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.

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The Cargo RORO Specialist of the Philippines

Cargo RORO (or RORO Cargo) ships are vessels that carry rolling cargo (light and heavy vehicles or container vans on chassis) and tracked vehicles like heavy equipment. For that, these ships have ramps and several levels of car decks connected by ramps on the inside or by lifts. They basically differ from container ships on two counts. One, the Cargo RORO ships wheel in their load while container ships handle their load LOLO (Load On, Load Off). In layman’s term that means lifting the container vans by the use of booms or by gantry cranes (sometimes a reach stacker or cranes are also used). Second, a significant number of the load of Cargo RORO ships are vehicles. Since those vehicles have drivers in many cases, Cargo RORO ships have a small passenger accommodations (mainly small cabins) for the owners or the truckers. Some amenities are provided for them too.

Cargo RORO ships differ from Pure Car Carriers (PCCs) and vehicle carriers in that the latter two basically carry new vehicles for delivery to overseas divisions of car companies and to car dealers. So in general the two latter-named are accompanied by just a few drivers or maybe by none at all.

In the world, it is in Europe where there is a highest concentration of Cargo RORO ships. It spans from Northern Europe to Southern Europe and the Mediterranean Sea which connects Europe to North Africa. Even the Black Sea has Cargo RORO ships. These Cargo RORO ships of Europe serve as the “bridges of the sea” for the European truckers and the tourists who brought along their vehicles.

Japan also has Cargo RORO ships but not to the extent of the proliferation in Europe. Other areas of the world also have that kind of ship but also not to the extent of concentration of Europe.

Cargo RORO or RORO Cargo ships have not been used before in any significant number in the Philippines. Those that came before were converted to RORO-passenger (ROPAX) ships like what Carlos A. Gothong Lines did with the MV Our Lady of Sacred Heart and MV Our Lady of Medjugorje. Before the two came, there was the MV Wilcon 1 and MV Wilcon 4 of William Lines and the MV Sinulog of Escano Lines but those were ROLO Cargo or Cargo LOLO ships which means they have ramps for rolling cargo and cargo booms for the container vans. The three had limited passenger accommodations and are all gone now. In recent years there were also a few ROLO Cargo ships that were acquired by other shipping companies but they do not carry passengers.

The first local shipping company that invested in a series of Cargo RORO ships was Sulpicio Lines. Between 1997 and 2002 that company acquired the MV Sulpicio Express Uno, the MV Sulpicio Express Dos and the MV Sulpicio Express Tres. However, those three Cargo RORO ships are now all gone to the breakers and only recently. Maybe Philippine Span Asia Carrier Corp. (PSACC), the current name now of Sulpicio Lines realized that the engines of the three were too big for its container capacity.

In recent years, there was a shipping company which seems to have decided they will make their mark in using Cargo RORO ships. This is the Asian Marine Transport Corporation (AMTC) of Cebu. Their first three ships in their Super Shuttle RORO series were either Cargo RORO ships or vehicle carriers. However, they converted all three as RORO-Passenger (ROPAX) ships here but their passenger capacities were not as big as MV Our Lady of Sacred Heart and MV Our Lady of Medjugorje. Maybe that decision was affected by the fact that liner passengers are no longer as numerous compared to the 1990’s and that they were just beginning in liner shipping (but in short-distance RORO shipping they have already been awhile already).

Starting with the next ship in the series, the MV Super Shuttle RORO 5, Asian Marine Transport no longer converted the ship to carry passengers. And this became the pattern from MV Super Shuttle RORO 6 (which was a barge carrier and not a Cargo RORO ship) to MV Super Shuttle RORO 12 (which were all Cargo RORO ships). Recently, an MV Super Shuttle RORO 14 arrived for them which has not yet been refitted. There is no Super Shuttle RORO 4 or 13 in the series because those numbers supposedly bring bad luck. Meanwhile, MV Super Shuttle RORO 6 is not sailing because of an engine room fire while in the shipyard and it is not sailing because of a dispute in the settlement between the company and the shipyard.

All the Cargo RORO ships of Asian Marine Transport Corp. (AMTC) from “5” to “14” were just acquired starting in 2012. So that means the push of AMTC in container shipping was relatively recent (but the first three in the series can also carry container vans but they were not yet big then in container shipping). Their container vans are brand-new and most were chartered from Waterfront Leasing, a company specializing in the rental of container vans.

These Cargo RORO ships of Asian Marine Transport Corp. were all built in Europe except for MV Super Shuttle RORO 7 and the MV Super Shuttle RORO 11 which were built in Japan. Although the ships are no longer young, all are still sailing reliably except for the fire-hit MV Super Shuttle RORO 6. Generally, the load of the ships are container vans, both aboard chassis and not. Cars and SUVs (sports utility vehicles) are also loaded and the bulk of these are brand-new and which are destined for car dealers in Visayas and Mindanao.

The ports of origin of the Cargo RORO ships of Asian Marine Transport Corp. are Manila and Batangas. Most of their Cargo RORO ships would then call in Cebu. They also have a route that passes through Iloilo and Bacolod. Their ports of call in Mindanao are Davao, General Santos City, Zamboanga, Cagayan de Oro and Nasipit.

The Cargo RORO ships of Asian Marine Transport Corp. are not cargo liners in the strict sense of the word as they can be flexible in departures according to the load and their route assignment is not really fixed and it is sometimes intervened by radio from the main office. That also means their arrivals in a particular port are also not fixed.

