cebu Ships at Ozamiz Port
Overnight Ferries ©Mark Ocul

It is also true for the sellers of goods from the province – the day is their delivery time and the chance to look for customers. Or at least that was how it used to be for the purchaser and the seller. For those ordered through the phone, the day is the perfect time for merchants to assemble the goods and deliver those to the pier. These kinds of commerce dictate why on overnight ships the loading is still loose cargo or palletized. Of course if the trader will make direct deliveries and bypass the regional traders then he will have to bring in a truck. That is why the intermodal system is gaining headway in overnight shipping as in rolling cargo (not container cargo) is on the rise in this sector.

Sometimes the route distance difference might not be great but what separates the overnight ferries from the short-distance ferries is the provision of bunks where passengers can lie down and sleep. Short-distance ferries, meanwhile, are equipped with seats and benches which are not comfortable for the medium distances. Overnight ferries are also, generally, bigger and a little faster. Where short-distance ferries will seldom breach 50 or 60 meters in LOA, that length is almost the starting length of overnight ferries, in the main. If 100 meters is the peak length of overnight ferries, that length is also the startling length of the liners.

Trans-Asia 10 ©James Gabriel Verallo

This hierarchy is also mirrored in speed. Short-distance ferries especially the Basic, Short-distance Ferry will seldom travel over 11 knots. For overnight ferries that is usually the starting speed unless the distance is not that long and the overnight ferry use economical speed. Now if liner speeds generally start at 17 knots, well, that is practically the top speed now for overnight ferries but the truth is few run at that speed now.

In accommodations and amenities, the being middle ground of the overnight ferries are also reflected. Where basic, short-distance ferries will usually have only a TV and maybe a videoke as entertainment and a kiosk as amenity and liners will almost have all the works, the overnight ferry will have something in between. In general, they will have an airconditioned accommodation and even cabins, a dining area or restaurant, a better canteen with hot meals in the better ones, a lounge and even a bar and a massage parlor or a spa sometimes. However, unlike in liners the meal on overnight ferries is not complementary or free.

Trans-Asia 5 Lobby ©Kenneth Sy
Triangulo Suite
Triangulo Suite of Filipinas Nasipit ©Mark Ocul

In the dawn or in the morning the passengers disembark after a night’s rest and journey. In a sense, the overnight ferry is just like an overnight lodging house except that it is travelling. It even has toilets and baths so a passenger can go down fresh and presentable.

In ship design, most of the overnight ships are ROROs or ROPAXes to be more accurate. There are still Cruisers and these are mainly in Zamboanga (they are about half of the steel-hulled overnight ferries there). In some routes there is still the wooden Motor Boat (“batel” or “lancha”) including the Moro boats.

Magnolia Fragrance
Magnolia Fragrance ©Mike Baylon

In the Philippines, many do not realize that our country has only three base ports for the overnight ferries and these are Cebu, Batangas and Zamboanga. Not by design, perhaps, but it happened that one is in the Visayas, one is in Luzon and one is in Mindanao. This used to be four previously with the other one being Manila but as base of overnight ferries Manila has already lost to Batangas which is nearer to the islands.

Ferries might emanate in Northern Mindanao or Jolo or Caticlan but if one looks closely those ferries are not really based there; it just happened to be the end of the route. The base port is also reflected in the domicile of the ferry along with the situation of the city as an emporium and entrepot, a trading place where a long array of goods can be bought and sold and in good quantity.

Cebu International Port and Mactan Channel
Cebu International Port ©Mark Ocul

Cebu is the biggest of the three base ports. She has the most number of overnight ferry companies and the most routes. From Cebu the routes radiate to Northern Mindanao (Surigao, Nasipit, Cagayan de Oro, Iligan, Ozamis, Plaridel and Dapitan), Leyte (Maasin, Bato, Hilongos, Baybay, Ormoc and Palompon), Samar (Catbalogan and Calbayog), Masbate, Iloilo, Dumaguete, Bohol (Tagbilaran, Tubigon, Jetafe and Ubay) and to Siquijor and Camiguin island-provinces.

