The MATNOG-ALLEN ROUTE

Since the historical days of yore, Samar has always been connected to Bicol. And that can be proven true from prehistory. How? Ethnologue, which is used by the United Nations for language analysis has reclassified the supposed “Bicol” dialect of southeastern Sorsogon as a dialect of Waray (and I asked a Sorsoganon friend and she declared to me they can talk to Samarenos without translation). This connection was also true in the days of the pre-Spanish Waray sea warriors (which were later called the “Pintados” by the Spaniards because of their body tattooing) who roamed the seas of our eastern seaboard up to the present-day Taiwan. In the glory period of our shipbuilding and seafaring traditions, Bicol and Samar were among the premier shipbuilding sites in our archipelago before we fell to the Spanish colonizers who then denied we had such traditions.
Converted to Christianity and ravaged by the hardships of forced labor of galleon-building for the Spaniards, Samar and Bicol did not lose its links. In Spanish times Samar boats called in Bicol places to trade and to pay homage to the premier religious image and pilgrimage site in the old Ibalon province (which now encompasses Albay, Sorsogon, Catanduanes, Masbate and the Partido district of Camarines Sur after it lost its province status) which is located in Joroan of Tiwi town. Sail-powered <i>paraus</> from Samar and Samar Sea islands continued to travel and trade to Legazpi and Tabaco until the early ’60s during the <i>habagat</i> and they roamed as far as Catanduanes. Samar to Legazpi <i>barotos</i> that dropped by some Sorsogon towns also sailed in this period. Even in recent times there were still boats from Samar that plied a route to Catanduanes from Biri islands which used Rapu-rapu island in Albay as the intermediate stop-over. Legazpi-based cargo-passenger motor boats also sailed to Rapu-rapu and Samar destinations. Ironically, although a historical maritime link, the sea between Samar and Bicol northeast of San Bernardino Strait has no name.
Islands are usually connected at their nearest crossing. So in the case of Bicol and Samar the logical connection will be really between Matnog in Sorsogon and Allen in Samar. Before the advent of ROROs the most established line here was the Trans Bicol Lines which has connections then to all the major islands surrounding the Bicol peninsula which are the Catanduanes, Samar and Masbate islands. Later this historical shipping company passed on to Eugenia Tabinas who used the shipping companies E. Tabinas Enterprises and Bicolandia Shipping. Included in the sell-out were the motor boats of Trans Bicol Lines.
Trans-Bicol Line. ©Edsel Benavides

The latter-day Northern Samar also had its own connection to Manila separate from the connection of the provincial capital then of Catbalogan. The main port of entry of the northern part of Samar island cannot be Catbalogan as there were no good roads then connecting it to the provincial capital (in fact Motor Boats then circumnavigated the island connecting Samar towns). These passenger-cargo ships from Manila to the northern part of Samar also called on Masbate and Sorsogon ports before docking in Allen and Carangian. Many of those ships then still proceed to Legazpi, Virac and Tabaco. Some even sail as far as Nato and Tandoc ports in Camarines Sur and a few sail up to Mercedes and Larap ports in Camarines Norte.

M/V Venus ©Gorio Belen/Philippine Herald

The ships mentioned above that called on Samar ports also served as Samar connection to Bicol including the freighters that also take in some passengers aside from cargo. Some of the shipping lines which had routes then in this part of the country were Madrigal Shipping, NORCAMCO and NCL (the earlier North Camarines Lumber), N&S Line, Rodrigueza Shipping and Newport Shipping. The passenger-cargo ships they operated were generally small.

With the strengthening of the South Line of the Manila Railroad and Railways (MRR, which was the latter PNR) that offered rail service up to Legazpi and bus connections to Larap, Daet, Tabaco and Sorsogon the shipping lines mentioned slowly lost market and patronage. Additionally, the legendary ALATCO bus company also offered Pasay-Larap-Daet-Legazpi-Naga-Tabaco buses with connections to Siruma and Nato, too). The first can bring passengers and cargo to its destination in less than 24 hours and the latter in just over a day or even less if it was up to the Camarines provinces only while the ship takes four days up to Legazpi and a week up to Camarines Norte. With better competition around first to go were the routes to the Camarines Norte, Camarines Sur, Albay and Catanduanes ports while the Sorsogon and Samar route held on for a while.
N%S Lines Ad. ©Gorio Belen
A momentous change then happened in early 1979 when Cardinal Shipping decided to field a short-distance ferry-RORO, the “Cardinal Ferry 1” between Matnog and Allen. With no port improvements yet it just used the wooden wharves of old that were meant for motor boats. Pantranco buses (now Philtranco) then rolled to the new province of Northern Samar up to Rawis, the port of Laoang which is also the base of motor bancas that connect to towns of Northern and northern Eastern Samar that have no roads. Slowly, the Matnog-Allen motor boats lost business and they retreated one by one to other Bicol routes that have no ROROs yet. With that the Samar-Bicol route served by steel-hulled ships from Manila also slowly withered but the service went on until about 1981 or 1982 and maybe it’s just because the shipping companies plying the route have nowhere else to go.
Cardinal Shipping Ad. ©Gorio Belen

Shortly after Cardinal Ferry opened the Matnog-Allen route, Newport Shipping also plied the route using the “Northern Star” (later known as the “Northern Samar”) and “Laoang Bay” (later known “Badjao”, “Philtranco Ferry 1” and “Black Double”). But government official accounts usually say that this route started with the fielding of the government-owned Maharlika I in 1982. That is, of course, historically and factually wrong. Maharlika I came when Matnog Ferry Terminal was already built and it connected to San Isidro Ferry Terminal, which is in another town south and not in Allen. (The two were called “Ferry Terminals” when they were actually modern RORO ports.) For government officials to say the government was the first to connect Matnog and Allen is then doubly incorrect.

M/V Northern Samar ©Lindsay Bridge
On another footnote, Carlos A. Gothong Lines, Inc. (CAGLI) also claims that they pioneered ROROs in the Philippines with their fielding of “Don Calvino” and “Dona Lili” in 1980 from Cebu. But evidence shows ROROs first came to Matnog-Allen among all places in the country and that is one significance of this route aside from it connecting Luzon to the Visayas and heralding the first intermodal buses and trucks in the country. (This is of course excepting the LCTs and barges pulled by tugs that connected some very near islands like Mactan and Cebu and Samar and Leyte though San Juanico Strait as those are technically ROROs too since vehicles roll on and roll off, too, to and from their car decks.)
After a few Newport Shipping quit (as their intermediate routes to Romblon was also drying) and “Northern Star” as “Northern Samar” was sold to Bicolandia Shipping in 1981. “Laoang Bay” meanwhile passed to different owners over the years. In due time Bicolandia Shipping dominated the route especially with the addition of “Princess of Bicolandia”, “Princess of Mayon” and “Eugenia”. Philtranco tried to challenge the monopoly of Eugenia Tabinas-San Pablo (who also used the company E. Tabinas Enterprises) and they rolled out the “Philtranco Ferry 1” which was the former “Laoang Bay”. They did not get a franchise and they argued instead that since they are just transporting their buses then they need not get a CPC (Certificate of Public Convenience). Unfortunately, the court did not agree with them and they were knocked out from the route. In the future though they will be able to come back.
M/V Princess of Mayon ©Gorio Belen

The 1980s was also the heyday of “Maharlika I”. She was fielded brand-new and as such was a great ship at the start. But being a government-owned company, mismanagement soon brewed and internal rot set in. She also had the disadvantage of serving a longer route (14 nautical miles vs. 11 nautical miles). Meanwhile, a new private port in Allen rose and BALWHARTECO soon showed the country how to develop properly a RORO port.

Maharlika and Northern Samar. ©Lindsay Bridge

Before the old millennium was over a new challenger to Bicolandia Shipping appeared on the horizon, the Sta. Clara Shipping Company with its more modern “Nelvin Jules” and it was very prepared for the challenge as it had a petition signed by all the Leyte mayors asking that the route be opened to other shipping companies. Bicolandia Shipping tried to TKO it like what they were able to do with Philtranco Ferries by claiming it had “missionary status” but the courts ruled that said status does not grant it a monopoly. Bicolandia Shipping by this time had a bad reputation where its ships only leave when it is already full or near-full without the observance of the proper ETD (Estimated Time of Departure which is part of the CPC along with the route).

Nelvin Jules ©Masaharo Homma

When Philtranco fell into the lap of Pepito Alvarez it also made a comeback. Under his landsman, it used the companies Archipelago Shipping, Philharbor Ferries and Oro Star. It leased the “Maharlika I” and “Maharlika II” from government and then added a few more ships including three double-ended ROROs, the “Maharlika Tres”, “Maharlika Cuatro” and the “Lakbayan I”. aside from other ferries (they were also serving many other routes aside from this route). They also built a new port in Dapdap, also in Allen and two kilometers south of Balicuatro (where BALWHARTECO is located) which had a route distance of 12 nautical miles to Matnog, a neglible increase over the 11 nautical miles of Balicuatro.

Grand Star RORO 3 and Maharlika Tres ©Mike Baylon
Bicolandia Shipping vessels cannot compete with the Sta. Clara and the Alvarez ships which were newer and better. Exercising pragmatism Bicolandia Shipping proposed to fold operations and sell the ships and franchises to the Sta. Clara group. The deal was done and Penafrancia Shipping was born.
Sta. Clara Shipping and Penafrancia Shipping had the backing then of the Balicuatro Wharfage and Terminal Corp. (BALWHARTECO) which which was developing its new port slowly but consistently and which served as a model for RORO port development and operations with its shops, offices, lodging house, disco, flea market, eateries and gas station where regulars can load vehicles and even gas up on credit. BALWHARTECO also supported the intermodal buses and trucks with generous discounts and rebates so much so that the development of this shipping sector now poses a threat to container shipping.
Balicurato Wharf ©Joe Cardenas

Later, BALWHARTECO also hosted and supported 168 Shipping (the Star Ferries). With so many ships in the Matnog-Balicuatro route using advanced marketing techniques and cultivated tie-ups with bus and trucking companies and supported by BALWHARTECO, the Dapdap port wilted especially when Philtranco drivers were freed and given a choice and where to load their buses. Meanwhile with the opening of Dapdap and withdrawal of Maharlika the San Isidro Ferry Terminal became practically a “port to nowhere” (a port hosting no ships). This was reversed when it was leased to Montenegro Shipping Lines but after their lease expired they also left for Dapdap and Balicuatro after finding the distance uncompetitive and San Isidro Ferry Terminal had no more ferries again.

