When An Overnight Ship Not High On The Cebu Totem Pole Of Ships Became Highly Regarded in Batangas

Before 2009, Trans-Asia Shipping Lines Inc. (TASLI) already had a problem with their Asia Hongkong as it was no longer that reliable. This ship had quadruple engines and to transfer the power generated by that two synchronizers are used. As said in the mechanical world, more complications means more possibility of failure. Or more maintenance and probably more trouble. Trans-Asia Shipping Lines was not lucky with that kind of arrangement with their sister ships Trans-Asia and Asia China which happened to have quadruple Niigata engines too. Sulpicio Lines was not lucky too with that kind of arrangement with the quadruple Pielsticks of their Princess of New Unity.

Asia Hongkong was sold to Montenegro Shipping Lines, Inc. of Batangas and this company has the patience and the resources to nurse back ailing ships to become reliable once more. And after half a year of so and after some unreliability early on they were able to nurse back Asia Hongkong which was now known as the Reina del Rosario. As Asia Hongkong this ship was not highly rated in Cebu which has a lot of good overnight ships, the type where this ship belongs. Ahead of her then in Cebu was nearly 20 overnight ship better than her. And so when news filtered back to Cebu that Reina del Rosario was well-appreciated in Batangas, it drew some laughs.

The problem actually lies in Batangas shipping. For too long they did not really invest in good overnight ships. For distances and voyage durations that last half a night including loading time and waiting, they will make do with benches and just let passengers try to curl in there or else hang their heads on the bench ahead of them. A survey of their passengers at midnight is a scene of various levels of discomfort and lack of sleep.

This problem started during the time of the dominance of Viva Shipping Lines. For overnight routes they will use ships simply equipped with benches and very poor toilet facilities. It took for Paciencio Balbon of MARINA to end this after a long struggle. Even after Viva Shipping Lines sank, their successors never learned how to make their passengers more comfortable. Or to really learn and invest in passenger service. Well, they will even skimp on ships’ scantlings just to save a little money. For me, it is obvious they don’t really care for the passengers’ comfort.

Meanwhile, since there is competition in Cebu and there is pride among the shipping owners, the ships of Cebu were better in everything. From the very start there is a Suite Class or at the very least a First Class Cabin. Those classes were completely foreign in Batangas then. If Cebu overnight ships have restaurants, in Batangas the highest equivalent will be a small kiosk with no meals offered. And they do not know how to spell “lounge” in Batangas because it simply cannot be found there then. If there is a front desk in Cebu ships, there is none of that in Batangas ships. Ask for linen (beddings) or towel, well, they have never heard of that in Batangas.

In Cebu, when they use a small RORO as an overnight or night ferry they will try to convert part of the accommodations equipped with bunks. And even have a small, airconditioned Tourist section. Well, if a ship arrives early, they won’t force you down. It is your free “lodging” until you wake up. That is not the practice in Batangas ships.

That was the reason why Asia Hongkong/Reina del Rosario, an old ship not high in Cebu rankings got appreciated in Batangas. Suddenly, Batangas passengers learned there is something better. And the aircon is even cooler. This was the time the Cebu Ferries were not yet Batangas Ferries. Now when that trio came, they easily set new standards in Batangas shipping, a standard that has not yet been matched until now. But before they came, Asia Hongkong/Reina del Rosario set the new standards in comfort among Batangas ships.

Asia Hongkong/Reina del Rosario started her career in Japan as the Hakodate Maru No. 10 of Hakodate Shosen KK. She was once a ferry connecting Hokkaido island to the main island of Honshu (ferries are now gone there when the tunnel was built). This ferry was built Narasaki Zosen in their Muroran yard in 1971 but it was Hakodate Dock that completed the ship. The ship is a RORO (Roll On, Roll Off) ship with bow and stern ramps for loading vehicles on the single-level car deck. The ship originally has only one passenger deck with the bridge on a deck higher than that. The ship has no full scantling in Japan.

Hakodate Maru No. 10 has a raked stem and a transom stem, two masts and two funnels. The external dimensions are 82.8 meters length over-all (LOA), 76.2 meters length between perpendiculars (LBP) and a breadth (B) of 14.0 meters. The original gross register tonnage (GRT) was 1,034 and the original deadweight tonnage (DWT) was 1,495. Her four Niigata engines totalled 5,320 horsepower and her top speed was 17 knots when new. She has about 300 lane-meters of rolling cargo space. Her permanent ID is IMO 7109465.

In 1978, she was sold to Higashi Nippon Ferry KK, a source of many ships that came to the Philippines including the Asia Brunei of Trans-Asia Shipping Lines. After 10 more years, she was sold to the Philippines and she became the Asia Korea of Trans-Asia Shipping Lines. In refitting, the scantling and deck was extended to the stern and a second passenger deck was added. Initially, the second deck was not extended full to the stern and it served a poop deck and observation deck. And in line with Trans-Asia’s common design, a barbecue place was built there next to the canteen and restaurant (these are two separate facilities in Trans-Asia Shipping Company.

