The Ship That Might Have Eluded the Grasp of TASLI But Helped Medallion Transport Move in Rank

In this decade, Trans-Asia Shipping Lines Inc. (TASLI) has been buying the discards of the other shipping companies. They acquired the Trans-Asia 5 from Carlos A. Gothong Lines Inc. (CAGLI) which was the former Butuan Bay 1. From Gothong Southern Shipping Lines they acquired in a package deal the Trans-Asia 8 and the Trans-Asia 9 which were the former Dona Rita Sr. and Dona Conchita Sr., respectively. And from Philippine Span Asia Carrier Corp. (PSACC), they acquired the Trans-Asia 10 which was the former Princess of the Earth.

In those acquisitions, Trans-Asia Shipping Lines batted only two out of four as the Trans-Asia 5 and the Trans-Asia 9 did not perform according to expectations. After publicized episodes of her single engine conking out, MARINA (Maritime Industry Authority), the maritime regulatory agency, more than gently suggested something radical be done about the Trans-Asia 5 (actually it was the threat of the cancellation of her Certificate of Public Conveyance). Now she is just a RORO Cargo ship albeit a successful one and her superstructure has already been modified and the passenger accommodations had already been taken out.

Trans-Asia 9 now has episodes of late arrivals and word of it has began to seep out. Even as Dona Conchita Sr., it was already known that her engines were no longer than strong and that was even admitted by her Captain then. For the two ships it is a big sayang as Trans-Asia Shipping Lines really poured money into the two vessels so that they will be good overnight ships (the Trans-Asia 5‘s interiors were superb). However, it was the old engines that failed them.

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Photo by James Gabriel Verallo

These gambles of Trans-Asia Shipping Lines backfired on them. After forgetting what brought them to the top before which was buying good ships from abroad, both cruisers and ROROs, it seems they have lost their leadership of the Visayas-Mindanao routes to Cokaliong Shipping Lines Inc. (CSLI) which made it a habit to buy ships from abroad every two years. Now their fleet looks modern by local standards while TASLI’s increasingly looks old.

There is actually nothing wrong with buying cast-offs of other shipping companies. It actually depends on the ship one is buying. The Trans-Asia 8 was predicted to be good for them as this ship had a good record in Gothong Southern and it is not yet that old. The Princess of the Earth was also a reliable ship (except recently) for PSACC although she is also getting on in years now.

There was actually a good cast-off that eluded the grasp of Trans-Asia Shipping Lines. This was the Love-1 of Moreta Shipping Lines of Manila. When I first saw her docked in Ouano for refitting, I thought she was destined for TASLI. Her length, her size and her speed all screamed she was perfect for the routes of TASLI. This ship was not too old and in Moreta Shipping Lines she was not used heavily because she came when the routes of Moreta was already winding down because of the assault of the intermodal system. Late in her career in Moreta, she was sailing just once a week.

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Photo by Edison Sy

The Love-1 was the former Ferry Okiji in Japan of the Oki Kisen. She measures 93.1 meters (88.3 meters in LBP) by 15.3 meters by 6.0 meters. The length is perfect for TASLI although the breadth is maybe less than what they might desire but then that breadth is better than the 15.0 meters of Trans-Asia 2 and that ship has just an LOA of 88.0 meters. So that means Love-1 is a little bigger than Trans-Asia 2, a ship that TASLI loves.

The design speed of Love-1, the maximum speed that can be sustained when new was 18.5 knots while the design speed of Trans-Asia 2 was only 16 knots. Love-1‘s Daihatsu engines are bigger than the Daihatsu engines of Trans-Asia 2. It is 8,400hp vs 6,000hp. Trans-Asia 2‘s passenger capacity is 655 while the passenger capacity of Love-1 was 790.

Actually, Love-1, though originating from Manila was not a true multi-day liner. She was actually an overnight ship as the length of the voyages of her routes takes less than a day (an overnight run plus a few more hours which was similar to the former WG&A ferries that did the Dumaguit and Roxas City routes). In accommodations, though TASLI is known for top class she is not that far behind. In Ouano, it seemed most of the work done in Love-1 so she will fit the needs of buyer Medallion Transport was the construction of wing passenger ramps which is de rigeaur for Cebu ships and the closing of the side ramps.

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Photo by homepage2.nifty

The Ferry Okiji was built by Kanda Shipbuilding Company in Kure, Japan in 1979 (the same year Trans-Asia 10 was built). In Japan she had 2,584gt which rose to 3,184gt here because of the additional metal for the Economy class. Her net tonnage is 964 which looks to be understated. Since she was doing the Okinawa route in Japan which is in the open sea, her sides are high. Her permanent ID is IMO 7927099.

