Recent Developments in Bicol Passenger Shipping

A Backgrounder

A few years ago, Montenegro Shipping Lines Inc. (MSLI) of Batangas entered the Matnog-San Isidro route using the government-owned San Isidro Ferry Terminal in San Isidro, Samar. Before that the company already plied before the Masbate City-Lucena route but got suspended when their MV Maria Carmela burned just before reaching Lucena and there were protests in Masbate backed up by their politicians. But aside from that route, Montenegro Shipping Lines had a route from Masbate City to Pilar using basic, short-distance ferry-ROROs and hybrid LCTs (Pilar port can’t accommodate anything bigger because of its shallowness) and fastcrafts. In that route they were able to outlast the fastcrafts of Lobrigo Lines and the route became their staple and stronghold after they were driven out of the Batangas-Calapan route because the SuperCats there were simply superior than them.

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San Isidro Ferry Terminal

They then entered the Matnog-San Isidro route across San Bernardino Strait using the government-owned San Isidro Ferry Terminal. I knew it was a creeping move on their part and entry to the San Isidro route is easy since no ferry is using that route ever since Archipelago Philippine Ferries and Philharbor Ferries and Port Services left that port when they built their own port in Dapdap which is much nearer to Matnog than San Isidro. I knew MARINA, the maritime authority will easily grant a franchise since there is no ferry using that terminal and the 50-kilometer restriction has already been lifted by MARINA per Pres. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s instruction. Before, on parallel routes no franchise will be issued if the competing port is less than 50 kilometers away (but it seems that did not apply to the likes of western Leyte ports and the ports of near Dumaguete).

I was not worried for Bicol ferry companies as long as Montenegro Lines is in San Isidro because that route carries a significant penalty in distance as BALWHARTECO port which is being used by the Bicol ferry companies is just 11 nautical miles in distance while the San Isidro port is 15 nautical miles in distance from Matnog Ferry Terminal. I knew Montenegro Lines had to give near parity in rates if they want patronage. And they will have to field a faster ferry which they did and they suffered the fuel penalty. It was obvious that in using San Isidro Ferry Terminal that they are handicapped in competing with the Bicol ferry companies (Sta. Clara Shipping Corporation, Penafrancia Shipping Corporation, 168 Shipping Lines and Regina Shipping Lines).

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Dapdap port

But then it happened that the Archipelago/Philharbor operation which operated the Maharlika and Grand Star RORO ferries was tottering they opened up Dapdap port for Montenegro Lines. And that is where I began to worry for the Bicol ferry companies as Montenegro Lines is a big shipping company (they even tout they have the most number of ferries which is actually true) and if transfer pricing was used by the big oil companies and by the bus group Vallacar Transportation Inc. locally then they can engage in price wars and the smaller Bicol ferry companies will suffer. With the move to Dapdap port and with the lessening of Archipelago and Philharbor ferries it is as if those twin companies are giving Montenegro Lines free business. Dapdap port is a little farther than BALWHARTECO port which the Bicol ferry companies are using but the difference in distance is minimal at about 11 nautical miles to 11.5 to 12 nautical miles. Of course, the shipping companies have their regular and locked patrons but there are a lot of non-committed vehicles especially the private vehicles (as differentiated from company vehicles) which pay the full, published rates unlike the regular and locked patrons.

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Jubasan port

A little later when the Sta. Clara Shipping Corporation (SCSC) built its own port in Jubasan, also in Allen, for their and their sister company Penafrancia Shipping Corporation’s use, BALWHARTECO then opened its gates to Montenegro Lines and so the company finally had access to the most advantageous port in Samar (this port is in direct line to the vehicles from Catarman and Rawis). It seems the creeping strategy of Montenegro was finally working. In shipping it is not necessary that a company will get the most advantageous port or route at the start. With patience and resources, better arrangements and opportunities soon open.

Developments and the Current Situation

I was watching what will be the fate of the Bicol ferry companies especially since the long bond and partnership between BALWHARTECO and Sta. Clara Shipping Corporation, the biggest Bicol ferry company was broken with the building of the Jubasan port against the wishes and objection of the owners of BALWHARTECO (this episode almost reached the courts since the owner tried to stop the construction as he was the Mayor of Allen where the ports are located and bitterness was really high). Well, none sank, most even grew and that was a surprise for me.

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Denica ferries in Masbate port

In Masbate, Denica Lines, which was basically only in motor bancas and cargo motor boats before fought back magnificently with the acquisition of the MV Odyssey to be followed by the MV Marina Empress which were just poor discards of other shipping companies. Both suffered engine troubles at the start and Denica Lines had to spend money for the two. Then this year Denica Lines was able to purchase a third basic, short-distance ferry-RORO, the MV Regina Calixta II of Regina Shipping Lines of Catanduanes which was already buying bigger ferries. The MV Regina Calixta II is unrenamed as of this moment as changing names is actually not peanuts with regards to MARINA.

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Denica fastcrafts refitting in Pilar port

And last year Denica Lines got two rundown fastcrafts which they are slowly refitting right in Pilar port. So right now or soon, it seems Denica Lines is already ready to slug it out with Montenegro Lines toe-to-toe in the Masbate City-Pilar route. Meanwhile, Sta. Clara Shipping Corporation and twin company Penafrancia Shipping Corporation is doing roaring business in the parallel Masbate City-Pio Duran route especially since Medallion Transport was driven away from that route after their MV Lady of Carmel sank. The truck loading in that route is so good that Sta. Clara Shipping Corporation bought the LCT Ongpin, lengthened it and fielded it in the route as the LCT Aldain Dowey. And that is aside from two 60-meter ROPAXes they maintain in the route. So if the ferries of Denica Lines and Sta. Clara Shipping Corporation in the route from Masbate City to the Bicol mainland is totaled then Montenegro Lines is outmatched already except in the High Speed Crafts segment which competes with the big motor bancas of different companies.

In the Matnog-Samar routes, the Bicol ferry companies are more than holding its own although both has not grown except in frequency. If there was growth it was taken by Archipelago Ferries Corporation which fielded a brand-new FastCat in the Matnog-San Isidro route which is also doing good business. But in terms of net, Archipelago Ferries is not ahead as the business they gained with the fielding of FastCat might not be greater than the business they lost with the disposal of the Maharlika and Grand Star RORO ferries (and they are paying docking fees in San Isidro Ferry Terminal while their own Dapdap port is unused). In my comparisons, I still consider Archipelago and Philharbor as Bicol ferries since they started as such although with the good FastCats now they are trying to erase their connection to the lousy Maharlika and Grand Star RORO ferries because obviously they are ashamed of their record there.

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FastCat in San Isidro Ferry Terminal

And Montenegro Lines did not gain either in the Matnog-Allen route as the Bicol ferry companies was able to hold their own relative to them. If there was growth it was taken by the subsidiary of 2GO, the SulitFerry which operates a brand-new ROPAX LCT, the LCT Poseidon 26 and another one or two Cargo RORO LCTs depending on the season. Finally, 2GO discovered what was eating up their container shipping and passenger liner business and decided to compete (“if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em”). Lacking enough resources, they started conservatively by just chartering new LCTs from Concrete Solutions Incorporated (CSI), owner of the Poseidon LCTs, whose fleet seems to be ever growing.

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The Poseidon 26 of Concrete Solutions and SulitFerry

In the routes to Catanduanes, there was obvious growth and changes. Initially, the most striking perhaps is the appearance of the two High Speed Crafts (although technically one is already a Medium Speed Craft) of the Cardinal Shipping Lines Incorporated, the MV Silangan Express 1 and the MV Silangan Express 3. I had my doubts early on about the viability of the two but it turned out they were doing okay. One reason maybe is their reasonable fares which is just about one will expect from a Tourist accommodation in a regular ferry and not double the Economy fare like what is charged in other parts of the country. The two HSCs of Cardinal Shipping also run in the hours not served by the regular ROPAX whose schedules are dictated by the arrivals of the buses (which means a morning departure from Tabaco and a noon departure from Catanduanes).