Outer wharf of Zamboanga port
Zamboanga International Port ©Mike Baylon

Zamboanga, meanwhile, has routes to Jolo, Bongao and other minor islands of Tawi-tawi province, Olutanga island and Margosatubig in Zamboanga del Sur. Other routes from Zamboanga are gone now because of the development of the highways. Moro boats still ply routes to distant islands like Taganak, Mapun, Cagayancillo and some other minor and remote islands.

Batangas International Port ©Michael Gutib

Batangas, the third base port has overnight routes to Caticlan and Dumaguit in Panay island and to the Romblon islands. With the development of the highways in Mindoro, it has lost its overnight routes to San Jose and Sablayan, both in Occidental Mindoro. It also lost the overnight routes to Coron, Palawan and Masbate City.

From Cebu the following shipping companies have overnight routes: Trans-Asia Shipping Lines, Cokaliong Shipping Lines, Lite Ferries, Roble Shipping, Medallion Transport, George & Peter Lines, Lapu-Lapu Shipping, Asian Marine Transport System, VG Shipping, Gabisan Shipping, South Pacific Transport and J&N Shipping. From Zamboanga, meanwhile, the following shipping companies have overnight ships: Aleson Shipping, Magnolia Shipping, Ever Lines, Sing Shipping, Evenesser Shipping, Ibnerizam Shipping and KM Shipping. From Baliwasan wharves Moro boats with not-so-regular schedule also ply overnight routes and the most prominent of this is L5 Shipping while the rest are practically one-boat operations.

From Batangas the overnight ferry operators are Montenegro Shipping Lines, 2Go Travel, Navios Lines, CSGA Ferry and Asian Marine Transport System. Most of the ferry runs from Batangas are on short-distance routes.

With the withdrawal of MBRS Shipping and successor Romblon Shipping Line along with Moreta Shipping there is almost no overnight ferry company left in Manila as the route to Coron and further can hardly be classified as overnight routes with its distance and with the slowness of the ships in the route. The only overnight route now from Manila is that to Tilik served by Atienza Shipping.

MV May Lilies ©Irvine Kinea

On a minor scale Lucena is also a base of one remaining overnight ferry company which is Kalayaan Shipping which has a route to Romblon. It already lost its overnight route to Masbate. In this scale Iloilo can also be considered since it is the base of Milagrosa Shipping and Montenegro Shipping Lines, both of which have a route to Cuyo and Puerto Princesa.

Looking at their role it is obvious that these base cities are also our biggest trading centers which supplies and receives goods from the islands. Of course none of them can match Manila which is a national port and a national trading center and that is why Manila is the base of the liners and our container shipping companies.

The overnight ferry sector is already beginning to feel the pressure of the intermodal transport system which has impacted in the past two decades liner shipping and its equivalent in cargo shipping, the long-distance container shipping. More and more intermodal trucks are being loaded and this was first felt by this sector in Batangas. Now in Cebu there are more and more intermodal trucks for Leyte (some of those are still bound for Samar), Bohol and Masbate. It is also beginning to appear in overnight ships to Mindanao although there is still the bar of high rolling rates because of the distance. That is why many still roll first through Dumaguete and through Leyte before taking the short-distance ferry to Mindanao.

The new sector of the cargo RORO LCT is also now taking cargo away from the overnight ferry sector. These LCTs take in intermodal trucks and now it has several routes to Leyte and Bohol. Recently it inaugurated a route from Bogo to Bacolod and soon there will be a route to Panay. Actually this sector has also taken out a fraction of the cargo of container shipping companies by loading container vans from Manila. It is Ocean Transport helped by Asian Shipping Corporation which is dominating this sector from Manila.

Whatever, the overnight ferry sector will still be present for a long time. The budget airlines will impact some of its routes from Cebu to Mindanao and Iloilo and from Zamboanga to Bongao but in the main most of the overnight ferry routes are immune to this challenger because simply put there are no airports in their end-routes.

Except for Dumaguete and Bacolod the intermodal bus is still a long way from challenging them as geography does not favor them. A bus can’t compete in a port-to-port setting where the land distance is shorter than the sea crossing because most of the revenue will simply go to the ship as ferry fare and they the bus will still have to pay the ship as cargo that was loaded.

The High Speed Crafts (HSCs) are also limited in challenging because their fares are higher than the overnight ferry or the equivalent day ferry. Besides they can’t carry any respectable amount of cargo. Actually, in the last two decades the HSC sector has lost half of its routes and there are less operators now and the crafts are beginning to gray (Oceanjet is the notable exception).

