The Trans-Asia 19

On March 2 of this year, the Trans-Asia Shipping Lines, Inc. (TASLI) of Cebu, a part of Chelsea Logistics Corp., inaugurated their newest ship, the Trans-Asia 19. The inauguration was done in the Port of Cagayan de Oro and Mr. Kenneth Sy, President and CEO of Trans-Asia Shipping Lines led the inaugural ceremony ably assisted by his wife, Ms. Pinky Sy, the TASLI Vice-President for Sales and Marketing . The inaugural went well but what was new was it was held in the Port of Cagayan de Oro since Cebu-based companies usually hold their inaugurations in Cebu. The Philippine Ship Spotters Society (PSSS) was invited and helped cover the event.

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Photo from John Nino Borgonia

The Trans-Asia 19  is not only the latest ship of Trans-Asia Shipping Lines. She is actually their first-ever ship fielded  as brand-new and reports say she cost more than PhP 600 million which is four to five times the cost of a 25-year old refurbished and refitted ferry from Japan of the same size. However, Mr. Kenneth Sy pointed out in his inaugural speech that they must need to modernize as the regulatory body Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA)  plans to phase out ferries that are over 35 years old already (which means built 1984 or earlier).

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Photo from John Nino Borgonia

The ship is only a medium-sized ferry by Philippine standards and her passenger capacity is only 450 persons. She is an overnight ferry-RORO as she is equipped with bunks instead of seats (there are a few seats though for the budget traveler). Her designated route is Cagayan de Oro to Tagbilaran, v.v. three times a week with an extension to Cebu on the 7th day. She replaced their old vessel on the route, the Asia Philippines which was sold to George & Peter Lines, another Cebu-based shipping company but a non-competitor of the company.

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Photo from John Nino Borgonia

It was the Kegoya Dock Co. in Kure, Hiroshima Prefecture, Japan which built the Trans-Asia 19 and it was the mother company of TASLI, the Chelsea Logistics Corp. (CLC) which ordered this ship. Earlier, TASLI and CLC had a merger which had to go through the Philippine Competition Commission (PCC) because the deal is over one billion pesos in value. The Trans-Asia 19 is actually similar to the new ferries that came to Starlite Ferries (which was sold to CLC) starting in 2015 but the difference to those is most the Starlite ships were built as short-distance ferries equipped with seats. However, all are sister ships and their superstructures and external lines are practically the same and all were built by Kegoya Dock.

After completion and turn-over, the Trans-Asia 19 started its conduction voyage from Kegoya on November 15, 2018 and she reached Talisay anchorage in Cebu on the first hour of November 22, 2018. The conduction crew of twelve was led by Capt. Hector Nelson Ramirez who is still the Master of the ship. From arrival, the Trans-Asia 19 spent almost two months clearing Customs and completing papers in MARINA (Maritime Industry Authority), the local maritime regulatory body. In the country those two agencies are always the biggest hurdles for new ships. And so it was only on February 18, 2019 when Trans-Asia 19 had its maiden voyage from Tagbilaran to Cagayan de Oro. Yes, the maiden voyage came before the inauguration but that is not so unusual as an occurrence.

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The Trans-Asia 19 in anchorage. Photo by Daryl Yting.

The Trans-Asia 19 is a steel-hulled RORO (Roll-on, Roll-off) ship with a single car deck of 13-feet height accessible from a stern ramp. The ship has a bulbous stem and a transom stern and she has two masts and two funnels that lies exactly above the engines. Externally, she is not that modern-looking but her equipment and features are actually all modern. This ferry is even equipped with an elevator for persons with disability and for the elderly and mothers with infants (the elevators run from the car deck). The ship has high sides which provides additional safety in rough seas. As aid in docking, the Trans-Asia 19 also has a pair of bow thrusters.

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Trans-Asia 19 bow thruster

The Length Over-all (LOA) of the ship is 67.6 meters (LOA is the maximum length of the ship) and her Length Between Perpendiculars (LPP or LBP) is 61.8 meters. The ship’s Breadth or Beam is 15.3 meters and that is the measure of the ship at its widest. The Depth of the ship is 9.40 meters (and that is the reason for the high sides) and the Draft is 3.22 meters (the latter is the minimum water depth for a ship to be able to navigate safely). Increasing Draft would mean a more stable sailing (but more drag when the sea is smooth) . The Depth from the car deck of the ship is 4.40 meters and that is the distance from the car deck up to the bottom of the hull and that is the point where water will start entering the car deck.

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The Gross Tonnage (GT) of the ship is 2,976 and this is the total cubic measure of the of the ship. The Net Tonnage (NT) is approximate 805 if based on the pioneer of the sister ships. NT is the cubic measure of the ship’s space that is usable for passengers and cargo. The Deadweight Tonnage (DWT) of the ship is 834 tons. That is the maximum safe carrying capacity of the ship in weight and that is far higher than the rolling cargo capacity of the car deck which is 13 cars and 7 trucks and that is good in terms of margin of safety. The passenger capacity of Trans-Asia 19 is 450 persons and the ship’s complement (the crew) is 32 (but this is still increased by the security personnel and drivers on board).

The main engines of this ship is a pair of Yanmar 6EY22AW engines of 1,863ps each for a total of 3,726ps (ps is approximately equal to horsepower) and the auxiliary engines are Yanmar marine diesels too of 500hp each. The engine room of this RORO ship is equipped with a small engineers’ station. That protects the ears of the engineers and it shields them from the heat generated by the engines while the ship is running. The service speed of Trans-Asia 19 is 13.6 knots at 85% MCR (Maximum Continuous Rating) which is about the range an engine is set to avoid damage to the engine. One thing I noticed is the ship’s engines are controllable by levers in the bridge.

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Trans-Asia 19 auxiliary engine. Photo by Mike Baylon.

In case of fire in the engine room, the safety procedures work this way. There is an actuator box which when opened automatically shuts the ventilators to the engine room and other sources of air. An alarm for evacuation of the engine room is then sounded and confirmation of evacuation will have to be done and then all hatches and doors are closed. Carbon dioxide gas will then be released into the engine room for two minutes. There is also an instruction should the actuating system fail for any reason but whatever it is still the carbon dioxide system which will be relied upon to extinguish the fire in the engine room. The actuator box is located in the bridge of the ship.

This ship passed the tough “NK” (Nippon Kaiji Kyokai) ship classification of Japan. The navigation area of the ship is restricted to the Philippines (yes, this was really designed to be an inter-island ferry in local waters). The Call Sign of Trans-Asia 19 is 4DFV-3 (for its identification in radio communication) and its MMSI Number is 548937500 (this is in relation to the AIS or Automatic Identification System of the ship which is the equivalent to the transponder of an aircraft). The permanent ID of the ship is IMO 9831995.

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President & CEO Kenneth Sy speaking. Photo by Mike Baylon.

In his speech in the inauguration of Trans-Asia 19, the TASLI President & CEO emphasized the safety features designed into the ship like a bridge monitor which will trigger an alarm if there is no person in the bridge (this is the Bridge Navigational Watch Alarm System or BNWAS which is supplied by Furuno). This ship is designed to ease the workload of the bridge crew as it is equipped with an autopilot and an autoplotter which means this has reliance not only on the radar but also with its AIS equipment. This ship can dock by itself given it has GPS and an autopilot. The vessel is also equipped with a sonar that warns of grounding (well, that is important in Maribojoc Bay with its reefs where some ships have already grounded). If the sister Starlite ships are touted to be built for the rough Philippine waters then this ship can also make that claim.

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Trans-Asia 19 bridge. Photo by John Nino Borgonia.

In the deck above the car deck which is called the Promenade Deck is located the higher class of accommodations of the ship and many of the amenities. Half of the deck is occupied by the Tourist Class and it is located at the aft (rear portion) of this deck. In the middle is the Information Counter, the Restaurant and the Clinic. In the forward section of this deck lies the Family Room for 4 which is paid for by the room but per person it is cheaper than Tourist so it is good for a family or a group. More or less it is the equivalent of Tourist Deluxe. There is also a Private Room which more or less corresponds to Business Class.

