The Northern Mindanao Tour of the Philippine Ship Spotters Society (PSSS)

This tour was the first by PSSS in Northern Mindanao (aside from the inauguration of the Trans-Asia 19 which the PSSS attended and we were able to board other ships). This was planned a few months ago and it was designed to coincide with the vacation of PSSS Admin Capt. Josel-Nino Bado from his duty aboard a foreign ship. He was supposed to be the chief organizer of the tour as he has the ideas and connections on how to search for Captains and contacts that can help the PSSS. With regards to entry to the ships in the Port of Cagayan de Oro, it will be a collaboration between Admins who already have connections with the Captains on board. The tour was supposedly a long-distance one because of the many ports existing in Northern Mindanao. Eight Admins and members committed to the tour and four will be bringing vehicles from nearby to afar.

On the evening of October 25, 2019, me and Allen Amasol boarded the 10pm Philtranco bus in the Ecoland bus terminal of Davao City for Pasay to meet Janjan Salas in Sanfranz, Agusan del Sur who was bringing his Hilux to be our vehicle up to the Mukas port in Lanao del Norte. Our route is via Butuan City and this distance is nearly 500 kilometers. However, we had a bad start as we had a bus who should have been an express bus (the reason we chose it) but was acting like a local bus picking up a lot of short-distance passengers for the kita-kita (own profits) of the drivers (even we two had no tickets). The bus was just chugging along at low speed even though I politely said we will be meeting someone in Sanfranz. Worse, the bus was almost battered up already making it expensive for the fare it is charging. Actually, the local buses were way better than our bus.

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Medina port by Janjan Salas of PSSS.

However, our lateness allowed Janjan some sleep while waiting for us. We left Sanfranz at past 3am (to my worry of being late for the tour) but by daybreak we were already in Medina to visit its old port which was well-known in the copra heyday. The San Luis port of Gingoog City was also visible from Medina port and before 7am we were already in Balingoan port which is the jump-off point to Camiguin. We did not try to enter port because we do not want to be late for the PHIVIDEC rendezvous. Meanwhile, Admin Mark Ocul was riding the first bus from Ozamis to Cagayan de Oro at 4am and was hoping to arrive in Cagayan de Oro at 8am. It was actually his arrival that was the basis of the 9am start of the Northern Mindanao tour in PHIVIDEC Industrial Estate. However, Mark’s bus was late and it set back the start of the PSSS tour.

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Balingoan port. Photo by Allen Amasol of PSSS.

We began our tour of the PHIVIDEC Industrial Estate which had its own port in Tagoloan, Misamis Oriental on the morning of October 26. This was arranged through its Administrator and CEO Atty. Franklin Quijano who was the former Mayor of Iligan City and Badz’s (Josel-Nino Bado) townmate. He designated Harbour Master Capt. Gerry Guiuo as the point manand host of the tour and he happened to be from Iligan City also (I also lived there for six years) and he was very cooperative. When initial arrangements with PICMW (Philippine Iron Construction and Marine Works, Inc.) fell through, Capt. Guiuo promised to take care of the arrangements. And he even volunteered to be a member of PSSS!

As constituted, our tour group consisted of Capt. Josel-Nino Bado from Cagayan de Oro and Iligan Cities, Mark Edelson Ocul from Ozamis and Cebu Cities , John Carlos Cabanillas from Opol, Misamis Oriental and Liloan, Cebu, Tristan Fil Lirasan from Digos and Cebu Cities, Janjan Salas from Bislig City, Allen Amasol from Davao and Samal Cities, Dr. Neal Rana, M.D. from Gingoog and Cagayan de Oro Cities and yours truly, Mike Baylon from Bicol and Davao City. The ninth and new member of the group was Harbour Master and Capt. Gerry Guiuo of Iligan City, a new PSSS member and the tenth was Maia Lee Jabines Bado, the wife of Badz who showed very great patience and understanding of the passion and hobby of her husband and she took many of the shots of the members of the group. Now, if only all wives of PSSS members are like her.

