My Northern Cebu Tour

When I was in Cebu I had the ambitious trip to cover Maya, Hagnaya and Tabuelan ports in one day. However, even though I started early I failed to cover all three ports. There was some glitch in my plan and simply put if a trip to Maya already takes five hours or so then with detours covering all three seems really iffy, if the plan had a glitch, which I only realized later.

I had no exact day for the trip and I only planned to do it when it is not raining heavily (in my eleven days in Cebu last January it was raining almost everyday) and I was able to wake up early. So one morning I got up at 4:40am and before 6am I was already in Cebu North Bus Terminal in Mandaue.

The first segment of my trip was to Bogo City bus terminal. Along the way, we passed the junction that leads to Tabuelan. Since I was early I was already tempted to go down but I held (but it turned out later that going first to Tabuelan was the correct move but I should have been earlier).

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When I reached the Bogo bus terminal I was disappointed. Not much bus spotting there as the red buses were no longer around (they said there’s still a few left). I walked to the beach to get whatever shipping shots I can get. Just small fishing boats but Polambato port was visible in the distance including two vessels, one of which was the Super Shuttle Ferry 10 of the Asian Marine Transport System or AMTC which holds the Bogo-Palompon route.

I then left the terminal and I decided I will no longer go to Polambato port to save on time. The Super Shuttle Ferry 10 is already familiar to PSSS members (since it stays a lot on the AMTC wharf being repaired) and most that will be added in case are just fishing vessels and viewers don’t have much taste for that anyway (ah, only for their catch, seriously).

In Daanbantayan it was a long drive among its many big, separated barrios. The scars of the legendary Typhoon “Yolanda” were still visible. We then reached Maya but the Ceres bus does not go into it anymore so I still have to take a motorcycle (it is not really a habal-habal). It is the Island Autobus that still goes direct to it and one bus was waiting there for the big motor bancas from Masbate and Leyte to arrive. Ceres goes direct to the new port now.

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The old port was still the same as in it basically serves the many motor bancas and motor boats of Maya. The port in general was unimproved. Most of the motor bancas there were for Malapascua, the resort island. The motor bancas for tourists was way more expensive than the flat-bottomed motor launches for the locals of the island.

It was windy and there were white caps and the news was the big motor banca from Esperanza, Masbate will be late. It is the only daily craft from Masbate as all other big Masbate motor bancas dock in Polambato port. Also expected but not yet there was the big motor banca from San Isidro, Leyte. Actually, banca pilots don’t need the Coast Guard when to exercise caution as they have much more experience at sea than they Coast Guard. They won’t sail if they think it is dangerous.

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I was amazed by the number of motor bancas to Malapascua. I did not expect to see well over a dozen crafts altho travel that day was slow maybe due to the weather (and so they are all there). In port, they were also rolling plastic drums of diesel into the RORO ramp for loading to a motor banca. I was surprised the drums do not burst. It is supposed to be the fuel for the generator of Malapascua. It was from a big truck.

From the old port the new port being constructed was visible. The access road to it was cut from a hill and a RORO port with back-up area is being constructed. It seems it is still a year from completion. But rumor is once completed the Masbate ROROs in Polambato will transfer there. Makes sense as Maya is nearer to Masbate being the northernmost point in Cebu. But I also bet Cawayan will then be the stronger connection to Masbate rather Cataingan because of the shorter distance.

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Maya new port

There were other ports in Daanbantayan which I saw from the bus along with a cove near Maya which seemed to have been a marina of motor boats before as there were carcasses there aside from live motor boats. It is just near and south of Daanbantayan town. The other ports I saw seems to be fishing ports. Fishing as an industry is very evident in Daanbantayan. Well, being just by the Visayan Sea will dictate that.

I took a local jeep from Maya and sat beside the driver. That gives me the chance of asking some questions. Mainly I was concerned with the rides (in Maya I had an oldtimer from Masbate as resource person). I changed ride in the Daanbantayan bus terminal where I also took bus photos. I did not go back to Bogo and instead I just waited for a ride in the junction to San Remigio town. It was already lunchtime, I noted. My fear of the day being eaten by the long ride from Cebu is beginning to materialize.