 

 

In the Bridge Deck of the ship lies the non-aircon Economy Class of the ship in its aft portion and this occupies a space less than that of the Tourist below. The reason for this is just ahead lies the class with reclining chairs and seat belts and it is air-conditioned (in industry parlance this is called “Jetseater”. That should be a good alternative to Economy if one wants air-conditioning and is comfortable anyway in seats like in an aircon bus. Just at the back of bridge of this deck lies the Officers’ cabins, the Crew’s quarters, the ship’s Galley (the kitchen for the crew) and the Mess Hall.

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In the bridge there is the usual retinue of equipment like the GPS, radar plus ARPA (Automatic Radar Plotting Aid), various gauges and switches, a control board, radio equipment, etc. There is the standard navigators’ table (hard to call it the plotting table now since there is already an autoplotter but it seems MARINA, the maritime regulatory body still insists on paper plots). In the bridge is also a bank of CCTVs monitoring all parts of the vessel. The ship still has the traditional wheel and is not yet joystick-controlled but as mentioned before there is already an autopilot.

Over-all, the Trans-Asia 19 is a fully modern ship with all the safety features needed for safe navigation. And for a ferry of 67-meters length there is a wide choice of accommodations. Bol-anons, Cagayanons and Misamisnons will be very happy with this ship especially since it is brand-new (I was told Bol-anons going south were shocked to have a new ship). And the size might just be perfect for the route. With regards to length, this ship and the ship she is replacing has almost the same LOA. It just happened that this ship is a little wider but the passenger capacity is smaller. That means more space for the passengers. The engines of this ship are a little smaller and being brand-new there will be fuel savings for the company.

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A very fine ship! Congratulations indeed to Trans-Asia!

 

Edit: 3/10/2019 – Changed caption for main engine to auxiliary engine. Apologies for the mixup.

When The Philippine Ship Spotters Society (PSSS) Attended The Inauguration of the Trans-Asia 19

On the last week of February this year, the Philippine Ship Spotters Society (PSSS) received a formal invitation from Trans-Asia Shipping Lines, Inc. (TASLI) to the inauguration of their newest ship, the Trans-Asia 19 which was to be held in the Macabalan port of Cagayan de Oro City. To show respect for the invitation and to give importance to the occasion, our group immediately decided in the affirmative and began canvassing who can go as the invitation was RSVP and they immediately wanted the names of those coming to the inauguration. Unfortunately, none of the members near Cagayan de Oro was available and we prefer to send PSSS leaders to occasions like this as some big people will be around. And so although coming from afar, three of us prepared to come: yours truly from Davao City, Mark Ocul from Ozamis City and Aris Refugio from Samal City.  All are leaders of PSSS.

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Me and Aris will be going together but time was a little tight for us as Davao is far from Cagayan de Oro. Aris can only take the first trip of the motor boat from Samal and it is little dicey if we will be able to make the 6am aircon bus from Cagayan de Oro (we actually boarded the 6:30am bus). Mark, meanwhile, would have an easier trip. He would take the 8am ship Filipinas Nasipit from Ozamis to Iligan (and Mark knows the Captain of that ship). From Iligan City, he would take the bus to Cagayan de Oro. However, his ship departed late and by mid-morning we were all hoping badly we can make the 2:30pm start of the inauguration. Me and Aris was a little lucky the bus now uses the Cagayan de Oro coastal highway. Mark took the taxi from Bulua bus terminal, arrived just in time but preferred to wait for us by the gate. He advised us our entrance is via Gate 4, the cargo gate of Macabalan port.  Soon, we arrived and he showed the guards the invitation again and a PPA (Philippine Ports Authority) vehicle fetched us as walking inside the port area is forbidden. We arrived by the ship when the other guests were still signing the logbook. Maybe we were last among the guests to arrive but yes, they know and expect the PSSS.

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For my side I really wanted to go even though I was not feeling very well because occasions like these can be a little overwhelming for some. One reason is company bigwigs are around and their guests tend to be high-heeled. But fortunately they were all very friendly with us although we were dressed very casually. Maybe all of us just wanted a good send-off for the new vessel that is the signal for the resurgence of Trans-Asia Shipping Lines Inc. (TASLI) in passenger shipping. Trans-Asia 19 happens to be the first brand-new vessel fielded by the company.

Another fortunate thing was someone from the crew immediately recognized us. It was 2nd Engineer John Nino Borgonia who is a PSSS member and who remembered us when we visited C/E Mendoza, a PSSS friend aboard Super Shuttle RORO 9 when they were docked in Davao. Since it was understood that a tour of the ship is part of the package in the invitation, he immediately showed us the various parts of the ship. To my surprise, his first suggestion was the thruster room. In my long experience with ship spotting, I have never been to that portion of the ship and we accepted the invitation with eagerness. The thruster room is near the bow of the ship and access to it was not easy. The Trans-Asia 19 comes equipped with bow thrusters which aid in the docking of the ship.

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After the thruster room, John asked us where do want to go next and I said the engine room, of course. It’s easy to tour the upper decks of the ship but the engine room is a prize as that is restricted area and there are hours when even an acknowledged visitor is not allowed there. The engine room was immaculately clean. Plus it has an engine control room where the engineers are protected from the sound of the engines when running. The ship’s engines were all Yanmar marine engines from the main engines to the auxiliary engines. I commented that Yanmar is a very good make. Actually, it is an awarded make in Japan.

engine room

We then went to the second deck (from the car deck) of the ship where passenger accommodations are located. A Tourist section is located in this as well as the Information Counter, the Restaurant and the Starsy convenience store. There are also Family Rooms (which is the equivalent of a Tourist Deluxe for four persons) and is paid by the room (but the rate is lower per person compared to Tourist Class so it is good for groups). There is also a Private Room which is equivalent to Cabin Class. For a 67-meter ship, the Trans-Asia 19 has plenty of choices in the accommodations and is a full-pledged overnight ferry.

We then toured the third deck which is also the Bridge Deck. Further Tourist accommodations are located here plus the Officers’ cabins and the Radio Room. A Jetseater class (the industry term for reclining chairs and this is air-conditioned) is also located in this deck plus the Economy section. We did not yet try for the bridge of the ship as we don’t want to go there without an escort. We also used the Trans-Asia 19 as a ship spotting platform to take shots of the other ships in the Port of Cagayan de Oro and in Macalajar Bay. Soon, I felt we had to get down as the upper decks is emptying of people and that means something is happening below.

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In the small makeshift stage near the aft of the car deck, we found Mr. Kenneth Sy, President and CEO of Trans-Asia Shipping Lines, Inc. speaking about the Trans-Asia 19 and the reason for its acquisition which is modernization. I was touched by his optimism because Trans-Asia is one company I would not like to go given their great history when they fielded the best overnight ferries from Cebu when they started (versus the old ex-“FS” and ex-“F” ships of the competition which were relics from World War II). They were also the first to convert to RORO (Roll-on, Roll-off) ships among overnight ferry companies. And they were the first to have an all-RORO fleet, the wave of the future which is a big accomplishment given that they were ahead in this typw even compared to the liner companies (Sulpicio Lines, William Lines, Carlos A. Gothong Lines Inc., Negros Navigation Co.and Aboitiz Shipping Corp. which still clung to their cruiser liners). Trans-Asia needs to remain and we were there in the affirmation of it and I felt a thrill with that.

I had the chance to shake hands and pose with Mr. Kenneth Sy after his talk. He seems to be a gentle and a genial person (he is also a topnotch photographer). He invited us to partake of the food in the upper deck. We were still busy taking shots in the upper deck as we want the bigwigs to take food first when he spotted Mark and said, “Eat first before the pictures”. He said this in Bisaya. Every now and then we will bump into him as the area was small and smiles and some words will be exchanged. The catered food was good and it was a big sustenance for me as in our haste I had to forego lunch and I am a diabetic. There was also lechon (roasted pig) which seems to be obligatory in Philippine occasions such as this.