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PHIVIDEC Industrial Estate by John Carlos Cabanillas of PSSS.

In PHIVIDEC Industrial Estate there were restrictions as their port is an ISPS port. There is even a separate of operator of the port which is the Mindanao International Container Terminal Inc.(MICT),  a subsidiary of the great ICTSI (International Container and Terminal Services Inc. that is owned by the taipan Enrique Razon. When we visited there was only one ship, the Lorcon Iloilo and the port is not really big but it has a view of a nearby port. The new name of MICT is Mindanao Container Terminal (MCT).

Leaving PHIVIDEC, we proceeded to NAMSSA (National Maritime Safety and Security Agency), a maritime safety institute which was just nearby. We were given a briefing of what they do. NAMSSA is a recognized security organization (RSO) that can do Maritime Intelligence Risk Suite (MIRS), something that probably the PPA and MARINA can’t do  The notable thing in our visit was the discovery of old and new contacts which will be of help to the PSSS in the future. The PSSS was also introduced to them.

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Group photo in Atecle’s Grill. Photo by Capt. Josel-Nino Bado of PSSS.

From NAMSSA, we had our lunch in Atecle’s Grill in Cagayan de Oro which I was told has a reputation for delicious food. Now I can say their reputation is well-deserved. Dr. Neal Rana took care of the lunch although he does not normally partake lunch (!). He didn’t, actually.

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In PICMW shipyard. Photo by Mark Ocul of PSSS.

After lunch, we made our way to the PICMW to tour its shipyard and we were given a briefing by their Vice-President Roberto Quicio of what his company does. PICMW has new-builds but its work is mainly ship repair. They also have contracts for fabrication abroad. What surprised me is their yard is very big and they are far from exhausting their capacity. They use a ship lift and rails to haul ships for repair. It was Naval Architects Wayne Benedict Espejon and Julius Anthony Siarez of PICMW who lead the tour of their shipyard.

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The Bandanaira 2 of Gov. Pepito Alvarez of Palawan. Photo By Mike Baylon of PSSS.

The notable discoveries in PICMW were the two new ships for Daima Shipping, the Royal Dolphin 3 and the Royal Seal 3 and which the PSSS was already aware of but has not seen. The Royal Dolphin, long a habitue of Mukas port and the Royal Dolphin 2 which is in hibernation was also in the shipyard. The surprise was a modern LCT that is almost finished for Gov. Pepito Alvarez of Palawan, the Bandanaira 2 I won’t dwell much on the ships being repaired there as they change anyway except that there were two Aleson ships there, the Trisha Kerstin 1 and the Ciara Joie 2. But it was bittersweet to see the Super Shuttle Ferry 15 of the Asian Marine Transport Corp. (AMTC). It seems she never sailed again after the grounding off Camiguin a few years ago and she is now for sale. But I wonder who will take interest in her given her history and condition (she was once half-submerged in Palawan and it was repeated in Camiguin). This could be the end of her as a ship as her owner is not known for having the perseverance in repairing old and damaged ships.

We also found the Ever Sweet there which was built by Varadero de Recodo in 1963 and was the first ship of Ever Lines Inc. She is supposedly for sale but again I wonder who will take her given that it is only in Zamboanga, her base where cruiser ships are still successful although this is beginning to be doubtful as time pass. The Magnolia Liliflora was also there and like Super Shuttle Ferry 15 and Ever Sweet there were no repair works going on and she is also for sale. She is the former Rizma of A. Sakaluran Shipping and built in Zamboanga in 1989. She was acquired by Magnolia Shipping in 2012 and refitted in Varadero de Recodo. Now I don’t know if again she will hibernate for long like what happened to her as the Rizma. But I do hope she sails again.

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Ship spotters atop a ship they “conquered”. Together with two naval architects of PICMW. Photo by Dr. Neal Rana of PSSS.

