A Report on the Recent Situation of Bicol Passenger Shipping

When I talk of Bicol passenger shipping that includes those that have routes to Samar for in the main Bicol ships do those route with the notable exception of Montenegro Shipping Lines which are dayo (foreigner) to Bicol but have a base in Masbate port. In the main, I don’t refer to the Cebu-Masbate steel-hulled ferries because those routes are just one of the operations of Cebu shipping companies with the notable exception too of Montenegro Lines which has a national operation of short-distance ferry-ROROs.

The biggest shipping companies in Bicol are the sister companies Sta. Clara Shipping Corporation and Penafrancia Shipping Corporation which are legal-fiction companies of each other. They have combined operations, single crewing and maintenance and their ships rotate within their common routes. The only difference is the ships bought out from the defunct Bicolandia Shipping are all in Penafrancia Shipping Corporation (PSC) and Sta. Clara Shipping Corporation (SCSC) is what made Bicolandia Shipping cry, “Uncle!” (which means give up na).

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The twin shipping companies have a total of 10 ROPAX ships plus a Cargo RORO LCT which is a recent acquisition to match that of NN+ATS (more on this later). Their best ship, the beautiful Jack Daniel (no, there isn’t free tasting of the famous drink) was acquired not so long ago and it is almost a fixture in the Masbate-Pio Duran route where her beautiful and luxurious lounge can be fully used and appreciated by the passengers since it is a three-and-a-half-hour route.

SCSC and PSC ply all the Bicol routes except for some parallel routes like the Tabaco-San Andres and Masbate-Pilar routes (more on this later). Which means they ply the Tabaco-Virac, Matnog-Allen (now through their own Jubasan port) and Masbate-Pio Duran routes. They don’t ply the Masbate-Pilar route as their ships are too big for the shallow Pilar port which lies in an estuary. In Catanduanes, it seems they now have a modus vivendi with Regina Shipping Lines (RSL) which now is doing the Tabaco-San Andres route exclusively through Codon port (but that route is not necessarily weaker than the Tabaco-Virac route as buses and trucks going to northern Catanduanes prefer that route because the remaining distance is shorter). Additionally, SCSC and PSC also operate the Liloan-Lipata route (however, after the Surigao quake RORO operations were transferred from Lipata Ferry Terminal to the Verano port of Surigao).

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The new development in Catanduanes shipping is the arrival of a new player, Cardinal Shipping which fielded the High Speed Craft (HSC) Silangan Express 1 which has good schedules and a very interesting fare which is even less than one might expect for a Tourist accommodation in a ROPAX (P320 fare in airconditioned accommodation versus the P230 Economy fare of a ROPAX ship). That is very cheap compared to the fastcrafts of Montenegro Lines in Masbate that charges double of the Economy fare of the ROPAX. The route of Cardinal Shipping is also Tabaco-Codon like that of Regina Shipping Lines or RSL.

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Another ferry was also added to the fleet of Regina Shipping Lines (RSL) when they acquired the former Maharlika Cuatro from Gabisan Shipping which purchased it from Archipelago Ferries. It was in Mayon Docks of Tabaco City last January but as of this writing she is already running as the Regina Calixta VI. RSL now also has an operation in the Batangas-Abra de Ilog route through Aqua Real Shipping and Calixta-III.

Tabaco port is also building an extension again and this is probably the third already. I am thinking, what for? In all my visits there I never saw Tabaco port full and I don’t think port visit is increasing there. There is also not that need for a big back-up area. There are no container vans unloaded there and ships that visit are generally small. To compare now, Masbate port is even busier than Tabaco port and Legazpi port is even their rival in port calls (as they both serve the province of Albay).

I thought before that the refurbishment of Legazpi port was not needed but it seems I was mistaken. There are more ships docking there now and those are bigger than the ones which dock in Tabaco port. For one, when Cebu freighters visit Albay, they use Legazpi port and not Tabaco port because it is nearer from Cebu. And most freighters that use Tabaco are just Bicol ships which are smaller than Cebu ships. I was even surprised by the big, Malaysian coal barge I saw in Legazpi port.

