When Liners Were Still Small and Short-legged

After World War II and for a generation after, the Philippines had so many small and short-legged liners. This was dictated by the situation that when the United States replaced our merchant fleet that was destroyed in World War II as was their promise (since they requisitioned our passenger ships then and the others were ordered destroyed to prevent falling into enemy hands), the replacement they gave were mainly small ships that were not even ferries in the first place. Because of that we had very few big liners in the first two decades after the war. The bulk of our liner fleet then consisted of the small ex-”FS” cargo ships of World War II and the many and even smaller ex-”F” cargo ships, many of which were lengthened like the ex-”FS” ships to increase passenger and cargo capacity. Aside from those two types we also had a few ex-”Y” ships, former tankers which were a little smaller than but related to the ex-”FS” ships plus some “liners” converted from minesweepers and PT boats (can you imagine that?). Conversion to ferries of those were the shipping thing after the war much like the conversion of former Army jeeps of the US Army into the “jeepneys” which became a Filipino thing.

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An example of a converted ex-“FS” ship.  Credits to Gorio Belen and Evening News

The term “liners” here is liberally used to describe the multi-day ships then which had more or less definite schedules for departures of arrivals (they were never very prompt then for various reason but they have published estimated times of departures and arrivals). In general, being small they are of no match in terms of accommodations, comfort and amenities to the liners of the past two or three decades and almost all of them did not possess air-conditioning and some are practically single-class ships and just divided into upper deck and lower deck. Thus, they were really different from the luxury liners we take for granted now.

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A converted and lengthened ex-“F” ship. Credits to Manila Bulletin and Gorio Belen

Being small and doing long routes, the small liners had many intermediate ports of call and there were several reasons for that. One is more ports of call means more passengers and cargo and during that time the country’s population was just a fifth of today’s. Another reason is a lot of localities and islands need connections to the national center which is Manila when during that time our road system was still primitive. And another reason is these ships when built were never meant to carry about three hundred passengers and that meant food, water and other provisions can run out and so the ship must be replenished along the way especially since refrigeration of the ships was limited. This was the time when a rule was instituted that passengers must come to port four hours before departure time (and then suffer more wait if the cargo handling is not yet finished – there are important shippers who with one call can make the ship wait for his last-minute cargo). A reason for that rule is the need to make a head count of passengers and add some figure as allowance and from that calculate the provisions that must be carried by the ship. There was even a running joke that the chandler (the supplier) will only then order how many hogs and chicken must be slaughtered.

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Not an ex-“FS” ship but of the same size. Credits to The Philippines Herald and Gorio Belen.

A characteristic these small liners is the paucity of refrigeration. If there is such the capacity was not really meant for the number of passengers already being carried as a passenger-cargo ship because the ship was just a freight ship during the war with a limited number of crew. As such ice chests had to be employed so that the loaded food provisions will not spoil. But then the ship was not really big for all the supplies needed and revenue cargo is the priority in the holds and in the other cargo areas. Water is an important provision that must also be considered since not only the drinking needs of the passengers must be taken into account.

The longest single legs of these ships were from Manila to Cebu, Manila to Tacloban and Manila to Dumaguete, all of which were just short of 400 nautical miles. With a speed averaging 10 knots that meant a travel time of over one-and-a-half days which means five meals have to be served to the passengers. That transit time does not even include additional time in dodging bad weather and in hiding in coves and letting the storm pass if it is strong. But from Cebu, Tacloban or Dumaguete, these liners are still bound for Northern Mindanao or Southern Mindanao and if the final destination is Davao, it is not even half of the way yet. In fuel, however, it might not have been that much of a concern for these ships were capable of crossing long distances in the Pacific Ocean during the war (but with refueling at sea of course).

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A former minesweepers. Still on the way to Surigao and Davao before the accident. Credits to The Philippines Herald and Gorio Belen.

One advantage of being short-legged is the vessels have to call on a lot of ports along their routes. So in that time a lot of small and minor ports are being served and have connections to Manila, the national port. But maybe one had not heard now of Pulanduta port or Gigantes, Looc, Ibajay, Sangi, Anakan, Victoria, Nato, Angas, Tandoc, Mercedes, Larap, Bacuit, Araceli, Caruray, Casiguran, Carangian, Cabalian, Calubian, Kabasalan, Kolambugan, Sipalay,et cetera, when before they had connections to Manila. Aside from those ports mentioned, the liners then will also drop anchors in the various Mindoro ports, in several Panay ports, a few ports in Romblon province , in Marinduque ports, in Masbate ports too on the way to ports in the east or ports farther down south including ports of Mindanao, the so-called “Land of Promise” then to entice people to move there (but it was disaster for the natives and the Muslims as they lost their ancestral lands).

In the longest route to Davao these small liners will pass by Cebu, Tagbilaran, Dumaguete and Zamboanga ports before heading to Celebes Sea for Cotabato, Dadiangas or Davao. These might even drop by Iligan, Ozamis or Pulauan first. Using the eastern seaboard of Mindanao the liner could have already dropped anchor in Masbate, Catbalogan, Tacloban, Surigao and maybe even Mati or Bislig. Some will pass by Iloilo or Pulupandan ports and Cagayan de Misamis or Iligan ports before going to Southern Mindanao while still passing through some other ports along the way. That was one reason why Surigao was a very important port as it was a critical stop-over then (the next leg if Mati is still a long way to go and especially if it is direct Davao). When to think Surigao was very far from the size of Zamboanga City. That city also functioned as a critical stop-over like Dumaguete. In the longest route then to Davao the most number of interports called before Davao in a route was ten. It will then take over a week before the liner reach Davao and one week was the usual transit time to Davao.

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Not and ex-“FS” ship but of the same size. Credits to Evening News and Gorio Belen

If one had the inclination these long voyages with many stop-overs also afford “free tourism” since the liner will be spending many hours on the intermediate port because of the slow cargo handling then and there will be time to roam the port city (that was what my late father used to do then). The stops then were really long compared to now as the cargo was not yet containerized and only a single boom handles all the loading and unloading aside of course from the backs of the porters. On the other hand for those prone to seasickness these long voyages are simply torture especially if during the monsoons when the weather is acting up. Summer travel doesn’t afford relief, however, as there is no air-conditioning on board, in the main.

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As can be gleaned from the photo there is no air-conditioned section. An ex-“FS” ship. Credits to Gorio Belen and the newspaper.