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Later, I had the privilege of talking to Ms. Pinky Sy, the wife of Mr. Kenneth and ask some questions about the situation and plans of the company. Ms. Pinky, I came to learn later was Trans-Asia Vice-President for Sales and Marketing. And so I now realized why she was very knowledgeable about the company. She said more ferries are coming for Trans-Asia but in the meantime they will still hold on to their veteran ships excluding the Asia Philippines and the Trans-Asia 9 which are now sold or being sold. They wouldn’t yet sell the old ferries until the new ferries arrived. I also asked about their relationship with Chelsea Logistics. She said it is now a partnership and they have not divested (that is contrary to earlier wrong reports that they have divested). It was an answer from a question of mine.

There will be three launching of new ferries this year plus five hold-overs means eight ferries total by this year. Well, that should be nearly enough to serve all their passenger routes but i think they will have additions for next year too. For cargo, we all know they now have container ships operating from Manila and reaching as far as Davao. Trans-Asia Shipping Lines has a total of six cargo and container ship plus one LCT. That is one sea change for Trans-Asia. They are no longer just an overnight ferry company.

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We came to meet John again and he accompanied us to the bridge of Trans-Asia 19. It is a modern bridge and being brand-new it was still in a spic-and-span condition. In the bridge we had a talk with John and it is there that we learned that Trans-Asia 19 already had four complete voyages before her inauguration and that her first official voyage happened on January 18 of this year. No, he had no exact idea why the inauguration was held in Cagayan de Oro when all will expect it would be held in Cebu. Well, a change is also good. Anyway, the Trans-Asia 19 is a replacement for their disposed-of ferry Asia Philippines and so her route is Cagayan de Oro to Tagbilaran three times a week with a once a week extension to Cebu from Tagbilaran (well, Bol-anons and Cagayanons are lucky they have a brand-new ship). John speculated that since their stay in Cebu is short and cargo has to be handled might have been the reason why Trans-Asia 19 was inaugurated in Cagayan de Oro. Before leaving the bridge we had that now- traditional photo with crew holding a paper saying “Trans-Asia 19 loves PSSS”. Of course, we love them and we are grateful for their hospitality and support.

Soon there was an advice for guests to disembark from the ship. It was already nearing 5pm, the scheduled time of the end of the inauguration (and the ship still has to load cargo) and so we headed down. On the way, we met Mr. Kenneth again and he forthwith invited us to the inauguration of Trans-Asia 18 (this ship is being refitted right now in Cebu) and the Trans-Asia 20 (so there is a coming Trans-Asia 20!). We said “Yes” of course and with alacrity. That is an honor and an experience. Dumb is the one who will refuse that. And coming from the President and CEO? And so are looking forward to that with excitement.

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Before disembarking we again congratulated Mr. Kenneth and asked with a little trepidation if we can tour the Trans-Asia 10 which is bound for Cebu and is just docked nearby. He readily said “Yes” and told us to just tell the people of Trans-Asia 10 that we have his permission. So it will be a double tour! We then proceeded to Trans-Asia 10 and they easily let us aboard even though it was already embarkation time. But, of course, the tour of that ship and of the meeting and talk with her Captain is another story that is worth another article.

It was past 7pm when we got off Trans-Asia 10 and walking out of Macabalan port the question is what next. Mark to ride immediately to Ozamis would be useless as the ferry in Mukas port will start sailing at 4am. Aris had the same problem as the motor boat to Samal is still at 5am. He can take the 24-hour Mae Wess ferry but he might have a long waiting time. And we were in a celebratory mood and we need dinner already. And so we proceeded to Ayala Centrio Mall to have a good dinner. We thought our successful trip needs extended talks and more camaraderie. And we therefore enjoyed this mood until the restaurant closed. We just hung around more in the mall and only parted ways at midnight.

The total journey was tiring and it was not cheap but I have no regrets whatsoever. We all felt it was all worth it. It was near to an experience of a lifetime and it will honor our group the Philippine Ship Spotters Society (PSSS) and it will help highlight shipping and Trans-Asia Shipping Lines. Plus of course it will cement relations with this company.

Now, I just hope that this is just the beginning.

[Note: I will have a follow-up article which will be exclusively about Trans-Asia 19 which will focus on her specifications, equipment and accommodations. To treat it all here will be too heavy and focus will be a problem.]

 

When the RORO Liners Came to Zamboanga and Southern Mindanao

The ROROs (Roll-on, Roll-off ships) first came to the Philippines at the end of the 1970’s and in the 1980’s it began to multiply in Luzon and the Visayas. From the moment the ROROs arrived it was already obvious that they were superior to the cruiser ships and that a new paradigm has arrived and the cruiser ships were already headed to obsolescence. However, the ROROs did not multiply fast in general in the 1980’s because it was a decade of great economic and political crises when the value of the peso plunged and inflation was unchecked. At the height of the crisis of the 1980’s almost no loans were available, few foreign currency was available (that it even lead to the creation of the “Binondo central bank) and the interest rates were skyhigh that it was almost suicide to take a loan especially at foreign-denominated one.

That difficulty was reflected in that the first RORO liners and overnight ferries in the country acquired at the peak of this crisis up to 1986 were small and were generally just in the 60 to 70-meter length class only and barely over 1,000 gross tons. Among the examples of those were the Surigao Princess, Cagayan Princess, Boholana Princess, Sta. Maria (of Nenaco and not Viva Shipping Lines), the Viva Sta. Maria and Marian Queen of Viva Shipping Lines and the many ROROs acquired by Carlos A. Gothong Lines like the Dona Lili, Don Calvino, Dona Josefina, Don Benjamin, Dona Casandra, Dona Cristina and the third Sweet Home of Sweet Lines. The notable exceptions in this period were the Sweet RORO and Sweet RORO 2 of Sweet Lines and the Sta. Florentina of Negros Navigation but the three were not really that big (as in 110 to 120 meters LOA). Many liners shipping companies did not bother to purchase a RORO ship in this period like William Lines, Aboitiz Shipping, Lorenzo Shipping, Escano Lines and the moribund Compania Maritima, the erstwhile biggest passenger shipping company.

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Cotabato Princess c. 1988 by Britz Salih

However, if Luzon, the Visayas and Northern Mindanao already had RORO ships in this period described, Zamboanga and Southern Mindanao did not see a RORO liner until 1988 when Sulpicio Lines fielded the Cotabato Princess in the Manila-Iloilo-Zamboanga-Cotabato route and Trans-Asia Shipping Lines Inc. fielded the Asia Korea (the latter Asia Hongkong and the Reina del Rosario of Montenegro Shipping Lines) on the Cebu-Iloilo-Zamboanga-General Santos City route and that RORO ship is actually 82.8 meters in length which is about the size of small liners then like the Our Lady of Guadalupe which arrived in 1986 for Carlos A. Gothong Lines and was 89.7 meters in length. With the overthrow of the dictatorship in 1986 and the general bettering of the economic conditions starting in 1987 the RORO ships being purchased were beginning to get bigger and more many as the difficulty of lending from banks and the interest rates eased and there was new economic optimism.

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Asia Korea (TASLI photo)

The fielding of RORO liners in Zamboanga and Southern Mindanao was not fast at first. In 1989, the Zamboanga City of William Lines came when it did the Manila-Iloilo-Zamboanga route before replacing their burned (in the shipyard) Manila City in the Manila-Zamboanga-Davao route. In 1992, the big but slow Maynilad of the William Lines came and replaced the Zamboanga City in that route and the Zamboanga City was given the Manila-Iloilo-Cotabato-General Santos City route instead to battle the Cotabato Princess (with she bypassing Zamboanga port her travel time to Cotabato was shorter).