This ferry was sold to Moreta Lines in 2004, a few months after the Roxas-Caticlan route that connected Mindoro and Panay islands was opened. She mainly did the Dumaguit and Roxas City route for Moreta Shipping Lines although she was also used for the San Jose, Occidental Mindoro route of the company. In the middle of the 2000’s, WG&A along with Negros Navigation was already vacating Dumaguit and Roxas City routes due to the onslaught of the intermodal trucks and buses.

Moreta Shipping Lines still tried though but even before the end of the last decade it was obvious the ship from Manila won’t last against the buses and the trucks which were multiplying in the route year after year. Love-1 found herself increasingly not being used and at times she was just tied up in North Harbor along with the other ships of the company which were Nikki and Conchita.

Soon, Moreta Shipping Lines offered for sale her three ferries to just concentrate on container shipping. In 2011, Conchita went to Besta Shipping Lines and became the Baleno 168. In 2013, in a package deal, Love-1 and Nikki went to Medallion Transport which was a surprise since before this all the Medallion Shipping had were ships the size of basic, short-distance ferry-ROROs which they try to fit on overnight routes. The only bigger ship they had was the double-ended RORO Lady of Miraculous Medal which is 46.0 meters in length.

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Lady of Love in Cebu for conversion to Lady of Love (Photo by James Gabriel Verallo)

The Love-1 became the Lady of Love. I had a laugh when I heard the name from her guard in Ouano. At first I am not sure if he was pulling my leg. But the name became true and she became a Medallion Transport ferry doing the Cebu-Palompon route which was a new route for the company. This route was overlooked by the other shipping companies doing the Cebu-Leyte routes. Few realized it then that it was a good alternative to the Cebu-Ormoc route like the Cebu-Baybay route.

Cokaliong Shipping Lines was the one doing the Cebu-Palompon route after the smaller shipping companies on that route sunk. But they had no ship permanently fielded there and were just using the 7th day of their ships. Lady of Love has an easy entry because she can match the ships of Cokaliong toe-to-toe and she was even better than the lesser ships of CSLI. With rolling rates more competitive than those offered in Cebu-Ormoc route, soon her car deck was full of trucks and other vehicles.

Passengers also began to notice she was superior than the ships of Roble Shipping and Lite Ferries that were doing the Cebu-Ormoc route. Even her passenger fares were competitive. And she is fast. I once saw her docking in Cebu at 1:30 in the morning. I thought those passengers still going to the northern and southern tip of Cebu have the chance to arrive there by breakfast time should they decide to disembark and go to CNBT or CST.

Now the route of Roble Shipping to Naval, Biliran is already kaput. For rolling cargo, the Palompon route to Biliran is a good alternative especially if the rates are cheaper. Besides, Palompon is also a good and nearer entry to the towns of the northwest corner of Leyte island which has lost their ships from Cebu. Palompon is also a good entry to the towns of Isabel and Matag-ob.

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The Lady of Love proved to be an ace for Medallion Transport which now has a roaring route to Palompon. She also elevated Medallion Transport to the first rank of Cebu-Leyte shipping companies from a second-run position. I even wonder now if Roble Shipping or Lite Ferries can claim that they have a ship better or equal than Lady of Love. The Lady of Love became the queen of the Cebu-Leyte ships and ironically she is not even doing the premier Cebu-Ormoc route.

I just wonder why TASLI did not make a bid for Love-1. Was the package for Nikki a deterrent? But that can be sold if they do not want it (it is too small for TASLI maybe except for their Tagbilaran-Cagayan de Oro route).

Now TASLI obviously looks that they lack passenger ships. I just wonder had the two ships instead went to them. Without the two Medallion Transport can’t claim parity with Roble and Lite in the Cebu-Leyte routes. And TASLI would not have been wanting for passenger ships and they might have had a ship to match the Filipinas Cebu of Cokaliong in the Cebu-Iloilo route.

Maybe it was not in the cards that Love-1 would go to TASLI. Maybe what was in the cards is Medallion Transport would reach first rank in the Cebu-Leyte routes through the Lady of Love and Lady of All Nations (the name of the Nikki in their fleet).

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The Lady of Love certainly helped Medallion Transport establish itself. But then good things certainly does not last and last year engine problems disabled the ferry and she was laid up for half a year and the Lady of All Nations had to carry the load for two routes, the Palompon and the Bato routes. That was certainly a heavy load for an old ferry which was also laid up for half a year after her own share of engine troubles.

