RORO Cargo Ships And Vehicle Carriers That Were Converted Into ROPAXes In The Philippines

RORO (Roll-on, Roll-off) Cargo Ships differ from ROPAXes (RORO-Passenger Ships) in that the former are mainly for carrying rolling cargo (vehicles mainly but could also be heavy equipment) with their drivers and crew and as such their passenger capacity and amenities like a restaurant or cafeteria are small. They are mainly designed to ferry vehicles across the sea with the least loading and unloading time. Their sizes vary depending on the distance and the traffic volume. Generally, they have higher sides.

In the Philippines, they are represented currently by the Super Shuttle RORO 7, Super Shuttle RORO 8, Super Shuttle RORO 9, Super Shuttle RORO 10, Super Shuttle RORO 11 and the Super Shuttle RORO 12 of the Asian Marine Transport Corporation (AMTC). They are also represented by the Dapitan Bay 1, Panglao Bay 1 and Batangas Bay 1 of Carlos A. Gothong Lines Inc. (CAGLI). But this selection is the relatively large ones by RORO Cargo Ship standard. There were smaller versions of it in the past.

Vehicle Carriers are similar to RORO Cargo Ships but instead of acting like commuters they deliver vehicles from the factories to a destination and so they will come back without load unlike the RORO Cargo Ships.  Vehicle Carriers could be smaller or bigger than RORO Cargo Ships but lately they began growing bigger to be more efficient in bringing new cars from the likes of Japan to the United States. Those delivering cars within Japan only were considerably smaller.

In the Philippines, there were several RORO Cargo Ships and Vehicle Carriers that were converted into ROPAXes or what is commonly called as ROROs here and most became RORO Liners of the major liner companies. Per ton, a RORO Cargo Ship or a Vehicle Carrier is cheaper than a ROPAX as it doesn’t have that much equipment and amenities for passengers. Besides, for the same size, they could have smaller engine/engines and so the speed is a bit less.

In refitting, it is possible that in a RORO Cargo Ship or a Vehicle Carrier that metal has to chopped off. Meanwhile, locally, it is normal to add metal to a ROPAX from Japan to add decks for more passenger accommodation. Viewing areas were not considered in the building of RORO Cargo Ships and Vehicle Carriers and that could be one reason for chopping off metal.

I noticed that RORO Cargo or Vehicle Carrier conversion here goes by streaks by shipping lines that has a liking for them for the benefits they offer like a smaller capital cost for the same capacity and I agree with them it is a route worth taking. Maybe the first who took this route was the K&T Shipping Lines which was later known as the Maypalad Shipping Lines after their ferry Kalibo Star sank in Samar Sea in the late 1990s.

Samar Star

Many do not know that K&T Shipping was among the first in the acquisition of ROROs and maybe one reason for that is their ROROs do not look like the traditional ROROs of the other shipping lines. Their first RORO was the Samar Queen that was later renamed into Samar Star which actually became their last ship existing but not sailing. This ship was classified as a Ferry-RORO in Japan but she has the looks a cargo ship like a trio of sister ships K&T Shipping later acquired – the Leyte Star (a.k.a. Leyte Queen), the Cebu Star (a.k.a. Cebu Queen) and the Kalibo Star (a.k.a. Ocean Star). The difference is these four ships have rear-quarter ramps and a car deck and in order for them to carry passengers, K&T Shipping built a passenger deck atop the car deck. In Japan, the trio was classified as Vehicle Carriers.

Leyte Star

The Leyte Star by Edison Sy of PSSS.

The Samar Queen was smaller than the three sister ships at 56.6m x 9.0m x 5.6m and she arrived in 1980 which was just the dawn of RORO (more exactly ROPAX) shipping in the Philippines. Meanwhile, the Leyte Queen arrived in 1984 and the Cebu Queen arrived in 1986. Then the ill-fated Kalibo Star arrived in 1992. All of the three were former Toyo Maru ships in Japan but they have different owners. The external measurement of the Kalibo Star was 72.0m x 10.4m x 4.5m and the measurements of the other two sister ships hew closely to this.

The trio of sister ships were powered by a single 1,250-horsepower Hanshin engine which gave a design speed of 12.5 knots. The Samar Star has a single 1,300 Nippatsu-Fuji engine giving a speed of 13 knots. And this brings up one characteristic of small RORO Cargo ships and Vehicle Carriers. They are generally powered by a single engine only whereas ROPAXes of their size almost invariably have two engines and are faster.

Cebu Star

Cebu Star by Rex Nerves of PSSS.

These four K&T ships have one of the minimum conversions in this type of ships. At the start, the passengers just have to unroll cots and look for a place that they prefer.  Their main cargo here was not rolling cargo either. Nothing unusual in that as most Cebu overnight ferries carry loose and palletized cargo in the main. In loading and unloading, forklifts are used just like in the other Cebu overnight ferries.

Before I digress further, the first of this type of ships converted into ROPAX might be the Don Carlos of Sulpicio Lines Inc. which arrived in 1977 and was classified as a Vehicle Carrier in Japan. Actually, the Don Carlos could very well be our very first ROPAX that is not an LCT. This ship was formerly the Daiten Maru of the Masumoto Kisen KK in Japan. She also not carried rolling cargo except for some trucks and heavy equipment destined for the South (her route is to General Santos City) and on the return trip livestock was loaded. She suffered a piracy attack in 1978 and later she was just used as a cargo ship.

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Research by Gorio Belen in the National Library.

The Don Carlos measured 71.6m x 10.9m x 4.9m which is almost the same of the measurements of the K&T Shipping sistership trio. However, this Sulpicio ferry looks like a regular ROPAX after refitting. She was equipped with a single Hanshin engine of 1,300 horsepower and her design speed was 12.5 knots and that speed was her one weakness as she was sailing a long route.

The second shipping company that had a liking for this type of ship to be converted as ROPAXes was the Carlos A. Gothong Lines, Inc. (CAGLI). This happened when they were building up their fleet so that they can return to their Manila route after her break-up with Lorenzo Shipping Corporation. After the break-up Gothong Lines concentrated on the Visayas-Mindanao routes but they relied on small ROPAXes. For the Manila route, they needed bigger ships and acquiring this type I am discussing was their route.

