Roble Shipping Is Finally Sailing To Mindanao

Last month, September of 2017, Roble Shipping has finally sailed to Oroquieta, the capital of the small Mindanao province of Misamis Occidental (which actually hosts a lot of ports and among them are Ozamis and Plaridel ports). It is maybe the first port of call in Mindanao ever for Roble Shipping and it is actually a long-delayed move already for Roble Shipping as their namesake-to-the-city Oroquieta Stars has long been in the news that she will sail for that city and port since late last year (but since then although the ship is already ready she was just sailing for Hilongos in Leyte).

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Source: Oroquieta City LGU FB account

I have been observing Roble Shipping for long already and watched its consistent growth both in passenger shipping and cargo and even in cargo RORO LCTs in the recent years. But I am puzzled with their moves or more accurately their lack of moves in developing new passenger routes that their cousin shipping company and Johnny-come-lately Medallion Transport which with their courageous moves in developing new routes seems to have already overtaken them in passenger shipping (it even reached Mindanao ahead of them when Medallion’s Lady of Good Voyage plied a route to Dipolog).

Roble Shipping is actually one shipping company that has more ferries than routes, the exact opposite of another shipping company I am also observing which is Trans-Asia Shipping Lines Inc. (TASLI) which in their tepidness in acquiring replacement ferries has more routes than ferries now. Does that mean the two shipping companies needed a merger? Just a naughty thought but that is actually impossible now as Trans-Asia Shipping Lines took the easy way out of their troubles which is selling themselves to the Udenna group of new shipping king Dennis Uy which is flush in money nowadays and might not need any help.

I remember that before Roble Shipping has an approved franchise to Nasipit but they never got about serving that route from Cebu. To think they had the big and good Heaven Stars then, a former cruiseferry in Japan then which should have been perfect for that route. However, that beautiful ship soon caught unreliability in her Pielstick engines and I thought maybe that was the reason why Roble Shipping was not sailing the Nasipit route (which actually had the tough Cebu Ferries and Sulpicio Lines serving it then and might really be the reason why Roble Shipping was hesitant).

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But then calamitous fate befell Sulpicio Lines when they got themselves suspended after the horrific capsizing of their flagship Princess of the Storm, sorry, I mean the Princess of the Stars in a Signal No. 3 typhoon in Romblon. In the aftermath of that Sulpicio Lines sold for cheap their Cebu Princess and Cagayan Princess to Roble Shipping in order to generate some immediate cash and anyway the two ships were suspended from sailing and were of no use to them.

With the acquisition of the two, suddenly Roble Shipping had some serious overnight ships after the Heaven Stars which was then not already capable of sailing regularly especially when the good Wonderful Stars already arrived for them to compete in the Ormoc route. And one of the two was even a former pocket liner, the Cebu Princess. One of the two is actually a veteran of the Nasipit route, the Cagayan Princess which was fielded there when Sulpicio Lines already had a better ship for the Cebu-Cagayan de Oro route (the ship was named after that city actually as it was the original route of that ship) and their Naval, Biliran route bombed.

But no, the two ships just collected barnacles in the Pier 7 wharf of Roble Shipping, not sailing. I thought maybe there were still ghosts prowling the ships as they were used in the retrieval efforts on the capsized Princess of the Stars. Or maybe they wanted people to forget first as denying the two ferries came from Sulpicio Lines is difficult anyway.

The Cebu Princess and Cagayan Princess finally sailed as the Joyful Stars and the Theresian Stars but not to Nasipit but to Leyte (again!). I thought maybe Roble Shipping got cold feet in exploring Mindanao. And to think the service of the once-powerful and proud Cebu Ferries was already tottering then and everybody knows Gothong Southern Shipping Lines won’t last long in the Nasipit route with their Dona Rita Sr. (they eventually quit and sold their passenger ships).

With a surplus of ferries in their only routes which are all to Leyte (Hilongos and Ormoc), eventually their legendary cruiser Ormoc Star rotted in Pier 7. Soon, Roble Shipping got a reputation of laying up a lot of ships in Pier 7 (this is very evident when one takes a ride aboard the Metro Ferry ships to Muelle Osmena in Mactan island). They are all huddled up there including the cargo ships. Maybe as protection for the cold so they won’t catch flu (rust, that cannot be evaded).

