The Unique Nasipit Port and Bay

Nasipit is the main port of Agusan after the Butuan ports (Butuan and Lumbocon) lost that status because the ships no longer came. That was because of the siltation of Agusan River and the general increase in the size and depths of the ships. Nasipit port is unique in topographic sense. It is located in a nearly enclosed bay which looks like a pond. Two enclosing spits of land nearly closes the outlet of the bay. As such Nasipit port is probably the most protected port in the Philippines. But it is deep enough that 160-meter ferries used to dock before in Nasipit. Those were great liners Princess of Paradise of Sulpicio Lines Inc. and the Our Lady of Akita of Carlos A. Gothong Lines Inc. which later became the SuperFerry 6 of WG&A.

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Photo by Janjan Salas

The very small Nasipit Bay was once the home of the famed Nasipit Lumber Inc. which used to produce veneer, plywood and other types of processed wood products. The plant of the company was once the original user of that bay and the bay also served as the stocking pond of their logs and their wharf inside the bay was where the cargo ships loading their products once docked. Nasipit port was built adjacent to Nasipit Lumber with the latter nearer the entrance of the bay. Nasipit Lumber has closed long ago when logs and lumber became scarce and new rules protecting the ancestral domain were drawn. Now that plant is even gone now including the buildings. What remained are some the concrete floors and just parts of their old wharf.

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The former location of Nasipit Lumber

Now the permanent resident of the bay is the power barge of Therma Marine Inc., an Aboitiz Power Corporation subsidiary and this is located in the inner part of the nearly-enclosed bay. Also in Nasipit Bay, inside the port is the Port Maritime Office (PMO) of the Philippine Ports Authority (PPA) which is in charge of all the ports in the Caraga Region. The manager of it and the employees wants it transferred to Butuan, however, because it is there that where most of them live. I don’t know if that will push through. Nasipit Bay is also home to swirling rains I have not observed anywhere else and maybe that is due to the peculiar topography of the Nasipit inlet which are surrounded by high hills in a particular way.

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The power barge of Therma South

Nasipit port is a straight quay where the middle it was broken by a slanted RORO ramp which is just a recent alteration. In the inner end smaller ships like tugs and Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) patrol boats are docked. There is a transit shed for cargo and a passenger waiting area in the port terminal building. Docking for big ships is a precise maneuver inside the Nasipit inlet as the bay is very small and there are shallow portions and it is especially dangerous when it is low tide. However, there are not s to contend unlike in the exposed ports.

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Nasipit port has been the port of passenger ships for a long time now not because it is convenient or near the city (it is actually out of the way and relatively far from the town and highway). The change happened in the 1970’s when the ports of Butuan became shallower because of siltation and there was lack of dredging (the results of which are often just undone by raging annual floods of the great Agusan River). By the 1980’s, Nasipit port has already supplanted the Butuan ports especially since the shallow-draft ex-”FS” ships were already dying from old age and the replacements of that type were already bigger. However, even though the ports have changed many passenger shipping companies still used the name “Butuan Port” when actually they were already docking and using Nasipit port and this entailed confusion to the uninitiated including land-bound researchers doing shipping studies.

There were passenger vessels which did both the Butuan and Nasipit ports. They just gave up on Butuan port when docking there became much dependent on high tide (and risk waiting until noon at times when this would already jeopardize departure time because loading and unloading using booms and porters is slow). One example of this were the former “FS” ships of the Bisaya Land Transport Company of the Cuencos of Cebu (no typo there, that is the actual name of a shipping company which is a division of their land transport). When they find it impossible to dock in Butuan, they then proceed to Nasipit port (to the complain of many passengers).

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The MV Samar of Compania Maritima (Credits to Philippine Herald and Gorio Belen)

Compania Maritima, the leading shipping company after the Pacific War was one of the earliest to use Nasipit port. Their passenger-cargo ship Samar which is the bigger type of US war-surplus ship used to dock in Nasipit port. That was also true for their passenger-cargo ship Mactan which was in the 80-meter class and whose depth is two meters over the depth of an ex-”FS” ship, the last type of passenger ship that can be shoehorned in the shallow Butuan ports. Their Mindoro and Romblon, both converted ex-”FS” ship docked at both Butuan and Nasipit ports (and maybe that is to increase the passengers and cargo). Their Panay, a bigger ship docked at Nasipit when it can’t in Butuan. Later, even their ex-”FS” ship Leyte was calling exclusively in Nasipit port. Compania Maritima was the first to dominate Nasipit port when the Chinoy shipping companies were just on their way up and not calling on Nasipit port. In the main they came to Nasipit port when Compania Maritima was already gone.

