The Greatest Port in Northwestern Mindanao

The greatest port in northwestern Mindanao is actually not so obvious to many as it is not looked upon as a good port of entry. Ports like Davao, Zamboanga and Cagayan de Oro and others always overshadow it. Of course, many do not know its history. And having a small port area and limited wharfage, it does not really impress outside observers. I am talking here of the Port of Ozamiz (that is using the modernized spelling) in Misamis Occidental.

Originally, it was not even Ozamiz that became the first prominent port in Misamis Occidental even though Misamis, the earlier name of Ozamis, was the capital of the unified Misamis province before the war. Cagayan de Misamis, the current Cagayan de Oro (no, it does not have gold) was small compared to Misamis town. In prominence, the Jimenez port of Misamis Occidental rivaled Misamis port because the oil mill of the Chiongbians (and nobody in shipping does not know them) was there and copra was the most important crop of the province. An oil mill was a very big deal then in a municipality.

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Ozamiz port by Mike Baylon of PSSS.

Before the war, there were not many liners from Manila except when our passenger-cargo ships got bigger in the late 1920s. Northern Mindanao mainly connected to Cebu then but after the war, liners from Manila became commonplace. A route calling in Cebu, Tagbilaran, Dumaguete, Ozamis and Iligan looping around those five ports was common and the premier exponent of that is William Lines, obviously, as Misamis Occidental is their home turf.

Being provincial capital favored Misamis in their rivalry with other ports early but then it was removed as capital in favor of Oroquieta City.  But the biggest asset of Ozamiz port is its connection to Mukas port of Kolambugan in Lanao del Norte across the narrow Panguil Bay. Tamula Shipping dominated that connection then with wooden-hulled boats progressing to small cruiser ships later. Tamula Shipping was a pre-war shipping company starting from the American father-in-law of Tamula.

After the war, Pagadian of Zamboanga del Sur had its own liners from Manila. Along the years, in the 1970s, the liners left Pagadian. 1970s was the peak of the roadbuilding then in the country when once dirt roads were concreted. This roadbuilding impacted shipping in many ways, both positively and negatively. But in Ozamiz’s case, the new road uplifted it as traders, shippers and passengers of Zamboanga del Sur began moving toward Ozamiz. The travel time through Ozamiz and by road from that was shorter and cheaper compared to using Pagadian which loops around Zamboanga City. Actually, this route to Pagadian even reaches Cotabato as there were nightly big motor boats going there that lands in the city proper instead of Parang, Maguindanao which is still a good distance from Cotabato City.

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Ozamiz Port passenger terminal building by Mike Baylon of PSSS.

Ozamiz also served as a liner gateway to western Lanao del Norte through the Tamula ferries and later the Daima Shipping double-ended ferries which ended the reign of Tamula in Panguil Bay when Tamula failed to convert to ROROs. With the ROROs and the trucks and buses aboard it, Ozamiz’ reach magnified. Ozamiz became or became more prominent as the trading and distribution center in the area between Zamboanga and Cagayan de Oro.  Trucks from Ozamiz routinely reach Ipil, the capital of Zamboanga Sibugay. With that the ships from Zamboanga to Ipil and Kabasalan lost.

Ozamiz is actually the 5th busiest port in the country in 2018 in terms of passengers handled after Cebu, Batangas and Calapan ports and even ahead of Manila and other great ports. This is actually because of the big volume of passengers aboard the Daima ferries that cross to and from Lanao del Norte. Ozamiz is the shopping, trade and scholastic center of western Lanao del Norte (it is not Iligan City). Additionally, passengers from Lanao del Sur and Maguindanao can use Ozamiz port as there are vans from Kapatagan, Lanao del Norte that go to Cotabato City.

Lately, Ozamiz port even became the entry port of ships imported to the country especially by the Asian Marine Transport Corporation (AMTC). However, one down side I noticed is Manila liners and container ships including Manila companies do not know how to use and support Ozamiz port. With that the dominance of Cebu traders in Ozamiz continues. Can’t goods from Manila be sent direct to Ozamiz instead of going through Cebu? Take a look at the major Manila corporations. They do not have offices like what they have in Cagayan de Oro or Zamboanga City. Well, I know that the common availability of the “white powder” in Ozamis frightened them. Ozamiz port was also limited in size and in the back-up area.