In those days the position of the Purser was important for he decides what supplies must be purchased along the way and by how much and he has the authority how much will be charged for the cargo loaded along the way. This is the reason why this position is filled by trusted men of the shipping owner. Nowadays, liners with their available big cargo space including refrigerated container vans and freezers plus big pantries is just basically loaded now in Manila and Cebu and if there is a local purchase then it must probably just fish or some vegetables which are cheaper than in the provinces than Manila or Cebu. With strong communication, too, now the tendency is to centralize everything unlike before (there is now what is called as the “commissary”) and so the Purser of the liner, if it still exist is no longer as important as before.

There were really a lot of these small and short-legged ferries then. The biggest reason is when there were no container ships yet these passenger-cargo ships were the main carriers of cargo then, too. So, all in all, some 60 converted ex-”FS” ships sailed our seas and approximately the same number of ex-”F” ships were also sailing. Plus there maybe two dozen small ships of the other types as liners too. So the small liners of the past might be some 140 ships in total or maybe the number will even reach 150 liners. Some of those, however, were primarily used only in the regional routes. But isn’t that number amazing?

But 25 years or a generation after these small liners came and dominated the local waters the fast cruiser liners began arriving in force and it was a paradigm-changing arrival. The main selling point of these fast cruiser liners was their speed. To maximize that selling point and the utilization of the ships that meant reducing travel time to Davao to three days which means a lot of interports had to be stricken off from the routes. Being bigger too that meant the small and shallow ports (and most of which still featured wooden wharves) can no longer be served by them. And so these small ports along the way lost their connection to Manila like the ports I listed earlier which people might no longer know now but had connections to Manila before when the liners were still small and short-legged.

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A fast cruiser liner but the interports are not shortened yet. Credits to Evening News and Gorio Belen.

And then in less than a decade’s time after the fast cruiser liners began arriving another paradigm-changing shift happened in local shipping when the first local container ships appeared in our waters. These container ships have a faster turn-around time than the small and short-legged liners because like the fast cruiser liners these just called on a few interports and sometimes there is even none. With the safety and security offered by the container vans and faster cargo handling soon the death knell to the old small and short-legged liners was sounded and in a few years they were practically gone from our waters.

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The first container ship in local waters. Credits to Times Journal and Gorio Belen.

But if there was a sector that lost with all these advances in speed and size it has to be the small and shallow ports along the way which lost their Manila connection. Some retained their Manila connection for a time but declined in importance like Romblon, Masbate, Catbalogan, Tacloban, Surigao, Tagbilaran and Pulupandan. Those that lost their Manila connection just look and wave at the ships passing their place. As replacement, regional and sub-regional ports had to be developed like Batangas, Lucena, Pilar, Matnog and later the intermodal system linking the islands had to develop, too.

But as a whole our number of regularly-scheduled ships dropped in number because the ships got bigger and the faster ships had more total voyages in a year. Actually, even the first generation container ships were bigger than the small and short-legged liners. Now their equivalent in size are just the bigger among our intermodal short-distance ferry-ROROs which connect our near islands and is the carrier of the intermodal trucks and buses like those which cross from Batangas to Mindoro, those which cross from Mindoro to Panay, those which link the eastern seaboard of the country, those which link Bicol, Masbate and Cebu and those which link the different Visayan islands, etc.

Now only a few will remember our small and short-legged liners which dominated our seas in the first 25 years or so after the end of World War II when our merchant fleet was born again. None of it exists now even as a museum piece.

The MS Express That Turned Into The Star Crafts 7

I first saw the MS Express live inside the Varadero de Recodo (“varadero” is Spanish for shipyard and Chavacano of Zamboanga is a Spanish creole language), a shipyard in Zamboanga City some five years ago now. The High Speed Craft (HSC) was laid up there together with the AS Express and RS Express and they were all Malaysia-built fastcrafts of the Zamboanga-based shipping company A. Sakaluran (for Hadji Ahmad Sakaluran, the founder). The said shipping company has already stopped sailing then and that included even their cruiser ferries like the Rizma. When I approached the fastcrafts, I found out that they still have a caretaker crew and they were friendly if a little bit depressed, shall I say (who won’t be in such a situation anyway and there was further reason for that, I later found out).

It was a great opportunity for me because I really wanted to shipspot the A. Sakaluran fastcrafts which was the Zamboanga pioneer in fastcrafts if the Bullet Express fastcrafts of Lepeng Wee (Speaker Ramon Mitra was not the true owner of those unlike what was said by urban legend) are excluded because those did not base in Zamboanga and plied other routes starting in Batangas. Actually, they even antedated the more-known Weesam Express (or more formally SRN Fastcrafts) which later moved to the Visayas. In real life, the two shipping companies are related by blood but A. Sakaluran was into shipping much earlier starting with with what I call the “Moro boats” which is the Mindanao equivalent of the batel in Luzon or lancha in other places and which is based on the Arab dhow.

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So, actually I was very saddened by the collapse of A. Sakaluran evidenced by their stopping of sailing. I am always saddened with the departure of the old shipping companies because we again will lose a part of our shipping heritage and history. The reason is unlike abroad we are not good in collecting and preserving records and mementos. In other countries, books about old shipping companies can be written decades after they were gone because there are complete written records plus valuable photos. That is not the situation in our country which is not too keen in history (courtesy of the destruction of the Spaniards of our old history). Actually, I try to write because I want to commit on record what I know and what I remember about our shipping history.

The collapse of A. Sakaluran might follow the analysis of my friend, the Zamboanga-based Administrator of Philippine Ship Spotters Society (PSSS), Britz Salih. He said the small Basilan Lines might have survived if they bought ROROs instead of the Australian catamaran Malamawi. That can also be true for A. Sakaluran. They might have had a longer life if instead of the three fastcrafts they acquired ROROs or maybe additional steel-hulled cruiser ferries. Fastcrafts were not cheap then but maybe the sales pitch of the Sibu fastcraft companies proved to be too tempting. It was also a success already then in Malaysia and in Singapore and so the implication is they will also be successful here.