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The Regina Calixta VII (ex-Maharlika Cuatro). Photo by Dominic San Juan

One Catanduanes ferry company and a native of Catanduanes which made a great stride recently was Regina Shipping Lines or RSL. This company has already disposed their basic, short-distance ferry-ROROs and instead bought bigger ferries. Part of their new acquisitions were the former MV Maharlika Tres, acquired from Atienza Shipping Lines and the former MV Maharlika Cuatro from Gabisan Shipping Lines. The two double-ended ferries became the MV Regina Calixta VI and and MV Regina Calixta VII in their fleet. The company was also able to acquire the former MV Grand Star RORO 3 which became the MV Regina Calixta VIII in their fleet. Rounding off the fleet is the MV Regina Calixta V which they acquired from China.

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The Regina Calixta VIII (ex-Grand Star RORO III)

The former ferries from Archipelago Ferries and Philharbor Ferries are no longer the sad ferries of Christopher Pastrana, the boastful. All feature Tourist accommodations now (there was none before) with a disco motif and sounds where good videos are played during the trip and all feature good, brand-new seats in Tourist (Regina Shipping Lines was in buses before and they know these things). Even the engines were refitted that the former MV Maharlika Tres is already running faster than her design speed (the maximum speed when new). The owner of Regina Shipping Lines simply opened his checkbook unlike Christopher Pastrana (who opened the checkbook of DBP instead) and the Mayon Docks of Tabaco City forthwith did the make-overs of the former lousy Archipelago and Philharbor ferries derided in the eastern seaboard. Now those ferries are already the favorites by the passengers.

There was also another change in the Masbate ferries. This was when Asian Marine Transport Corporation (AMTC) sold their MV Super Shuttle Ferry 19, a double-ended ferry that was off-and-on doing the Bogo-Cawayan route. She was bought by the D. Olmilla Shipping Corporation, refitted also in Mayon Docks and she became the MV Cawayan Ferry 1. She still plies the same route and schedule.

Meanwhile, Sta. Clara Shipping Corporation was able to acquire last summer two former Tamataka Maru ships from Japan, the MV Tamataka Maru No. 85 and the MV Tamataka Maru No. 87 in a buy one, take one deal and the two ferries were refitted in Nagasaka Shipyard in Tayud, Cebu (Sta. Clara Shipping Corporation is a stockholder in the said yard). The MV Tamataka Maru No.85 is now running the new route of Sta. Clara Shipping Corporation, the Liloan-Lipata route across Surigao Strait, an expansion route outside Bicol acquired by the company some two or three years ago. The ship is now renamed as the MV Adrian Jude and she is meant to compete with the MV SWM Stella del Mar of the Southwest Premier Ferries, a new operator in that route using a brand-new ferry similar to and the sister ship of the new vessels of Starlite Ferries of Batangas.

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The Adrian Jude. Photo by Capt. John Andrew R. Lape

The former MV Tamataka Maru No.87 is also ready now, she is already in Bicol and waiting but unrenamed yet according to the last information I received a day ago. She is meant to ply the new route of Sta. Clara Shipping Corporation from Masbate to Cebu, another new expansion route of the company but the exact route is still being applied for. Sta. Clara Shipping Corporation is one Bicol company aside from Denica Lines which has shown aggressive growth in the past years.

Meanwhile, it seems Montenegro Lines has lost its aggressiveness. Their fleet size in Bicol is practically the same although they rotate ships especially in the Matnog-Samar route (except for the MV Reina Emperatriz there and the MV Maria Angela in Masbate). Their only addition in Bicol is their new catamaran MV City of Angeles, a High Speed Craft in the Masbate-Pilar route.

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The City of Angeles

I was trying to analyze the lack of zest and the lack of pep of Montenegro Lines in the recent years especially in the context of Bicol shipping. It seems that when their “patron saint” went out of power and was made an enforced guest, Montenegro Lines’ drive faltered. It also seems that the blessings usually going to Montenegro Lines already went to another shipping company and so Montenegro Lines had to scrounge for additional ferries whereas before, they were buying ferries as if the supply of it won’t last (now it is the new favorite which is precisely doing that). Now, i don’t really know how come their blessings went away.

I do not know. Things can always change and it seems Montenegro Lines is no longer that great a threat to the Bicol ferry companies which showed spunk in the recent years except for 168 Shipping Lines, the owner of the local Star Ferry ships which seems to be languishing with no ship additions.

One loss, however, is something that cannot be averted and has long been expected. This is the discontinuance of the LCT to Cagraray island from the Albay mainland across the very narrow Sula Channel which has been a ship shelter for centuries now. A new bridge has been built connecting the fabled island which hosts the well-promoted Misibis Resort, the best resort in Albay province.

But as a whole Bicol ferry shipping was on the rise in the recent years and that is surely a good thing for the region.

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Philippine Ferries That Are Celebrating Their Golden Anniversaries In 2017

There are a few ferries in the Philippines which will be having their golden anniversaries this year because they have already reached 50 years of existence and sailing. That means these were built exactly in the year 1967 and all of these ferries are testaments to their design and engineering. It is also a testament to the Philippine side from the owners to the engineers for their loyalty and belief in their ships.

Not all of these ships are in the pink of health now, of course. In humans they might be the equivalent of our centenarians. But unlike our centenarians these are not exactly laid-up vessels and if not sailing they are being held in reserve. Some of these have hiccups at times but those episodes are not something that cannot be repaired. And unlike planes where there is always an emergency when an engine conks out, in ships even though it loses main engine power they simply become the equivalent of unpowered barges and barges sail day in and day out in all waters of the world.

Here then are our “golden” ferries this year:

Maybe we should start with the Maria Gloria of Montenegro Shipping Lines Inc. (MSLI). This is a notable ship because she was the first steel-hulled ferry of Montenegro Lines. She came to our country in 1994 when she was already 27 years old and she has been a good ship from the time she arrived and is still a very reliable ship until now. It looks like Montenegro Lines is taking care of her very well.

MV Maria Gloria (Ang barko na paborito ko!)

Maria Gloria by Raymond Lapus

The Maria Gloria is a short-distance ferry-RORO and for a long time served the Mindoro routes although at times she can also be found in the route to Siquijor. She was built as the Tenyo Maru for the Shimabara Tetsudo by Kanda Shipbuilding in Kure, Japan. She measures 42.9 meters by 11.0 meters and she has a passenger capacity of 413 persons. She is powered by twin Daihatsu engines with a total of 1,400 horsepower which is still good enough for some 10 knots today.

Another 50-year old ship in the fleet of Montenegro Lines is the ferry Maria Isabel which holds for the company their Iloilo-Cuyo-Puerto Princesa route across the wide Sulu Sea. Now if she is not a reliable ship Montenegro Lines won’t assign her to that route especially since swells can be powerful in her route when the monsoons are acting up.

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Maria Isabel by Carl Jakosalem

The Maria Isabel was originally the Shirakawa Maru in Japan and she was built by Taguma Zosen in Innoshima, Japan. Her external dimensions are 49.0 meters by 13.2 meters and she has a passenger capacity of 427 persons. A two-deck overnight ferry, her Gross Tonnage is rather high for her Length at 836 (this figure has no unit). She is powered by twin Hanshin engines of 1,700 horsepower and her design speed is high at 14.5 knots and maybe this was the reason she was assigned the long Sulu Sea route.

The Maria Isabel arrived in the country in 1997 when she was already 30 years old. Now who said imported surplus ferries should be no more than 20 years old? I say it depends on the condition of the ship. Maria Isabel has two sister ships in the Philippines and both are in the fleet also of Montenegro Lines. These are the Maria Erlinda and Maria Rebecca.

Another “golden” ship in the Philippines is one that has a complicated history and is a survivor. She first arrived in the country in 1982 as the first RORO ferry of Viva Shipping Lines which were formerly operators of motor boats like Montenegro Lines. The ship was 15 years old then, a relatively young age and she was named as the Viva Santo Nino.

The Viva Santo Nino was formerly the Bisan Maru of Sanyo Kisen of Japan. She was built by Kanda Shipbuilding in Kure, Japan and she measures 50.0 meters by 11.8 meters. Originally 665 GRT in Japan but here her GT was deflated. I am not sure of her original engines but later it were two Yanmar engines totaling 1,800 horsepower which was good for 13 knots.

