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I noticed a recent surge in interest in inter-island ferries as people continue to ask us about schedules and fares. Most of these were on past articles here about my trips to Mindoro using a typical RORO ferry (Batangas to Calapan) and a fast ferry (Calapan to Batangas). I have taken ferries along two other routes before (Iloilo-Bacolod and Cebu-Tagbilaran) and have written about the trip between Cebu and Tagbilaran quite a while ago. In a trip to Cebu last June, I remember picking up some brochures while going around and checking out hotels for a conference we are helping organize this September. Among the brochures were information on ferry services to and from Cebu.
Information on SuperCat fast ferry services between Cebu and Ormor (Leyte) or Tagbilaran (Bohol).
Regular RORO ferry trips between Cebu and many other destinations in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao
The jump-off point for visitors to the St. Paul Subterranean River (Underground River) is the Sabang Port at the northwest part of Puerto Princesa. Following are photos taken at Sabang including some showing information on transport and procedures for visitors.
Map of the national park showing some of its features and the transport services to/from the port.
Information on the management of the national park
Greetings for visitors
Puerto Princesa limits the number of visitors to the Underground River and there are procedures for visitors and their accredited guides to follow.
I caught this scene of children playing football on the sands during low-tide.
While most boats seem to be for ferrying tourists to the Subterranean River, there are also many fishing boats at Sabang.
Fishermen fixing up their boat likely before going on a sortie. I could imagine Sabang was like other fishing villages in the Philippines until authorities started promoting attractions like the Underground River. The influx of tourists transformed what was probably a sleepy village into a tourist destination complete with commercial developments like resorts, restaurants and shops.
Outriggers dot the waters around Sabang Port, their boatmen waiting for their turn to ferry visitors to the Underground River.
The concrete pier provides a basic but better facility compared to other similar ports around the country. The dispatching of boats is organised and passengers queue in an orderly manner to board the boats assigned to them.
A boat (left) approaches as another (right) just left, bound for the Underground River.
Clean restrooms /toilets are a must for tourist destinations. Sayang Port has well-maintained toilets.
Tourism office at Sabang Port – note the basketball goal post in the photo? The area is also used for other purposes including sports activities. Also noticeable in the photo are street lamps powered by solar energy. We saw some solar-wind power lamps around Puerto Princesa and Sabang’s main road has these for night-time illumination.
A close-up of the small box showing schedule and cost of transport services to/from Sabang from/to Puerto Princesa city proper. Note that there are only 4 trips per day for public transport (bus or jeepney).
Boatmen manoeuvre their vessels in the crowded waters of Sabang Port.
Another photo of boats lined up at the port.
Portable or collapsible sheds or tents at the port often bear the name of the company sponsoring or providing these for port users. Under one, there was a group facilitating the tour of a group of senior citizens from around Puerto Princesa. We got it from our guide that they are given free rides and visits to the Underground River as part of their benefits as senior citizens.
People get off a boat via a makeshift floating jetty
Advice to tourists: tip your boatmen generously. They serve as your lifeguards and do their best to maintain the boats and the equipment. They don’t get much from ferrying visitors to and from the Underground River and they do have families to feed. Make this tip your contribution to ensuring sustainable tourism in this heritage site that is also considered one of the top natural wonders of the world.
The jump-off point to island hopping in Honda Bay is Sta. Lourdes Wharf just north of Puerto Princesa City proper. I have seen this wharf evolve into the modern (compared to other Philippine wharves or ports) facility that it is now. I guess this is possible if both national and local government really put the necessary resources to improve such infrastructure that obviously benefits everyone and not just the tourists who happen to flock to this port for island-hopping trips.
The local tourism office and amenities like toilets are housed in this building. What it used to be was a building made out of bamboo with nipa and a few iron sheets for roofing. Boats were moored just behind the building in what looked like a chaotic set-up for tourists and islanders. There was no concrete road 5 years ago and the dirt road was a muddy mess during the wet season.
Philippine Coast Guard station at the wharf
Outriggers carrying passengers; mostly tourists on the Honda Bay island hopping package
This larger boat is not necessarily for tourists but for ferrying passengers between the mainland and the smaller islands off Palawan. It is obviously of sturdier design and has a bigger passenger capacity.
Our outrigger waiting for us to board. The crew consisted of two boatmen – one handling the motor and driving the boat while another was in-charge of handling the line, anchor and maneuvering the boat from the port and towards the sea (with just a bamboo pole as a tool).
A snapshot of other boats docked along the wharf shows mostly outriggers. In the background at about right is a glimpse of a Philippine National Police fast craft. The PNP has a maritime unit complementing the Philippine Coast Guard and those stationed in Palawan have modern fast craft capable of giving chase to pouchers and pirates in their speedy boats.
A Chinese boat moored at the PNP dock. This fishing boat was intercepted by Philippine authorities illegally fishing in Philippine waters. This was the subject of well-circulated news reports showing the Chinese were catching endangered species like sea turtles and were carrying live and dead pangolins and other wildlife they were smuggling out of Palawan (with the help of shady Filipinos, of course).
