The MV Isla Simara Is Now In San Bernardino Strait

The MV  Isla Simara of Shogun Shipping was presented to the local media a few days ago in Pier 6 of NorthPort (the old North Harbor) before she departed where the controversial and untrue claim as the first RORO built by Pinoys was issued. The owners also claimed that the ship has the longest ramp in the country which is also untrue. Now, I did not know if Trump-ism has already taken hold in our land. Why claim things that are simply not true?

The Isla Simara’s keel was laid in a Sual, Pangasinan last year and when she was already capable of floating she was towed to Josefa Slipways in Navotas, Metro Manila where she was completed. In launching, there there was enough buoyancy from the shallow waters of the Navotas river plus she is large and so her screws hit and she had to be winched back to port for repairs. Now, I do not know if that was good omen or not.

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While already capable of sailing the Isla Simara cannot sail as she lacked a Certificate of Public Conveyance (CPC) which will allow her to sail a route legally . There was a back and forth where she will be fielded, one option being Cebu-Tagbilaran route but finally the owners were firm she would said the Matnog, Sorsogon to Allen, Northern Samar route using the private BALWHARTECO Port. It was the owners of this port which finally swung the owners in the route determination after pledging support to Shogun Shipping. However, the ferry lost more than two months.

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The other day, on August 26, 2019, Isla Simara finally arrived in Matnog after an economical-speed sailing in heavy rains spawned by the combination of a habagat (Southwest monsoon)intensified by a tropical depression. The next day, she sailed to BALWHARTECO Port and luckily the stormy weather already ceased and she docked uneventfully in the afternoon.

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And so last night, the ferry held an open house while docked at the port, in clear weather and invited were town, barangay (barrio) and port officials plus of course the local detachments of MARINA, the PPA and the Coast Guard. It was actually an semi-formal event and not so exclusive party and it was actually very rare as in a blue moon for a shipping company to invite the public in.

Well, one advantage is BALWHARTECO is not an ISPS port because if she is then it  will be off-limits to the general public because of fear of terrorists will then be the primary consideration. May I note that in my experience BALWHARTECO port is friendly to the general public and one can reach the ferries without much fuss. Inside the port are establishments that cater to the general public.

In BALWHARTECO, Isla Simara dwarfed the competing ROROs of Montenegro Shipping Lines which will be her main competitor (although the ROROs  in Dapdap and Jubasan ports of Allen will also be directly competing). This ferry is big and her size is not what is used in the short-distance routes (she might be the biggest ferry/RORO now in a short-distance route). However, she is a day ferry equipped with seats and lounges as insisted by the owner.

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Isla Simara has been built using many kits from China and even her interiors are not local. Her aesthetic design is impressive as well as her safety features. Of course, the bridge and engine room equipment are also imported. The ship can be considered first-class all the way at least by Philippine standards and her livery is not what is the usual in the local ferries.

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Her Captain said she will be doing six or seven round trips a day. But the question is will there be enough load? In San Bernardino Strait, most of the rolling cargo (the vehicles) is already contracted which means they have contracts with a particular shipping company that assures them of a reserved ride even in the peaks of the peak season (and the sometimes traveler in the peak season do not understand that leading to complaints of “favoritism” and dapat daw “first come, first served”). Well, Virginia, there are reservations everywhere and not only in ports.

Most of the passengers across San Bernardino Strait are intermodal bus passengers and they are tied to their buses, they are not free to choose their ride and almost all are enjoying the “free ferry” perk that means they have free tickets for the ferry which is actually true. Contracts and free tickets are things not yet understood by Shogun Shipping and they might be in for a rough surprise. But for private cars owners, Isla Simara might be a pleasant alternative as for sure there will be no queues and the accommodations and amenities are well above those of the short-distance ferries.

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What bothers me is the fact that Starlite Ferries of Batangas and the big Chelsea Logistics fielded a new ship in the exact route and ports and only lasted over a month when in terms of size, amenities, service and speed she can match the Isla Simara and yet she did not survive in the route. And to think that in MIMAROPA, in her home territory, Starlite Ferries is used to contracting and to rebates like what is present in San Bernardino Strait. Did they find it too hard to wean away the buses and trucks from their contracts? Besides, in San Bernardino Strait there are Cargo RORO LCTs that cater to trucks and they provide lower rates.

Last night, my informant and I were discussing over the phone. We thought Isla Simara could have been a killer if she was fielded as overnight ferry because then her superior amenities and newness will be more on display compared to a one-hour route like that in San Bernardino Strait. But who knows? Shogun Shipping still has three sister ships of Isla Simara on the pipeline. This company is really loaded as aside from ROROs they also have catamarans under the Island Water brand.

Whatever, her arrival to shake up San Bernardino bears watching. Her voyages commence next week.