The Viva Santo Nino sailed well for Viva Shipping Lines whose ships were rusty and lacked cleanliness but they don’t sink or conk out because tale says the Captain is under the pain of death if his ship sinks. But when the company stopped operations because of the tightness of competition in the Verde Island Passage and of some family troubles this ship was one of those which was laid up.

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Streamer of Joy-Ruby by Masahiro Homma

In 2003, the ship was sold to Silverio Atienza who was an operator of motor boats called batel in the area. With some modifications and repair, she became the Joy-Ruby, the first steel-hulled ferry of Silverio Atienza which later evolved into the Atienza Shipping Lines. However, once on a voyage to Puerto Princesa she developed a hull in the stern when she was already nearing the port. She continued sailing until she ended up sitting on her stern near the quay with her bow pointing to the sky.

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The Joy-Ruby was subsequently salvaged and sold to Asian Marine Transport Corporation (AMTC) in 2008 where she became the Super Shuttle Ferry 15. For many years she plied the various routes of the company in the Visayas and mainly Ormoc but at times she also experienced some minor problems. This might not really be due to age but to the weakness of her company in maintaining ships. However, her Captain admitted that her engines were not that robust anymore but this is something that could be remedied by re-engining.

Another ship that was also built in 1967 was the Island Express II of Island Shipping Corporation. This ship is a short-distance ferry-cruiser that runs the Bantayan island route although not recently when Island Shipping was already able to build enough passenger-cargo LCTs and the cruisers of the company were already on the way out as cruisers can no longer compete against ROROs except in Zamboanga.

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Island Express II by Masahiro Homma

The Island Express II was built as the Yuzuru by the Sanriku Shipbuilding & Iron Works in Shiogama, Japan. The ship’s external dimensions are 28.5 meters by 7.0 meters and she is equipped by a single Daihatsu engine of 300 horsepower which means she is a slow craft. This ship came to the Philippines in 1994 when she was already 27 years old. The Island Express II has a passenger capacity of 354 persons all in benches.

Another cruiser ship that was built in 1967 but is an overnight ferry is the Gloria Two of Gabisan Shipping which has fishing vessel origin and was just converted in Leyte. This ferry measures 46.3 meters by 7.7 meters and is now equipped by a single Isuzu Marine engine of 960 horsepower which gives her a cruising speed of 11.5 knots.

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The Gloria Two is a very reliable ship although she suffers now in competition versus RORO ships. She has a passenger capacity of 386 and she has no other route except the route to Hilongos, Leyte. This ferry is declared to have a Gross Tonnage of 246 with a passenger capacity of 386 person in bunks.

There is another highly-recognizable ship that is well-known in Cebu which is the Lapu-lapu Ferry 1 of Lapu-lapu Shipping. This ship was built by Okayama Shipyard in Hinase, Japan in 1967 and she came to Sweet Lines of the Philippines in 1978. In Sweet Lines she was known as the second Sweet Time doing the Cebu-Tagbilaran-Cagayan de Oro and Cebu-Tagbilaran-Larena-Plaridel routes. Her IMO Number is 7315753.

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Sweet Time by Edison Sy

When Sweet Lines collapsed in 1994, she was laid up for a while until she became the Carmelita. Then she came to Lapu-lapu Shipping which renovated her extensively in 2002 in Villono shipyard until she no longer looked like the old Sweet Time, the reason why people can’t connect her to her origin. But IMO Numbers don’t lie and she was traced.

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Lapu-lapu Ferry 1 by Mike Baylon

As Lapu-lapu Ferry 1 her dimensions are 52.2 meters by 8.0 meters by 4.1 meters and she is an overnight ferry-cruiser. Her passenger capacity is 509 and her primary route is Cebu to Cataingan, Masbate. She still has her original Hanshin engine with 1,100 horsepower which is now just good for 8 to 9 knots. To keep up with competition, the ship has an air-conditioned Tourist section.

Another ship built in 1967 is an LCT of E.B. Aznar Shipping of
Danao, the LCT Melrivic 1 which at one time was rumored to be gone but actually was  just hiding in Republic Drydock in Danao City and being re-engined prior to re-fielding. A PSSS (Philippine Ship Spotters Society) tour group found her being refitted in that shipyard. This passenger-cargo LCT is a local-build in Manila.

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LCT Melrivic 1 by John Carlos Cabanillas

This vessel’s measurements are 37.4 meters by 8.0 meters which means she is a small LCT and her Gross Tonnage is 321. Originally powered by a single Yanmar Marine engine of 430 horsepower, she is now powered by a Weichai engine of 460 horsepower and her speed increased from 9.5 knots to 11 knots while being more fuel-efficient.

The next ship which is 50 years old now is a respected ship in Bicol but she was not originally a Bicol ferry. In Japan she was known as the Nangokutosa Maru of the Utaka Kokudo Ferry and she was built by Hashihama Zosen in Imabari, Japan. The ship measures 64.0 meters by 11.3 meters with an original Gross Register Tonnage of 904 tons and equipped with twin Daihatsu engines with a total of 2,200 horsepower.

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Princess of Mayon (parsed from a PPA photo)

In 1990, this ship came to United Towage & Salvage of the Philippines when she was already 23 years old. In this company she was known as Horizon but United Towage & Salvage was actually not into passenger shipping. The ship underwent modifications and she was sold to Bicolandia Shipping Lines where she became known as the Princess of Mayon. For a very long time as in two decades, she was the biggest ferry in Bicol and she was always in the strongest route there, the Matnog to Samar route.

When Bicolandia Shipping Lines was sold lock, stock and barrel to Penafrancia Shipping Lines in 2006, the Princess of Mayon became part of the deal and in the new company she was known as the Don Benito Ambrosio II. She had periods of unreliability soon after. The company’s solution was to build one reliable Daihatsu engine from her two Daihatsu engines and a Yanmar engine was mounted as the second engine.

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Now Don Benito Ambrosio II is running well again and she is still in the same route again. The PSSS (Philippine Ship Spotters Society) touring group was able to ride her free last December, “Bridge Class” and know what? Her bridge is air-conditioned! Now, tell me, how many short-distance ferries locally can claim that kind of accoutrement?

The last two vessels that were built in 1967 are both local-builds. Both are small because they were ferries of their companies when they was still young. These two are obsolete now being slow, small cruisers and most of the time they no longer sail. The two are the Ever Transport of Ever Lines and the Magnolia of Magnolia Shipping Corporation, both of Zamboanga City.

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The Ever Transport was built in Cebu and just measures 19.2 meters by 5.1 meters with a Gross Tonnage of just 68 and a passenger capacity of just 87 persons. Her engine is an Isuzu diesel of just 135 horsepower but she can reach 7.5 knots when she was still new. I thought then she was already gone and then I saw her being refitted in Varadero de Cawit in Zamboanga City and they said she will sail again.

Meanwhile, the Magnolia was built by Rato Brothers in Pagadian, Zamboanga del Sur. Her external dimensions are 26.6 meters by 5.4 meters with a Gross Tonnage of 81 and a passenger capacity of 122 persons. The upper half of her hull is wood and the lower half is steel. The Magnolia is powered by a single Caterpillar engine of 120 horsepower. The last time I saw her was she was laid up in Varadero de Recodo in Zamboanga City.

Both the Ever Transport and Magnolia are clearly obsolete now. In passenger capacity they are not even higher than the big passenger-cargo motor bancas which have the same horsepower as them or even more. However, the two can carry more cargo especially since they have high prows and freeboards so they can deal with the sometimes big swells of the seas near Zamboanga.

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Magnolia by Mike Baylon

So that’s it, folks. A total of eight ferries that will be celebrating their 50 years now. Some are already obsolete especially the cruisers because as they say times and modalities change but they are still alive. Do I hear the tune of the BeeGees, “Stayin’ Alive”?

Not all the ferries mentioned have IMO Numbers and some were not traced initially but the cooperation with Angelo Blasutta of the former Grosstonnage.com bore fruit and so the Don Benito Ambrosio II and Lapu-lapu Ferry 1’s origins were traced and both were actually clear surprises.

