If Only Cokaliong Shipping Lines Would Use the Filipinas Nasipit in the Cebu-Batangas Route

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For me, the Filipinas Nasipit which was the former Taiko is striking in two ways. One is its sleek design that is beautiful to behold. She looks modern and fast, which she is. And that brings us to the second striking characteristic of Filipinas Nasipit – her design speed is high at 21.5 knots which is liner range in the Philippines. The only overnight ferry that is close to her in design speed is the Trans-Asia 3 at 20 knots. And we know Trans-Asia 3 is still capable of 18 knots if only the fuel cost is not a consideration. Nowadays, with capitulation of Cebu Ferries there was no need for overnight races anymore.

At a design speed of 21.5 knots and at her age, I believe Filipinas Nasipit is still capable of over 18 knots even though some metal were added to her in refitting here (it was not really much). My guess is at full trot she can still run at 19-20 knots which is easily in the range of the best liners of 2GO at present. So, she is liner in speed capability.

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Photo by John Carlos Cabanillas

In the past, the Aboitiz Shipping Corporation liners SuperFerry 2 and SuperFerry 5 sail the 394-nautical mile Cebu-Manila route in 22 hours by sailing at the 17.5-18 knots range (those two sister ships had a design speed of 19 knots which is the maximum sustained speed when new). I want to use it as comparison since they go under the Mactan bridges. I assume Filipinas Nasipit is also capable of sailing under the two Mactan bridges and need not go round Mactan island which adds to transit time and fuel cost.

Batangas is 6 hours away from Manila. So, if Filipinas Nasipit is used in the Cebu-Batangas route and assuming she sails at 18 knots then she will be in Batangas in 16 hours. It could even be less if she turns on the speed like liners do. I want to stress this because at 15-16 hours sailing time then she will then be ready to sail the next night. Therefore, theoretically, a three times a week Cebu-Batangas sailing is possible. If the extra day in a week is used in a short route like Dumaguete then actually she would also act as a Batangas-Cebu-Dumaguete ferry once a week. Neat?

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Photo from James Gabriel Verallo

I believe the Cebu-Batangas route has enough potential in passengers and cargo. If 2GO still finds their Cebu-Manila route profitable now, there is a percentage of those passengers that will be amenable to a Batangas drop-off or disembarkation like the passengers going to CALABARZON except Rizal. There is also the potential enticements of lower fares, shorter sailing hours and without the hassle of going to or going out of North Harbor (because access to that national port is horrible with all the road congestion and traffic of Manila plus the crime and grime). Cokaliong Shipping Lines can also have a tie-up with a bus company going to Manila for the convenience of the passengers and its luggages.

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Photo from James Gabriel Verallo

The Asian Marine Transport Corporation (AMTC) was not successful in the Cebu-Batangas route in the passenger category because the sailing time was long since it passes through Masbate and their ship Super Shuttle RORO 3 was not fast since its speed was in the overnight ferry range and not in the liner range. The fare was cheap but the food is not free and there is not even a Tourist Class (there was a space for it but it was never opened). The ship also lacks amenities and the NVH (Noise, Vibration, Harshness) at the stern where the Economy was located was not good. It was also hot since air flow even during sailing is restricted. I don’t think Super Shuttle RORO 3 ever made a dent on the passengers of Aboitiz Transport System and 2GO especially since she only sailed once a week.

Filipinas Nasipit State-of-the-Art Bridge

Photo by Mark Ocul

But in speed the Filipinas Nasipit is a match to the 2GO liners. The frequency always matters too. Waiting for two days is not long unlike waiting for a week like in the AMTC ship. The Filipinas Nasipit might be small but she has enough capacity and the route is much just like an extended overnight route. And besides the Filipinas Nasipit is well-designed unlike Super Shuttle RORO 3 and it is already modern. Cokaliong Shipping Lines Incorporated was lucky to acquire her since it can be used in a route like that.

In terms of cargo, I think the Cebu-Batangas route has potential from the trucks going to Manila and CALABARZON and new cars destined for Cebu (and also the trucks going back). Batangas is a drop-off port of many imported new cars and also cars that comes from assembly plants in Laguna. I heard the cargo capacity of Filipinas Nasipit is small but if she is viable in an overnight route to Mindanao then if her load in the Batangas-Cebu route is good then she will also be profitable, why not?

Cafeteria

Photo by Mark Ocul

A departure of 6pm means the ship is not obliged to serve dinner to the passengers, according to traditional rules. The arrival then will be 9 or 10am and if breakfast is required then it will not be hard for the ship since breakfast is easier to prepare as it can just be continental breakfast (prito-prito lang plus coffee). However, some adjustments might be needed in the ship since overnight ships does not really have big restaurants. A shortcut that can be applied is breakfast that is served in styropor boxes.

Tables at the Sundeck

Can be used for serving breakfast on-the-go; photo by Mark Ocul

I have long thought that a Cebu-Batangas ship, as long as it is fast and it is fit in terms of accommodations will be viable in the long run when it is well-advertised as an alternative to Manila, its schedule is reliable, its accommodations are topnotch and it has a decent service. In cleanliness, Cokaliong Shipping Lines Inc. no longer need to adjust since their ships are even cleaner than the liners. The Filipinas Nasipit will fit the bill here.

A 15- or 16-hour sailing is not really that taxing to the crew. An 8-hour lay-over is enough for the rest of the crew and for cargo loading and unloading. That is also long enough for loading supplies and cleaning and preparing the ship for the return voyage. As for the company, the ship will have greater usage and profit because that is just like doing a Cebu-northern Mindanao route twice a day (in terms of sailing time as in fast sailing time).

Camagong Business Class

Photo by Mark Ocul

Filipinas Nasipit has a passenger capacity of 685 and I think that is already enough especially at the start. If some of the accommodations are the equivalent of jetseaters of before then it will not matter as liners also offered jetseaters in the past. And actually it offers good savings if priced right.

I just hope Cokaliong Shipping Lines thinks about a Cebu-Batangas route and gives it a try. They will have no competition in the route in passengers, the route has great potential, they have the right ship for a start and they already have the passenger service and cleanliness plus the attitude needed to compete in a route to Luzon (actually they are well above the overnight ships from Batangas).

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I hope to see a service from them soon. I will ride, why not?

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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.