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Maynilad (Photo credits: William Lines and Britz Salih)

Sulpicio Lines only fielded their second RORO liner in Southern Mindanao when the Manila Princess came in 1992 to replace their cruiser Davao Princess in the Manila-Cebu-Davao route. Actually during that time the only shipping companies with passenger service still remaining to Zamboanga and Southern Mindanao were Sulpicio Lines, William Lines and Sweet Lines. Such was the effect of the political and economic crises of the 1980’s and the coming of the container ships. Among those who quit Zamboanga and Southern Mindanao then in passenger shipping were Compania Maritima, Aboitiz Shipping and Lorenzo Shipping.

The slowness of the coming of the RORO liners in Zamboanga and Southern Mindanao can be counted this way. In 1992, four years after the first coming of the RORO liners, the southernmost portion of the country only had 4 RORO liners, the Manila Princess and Cotabato Princess of Sulpicio Lines and the Maynilad and Zamboanga City of William Lines (Sweet Lines only had the cruiser Sweet Glory in the route). Well, actually there were not that many liners here compared to the Visayas and Northern Mindanao as most cargo in the region was actually carried by the container ships which outnumber the RORO liners. However, Zamboanga and Southern Mindanao RORO liners were generally bigger than the Visayas and Northern Mindanao RORO liners, on the average.

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Princess of the Pacific (Photo credits: Sulpicio Lines and Britz Salih)

It was starting in 1993 that fielding of RORO liners to the southernmost part of the country accelerated. More RORO liners were actually coming in the country because of the incentives laid by President Fidel V. Ramos. The Princess of the Pacific of Sulpicio Lines came and did the Manila-Iloilo-Zamboanga-Dadiangas route. Aboitiz Shipping came back to Southern Mindanao when they fielded the SuperFerry 1 in the Manila-Iloilo-General Santos-Davao route and their SuperFerry 3 did the Manila-Zamboanga-Cotabato route to the protest of William Lines in the latter which when not resolved resulted in the withdrawal of the liner Zamboanga City and subsequent reassignment of that ship to the Puerto Princesa route. Meanwhile, the super-big former flagship of Sulpicio Lines, the Filipina Princess replaced the Manila Princess in its route and this ship was subsequently assigned to the Manila-Zamboanga-Davao route to compete with the slow but bigger Maynilad.

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Photo credits: Manila Chronicle and Gorio Belen

In 1994, the lengthened and rebuilt Sugbu which became the Mabuhay 3 of William Lines did the Manila-Davao-Dadiangas route. In 1995, just before the merger that produced WG&A no more further RORO liners came but Manila Princess was plagued by unreliability and was just being used as a reserve ship.

When WG&A started sailing in 1996 there were heavy changes to the schedules and routes. Early in the merger, the Maynilad was doing the Manila-Dumaguete-Cotabato route and SuperFerry 3 was assigned her old Manila-Zamboanga-Cotabato route. The Dona Virginia was fielded to the Manila-Zamboanga-General Santos City route and competing head-on with the Princess of the Pacific but she was only a half-RORO, half-cruiser. The SuperFerry 6 was doing the Manila-Surigao-Davao route in contest with the Filipina Princess. And the SuperFerry 1 was doing her old Manila-Iloilo-General Santos City-Davao route. There were more RORO liners now and RORO liners that have not been previously assigned to Zamboanga and Southern Mindanao reached ports here like the Our Lady of Akita of Gothong Lines which became SuperFerry 6 and the old flagship Dona Virginia of William Lines. It was exciting because new ships coming are exciting and because it is a new experience for the passengers.

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SuperFerry 3 by Chief Ray Smith

Along the years there were constant adjustments in the routes and fielding of ships of WG&A as more RORO liners came to their fleet and some liners were disposed off or were lost. Later, WG&A also turned into pairing of ships to do the same route. But it would be hard to mention here all the WG&A routes and schedules as it often changed and I will just risk accusations of inaccuracies and listing many by month will be too tedious.

There was one more change in the area when Negros Navigation invaded Zamboanga and Southern Mindanao in their desire to become a national liner company and compete toe-to-toe with WG&A and Sulpicio Lines. The San Ezekiel Moreno was assigned the Manila-Iloilo-Zamboanga-General Santos route and competing against the Princess of the Pacific. And the San Lorenzo Ruiz (theirs and not the Viva Shipping Lines ship) was fielded to the Manila-Iloilo-General Santos-Davao route in competition then with the SuperFerry 1/SuperFerry 8/SuperFerry 10 pairing.

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San Lorenzo Ruiz by Britz Salih

In the new millennium the RORO liners slowly disappeared from Southern Mindanao and almost too in Zamboanga. Passenger shipping slowly but continuously weakened with the onslaught of the budget airlines (and the intermodal bus too from Davao) whose fares were already in parity with the liners. Soon, even the hoi polloi were also taking the planes and a new generation of passengers deemed the liners as too slow and wouldn’t want to spend two-and-a-half days of their lives cocooned in a liner although they are fed free. The RORO liners soon became for the ship lovers only and for those who feared taking a plane.

In the second decade of the new millennium the Aboitiz Transport System RORO liners to Southern Mindanao disappeared. That was preceded years earlier by the withdrawal of Negros Navigation. Now there are no more liners in Southern Mindanao and in Zamboanga only one liner is left.

Soon RORO liners will just be distant memories in Southern Mindanao.

The Bogo Connection to Masbate

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Photo credits: Philippine Herald and Gorio Belen

In the old days, the Cebu connection to Masbate went from Cebu port. And among those that provided that connection were liner companies whose ships pass by Masbate first before heading to Cebu and northern Mindanao and from there their liners will retrace back the route. That is gone now and the last Manila liner that provided such connection was the Cebu Princess of Sulpicio Lines which stopped sailing in the aftermath of the Princess of the Stars‘ sinking in a typhoon in 2008. However, until a few months ago there were a ROPAX Cargo ship, the Super Shuttle RORO 3 of Asian Marine Transport Corporation that was running a route from Batangas to Cebu (Mandaue actually) and Cagayan de Oro via Masbate.

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Photo Credit: Wakanatsu

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Trans-Asia Shipping Lines also had an overnight ferry route from Cebu to Masbate since almost 40 years ago. That is gone now too, a victim of the decline of their fleet and now it is only Cokaliong Shipping Lines that has a Cebu-Masbate passenger service but it only runs once a week. Also long gone was the Palacio Lines’ route from Cebu to Placer, Masbate. But still around is the Lapu-lapu Shipping Lines’ route from Cebu to Cataingan, Masbate which is usually run by their Lapu-lapu Ferry 1, a cruiser ship.

In the past, wooden motor boats also did routes from various ports in Masbate to northern Cebu using the ports of Hagnaya, Maya and Polambato. The three are in San Remigio, Daanbantayan and Bogo towns, respectively. However, from the 1980’s, MARINA, the maritime regulatory agency, consistently pressured the wooden motor boats (the lancha) to retire citing them as “obsolete” and “unsafe”. Some had their franchises revoked and that practically ended the lives of the shipping companies owning them (many operate wooden motor boats because they can’t afford to buy steel-hulled ferries).

MARINA was so successful in that campaign that no motor boats still do a Cebu-Masbate route. What remained were the big passenger-cargo motor bancas which run until now (maybe these are “modern” and “safer” than the phased-out motor boats?). These motor bancas originate from Cawayan, Placer, Esperanza and Pio V. Corpus towns in Masbate. The eastern portion of Masbate island, by the way, is actually Cebuano-speaking and their economic tether is to Cebu. Their motor boats connect their people and their goods to Cebu. Some of their scions actually study in Cebu, too, and work there later on.

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Polambato port (Photo credit: James Gabriel Verallo)

This was the state of things when President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo pushed her Central Nautical Highway which pushed for ROROs. Since the nearest Maya port was in disrepair and there are issues of depth, the port of Polambato was designated as the connecting RORO port to Masbate. That was a two-birds-in-one-stone move as Polambato was already the connecting port to nothern Leyte via the Palompon port (it still is until now). So only one RORO port had two be developed for two routes. Neat but a route from Polambato is longer than a route from Maya port.