My tour mates took time to board and tour the new ferries of Daima Shipping and get a view of the new ferry of AMTC, the Super Shuttle Ferry 27. I can understand that as those are newly-arrived ships and rare double-ended ferries at that. I was not able to join as I was conserving strength and instead me and Harbour Master Capt. Gerry Guiuo talked about ships and databases. With that I think we had better rapport although I lost photo opportunities. Sometimes one in the group should sacrifice touring to talk to a biggie.

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PSSS members inside an engine room. Photo by Janjan Salas of PSSS.

It was already late when we left PICMW and it was getting dark early because of rain clouds and we made haste to Cagayan de Oro port to try to gain entry. It was the port which was our problem and not the ship or the shipping company as the PSSS has contacts for that. We tried even though it was getting dark already. In the haste and since my cellphone lost power Jhayz Abao of Cagayan de Oro and PSSS was not able to contact me. He should have been part of the group in Cagayan de Oro port. Our entry was facilitated by Lite Ferries (thanks to them!) and we were able to board and tour their new Lite Ferry 18 which could be the best and biggest ship in their fleet now together with its sister ship Lite Ferry 19. It seems their passenger accommodations are at par now with the best their competition can offer in Northern Mindanao.

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Lite Ferry 18 bridge. Photo by Mike Baylon of PSSS.

We were planning to board the Trans-Asia 18 nearby but we had difficulty in finding the Captain. Suddenly, a heavy rain which lasted long fell and we had to take shelter in the passenger terminal building full of passengers for the St. Therese of Child Jesus of 2GO. By this time the Trans-Asia 19 has already left. We were really short of time. With the big rain we decided to call it a day and look for dinner and a bed. Badz and Mark went separately to look for a lodge and they had difficulty as most were fully-booked. They finally found a cheap but a good value lodge on the road to the old airport. With an extra bed four of us were accommodated in a room. We fell asleep immediately as we were tired. It was only Mark that had enough strength as he came from a nearer place unlike us three – me, Janjan and Allen which practically had no sleep the night before.

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Group photo aboard Lite Ferry 18 with the Purser. Photo by Dr. Neal Rana of PSSS.

We took our breakfast in the hotel and Jhayz joined us. However, there was one member who committed on the second day that did not show up. Jhayz wasn’t joining the tour on the second but a short meet with Dr. Neal was arranged as they are both from Cagayan de Oro and were both in the health field. And so our tour group would remain the same up to Iligan City (Badz and wife would drop out from there and won’t come with us to Ozamis City).

To make up for the past day, we first went to the Coastal Road of Cagayan de Oro City on the morning of October 27 to take photos of ships in Cagayan de Oro port and in Macalajar Bay. We didn’t stay long there and we then went to the MacArthur Memorial Marker near the Port of Cagayan de Oro. We found two vantage points there including a sundowner and a night place above the water. They were friendly but I found out that I already lost my old ability to walk across wooden bridges for people that have no handrail. I can already fall if there is no assistance.

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Port of Cagayan de Oro ships. Photo by Mike Baylon of PSSS.

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MacArthur Memorial Marker from a sundowner. Photo by Tristan Fil Lirasan.

I rested outside while they went to the MacArthur Memorial Marker and then I noticed they were taking long. It turned out they were waiting for the departure of the Lite Ferry 8 for Jagna, Bohol. That is one of the oldest ROROs in the Philippines that is not an LCT and it might have the most years sailing now in the country. We noticed part of her uppermost deck (which is the bridge deck) was chopped off. Maybe she no longer needs that high passenger capacity and shaving off weight will help the ship. This ship first served as the Sta. Maria of Negros Navigation way back in 1980 before going to G&P Lines as the GP Ferry 1.

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A view of Iligan port from the second Iligan public market. Photo by Mike Baylon of PSSS.