Besides, there might not really be a substitute for the ‘floating hotel that travels’ which is the overnight ferry. For the price of a lodging house one is brought through the night to one’s destination. Now, how convenient can that be and how value-laden?

That, my friends, is the secret of the overnight ferry.

Advertisements

My Davao-Cebu Trip via Baybay

My “Maria Lolita” and “Rosalia 3” Ship Spotting
written by: Mike Baylon

When I go on travel, I usually integrate ship spotting with free viewing while on board a bus as I really love trips combining the bus and the ship. A little tiring especially for one no longer young but I dislike airline travel not because I am afraid of flying but because I find airline travel boring and aseptic as there is almost nothing to absorb in airports and in one-hour plane rides.

If my health permits me, I try routes that I have not done before. This is one way of knowing the country, our people and culture. This also brings not only excitement and surprises but also failures and disappointment but one learns in both cases. Mastery of different routes and schedules is one result and capability for travel advice is a future benefit.

Having not sailed yet with a Baybay-Cebu ship I made a plan for a trip that will pass by a Philippine Ship Spotter Society in Baybay City, Leyte. My plan from Davao Ecoland terminal was to the first bus to Manila then, a Philtranco ordinary bus (their aircon bus is too late for my purpose). [Anyway now, there are buses for Manila that leaves earlier if they are full enough.]

Having ridden a lot of buses going to Manila from Davao, I was already familiar with their running schedules. The 9 pm bus loads into the 6am Montenegro Lines ferry in Lipata port for Benit port. This will be my first trip through the length of Panaon Island and will be my first pass through the renowned “The Saddle” mountain pass between San Ricardo and Pintuyan towns in the island.

With such a schedule, I know I will be in mountainous Mahaplag junction in Leyte before lunch the next day. I already know that area in the past because I disembark there when my bus from Naga is bound for Baybay. Travelers say there are “poisoners” in the area but I am not a believer in urban legends and I buy and eat their “puto”. Well, I am still alive with no stomach ache ever after leaving that area. By the way, the name of the barrio is Cuatro de Agosto and it is just over 30 minutes by van (called “V-hire” there) from Baybay.

Philtranco 1709
Philtranco 1709 ©Mike Baylon

Our Philtranco Daewoo bus was new but being non-reclining was not comfortable for me and so I slept little. Our trip was uneventful and being a night trip the passengers were mostly asleep. Just before daybreak we were already on queue on the weighing scale of Lipata port. The port authority PPA measures the weight of the rolling cargo because after 30 years of experience they found out they do not know how to estimate weights because they don’t know where to look at and they are too shy to ask the ship cargo masters how they estimate the weight and how to balance the cargo and they don’t have an idea what is ship deadweight tonnage. Seriously, that weighing is just a money-making project of theirs that is charged to the vehicle owners.

Lipata Ferry Terminal
Lipata Ferry Terminal ©Mike Baylon

Feeling low blood sugar, I decided not to fall in line into the ticket and terminal fee queue and be caged like cattle before departure and go through the X-ray machine where they try to see if some dumb passenger is carrying Abu Sayyaf bombs. So like in boarding processes in the past, I went straight to the “Maria Lolita” of Montenegro Lines. Nobody was really noticing as it was just beginning to get light. I took a seat on a bench in the car deck beside a crewman eating his breakfast and true to custom he offered me to eat. It was not yet boarding time for passengers.

Maria Lolita
Maria Lolita at Lipata Port ©Mike Baylon

It turned out the crewman was the 2nd Engineer of the ship and we hit off immediately. We talked about the ship, his experience, the working conditions, from where he is, his family and aspirations. Sometimes, a ship spotter will feel the next logical question is, “Can I see the engine room?” And so I went down the stairs and into a clean and orderly engine room with young oilers and apprentices who were all friendly.

While touring the engine room, I noticed the engine rev up. I looked at the gauges and saw the RPM was at running speed. I took my time because anyway it is not a usual occurrence a passenger is in the engine room while the ship is sailing. Later on, I still talked to the second engineer but on the cargo deck already in the same bench. It was hard to carry a conversation in the engine room as it doesn’t have a sound-proofed engine control room.