On the side of Masbate, two ports were offered as connection, the port of Cawayan on the southern side of Masbate island and the port of Cataingan on the southeastern end on the island in the protected Cataingan Bay. Cataingan port is the logical choice since it is actually the best port in eastern Masbate as it is considered the district port and it lies in a protected bay. In the past, it was a home of motor boats going to Cebu. It also has a shorter road distance to Masbate City, the main economic center of Masbate province and the take-off port of Masbate to the Bicol mainland. There was also an attempt for a two-birds-in-one-stone move there as Cataingan was also declared to be the Masbate port that will connect to Naval, Biliran and Leyte island.

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Cawayan port (Photo credit: Noel de Mesa)

Cawayan port, meanwhile, is a bit more distant from Masbate City and when the RORO route was opened its roads were in a worse state compared to the Cataingan-Masbate road which was at least asphalted though beginning to crack (now, however the roads of the two towns to Masbate are already improved). And in the Cataingan-Masbate road there are more towns and hence more commerce, more sources of produce and of course, passengers. But how come they still built the Cawayan RORO port? Well, maybe there was politics (I don’t know just where) and Gloria was actually too fond then of duplicate ports. It brings more income to you-know-where. So it was actually a one-bird-with-two-stones maneuver.

I also just wonder about the fate of Placer port on the southern side of Masbate island. In the past, Placer was the connecting port of the southern side of Masbate island to Cebu City. It is even closer to Bogo than Cawayan (or even Cataingan) and the RORO will be less broadsided by the habagat and amihan waves in that route. They said there is an issue with the port with regards to depth but it was never clear to me (again was there politics?). Whatever, Cawayan won out over Placer and that was that. One’s fate and progress can really just be decided in an instant in Manila and NEDA, the validator of projects is actually just a stamp pad.

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Cataingan port

Montenegro Shipping Lines Inc. (MSLI) pioneered the Polambato (Bogo) to Cataingan route. Among its early clients were its own ROROBus intermodal buses doing a Manila-Cebu route via Masbate. Meanwhile, it was the Asian Marine Transport Corporation (AMTC) that pioneered the Polambato (Bogo) to Cawayan route with their Super Shuttle Ferry 19, a double-ended ferry. Montenegro Lines used a rotation of ferries in the Bogo-Cataingan route while Super Shuttle Ferry 19 is sometimes not in the route and none is running at times as AMTC lacked ships as the years went by because they lose ships (as in hull losses) and also because of ship unreliability.

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The ferry next bigger to the basic, short-distance ferry-RORO in Polambato (Photo credit: John Carlos Cabanillas)

Both routes are still running now and Montenegro Lines even tried a twice a day sailing but settled with a once a day sailing with a ship next bigger in size to the basic, short-distance ferry-RORO, the starting ship of both routes (or a modernized LCT at times). Lately, however, Asian Marine Transport Corporation sold out both its ships and its route to Cawayan and Super Shuttle Ferry 19 became the Cawayan Ferry 1 of the new company D. Olmilla Shipping Corporation. The Bogo-Cawayan route, as a note, still has no intermodal bus and it is the weaker of the two. I heavily doubt if it can overtake Cataingan.

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Cawayan Ferry 1 (Photo credit: James Gabriel Verallo)

Even with these two routes running, the motor bancas of Masbate still sail regularly to Bogo and Maya. These motor bancas sometimes carry hogs (in a deck below the passenger deck) and that is a commodity not acceptable to MSLI or AMTC unless it is loaded in trucks and even then it will only be loaded with reluctance (as their passengers might complain of the smell in the 6-hour voyage). And besides, the passengers and the cargo of the motor bancas enjoy a point-to-point direct sailing with no land transfer (the ROROs doesn’t go to Placer or Esperanza). It might even stop offshore near a remote barrio and the passenger and cargo will be transferred to his own motor banca. Bookings can also be done informally (and even by cellphone). A passenger from Placer can be picked up by the Cawayan boat at sea if they receive a validated text message and if there is no motor banca from Placer.

Though affected by the development of the Bogo-Cataingan route, the Cataingan-Cebu ship of Lapu-lapu Shipping is still running. Its service of loading frozen fish in styrofoam boxes without using trucks can’t still be equaled by the Cataingan-Bogo RORO as a truck would be needed from Bogo. They send it out by Lapu-lapu Ferry 1 and it will just be picked up by the customer in Cebu Pier 3 and the empty boxes will be loaded by the customer in the return trip. Sometimes, the advantage of a RORO is overstated by the government which is always pushing it. How can shipping 2 or 3 styrofoam boxes be sulit using a truck or a Multicab?

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Lapu-lapu Ferry 1 in Cataingan port

The route from Cebu via Masbate to Manila is not cheaper compared to the Cebu to Manila route via Leyte and Samar although looks shorter on the map. That was found out by a Swiss member of PSSS (Philippine Ship Spotters Society) member who did both routes in the same month. The RORO rates via Masbate is high because there is lack of competition and maybe the sea crossing is longer if the Bogo-Palompon route is taken as the comparison. Meanwhile the rates via Leyte and Samar are cheaper and sometimes there are discounting plus there is the cheap Cargo RORO LCTs. However, the land route through it is some 225 kilometers longer compared to a Pilar, Sorsogon route and 265 kilometers via a Pio Duran, Masbate that both uses Masbate.

Whatever, the Bogo routes will definitely stick. That is what was shown by the last decade. Well, unless it is supersed by the Maya port which is under construction now. It might not necessarily be cheap but there are people and goods that has Masbate as a destination (and newbies who will think it is cheaper through there since it looks nearer on the map). And there are those who will still prefer the shorter route and just save on time. And also save on wear on the vehicles and the driver. And arrive earlier and for truck owners save on wages and have their trucks be available for an extra day.

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Maya port (Photo credit: bUs sPoTTeRs

If only their rates are more competitive then maybe the Bogo connection will be flying now.

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.

When An Overnight Ship Not High On The Cebu Totem Pole Of Ships Became Highly Regarded in Batangas

Before 2009, Trans-Asia Shipping Lines Inc. (TASLI) already had a problem with their Asia Hongkong as it was no longer that reliable. This ship had quadruple engines and to transfer the power generated by that two synchronizers are used. As said in the mechanical world, more complications means more possibility of failure. Or more maintenance and probably more trouble. Trans-Asia Shipping Lines was not lucky with that kind of arrangement with their sister ships Trans-Asia and Asia China which happened to have quadruple Niigata engines too. Sulpicio Lines was not lucky too with that kind of arrangement with the quadruple Pielsticks of their Princess of New Unity.

Asia Hongkong was sold to Montenegro Shipping Lines, Inc. of Batangas and this company has the patience and the resources to nurse back ailing ships to become reliable once more. And after half a year of so and after some unreliability early on they were able to nurse back Asia Hongkong which was now known as the Reina del Rosario. As Asia Hongkong this ship was not highly rated in Cebu which has a lot of good overnight ships, the type where this ship belongs. Ahead of her then in Cebu was nearly 20 overnight ship better than her. And so when news filtered back to Cebu that Reina del Rosario was well-appreciated in Batangas, it drew some laughs.

The problem actually lies in Batangas shipping. For too long they did not really invest in good overnight ships. For distances and voyage durations that last half a night including loading time and waiting, they will make do with benches and just let passengers try to curl in there or else hang their heads on the bench ahead of them. A survey of their passengers at midnight is a scene of various levels of discomfort and lack of sleep.

This problem started during the time of the dominance of Viva Shipping Lines. For overnight routes they will use ships simply equipped with benches and very poor toilet facilities. It took for Paciencio Balbon of MARINA to end this after a long struggle. Even after Viva Shipping Lines sank, their successors never learned how to make their passengers more comfortable. Or to really learn and invest in passenger service. Well, they will even skimp on ships’ scantlings just to save a little money. For me, it is obvious they don’t really care for the passengers’ comfort.