At times if my sugar is okay I decide to forego lunch to save on time and this is what I did again. I just take knick-knacks as I go to have some fuel to burn. I arrived in Hagnaya port at about 12:30pm and I immediately went to the port terminal to see what’s new, what changed. But it was full as the passengers of my bus were almost all headed to Bantayan island, I found out.

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I decided to just enter the port proper and reserve my terminal roaming at the end of my Hagnaya tour. I was glad I was in a non-ISPS port. No questions, easy access. It is good that in non-ISPS ports there are no imaginary terrorists (will a terrorist be taking shots of ships openly? but then ganyan kagunggong ang mga opisyal at guards sa ISPS ports).

The new bruited-about LCT of AMTC was there and her name is Super Shuttle Ferry 26. She was big and wide and built in South Korea. The only problem is she was not sailing because of a transmission problem. There were so many passengers in the port and I found out the reason was of the three AMTC ships in port were not sailing. The Coast Guard again declared a “gale” warning (now why do they declared a “gale” warning when there is no gale? why don’t they check the dictionary for the definition of a gale?).

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The suspension was for crafts below 250 gross tons and unfortunately the Super Shuttle Ferry 3 and the Super Shuttle Ferry 11 were both under that limit. And so all the passengers and car owners were waiting for the arrival of the Island Shipping LCT from Bantayan island. There was a cruiser ship of Island there, the Super Island Express II, their former Cebu-Tubigon ship (they have withdrawn from that route) but she was not sailing too. She is rumored to be for sale.

From inside the port I first went to the fishing vessels just north of Hagnaya port near where the buses park and wait. I was interested in the four steel-hulled fishing vessels that seemed to be derelict (but it seems they are still repairable). They were and it seems they did not survive well Typhoon “Yolanda”. From that location there was another view of Hagnaya port.

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I passed by but i decided to forego the Hagnaya meal place and burger stand as I did not want to lose time and I started walking the small road south of Hagnaya port. The first one I entered was what looked like a private port just near the Hagnaya boat. It had basnigs docked there plus a big motor banca, the Froilan B to an island near Negros already. It was the only boat to that island to Hagnaya and practically all the passengers were local. They said they are leaving anytime now. They were friendly.

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Froilan B on the right

From that private port there is a view of the ferries of AMTC especially Super Shuttle Ferry 11 which view was blocked by Super Shuttle Ferry 26. There was also a preview there of the fishing vessels docked south of Hagnaya port.

I walked south. I know I will find there the various private fishports and dockyards of Hagnaya. The first one I espied was just near and the one they were building looked familiar and so I went inside to ask. There was a “No Entry” sign but since I have something to ask that trumps that sign because it is impolite to howl from the outside.

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Yes, they build the Leonida fishing vessels that one will normally see in Polambato and Danao. They have that distinctive curving bridge in their vessels and actually their vessels are beautiful that I thought they were Japan surplus. Now I know why none of their vessels have IMO Numbers. Four vessels were being built there, two steel-hulled and two wooden-hulled. I thought they were not small if they can build four at the same time.

If the Leonida facility is small and all for vessel construction the next one I entered was big and it serves mainly as a fishport. This was where the Debbie Joy fishing vessels were docked (and there were a few there then). Got into an engaging talk there with someone of rank. They build their own vessels too. He said there were many shipwrights in Hagnaya and practically all are freelancers (that means not tied to a shipbuilding company). They are on call when needed and free. I understood it was a craft inherited from the generation past. Maybe that I why I saw welders only about 20 in age who already seemed to know their craft. Their gear does not indicate they are TESDA grads.

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Fish was being handled in that facility when I was there plus there were refitting works. What I noticed is the Navy patrol boat was also docked there. It seems the fishport waters was calmer and that is why they were there (is there free fish too?). Their crew kept looking into my gear. It was practically a staredown. I took a lot of shots past them for I can see in the distance a lot more of fishing vessels docked and what looked like fish landing areas too. I will not be surprised if there are refitting places there also or dockyards. It was then that I realized that the Hagnaya fishing industry is bigger than I initially supposed. What they have there I did not see in Daanbantayan or Bogo. Not even in Carmen, Cebu. Or in a lot of other ports, too.

