The DavSam Link and DavSam II

Once upon a time, after the LCT Davao del Norte which was owned by the Provincial Government of Davao del Norte sank, it was only the Mae Wess/CW Cole ferries that were running the Davao-Samal route through their own wharves in Sasa in Davao and Caliclic in Samal. Their ferries sailed after every 15 or 20 minutes but during Fridays and weekends their ferries can’t cope and a long queue of vehicles waiting to be loaded form and it lines up to the main vehicle gate of Sasa port about half a kilometer away. Vehicles wait and queue for hours under the hot sun and most of these are private cars.

Even with this discomfort, the drivers happily paid the rates of Mae Wess. They don’t realize it that Mae Wess was actually charging them sky-high rates. This can be computed by dividing the RORO rate by the distance in nautical miles. In this method, Mae Wess charges the highest in the country, bar none but those going to Samal didn’t know because they have no comparison. They rarely venture into Lipata port, Mukas port or Zamboanga port where they can find rates that are more reasonable.

Meanwhile, Kudos Trucking has long been a player in Davao in a supplementary role in shipping. They are haulers of container vans and in renting yard space for container vans. Most of their clients are foreign shipping companies and they operate several container yards including one just across the Mae Wess wharf in Sasa, Davao. Then a few years ago they built a wharf or port in Panacan, Davao which has a back-up area for container vans. Asian Marine Transport Corporation (AMTC) was the first to use this wharf for their Cargo RORO ships and their container vans.

With their own wharf in Panacan and the availability of the Babak port just across them in Pakiputan Strait, Kudos Trucking decided to go into the RORO business. After all, Babak port has lost its RORO since LCT Davao del Norte was lost. So, they then barter-chartered two LCTs from Asian Marine Transport Corporation and these were the Super Shuttle RORO 16 and Super Shuttle RORO 14 which arrived in 2013 and 2014. The name of the new shipping company is DavSam Link which is a self-explanatory name.

On the first day when DavSam Link will start operations, the local head of MARINA (Maritime Industries Authority), the Philippine maritime regulatory agency came to Kudos Trucking Corporation wharf and told DavSam Link they should charge the same rate as Mae Wess which was P300 for a sedan. I was among the two ship spotters there covering the opening for PSSS (Philippine Ship Spotters Society), the premiere and the authoritative ship spotting organization in the Philippines which has international links and so I came to know that. DavSam Link wanted then to charge lower. Now, isn’t that what newcomers need to do to gain business? Discounting is done everywhere – in malls, supermarkets, restaurants, hotels, by the plane companies and even by the great 2GO shipping company, etc. The MARINA head did not know that?

Immediately, I knew what the MARINA honcho was protecting was the interest of Mae Wess and not the interest of the public. In all my travels in the whole breadth of the Philippines the RORO rate of Mae Wess was the highest per nautical mile and there was not even a close second and it is the local MARINA was the one which approved it. In many RORO routes there is no such thing as rate parity. That is especially true in Cebu where the lowest charge for the Cebu-Leyte route is only half of those that charge the highest (and there is no need to say which are growing). Maybe the rate should be high enough so that there should be a spare for “gifts” for them? The MARINA honcho obviously has forgotten who are paying their salaries and allowances.

DavSam Link began sailing with rate parity with Mae Wess. With no advantage to show and with people used to the fast departures of Mae Wess they had a very poor start. For truckers there is another disadvantage because an agent of Mae Wess who is in power in Samal threatens no loading if they ever patronize DavSam Link (in the end the truckers did not heed this). This island which calls itself a “garden city” is actually full of illegal exactions on passengers and vehicles which has long been outlawed by the Supreme Court and reiterated by 4 DILG (Department of the Interior and Local Governments) memorandums. Well, in the Philippines unless some mayors and councils are sent to jail, it seems those memorandums are just sheets with the same value as toilet paper. Will this change under President Rodrigo Roa Duterte?

Moreover, the LCTs sent by Asian Marine Transport Corporation to DavSam Link proved uncooperative and broke down with regularity. It got so bad that at one time DavSam Link did not sail for 8 months especially when they sent back the Super Shuttle Ferry 14 and the engine of Super Shuttle Ferry 16 permanently conked out after they hired some former crewmen of Mae Wess (well, I am just stating facts). Some then thought DavSam Link might have been gone for good and defeated in the war with Mae Wess but they might not have been aware of the depths of pockets and will of one Johnny Ng.