Meanwhile, since there is competition in Cebu and there is pride among the shipping owners, the ships of Cebu were better in everything. From the very start there is a Suite Class or at the very least a First Class Cabin. Those classes were completely foreign in Batangas then. If Cebu overnight ships have restaurants, in Batangas the highest equivalent will be a small kiosk with no meals offered. And they do not know how to spell “lounge” in Batangas because it simply cannot be found there then. If there is a front desk in Cebu ships, there is none of that in Batangas ships. Ask for linen (beddings) or towel, well, they have never heard of that in Batangas.

In Cebu, when they use a small RORO as an overnight or night ferry they will try to convert part of the accommodations equipped with bunks. And even have a small, airconditioned Tourist section. Well, if a ship arrives early, they won’t force you down. It is your free “lodging” until you wake up. That is not the practice in Batangas ships.

That was the reason why Asia Hongkong/Reina del Rosario, an old ship not high in Cebu rankings got appreciated in Batangas. Suddenly, Batangas passengers learned there is something better. And the aircon is even cooler. This was the time the Cebu Ferries were not yet Batangas Ferries. Now when that trio came, they easily set new standards in Batangas shipping, a standard that has not yet been matched until now. But before they came, Asia Hongkong/Reina del Rosario set the new standards in comfort among Batangas ships.

Asia Hongkong/Reina del Rosario started her career in Japan as the Hakodate Maru No. 10 of Hakodate Shosen KK. She was once a ferry connecting Hokkaido island to the main island of Honshu (ferries are now gone there when the tunnel was built). This ferry was built Narasaki Zosen in their Muroran yard in 1971 but it was Hakodate Dock that completed the ship. The ship is a RORO (Roll On, Roll Off) ship with bow and stern ramps for loading vehicles on the single-level car deck. The ship originally has only one passenger deck with the bridge on a deck higher than that. The ship has no full scantling in Japan.

Hakodate Maru No. 10 has a raked stem and a transom stem, two masts and two funnels. The external dimensions are 82.8 meters length over-all (LOA), 76.2 meters length between perpendiculars (LBP) and a breadth (B) of 14.0 meters. The original gross register tonnage (GRT) was 1,034 and the original deadweight tonnage (DWT) was 1,495. Her four Niigata engines totalled 5,320 horsepower and her top speed was 17 knots when new. She has about 300 lane-meters of rolling cargo space. Her permanent ID is IMO 7109465.

In 1978, she was sold to Higashi Nippon Ferry KK, a source of many ships that came to the Philippines including the Asia Brunei of Trans-Asia Shipping Lines. After 10 more years, she was sold to the Philippines and she became the Asia Korea of Trans-Asia Shipping Lines. In refitting, the scantling and deck was extended to the stern and a second passenger deck was added. Initially, the second deck was not extended full to the stern and it served a poop deck and observation deck. And in line with Trans-Asia’s common design, a barbecue place was built there next to the canteen and restaurant (these are two separate facilities in Trans-Asia Shipping Company.

With the extensions the gross tonnage of the ship rose to 1,842 and with further extensions this eventually rose to 2,093 with the net tonnage now 1,350. The passenger capacity then rose to 784 with the majority of it in Economy class. The deadweight tonnage (DWT) was practically unchanged (this does not necessarily change). However, her speed was down to about 15 knots due to age and the added weight.

The ship became a four-class ship with Suite, First Class Cabin, Tourist and the usual open-air Economy for the masses. The new deck and the extension of the first or lower deck became the Economy sections. An upper-class restaurant and a lounge was also present in the airconditioned portion that held the higher classes. The barbecue place, canteen and restaurant near the poop deck was open for all (after all barbecue is always a hit among Visayans).

Asia Korea was not the usual overnight ferry ship of Cebu because its original route was Cebu-Iloilo-Zamboanga-General Santos City (and that explains her accommodations and amenities that were later appreciated in Batangas). That was the time when Trans-Asia Shipping Lines still had long routes. Her role was actually that of a multi-day liner much like the Asia Japan which came in the same year as Asia Korea that had a Cebu-Dumaguete-Dapitan-Zamboanga route. This was also the time when Trans-Asia Shipping Lines was still a Zamboanga player in the passenger segment of the market.

Later, Trans-Asia Shipping Lines withdrew from their long routes and she was assigned to the other major routes of the company. Heading into the mid-1990’s, the shipping competition was getting fierce as there was optimism in the shipping sector and many invested when President Fidel Ramos rolled out his liberation and modernization program. In her original route she was being slowly squeezed by the superior liners coming from Manila especially in the Iloilo-Zamboanga-General Santos segment and cargo in her route from Cebu to Zamboanga or vice-versa is not that strong.

Withdrawn from her route she was assigned to the different major routes of the company as Trans-Asia Shipping Lines also rotate their ships. But to avoid confusion let it be said that this is a different ship from the smaller Asia South Korea which grounded and sank near Bantayan island. Actually to avoid confusion Asia Korea was renamed as the Asia Hongkong.

In the latter days with Trans-Asia Shipping Lines when her engines are no longer that strong Asia Hongkong was assigned the shorter Tagbilaran-Cagayan de Oro route of the company which was probably the shortest remaining route of the company then.

In 2009 she was sold to Montenegro Shipping Lines Inc. (MSLI) and she was renamed as the Reina del Rosario and officially under that company early on but currently she is now under their legal-fiction company Marina Ferries Inc. In that twin company, as an overnight ferry company, she is usually assigned the overnight Batangas-Odiongan route although at times she can be found on other routes.

Her passenger capacity rose again to 930 with internal modifications. Her usual maintained speed is 11-12 knots. I just wonder if in Batangas people realize she is the sister ship of the dead San Lorenzo Ruiz of the defunct Sto. Domingo Shipping Lines, a legal-fiction company of Viva Shipping Lines which was the Hakodate No. 11 in Japan. The scantling of that ship was not full so the resemblance is not that great. The San Lorenzo Ruiz was gone in the early 2000’s with the bankruptcy of her company. For clarity, let is be said that this ship is different from the San Lorenzo Ruiz, a liner of the Negros Navigation Company.

Reina del Rosario is now a reliable ship as her new owner is good in maintaining old ships and have the resources to lengthen their lives. She is the biggest ship in Montenegro Shipping Lines/Marina Ferries which is a testament that Cebu ferries are bigger than Batangas ferries.

I guess Batanguenos (and Romblomanons) will still be seeing her for a long time. Well, unless Art Tugade gets his way and treat ships as if their lifespan are just as good as the buses, wrongly.

[Photo from a framed TASLI photo.]

The Third Filipinas Maasin

The Filipinas Maasin is a line of ships of Cokaliong Shipping Lines Inc. (CSLI) bearing the same name. The current, existing Filipinas Maasin that almost everyone knows is actually the third in that line. It is the first RORO (Roll On, Roll Off) Filipinas Maasin and the biggest in the series. Maybe it can also be added that she was the best in the three.

The first Filipinas Maasin was the third-ever ship of Cokalong Shipping Lines Inc., which was a hand-me-down cruiser ship from Trans-Asia Shipping Lines Inc. (TASLI) where she was known as the first Trans-Asia. However, the first Filipinas Maasin was renamed to the second Filipinas Tandag after the very first ship of Cokaliong Shipping Lines Inc. bearing that name caught fire in Mactan Channel during the Christmas rush of 1991. This ship was later sold to Roble Shipping Inc. in 1998 where she became the Cebu Diamond. In Japan, she was the Shimaji Maru.

Since there was no Filipinas Maasin (and so they lacked ships) and Cokaliong Shipping Lines names ships from places they are connected (the founders of Cokaliong has Surigao origins) and Surigao ships to Cebu traditionally call on Maasin at it lies near the route, another Filipinas Maasin was procured in 1992. This ship was known in Aboitiz Shipping Corp. by three names – as the second Aklan and the second Ormoc. Since there was much renaming in the ships then that results in confusion she should also be identified by her Japan origins where she was known as the the Yasaka Maru with the IMO Number 5395254 and she was built in 1960. Later she was also sold to Roble Shipping where she became the Leyte Diamond.

