Carlos A. Gothong Lines Incorporated Is Still Fighting Back

When the original shipping company Carlos A. Gothong & Company broke up in 1972, one of the successor companies was Carlos A. Gothong Lines Incorporated (CAGLI or Gothong Lines) owned by the scions of the founder Don Carlos A. Gothong. It was eclipsed early by Sulpicio Lines Incorporated which was owned by the once operations manager of the mother company. And then its operation and fleet even got smaller in 1980 when Lorenzo Shipping Corporation of Lorenzo Go and two other siblings went their separate way (this company was later sold to the Magsaysay Shipping Group but later the scions of Lorenzo Go founded the Oceanic Container Lines Incorporated which now has the biggest number of container ships in the country which has the “Ocean” series).

Carlos A. Gothong Lines Inc. again became a significant national liner company in the 1990’s when again they built a fleet of liners starting in 1986 and more significantly in 1987 when they acquired the sister ships Our Lady of Fatima and the Our Lady of Lourdes. The sister ships Sto. Nino de Cebu (the later Our Lady of Medjugorje) and the beautiful Our Lady of Sacred Heart, both acquired in 1990 cemented their national liner position and the big liner Our Lady of Akita, acquired in 1993 declared their intention to play in the big leagues.

The rising company got absorbed when they acquiesced to the creation of big merged shipping company WG & A (which stood for William, Gothong and Aboitiz) in late 1995 and that included their small fleet of RORO Cargo ships and also their Visayas-Mindanao overnight ferries. In this merged company their main representative to the Board of Directors was Bob Gothong who was close to the Aboitizes and not the eldest Bowen Gothong.

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Butuan Bay 1 by Vinz Sanchez

While Bob Gothong never veered from the Aboitiz orbit (take note it was Aboitiz Jebsens which was in charge of the operations fleet maintenance of WG & A), the other siblings of Bob Gothong were not satisfied with the state of things in the merged company and in 2001 they asked out and the process of divestment began. Even before the divestment was completed the revived Carlos A. Gothong Lines Incorporated already had the Butuan Bay 1 ready to sail the Manila-Cebu-Nasipit route which was considered lucky for them and where they were very strong in cargo historically. Instead of being paid in ships, the Gothong siblings were paid in cash (while Bob Gothong remained with WG&A) and for this to happen a lot of WG&A ships, both ROPAX and container ships had to be sold to China ship breakers for cash.

With the proceeds in the divestment that did not include Bob Gothong, the Gothong siblings led by Bowen Gothong acquired the big Manila Bay 1 and Subic Bay 1 in 2003 and 2004, respectively which were as big as their old Our Lady of Akita which burned in 2000 as the SuperFerry 6. The two was followed by the Ozamis Bay 1, also in 2004 and by the Cagayan Bay 1, the sister ship of SuperFerry 2 and SuperFerry 5, in 2007. At its peak the revived Carlos A. Gothong Lines Incorporated had a total of 5 ROPAXes (RORO-Passenger ships) plus a valuable wharf in the new reclaimed land in Mandaue adjacent the Cebu International Port or Cebu Pier 6. But though they had five ferries, the revived CAGLI was only able to regain a limited presence in the Visayas-Mindanao routes which were once dominated by them together with the Trans-Asia Shipping Lines Incorporated.

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The revived Gothong Lines did not prove to be very successful. When they re-entered liner shipping, many passengers were already leaving the liners and they were going to the budget airlines and the intermodal buses using short-distance ferry-ROROs. Cargo was also shifting too to the intermodal system because of the high container rates and the hassles of hauling container vans to the Port of Manila from road congestion to criminality and to the rampant mulcting of the so-called “authorities”. In those years it seemed there was a surplus of bottoms which meant excess ships, a possible result of liberalization and incentives programs of President Fidel V. Ramos.

Gothong Lines then became notorious for late departures and arrivals because they gave preference to cargo which earns more than carrying passengers and they were actually never strong in the passenger department. Repeated complaints led the maritime authority MARINA (Maritime Industry Authority) to suspend their permit to carry passengers. With that happening Gothong Lines simply converted their ROPAXes into RORO Cargo ships just carrying container vans and vehicles.

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With weakness in this business too, soon Cagayan Bay 1 and Ozamis Bay 1 soon found themselves laid up in the Gothong wharf in Mandaue and Butuan Bay 1 was sold after an engine explosion and it became the Trans-Asia 5 of Trans-Asia Shipping Lines Incorporated (TASLI). So in the recent years it was only Manila Bay 1 and Subic Bay 1 which were sailing for Gothong Lines and it seemed the two was enough for their limited cargo and routes. However, as RORO Cargo ships they were inefficient because of their big engines. But even then Gothong Lines were offering discounts and cheap rates in general which only showed how overpriced are container rates in the country. Recently, Cagayan Bay 1 and Ozamis Bay 1 were sold to the breakers but their hulls are still in the Gothong wharf in Mandaue as of the writing of this article.

Many speculated what will happen next to Gothong Lines with two inefficient and obsolescent ships and some were even asking if they will soon cease operations as their two ships were already clearly old and might even be too big for their routes. For me, I always look at their wharf which they retained and I know it is very valuable in terms of market value. Actually, the container shipping company established by their brother Bob Gothong, the Gothong Southern Shipping Lines Incorporated (GSSLI) does not even have an equivalent although it is the more progressive and booming company.

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Panglao Bay 1

Recently, two RORO Cargo ships arrived in the Gothong wharf one after another and they were still relatively new by Philippine standards. These are the Panglao Bay 1 and the Dapitan Bay 1 and from the look of things they are the replacements of Subic Bay 1 and Manila Bay 1. Actually, some three months ago as of the writing of this article, the Subic Bay 1 was already pulled by tugs and it seems here destination is a ship breaker somewhere in South Asia. That happened when the Panglao Bay 1 was already sailing for them. It is speculated that the Manila Bay 1 will be disposed of when Dapitan Bay 1 will already be sailing. In reality, it is possible she already has a buyer now.

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The Panglao Bay 1 was built in 1995 and her external dimensions are 128 meters by 22 meters with a Gross Tonnage (GT) of 5,930 in cubic volume and a cargo capacity of 4,946 tons in Deadweight Tonnage (DWT). Meanwhile, the Dapitan Bay 1 is officially a Vehicle Carrier and was built in 1992 and has the external dimensions 145 meters by 21 meters and has a cubic volume of 7,073 tons in GT and a DWT of 4,485 tons. This ship has different specifications depending on the maritime database. Whatever, these two ships are already the ships of Gothong Lines for the future and they look like worthy replacements for the Subic Bay 1 and Manila Bay 1 though they are a little smaller (but the engines are smaller too which is a plus). But then Gothong Lines might have already studied their cargo capacity needs and concluded that the sizes of the two fits them just right.

And so Carlos A. Gothong Lines Inc. is still fighting back. That is good news as they are the bearer of one of the most storied names in Philippine shipping history.

The Ship Design Conflict Within WG & A

On the first day of the year 1996, the “Great Merger” officially happened. This brought the fleets and all assets of William Lines Inc. (WLI), Carlos A. Gothong Lines Inc. (CAGLI) and Aboitiz Shipping Corporation (ASC) under one single company and management except for some very old ferries of Aboitiz Shipping Corporation (the likes of Legazpi) and a some ferries and container ships of Aboitiz Jebsens (that was a separate company) which were the container ships acquired from the Ukraine. This was supposedly a preemptive move so local shipping can compete against the purported entry of foreign competition in the inter-island routes which proved to be a bogey or a false story later. How some old shipping families believed that foreigners can enter with a Anti-Cabotage Law in effect that forbids foreign shipping firms from sailing in local routes is beyond me because repeal of any law passes through Congress and our Congress is usually not keen on passing laws that grants free passage to foreigners and if those three liner and container shipping companies are willing, the regional shipping companies and other companies might not be willing and they can also raise a ruckus. But anyway the unlikely merger happened and a very big shipping company was formed from previously competitors.