In such a short time, Zamboanga had such a high concentration of High Speed Crafts (HSC) and mainly fastcrafts of Malaysian origin. Coupled with the sudden rise too in the number of ROROs because of the incentives of the Ramos administration there soon was overcompetition in Zamboanga (but the erroneous paper done by Myrna S. Austria didn’t see that because she believed the incomplete reports of the government agencies). Add to that the wont of passengers in Zamboanga not to pay fares if they are related to the owners or they are the followers of some VIPs, soon the High Speed Crafts of Zamboanga were threatened with bankruptcy (HSCs will go down first before the ROROs because they can’t carry a meaningful load of cargo and these have oversized engines guzzling large amounts of fuel and not the cheaper MDO by the way). In such a situation, Weesam Express brought most of their fastcrafts to the Visayas. Meanwhile, A. Sakaluran transferred two of their three fastcrafts to Batangas and one to Iloilo.

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The A. Sakaluran fastcrafts anchored in Batangas Bay (Photo by Nowell Alcancia)

The diversion did not prove to be successful because when A. Sakaluran transferred to Batangas there was also overcompetition there (when clueless-about-shipping Myrna S. Austria contended in her Philippine Institute for Development Studies paper that there was lack of competition there because she did not see that the government reports she was basing on was highly incomplete). Batangas was not only the base then of ever-increasing number of ROROs but also of High Speed Crafts especially the tough-to-beat, state-of-the-art SuperCats. Losing money, in a few short years the fastcrafts of A. Sakaluran were found just anchored in Batangas Bay and not sailing. And then these were no longer seen there again. However, they were spotted anchored in Bacolod a short while later before they disappeared once more.

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The MS Express spotted anchored in Bacolod (Photo by “boybacolod2”)

And so in one of my visits to Varadero de Recodo, I was really thrilled to see the three A. Sakaluran fastcrafts after they disappeared from view in Batangas. That was the confirmation that they were still alive and not sold anywhere else like in Indonesia which uses a lot of Malaysian-built fastcrafts. That was really a thrilling find since those fastcrafts were still in good condition and not just some kind of old and balky ferries.

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Just what is their origins? The MS Express is a fastcraft built in 1999 by Yong Choo Kui (YCK) in Sibu on the western shore of Sabah, Malaysia, the birthplace of the Malaysian type of fastcrafts. She was like almost all the other Malaysian fastcrafts which were developed by the Malaysian government from a riverboat design. That means a long sleek hull with a narrow beam and sitting low on the water but with oversized engines. The hull is made of strong steel unlike many High Speed Crafts with aluminum alloy hulls. I was told the hull was designed even for beaching if needed.

Now, I do not know if the tale that they can survive a 360-degree cartwheel but of course any passenger or crew not in harness will suffer injury from that. They are known for good seakeeping and stability but many fear wave splashes on the windows thinking it is already a sign of danger when definitely it is not. Well, I guarantee the waves of Celebes Sea can be higher than that and I have personally experienced it there in a fastcraft when we took the direct route from Baganian Peninsula to Zamboanga City and it was habagat (southwest monsoon) time. But the passengers there are used to rougher seas and bigger waves and we all agreed it was simply time to sleep already when it was actually daytime. Well, rather than worry we were not seeing any land anymore.

The MS Express has a registered length (LR) of 40.7 meters, a beam of 4.7 meters and a depth of 2.3 meters and so her height to depth ratio is actually very low which is a big factor in stability. Her gross tonnage is 143 and her net tonnage is only 25 (which I have doubt if that is correct). Like the RS Express and the Sea Jet of Aleson Shipping Lines she was powered by twin Mitsubishi high-speed engines with a total of 3,100 horsepower. Her design speed was 30 knots which is high-speed craft range even in the high European standard. The only problem with big engines in a small craft like a fastcraft is they generate a lot of heat and at full trot dissipating them becomes a problem. However, with no cabin above the engine this is less of a problem in MS Express unlike in Weesam Express fastcrafts.

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The stem of MS Express is raked as can be expected of fastcrafts and the stern is transom. There is a main passenger cabin which is airconditioned and on a stair leading to the upper deck is the bridge and behind that was still a half-deck of passenger accommodation. There is the usual-for-HSCs single mast with flashing light which distinguishes High Speed Crafts from other vessels especially in the night. A distinguishing mark for MS Express is the presence of two tall, slanted funnels with the air intakes for the engines just ahead of the funnels.

The pilot houses of the Malaysian fastcrafts are not as great as the High Speed Crafts from Japan and might even look primitive to some. There is that big stainless steel steering wheel (why is it not powered?) and the throttles are just at the right of the helmsman who sits on the port side of the pilot house. At the middle of the dashboard are the gauges and monitors of the ship. The side windows of the pilot houses can swing out.

In Varadero de Recodo, me and Britz heard the three A. Sakaluran fastcrafts have a buyer already and the amount we heard seems to be ridiculously low for us knowing what their original prices were (well, laid-up vessels usually don’t command good prices unless it is in Korea). But on my visit back to Varadero de Recodo, I heard Ernesto Ouano of Mandaue offered a much higher price for the three. Me and my companion Britz looked at each other. We know there are implications for that but we cannot be sure if that was related to an unfortunate incident that occurred in Mandaue later (as we say your guess is as good as mine).

And so one by one the three A. Sakaluran fastcrafts disappeared from Varadero de Recodo starting in late 2012 with the AS Express going first and the RS Express the last remaining. They were to be brought back under their own power to Sibu for refurbishing and that was a puzzle for us. They don’t look in need of massive refitting and so what was the need then to bring them back to Sibu? Why not Cebu directly? That great shipping place has a lot of shipyards and Varadero de Recodo is also a shipyard. Later it turned out that they will be re-engined also and there will be some other modifications. And so maybe re-engining was the major reason for bringing them back to Sibu. We knew they will already be Star Crafts upon their return.

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It will be 2014 already when MS Express returned to the country and she turned out to be the Star Crafts 7 of the shipping company known as either SITI Interisland or Sea Highway Carrier. There is really no difference between the two but everybody knows them as Star Crafts. The mutual legal-fiction companies have two routes from Cebu to Bohol which are to Tubigon and Jetafe (or Getafe) which are just a distance of about 20 nautical miles or so each. And maybe this is why the reason they derated the engine to a YC Diesel (or Yuchai) of China of just a total of 1,850 horsepower with a cruising speed of about 20 knots or a little bit above, just good enough for her to quality as a fastcraft by PSSS (Philippine Ship Spotters Society) definition as MARINA, the maritime regulatory agency has no definition for that.