The third Filipinas Maasin arrived in 2000, a year after the arrival of her sister ship, the Filipinas Iloilo. Their coming, along with other ROROs was part of the whole-fleet conversion of Cokaliong Shipping Lines into ROROs which began in 1997. That was the reason they consecutively sold the Filipinas Siargao, the Filipinas Tandag and the second Filipinas Maasin.

The third Filipinas Maasin was built as the Utaka Maru in Japan in 1980 with the ID IMO 8014887. She was built by Sanuki Shipbuilding and Iron Works in their Takuma yard. The ship has a steel hull with bow and stern ramps as access to her single-level car deck which is divided in the middle. Hence, she is classified as a RORO (Roll-On, Roll Off) ship. She has two masts but only a single stylized center funnel (and that bisects the car deck into two), a raked stem and a transom stern.

Her external dimensions, as built, is 81.3 meters length-all by 14.8 meters extreme breadth by 4.6 meters depth. The ship’s gross register tonnage (GRT) as built was 999 tons and her load capacity was 250 tons in deadweight tonnage (DWT). She was equipped with two Daihatsu marine diesels of 1,600 horsepower each for a total of 3,200 horsepower. That propelled her to a top sustained speed of 14 knots when she was still new.

In 1992, she was sold to China where she was known as the Zhong Hai No.3. Then she was reconveyed to South Korea the same year where she became a dedicated Jeju ferry. Jeju island is the famed island for vacationers and honeymooners in South Korea. Her name there was Car Ferry Cheju No.3. Cheju is another transliteration equivalent to Jeju but Jeju is the name now more used internationally like when a ferry there capsized and sank.

The ship was taken by Cokaliong Shipping Lines from Busan (formerly known as Pusan), South Korea and was conducted from Aug. 19 to Aug. 26 in 2000. The conduction took double the usual duration because the ship had to take shelter in Ikema Shima island in Japan because of a strong typhoon. A 12-man conduction crew manned the ship during the voyage that ended in Cebu.

Upon refitting, the gross tonnage (GT) of the ship shot up to 2,661 nominal tons with 1,684 nominal tons in net tonnage (NT). The DWT of the ship also rose significantly to 674. As of now the passenger capacity of the ship is 704 in 4 classes: Suite, Cabin, Tourist and Economy. There are only two passenger decks with the upper one all-Economy. The rear of that deck is a poop deck which serves as the viewing deck of the ship.

The upper classes are in the forward section of the lower passenger deck. This ship has a canteen (not a kiosk) in the airconditioned section and it has seats and tables around and this serves the lounge of the ship for the upper classes. At the rear of the lounge are additional bunks of the Economy class. Economy class passengers have also access to the canteen and can also seat themselves at the lounge.

She has two prominent passenger ramps at the stern which leads to two wing-type passenger passageways at each side which has curved blue plastic roofing, a Cokaliong trademark. She also has two side ramps at each side to assist loading and unloading of cargo. In the main, her cargo is not the rolling type but loose and palletized cargo handled by forklifts which she carries aboard. When newly-fielded here her top speed was already down to 13 knots but that was still enough for the Cebu-Maasin-Surigao route.

I have memories of this ship because she was the first-ever ship of Cokaliong that I have sailed with. I was not yet aware of the legendary cleanliness of the Cokaliong Shipping Lines and I was amazed. I have long sailed with liners and she easily beats most especially when there was no WG&A yet. However, I disembarked in Maasin from Surigao as I will transfer to a Manila bus (but that was one experience I half-regretted, the time I was still in the trial and error mode in rides in the eastern seaboard). My main regret was with the bus connection then (I was too early for the buses in Maasin and I did not know Maasin becomes a deserted place when the ship leaves; but things are different now). I just rode Filipinas Maasin because I want to try Cokaliong and the Surigao-Maasin route.

I also recommended this ship to a friend travelling from Davao to Bicol. But I told him not to get Tourist accommodation but only Economy and stay the whole time there at the lounge. The difference in the fares will be enough for the food and drinks ordered at the canteen. When he travelled the first bus from Maasin is already earlier and Filipinas Maasin is already slower and so she arriver later than before. I even warned him not to tarry too long at the port lest the Philtranco bus pass him because it will be another hour of wait with only mosquitoes as company.

In her earlier days, Filipinas Maasin was the main ship of the Cebu-Maasin-Surigao route of the Cokaliong Shipping Lines. It still is somehow but she also got assigned extra routes especially in her weekly off-day schedule.

In the last few years, she got smokey and her speed dropped. That was about the time she and her sister ship was offered for sale (but there were no takers). There was rumors that her engines were no longer that strong and sometimes we noticed she was arriving past her arrival time. But she is not the type that was conking out. Aside from legendary cleanliness Cokaliong Shipping Lines was also known for rigorous maintenance of old ships. Like clockwork their ships will enter the shipyards every two years for drydocking.

Their paint will also not be left tarnished while sailing. That was why I was furious about one article done by a Hongkonger in Shippax International. That idiot who only visited here said the livery choice of Cokaliong was done “to better hide the rust” (actually all his articles of Philippine ship companies was very derogatory save for one). We ship spotters know that is completely baseless and we know Cokaliong takes care of its ships very well. I actually protested to the late Klas Brogren, the Shippax founder who is a friend of PSSS (Philippine Ship Spotters Society). That article on Philippine ships was first offered to a former Moderator of PSSS and he declined but he did not inform me. If he offered that to me instead I would have gladly wrote that article about Philippine ship companies.

Last year, we noticed Filipinas Maasin was taking an unusually long time in Ouano wharf in Mandaue. We later learned she will be re-engined with brand-new Weichai marine diesels from China.

Filipinas Maasin is again sailing now in her old route. Noticeably, the thick smoked has vanished (before her smoke can almost hide a building). She is also a little faster now. We also learned from sources before she and her sister Filipinas Iloilo is off the market now. It seems Cokaliong Shipping Lines will already ride them for the long term. They should, the interior is still good. She does not look worn or aged. No need to waste her like the TASLI ships Trans-Asia and Asia China.

I expect to see her sailing for a long time more.

A Slew of Hand-Me-Down Cruiser Ferries and Then a Grand Overnight RORO Ferry (The Start of Roble Shipping Inc.)

Jose Roble, the founder of Roble Shipping Incorporated originally was from Danao City. That city is the bastion of the Durano clan and and made to what it is by Ramon M. Durano Sr., one the Grand Old Men of Cebu politics. This was after he was lured by Philippine Presidents to move up north so political tension in Cebu will be de-escalated. They did it with industrial incentives, the reason why Ramon M. Durano Sr. was able to establish factories, plants and processing facilities and even a stake in shipping.

The late Durano patriarch was good in building up people and that included people who made good elsewhere. That included the former Senator Alejandro Almendras (who first made good as Davao Governor), the former Davao Governor Vicente Duterte, father of the recently-elected President of the Philippines Rodrigo Duterte and Jose Roble. Jose Roble was first into cargo handling or arrastre (Roble Arrastre Inc.) until he ventured into shipping under the company Roble Shipping Incorporated.

Roble Shipping is into cargo but what is more known by the public is their passenger operation. They started in 1985 with the cargo vessel Marao, a ship built in 1965. They converted the ship so it can also take in a few passenger and sailed it from Cebu to Hilongos. The year 1985 was the tailend of the Marcos dictatorship and it was a period of great political and economic crisis. It was actually a propitious time to start, but simply, as the shipping lines then of all kinds were under heavy stress and some were collapsing outright and some were also tottering.

For the next twelve years Roble Shipping made passenger ship acquisitions that were very simple and very conservative (but they also bought a few cargo ships). Always, the mark of their acquisitions in this period were the ships they bought were hand-me-downs, old and about ready for the breakers. Early on, tt just seemed to me that they were just one step ahead of Ting Guan, the biggest and legendary scrap metal dealer in Cebu which also buys ships as scrap (the good thing about Ting Guan is they just buy ships that have no more place to go unlike the China and South Asian breakers).