With the extensions the gross tonnage of the ship rose to 1,842 and with further extensions this eventually rose to 2,093 with the net tonnage now 1,350. The passenger capacity then rose to 784 with the majority of it in Economy class. The deadweight tonnage (DWT) was practically unchanged (this does not necessarily change). However, her speed was down to about 15 knots due to age and the added weight.

The ship became a four-class ship with Suite, First Class Cabin, Tourist and the usual open-air Economy for the masses. The new deck and the extension of the first or lower deck became the Economy sections. An upper-class restaurant and a lounge was also present in the airconditioned portion that held the higher classes. The barbecue place, canteen and restaurant near the poop deck was open for all (after all barbecue is always a hit among Visayans).

Asia Korea was not the usual overnight ferry ship of Cebu because its original route was Cebu-Iloilo-Zamboanga-General Santos City (and that explains her accommodations and amenities that were later appreciated in Batangas). That was the time when Trans-Asia Shipping Lines still had long routes. Her role was actually that of a multi-day liner much like the Asia Japan which came in the same year as Asia Korea that had a Cebu-Dumaguete-Dapitan-Zamboanga route. This was also the time when Trans-Asia Shipping Lines was still a Zamboanga player in the passenger segment of the market.

Later, Trans-Asia Shipping Lines withdrew from their long routes and she was assigned to the other major routes of the company. Heading into the mid-1990’s, the shipping competition was getting fierce as there was optimism in the shipping sector and many invested when President Fidel Ramos rolled out his liberation and modernization program. In her original route she was being slowly squeezed by the superior liners coming from Manila especially in the Iloilo-Zamboanga-General Santos segment and cargo in her route from Cebu to Zamboanga or vice-versa is not that strong.

Withdrawn from her route she was assigned to the different major routes of the company as Trans-Asia Shipping Lines also rotate their ships. But to avoid confusion let it be said that this is a different ship from the smaller Asia South Korea which grounded and sank near Bantayan island. Actually to avoid confusion Asia Korea was renamed as the Asia Hongkong.

In the latter days with Trans-Asia Shipping Lines when her engines are no longer that strong Asia Hongkong was assigned the shorter Tagbilaran-Cagayan de Oro route of the company which was probably the shortest remaining route of the company then.

In 2009 she was sold to Montenegro Shipping Lines Inc. (MSLI) and she was renamed as the Reina del Rosario and officially under that company early on but currently she is now under their legal-fiction company Marina Ferries Inc. In that twin company, as an overnight ferry company, she is usually assigned the overnight Batangas-Odiongan route although at times she can be found on other routes.

Her passenger capacity rose again to 930 with internal modifications. Her usual maintained speed is 11-12 knots. I just wonder if in Batangas people realize she is the sister ship of the dead San Lorenzo Ruiz of the defunct Sto. Domingo Shipping Lines, a legal-fiction company of Viva Shipping Lines which was the Hakodate No. 11 in Japan. The scantling of that ship was not full so the resemblance is not that great. The San Lorenzo Ruiz was gone in the early 2000’s with the bankruptcy of her company. For clarity, let is be said that this ship is different from the San Lorenzo Ruiz, a liner of the Negros Navigation Company.

Reina del Rosario is now a reliable ship as her new owner is good in maintaining old ships and have the resources to lengthen their lives. She is the biggest ship in Montenegro Shipping Lines/Marina Ferries which is a testament that Cebu ferries are bigger than Batangas ferries.

I guess Batanguenos (and Romblomanons) will still be seeing her for a long time. Well, unless Art Tugade gets his way and treat ships as if their lifespan are just as good as the buses, wrongly.

[Photo from a framed TASLI photo.]

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A Small RORO Ship With A Cruiser Stern

A basic, short-distance ferry-RORO with a cruiser stern is indeed rare as most of those type have transom sterns. But such is the case of the VG RORO II. And for a basic, short-distance ferry-RORO of barely 30 meters length, an airconditioned Tourist section with bunks is another rarity (so I wonder if she should still be called “basic”). The reason for that is she doubles as a night ferry (“overnight ferry” is too much of a term because of the short distance she sails to Bohol along with just a few hours of sailing time).

It is in Camotes Sea and Bohol Strait where I noticed that there is a proliferation of small ferries that have night or overnight accommodations and VG RORO II is one of them. In other regions, night routes might last 4-6 hours but there are no bunks so passengers try to fit themselves into benches (and this leads to arguments many times). That is the negative specialty of Montenegro Shipping Lines Inc. (MSLI). Maybe they should attend a seminar aboard small, night ships to Bohol and Leyte to see where they are failing in passenger service.