The upper deck of the fastcraft was lengthened a little by three windows. It has two direct stairs to the upper deck of the ship and it seems primary loading now is through the upper deck as the fastcraft sits low now compared to the docks. The high funnels are no longer around and those were transferred to the stern (that is good because including the derated engines means less noise for the passenger cabins). There is also now a built-up structure in the stern for the crew (they look more like cadets to me, however, as the real crew seems to be just in T-shirts). Between that and the upper passenger deck is space for some light cargo.

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The big negative thing that happened to the fastcraft as Star Crafts 7 is in the seating arrangement that is now 4+4 with a small seat pitch which is the distance between the seats and so seating is very tight and there is obvious lack of space. Star Crafts 7 is the tightest-sitting High Speed Craft I ever saw and I wonder if Boholanos are not complaining . She is now a slower fastcraft with tight spaces and almost no legroom. And of course the seats are not reclining.

Now I wonder what kind of refurbishing or improvement is that? It looks more like downgrading to me. For the ownership and the revenues that is good and a plus. But for the passengers, what is the benefit of that? The ship has no canteen and so a crewman not in uniform hawks food when the ship is already sailing (that is also what I observed in Starcrafts 1). Well, even if there is a canteen someone not in the aisle will have difficulty in getting out. The tight spaces forbid movement for the entire ride as the passengers in the cheapest class (which is also airconditioned) are packed like sardines. This cheapest class occupies majority of the passenger accommodation in the fastcraft.

There are also higher class passenger accommodations in the upper deck that seats 3+3 and 3+4 which have a different seat motif and these sell higher. I wonder if they call that the Business Class. Those were farther from the engines but of course the upper deck will sway more in rough seas. Maybe with less water splash the view of the outside is better there.

Her route is Cebu-Tubigon when I rode with her and from Tubigon it took us a few minutes over one hour and part of the reason is the slowing down approaching Shell island because of the speed limit imposed in Mactan Channel now. By whatever measure, I cannot say my ride with her was comfortable and actually I was disappointed.

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Star Crafts is dominating the Tubigon and Jetafe routes at the High Speed Crafts  segment (that route has many ROROs) especially since Lite Jet is already gone and it seems the Star Crafts 7 is also successful too. But it is my wish that she would be more comfortable. What is the cost anyway of removing a few seats? A High Speed Craft should offer more room, better leg space and better seats than a tourist bus, I should say, if they will use “Tourist” as designation of the passenger class. Am I wrong? After all, a High Speed Craft is the bigger craft, it costs more and so why not make it more comfortable all the way? That way, they will be deserving of the higher class or segment they are thought of to be occupying.

The Iloilo-Zamboanga Route

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

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

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

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

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

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Credit to Philippine Herald and Gorio Belen

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

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Credit to Gorio Belen

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

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Cotabato Princess c. 1988 by Britz Salih

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

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SuperFerry 3 by Britz Salih

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

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Princess of the Pacific by Britz Salih

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

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Don Julio by John Ward

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

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Asia Korea (from a TASLI framed photo)

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

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

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

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

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

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.

On My Way Home

I had trouble with my passage back home to Davao. It was the Sinulog Festival and Trans-Asia Shipping Lines’ problems that caused it.

At first I was planning a way back home through Zamboanga which I normally do. I take the Zamboanga Ferry of George & Peter Lines to Zamboanga. With that I am able to cover the ports of Dumaguete, Dapitan and Zamboanga. Additionally, I am able to cover the various local ports of Zamboanga City plus its two shipyards. I then go home with thousands more of additional photos.

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But I was in for a shock when I went to the G&P ticketing office. I never thought that their ferry to Zamboanga will ever be full. Usually, it is only ¼ full or even less that there are no more assignments of bunks and one can choose whatever pleases him. They would even upgrade some of the Economy tickets to Tourist.

I did not know that a significant number of people from Zamboanga del Norte go to the Sinulog Festival. And to think there are a lot of ferries going to Dapitan aside from the Ceres buses. Well, the Monday schedule of Zamboanga Ferry is what made her full. It was the first day after the Sinulog Festival week.

My next plan was to take the Tagbilaran-Cagayan de Oro ship of Trans-Asia Shipping Lines, the Asia Philippines. I made an early inquiry days before with their main office. They said the schedule is MWF. And so I thought I can take their ship days after Sinulog. I did not think Sinulog will impact the Tagbilaran-Cagayan route. I will have the chance to shipspot Tubigon and Tagbilaran ports plus take Bohol bus photos and maybe have some sightseeing too in Tagbilaran.

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When I tried to purchase a ticket for Asia Philippines, Trans-Asia said the ship only only Monday voyages. How come shipping company employees themselves doesn’t know how to give accurate information? And at the head office at that? It seems with their lack of ferries, the unreliability of some of their ferries and the wish to also play the Iligan route even though they lack ferries plays havoc on the schedules of Trans-Asia Shipping Lines that even their ticketing employees are in the dark.

I then asked for their nearest available Cebu-Cagayan de Oro trip (as Cokaliong does not serve that route). A Thursday ticket was available for Trans-Asia 9 and I purchased one. But the day before the trip, there was a text message to me from the company saying our trip was cancelled for “technical reasons”. And so it seems the old engine bugaboo of the Trans-Asia 9 wouldn’t go away really. Maybe she is better off now as a Cargo RORO ship like the Trans-Asia 5 when the new Trans-Asia 1 becomes available.

I immediately went to the ticketing office of Cokaliong Shipping Lines even without a refund yet for I want to be ahead of the others. With no ship running to Cagayan de Oro I thought there might be a crush soon in the Cokaliong office. The other Cagayan ship, the Lite Ferry 8 of Lite Shipping didn’t appeal to me much.

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Had a hard time deciding at the Cokaliong Tower ticketing office. I didn’t really want a Nasipit ticket as that port is not really appealing to me from the ship spotting point of view and also from the bus spotting point of view (all yellow buses from there). They have no Cagayan de Oro trips (yet). And their Ozamis-Iligan ship was the same ferry I rode from Masbate to Cebu, the Filipinas Ozamis. It was what was indicated in their schedule board. I didn’t like their Surigao ships too and I have just been there. As much as possible I don’t want to ride a ship I have already ridden before or go via port I have just been to.