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Dona Virginia (Credits to Palawan Wildlife Rescue and Conservation Center and Manu Sarmiento)

Any merger usually results in excess assets and in shipping that includes ships aside from management personnel and employees and logistical assets like containers, container yards and buildings. This was easily obvious with the WG&A merger. Since there were excess liners some of it were sent to its regional subsidiary Cebu Ferries Corporation (CFC) like when the Mabuhay 6 (the Our Lady of Good Voyage) and the Our Lady of Lipa were sent there. Meanwhile, all the cruisers liners were offered for sale. They also tried to dispose old and unreliable ROROs like the Dona Cristina, Don Calvino and the Dona Lili that were formerly regional ferries. Actually even some recent liners were also offered for sale. The total was about 10 and that was already about a third of the combined fleet. That also included a handful of container ships.

I knew it early there was a conflict with the disposal of ships when I had as a cabin mate in SuperFerry 7 the cargo manager of William Lines in North Harbor and he was furious because to him it seems that the liners of William Lines were being targeted. Well, that might have been the unintended result of getting Aboitiz Jebsens as fleet and maintenance manager because they will use their old standard in choosing ships (that company was subsequently renamed to WG&A Jebsens to reflect the changed circumstances).

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Don Calvino (Credits to George Tappan and Gorio Belen)

One has to look into recent history to understand this. Aboitiz Shipping Corporation as a liner company did not acquire any liners from 1974 to 1988 and the one they acquired in 1988 was inconsequential as it was just the small and old cruiser liner Katipunan of Escano Lines which became the Legaspi 1. By that time Aboitiz Shipping Corporation had just a few old liners sailing, a combination of former “FS” ships which were on its last legs and a few old cruisers including the pair acquired from Everett Steamship, the Legazpi and the Elcano which were also clearly obsolete already and getting unreliable. It looked to me that without their partner Jebsens Maritime that was influential in their container shipping (which was actually good), they might not have had their blockbuster SuperFerry series.

If one looks at the SuperFerry series of Aboitiz Shipping Corporation, one will easily see its distinguishing characteristics. They are all ROROs (or more exactly ROPAXes) with car ramps at the bow and at the stern, the container vans are all mounted in trailers, trailer caddies hauled them in a fast manner and if possible the two car ramps are both employed so one is dedicated for loading and the other for unloading. Radios are also employed for communication to orchestrate the movement of the container vans so a trailer caddy hauling a container aboard will have a container being unloaded on the way down and markers are used so loading of container vans will not be helter-skelter which can mean difficulty in unloading a container van in an intermediate port.

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Maynilad by Britz Salih

To remedy their serious lack of liners due to non-purchase in the recent years past, Aboitiz Shipping Corporation and Aboitiz Jebsens designed their liners to have short interport hours as in 2 to 3 hours only, the former the preferred time. In Manila and in the endport, the port hours were also very short. With this kind of operation the SuperFerries had a high number of hours at sea on a weekly basis which meant maximum utilization. While a Sulpicio Lines liner will only have a round-trip voyage if the route is Southern Mindanao, an Aboitiz ship will still have a short trip to the likes of Panay within the same week or else do a twice a week Northern Mindanao voyage. With this style, their 4 SuperFerry ships were in practicality the equal of 5 or 6 ships of the competition. Of course with this kind of use of ships a heavy load of preventive maintenance is needed and that happened to be the forte of Aboitiz Jebsens.

When the Chiongbian and Gothong families agreed to the Aboitiz proposal to have Aboitiz Jebsens as fleet and maintenance manager they should have already known was in store and that is the liners should perform the Aboitiz Jebsens way and that meant those which can’t will fall into disfavor and might be the target for culling because with the Aboitiz Jebsens system a lesser number of liners will be needed to maintain their route system and frequencies. Of course at the start WG & A will try to employ all the liners that were not relegated to their subsidiary Cebu Ferries Corporation. But then new liners were still coming onstream, the liners William Lines, Gothong Lines and Aboitiz Shipping ordered when they were still separate companies. WG & A created new routes and frequencies but in a short time they realized what cannot be maintained because there are not enough passengers or cargo like the routes to Tacloban and Dipolog (Dapitan actually) and the Manila-Dumaguete-Cotabato and Manila-Cebu-Surigao-Davao routes.

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Tacloban City (Credits to Times Journal and Gorio Belen)

With that “weak” and “inefficient” ships will be targets for culling aside from the old liners and there was no question that cruiser liners will be first in the firing line. That type cannot carry much cargo and their cargo handling in the interport is longer as cargo booms are not as fast in loading and unloading unlike trailer caddies. So it was no surprise that the cruiser liners Misamis OccidentalTacloban City and Iligan City, formerly of William Lines were almost immediately up for sale. The small ROPAX Zamboanga City was also offered for sale because her engines were big relative to her size and capacity (16,800-horsepower engines) and she had no ramps at the bow. That also went true for the slow Maynilad (14-15 knots only on 16,800 horsepower). The problem with these is they were all former William Lines ship, the reason why some former William Lines people were upset. But they accepted Aboitiz Jebsens as the fleet manager and so that will almost inevitably be the result.

Some lesser liners survived. The “Our Lady” ships of Gothong Lines survived because for their size and capacity their engines were small and that speaks of efficiency and though while a little slower they were fit for the short routes like the northern Panay routes (Dumaguit and Roxas City) or in the periphery like Masbate and Eastern Visayas. The northern Panay route also became the refuge of the Our Lady of Naju, a former Gothong ship which was also a cruiser. The passengers and cargo of the route were not big and so a big cruiser liner like the Dona Virginia will not fit. But of course all that favored the former Gothong ships. It might just have been a quirk of fate and not necessarily because the Gothong representative to the WG & A Board of Directors who is Bob Gothong is close to the Aboitizes. But then I wonder how the Our Lady of Lipa survived. For her size she has big engines and speed was not really needed in the Dumaguit/Roxas City route. Was it because they wanted to show up their competitor the old but beautiful cruiser liner Don Julio of Negros Navigation? I thought when the old cruiser liner Misamis Occidental was refurbished to become the cruiser ship Our Lady of Montserrat, a former William Lines vessel she might have fitted the route (she was even re-engined and became all-airconditioned like the Our Lady of Naju). Was her speed not really enough for the route? Or WG & A wants a ship that is really superior to the competition?

Our Lady of Banneux

Credits to Keppel Cebu and Ken Ledesma

It was not surprising then that in the early merger years that former William Lines officers and employees would think it was only their vessels which was on the firing line or chopping block.

The beautiful SuperFerry 11 which was fielded after the merger was also not that favored. Her engines are just about okay for her size, she has the speed but then like the Zamboanga City she has no car ramps at the bow because she also came from A” Lines of Japan. She was also destined for William Lines if the merger did not happen. The beautiful Maynilad would have easily been a SuperFerry in terms of size and accommodations if not for her grave lack of speed. Being excess later the SuperFerry 11 and Maynilad were passed to Cebu Ferries Corporation and they were the biggest ships that company ever had. That was after WG & A created an entirely new route for them, the Manila-Ormoc-Nasipit route which in first report was good. But then along the years WG & A and successor company Aboitiz Transport System (ATS) developed a reputation for being very soft in holding and maintaining routes. In Cebu Ferries the SuperFerry 11 was renamed to Our Lady of Banneux and the Maynilad was renamed to Our Lady of Akita 2 after her top passenger deck was removed. The two happened to be ex-William Lines ships also! Although not clearly disfavored (as she made the SuperFerry grade), the Our Lady of Banneux which can run at up to 19 knots had a grounding incident in Canigao Channel from which she never recovered again.

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The ship Zamboanga by Wilben Santos

So actually the William liners were the great casualties of the merger due to redundancy and incompatibility and that was because they were unlike the original SuperFerry liners and they simply cannot make the SuperFerry grade (well, just like the former “Our Lady” ships of Gothong Lines only one of those made the SuperFerry grade, the former Our Lady of Akita which became the SuperFerry 6). Of course their former Mabuhay 1 and Mabuhay 3 which made the SuperFerry grade lived longer. The former Mabuhay 2 was not lucky as she was hit by fire early which led to complete total loss. In the longer run only the Mabuhay 1 and Mabuhay 3 survived and the Mabuhay 3 as SuperFerry 8 was even leased to Papua New Guinea because of the surplus of liners in WG & A.