Nelvin Jules, Hansel Jobbett, and Star Ferry II ©Jazon Morillo

Recently, because of some reasons and misunderstandings, the Sta. Clara group tried to build its own port in another barrio in Allen and located further south of Dapdap (which means buses and trucks see it first except when these came from Catarman and beyond). The Allen LGU had it closed and no wonder because the Mayor is the owner of BALWHARTECO (now how legal is that is another matter). Construction continued as the heavy equipment were actually inside the port. Now the Hizzoner and the Sta. Clara group are fighting it out in the court and this battle royale will probably define the shape of the Matnog-Allen route in the future.

New Sta. Clara Shipping Port ©Mike Baylon
With two ports in Allen and possibly three soon and with ROROs mushrooming in the route the problem now is in Matnog port which is presently congested and overcrowded as its expansion followed a snail’s pace and because the Philippine Ports Authority (PPA) does not know efficient RORO port design. While the limited wharf length of Balicuatro can accommodate six ROROs all at the same time, the Matnog port can only dock four ROROs simultaneously (although it is trying to add two more). And to think there are other ferries coming from Dapdap. So at peak hours the ROROs have to wait offshore in Matnog and pull out or undock to give way to priority ferries that will load or unload. This contributes to delays, added fuel consumption, more work for the crews and unnecessary risks for the ships. And that is not to mention frayed nerves at times and hot tempers especially when there are mishaps, near-mishaps and strong winds and currents. Matnog is not a protected port and as a southern-facing port is affected by the habagat and surges especially when there are weather disturbances in our eastern seaboard.
Whatever the twist and turn in its varied history ,the Matnog-Allen route will probably last nearly forever as the need for bridging of islands and the imperative for moving of cargo and people will probably never vanish there as it is the shortest connection between Luzon and Eastern Visayas. As they say, it is always, “Location, location and location…”.
Matnog Port ©Mike Baylon

The LADY MARY JOY 3

In the current era when cruisers were no longer in vogue and fast disappearing, there is still one ferry proudly flying the cruiser flag, the Lady Mary Joy 3 of Aleson Shipping Corporation. Actually, she is even the best and fastest ferry of her company which owns the biggest shipping fleet based in Zamboanga City. Lady Mary Joy 3 might be a non-RORO cruiser but funnily her stern is transom! For Aleson Shipping she holds the premier route of western Mindanao, the Zamboanga City-Jolo, Sulu route. With her speed, she is always the first arrival in either port and arrivals of 2am is not uncommon which means a traverse time of just 6 hours for the 93-nautical mile route. That converts to a actual cruising speed of 15.5 knots with allowance for speeding up and slowing down.

Lady Mary Joy 3 ©Mike Baylon

Lady Mary Joy 3 was born as the Daito in Japan with the IMO Number 9006760. She was owned by Daito Kaiun which provides the shipping connection to Daito islands in the Ryukyus. She was built by Yamanaka Shipbuilding Co. in their Namitaka shipyard and was launched in February of 1990 and completed in April of the same year. Her Length Over-all (LOA) is 73.0 meters and the Length Between Perpendiculars (LBP) is 67.0 meters with a Beam of 11.0 meters which means she is a narrow ship, a reflection of her not being a RORO and being of cruiser design. The ship had an original Gross Tonnage (GT) of 699 nominal tons and a Deadweight Tonnage (DWT) of 852 nominal tons. She is powered by twin Niigata marine diesel engines developing a total of 4,000 horsepower giving her a service speed of 17 knots when new. Lady Mary Joy 3 has a semi-bulbous stem and tall center mast.

Daiko ©Wakanatsu

In the year 2011 when the new replacement Daito came, the old Daito was sold to Aleson Shipping Lines of the Philippines. She was refitted while anchored off Zamboanga port  and Paseo del Mar park and two passenger decks were added astern of the funnel and another scantling was built between the bridge and the funnel which raised her passenger capacity to 500 which is just enough for the Zamboanga City-Jolo route. The cargo deck at her bow was retained but the cargo deck beneath the old passenger deck was converted into an additional Tourist section.

Refitting process ©Mike Baylon

Lady Mary Joy 3 actually has three passenger decks. The lowest which has no opening at the sides is the aforementioned additional airconditioned Tourist section. At the second deck at the front are Cabins and the original Tourist accommodations. Astern of that behind the funnel is Economy and dividing the front and the rear of the second deck is an original Japan lounge with a small front desk. The third and uppermost deck at the bridge level are all Economy which also includes the ship canteen or kiosk.

Cabin Row of the vessel ©Mike Baylon
Tourist Section ©Mike Baylon
Lounge ©Mike Baylon

With additional scantlings the GT of the ship rose to 835 nominal tons and her new Net Tonnage (NT) is 568 tons with a Depth of 5.3 meters and a Draught of 4.11 meters. Her Estimated Time of Departure (ETD) in either direction is 8pm, a very convenient post-dinner departure time. With a pre-dawn arrival this affords passengers travelling beyond Zamboanga City an early start. Those not inclined to go down early can opt to sleep further (a traditional ship courtesy) but visiting the ship at dawn I found almost all the passengers to be off already.

Not being an old ship, Lady Mary Joy 3 is still fast and very reliable and she easily outguns the other cruisers and Moro boats in her route. She might not be a RORO    but that is not much a concern to the company as her pair in the route is a RORO ship. When I last visited Zamboanga City, she was easily the cleanest ship in the Zamboanga City-Jolo route. Though the best ship in the route her fares are comparable to her competitors and this makes her a popular ship for the travelers in this area.

In her current state it looks like many, many years of service can still be expected of her. In fact, it seems she is simply starting.

Lady Mary Joy 3 ©Mike Baylon

MORETA Shipping Lines

Moreta Shipping Lines is a shipping company based in Manila that was founded by Dr. Segundo Moreno of Quezon City and his family. It was originally an overnight ferry company based in Pier 6 of North Harbor that took over the Manila-Occidental Mindoro connection of William Lines. It is an open secret that the Morenos acknowledge their debt of gratitude to William Lines for their start in shipping. For Occidental Mindoro the transfer was a gift because they did not lose their ferry connection to Manila and they still retained their steel ship. The province then had motor boat (“batel”) connections but those did not follow fixed schedules and those beset by accidents. That time there were still no buses from Manila to the province and intermodal trucks were few as the roads and bridges of Occidental Mindoro were very primitive and vehicles have pass through river beds and flooded roads.
In the early days, the island of Mindoro has robust connections to Manila aside from connections to Batangas. Several shipping companies like William Lines, General Shipping, Philippine Steam Navigation Company, Aboitiz Shipping Company, Mabuhay Shipping, Javellana Shipping, Tan Pho, Compania Maritima, North Camarines Lumber (later NORCAMCO), Rio y Compania, South Sea Shipping and Galaxy Lines have routes to several ports in Mindoro like Tilik, Sablayan, Mangarin (later San Jose), Calapan, Pinamalayan and Roxas. Some of these passenger-cargo ships were still on the way to more distant ports in Palawan, Panay, Romblon, Eastern Visayas and Bicol and were treating Mindoro as intermediate port. These ships served as overnight ferries from Manila to Mindoro and almost all were converted ex-FS ships. Aside from these ships, wooden motor boats also connected Mindoro from Manila. These called on the main ports but these also went to smaller ports like Mamburao and Puerto Galera.
William Lines was the only liner company that remained in Mindoro when the 1990’s came (that was the time when rhe ranks of the liner companies have thinned and Batangas was already the main connection to the island). They were alternating the ex-FS ships Don Jose I and Edward and serving Tilik (in Lubang island) and Sablayan in a combined route and San Jose (the former Mangarin) in a separate route and schedule. It was the Edward that last plied a route to Mindoro. By this time the ex-FS ships were already on their last legs after sailing the seas for 47 years. Actually from about 70 ex-FS ships in its earlier years by the 1990 only half-a-dozen were still actively sailing and sickly ones were already donating parts to the still-sailing ones.

M/V Edward of William Lines ©Gorio Belen

William Lines, then in a tight struggle against Sulpicio Lines for the title “Numero 1” was in a midst of liner refleeting to RORO from cruiser while at the same time investing in new container ships. It seems to them reinvesting in a small route detracts from their main vista of their future and so they decided to withdraw from Mindoro like what the other liner companies did before them. To their credit, they helped prepare the transition so Mindoro will not be isolated and they helped pave the way for the emergence of their route successor, the newly-established Moreta Shipping Lines.

In 1992 the first ship of the new company, the Nikki arrived and William Lines and the ship Edward bowed out of the Mindoro shipping scene. Unlike Edward and Don Jose I, the Nikki was a RORO or more exactly a ROPAX. Though a ROPAX she however seldom carried rolling cargo and not even a container van used at the start. They were just doing loose cargo loading using porters and palletized loading using forklifts like the overnight ferry ships of Cebu. Well, even with this kind of loading it is an advance over the booms and porters of the ex-FS ships. Just the same unloading especially in Mindoro takes several hours and up to almost noontime.

M/V Nikki ©Irvine Kinea

Moreta Shipping Lines decided to just retain the Tilik and San Jose routes but separately. With that the Lumangbayan port of Sablayan suddenly almost became a port to nowhere and the only call came from the irregular motor boat from Manila and the twice a week Viva Shipping Lines motor boat from Batangas. Edward was sorely missed there. I have noticed that ports that lost liner connections and became desolate exhibit withdrawal symptoms and old folks sigh and fondly remembers when the old ships were still calling in their place. I found that out in my visits to Lumangbayan and Tayamaan port in Mamburao (now Lumangbayan is again an active port and improved).

Nikki and Moreta Shipping Lines were warmly embraced by Occidental Mindoro as a worthy successor. It was a plus that the Nikki was more modern, bigger and has an airconditioned Tourist section and real bunks. Though slow she was not slower than the ex-FS ships. The only regret of Mindorenos was the Tilik-Sablayan route was lost and so going to Lubang island which was part of Mindoro means going to Manila first before going back to Lubang. Lubang island became more distant to their mother province.

With their shipping growing Moreta Shipping Lines purchased their second vessel in 1994, the Kimelody Cristy, a bigger, faster and better ROPAX than the Nikki. She was assigned the San Jose route three times a week while Nikki concentrated on the Tilik route. Kimelody Cristy was a better handler of the sometimes-nasty South China Sea swells especially during ‘habagat’ (the southwest monsoon). She was even a better-loved ship in San Jose and with more cargo capacity to boot which was needed by San Jose merchants (the town is almost like a provincial city and the main trading center of Mindoro Strait area) which source their goods from Divisoria and Binondo.

But Kimelody Cristy was not a lucky ship for long. Cruising off the coast of Batangas on the early hours of December 13, 1995, she was hit by fire and explosions. She did not sink but the fire consumed the ship and casualties of at least 14 dead and several wounded ensued. The ship was no longer repaired and she did not sail again.