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The MV Panay of Compania Maritima (Credits to Philippine Herald and Gorio Belen)

Some actually just gave up on the Agusan trade when their ships can no longer dock in Butuan and they did not really try to earnestly use Nasipit port like Escano Lines which used to be strong in Butuan. Well, it must have been frustrating for them when the ship can’t dock after a few hours of waiting and then would have to go to Nasipit port anyway to load and unload. Moreover, the floods of Agusan River that happen many months of the year with its floating logs and other debris which can damage the ship propellers and rudders also added to the vagaries in docking in Butuan.

By the 1980’s the passenger ship calls on Nasipit, Butuan and Surigao which are all connected ports went down considerably. There was a big, general downturn in the economy because of economic crisis and container ships began supplanting the passenger-cargo ships in carrying cargo (where before this type carried a lot of the express cargo that are not in bulk or liquid). These new container ships cannot fit in the Butuan ports. However, few of them are coming in Butuan anyway. Another thing, the cargo ace of Nasipit before which were the forest products began slumping as the forest cover was fast going down and it raised a howl and therefore restrictions on logging were placed by the new Aquino administration.

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The pocket liner Surigao Princess (Photo by Edison Sy)

At the tail end of the Compania Maritima dominance a new liner was calling in Nasipit, the Surigao Princess of Sulpicio Lines which was a pocket liner. In the post-martial law period the Our Lady of Guadalupe of Carlos A. Gothong Lines, Inc. (CAGLI) came. And so these two liners succeeded Compania Maritima were gone as the company went out of business at the height of the political and economic crisis of the mid-1980’s. Soon, the better Our Lady of Lourdes of CAGLI replaced the Our Lady of Guadalupe in that route. In 1988, the big Nasipit Princess of Sulpicio Lines began calling in Nasipit port. But her route was mainly Cebu only as it was still Surigao Princess that was the liner there of Sulpicio Lines Inc. And, the Dona Lili of Gothong was also sailing from Nasipit to Cebu.

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The Nasipit Princess by Suro Yan

William Lines, Lorenzo Shipping Corporation and Negros Navigation Company, among the great survivors of the crisis of the 1980’s did not have Nasipit among their ports of call when the 1990’s started. Escano Lines will soon be leaving passenger shipping as well as Bisaya Land Transport. Aboitiz Shipping Corporation is also much-weakened in passenger shipping then as they did not buy liners for 15 long years (however, the will be back with a flash with their SuperFerry series and the were strong in container shipping)

It was Carlos A. Gothong Lines and Sulpicio Lines which were competing in Nasipit port in the 1990’s both in the liner route to Manila and the overnight route to Cebu. Although Nasipit was no longer as grand a destination like when Butuan still had a lot of ships calling, the two companies brought some great liners in Nasipit port like the Our Lady of Akita and the Princess of Paradise and what a show of confidence it was for Nasipit port. That was the heyday of competition when there was much optimism in business and the shipping liberalization and modernization policies of the administration of Fidel V. Ramos (FVR) took effect. A little before the “Great Merger” William Lines will also enter Nasipit port with their liner Mabuhay 2.

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The Our Lady of Akita (Credits to Manila Chronicle and Gorio Belen)

When the Great Merger that produced the giant shipping company WG&A came there was a plethora of ever-changing ships that got assigned to Nasipit port unlike in the past when a ferry will hold a route for a decade or even longer. In WG&A, routes and route assignments happen at least once a year and so tracking of ships that served a port became difficult. However, Nasipit was a regular route of the company. That liberalization of FVR also brought the expanding Negros Navigation Company (NENACO) to Nasipit where they used their beautiful St. Francis of Assisi. Unfortunately, that liner burned right in Nasipit quay not long after in 1999 which resulted in the destruction of the ship. The revived Carlos A. Gothong Lines Inc. (CAGLI) also tried the Manila to Nasipit liner route before it just became a Cargo RORO route when they got suspended from passenger shipping. Nasipit still has lots of load, no longer forest products but bananas.