Maria Lolita engine room
Maria Lolita Engine Room ©Mike Baylon

Knowing the crossing to Benit is short, I bade goodbye to the 2nd Engineer because I still want to tour the ship which was a rare one because it is a double-ended ferry. I hastened to the double bridge not being used as the ferry is already nearing Benit port. I know the other double bridge will look exactly like the bridge not being used. Before going down I spent some time in the airconditioned Tourist section as I want to cool down a bit.

In Benit port, I disembarked early so I can get port photos including the Illegal Exaction Point of San Ricardo LGU. These Illegal Exaction Points are rampant throughout the country like the illegal checkpoints of the military, police and the Local Government Units. Those are nothing more than tools for shakedowns and extortion and no amount of Supreme Court decisions and DILG memorandums declaring them illegal can ever do away with them. Greed after all is not a sin and nobody goes to jail for defying Supreme Court decisions. Anyway, in this country that is how they define “rule of law” (pronounced “woool of low” like how a toothless person would pronounce that).

Illegal exaction point in Benit
Illegal exaction point in Benit ©Mike Baylon

Soon after leaving Benit, our bus began climbing “The Saddle”. It reminded me somehow of “Tatlong Eme” in Quezon National Park between Pagbilao and Atimonan except that the drivers don’t know the right-of-way rule of steep mountain passes. The climb and the top affords glimpses of the serene-looking Sogod Bay and Limasawa Island. We passed by the small towns of Panaon island. Passing the junction in Sogod, I knew we were already headed to the mountain range separating Southern Leyte and Leyte provinces.

The "Saddle"
The “Saddle” ©Mike Baylon

At the top, we made a stop in the DPWH rest area in Agas-agas made famous first by the rushing waters during the rainy season that always destroyed the road. This was the reason why the Japanese designed and funded a bypass bridge (which is now being threatened again by the “agas-agas” of water). Pretty soon, I was in Mahaplag junction and I got off. I find the vendors of this place always nice and helpful and with them knowing there is a passenger waiting they will always flag down the needed ride – it is after all a chance also to sell their foodstuff.

Mahaplag junction
Mahaplag junction ©Mike Baylon

Rolling down into Baybay, I contacted the resident ship spotter of Baybay, “fatbudhha” Mervin. I arrived in the common terminal at 12:30 at by 1pm Mervin picked me up and we proceeded to the barbecue restaurant by the bay where he treated me for lunch. We had a rewarding exchange and I was amazed by his knowledge of the Cebu shipping families especially Gothong. It was also a surprise to me he knows my home region of Bicol as I didn’t suspect he was once an abaca buyer there.

We parted at mid-afternoon and Baybay town center being small I was able to roam the place. I had plenty of time since the earliest ferry for Cebu leaves at 8pm. I visited the adjoining ship ticketing offices and I chose the “Rosalia 3” of Lapu-Lapu Shipping over the “Filipinas Surigao” of Cokaliong Shipping for the simple reason I have already sailed with the latter. As much as possible I take the ship I have not sailed with before so I can have more ship experiences.

The boulevard and baywalk fronting Baybay port
The Boulevard and Baywalk fronting Baybay Port ©Mike Baylon

I have already experienced the side-by-side bunks of Lapu-Lapu Shipping before (and it was true canvass material) and I was not excited. So I took the cheap aircon Tourist of “Rosalia 3” to get a good sleep as I will still be ship spotting when I arrive in Cebu port. In this trip, I found out that the Economy bunks of Lapu-Lapu Shipping has already been upgraded in that it already has steel frame and mattress but still side-by-side and perpendicular to the side.

Rosalia 3 pax accommodations at night
Rosalia 3 Passenger Accommodations at night ©Mike Baylon

My trip aboard the “Rosalia 3” was uneventful except it was raining and I found out that the passenger terminal building of Baybay leaks and there is no covered walk to the ship nor is there a covered walk too from the road to the passenger terminal building and it is not near. We left ahead of the “Filipinas Surigao” (Note: the ship and franchise is now sold to Roble Shipping).

We arrived in Cebu at dawn and I didn’t disembark immediately because I still have to ship spot (there are no decent shots before light and arriving ships come by about breakfast time). Before leaving I toured the ship including the bridge and the engine room. Ship spotting is always better when there is light. I was also able to interview the Chief Cook who was also the Chief Cook of the ill-fated “Rosalia 2” which was hit by fire in Cataingan Bay in Masbate.

