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.

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The OVERNIGHT FERRIES in the PHILIPPINES and its BASE PORTS

written by Mike Baylon

The Overnight Ferry sector is the middle sector of passenger shipping in the Philippines and it bridges the multi-day, long-distance Liner sector and the ubiquitous and important-to-the-intermodal-system Short-Distance Ferry sector. The sector’s most visible characteristic is its overnight voyage and normally it is the route distance that dictates the sailing time. Secondary is the requirement of cargo handling – purchasing of goods to be transported is done during the day when stores are open. And for the purchaser the overnight ship is the perfect respite after a day’s tiring shuttle around the city to buy goods.

Cebu Ships at Ozamiz Port
Overnight Ferries ©Mark Ocul

It is also true for the sellers of goods from the province – the day is their delivery time and the chance to look for customers. Or at least that was how it used to be for the purchaser and the seller. For those ordered through the phone, the day is the perfect time for merchants to assemble the goods and deliver those to the pier. These kinds of commerce dictate why on overnight ships the loading is still loose cargo or palletized. Of course if the trader will make direct deliveries and bypass the regional traders then he will have to bring in a truck. That is why the intermodal system is gaining headway in overnight shipping as in rolling cargo (not container cargo) is on the rise in this sector.

Sometimes the route distance difference might not be great but what separates the overnight ferries from the short-distance ferries is the provision of bunks where passengers can lie down and sleep. Short-distance ferries, meanwhile, are equipped with seats and benches which are not comfortable for the medium distances. Overnight ferries are also, generally, bigger and a little faster. Where short-distance ferries will seldom breach 50 or 60 meters in LOA, that length is almost the starting length of overnight ferries, in the main. If 100 meters is the peak length of overnight ferries, that length is also the startling length of the liners.

Trans-Asia 10 ©James Gabriel Verallo

This hierarchy is also mirrored in speed. Short-distance ferries especially the Basic, Short-distance Ferry will seldom travel over 11 knots. For overnight ferries that is usually the starting speed unless the distance is not that long and the overnight ferry use economical speed. Now if liner speeds generally start at 17 knots, well, that is practically the top speed now for overnight ferries but the truth is few run at that speed now.

In accommodations and amenities, the being middle ground of the overnight ferries are also reflected. Where basic, short-distance ferries will usually have only a TV and maybe a videoke as entertainment and a kiosk as amenity and liners will almost have all the works, the overnight ferry will have something in between. In general, they will have an airconditioned accommodation and even cabins, a dining area or restaurant, a better canteen with hot meals in the better ones, a lounge and even a bar and a massage parlor or a spa sometimes. However, unlike in liners the meal on overnight ferries is not complementary or free.

Trans-Asia 5 Lobby ©Kenneth Sy
Triangulo Suite
Triangulo Suite of Filipinas Nasipit ©Mark Ocul

In the dawn or in the morning the passengers disembark after a night’s rest and journey. In a sense, the overnight ferry is just like an overnight lodging house except that it is travelling. It even has toilets and baths so a passenger can go down fresh and presentable.

In ship design, most of the overnight ships are ROROs or ROPAXes to be more accurate. There are still Cruisers and these are mainly in Zamboanga (they are about half of the steel-hulled overnight ferries there). In some routes there is still the wooden Motor Boat (“batel” or “lancha”) including the Moro boats.

Magnolia Fragrance
Magnolia Fragrance ©Mike Baylon

In the Philippines, many do not realize that our country has only three base ports for the overnight ferries and these are Cebu, Batangas and Zamboanga. Not by design, perhaps, but it happened that one is in the Visayas, one is in Luzon and one is in Mindanao. This used to be four previously with the other one being Manila but as base of overnight ferries Manila has already lost to Batangas which is nearer to the islands.

Ferries might emanate in Northern Mindanao or Jolo or Caticlan but if one looks closely those ferries are not really based there; it just happened to be the end of the route. The base port is also reflected in the domicile of the ferry along with the situation of the city as an emporium and entrepot, a trading place where a long array of goods can be bought and sold and in good quantity.

