When Polloc Port Lost

Polloc-Port

Photo from REZA-ARMM

Many times a reader will read “Cotabato Port” when it comes to shipping and many of them will think of the great but now conflict-ridden city of Cotabato. They will not realize that the “Cotabato Port” referred to is actually the Polloc port in Parang town in Maguindanao province which is about kilometers from the city. The true Cotabato Port is actually a river port near the mouth of Cotabato River hence it is shallow and can just accommodate small and shallow-draft vessels.

So when ships became bigger, the government decided to develop a new port for Cotabato City but this was not located in the city but in the nearby town of Parang. Actually the port was between Cotabato City and Parang and its name is Polloc port and the national government promoted and supported it well.

1980 0921 Port of Polloc

Credits to Philippine Daily Express and Gorio Belen

In the past, Polloc was a viable port when the roads in the region were still terrible. Sulpicio Lines and Aboitiz Shipping made good sailing there and they even had dedicated passenger-cargo ships and container ships to Polloc port. Sulpicio Lines used the Dona Marilyn (the former Dona Ana) which was a good fast cruiser liner then. They then fielded the RORO liner Cotabato Princess when it arrived and she served the route here well.

Aboitiz Shipping tried this route with a newly-fielded ship here, the SuperFerry 3, smaller that her fleetmates but more fit for this route. When the merged shipping company WG&A was formed a slew of ships served the route including the former William Lines flagship Dona Virginia and a host of ROPAXes including the very well-regarded SuperFerry 1 and SuperFerry 8. The respected sisters SuperFerry 2 and SuperFerry 5 also served Parang port along with the Maynilad. Doesn’t that line-up tells one that Parang port and the Cotabato route was once good then?

1980 1022 Polloc Port

Credits to Times Journal and Gorio Belen

Of course Parang will not be as strong a port like Dadiangas or what is later known as Gensan. South Cotabato was able to develop agribusiness (think Dole) and a hog industry and that was what supported the port. Cotabato and Parang had no such equivalent especially since the area became conflict-ridden at the approach of the 1970’s and in the aftermath the area sank into a certain degree of lawlessness which is a deterrent for trade, investment and tourism.

When the conflict and lawlessness abated a little, Cotabato and Parang did not rise even though the government tried to pour in money and promoted Parang port especially when the SPDA (Southern Philippines Development Authority) was created. And the support continued under the banner of the ARMM (Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao) and it tried to attract Malaysian businessmen and other businesses and promoted Polloc as a free port and ecozone.

Ironically, what doomed Polloc was actually the opening of two new highways, the Narciso Ramos Highway which connected to Malabang, Pagadian and a route to Marawi and Iligan or Ozamis and the paving of the old Sayre Highway which connected the area to Cagayan de Oro via Bukidnon. Where before a shipper will have to wait for the weekly ship, now he can truck his goods to Cagayan de Oro, Iligan or Ozamis and the combination of the three means the availability of daily ships plus a shorter sailing time with a lower shipping cost. And for passengers there are many direct commuter vans now from Cotabato to Iligan and Cagayan de Oro. They can just take the ship there and travel time and costs will be less. Conversely, when they arrive in those ports there will commuter vans waiting for them.

http://www.philstar.com/nation/2015/06/12/1465121/officials-see-rise-polloc-port-bangsamoro-shipping-hub

Now there is no more liner to Parang and cargo ships and container ships are few although the regional government tries to promote it mightily. However, it does not rise because there are simply better alternatives in shipping out cargo or bringing it in. Long-distance cargo trucks from even Cebu already penetrate the area and the main point of departure is Cagayan de Oro. Davao or General Santos City can also be the entry point especially if the goods are from abroad and there is no problem in trucking in the goods to the Cotabato area (talking of the city and not the old province).

The experience is actually what some say that the left hand does not know what the right hand is doing. It is okay and good to open the Narciso Ramos Highway and the Sayre Highway to connect Central Mindanao to Western and Northern Mindanao but then the unintended consequence is the sinking of Cotabato and Parang port.