The liners of Carlos A. Gothong Lines Inc. (CAGLI) were more lucky as they found niche routes and small engines played into their favor. Moreover many of the former Gothong Lines ships were in regional routes and they lived long there including their former small liners the Our Lady of Fatima and the Our Lady of Lourdes which were sister ships. That even included the venerable Our Lady of the Rule and their old Our Lady of Guadalupe which has unreliable engines and I even wonder how she lasted so long. In the regional routes some former ships of William Lines survived like the Our Lady of Good Voyage and the Our Lady of Manaoag.

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Dona Lili (Credits to PNA, Phil. Daily Express and Gorio Belen)

When the Chiongbian family of William Lines divested in 2003 only 2 of their former liners remained in WG & A aside from a few container ships. They were paid off in cash from the passenger and container ships that were scrapped. There were still many Gothong ships in the fleet of WG & A when they divested as most survived the culling but they preferred newly-acquired ships when they restarted independent operations.

And that was the story of the ship design conflict in WG & A which have been one of the reasons why the “Great Merger” unraveled so soon.

Now They Are Selling The Shipping Company With The Ships They Say Are The Most Modern

What is happening?

Shipping news recently said that the Cusi family is selling Starlite Ferries to Chelsea Shipping which has recently gained control of 2GO, the only national liner shipping company left and Trans-Asia Shipping Lines Inc. (TASLI), once the biggest regional shipping company in the Visayas before the advent of Cebu Ferries Corporation (CFC). When to think Alfonso Cusi is politically powerful and influential in his own right being in and out of government at usually Cabinet level.

Until just recently Starlite Ferries was very proud of their brand-new series of ships from Japan which is supposedly the best in the short-distance routes. These ships are a series of ten ships financed through a leasing window of the government-owned Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP), the DBP Leasing Corporation. This window is the arm of the government in modernizing our shipping industry and for Starlite Ferries to corner ten ships speaks of their clout.

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Starlite Archer, the latest ship of Starlite Ferries (Photo by Jon Erodias)

Just a while ago Starlite Ferries announced they are extending the run of these modern ships from ten to twenty because they said they were expanding operations to the ASEAN Region which if it materialized will be our first foray ever in international passenger shipping operations. The news was believable because in the ASEAN Free Trade Zone any company should in theory would be allowed free entry in any country within the FTZ.

Now this news of the sell-out looks like a hot potato being dropped and of course questions will be raised.

Starlite Ferries already had nine ROPAXes (RORO-Passenger ships) and two fastcrafts when they started to acquire a series of ten brand-new ferries from Japan which to me, with its size looks better if it had been used in overnight routes rather than the short-distance routes. I was puzzled when they first announced it because they have only four routes – Batangas-Abra de Ilog, Batangas-Puerto Galera, Batangas-Calapan and Roxas-Caticlan which are all Mindoro routes. Mindoro is the origin of Alfonso Cusi, the founder and owner of Starlite Ferries.

I thought if they will acquire ten new ships then all old ships have to be disposed unless they create new routes. But then Alfonso Cusi was jeering our old ferries and so I thought he will really dispose his old ships. That is if he is true to his word.

But then I never saw a shipping company dominate a route simply because their ferries were all-new. One simply has to look at the experience of Maharlika I and Maharlika II then in the eastern seaboard routes of Matnog-San Isidro and Liloan-Lipata. They did not dominate. Schedules, discounts and rates are decision points too for shippers and passengers and it is not only the newness of the ship that matters. If it is 12 noon and the new ship will still be available at 3 or 4pm the shippers and the passengers will not wait for that. That is particularly true in the short-distance routes which are the routes of Starlite Ferries.

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A view of the stern of one of the new ships of Starlite Ferries (Photo by Carl Jakosalem)

There was news then that Starlite Ferries will enter the overcrowded Cebu-Western Leyte routes through the Cebu-Ormoc route. But though Starlite Ferries already had its new ferries nothing came out of that rumor. They were still on their home base and they still have no new routes while their fleet expanded by about 50% already and they were already shelling out amortization and carrying costs for the new ferries. And with probably no additional income to boot. Somehow something have give as additional ferries are being built for them in Japan. Was the ASEAN routes just a trial balloon?

If Starlite Ferries was doing well as what can be concluded from their press releases and as indicated by their new ships then why the sell-out?

I do not know if theirs is a case of biting what they cannot chew. A PhP 2.4 billion loan without new successful routes and with no sign competition is backing down is not easy to digest. Their new ships have no technical edge over competition unlike the new FastCats of Archipelago Philippine Ferries. It is simply new, nothing more. Maybe that was the reason there was rumor they will be given exclusive routes. But to where? Franchises or Certificates of Public Conveyance (CPC) of the competition can’t simply be cancelled. And maybe that was the reason for the underhanded push to get rid of 35-year old ferries through a questionable administrative fiat which has actually no empirical basis.

Is Alfonso Cusi bailing out before he chokes? The shipping company that acquired Starlite Ferries which is Chelsea Shipping has owners and patrons with very deep pockets. And they have cheap fuel and lubricants to boot which could be decisive in making sense for the new ferries of Starlite.

I am just reminded of a critical juncture in our shipping history in the 1960’s when we already needed to enlarge our inter-island passenger-cargo fleet. Some national liner companies like Escano Lines, General Shipping Corporation, Compania Maritima and Southern Lines Inc. took the route of acquiring loans to order brand-new ships from the National Shipyards and Steel Corporation (NASSCO) and West Germany shipyards. They regretted their decisions eventually.

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Port view of one of the new ships. Starlite Pioneer is the lead ship of the series (Photo by Carl Jakosalem)

Meanwhile at the same time Carlos A. Gothong & Company, William Lines Inc. and Sweet Lines Inc. decided to purchase second-hand vessels from Europe to be converted into passenger-cargo liners here and they came out ahead. For the same amount as a brand-new liner they were able to acquire two to three surplus ships of the same size, reliability and speed. Guess who was able to offer more routes and frequencies and which had more passengers and cargo. That decision vaulted Carlos A. Gothong & Company , William Lines and Sweet Lines to the Top 5 when they were not in that position the decade before.

Is history repeating itself here and Alfonso Cusi has seen the handwriting in the wall and wants to bail out early?

Lite Ferries

Many people know this shipping company simply as “Lite Ferries”. The name of their ships now start with “Danilo Lines Incorporated” and then a number, hence, people easily make the connection . Actually their ships are numbered now (as of May 2017) from Lite Ferry 1 to Lite Ferry 30. Well, even their official website refers to the company as “Lite Ferries”

Lite Ferries is actually the amalgamation of three shipping companies — the Lite Shipping Corporation, the Sunline Shipping Corporation and Danilo Lines Incorporated. The mother company of this combined shipping corporation is Lirio Shipping Corporation which is into cargo shipping. It is not a big shipping company on its own, however, but the big company Lite Ferries started from that.

Lite Ferries is connected to Bohol, the place of origin of the founder Lucio Lim which still has various business interests in that island-province including in Panglao development. In a sense, many in Bohol has a new company to root for after the demise of Sweet Lines, the old favorite and pride of Bol-anons. However, the nerve center of Lite Ferries’ operation is now Cebu City although they still use a Tagbilaran address.

It is hard not to discuss now Lite Ferries because in this decade its ship acquisitions continued almost yearly and almost always multiple ship in a year and its acquisitions have accelerated since 2009. From a second-tier Cebu passenger shipping company, it now has the most ferries in the Visayas. Their ferries are mainly of medium size for non-liners but with their numbers they now cover more routes and their competitors are now feeling their presence and weight.

Lite Ferries started ferry operations in a limited way in 1992 when it was able to acquire the triple-screwed LCT St. Mark, a surplus ship of the US Navy built in 1964 which has limited passenger accommodations like most conventional LCTs. Lite Ferries used this ship to connect Cebu and Bohol via Argao and Loon. Argao is the southern link of Cebu province to Bohol and with it there is no need for a vehicle to still go to Cebu port. In a later renaming of their ships, the LCT St. Mark became the Lite Ferry 20. She was by then a re-engined ship with just two screws.