Rosalia - 3
Rosalia 3 ©Mike Baylon

For a ship spotter coming from Davao and Bislig (or even not), I can recommend the via Baybay route. Aside from ship spotting opportunities in at least two ports (with enough time allowance side trips to Surigao and Liloan ports are possible). If maximization is the aim then one can even go to Hilongos or Ormoc. The expense in going via Baybay, amazingly, is even lower than taking a ferry in Nasipit. They keys to going there is Mahaplag junction (or Mahaplag crossing in bus parlance) and taking a bus going to Manila and not the slow Bachelor bus.

To those who asked me for travel advice before in Agribusiness Week, if going to western Leyte, I always recommended this mode and route too as one arrived much earlier that the slow and round about to Maasin Bachelor bus to Ormoc. Funny, many in Leyte itself don’t realize the Manila buses and Mahaplag junction are the keys to faster travel within their island.

Over-all, though tiring, it was a successful and satisfying trip for me.

Baybay port
Baybay Port ©Mike Baylon

PS: If you have questions about this article regarding fares and travel tips, you may post it by clicking this LINK so that it would be answered and discussed. Thanks!

The Maria Gloria

The “Maria Gloria” was the first steel-hulled ROPAX (RORO-Passenger ship) of Batangas-based Montenegro Shipping Lines, Inc. (MSLI). She arrived on September 1994 and she first sailed the Batangas-Abra de Ilog, Occidental Mindoro route. Before she came, Montenegro Lines was a plain operator of batel boats plying the same Abra de Ilog route. When I first saw “Maria Gloria” when she was newly-arrived, I never thought that one day Montenegro Lines will have the most number of ferries in the Philippines.

The Origin of Montenegro Shipping Lines ©Mike Baylon

In Japan, “Maria Gloria” was known as the “Tenyo Maru” of Shimabara Tetsudo K.K. with the IMO Number 6726668. She was built by Kanda Shipbuilding Co. in their Kure shipyard and she was completed in July of 1967. She had a Length Over-all (LOA) of 43.0 meters, a Length Between Perpendiculars (LBP or LPP) of 39.5 meters and a Beam or Breadth of 11.0 meters. In Japan, she had a GRT of 356 tons. She had a raked stem with ramp and a transom stern with ramp. Her rated Deadweight Tonnage (DWT) is 140 tons. “Tenyo Maru is powered by twin 700-horsepower Daihatsu marine diesel engines for a total of 1,400 horsepower which gave her a service speed of 11.5 knots when new.

When she came to the Philippines, her first listed owner was Jovanlyn Trading & General Merchandise of Frisco, Quezon City, an obscure company. According to Miramar Ship Index, she passed on to Montenegro Lines in 2000 (was she paid in installment?). In the Philippines, her Call Sign was DUE 2090 and her new Gross Tonnage is 267 nominal tons with a Net Tonnage (NT) of 104 tons. She has a passenger capacity of 413 persons, all in sitting accommodations in two classes, Economy and the air-conditioned Tourist. In the country, she sails as a short-distance ferry but she is bigger than the Basic, Short-Distance Ferry-RORO classification of the Philippine Ship Spotters Society (PSSS) as she has 1.5 decks and a length of over 40 meters. She has a capacity of about 110 lane-meters of rolling cargo in three lanes which is good for up to 12 buses or trucks as long as they are not the stretched version. However, her scantling is not full but she has a box in the bow, an additional protection for rough waves and weather.

Maria Gloria ©Mark Anthony Arceño

Built in 1967, “Maria Gloria” will turn 48 years old this year (2015) and she is actually one of the oldest ferries now in the Philippines (the aesthetics of her superstructure shows the lines of her era but, hey, it is not bad or really antique-looking). Her hull still looks good and she still have very reliable engines, a testament to the good quality of maintenance usually employed by her company Montenegro Lines (one can’t find a sickly ship in their fleet). Her usual route is still the same route she plied more than twenty years ago, the Batangas-Abra de Ilog route although at times she is rotated to other routes according to the Montenegro Lines policy of regularly shuffling ship route assignments.

With her condition and the record in caring for their ships of her company, I expect many more years of successful and fruitful sailing for her.