I asked the ticket seller. No, it was the Filipinas Nasipit that will be doing the Ozamis/Iligan route on a particular day (as they do the Ozamis/Iligan route four times a week now). That clinched it. A new ship and one I have not been aboard before. That will also give me the chance to visit Ozamis again after a long time and also Iligan too with the possibility of a Mukas shipspot too. I have not been to Mukas port for a long time too.

There was something new in the Cokaliong House. They now have an interactive computer by the door manned by cadets that will show what accommodations are still available. That sure takes a lot of load from the ticket sellers and crowding at their stations.

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Our trip was at 8pm and I tried to be early but was not able too. Minsan mas mahirap pa talaga ang may hatid. It was nearing dusk when I arrived in Pier 1. By then I had already missed a lot in shipspotting inside Pier 1 and also inside the Cokaliong wharf. Darkness was getting hold already when our shuttle bus parked near the stern of the Filipinas Nasipit. Sayang. I know my shots are already blurry and no use using zoom for the ships passing by.

The Tourist of Filipinas Nasipit was nice. It looks like the Tourist de Luxe of Sulpicio Lines and the Tourist of Trans-Asia 5 but it does not have the individual charging sockets of the latter. While not yet sailing I stayed in the open-air section where there were tables and seats. It was a good viewpoint when the ship will be leaving Cebu port.

I noticed the Filipinas Nasipit has a lot of cabins. I wonder if they ever get full anyway. The Economy was the same Economy of Cokaliong which are clean and functional. There was also a lounge at the side of the Tourist which is nice plus one near the canteen. Actually those can double as additional accommodation if the ship is completely full (but the Coast Guard won’t allow that even though life jackets have an allowance of 10%).

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Filipinas Nasipit lounge

I did not roam very long for the next day I will have the chance between Ozamis and Iligan. There will be better light by then with less passengers. I retired early as there will be an early arrival in Ozamis but I found out the aircon was too cold when it was midnight already. We were only eight in the semi-private cubicle and we had a packaged-type airconditioner plus doors that seal us from the lounge and the passageway on the other side.

We were in final docking maneuver in Ozamis port by 4:30 am and suddenly I had a problem since I forgot my cheap but trusty umbrella in Cebu which I used in all my days of shipspotting there. It was nearly a whiteout but soon the rain abated a little and passengers can disembark. I disembarked too but where to was settled by the rain. No joy touring a city in continuous rain but in a ferry it wouldn’t be much of a problem as long as I can board it.

I asked and I was given a bad reply regarding the ticketing office to Mukas. It was outside the gate (so a passenger from Manila or Cebu with baggage will then have to get out first? that is what one gets from ISPS ports). So I then just headed straight to the ferry past the guards (a purposeful walk will sometimes do the trick). I asked the Chief Mate for direct passage and I will just pay him. Turns out it can be done contrary to what the guards said. I had a ticket but I was unmanifested and I did not pay the terminal fee. Government functionaries sometimes makes rules na abala lang sa pasahero especially in the rain. There are other ways of making a manifest. It can be done aboard the ship. And so that there will be no more counting then let Coast Guard list the names of the embarking passengers. They are not sailing anyway and they can even do their patrol by boarding the ferry as they don’t have patrol ships anyway.

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Swallow-I of Daima Shipping

It was still dark when I boarded the Swallow-I of Daima Shipping, the sole shipping company sailing the Panguil Bay crossing. She is a double-ended ferry and a decent one but the problem was the rain got stronger and there were puddles of water in the passageways. When we sailed it was daybreak already and I noticed the St. Francis Xavier of 2GO has just anchored offshore. I thought she was waiting for the Manila Bay 1 of CAGLI to depart. Manila Bay 1 has started raising steam already by then. The other ship, the Fortune freighter was still docked in port. In the distance the outline of Trans-Asia 2 of TASLI was already visible (and so we were faster than her).

Crossing Panguil Bay, aside from the fishing bancas, I noticed that there were four double-ended ferries of Daima which were sailing and there were four more moored in Mukas port. We then docked in Mukas port and I was able to take close shots of the four and I disembarked. I saw a long line.

Again I paid direct to the Chief Mate because I said I cannot tackle a queue that long where I can miss the ship which is obviously leaving after discharging and loading and I am a passenger of Filipinas Nasipit. Again I was unmanifested and I did not the terminal fee (but then I did not use the terminal). Sometimes ang habol lang naman talaga ng mga paghihigpit ay magawa ang manifest para masiyahan ang Coast Guard at mabayaran ang terminal fee.

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Swallow-II and 4 other double-ended ROROs of Daima Shipping

The Swallow-II was docking into the port the moment we pulled. Nice to see her and I have a special respect for her. She was the former Our Lady of Mediatrix which was burned by the white phosporus explosion that hit two Super Five buses aboard her in 2000. She survived and it is a credit to Daima that they have the patience to bring her back. Good to see her again 16 years after her mishap. I did not see her personally again after the burned-out wreck I saw the day after the explosion.

I thought the St. Francis Xavier will change places with Manila Bay 1 but when we returned she was still anchored. Nearing Ozamis, I was surprised by all the kwitis being fired and by the crowd waiting inside the port. There were priests and altar boys plus the religious type of crowd howling “Viva Pit Senor!”. It turned out the Trans-Asia 2 was carrying their image that went to Sinulog. So I thought that was the reason why the St. Francis Xavier was not docking.

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After taking shots of the revelry, I had only 30 minutes plus left to departure as we were leaving at 7:30am instead of 8am. With the intermittent rain and all the ek-ek in getting back inside an ISPS port I was no longer interested in getting out of the port and see Ozamis the city again. I may have just 15 minutes net and where can you go in 15 minutes in the rain? The crew of Filipinas Nasipit also doesn’t want me to go far. I remember that is also the worry of the crew of Zamboanga
Ferry when we are in Dumaguete and Dapitan.

We pulled anchor even before 7:30am and soon was on our way to Iligan. I noticed even at a distance that the St. Francis Xavier was still anchored when to think that even when Manila Bay 1 was still docked there was still one dock free. I dunno but I can only hazard the guess Ozamis port is penalizing St. Francis Xavier for delayed arrival. It was good I did not bet on her. She was supposed to arrive 8pm the previous night but she arrived 10 hours late. I did not take her altho I have not yet ridden her because her arrivals and departures in Ozamis and Iligan are both at night. No good shipspotting with that and even my bus spotting will be ruined.