Kimelody Cristy ©Manila Standard/Gorio Belen

As usual, in the kneejerk reaction culture of the Philippines, accusations of “floating coffins”, “old ships”, “lax enforcement of maritime rules” flew thick and fast immediately. I found it funny that the governor of Occidental Mindoro which just a few months before was hailing Moreta Shipping Lines’ contributions to her province suddenly did a pirouette and began blasting the shipping company too so she won’t be accused of being “lax” on Moreta and so she had to “cry for blood” too.

But as usual, all these things come to pass in the Philippines in a classic “ningas-cogon” (grassfire) fashion and in a short time after the dead are buried “everything is back to normal”. In the same year 1995, even before the Kimelody Cristy burned to a crisp the ferry Conchita of Moreta Shipping Lines has already arrived and she became the permanent replacement of the ill-fated ship. Conchita was a slightly bigger ship than Kimelody Cristy but similar in many respects. The loss of Kimelody Cristy did not really mean Moreta Shipping Lines lacked ships.

M/V Conchita ©Rodney Orca

Way back in the mid-1990s there was already talk of the shipping threat from Batangas. Even to a not-so-keen observer the advantage of the intermodal truck which can make direct deliveries to customers is palpable. It was obvious the only thing holding them back were the very primitive infrastructure of Occidental Mindoro. With the Ramos administration policy of deregulation of the shipping industry players based in Batangas were beginning to mushroom.

Over the next years the combined intermodal and short-distance ferry threat to Moreta Shipping Lines increased as the roads and bridges began to be built and the road connection between the two provinces of Mindoro slowly began to take shape. In 2003, the Roxas-Caticlan sea route materialized and it had a fundamental impact on the sea and intermodal patterns in the area. By this time intermodal buses from Manila were already rolling to Occidental Mindoro via the Wawa port in Abra de Ilog town and rolling down to Sablayan and San Jose and even up to Magsaysay town and with them were trucks including the versatile and powerful wing van trucks.

I wonder if Moreta Shipping Line misread or did not understand the intermodal threat. Maybe they can be forgiven as even the leading shipping company then, the WG&A/2GO failed to understand it too. It’s really hard just sitting around in Manila and not going to Batangas, Calapan, Roxas, Caticlan, Matnog, Allen, Liloan, Lipata, Dumangas, Dapitan, Toledo, San Carlos, Tubigon, Samboan, Amlan, Bogo, Masbate, etc. With declining overnight ferry traffic in Occidental Mindoro they tried a Panay route to Dumaguit and Roxas City by using the Love-1 they purchased in 2004. It seems they never suspected that soon Panay island will be almost completely taken over by the intermodal transport system.

Love-1 ©Edison Sy

Love-1 is a nice ship, a near-liner masquerading as an overnight ferry. But it was not enough to change the reality that in a parallel route the intermodal transport system will defeat liner and container shipping (well, this is not understood too by Japanese shipping experts too and they are advising our maritime and port agencies through JICA, and maybe wrongly). And so the foray of Moreta Shipping Line to Panay island was not a success and soon they found themselves sailing fewer and fewer routes and schedules and their ships began to have days just anchored idle in North Harbor.

Moreta Cargo 1 ©Mike Baylon

Maybe Moreta Shipping Line was able to read the handwriting on the wall and ventured into Palawan using pure container shipping starting in 2009 by acquiring the Moreta Cargo 1. This was followed by Moreta Cargo 2 and Moreta Cargo 3, both in 2010 and they added new container routes. With their old passenger-cargo routes getting moribund and dying they began selling their ROPAXes starting with their oldest ship by Date of Build (DOB), the Conchita which was sold to Besta Shipping Lines in 2011. Next to be disposed was the Nikki which went to Medallion Transport in 2012. Last to be disposed in 2013 was the beautiful Love-1 which was part of a package deal to Medallion Transport.

Moreta Cargo 2 ©John Cabanillas

With these disposals Moreta Shipping Lines further strengthened its container shipping fleet and acquired the Moreta Cargo 5 in 2012 and Moreta Venture in 2013. Now the shipping company has a pure cargo fleet and it is noteworthy how they were to build it in a short time. More routes were added and now they have container shipping not only to Puerto Princesa but also to Dumaguit, Roxas City, Iloilo, Bacolod and Cagayan de Oro. Ironically, they are now gone in the ports of call in Mindoro where they started from.

Moreta Cargo 3 ©Irvine Kinea
Moreta Cargo 5 ©Mike Baylon

WHEN IS A RORO VIABLE?

This article was originally posted on the old PSSS Website, and is reposted for archive purposes. No changes are made, including grammatical changes.

Written by Mike Baylon

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ROROs (Roll On, Roll Off ships) have long been viable as connectors of our major islands in the last three-and-a-half decades. All our big and medium islands have been connected already along with a few minor islands. One major factor for this was the completion of good roads in the major islands. With good roads the vehicle density then correspondingly shot up.

With good roads the cargo jeeps, trucks and the buses rolled along the new intermodal sea lanes. The sedans, AUVs and pick-ups soon followed. The booming of trucks was helped by the entry of surplus units in the free ports while financing for buses became easier with the availability of more money during the economic recovery. Versatile and fast wing van trucks also arrived and these became serious competitors to container shipping especially since they can depart daily and at any hour and need not queue in the North Harbor. Refrigerated trucks, too, revolutionized how we moved goods from place to place and they carried a variety from sea foods to processed or fresh meat to fresh produce and fruits.

M/V Odyssey loading a wingvan truck. ©Mike Baylon

RORO connection from Luzon to Samar and Leyte up to Mindanao immediately became successful and later connection from Luzon to Mindoro and Panay became  viable too. RORO connections between the main Visayan islands of Leyte, Bohol, Cebu, Negros and Panay also took off early. Soon there came also the connection of Negros and Bohol to Mindanao. In later years we also saw RORO connections to Alabat, Marinduque, Masbate, Catanduanes, Palawan, Cuyo, Guimaras, Bantayan, Siquijor, Camiguin, Siargao, Samal, Olutanga, Basilan and Jolo islands and the Romblon, Calamian, Camotes and Tawi-tawi groups of islands.

A privately-owned port. Click to open full-size to better appreciate the details. ©Mike Baylon

Not too long ago there was a push to connect smaller islands by RORO with MARINA  offering “missionary route” status to entrants. Along with a host of incentives, this status conferred to entrants exclusivity in the route and other and protection from entry of competitors in nearby connections up to a distance of 50 kilometers away. MARINA even produced feasibility studies made by foreign shipping experts with doctorate degrees but who have no knowledge of local shipping to support this project. But alas, as expected their recommendations bombed as in the ROROs stopped sailing and transferred routes because as they say in analytics it is “garbage in, garbage out”.

This way of thinking was exacerbated by a Ph.D thesis of someone who has no knowledge of shipping who did a paper on the state of competition in the Philippine shipping industry. The basic thesis was the assumption that if in a route there are only one or two competitors then “there is lack of competition”. The lady never thought some routes can barely support a ship and years later many routes she thought “lacks competition” are actually already gone or the shipping company or companies serving then are already bankrupt or defunct now. In actuality, one thing the so-called local “experts” in shipping and the government do not understand is the short-distance ROROs are actually eating up the market of the liner and even the overnight ferry sector including container shipping.

A law professor who has no background in shipping who headed a maritime agency also pushed LCTs (Landing Craft Transports)to connect small islands and coastal barrios in the interest of safety. This never really took off as motor bancas can land anywhere while LCTs can’t in the main (they still need wharves) and passengers and traders prefer point-to-point service rather than a single LCT covering many coastal barrios and minor islands that will result in delay. Nor did the lady lawyer understand that coastal island or small island people travel at dawn especially if they have catch to sell and if there is no passenger-cargo motor banca then fishing bancas will do the trip and they will not wait for an LCT that will still drop by many points. Maybe she also didn’t know that motor bancas are faster than LCTs in cruising speed. She maybe did not reckon also that LCTs consumed much more fuel than a motor banca and so what will be a viable route for a motor banca might not be so for an LCT. Finally, an LCT will cost in the mid-8-figure money while a motor banca will cost much less than a million and if a trader has mid-8-figure money he would probably not be living in a coastal barrio or a remote town.

LCT being built. Currently LCT St. Brendan. ©Mike Baylon

What makes a RORO route successful? I think the main determinants in this are the number of population and economic activity of the island including tourism. This is assuming there is no competitor route halving patronage or parallel routes dividing the market.

The magic number needed for viable RORO operation, in my observation, is between 50,000 and 100,000 and depending too on economic activity and tourism. There are some islands which have a population of 100,000 but cannot support a RORO and examples of these are Polillo and Dinagat islands. Located in far-flung places, there is really not that much economic activity in those islands. Meanwhile, the similarly-sized Siargao island in the same place as Dinagat can support a RORO because of its tourism.  The island-provinces of Guimaras, Siquijor and Camiguin which all have about 100,000 in population are able to support ROROs especially being independent provinces there is more money from the national government pouring in. if the tourism is stronger like in Camiguin (where the abundance of lanzones does not hurt) then there are more ROROs. Population in Marinduque, Palawan, Catanduanes and Masbate is even bigger. And Jolo island, the main island of the province of Sulu and Bongao island, main island of Tawi-tawi, both have populations well in excess of 100,000.

Lipata Port. Click to view full-size. ©Mike Baylon

Samal, Bantayan and Camotes, all islands which are not provinces, all have 100,000 people and tourism too especially in the first and the second have an egg industry. The population of Tablas is even bigger. Romblon island have ROROs because it is still a gateway to the province, the capital is there and it is the gateway to the nearby Sibuyan island. Romblon island might just have have a population of 40,000 but combined with Sibuyan’s nearly 60,000 the magic number of 100,000 is reached. It is also in this sense why Calamianes can support ROROs. The island group’s population might not reach 90,000 but it has tourism, fish and it is an intermediate point to Palawan and Cuyo.

That brings us to the peculiar cases of the islands of Alabat, Cuyo and Olutanga. Alabat island has a population of just 45,000. Maybe it is the tourism and economic activity which buoys up the place to merit a RORO. Cuyo group of islands has a population of about equal to Alabat and not much short of 50,000 too. Originally cruisers and motor boats (“batel”) served the route and operators maybe just used a RORO as a substitute for a cruiser. Montenegro Shipping, which serves the route from Iloilo and Palawan, likewise has no cruisers.

M/V Catalyn-E ©Mike Baylon

Olutanga island, meanwhile, which has about the same population of Alabat and Cuyo is just very near the mainland. Besides it is the Provincial government which owns and operates the LCT connecting the island as a public service. And that brings us to the case of the small islands of Sibutu and Simunul which have an LCT too. Same case, it is the Provincial Government which owns and operates the LCT. And by that what I imply is the service is not a strictly commercial service. The case of Cagraray island in Albay is somewhat similar. The operator of the classy resort Misibis Bay fielded an LCT so that vehicles can cross – for more patronage. It didn’t hurt that the resort owners were already LCT operators previously (but the LCT is already withdrawn now as the bridge connecting the island is already operational).