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Taelim Iris, the future Oroquieta Stars

Two sisters ships also joined the fleet of Roble Shipping, the former Nikel Princely of Aleson Shipping Lines of Zamboanga and the former Filipinas Surigao of Cokaliong Shipping Lines. The two became the Blessed Stars and Sacred Stars in the fleet of Roble Shipping, respectively. However, although one route was added, the Baybay route of the former Filipinas Surigao (which is again in Leyte) there was no other route except for the route they opened in Catbalogan in the aftermath of the demise of Palacio Lines, the Samar native shipping line. With their small ferries Roble Shipping also tried a route to Naval, Biliran which was formerly part of Leyte. I thought maybe Roble Shipping really loves Eastern Visayas too much that they simply can’t get away from it.

Two more ferries came, the former vehicle carriers TKB Emerald and Taelim Iris which slowly became the Graceful Stars and Oroquieta Stars, respectively (but then the Wonderful Stars was no longer wonderful as she was already out of commission after a fire in Ormoc port). Still the two just sailed to Leyte. And eventually, Roble Shipping quit Catbalogan which is a marginal destination to begin with because of the intermodal competition (trucks are loaded to western Leyte ports and just roll to Samar destinations and passengers also use that route). Roble then transferred the two sister ships Blessed Stars and Sacred Stars to become the Asian Stars I and Asian Stars II of the Theresian Stars, the new shipping company which was their joint venture with a former Governor of Sulu province. The two should have been alternating the the overnight Zamboanga to Jolo ferry route. But nothing came out of the venture and soon the two were back in Cebu. Technically, that was the first venture of Roble Shipping to Mindanao but not under the flag of Roble Shipping.

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Oroquieta Stars just sailing to Hilongos, Leyte

I thought Roble Shipping was really allergic to Mindanao but soon I was disabused of this thought when the news came out that definitely Oroquieta Stars will sail to Oroquieta City after supposedly some requirements were ironed out. That is good as some things will then be tested. Oroquieta is actually too near the Plaridel port which competitor (in Leyte) Lite Ferries is serving and which the defunct Palacio Lines was serving before. Roble Shipping and Lite Ferries will practically be sharing the same market and I do not know if enough cargo and passengers will be weaned away from Dapitan and Ozamis ports but then Dapitan port is nearer to Cebu with cheaper fares and rates.

Oroquieta Stars is fast among the overnight ferries having relatively big engines and has a design speed of 16 knots. I just thought that if it is worthwhile for Cokaliong Shipping Lines to extend their Ozamis route to Iligan, won’t it be profitable for Roble Shipping to extend their Oroquieta route to Tubod in Lanao del Norte or to Iligan perhaps? Tubod can be one of the origins of the Muslim-owned commuter vans which have a route to Cotabato City via Sultan Naga Dipamoro or Karomatan (these vans go up to Kapatagan in Lanao del Norte).

We will have to see if Roble shipping can stick with the Oroquieta route as their competitor Lite Ferries take all challengers very seriously. Funny, but Roble shipping was much ahead of them in the Leyte routes. However, Lite Ferries is very aggressive and is easily the most aggressive shipping company in this decade taking away that mantle from Montenegro Shipping Lines (but then they might just have the same patron saint anyway but the favors and flavors might have changed).

Oroquieta Port

Oroquieta Port by Hans Jason Abao. Might be improved by now.

I wish Roble Shipping all the luck in their Mindanao foray and how I wish they will explore more routes because after all the availability of ferries is the least of their concerns (sabi nga sa bus krudo lang ang kailangan para tumakbo). That could also be their case. Plus franchise and some explorations maybe (well, if Medallion was able to use their cargo ships for that so they can too as they also have a lot of freighters now).

Sayang naman kasi ng mga barko nila.

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And So Medallion Transport Will Challenge Cokaliong in the Surigao Route

I received a second update saying Medallion Transport will enter the Cebu-Surigao route starting tonight. In prior days, only Cokaliong Shipping Lines Inc. (CSLI) was serving this route which was for long a bread and butter route for them after Carlos A. Gothong Lines Inc. (CAGLI) and Aboitiz Transport System (ATS) abandoned this route.