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Like before there are no ROPAXes in Legazpi (as I argued before a population of 100,000 in an island is needed to keep a RORO afloat if there is no strong tourism and Rapu-rapu island does not meet that criteria). Instead it has lots of big passenger motor bancas to Rapu-rapu and Batan islands plus Cagraray island too. The new passenger terminal building of Legazpi looks beautiful and modern. Like in Tabaco, the port and port terminal building (PTB) is open to the public and there is no cloud of suspicion that hovers unlike in ISPS ports. It was just like in the past when ports are just like part of public domain. That openness was the thing changed by this damned ISPS.

With the completion of the bridge from Albay mainland to Cagraray island through the Sula Channel, the old small Michael Ellis LCT to Misibis is now gone. A connecting bridge to an island is always better than a connection by an LCT. Maybe with that Cagraray island will develop faster.

Sta. Clara Shipping Corporation and Penafrancia Shipping Corporation now have their new Jubasan port completed in Allen, Samar and so they already withdrew from using the BALWHARTECO port, their old port of entry to Samar, to the great disappointment and anger of the owner which nearly resulted into a court battle. I wonder if the judge-son-in-law of the owner was able to make clear to the patriarch that if it is all straight law then they would lose eventually and they might even be vulnerable to counter-suits they being the LGU holders (like a graft counter-charge).

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With the withdrawal of SCSC and PSC from their port, BALWHARTECO invited Montenegro Lines to just use their port exclusively. Before, Montenegro Lines used both BALWHARTECO and the Dapdap port of Philharbor, the sister company of Archipelago Ferries which once operated the Maharlika and Grand Star RORO ferries. With the withdrawal of Montenegro Lines from Dapdap port now that port no longer has ferry operations. What is left there are the passenger motor bancas to the island off it which is Dalupiri island.

Before this, Philharbor invited Montenegro Lines to use Dapdap port since Archipelago have sold already their Maharlika ships and was already in the process of disposing their Grand Star RORO ships. If there is no other ferry company that will use the port it will fall vacant since the route allowed by MARINA to the new FastCats of Archipelago Ferries was the Matnog-San Isidro route. Before their withdrawal only Montenegro ferries were still using Dapdap port.

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It seems BALWHARTECO made a good offer to Montenegro Lines. They are known to be flexible and accommodating as their record of the past decades will show. Meanwhile, the Alvarez group which controls Archipelago Ferries, Philharbor and Philtranco is not known for that. They are instead known for quick retreats when subjected to the pressure of competition.

So I was not surprised by the result. Here is the queer situation of a port owner and operator with no ships of their sister companies docking because it is using a different port and a route that is significantly longer (which is the Matnog-San Isidro route). As a change, instead of being a ‘port to nowhere’ the San Isidro Ferry Terminal is now active again (she was active before Montenegro Lines left her for Dapdap and BALWHARTECO ports).

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It seems Montenegro Lines was the winner of the BALWHARTECO-Sta. Clara turmoil. Previously they were using four ferries in the Matnog-Allen route, two in Dapdap and two in BALWHARTECO. Recently they are now just using three ferries. It seems that was enough to have a ferry always on standby in the port which has more traffic (in the day that will be Allen and in the night that will be Matnog).

Another winner in the route is the NN+ATS outfit which is now openly admitted as an operation of 2GO. They are using chartered Cargo RORO LCTs from Primary Trident Solutions, owner of the Poseidon LCTs and now they even fielded a ROPAX LCT, the LCT Poseidon 26. They are operating that LCT under the banner of SulitFerry and the acronym is also “SF”, a reminder of their SuperFerry past before those liners were promoted into saints.