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I made rounds of the ship after we left Ozamis. It was easier now for there was light already. I noticed we were less than 1/5th of the passengers that left Cebu. So it seems most Iliganons and Marawinons take the Cagayan de Oro ferry. It was easy roaming except that they do not want us passengers in that free area behind the bridge. And they do not shoo kindly too. Did the Cokaliong crew attend the shooing seminar of 2GO? But they were a poor copy as the 2GO crew have more politeness left. I don’t like it when a shipping company treats its passengers with distrust. We passengers do not shower them with such distrust. They should be fair.

We docked in Iligan port at 9:30am. I was happy for the earlier arrival because I was hoping to make Maramag, Bukidnon before dark (I don’t care after that since all the buses will then be red; I just wonder if the Philippine Competition Commission realizes that Mindanao, at least in the bus sector is governed by a monopoly).

There were no other ferries in Iligan. There were two cargo ships, one a foreign bulker, the Spring Canary, the other a Roble freighter, the Star Ormoc. There were tugs and harbor pilot boats. But then except for us there was almost no other activity in the port. Would have been merrier if the St. Francis Xavier was a little ahead of us. But it was good as I saw the former National Steel port and the Shell tanker jetty but the distance was great. Kiwalan is too distant, too.

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I no longer tried to make a round of Iligan. Davao is still too far away and I might get too tired. I just took the jeep which I know will still make a round of the city and it did. In the eastern bus terminal, I was able to take a lot of bus photos. My first choice was an ordinary Rural minibus because it has a front seat free. I changed to an aircon bus which also had a front seat free but not the one by the windshield. The aircon fare was P115 and the ordinary fare was P120. My seatmate told me before Christmas the aircon fare was just P95 for the 87km distance. Simple predatory pricing by Rural Transit to increase the pressure against Super Five bus. If we had only antitrust laws like in the US then Rural Transit would have to pay a hefty fine and/or the owners would have to spend some time in jail.

Transferred to a Pabama aircon bus in Cagayan (which has no gold anyway) because in the afternoon it is hard to look for an aircon commuter van. They have an all-new fleet now and of course they are cheaper. If I have a choice I will choose a Rural Transit competitor that has a front seat free (the front seat is the primordial consideration to me). My ticket was for Maramag only and not Kibawe, the destination of the bus.

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Mangima, Bukidnon

It was a rainy drive from Cagayan nada Oro to Maramag and I spoiled a lot of shots. It was getting dark already even before we wheeled into Maramag. I then changed into a lousy red bus which has no competition and our drive was very slow. Imagine a 5-hour drive at night for less than 160 kilometers. And again I had an incident in the Task Force Davao permanent checkpoint (the Supreme Court has already declared that permanent checkpoints are illegal; so much for the ballyhooed “rule of law”) and I held up the bus for more than 20 minutes with the passengers in the rain below.

It’s no longer martial law, I know my rights and so and they can’t just tell me any “balaod-balaod” thing (“balaod” is law in English). It the end I was able to force the Task Force Davao sergeant to admit they have no right to force down the passengers like cattle (and with threat at that) or inspect the baggage without search warrant (yes, that is what the law says but people don’t know that because we have a very poor legal education system). When they boarded back the passengers were furious at them and not at me. Now if only our lawyers and judges have more guts.

Anyway, I survived that long land trip of nearly 400 kilometers, my longest land leg in my December-January travel. The next day Aris was surprised I insisted on our previously agreed upon meet and tour to Samal. Seems I am back in form.

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 Zamboanga Ferry

The Zamboanga Ferry of George & Peter Lines is the only ferry now left in the Cebu-Zamboanga route that just emanates from Cebu. When 2GO does not sail this route, she is the only ferry available unless one wants to try the tiring and stressful part-bus trip via Dipolog which is even more expensive and involves many transfers.

Zamboanga Ferry is not a fast ship as it is a remnant of an older era but at least it is comfortable and spacious. She will leave Cebu on Monday nights at 10pm and at dawn she will be in Dumaguete. When all is finished there she will leave for Dapitan usually at daybreak and arrive there about 10am. She will leave Dapitan approximately noon and arrive in Zamboanga the next day at 3am.

Zamboanga Ferry ©Jonathan Bordon

She will then leave Zamboanga the same day at about 4pm if she finishes loading and arrive in Dumaguete at daybreak the next day and bypassing Dapitan. Leaving when all is done and finished and that will be before mid-morning she will arrive in Cebu in mid-afternoon if there are no delays along the way.

Then on Friday nights, Zamboanga Ferry will undertake a Cebu-Dumaguete-Dapitan trip. That is second voyage for the week and a shorter one. She will retrace that route on Saturday late afternoon, leave Dapitan by midnight, arrive on Cebu on Sunday early morning and lay over in Cebu until her Monday departure for Zamboanga.

Zamboanga Ferry at Dapitan Port ©Mike Baylon

Zamboanga Ferry was the former Tanegashima Maru No.2 in Japan, a ferry from the southern tip of Shikoku, the southernmost main island of Japan to Tanegashima Island which is located south of Shikoku. Ferries in Japan traveling in the open sea puts a premium on stability and so this ferry is known for that. Her sister ship in the Philippines was the broken-up Don Martin Sr. 8 of Palacio Lines.

Tanegashima Maru No.2 was built by Honda Shipbuilding Company in Saiki yard in 1970 with the IMO Number 7377660. She is a ROPAX with the distinctive Honda bridge profile of the period and a twin car/cargo deck. She measures 74.3/69.0 meters (LOA/LPP) x 12.2 meters breadth with a Depth of 7.2 meters and originally, she was only of 499 gross register tons. This ship is powered by a single Hanshin diesel engine with 2,300 horsepower on tap. Her original service speed was 15 knots.

Zamboanga Ferry ©Jonathan Bordon

In 1993, she came to the Philippines for George & Peter Lines and was renamed as the Zamboanga Ferry. She was refitted and additional structures and passenger accommodations were built. She now measures 851 gross tons with 408 net tons and a passenger capacity of 708 persons. On commissioning she was the best ferry in the fleet of George & Peter Lines of the brothers of William Chiongbian of William Lines.

As refitted she was a three-class ship with two Tourist cabins below the foredeck, the galley and the restaurant behind that (which also serves as a videoke and as lounge) and Cabins at the center (this was now converted into Tourist Deluxe). At the aft of the passenger decks are the Economy sections and at the rear of the upper deck is the Economy dining area and next to that is a canteen/kiosk. Built as an overnight ship, the meals are not free and must be purchased separately.