Cebu International Port and Mactan Channel
Cebu International Port ©Mark Ocul

Cebu is the biggest of the three base ports. She has the most number of overnight ferry companies and the most routes. From Cebu the routes radiate to Northern Mindanao (Surigao, Nasipit, Cagayan de Oro, Iligan, Ozamis, Plaridel and Dapitan), Leyte (Maasin, Bato, Hilongos, Baybay, Ormoc and Palompon), Samar (Catbalogan and Calbayog), Masbate, Iloilo, Dumaguete, Bohol (Tagbilaran, Tubigon, Jetafe and Ubay) and to Siquijor and Camiguin island-provinces.

Outer wharf of Zamboanga port
Zamboanga International Port ©Mike Baylon

Zamboanga, meanwhile, has routes to Jolo, Bongao and other minor islands of Tawi-tawi province, Olutanga island and Margosatubig in Zamboanga del Sur. Other routes from Zamboanga are gone now because of the development of the highways. Moro boats still ply routes to distant islands like Taganak, Mapun, Cagayancillo and some other minor and remote islands.

Batangas International Port ©Michael Gutib

Batangas, the third base port has overnight routes to Caticlan and Dumaguit in Panay island and to the Romblon islands. With the development of the highways in Mindoro, it has lost its overnight routes to San Jose and Sablayan, both in Occidental Mindoro. It also lost the overnight routes to Coron, Palawan and Masbate City.

From Cebu the following shipping companies have overnight routes: Trans-Asia Shipping Lines, Cokaliong Shipping Lines, Lite Ferries, Roble Shipping, Medallion Transport, George & Peter Lines, Lapu-Lapu Shipping, Asian Marine Transport System, VG Shipping, Gabisan Shipping, South Pacific Transport and J&N Shipping. From Zamboanga, meanwhile, the following shipping companies have overnight ships: Aleson Shipping, Magnolia Shipping, Ever Lines, Sing Shipping, Evenesser Shipping, Ibnerizam Shipping and KM Shipping. From Baliwasan wharves Moro boats with not-so-regular schedule also ply overnight routes and the most prominent of this is L5 Shipping while the rest are practically one-boat operations.

From Batangas the overnight ferry operators are Montenegro Shipping Lines, 2Go Travel, Navios Lines, CSGA Ferry and Asian Marine Transport System. Most of the ferry runs from Batangas are on short-distance routes.

With the withdrawal of MBRS Shipping and successor Romblon Shipping Line along with Moreta Shipping there is almost no overnight ferry company left in Manila as the route to Coron and further can hardly be classified as overnight routes with its distance and with the slowness of the ships in the route. The only overnight route now from Manila is that to Tilik served by Atienza Shipping.

MV May Lilies ©Irvine Kinea

On a minor scale Lucena is also a base of one remaining overnight ferry company which is Kalayaan Shipping which has a route to Romblon. It already lost its overnight route to Masbate. In this scale Iloilo can also be considered since it is the base of Milagrosa Shipping and Montenegro Shipping Lines, both of which have a route to Cuyo and Puerto Princesa.

Looking at their role it is obvious that these base cities are also our biggest trading centers which supplies and receives goods from the islands. Of course none of them can match Manila which is a national port and a national trading center and that is why Manila is the base of the liners and our container shipping companies.

The overnight ferry sector is already beginning to feel the pressure of the intermodal transport system which has impacted in the past two decades liner shipping and its equivalent in cargo shipping, the long-distance container shipping. More and more intermodal trucks are being loaded and this was first felt by this sector in Batangas. Now in Cebu there are more and more intermodal trucks for Leyte (some of those are still bound for Samar), Bohol and Masbate. It is also beginning to appear in overnight ships to Mindanao although there is still the bar of high rolling rates because of the distance. That is why many still roll first through Dumaguete and through Leyte before taking the short-distance ferry to Mindanao.

The new sector of the cargo RORO LCT is also now taking cargo away from the overnight ferry sector. These LCTs take in intermodal trucks and now it has several routes to Leyte and Bohol. Recently it inaugurated a route from Bogo to Bacolod and soon there will be a route to Panay. Actually this sector has also taken out a fraction of the cargo of container shipping companies by loading container vans from Manila. It is Ocean Transport helped by Asian Shipping Corporation which is dominating this sector from Manila.

