The PMS and PHIDCO Wharves

The two are actually private ports or wharves in Zamboanga City which are practically unknown to outsiders. Even in the city, few are really familiar with them or had visited them. You see these are practically Muslim wharves (although the owners might not be) and Christians in Zamboanga City normally don’t go to Muslim or Moro areas or places as the fear precede and rules the. But for me I go there regularly including the other Muslim wharves like the Tres Marias wharf which is an indigenous “fishport”. I just don’t go to the San Miguel Corporation wharf nearby because they won’t let me in (it is as if ISPS rules there). It seems the fear factor is also present there.

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PMS and PHIDCO wharves

The two wharves are just near each other as in almost adjacent. Both wharves are made of reinforced concrete and was really built for docking steel ships (PMS wharf which is well-maintained even has rubber bumpers). The two wharves lies between Baliwasan and Campo Islam. Now nobody just really visits the latter though there are jeeps going there. Inside the two wharves the lengua franca is Tausug.

PMS wharf or shall we say port is the more prominent of the two. PMS used to mean Petron Marketing Services, hence the initials. Before, it sells fuel, LPG, lubricants, etc. to the vessels going to the islands (called “pulo” there) nearer to Zamboanga. The local fuel companies are actually not competitive in the farther islands which are nearer to Sabah because the people buy their fuel there as it is much cheaper (as this article was written I read the price of gasoline in Malaysia is only P19 in our currency). In fact, Moro boats buy fuel there and bring it to Zamboanga although this is fraught with the risk of being apprehended along with explosion and fire.

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PMS wharf

In PMS wharf, the vessels that dock there also load fuel for their use. However, the bigger trade there is loading LPG in tanks. There are Moro boats there which act as “LPG carriers”. Of course, they have no official authorization to do that but hey! this area is not really known for doing things the “legal” way. In fact, most of the Moro boats in Zamboanga are not even registered. But they sail and it seems nobody really inspects them on the side of MARINA. Going back from Sabah (let me clarify that neither PMS not PHIDCO is not their origin) they can be intercepted, inspected or even apprehended. Not by MARINA or the Coast Guard but by the Navy. It seems it is only the Navy which has enough guns and guts to do that.

PHIDCO meanwhile means Philippine International Development Corporation which is identified with the famous and sometimes controversial Lepeng Wee, the true owner of the legendary but defunct Bullet Express. He has good Malaysian connections (and also to Erap) and thus he was able to establish a plant that will convert coconut oil into intermediate products like fatty alcohol, glycerin and tertiary amines. This was a good project because of its value-added nature but the plant was never able to operate because of the obstacles put by the Chavacano ruling elite of Zamboanga City. So, it was never able to get a permit. The port which was just near the plant fell into disuse until vessels started using it as a docking port. That included Moro boats displaced from Zamboanga Port when it was too congested with vessels docking three across.

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PHIDCO wharf

PMS and PHIDCO ports are home to Moro boats which is now official known as motor launch although they don’t have the hull of a launch since they are supposedly related to the Arab dhow (but in hull structure it looks more like a Chinese junk). It is also different from the Luzon and Visayas motor boats which are called batel or lancha. It is the dominant type of vessel there although there are also steel-hulled ships in PMS along with various types and sizes of fast Moro fish carriers and big passenger-cargo motor bancas some of which are double-deck. PHIDCO mainly docks Moro boats and their number is not great unlike in PMS where there is congestion most times.

The Moro boats and the steel-hulled vessels docking in the two ports are combined passenger-cargo and cargo-passenger. Cargo-passenger means it is primarily for cargo with a few passengers taken in and it might not even be paying passengers as it is customary to take in the owners of the goods and given free passage. These do not have fixed sailing schedules and they will only give an approximate date of departure which means that is the day they think they will already full of cargo and sometimes they are docked there for as long as three weeks. They have to have full cargo as their rates are really very low (I was astounded when I heard quoted rates). Most of the vessels have Bongao as a destination.

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The passenger-cargo motor bancas have a clearer schedule and these sail to the nearer and more minor islands including the Pangutaran group. These are practically the buses and trucks of these islands as the bigger vessels don’t sail to these islands. The two wharves also host Moro boats to other destinations like other towns in Jolo island and island-municipalities off the coast of Sabah like Taganak.

The fish carriers meanwhile come and go and many of these are the fast types that carry exotic and high-priced fishes destined for Hongkong and these will be loaded aboard a plane in Zamboanga for a connecting flight in NAIA. These boats have oversized engine and which are really meant for speed as freshness is a key to their trade (air compressors for the fish is one of their equipment, I have heard). They might not look grand or modern but they are one type of indigenous High Speed Crafts (HSCs). Supposedly some of these can even outrun a SuperCat.

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Since departures of the Moro boats take long, PMS wharf is on almost all days congested especially if the fish carriers are around. But then that adds to the gaiety of the place. It is easy to get inside both wharves. In PHIDCO the gate is always open and there is no guard. In PMS, sometimes they close the gate and one has to knock and be met by a blue guard. Inside, there are times that the operator of the port asks for terminal tickets.

That was when I met the lookalike of Abu Sabaya, the ASG. But he was so disarming (he always laughs) even when he asked what is the purpose of my visit. I told him, “to visit the ships, take photos”. And he had kilig to that. Imagine a Tagalog admiring the ships there that most persons won’t even throw a second look. When I was finished, he asked me if I was satisfied! And he told me to come back anytime.