Among island-municipalities it is only Samal (which is a city) that I know can support a RORO. All others cannot, historically, so it is puzzle to me why the previous administration pushed for ROROs in these places and it even built ports with RORO ramps to support that (well, that administration was infamous for building “ports to nowhere”).

Caliclic Wharf ©Mike Baylon

Can islands with two towns without much economic activity support a RORO? I have not seen it in the cases of Burias, Buad (in Samar) and Dumaran (in Palawan) islands. Lubang island with two towns was able to support a RORO before but with the advent of motor bancas in a competitor route from Nasugbu, Batangas, the RORO lost. It remains to be seen if Atienza Shipping will be successful in reinstating the RORO there. It might be if Lubang is used a midway point to a longer route.

Ticao island with four towns and a population of over 50,000 cannot support a RORO. There is also no RORO now to the Batanes. There is also no RORO doing coastal barrio routes like in the southern Bicol coast which has no road or in the Samar Sea linking the island-towns there.  That is also the case in the many small islands between Basilan and Jolo and the Babuyan islands in Cagayan and the Polillo group of islands. MARINA (Maritime Industry Authority) should really do empirical studies first before pushing for RORO routes and not just hypothesize from their air-conditioned offices.

Maybe in the future when economic activity rises and the disposable income of the peoples there improve significantly our island-towns and other small islands might have a RORO of their own. But until that happens it will still be the motor bancas which will do the job and that might still be for a long while.

Motor Bancas of Surigao. Click to view full-size. ©Mike BaylonBASI

The Maharlika Sisters

MAHARLIKA 1. ©Grek Peromingan

“Maharlika I” and “Maharlika II” were two sister ships commissioned by the Philippine government in the 1980’s to connect the Maharlika Highway from Aparri to Zamboanga via RORO (Roll On, Roll Off vessel). “Maharlika I” was fielded in the Matnog-San Isidro, Samar route to connect Luzon and the Visayas while “Maharlika II” was fielded in the Liloan, Leyte-Lipata, Surigao City route to connect Visayas to Mindanao.

While the two vessels were built from the same ship plan of Japanese design, it was intended that one will be built in Japan with Filipino engineers observing the process so that the second one could be built in a Philippine yard with the experience gained. The idea was to get the moribund government-owned shipyard in Bataan to get going again. Japanese soft loans were used to build the ships which part of the “Philippine-Japan Friendship Highway” package that also included funds to build the likes of the San Juanico Bridge and the RORO ports along the route.

1983 1108 Maharlika II Maharlika 2 Launch ©Gorio Belen

“Maharlika I” was built by Niigata Engineering in their Niigata yard and was completed on January of 1983. Meanwhile, “Maharlika Dos” was built in the Mariveles yard of Philippine Dockyard and was completed on July of 1984. Philippine Dockyard was the former NASSCO (National Shipyard and Steel Corporation) which built the ferries “General Roxas” and the “Governor B. Lopez” in 1960 and 1961 (incidentally those two were the last ferries built by that shipyard before the Maharlika Dos).

As RORO vessels, the sisters were equipped with ramps at the bow and at the stern as she was designed without the need for the ships to still turn around. Their bow ramps were of the more complicated “visor” type where the bow of the ship has to swing up first before the ramp can be deployed. The stern ramps were of the conventional two-piece design. In later years the bow ramps were no longer in use (“visors” are additional maintenance items).

Maharlika Dos with open visor door. ©Edison Sy

The two sisters were not of identical dimensions as the “Maharlika I” was longer at 66.3 meters versus the 60.0 meters of the Maharlika Dos. They shared the same beam of 12.5 meters but the Gross Tonnage (GT) of “Maharlika I” was higher at 1,971 tons versus the 1,865 tons of “Maharlika II”. The two had the same twin Niigata diesel engines that produced a total of 3,200 horsepower and giving them a service speed of 14.5 knots using two screws.

Between the two, “Maharlika I” has the bigger passenger capacity at 524 with “Maharlika II” having a capacity of 417. There were no attached passenger ramps to the two. When the ships dock a movable ramp was attached to the ship which is not fastened safely most of the time. Cargo capacity, meanwhile, was 14 trucks or buses and more if combined with smaller vehicles.

Maharlika I stern. ©Edison Sy

Initially, it was the Philippine government that operated the sisters starting in 1984. In the late 1990s the two, however passed on to the control of the twin company PhilHarbor Ferries and Archipelago Ferries. The two were no longer in pristine condition then as they aged fast, a process “normal” for government-owned equipment. The decline was, however not reversed and soon the two were no longer reliable. They were operated even with only one engine running that lengthened considerably the sailing times. Interviewing a crew member, he told they just clean and repaint the parts and put it back rather than replacing it as called for in preventive maintenance. I have seen the two not sailing because two engines are busted.

In  passenger service, there was really none to speak of and the Maharlika sisters were not even clean and tidy. There was a foul smell especially in the toilets and it smells of the sweat in the air-conditioned section. Overloading, too, was rampant especially in the peak seasons when ferries in the route were still few. Sometimes I feel lucky having an air vent for a seat. It beats the muddy stairs anytime and it is airy, at least.

Maharlika II at Lipata Port ©Mike Baylon

For a country like the Philippines which has a hundred ferries that are 40 years old and above that are still sailing right now, the sisters did not live long lives. “Maharlika I” was deemed “BER” (Beyond Economic Repair” before the first decade of the new millennium was over and they tried to sell it for scrap. Initially, that went for naught as somebody questioned the move and “Maharlika I” was just moored in San Isidro, Samar. Eventually, she was broken up in Navotas in 2010 after sailing less than 25 years.

It seems parts from “Maharlika I” were transferred to “Maharlika II” as initially “Maharlika II” ran well after “Maharlika I” was sold. But soon it seems her old disease caught up with her once again and her sailing time for her 38-nautical mile route went up to 4.5 hours again which signified she was again running on one engine. She will depart one hour ahead of “Super Shuttle Ferry 18” and yet that ship will catch up with her midway into the Surigao Strait.

Maharlika 2 ©Mike Baylon

The PANGUIL BAY CROSSING

Panguil Bay is the narrow and shallow body of water between Lanao del Norte and Misamis Occidental that at its narrowest might just be two kilometers across or even less especially at the southern end. At that end, the maps mark it with dotted lines because it is not clear where land ends and where the sea begins because most are fishponds and shallow marshes. This small sea is known for sea foods including crustaceans and some foreign entities even have buying stations in the area.

Panguil Bay ©Mike Baylon

Even before World War II Panguil Bay was a sea lane connecting the two provinces. One can take the road through Monte Alegre which goes round Panguil Bay but the distance is simply too long as in about a hundred kilometers or over and will take several hours of travel. But if one takes it the views of Panguil Bay is simply breath-taking from the mountain.
Motor boats once connected the two shores and several competed in the route including Charles Brown, an American resident. After the war small steel-hulled passenger-cargo ships began to dominate and slowly the successor of Charles Brown, Tamula Shipping began to dominate. Ruperto Tamula was the son-in-law of Charles Brown.

Wooden Ship at Tubod Port ©Mark Ocul

The old routes in Panguil Bay was Ozamis-Kolambugan and Ozamis-Tubod and R.P. Tamula Shipping completely dominated that by the ‘90s. Their ships sailed every hour and even more frequent at peak hours. However, they did not sail at night. Anyway at that time and security situation almost no public vehicles run in the Lanao del Norte highway after dark. Tamula used a lot of ships and some even have airconditioned accommodations. Also, when the winds blow their ships will rock and will take a dogleg route to avoid waves slamming broadside.

Rural Transit entering Royal Seal ©Mark Ocul

Millennium Shipping of Davao tried to enter the route by providing RORO service between Tubod, the capital and the barrio of Silanga in Tangub City. It was one of the shortest crossings in the bay but a little far from the main center which was Ozamis City. Millennium used LCTs but there were very few vehicles crossing then and there were no intermodal buses yet so the schedule of crossing was irregular.

A sea change happened when the compromise agreement of the buses in the area happened which opened the Dipolog-Cagayan de Oro route for the buses. This development coincided with the development of the private Mukas port in Tubod. Soon Daima Shipping, owner of Mukas port was transporting Rural Transit buses to Ozamis. Daima has the shortest crossing of all and their route is not that exposed to winds like the route of Tamula. Their ships were also in a spic and span condition when they first arrived unlike the tired ships of Tamula and the LCTs of Millennium.

LAKBAYAN UNO Lakbayan Uno of Millenium Shipping ©Carl Jakosalem

Millennium Shipping also built their own port further down the road in Tabigue and later they also built their own wharf in Ozamis. They handled the Lillian Express and buses but they cannot compete with Daima as the their route was longer, the ROPAXes were slower and not level to Daima’s standard. Aside from their LCTs like “Wilcox”, Millennium tried to bring in “Lakbayan Uno” but at 7.5 knots it was not any faster than the LCTs. With longer interval because of low patronage they were dead duck from the start and soon they quit altogether and sold the LCTs to Maayo Shipping.

Soon Tamula Shipping was losing patronage fast. Passengers no longer want to get off at Kolambugan proper and take the tricycle to the port and haggle with the “labor” and porters if they have cargo or luggage. They also didn’t like the sardines-type of loading. In Ozamis too connections are better with the bus that goes direct to the terminal 2 kilometers from the port and imagine if one will take the tricycle for that. So in a short time Tamula Shipping was dead duck too and in just a few years they also stopped sailing the Panguil Bay route (they were also doing the Balingoan-Camiguin routes). Last to go was the route to Tubod but soon the Tamula ships were just moored and slowly they began settling one by one into the shallow water.

Now only Daima Shipping is doing the Panguil Bay route. However, instead of operating full blast all their ships they let half rot and gather barnacles resulting in long vehicle queues and a long wait for boarding which is what usually happens if there is no competition and there is no other choice but to grin and bear it. And that happened when vehicle and passenger traffic in the route was on the rise year after year. On the other hand, one positive development brought by Daima was night sailing and ferries now run almost round the clock except for a few hours.

Daima Shipping Lines Inc. folio Daima Shipping Lines ©Mark Ocul

What is needed in the route now is a new player. But the problem of entry is that there are no suitable ports on the Lanao side except if the new entrant will build their own port. Tubod government port is available but the distance is much greater and that translates into higher rates and so competing is difficult. Maybe one possibility is the Tubod-Silanga route but for passenger which is a decisive factor in the route (a lot of them are not bus passengers). There is also just one bus company left, also a monopoly and it has a tie-up with Daima Shipping. There is a practically duopoly in the route.