The PSSS (Philippine Ship Spotters Society) was told the Lady of Love was waiting for parts from Japan. Well, if re-manufacturing of parts are needed the waiting time is certainly months long. I was told only Japan and Singapore do this kind of job with the former supposedly having better quality. So, for the last few months, the Lady of Love was laid up in Ouano north of the E. Ouano House. She was monitored to do sea trials where she did 15 knots until she “hibernated” again.

Then suddenly a news exploded! The Lady of Love will be doing a Cebu-Surigao route and enter Mindanao and that was just a few days ago. That route was the base of the weakest ferries of Cokaliong Shipping Lines as they have a monopoly of this route after their competitor Cebu Ferries quit the Vismin routes to go elsewhere supposedly for greener pastures.

But not to be outdone and become the butt of jokes, Cokaliong suddenly diverted a good ferry of theirs, the Filipinas Cebu which was formerly doing a Cebu-Iloilo route to run head-on with the Lady of Love (therefore the match happened in another route). So the languid Cebu-Surigao route suddenly had a marquee match-up. The Lady of Love is thought to be the flagship of Medallion Transport, she being their best ship. Meanwhile, many also think the Filipinas Cebu is the flagship of Cokaliong Shipping given her name and route assignment.

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In terms of speed like what was shown in their first night match-up, the Lady of Love will have a slight edge having a higher design speed although she is the older ship. In amenities, the Lady of Love will probably not cede anything being formerly a Manila ship and the best ship of Moreta Shipping. A member of PSSS, James Verallo said in terms of restaurant and food, the Lady of Love has the edge. In passenger service and cleanliness, Cokaliong Shipping is known for that and I wonder if the Lady of Love will be a match.

All in all, the two ferries might be able to slug it out toe-to-toe and so the decisive thing that another member of PSSS Badz Bado weighed in might be the fares. I myself might add the cargo rates can also be decisive. Medallion Transport has the record that when it entered Palompon she suddenly offered the cheapest rolling rates and it was Cokaliong which she challenged there. So this new match of them is like a rubber match. It seems Medallion Transport does not fear challenging Cokaliong in its home route.

I commend Medallion Transport for having the guts to enter the Vismin route, stirring the pot and making it lively again after years of stagnation because of the tailspin of Cebu Ferries and the obvious lack of gusto shown by Trans-Asia Shipping in the last few years. I also criticize two Cebu shipping companies that were ahead of Medallion Transport but which pussyfooted a lot. The two are Roble Shipping and Lite Shipping.

Long ago, the former has a franchise to Nasipit but didn’t serve it. Lately, they had a ship named after Oroquieta in Misamis Occidental, the Oroquieta Stars but they were just using it in a Leyte route. So until now that company has no route to Mindanao when to think the gates to the Vismin route had long been left open by Cebu Ferries.

Meanwhile, Lite Shipping has been able to open two Vismin routes. One of this is their route to Plaridel in Misamis Occidental which seemed to form part of the reason of the demise of Palacio Lines. But in the over-all scheme of Mindanao, Plaridel is just a minor route. It only becomes greater because it also connects to Siquijor and Bohol and becomes the connection of the migrants of the two provinces to Mindanao.

More than a year ago, Lite Shipping used their old Lite Ferry 8 to open a route to Cagayan de Oro. I applaud them for their efforts to extend the life of that old ferry which they even re-engined but for that route that ship is outgunned and maybe that was the reason they have to offer half off the fares. For the size of Lite Shipping which is in a race to match the number of ferries of Montenegro Shipping Lines, they should already be able to afford a ferry worth the premier route to Mindanao from Cebu.

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Photo by John Carlos Cabanillas

I just hope that with this move of Medallion Transport those two mentioned companies will feel challenged. It is certainly time for them to enter new routes and ports. And if they need some “brave pills”, they can maybe ask who is the supplier of that to Montenegro Lines which suddenly entered the dangerous and overcrowded Zamboanga-Jolo route. Well, Roble also tried to enter that route via the Theresian Stars shipping company but then they have a powerful politician of Sulu as partner to that venture.

Who will be the winner then? It will be the riding public and the shippers, of course, as usual.

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On My Way Home

I had trouble with my passage back home to Davao. It was the Sinulog Festival and Trans-Asia Shipping Lines’ problems that caused it.

At first I was planning a way back home through Zamboanga which I normally do. I take the Zamboanga Ferry of George & Peter Lines to Zamboanga. With that I am able to cover the ports of Dumaguete, Dapitan and Zamboanga. Additionally, I am able to cover the various local ports of Zamboanga City plus its two shipyards. I then go home with thousands more of additional photos.

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But I was in for a shock when I went to the G&P ticketing office. I never thought that their ferry to Zamboanga will ever be full. Usually, it is only ¼ full or even less that there are no more assignments of bunks and one can choose whatever pleases him. They would even upgrade some of the Economy tickets to Tourist.