Even in my 20’s I have already heard of Hagnaya in Bicol. Now I am beginning to understand. Hagnaya is not just a port. It is also a shipbuilding area. I won’t wonder now why the past database of MARINA showed a lot of routes from Hagnaya including to Masbate. It seems the yards were a show or a remnant of a great Hagnaya past. It just wonder why it is not the town.

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Fishing vessels south of Debbie Joy

The road got smaller and I decided I didn’t have the strength and the time to visit all those fish landing areas and dockyards. I thought that in the future there should be a shipspotting tour to discover that. I then walked back to the port and along the way I entered some lots which had an access to views of the fishing boats of Hagnaya.

From Hagnaya I intended to take a jeep or bus to Tabuelan port direct through the coastal road. I asked around. They said there’s none and I was puzzled. They offered a taxi for P400. I said that is too big for me although it looked like a fair price (later, James said there is a jeep but it emanates from San Remigio town). I calculated that if I go by the main road junction to Tabuelan it might already be 3pm or so when I reach Tabuelan port. I then decided to forego Tabuelan reasoning other members were capable of covering Tabuelan. Besides when I go shipspotting I am always mindful of my chances to take bus pictures to. All chances of that are ruined when darkness starts to set in.

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While mulling all these, the LCT Island II of Island Shipping arrived. I rushed back inside the port to take shots. Since I already decided to forego Tabuelan I tried to max my Hagnaya shipspot. It turned out to be a minor mistake. I did not know that at a certain hour all the bus departures in Hagnaya for Cebu are already tied to ship arrivals from Bantayan unlike when it was early afternoon. And since AMTC has no trips then the buses were all just waiting for Island Shipping arrivals.

I made a last roam of the inside of Hagnaya terminal. I concentrated on the Island Shipping ticketing office. I was attracted to their Hagnaya to Cawayan LCT (the LCT Island Venture) which I did not know before. Its fares were very cheap compared to the Bogo to Cataingan ship of Montenegro Lines when their distance difference is not great. Besides all fare are promo. If I use my senior citizen card I will just be paying P176. Now the comparative MSLI fare and discount would be about double or more of that.

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It seems passengers to Masbate have not yet discovered this cheap alternative. If it has a negative it is the 6am departure time. That means one has to leave Cebu North Bus Terminal no later than 2am.

When I got out of the terminal there was no more bus leaving and the next will be an hour later at 3pm. I then decided on an Island Express bus as I haven’t ridden that bus yet (it is a new bus service). I arrived in Cebu about 6:30pm in a light rain. I disembarked near Robinson’s Galleria and walked towards the Trans-Asia Shipping Lines office to get my ticket.

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I was in for a disappointment. Their Tagbilaran to Cagayan de Oro ships are no longer three times a week at MWF. It just leaves now on Mondays. There went my chance to shipspot Tubigon and Tagbilaran ports and get shots of Bohol buses. I then just asked for a Cebu to Cagayan de Oro passage aboard the Trans-Asia 9 (I was not able to board it because it was cancelled due to a “technical problem”).

In the ticketing office me and an imam tried to help a family going to Bukidnon to attend a burial. Passage was nil then because it was the day after the Sinulog Festival. Our advice fell into zero but I learned how the company handles situations such as this. They have a way and I was able to learn it. They guaranteed the family will be able to board the ship although it is supposedly completely full.

I then went home feeling tired from a trip that lasted nearly 15 hours. I realized tackling Maya from Cebu isn’t easy with its distance.

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The Bogo Connection to Masbate

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Photo credits: Philippine Herald and Gorio Belen

In the old days, the Cebu connection to Masbate went from Cebu port. And among those that provided that connection were liner companies whose ships pass by Masbate first before heading to Cebu and northern Mindanao and from there their liners will retrace back the route. That is gone now and the last Manila liner that provided such connection was the Cebu Princess of Sulpicio Lines which stopped sailing in the aftermath of the Princess of the Stars‘ sinking in a typhoon in 2008. However, until a few months ago there were a ROPAX Cargo ship, the Super Shuttle RORO 3 of Asian Marine Transport Corporation that was running a route from Batangas to Cebu (Mandaue actually) and Cagayan de Oro via Masbate.