Those were wise moves. If the acquisition failed it can just be sold for scrap with almost no loss compared to the purchase value. Meanwhile, it might even earn and gain recognition for Roble Shipping. That period of the late 1980’s was actually also good for starting in shipping because many shipping companies has already gone under and the former workhorses of our fleet, the ex-”FS” and ex-”F” ships were already in its last breadth and MARINA, the maritime regulatory agency was cracking down heavily on the wooden motor boats (locally called as lancha or batel).

In 1986, Roble Shipping purchased the Don Bonifacio from Carlos A. Gothong Lines. This ship was the former Scorpius of the bankrupt NORCAMCO Lines which had routes to Romblon, Bicol and Northern Samar. Roble Shipping also acquired the former Surigao Transport of the tottering Sea Transport Company. Roble Shipping did the Marao treatment to her and added a small passenger accommodation and renamed her as the May Josephine. She tried the Cebu-Zamboanga route. Roble Shipping also purchased the Waka Maru from Manila Inter Ocean Liners. She became the first Hilongos Diamond. Her name already betrays her route.

All of these ships were built in Japan in the 1950’s, a time when metallurgy was not yet advanced hence engine lives were not that long. The four along with Marao did not serve for any long time for Roble Shipping as they were already beaten up but the company was adept in buying a replacement when a ship of theirs was already in its last gasps. Roble Shipping was good in beating the last life out of a ship and in a sense that was good because in the earlier days one only sends a machinery to the scrap yard when it is already unrepairable. I think the penchant of Roble Shipping in keeping many ships in Mandaue Pier 7 might have started from this – just send in the ships that can sail from a fleet with many old reserves.

In the years 1988, 1989 and 1990, Roble Shipping bought the overnight cruiser ferries being retired by Trans-Asia Shipping Lines Inc. (TASLI) which by then was already shifting to overnight RORO ferries. These became the Guada Cristy [1], Guada Cristy [2] and Queen Belinda in their fleet. These ships lasted longer than their earlier ships as they were not really that beaten up. However, Guada Cristy [1] was caught by the strongest typhoon to visit Cebu City in 1990, the Typhoon “Ruping” and was wrecked. Later the Queen Belinda also took the name of Hilongos Diamond. For a time these ferries from Trans-Asia Shipping Lines formed the backbone of Roble Shipping.

Later, in the mid-1990’s Roble Shipping Incorporated acquired the cruiser ferries being retired by Cokaliong Shipping Lines Incorporated (CSLI) in favor of RORO ferries. This is the second time Roble Shipping became the recipient of cruiser ferries being retired. Cruiser ferries have nowhere else to go at that time with the possible exception of Zamboanga so such moves by Roble Shipping extended their lives. These ships became the Leyte Diamond and Cebu Diamond in their fleet and being not beaten up served Roble Shipping well.

In the late 1990’s, Roble Shipping also acquired the Ormoc Star and this ship became very associated with the company. At this decade Roble Shipping was undoubtedly the cruiser ferry specialist of Central Visayas. However, in the midst of all these cruiser ferry purchases, one grand ferry, a RORO big and good enough to be a liner came into the fleet of Roble Shipping Incorporated. This was their first RORO ship and she was called the Southern Queen. She arrived for the company in 1997.

The Southern Queen was no ordinary overnight ferry. From her size, her origin as a Kansai Kisen ship with a classification as cruiseferry and her appointments she can match the best of the overnight ferries in the premier Visayas-Mindanao route, the Cebu-Cagayan de Oro route. She was so good I was even wondering what was she doing in the Roble fleet, no offense meant. I thought she was to be used in the Cebu-Nasipit route, for which Roble Shipping Incorporated is a holder of a Certificate of Public Convenience (CPC) which is otherwise known as a franchise.

The Southern Queen was first known as the Maya Maru in Japan. She was ordered by Kansai Kisen KK from Hashihama Zosen and she was delivered in June 1971. She was built in the Hashihama yard and she measured 89.3 meters by 14.6 meters with a gross register tonnage (GRT) of 3,228 and a deadweight tonnage (DWT) of 508 tons. Maya Maru was a steel-hulled ship with a raked stem and a retrouvaille stern which looks like a transom stern slanted forward. She had a forward mast and a center funnel that was also the stern mast. The ship also had a false funnel at the center which was also an observation and functions deck. The original passenger capacity of Maya Maru was 1,000 passengers in three passenger decks.

The ship had a stern ramp for vehicles and a car deck. Her superstructure encompassed the whole ship so there is no side passageways. Almost the entire passenger area of the ship was airconditioned. She was equipped with two Pielstick engines built by Ishikawajima-Harima Heavy Industries Company which is more popularly known then as IHI. This pair of engines produced a total of 8,400 horsepower and that was shafted to two screws. This gave the ship a top speed of 21 knots originally.

In 1979, Maya Maru was transferred to Sogo Lease KK and she became a cruiseferry with no change of name. She was paired with three other cruiseferries. One was the Sunflower 1, a sister ship of Mabuhay 1 and Princess of New Unity and two other cruiseferries which became known here as the St. Francis of Assisi and Our Lady of Lipa (now, those three is regal company). In 1997, the ship was transferred to Roble Shipping Incorporated where she became the Southern Queen. Under this company the interior was renovated so that she will become an overnight ferry. Bunks were fitted along with a big cabin for the Tourist Class. Since the ship originally had a nearly fully-enclosed superstructure there was not much space where to build an open-air Economy Class except to modify the top deck somehow. The original cabins of the ship were more or less retained as Cabin and Suite Class. The wide functions areas and restaurants of the ship were practically removed but a front desk and a lounge was retained.

In refitting her, although no part of the superstructure was removed, the gross tonnage of the ship went down to 1,598 nominal tons which was an impossibility. Again the MARINA “magic meter” was at work. Her declared net tonnage or NT was 978 nominal tons and the deadweight tonnage (DWT) went down to 478. Her route was Cebu-Ormoc and she was the biggest, most beautiful, most luxurious ship and speediest in that route. Her deployment was a big factor in the establishment of Roble Shipping as a force in Visayas shipping. No longer was she a simple receptor of hand-me-downs. In fact from this time on, they no longer bought a ferry from other companies except when the Cagayan Princess and Cebu Princess of Sulpicio Lines were offered to them under exceptional circumstances and price. And the two was laid up for long in Mandaue Pier 7 as the wont of Roble Shipping before and even now.

In 2002, Southern Queen was renamed as the Heaven Star. Southern Queen/Heaven Star sailed for Roble Shipping for about a decade until her engines became balky and unreliable. With that development she began spending more time moored in their wharf in Mandaue. Initially, Ormoc Star substituted for her but when the Wonderful Stars arrived in 2007 and took her route I smelled the beginning of her end. She might have been fast but speed is really not a big asset in the Cebu to western Leyte routes which average less than 60 nautical miles in distance. Wonderful Stars might not have been as big as her but she has more than enough passenger and cargo capacity and speed good enough for dawn arrivals. However, with an engine horsepower of exactly half of Heaven Star, she is more of a winner. Heaven Star‘s engines actually has a reputation for being thirsty.

After a few years of not sailing Heaven Star was slowly broken up in Roble wharf in Pier 7 in Mandaue starting in 2010. The process took until 2011 when only her hulk remained. We heard the sale of her steel was used to fund the rehabilitation of the two ferries from Sulpicio Lines which became the Theresian Stars and Joyful Stars in their fleet.

Heaven Star might have been completely gone now but her donee Theresian Stars and Joyful Stars are still sailing for Roble Shipping. Now Roble Shipping is one of the Visayan overnight ferry majors.

Really, it doesn’t matter where or how one started, as they say.

[Image Credit: Hans Jason]                                                                                                                             [Database Support: Mervin Go Soon/Jun Marquez/Mike Baylon]