The VG RORO II is one of the two remaining sailing ships of VG Shipping Lines (the other one is Andy Two). She first started out as the Ferry Oseto of The Yellow Sea Merchant Company in Japan. The Ferry Oseto was built by the Mukai Zosensho YK in their yard in Nagasaki, Japan in 1978. She measures just 34.0 meters by 8.6 meters with a depth of 2.9 meters which are typical measurements for a basic, short-distance ferry-RORO. Her Gross Tonnage (GT) is 196 nominal tons and she has a Net Tonnage of 96 nominal tons.

A steel-hulled ship, Ferry Oseto has the typical single RORO ramp of a basic-short-distance ferry-RORO at the bow and a single car deck with a single passenger deck above that. As mentioned, her stern is cruiser and she has just a single mast. The ship is equipped with a single Daihatsu engine of 750 horsepower rating which gave her an original top speed of 10.5 knots. Her IMO Number is 7740233 but she has the alternate ID Number 17989.

In 2004, Ferry Oseto was sold to Island Shipping Corporation, the Bantayan island specialists. In that company she was known as the Island RORO II and her route was from Hagnaya port in San Remigio town in Cebu island to Sta. Fe port in Bantayan island. In that route, she was used as a basic short-distance ferry-RORO to Bantayan island which has a booming tourism and table egg business and is a favorite weekend jaunt of Cebuanos.

After a few years, Island Shipping Corporation decided to sell the ship to VG Shipping Lines of Cebu, a shipping company doing routes between Cebu and Talibon, an alternate port of entry in northern Bohol to Tubigon port, the main port of entry in that part of Bohol. Initially, there was not a change of name. Rumor said VG Shipping Lines was loath to pay MARINA, the shipping regulatory agency of the Philippines the required fees which is no small amount (yes, all signatures in MARINA has a corresponding fee and usually that is accompanied by an amount which is not reflected in the official receipt).

It seems Island Shipping Corporation decided to sell her because more and more what they want to use in the Bantayan route are their Cargo RORO LCTs which have higher rolling cargo capacity and that means more vehicles can be loaded. Vehicles are actually the bigger source of revenue in RORO shipping (which means it is not the passengers). The ship is operated by VG Shipping Lines but the database says the registered owner is Vicenta vda. de Garcia, the matriarch and from whom the shipping company was named. Currently the ship is already named the VG RORO II.

Although small, VG RORO II is a comfortable ship. Her Economy seats in the upper deck are not benches or single fiberglass seats (the “cruel seat” forte of Lite Shipping and Roble Shipping). Instead they use garden chairs which are softer, wider and have arm supports. Those are fixed to the floors with sufficient spacing. At the back of these are open-air Economy bunks with mattresses. So passengers really have a choice.

The ship also has an Economy section at the mezzanine between the upper aft Economy section and the small car/cargo deck at the forward section of the ship. That section is equipped with simple plastic benches and it is a little bit dark but airy especially when the ship is already underway. This section divides into two the lower portion of the ship.

Between the Economy section at the stern and the bridge, there is a small airconditioned Tourist section equipped with bunks and mattresses. It seems this was the original passenger accommodation in Japan if judging by its windows. For weary shoppers or traders who spent their day crisscrossing Metro Cebu this section is a welcome respite and an early rest area.

The ship has only a small car/cargo deck because the aft or rear portion of the car deck was converted into an additional passenger section. This has plastic bench seats and a few tables which can be used for eating or sightseeing. A stair connects this to the upper Economy section and in between them a kiosk is located near the smokestack (the ship has a single center funnel).

The ship leaves for Talibon at 9pm and departs Talibon for Cebu at 2pm the next day. The entire voyage takes less than three hours and usually before 5pm she will already be in Mactan Channel. In Talibon, it seems she is a “free hotel” for the non-residents passengers after she arrives there at midnight.

Many of her cargo are not rolling cargo but breakbulk or loose cargo. She also takes in a few vehicles, however, when some show. These are the vehicles going to or from northeastern Bohol which find Tubigon too far or which find the schedule of VG RORO II more convenient for them. She is the only RORO ship serving Talibon port. In Cebu she docks in Pier 4 just across the venerable Gothong Building.

The ship is not equipped with forklifts. In loading or unloading, the trucks bringing in the cargo just enters the ship so true porters can handle it. If it is too heavy then the arrastre should bring in the forklift. After all they have already been paid for the cargo handling. Company forklifts normally do most of this job so as to speed up loading and unloading and so that there will be less damaged items. Arrastre in most places should simply just be dissolved as they just act as a tong collection agency. Sometimes their only job is to put the ropes on the bollards and remove it when the ship is leaving and make some strange signs and yells to the drivers. Yet shippers and truckers pay for their “services”.

Sometimes I notice this ship gets a little rusty. Maybe the revenues are not enough for a new coat of paint. However, she is clean inside and the crew are friendly. Moreover, she is not known for conking out at sea and those are the more important things.

I wish she will sail on for long time. And be an example to other shipping companies that passengers deserve better than hard seats on night voyages even though it is just short.