The future threat to the route is if the Tubod-Silanga bridge is built. That has long been a proposal and the German government was willing to fund it and feasibility survey has already been made. However, the German government demands a local counterpart but the government so far is not willing to shoulder it. So the plans for over a decade now is gathering rust and I do not see it being revived soon no matter what the rosy projections are by the optimists.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/blueleo2/12303969024/in/photolist-jKg4jY-nTaTAK-e6XQXy-7cxFqb-4do5ew-oBhRNv-oBmyy Pangul Bay Bridge Proposal

My Manila-Davao Intermodal Travel

written by: Gorio Belen

Ever since I’ve read of the daring feat of Ronnie Pasola in traveling around the country, from Aparri to Zamboanga, driving an Austin Moke, I’ve always dreamt of doing the same. There have been several other driving challenges through the years along the Pan-Philippine Highway, including a car rally race from Manila to Davao and Marlboro Tour bicycle races. Driving from Luzon to Mindanao have been made possible through the RoRo ferry crossing services in Matnog and Liloan plus the majestic bridge span linking Samar and Leyte Islands.

The plan to construct a trans-Philippine highway started as early as in the 1960s. In 1967, a team of Japanese and Filipino engineers started to survey the proposed route of this 3,500 kms highway and the actual construction started in 1970. The road was initially called the Philippine-Japanese Friendship highway since the road construction was mainly funded from a $30 million Japanese loan (P168,846,000 in the 1970 peso-dollar exchange rate of P5.6282 to $1) and a local counterpart fund of P2 billion. But it was said that many Filipinos frowned on the name and so it was changed to the Pan-Philippine Highway. In 1979, it was changed to Maharlika Highway by Pres. Marcos.

1965 0829 Pan Philippine Highway
Pan Philippine Highway ©Gorio Belen

Then in Aug. 21, 1986, Philtranco initiated a historic bus run from Manila to Davao and Cagayan de Oro via the Maharlika Highway. Now, a once divided island, where travelling from Manila to Mindanao meant spending several days on an interisland ship was possible by a single bus ride. The advent of RoRo ferries also connected other parts of the country. The Strong Republic Nautical Highway was availed by other bus companies to connect Manila to other parts of the Visayas.

1986 0805 Philtranco 'Unity Run' to link Luzon, M'danao
Philtranco ‘Unity Run’ to link Luzon, M’danao ©Gorio Belen

Seeing those buses with signboards saying Davao somehow challenged me to try a sightseeing trip. I have made initial inquiries on the bus fares, schedules and the time travel when Philtranco still had a terminal at former U/Tex factory in Marikina but somehow I never made the trip. My first interisland bus travel was way back in 1994 when I took an air-conditioned bus from Tacloban to Manila, a 24 hour travel. But what I wanted to do was a bus ride from Manila to Davao….and this was the journey that I would wish to do for years. In my first attempt, I was already at the Cubao Ali Mall terminal but a storm was hovering in the Bicol area and all the dispatchers were not sure if any trip to Tacloban was possible. And I wouldn’t want to travel on a stormy condition with a possibility of being stranded at the Matnog port. Thus I went home disappointed that my first attempt on an interisland trip failed.

Then on my second attempt I was luckier, the weather was fine, I was able to get time off work, at least for a week. And so off I went to the bus terminal in Ali Mall.

Ali Mall, Manila
Ali Mall, Manila ©Ealonian56

At the center of the busy commercial area of Araneta Center in Cubao, the Ali Mall Integrated Bus Terminal comes to life early in the morning as buses from the south arrive and unloads its passengers. If cities in the Visayas and Mindanao have integrated bus terminals, this is its counterpart sort of in Metro Manila. Buses mainly bound for the southern provinces depart here. At mid-morning, the terminal turn almost chaotic as activities center on the departing buses bound for the south; air-con and ordinary buses bound for Bicol, Samar, Leyte and even Iloilo. This would go on until the evening. This is where different cultures of the country mix. This was where my adventure began. (Today, the Ali Mall bus terminal has been demolished to give way to the construction of a Megaworld condominium and the bus terminal have moved to the former Rustan’s building a few meters away.)

Tuesday-May 23, 2006
I boarded the brand new Chinese-made Higer bus of Silverstar Shuttle and Tours bound for Tacloban on the morning of May 23 for the 10 o’clock departure.

Despite some delays, we left Manila and encountered a relatively moderate traffic along EDSA. But a 20 minute stopover at Silverstar’s main terminal in San Pedro, Laguna was irritating to some of the passengers (including me). It was already 11:20 when we left the San Pedro terminal and finally went into cruise speed along the South Luzon Expressway. The Silverstar’s brand new suspension made the trip very comfortable. I was seated in the rear portion of the bus (being the last passenger to check in) and beside a lady bound for Tacloban. Despite my inability to understand or speak ‘Waray’, a warm smile exchanged meant that we will be friendly seatmates for the next 24 hours. Most of the passengers were going home after a vacation in Manila. My excitement on this trip was peaking up. I only hoped for a good weather along the way and a safe trip to my destination.

Way to go Maasin
A Silverstar Shuttle and Tours Bus ©markstopover 3

As rice fields dominate the landscape of the Northern Philippines, tall and slender coconut trees line up the roadside from Batangas up to Quezon Province in the South. We arrived at Lucena at 2 p.m. and stopped at a roadside restaurant for a late lunch. Afternoon showers fell along the way as we passed by the shoreline of Gumaca. I always liked this portion of the Maharlika Highway, where the Pacific Ocean is located on your left while the mountainside is on your right.

At 5 pm, we stopped at the junction at Calauag, Quezon to refuel, indicating that this is the half way point of the bus’ journey.

By this time, the rigors of travel already started to take effect on me as I slept along the way to Bicol despite the rough and zigzagging roads. It was already 9 pm when we stopped for dinner somewhere in Bicol.

Wednesday – May 24, 2006
As we resumed our travel, I again continued my sleep until we reached the Matnog ferry terminal, the exit point from Luzon, at 1 am.

Alighting from the bus to get our ferry tickets, it was a bit inconvenient for passengers to be roused from their sleep and get down from the buses. Despite the hospitality of the local vendors who generously offered the passengers cheap but hot coffee and other snacks, being awaken at 1 am and made to fall in line to get tickets and then board the ferry is very uncomforting. But despite this, I was entertained by the sight of a long line of buses about to board the RoRo ferries. I watched with amazement as the ship’s crew direct the traffic of vehicles boarding the ferry and then securing them tight before we sail off. It was order in chaos.

In the middle of the night we boarded the MV King Frederick of the Sta. Clara Shipping Line. As soon as the passengers boarded the RoRo ferry, everyone searched the ferry for every available chair or space to grab a quick nap. The San Bernardino Strait was perfectly calm and ideal for that ferry crossing. Early morning crossings at San Bernardino Strait afforded one with a spectacular view of the sunrise. Always a pleasant way to start the day. But unfortunately that time we docked at Allen, Samar was still in darkness at 4 am.

02 Matnog
MV King Frederick at Matnog Port ©Gorio Belen

The portion of the Maharlika Highway in Samar runs along the western coast. Roads along Samar are rough and in a sorry state of disrepair, mainly due to years of neglect. (This was in 2006 and I have read they have started to repair the roads. I do not know the present condition). We reached Calbayog City at 6 am for a breakfast stopover.

Calbayog City as well as Catbalogan features old-style pedal-powered tricycles. Unlike their noisy counterparts in Luzon, the dominant tricycles quietly lorded it over the city streets of Calbayog and Catbalogan. Always an interesting sight.

05 Calbayog
Calbayog’s Pedicab ©Gorio Belen

By this time half of the bus’ passengers have alighted, and most of them are now in casual conversation. I know that we were leaving Samar island once the road condition improved. Upon reaching the majestic San Juanico Bridge, I am now ending my first phase of my adventure.

We arrived in Tacloban at 12 noon. I am now in the Visayas region after 24 hours of travel. Tacloban is the capital of Leyte and is the center of trade in Eastern Visayas. This was a familiar territory for me since I had a project here years before and I have been here a couple of times in the past. I immediately went to the Philtranco terminal to inquire about the trip to Davao and I was informed that the bus from Manila was expected to arrive at 9 pm but I can not be assured of a space in the bus as it was reported to be full. (That time, there was still no integrated terminal yet)

I decided to recharge my energies in the city for the rest of the afternoon, checked into a pension house, took a bath, grabbed a meal, took a quick nap and made a short city tour to some familiar places. In the evening, after a quick dinner, I went back to the bus terminal and waited for the Philtranco bus to Davao. I was asked if I would like to ride in the non-aircon Bachelor Express that leaves earlier than 9 p.m. but I decided to stick it out with the air-con Philtranco bus (a decision I would later regret).

07 Tacloban
Tacloban Scenery ©Gorio Belen

The Philtranco Bus arrived way past 9 pm and was full of passengers. I begged the conductor to take me in and he asked if I was willing to stand up as there was no more space even in the alley. I took the challenge and we left at 9:45 pm with me standing in the middle of the alley with people all around me. The bus was so full, there were even passengers in the cargo bay at the back and more standing at the door. I was told that there was a Boy Scout Jamboree in Davao that time so many passengers were bound for that city. (I could have taken this bus in Manila and could have assured me of a seat throughout the travel to Davao, but I chose to follow my own schedule rather than the bus’ timetable).

The drive to Liloan, the southernmost tip of Leyte was uneventful in the middle of the night despite the cramps I suffered from standing for 4 hours and not being able to sleep. That was the real adventure part of my trip. How I wished I should have taken the Bachelor bus instead.

Thursday – May 25, 2006
We reached Liloan at 2 am and was informed that the ferry will arrive at 4am. Immediately I scrambled to find a bench to sleep and rest my aching legs. Then at dawn we boarded mv Maharlika Dos for the ferry crossing to Mindanao. Again I was entertained by the sight of the buses and trucks boarding the ferry and being parked side by side with inches to spare. The RoRo ferry left Liloan at 6 am and it took four hours to cross the Surigao Strait again at a very slow pace. This ferry had served the commuters of Mindanao and Leyte for such a long time, more than twenty years. Again, calm waters afforded us an uneventful ferry crossing and I was able to get a good nap before reaching Lipata.

Lipata Ferry Terminal is the cleanest port I’ve been to in the country and arriving here early in the morning was very refreshing. At last, I was now in Mindanao and almost near my destination.