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With the Cargo RORO LCTs, the queue endured by the non-regular trucks in the Matnog-Allen route has come to an end as they are the priority of the Cargo RORO LCTs. These ships does not take in buses with its passengers and so no passenger accommodations are needed. The truck crews are just expected to stay with their vehicles for the duration of the voyage. MARINA is actually too suspicious of Cargo RORO LCTs having areas that can take in passengers on the sly.

The arrival of the Cargo RORO LCTs has affected the dynamics in the Matnog-Allen route. It has definitely taken traffic from the ROPAXes and the weight is significant because the non-regular trucks pay the highest rates. Actually, the rates paid by the regular trucks is heavily discounted and it is not always paid in cash (which means credit).

Another thing, from being second-class citizens the non-regular truck is now king but their loyalty now is on NN+ATS. What a turn-around too. From being largely ignorant of Matnog-Allen route because they were too confident of their CHA-ROs (Chassis-RORO) aboard their container ships and liners, now 2GO is already a player in intermodal route which helped kill their liners.

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It is also good that they use chartered LCTs whose crew is from Primary Trident Solutions. These crews are not graduates of the ‘shooing away’ seminars of 2GO, they have no knowledge of ISPS (and probably they don’t care too) and so like in the past they are very friendly to the passengers which they do not think or treat like potential “terrorists” like what is taught in 2GO seminars.

But even with NN+ATS and SulitFerry around and the concentration of Montenegro operations there, BALWHARTECO port is not too busy like in the past when to think 168 Shipping is still there with its three Star Ferry ships. Really, the weight SCSC and PSC is great especially since they have a lot of trucks and buses under contract.

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The PSSS (Philippine Ship Spotters Society) was impressed by the new Jubasan port of Sta. Clara Shipping Corporation. It was not small and unlike most private ports that will start with portions being unpaved in Jubasan it is a completely paved port. As such it is cleaner having no mud and people and patrons would not find it hard moving around (now one would wonder why after all these decades BALWHARTECO port is still mainly unpaved). They also maintained the slope of the land and so rain water immediately drains into the sea instead of forming puddles. There are a lot of eateries inside and it is a step up compared to what can be found in BALWHARTECO port including the presence of chairs and tables outside the eateries which are good for lounging around and sundowning.

Jubasan port is more orderly and it looks more modern. Maybe with the shipping company being the operator it should end up that way as they have full control. By the way, Jubasan port will also have a lodge like in BALWHARTECO port. The structure is already there, that is the area above the eateries but it is not yet operating when PSSS visited the place. Now I don’t know if they will also have a disco like in BALWHARTECO port. Jubasan port also does not have the so-many hawkers of BALWHARTECO port.

Matnog meanwhile has minimal changes. I thought when they twice reclaimed new land the docking space will improve. It did not. There are two new RORO ramps on the left of the finger port (as viewed from the sea) but when I passed through it twice no ship was using it. Actually the docking space of Matnog port did not increase and on high tide a ship will still try to dock askew in the wharf for lack of docking space. During the late afternoon and evening peak hours not all the ships can dock and it has to undock after disgorging their rolling cargo and anchor offshore.

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I still cannot fathom how the PPA (Philippine Ports Authority) inputs ship calls in their planning that they cannot see their docking area is not enough for the number of ships calling. They have two new RORO ramps but they bulldozed rocks beneath it. And so maybe the ships fear damage if they use those. Why can’t they just use the causeway-type of wharf like what is used in BALWHARTECO and Dapdap ports which can dock more ships for their given length of wharf space? The only reason I can see why PPA is too inept in port design is because they really can’t attract qualified people. And to compensate for this lack, their annual reports will be full of praises for themselves and their “achievements”. And now their top honcho says the Makati Car Club will test the RORO system. Now what does Porsche and Ferrari owners know about port design and the RORO system if one is not Enrique Razon? It was not designed for their kind of cars and heels.