Their first of this type converted to ROPAX might have been the Our Lady of Guadalupe which was Asaka Maru No.8 in Japan and was classified as a Ferry-RORO. But to me she has the built of a Vehicle Carrier which meant metal has to be taken off rather than added like what happens in the former ROPAXes of Japan brought here. One thing notable in the Our Lady of Guadalupe is the high sides with few viewing areas for passengers. The two traits are traits of Vehicle Carriers.

Our Lady of Guadalupe (2)

Our Lady of Guadalupe by Toshihiko Mikami of PSSS.

The Our Lady of Guadalupe measured 89.7m x 14.4m x 4.8m with a passenger capacity of 674 persons. She was powered by two Niigata engines with a total of 5,400 horsepower and her top sustained speed when new was 16 knots. She was fielded in the Manila route in 1986 before being downgraded by Gothong Lines to the Cebu-Surigao route in the early 1990s and she had the reputation of being unreliable and that helped the new Cokaliong Shipping Lines Inc. to survive in the route. Her unreliability was never resolved even when she was passed on to the Cebu Ferries Company after the “Great Merger” of 1996.

In 1990, Gothong Lines acquired a pair of sister ships classified as RORO Cargo ships in Japan. The two are the Shinsei Maru which became the Our Lady of Sacred Heart and the Shinka Maru which became first as the Sto. Nino de Cebu. The latter suffered a fire early on after fielding (how can a ship with such a magical name catch fire?) but she was repaired and she was renamed into the Our Lady of Medjugorje. The two are among the better conversions that I have seen and in the latter I love her verandas and she was among my favorite ships.

OUR LADY of SACRED HEART

Our Lady of Sacred Heart by Chief Ray Smith of PSSS.

The sister ships have already been lengthened in Japan and they measured an identical 123.0m x 18.0m x 12.3 meters and that size was average for many of the liners that came in 1990-92 although their passenger capacity did not reach 2,000 persons. The two were not built in the same shipyard. The Our Lady of Sacred Heart was built by Tsuneishi Shipbuilding in 1978 and the Our Lady of Medjugorje was built by the Mitsui Engineering & Shipbuilding in 1979. The first had a single 9,000 horsepower Mitsui engine while the latter had a single 8,000 horspower engine but both had a design speed of 17 knots which became 16.5 knots in the country. In the “Great Merger” they were transferred to WG&A and they continued to ply a route from Manila and sometimes pairing with each other as they have the same speed (sometimes with SuperFerry 3 too that also has the same speed with them).

Our Lady of Medjugorje (Aboitiz)

Our Lady of Medjugorje by Albritz Salih of PSSS.

A related company, the Cebu Ferries Corporation (CFC) acquired in 2009 and 2010 two ships, the Asakaze and Esan which became the Cebu Ferry 2 and Cebu Ferry 3. In Japan they were classified as Ferry-ROROs but they do not look like the type. They might have a small passenger capacity but both featured open car decks and so plenty of metal has to be added in them to become ROPAXes. I do not consider the two part of the type I am discussing.

When Carlos A. Gothong Lines Inc. divested from WG&A, their first acquisition in 2001 when the divestment was not yet complete was actually a RORO Cargo ship, the Koyo Maru of Keiyo Kisen which became the Butuan Bay 1 in their fleet. At 114.8m x 19.0m x 9.6m, she was not a small ship. What are striking about her was her height and the length of her ramp. The ship was built by Iwagi Zosen in 1989 and she is powered by a single Mitsubishi-MAN engine with 9,600 horsepower that gave her a speed of 17.5 knots.

Butuan Bay 1 in Iligan City

Butuan Bay 1 by Josel Nino Bado of PSSS.

However, her refitting was not first-class (two passenger decks were just added atop her decks) and so when she was sold to Trans-Asia Shipping Lines Inc. (TASLI) in 2010 after an engine room explosion, TASLI remodeled the ship comprehensibly and she became a looker as the Trans-Asia 5. However, when MARINA took exception to her conking out and wallowing in water (the disadvantage of a single-engine design), she was reverted into a cargo ship and parts of her superstructure were removed. Still, she is a good-looking ship.

Trans Asia 5

The old Trans-Asia 5 by Michael Roger Denne of  PSSS.

Trans-Asia 5

The new Trans-Asia 5 by Mike Baylon of PSSS.

Recently, another shipping company took as liking for this type to be converted into ROPAXes. This is the Asian Marine Transport Corporation (AMTC) which also operates many RORO Cargo ships for their cargo liner operations. Their conversions started their Super Shuttle RORO series but it stopped at three as it seems they found out they were not really good in passenger liner operations.

Their first ship converted was the small RORO Cargo ship Cebu Trader which became the Super Shuttle RORO 1. This ship was built in 1978 by Trosvik Verskted in Norway and has passed into many hands already which is normal in Europe especially for this type. She measured 97.2m x 16.6m x 6.4m and she was powered by two Hedemora engines with a low total of 2,600 horsepower but still her design speed was 14.5 knots (which is a little doubtful).

Super Shuttle Roro 1

Super Shuttle RORO 1 by Fr. Bar Fabella, SVD of PSSS.

AMTC acquired this ship in 2011 and she was tastefully and even moderniscally refitted in Ouano port for ASR in Mandaue, Cebu which showed none of her age. However, she did not serve long as in 2012 she caught fire in heavy downpour while taking shelter from a tropical storm in Looc Bay in Tablas Island, Romblon on a route from Batangas to Dumaguit via Odiongan. She was never repaired.

The next in the series actually came in 2010 and was a small Vehicle Carrier. This was the former Koyo Maru No. 23 in Japan which became the Super Shuttle RORO 2 for AMTC after conversion. The ship measures 90.0m x 14.2m x 11.6m and she is powered by a single Hanshin engine of 3,200 horsepower which gave her a top speed of 14.5 knots when was still new.

Super Shuttle Roro 2

Super Shuttle RORO 2 by Raymond Lapus of PSSS.

However, even with an equal design speed it was said she was faster than the Super Shuttle RORO 1 in the same route to Dumaguit port in Aklan. Well, this ship was built later in 1987 by Imamura Shipbuilding in Japan and that could be a difference. Super Shuttle RORO 2 still sails in the same route but sometimes she takes long breaks.