Lipata Port
Lipata Port ©Aristotle Refugio

Disembarking the ferry and boarding the bus was quite efficient and quick. My fellow bus passengers were now anxious as they were now near their various destinations and they have been on the road for 2 days already. I finally managed to get a seat in the bus and I started to enjoy again the local sceneries along the highway. The road from Surigao to Butuan was relatively in good condition. We stopped for lunch at R.T. Romualdez town.

We arrived at Butuan City at 2pm and when we left it, the bus was half empty. The road to Davao in my earlier travels was very rough with the highway full of huge craters. But the roads have improved since then and now travelling on this part of the Maharlika Highway was very pleasant. By this time, the Philtranco bus seemed to stop at every town before Davao to drop off each passenger.

At Monkayo, Compostela Valley, we had an early dinner at 6pm. As we reached Tagum City, Davao del Norte, we were just about five passengers remaining in the bus. The Philtranco bus finally reached Davao at 9 pm, almost a 24 hour trip for me coming from Tacloban and a two day trip for those who boarded from Manila. For most of the remaining passengers, they were still find connecting bus rides to other provinces in Mindanao but for me, it’s time to find a nice hotel.

Tagum City bus terminal
Tagum City Bus Terminal ©Gorio Belen

I settled in at the Bagobo House Hotel along Duterte st. in downtown Davao, a hotel that I used to check in before. Unfortunately, a boy scout jamboree was happening during that week so all of the regular rooms were occupied and so I was offered the suite. At P1000 a night, it was still a bargain. Their regular single room rate is P620/night could have saved me some bucks but I was too tired to go around the city to look for a cheaper room.

Davao’s nightlife is a clone of Manila’s. It offers a variety of entertainment. There are karaoke bars as well as live band music venues for music lovers. Numerous restaurants catered to satisfy different tastes. Malls also abound. But that night I was just too tired to go out and this was my first chance to rest on a comfortable bed and have a decent rest. So at 11 pm I was already asleep.

Friday – May 26, 2006
On the fourth day of my trip, instead of returning to Manila, I decided to take a bus to Cagayan de Oro via the BuDa (Bukidnon-Davao) road which I have heard so much from my Mindanaoan friends before. I boarded a brand new Rural Transit bus bound for Cagayan de Oro and we left at 9:30 am. The ride was pleasant all throughout as the BuDa road was well paved.

Upon reaching the provincial boundary of Bukidnon we were all asked to board down and pass through a foot bath while the bus underside was sprayed with disinfectant. The province of Bukidnon has been strictly enforcing this measure to prevent the entry of foot and mouth disease that may ruin their cattle and animal industry.

The zigzagging roads of BuDa highway offered a breathtaking view of Davao City mountain ranges. This reminded me of my father’s stories of how they evacuated from Davao to Cagayan de Oro on foot at the onset of WWII. He said that they walked the mountain jungles for days, surviving on what they can eat along the forests of Davao del Norte (which I imagined to be very lush then). How I wish that he was still alive today so that I could have taken him along on this trip and retrace their evacuation route.

11 Rural Transit in Bukidnon
Rural Transit in Bukidnon ©Gorio Belen

We arrived at exactly noon in Quezon, Bukidnon and had our lunch there. And for the following towns thereafter, we would be stopping for every 30 minutes to pick up and unload passengers. At 1 pm we were at Maramag, Bukidnon. I have been to Maramag once before so I was amazed at the remarkable improvement.

We arrived at Malaybalay at 2:30pm. About 10 years ago, when I went to this place, the highway was still mainly gravel road. Malaybalay is home of the famous Benedictine Monastery of Transfiguration which has a very good boy’s choir. The monks there also plant coffee which they sell to guests and the abbey also has the last work of National Artist Architect Leandro Locsin, the monastery’s chapel.

We finally arrived in Cagayan de Oro, under a slight drizzle, at 4:30 pm. and immediately I checked in at Pearlmont Inn in nearby Limketkai Mall. The rooms are clean and the rate was relatively cheap. I did some “malling” in nearby Limketkai forgetting that SM already had a mall near Lumbia. I was eating mall food again just like what I usually do in Manila. Cagayan de Oro was another familiar territory as I have been to this place numerous times before and had a number of projects here before. I also had a couple of friends here so it was nice to catch up with them.

cagayan de oro terminal
Bulua Bus Terminal, Cagayan de Oro City ©Gorio Belen

By this time, I have reached the halfway point of my trip and it was now time to get head back to Manila.

Saturday – May 27, 2006
I decided to take the route via Butuan on my return trip. Initially I tried to get a ride at a local air-con van but departure was only when it was already full of passengers. But since filling up the van took a long time, I decided to board a Butuan bound Bachelor bus instead. The bus departed the terminal at 10 a.m.

The highway eastward from Cagayan de Oro runs along the coastline so the view is refreshing. We arrived in Villanueva, Misamis Oriental at 10:45am and had a short stopover at its common bus terminal. At 11:15am, we made the next stopover in Balingasag. Lunchtime was in Balingoan at exactly noon. At 1 pm we stopped at Gingoog City and 58 minutes later we were at Nasipit.

Gingoog City Bus Terminal
Gingoog City Bus Terminal ©Gorio Belen

We arrived in Butuan City at 2:30pm. I changed bus here and took a Bachelor bound for Surigao City. I wondered why there was no direct bus trip from Cagayan de Oro to Surigao but nevertheless I took the chance to do a quick tour of the city during my stopover. We departed at 3 pm. From Butuan the highway from Cagayan de Oro to Surigao City is well paved so travel was comfortable. Upon arriving at the Surigao integrated terminal after a two hour trip, I boarded a multicab bound for Lipata ferry terminal. I arrived at the Lipata terminal at dusk and had plenty of time to rest from my day-long travel since the ferry was scheduled to depart at 10 pm yet. How I wished I had the information at the Surigao terminal so that I could have toured the city proper that evening. It seemed that not everyone knew of the ferries’ schedule or that the ferries had not regular schedule.

Anyway, the Lipata terminal building, despite its age, is still clean and well-maintained. Waiting for the RoRo ferry’s arrival, I had time to reflect on my travel. This leg of my travel has debunked the myth of most Luzon residents that travelling around Mindanao is quite dangerous due to rebels of various orientations. On the contrary, I found the Northeastern part of Mindanao peaceful.

We boarded a Maharlika RoRo ferry and departed Lipata at 10:30 pm. As soon as we boarded the ferry, we looked for a good seat to sleep. The passengers were quite few so there was plenty of space to look around. The slow speed of the RoRo ship and calm waters made the ferry crossing comfortable and again uneventful. This time, I was able to get a good sleep, despite lying flat in the chairs.

Sunday – May 28, 2006
We arrived at Liloan at 2:30 am. I was back in island of Leyte. I took a van for Tacloban outside the ferry terminal and we departed at 3 am. Since there was nothing to see in the dark, I slept most of the way to Tacloban. I was only awakened when we made a stopover in Bato at 4:30 am.

I arrived in Tacloban at 7 am at took a quick breakfast. Then I took a van for Calbayog City. I planned to make a stopover in Calbayog to see a former officemate. Again I experienced the indescribable rugged roads of Samar. I was in Calbayog at noon and quickly contacted my friend and decided to spend the night in Calbayog. My former officemate and I had a grand time catching up with each other.

Monday – May 29, 2006
Instead of boarding a bus bound for Manila, I departed from Calbayog at 9 am aboard a local jeep bound for Allen. I planned to make many stopovers along the way.

At 11:30am I was in Allen pier and after the usual process of falling in line to buy tickets, we boarded the RoRo ferry, the mv King Frederick again (the same ferry I rode from Matnog to Allen earlier). We departed at 1pm. This time I was able to enjoy the view from the ferry’s side. I also watched my co-passengers do their regular “ferry crossing things.” A female pedicurist was going around the ship and must have a good earning as she had many costumers. A lady beside me fed her son with home cooked adobo which I know for sure is very delicious. Some passengers enjoyed viewing a female volleyball game on the ship’s TV. While some took the chance to get a nice afternoon nap, others enjoyed the cool sea breeze by the ferry’s railings.

We docked at Matnog at 2:30 pm. Happily, I was in back in Luzon soil as soon as I saw the arch at the Matnog port entrance that welcome the travelers. Outside the port, I boarded a jeep bound for Sorsogon. I did enjoy this leg of my travel since at last I saw the scenic countryside of Sorsogon in daytime (most of my passing through in this area was at night). Passing by Irosin, I was reminded of my high school teacher who hailed from this town and who always told us of stories about his place. I was planning to spend the night in Sorsogon but since it was still early I decided to board a van for Daraga. At Daraga, I boarded another van bound for Naga and we left the terminal at 6 pm. Arriving at the new Naga central terminal at 8:30 pm, instead of spending the night in that city as I initially planned, I was talked into boarding Gold Line bus that was about to depart at 9 pm by its dispatcher. Maybe because I was already too tired of my travelling and I was really aching to go home. After a quick dinner at the terminal’s restaurant, I took my seat in the bus and settled in for the long trip. Surprisingly, I did have a good sleep on the bus.

Tuesday – May 30, 2006
When I woke up, we were already speeding along the South expressway. EDSA traffic was still light and we arrived at the Ali Mall terminal at 6 am. One final ride to my home on that cool morning and finally I was in the comfort of my bed at 7 am.

After sleeping half of the day, I reflected on my travel for the past week. I have finally achieved my dream of inter-island travel. The Pan Philippine highway or Maharlika highway is a major link through the regions (except probably for the Samar portion) The RoRo ferries also had a great hand in connecting the various islands and making travel by car (or bus) from Manila to Davao (or even Zamaboanga) possible.

I was also glad I have seen the beauty of our countryside. There are indeed many beautiful places to see and go to in the Philippines. I have also felt the warmth and hospitality of my countrymen, despite the language barrier. I have learned that there are areas in Mindanao and the Visayas that is safe to travel on, contrary to the opinion of some (mostly from Luzon). I was asked by a friend if I would ever do it again. I said, “definitely” as there are more places to go and see in our country.

My Davao-Cebu Trip via Baybay

My “Maria Lolita” and “Rosalia 3” Ship Spotting
written by: Mike Baylon

When I go on travel, I usually integrate ship spotting with free viewing while on board a bus as I really love trips combining the bus and the ship. A little tiring especially for one no longer young but I dislike airline travel not because I am afraid of flying but because I find airline travel boring and aseptic as there is almost nothing to absorb in airports and in one-hour plane rides.

If my health permits me, I try routes that I have not done before. This is one way of knowing the country, our people and culture. This also brings not only excitement and surprises but also failures and disappointment but one learns in both cases. Mastery of different routes and schedules is one result and capability for travel advice is a future benefit.