Whatever, the overnight ferry sector will still be present for a long time. The budget airlines will impact some of its routes from Cebu to Mindanao and Iloilo and from Zamboanga to Bongao but in the main most of the overnight ferry routes are immune to this challenger because simply put there are no airports in their end-routes.

Except for Dumaguete and Bacolod the intermodal bus is still a long way from challenging them as geography does not favor them. A bus can’t compete in a port-to-port setting where the land distance is shorter than the sea crossing because most of the revenue will simply go to the ship as ferry fare and they the bus will still have to pay the ship as cargo that was loaded.

The High Speed Crafts (HSCs) are also limited in challenging because their fares are higher than the overnight ferry or the equivalent day ferry. Besides they can’t carry any respectable amount of cargo. Actually, in the last two decades the HSC sector has lost half of its routes and there are less operators now and the crafts are beginning to gray (Oceanjet is the notable exception).

Besides, there might not really be a substitute for the ‘floating hotel that travels’ which is the overnight ferry. For the price of a lodging house one is brought through the night to one’s destination. Now, how convenient can that be and how value-laden?

That, my friends, is the secret of the overnight ferry.

The Trans-Asia 5 (ex-Butuan Bay 1)

I first noticed “Butuan Bay 1” in a streamer in San Francisco (Sanfranz) bus terminal early in 2002 when I still usually took the land route from Davao to Bicol through Leyte and Samar. I was puzzled since Gothong was then still part of William, Gothong & Aboitiz (WG&A) shipping company although there were rumors already then that the William and Gothong interests were disgruntled in the merged company. It turned out later than the Gothong family already bought a RORO even before divestment and pay-out from WG&A and fielded that ship in their traditional stronghold Agusan through Nasipit port. I learned later it was the old agent of Gothong in Japan who made the ship available to them. The ship was the first in the re-established Gothong fleet and she came to the Philippines late in 2001.

“Butuan Bay 1” started life in Japan as the “Koyo Maru”, a RORO Cargo ship bearing the ID IMO 8817083. She was built by Iwagi Zosen in the Iwagi shipyard for the shipping company Keiyo Kisen and she was completed in February 1989. Her Length Over-all (LOA) was 114.8 meters and her Breadth was 19.0 meters. She measured 3,864 Gross Tons (GT) and her Deadweight Tonnage (DWT) was 3,376. She was powered by a single Mitsubishi engine which developed 9,600 horsepower (7,061 kilowatts officially) which gave her a service speed of 17.5 knots.

Butuan Bay 1 at Iligan Port ©Josel Niño Bado

In August 2001, she was sold to the Philippines to Carlos A. Gothong Lines Inc. (CAGLI) which then proceeded to add two passenger decks to her located above her two cargo decks. The lower passenger deck was situated on her former top deck which was also a former car deck. Her two RORO ramps located at the port front quarter and at the stern (this ramp swings out when deployed and is of three-piece construction) were retained. Her mid-ship bridge was also not changed and as “Butuan Bay 1” her Gross Tonnage rose to 4,048 and her Net Tonnage to 2,070.

Her first route was Nasipit, of course. However, as more ships were added to the Gothong fleet she was assigned the Ozamis-Iligan route. She was not a very comfortable ship as her reconstruction to a passenger ship was basic. Actually, the conversion of the other ships of the Gothong fleet also followed this pattern. It seems they were like some of the ships that came in the 1960s that were mainly designed for cargo which also carried passengers too. There were a few cabins but it was mainly Economy and Tourist with not much amenities or facilities (she won’t have many Japan originals as she was formerly a RORO Cargo ship). Gothong offered low fares, however.

Butuan Bay 1 at Mactan Channel ©Jonathan Bordon

CAGLI was not so successful in their foray back in shipping. There were still a lot of liners and overnight ferries then and the passenger and cargo traffic was beginning to decline because of the advance of the intermodal transport system and the direct service of regional container ships in regional ports. With basic amenities and facilities and middling passenger service there was no way they can challenge the liners of WG&A and Sulpicio Lines nor the overnight ferries of Cebu Ferries, Trans Asia Shipping Lines and Cokaliong Shipping. Soon their liners were aging fast and this may have manifested in lower maintenance standards. Their ferries concentrated more in cargo and that resulted in big delays in departures (I once asked in Nasipit port about “Manila Bay 1” and the guard told to better take another ferry as he said delays of 24 hours were common).

