Image by John Carlos Cabanillas
The Cokaliong Shipping Lines is a Visayas-Mindanao pure-ferry shipping company of recent vintage. What is striking about this company is they grew in the era when they should have not because that was the time of the dominance of Cebu Ferries Company (CFC). This was the spin-off company of the Great Merger that produced WG&A (William, Gothong & Aboitiz) where discarded but still-good liners were shunted to the Visayas-Mindanao routes (as former liners it is hard to beat them in size, amenities, comfort and speed).
I do not really know what was the formula for the survival and the current success of Cokaliong (as she is commonly referred to in their areas of operation). But one that will strike passengers is the cleanliness of their ships (one would not think twice of sleeping in their mattresses even without bed sheet or on the floor if necessary). They also have managers for every port where they call in and this takes charge of all matters relating to cargo which I assume results in smooth operations and in taking good care of the client shippers. The company also has a good reputation in ship maintenance. None of their ships would look decrepit nor are their ships known for conking out. Reckoning-wise, for Visayas-Mindanao shipping companies Cokaliong is the bar of standard.
Cokaliong Shipping Lines, Inc. was founded by Chester Cokaliong. His original business was actually in garments and his shipping company is a spin-off. Cokaliong started in operations in 1991 and their first ship was MV Tandag, a hand-me-down ship from Trans-Asia Shipping Lines where she was known as the MV Asia Philippines (in the Philippines, starting from cast-offs of other companies is also honorable and some known shipping companies now started that way). In the same year, Cokaliong added another cast-off ship, the former MV Gingoog City, which they renamed as the MV Filipinas Siargao. This ship was originally a fishing vessel converted into a ferry.
In the same year when they were founded, Cokaliong had their first disaster when MV Tandag burned in Mactan Channel – their first ship, their first but also their last hull loss and that was already 25 long years ago. Subsequently, they bought another cast-off from Trans-Asia Shipping Lines in 1992. the former MV Trans-Asia which they renamed as MV Filipinas Tandag. They purchased another ship in the same year, an Aboitiz Shipping Company cast-off which was variously known as MV Juan, MV Aklan and MV Ormoc in that fleet. This ship was renamed in the Cokaliong fleet as MV Filipinas Maasin. When she was subsequently sold to Roble Shipping (where she became the MV Leyte Diamond), the Filipinas Tandag was renamed into another MV Filipinas Maasin (later this ship was also sold to Roble Shipping where she became the MV Cebu Diamond).
Starting in 1994, Cokaliong changed tack – from that time on, all their ships were purchased second-hand from Japan and it was the start of the RORO era for the company. This was already during the time of the Fidel Ramos administration when there were incentives for purchasing ships with the declared aim of modernization of our shipping industry. In this year, the Filipinas Surigao and the Filipinas Dinagat was added to the fleet of Cokaliong.
The names of the early ships indicate the early routes, too, of Cokaliong. From what I heard, Mr. Chester (as he is commonly called) was originally from Surigao.
In what may be the effect of the pressure from the creation of Cebu Ferries, it was five long years before another ship was bought by Cokaliong. And before that there were disposals of ships like when MV Filipinas Siargao was sold to breakers in 1997 (to Ting Guan) and when MV Filipinas Maasin (the second) was sold to Roble Shipping in 1998. I interpret this as preparation for the next purchase of ships. In 1999, three ships arrived for them – the MV Filipinas Dumaguete, the MV Filipinas Dapitan and the MV Filipinas Iloilo. The next year, in 2000, the third MV Filipinas Maasin arrived. With this purchases, I took it that Cokaliong will battle out in the Vismin ferry wars started with the creation of Cebu Ferries in 1996. The names of the ships indicate, too, the new routes of Cokaliong.
The six ships in the fleet – the MV Filipinas Surigao, MV Filipinas Dinagat, MV Filipinas Dumaguete, MV Filipinas Dapitan, MV Filipinas Iloilo and MV Filipinas Maasin carried Cokaliong for the better part of the first decade of the new millennium. Along this period, Cebu Ferries got weaker with the divestment of two of their three partners (William and Gothong) and began selling ships and dropping routes. There was already near-parity between Trans-Asia, Cebu Ferries and Cokaliong.
In the next year, in 2007, came the pattern of Cokaliong of adding ships every two years. But the difference in this series is they are buying not bigger but more modern and faster ships. In this year, MV Filipinas Cebu joined their fleet. It looks modern, it looks sleek, it looks beautiful and fit to be a flagship. In 2009, the MV Filipinas Ozamis came. A new bow was fitted her locally and she also looked good. In 2011, the MV Filipinas Iligan arrived and in the next year, her sister ship, the MV Filipinas Butuan followed her here. Not as sleek but they looked more modern than the early ships of the fleet. In 2014, the Filipinas Nasipit joined the fleet. This is one sleek, modern-looking and fast ship. And just two days ago, the MV Eins Soya arrived in Cebu. This is a ship smaller than their new breed and its Cokaliong name is still unknown at the moment.
Again, the names of ships of the new arrivals indicate the new routes opened by Cokaliong. But since some of the newer ships now ply the routes of the older ships, Cokaliong has to create new ports of call. Among these are Palompon in Leyte and Masbate.
With eleven ships in the fleet, Cokaliong now has the most ships among the Vismin ferry companies. They also have the most ports of call and the most departures especially since they use some the off-seventh day of their ships on short routes like Palompon, Maasin and Dumaguete. Meanwhile, the early thorn Cebu Ferries is now in the dustbin of history.
Cokaliong has already won many shipping awards in their relatively short existence (the trophies and banners are in their head office in Cebu). With the rate they are going, they are poised to win many more and observers are expecting their fleets and routes with grow in the coming years even though the second generation of Cokaliongs have already taken over. Mr. Chester, after all, has already clearly laid down the blueprint for the success of an overnight ferry company.