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Photo Credit: Wakanatsu

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Trans-Asia Shipping Lines also had an overnight ferry route from Cebu to Masbate since almost 40 years ago. That is gone now too, a victim of the decline of their fleet and now it is only Cokaliong Shipping Lines that has a Cebu-Masbate passenger service but it only runs once a week. Also long gone was the Palacio Lines’ route from Cebu to Placer, Masbate. But still around is the Lapu-lapu Shipping Lines’ route from Cebu to Cataingan, Masbate which is usually run by their Lapu-lapu Ferry 1, a cruiser ship.

In the past, wooden motor boats also did routes from various ports in Masbate to northern Cebu using the ports of Hagnaya, Maya and Polambato. The three are in San Remigio, Daanbantayan and Bogo towns, respectively. However, from the 1980’s, MARINA, the maritime regulatory agency, consistently pressured the wooden motor boats (the lancha) to retire citing them as “obsolete” and “unsafe”. Some had their franchises revoked and that practically ended the lives of the shipping companies owning them (many operate wooden motor boats because they can’t afford to buy steel-hulled ferries).

MARINA was so successful in that campaign that no motor boats still do a Cebu-Masbate route. What remained were the big passenger-cargo motor bancas which run until now (maybe these are “modern” and “safer” than the phased-out motor boats?). These motor bancas originate from Cawayan, Placer, Esperanza and Pio V. Corpus towns in Masbate. The eastern portion of Masbate island, by the way, is actually Cebuano-speaking and their economic tether is to Cebu. Their motor boats connect their people and their goods to Cebu. Some of their scions actually study in Cebu, too, and work there later on.

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Polambato port (Photo credit: James Gabriel Verallo)

This was the state of things when President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo pushed her Central Nautical Highway which pushed for ROROs. Since the nearest Maya port was in disrepair and there are issues of depth, the port of Polambato was designated as the connecting RORO port to Masbate. That was a two-birds-in-one-stone move as Polambato was already the connecting port to nothern Leyte via the Palompon port (it still is until now). So only one RORO port had two be developed for two routes. Neat but a route from Polambato is longer than a route from Maya port.

On the side of Masbate, two ports were offered as connection, the port of Cawayan on the southern side of Masbate island and the port of Cataingan on the southeastern end on the island in the protected Cataingan Bay. Cataingan port is the logical choice since it is actually the best port in eastern Masbate as it is considered the district port and it lies in a protected bay. In the past, it was a home of motor boats going to Cebu. It also has a shorter road distance to Masbate City, the main economic center of Masbate province and the take-off port of Masbate to the Bicol mainland. There was also an attempt for a two-birds-in-one-stone move there as Cataingan was also declared to be the Masbate port that will connect to Naval, Biliran and Leyte island.

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Cawayan port (Photo credit: Noel de Mesa)

Cawayan port, meanwhile, is a bit more distant from Masbate City and when the RORO route was opened its roads were in a worse state compared to the Cataingan-Masbate road which was at least asphalted though beginning to crack (now, however the roads of the two towns to Masbate are already improved). And in the Cataingan-Masbate road there are more towns and hence more commerce, more sources of produce and of course, passengers. But how come they still built the Cawayan RORO port? Well, maybe there was politics (I don’t know just where) and Gloria was actually too fond then of duplicate ports. It brings more income to you-know-where. So it was actually a one-bird-with-two-stones maneuver.

I also just wonder about the fate of Placer port on the southern side of Masbate island. In the past, Placer was the connecting port of the southern side of Masbate island to Cebu City. It is even closer to Bogo than Cawayan (or even Cataingan) and the RORO will be less broadsided by the habagat and amihan waves in that route. They said there is an issue with the port with regards to depth but it was never clear to me (again was there politics?). Whatever, Cawayan won out over Placer and that was that. One’s fate and progress can really just be decided in an instant in Manila and NEDA, the validator of projects is actually just a stamp pad.