The last ship in the series is the biggest of the three at 128.8m x 19.9m x 6.6m which is already not small for a liner but she was not developed well and her Tourist section was not even finished. This ship was the Vehicle Carrier Atsuta Maru in Japan that was built by Kanda Shipbuilding and she was named as the Super Shuttle RORO 3 in AMTC. Her route is Batangas-Masbate-Mandaue-Cagayan de Oro and with unfavorable arrivals and departures she never became popular with the passengers especially when her departure times became hard to divine as the company gave priority to cargo. However, her cargo load is always good.

Super Shuttle Roro 3

Super Shuttle RORO 3 by Aris Refugio of PSSS.

Recently, she no longer takes in passengers. Before she was a cheap, direct ride to Batangas but the passengers have to bear hardships. I was lucky I was able to ride her when she was still taking passengers. There were times too when she became unreliable and can’t sail for extended periods of time. She has a single 8,000 horsepower Hitachi engine which powers her to 18 knots when still new. Her unreliability seems to stem from maintenance problems.

Roble Shipping Inc. also tried this type of conversion when they acquired the Vehicle Carrier Taelim Iris from South Korea in 2015. They did not immediately do work on the ship and when work commenced it was just done in their wharf in Pier 7 in Mandaue, Cebu. A lot of metal was added but after the work was finished a beautiful Oroquieta Stars emerged which became their pride. Originally meant for Misamis Occidental, she became a regular to Baybay, Leyte where she is a favorite.

Oroquieta Stars

Oroquieta Stars by James Gabriel Verallo of PSSS.

The Oroquieta Stars measures 77.4m x 12.0m x 8.1m and she is equipped with two Akasaka engines with a total of 4,900 horsepower. Her design speed is 16 knots and that is more than enough for a Leyte overnight ship. She was built by Sanyo Shipbuilding in Japan in 1994.

Another company which tried this conversion route was the Aleson Shipping Lines of Zamboanga. They acquired the Ariake Maru No.18 in 2016, a Vehicle Carrier in Japan built by Honda Shipbuilding. This ship has high sides and to have passenger viewing areas and access, metal has to sloughed off. In the Aleson fleet, this ship became known as the Antonia 1 and named after the matriarch of the company.

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Antonia 1 by Albritz Salih of PSSS.

The Antonia 1 measures 103.6m x 15.5m x 11.5m and she is powered a single Akasaka-Mitsubishi engine of 4,000 horsepower. Her design speed is 15 knots. Presently, the ship’s route is Zamboanga-Sandakan, our only international passenger ship route.

The last company which tried this route of conversion is the Trans-Asia Shipping Lines Inc. (TASLI). They acquired the Warrior Spirit in 2016 and even earlier than the Antonia 1. While the Antonia 1 sailed in 2017, the Warrior Spirit which was renamed into the third Trans-Asia still can’t sail as a host of ailments that defied easy solutions bugged her especially in the engine department.

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Trans-Asia by C/E John Nino Malinao Borgonia of PSSS

The ship was built by Nouvelle Havre in France in 1980. Trans-Asia, the third, measures 126.2m x 21.0m and her design speed is 19 knots. With high sides and being tall, this ship is the biggest-ever of Trans-Asia Shipping Lines. And I hope that finally they will be able to solve her problems.

I am not too sure if my list is complete. But I would want to see in the future what other ships of this type will be converted into ROPAX in our country again.

 

 

 

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2GO Travel Has Stopped Its Manila-Davao Route

A few weeks ago, the liner St. Leo the Great of 2GO Travel plied its last voyage to Davao amid some send-off ceremony. That liner started again the Manila-Zamboanga-General Santos City-Davao route after a request from the Philippine President who changed his mind after saying right after he was elected that Davao does not need a liner. Now, Davao City is his own city and it recently produced a shipping great in Dennis Uy who was one of President Duterte’s supporters in his presidential campaign and they are close.

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St. Leo The Great by Mike Baylon and PSSS

A liner to Davao has been a debated thing in the last few years and the quirk is after our liner companies were decimated through various reasons, only one was left to serve the route if they wish and that is the company 2GO which changed ownership from Negros Navigation to the Chelsea Logistics of Dennis Uy. When the Aboitizes were still the owners of the predecessor company of 2GO, the Aboitiz Transport System, it seems they were discouraged by the Davao route. It was true that there were only a few passengers left and they are being beaten in cargo, they being who charge the highest and there was a secret reason for that.

I have long argued that liners should be downsized now because passenger loads of 2,000 people were already a thing of the past when the budget airlines came and it made the plane fare low as in to the level of liner fares. A voyage of over two days suddenly became passe and undesirable even though the meals are free. The availability of intermodal buses added to the pressure against the liners. That mode is not comfortable but they depart daily whereas the liner became a weekly thing when at its peak the liners have six sailing to Davao in a week.

The over-all situation is actually not favorable now to the liners even in other parts of Mindanao and even in the Visayas as there are alternatives already. So that impacts the capacity of the liner companies to invest in new liners. As of now, it is already obvious that liners are oversized even in the cargo capacity. I think it should go back to 110- or 120-meter length of the 1980s. The 155-meter liners of today are just relics of the 1990s when passenger shipping was still good. Engine capacity should also be downsized from the 25,000 horsepower currently to half of that like that of some 25 or 30 years ago. Speeds might go down from 19 knots currently to the 16-17 knots of before but that might not be a very big thing. What is important to consider is fuel is no longer as cheap compared to a generation ago because of US wars.

And this actually where 2GO might be headed. I heard a ferry in the 110-meter range is coming but it seems it is headed to a sister company, the Trans-Asia Shipping Lines Inc. (TASLI). I will not be surprised if Trans-Asia Shipping goes into liners like they are already in cargo liners with their container ship fleet still growing. TASLI also might turn out to be cheaper to operate than 2GO. I heard the new ferry is destined for Davao so Dennis Uy can still fulfill his promise to President Duterte.

A 115-meter ferry with a passenger capacity of 1,000 to 1,200 passengers and a container capacity of about 60 to 70 TEUs is what might be needed by liner shipping today. The 2,000-passenger capacity is already archaic and so do the 100-TEU container capacity as liners can no longer fill that up now. Why field a full-size bus or truck when a midibus or a minitruck will do? However, I wish that that ship will have a mezzanine so cars can also be loaded without taking much space. The space or deck below that will still be usable.

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Princess of Negros by Chief Ray Smith of PSSS.  A 110-meter ROPAX of the past.

