Maasin Port Is An “Anomaly” And So Is The City

Maasin City as a provincial capital of Southern Leyte is an ”anomaly” but this is in no way meant to insult it and its people. But there is no other provincial capital in the country where the capital is the last and furthermost locality. And that becomes a problem for the people of its towns on the other end like San Ricardo and Silago. They would have to spend several hours on the road just to reach their capital should they need a transaction there. And funny, to reach Maasin faster, even public vehicles go back through Bato in the neighboring  Leyte province to take the mountain road that starts at Bontoc town because it is shorter and travel time is faster. Going back, many take the same road too.

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Maasin port by Donna Simon

Maasin port became an anomaly too because of that road. Ferries from Cebu would rather dock in Bato or Hilongos port in Leyte rather than Maasin port and its vehicles and the shuttles (called “boat service” when the ferries are not boats) will also take the Bato to Bontoc road. But the national government through the Philippine Ports Authority (PPA) will always give priority to Maasin port because it has the designation as a provincial port even though the de-facto ports of entry now of Southern Leyte are the Hilongos and Bato ports in Leyte province.

Those two mentioned ports were so deadly especially with an extension like shuttle buses for passengers and a shortcut to Bontoc via Bato. The two killed the overnight ferries to Sogod, Liloan and Cabalian (or San Juan) especially those of ill-fated Maypalad Shipping (pun intended). Those ports have no chance as their ferries arrive near noon while ferries In Hilongos and Bato aided by shuttle buses can deliver passengers in those towns before breakfast. And the over-all fare is even lower because land fares are much cheaper than sea fares. Moreover, going to Cebu they would have just to wait for the shuttles instead of taking a local commute to the port and no transfers are needed.

Even Cokaliong Shipping Lines Inc. (CSLI) which has been loyally serving Maasin port (it was a bread and butter of the company in its earlier years) cannot increase its frequency to the city as its passengers now are just from Maasin and the towns between Maasin and Bontoc. In rolling cargo, unless they do some sacrifice they cannot match the rates of the ROROs serving Hilongos and Bato because the distance of the two from Cebu is shorter.

There is even no hope now of a fielding a RORO to the ports of Sogod, Liloan and Cabalian because in rates it can never compete with the Hilongos and Bato ROROs whose rates will be much lower because of the much shorter distance. Sogod, Liloan and Cabalian might be a little far but a car or a truck can easily roll to that and the fuel consumed will be much less compared to a RORO rate. Plus the total time will be way shorter. No way they can really win.

I do not think this situation will change in the future because one can’t change geography.  And thus one thing that could have boosted Maasin, that of being a good port of entry is really not around. Maasin could also not be a port of entry from Surigao like in the old past when ports were lacking because it is the farthest locality of Southern Leyte from Surigao.

In my wandering thoughts , I cannot even understand why Maasin became the capital of Southern Leyte when Sogod is the center point of the three “tentacles” of the province – the series of towns to Maasin, the series of towns to Silago and the series of towns to San Ricardo at the tip of Panaon island. Sogod could have been the commercial town of the province but a direct ship to Cebu hampered that, I think. Now, so-many intermodal trucks roam Southern Leyte already.

In the old past, liners from Manila also came to Maasin, Sogod and Cabalian. But those days are long gone now and will never come back again. Intermodal trucks from Manila have already cobbled up many of the cargo to the eastern seaboard of the country so much so that the old great port of Tacloban is diminished now.

And that also diminished Maasin port. Especially since the Palawan Princess of Sulpicio Lines which called on the port before is also gone now. Whatever, long live Maasin!

The Lite Ferry 16

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The Lite Ferry 16 one week before the fire. Photo by Mark Edelson Idulsa Ocul of PSSS.