Now there is a threat to Ozamiz port. Dapitan port is gaining in prominence and the rolling cargo loaded there for Dumaguete and Cebu were taken from Ozamiz. The fish that was once shipped from Ozamiz is now trucked through Dapitan. Recently, the Galas port of Dipolog also became a threat to Ozamiz port. Those two ports even handle trucks and passengers on the way to Ipil, the rest of Zamboanga Sibugay and Zamboanga City. Ozamiz port is being outflanked.

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Ozamiz port by Mike Baylon of PSSS.

Whatever, Ozamiz needs to have a forward-looking plan how to bring the city to the next level as trading and distribution center. After all it is cargo that brings in ships. Moreover, the bottleneck of vehicles between Mukas port in Tubod and Ozamis must be addressed and so is the congestion in Ozamiz port. Ozamiz must learn how to conquer the Narciso Ramos Highway in Lanao del Sur because that is not within the reach of the Dapitan and Dipolog ports. The old leadership in Ozamiz with plenty of “parochial” concerns was now toppled by President Duterte. The succeeding leaders should now prove their worth.

Did you know that the leading trading and distribution centers have archbishops particularly those outside Luzon? Well, Ozamiz has an archbishop.

Take a cue from that.

The Ever Sweet

The Ever Sweet is a beautiful, sweet, little ferry that is a relic from the past (but of course I know the young ones will not agree with my description). This ship is probably the second-oldest cruiser ferry that is still sailing that is not an LCT. Ever Sweet and the oldest cruiser ferry extant, the Bounty Cruiser are incidentally both local-built which is a testament to the soundness of the design of local shipbuilders (Sandoval Shipyards has a lot of old ships, too, that are still sailing). The two were also both built in Zamboanga.

The Ever Sweet was built by the Varadero de Recodo in 1963 for Ever Lines, Inc. This ship is an overnight ferry-cruiser which means she is fitted with bunks. Her main route is to the Olutanga island and Payao, the municipality in Zamboanga mainland that is opposite Olutanga island.

One of the reason she still exists in the route is the poor security in the area. Although the road to Zamboanga City is mainly paved now night trips are still precluded and besides the main LCT connection of Olutanga goes to Alicia town which is farther.

And besides gathering of the goods and merchandise are done during daytime and so a night run by a ferry direct to Zamboanga City is just perfect. Selling of the goods then and marketing in Zamboanga City is also done daytime and so a trip back by night to Olutanga or Payao is also perfect.

By the way, these areas being mentioned are part of the province of Zamboanga Sibugay except for Zamboanga City and the city is the commercial lifeline of Olutanga and Payao. The better-off of Olutanga also send their children to study in Zamboanga City.

The Ever Sweet was built in Recodo, Zamboanga City and she is just a small ship at 36.3 meters length over-all, 33.3 meter length between perpendiculars by 5.9 meters beam with a depth of just 1.9 meters. Her dimensional measurements are just 135 in gross tonnage (GT)and 66 in net tonnage (NT).

The ship carries 252 passenger in a single Economy class in two decks. The ship is equipped by a small engine, a single 285hp Yanmar Marine diesel which propels her to a top speed of (gulp!) 8 knots! But that speed already guarantees a daybreak arrival in Olutanga and probably a good night’s sleep.

The ship has a steel hull with a raked stem and a transom stern (it was originally a cruiser stern). She has just one mast and a single side funnel and the bridge is above the passenger decks and ahead of the bridge is a forecastle. The ship has no cargo booms and cargo is just slid to the lower passenger from the wharf and it goes to the cargo hold. Sensitive or extra cargo is also stowed on the lower passenger deck which is a twin-purpose deck actually.

She does not sail three times a week in one direction except in peak seasons and sometimes it is just once a week. The trip will actually depend on the cargo and seasonality of goods and the demand also factors in. We heard with such flexibility she still manages to be profitable. Anyway, she has only one competitor in her route, a ship of Magnolia Shipping Corporation.

It is always a joy to see Ever Sweet in Zamboanga port which can only mean she is still healthy and sailing. Sentimentalists like me and Britz, the Zamboanga ship spotter do not really want old ships to go and we really prize them. Now, if only they can sail forever….