These are the particulars of the Cargo RORO ships of Asian Marine Transport Corporation:

Super Shuttle RORO 5 (arrived 2012)

Original name is Tajura. IMO 7822500.

Built by Neue Schlichting Werft in Travemunde, Germany in 1980.

Dimensions are 114.0 meters by 17.5 meters by 11.7 meters.

Dimensional weights are 6,105 gross tons and 2,900 deadweight tons.

Engines and Speed: 2 X 2,200hp MaK diesels. 16 knots top speed, originally.

Super Shuttle RORO 6 (arrived 2012)

Original name is Este Submerger II of J. Hauschildt. IMO 8324701.

Built by Rickmers in Bremerhaven, Germany in 1984.

Dimensions are 106.0 meters by 19.6 meters by 10.9 meters.

Dimensional weights are 6,786 gross tons and 4,490 deadweight tons.

Engines and Speed: 2 x 1,820hp Krupp-MaK diesels. 13 knots top speed.

Super Shuttle RORO 7 (arrived 2012)

Original name is Dia Ace. IMO 9117727.

Built by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries in Shimoneseki, Japan in 1994.

Dimensions are 146.0 meters by 23.4 meters by 13.2 meters.

Dimensional weights are 13,540 gross tons and 4,339 deadweight tons.

Engine and Speed: 1 x 6,900hp NKK-Pielstick diesel. 17 knots top speed.

Super Shuttle RORO 8 (arrived 2012)

Original name is Dana Cimbria. IMO 8413992.

Built by Frederikshavns Vft in Frederikshavns, Denmark in 1986.

Dimensions are 145.0 meters by 21.6 meters by 12.1 meters.

Dimensional weights are 12,189 gross tons and 6,897 deadweight tons.

Engine and Speed: 1 x 7,800hp MaK diesel. 17.5 knots top speed, originally.

Super Shuttle RORO 9 (arrived 2013)

Original name is Bore Queen of Bore Line. IMO 7902647.

Built by Rauma-Repola in Rauma, Finland in 1980.

Dimensions are 170.9 meters by 23.0 meters by 17.5 meters.

Dimensional weights are 17,884 gross tons and 11,400 deadweight tons.

Engines and Speed: 2 MaK diesels. Total: 16,000hp. 19 knots top speed.

Super Shuttle RORO 10 (arrived 2014)

Original name is Finnmerchant. IMO 8020684.

Built by Rauma-Repole in Rauma, Finland in 1982.

Dimensions are 157.6 meters by 25.3 meters by 17.3 meters.

Dimensional weights are 20,865 gross tons and 13,866 deadweight tons.

Engines and Speed: 2 x 7,500hp Wartsila diesels. 19 knots top speed.

Super Shuttle RORO 11 (arrived 2014)

Original name is Dana Caribia. IMO 7725166.

Built by Nippon Kokan KK in Shimizu, Japan in 1979.

Dimensions are 161.4 meters by 24.2 meters by 14.3 meters.

Dimensional weights are 14,805 gross tons and 10,470 deadweight tons.

Engines and Speed: 2 x 3,950hp Burmeister & Wain (B&W) diesels. 15 knots.

Super Shuttle RORO 12 (arrived 2015)

Original name is Mercandian Gigant of Per Henriksen. IMO 8222733.

Built by Danyard A/S in Frederikshavn, Denmark in 1984.

Dimensions are 160.5 meters by 20.7 meters by 12.3 meters.

Dimensional weights are 14,410 gross tons and 9,200 deadweight tons.

Engine and Speed: 1 x 6,500 Mak diesel. 16 knots top speed, originally.

This ship was formerly the ROCON I of William Lines which came in 1995. In the great merger that produced the WG&A Philippines she was renamed to SuperRORO 200. She was sold abroad in 1997.

Super Shuttle RORO 14 (arrived 2016)

Original name is Mercury Ace. IMO 8509466.

Built by Usuki Tekkosho in Usuki, Japan in 1985.

Dimensions are 96.9 meters x 20.2 meters.

Dimensional weights are 6,974 gross tons and 3,199 deadweight tons.

Engine and Speed: 1 marine diesel. 13.5 top speed, originally.

A total of 9 Cargo RORO ships. The purchases of those Cargo RORO ships were mainly backed by the government-owned Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP).

In the main, each carry about 300 TEUs in a voyage plus vehicles in the top deck (and some on the bottom deck at the engine level). Asian Marine Transport System now has a spic and span terminal in Batangas under the name of Super Shuttle RORO, a brand they are now developing. In Cebu, however, they are looking for a new hub as they are leaving their old hub and port in Pier 8 in Mandaue, Cebu.

I just hope Asian Marine Transport System don’t find the engine size/fuel consumption to container capacity of the Cargo ROROs difficult to manage. With the way they are running the ships where there are long in-port hours, the advantage of Cargo RORO ships which is fast loading and unloading is in the main neutralized. They sometimes sail on one engine to save on fuel but one advantage of their fleet is it has the speed to turn or when needed. Container ships in the Philippines might have small engines but they don’t have the speed really (except for a few). On one hand though their top decks (and bottom decks) are really good for carrying vehicles and that is their advantage over the container ships.

This Cargo RORO experiment of Asian Marine Transport System is worth watching and studying.