I did not know that a significant number of people from Zamboanga del Norte go to the Sinulog Festival. And to think there are a lot of ferries going to Dapitan aside from the Ceres buses. Well, the Monday schedule of Zamboanga Ferry is what made her full. It was the first day after the Sinulog Festival week.

My next plan was to take the Tagbilaran-Cagayan de Oro ship of Trans-Asia Shipping Lines, the Asia Philippines. I made an early inquiry days before with their main office. They said the schedule is MWF. And so I thought I can take their ship days after Sinulog. I did not think Sinulog will impact the Tagbilaran-Cagayan route. I will have the chance to shipspot Tubigon and Tagbilaran ports plus take Bohol bus photos and maybe have some sightseeing too in Tagbilaran.

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When I tried to purchase a ticket for Asia Philippines, Trans-Asia said the ship only only Monday voyages. How come shipping company employees themselves doesn’t know how to give accurate information? And at the head office at that? It seems with their lack of ferries, the unreliability of some of their ferries and the wish to also play the Iligan route even though they lack ferries plays havoc on the schedules of Trans-Asia Shipping Lines that even their ticketing employees are in the dark.

I then asked for their nearest available Cebu-Cagayan de Oro trip (as Cokaliong does not serve that route). A Thursday ticket was available for Trans-Asia 9 and I purchased one. But the day before the trip, there was a text message to me from the company saying our trip was cancelled for “technical reasons”. And so it seems the old engine bugaboo of the Trans-Asia 9 wouldn’t go away really. Maybe she is better off now as a Cargo RORO ship like the Trans-Asia 5 when the new Trans-Asia 1 becomes available.

I immediately went to the ticketing office of Cokaliong Shipping Lines even without a refund yet for I want to be ahead of the others. With no ship running to Cagayan de Oro I thought there might be a crush soon in the Cokaliong office. The other Cagayan ship, the Lite Ferry 8 of Lite Shipping didn’t appeal to me much.

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Had a hard time deciding at the Cokaliong Tower ticketing office. I didn’t really want a Nasipit ticket as that port is not really appealing to me from the ship spotting point of view and also from the bus spotting point of view (all yellow buses from there). They have no Cagayan de Oro trips (yet). And their Ozamis-Iligan ship was the same ferry I rode from Masbate to Cebu, the Filipinas Ozamis. It was what was indicated in their schedule board. I didn’t like their Surigao ships too and I have just been there. As much as possible I don’t want to ride a ship I have already ridden before or go via port I have just been to.

I asked the ticket seller. No, it was the Filipinas Nasipit that will be doing the Ozamis/Iligan route on a particular day (as they do the Ozamis/Iligan route four times a week now). That clinched it. A new ship and one I have not been aboard before. That will also give me the chance to visit Ozamis again after a long time and also Iligan too with the possibility of a Mukas shipspot too. I have not been to Mukas port for a long time too.

There was something new in the Cokaliong House. They now have an interactive computer by the door manned by cadets that will show what accommodations are still available. That sure takes a lot of load from the ticket sellers and crowding at their stations.

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Our trip was at 8pm and I tried to be early but was not able too. Minsan mas mahirap pa talaga ang may hatid. It was nearing dusk when I arrived in Pier 1. By then I had already missed a lot in shipspotting inside Pier 1 and also inside the Cokaliong wharf. Darkness was getting hold already when our shuttle bus parked near the stern of the Filipinas Nasipit. Sayang. I know my shots are already blurry and no use using zoom for the ships passing by.

The Tourist of Filipinas Nasipit was nice. It looks like the Tourist de Luxe of Sulpicio Lines and the Tourist of Trans-Asia 5 but it does not have the individual charging sockets of the latter. While not yet sailing I stayed in the open-air section where there were tables and seats. It was a good viewpoint when the ship will be leaving Cebu port.

I noticed the Filipinas Nasipit has a lot of cabins. I wonder if they ever get full anyway. The Economy was the same Economy of Cokaliong which are clean and functional. There was also a lounge at the side of the Tourist which is nice plus one near the canteen. Actually those can double as additional accommodation if the ship is completely full (but the Coast Guard won’t allow that even though life jackets have an allowance of 10%).

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Filipinas Nasipit lounge

I did not roam very long for the next day I will have the chance between Ozamis and Iligan. There will be better light by then with less passengers. I retired early as there will be an early arrival in Ozamis but I found out the aircon was too cold when it was midnight already. We were only eight in the semi-private cubicle and we had a packaged-type airconditioner plus doors that seal us from the lounge and the passageway on the other side.