 

[Photo Credits: Philippine Ship Spotters Society (PSSS), Mervin Go Bon Soon, Dwight and Shogun Shipping]

Masbate City to Castilla, Sorsogon: An Unexplored Route

 

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Photo by Adecer X. Bogart of PSSS

Very recently, the Shogun Ships Co. Inc. (Shogun Shipping) announced the opening of their Masbate City to Castilla, Sorsogon route through Island Water, their Medium Speed Craft (MSC) subsidiary that is using small catamarans from China. This has the support of the LGU of Castilla especially the Mayor.

When I heard many weeks ago that Island Water was applying for this route I was surprised because I have never heard in the past that a ferry plied this route and there were inconceivable considerations. The natural competitor of that route is the Masbate City to Pilar, Sorsogon route held by the High Speed Crafts (HSCs) of Montenegro Shipping Lines Inc. (MSLI) and the ROPAXes of two companies of which one, the Denica Lines, is already refitting their own HSCs.

I wonder if the two shipping lines won’t lodge an objection as the route falls within the 50-kilometer restriction of MARINA (Maritime Industry Authority, the Philippines’ maritime regulatory body) that no competing route will be allowed if the ports are within 50 kilometers of each other and definitely the distance of Pilar and Castilla ports are less than 50 kilometers.

But then MARINA always has exceptions to their rules like when they allowed a ferry in the Pilar, Sorsogon to Aroroy, Masbate route (well, it did not last even though it has a high fallutin’ feasibility study) when the distance between Aroroy and Masbate City is less than 50 kilometers.

Castilla port is also at a disadvantage compared to Pilar port because it is farther than Daraga, Albay and Legazpi City in Albay where most of the HSC passengers are headed (no, it is not Sorsogon City). Besides, the route to Castilla is longer than the route to Castilla and so it must consume more fuel. Besides, inside Sorsogon Bay where Castilla is located there are shifting sandbars especially in the habagat (the Southwest monsoon season). Even in the past the freighters going inside the bay restrict their speed.

And part of what I feared happened right this afternoon. The Island Water vessel, the Island Calaguas took nearly four hours in the route and I think part of the reason is that they cannot speed up inside Sorsogon Bay. The Captain was instructed to say to the media that the trip took two hours and forty-five minutes as scheduled but the Captain admitted the actual sailing time and he might have been sacked for that. There is actually no way Island Water can match the two hours sailing time of the MSLI HSCs of two hours because those are simply faster than them with a shorter route to boot.

Castilla is also a little bit out of the way and few people aside from the locals go there as it is not on the highway. That was the reason why the municipal government transferred their old municipal hall which was near the port to a new municipal hall near the national highway.

There are just a few public transports to the old town proper and in a good anticipatory move, Shogun Shipping brought along two P2P (point to point) buses from Manila to serve as shuttle between Castilla and Legazpi. Without those they would have been dead already. In Pilar there are vans that wait for the ferries from Masbate and the vans in Legazpi go right to Pilar port. Castilla has no such equivalent.

I wish the Island Water experiment sticks as Castilla needs them because it is such an underdeveloped place as the Mayor himself insinuated. And if I am travelling next time, I might try them just to see Castilla and what it has to offer.

But then when moves become offbeat there usually are reason or reasons for that. I have never been aware of a Masbate-Castilla route in the past and I even wonder why the government put up a port in the place. Castilla has long ceased as a point of entry to Daraga and Ibalon since the early Spanish times when it was the easiest protected route to the Bicol Valley (the Moros controlled the seas there until the 1850s).

I have checked. When liners was still the main connection to Manila they would dock in Donsol, Pilar, Magallanes, Casiguran, Sorsogon and Bulan towns but not in Castilla. And Masbate town was not also a port of call of the liners from Manila until it reached the 1930s. The historical connection of Masbate town to the Bicol mainland was actually through the Pilar and Bulan towns of Sorsogon.

I do not know if Island Water will repeat their Island Sabtang mistake of connecting Masbate City and Pio Duran town in Albay. It seems they did not realize that the only passengers there are bus passengers going to Manila. Masbate City and Pio Duran have no real connection and the problem is that might be also true for Masbate and Castilla. The shuttle bus is really needed so that the Masbate to Daraga/Legazpi connection can also be replicated through Castilla.

Whatever, I am astounded by the bravery of Island Water and Shogun Shipping in trying new routes, even routes that did not exist in the past. May I note though that the ship they are using in the old route was the ship they used in the Cebu to Bantayan (Hagnaya to Santa Fe) last summer but was not able to stick when the lean months entered. That old route of the Island Calaguas even has more passengers that this new route because it has tourism.

Well, hope springs eternal.

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Island Calaguas in Castilla, Sorsogon. Photo by Mr. Edwin Jamora.