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The Lite Ferry 20

In 1994, Lite Ferries acquired the former Horai Maru No. 12 in Japan and in the company this ferry became the Sta. Lucia de Bohol which betrayed the place origin of the company. This ship was a basic, short-distance ferry-RORO with external dimensions of just 32.0 meters length of 8.0 meters beam by 3.0 meters depth with a Gross Tonnage of 199. Sadly this ship is no longer around.

Lite Ferries then acquired the former Hayabusa in Japan in 1996 and she became the Lite Ferry, without a number. This was not a small ship for she measured 88.0 meters by 15.0 meters by 4.8 meters in L x B x D with a Gross Tonnage of 1,389 and she had a Cebu to Ozamis route. Maybe in Lite Ferries this ship was too big for them then and so they sold this ship to Trans-Asia Shipping Lines Incorporated (TASLI) where she became the Trans-Asia II.

After this, Lite Ferries was able to acquire the rump of the fleet of San Juan Shipping Corporation. That company plummeted after the loss in an explosion and fire and subsequent sinking of their biggest ship, the San Juan Ferry which was the former Dona Cristina of Carlos A. Gothong Lines Incorporated (CAGLI) and Cebu Ferries Corporation. From San Juan Shipping Corporation, Lite Ferries was able to acquire the Sr. San Jose, a beautiful cruiser but with a weak engine and the John Carrier-1, a basic, short-distance ferry-RORO with problematic engines also. The important thing this purchase gave Lite Ferries were not the ships and these were not used by Lite Ferries for long. Actually, it was the important franchises and route to Leyte which they did not have before and which proved profitable for them in the long run.

In 2004, Lite Ferries acquired the Salve Juliana of the MBRS Shipping Lines of Romblon which was then disposing their earlier ships as it has already acquired bigger ones. This ship became the Sr. San Jose de Tagbilaran (in that period many of the ships of Lite Ferries were still named after saints) and it seems it is this ferry that displaced the Sta. Lucia de Bohol in the Tagbilaran route. Later this ship was also assigned to the Ormoc route. When the ships of Lite Ferries were renamed to “Lite Ferry”, she became the Lite Ferry 6.

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The Lite Ferry 6

The next year, in 2005, Lite Ferries acquired the former Daishin Maru and made her into a small overnight ferry-RORO. Her dimensions were only 42.6 meters by 11.5 meters by 3.0 meters and forward part of the car deck has to be converted in Tourist accommodation to increase her passenger capacity. The ship was first known as the Our Lady of Barangay-1. Her engines were later not strong and she was put up for sale. When there were no takers, Lite Ferries had her re-engined and now she is known as the Lite Ferry 5 and still sailing for Lite Ferries in her original route which is the Tagbilaran route.

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The Lite Ferry 5

In 2005, Lite Ferries acquired the former Shodoshima Maru No.1 which was the former Zhu Du No.2 in China. In the Lite Ferries fleet she was first known as the San Ramon de Bohol with a flat bow ramp. Later, Lite Ferries fitted her with a conventional pointed bow thereby adding to her length (but I wonder what other things were gained by that). In the renaming of their ships, this became the Lite Ferry 7.

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The Lite Ferry 7

Many will ask where is Lite Ferry 1, Lite Ferry 2 and Lite Ferry 3? Lite Ferries was able to acquire the shipping company Danilo Lines which served the San Carlos-Toledo route in 2006 and the two main ships of that fleet, the Danilo 1 and Danilo 2 became the Lite Ferry 1 and Lite Ferry 2, respectively. The two are actually sister ships and they are actually sister ships too to Lite Ferry 6. Danilo Lines actually has two wooden ships, the Danilo III and Danilo IV but those were not transferred to Lite Ferries anymore which by that time was just sticking to ROROs (well, they even had the Sr. San Jose cut up).

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The Lite Ferry 1

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The Lite Ferry 2

The Lite Ferry 3 was also acquired in 2006. This was the former Noumi No.8 in Japan and she became the second Santiago de Bohol in the Lite Ferries fleet. As an overnight ferry-RORO, the Lite Ferry 3 is small and she has just the external dimensions of a basic, short-distance ferry-RORO at 38.3 meters by 9.0 meters by 2.9 meters with a Gross Tonnage of just 250 but she has one-and-a-half passenger decks. The Lite Ferry 3 is now the shortest ship in the fleet of Lite Ferries.

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The Lite Ferry 3

In 2007, Lite Ferries bought again a relatively big ship, the former GP Ferry-1 of George & Peter Lines which was the former small liner Sta. Maria of Negros Navigation Company. This was no longer renamed to a saint and she directly became the Lite Ferry 8. The ship was fielded to the Ormoc route to battle the Heaven Stars of Roble Shipping Incorporated which by then was having engine unreliability already. Soon after her rival was laid up, Lite Ferry 8‘s engines also began acting up also and so she was spending half of her time laid up. Lite Ferry decided to have her re-engined and the ship was used for Lite Ferry’s foray to Cagayan de Oro.

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The Lite Ferry 8

The next year, in 2008, Lite Ferries purchased a second-hand LCT from the Socor Shipping Lines, the former LCT Socor 1. Like the Lite Ferry 20m she was over 50 meters in length at 55.4 meters but like the conventional LCT, her passenger capacity is small. She was initially named as LCT Sto. Nino de Bohol in the Lite Ferries fleet before she was renamed to Lite Ferry 22.

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The Lite Ferry 22 by James Gabriel Verallo

In 2009, Lite Ferries made a decision to acquire double-ended ferries and this was a surprise to me given the nature of her routes which are not very short actually. In their routes, the double-ended ferries can actually suffer because of the drag and sometimes the lack of speed and their characteristic of having not to maneuver might just be negated.

The Lite Ferry 9 which was actually a beautiful double-ended ferry was the former Daian No.8 and relatively new when acquired in 2009 because the ship was built just in 1997. She was not really small at 45.0 meters length, 10.0 meters breadth and 2.8 meters depth. Her Gross Tonnage was only 170 and her Net Tonnage is only 89 which is small. That is so because double-ended ferries cannot maximize their passenger deck up to the stern of the ship. Now this ship is no longer in the fleet of Lite Ferries and might have been sold elsewhere.

In the Lite Ferry 10, another double-ended ferry, Lite Ferries tried to increase passenger space by adding scantling and bunks. With limitations this ship can also serve as an overnight ferry-RORO and there was not much of a problem with that since its route is only to Tubigon which is some two hours sailing distance away. The ships is also not that small at 46.0 meters by 10.0 meters by 3.8 meters with a Net Tonnage of 165. However, like in Lite Ferry 9, maybe double-ended ferries are not really fit for them and so Lite Ferries sold this ship to Medallion Transport in 2011 where she became the Lady of Miraculous Medal.

Later, another Lite Ferry 10 came into the fleet of Lite Ferries which arrived first as a charter and later a purchase. This ship was the former Ocean King I of Seamarine Transport Incorporated. Ocean King I was an overnight ferry -RORO which abandoned the Liloan-Lipata route and then tried the Leyte route without going anywhere. Lite Ferries then took over her and Seamarine Transport became defunct. Lite Ferry 10 is bigger and has more capacity than the other overnight ferries of Lite Ferries because she has 3 passenger decks.

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The second Lite Ferry 10 by James Gabriel Verallo

In 2010, Lite Ferries acquired 4 surplus ferries. None of them was the expensive kind but as the norm in the Philippines those can be converted into valuable ferries and they were refitted simultaneously in Ouano wharf.

The biggest of the 4 became the Lite Ferry 11 and this was the Misaki No.5 of Oishi Shipping in Japan. In international maritime databases, she is mistaken for the Lite Ferry 12 maybe because that is what reflected is in the AIS transmissions. The Lite Ferry 11 measures 65.7 meters by 15 meters by 3.5 meters but her Gross Tonnage of 498 in Japan shrank to 249 here even when decks were added. The Lite Ferry 11 is now the primary ship of Lite Ferries in the Ormoc route.