We were in final docking maneuver in Ozamis port by 4:30 am and suddenly I had a problem since I forgot my cheap but trusty umbrella in Cebu which I used in all my days of shipspotting there. It was nearly a whiteout but soon the rain abated a little and passengers can disembark. I disembarked too but where to was settled by the rain. No joy touring a city in continuous rain but in a ferry it wouldn’t be much of a problem as long as I can board it.

I asked and I was given a bad reply regarding the ticketing office to Mukas. It was outside the gate (so a passenger from Manila or Cebu with baggage will then have to get out first? that is what one gets from ISPS ports). So I then just headed straight to the ferry past the guards (a purposeful walk will sometimes do the trick). I asked the Chief Mate for direct passage and I will just pay him. Turns out it can be done contrary to what the guards said. I had a ticket but I was unmanifested and I did not pay the terminal fee. Government functionaries sometimes makes rules na abala lang sa pasahero especially in the rain. There are other ways of making a manifest. It can be done aboard the ship. And so that there will be no more counting then let Coast Guard list the names of the embarking passengers. They are not sailing anyway and they can even do their patrol by boarding the ferry as they don’t have patrol ships anyway.

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Swallow-I of Daima Shipping

It was still dark when I boarded the Swallow-I of Daima Shipping, the sole shipping company sailing the Panguil Bay crossing. She is a double-ended ferry and a decent one but the problem was the rain got stronger and there were puddles of water in the passageways. When we sailed it was daybreak already and I noticed the St. Francis Xavier of 2GO has just anchored offshore. I thought she was waiting for the Manila Bay 1 of CAGLI to depart. Manila Bay 1 has started raising steam already by then. The other ship, the Fortune freighter was still docked in port. In the distance the outline of Trans-Asia 2 of TASLI was already visible (and so we were faster than her).

Crossing Panguil Bay, aside from the fishing bancas, I noticed that there were four double-ended ferries of Daima which were sailing and there were four more moored in Mukas port. We then docked in Mukas port and I was able to take close shots of the four and I disembarked. I saw a long line.

Again I paid direct to the Chief Mate because I said I cannot tackle a queue that long where I can miss the ship which is obviously leaving after discharging and loading and I am a passenger of Filipinas Nasipit. Again I was unmanifested and I did not the terminal fee (but then I did not use the terminal). Sometimes ang habol lang naman talaga ng mga paghihigpit ay magawa ang manifest para masiyahan ang Coast Guard at mabayaran ang terminal fee.

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Swallow-II and 4 other double-ended ROROs of Daima Shipping

The Swallow-II was docking into the port the moment we pulled. Nice to see her and I have a special respect for her. She was the former Our Lady of Mediatrix which was burned by the white phosporus explosion that hit two Super Five buses aboard her in 2000. She survived and it is a credit to Daima that they have the patience to bring her back. Good to see her again 16 years after her mishap. I did not see her personally again after the burned-out wreck I saw the day after the explosion.

I thought the St. Francis Xavier will change places with Manila Bay 1 but when we returned she was still anchored. Nearing Ozamis, I was surprised by all the kwitis being fired and by the crowd waiting inside the port. There were priests and altar boys plus the religious type of crowd howling “Viva Pit Senor!”. It turned out the Trans-Asia 2 was carrying their image that went to Sinulog. So I thought that was the reason why the St. Francis Xavier was not docking.

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After taking shots of the revelry, I had only 30 minutes plus left to departure as we were leaving at 7:30am instead of 8am. With the intermittent rain and all the ek-ek in getting back inside an ISPS port I was no longer interested in getting out of the port and see Ozamis the city again. I may have just 15 minutes net and where can you go in 15 minutes in the rain? The crew of Filipinas Nasipit also doesn’t want me to go far. I remember that is also the worry of the crew of Zamboanga
Ferry when we are in Dumaguete and Dapitan.

We pulled anchor even before 7:30am and soon was on our way to Iligan. I noticed even at a distance that the St. Francis Xavier was still anchored when to think that even when Manila Bay 1 was still docked there was still one dock free. I dunno but I can only hazard the guess Ozamis port is penalizing St. Francis Xavier for delayed arrival. It was good I did not bet on her. She was supposed to arrive 8pm the previous night but she arrived 10 hours late. I did not take her altho I have not yet ridden her because her arrivals and departures in Ozamis and Iligan are both at night. No good shipspotting with that and even my bus spotting will be ruined.

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I made rounds of the ship after we left Ozamis. It was easier now for there was light already. I noticed we were less than 1/5th of the passengers that left Cebu. So it seems most Iliganons and Marawinons take the Cagayan de Oro ferry. It was easy roaming except that they do not want us passengers in that free area behind the bridge. And they do not shoo kindly too. Did the Cokaliong crew attend the shooing seminar of 2GO? But they were a poor copy as the 2GO crew have more politeness left. I don’t like it when a shipping company treats its passengers with distrust. We passengers do not shower them with such distrust. They should be fair.