Maria Gloria ©Fr. Bar Ibarra, SVD

More Maria Gloria photos by Raymond Lapus: CLICK HERE

HIGH SPEED CRAFTS IN THE PHILIPPINES

In the recent era, the High Speed Crafts (HSCs) industry in the Philippines has been consisted only of Fastcrafts and Catamarans (which are colloquially called “FCs” and “cats”). In the earlier years though we had Hydrofoils like the “Flying Fish” which sailed in Manila Bay. One extant but non-running example of a hydrofoil here is in Ouano in Cebu but it cannot yet be identified at the moment.

Flying Fish hydrofoil ©Gorio Belen

Fastcrafts are monohulled vessels with overpowered engines to give them high speeds. On the other hand, catamarans are twin-hulled and some are even triple-hulled and these are sometimes called as trimarans. We also had such examples here of that in the Jumbo Cats of Universal Aboitiz.

Supercat TriCat ©Gorio Belen

Many High Speed Crafts have aluminum alloy hulls to lessen weight and thus increase the ‘power to weight ratio’ to give them better speed. Our HSCs are not big and they are among the smallest in the world. We do not have a High Speed Craft that can carry vehicles.

Fastcrafts usually have propellers (screws) as means of propulsion. Catamarans, however, can have propellers or water jets. The latter type is no longer preferred here since water jets has a higher fuel consumption rate compared to propellers. Additionally, water jets are prone to fouling due to the rubbish and flotsam found in the waters of or near our ports.

Oceanjet 8, a fastcraft and St. Jhudiel, a catamaran. ©Mike Baylon

In general, catamarans are faster than fastcrafts since one advantage of twin hulls is the lower water resistance. The speed advantage is more pronounced with the use of water jets. However, there are some fastcrafts that can give ‘cats’ a good run for their money and sometimes speed races between the two happen especially when the cost of fuel was not yet high.

The catamarans, being wider, can carry more passengers than fastcrafts. However, their center of gravity is higher and if there is no motion dampening system the ‘cats’ roll (‘sway’ in layman’s term) more. It does not mean, however, that they are less safe but some passengers are more prone to motion sickness.

Fastcrafts in the country are mainly of two different designs. The more numerous are the fastcrafts made in Malaysia which were derived from a riverboat design. They were mainly built by several yards in Borneo with fastcraft-building centering in Sibu. The Malaysian FCs are long and sit low and have steel hulls. If crippled, a Malaysian FC can be tied to another and not towed. On a rough sea, waves will pass over its roof and splash on its windows and the craft will rock a little but sitting low nausea does not easily set in. it is actually a formula for a good sleep. Many doubted the Malaysian FCs at the start but when tried on a choppy sea it is then people realize they are more stable.

Weesam Express-I, a Malaysian FC design. ©Mike Baylon

The other design of our fastcrafts come from Japan and they are based on the motor launch. Many are aluminum alloy or FRP-hulled  (FRP is Fiberglass Reinforced Plastic) and both are light compared to steel. One disadvantage though of an FRP hull is in the event of an engine fire, the hull simply melts and none are almost saved from sinking. Like aluminum alloy hulls, when burning, FRP hulls produce noxious fumes. Montenegro Lines operates the most number of ex-Japan fastcrafts in the Philippines. Many of the Japanese fastcrafts here are actually sister ships having come from one basic design.

City of Masbate and City of Dapitan, two different Japanese design fastcrafts operated by Montenegro Lines ©Mike Baylon

There is also a third fastcraft design used in the country, the ones that came from Hongkong which looks like an oversized boat. It has good passenger capacity but with a wide hull it cannot match the Malaysian fastcrafts in speed. Only Oceanjet uses this type of fastcraft in the Philippines, the Oceanjet 3, 5 and 6.

Oceanjet 6, a Hong Kong-style fastcraft. ©Jonathan Bordon

Recently a new type of Fastcraft showed in the country, the Australian type which was built from kits sent here and assembled by Golden Dragon Fastcraft Builder in Labogon, Mandaue, Cebu. The examples are Oceanjet 8, 88 and 888 with another still being assembled and expected to be completed in the year 2015.