Having not sailed yet with a Baybay-Cebu ship I made a plan for a trip that will pass by a Philippine Ship Spotter Society in Baybay City, Leyte. My plan from Davao Ecoland terminal was to the first bus to Manila then, a Philtranco ordinary bus (their aircon bus is too late for my purpose). [Anyway now, there are buses for Manila that leaves earlier if they are full enough.]

Having ridden a lot of buses going to Manila from Davao, I was already familiar with their running schedules. The 9 pm bus loads into the 6am Montenegro Lines ferry in Lipata port for Benit port. This will be my first trip through the length of Panaon Island and will be my first pass through the renowned “The Saddle” mountain pass between San Ricardo and Pintuyan towns in the island.

With such a schedule, I know I will be in mountainous Mahaplag junction in Leyte before lunch the next day. I already know that area in the past because I disembark there when my bus from Naga is bound for Baybay. Travelers say there are “poisoners” in the area but I am not a believer in urban legends and I buy and eat their “puto”. Well, I am still alive with no stomach ache ever after leaving that area. By the way, the name of the barrio is Cuatro de Agosto and it is just over 30 minutes by van (called “V-hire” there) from Baybay.

Philtranco 1709
Philtranco 1709 ©Mike Baylon

Our Philtranco Daewoo bus was new but being non-reclining was not comfortable for me and so I slept little. Our trip was uneventful and being a night trip the passengers were mostly asleep. Just before daybreak we were already on queue on the weighing scale of Lipata port. The port authority PPA measures the weight of the rolling cargo because after 30 years of experience they found out they do not know how to estimate weights because they don’t know where to look at and they are too shy to ask the ship cargo masters how they estimate the weight and how to balance the cargo and they don’t have an idea what is ship deadweight tonnage. Seriously, that weighing is just a money-making project of theirs that is charged to the vehicle owners.

Lipata Ferry Terminal
Lipata Ferry Terminal ©Mike Baylon

Feeling low blood sugar, I decided not to fall in line into the ticket and terminal fee queue and be caged like cattle before departure and go through the X-ray machine where they try to see if some dumb passenger is carrying Abu Sayyaf bombs. So like in boarding processes in the past, I went straight to the “Maria Lolita” of Montenegro Lines. Nobody was really noticing as it was just beginning to get light. I took a seat on a bench in the car deck beside a crewman eating his breakfast and true to custom he offered me to eat. It was not yet boarding time for passengers.

Maria Lolita
Maria Lolita at Lipata Port ©Mike Baylon

It turned out the crewman was the 2nd Engineer of the ship and we hit off immediately. We talked about the ship, his experience, the working conditions, from where he is, his family and aspirations. Sometimes, a ship spotter will feel the next logical question is, “Can I see the engine room?” And so I went down the stairs and into a clean and orderly engine room with young oilers and apprentices who were all friendly.

While touring the engine room, I noticed the engine rev up. I looked at the gauges and saw the RPM was at running speed. I took my time because anyway it is not a usual occurrence a passenger is in the engine room while the ship is sailing. Later on, I still talked to the second engineer but on the cargo deck already in the same bench. It was hard to carry a conversation in the engine room as it doesn’t have a sound-proofed engine control room.

Maria Lolita engine room
Maria Lolita Engine Room ©Mike Baylon

Knowing the crossing to Benit is short, I bade goodbye to the 2nd Engineer because I still want to tour the ship which was a rare one because it is a double-ended ferry. I hastened to the double bridge not being used as the ferry is already nearing Benit port. I know the other double bridge will look exactly like the bridge not being used. Before going down I spent some time in the airconditioned Tourist section as I want to cool down a bit.

In Benit port, I disembarked early so I can get port photos including the Illegal Exaction Point of San Ricardo LGU. These Illegal Exaction Points are rampant throughout the country like the illegal checkpoints of the military, police and the Local Government Units. Those are nothing more than tools for shakedowns and extortion and no amount of Supreme Court decisions and DILG memorandums declaring them illegal can ever do away with them. Greed after all is not a sin and nobody goes to jail for defying Supreme Court decisions. Anyway, in this country that is how they define “rule of law” (pronounced “woool of low” like how a toothless person would pronounce that).

Illegal exaction point in Benit
Illegal exaction point in Benit ©Mike Baylon

Soon after leaving Benit, our bus began climbing “The Saddle”. It reminded me somehow of “Tatlong Eme” in Quezon National Park between Pagbilao and Atimonan except that the drivers don’t know the right-of-way rule of steep mountain passes. The climb and the top affords glimpses of the serene-looking Sogod Bay and Limasawa Island. We passed by the small towns of Panaon island. Passing the junction in Sogod, I knew we were already headed to the mountain range separating Southern Leyte and Leyte provinces.

The "Saddle"
The “Saddle” ©Mike Baylon

At the top, we made a stop in the DPWH rest area in Agas-agas made famous first by the rushing waters during the rainy season that always destroyed the road. This was the reason why the Japanese designed and funded a bypass bridge (which is now being threatened again by the “agas-agas” of water). Pretty soon, I was in Mahaplag junction and I got off. I find the vendors of this place always nice and helpful and with them knowing there is a passenger waiting they will always flag down the needed ride – it is after all a chance also to sell their foodstuff.

Mahaplag junction
Mahaplag junction ©Mike Baylon

Rolling down into Baybay, I contacted the resident ship spotter of Baybay, “fatbudhha” Mervin. I arrived in the common terminal at 12:30 at by 1pm Mervin picked me up and we proceeded to the barbecue restaurant by the bay where he treated me for lunch. We had a rewarding exchange and I was amazed by his knowledge of the Cebu shipping families especially Gothong. It was also a surprise to me he knows my home region of Bicol as I didn’t suspect he was once an abaca buyer there.

We parted at mid-afternoon and Baybay town center being small I was able to roam the place. I had plenty of time since the earliest ferry for Cebu leaves at 8pm. I visited the adjoining ship ticketing offices and I chose the “Rosalia 3” of Lapu-Lapu Shipping over the “Filipinas Surigao” of Cokaliong Shipping for the simple reason I have already sailed with the latter. As much as possible I take the ship I have not sailed with before so I can have more ship experiences.

The boulevard and baywalk fronting Baybay port
The Boulevard and Baywalk fronting Baybay Port ©Mike Baylon

I have already experienced the side-by-side bunks of Lapu-Lapu Shipping before (and it was true canvass material) and I was not excited. So I took the cheap aircon Tourist of “Rosalia 3” to get a good sleep as I will still be ship spotting when I arrive in Cebu port. In this trip, I found out that the Economy bunks of Lapu-Lapu Shipping has already been upgraded in that it already has steel frame and mattress but still side-by-side and perpendicular to the side.

Rosalia 3 pax accommodations at night
Rosalia 3 Passenger Accommodations at night ©Mike Baylon

My trip aboard the “Rosalia 3” was uneventful except it was raining and I found out that the passenger terminal building of Baybay leaks and there is no covered walk to the ship nor is there a covered walk too from the road to the passenger terminal building and it is not near. We left ahead of the “Filipinas Surigao” (Note: the ship and franchise is now sold to Roble Shipping).

We arrived in Cebu at dawn and I didn’t disembark immediately because I still have to ship spot (there are no decent shots before light and arriving ships come by about breakfast time). Before leaving I toured the ship including the bridge and the engine room. Ship spotting is always better when there is light. I was also able to interview the Chief Cook who was also the Chief Cook of the ill-fated “Rosalia 2” which was hit by fire in Cataingan Bay in Masbate.

Rosalia - 3
Rosalia 3 ©Mike Baylon

For a ship spotter coming from Davao and Bislig (or even not), I can recommend the via Baybay route. Aside from ship spotting opportunities in at least two ports (with enough time allowance side trips to Surigao and Liloan ports are possible). If maximization is the aim then one can even go to Hilongos or Ormoc. The expense in going via Baybay, amazingly, is even lower than taking a ferry in Nasipit. They keys to going there is Mahaplag junction (or Mahaplag crossing in bus parlance) and taking a bus going to Manila and not the slow Bachelor bus.

To those who asked me for travel advice before in Agribusiness Week, if going to western Leyte, I always recommended this mode and route too as one arrived much earlier that the slow and round about to Maasin Bachelor bus to Ormoc. Funny, many in Leyte itself don’t realize the Manila buses and Mahaplag junction are the keys to faster travel within their island.

Over-all, though tiring, it was a successful and satisfying trip for me.

Baybay port
Baybay Port ©Mike Baylon

PS: If you have questions about this article regarding fares and travel tips, you may post it by clicking this LINK so that it would be answered and discussed. Thanks!

Why Ship’s can’t compete with trucks and buses on Parallel Routes.

written by: Mike Baylon

In recent years, there have been attempts to match ships against trucks and/or buses on parallel route using HSCs (High Speed Crafts) and MSCs (Medium Speed Crafts). All of them failed because for one, they failed to reckon with history and second, they were blind to the economics. Among these were the off-and-on attempts to establish an HSC ferry link from Manila to Bataan. From the 1970s to the recent attempt by SuperCat all failed along with various attempts in the past two decades by the likes of Mt. Samat Ferry Express and El Greco Jet Ferries. These attempts all tried to offer an alternative to the Manila buses to Bataan.

Port of Lamao, Bataan
Lamao Port, Bataan ©Edison Sy
SuperCat 25 at Manila
SuperCat 25 at Manila ©Nowell Alcancia

In the same area a few years ago Metro Ferry tried the Mall of Asia to Cavite City route and folded in a short time with the shipping company now trying to sell its ferries. It was simply competing against the Cavite bus and that bus goes further up to Lawton. With HSCs the fight is more of a ferry versus bus encounter.

In Davao Gulf, Dans Penta 1 tried a route from Davao to the Lupon town of Davao Oriental. It ceased operations in a few months and the fastcraft laid idle until it was sold. They did not notice that the SuperCat and Oceanjet started service from Cebu to Dumaguete from the 1990s but they were recently driven away by the Ceres Liner bus crossing the sea by Maayo Shipping LCTs.

Dans Penta 1
Dans Penta 1 ©Aristotle Refugio

For a very long time, Illana Bay in southern Mindanao was ruled by the wooden motor boats when there was still no road connecting Pagadian and Cotabato City. There were motor boats from Cotabato to Pagadian, Malabang and Balabagan as there was a motor boat from Tukuran to Caromatan. When the Narciso Ramos Highway connecting Cotabato City and Pagadian was opened suddenly all the motor boats of Illana Bay were gone. Also gone were the Zamboanga-Cotabato ferries.

This was also true for the ferries connecting Ipil, Margosatubig and Pagadian from Zamboanga. There were a lot of steel ferries there before but when the Zamboanga-Pagadian road was cemented slowly the ferries gave way and now they were gone from those routes. That was also what happened to the “3S” area of Zamboanga del Norte, the towns of Sibuco, Sirawai and Siocon. When the roads were built, the ships were gone. Now only motor boats go to Sibuco.