We made our way to Iligan City and met Badz in the Iligan Centennial Park which features a tall flag. Forthwith, we proceeded to the motor pool of the Super Five bus company but we were denied entry. We then proceeded to find lunch. Two members took care of it and from the new Robinsons in Iligan we drove west when it was already mid-afternoon with Ozamis as the target. Before that we went to the old Kolambugan port which was the former connection of Lanao del Norte to Ozamiz City. It has been some time already since my last visit there and it is already a port to nowhere now. It is sad to think that it was once a busy port and the base of the old Tamula Shipping Lines which lost to Daima Shipping when they did not convert to ROROs.

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Kolambugan port by Mike Baylon of PSSS.

From Kolambugan we went to Tubod port which was once a connection too to Misamis Occidental via the Silanga port on the other side. The port is now refurbished but it also does not have ships now when Maypalad Shipping gave up and Roble Shipping did not last. There is a sign that it was an ISPS port but then we had easy entry and the guard even offered us to maneuver our vehicle inside the port. Now, if only all ISPS ports are like this. At least there and in Zamboanga port they can detect those who have no ill intent.

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Tubod port by Mike Baylon of PSSS.

It was past 5pm when we able to board the Daima ferry Swallow 2 in Mukas port. We noticed that again there were ferries tied-up and unused in Mukas port. We did not load our vehicle in the ferry and just left it in the gas station outside Mukas port as we won’t really be in need of it in Ozamiz. It was beginning to get dark when we alighted from the ship and so we had no more good shots of the ships docked in Ozamiz port and those we met that were bound for Mukas port. Again, we were late as maybe we were not hurrying enough.

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Our ferry to Ozamis, the Swallow 2, a bombing survivor as Our Lady of Mediatrix. Photo by Mike Baylon of PSSS.

In the port, a Chevy Suburban owned by the couple-doctors JM and Dianne Feliciano who owns the Faith General Hospital in Ozamiz City picked us up and it was nice as it was raining already. The couple is friends of our tour companion Dr. Neal Rana. They served us dinner in their big house together with some other doctors that are friends and medical school classmates of Dr. Neal.

It was already the second to the last trip of the Daima ferry which we were able to board in crossing back to Mukas and our ship was the Royal Seal. It was no longer full both In passengers and cargo. Maybe the night crossing is really slow and that is why the Daima trips stop at 9pm and just resumes at 4am. From Mukas port we took a tricycle back to where our vehicle was parked as there was a drizzle and it is a little far too.

It was a cold night on the trip back with wet roads making it difficult to calculate the asphalted roads that have not been repainted making it hard for Janjan Salas. In Cagayan de Oro we dropped off Dr. Neal at his place and so we were again down to three aboard the Hilux – me, Janjan and Allen. We were the three that started off in Sanfranz two nights before. The only difference was our driver was already tired now.

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Our Ozamis-Mukas ship, the Royal Seal. Weather not kind on our way back. Photo by Mike Baylon of PSSS.

We made good progress without speeding up. We left Mukas at 9pm and by 12 midnight we were already in Cagayan de Oro. We reached Sanfranz between 4:30am and 5am. Janjan said he will take a one-hour break as he was too sleepy already. Meanwhile, me and Allen was fortunate a Philtranco bus arrived in the Sanfranz bus terminal. It was of the same series of our Philtranco bus we took two nights before but the driver was taking his driving seriously and there were few stops. And so in less than four hours me and Allen were already in Davao City. We took breakfast before going our own ways.

Over-all, it was a very good tour despite some glitches which centers on overrunning of the time. Aside from the camaraderie built and the memories that will remain with the participants for a long time, we had breakthroughs in new ship spotting places and in new contacts or contacts that were renewed. That will be of help to the PSSS in the coming days and in the future.

A Tale of a Slow Double-Ended RORO

This ferry is more appropriately named as “double-ended ferry” and not “double-headed ferry” like the preferred name in Japan as she does not have two separate bridges or pilot houses like the dead Super Shuttle Ferry 2 although technically she might have dual controls like the other double-ended ferries in the country which number over a dozen including local-builds. But like most double-ended ferries she is slow as having having screws at each end means a lot of drag and thus lower speed. The low speed might also be due to the transmission gearing. If she was designed to cross very narrow channels of water then providing acceleration off the port, the “pull”, might have been given more weight and not the cruising speed.