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The Lite Ferry 11

The Lite Ferry 12 is a pocket overnight ferry-RORO with a registered length of just 41.6 meters, a breadth of 9.6 meters, a depth of 5.6 meters (which is rather deep) and just a Gross Tonnage of 249 which is low. This ship I found to be densely packed, so to speak. The Lite Ferry 12 rotates among many routes of Lite Ferries but she was the ship that opened the Nasipit-Jagna route for her company.

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The Lite Ferry 12

There is no Lite Ferry 13 (nor a Lite Ferry 4) because those numbers are usually not used by local shipping companies out of superstition. There is also not a Lite Ferry 14 but I don’t know the reason for that. Maybe the owner is just averse to that number.

The Lite Ferry 15 is almost the size of Lite Ferry 11 at 60.3 meters length, 11.4 meters beam and a Gross Tonnage of 827 with a Net Tonnage of 562. From twin Akasaka engines, she has 2,600 horsepower on tap which is higher than the 2,000 horsepower of Lite Ferry 1, Lite Ferry 6 and Lite Ferry 7 but below the 3,000 horsepower of Lite Ferry 11. Most of the time this ship holds the Cagayan de Oro to Jagna route of the company.

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The Lite Ferry 15

The fourth ship to be acquired in 2010, the Lite Ferry 23 is very unique and there is no other of her kind in the country. It is a RORO and looks like an LCT from the side but it has a catamaran hull and so she is wider at 16.0 meters (her registered length is 57.5 meters). Attached and rigged to the stern before were two pusher tugs (in Japan those were free). Two funnels were attached to the ship here because there are now passengers. Modifications were made so a passenger deck could be added to the ship which is a little bigger than the average LCT.

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The Lite Ferry 23

Initially, Lite Ferry 23 was a slow craft barely able to do 7 knots and so she was just assigned the Mandaue to Tubigon route which caters basically to rolling cargo. Later, the tugs were removed and she was given two decent engines and now she can do what a short-distance ferry can do. Still, she is doing the same route and basically catering to rolling cargo with a few passengers mixed in.

2011 was a respite year for Lite Ferries and they did not acquire any ship. But in 2012 they acquired the LCT Dona Trinidad 1 of Candano Shipping Lines, a Bicol shipping company. This ship first became the LCT Sta. Filomena de Bohol and like the other LCT in the Lite Ferries fleet she is over 50 meters at 53.5 meters. Shortly later, this ferry was renamed to Lite Ferry 21.

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The Lite Ferry 21

In the same year 2012, Lite Ferries acquired a brand-new LCT from China, the Lite Ferry 25. Maybe this was the sign that in the future Lite Ferries will also be relying on this type of ship and mainly for rolling cargo with a few passengers mixed in. During this time China LCTs which are cheap (but which has questions on engine reliability) already had an allure for local shipping operators and maybe the Lite Ferry 25 was the test purchase of Lite Ferries from China. The size of this ship is almost the same as the other LCTs of Lite Ferries at 58.0 meters length. Some modifications to the ship was made to increase the passenger capacity.

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The Lite Ferry 25

In 2012, Lite Ferries also ventured into HSC (High Speed Crafts) operation when they acquired the beautiful and modern-looking Japan fastcraft Lite Jet 1 (which are not powered by waterjets anyway). She was fielded in the Tubigon route where the new company Star Crafts was making a heyday. Maybe they perceived the fastcrafts of this company as a threat to their ROROs in Tubigon as it multiplied fast. The Lite Jet 1 was more modern and faster than the Star Crafts.

Next year, in 2013, Lite Ferries acquired two more HSCs but this time from Vietnam. These were actually the former Aquan One and Aquan Two in Hongkong and they were the Nonan 1 and Nonan 2 in Vietnam and both were catamarans built in China. On conduction here one of the two grounded in the Spratly islands and it took longer to be fielded. The Aquan Two/Nonan 2 was named the Lite Jet 8 while the Aquan One/Nonan 1 was named the Lite Jet 9.

These two catamarans proved problematic and hard for the technical resources of Lite Ferries which has not much HSC experience. MTU engines are fast but needs attention to maintenance and can be problematic when it gets old. This is the engine of of the Lite Jet 8. On the other hand, the Lite Jet 9 was powered by Isotta-Fraschini engines, a make not that well-known in the HSC field. That proved balky and slower and Lite Ferries tried to re-engine it with Caterpillar engines.

Not long after, however, Lite Ferries completely gave up and sold all their High Speed Crafts including their good and reliable Oceanjet 1 to Ocean Fast Ferries Incorporated which operates the now-dominant Oceanjet HSCs. Maybe Lite Ferries realized that High Speed Crafts are not their cup of tea and they just better concentrate on RORO operations which they understand deeply as shown by their successful successful expansion.

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The Lite Ferry 26

With this divestment, Lite Ferries bought out two Cargo RORO LCTs that came and challenged them in the Cebu-Tagbilaran route which was proving to be a serious threat to them. These were the Diomicka and the Maria Dulce which were just chartered ships. With the buy-out in 2015, the Diomicka became the Lite Ferry 26 and the Maria Dulce became the Lite Ferry 28. These 2 LCTs are the only ships in the fleet of Lite Ferries that do not carry passengers.

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The Lite Ferry 28

With the remainder, in 2015, Lite Ferries continued the China experiment and purchased another brand-new LCT but which has a different design than the Lite Ferry 25. This was the Lite Ferry 27. It has a taller tower and and modifications were made so there will be two short passenger decks. Bunks were even provided (Lite Ferries is one of the shipping companies that combine bunks with seats). Like the Lite Ferry 25, this LCT is also powered by Weichai engines.

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The Lite Ferry 27

At the same time of acquiring the Lite Ferry 27, Lite Ferries uncorked a new China experiment (well, their patron seems to really have strong China connections). Among these were two laid up Hainan Strait Shipping Company (HNSS) vessels that once connected Hainan island to the China mainland and which they acquired in 2015 and 2016. When the two arrived here they all looked very rusty but to the knowing they know once refitted the two will become beautiful and useful ferries (is there a rust that cannot be removed?).

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The Lite Ferry 16

The two were renamed to Lite Ferry 16 and Lite Ferry 19 look to be modified LCTs with a car ramp at the bow and two partial decks of passenger accommodations below the bridge where one extend to near amidship which means the passenger area is far higher than the conventional LCT. With extensions of both decks that becomes passenger promenades, the feeling of being too enclosed in an LCT with nowhere to go is gone. Lite Ferry 16 and Lite Ferry 19 look to be sister ships.

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The Lite Ferry 19 by Mark Ocul

Two other rusty ferries from China which are sister ships also arrived for Lite Ferries in 2016, the Bao Dao 5 and the Bao Dao 6 which will become the Lite Ferry 17 and Lite Ferry 18. The two looks to be conventional ROROs with the bridge at the bow and with car ramps at the bow and the stern. When finished, at 89.0 meters length and 16.0 meters breadth, these two ships will give Lite Ferries a size that can already challenge the ships of Cokaliong Shipping Lines Incorporated and Trans-Asia Shipping Lines Incorporated and it is titillating to think where Lite Ferries intend to field the two.

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The Lite Ferry 18 and Lite Ferry 17 by Mark Ocul

While three of these rusty ships were still being refitted, Lite Ferries also took delivery of another two brand-new LCTs from China, the Lite Ferry 29 and the Lite Ferry 30 which look sleek for an LCT. Slight modifications were also made in Ouano wharf to build passenger accommodations a la Lite Ferry 27. Right now these two LCTs which are obviously sister ships are now sailing.

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The Lite Ferry 29 by Edison Sy

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The Lite Ferry 30 by R. Sanchez

Currently at the start of June 2017, Lite Ferries have 23 ferries that are ROPAXes plus 2 Cargo RORO LCTs. Of the 23 ferries, 9 are passenger-cargo LCTs while 1 is a passenger-cargo catamaran-RORO. Lite Ferries might have started behind other Cebu shipping companies as they are a relatively new company but with their turbo expansion in the last few years they have already overtaken most other operators of medium sized ferries and not only in the Visayas.