Nikel Princely [Aleson Shipping]
Nikel Princely at Pagadian Port ©pagadian.com thru Mike Baylon

There was also a Guiuan, Eastern Samar to Tacloban connection before using steel-hulled ferries and big motor boats. But when the new road was built connecting Guiuan to Basey through the southern coast of Samar was built the ships there had to transfer to new routes. Mati City once had a sea link to General Santos City but with the Davao-Gensan road built and the Mati road now cemented and safe this route is now gone.

Actually, the lesson that ships can’t beat land transport can first be gleaned in Luzon. In the late 1940s there were still ships from Manila to Salomague, Currimao, Claveria and Aparri. But when the roads were slowly built the passenger-cargo ships were gone before the end of the 1950s. In Bicol passenger-cargo ships from Manila were calling on Sorsogon, Bulan, Legazpi, Tabaco, Nato, Tandoc, Mercedes and Larap ports until the end of the 1970s. With the completion of the Maharlika Highway the ships left as they can no longer compete with the trucks and buses.

BFAR fastcraft in Mati port
Mati Port ©Mike Baylon

In the big, underdeveloped islands of before like Mindanao, Samar, Mindoro and Palawan when there were still no roads connecting the towns it was wooden motor boats that served as the link (in Mindanao the link included steel ships). That is also true in peninsulas without roads then like the southern tip of Bondoc peninsula and Zamboanga peninsula.

There were seaboards that were once beyond a mountain range and isolated that were dependent on sea links. That was the case of the eastern seaboard of Mindanao which was rich in forest products then. It was ships that linked the towns there, the reason there so many ports then there and some even have connections to Manila or Japan like Mati, Lambajon, Bislig and Tandag. It’s the same case too in the southern shores of the old Cotabato province beyond the mountains. Lebak and Kalamansig towns linked to Cotabato City through the motor boat.

Port of Bislig
Bislig Port ©Janjan Salas

The intermodal transport system where islands and regions are linked by the short-distance RORO is an extension of the defeat in Luzon of the ships. When Samar was connected by RORO to Matnog, the intermodal trucks and buses drove out the liners in Samar and now freighters from Manila only arrive in Samar intermittently. Even in the next island of Leyte the liner from Manila is practically gone and container shipping there is on the retreat. That process is also at work now in Masbate and Bohol.

Mindoro was once linked by ship from Manila. Now that is all gone and even the next island of Panay is severely impacted by the intermodal transport system. Only Negros, Cebu and Mindanao islands among the major islands are left with just a small dent from the intermodal.

What is it with land and intermodal transport that beats ferries and cargo ships? Land transport is cheaper and it is also faster. With a small unit like a truck or a bus the threshold where one can leave with a trip that will earn profit is much lower. The acquisition cost is much smaller too and land transport can stop anywhere, go different routes and offer more options. In ubiquity and flexibility, sea transport can’t beat land and intermodal transport.

port of lilo-an leyte
Lilo-an Port, Leyte ©Jaz Prado

Shipping is also weighed down but much stringent requirements. An old ship has to be drydocked every two years and each drydocking costs many millions. There is no equivalent in land and intermodal transport of a regular, mandatory overhaul of every two years. I do not know if authorities are overacting. A ship where the engines conk out still has the flotation and stability of a barge. All it needs to safely reach port is a tug if it can’t restart its engine/s. With a new rule which says no ships can sail at 30kph winds, almost all danger is removed as such winds will not even produce a half-meter of swell. A steel-hulled ship is not a banca but to government authorities it seems they look like the same.

The two types of transport also has different crewing requirements. A bus will only have a crew of two and a truck three. Deck officers of a ship are already half a dozen and engine crew the same. Plus there is ancillary crew like the purser, the cooks and other service crew including security. A ferry will need stewards, galley and restaurant crew and many others. All of those have to be paid money and crewing less than required or if not qualified will result in penalties or even suspension of the ship.

M/V Nathan Matthew
Nathan Matthew ©.BITSI_DoMiNiC_

Since water resistance is much greater than rolling resistance and ships have great weights the fuel consumption of ships is also greater by comparative unit. Where fuel requirement of trucks and buses is measured in liters, those of ships are measured in tons of fuel. Ships also have a lot of equipment like bridge and auxiliary equipments that needs maintenance while a truck will run with only the oil pressure gauge and ammeter working and replacement of those is dirt cheap.

Simply put it is much more expensive to acquire, crew and maintain a ship than land and intermodal transport. While ships and shipping companies have to live with the hassles and mulcting in ports and by the authorities, the “forced donations” of trucks in checkpoint is loose change compared to what ships and shipping companies have to cough up with and buses are even exempted. Insurance is much higher too in shipping.

Raymond 3788 in Pasacao port
Raymond 3788 in Pasacao Port ©Mike Baylon
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Danica Joy and an Oil Tanker ©Barry

So it is no wonder that there are a lot of businessmen that are eager to invest in buses and trucks while in shipping few get attracted now and the ships just get older and older. Maritime and port authorities having been drawn not from the ranks of mariners and shipping professionals have consistently shown a lack of understanding of shipping and cannot even support and lead properly the sector they are supposed to be administering.

It will be no wonder for me if in the future only the short-distance ferry sector will grow as that is needed by the intermodal transport system. The cargo RORO LCT sector will also grow but the long-distance shipping sector will wilt while the overnight ferry sector will just remain steady although threats are emerging against them from the intermodal transport sector. In efficiencies, in speed, in lack of hassles including port problems and Metro Manila road congestion, in price comparison, the ship really cannot compete. This is lost completely on so-called “shipping experts” who always assume that the traditional shipping they know “is always superior” because that was what they were taught in school and by habit they no longer check the empirical situation. If they do they will find out that trucking goods is faster and cheaper than moving it by ship.

It will be reality that will teach them this lesson.

The Zamboanga Ferry

The Zamboanga Ferry of George & Peter Lines is the only ferry now left in the Cebu-Zamboanga route that just emanates from Cebu. When 2GO does not sail this route, she is the only ferry available unless one wants to try the tiring and stressful part-bus trip via Dipolog which is even more expensive and involves many transfers.

Zamboanga Ferry is not a fast ship as it is a remnant of an older era but at least it is comfortable and spacious. She will leave Cebu on Monday nights at 10pm and at dawn she will be in Dumaguete. When all is finished there she will leave for Dapitan usually at daybreak and arrive there about 10am. She will leave Dapitan approximately noon and arrive in Zamboanga the next day at 3am.

Zamboanga Ferry ©Jonathan Bordon

She will then leave Zamboanga the same day at about 4pm if she finishes loading and arrive in Dumaguete at daybreak the next day and bypassing Dapitan. Leaving when all is done and finished and that will be before mid-morning she will arrive in Cebu in mid-afternoon if there are no delays along the way.

Then on Friday nights, Zamboanga Ferry will undertake a Cebu-Dumaguete-Dapitan trip. That is second voyage for the week and a shorter one. She will retrace that route on Saturday late afternoon, leave Dapitan by midnight, arrive on Cebu on Sunday early morning and lay over in Cebu until her Monday departure for Zamboanga.

Zamboanga Ferry at Dapitan Port ©Mike Baylon

Zamboanga Ferry was the former Tanegashima Maru No.2 in Japan, a ferry from the southern tip of Shikoku, the southernmost main island of Japan to Tanegashima Island which is located south of Shikoku. Ferries in Japan traveling in the open sea puts a premium on stability and so this ferry is known for that. Her sister ship in the Philippines was the broken-up Don Martin Sr. 8 of Palacio Lines.

Tanegashima Maru No.2 was built by Honda Shipbuilding Company in Saiki yard in 1970 with the IMO Number 7377660. She is a ROPAX with the distinctive Honda bridge profile of the period and a twin car/cargo deck. She measures 74.3/69.0 meters (LOA/LPP) x 12.2 meters breadth with a Depth of 7.2 meters and originally, she was only of 499 gross register tons. This ship is powered by a single Hanshin diesel engine with 2,300 horsepower on tap. Her original service speed was 15 knots.

Zamboanga Ferry ©Jonathan Bordon

In 1993, she came to the Philippines for George & Peter Lines and was renamed as the Zamboanga Ferry. She was refitted and additional structures and passenger accommodations were built. She now measures 851 gross tons with 408 net tons and a passenger capacity of 708 persons. On commissioning she was the best ferry in the fleet of George & Peter Lines of the brothers of William Chiongbian of William Lines.

As refitted she was a three-class ship with two Tourist cabins below the foredeck, the galley and the restaurant behind that (which also serves as a videoke and as lounge) and Cabins at the center (this was now converted into Tourist Deluxe). At the aft of the passenger decks are the Economy sections and at the rear of the upper deck is the Economy dining area and next to that is a canteen/kiosk. Built as an overnight ship, the meals are not free and must be purchased separately.

Restaurant

White Room

Tourist

Economy

Economy Dining Section

Zamboanga Ferry Interior ©Mike Baylon

The ship has two masts with a single side funnel. Her stem is raked and the stern is transom and located there is a good three-piece vehicle ramp. There are cargo ramps on the sides which makes her capable of loading when docked sideways. There are two passenger ramps on each side and two other passenger ramps on the stern. With a total of six passenger ramps she might be the ship with the most passenger ramps in the country.

Although she can take in vehicles most of the load of Zamboanga Ferry is loose cargo and loaded mainly by forklifts. Her lower cargo deck is accessible by ramp and in loading the cars can be parked on the side cargo deck to ease obstruction. Her main cargo deck however has a permanent obstruction as auxiliary engines are located there in a separate housing. Zamboanga Ferry also has a loft in the stern with is used for porter-carried cargo and cargo that needs to be separated from the hot car/cargo deck.

Car Deck at Aft Section

Elevator

Zamboanga Ferry Interior ©Mike Baylon

With passenger load light now a passenger just picks the bunk that he or she likes. The Economy is airy when running and the cold of Tourist is just right if not full. The Tourist Deluxe however very cold. One can order meals from a menu but it is mainly the fried processed meat kind. In the intermediate ports the passengers go down the ship and buy from the food stalls in the pier. Many do as that is cheaper and has the ‘sinugba’ the Bisaya loves.

The schedule of the ship is light with enough lay-overs. The engine needs that as it is no longer strong. She only runs at 9 knots now and sometimes the engine conks out and she can’t travel as she is a single-engined ship. In a weak storm she was washed ashore and grounded in Dumaguete because of that.

Engine ©Jonathan Bordon

In spite of her age and weaknesses, she is still sailing bravely soldiering on. I hope she does not yet go away.

More Zamboanga Ferry Photos by Mike Baylon: CLICK HERE