Restaurant

White Room

Tourist

Economy

Economy Dining Section

Zamboanga Ferry Interior ©Mike Baylon

The ship has two masts with a single side funnel. Her stem is raked and the stern is transom and located there is a good three-piece vehicle ramp. There are cargo ramps on the sides which makes her capable of loading when docked sideways. There are two passenger ramps on each side and two other passenger ramps on the stern. With a total of six passenger ramps she might be the ship with the most passenger ramps in the country.

Although she can take in vehicles most of the load of Zamboanga Ferry is loose cargo and loaded mainly by forklifts. Her lower cargo deck is accessible by ramp and in loading the cars can be parked on the side cargo deck to ease obstruction. Her main cargo deck however has a permanent obstruction as auxiliary engines are located there in a separate housing. Zamboanga Ferry also has a loft in the stern with is used for porter-carried cargo and cargo that needs to be separated from the hot car/cargo deck.

Car Deck at Aft Section

Elevator

Zamboanga Ferry Interior ©Mike Baylon

With passenger load light now a passenger just picks the bunk that he or she likes. The Economy is airy when running and the cold of Tourist is just right if not full. The Tourist Deluxe however very cold. One can order meals from a menu but it is mainly the fried processed meat kind. In the intermediate ports the passengers go down the ship and buy from the food stalls in the pier. Many do as that is cheaper and has the ‘sinugba’ the Bisaya loves.

The schedule of the ship is light with enough lay-overs. The engine needs that as it is no longer strong. She only runs at 9 knots now and sometimes the engine conks out and she can’t travel as she is a single-engined ship. In a weak storm she was washed ashore and grounded in Dumaguete because of that.

Engine ©Jonathan Bordon

In spite of her age and weaknesses, she is still sailing bravely soldiering on. I hope she does not yet go away.

More Zamboanga Ferry Photos by Mike Baylon: CLICK HERE

Superferry 1

Aboitiz Shipping Corporation has always been notable for two particular quirks. The first is when they bought a lot of old ex-FS ships in the mid-1960’s from other shipping companies when others were already sourcing ships from Europe and Japan and some are even brand-new. The second is when they did not buy any ferry for 14 straight years from 1974 to 1988 and when they bought one it was another old hand-me-down from Escano Lines, the former “Katipunan”. However, in the same period Aboitiz Shipping Corporation (ASC) bought a lot of cargo ships and they were among the first to containerize. Actually, in the 1980’s ASC was one of the container majors in the local seas through the Aboitiz Concarriers together with the Wilcons of William Lines, the Sulcons of Sulpicio Lines and the Lorcons of Lorenzo Shipping.

With a ferry fleet whose backbone were still the old ex-FS ships Aboitiz Shipping Corporation did not try to compete in the major ferry routes in the 1980’s and instead concentrated on minor routes like routes to northern Panay and Leyte island. However, this laidback attitude on ferry operations all changed when in 1989 when they bought the “Venus” from Japan to become the “SuperFerry 1”. I am not sure if this was part of the Jebsens influence on Aboitiz Shipping but it looks like it. Jebsens of Norway was a partner of Aboitiz in local shipping and they created a company named Aboitiz Jebsens which was in ship maintenance and management.

SuperFerry 1 ©Gorio Belen

“Venus”, a ROPAX (RORO-Passenger ship) with IMO Number 7375856 was built by Shikoku Dockyard in Takamatsu, Japan. She measured 132.4 meters by 20.6 meters and she had an original Gross Tonnage (GT) of 4,006 nominal tons and Deadweight Tonnage (DWT) of 3,194 tons. In Net Tonnage (NT), she measured 1,630 nominal tons with a passenger capacity of 302 and her RORO capacity was 1,030 lane-meters. “Venus” was originally by powered by twin SEMT-Pielsticks which developed a combined 16,700 horsepower giving her a service speed of 20.5 knots. She already had the then-new and modern bulbous stem which gave extra speed. She was completed on December of 1975 and she was then delivered to Arimura Sangyo shipping line of Naha, Okinawa, Japan.

In 1989 Aboitiz Shipping Corporation bought the “Venus” and brought her to the Philippines where she was rebuilt. New decks were added and it now totaled four and additional passenger accommodations were built. Her new Gross Tonnage (GT) was 9,184 nominal tons and her new Net Tonnage (NT) was 2,987 with a passenger capacity of 1,808. Her new Depth was 13.0 meters. Her new name was “Aboitiz SuperFerry 1” and she was the new flagship of Aboitiz Shipping Corporation. “Aboitiz SuperFerry 1” was the first RORO-Passenger (ROPAX) ship of the company.

SuperFerry 1 Brochure ©Mike Baylon

She was launched with fanfare and advertisements were rolled out. They touted the new kind of service and accommodations and pointed out the word “Super” pertained to these and not to the size as she cannot beat the “Filipina Princess” of Sulpicio Lines in that aspect. Indeed, it seems that for the first time a liner sailing in local seas had service crew that were graduates of Hotel and Restaurant Management (HRM) courses and not green mariners trying to serve customers. There was always the smile, the snappiness, the ever-presence and the constant cleaning and mopping. With HRM background they knew how not to say “No” and how not to disappoint passengers. Meals were not free but there is a full-service cafeteria which looked like an office cafeteria that was open till past midnight. The equipment and cleanliness of the toilets and baths were unmatched in the business.

However, in less than a year of sailing, bad luck hit “SuperFerry 1” when she was struck by engine room fire. She was towed to Singapore for repairs where she was fitted with new engines, too. Brand-new Wartsila diesel engines were used which developed a total of 21,200 horsepower. Although heavier now, she was able to regain her old service speed of 20.5 knots with the new more powerful engines. At that speed she was clearly now the second-best to the much more powerful “Filipina Princess”. She was re-launched in 1991 to fanfare and advertisements again.