Super Shuttle Ferry 16 was sent to General Santos City for re-engining with a brand-new China-made Weichai marine engine (their local agent, the Dynamic Power of Mandaue, Cebu has an office there). Just before Super Shuttle Ferry 16 came back as the DavSam I with a new engine (by then DavSam Link has already bought her from Asian Marine Transport Corporation), a true double-ended ferry arrived from Japan for DavSam Link and she was named as the DavSam II. This was July of 2015.

DavSam II did not sail immediately because she had no meaningful passenger accommodations. It seems in Japan she only sails very short distances and so maybe the passengers just stay in their cars, in the main. A small passenger accommodation of glass and aluminum was then built and it was airconditioned because it was very exposed to the sun. The ferry was also repainted and generally spiffed up but not by much as she arrived as a clean ship and not from a laid-up condition. Well, if a small ferry can sail all the way from Japan then it can be assumed it is in good condition.

The DavSam II was the former ferry Tateishi in Japan with the permanent ID IMO 9004035. She was built by Naikai Shipbuilding and Engineering Co. Ltd. in Setoda yard in 1990. The ship is a double-ended RORO which means she is fitted with ramps on both ends and so both ends look the same anyway. In this type of ship there is no clear bow and stern as she can sail both ways. A RORO of this type might have only one engine but it has propellers and rudders on both ends. The advantage of a true double-ended RORO is she does not need to back up and change direction after leaving port (which means she can then “back up” all the way to the other port). This type of ferry is only used on very short distances as the drag of the propellers on the front end when sailing can be significant if used on longer distances and the advantage of not having to back up and turn is then lost.

The external dimensions of the ship are 32.8 meters length over-all (LOA), 23.9 meters length between perpendiculars (LPP) by 10.6 meters Breadth and 3.0 meters Depth. The cubic measurement is 144 gross tons and the load capacity is 102 deadweight tons. The ship is equipped with a single Yanmar Marine engine of 490 horsepower with two transmissions, two shafts and two propellers. She has raked stem and stern with ramps and her top speed is 9 knots. The ship has a small pilot house suspended atop the car deck and in there still intact is her build plate. A basic RORO, the ingress and egress of the vehicles also serves as the entrance and exit of the passengers.

She arrived with her engine still in very good condition. We heard she was found a long way from Tokyo and maybe she was really only used on very short distances with only few trips a day and that is why her engine was still pristine. Usually this is the type of ferry used to connect islets within the Inland Sea. We heard DavSam Link was able to purchase her for a very good price. The company is very satisfied with her and so it is looking for another double-ended ferry. And with only a 490 horsepower engine she is a fuel miser. Her conduction voyage from Japan took only 4 days without any incident.

She is sailing very regularly in the hours when there is light and until dusk. Where DavSam I has days off because of some mechanical glitches, DavSam II is always sailing. They have reduced the rolling rates for sedan now to P200 from P300 which is actually still high and the passenger fares were reduced to P7 from P10 (funny her fares are even lower than the jeepney fare in Davao). The truck rates which depends on size are also way down from what was once the standard in the Davao-Samal route. And to me it can even be chopped off if only DavSam ferries is always full. Their ship is actually seldom full and their better days are just the weekends or holidays as Samal functions as a getaway of the Dabawenyos. Aside from the tourists from other places, of course.

Now it seems vehicle owners and truckers are beginning to realize that Mae Wess has been overcharging them for too long (but there is no backlash). Where there is monopoly it is known abuse is not far off especially if the regulator is inside the pockets of the operator. They will then try to charge as much as the market will bear. The rates and fares of DavSam Link are now lower than that of Mae Wess even though its route is a little longer since they follow a boomerang route because of the shallows in Pakiputan Strait.

DavSam I is a beautiful ship. Her patronage is somewhat okay now. It seems she might be headed for a successful career here.

For me, I hope she even charges lower.

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The Last Liner of Sulpicio Lines

Sulpicio Lines had a journey of being the biggest passenger shipping company in the Philippines to having no more passenger ships in the end, driven by sinkings with great casualties on years ending with “8” which was supposedly “lucky” to the Chinese but which ended up disastrously for them. In 1988, their “Dona Marilyn”, a former replacement flagship as “Dona Ana” sank in a Signal No.3 typhoon in the Samar Sea with the loss of hundreds of lives. In 1998, the “Princess of the Orient”, their flagship sank in a Signal No.3 typhoon off Cavite and again with the loss of hundreds of lives. And in 2008, the “Princess of the Stars”, their flagship and the biggest-ever liner in the inter-island routes, also sank in a Signal No.3 typhoon near Sibuyan island, with great loss of lives too that raised a public and international howl. Topping it all was the sinking of the “Dona Paz”, a former flagship as “Don Sulpicio” after a collision with a tanker near Mindoro where the ship was engulfed by the resulting flames. This happened in Christmas season of 1987 and it was considered by many as the greatest peacetime maritime disaster ever but the knowledgeable know the casualty count in that was greatly just bloated.