But if we really want to revive our liner industry then MARINA should change its rules. Exhortations from MARINA or the Department of Transportation will not do the trick and they should realize that.

In the 1980s, when the ROROs came (or ROPAXes to be more exact) the liners were allowed to charge more for the same cargo so that the passenger fares can be subsidized. It was simpler then because the liner companies were also the dominant players in the containerized cargo business and so the playing field was more or less equal. There were just a few container shipping companies which were not in the passenger liner business.

The liners can charge extra because it was treated as express cargo. They actually arrive in the destinations earlier than the container ships which just sail at half their speed and are not constrained to wait for cargo so that the ship will have more load.

But the problem is things changed as time went by. Lorenzo Shipping, Escano Lines, William Lines, Gothong Lines and finally Sulpicio Lines got out of the passenger liner business for one reason or another and a slew of new container lines emerged (it was no longer Solid Shipping Lines alone although there were other small container lines before them). The container ships can already undercut the express rates very significantly. Now most cargoes can actually wait and if one needed it really fast then one goes to the forwarding companies using airlines and their own panel trucks. This segment of the cargo business actually boomed in the last three decades. Aren’t they present in all malls now?

In truth, the container shipping companies do not want to do any passenger business anymore and the reasons are various. One, without passengers they can delay the departures of their ships and there are no passengers which will complain. Second, container vans do not need accommodations, nor food and nor passenger service. The crewing needs for passengers is actually great and restaurants and pantries will be needed plus a food supply system. A container van can be handled roughly and nobody will complain. The carrying of passengers actually has potential problems public relations especially in this time of social media. If the Princess of the Stars was a simple container ship then the furor and backlash would not have been that great. Life is much simpler for container lines and even their office staff is leaner.

How do we revive liner shipping? It’s simple. Oblige the container lines to operate liners. The size and number should be proportional to their container ship fleet. That will level the playing field and 2GO, our sole and remaining liner company will breathe easier. At the rate it is going, getting cargo was already difficult for 2GO. Even here in Davao, there are a lot of new container lines and some are even using LCTs and deck loading ships which are even less expensive to operate thus they are capable of charging less.

Now, I wonder if the current crop of MARINA officers knows the history of the rates they approved or its rationale. I am not even sure if they really care for liner shipping because after all they do not ride ships (they take the plane, of course). Maybe they do not even realize that the more container ships they approve the more liner shipping goes down. Cargo is the lifeblood of shipping and the passenger liners are no longer competitive in that.

I hope the liners rise again. And I wish they will come back to Davao and be profitable at the same time.

The Miyuki Maru

The Miyuki Maru which is in the Philippines now is one ferry that is lucky to have a long life although she had many owners already. And recently she was given another lease of life although she is already pushing to fifty years in age and of sailing. At the moment, however, I will leave the reader in suspense what this familiar ship is. What I can say however is she was always wanted all of her years and not all ferries were that lucky.

“Miyuki” is a common feminine given Japanese name and many Japanese women carry that as their first name. Translated, in many cases she is associated with the word “beautiful” and maybe that is the reason why she had been lucky all these years. “Maru”, of course, always referred to a ship but actually that is not the exact translation. So loosely, “Miyuki Maru” can be regarded as a “beautiful ship”. Not that most will agree with that description but as they say, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”.

The Miyuki Maru is a ferry built in 1970 by the Kanda Zosensho in Kure, Japan for the Sado Kisen K.K. as a ferry of the Sado Island (Sadogashima) which lies in the Sea of Japan just off the Niigata prefecture and the island is alsoa  part of that prefecture. With that connection, I am not surprised the Miyuki Maru is powered by Niigata engines, the manufacturer of which is based in the namesake prefecture. (Now, that engine make served her well).

The Miyuki Maru which has the permanent ID IMO 7044225 is a ROPAX (RORO-Passenger ship) which has RORO (Roll-on, Roll-off) ramps at the bow and stern with a single cargo deck, a steel hull, a raked stem and a transom stern. She has a Length Over-all (LOA) of 62.0 meters, a Length Between Perpendiculars (LPP) of 55.5 meters and a Beam of 13.4 meters. Her Gross Register Tonnage (GRT) in Japan was 797 tons, a Net Register Tonnage (NRT) of just 151 tons (which means that originally her passenger accommodation was small), and a Deadweight Tonnage (DWT) of 411 tons. The total output of her twin engines is 3,600 horsepower which gave her a top sustained speed of 14 knots when new. The ferry had a single passenger deck, two masts and two funnels.

In 1987, this ferry was sold to Awashima Kisen K.K. and she became an Awashima Island ferry. Though with a change of ownership her name was not changed (because maybe there was no need to change a beautiful name). That was until 1992 when she was sold to the Philippines at 22 years of age. At that time, Japan shipping companies try to sell their ship after 20 years as there are incentives by the Japan government for re-fleeting their old ships. But that practice was misrepresented by some in the Philippines as if the ship is already “old” or worse just good enough for the scrapyard (which isn’t true) and worst is the charge by those who are ignorant of ships that they are simply “floating coffins” (because then at 20 years of age their cars are already dilapidated but they don’t understand that cars and ships are not exactly comparable as ships are much more durable than cars).

In the Philippines, the ferry Miyuki Maru went to Trans-Asia Shipping Lines Inc. (TASLI) of Cebu which in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s was already busy in converting from cruiser ships to RORO ships (more exactly ROPAX ships), one the first Philippine companies to do full conversion of their fleet (while the national liner companies like Sulpicio Lines, William Lines, Negros Navigation and Aboitiz Shipping can’t make that claim then as they were still clinging to their cruiser liners). Yes, that was how great and modern that company was then compared to the recent years when their glory was already faded. Yes, they were that advanced before the emergence of the Cebu Ferries Corporation (CFC) from the “Great Merger” of William Lines, Gothong Lines and Aboitiz Shipping. That merger inflicted them a very serious blow as from the biggest overnight ferry company in Cebu, a new entity bigger than them suddenly emerged. In Trans-Asia Shipping Lines, the Miyuki Maru became known as the Asia Singapore, the second ship in the fleet to carry that name (the first was a cruiser ship).

Asia Singapore

The Asia Singapore. From TM Brochures.