Masbate port is actually more impressive than Legazpi or Tabaco in terms of activity. Unlike the two ports which looks semi-fringe in location (as in facing the ocean already), Masbate port is in the center of a nexus and connecting many islands. There are simply more ships there and more types from overnight ferries to short-distance ferry-roros to fastcrafts to motor bancas plus the usual freighters. The new port terminal building is now operating and so there is more try of control now to ensure everybody uses it (this is what I call as “cattle herding”). And I don’t like that system treating passengers not like people but like commodities.

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Actually, they can simply sell a ticket to anyone who wants to buy, passenger or not, like in Zamboanga port. With so many buses boarding their port terminal building is not sufficient (now tell me when did PPA learned how to input numbers). If the old system where buses simply park somewhere in the port and soon board afterwards was enough why try to force down the passengers down the bus so they will pass through the passenger terminal building when it does not have enough capacity anyway even in airconditioning? If terminal fee is all they want then they can just put in a table by the ship ramp. An explanation: bus passengers here already have their ferry tickets issued by the bus conductor so actually they do not need to queue as the buses offer free ferry tickets to their passengers. If the buses can be efficient why can’t the PPA? The reason is simple – they are a government entity.

What I noticed is it seems more passenger motor bancas are now using the Masbate municipal port cum fish landing area. Actually it has the advantage that it is just near the integrated bus, jeep and van terminal of Masbate City. The passenger motor bancas for Burias can also be found here. If I may have a suggestion, it is better if the passenger motor bancas just dock by the integrated terminal. Nothing beats that. If only they will see what is logical (but they might lose the votes of the cargadores and the tricycle drivers).

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The Masbate-Pio Duran route is now stronger compared to the Masbate-Pilar route in terms of RORO operation. It is actually the shorter route to Manila and it can accommodate bigger ships whereas Pilar can only accommodate basic, short-distance ferry-ROROs. Medallion Transport has withdrawn from this route as a fall-out of the sinking of their Lady of Carmel. SCSC and PSC was the big winner in this and they now have made permanent two of their biggest ships in this route which have length of over 60 meters versus the 30 meters plus of the basic, short-distance ferry-ROROs of Pilar.

In the Masbate-Pilar route, Denica Lines now has two ROROs that are running simultaneously and they were able to create a late departure from Bicol (or is it an early one?) when they created an early evening Pilar-Masbate schedule. Denica Lines also have two fastcrafts for refitting now that is moored in Pilar port. Obviously, they want to get a slice of the pie of the MSLI fastcraft business. If they price it like the Silangan Express to Catanduanes then MSLI will be forced to cut their high fares.

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In Pilar, I noticed they now have a Pilar-Mandaon passenger motor banca running. Plus they have pre-dawn departures now from Pilar for three destinations – Masbate City, Aroroy and Mandaon (Mandaon is a gateway to Romblon). They were able to expand Pilar port but its operation is just still like a municipal port as there is no good port lighting (are their charges for the ROROs and passengers not enough?). By the way, the ROROs from Pilar start earlier now. Good for those with still long land travel still remaining in Masbate island.

As before there are a lot of passenger motor bancas in Masbate port going to Pilar, Ticao island, the west bank of Masbate Bay. But maybe the Baleno bancas are gone because there is a van going there now up to Aroroy. The passenger motor bancas are still fighting even though it is already the era of the ROROs and the buses and the trucks aboard them. With no porterage and running at hours when there is no RORO they are still surviving. Well, the buses dictate the schedules of the ROROs and so I can’t see them running 24 hours as the buses have only certain hours of departures from Masbate and Manila.

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Some things of note. One, the Super Shuttle Ferry 19 of Asian Marine Transport Corporation has been sold and Olmillo Shipping has taken over the Bogo-Cawayan route. A new development too in this area was the fielding of Island Shipping of a ROPAX LCT in the Hagnaya-Cawayan route. The MSLI ferry is still running the Bogo-Cataingan route and ditto for Lapu-lapu Shipping that runs the Cataingan-Cebu route. In the future, however, the Bogo and Hagnaya ferries will most likely transfer to the new Maya RORO port because it is simply nearer to Masbate. Meanwhile, the big passenger- cargo motor bancas running between Masbate and northern Cebu are still running and their business not threatened after the initial cut made by the arrival of the ROROs.