This series of great casualties in sinkings and the great howl created by the sinking of “Princess of the Stars” resulted in a suspension of their passenger fleet with strict conditions for their comeback in passenger shipping. From suspension, only two of their passenger ships were able continue regular sailing, one in the Manila-Cebu route, the “Princess of the South” and one in the overnight Cebu-Cagayan de Oro-Nasipit-Jagna routes, the “Princess of the Earth”. This is the story of the last-ever liner of Sulpicio Lines, the “Princess of the South”, an unlikely ship to be the last-ever liner and “flagship” of Sulpicio Lines.

When “Princess of the South” arrived in the Philippines for Sulpicio Lines in 2005, she was not that much heralded, not that highly thought of especially since she was just medium-sized among our liners and middling in speed and accommodations. She came to take over the Manila-Iloilo-Zamboanga-General Santos route for the company which was long held by the “Princess of the Pacific” but that ship had a serious grounding incident off Panay island in 2004 where she was declared a complete total loss (CTL). Her temporary replacement, the “Princess of the World”, meanwhile, had a fire in 2005 from which she was never repaired again. Another Sulpicio ship that had a route to General Santos City, the “Princess of Unity” also gave up and she was sent to the breakers in 2004 because one of her four engines was already very defective. That was the backgrounder from which the “Princess of the South” was fielded. Maybe it was a little daunting to replace those liners and maybe her name was a reflection of her route.

The “Princess of the South” was known as the “New Katsura” in Japan and she was owned by the Osaka Kochi Express Ferry. She was built by the Naikai Zosen Corporation in their Setoda yard in Japan and she was completed in April of 1981. A steel-hulled ship, she had two masts, two angled funnels and three passenger decks. She had a bulbous stem, a square-end stern and a quarter stern ramp on the starboard side. With a truck deck and a mezzanine for sedans, she was a RORO ship capable of carrying about 100 TEUs.

The “New Katsura” measured 141.3 meters length over-all by 22.7 meters breadth with a gross tonnage (GT) of 6,773 and a deadweight tonnage (DWT) of 3,249 tons. She was equipped with two IHI-SEMT Pielstick engines that had a total of 15,600 horsepower which was enough to give her a top speed of 19.5 knots when new. Her keel was laid down in 1980, that is why her permanent ID was IMO 8017865. Interestingly, she was built near a cargo ship ordered by the Philippine Government which was destined for Galleon Shipping, the “Galleon Agate”.

In coming here in 2005, Sulpicio Lines no longer tampered with the superstructure in her refitting. That time it was already obvious passenger patronage of shipping was already declining and the era of 2,000+ passenger liners was already over and so she had a passenger capacity of just 1,300. Maybe Sulpicio Lines was also rushing then to fill the void to their General Santos City route that they did not even bother to put scantlings at the stern of the ship to increase the cubic capacity of the ship. The cruising speed of the ship here was only about 18 knots which was about average for our liners and that was just about the same as the speed of the liner “Princess of Paradise” which she replaced.

From my analysis of the ship, it seems they converted the mezzanine for sedans into the open-air Economy section of the ship. The stern portion of this deck remained for loading of sedans here (brand-new ones for car dealers down south). The Tourist section was converted from the cabin for truck drivers in Japan. The Economy De Luxe section was on a deck higher of that and it could have been a big cabin for tatami accommodations in Japan. There were a lot of cabins for the Tourist De Luxe in the uppermost passenger deck and it seems those were formerly cabins too in Japan. First Class Cabins and Suites were in the forward section of this deck ahead of the middle of the ship.

This liner had a small First Class restaurant called “The Good View”. It was no longer as opulent as the First Class restaurants of our past great liners and it was just small. Here the usual smorgasbord eat-all-you-can treat of Sulpicio Lines applied. The Second Class restaurant for the Tourist passengers was just about okay in size but its furnishings were better than the First Class restaurant. This had the name “Mandarin Sky” which to the uninitiated might sound as the higher class restaurant. The Economy restaurant called “The Terrace” was an open-air dining place at the stern that seemed a little small too and so queues formed. It had simple tables and benches but being laminated it looked more presentable. It was also here where the ordinary crew members dine. Like the previous Sulpicio Lines tradition, it was “rice-all-you-can” here which means “unlimited rice”. The ship also had a canteen that operated from dawn to midnight and it is located near the partial-deck for the sedans. It was always full of passengers because that was where the charging stations for cellphones were located.