Aside from the old routes from Cebu to the Bohol ports of Tagbilaran and Tubigon and the route from Mandaue to Tubigon, the Cebu to Ormoc route is another old route that is a stronghold of Lite Ferries. That also includes the old route of Danilo Lines, the San Carlos-Toledo route.

Lite Ferries also serves the Cebu-Tagbilaran-Larena-Plaridel route that was already abandoned by Palacio Shipping. They were also successful in the expansion to the Cagayan de Oro to Jagna route. However, their Nasipit-Jagna route seems to be little seasonal. Recently they also tried the Cebu to Cagayan de Oro route.

Their Samboan to Dapitan route also proved successful as they offered a shortcut to the truckers that once had to go to Dumaguete first. They are also connecting Cebu to Negros with the Samboan to Sibulan route. A PSSS (Philippine Ship Spotters Society) member recently called and he was told the Dumaguete-Cagayan de Oro route is already off.

But with such a great fleet now Lite Ferries is seriously needing to expand already and I just hope they go to the underserved routes. With many profitable routes already they can actually afford to experiment with new routes now.

The expansion of Lite Ferries in the last 8 years is simply breathtaking with 17 ships added net. Lately their fleet addition even accelerated. They now have a critical mass and I will be watching where they will be headed.

Liners like the old Bohol shipping great Sweet Lines?

The Basic, Short-Distance Ferry-ROROs of Aleson Shipping

The Aleson Shipping Lines of Zamboanga City has 4 basic, short-distance ferry-ROROs, their Ciara Joie series which consists of the Ciara Joie, Ciara Joie 2, Ciara Joie 3 and Ciara Joie 5. Of course, their numbering reflects the order of their arrival in the country. These basic, short-distance ferry-ROROs of Aleson Shipping are used in their Zamboanga-Lamitan, Dapitan-Dumaguete and Dumaguete-Siquijor routes and they rotate among these three. The first and the third are really short routes while the Dapitan-Dumaguete route is almost the distance of an overnight ferry. The routes of Aleson Shipping from Dumaguete reflects their successful foray outside Zamboanga in the 2000’s after their failed expansion in the 1990’s and the Ciara Joie series is one factor responsible for that.

The first ship in the series, the Ciara Joie of Aleson Shipping came in 2007. She was the former Kamagiri No. 3 in Japan and was built by Imamura Shipbuilding Company in Kure, Japan in 1979. She possesses the IMO Number 7824778 and her Call Sign is DUJ2242. The ship only has a single a single passenger deck, a single car deck with a single car ramp at the bow, a single engine and screw (propeller), the common characteristics of the quintessential simple design of a basic, short-distance ferry-RORO.

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Ciara Joie‘s external measurements is a Length of 38.2 meters with a Beam of 8.6 meters and a Depth of 3.0 meters. Her Gross Tonnage (GT) is 235 while her Net Tonnage (NT) is 139. She has a passenger capacity of 239 persons all accommodated in benches. This ship is powered by a single Daihatsu engine of 900 horsepower and her sustained top speed when still new was 10.5 knots. Amazingly for a ship of her type and her Date of Build she already possesses the modern bulbous bow.

Meanwhile, the Ciara Joie 2 arrived in 2012 and she was the former Kamagiri No. 7 in Japan. Actually, she is the sister ship of Ciara Joie, the reason the two looks much alike. The ship was also built by Imamura Shipbuilding in Kure, Japan in 1982. She has the IMO Number 8216966. She also just have one passenger deck, one car deck, a single ramp, one engine and one propeller.

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The Ciara Joie 2 measures 36.1 meters by 8.7 meters by 2.9 meters and her Gross Tonnage is 198. However, her declared Net Tonnage is only 100 but her declared passenger capacity is 236, all in benches too. She also has a bulbous stem and she is powered by a Daihatsu engine of only 750 horsepower and so her top speed when still new was only 10 knots, sustained. Like the Ciara Joie, she has only one mast.

The Ciara Joie 3 arrived in the country in 2014 and she was the former Ferry Yumutsu of the Miyako Ferry K.K. in Japan. She is not a sister ship of the first two and she was built by a different shipyard, the Izutsu Zosensho in Nagasaki, Japan in 1995 and so she is more modern than the first two ferries of the series. This ship has the IMO Number 9118862. She also has the usual characteristics of a basic short-distance ferry-RORO in terms of decks, ramps, engine and propeller as in they are all single.

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Ciara Joie 3 by Mark Ocul

The ship’s external measurements are 37.0 meters by 9.5 meters. Her gross size in GT is 191 (this has no unit). She has a declared DWT of only 30 tons which looks improbable because if that is true then she can only carry 2 trucks at most. Basic, short-distance ferry-ROROs usually have a design speed on 10 to 11 knots as they were meant to bridge short sea crossings only.

The last to arrive for Aleson Shipping was the Ciara Joie 5 and in the series she is the one which looks most impressive and modern. The ferry also arrived in 2014 and she was the former Kofuji No. 8 in Japan in 1987 and so she is an elder ship compared to Ciara Joie 3. Her IMO Number is 8615734 and she was also built by Imamura Shipbuilding in Kure, Japan. She also has just one passenger deck, one car deck, one ramp at the bow, a single engine and single propeller.

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The ship has an LOA of 36.3 meters, Breadth of 10.0 meters and Depth of 3.0 meters and her Gross Tonnage is 264. So she is the biggest of the four in the Ciara Joie series and this ship still has a separate air-conditioned accommodation. This ferry is powered by a single Niigata engine of 1,000 horsepower and the sustained top speed is 11 knots.

In the main, like other basic, short-distance ferry-ROROs, the loading capacity of the four Ciara Joie ships is only 6 trucks but if a truck or trailer is loaded with container van it can still be shoehorned in. If there are smaller vehicles the total that can be loaded increases.

All the ferries in the Ciara Joie series are still very reliable and all are proving valuable for Aleson Shipping. They might look puny but basic, short-distance ferry-ROROs are actually important in the short routes and they can sail profitably even though the traffic in the route is not that great.

For a long time to come these four will still be fit for the Zamboanga to Basilan routes and the route from Dumaguete to Siquijor.

Note: Just this month (May 2017) another Ciara Joie ship arrived for Aleson Shipping, the Ciara Joie 7. However, that ship is not a basic, short-distance ferry-RORO.

The Claim of Carlos A. Gothong Lines That They Were First Into ROPAXes Was Most Likely True (But There Was Controversy)

Carlos A. Gothong Lines, Inc. (CAGLI), in their online published history claims they were first into ROROs. The more correct term is probably ROPAX or RORO-Passenger but many people just use the acronym “RORO” and that is what is commonly most understood by many. It was said that when new patriarch Alfredo (Alfred) Gothong went on self-imposed exile in Canada, he was able to observe how efficient were the ROROs there and he might have been talking of the short-distance ferry-ROROs including the double-ended ferries in the Vancouver area. It is in that area where Canada has many of those types.

The move to ROROs happened when the then-combined shipping companies Carlos A. Gothong Lines, Inc. (CAGLI) and Lorenzo Shipping Corporation parted ways in 1979 (in actual although the agreement was from 1978) after some 7 years of combined operations which they did to better withstand the shocks of the split that created Sulpicio Lines and the downfall of their copra and oil trading (in strategic partnership with Ludo Do & Lu Ym of Cebu) when the Marcos henchmen moved in into the copra trade and oil refining. When Carlos A. Gothong Lines and Lorenzo Shipping were still combined the former’s ships were mainly doing the Visayas and Visayas-Mindanao routes while the latter’s ships were mainly doing the Southern Mindanao and Western Visayas routes.

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1979 Gothong + Lorenzo shipping schedule (Credits to Times Journal and Gorio Belen)

The year 1979 was very significant for Philippine shipping in so many ways. First, it was the year when containerization went full blast when the leading shipping companies (Aboitiz Shipping, William Lines, Sulpicio Lines, Lorenzo Shipping plus the earlier Sea Transport) went into a race to acquire container ships. That also meant a lull in passenger-cargo ship acquisitions since more and more it was the container ships that were carrying the cargo to the major ports. Before the container ships, it was mainly the passenger-cargo ships that were carrying the inter-island cargoes. The shift to containerization resulted in passenger-cargo ships being laid up in 1980 and 1981 and later it accelerated the process of breaking up of the former “FS” ships.

