The 110-meter RORO Liners

Many people would not look much at them and much more admire them especially since bigger liners came so soon after them but to me the 110-meter RORO liners also occupy a certain niche in our shipping history. They actually arrived when our shipping companies were reeling from financial crisis, there were not much incentives yet from the government and interest rates were still very high and actually the first ones were acquired when the country was in great crisis, politically and economically during the meltdown of the Marcos dictatorship. Many of these liners were built up to maximize passenger capacity especially the latter ones to better fill up our lack of bottoms (ships) then that when I look at these liners what comes to my mind is that they are the passenger equivalent here of the “pocket battleships” which tried to do the role of their bigger counterparts but of course they didn’t have their punch nor even their speed.

When these “pocket battleships” came what was then still ruling our waves were the fast cruiser liners, the biggest of which were also in the 110-meter class. To the first which acquired the 110-meter liners it looked to me that they were trying to leapfrog the main “practitioners” of the fast cruiser liners which were Sulpicio Lines and William Lines which were then already occupying the Top Two in the local totem pole of shipping since ertswhile leader, the venerable Compania Maritima was already in its final tailspin. However, they did not vault to top slot since vaulting to that place mean steady and programmed acquisitions of ships in bigger numbers, as shown by experience and history. I would say though that it was a brave move by them especially it came in a period of great crisis.

The early main “practitioner” of the 110-meter RORO liners was, you guessed it, was the first bringer of the fast luxury cruiser here and that was the still-revered-up-to-now Sweet Lines. Was anybody surprised? They did this by bringing in the replacement of the revered Sweet Faith, the first fast luxury cruiser in the country which was broken up in 1980. The replacement ship was the Sweet RORO which came in 1982 and like the Sweet Faith the ship was a pioneer. This ship was the former Ferry Ruby of the Diamond Ferry of Japan and she was built by Onomichi Zosen in 1970. This ferry was 117.5 meters in length with a design speed of 18 knots which converted to about 17-17.5 knots here (and maybe a little forced, I think), enough to keep up with the fast cruiser liners then sailing at 18 knots. Sweet RORO had a passenger capacity of 1,700 persons which was higher that the fast cruiser liners then that were slightly smaller than her.

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Sweet RORO by Lindsay Bridge

The next year, Sweet Lines brought in the Sweet RORO 2 which later became the future Sweet Glory in their fleet. Though technically not a 110-meter ship as her length was 120.8 meters but then for all practical purposes she was also a 110-meter class ships. This ferry was the former Ferry Katsura of the Osaka Kochi Express Ferry in Japan and she had an original top speed too of 18 knots like the Sweet RORO. However, her passenger capacity is rather low at only 1,301 but that figure is about the same as the passenger capacity of the competing fast cruiser liners then. But then being taller, the RORO liners have a greater gross tonnage compared to a fast cruiser liner of the same length which means she has more available passenger space.

Sweet Glory

Sweet RORO 2 as Sweet Glory by Edison Sy

It was Negros Navigation which was the second local shipping company to have a “pocket battleship” when they acquired the Santa Florentina in 1983 which was the replacement for their fast cruiser liner Dona Florentina which was hit by fire and beached in the same year. The Santa Florentina was the former Okudogo of Kurushima Dock, a shipyard which operated ships to keep them sailing. This RORO liner was really a “pocket battleship” because her passenger capacity was super-maxed at 2,155. She was only the second local liner whose passenger capacity exceeded 2,000 after the Dona Virginia of William Lines and hers was even slightly higher and so when she was fielded she was the record holder as the liner with the highest passenger capacity in local waters. And to think the Dona Virginia‘s length was 143.5 meters although their gross tonnages are just about the same (hard to say which really has the greater GT as the GT of both declined from Japan and that measure is commonly understated here).

Santa Florentina

Sta. Florentina by Edison Sy

With the great economic and political crisis that started to peak in 1983 with the assassination of Ninoy Aquino, the acquiring of liners in this class halted. Interest rates were crazy then and it was really hard to find financing especially if the money needed was in foreign currency (as our dollar reserves were already too low then). Actually, in the succeeding two years, 1984 and 1985 no liners were ever acquired save for the small liner Princess of Antique of Palawan Shipping and the only other steel-hulled ferries ever acquired in those two years were the Leyte Queen of K&T Shipping (the later Leyte Star of Maypalad Shipping), the Viva Sta. Maria of Viva Shipping Lines and the Dona Cristina of Carlos A. Gothong Lines which were just overnight ferries whose length are much less than 100 meters. Also coming in 1984 was the Maharlika II of the government which was a locally-built ship and might have been delayed in completion because of the crisis. In 1986, only two small liners were acquired, the Our Lady of Guadalupe of Carlos A. Gothong Lines and the Boholana Princess of Sulpicio Lines and both of those were also below 100 meters in length.

It was already in 1987 when the crisis started to ebb with the overthrow of the dictatorship that bigger RORO liners were again acquired. Sweet Lines led the way with the acquisition of the Sweet Baby, the former White Sanpo in Japan which was actually not in the 110-meter class technically because she was 125.6 meters in length but her gross tonnage was also just 4,545 and just about the same as the Santa Florentina of Negros Navigation. Her passenger capacity was not maxed (only 1,550 persons), her superstructure was not modified and she was just like the earlier Sweet Faith whose passenger accommodations were all airconditioned. However, she was faster as her design speed was 19.5 knots because she possessed bigger engines than the 110-meter class ferries.