OceanJet 88 ©Mike Baylon

The primary exponent of catamarans in the country was the old Universal Aboitiz as represented by the SuperCat series. Aboitiz even established FBM Aboitiz Marine to build catamarans of Australian design in Balamban, Cebu. They sold this shipyard now to Austal but the facility still build ships including catamarans of Australian design which are meant for the international market (the local market can no longer afford such brand-new catamarans).

Most of the Aboitiz SuperCats are gone now along with its former competitors — the Sea Angels of Negros Navigation and the Waterjets together with many competitors that tried the Batangas-Mindoro and Iloilo-Bacolod routes. The SuperCats  recently passed on to 2GO in the merger of Negros Navigation and Aboitiz Transport System and they have since been renamed into saints.

St. Jhudiel, a catamaran operated by SuperCat/2GO Travel ©Mike Baylon

Gone too were most of the other shipping companies that tried catamarans in the ‘90s along with their crafts and routes. Among them are Prestige Cruises (operator of the Mt. Samat catamarans), El Greco Jet Ferries, ACG Express Liner (operator of the SeaCats), Royal Ferry, etc. The short-lived HSC boom happened when the price of fuel was still low. It seems the companies simply overestimated the market and maybe forgot most of the riding public are poor and will not readily pay double the fares of the ROPAXes. Even the boom of tourism in the recent years was not enough to lift our HSC sector. It was still the short-distance ferry-ROROs that thrived.

Mt. Samat Ferry ©rrd5580, flickr

Magsaysay Lines through Sun Cruises also operate cruise tours using High Speed Crafts from Manila to Corregidor.

Sun Cruiser II and Sole Cruiser of Sun Cruises ©Ken Ledesma

The biggest remaining operators of High Speed Crafts nowadays are Oceanjet Fast Ferries, 2GO, Weesam Express (SRN Fastcrafts), Starcrafts and Montenegro Lines. Lite Ferries recently entered this field and they now have three HSCs with two of them Hongkong examples but different from that used by Oceanjet.

Lite Jet 1 of Lite Ferries ©Jonathan Bordon

These are also several High Speed Crafts laid up in Manila, Lucena and Cebu and most of them are no longer in sailing condition. Most were victims of the HSC wars in the Batangas-Mindoro routes.

The Philippines has no formal definition of what is a High Speed Craft but in other countries HSCs are vessels that run faster than the ROPAXes. Our fastest ROPAXes sail at 20 knots and so the Philippine Ship Spotters Society (PSSS) has adopted 20 knots as the minimum speed to be considered a High Speed Craft. Older HSCs no longer capable of this speed are then downgraded into Medium Speed Crafts (MSCs). There are also vessels that came into the Philippines as original MSCs not capable of 20 knots and the prime examples of these are the sister ships Anika Gayle, Anika Gayle 2 and Anstephen. The Kinswell crafts were MSCs too.

Anika Gayle ©Mike Baylon

Though this sector is not growing it won’t go away, however. Maybe the recent collapse of the oil prices might see a renaissance if the price holds steady at the low level. Otherwise, the only hope is if the shipping companies can import fuel from Singapore tax-free but that is just like shooting for the moon or the stars. If this is not possible then the only hope will be is when the real income of the Filipinos go high enough so they will look for and be able to afford better sea crafts than they are used to. But then that will still be at least one generation away or even two given the glacial pace of change in this country.

For more photos of High Speed Crafts, please click here.

The BASIC, SHORT-DISTANCE FERRY-ROROs

The Basic, Short-distance Ferry-RORO is one of the most ubiquitous ship types in the Philippines. Where before Motor Boats (MBs), the old designation and Motor Bancas (MBcas) use to connect our nearer islands, now it is this type that do that role, aside from the less-developed or small islands where vehicle and cargo traffic is not sufficient to sustain operations of steel-hulled ferries. In that case, therefore, it will still be the Motor Bancas that will do the connection as Motor Boats are already on the way out as short-distance route connections.

Ciara Joie 2 ©Britz Salih

These small, simple ROROs are basically from sub-30 meters in length (in LBP or LR) to sub-40 meters with a beam of 7 to 10 meters, all rounded off, with a GT (Gross Tonnage) of generally less than 300 tons and an NT (Net Tonnage) of less than 200. The design consists of a car/cargo deck below and a single passenger deck above with the bridge generally located at the same upper level and in the forward (abaft) location. Commonly, there is only one, non-articulated cargo ramp located at the bow. Since they are short-distance ferries passenger accommodation will consist just of benches (the hallmark of a short-distance ferry) with the most basic amenities like TV sets for viewing, a snack bar which is locally called as canteen and maybe a videoke or some video games. A very few will have an air conditioned Tourist section. Passenger capacity of this type is usually between 200 and 300.

