Image © Edison Sy
(Do not download or repost without permission)
In the years 1982-83, Sulpicio Lines, which was a little late in acquisition of RORO liners, made their own spurt. They acquired three ROROs (Roll On, Roll Off ships) — the MV Surigao Princess, the MV Cagayan Princess (which became the MV Boholana Princess in 1989) and the MV Cebu Princess (which became the MV Cagayan Princess in 1987). The three were not big ROROs and two would be later just known as Visayas-Mindanao overnight ferry-ROROs. MV Surigao Princess was just marginally bigger than the two but she had the best accommodations (as in up to Suite level) and she will be fielded as a small but good liner in an out-of-the-way route. In fact, the ship will become a Leyte specialist but not at its main ports.
In Japan, MV Surigao Princess was originally known as the MV Mutsu Maru No. 8. She was then owned by Higashi Nippon Ferry. This ferry was homeported in Hakodate, then the gateway to the northernmost Japan island of Hokkaido when there was no tunnel and bridge connection yet to that island. There, she was used as a short-distance ferry-RORO connecting Honshu and Hokkaido.
The MV Mutsu Maru No. 8 was built by Narasaki Zosen in Muroran, Japan in 1971 and given the ID IMO 7123291. She was 74.7 meters in over-all length and 14.2 in beam. The ship was rated in Japan at 1,223 gross register tons (GRT) and 852 deadweight tons (DWT). She had two masts, a raked bow and a transom stern. Steel-hulled, she had RORO ramps at the bow and at the stern and she was also equipped with bow thrusters. MV Mutsu Maru No. 8 had a total of 3,600 horsepower from her Daihatsu marine diesels which gave her an original top speed of 17.5 knots. In Japan, she had several sisters sisters especially the Mutsu Maru series and the Muroran Maru series.
As said earlier, this ship arrived in the Philippines in 1983 and through Dai-ichi Shipping. She was then converted to add passenger capacity, a normal practice then. An additional passenger deck was added at her navigation deck plus passenger accommodations were rebuilt for her conversion into a multi-day liner from a short-distance RORO. She then had four classes — the Suite, Cabin, Tourist and Economy –- in two and a half passenger decks (the front part of the car deck was converted into Tourist). With an added deck, her Gross Register Tonnage (GRT) declined to 1,035 tons, the product of the MARINA “magic meter” [more on this in later articles]. She then had a declared Net Tonnage (NT) of 402 and a DWT of 1,000 tons. Her passenger capacity rose to 802. She then was still capable of 16 knots.
Her name betrays her route, obviously. She was originally assigned to the Manila-Calubian-Palompon-Maasin-Surigao-Butuan (Nasipit) route, one of the longest routes then still remaining, computed in the number of sailing days. This route was actually a homage, too, to the origins of Sulpicio Lines which is Leyte. She would do a round-trip voyage in a week commencing on a Thursday 10AM Manila departure. Much later, at the start of 1994 she would drop the Nasipit call when MV Princess of Paradise arrived. However, they would add to her route the Masbate port. To compensate, she would depart Manila on Wednesdays at 8PM.
By this time, her engines were no longer that reliable and she and MV Palawan Princess (the former MV Dona Susana) will share route assignments. MV Palawan Princess was by then already displaced from her route, the Manila-Dumaguete-Dipolog-Cagayan de Oro-Ozamis route by the MV Philippine Princess (which also dropped the Cagayan de Oro and Dipolog (Dapitan) calls). When MV Palawan Princess was taking on her route, Sulpicio Lines will try to put her on the Nasipit-Cebu route if the balky MV Nasipit Princess can’t. Years later, I just wonder what ailed her engines (an oiler that fell aslept?) when her sister ships in the Philippines, the MV St. Kristopher and MV Viva Penafrancia 4, both of Viva Shipping Lines, were still running reliably then.
I once saw this lady in Verano port of Surigao City. I wanted to take her since I really wanted to experience the mystique of her route and do a “free tourism”. Sadly, I can’t because I am on the way to Bicol and I was not prepared to stay for the night in Masbate (she arrived late in the afternoon). In this route I was not prepared to take the MV Palawan Princess since she had no airconditioned accommodations and coupled with long in-port hours that was a little tough for me, I thought then.
Sometimes when MV Cebu Princess was not sailing, she would replace her in her route which by then had already compacted to Manila-Masbate-Ormoc-Cebu. That ship had calls to Calbayog and Catbalogan earlier between her Masbate and Ormoc calls before the MV Tacloban Princess arrived in 1990. MV Surigao Princess and MV Cebu Princess had almost the same size, amenities and speed and so rotating them with each other posed no problems. In fact, they were running the same seas for most of their routes.
MV Surigao Princess shouldered on even during the time of the shipping wars initiated by the “Great Merger” that produced the liner company WG&A. However, like all things there is an end and in 2004 she was sold to China breakers and she was broken up on April 7, 2004. The unreliable (like her) MV Princess of New Unity and MV Manila Princess of Sulpicio Lines were also sold to China breakers at about the same time. Maybe the three had to sacrifice so that the company can acquire the MV Princess of the Stars which was acquired too in 2004. Later, the MV Princess of the Stars will break the company but as they say that is an entirely different story.