The Longest Route After The War

The longest route after the war was the Manila-Cebu-Tagbilaran-Dumaguete-Zamboanga-Dadiangas-Davao route which was around 1,000 nautical miles in distance and which took up 6 days to cover. Some of the ships on this route actually still called in one or more ports (like Dipolog), some with less and in earlier days it was Maribojoc port on a nearby town which they used in Bohol.

Most of the ships that plied this route in the first two decades after the war were former, converted “FS” ships with a sprinkling of ex-“C1-M-AV1” ships. The first was much smaller than the but both were surplus cargo ships during the war which were only capable of 11 knots at most which made for a languorous voyage. 11 knots is actually the speed of the cargo ships of today (and even of old) and their speed actually betrayed their cargo ship origins.

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Gorio Belen research in the National Library

The ships plying the route takes nearly two weeks to be able to return to Manila. So to be able to offer a weekly voyage on a specific day, a shipping company should have a pair of ships sailing the route. When one is leaving Manila, the other will then be leaving Davao and they will cross path somewhere in Mindanao Sea if one is not delayed (the weather is one particular source of delays then because the ex-”FS” ships need to look for shelter when the weather acts up and roils the seas).

Long routes, if there are not enough rest for the engines on inter-port calls can be murderous for the engines. Of the two types most used here it was the former ex-”FS” ships which lasted longer and it outlasted the ex-”C1-M-AV1” ships. One reason maybe is because the latter is equipped with one engine only while the former had two and it had an electromechanical transmission (which meant less maintenance). Ex-”FS” ships generally lasted about 4 decades of service here before giving up. The were practically the “jeep” of the sea.

The leading shipping company then which was Compania Maritima had the luxury of using passenger-cargo ships from Europe in this route which were the almost-new MV Jolo, MV Cebu and MV Panay. Those ships were faster and had more passenger conveniences aside from being big. Two of their competitors which were William Lines and Carlos A. Go Thong & Company were only able to field former passenger-cargo ships from Europe to this route only in the late 1960’s. When those arrived Compania Maritima began deploying newer, bigger and faster ships from Europe like the MV Filipinas, MV Luzon and MV Visayas.

This route was really important then to the leading shipping companies and the route provided good load and high passenger load. One reason is the opening up of Mindanao for exploitation (in the real sense!) and the consequent coming of outsiders to the then-undivided Cotabato and Davao provinces. This route was their link to Cebu and Bohol. And this route was the artery of goods to and from Manila.

While this route could be murderous for the engines and taxing for the crews, I noticed that the shipping companies which stuck to this route lasted longer than the shipping companies that mainly did the Visayas routes only. Since passenger-cargo ships mainly carried the cargoes in those day and cargo is the bread and butter of shipping having a long route passing through more ports was more advantageous. Among the notable shipping companies then which did not try this route and did not last were General Shipping Company and Southern Lines Inc.

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Gorio Belen research in the National Library

Many shipping companies tried this route right after the war especially the bigger shipping companies. This route was not for the smaller companies because to do this route they must have enough ships because the ships won’t be at port again before two weeks. Some of the earlier ones did not last like Manila Steamship of Elizalde y Compania which quit shipping after the loss of their flagship. Another was De la Rama Steamship which left the local routes to concentrate on ocean-going routes.

Compania Maritima was the one which bet early in the route and they had the muscle to dominate the route. Among the others it was William Lines which tried to match them and since its fleet is not big it assigned almost all of their ships to this route and all of them were just ex-”FS” ships. But such was the belief of William Lines in this route (well, being a power too in Cotabato especially along Dadiangas which is General Santos today was also a factor for sure).

Philippine Steam and Navigation Company (PSNC) also did this route but their commitment was inconsistent and they eventually withdrew from this route. But they and its successor Aboitiz Shipping Corporation were the ones which experimented on different wayports to reach Davao. Just like what Sweet Lines did later. Carlos A. Go Thong & Company also perservered in this route starting the mid-1950’s when they became a national liner operation.

When the former passenger-cargo ships from Europe started arriving for William Lines and Carlos A. Go Thong & Company (and also to upstart Dacema Lines) in the late 1960’s, the ex-”FS” ships of this route were slowly relegated to shorter routes although that type was still used in this route up to the late 1970’s. By that time they were functioning more like cargo ships already and as carrier in the inter-port routes. In the Philippines which has no tradition of sending ships to the breakers until it is no longer capable of sailing, it also meant still trying to find a role for these old but sturdy ships.

The nature of this route started to change in the middle 1970’s when a new type of ship arrived, the fast cruiser liners. This new type ambitioned to have weekly sailing and so it tried to make the voyage to Davao in just three days or even less. To make this possible the number of wayports where they will call was drastically cut back and that is just to one which is Cebu port. So for the new fast cruiser liners the route suddenly shrank to just Manila-Cebu-Davao (and that practically torpedoed the old route since passengers no longer want to be cooped in ships that long).

I think this was also the reason and situation why Iloilo suddenly became “the” wayport to Davao instead of Cebu. The route is shorter and it still afforded a call to Zamboanga which was difficult for a ship calling in Cebu. With the fast cruiser liners, the old ship and route did not go away entirely immediately. Actually the old ships and route served as adjuncts but as if it is the “second class”.

Another alternative and adjunct-competitor was the arrival en masse of a new type of ship, the container ships which began to multiply starting in 1979. Many were of the express type and it either sailed direct or with just one wayport. Slowly this type killed the old, slow passenger-cargo ships and in 1980 and 1981 a lot of them were already laid up. The selling point then already was the speed of shipment and the security afforded by the new container vans (in terms of protection against pilferage and damage in handling and because of the rains). For the passengers they no longer wanted a 6-day voyage even though they were fed the entire way.

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Gorio Belen research in the National Library

In the 1980’s, this old longest route was practically gone already with the forced retirement or reassignment of the ships which once sailed the route (actually the ex-”C1-M-AV1” type was gone earlier when its engines gave up in the 1970’s and many were simply sent to the breakers). The main carriers, the ex-”FS” ships were also on their last legs and getting more unreliable and no longer suited for this distance.

Now that long route is just a distant memory. But the passengers and shippers relying on it in the inter-port routes suffered and has to take other means of commute or shipping and that sometimes meant the uncomfortable bus. This is a route that will never come back (and gone was the free tourism associated with it).

Well, things change and times change too.

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