As the Asia Singapore, an additional half-deck was added as passenger accommodation and together with an extension of her original passenger deck these served as the open-air Economy accommodations of the refitted ship. Air-conditioned Tourist and Cabin accommodations were also added and being equipped with bunks she became a full-pledged overnight ferry. Her new Gross Tonnage (GT) became 830 tons with a Net Tonnage (NT) of 251 tons (a figure that is suspiciously low) and a passenger capacity of 533 persons. In the fleet of Trans-Asia Shipping Lines she was the sixth ROPAX ship after the Asia Hongkong, Asia Japan, Asia Thailand, Asia Taiwan and Asia Brunei. Locally, the ferry has a Call Sign of DUHE7. Of course, the IMO Number is unchanged.

In 2001, the Asia Singapore was sold to Palacio Shipping Lines (which was otherwise known as FJP Lines) that was then already acquiring ROPAX ships. She then was renamed into the Don Martin Sr. 9, the third ROPAX ship in the Palacio fleet. Later on, she was further renamed into the Calbayog in honor of the port and city that was the origin of Palacio Lines (she was however not the biggest ferry in the fleet as the honor belonged to the Don Martin Sr. 8, a sister ship of the Zamboanga Ferry of the George and Peter Lines).

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The Calbayog. Photo by Janjan Salas.

When Palacio Lines felt the pressure of new competition allowed into Samar from Cebu, their old strong route, that triggered her terminal decline which started from the loss of their Bantayan route from Cebu Port. This was exacerbated by the situation then that their old, small cruisers no longer had viable routes especially with the advent of the ROPAXes of the competition. When the company’s last remaining stronghold, the Plaridel route was also opened to competition, it signaled that the end of the company was already near. In size, quality and cleanliness of the ferries, Palacio Lines was no match to the new competition.

In 2012, Palacio Lines stopped sailing although they were still advertising their old schedules and routes in the local papers of Cebu. They even went to the extent of denying that to media although it was plainly visible that their ships were always moored in Cebu port and without lights at night. In a short time, however, the truth can no longer be hidden when the company started disposing her remaining ships and those disappeared one by one from the Port of Cebu. The cruelest was when their biggest ship, the Don Martin Sr. 8 went to a Cebu breaker after there were no takers at her. Maybe Palacio Lines needed money then to settle some things.

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The Calbayog in Batangas Bay waiting to be converted into Starlite Neptune. Photo by Mark Anthony Arceno.

There was a shipping company in Batangas that had a track record of acquiring old ferries that were already being disposed especially those that were no longer sailing including from defunct shipping companies. This was the Starlite Ferries of Alfonso Cusi then which started from old, unreliable ferries being disposed by William, Gothong and Aboitiz (WG&A). Those were followed by a small ROPAX from one of the Atienzas of Mindoro shipping that was going out of business (a victim of the change-over from wooden motor boats or batels to ROROs), then a fastcraft from the defunct DR Shipping of Don Domingo Reyes and two ferries from the Shipsafe/Safeship duo of shipping companies that was also going out of business, among other acquisitions. So it was not a surprise to me when they grabbed the Calbayog which then became the Starlite Neptune in their fleet. From the point of view of Miyuki Maru that was a saving move as it proved to be her salvation. And not only that. She also went to a shipping company that knows how to refurbish and maintain old ships although her owner later developed a taste of bullying in the media old ferries when he was able to acquire a loan package from the government to build new ferries (now Starlite Ferries is already disposing of their old ferries).8235177182_630daf5d2b_k

The Miyuki Maru as Starlite Neptune. Photo by Nowell Alcancia.

The Starlite Neptune or Miyuki Maru was also a success in Starlite Ferries although soon her owner faced a problem when their new ferries started arriving from Japan and they were not able to develop new routes. So it was obvious they would have to dispose old ferries especially if her owner would have to be honorable enough in backing up with action his attacks against old ferries. Shockingly, it was not the old ferries that were disposed by Alfonso Cusi but his whole company when he sold lock, stock and barrel to the new king of Philippine shipping who is Dennis Uy that was buying shipping companies left and right. After the takeover, it is notable that the first ship sold by Starlite Ferries was Starlite Neptune. This ferry  has been observed for months already darkened and just anchored in Batangas Bay not sailing and with no flags flying.

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The Starlite Neptune in Batangas Bay with no flags flying. Photo by Mike Baylon.

Then soon came the news that Starlite Neptune was docked in Lazi port in Siquijor being refitted after it turned out she was acquired by the GL Shipping of Siquijor which was lately in the acquisition and expansion mood. It is rumored she will be doing the Siquijor and Iligan route from Cebu, a route long wished by Siquijodnons and the people in Iligan City in general. It is seen as the revival of the old route then held by the small cruiser Pulauan Ferry of George & Peter Lines which unfortunately grounded and sank just south of Mactan island and was never replaced.

As of the time of the writing of this article the new name of Miyuki Maru is not yet known and her refitting works in Lazi port stopped. I do not know if there is a big problem although I might also think she might be too big a ship for her company which only used to operate small crafts before.

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The former Starlite Neptune in Lazi under GL Shipping. Photo by Roy Baguia Dumam-ag.

I just wish that will she will continue to live on as I am a sentimental person and I don’t want old ships that are still good to go to the breakers because it turned out that nobody no longer wanted her. And so I just hope the Miyuki Maru will live a little longer and that she provides joy to her new owners and to public that will sail with her.

Long live the Miyuki Maru!

[Now, if she doesn’t survive then let this piece be an ode to her.]

 

 

Roble Shipping Is Finally Sailing To Mindanao

Last month, September of 2017, Roble Shipping has finally sailed to Oroquieta, the capital of the small Mindanao province of Misamis Occidental (which actually hosts a lot of ports and among them are Ozamis and Plaridel ports). It is maybe the first port of call in Mindanao ever for Roble Shipping and it is actually a long-delayed move already for Roble Shipping as their namesake-to-the-city Oroquieta Stars has long been in the news that she will sail for that city and port since late last year (but since then although the ship is already ready she was just sailing for Hilongos in Leyte).

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Source: Oroquieta City LGU FB account

I have been observing Roble Shipping for long already and watched its consistent growth both in passenger shipping and cargo and even in cargo RORO LCTs in the recent years. But I am puzzled with their moves or more accurately their lack of moves in developing new passenger routes that their cousin shipping company and Johnny-come-lately Medallion Transport which with their courageous moves in developing new routes seems to have already overtaken them in passenger shipping (it even reached Mindanao ahead of them when Medallion’s Lady of Good Voyage plied a route to Dipolog).