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The Our Lady of Lourdes by Chief Ray Smith

With the “Great Merger” and the creation of Visayas-Mindanao subsidiary Cebu Ferries Corporation (CFC), that company also paraded a succession of ships in Nasipit port that is bound to Cebu on an overnight route. It began from the old Our Lady of Lourdes and it ended with Cebu Ferry 2 when CFC was already under the Aboitiz Transport System (ATS), the successor company of WG&A. Sulpicio Lines, their only competitor in the overnight route brought the Cagayan Princess in Nasipit when the Nasipit Princess can no longer sail. This was later followed by the much-better Princess of the Earth. And for a while, the Gothong Southern Shipping Lines Inc. (GSSLI) brought their Dona Rita Sr. to Nasipit port after they acquired the Our Lady of Good Voyage of Cebu Ferries.

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Filipinas Butuan in Nasipit port

The port has also a link to Jagna port in Bohol as service to the Bol-anons residing in Mindanao. Usually the Cebu-Nasipit ship of a company will do a once a week call to Jagna on their seventh day and the ship will go back to Nasipit within that seventh day and then resume their route to Cebu.

This decade saw a great downturn for Nasipit in sailing ships. There was only one liner left doing a once a week voyage to Manila and this was usually the St. Leo The Great of 2GO. Sulpicio Lines quit passenger sailing and Gothong Southern also gave up that segment. Even Cebu Ferries quit the Nasipit overnight route to Cebu when they transferred their ships to Batangas.

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The St. Leo The Great

Now, a completely new cast is in Nasipit port headed by Cokaliong Shipping Lines Inc. (CSLI) which use either their Filipinas Butuan or Filipinas Iligan in the Cebu to Nasipit overnight route with an off day diversion to Jagna. Lite Ferries also has a Nasipit to Jagna ship on the stronger months for sailing but there is no permanently assigned ship. 2GO still has that once a week liner from Manila. Nasipit is not a favorite of container ships except for Carlos A. Gothong Lines.

Passenger shipping which is down already ia affected by the intermodal buses and the budget airlines, both of which offer competitive fares compared to ships and with the advantage of daily departures. Nasipit is also not helped by it being out of the way from the city and the municipality’s policy of barring the buses and commuter vans from the port doesn’t help the case of Nasipit port either in attracting passengers who are turned off the expensive and very cramped tricycle ride which is also vulnerable from the rains driven by the swirling winds of Nasipit inlet.

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The legendary white-out of Nasipit port

I wonder when and how Nasipit port will have a renaissance. Somehow, some day, I just hope that it will come.

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The Hankyu Ferries in the Philippines

The Philippines, in decades past, was the destination, after sales, of two pairs of Hankyu Ferries. The four were actually sisters ships but it was not obvious at the start. What was apparent was each pair were sister ships as each pair arrived at the same time in the Philippines and they looked the same and were of the same size. Each pair arrived after several years apart and the main reason was because they were also built several years apart in Japan.

The first pair to come here were the Ferry Harima and the Ferry Seto. They came into the fleet of Sulpicio Lines in 1988 where they were known as the Cotabato Princess and the Nasipit Princess. The second pair to come were the Hankyu No.24 and Hankyu No.32. They were added to the fleet of Negros Navigation where they were known as the St. Joseph The Worker and the St. Peter The Apostle, respectively. They arrived in the Philippines in 1995. The pair was the biggest in the Negros Navigation fleet when they came.

Hankyu Ferry is a Japan shipping company that is still extant and operating until now. They are a shipping company based in Kitakyushu, Japan in the northern tip of the southernmost main island of Kyushu astride some main shipping lines.

Each pair in the set of pairs were born in Japan in the same year. Ferry Harima and Ferry Seto were both built in 1970 by the Hayashikane Shipbuilding & Engineering Company in their Shimonoseki yard. Hankyu No.24 and Hankyu No.32 were built by the Kanda Shipbuilding Company in their Kure yard in 1975.

