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.

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All The Ports of Bohol With Connection to Cebu Are Actually Competing Against Each Other

There are many Bohol ports with connections to Cebu and one way or another, all of them are competing against each other. This is a basic point or truth known by the people of Bohol and Cebu but missed by Myrna S. Austria in her paper on shipping competition. In that paper, she compared the competition of the shipping companies within a route but she completely failed to take account that different routes actually compete and shipping companies on those different shipping routes also compete against each other.

http://dirp3.pids.gov.ph/ris/rps/pidsrp0302.pdf

There are many Bohol ports that have connection to Cebu because simply put Bohol is tethered too to Cebu like Leyte (which I have discussed in another article). Cebu sends its many manufactured goods to Bohol and in return Bohol sends many agricultural produce and products of the sea to Cebu. There are also many Bol-anons that work or study in Cebu. On the other end, there are many Sugbuhanons who visit the many tourist sites of Bohol. In the less developed towns of Bohol where there are no big stores, the people go to Cebu for their needs since the goods are more complete there and cheaper and the fare and cargo rate are reasonable.

The following ports of Bohol have connections to Cebu by steel-hulled ferries at present: Ubay, Tagbilaran, Catagbacan (Loon), Tubigon, Jetafe and Talibon. Aside from steel-hulled ferries, the towns of Jetafe, Talibon and islets off Bohol also have connections to Cebu by big motor bancas. Most of the steel-hulled ferries that connect Cebu and Bohol are RORO (Roll-On, Roll-Off) ships. Hence, they can also carry vehicles aside from passengers. There are also High Speed Crafts (HSCs) that connect Tagbilaran, Tubigon and Jetafe to Cebu. In all these connections there are ferries running day and night.

In decades past, it was Tagbilaran that was the main gateway to Bohol from Cebu. However, in the recent years, it seems Tubigon port has already exceeded Tagbilaran port especially in rolling cargo. Using Tubigon as the port of entry is cheaper and the travel time to there is just half as it is nearer in distance from Cebu. There are also the alternative Lite Ferries LCTs from Ouano in Mandaue to Talibon that caters mainly to rolling cargo. To match that, RORO Cargo LCTs have also been deployed in the Cebu-Tagbilaran route.

Since the main tourist attractions of Bohol are the world-famous RORO Cargo LCT and the Loboc River Cruise (plus SuperCat offers online booking, a feature foreign tourists are accustomed to), the tourists still use Tagbilaran port as entry. But lately Tubigon is also putting a fight for Chocolate Hills because the roads have already gotten better. If before it was only Tagbilaran that have HSCs from SuperCat and Oceanjet now Tubigon already have fastcrafts from Starcrafts and Oceanjet (via the franchise from Lite Ferries). The main competition in Bohol is actually between Tagbilaran and Tubigon ports.

In the northern part of Bohol, Tubigon has competition too from Jetafe and Talibon which are incidentally ports of adjacent towns. The Clemer and other boats are active in the two ports and they have a loyal clientele. A ship from Island Shipping and a RORO from VG Shipping also serve the two ports. The motor bancas and these ROROs serve as alternative if a passenger or shipper is going direct to Jetafe or Talibon or to towns east of the two.

Further east another option is the J&N ROROs to Ubay. But even though these are ROROs, they mainly take break-bulk cargo and passengers. Even then Ubay is competing against the other ports. Actually, Ubay port and Tagbilaran port sank the Cebu connection to Ubay especially when the roads got better and the buses multiplied. The weakness of Jagna as a connection to Cebu is that it is more distant because of the roundabout route.

There is also a RORO connection between Taloot port in Argao, Cebu to Catagbacan port in Loon, Bohol. This serves as alternative for vehicles coming from or going to the southern part of Cebu. With this route they need not go to Cebu City. If the ferry there is unavailable or when like the port was damaged by the big quake in Bohol then Tagbilaran or Tubigon ports become the alternative to this connection.

If the two ports of Tubigon and Tagbilaran are the main competing Bohol ports then all the other ports are alternatives to either of the two. That is simply the situation of the ports in Bohol especially now when the roads of Bohol are more developed and there are plenty of buses running and even into the night. People of Bohol know the permutations of the ship rides and they take what is most convenient or cheapest to them.

For example, if one misses the ferry in Ubay or if it is not running, then one just have to motor to either Talibon or Jetafe and take the ferries there. Similarly, if one misses the Tagbilaran ferry he can also take the bus or van to Tubigon and get a suitable ferry there. These two examples are also applicable to vehicles. Now, if one is short on budget then one can take the cheap ferry to Tubigon and just take the bus to Tagbilaran. If one can’t wait wait for the ferries to Jetafe, Talibon or Ubay, one can just take the Tubigon routes which has more ferries. If one’s town lies between two ports then he can take either route depending on his whims and needs. There are really many possibilities and there are many feasible ports of entries to or ports of departure from Bohol.

But, apparently, if one reads her paper, it seems Myrna S. Austria has no idea or knowledge of that.