The “Wonderful Stars” of Roble Shipping Lines

written by: Mike Baylon

The overnight ferry-RORO ship “Wonderful Stars” of Roble Shipping Lines of Cebu was hot in the news since yesterday, August 15, 2015 because of the fire which hit her in Ormoc City, Leyte, Philippines. She managed to dock and the fire was put out after about eight hours but the damages to the ship and cargo were heavy. However, except for two injured crew members there were no other casualties.

“Wonderful Stars” was the “Ferry Agata” when she was still sailing in Japan waters before she came over here. She was owned by the respected Japan regional line Kyushu Yusen K.K. “Ferry Agata” is among the many sisters commissioned by the company to sail their routes, among many other kinds of ferries.

Ferry Agata ©Wakanatsu via James Gabriel Verallo

This ferry was built by Naikai Zosen in their Taguma plant in Yard #445. Her keel was laid on February 10, 1979 and she was launched on May 9, 1979. After installment of equipment and sea trials she was delivered to Kyushu Yusen on July 14, 1979. She possessed the permanent ID IMO 7903809. She is not MMSI-equipped, however.

“Ferry Agata” was a two-deck, steel-hulled ship with the dimensions 71.33 meters LOA/64.01 meters LPP by 13.42 meters Breadth with a Depth of 4.63 meters and a Draught of 3.7 meters. Her freeboard was 930mm and she has high sides. Originally, she measured 1,296 gross tons with a net tonnage of 398 and capacities of 498 passengers and 50 cars. She had a service speed of 15.6 knots with a fuel consumption of 16 tons of marine diesel per day at average speed. She is powered by two Niigata diesel engines that totaled 4,200 horsepower driving two fixed-pitch propellers.

She came over to the Philippines in 2007 to belong to Roble Shipping Lines of Cebu. Scantlings and a passenger deck were added to her but her Gross Tonnage remained at 1,296 (which is a local measurement magic). Her Net Tonnage increased to 540, however, which seems to be a fair measure. Her declared Deadweight Tonnage or DWT is 546. Passenger capacity is over 800 now (however, some of that are “sitting”).

Wonderful Stars
Wonderful Stars in her glory days ©Mike Baylon

Her route here was Cebu-Ormoc and vice-versa and usually she take six hours of sailing for the route. “Wonderful Stars” usually have a full load of rolling cargo but a small portion the forward section of the car deck is used for loose cargo. In the Cebu-Ormoc route she was probably the best ship and among the biggest, at least in the regular sailers.

Having sailed with her I noticed that the Cabins seem to be original or at least the lay-out is original. The Tourist is in the middle with the Cabins on the side. On the rear of this same deck are the cruel fiberglass seats “specially designed” for six hours of sitting. On the upper deck which was added here are the non-air Economy Section and the restaurant. I will note that among intra-Visayas overnight ferries she has good food and service and the prices are moderate compared to other ships. No need to bring value meals from the favorite fastfood.

Wonderful Stars restaurant
Wonderful Stars Restaurant ©Mike Baylon

On August 14 evening she sailed from Cebu to Ormoc with over 500 passengers and a crew of over 60 (including apprentices, I guess, since the number is high). Also aboard were 23 vehicles with a few trucks (she is actually a favorite RORO ferry in the route with a liked departure and arrival times). A report said that at dawn abreast of Merida town in Leyte a small fire was noticed near the car deck. It is said that the ship was able to alert the port and she was still able to dock and unload passengers without casualty although smoke was already billowing. A few of the vehicles were able to get out but it reports say most were caught.

The fire raged for about eight or nine hours before it was put under control sometime past noon of August 15 and by that time she was already heeling to port. Hours of bombardment of water can do that to a ship and the pumps might no longer be working. She will not capsize and sink, however, because she is in shallow waters. Reports now say the owners are planning to tow her back to Cebu, maybe for better assessment and possible repairs.

©Capt. Lape onboard SuperCat

©Geraldine Astrologo Tan via Gabriel de Cadiz

©Keith Inghug
Wonderful Stars on Fire at Ormoc Port

The CEO of Roble said the ship is insured for PhP 60 million. The fire bureau estimates the damage at less than PhP 100 million (but I wonder what are their expertise in marine adjustment, the estimation of marine damage cost). The passenger compartments of the ship are gone along with the ship bridge and there were a lot of damaged or lost vehicles. However, it is said the engine room of the ship was spared and if this is true, the possibility of a successful repair and refit increases.

As things stand now if she will be repaired it will take months on end. However, Roble Shipping Lines is blessed with spare ships and they already have a new ferry being refitted in Pier 7 Mandaue, the “Taelim Iris”, a Cargo RORO sourced from South Korea but Japan-built. It seems she will be ready even before “Wonderful Stars”.