I just hope the oil facility invested in by the Malaysians in Parang will somewhat make up for the fall. Hopefully they will allow goods from Singapore to be brought in tariff free under the ASEAN Free Trade Zone (which in Philippine bureaucratic definition means a lot of restrictions since they never care to read the dictionary and there are vested interests hiding behind those restrictions and bureaucrats and politicians protecting them). But then the local Nestle operation will balk because Nestle products from Singapore actually lands cheaper in Zamboanga (and that is even with grease money).

Wither Parang? No, actually I don’t have a good idea. It will be another locality whose fate is dependent on decision makers in Manila even though they don’t know much of local or regional realities.

Federalism, anyone?

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Superferry 1

Aboitiz Shipping Corporation has always been notable for two particular quirks. The first is when they bought a lot of old ex-FS ships in the mid-1960’s from other shipping companies when others were already sourcing ships from Europe and Japan and some are even brand-new. The second is when they did not buy any ferry for 14 straight years from 1974 to 1988 and when they bought one it was another old hand-me-down from Escano Lines, the former “Katipunan”. However, in the same period Aboitiz Shipping Corporation (ASC) bought a lot of cargo ships and they were among the first to containerize. Actually, in the 1980’s ASC was one of the container majors in the local seas through the Aboitiz Concarriers together with the Wilcons of William Lines, the Sulcons of Sulpicio Lines and the Lorcons of Lorenzo Shipping.

With a ferry fleet whose backbone were still the old ex-FS ships Aboitiz Shipping Corporation did not try to compete in the major ferry routes in the 1980’s and instead concentrated on minor routes like routes to northern Panay and Leyte island. However, this laidback attitude on ferry operations all changed when in 1989 when they bought the “Venus” from Japan to become the “SuperFerry 1”. I am not sure if this was part of the Jebsens influence on Aboitiz Shipping but it looks like it. Jebsens of Norway was a partner of Aboitiz in local shipping and they created a company named Aboitiz Jebsens which was in ship maintenance and management.

SuperFerry 1 ©Gorio Belen

“Venus”, a ROPAX (RORO-Passenger ship) with IMO Number 7375856 was built by Shikoku Dockyard in Takamatsu, Japan. She measured 132.4 meters by 20.6 meters and she had an original Gross Tonnage (GT) of 4,006 nominal tons and Deadweight Tonnage (DWT) of 3,194 tons. In Net Tonnage (NT), she measured 1,630 nominal tons with a passenger capacity of 302 and her RORO capacity was 1,030 lane-meters. “Venus” was originally by powered by twin SEMT-Pielsticks which developed a combined 16,700 horsepower giving her a service speed of 20.5 knots. She already had the then-new and modern bulbous stem which gave extra speed. She was completed on December of 1975 and she was then delivered to Arimura Sangyo shipping line of Naha, Okinawa, Japan.

In 1989 Aboitiz Shipping Corporation bought the “Venus” and brought her to the Philippines where she was rebuilt. New decks were added and it now totaled four and additional passenger accommodations were built. Her new Gross Tonnage (GT) was 9,184 nominal tons and her new Net Tonnage (NT) was 2,987 with a passenger capacity of 1,808. Her new Depth was 13.0 meters. Her new name was “Aboitiz SuperFerry 1” and she was the new flagship of Aboitiz Shipping Corporation. “Aboitiz SuperFerry 1” was the first RORO-Passenger (ROPAX) ship of the company.

SuperFerry 1 Brochure ©Mike Baylon

She was launched with fanfare and advertisements were rolled out. They touted the new kind of service and accommodations and pointed out the word “Super” pertained to these and not to the size as she cannot beat the “Filipina Princess” of Sulpicio Lines in that aspect. Indeed, it seems that for the first time a liner sailing in local seas had service crew that were graduates of Hotel and Restaurant Management (HRM) courses and not green mariners trying to serve customers. There was always the smile, the snappiness, the ever-presence and the constant cleaning and mopping. With HRM background they knew how not to say “No” and how not to disappoint passengers. Meals were not free but there is a full-service cafeteria which looked like an office cafeteria that was open till past midnight. The equipment and cleanliness of the toilets and baths were unmatched in the business.