I always joke that ferries 50 years old should give a discount of 50%, a celebration for being still alive. Oh, it can be not the whole year. Maybe on the month that they were built, at least. And the crew might even be surprised because I found out over the years that many crewmen cannot trace the history of their vessels because they were not trained to look for the IMO Number.

On a future article I will deal with our our ferries built in 1967 that are no longer around and what has happened to them so the people including the haters of old ships will be more educated.

My First Cebu Tour Last December

My first Cebu tour in my long travel happened after I planed in to Cebu and I was met by Mark at the airport. After lunch there, instead of going to Cebu via Mandaue (and suffer its bad traffic), we made our way to Muelle Osmena in Lapu-lapu City to ride the Metro Ferry. Riding this ferry is the easiest way to cover the various ports and piers of Cebu from Ouano (House) up to Cebu Pier 2. From Pier 3, Mark and me went to the ticketing office of Roble Shipping to secure our passage to Baybay for our trip to Tacloban to be with the PSSS tour from Tacloban to Matnog and back.

After securing our tickets me and Mark parted ways in front of the new Robinson’s Galleria which is near Pier 4. I then haled a taxi for Ouano wharf near the Mandaue market but the driver said a car can’t enter Ouano with its deep muck. I assented but upon reaching the corner entering Ouano I directed him instead to the parallel road I once knew that was adjacent to the SMC Shipping & Lighterage facility that once was the alternate access to Ouano wharf.

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Turning right into that road, I was surprised it was full of trucks that will be loaded for Asian Marine Transport Corporation or AMTC. I thought I was mistaken but then we came to a gate bearing the AMTC mark. My driver asked for entry inside but the guard said I should just enter by myself. I paid my fare and soon I was already inside the new facility of AMTC, the wharf they transferred to after they were evicted from their former wharf in Pier 8. I can’t believe it was so easy to get in when the gate looked imposing from outside.

I asked about their Mandaue to Batangas trip inside one of their offices there which are converted container vans (but airconditioned). They said the Super Shuttle RORO 3 was just on trial voyage to Cagayan de Oro. That ship has not been running for about a year already but I was interested in it because it offers a direct and cheap passage to Batangas from Cebu and I have not dropped yet my plan to shipspot Batangas and Calapan. They gave me a number and they took my number but it became useless as there was no cellphone signal in the next days because of fears of bombings in the Sinulog activities.

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Snoopy inside the AMTC facility in Ouano

From the office I tried to make a round of the new facility of AMTC. There were actually some other customers inside their facility that were transacting rolling cargoes so I was not the only outsider. One thing I immediately noticed is the tanker Snoopy which supplies acid to San Miguel Corporation in Cebu was still docked in its usual place. Maybe part of the lease of AMTC with Ouano said it could not be touched.

It was not that easy to roam the new AMTC facility. The old road by the wharf was already destroyed by all the movements of the heavy equipment and the weight of the container vans. However, the inner portion when a container yard should be already has new concrete.

Docked there were the Super Shuttle Ferry 3 and the Super Shuttle RORO 9. It was the first time I saw the latter ship near. I made my way to Super Shuttle Ferry 3 and I was able to talk to a friendly officer. He said they were making some repairs because a previous typhoon dragged her anchor and she ended up beached. It happened when she had no crew onboard. They let me tour the ship and I was happy because I haven’t boarded yet this ship before. She was very similar to any other basic, short-distance ferry-RORO in terms of arrangement. Well, after all they came from one basic design in Japan.

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Though the Super Shuttle RORO 9 was just nearby I did not try to board her anymore. Too many people around there as there were works on the ship. I also was able to tour that ship already before. Besides, I also wanted to go to the other side of the fence to the remaining half of the old Ouano wharf by the market while there was still enough light. I also wanted to see the changes there, if there were any and photograph the ships there too.

I went out by foot and took a pedicab near the old wharf entrance. I found out that there was no way to get inside by foot as all footpaths are covered by deep muck. In the near portion were the usual ships doing Afloat Ship Repair (ASR) plus again some basnigs. The ships on ASR then were the Lite Ferry 7, the Filipinas Dinagat and the West Ocean 1. I found a friendly officer and so I boarded the Lite Ferry 7 again although I had already toured her before. There was no significant change inside her.

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Lite Ferry 7 and a basnig

On the far end by the wall dividing it and AMTC, I found the LCT Akira and the LCT Poseidon 19 docked. The Cargo RORO LCT Akira of Ocean Transport was discharging container vans. However, her access to their container yard was already cut off by the new AMTC facility and they have to use the muddy main road. I wonder if they were happy with the change. Meanwhile, LCT Poseidon 19 was just on standby without load or cargo movement.

The usual canteen that PSSS shipspotters patronize was still there and the wall of AMTC is touching its side already. So gone from the place were Eliezer Shipworks, a fine subcontractor for ship refitting works and the junk shop adjacent it. Feeling hungry and thirsty, I ordered merienda from the canteen. The lady there recalls me. She even asked where were my usual companions (it seems she remembers we order a lot of her softdrinks when we drop by her place).

Had a small talk with her. She said her business dropped 50% since the AMTC facility was built. She also said other contributary factors were the moving out of the Lite Ferries LCTs to the Ouano-House (that was the first time I knew they were no longer there). She said the passengers were complaining that with the muck one is forced to take the pedicab (whose drivers are taking advantage of the situation by doubling their fare to P20 for a distance of 200 meters; well, it is also hard going for them).

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I soon bade the canteen owner goodbye. I have to figure out a way how to get out since there were very few pedicabs and it was already near 5pm. Made my way to the market. There was no opening where a person can squeeze through. Now I know my only way now is to hitch a ride with one of the service vehicles going out. I was in luck that a Multicab was on the way out. They even gave to me the front seat and they wouldn’t want to accept any payment.

Finished my first day in Cebu by going to the Cebu North Bus Terminal to take bus pictures (can’t resist it as it was just on the way). I then went back to Robinson’s Galleria to take my knapsack. It was good Mark tipped me their hospitality service was still free. Soon my son was there to fetch me. Seamless.

I was really able to make full my first day in Cebu. And the extra trip to Ouano was well worth it as me and PSSS discovered what were the changes there.

I just rested next day for I know the next days will be consecutive long trips for me. It turned out to be one complete week of travel that was about 1,900 kilometers long including me and Mark’s trip from Baybay to Tacloban [I have reports on that already except for the Cebu to Tacloban section]. It broke my medical spell of no travel and this first-day tour of Cebu was the first part of it.

Denica Lines

This small shipping company probably won’t be much heard outside Bicol and they might be small but they also carry some weight and they won’t topple easily. Alternately, the vessels of Denica Lines are also listed under the owner Carolyn Cua Sy-Reyes. The home port of Denica Lines is Pilar, Sorsogon and they are among the shipping companies connecting that town to Masbate island.

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The Lady Regina

Denica Lines started as a shipping company by operating big motor bancas. When I say “big” it is because its passenger capacity will run upward to 100 persons. Alternately, if loaded with just cargo it can take in the load of a mini-truck or cargo jeep (well, it cannot be all cement or rice because the weight of that might exceed the DWT of the banca thus sinking it).

The owners of Denica Lines actually started as sub-regional distributors and traders and like in many places elsewhere the possession of own motor bancas is a needed horizontal expansion as it gives flexibility to trading and also generate savings. Usually a shipping operator with its own trading business is much more stable than its competitors. One part might not earn much but then the other part will carry it through. And there will also be no problem with what is called in shipping as “shut-outs” which is the failure to have a cargo loaded. For perishables that could be disaster.

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Denica Lines has many big motor bancas. These are fast because those are powered by surplus truck engines and usually it is twin-engined. The total of the horsepower will be over 400 and that will guarantee the motor banca will travel at at least 13 knots which are even faster than the basic, short-distance ferry-RORO which usually travels at only 10 knots. I have seen in Ticao Pass and Masbate Pass that they are really faster. [Well, if used for heavy cargo then all that horsepower will be needed.] Of course, their weakness is the choppy waters and cross-swells. The motor bancas have to time the crests and throughs of the waves and look out for the cross-swells which can damage the outriggers which is called katig locally.