James Verallo told me it will be the Lady of Love which will be doing the Cebu-Surigao route for Medallion Transport. The Lady of Love is the biggest and best ship of the company and its size at 88 meters is really of the size of the Cebu to Northern Mindanao ships. Besides the size, this overnight ferry has good amenities because she had been a Manila to San Jose, Occidental Mindoro and a Manila to Roxas City ship of Moreta Shipping Lines in the past. She also has the speed because she is still capable of 15 knots cruising speed if fuel economy is not a consideration.

Verano port in Surigao

In entering the Surigao route, I am enthralled by the boldness of Medallion Transport. Its Cebu predecessors in expansion which are Roble Shipping Incorporated and Lite Shipping Corporation or Lite Ferries have been tiptoeing for so long now in trying to reach the Northern Mindanao ports. Lite Ferries was able to reach Plaridel in Misamis Occidental but I don’t consider it a major Mindanao port while Roble Shipping still are not able to reach Oroquieta in Misamis Occidental after all their announcements and the naming of a ship after the place and this is their Oroquieta Stars. Lite Ferries was able to get to Cagayan de Oro with the old Lite Ferry 8 which is a little outgunned by the overnight ferries of Trans-Asia Shipping Lines, Inc. (TASLI). Meanwhile, Roble Shipping can’t seem to reach Nasipit although they have a CPC (Certificate of Public Conveyance) or franchise there for many years already.

Now here comes Medallion Transport without tiptoeing (and prior announcement) and even though it seems they lack true overnight ferries. Oh, well, they were able to reach Masbate before and operate in Bicol waters while Lite Ferries and Roble Shipping seem to have difficulty in going out of the confines of the rather tame Camotes Sea. Maybe Medallion Transport have some supply of “braveness pills” which the others don’t have.

Certainly, I welcome the move of Medallion Transport. It is time that the two shipping companies to Northern Mindanao ports (Cokaliong and Trans-Asia) have added competition to keep them on their toes (especially since Cebu Ferries has become the “Batangas Ferries”). I will even welcome if they go as far as Western Mindanao like to Zamboanga. Our country needs boldness from the shipping companies. It is one characteristic I have long found wanting in them since “The Great Merger” (the creation of the late WG&A and Cebu Ferries) bullied them in the late ’90’s and that was two decades ago already. I do not say they are not good but it is time to expand beyond Camotes Sea or in routes that are just in the 60-nautical mile range.

Will Medallion Transport succeed? That remains to be seen but I certainly hope so. However, with this move Palompon will lose a very good ship and James Verallo is certainly unhappy with that. Well, the Lady of Love is the best overnight ship to Leyte and also the biggest and that was a puzzle to me since Palompon is not even in the Top 3 in Leyte ports. Maybe she was really too good for that route.

Lady of Love

I think the former HNSS ferry acquired by Medallion Transport will replace the Lady of Love in the Palompon route. Its size will be more in character with the route. Meanwhile, the Lady of Love might be more fit in a Vismin route. Actually it was not only me which thought that the size and speed of Lady of Love would have been better utilized if Trans-Asia Shipping Lines was able to acquire her but maybe Medallion Transport is really bolder than the said company.

The Lady of Love has not been sailing for several months already waiting for engine parts from Japan. Maybe the parts and repairs have already been done and they are confident that the ship is already capable of the 111-nautical mile route to Surigao which double of her previous route to Palompon (double the route is the equivalent of a back-and-forth sailing to Palompon).

What will be now the implication of her entry to Surigao? Before, Cokaliong Shipping Lines used their weakest ships in the route including their smallest, the Filipinas Dumaguete since they have no competition. Certainly, the company has some very good ships especially their newer ones. Now I don’t know if the Medallion Transport entry will trigger a reshuffle of their ship assignments.

Whatever is the denouement, the Medallion Transport move is an intriguing one. I certainly hope it energizes the Vismin routes. The Lady of Love might have an impact bigger than the entry of Lite Ferry 8 in Cagayan de Oro which needed some discounting to get going.

