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

Ciara Joie 2 ©Britz Salih

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

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

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

Super Shuttle Ferry 3 ©John Carlos Cabanillas

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

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

Starlite Nautica ©Mike Baylon

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

Kalinaw ©Adrian Pletosu

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

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

M/V Odyssey

M/V Odyssey ©Mike Baylon

The MV Odyssey belongs to the PSSS classification “Basic Short-Distance Ferry-RORO” (BSDFR). BSDFR’s are the smallest RORO vessels and they bridge islands well within sight of each other. Transit times are usually from a sub-hour to a few hours. They are the most ubiquitous of Philippine ferries and makes several trips within a day. With them inter-modal trucks and buses became a reality.

BSDFR’s revolve around 30 meters in length and less than 10 meters in width. Mostly from Japan, they were commonly based on one general design made by their MITI (Ministry of Trade and Industry) to simplify design and lessen cost. In effect, many of them are actually sister ships or “cousins”. They can generally carry only 6 long trucks in one car deck with also only one passenger deck above with the bridge usually located in that same deck.

MV Odyssey as the name suggests has an interesting odyssey (pun intended). Built by Towa in 1970 in Shimonoseki, Japan, she was first known as Magome Maru No. 3. She then came to Starlite Ferries just before the turn of the millennium and was named the MV Starlite Odyssey and based in Batangas. After a few years she was sold to Alabat Shipping and was renamed the MV Odyssey and she took on the connector route to Alabat island using the ports of Alabat and Atimonan in Quezon province.

In 2013 she was sold to Denica Lines of Pilar, Sorsogon and she ran the Pilar-Masbate City route linking Sorsogon province and Masbate island. Her name was retained simply to save on government fees. She leaves Pilar port at dawn and arrives in Masbate port past breakfast time after a trip of nearly 4 hours. She then leaves Masbate for Pilar before noon and she will spend the night in Pilar to await the trucks and buses coming from Manila and CALABARZON.

MV Odyssey is also a bounty-of-the-sea specialist. She carries seafood in ice from Sorsogon in styrofoam boxes for trans-shipment to Cebu. That is one of the businesses of her owner Carolyn Cua-Sy who also owns other ships and many boats. They are also the local power in Pilar but this is written not in a derogatory way. The Regina motor bancas also belong to Denica Lines and actually MV Odyssey could be considered the flagship of their fleet however humble she looks to be.

There is no ticketing office for MV Odyssey. Everything is like in the old days when one or the vehicle goes straight to the ship and pays by the table adjacent to the stairs then one simply selects a seat he or she likes. There is no more air conditioning in the former Tourist Class and all accommodations are considered Economy now including the row of seats leading to the stern. For food there is a simple canteen but aside from that there will be vendors aboard — just like the old days before ISPS (International System of Port Security) came into place.

MV Odyssey has a raked stem with a bow ramp (another characteristic of BSDFRs) and a transom stern with a single mast. Her Overall Length (LOA) is 30.5 meters with a Breadth of 7.0 meters and a Depth of 2.6 meters. Her Gross Tonnage (GT) or overall volume is 176 and her Net Tonnage, the space for passengers, crew and cargo is 89 tons. Her carrying capacity in Deadweight Tons (DWT) is 70. She can do 10 knots maximum on her single 550-hp Kubota engine while carrying 250 passengers. Her international ID is IMO 7046637. Though over 40 years old which is their theoretical maximum service life she is still reliable although a little battered-looking.

She was not designed for beauty. She was only meant to be a workhorse and she is that.


M/V Odyssey Bow Ramp ©Mike Baylon
M/V Odyssey economy class accommodation ©Mike Baylon
M/V Odyssey ticketing table ©Mike Baylon