Butuan Bay 1(future Trans-Asia 5) at Ouano Wharf ©Mike Baylon

On May 15, 2007, while transiting out of Mactan Channel in a southbound direction an explosion in the engine of “Butuan Bay 1” happened and killing three in the engine room. She was towed back to port and she was not successfully repaired. In early 2010, she was sold to Trans Asia Shipping Lines, Inc. (TASLI). Parts were ordered from Japan and her passenger accommodations and its superstructure were completely changed. Her accommodations and facilities standard was then brought to the top overnight ferry standard of TASLI and she was renamed as the “Trans-Asia 5”.

As “Trans-Asia 5” her Gross Tonnage (GT) rose to 4,790 and her Net Tonnage (NT) to 3,257, a little higher because she had additional scantling at the bridge level. Initially, she ran at her original 17.5 knots and there was great joy among ship spotters in her salvaging from a derelict ferry. Her facilities and accommodations were top class and even higher than some liners to Manila. Her front ramp was however removed because it has no role in the Mediterranean-type of docking being employed by Trans Asia Shipping Lines.

Trans-Asia 5 ©Vincent Paul Sanchez

Sailing with “Trans-Asia 5”, one will notice her lounge and atrium which had a nice kiosk cum coffee shop with plenty of sofas, chairs and tables and which exhibited top class photos of the TASLI CEO, the well-known photographer Kenneth Sy. Man, it was simply cool to while away time there. The first class section and its lounge were also top-notch for a ship and more than rivals the great Philippine liners of the past. Even the Tourist from its front and linen desk was impressive including the motif and décor. Each Tourist cubicle for 8 persons had its own TV and each bunk is provided not only with each own reading lamp but also each own dual outlet with. One can charge his cellphone while using the laptop and using the Wifi. Man, what a convenience! It was the best Tourist Class I have seen and even the beddings were topnotch for Tourist.

Trans-Asia 5 Lower Lounge and Coffee Shop ©Mike Baylon

Trans-Asia 5 Upper Lounge ©Mike Baylon

Economy was the usual TASLI dominated by blue color – basic, spartan but clean (the ship went on to win a “Cleanest Ship of the Year Award”). Beddings can be hired and as usual for Philippine ferries the accommodations are a little bit humid and only ventilation is from the sea breeze. But many passengers like it this way and they are used to this including in their own homes. The bonus is in the low fare on selected days of the week.

Trans-Asia 5 tarp ©Mike Baylon

There is the usual Trans Asia restaurant and its version of outdoor “ihaw-ihaw” with tables and chairs. There is also the added service spa and massage.

Trans-Asia 5’s cargo operations were mainly palletized although she carried a few XEU container vans also. However with her three-piece ramp forklifts can move in and out of the ship unlike in other Cebu overnight ferries where pallets are passed to another forklift on the outside or inside. However, her long ramp seems a little foreboding on a rainy, slippery night.

Trans-Asia 5 ©Mike Baylon

TASLI treated “Trans-Asia 5” with care and respect. However, it seems she is really a ship a little out of luck on the engine side. Soon, there were conking of her engines with two very publicized ones where she wallowed for long on the open sea and sparking outcries. MARINA then withdrew her permit to carry passengers and now she just carry cargo to Zamboanga, Masbate, Surigao and Nasipit as a plain cargo ship. Recently, some of her passenger accommodations were already pulled out.

Trans-Asia 5 Tourist Hallway ©Mike Baylon

She has been put for sale but with the dearth of passenger shipping companies in the Philippines finding takers for her will be tough unless the bidder is a breaker and TASLI is one shipping company not fond of that kind of people and always trying to fit a soft landing spot for their old ferries. However, there will always be the fear that she can go the way of the TASLI ferries “Trans Asia” and “Asia China” because of her size, i.e. too big for regional, short-distance ferry companies, hence, candidate for the breakers.

“Trans-Asia 5” is still faithfully toiling. But for how long and in what direction, no one can be sure of that.