We docked in Iligan port at 9:30am. I was happy for the earlier arrival because I was hoping to make Maramag, Bukidnon before dark (I don’t care after that since all the buses will then be red; I just wonder if the Philippine Competition Commission realizes that Mindanao, at least in the bus sector is governed by a monopoly).

There were no other ferries in Iligan. There were two cargo ships, one a foreign bulker, the Spring Canary, the other a Roble freighter, the Star Ormoc. There were tugs and harbor pilot boats. But then except for us there was almost no other activity in the port. Would have been merrier if the St. Francis Xavier was a little ahead of us. But it was good as I saw the former National Steel port and the Shell tanker jetty but the distance was great. Kiwalan is too distant, too.

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I no longer tried to make a round of Iligan. Davao is still too far away and I might get too tired. I just took the jeep which I know will still make a round of the city and it did. In the eastern bus terminal, I was able to take a lot of bus photos. My first choice was an ordinary Rural minibus because it has a front seat free. I changed to an aircon bus which also had a front seat free but not the one by the windshield. The aircon fare was P115 and the ordinary fare was P120. My seatmate told me before Christmas the aircon fare was just P95 for the 87km distance. Simple predatory pricing by Rural Transit to increase the pressure against Super Five bus. If we had only antitrust laws like in the US then Rural Transit would have to pay a hefty fine and/or the owners would have to spend some time in jail.

Transferred to a Pabama aircon bus in Cagayan (which has no gold anyway) because in the afternoon it is hard to look for an aircon commuter van. They have an all-new fleet now and of course they are cheaper. If I have a choice I will choose a Rural Transit competitor that has a front seat free (the front seat is the primordial consideration to me). My ticket was for Maramag only and not Kibawe, the destination of the bus.

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Mangima, Bukidnon

It was a rainy drive from Cagayan nada Oro to Maramag and I spoiled a lot of shots. It was getting dark already even before we wheeled into Maramag. I then changed into a lousy red bus which has no competition and our drive was very slow. Imagine a 5-hour drive at night for less than 160 kilometers. And again I had an incident in the Task Force Davao permanent checkpoint (the Supreme Court has already declared that permanent checkpoints are illegal; so much for the ballyhooed “rule of law”) and I held up the bus for more than 20 minutes with the passengers in the rain below.

It’s no longer martial law, I know my rights and so and they can’t just tell me any “balaod-balaod” thing (“balaod” is law in English). It the end I was able to force the Task Force Davao sergeant to admit they have no right to force down the passengers like cattle (and with threat at that) or inspect the baggage without search warrant (yes, that is what the law says but people don’t know that because we have a very poor legal education system). When they boarded back the passengers were furious at them and not at me. Now if only our lawyers and judges have more guts.

Anyway, I survived that long land trip of nearly 400 kilometers, my longest land leg in my December-January travel. The next day Aris was surprised I insisted on our previously agreed upon meet and tour to Samal. Seems I am back in form.

Cagayan de Oro Port And Trans-Asia Shipping Lines

Cagayan de Oro port is the main connection of Mindanao to Cebu through the sea and in the south it is Cebu that is the primary trade and commercial center. Cebu supplies so many goods to Mindanao and it also attracts a lot of students and professionals from northern Mindanao. Besides a lot of people in Mindanao have Cebu origins. Cebu’s pre-eminence goes back a long, long time ago and that was even before the Spaniards came. When Magellan reached Cebu they noticed that there were many ships from Siam! Sugbu was already a great trading center even before Fernando Magallanes and Lapu-lapu were born.

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Cagayan de Oro port

Cagayan de Oro was not always the main port of entry from Cebu to Mindanao. Misamis town (Ozamis City now) reached prominence earlier than it and that was why it was the capital of the unified Misamis province then. And in the boom of copra before the 1929 Wall Street Crash in the US, Medina town and Gingoog were even more prosperous than Cagayan de Misamis, the old name of Cagayan de Oro (by the way there is no gold in that city; it was just a name creation to make it more attractive-sounding). Camiguin was also more prosperous then than Cagayan de Misamis (because of copra and not because of lanzones). All these are validated by the biography of former Vice-President Emmanuel Pelaez who hails from the area and whose father was the former Governor of the unified Misamis province.