As of now the motor banca fleet of Denica Lines consist of the Lady Regina, Gloria Express, Gloria 7, Gloria 8, Gloria 9, Gloria 10, Phoenix Express I, Phoenix Express II, Hammity and Hammity 2 plus the motor boat Golden Blossom. I would assume that the missing in the series Gloria 1 to Gloria 6 were their earlier motor bancas that are no longer around. The first two, the Gloria Express and Lady Regina are supposedly the fastest in the fleet of Denica Lines including their steel-hulled ships. The two can do at least 14 knots in calm waters.

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In motor bancas, the biggest competitor of Denica Lines is the Lobrigo Lines which have a fleet as big as theirs and which operated buses before (which lost when the intermodal buses came as they didn’t have ROROs). Aside from Lobrigo Lines there are many other operators of motor bancas as Pilar is a motor banca haven after all. Aside from motor bancas there are also motor boats going to Aroroy, Masbate. This town also have many motor bancas from Pilar.

In 2002, Denica Lines ventured into steel-hulled ferries when the purchased the laid-up cruiser Elizabeth Lilly of the defunct Western Samar Shipping Lines. They refurbished the engines of the ship and it was again reliable. They renamed the ship as the Bikol Express but she was not really fast as she had only a single 550-hp Yanmar Marine engine and her design speed was only 11 knots. The size of the ship was just the equivalent of a basic, short-distance ferry-RORO at 29.3 meters by 6.0 meters and 189 in gross tons.

As a ferry, Bikol Express was not much. She didn’t even have bolted seats, just plastic benches that can be moved. The reason is like some of the motor bancas of Denica Lines is she doubles as a cargo ship with passengers. What cannot be carried by the motor bancas like a truckload or two of rice or cement, she will carry. Her DWT of 100 tons comes in handy for such loads.

M/V Marina Empress

Marina Empress by Irvine Kinea

But then ROROs of Montenegro Shipping Lines came and so Denica Lines has to adjust as the trucks instead of unloading their cargo in Pilar just board the RORO now and goes direct to Masbate. They sold the Bikol Express to Batanes Multi-purpose Cooperative (BMPC) and went hunting for a RORO. Again, true to form they settled on a RORO that was not sailing, the Torrijos or Vanessa P2 of the Sta. Cruz Shipping of Marinduque which was already then in the process of winding up their shipping operations having been on the receiving end of the pressure from stronger shipping companies like Montenegro Lines.

The ship was taken from a Navotas yard and she was renamed as the Marina Empress. The Marina Empress is a basic, short-distance ferry-RORO of just 700 horsepower from her single Daihatsu marine engine and with the external measurement of 32.3 meters by 7.8 meters and a gross tonnage of 195. However, like the earlier rumor, her engine was no longer strong.

With Alabat Shipping Corporation of Alabat island going out of operations too, Denica Lines purchased its only ferry, the Odyssey which was the former Starlite Odyssey of Starlite Ferries. This is another basic, short-distance ferry-RORO with a not-so-strong engine anymore. She is powered by a 550-hp Kubota marine engine and her external measurements are 30.5 meters by 7.0 meters with a gross tonnage of 176 which means she is slightly smaller than the Marina Empress. Denica Lines did not bother to rename the Odyssey.

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Denica Lines rarely sails the two ferries simultaneously as both are not really that reliable. Their ferries are in direct competition with the basic, short-distance ferries of Montenegro Lines which also do the Pilar-Masbate route. Their ferries might not be spic-and-span (it will remind one of the E.B. Aznar Shipping basic, short-distance ferry-ROROs) but most times their competition from Montenegro Lines are also basic, short-distance ferry-ROROs of the same age (which means old). Unless Montenegro Lines bring in the Reina Banderada which is a bit better.

If one considers that Denica Lines has a lot of motor bancas that carry not only people but also cargo it will not look that Montenegro Lines dominates them in the Pilar-Masbate route. The two might have some rough equality since Montenegro Lines has fastcrafts in the route. In glitz and glamour, of course, Montenegro Lines exceeds them.

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Pilar port and market

The owners of Denica Lines are also “well-positioned”, as they say. The husband was the Mayor of Pilar until 2016. In the May elections of this year Carolyn Cua-Sy Reyes was elected the Mayor and whitewashing her five opponents with 84% of the votes going to her. Well, it seems they are really respected in Pilar (in 2013 the husband also whitewashed his opponents). I do not know Pilar that much but from what I know it does not have the bokong of Leyte nor the use of muscles and influence in gaining an advantage for ship operations or in locking out the opponent.

Such is Denica Lines.

The MV Maria Lolita

The MV Maria Lolita of Montenegro Shipping Lines Inc. (MSLI) is a classic, double-ended RORO that is not too heavily-made up like some which looks like monument ships. The design is straightforward – ramps at both ends and bridge on both ends too (and so she also belongs to what is called in Japan as “double-headed ROROs” or). Since her bridges are far apart she has two masts mounted on the top of each bridge. Looked from its sides MV Maria Lolita looks like the two front sections of a basic, short-distance ferry-RORO fused together.

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The two fused front section look of Maria Lolita (Photo by Carl Jakosalem)

The MV Maria Lolita is actually a beautiful-looking ship to me and rather sexy (has it a connection to the “Lolita” in the movie?). In Japan her name was actually Beauty Noumi or Beauty Nomi depending on the transliteration. I like her superstructure better than the Royal Seal ships of Daima Shipping in Panguil Bay or some of the double-ended ROROs of her company.

The size of MV Maria Lolita approximates that of a basic, short-distance ferry RORO – 43.0 meters Length Over-all, 39.0 meters Length Between Perpendiculars, 11.0 meters Breadth. A little bigger actually that two trucks and a smaller vehicle can be fitted where there are no bulges. Those pockets serve as extra lane in the car deck. In one row four trucks can be fitted and that means a total of eight trucks which is better than the six of the basic, short-distance ferry-RORO. Plus it can still fit in a few smaller, 4-wheel vehicles in some of the vacant spaces.

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The ship has just one passenger deck and a single car deck and in these regards she approximates a basic, short-distance ferry RORO. The old airconditioned passenger section occupies the entire length of the passenger deck as Tourist section and so Montenegro Lines put benches on the sides to serve as the Economy “section”. There was no addition or alteration whatsoever to the superstructure of the ship. There isn’t an area available for that.

The ship is rather fast for her size because though single-engined she was fitted with a 1,400-horsepower Yanmar Marine diesel engine hence she has about 40% more horsepower than most basic, short-distance ferry-ROROs. Her design speed is 14 knots which is much faster than the 10 to 11 knots of the basic, short-distance ferry-ROROs. With that power she was able to overcome the drag of the extra propeller at the front of the ship.

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Double-ended ROROs actually has two propellers at both ends. This design affords the ship not to turn when leaving the port. Though the double-ended RORO has just one engine it has two transmissions. Whichever end is used there is a bridge available for that if it is double-headed which means the ship has two bridges or pilot houses. Actually there are double-ended ROROs which has just one pilot house but it actually has dual controls (steering wheel, instrument panel and other ancillary equipment).

This ferry was built in Japan by Kawamoto Zosensho in Higashino shipyard in 1986. She possesses the permanent ID IMO 8627593 and the local Call Sign is DUE 2192. She measures 439 in gross tons and 267 in net tons. Locally, she has a passenger capacity of 280, all in benches with no head support. In PSSS (Philippine Ship Spotters Society) classification, she is a short-distance ferry-RORO.

She left Japan after 20 years of service and arrived in the Philippines for Montenegro Shipping Lines Inc. in 2006. In that company she has held many routes since it is the policy of the company to always rotate their ships. Even though 30 years old now she is still fresh-looking and not looking worn-out. She is actually still very reliable and the reason maybe lies in the engine room. When I visited it I found it very clean, very tidy and orderly and in running the NVH  (Noise, Vibration, Harshness) is tolerable with nary a fume in the engine room.