In superstructure, the two sets have plenty of similarities if one looks closely. Both had bow ramps and stern ramps. The height was also about the same. However, in the stern, the latter pair was fuller up to the transom (the stern end of the ship). Probably this was the reason why the latter pair had original gross tonnages of 6,939 for St. Joseph The Worker and 6,950 for St. Peter The Apostle whereas Cotabato Princess had an original gross tonnage of only 6,521 and Nasipit Princess had 6,523.

All four had very prominent raked bows especially when the ships were riding high in shallower waters. As refitted here, all four had three passenger decks. All had two masts and two side funnels. Where Cotabato Princess and Nasipit Princess were 149.1 meters in length over-all, St. Joseph The Worker and St. Peter The Apostle both had 151.5 meters in LOA. In breadth all had 22.8 meters. Amazingly, in depth all the four had 7.3 meters!

In the engines, all four were equipped with Mitsubishi-MAN diesels. Cotabato Princess and Nasipit Princess only had 15,200 horsepower total each (the same as the Mitsubishi-MAN diesels of SuperFerry 2 and SuperFerry 5 which were also sister ships that went to the same company too). Meanwhile, St. Joseph The Worker and St. Peter The Apostle both had 20,000hp Mitsubishi-MANs. The older pair can do 20.5 knots tops when new and the pair that went to Negros Navigation had a slightly higher top speed of 21 knots when new.

Nasipit Princess was the second-biggest liner of Sulpicio Lines when she arrived in 1988 as she had a bigger gross tonnage here as refitted at 8,209 while Cotabato Princess only had 7,977. In refitting here, scantling and decks were added to St. Joseph The Worker and St. Peter The Apostle but “miraculously” their gross tonnages shrank courtesy of the MARINA “magic meter” (which is the “3M” of the Philippines). The first had a GT of 6,093 and the second had a GT of 6,090. So on paper, the sisters ships of Sulpicio Lines were “bigger” than the sister ships of Negros Navigation. And to think the Sulpicio pair had only two-and-a-half passenger decks to the three of the Negros Navigation pair. Though the Negros Navigation pair was really bigger, it was the Sulpicio Lines pair that had bigger passenger capacities.

In sailing, Nasipit Princess was mainly used in the overnight Cebu-Nasipit route. Funnily, when she was fielded there in 1988, she was much bigger than the liners coming from Manila to that port. The reason for this was the weak condition of her engines and sometimes she can’t even sail. So among the four she was the first to reach the breakers in 2005.

Cotabato Princess, though she was “equal” biggest in the Sulpicio fleet sailed the Manila-Estancia-Iloilo-Zamboanga-Cotabato route. Since both Negros Navigation sister ships also called in Iloilo, they sometimes might have seen each other there.

As the best ships of Negros Navigation in the middle of the 1990’s, the sister ships were made to run at 19-20 knots since their competition had liners that sail at 20 knots. Cotabato Princess had a more leisurely pace but at the Estancia-Manila leg she sailed at 18 knots.

Except for the Nasipit Princess I would say all four liners were successes. Though the Nasipit Princess had shortcomings in reliability, the passengers of Nasipit Princess liked her big interiors, the many amenities and the good passenger service which were notches above an ordinary Visayas-Mindanao overnight ferry. St. Joseph The Worker and St. Peter The Apostle, meanwhile, survived the many culling of ships in the Negros Navigation fleet when the company experienced financial distress and illiquidity. They survived even up to the creation of 2GO.

Cotabato Princess was next to be sent to the breakers and not really by will. In 2008, she stopped sailing when the passenger fleet of Sulpicio Lines was suspended in the aftermath of the sinking of the Princess of the Stars, which raised a public outcry. In 2010, she was sold to a Cebu breaker even though she was still perfectly capable of sailing.

St. Joseph The Worker and St. Peter The Apostle reached the end of their lives in 2014 when one after the other 2GO culled them from their fleet. Both were broken up in Chittagong, Bangladesh.

Now, the twin pairs are just memories.