More Trans-Asia 5 Photos by Mike Baylon: CLICK HERE

TRANS-ASIA 9

The “Trans-Asia 9” of the Trans-Asia Shipping Lines first started life as the “Ferry Kikai” of the then-Arimura Sangyo Lines which operated ferries between Kyushu, a main Japan island and Okinawa and between Okinawa and Taiwan. The Arimura Sangyo name was later modernized into A” Lines. The ship was built in the Fukuoka yard of shipbuilder Fukuoka Zosen, launched in April 1979 and completed on July 1979. She was then 2,823 GRT, the old measure, with an over-all length of 109.2 meters and a beam of  17.9 meters and equipped with two Mitsubishi marine diesels developing 7,600 horsepower which provided her a speed of 18.5 knots, originally. She had just two passenger decks with a cargo boom at the bow and a quarter ramp at the stern, a design common then to many A” Line ships. Her ID is IMO 7823528.

Ferry Kikai ©Wakanatsu

With the arrival of the new “Ferry Kikai” in 1995 she was passed on to the agent connecting A” Line and William Lines of the Philippines. Many of the William Lines ferries of this period came from A” Line. The cargo boom at the bow was removed and replaced by additional passenger accommodations and a passenger deck was also added at the upper level and bringing her passenger capacity to 1,076 and her GT to 5,463 and her NT to 3,594. She first appeared in North Harbor on September of 1995 as the “Mabuhay 6” to the amazement of the passengers in the port. However, she did not last long under that name as the ill-starred merger of William, Gothong and Aboitiz happened on the first day of the new year and she was renamed “Our Lady of Good Voyage”. As a WG&A ferry her first route was to Dapitan with a service speed of just 16.5 knots. After a few years she was remanded to the subsidiary Cebu Ferries Corporation and her route permanently became Cebu to Cagayan de Oro with a once-a-week side trip to Jagna, Bohol.

Our Lady of Good Voyage Photo Collage ©John Michael Aringay

With the advent of the newer Cebu Ferry series of ships last decade she was laid up. When there were no takers the successor owner Aboitiz Transport System offered her to its ally Gothong Southern which took her in during 2010 and she was renamed the “Dona Conchita Sr.”. She held the same route of Cebu-Cagayan de Oro-Jagna with the same frequency. However, after just a short time she was laid up again and put on sale as Gothong Southern was quitting passenger shipping and was just concentrating on container operations and cargo forwarding.

M/V Doña Conchita Sr. ©Jethro Cagasan

It was then that Trans Asia Shipping Lines, Inc. acquired her in 2012 and true to the TASLI style she was refitted, both in passenger accommodations and in the engine room. She is actually more luxurious now and more reliable (she then had weak engines before coming to TASLI). She still holds the same route to Cagayan de Oro but with no more side trip to Jagna. Like with most ferries in the age of high fuel prices she is just using economical speed now and that is usually 13.0 to 13.5 knots which is enough for a 10-hour transit time in her route. Economical speed which means less revolutions per minute also lengthens the life of the engines.

Trans-Asia 9 ©Mike Baylon

As “Trans-Asia 9” she is now equipped with five suites and two cabins and these are located in the center section of the ship together with the Tourist section. A new TASLI feature on “Trans Asia 9” is the aircon economy which they call the “2nd Class Aircon.” This new class is located in the former Tourist section ahead of the bridge. The traditional Economy class is called in “Trans Asia 9” as the “2nd Class Non-Air”.

With more areas devoted to passenger amenities now her passenger capacity is down to 974 passengers. TASLI cut up the superstructure in her upper rear deck to create their traditional outdoor dining area and barbecue garden but instead of lowering the Gross Tonnage and Net Tonnage it shot up to 5,500 and 3,850, respectively. The passenger ramps on the side were also removed and transferred to the stern of the ship.
Suite Room ©Aris Refugio
Economy Aircon ©Aris Refugio
Economy Non-Aircon ©Aris Refugio
Stairway ©Aris Refugio

Under the care of TASLI and knowing how this company treats elderly ships it should not be a surprise if “Trans Asia 9” will keep on sailing well into the next decade.

©Aris Refugio