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In sailing, she still runs like an ordinary RORO as in she turns around and that means only one bridge and one ramp is used. With that system, the other bridge is unused and it gave me the opportunity to explore it. Since the bridges and pilot houses are duplicates I imagine and suppose the other bridge will look almost exactly like her. Unused, the bridge then just serves as a supply room especially for the canned beverages that will be sold by its simple canteen that just offer instant food, some biscuits and drinks.

When I rode her in the Liloan-Benit route, I found its passenger sections reasonably clean. The Tourist dominates the space since it is the old passenger section in Japan and it occupies the space between the two bridges. The Economy “section” looked rather small in comparison. I don’t think she can be deployed in routes which load a lot of buses. But Montenegro Lines, her company will not lack for routes which are fit for her.

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This ferry is known to be very reliable and I have not heard of her conking out. So those who say only new ship are “safe”, I think MV Maria Lolita can dispute that.

I think she will sail our waters for a long time more, knock on wood.

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The Sister Ships Starlite Jupiter and Lite Ferry 11

When I first saw a photo of Starlite Jupiter of Starlite Ferries in Batangas Bay that was uploaded in the Philippine Ship Spotters Society (PSSS) photostream, I immediately knew she was a Honda ship. There is the same tough-looking stance, the sharp-edged front and the tall bridge I noticed in the other Honda ships. Later, I began to realize she looked the same as a ferry in Cebu, the Lite Ferry 11 of Lite Shipping Corporation which was better-known as Lite Ferries. When I checked in Miramar Ship Index, yes, they were true sister ships but the Lite Ferry 11 was built two years earlier than Starlite Jupiter and they came from the same shipping company in Japan. Yes, that is the beauty of international maritime databases and of the IMO Numbers – authoritative checking is easier. No guessing, no speculation. Now if only MARINA, the local maritime regulatory agency knows how to use IMO Numbers. No they don’t; they will insist on their own registry numbers which is not searchable anywhere else and the international maritime databases have no idea of its existence or use.

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Photo by Jefferson Provido

Starlite Jupiter was first known as the Ferry Misaki No.38 of the Oishi Kaiun (or the O.K. Line) of Japan and her date of build (DOB) is 1989. Meanwhile, Lite Ferry 11 was first known as the Ferry Misaki No.5 of Oishi Kaiun, too and her date of build was 1987. Both were built by the Honda Shipbuilding Co. Ltd. in Saiki yard, Japan. Originally the company was known as the Higashi-Kyushu Zosen Co. Ltd. Saiki Works and was founded in 1943. The company is now known as the Honda Heavy Industries Co. Ltd. With such beginnings I assume this is a different company from the world-famous Honda Motor Co. Ltd. which was founded by the great engineer Soichiro Honda in 1948 and whose description of products does not include ships.

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Ferry Misaki No.5 was the first to arrive in the Philippines in 2010 and she was refitted not in a shipyard but in Ouano wharf in Mandaue, Cebu, a cheap refitting place where charges are practically just the docking fees and sub-contractors like Eliezer Shipworks and Industrial Services will come and do specific steel and other works complete with their own generators for power since Ouano does not provide electricity. This is the reason why Ouano wharf is a favorite of Cebu overnight ferry companies for drydocking (its actually “afloat ship repair” or ASR) and refitting. Well, even Cebu Ferries Corporation used Ouano then along with Lite Ferries, Trans-Asia Shipping Line, Cokaliong Shipping Lines, Medallion Transport, George & Peter Lines and others.

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Ouano wharf

In Ouano, from a Cargo RORO ship, Ferry Misaki No. 5 was converted into an overnight ferry with two class accommodations – Tourist and Economy over two passenger decks, both of which are below the bridge or navigation deck. With such arrangement Lite Ferries did not bother to extend anymore the pilot house side to side since visibility is good already (however, many think, it gave Lite Ferry 11 some kind of a funny look). However, the look from the sides might fool some to think she has three passenger decks. Her roof on the top passenger deck is not full so there is a small poop deck.

Officially, Lite Ferry 11 has a passenger capacity of 800 but her general arrangement plan (GAP) shows only 492 and about 170 of that are in fiberglass seats, the infamous “cruel” seats that is a Lite Ferries and Roble Shipping staple which a crude offering for a 6-hour Camotes Sea night crossing (as if one can sleep in that). I have long wondered why they can’t offer seats even as good as ordinary bus seats which has cushioning and headrests. And mind you, the fare for that is just a few pesos less than that of a bunk.

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Lite Ferry 11 has a narrow stern ramp (the only cargo ramp) and two passenger ramps on each of that seems to be too prominent. The cargo ramp is not the three-piece kind but adequate in most cases. The car deck meanwhile has three lanes and with a length between perpendiculars of 60.0 meters it can be surmised she has about 165 lane-meters in rolling cargo capacity. She typically carries a mix of trucks and lighter vehicles in her Cebu-Ormoc route.

Meanwhile, Ferry Misaki No. 38 arrived in Batangas in 2013 and was refitted into a short-distance ferry-RORO and just equipped with just seats and benches and that can be uncomfortable if the ship is used in the four-hour Roxas-Caticlan route crossing Tablas Strait. Starlite Jupiter had a minimum of modifications and the old Japan passenger section which has airconditioning became the Tourist section and it is equipped with seats that look like bus seats but in longer rows. There is a makeshift deck at the bridge level that houses the Economy section of the ship (which looks hot on a sunny day). It is equipped with cheap plastic benches. There is no passenger accommodation behind the funnel hence the passenger capacity of the ship is small at only 276 passengers. The deck behind the funnels has no roofing.

Starlite Jupiter (Economy Section)

Photo by Raymond Lapus

With such minimal redesign, Starlite Jupiter still looks like a Cargo RORO ship. This is not a ferry that can take in a lot of buses, however, since MARINA rules forbid passengers staying in the bus during the voyage. Reason? There are no lifejackets in the bus. Starlite Ferries tried to extend the pilot house but it also looked makeshift too and the net effect on the eyes is not impressive. Starlite Jupiter is the speedier of the sister ships at 15 knots since she has 2,000 horsepower from 2 Niigata diesels (while Lite Ferry 11 has only 1,500 horsepower from two Niigata engines and just capable of 13.5 knots). The sides of Starlite Jupiter looks high because there are no windows.

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Now, I just wonder what is the reason why the international maritime databases confuse Lite Ferry 11 and Lite Ferry 12 of Lite Ferries. They think Lite Ferry 11 is Lite Ferry 12 and vice-versa. Did Lite Ferries swap the AIS? But Lite Ferry 12 is not in the international maritime databases and in fact I can’t find her IMO Number.

Other specifications of Lite Ferry 11:

IMO 8618499, built 1987 by Honda in Saiki, Japan

Bulbous stem, transom stern

65.7m x 15.0m x 3.5m

Japan GT=498, Philippine GT=249, DWT=174

*one of the ships “shrunk” by the MARINA “magic meter”

Lite Ferry 11

Other specifications of Starlite Jupiter:

IMO 8822076, built 1989 by Honda in Sasebo, Japan

Bulbous stem, transom stern

65.1m x 12.0m x 4.6m

Japan GT=441, DWT=216

Starlite Jupiter has a Mindoro route while Lite Ferry 11 is a Cebu-Ormoc ship. Hence, the sister ships do not meet. Both sail at night and both are still reliable.

Good acquisitions for both companies!

A Look at George & Peter Lines

George & Peter Lines started in 1964 practically as an offspring and derivative of William Lines Inc. The company came into being because the offsprings of William Chiongbian, founder of William Lines was coming into age and soon will be taking over the company helms that was once occupied by the siblings of William. To make the exit soft, another shipping line was created and that became the George & Peter Lines. It was named after two siblings of William Chiongbian.

The company started with ferries that were ex-”FS” and ex-”F” ships. Nothing terrible and shameful in that as most regional companies had those types as the backbones of their fleets. And to think most regionals were even using wooden motor boats or lancha in the Visayan term. Some others were of US minesweeper or PT boat origin.