But things always change and when the interior of Mindanao was opened for exploitation and the Sayre Highway that extended up to Cotabato province was built, slowly the central position of Cagayan de Misamis buoyed it up until it exceeded Misamis, Medina, Gingoog and Camiguin. The Americans’ interest in Bukidnon agribusiness (think pineapple and Del Monte) also helped a great deal and with that even Bugo port in Cagayan de Misamis became a port of importance.

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Part of Sayre Highway leading to Bukidnon

Many shipping companies served the growing commerce between Cebu and Cagayan de Oro. Some of earlier ones were national liner companies (almost all liners then going to Cagayan de Oro call in Cebu first) and some were regionals like Central Shipping (but this graduated to the national liner company Sweet Lines). The situation then was national liner companies dominated the Cebu-Cagayan de Oro corridor (in fact the entire Cebu-northern Mindanao corridor). On the side of the regionals, they were then dependent on wooden motor boats and at best they would have ex-”F” ships or ships converted from minesweepers or PT boats.

In 1974, a new shipping company was born in Cebu which was first known as Solar Shipping Lines but they immediately changed their company name to Trans-Asia Shipping Lines Inc. or TASLI for short. This company had an entirely new tack which made them surpass their regional rivals immediately. Their strategy was to buy good surplus cruisers from Japan whose size even exceeded the former “FS” ships which in those days still dominated the fleet of the national liner companies (but which actually are already reaching the end of their reliable service and were already prone to accidents). The age of those surplus ships of TASLI was about the same of the small liners being purchased then from Japan by the national liner companies. So imagine TASLI’s edge in the regional and specifically the Cebu-northern Mindanao shipping wars especially the premier route to Cagayan de Oro.

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Asia Philippines by TASLI

The cruisers of Trans-Asia Shipping Lines were of course faster, more reliable and more comfortable as comfort was not the strength of the former “FS” ships then which has cargo origins. And, of course, the ex-”F” ships, etc. were even more inferior along with the wooden motor boats. Even in the 1970’s when our population was much smaller and the trade of goods then smaller too, Trans-Asia Shipping Lines was able to form a fleet of seven of these modern (by Philippine standards) cruisers which were all built in Japan in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s.

These TASLI ships bore the names which later became familiar even to the current generation: Asia Philippines, Asia Japan, Asia Indonesia, Asia China and Trans-Asia (two were sold and replaced by ships that bore the same name). To complete the modernist approach, Trans-Asia Shipping Lines built a modern main office and an airconditioned ticketing office just across Plaza Independencia which stands until now and the company was justifiably proud of those. And I say I have to congratulate its architect and the owners because the building still looks beautiful four decades later. Their buildings were just near where their ships docked then. Actually, I sometimes go there just to feel the ambiance and the history of the place.

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TASLI ticketing office

When the new shipping paradigm came which we know today as the RORO ships, Trans-Asia Shipping Lines immediately went aboard and sold their old cruisers. In this field, among the Visayas-Mindanao regional shipping companies, only Carlos A. Gothong Lines Inc. (CAGLI) was ahead of them. In the 1980′,s after the break-up with Lorenzo Shipping Corporation, CAGLI stressed regional operations and they were first to realize the superiority of the ROROs even in the overnight ferry field. Roble Shipping Inc. and Cokaliong Shipping Lines Inc. (CSLI) were among the recipients of the cast-off cruisers of TASLI.

In succession from 1987, Trans-Asia Shipping Lines acquired Asia Hongkong, a new Asia Japan, Asia Thailand, Asia Taiwan, Asia Brunei and a new Asia Indonesia, a new Asia Singapore, a new Trans-Asia, a new Asia Philippines and a new Asia China with the last one added in 1995. Trans-Asia Shipping Lines were adding more than a new ship a year in this stretch and this brought them easily to the top of the Visayas-Mindanao regional shipping companies. From Cebu as a hub, their routes spread like the spokes of the wheel with routes to Mindanao, the all the major Visayas islands and even Masbate in the Bicol Region. And they dominated the Cebu-Cagayan de Oro route. They even exceeded there Carlos A. Gothong Lines and Sulpicio Lines.

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The jewels of their fleet were the sister ships Trans-Asia and Asia China. The two were nearly liner in size and speed and they had the appointments and comforts of a liner. In those days, the two were probably the best overnight ships in the whole country and Trans-Asia Shipping Lines was justifiably proud of the two. It was more than a statement that “they have arrived”. They were the best among the regionals, the top in the totem pole of this category.

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But storms at sea can suddenly appear out of nowhere and their fury could be fiercer than one might expect. The “typhoon” that battered Trans-Asia Shipping Lines appeared on January 1, 1996 when the “Great Merger” between Williams Lines Inc., Carlos A. Gothong Lines Inc. and Aboitiz Shipping Company happened which produced the giant shipping company WG&A. With the creation of WG&A, a new, more powerful regional shipping company suddenly appeared, the Cebu Ferries Corporation or CFC. It also had another subsidiary, the High Speed Craft (HSC) company SuperCat.