However, in less than a year of sailing, bad luck hit “SuperFerry 1” when she was struck by engine room fire. She was towed to Singapore for repairs where she was fitted with new engines, too. Brand-new Wartsila diesel engines were used which developed a total of 21,200 horsepower. Although heavier now, she was able to regain her old service speed of 20.5 knots with the new more powerful engines. At that speed she was clearly now the second-best to the much more powerful “Filipina Princess”. She was re-launched in 1991 to fanfare and advertisements again.

SperFerry1 Main Engine ©Ralpha Russel Rosauro

With her, Aboitiz Shipping was able to reclaim their old Davao route which before already lain beyond their old cruisers (“SuperFerry” 1 was the first RORO of the company) because of the long distance and the lack of speed which made them the laughing stock of the fast cruisers of Sulpicio Lines and William Lines like the “Davao Princess” and the “Manila City”. With “SuperFerry 1” Aboitiz Shipping and Aboitiz Jebsens pioneered the system of sailing where in-port hours were low and the ship just sails and sails. This was needed because Aboitiz Shipping lacks liners. Promptness was paramount and to shorten loading and unloading time two ramps were used simultaneously and containers that must be handled were radioed to the tractors which was setting records in speed of hauling. In comparison, the rival flagships “Filipina Princess” and “Sugbu” of William Lines were still using the slow booms together with ramps.

The route of SuperFerry 1 was Manila-Iloilo-General Santos City-Davao and Manila-Iloilo. She was the fastest ferry to General Santos City and Davao, bar none. Her intermediate port stops consisted only of two to three hours and she was known for promptness in departures. Once a passenger ramp was lifted it’s already sorry to any passengers even though they are running with all their might towards the ship. Being the newest, fastest and the best passenger service she displaced patronage from rivals in the route and name “SuperFerry” and its brand of service was already being installed in the minds of the riding public of ships.

SuperFerry 1 ©Britz Salih

In the merger of William Lines, Gothong Shipping Corporation and Aboitiz Shipping Corporation that created the new company WG&A she retained her name and her route. Later, “SuperFerry 8”, the former “Mabuhay 3” and “Sugbu” was paired with her in the route. She held on to this route even when the Chiongbian and Gothong families already withdrew from the merged company and her company was renamed the Aboitiz Transport Shipping (ATS). By this time her service speed was already down to 19 knots.

SuperFerry 1 ©Aris Refugio

With the arrival of “SuperFerry 20” and “SuperFerry 21” she was displaced from the Davao route. She was also starting to fall from disfavor as the new style of ATS called for ROPAXes of twin cargo decks and less passenger capacity and amenities, the reason they converted three ferries into this standard. “SuperFerry 1” also has a big engine relative to her cargo capacity which was their primary measurement. Not long after ATS advertised her for sale but there were no local takers as other liner companies do not buy hand-me-downs from rivals and she was too big and her engine too powerful for the Visayas-Mindanao shipping companies. And so she just toiled in minor routes.

Not long after, the merger of Negros Navigation and Aboitiz Transport System happened and she came under 2GO. Doing the Tagbilaran and Dumaguete route she grounded entering Tagbilaran Bay when the new master from Negros Navigation took a shortcut on the reefs. A SuperCat came to the rescue of her passengers and she was later freed. From this accident she sailed almost no more and soon she was just a “floating monument” in Manila Bay. She was, however, renamed the “Sta. Rita de Cascia”.

SuperCat rescue operations ©Vince Sanchez

More photos of the operation can be found by clicking here.

Last year, in 2014, she disappeared from Manila Bay. Later, she reappeared in Indonesia as the “Mutiara Persada 1”. Ship spotters heaved a sigh of relief because Indonesia, like the Philippines, is known for appreciating and taking care of older ships. So for now, it looks like “SuperFerry 1” has escaped the breaker’s torches.