The ferry is the Lakbayan Uno which is infamous in its routes for its low speed. She might have had 910 horsepower from her Yanmar Marine engine originally but her design speed, her speed when she was new was just 7.5 knots! With such speed a ferry should not have been used in a route such as she had cruised most of her career here, the Bacolod-Dumangas route as such low speed would tell on her and there is no way the passengers and shippers won’t notice as she has competition that are way faster than her. If there is no meaningful discount on fares and rates then as we say it lalangawin siya (there will be few patrons).

Lakbayan Uno originally came to the country in 2000 as part of the contingent brought in by Philtranco in their attempt for horizontal integration. Pepito Alvarez, the great land transport mogul of the recent era has just taken over Philtranco and with his Nissan UD national franchise and Number 1 ranking in buses sold, he was refleeting the old moribund Philtranco South Enterprises Inc. (PSEI) which were formerly equipped with Hino buses that were already all worn down and depleted in numbers through the loss of the old units with bad maintenance and inside irregularities.

I am not really sure which company really owned Lakbayan Uno at the start. What is known through PSSS contributions and through maritime databases is she was part of the three-vessel acquisition in 2000 which all featured double-ended ROROs, the other two being the sister ships from Aki Line of Japan which became the Maharlika Tres and Maharlika Cuatro which were still relatively new when acquired. Lakbayan Uno was the oldie in the group having been built way back in 1973. But the acquiring company could have originally been Philharbor Ferry Services (and that brings us to the trouble of having many legal-fiction companies). At the start she might not have been under the Archipelago Ferries Philippines Corporation.

Lakbayan Uno did not last long under that combine and in 2001 she became part of the still-respectable fleet then of Millennium Shipping which still had LCTs (which later ended up with Maayo Shipping serving the Negros-Cebu connection). Under Millennium Shipping, Lakbayan Uno tried to shore up the Millennium Shipping connection between Ozamis City and Tubod, Lanao del Norte that was spanning the narrow Panguil Bay.

Millennium Shipping originally bridged Panguil Bay from the port of Tubod to the port of Silanga, Tangub City, a very, very short distance. That was the original RORO connection across Panguil Bay. However, when Daima Shipping built their own port and connected direct to Ozamis City, the Millennium Shipping connection was trumped (along with the across-the-Panguil connection of Tamula Shipping featuring small cruisers).

Millennium Shipping tried to counter by building their own port in Tubod and linking direct to Ozamis. To avoid congestion in Ozamis port which had limited docking space they built their own wharf adjacent to the Ozamis PPA port. However, their transit times are longer, their private port in Tubod was located further west (while most of passengers and vehicles come from the east).

Besides those, their route is longer and using LCTs exacerbated the deficiency as LCTs were slow and passengers complained of the inferior passenger accommodations aggravated by the long use already. Meanwhile, competitor Daima Shipping was using then-novel double-ended ferries which had airconditioning for such a small upping in fares.

That was the reason why Millennium Shipping brought in Lakbayan Uno to the Panguil route. However, she was not able to stem the tide of rout. She was slow, her transit times were longer and the killer was Daima Shipping has far too many ferries than them and it gets full easy and so departure times were fast as they can offer 20-minute intervals even then while Millennium Shipping offers hourly departures. If they accelerate the departures they risk sending out nearly-empty ships. But over time that what was what happened – nearly-empty ships sailing and so they quit operations in Panguil Bay and sold their LCTs.

Lakbayan Uno then found itself in the Bacolod-Dumangas route (and she has been there ever since). At the start she might have been a match for the basic, short-distance ferry-ROROs of Montenegro Lines except for the speed. But in the succeeding years better competitors arrived in the route and she was being badly overwhelmed.