Roble Shipping is actually one shipping company that has more ferries than routes, the exact opposite of another shipping company I am also observing which is Trans-Asia Shipping Lines Inc. (TASLI) which in their tepidness in acquiring replacement ferries has more routes than ferries now. Does that mean the two shipping companies needed a merger? Just a naughty thought but that is actually impossible now as Trans-Asia Shipping Lines took the easy way out of their troubles which is selling themselves to the Udenna group of new shipping king Dennis Uy which is flush in money nowadays and might not need any help.

I remember that before Roble Shipping has an approved franchise to Nasipit but they never got about serving that route from Cebu. To think they had the big and good Heaven Stars then, a former cruiseferry in Japan then which should have been perfect for that route. However, that beautiful ship soon caught unreliability in her Pielstick engines and I thought maybe that was the reason why Roble Shipping was not sailing the Nasipit route (which actually had the tough Cebu Ferries and Sulpicio Lines serving it then and might really be the reason why Roble Shipping was hesitant).

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But then calamitous fate befell Sulpicio Lines when they got themselves suspended after the horrific capsizing of their flagship Princess of the Storm, sorry, I mean the Princess of the Stars in a Signal No. 3 typhoon in Romblon. In the aftermath of that Sulpicio Lines sold for cheap their Cebu Princess and Cagayan Princess to Roble Shipping in order to generate some immediate cash and anyway the two ships were suspended from sailing and were of no use to them.

With the acquisition of the two, suddenly Roble Shipping had some serious overnight ships after the Heaven Stars which was then not already capable of sailing regularly especially when the good Wonderful Stars already arrived for them to compete in the Ormoc route. And one of the two was even a former pocket liner, the Cebu Princess. One of the two is actually a veteran of the Nasipit route, the Cagayan Princess which was fielded there when Sulpicio Lines already had a better ship for the Cebu-Cagayan de Oro route (the ship was named after that city actually as it was the original route of that ship) and their Naval, Biliran route bombed.

But no, the two ships just collected barnacles in the Pier 7 wharf of Roble Shipping, not sailing. I thought maybe there were still ghosts prowling the ships as they were used in the retrieval efforts on the capsized Princess of the Stars. Or maybe they wanted people to forget first as denying the two ferries came from Sulpicio Lines is difficult anyway.

The Cebu Princess and Cagayan Princess finally sailed as the Joyful Stars and the Theresian Stars but not to Nasipit but to Leyte (again!). I thought maybe Roble Shipping got cold feet in exploring Mindanao. And to think the service of the once-powerful and proud Cebu Ferries was already tottering then and everybody knows Gothong Southern Shipping Lines won’t last long in the Nasipit route with their Dona Rita Sr. (they eventually quit and sold their passenger ships).

With a surplus of ferries in their only routes which are all to Leyte (Hilongos and Ormoc), eventually their legendary cruiser Ormoc Star rotted in Pier 7. Soon, Roble Shipping got a reputation of laying up a lot of ships in Pier 7 (this is very evident when one takes a ride aboard the Metro Ferry ships to Muelle Osmena in Mactan island). They are all huddled up there including the cargo ships. Maybe as protection for the cold so they won’t catch flu (rust, that cannot be evaded).

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Taelim Iris, the future Oroquieta Stars

Two sisters ships also joined the fleet of Roble Shipping, the former Nikel Princely of Aleson Shipping Lines of Zamboanga and the former Filipinas Surigao of Cokaliong Shipping Lines. The two became the Blessed Stars and Sacred Stars in the fleet of Roble Shipping, respectively. However, although one route was added, the Baybay route of the former Filipinas Surigao (which is again in Leyte) there was no other route except for the route they opened in Catbalogan in the aftermath of the demise of Palacio Lines, the Samar native shipping line. With their small ferries Roble Shipping also tried a route to Naval, Biliran which was formerly part of Leyte. I thought maybe Roble Shipping really loves Eastern Visayas too much that they simply can’t get away from it.

Two more ferries came, the former vehicle carriers TKB Emerald and Taelim Iris which slowly became the Graceful Stars and Oroquieta Stars, respectively (but then the Wonderful Stars was no longer wonderful as she was already out of commission after a fire in Ormoc port). Still the two just sailed to Leyte. And eventually, Roble Shipping quit Catbalogan which is a marginal destination to begin with because of the intermodal competition (trucks are loaded to western Leyte ports and just roll to Samar destinations and passengers also use that route). Roble then transferred the two sister ships Blessed Stars and Sacred Stars to become the Asian Stars I and Asian Stars II of the Theresian Stars, the new shipping company which was their joint venture with a former Governor of Sulu province. The two should have been alternating the the overnight Zamboanga to Jolo ferry route. But nothing came out of the venture and soon the two were back in Cebu. Technically, that was the first venture of Roble Shipping to Mindanao but not under the flag of Roble Shipping.

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Oroquieta Stars just sailing to Hilongos, Leyte

I thought Roble Shipping was really allergic to Mindanao but soon I was disabused of this thought when the news came out that definitely Oroquieta Stars will sail to Oroquieta City after supposedly some requirements were ironed out. That is good as some things will then be tested. Oroquieta is actually too near the Plaridel port which competitor (in Leyte) Lite Ferries is serving and which the defunct Palacio Lines was serving before. Roble Shipping and Lite Ferries will practically be sharing the same market and I do not know if enough cargo and passengers will be weaned away from Dapitan and Ozamis ports but then Dapitan port is nearer to Cebu with cheaper fares and rates.

Oroquieta Stars is fast among the overnight ferries having relatively big engines and has a design speed of 16 knots. I just thought that if it is worthwhile for Cokaliong Shipping Lines to extend their Ozamis route to Iligan, won’t it be profitable for Roble Shipping to extend their Oroquieta route to Tubod in Lanao del Norte or to Iligan perhaps? Tubod can be one of the origins of the Muslim-owned commuter vans which have a route to Cotabato City via Sultan Naga Dipamoro or Karomatan (these vans go up to Kapatagan in Lanao del Norte).