We better watch out for further developments.

The Princess of Paradise

In the liner history of the Philippines, there have been ships that were remembered for their sheer speed. One such liner was the “Princess of Paradise” of Sulpicio Lines which was the “Speed Queen” of liners from 1993 until the early 2000s. She was capable of over 21 knots sustained and bursts of up to 23 knots. In the Manila-Cagayan de Oro route her 25 hours transit time for the 513 nautical miles distance was unsurpassed and neither was her time of 19.5 hours for the Manila-Cebu route from 1993 (although the record holder here was the “Filipina Princess”, also of Sulpicio Lines, which was capable of up to 25 knots when she was still new here). She might also be the record holder for the Cagayan de Oro-Cebu and Cebu-Nasipit routes which she can do in just a little over 6 hours each.

Many simply remember “Princess of Paradise” for her speed and not knowing she also stands out in other areas among liners. I was a frequent passenger of “Princess of Paradise” and one of the things that impressed me with her was her abundance of amenities and facilities. She probably has the most number of decks among liners that were usable for the passengers with six. She had four full passenger decks plus a weather deck that also serves as a promenade area which also has a playground. The sixth deck was a dance floor and kiosk at the car deck and that unique location was accessible either by stairs or by elevator. In size, she was actually one of the biggest and longest liners to sail our seas.

Princess of Paradise ©Sulpicio Lines Website

One of the prominent features I found in the “Princess of Paradise” was the restaurant for the Economy Section passengers. It was very big which the size of several basketball courts was. It could seat over 500 but since “Princess of Paradise” has a huge passenger capacity, several meal schedules have to be held and priority is by bunk number. Until this day, I can still remember the long lines that form in that restaurant (and the roving steward calling passengers for meals by going around and ringing a bell like those used by ice cream vendors). But passengers can live up with the queue and I guess part of the reason was the tasty meals of Sulpicio Lines which was combined with its unique offering of “unlimited rice”. As long as one has a big tummy capacity one will never go hungry in a Sulpicio ship.

The meals for Tourist Class passengers were served in the big theater-restaurant which was never filled because of its sheer size. It was a nice place, dignified in ambience and not cheap-looking. To me it looks like the area also served as a ballroom in the past with its chandeliers and high ceiling. It was also “unlimited rice” here and waiters rove around asking if one wishes for additional rice. Soup and dessert were always provided and refills of the former were free. Meanwhile, the meals for First Class passengers were served in a smaller restaurant at the uppermost passenger deck which also served as bar and disco. Here the meals were smorgasbord as in “eat all you can”. One can take a whole bowl of salad and the waiters will refill it with a smile. I have always felt the meals alone in First Class were already worth the half the fare if the voyage was via the longer Cebu and Nasipit route.

First Class Restaurant ©Wakanatsu

Aside from the lobby and the foyer above it, the “Princess of Paradise” also has many areas where passengers can while the time and shoot the breeze. One of that was located near the First Class restaurant which was called the “Garden of Eden”. As the name suggests it has a garden setting with tables and artificial trellises to keep out the sun but like in a garden setting raindrops will fall if rain is pouring. There was also a promenade area near the bow and there was a library on the way to that. The outside passageways are also favorite hanging-out places for many passengers. Additionally, the Economy restaurant also doubles as a tambayan or hang-out area. There was also a game room, a beauty parlor, a gift shop, magazine and book for rent corner and many kiosks aboard the ship. The lobby itself is wide with cozy sofas. And there was also the “Lillium Lounge” for upper class passengers.

For entertainment the bar near the theater-restaurant was open as long as there were still customers and I have seen it at times still going strong at 4am in the morning. The theater-restaurant also serves as a night entertainment place after dinner time (the tables were actually different from those used during meals). On half of the times I was aboard there was a live band with singers. To request a song one passes a paper with a bill folded but this was optional. While the night entertainment is going on waiters will be prowling for orders and serving. What I noticed aboard ships is even though hard and mixed drinks are served there is no unruliness. If one gets too loud the hissing of other patrons was enough for all to be reminded of proper decorum.