Maria Yasmina and Maria Sophia of Montenegro Shipping Lines Inc. ©Mike Baylon

This type of ferry is typically equipped with just one marine engine with the output usually in the 600 to 1,000 horsepower range and the most common installed is the Daihatsu marine engine. The cruising speed is usually 11 knots at most with some older or underpowered ones barely making 9 knots. Most of this type will carry only six long trucks but more if the the vehicles are sedans or pick-up trucks. Motorcycles will be slotted where there is some free space and this will usually be in the bow near the ramp. In loading the biggest and heaviest is usually loaded first in some sort of a choreographed “dance”. Putting a heavy truck at the stern without a counterbalance at the bow can capsize this type stern-first. Cargo or load masters sequence this “dance” unless most of the vehicles to be loaded are small so it will just be a matter of balancing it starboard and port.

Super Shuttle Ferry 3 ©John Carlos Cabanillas

Most of this ferry type in the Philippines came from Japan. They will not look much different in design because many of them are actually sister ships which means they share the same hull-form. This is so because they were based on one of the designs commissioned by the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MITI) of Japan. That was meant to simplify research and development to lessen cost and help the small ship builders of Japan. In Japan this type is usually limited to secluded seas and bays but in the Philippines they are used even in seas with reputation for high swells and strong winds.

[VIDEO of a BSDF in rough seas-Click Here]

Starlite Nautica ©Mike Baylon

The routes of the Basic, Short-distance Ferry-RORO are usually from 2 to 40 nautical miles distance with transit times of from a quarter of an hour to four hours or so if the route is a bit long and the ferry is really slow (and in that case a Large Motor Banca will overtake the basic, short-distance RORO). As of this writing (January 2015) there are more than 45 routes served in the country by the Basic, Short-distance Ferry-ROROs but that total includes those served by Ropax and Hybrid LCTs and by the bigger short-distance ROROs.

Kalinaw ©Adrian Pletosu

Most of our Basic, Short-distance Ferry-ROROs are already old with many built in the 1970s. However, they are still reliable since Daihatsu marine engine parts are easy to source and they are easy to maintain. Should an engine be at the end of its economic life, many replacement engines are easily available in the surplus market. That is also true for the other machinery and bridge equipment. With a robust design and many replacement parts available this type is not anywhere near retirement. If there is a threat to this type it comes from the arrival of bigger short-distance ferriy ROROs which are newer and faster. This can load more and so when it is peak season or there are a lot of buses on board passengers need not use the stairs or deck for sitting. Many of these bigger short-distance ROROs have airconditioned accommodations and they roll less in heavy seas.

Regina Calixta II ©Masahiro Homma
By ownership, the following shipping companies operate this type of vessel:
Montenegro Shipping Lines
Asian Marine Transport Corporation
Starlite Shipping
Besta Shipping
Alabat Shipping
Regina Shipping Lines
Denica Lines
Medallion Transport
Island Shipping
Aznar Shipping
Jomalia Shipping
Aleson Shipping
Philstone Shipping
Davemyr Shipping
The first four are headquartered in Batangas while Regina and Denica are Bicol lines. The next four are Visayas-based and the last three are Mindanao-based. Together they operate some 40+ Basic, Short-distance ROROs. Not included in the count are the Ropax LCTs, Hybrid LCTs and the Double-ended ROROs.
Odyssey ©Mike Baylon
Though they might look vulnerable but only a few hull losses resulted in the three decades of operation of this type of ferry and among them are the “Lady of Carmel”, “Baleno Nine”, “Wonderful Star”, “Ciara Joy” and “Princess Camille”. No two of those were lost in the same route. There were others which capsized in port or near land but they were salvaged and are still in service.
Vulnerable or not this type is among those that ushered the intermodal era in the country. And up to now they still bridge the near islands and serve our transport and trade needs. This type will still be around our straits and channels for a long, long time to come.