The other night, on August 27, 2019, the Lite Ferry 16 suffered an engine room fire while in the waters of Dapitan City and nearing already the port of Pulauan. The reference point used was Tag-ulo Point. Pulauan port is located on a J-shaped cove and Tag-ulo Point, some 1.5 nautical miles from the port is where a ship turns from a northward heading to a westward heading if going to Zamboanga from Pulauan like what Zamboanga Ferry used to do then. The remaining question was how far Lite Ferry 16 was that from that point when she lost power.

Witnesses said there was an explosion and electricity was lost just before that. The fire did not engulf the whole ship as it was mainly contained in the engine room but the part of the superstructure over that was affected too and so all the passengers could do was to gather at the forward portion of the ship that is basically an LCT in design which means the forward part have no structure above the car deck. Crowding the area were the various loaded vehicles and so some passengers jumped into the water. The ramp was deployed to increase the area were passengers can gather.

The fire started at 12:30am and three hours have to pass before any rescue came in the form of a FastCat from Dumaguete that was also headed to Pulauan port. There was no Coast Guard ship that arrived and the Coast Guard itself said that their nearest big patrol boat was in Cagayan de Oro which is almost the same distance as Cebu. The passengers complained of it and it has been my wonder for a long time now why the big Coast Guard ships are being used as “floating offices” in the big cities and ports where there are a lot of ships that can help while busy sea lanes where accident can happen have no Coast Guard ships except for very small ones. Like when Maharlika II distressed, the nearest Coast Guard detachment in Benit, San Ricardo, Southern Leyte just had an oar-powered launch. In Pulauan, usually there is no tug there that can assist in case of fire. But I wonder if there were no other ships docked then in Pulauan port that can come to the rescue of the passengers of Lite Ferry 16.

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The Lite Ferry 16 when she was newly-arrived in 2015. Photo by Mike Baylon of PSSS.

The Lite Ferry 16 is not a new ship (well, that kind is still rare in the Philippines). She arrived for Lite Ferries in mid-2015 and she was formerly a Hainan ferry that connected that island-province to the China mainland and she was originally built in 1995. The ferry was refitted in Ouano using Afloat Sea Repair (ASR) and that took nearly a year. The basic structure was preserved although a lot of metal was replaced. They also took out the engines and installed in place of it two brand-new Weichai diesel engines. I am not sure which company really owns her as Lite Ferries have three legal-fiction companies. An early communique said she belonged to Danilo Lines but when I checked the MARINA database of 2017, it said she belonged to Sunline Shipping Corporation.

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The old engine of Lite Ferry 16. Photo by James Gabriel Verallo of PSSS.

The ship was average in size for an overnight ferry at 64.6 meters x 16.0 meters and 992 gross tons but her passenger capacity is not big owing to having an LCT design. For most time, she holds the Samboan, Cebu to Pulauan, Dapitan route, a route pioneered by Lite Ferries which is a direct route from Cebu island to Mindanao that bypasses Dumaguete port in Negros island. The voyage usually takes six hours and she usually leaves Samboan at 7 in the night with a return trip the next morning.

As of now the fire in Lite Ferry 16 is already out and she is floating in Pulauan Bay. Her condition is actually repairable. If they do that, I do not know if they will try to change the superstructure so she will resemble less her former silhouette. She will most likely not head to the breakers as we are too considerate and sentimental of our ships. We actually have ferries that are still sailing that have already seen the bottom of the sea. What happened to Lite Ferry 16 is a minor mishap compared to that.

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Photo by Czed Flores.

However, Lite Ferries should pay more attention to their ships. It was not that long ago that another ship of theirs was also hit by an engine room fire, the Lite Ferry 28. The passengers of that were luckier as the ship was already very near the Taloot port of Argao, Cebu and another ship, the LCT Miami was immediately able to rescue the passengers of Lite Ferry 28. The circumstances of the Lite Ferry 16 and Lite Ferry 28 incidents are eerily similar, an engine room near the end of the voyage.

Now, let us just wait for the formal investigation that will determine what really happened in Lite Ferry 16.