I think the Sta. Lourdes Wharf is a good example of adequate port facilities serving both passengers (including tourists) and goods. It provides for the basic needs of users though there is usually some congestion at the port due to increasing tourism activities. The wharf practically becomes a parking lot to tourist vehicles during certain times of the day and this becomes serious during the peak tourism months. This, however, is a minor concern for now. Access to the wharf is also excellent with good quality concrete roads from the city centre to the wharf; a combination of national and local roads being developed to a standard that makes them “all-weather” and comfortable for use by travellers using all types of vehicles. This is something that can and should be replicated for similar ports around the country not just for tourism areas but basically to address the needs of travellers and goods.
We were glad that we were able to get on either the SuperCat or FastCat for our return trip to Batangas after a meeting in Calapan. For one, this meant that our travel will only be an hour, 1.5 hours less than a trip on a regular RORO ferry. The RORO ferry schedule also didn’t favor an early arrival in Batangas considering we also had to travel back to Metro Manila. The SuperCat staff earlier didn’t sell us tickets because they were not sure there would be SuperCat trip in the afternoon given the conditions at sea.
SuperCat staff had to assist passengers as they boarded the vessel due to the rough waters that frequently lifted the vessel and make one lose his/her balance.
Another photo showing staff assisting boarding passengers. Each passenger had to go one at a time and at intervals due to the movements of the docked vessel.
Inside the craft, it was obvious that this was a much better vessel than the regular RORO ferries plying the same Calapan-Batangas route. The seats were more comfy and the interior was clean and obviously well-maintained, and that includes the toilets on the vessel. There was airconditioning and staff were more professional and attentive to passengers (probably taking after airline flight attendants). There were few passengers so some people had entire rows to themselves.
Passengers may place their bags or things under their seats or in front of them as there were no overhead compartments or space for stowing luggage and other items. Passengers with no one beside them put their bags on the empty seats instead.
The crew served us some simple snack comprising of peanuts, a cupcake and a fruit drink. There were items like sandwiches, junk food and other drinks available at the bar inside the SuperCat but choices were limited and I learned their stocks were already depleted as this was the last trip for the day for the SuperCat. There were no night time fast craft trips.
I tried to get photo of what was showing on the television screen but the choppy waters combined with the dim lighting didn’t favor my BlackBerry’s camera. There was only one screen and it’s size is obviously not suitable for passengers seated farther from the front. It didn’t really matter because it was only a 1-hour trip between Calapan and Batangas when using the SuperCat.
Dim lights as passengers disembark from the fast craft. Outside, crewmen assisted passengers who might lose their balance due to the instability of the vessel due to the rough waters.
It was already drizzling when we got out of the terminal and rain was pouring as we drove out of Batangas and unto the STAR tollway.
Calapan City port’s passenger terminal is a nice, modern facility though I think it is insufficient for the number of people that are now using the terminal on a daily basis. I can imagine that the terminal can be congested during the peak seasons of travel. I took a few photos inside and outside the terminal during a recent trip between Batangas and Calapan.
Pre-departure area at the Calapan port passenger terminal. I was impressed with the terminal that seems better than some airport passenger terminal I’ve seen in the country.
Fellow SuperCat passengers waiting for our boarding call. One needs to approach the staff at the booth near the gate in order to get a seat number. Seats on board the fast craft are designated even with few passengers making the trip.
Exiting the terminal to board our vessel, we proceed along a covered pier where our SuperCat and a FastCat ferry (shown at center) are moored.
The Calapan port passenger terminal as seen from the pier.
Rough waters hitting the port. Shown in the photo are RORO ferries docked at the port. We rode one of these on our trip from Batangas to Calapan.
The FastCat is a relatively new service between Batangas and Calapan. It can carry a few vehicles much like the conventional RORO ferries but its twin-hulled design provides stability with speed over rough waters.
Rear of the SuperCat
A friend walking along the pier between a SuperCat and a FastCat. The SuperCat is purely a passenger vessel while the FastCat can carry a few vehicles with stability provided by its twin-hulled design.
Rough waters in the late afternoon – similar conditions in the morning prevented us from taking a SuperCat to Calapan as fast craft trips were suspended.
[This post has generated a lot of inquiries about fares and schedules for RORO services between Batangas and Mindoro. I would like to clarify that what I wrote about is on one experience we had on a trip about 2 years ago. I am not connected with any of the ferry companies nor am I connected with the port authorities. For more info/details, here as some useful links:
Following is the original post:
Due to rough seas, there were no SuperCat trips between Batangas and Mindoro when we arrived at Batangas Port one Thursday morning. It seemed that there was only one fast ferry under the banner of SuperCat that plies the Batangas-Calapan route and it was on hold in Calapan due to rough waters. Later in the day though I would theorize that there might not have been enough passengers that morning between the cities and a decision had to be made not to make the trip, with the convenient and irrefutable reason of rough seas.