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1979 container shipping ads (Credits to Times Journal and Gorio Belen)

Second, it was the year that the road plus ship intermodal system truly started when a Cardinal Shipping ROPAX appeared in San Bernardino Strait to connect Luzon and Visayas by RORO. It was the first step but in the next years ROPAXes linking the islands within sight began to mushroom (this is not to negate the earlier intermittent LCTs that also tried to bridge major islands within sight of each other the RORO way).

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A 1980 ad of Cardinal Shipping (Credit to Gorio Belen)

In their split, Carlos A. Gothong Lines and Lorenzo Shipping had two completely different responses to the new paradigm of containerization. The latter tried to join the containerization bandwagon and aside from the acquisition of general cargo ships from Japan for refitting into container ships it also tried to retrofit their earlier general cargo ships into container ships. Maybe Lorenzo Shipping does not have the financial muscle of the others but it tried to make up for this by ingenuity (and maybe Aboitiz Shipping which first tried this approach was their model).

However, Carlos A. Gothong Lines had a different approach. They bypassed the acquisition of container ships and instead went headlong into the acquisition of small ROPAXES (but bigger than the basic, short-distance ferry-ROROs). Most likely their situation as primarily an intra-Visayas and a Visayas-Mindanao shipping operator influenced this. In these routes, there was no need for containers ship as almost all cargoes there are either loose cargo or palletized cargo that are loaded mainly in overnight ships.

There is controversy which shipping company fielded the first RORO in the Philippines (setting aside the earlier LCTs). Negros Navigation claims their “Sta. Maria” was first in RORO liners. That ship came in 1980 and it was a RORO liner, obviously. But as far as ROROs or ROPAXes, there is indubitable proof that Cardinal Shipping fielded the “Cardinal Ferry 1” in 1979 in the San Bernardino Strait crossing.

To make the debate murkier still, the “Northern Star” (a double-ended ferry at first before she was converted and she became the latter “Northern Samar”) and “Badjao” of Newport Shipping arrived in 1978 but they were not doing RORO routes then. By the way, the San Bernardino RORO service became only feasible when the roads in Samar were already passable so it cannot come earlier.

Carlos A. Gothong Lines might win the debate, however, because in 1976 they already had the small RORO “Don Johnny” which they used as a passenger-cargo ship from Manila to Leyte but not as a RORO. This ship later became the “Cardinal Ferry 2” of Cardinal Shipping that was the first to bridge the Surigao Strait as a RORO (that was not an LCT) in 1980 with a fixed schedule and daily voyages. And even though the former vehicle carrier “Don Carlos” arrived for Sulpicio Lines in 1977, still Carlos A. Gothong Lines was technically ahead in ROROs.

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The Don Carlos (Credits to Times Journal and Gorio Belen)

From 1980 and ahead of the other shipping companies, Carlos A. Gothong Lines already bet big on ROROs when they fielded such type one after the other. In 1980, the “Dona Lili” and “Don Calvino” arrived for Carlos A. Gothong Lines although there are those who say the former arrived earlier. Negros Navigation might have been right in stressing that their “Sta. Maria” was a RORO liner and was first because the two ROROs of Carlos A. Gothong Lines were just overnight ferries. Nevertheless, both were ROROs or ROPAXes.

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The Dona Lili (Credits to PNA, Daily Express and Gorio Belen)

The “Dona Lili” was a ship built as the “Seiran Maru” in 1967 by Taguma Zosen in Innoshima, Japan. The ferry measured 69.0 meters by 12.0 meters with an original 856 gross register tonnage, a net register tonnage of 448 tons and deadweight tonnage of 553 tons. She was powered by two Daihatsu engines totalling 2,600 horsepower with gave her a sustained speed of 15.5 knots. The permanent ID of the ship was IMO 6713609.

In comparison, the “Sta. Maria” of Negros Navigation was not much bigger at 72.0 meters by 12.6 meters and 1,110 gross register tonnage. Their speed was just about the same since “Sta. Maria” has a design speed of just 15 knots. So one ship was not clearly superior to the other. It just so happened that the routes of the companies dictated the particular role of the ships. By the way the “Sta. Maria” is still existing as the “Lite Ferry 8” so shipping observers still can benchmark her size, visually.

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The Don Calvino (Credits to PAL, George Tappan and Gorio Belen)

The “Don Calvino” was built as the “Shunan Maru” by Naikai Zosen in Onomichi, Japan in 1968. The ship measured 62.6 meters by 13.4 meters with an original gross register tonnage of 881 tons. She was powered by twin Hitachi engines of 2,660 horsepower total and a design speed of 14.5 knots. Her ID was IMO 6829484. As a note, the “Dona Lili” and the “Don Calvino” had long lives and they even outlived their company Carlos A. Gothong Lines which disappeared as a separate company when it joined the merger which created the giant shipping company WG&A.

Another RORO also arrived for Carlos A. Gothong Lines in the same year 1980. However, the ship did not live long. This ferry was the “Dona Josefina” which was built as “Kamishiho Maru” in 1968 by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries in Shimonoseki, Japan. This ship had the external dimensions 71.6 meters by 13.0 meters and her gross register tonnage was 1,067 tons which means she was slightly the biggest of the three that came to Carlos A. Gothong Lines in 1980 and almost a match to the “Sta. Maria” of Navigation in size (incidentally the two ships both came in 1980). This ship was powered by twin Daihatsu engines of 2,600 combined like the “Dona Lili” and her sustained top speed was 15 knots. Her permanent ID was IMO 6823399.

Acquiring three medium-sized ROROs in a year showed the bet of Carlos A. Gothong Lines on ROROs or ROPAXes instead of container ships. Actually in overnight routes, it is ROROs that is needed more because it simplified cargo handling especially with the employment of forklifts which is several times more efficient than a porter and does not get tired. When Carlos A. Gothong Lines acquired RORO cargo ships starting in 1987 with the “Our Lady of Hope” , it was when they had Manila routes already and those cargo ships were used in that route.

Carlos A. Gothong Lines then had a short pause but in 1982 they purchased the ROPAX “Don Benjamin”. This ship was the former “Shin Kanaya Maru” and she was built in 1967 by Shimoda Dockyard Company in Shimoda, Japan. This ship measured 61.0 meters by 13.7 meters and the gross register tonnage was 685 tons and her permanent ID was IMO 7022875. She was powered by a single Nippon Hatsudoki engine of 2,550 horsepower and her design speed was 15 knots. Her engine was the reason the ship did not have a very long career here.

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The Don Benjamin partially scrapped (Photo by Edison Sy)

In 1983, Carlos A. Gothong Lines acquired two more ROROs, the “Dona Casandra” and the “Dona Conchita” which were both ill-fated here. The “Dona Casandra” was the former “Mishima Maru” and built by Hashihama Zosen in Hashihama, Japan. She was smaller than the other ROROs of Carlos A. Gothong Lines at 53.8 meters by 11 meters but her register tonnage was 682 tons. Her engines were twin Daihatsus at 2,000 horsepower total and that gave her a top speed of 14 knots, sustained. She possessed the IMO Number 6729476.

The other ship, the “Dona Conchita” was significantly bigger than the others as she had the external dimensions 82.0 meters by 13.4 meters and Japan gross register tonnage of 1,864 tons. This ship was the former “Osado Maru” and she was built in 1969 by Ishikawajima Heavy Industries (IHI) in Tokyo, Japan with the IMO Number 6908187. This bigger ship with a design speed of 16.5 knots was supposedly what will bring Carlos A. Gothong Lines back in the Manila route. However, both “Dona Casandra” and “Dona Conchita” sank before the decade was out.