SperFerry1 Main Engine ©Ralpha Russel Rosauro

With her, Aboitiz Shipping was able to reclaim their old Davao route which before already lain beyond their old cruisers (“SuperFerry” 1 was the first RORO of the company) because of the long distance and the lack of speed which made them the laughing stock of the fast cruisers of Sulpicio Lines and William Lines like the “Davao Princess” and the “Manila City”. With “SuperFerry 1” Aboitiz Shipping and Aboitiz Jebsens pioneered the system of sailing where in-port hours were low and the ship just sails and sails. This was needed because Aboitiz Shipping lacks liners. Promptness was paramount and to shorten loading and unloading time two ramps were used simultaneously and containers that must be handled were radioed to the tractors which was setting records in speed of hauling. In comparison, the rival flagships “Filipina Princess” and “Sugbu” of William Lines were still using the slow booms together with ramps.

The route of SuperFerry 1 was Manila-Iloilo-General Santos City-Davao and Manila-Iloilo. She was the fastest ferry to General Santos City and Davao, bar none. Her intermediate port stops consisted only of two to three hours and she was known for promptness in departures. Once a passenger ramp was lifted it’s already sorry to any passengers even though they are running with all their might towards the ship. Being the newest, fastest and the best passenger service she displaced patronage from rivals in the route and name “SuperFerry” and its brand of service was already being installed in the minds of the riding public of ships.

SuperFerry 1 ©Britz Salih

In the merger of William Lines, Gothong Shipping Corporation and Aboitiz Shipping Corporation that created the new company WG&A she retained her name and her route. Later, “SuperFerry 8”, the former “Mabuhay 3” and “Sugbu” was paired with her in the route. She held on to this route even when the Chiongbian and Gothong families already withdrew from the merged company and her company was renamed the Aboitiz Transport Shipping (ATS). By this time her service speed was already down to 19 knots.

SuperFerry 1 ©Aris Refugio

With the arrival of “SuperFerry 20” and “SuperFerry 21” she was displaced from the Davao route. She was also starting to fall from disfavor as the new style of ATS called for ROPAXes of twin cargo decks and less passenger capacity and amenities, the reason they converted three ferries into this standard. “SuperFerry 1” also has a big engine relative to her cargo capacity which was their primary measurement. Not long after ATS advertised her for sale but there were no local takers as other liner companies do not buy hand-me-downs from rivals and she was too big and her engine too powerful for the Visayas-Mindanao shipping companies. And so she just toiled in minor routes.

Not long after, the merger of Negros Navigation and Aboitiz Transport System happened and she came under 2GO. Doing the Tagbilaran and Dumaguete route she grounded entering Tagbilaran Bay when the new master from Negros Navigation took a shortcut on the reefs. A SuperCat came to the rescue of her passengers and she was later freed. From this accident she sailed almost no more and soon she was just a “floating monument” in Manila Bay. She was, however, renamed the “Sta. Rita de Cascia”.

SuperCat rescue operations ©Vince Sanchez

More photos of the operation can be found by clicking here.

Last year, in 2014, she disappeared from Manila Bay. Later, she reappeared in Indonesia as the “Mutiara Persada 1”. Ship spotters heaved a sigh of relief because Indonesia, like the Philippines, is known for appreciating and taking care of older ships. So for now, it looks like “SuperFerry 1” has escaped the breaker’s torches.

Katrafar Shipping Lines

Katrina-II of Katrafar Shipping Lines ©Mike Baylon

The Katrafar Shipping Lines, an operator of Moro boats in the Zamboanga-Jolo and Bongao routes, is unique in the sense that it is probably the only Moro boat shipping company that still have regular schedules (aside from the related ship Karmina) after a lot of contemporaries like A. Sakaluran were already gone. As such they are still entitled to docking space and operation in the Zamboanga PPA port while most Moro boats were already relegated to different Baliwasan wharves like Tres Marias, PHIDCO and PMS. Moro boats are the name that Philippine Ship Spotters Society use to denote wooden-hulled ships of distinct Moro design usually found in western Mindanao (and southern Mindanao before) that are related to the Arabian ‘dhow’.

M/V Katrina 5 ©Mike Baylon
Katrafar Shipping Lines is now just composed of three gold-liveried Moro boats, the Katrina II, Katrina III and Katrina V after the first of the series, the Katrina IV caught fire off Tawi-tawi Island on July of 2007. Katrafar boats carry mainly copra in her cavernous hold from Jolo and Bongao and the heat it generates in a closed hold is a fire risk, the reason passenger-copra carriers now install industrial fans aside from water sprays to cool the copra. The Katrina can carry double sacks of copra in the mid-hundreds up to the high hundreds, the reason why unloading extends up to the afternoon after her early morning arrival. Carried also at her bow are cargoes that should be separated like sea products and even animals. From Zamboanga they are loaded with groceries, dry goods, the occasional hardware supplies and drinks. All loading are done ‘mano-a-mano’ by true porters (as distinguished to ‘porters’ who try to welsh cargo from passengers while charging high rates). Here a sack might only pay P5 or so but there is cargo aplenty and it needs a gang of porters to handle her load.
Katrafar uses the quay near the covered bodega of the Zamboanga International Port which is by the main port road. They occupy the same length of berth reserved for the cruiser ferries of Zamboanga. Like the cruisers Moro boats also need side docking for their specific kind of cargo handling (as in unloaded through the side) as they were not designed for stern docking like the ROROs.
Katrina III with her load of copra ©Mike Baylon
Katrina II docked sideways at Zamboanga ©Mike Baylon

Like other Moro boats the Katrinas are not equipped with bunks and instead they use folding tarpaulin cots and if these are arranged side-by-side perpendicular to the length of the ship starting from the sides and going to the center if more passenger berths are needed. Since passenger space and amenities are more restricted they charge less than the Zamboanga steel-hulled ferries and they can afford this since their fuel consumpation is lower. At times they even lead in discounting and the fare can really get low as is P175 for the 93-nautical mile Zamboanga-Jolo route. Now consider that 55-nautical mile or so Cebu-Leyte ferries can already charge P400 for economy bunks. Like the Zamboanga cruiser ferries the Katrafar ships leave at night and they reach Jolo or Zamboanga, their main route in the early morning which is the preferred arrival time of the passengers.

Folding Cots of Katrina III ©Mike Baylon

A relic of the past, it seems Katrafar will still not go away anytime soon. There is always room for budget carriers that offers simple, no-frills passage. And if ever they lose patronage they can still go to the Baliwasan wharves and become cargo-passenger ships which prioritizes cargoes over passengers. The worst and final scenario is they will be used as barter ships and become mainstays of Varadero de Recodo and Varadero de Cawit.