Recently, Trans-Asia Shipping Lines don’t have a ship anymore to Masbate from Cebu, a victim of their lack of ferries. Cokaliong Shipping Lines has not fully filled up the slack and it has only a once a week Cebu-Masbate sked but they are always fielding a new good overnight ferry of theirs in the route. Meanwhile, for a year now Asian Marine Transport Corporation (AMTC) doesn’t have an operation anymore to Masbate since their SuperShuttle RORO 3 had engine problems. It has been over a year since 2GO withdrew their liner that passes through Masbate on the way to Ormoc and Cebu. Can’t really beat the intermodal buses and trucks now and as the saying goes if one can’t beat then join them and so they already had that NN+ATS in the Matnog-Allen route.

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Burias motor banca arriving in Pasacao

In other Bicol routes, passenger motor bancas still connect Burias island to Pasacao and Pio Duran while Ticao island has passenger motor bancas sailing to Bulan and Masbate ports. Masbate is also connected by passenger motor bancas from Cataingan to Calbayog in Samar and to Roxas City in Panay from Balud and Milagros and to Romblon from Mandaon. Caramoan through Guijalo port also has passenger motor banca to San Andres in Catanduanes through the Codon port. San Miguel island is connected by passenger motor bancas to Tabaco port.

And that above is what comprises Bicol shipping all in all. Not tackled here are the minor routes served by small passenger bancas that go to small islands that does not have a municipality and to coastal barrios which has no roads.

[Written based on January 2017 data.]

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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 MV Maria Gloria

When Montenegro Shipping Lines Inc. (MSLI) started they were not operators of RORO ships. Instead they were operators of wooden motor boats which were called batel in the Southern Tagalog area. Their batel fleet then consisted of the MB Don Vicente, the MB Don Francisco and the MB Dona Matilde. The first might have been named for the patriarch and founder Vicente Montenegro. The Montenegro Lines batels were dedicated Batangas-Abra de Ilog ships which means that was their only route. However, normally only two of the three will be sailing the route on any given day. Abra de Ilog is the main entry in the north of the province of Occidental Mindoro up to now because it is the nearest to Batangas City, the gateway to the island of Mindoro.

Suddenly, on September 1994, a RORO ship arrived for Montenegro Lines without notice. This was the MV Maria Gloria, the first ever RORO (Roll-On, Roll Off) ship for Montenegro Lines. The ship was also fielded in the Batangas-Abra de Ilog route and at first it competed with their own batels which means one of them has to give up its schedule for MV Maria Gloria. When that ship arrived it was still the time of the complete dominance in Southern Tagalog of Viva Shipping Lines and its legal fiction companies and they were very jealous of any newcomer including in scheduling. This company used to bully their competition and underhanded tactics are routinely ascribed to them. In fact, they are simply feared and many of their wannabe competitors got bankrupted. So when MV Maria Gloria arrived and she was a RORO, the field Viva Shipping Line is very jealous of, there were questions in Batangas how long she would last.

Well, MV Maria Gloria lasted and in 1996, Montenegro Lines added another ship, the MV Marie Kristina, a small, basic short-distance ferry RORO. In 1997 Montenegro Lines added the MV Maria Angela, the MV Maria Isabel and the MV Marie Teresa. From then on Montenegro Lines was adding ships every year and their route system grew. In 2002, it was the turn of Viva Shipping Lines and cohorts to become bankrupt and they quit sailing routes one by one. Montenegro Lines grew to become the country’s shipping line with the most number of passenger ROROs (albeit they were generally small and mainly running short-distance routes).