This ship was one of the few among local liners that had an escalator. This leads to the main lobby cum front desk area. Near that was a bar-lounge and behind that was the Second Class restaurant. The ship had many lounges but that did not include the First Class and Second Class restaurants (because it was closed when not meal time) except for the Economy restaurant which was always open. There was also a playground in the sun deck and that top deck also served as a promenade/observation deck although its area was rather small. This was because of the new ISPS rules governing ship security. And so the bridge and the side of the crew accommodations at the top were no longer accessible by the public.

Other amenities included a chapel and a wishing well, if the those can be called as amenities. However, they served as welcome attractions and actually the chapels seats were a good way to have a seat if one got tired in the sun deck as they were just adjacent. There were also a spa and a beauty parlor for relaxation and grooming needs. Below the escalator there were videos and an arcade for games. Over-all, taking a walk around the ship was not really tiring (and one can’t say that about our great liners of the past). One reason is the passenger areas did not really extend much further than the funnels of the ship and hence the passenger decks were rather short.

Her original route was Manila-Iloilo-Zamboanga-Dadiangas (General Santos City) which she sailed once a week. Her departures and arrivals were:

MANILA

TUESDAY

10:00 AM

ILOILO

WEDNESDAY

5:00 AM

ILOILO

WEDNESDAY

3:00 PM

ZAMBOANGA

THURSDAY

5:00 AM

ZAMBOANGA

THURSDAY

5:00 PM

DADIANGAS

FRIDAY

5:00 AM

DADIANGAS

FRIDAY

6:00 PM

ZAMBOANGA

SATURDAY

6:00 AM

ZAMBOANGA

SATURDAY

4:00 PM

ILOILO

SUNDAY

6:00 AM

ILOILO

SUNDAY

12:00 NN

MANILA

MONDAY

7:00 AM

That was a schedule that had plenty of lay-overs which was good for the engines which can then rest and be checked. The crew and the passengers can then make visits or even make “free tourism” (tour the city where the ship is docked). She was successful in that southern route and her size was just fit. And by the way, she was almost the same size as the “Princess of the Pacific” (137.5 meters x 20.2 meters) that she replaced there but that ship has a far higher passenger capacity than her at 2,286. Incidentally, these two ships had the same engines although the SEMT Pielstick engines of the “Princess of the Pacific” were made by NKK (Nippon Kokan KK) of Japan.

She suddenly stopped sailing this route when Sulpicio Lines got suspended after the capsizing of the “Princess of the Stars” in June of 2008. She was then just in her third year of sailing in this route. When Sulpicio Lines was partially allowed to sail again, she was transferred to the Manila-Cebu route to take the place of the “Princess of the Stars”. Passenger patronage of ships had already declined then in general but Sulpicio Lines was hit harder. It seems only those who understood her were still sailing with her and so maybe a smaller ship with a smaller engine made more sense.

As a come-on, her fares were very low. If purchased direct from the company, the Saver (Economy) class was just P867, Saver Plus (Economy Deluxe) was P967, Tourist was P1,067, Tourist De Luxe was P1,167, Cabin w/o T&B was 1,267, Cabin with T&B was P1,367 and the room rate for Suite was P3,135. In Cebu, the terminal fee and the aircon shuttle bus chartered by Sulpicio Lines were even free. But when I sailed with her in 2014 I felt sad. I can feel an era was closing and there was no glee in the crew and they were no longer young. I heard “Princess of the South” was for sale and the crew knows it. It was an open secret that Philippine Span Asia Carrier Corporation (the new name of Sulpicio Lines) was getting out of passenger shipping.

I heard there were negotiations between a Cebu regional shipping company and Philippine Span Asia Carrier Corporation for the possible purchase of the “Princess of the South”. In the end, to the sadness of many, the deal fell through and “Princess of the South” was instead bought by Bangladeshi ship breakers. Subsequently, she left Cebu simply as the “Princess” one day in October of 2014. Her demolition began in Chittagong on November 9, 2014.

A few months after she was sold, Sulpicio Lines or PSACC was forever barred by the maritime regulatory agency MARINA from sailing passenger ships. The then-Secretary of the Department of Transportation and Communications expressed hope some others will enter the liner industry. But to knowledgeable observers they know that is an empty hope.

As the Americans say, “the medicine was too strong that it killed the horse”.