Wonderful Stars Aftermath ©Karina Sia via John Michael Aringay

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Wonderful Stars on Fire Video ©Lex Luther D. Caigas


More Photos of Wonderful Stars: CLICK HERE

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The BASIC, SHORT-DISTANCE FERRY-ROROs

The Basic, Short-distance Ferry-RORO is one of the most ubiquitous ship types in the Philippines. Where before Motor Boats (MBs), the old designation and Motor Bancas (MBcas) use to connect our nearer islands, now it is this type that do that role, aside from the less-developed or small islands where vehicle and cargo traffic is not sufficient to sustain operations of steel-hulled ferries. In that case, therefore, it will still be the Motor Bancas that will do the connection as Motor Boats are already on the way out as short-distance route connections.

Ciara Joie 2 ©Britz Salih

These small, simple ROROs are basically from sub-30 meters in length (in LBP or LR) to sub-40 meters with a beam of 7 to 10 meters, all rounded off, with a GT (Gross Tonnage) of generally less than 300 tons and an NT (Net Tonnage) of less than 200. The design consists of a car/cargo deck below and a single passenger deck above with the bridge generally located at the same upper level and in the forward (abaft) location. Commonly, there is only one, non-articulated cargo ramp located at the bow. Since they are short-distance ferries passenger accommodation will consist just of benches (the hallmark of a short-distance ferry) with the most basic amenities like TV sets for viewing, a snack bar which is locally called as canteen and maybe a videoke or some video games. A very few will have an air conditioned Tourist section. Passenger capacity of this type is usually between 200 and 300.

Maria Yasmina and Maria Sophia of Montenegro Shipping Lines Inc. ©Mike Baylon

This type of ferry is typically equipped with just one marine engine with the output usually in the 600 to 1,000 horsepower range and the most common installed is the Daihatsu marine engine. The cruising speed is usually 11 knots at most with some older or underpowered ones barely making 9 knots. Most of this type will carry only six long trucks but more if the the vehicles are sedans or pick-up trucks. Motorcycles will be slotted where there is some free space and this will usually be in the bow near the ramp. In loading the biggest and heaviest is usually loaded first in some sort of a choreographed “dance”. Putting a heavy truck at the stern without a counterbalance at the bow can capsize this type stern-first. Cargo or load masters sequence this “dance” unless most of the vehicles to be loaded are small so it will just be a matter of balancing it starboard and port.

Super Shuttle Ferry 3 ©John Carlos Cabanillas

Most of this ferry type in the Philippines came from Japan. They will not look much different in design because many of them are actually sister ships which means they share the same hull-form. This is so because they were based on one of the designs commissioned by the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MITI) of Japan. That was meant to simplify research and development to lessen cost and help the small ship builders of Japan. In Japan this type is usually limited to secluded seas and bays but in the Philippines they are used even in seas with reputation for high swells and strong winds.

[VIDEO of a BSDF in rough seas-Click Here]

Starlite Nautica ©Mike Baylon

The routes of the Basic, Short-distance Ferry-RORO are usually from 2 to 40 nautical miles distance with transit times of from a quarter of an hour to four hours or so if the route is a bit long and the ferry is really slow (and in that case a Large Motor Banca will overtake the basic, short-distance RORO). As of this writing (January 2015) there are more than 45 routes served in the country by the Basic, Short-distance Ferry-ROROs but that total includes those served by Ropax and Hybrid LCTs and by the bigger short-distance ROROs.

Kalinaw ©Adrian Pletosu

Most of our Basic, Short-distance Ferry-ROROs are already old with many built in the 1970s. However, they are still reliable since Daihatsu marine engine parts are easy to source and they are easy to maintain. Should an engine be at the end of its economic life, many replacement engines are easily available in the surplus market. That is also true for the other machinery and bridge equipment. With a robust design and many replacement parts available this type is not anywhere near retirement. If there is a threat to this type it comes from the arrival of bigger short-distance ferriy ROROs which are newer and faster. This can load more and so when it is peak season or there are a lot of buses on board passengers need not use the stairs or deck for sitting. Many of these bigger short-distance ROROs have airconditioned accommodations and they roll less in heavy seas.

Regina Calixta II ©Masahiro Homma
By ownership, the following shipping companies operate this type of vessel:
Montenegro Shipping Lines
Asian Marine Transport Corporation
Starlite Shipping
Besta Shipping
Alabat Shipping
Regina Shipping Lines
Denica Lines
Medallion Transport
Island Shipping
Aznar Shipping
Jomalia Shipping
Aleson Shipping
Philstone Shipping
Davemyr Shipping
The first four are headquartered in Batangas while Regina and Denica are Bicol lines. The next four are Visayas-based and the last three are Mindanao-based. Together they operate some 40+ Basic, Short-distance ROROs. Not included in the count are the Ropax LCTs, Hybrid LCTs and the Double-ended ROROs.
Odyssey ©Mike Baylon
Though they might look vulnerable but only a few hull losses resulted in the three decades of operation of this type of ferry and among them are the “Lady of Carmel”, “Baleno Nine”, “Wonderful Star”, “Ciara Joy” and “Princess Camille”. No two of those were lost in the same route. There were others which capsized in port or near land but they were salvaged and are still in service.
Vulnerable or not this type is among those that ushered the intermodal era in the country. And up to now they still bridge the near islands and serve our transport and trade needs. This type will still be around our straits and channels for a long, long time to come.