MV Maria Gloria is not a short, basic short-distance ferry-RORO. She is a tad bigger at 42.9 meters by 11.0 meters. One characteristic of this type of RORO is they have their bridge or pilot house on a deck above the passenger deck whereas small, basic short-distance ferry-ROROs have their bridge on the same level as the lone passenger deck. MV Maria Gloria has scantling behind her bridge which serves as a short but another passenger deck. And unlike the small, basic short-distance ferry-ROROs which a lone RORO ramp at the bow, she has RORO ramps at the bow and at the stern. Another difference with the small, basic short-distance ferry-ROROs which have only one engine and one propeller, this type have two engines and two propellers (and also two funnels). She also have that square box at the bow which limits the ingress of rain water in the car deck which makes it slippery. It is also a protection against rogue waves coming at the front.

The MV Maria Gloria started as the MV Tenyo Maru in Japan of the Shimabara Tetsudo (“tetsudo” translates to “railway”) and might have been used in the Shimabara Peninsula east of Nagasaki, Japan. This ferry was built by Kanda Shipbuilding Co. in their Kure yard in Japan in 1967 (so she is just short of one year before she turns “golden” or 50). A steel-hulled ship, she has only one mast with a raked stem and a transom stern. She has three RORO lanes in her car deck with an approximate length of 40 meters. The ship has about 400 lane-meters of rolling cargo space. That will be good for about six long trucks and buses at the sides if there is no obstruction and about eight or nine sedans in the middle. However, in loading, seldom is there an ideal combination of rolling cargo load.

The MV Maria Gloria is a two-class accommodation ship with an airconditioned Tourist accommodation at the front of the middle deck with benches. The rest of the passenger accommodations is open-air Economy. All the accommodations are just sitting as the MV Maria Gloria is just used on short-distance routes connecting the near islands. The total passenger capacity of the ship is 413 persons. Her original Gross Register Tonnage (GRT) in Japan was 356 tons but her Gross Tonnage (GT) went down to 267 in the Philippines even though scantlings at the bridge deck were added. The Net Tonnage (NT) is 104 locally and her loading capacity is 140 tons in Deadweight Tonnage (DWT). The ship’s Depth is 2.5 meters which is really not deep.

The MV Maria Gloria is equipped with two 6-cylinder Daihatsu marine diesels with a total of 1,400 horsepower which gives her a top speed of 11.5 knots. She has a normal complement of 24 and her local Call Sign is DUE 2090. Internationally, her permanent ID is IMO 6726668. Originally, in 1994, the ship’s registered owner was Jovanlyn Trading and General Merchandise, an outfit I have not heard of and she was the only ship of that unknown company. In 2000, her ownership was transferred to Montenegro Shipping Lines, Inc. (MSLI). Maybe at the start she was made to look as if she was only chartered.

Montenegro Lines has the long-time custom of rotating their ship assignments every few months or so. And so like here fleet mates, MV Maria Gloria has already been around, so to say, which means she has already run the gamut of the so-many routes of Montenegro Lines. The only routes she has not been to are the eastern seaboard routes of Montenegro Lines and their Iloilo-Palawan route. Most of the time she held Mindoro routes including her original Batangas-Abra de Ilog route. Lately, she is based in Dumaguete port and she is doing the Siquijor route for the company.

From what I heard, Montenegro Lines takes care well of this ship. That is a normal custom for first ships of a company. Of course, there is no connotation here that she is the “flagship” of the company.

With the easiness to change hull plates now and to acquire replacement engine room and bridge machinery, she seems to be destined for a lot more of life. That is also true for the main engine which can easily be replaced now even with brand-new ones like what were done for several ships of the Montenegro Lines fleet. It is really much easier to preserve an old ship now that to acquire an expensive brand-new one. So it seems the “related” Montenegro Lines and Starlite Ferries Inc. have different approaches.

A dozen years from now I expect MV Gloria will still be easily around and sailing. Montenegro Lines is one of the best locally in preserving old ships and it is not their wont to be included in the list of maritime hull losses (they only have one there in the last 22 years).

Long live the MV Maria Gloria!

[Photo Owner: Ramiro Jr. Aranda]