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And that brings me having a cocked eye on Millennium Shipping which was reduced to two-ship fleet, the other the very old and antiquated Millennium Uno which is also heavily outmatched in her route and also very slow. The company bears the name Floirendo which is respected and is a heavyweight in the Banana Country of Davao. Everybody knows they are loaded but why such an underwhelming shipping company and ships derided by many? Why, his PhP 75 million donation to the campaign of then-Mayor Duterte would have been enough to buy a good short-distance ferry-RORO or two.

Lakbayan Uno might not have been that bad but the problem is she is assigned a route where her weakness in speed is too exposed. But then I don’t know of many routes now that are very short where that won’t be exposed. Maybe Davao-Samal but they never seriously threw a look in that route. If they put Lakbayan Uno in that route it would have been superior to the Mae Wess LCTs then.

Lakbayan Uno was built in the Japan as the Shigei Maru No. 11. She has two sister ships in the Philippines, the Shigei Maru No.7 and the Shigei Maru No. 12 which are known locally as the Swallow-I and Swallow-II of Daima Shipping. The latter is the former Our Lady of Mediatrix which was heavily damaged when two of it loaded Super 5 buses were car bombed and she caught fire (she was rebuilt by Daima Shipping over several years). So when she was in Panguil Bay then, Lakbayan Uno used to see her sister ships.

All the three sister ships were built by Kanbara Shipbuilding in Onomichi, Japan. Their dimensions are also about the same. More exactly, Lakbayan Uno‘s external dimensions are 33.8 meters in length over-all, 29.9 meters length between perpendiculars, a breadth of 10.0 meters and a depth of 2.9 meters, very common measurements of a short-distance ferry-RORO but they happened to be double-ended ROROs. With such external measurements, a rolling capacity of 6 trucks or buses maximum is expected. If sedans it will be a little more.

Lakbayan Uno‘s dimensional weights are 221 in gross tonnage and 92 in net tonnage with a load capacity of 170 deadweight tons. She has a passenger capacity of about 200 all in sitting accommodations. She has two ramps, bow and stern, a single car deck, a single passenger deck, a bridge amidship and only one mast. Amazingly, her sisters ships here has even less power than her but their design speeds are higher! The ID of Lakbayan Uno is IMO 7370399.

In this decade, Lakbayan Uno is not only infamous in lack of speed in Bacolod-Dumangas but also in showing unreliability and at times she is not even sailing that some ship spotters in seeing a photo of her in that pose inevitably ask. Recently, however, Lakbayan Uno was re-engined, a declaration of intent by Millennium Shipping that they are not ready to let her go. Well, if they will let go of one it would have been Millennium Uno, probably the oldest RORO around that is not an LCT and barring Star Ferry II which was a cobbled ship from Ace-I.

The new engine of Lakbayan Uno is a Weichai WP-12C-450 from China and it is rated at 450 horsepower. Her new speed is 9.1 knots, an improvement over her design speed. There is a claimed reduction of fuel consumption from 117 liters/hour to 35 liters/hours. Now that is outstanding! That will probably be the life saver of Lakbayan Uno. With a fuel cost of probably only P2,000 per voyage (P70 liters x P27.50/liter of diesel), well, that could be one truck charge only. Who was it who told me RORO rates in Samal are just OK (and I told him it was sky high)? Baka pa nga tubong-lugaw ang operasyon ng ROROs as long as walang nakawan. And of course beyond the speed and lower fuel consumption, a new engine’s contribution is reliability.

Lakbayan Uno is still in the Bacolod-Dumangas route. She has been there since she left Panguil Bay. I hope that somehow she survives the fierce and better competition there (she will with that low fuel consumption!) Well, with a Floirendo as owner they might not really be expecting profits from the ship anymore. If the goal is only to keep the ship alive and to be able to pay the crew then maybe there will be no temptation to sell especially to the breakers.

As a last resort they can bring that home to Davao. Samal still lacks ferries, always been. With tourism and being a get-away place of Dabawenyos, an upward demand has always been the pattern. She will be welcome, I guess.

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Photo Credits: Carl Jakosalem, Britz Salih, John Carlos Cabanillas