We will have to see if Roble shipping can stick with the Oroquieta route as their competitor Lite Ferries take all challengers very seriously. Funny, but Roble shipping was much ahead of them in the Leyte routes. However, Lite Ferries is very aggressive and is easily the most aggressive shipping company in this decade taking away that mantle from Montenegro Shipping Lines (but then they might just have the same patron saint anyway but the favors and flavors might have changed).

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Oroquieta Port by Hans Jason Abao. Might be improved by now.

I wish Roble Shipping all the luck in their Mindanao foray and how I wish they will explore more routes because after all the availability of ferries is the least of their concerns (sabi nga sa bus krudo lang ang kailangan para tumakbo). That could also be their case. Plus franchise and some explorations maybe (well, if Medallion was able to use their cargo ships for that so they can too as they also have a lot of freighters now).

Sayang naman kasi ng mga barko nila.

Chelsea Shipping Is The New Goliath of Philippine Shipping

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The Chelsea Dominance. The declaration of intent?

When the “new shipping world” was being built there was Phoenix Petroleum first which was not into shipping anyway. Many thought Phoenix Petroleum would end up like the “independent” oil players then which had a few gasoline stations here and there but were never a threat to the major oil players which have foreign genes. But with the smiling face of the world-famous Manny Pacquiao as mascot, Phoenix Petroleum grew until it challenged the Big 3 which were Petron, Shell and Chevron (which was the former Caltex and Mobil). That was blasphemy for the oldtimers which saw Filoil never got anywhere before.

Phoenix Petroleum got far because they changed the rule of the game. Where before local oil companies had to invest in local refineries to be granted permission to operate, Phoenix Petroleum simply had to import fuel from Singapore and it so happened in Southeast Asia oil prices are only high in the Philippines because a lot of taxes are tacked on to the price of fuel as oil is the milking cow for taxes of the government which rules a vast horde of people exempted from paying taxes because they are too poor.

Along the way to being the fourth Oil Major, Phoenix Petroleum established Chelsea Shipping to handle their fuel transport needs and the company operated a fleet of tankers. But Chelsea Shipping never operated the biggest tanker fleet in the country and their fleet never exceeded ten tankers.

But this year, 2017, Chelsea Shipping made a lot of sea-shaking moves in shipping. Early this year rumor leaked out already that they have already acquired majority control of Trans-Asia Shipping Lines Inc. (TASLI), a Cebu-based regional shipping company with Visayas-Mindanao routes. A bare few months later a boardroom fight erupted in 2GO, the only national liner shipping company left when Dennis Uy, the principal of both Phoenix Petroleum and Chelsea Shipping tried to claim what they felt was their rightful representation after buying shares and the old management group represented by Sulficio Tagud, the old top honcho resisted. But in the end Tagud and company waved the white flag after 2GO gained market value because of the fight and Dennis Uy took control of 2GO.

Weeks passed and the local shipping world was rocked again by a new development when it was announced that Chelsea Shipping is acquiring Starlite Ferries Inc., a Batangas-based regional shipping company lock, stock and barrel. Starlite Ferries has routes to and from Mindoro and its fleet is being reinforced by newbuilds from Japan acquired from a loan from a government-owned bank. It seems the coffers of Phoenix Petroleum and Chelsea Shipping are overflowing to the brim. Is there another acquisition in the making?

Chelsea Shipping now has foothold to the top three passenger shipping hubs in the country which are Cebu, Manila and Batangas. In tankers they are also strong in another hub which is Davao which has the cheapest fuel in the whole country courtesy of Phoenix Petroleum and which piqued Ramon Ang enough that he chopped the fuel prices of Petron. And so Davao fares remained among the highest in the country. Does it make sense? Nope. Maybe it is the moves of Chelsea and Dennis Uy which only makes sense.

I do not know if a second “Great Merger” will happen in Philippine shipping after the first “Great Merger” of 1996 which created William, Gothong and Aboitiz or WG&A, the predecessor company of 2GO. That first one ended in disaster and it only resulted in the death of two great historical shipping companies.

Will history repeat itself? I have my doubts. This time around there is only one top honcho which is Dennis Uy unlike before there was a big merged company with three heads pursuing some kind of a mirage. Actually it could be great for Philippine shipping as Dennis Uy and his patron are both loaded and might have the money to make moves in shipping without going to the banks. Who knows if the moribund shipping industry is revived with their coming?

Now if only Manny V. Pangilinan (MVP) bought out Negros Navigation Company (NENACO) outright some 15 years ago instead of being just a “white knight”. NENACO is one of the merged companies in 2GO. We really need investors with deep pockets in shipping. That is what might turn things around and not due to some government blah-blah.

Is there a renaissance of Philippine shipping in the horizon?

The Iloilo-Zamboanga Route

In the past, the Iloilo-Zamboanga route was an important route. Iloilo and Zamboanga are among the top trade and commercial centers of the country for a long time already (in the Top 5 for so long now) and it only makes sense to connect the two for after all, Iloilo is the main commercial center of Western Visayas and Zamboanga is the main commercial center of Western Mindanao (talking of geographical regions and not the political-administrative regions).

The links of the two are not just recent. In fact, the two centers have already been connected for over a century now starting even in the late Spanish rule when sea lanes were already safe and there was already steam power. And before World War II, foreign vessels (mainly British) from Singapore even came to the two cities to trade and bring passengers and mail, too.

The route of the Manila ships going to southern Mindanao in the past goes either via Cebu or Iloilo (which is the western and most direct route). From those two ports and other ports along the way the passenger-cargo ships will then dock in Zamboanga. In the first 30 years after World War II the route via Cebu was the heavily favored one by the shipping companies. After that, the favor turned to Iloilo slowly until Cebu was practically no longer a gateway to southern Mindanao (only Sulpicio Lines did that route in the later decades through the Filipina Princess and the Princess of New Unity).

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The Dona Marilyn as Dona Ana (a former image in Wikimedia)

Maybe the emergence of the fast cruiser liners dictated the shift to Iloilo. If they go via Iloilo, a complete voyage in less than a week’s time is guaranteed. If they go via Cebu, the fast cruiser liners then probably had to go via the eastern seaboard of Mindanao to catch up and complete the voyage in a week’s time (so that a regular weekly sailing can be maintained). But in the eastern seaboard they will miss the cargo and passenger load that is available in Zamboanga port. The small ports of Mati, Bislig or Surigao are a poor compensation for that but the fast cruiser liners might not even have the speed and time to spare to call in any of those ports. Moreover, if the ship intends to call in General Santos City (Dadiangas before), then a western route via Iloilo and Zamboanga is almost dictated. General Santos City’s combined cargo and passengers are simply to big to be left out by a liner going to Davao.