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Sweet Baby (Credits to Manila Chronicle and Gorio Belen)

There was a liner that came for Negros Navigation in 1988, the Sta. Ana that for all practical purposes was like a 110-meter liner especially since she was fully built-up and her superstructure extended fully from side to side and her gross tonnage was high for the 110-meter class. She was actually only 107.3 meters in length but her gross tonnage was 7,909 and her passsenger capacity also breached the 2,000 mark at 2,106. She had a design speed of 21 knots which was high for the 110-meter class. The ferry was the former Nichinan Maru and Ferry Muroto in Japan and she was built in 1973 by Hashihama Zosen in Hashihama Japan. She was acquired from Muroto Kisen K.K.

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Sta. Ana as Super Shuttle RORO 8 by Rodney Orca

A true 110-meter ferry came here the next year 1989, the former Emerald Amami of the A” Line which came to William Lines as the Zamboanga City. At other times this RORO liner was simply known as the Zamboanga. She was 117.1 meters in length and unlike the others she had a cargo boom at the front of the ship. This ship was built by Niigata Engineering in Niigata Japan in 1975. The ferry had a passenger capacity of 1,875 persons and her sustained top speed was 20 knots (although her engine horsepower was high for a 110-meter class ferry).

After 1989, there was a lull in the acquisition of 110-meter ships. What was happening then was bigger RORO liners at 120, 130 and 140 meters were being acquired by the shipping companies. The economic conditions then were already better, interest rates had subsided and economic activity and optimism picked up and so maybe the liner companies thought it was time to go for bigger ships.

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Princess of Negros by Rodney Orca

It was only in 1992 when another 110-meter liner came when Negros Navigation acquired the sister ship of the Santa Florentina, the Okodugo No. 2 in Japan which became their flagship Princess of Negros. This ship has the same external dimensions of her sister ship but her passenger capacity was not maximized so it only stood out at 1,499, just some 70% of her sister ship which translates to more available passenger areas. Studying the superstructures of the two they were similar but not really identical. Like her sister ship, this ferry was also built by Kochi Jyuko in Kochi, Japan but in 1973 (her sister ship was built in 1972). She was purchased from Ehime-Hanshin Ferry K.K.

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San Paolo by Rodney Orca

Another 110-meter RORO liner came to Negros Navigation in 1993 and like the Princess of Negros the passenger capacity was not maxed. This was the San Paolo which was 118.0 meters in length and had a passenger capacity of 1,750 persons. The ship has a design speed of 19 knots and she was the former Saint Paulia of the Nippon Car Ferry in Japan. I thought then for the Iloilo and Bacolod routes of Negros Navigation this size and their speed was just enough but later Negros Navigation Company (NENACO) acquired bigger and more beautiful ships because although they have a monopoly in Bacolod their competition Aboitiz Shipping, William Lines and Sulpicio Lines were showing bigger ships (although not necessarily better except for one the Mabuhay 1) in Iloilo port. The battles of prides, bragging rights and one-upmanship was probably the main reason why in so short a time our RORO liners got bigger and bigger and faster and faster (was there really enough economic reason for that then?). Until now I still have doubts about the fit of those ferries but hey! from the passenger side they were really great and I personally enjoyed them. Such was the optimism of those years.

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SuperFerry 3 by Britz Salih

In 1993 also, Aboitiz Shipping Corporation which was on the comeback trail in liner shipping rolled out their SuperFerry 3 which was only 118.0 meters in length and breadth like the San Paolo (and they could actually be sister ships) but the passenger capacity of this ferry was super-maxed at 2,116 a la Santa Florentina and Santa Ana. The SuperFerry 3 was the former Hamayu of Miyazaki Car Ferry in Japan and built by Hayashikane Zosen in 1971. Her design speed was 20 knots but here she only runs at 16 knots because actually her engines were actually a little smaller than the other 110-meter RORO liners. As a note, she might have been the last 110-meter RORO liner “pocket battleship” fielded because our liners then became bigger as the years went by and they looked like small already compared to those aside from the disadvantage of a slower speed.

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Our Lady of the Rule by Mike Baylon

On another note, there was a Japan-Korea ferry that came here in 1993, the former Ferry Kampu. She was not used as a RORO liner but as an overnight ferry of Carlos A. Gothong Lines in the Cebu-Cagayan de Oro route. In appointments she could have been a liner. This was the Our Lady of the Rule which was 114.7 meters in length. An overnight ferry she only had a built-up capacity for 1,170 persons which was rather modest but just enough for an overnight ferry. If she had an Achilles heel as a liner is her design speed is only 16.5 knots and translated here that might come out at only 14 knots which is more or less unacceptable for a liner and so maybe that was the reason why she just became an overnight ship in the premier Visayas-Mindanao route. This ferry was built by the little-known Taihei Dockyard in Akitsu, Japan in 1970.

After 1993, the 110-meter “pocket battleship” seemed passe already and none came anymore. Our liners became bigger and faster and these “pocket battleships” were looked down by some already especially they cannot match the bigger RORO liners in speed. That was especially true after the “Great Merger” which produced WG&A when speed was one of the selling points and these “pocket battleships” are finding difficulty looking for “appropriate” routes and they were often shunted to minor routes except for Negros Navigation which continued to use them in the Iloilo and Bacolod routes but with more difficulty.

Of the “pocket battleships” it was the San Paolo of Negros Navigation which lived the longest and she sailed until the era when liner patronage has already slipped so much. She was finally sold to the breakers in 2011 and this class of liners ceased to exist locally.

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Trans-Asia 3 by Karl Sabuga

As a last note, the Trans-Asia 3 of Trans-Asia Shipping Lines is also 110 meters in length but she is an overnight ship. However, she can be a future template of a revived 110-meter liner class for the current era when liner patronage is no longer strong. She is fast with a design speed of 20 knots from just 9,000 horsepower combined engine output because she is more modern. As such she can match the speed of the 130 to 140-meter class ferries of before which came here which sailed at 17.5 to 18 knots locally.

I think it is time to revive now the 110-meter RORO liner class.

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