In 1976, when Negros Navigation Company (Nenaco) felt the need for another liner they bought the “Okinoshima Maru” from Kansai Kisen KK and this became the M/S Don Claudio in their fleet. From a line of four brand-new liners starting with the “Dona Florentina” in 1965 to “Don Julio” in 1967, to “Don Vicente” in 1969 to the “Don Juan” in 1971, Negros Navigation was forced to buy second-hand because of the fast deteriorating value of the peso. This was no disgrace to Negros Navigation since when Martial Law was declared in the Philippines in 1972, no passenger liner shipping company was still able to buy brand-new.
The “Okinoshima Maru” was a cruiser ferry which means she was not a RORO. When she was built in 1966, the age of ROROs has not yet fully bloomed (it will come very soon in the era of the “Bypasses of the Sea” which started in the late 1960’s). Hence, she handled cargo by booms and she had these equipment fore and aft. Later, those cargo booms also handled container vans LOLO (Lift On, Lift Off). However, her early booms were not strong enough for 20-foot container vans. She mainly handled XEUs or the squarish 10-foot container vans. Her front boom had that characteristic A-frame which was rather rare.
The “Okinoshima Maru” was built by Sanoyas Shipbuilding Corporation or Sanoyasu of Japan in their Osaka yard. Her keel was laid in July of 1965 and she was completed in February of 1966. A steel-hulled ship, she had a raked stem and a cruiser stern, the common design combination of that cruiser era. She had two masts and two passenger decks originally. Her top deck superstructure then was mainly for the crew. The ship’s permanent ID was IMO 6603373. In Japan she was classed for open-ocean navigation which means routes to the outside of the four main Japan island and not just to the Inland Sea routes of Japan.
The ship was 92.6 meters in Length Over-all (LOA), a Length Between Perpendiculars (LBP) of 86.4 meters and 14.4 meters in extreme breadth and so her size was more or less equal of the fast cruisers being rolled out then here (except for some former European cruiser liners which have lengths of over 100 meters). Her original Gross Register Tonnage (GRT) was 2,721 tons but this later this rose this rose to 2,863 when scantling for open-air third-class accommodations were added at the top deck. She had a load capacity in Deadweight Tonnage (DWT) of 1,950 tons. The ship’s depth was 8.4 meters which means she was more stable than the other liners of the Negros Navigation fleet. Well, her wider breath also helped in that department.
After internal renovations locally, she can already accommodate 895 passengers in different classes. That was about par with most of the fast cruisers of that era, the 1970’s. Later, her passenger capacity rose to 963 and her Net Register Tonnage (NRT) increased to 1,108 tons. That figure shows her internal revenue-generating space in terms of passengers and cargo. She was powered by a single Mitsui-B&W engine of 3,850 horsepower that was good enough for 18 knots. The company claimed that was still her speed here. This means she can be classified as a fast cruiser here. She was given the call sign DZOC in the Philippines.
In those days, the routes of Negros Navigation from Manila was only Bacolod and Iloilo and so she did those routes together with the other fast cruisers of the company like the “Dona Florentina”, the “Don Julio” and the “Don Juan”. For the two routes which was more or less equidistant, she took 22 hours of sailing. For passenger ingress and egress, she had that famous sliding door at both sides of the ship. It was a contraption that was reassuring when seas are rough. Her superstructure extended to the side of the ship and there are no outside passageways. She then sailed practically trouble-free with no controversy for the next twenty years.
In the middle of the 1990’s, when Negros Navigation began receiving new RORO liners, the “Don Claudio” began serving Roxas City (Culasi port) aside from the routes to Bacolod and Iloilo. When more RORO liners arrived for Negros Navigation, she and fellow cruiser “Don Julio” was assigned the shorter routes to the small ports of northern Panay. Initially, she held the the Manila-Roxas City-Estancia (Iloilo) route. A little later, she also held the Manila-Dumaguit (Aklan)-Roxas City route of “Don Julio” in competition with the bigger “Our Lady of Naju” of WG&A. Incidentally, both were cruisers. And a little later again she pioneered the Manila-Estancia-San Carlos City (Negros Occidental) route.
She was then just sailing at 16 knots which was still somewhat decent (that was just about the speed of “SuperFerry 3”, “Our Lady of Medjugorje” and “Our Lady of Sacred Heart”, the “Zambonga City”, “Tacloban Princess”, “Masbate I” and better than “Maynilad”, “Cebu Princess”, “Surigao Princess” and “Palawan Princess”). Of course she cannot match the newer, faster RORO liners. In her whole career with Negros Navigation, she only held short and medium distance routes which was the equivalent of an interport call of rival shipping companies which means a sailing time of less than a day. San Carlos City was the longest route she held for Negros Navigation.
One night when I was aboard a liner on the way to Mindanao (sorry, I can’t remember the name of the ship now) I was surprised to see her in Dumaguete port. I asked around and found out she was doing or Negros Navigation was trying a Bacolod-Dumaguete-Cagayan de Oro route. I wished then she would succeed as no shipping company tried that route before and it might have been a valid route although Negros Navigation was already doing the Bacolod-Cagayan de Oro route with their liners from Manila. That shunting to minor routes was the fate then of the old cruiser liners of Negros Navigation. It seemed they had nowhere to go and nobody would still buy cruisers then except for the ship breakers.
She, together with “Don Julio” and not-so-reliable-anymore “Santa Ana” (later renamed “Super Shuttle Ferry 8”) was transferred to Jensen Shipping Corporation which was an attempt to try to fit former liners into extended overnight routes. It was with this company that she was tried on a Cebu-Bacolod-Iloilo-Puerto Princesa route. Well, this route looks like a liner route to me with its distance and many ports of call. I liked it then when shipping companies will still try to find a route somehow for their old ferries (and that is a reason I have a dislike for one particular shipping company which mastered in the early selling ships to the breakers).
I cannot gather exactly when “Don Claudio” stopped sailing. A database said she was laid up in 2009 but I think it might have happened earlier than that. There was even a report she was broken up as early as 2003. She is no longer in the MARINA database and nor is Jensen Shipping Corporation reflected to still have ships or operating. In almost all likelihood, she is already in shipping heaven.
[Photo Credit: Ray Smith [Research Support: Gorio Belen] [Database Support: Jun Marquez/Mike Baylon/PSSS]