George & Peter Lines "Clover" ad

In due time, from the late 1970’s, George & Peter Lines dominated the route going southwest of Cebu. That was the route going to Siquijor, Dumaguete, Dapitan, Zamboanga del Norte (like Liloy), Zamboanga City, Misamis Occidental and Lanao del Norte. That was the time when cruisers were still dominant and ROROs were just beginning to come. George & Peter Lines had some great cruiser ships like the Geopeter, Jhufel and the still-existing Georich. Aside from those three they had former “FS” and former “F” ships which were vintage World War II ships then in the twilight of their careers. Among those were Don Joaquin, Dona Rosario and the Don Victoriano I.

The peak of George & Peter Lines probably occurred during the 1980’s. They were even active in advertising and in promoting their ships and routes. During this time the seas where she was sailing, the conjunction of Zamboanga, Negros, Siquijor and Lanao was already being vacated by the ships from Manila because their once-ubiquitous and many ex-”FS” and lengthened ex-”FS” ships were already beginning to die. Also, the old paradigm of small liners from Manila calling on many ports before heading back was also on the wane because since the 1970’s fast cruisers calling in less ports was already the new paradigm. Passengers want to arrive to their destination in one day or just a little more, not the two or three days of the past even though they are fed well. So liners calling on Masbate or Calbayog or Catbalogan before heading to Cebu and northern Mindanao were beginning to fall out of favor with the passengers. And so sometimes it is the likes of George & Peter Lines which acted as feeder lines to the fast cruisers.

George & Peter Lines schedules

But then that decade also saw the rise of a new paradigm, the new RORO (Roll On, Roll Off) ships. George & Peter Lines was not really late in adopting the new shipping paradigm. They were just not as fast to it as Trans Asia Shipping Lines, Sweet Lines and K&T Shipping Lines but they were just at the same time to it with the likes of Cokaliong Shipping Lines, E.B. Aznar Shipping and Danilo Shipping Lines. They were even ahead to it compared to Roble Shipping, Palacio Lines, Island Shipping , Roly Shipping and VG Shipping. Some never even reached the RORO stage like the Rose Shipping/V.Atilano, Gabisan Shipping Lines and Lapu-lapu Shipping. I purposely left out in the comparison the shipping companies which were founded later or which were too small to be in the comparison.

And that is the reason I was wondering why in an interview with the Liner Shipping Route Study (LSRS) done by Nathan & Associates in 1993-1994 aS commissioned by the USAID they expressed apprehension and disapproval of the liberalization program on shipping being pushed by then President Fidel V. Ramos which resulted in the opening of the shipping routes. The one that entered their primary route, the Dumaguete and Dapitan route in 1993 was just a small ship, the Filipinas Dumaguete . Cokaliong Shipping Lines, its owner and operator was no bigger than them and were not really ahead of them in conversion to ROROs. In fact, Filipinas Dumaguete was just the first RORO ship of Cokaliong Shipping Lines Inc. and G & P’s Dumaguete Ferry which was acquired in 1990 was even ahead of that though a little smaller. Was it the fear that Mr. Chester Cokaliong was close to President Ramos? But they still had a big brother then in William Lines. Or was it the accidents that befell Geopeter and Jhufel that resulted in hull losses and which shrank their fleet along with the retirement of the war-surplus vessels that later forcing them to withdraw Georich from the Cebu-Maasin-Surigao route that were haunting them?

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In 1993, George & Peter Lines acquired the relatively big Zamboanga Ferry and this practically became their flagship and meant to hold the Zamboanga route. However, I would say this was not enough to offset the loss of Geopeter to fire and Jhufel to foundering and the subsequent loss too of Dumaguete Ferry to fire too and Pulauan Ferry to sinking. These consecutive losses of ferries to accidents was a great blow to a medium-sized ferry company especially since about that time they also began losing the very old ex-”FS” and ex-”F” ships to old age. They even sold their aging Dona Magna, a small locally-built ferry to Island Shipping Corp.

With the loss of Pulauan Ferry to sinking just south of Mactan island, the George & Peter Lines fleet shrunk to only 2 ferries, the Zamboanga Ferry and the elderly Georich plus a cargo ship, the GP Tramper. To stem the retreat, they acquired the Sta. Maria, a former liner of Negros Navigation that was just being used in the Bacolod-Iloilo route and being overwhelmed by the Bacolod-Dumangas ferries. In their fleet this became the GP Ferry and the biggest ever of George & Peter Lines. But after just two years of service, they also sold this also. Maybe the 4,800 horsepower of the ship was too big for their route, cargo and patronage.

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A few years after that selling they made an advanced arrangement in 2010 with Aboitiz Transport System (ATS) regarding the coming retirement of the ferry Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, a Cebu-Iligan ferry of the ATS subsidiary Cebu Ferries Corporation. Upon retirement, the ferry went direct to George & Peter Lines with nary a modification and the ship became the GP Ferry 2 thereby bringing the George & Peter Lines fleet to 3. It is this 3 that still shouldering on for GP for its diminished route system. They have already left many port in their old route system and all they have now are the ports of Dumaguete, Dapitan and Zamboanga with their main route the Cebu-Dumaguete-Dapitan route. But even here they are pressured by the newer ships of Cokaliong Shipping Lines Inc. which might have even toned down the pressure by reassigning an older ship , the Filipinas Iloilo to the main route of George & Peter Lines.

How long does it last? George & Peter Lines won’t easily quit their last two remaining routes. But their ferries are in advancing ages now. If they don’t acquire ferries anymore, time will come when they will simply have to give up and fade away.

An album on George & Peter Lines:

Georich

Press to open the album.

The Dumaguete-Dapitan RORO Connection – A Connection That Took Too Long in Coming

Dumaguete and Dapitan have been blessed with relatively good ports (by Philippine standards) since decades ago because they have Manila connections. True liners and Manila passenger-cargo ships like the former “FS” ships called on them regularly in the past. But what puzzled me is the short-distance RORO connection between them took too long to materialize. Looking at the map, this is the obvious connection point between Mindanao and Negros (and Cebu by extension through the Negros-Cebu connections) because of the relatively short distance (the second shortest after Leyte-Surigao but that is too far away). Compared to the Sorsogon-Samar, Leyte-Surigao and Batangas-Mindoro short-distance ferry connections, the Dumaguete-Dapitan short-distance RORO connection came many, many years too late.

If there was ever a RORO connection before between the two ports, it was the ROROs of the overnight ferries serving the Cebu-Dumaguete-Dapitan route. However, the peculiarity of the Cebu overnight ferry companies is that they stress break-bulk cargo (like those in sacks and cartons) and loose cargo (those not in containers like pieces of GI sheets or rolls of wire) and not rolling cargo (which means vehicles) or containerized cargo. So these Cebu overnight ferry companies like Trans-Asia Shipping Lines, Cokaliong Shipping Lines or George & Peter Lines, to name a few that called on Dumaguete and Dapitan ports didn’t see the need for short-distance ferry-ROROs loading trucks. Maybe that was the reason they did not acquire that type of ferry. But actually it is that type that was really fit for the Dumaguete-Dapitan route and just shuttling between the two ports like what is the practice now.

The Cebu overnight ferry companies which were established later than the three were the ones which saw the need for short-distance ferry-ROROs. The prime example of that is Lite Ferries which had a passenger-cargo LCT at the start and later acquired ROROs in the 40-meter and 50-meter class for dual short-distance and overnight ferry operations. And maybe that is the reason why Lite Ferries is flying high now because they were able to tap a business and a paradigm overlooked by their overnight ferry competitors. Probably this is the reason too for the fast success of a late entrant, the Medallion Transport which started with basic short-distance ferry-ROROs and doing a lone short-distance route. Later they branched into overnight routes using small ROROs. Now they already have true overnight ferry-ROROs.

In comparison, in the Sorsogon-Samar, Leyte-Surigao and Batangas-Mindoro short-distance ferry connections, the shipping companies there started as short-distance ferry companies. They were then able to specialize in this kind of service and type of market which means they carry vehicles almost exclusively including the intermodal buses. Their passengers are mostly passengers of the buses loaded on them. The intermodal trucks they load especially the wing van trucks are long-distance carriers and those eventually developed into the competitors of container shipping with the support of this short-distance ferry-ROROs which became the “bridges” between the islands.