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A motor launch to Tongkil and facade of PMS

From the sea when one is aboard the Zamboanga Ferry leaving Zamboanga, there is also a great view of the two wharves. From Tres Marias wharf nearby, a boat landing area (and a Muslim area), the two wharves can also be viewed. From Cawa-cawa Boulevard it’s not possible because the view is blocked by some city buildings and by the fishing boats anchored in Baliwasan.

There was a time PMS wharf was closed and was announced by government authorities that it will be shut down. But it still reopened. Knowing Zamboanga, I knew there is no other place where they can transfer the vessels docking there. If they bring it back to Zamboanga Port, it will just get congested again.

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PHIDCO wharf

PMS and PHIDCO wharves, though not favored by the government authorities is actually doing a great service to the city and to shipping and trade. They might not want to admit that but that is actually the situation and I think as long as Moro boats exists the service provided by the two ports will always be needed.

N.B.

Many days the two wharves would dock up to 20 ships. That does no include small motor or fishing bancas.

The Hijos-1

The motor launch Hijos-1 is one of the country’s smallest steel-hulled ferries, if not the outright smallest (the Anrans of Golden Star Manning and Management is smaller but it might not be steel-hulled). The comparison does not include what the Philippine Ship Spotters Society (PSSS) call as Moro boats which are concentrated in Zamboanga (anyway, the bulk of them are bigger than Hijos-1). Generally, the batels (wooden motor boats) of Luzon and Visayas (also called lancha here) which were once called as “motor boats”, officially, are also bigger than Hijos-1, in the main. That is how small Hijos-1 of Hijos de Juan Corrales, the shipping company owning and operating the passenger motor launch.

Hijos-1 was built in Mambajao, Camiguin by local shipbuilders. The hull design was very simple – it was an outright motor launch design but only bigger than what can be found in most US marinas. There is only a single passenger deck with benches in an open-air Economy class. The pilot house is above the passenger deck and it has a little extension to accommodate additional passengers. The roof of the passenger deck can also be used for stowing things including life rafts. There is a single mast and two funnels. The passenger accommodation is also used for loose cargo.

The external measurements of Hijos-1 are only 19.5 meters registered length. At that length the big motor bancas are longer than her by 10 meters! Her breadth is 4.5 meters which is narrower than the batels and Moro boats. The ship’s depth is 2.8 meters and I would say this is a little deep for her size. Her dimensional weights are 47 in gross tonnage and 35 in net tonnage. She has a passenger capacity of just 90 persons which is even less than the big motor bancas.

The Hijos-1 is also one of our oldest ferries around being built way back in 1966 so that means she is on her golden anniversary. Good she is steel-hulled because if she was wooden-hulled MARINA would have long ago pressured her out of passenger service for being “unsafe”. Well, unless it hit a rock a wooden motor boat or batel/lancha hulls do not leak and I don’t see how a steel-hulled motor launch which has practically the same hull design as our motor boats is any safer.

Like when the steel-hulled Pilar II floundered when hit by heavy swells between Linapacan and Busuanga islands. Of minesweeper origin, her steel hull did not save her from the heavy seas she encountered. Just like motor boats flounder there later also.

But Hijos-1 is lucky all these years as her Balingoan-Benoni route might be short but that narrow strait between the Mindanao mainland and Camiguin island also produces heavy swells that hit the sea crafts there broadside (a member of PSSS hit by that can attest to it). Or maybe there is also good seamanship and familiarity with the seas in her route which is a definite plus for survivability. Whatever, she has a good reputation for being stable if rough seas visit her route.

Hijos-1 is not a RORO and rolling cargo is the great source of revenue these days (or even way back). But she continues to survive financially. I have been told the reason – with only a few crew and a thrifty 440-horsepower Yanmar engine (is this still correct? someone said it is a Cummins but officially in MARINA that’s that) that keeps her above water (and may I add, loyal passengers maybe who are willing to make do with an old sea craft but which perhaps they have grown to love).

Well maybe at even hall-full that will already mean P5000 plus in revenue including from a little of  loose cargo. For sure she will not consume P3000 worth of diesel fuel and motor oil on the route. I think her break-even point might just be a third of the passenger load. The Yanmar engine doesn’t need to push a lot of weight also. There is also a tale that she can carry a small vehicle. I will not be surprised. In some far-off areas they shoehorn that even today in wooden motor boats or on a pair of motor bancas.

The hull of a vessel is easy to maintain (unlike what most landlubbers think otherwise). All it needs is re-plating when it gets thin. Unless there is major damage from having a romance with rocks (true rocks) when beams buckle. Old sea crafts of still-good hulls surrender if their engine finally quit for good. But Yanmar engines are very long-lasting, spare parts are easy to secure and so I hope her engine is still trusty. Well, at the worst there are surplus 420hp truck engines in the market. It might be demeaning but truck engines work in motor boats, big motor bancas and even the Metro Ferry boats in Cebu (though steel-hulled too I did not compare them to Hijos-1 in size because their hull looks more like that of motor bancas to me without the outriggers).

Such a cute little craft. I hope she continues to sail on past her 50 years.

Photo Credit: Janjan Salas