Princess of Paradise Facilities ©Gorio Belen

My most memorable night there was when a female singer who was based in Japan for many years asked to sing for the crowd and she was really very good and impressive. The hat was overfull of bills and she simply gave it to the band and the singers which were ecstatic with that. She did not take any explaining that she sang for the Japanese for years and really just wished to sing for her kababayans and she serenaded us for two solid hours with the introduction, “Para sa mga kababayan ko”.

“Princess of Paradise” started life as the “Hiryu” in Japan. She was launched on June of 1974 and completed on December of 1974. Her builder was Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and she was built in their Shimoneseki yard. She measured 166.7 meters length over-all (LOA) with a moulded breadth of 22.0 meters. Her original gross register tonnage (GRT) was 8,156 and her deadweight tonnage (DWT) was 2,947. She was equipped with two Mitsubishi-MAN diesel engines of 32,000 horsepower which gave her an original speed of 25 knots. She had two controllable pitch propellers (CPPs). In 1985, she was sold to China where she became the “Jian Zhen”. In 1993, she came to the Philippines to Sulpicio Lines.

Hiryu(future Princess of Paradise) ©Wakanatsu

“Princess of Paradise” was equipped with two vehicle ramps, one at the front quarter and one at the rear quarter, both on the starboard, allowing her loading and unloading operations at the same time. She had a RORO capacity of 129 TEUs and 79 cars. Her new Gross Tonnage (GT) was 14,162 and her Net Tonnage (NT) was 4,927. She had a Depth of 13.2 meters making her a very stable ship and I can attest to that that she is barely affected in Panay Gulf even though the wind is blowing hard on her port side.

As a Sulpicio liner, additional decks were added to her and her passenger capacity was increased to 3,259 persons. Her accommodation classes were divided into Royal Suite, Suite, First Class Cabin, Cabin w/o T&B, Tourist de Luxe, Tourist, Economy De Luxe and Economy. All were air-conditioned except for the Economy. The suite and cabin classes were entitled to the smorgasbord first class dining. The Royal Suite, however, were not for the mere mortals and were reserved for the rich Chinese of Cebu. Several times I tried to book that on the first morning of the two-weeks-before reservation window only to be told each time, “Fully booked”.

Princess of Paradise Folio ©John Michael Aringay

For the record, “Princess of Paradise” was just one of three liners ever in the Philippines that had a capacity of over 3,000 persons (the other were “Princess of the Orient” and “Princess of the Universe”). She was also just one of three liver ever in the country that had engines of over 30,000 horsepower (the others were “Mary Queen of Peace” and “Filipina Princess”).

Her route ever since she was fielded was Manila-Cagayan de Oro-Cebu-Manila-Cebu-Nasipit-Cagayan de Oro-Manila every week. She was one rare liner which did just one route on her entire service in our seas. In the early 2000’s, she had some engine troubles and after repair she was no longer as fast as before and her speed was exceeded by some of the newly-fielded liners but not by much.

Her liner days suddenly ended on June of 2008 when the flagship “Princess of the Stars” of her company capsized in a strong typhoon resulting in a hideous casualty count. With the tremendous public uproar, all the liners of the company were subsequently suspended from sailing and tough conditions were attached for the company to continue passenger operations. In this development, “Princess of Paradise” never sailed again and was just laid up in Pier 7 in Mandaue together with other ships of the Sulpicio Lines fleet.

Princess of Paradise at Cebu Pier Siete ©Aristotle Refugio

One night late in 2009 she quietly disappeared from her Mandaue anchorage. Many hopefully thought she was just in a shipyard somewhere for refitting. But time passed and she was never seen again. Much later, the confirmation came that she was broken up in Xinhui, China on December of 2009.

“Princess of Paradise” was part of the carnage of Sulpicio liners in the aftermath of the loss of the “Princess of the Stars” and the subsequent suspension of the Sulpicio liners. This incident lowered by nearly half our liner fleet and many routes were lost in the aftermath which were never restored again. As of today, there are no more Sulpicio passenger ships left.

Princess of Paradise at Mactan Channel ©Wakanatsu and Toshihiko Mikami