RORO Ferry ticket (left) and passenger terminal fee ticket
A view of two RORO ferries docked at the Batangas Port. One was operated by Montenegro Lines’ Marina Ferries and the other by Starlight Ferries.
Passengers boarding the ferry Reina Hosanna. Some vehicles, mostly trucks were already loaded on the ferry. Others would have to wait until passengers have boarded the vessel.
A view inside the ferry where vehicle and freight are positioned and secured for the voyage. People form a line before the narrow stairway to the passenger level.
Passengers climbing the narrow stairway to the passenger deck of the Reina Hosanna.
A view of the Batangas Port from the upper (view) deck of the ferry right above the passenger deck. Trucks can be seen boarding (rolling on) the ferry. The orange things are lifeboats lined along the rear of the passenger deck.
A provincial bus arrives to board another RORO ferry, the Starlight Nautica, which was scheduled to leave an hour after our scheduled departure. There are many bus companies plying the western nautical highway route , which can take the traveler to Caticlan, the jump off point for Boracay Island.
Reina Hosanna crewmen raise anchor.
A view inside the passenger deck – seats were cushioned but mostly dilapidated and obviously requiring re-upholstery. The cabin seemed to be originally air-conditioned and we were lucky that the weather was fine and not so hot that day. Some passengers went to the upper deck to get some air.
Rough seas along the Verde Island passage to Calapan. We actually saw two fast craft going the opposite direction during our almost 3-hour voyage to Mindoro. One was a SuperCat and another was a FastCat, and they were traveling despite the same rough waters shown in the photo!
Another ferry preparing to leave Calapan Port.
Crew throwing a line to the port as our ferry docked at Calapan.
Passengers disembarking from the ferry.
Vans waiting for passengers bound for various destinations in Mindoro including those in Mindoro Occidental on the other side of the island.
It was my first ferry ride in a long time. The last one was a fast ferry trip using the SuperCat service from Cebu to Tagbilaran, Bohol. That was in the afternoon and was quite a rough ride, too. I think shipping lines should not balk on the safety and comfort of passengers. People would be willing to pay a higher fare if the vessels are in better condition and facilities such as seats are well-maintained. I can only imagine the traveling conditions during the peak periods when a lot of people would take these RORO ferries as they are usually the cheaper and practical option between islands. –
In a previous post on the Batangas Port, I featured the newer passenger terminal for fast crafts or fast ferries and large outriggers (katig). This time, I am writing about the Roll-On, Roll-Off (RORO) passenger terminal just across the road from the fast ferry terminal. Heading to Calapan for a meeting there, we were disappointed that we could not take a fast ferry (i.e., SuperCat) to Mindoro. SuperCat ticketing staff informed us that fast ferry services were suspended due to rough seas between Batangas and Calapan. And so to be able to make our appointment, we had to take the slow ferry, which is actually a RORO ferry to Mindoro.
Passengers can purchase their tickets from one of the booths just beside the terminal. Various shipping lines provide services between Batangas and the islands of Mindoro and Romblon.
Schedules and fares of ferry services are posted on the windows of each shipping lines’ booth.
Montenegro Lines operates the most frequent RORO ferry trips between Batangas and Mindoro. RORO ferries leave Batangas every hour for destinations in Mindoro and there is a 24-hour service between Batangas and Calapan. We paid PhP195.00 for a one-way trip to Calapan, Oriental Mindoro.
Waiting area outside the terminal, which can become very crowded during holidays. One passes by this area right after paying the terminal fee (PhP 30.00) prior to entering the terminal building.
Convenience store at the ground floor inside the passenger terminal. At the ground floor are several other eateries where passengers can purchase and eat meals before boarding a vessel.
The passenger terminal had clean restrooms at the time we were there. I just hope these restrooms are of similar conditions during the peak periods of travel.
View from across the passenger terminal showing berths for large outriggers (katig) that people can opt to take between Batangas and Mindoro. These are popular for people heading to the resort town of Puerto Galera. These rides can be quite bumpy (and dangerous) so there are concerns regarding safety.
Seats and shops inside the passenger terminal. On the right is a passenger having a pedicure inside the terminal. My companion was asking me about the women who were carrying small chairs around. Upon observation, we found that the answer was that these chairs were used by women offering manicures and pedicures to waiting passengers.
The waiting area is located at the second level of the terminal.
Passengers can get snacks and souvenirs from the small shops at the terminal waiting area.
When boarding was announced, people filed out of the waiting area to walk across towards the pier. There is a walkway connecting the terminal to the pier.
Passengers descend the walkway towards the ferry we were to board. Shown in the photo are people walking past trucks waiting to board the RORO ferries.
While many passengers travel light, there are some who probably had a lot of luggage because they were coming from longer trips (e.g., flew in from abroad) or maybe taking a long vacation.
Fellow passengers walking towards our ferry to Calapan.