If these short-distance ferry companies have a near-contemporary that tried in that Dumaguete-Dapitan route it was the obscure shipping company Jones Carrier Inc. But that company did not last long as it had too many diverse routes, its ships were too small and old and maybe they were undercapitalized and not strong enough for the long run needed to establish and hold and a new shipping connection. And most likely the presence of the three overnight ferry companies from Cebu also impacted them. On the other hand, I also wonder why the “locals” Maayo Shipping, DIMC Shipping or Tanjuan Shipping which all have routes to or near Dumaguete did not try that route. Or maybe even the nearby Millennium Shipping which just sold its LCTs to Maayo Shipping rather than compete. At the start of a company or route in those earlier times an LCT is enough like what Lite Shipping did in the Argao-Loon route connecting south Cebu and mid-Bohol. But maybe except for the Millennium Shipping of the Floirendos, maybe it is capitalization and lack of vision that was the problem of these Dumaguete ferry companies.

Looking back, maybe it was overnight shipping company Palacio Lines which could have taken advantage of the opportunity offered by the short-distance RORO shipping in this route. They were not unfamiliar with Dumaguete as they had a ship then going to Dumaguete from Tagbilaran and Cebu but it was a cruiser ferry. They were then using their first ROROs on overnight routes much like what the Cebu overnight ferry companies as in concentrating on breakbulk and loose cargo. Maybe if they only looked north and south of them, they might have gotten the idea that short-distance ferry-RORO service is the wave of the future. After all they were a shipping company from Calbayog City in Samar and a little north of that was the Sorsogon-Samar short-distance ferries and down south to them were the Leyte-Surigao short-distance ferries that were both making good. But then they seemed to have been also be too protective of their route to Oroquieta which is not far from Dapitan.

Actually, if one analyzes, it might not only be the overnight ferry companies which might be at fault in the late RORO connection between Dumaguete and Dapitan. For after all, as a general principle, if there is a demand then a supplier responds. But then maybe the shippers were also not aware that there is a better mode than the one they were used to. Actually, the goods from Mindanao sent over that connection eventually find their way to Cebu, the biggest market after Manila. But for too long I noticed the shippers tend to rely on Zamboanga and Ozamis ports. Of course, the bad roads then in the Zamboanga provinces was a hindrance along with the presence of some banditry. So before, Dapitan might have looked too far and unsafe for those from Zamboanga City. And those from Baganian Peninsula, Pagadian and Panguil Bay were too used, too dependent on Ozamis port, their old port of departure (well, with Ozamis, they have a Manila and Dumaguete connection, too).

It took a push from President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo for the Dumaguete-Dapitan connection to come true and hold. Half of the push needed was actually the cementing of the roads of Zamboanga Peninsula. The roads should have been completed much earlier since AusAid (Australian Agency for International Development) is funding the road construction but that stalled for many years because AusAid only wanted to employ Korean construction companies, for quality reasons. However, the local politicians wanted local contractors (for “percentage” reasons, of course). A compromise was worked out and the roads were finally completed (though the Filipino-built sections were obviously substandard). Moreover, the military took control of the mountain pass near Vitali and security was improved after that. After those, travel at night was already possible and that was key to using Dapitan port especially from Zamboanga City. Soon, Dapitan port no longer look too distant. Passengers, instead of waiting for the ship that was not daily even then were soon taking the bus to Dipolog to connect to Dapitan. The trucks followed suit soon, too.

The shipping companies which pioneered the RORO connection between Dumaguete and Dapitan were actually “foreigners”, which mean they were not natives of the area. The first two in the route were the Asian Marine Transport Corporation (AMTC), a Cebu shipping company and Aleson Shipping Lines, a Zamboanga City shipping company. Later, Montenegro Shipping Lines Inc. (MSLI) also came and they are a shipping company from Batangas. The common characteristic of the three is they have a good understanding of short-distance ferry shipping, an understanding which was clearly lacking in the earlier Cebu overnight ferry companies. And all three have the type of ROROs needed here, the basic, short-distance ferry RORO which the old Cebu overnight ferry companies simply didn’t have.

Today, all these three shipping companies are still in the Dumaguete-Dapitan route and thriving, adding ships and frequencies. Now, Montenegro Lines and Aleson Shipping have even invaded the Siquijor route using ROROs from Dumaguete and so maximizing their ships and personnel stationed there. Meanwhile, DIMC Shipping, Maayo Shipping and Tanjuan Shipping all seem to have steam and two of them are obviously floundering while another, the Maayo Shipping company was selling off excess ships (the coming of a competitor in their route is the primary reason for that). Palacio Shipping is even gone now as in they are already defunct and their ships have been sold already. Well, talk of a wrong bet, lack of vision and maybe even too much conservatism.

Why would the Dapitan-Dumaguete route hold? Actually, there is plenty of cargo emanating from that portion of Mindanao and going to Central Visayas. After all Cebu is the second biggest market after Manila and it has sea connections to many islands for further distribution of goods. One of the biggest and most valuable produce being sent from way back by Zamboanga Peninsula to Cebu is fish, the frozen and the canned varieties. Most of the frozen fish emanate from the many “pulo”. This is what they call there Basilan, the Pangutaran group, Jolo, the Tawi-tawi group and the many other islands off Zamboanga. The Sangali Fishport, the regional fishport is also located in Zamboanga City and it is there where many basnigs, trawlers and purse seiners fishing in the Moro Gulf unload their catch. Zamboanga City meanwhile is host to seven canneries. Dapitan is now the ports of choice in bringing the frozen fish through fish carrier trucks. However, a ship is still preferred for canned fish as it is heavy. Meanwhile, Spanish sardines in bottles also became a hit produce in the Dipolog area and they use Dapitan port in bringing their goods to the Visayas.

There is also plenty of freshwater and brackish fish from the fishponds of Zamboanga Sibugay especially those located in the marshes of Sibuguey Bay. Meanwhile, fishing vessels catching off Zamboanga del Sur, Lanao del Sur and Maguindanao unload in Pagadian and Tukuran ports and fish carriers pick them up these catches. Practically all of them now use Dapitan port to bring the fish destined for Negros island and Cebu province instead of Ozamis port. This portion of Mindanao has finally discovered the superiority of the intermodal truck (including the intermodal fish carriers) which can deliver goods along the way and not be dependent on distributors or wholesalers. That flexibility and ubiquity was also discovered by the company and distributor trucks from Cebu. Instead of just relying on distributors based in Ozamis City like before, their trucks now normally roll to up to Ipil, the capital and trade center of Zamboanga Sibugay and along the way they deliver their products to the markets, stores and groceries. Now, there are even intermodal buses with routes from the Visayas to Zamboanga City. First to roll was the Bacolod-Zamboanga Ceres Lines bus and recently they also have a Cebu-Zamboanga bus service too.

In recent years, it is obvious that the Dapitan-Dumaguete route has impacted the Cebu-Zamboanga and Cebu-Sindangan routes heavily. There is now just one regional passenger ship left sailing the Zamboanga-Cebu route, the Zamboanga Ferry of George & Peter Lines where before Trans Shipping Lines Inc. (TASLI) and George & Peter Lines put emphasis in that route. There is also one liner of 2GO from Dumaguete and Manila, a liner route that was previously abandoned. Meanwhile, Cokaliong Shipping Lines has already abandoned the Cebu-Sindangan route.

Intermodal trucks rolling long distances to other parts of Mindanao and Negros island also use this connection and some even go as far as Panay island. This is especially true after the liner service to Southern Mindanao was halted by Aboitiz Transport System (ATS). With that halt, the shippers of Southern Mindanao also began rolling their trucks. Private vehicles running to or from Cebu to Mindanao also use this connection since the rolling rate from Cebu to Ozamis, Iligan and Cagayan de Oro is very high (rolling sea rates by kilometer is far, far higher than rolling a vehicle in the highway). And again, rolling cargo is not the specialization or priority of the overnight ferries. For many, this western route is preferred over the eastern route that passes through Leyte and Surigao unless the destination or origin is eastern Mindanao or southern Mindanao.

Unless threatened by the direct Samboan-Dapitan route (or a possible Samboan-Dipolog route), the Dumaguete-Dapitan route will continue to grow.

That we will have to see in the future.