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Credit to Philippine Herald and Gorio Belen

After World War II, it was the Philippine Steam and Navigation Company (PSNC) and Carlos A. Go Thong & Company (the predecessor company of Gothong Lines, Sulpicio Lines and Lorenzo Shipping) which had passenger-cargo ships from Manila calling on Iloilo and Zamboanga on the way to southern ports. The former even used their best ships, the luxury liners Legazpi and Elcano on that route. Amazingly, the leader Compania Maritima and William Lines did not do the route passing through Iloilo as both preferred to do the route via Cebu to connect to Zamboanga (and Southern Mindanao). Then the situation was reversed in the 1970’s when Aboitiz Shipping Corporation, the successor of PSNC stopped that connection (as they were running out of good passenger ships) and Sulpicio Lines did the route in 1974 after the route became a casualty of the split of Carlos A. Go Thong & Company. Then in 1976, Compania Maritima followed suit and connected also Southern Mindanao via Iloilo and Zamboanga.

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Credit to Gorio Belen

In 1979, with the arrival of the Don Eusebio, Sulpicio Lines introduced the fast cruiser liner type between Iloilo and Zamboanga. Don Eusebio, the latter Dipolog Princess had a Manila-Iloilo-Zamboanga-Cotabato route. Later her route was shifted to Manila-Iloilo-Zamboanga-Dadiangas. However, the Dona Marilyn was used to maintain the route ending in Cotabato and when the Cotabato Princess arrived in 1988, Sulpicio substituted the new RORO liner there while the Manila-Iloilo-Zamboanga-Dadiangas route was maintained by the Don Eusebio. In this period, the main rival of Sulpicio Lines which is William Lines bypassed Iloilo as did Sweet Lines, another liner company with a route to as far as Davao.

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Cotabato Princess c. 1988 by Britz Salih

In the early 1990′s, Aboitiz Shipping Corporation made a comeback in Southern Mindanao and their SuperFerry 3 which had a Manila-Iloilo-Zamboanga-Cotabato route connected Iloilo and Zamboanga. Meanwhile, Sulpicio Lines substituted their new Princess of the Pacific in the Manila-Iloilo-Zamboanga-Dadiangas route while their Cotabato Princess was kept in the route ending in Cotabato (but which is now calling also in Estancia.

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SuperFerry 3 by Britz Salih

When WG&A was created they also connected Iloilo and Zamboanga mainly through their Manila-Iloilo-Zamboanga-Cotabato route and the trio of SuperFerry 2, SuperFerry 5 and SuperFerry 9 (which had about the same cruising speed) mainly held that route when it was still WG&A. When the company began selling liners and it became Aboitiz Transport System other ships subsequently held the route (too many to keep track really as they are fond of juggling ship assignments and they were also disposing ships and buying new ones). At one time there was also a Manila-Iloilo-Zamboanga route. It was a wonder for me why the Davao ships of WG&A and ATS don’t normally call in Zamboanga while calling in Iloilo when it is just on the way and the companies use pairing of ships so an exact weekly schedule for one ship need not be met.

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Princess of the Pacific by Britz Salih

When Negros Navigation (Nenaco) started doing southern Mindanao routes in 1998 they also connected the two ports on their separate routes to General Santos City and Davao (the two routes was coalesced later). However, early in the new millennium Negros Navigation abandoned their Southern Mindanao routes but maintained their Manila-Bacolod-Iloilo-Zamboanga route until they had problems of ship availability. The early ships of Negros Navigation in the route were the St. Ezekiel Moreno and San Lorenzo Ruiz. However, it seems the Don Julio started the Iloilo-Zamboanga route for Negros Navigation earlier than the two.

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Don Julio by John Ward

Amazingly a regional shipping line, the Trans-Asia Shipping Lines Inc. (TASLI) of Cebu also connected Iloilo and Zamboanga in 1988. This was the Asia Korea (later the Asia Hongkong and now the Reina del Rosario of Montenegro Shipping Lines) which did a Cebu-Iloilo-Zamboanga-General Santos City route (which I say was a brave and optimistic try). They were only able to maintain the route for a few years, however.

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Asia Korea (from a TASLI framed photo)

In the second decade of the millennium, the successor to WG&A, the Aboitiz Transport System (ATS) dropped the routes to Davao, General Santos City and Cotabato. Suddenly the route to Zamboanga became threatened because Zamboanga port alone cannot fill 150-meter RORO liners. Not long after this ATS stopped the route to Zamboanga citing threats from the Abu Sayyaf Group (while at the same time their container ships continued sailing to Zamboanga and Southern Mindanao). It seems to me the reason they put forward was just a canard especially since 2GO still calls in Zamboanga. ATS was just losing in the Southern Mindanao route because they have the highest cargo rates in the industry and by this time the passengers were already migrating to other forms of transport like the budget airlines.

It was a debacle for the route since when Aboitiz Transport System stopped sailing it Negros Navigation and Sulpicio Lines have already stopped sailing too for entirely different reasons. Negros Navigation compacted its route system and it had the problem of ship reliability and availability during their period of company rehabilitation while Sulpicio Lines was suspended from sailing in the aftermath of the Princess of the Stars sinking (and they never went back again to full passenger sailing until they quit it entirely). Negros Navigation was still sailing off and on to Zamboanga when they took over ATS.

When the new route system was rolled out after the merger of Negros Navigation and ATS, amazingly the route to Zamboanga was scrubbed out. Later, the successor company 2GO went back to Zamboanga but the ship calls in Dumaguete already and not in Iloilo anymore.

Until now there is no passenger ship that connects Iloilo and Zamboanga. Passengers then have to take the roundabout Ceres bus passing through Dapitan, Dumaguete and it has an endpoint in Bacolod. From there the passengers have to take a separate ferry to Iloilo or via Dumangas. The length and the many transfers means this is a really uncomfortable trip and a disservice to passengers. Maybe the liners have already forgotten they are also in public service and profitability is not the only gauge in shipping.

If there is ever a connection now between the two great trading centers it is just via container ships now.

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.