In Cebu Ferries Corporation, WG&A passed on their old liners and the former regional ships of William Lines and CAGLI. To top it and to challenge the jewels of TASLI which were ruling the prime Visayas-Mindanao route, the Cebu-Cagayan de Oro route, CFC fielded the Our Lady of Lipa and later the Our Lady of Good Voyage, a small William Lines liner which was the former Mabuhay 6. So as not to lose in the one-upmanship, Sulpicio Lines then fielded the even bigger Princess of the Ocean which was really a liner in appointments, speed and size.

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Photo credit: Ray Smith

The Our Lady of Lipa and Princess of the Ocean were both capable of 20 knots and so the races between Cebu and Cagayan de Oro began. The bragging rights comes from which ship will arrive Cagayan de Oro port first. In Cagayan de Oro that matters because maybe half of the passengers will still be travelling long distances to Bukidnon, Davao, Cotabato, Gensan and Lanao (the farthest I heard was still bound for Sarangani islands). If one is able to hitch to a connecting ride before dawn then he will have lunch at home even it is as far as Davao. In won’t be dark already when the passenger reaches Sarangani province unlike before (if one is late and there are no more trips then one sleeps in Gensan).

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And reports of 2:00 or 2:30 am arrivals (or even earlier) began filtering back. From an 8pm departure in Cebu! There was no way the sister ships of Trans-Asia Shipping Lines can match that. In comfort and accommodations they probably can match ships fitted as liners (except in speed and maybe in the restaurant). But Cebu Ferries Corporation also has a more extensive route system and in conjunction with WG&A liners passing through Cebu their frequencies can’t be matched. WG&A liners acting also as Visayas-Mindanao liners were simply untouchable like the SuperFerries emanating from Cebu. Or when they use the likes of Our Lady of Sacred Heart in a Vis-Min route. Maybe TASLI then were asking what sea god they have crossed to deserve such a fate and tribulation!

Trans-Asia Shipping Lines tried to fight back (and show they are not cowered). They acquired three more ships in a short stretch between 1997 and 1998, the Trans-Asia 2, the Asia Malaysia and the Asia South Korea. However, they lost two ships to accidents in 1999 and they sold three more ships early this millennium. There was simply a surplus of bottoms in the Visayas-Mindanao routes so there was overcompetition (contrary to what Myrna S. Austria claims but those knowledgeable of Visayas-Mindanao shipping will easily contradict her). A lot of regional shipping companies failed in this period. The growth of others were stunted and that included Trans-Asia Shipping Lines.

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Soon, even Cebu Ferries Corporation stepped back, gave up routes and sold ships. It was not simply the effects of overcompetition on them. The “Great Merger” unraveled and the Chiongbian and Gothong families pulled out and they had to be paid for their shares and so still-good ships were thrown to the torches of the breakers. Later, reeling from the resurgence of competitors, Cebu Ferries Corporation gave up completely and its remaining ships were brought to Batangas (and becoming “Batangas Ferries”, jokingly).

But Trans-Asia Shipping Lines suffered a lot. For ten years from 1998 they didn’t acquire any ships until when the purchased the Trans-Asia 3 in 2008. From 2010, Trans-Asia Shipping Lines acquired four more ships. But the difference this time were they were purchasing ships discarded by others (that was the pattern of their clients Cokaliong Shipping Lines and Roble Shipping Lines before). It seems they have forgotten the formula which brought them to the top. As I observed, they were not the same company after that bruising battle with Cebu Ferries Corporation. The “Great Merger” was actually a curse to our shipping as it turned out. Not only to TASLI but to the whole shipping industry. Shipping companies that were growing were blighted by them, some were even snuffed out completely.

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While Trans-Asia Shipping Lines still added four more ferries from 2010, they also lost about the same number through disposals and an accident, the sinking of the Asia Malaysia. And then they sold to the breakers their former jewels which might have weak engines already but the interiors were still superb.

Now one of the cast-offs they bought, the Trans-Asia 5 now just sails as a Cargo RORO ship and another has fast-weakening engine, the Trans-Asia 9 (the Captain of her as Our Lady of Good Voyage admitted to PSSS that its engines were weak already). Trans-Asia Shipping Lines severely lacks ships now and their fleet is beginning to get gray. They still try to hold to the premier Cebu-Cagayan de Oro route but challengers are now baying at their door.

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I hope they have a renaissance. And like in the 1970’s, 1980’s and 1990’s that they sail boldly on to a new dawn.