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Cataingan port

Montenegro Shipping Lines Inc. (MSLI) pioneered the Polambato (Bogo) to Cataingan route. Among its early clients were its own ROROBus intermodal buses doing a Manila-Cebu route via Masbate. Meanwhile, it was the Asian Marine Transport Corporation (AMTC) that pioneered the Polambato (Bogo) to Cawayan route with their Super Shuttle Ferry 19, a double-ended ferry. Montenegro Lines used a rotation of ferries in the Bogo-Cataingan route while Super Shuttle Ferry 19 is sometimes not in the route and none is running at times as AMTC lacked ships as the years went by because they lose ships (as in hull losses) and also because of ship unreliability.

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The ferry next bigger to the basic, short-distance ferry-RORO in Polambato (Photo credit: John Carlos Cabanillas)

Both routes are still running now and Montenegro Lines even tried a twice a day sailing but settled with a once a day sailing with a ship next bigger in size to the basic, short-distance ferry-RORO, the starting ship of both routes (or a modernized LCT at times). Lately, however, Asian Marine Transport Corporation sold out both its ships and its route to Cawayan and Super Shuttle Ferry 19 became the Cawayan Ferry 1 of the new company D. Olmilla Shipping Corporation. The Bogo-Cawayan route, as a note, still has no intermodal bus and it is the weaker of the two. I heavily doubt if it can overtake Cataingan.

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Cawayan Ferry 1 (Photo credit: James Gabriel Verallo)

Even with these two routes running, the motor bancas of Masbate still sail regularly to Bogo and Maya. These motor bancas sometimes carry hogs (in a deck below the passenger deck) and that is a commodity not acceptable to MSLI or AMTC unless it is loaded in trucks and even then it will only be loaded with reluctance (as their passengers might complain of the smell in the 6-hour voyage). And besides, the passengers and the cargo of the motor bancas enjoy a point-to-point direct sailing with no land transfer (the ROROs doesn’t go to Placer or Esperanza). It might even stop offshore near a remote barrio and the passenger and cargo will be transferred to his own motor banca. Bookings can also be done informally (and even by cellphone). A passenger from Placer can be picked up by the Cawayan boat at sea if they receive a validated text message and if there is no motor banca from Placer.

Though affected by the development of the Bogo-Cataingan route, the Cataingan-Cebu ship of Lapu-lapu Shipping is still running. Its service of loading frozen fish in styrofoam boxes without using trucks can’t still be equaled by the Cataingan-Bogo RORO as a truck would be needed from Bogo. They send it out by Lapu-lapu Ferry 1 and it will just be picked up by the customer in Cebu Pier 3 and the empty boxes will be loaded by the customer in the return trip. Sometimes, the advantage of a RORO is overstated by the government which is always pushing it. How can shipping 2 or 3 styrofoam boxes be sulit using a truck or a Multicab?

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Lapu-lapu Ferry 1 in Cataingan port

The route from Cebu via Masbate to Manila is not cheaper compared to the Cebu to Manila route via Leyte and Samar although looks shorter on the map. That was found out by a Swiss member of PSSS (Philippine Ship Spotters Society) member who did both routes in the same month. The RORO rates via Masbate is high because there is lack of competition and maybe the sea crossing is longer if the Bogo-Palompon route is taken as the comparison. Meanwhile the rates via Leyte and Samar are cheaper and sometimes there are discounting plus there is the cheap Cargo RORO LCTs. However, the land route through it is some 225 kilometers longer compared to a Pilar, Sorsogon route and 265 kilometers via a Pio Duran, Masbate that both uses Masbate.

Whatever, the Bogo routes will definitely stick. That is what was shown by the last decade. Well, unless it is supersed by the Maya port which is under construction now. It might not necessarily be cheap but there are people and goods that has Masbate as a destination (and newbies who will think it is cheaper through there since it looks nearer on the map). And there are those who will still prefer the shorter route and just save on time. And also save on wear on the vehicles and the driver. And arrive earlier and for truck owners save on wages and have their trucks be available for an extra day.

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Maya port (Photo credit: bUs sPoTTeRs

If only their rates are more competitive then maybe the Bogo connection will be flying now.