While Carlos A. Gothong Lines was acquiring these ships, they were also disposing of their old ferries including ex-”FS” ships they inherited from their mother company Go Thong & Company before the split in 1972. What they did, the selling of old ships to acquire new was actually the pattern too in the other national shipping companies. The war-vintage ships then were already four decades old and were already in its last legs and its equipment and accommodations were already outdated compared to the newer ships that were already beginning to dominate the local waters.

After 1983, Carlos A. Gothong Lines’ ship acquisitions went into a hiatus for three years (but they already acquired six ROROs, much more than the total of the other shipping companies). Well, almost all ship acquisitions stopped then. The crisis that hit the Philippines was really bad and nobody knew then where the country was heading. But in 1986 when the crisis began to ebb and more so in 1987 and 1988 they acquired another bunch of RORO ships, bigger this time including RORO Cargo ships. That was the time that they attempted to become a national liner shipping company again after they became one of the Big Three in Visayas and Visayas-Mindanao shipping (the other two were Sweet Lines and Trans-Asia Shipping).

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The Our Lady of Guadalupe (Credits to Manila Times, Rudy Santos and Gorio Belen)

But then, the return of Carlos A. Gothong Lines as a national liner shipping company is worth another story, as they say.

Abangan.

Negros Navigation Had The Most Modern Fleet From The late ’60’s To The Late ’80’s

When Negros Navigation celebrated it’s Diamond Anniversary in 2007, it issued an anniversary book. Going through the book, the reader might think that all along Negros Navigation was a great liner company. Unfortunately, that was not the case as Negros Navigation started as a shipping company linking just Panay and Negros and this was true even after World War II or nearly three decades after the company was founded. This would also mean that some shipping companies were the main connection of Western Visayas to Manila before Negros Navigation took that role.

Filipino shipping companies came to the fore in the early1930’s when it was becoming clear that a preparatory period for independence was coming. Filipino businessmen then thought they will supplant the then-dominant American businesses here when independence will come (nobody then can anticipate the “Parity Amendment” which came together with our independence).

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Credit to Gorio Belen

In the Commonwealth period, the dominant Western Visayas shipping company was the De la Rama Steamship. Don Esteban de la Rama of Iloilo was a very wealthy businessman and very well-connected politically as he himself was a Senator of the land and Vice-President Osmena was his brother-in-law. In this period, De la Rama Steamship ordered brand-new liners from Germany and those were the best in the land then and comparable to foreign liners.

Like many other shipping companies, De la Rama Steamship lost their liners during the war and after the war they were recipients of reparations by the Americans which promised replacement for the comandeered liners during the war. They also had some new-builds ordered from Japan which became the bone of contention later. In a few years, however, De la Rama Steamship concentrated on foreign trade and gave up their local routes.

After the war, there was another shipping company that served as the main connection of Western Visayas to Manila and this was the Southern Lines which was founded by rich businessmen of Western Visayas which belonged to the upper crust of the society of that region. Southern Lines operated converted former “FS” ships like many shipping companies of that era and it concentrated mainly in linking Iloilo and Bacolod to Manila. This company did not expand to other regions like what Negros Navigation did later.

1947 Southern Lines

Credit to Gorio Belen

Negros Navigation became a liner operation from being a regional when they and Ledesma Lines merged in the late 1950’s. Before this it was Ledesma Lines that had routes to Manila. This merger was the reason why the Ledesma family held substantial holdings in Negros Navigation for several decades until they sold off when they didn’t agree with the national expansion plan of Daniel “Bitay” Lacson in the 1990’s.

Southern Lines went out of operations in the mid-’60s and they sold off their ships but it did not go to Negros Navigation. I am not sure if there was a sell-out of routes to Negros Navigation but it will not really matter then as getting routes was easy for the company as their ownership which also belong to the upper crust of Western Visayas society was very close to President Ferdinand Marcos then.

I am of the mind, however, that the demise of Southern Lines might be an orchestrated move to pave way for the rise of Negros Navigation. The ownership of the two shipping companies are related by kinship and marriage and I think it was obvious which company had the blessings of Malacanang. And actually there is an indirect proof that Negros Navigation already controlled Southern Lines before its demise.

1960 Jul 2 schedules

Credit to Gorio Belen

Negros Navigation as a new liner company built up its fleet not by buying surplus ships but by ordering new, purpose-built liners from Hongkong first and then Japan. Their first brand-new liner was the “Princess of Negros” which was built by Hongkong Whampoa in 1962. This was cruiser with the external dimensions 61.0 meters by 9.5 meters with the cubic dimension 493 gross register tons. The ship had a net register tonnage of 301 tons and a DWT (deadweight tonnage) of 188 tons.

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Credit to Lindsay Bridge

These dimensions were almost like that of an ex-”FS” ship but actually she was even a little smaller. She was speedier though because she was powered by a 1,920-horsepower B&W Alpha engine whose power was almost double that of an “FS” ship and so she was capable of 13 knots sustained. The passenger capacity of the “Princess of Negros” was 349 persons divided into several classes from Economy to Suite in three decks. The ship’s ID was IMO 5284974.

The next new-build liner of Negros Navigation and the others that followed after it was from Japan. This was the “Dona Florentina” which came in 1965 and she ushered the “Dona” series of Negros Navigation. She was built by Hitachi Shipbuilding & Engineering Company in Osaka yard, Japan. The ship measured 95.7 meters by 13.9 meters with a gross register tonnage of 2,095 tons. She was powered by a single 4,400-horsepower Hitachi engine and her design speed was 17.5 knots. This ship’s permanent ID was IMO 6515899.

This ship was already part then of the trend of building liners with airconditioning with a length of just short of 100 meters and with 2,000-gross register tons size, a speed of approximately 18 knots and passenger capacity of just below a thousand. During this time this was what was considered then as a “luxury liner”, taken in their size, speed, accommodations, food and passenger service. The “Dona Florentina” can be considered as the first luxury liner of Negros Navigation and she had a passenger capacity of 832 in a net tonnage of 1,015 and a DWT of 1,425 which was the load capacity.

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Credit to Gorio Belen

A sister ship of hers followed the “Dona Florentina” in 1967. This was the “Don Julio” which possessed more beautiful lines and this ship was considered the beauty of her time. She has the same external dimensions as “Dona Florentina” but her cubic capacity was 2,116 gross register tons (this later rose to 2,381 tons), a net register tonnage of 1,111 tons and a DWT of 1,425 tons. The “Don Julio” has the same engine and speed of her sister ship but her passenger capacity was higher at 994 persons. The ship was not built by Hitachi Shipbuilding but by Maizuru Shipyard in Maizuru, Kyoto, Japan. Her permanent ID was IMO 6728549.

Another brand-new ship from Japan, the “Don Vicente” arrived for Negros Navigation in 1969 and she was mainly used for the Iloilo-Bacolod route. However, this ship was bigger than the “Princess of Negros” at 77.4 meters by 12.0 meters. Her gross register tonnage was 1,964 tons and her net register tonnage was 493 tons with a DWT of 576 tons. The ship was built by Niigata Shipbuilding in Niigata, Japan and her permanent ID was IMO 7003763.

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Credit to Dimas Almada

The “Don Vicente” was actually bigger than the converted former “FS” ships, even the lengthened ones, which was the common liner of the era. She was actually faster too at 17 knots which came from a pair of Niigata engines (this was the first-twin screw new ship of Negros Navigation) of 4,000 horsepower total. It would not have been a shame if she was fielded as a liner to Manila but the rich of Western Visayas also wanted a good, exclusive ship for the Iloilo-Bacolod route.

In 1971, a sister ship of “Dona Florentina” and “Don Julio” came from Japan, the “Don Juan” which then became the flagship of Negros Navigation until 1980. She, too, was built by Niigata Shipbuilding in Niigata, Japan. She measured 95.7 meters by 13.8 meters and that was near-identical to her sister ships. Her cubic volumes in gross register tonnage and net register tonnage was 2,310 and 1,330 tons, respectively, and her load capacity in DWT was 1,372 tons.

1971 MS Don Juan

Credit to Gorio Belen

This ship was faster than her sister ships because she was powered by a 5,000-horsepower B&W engine which gave her a sustained speed of 19 knots. Like her sisters ships she had accommodations from Economy to Suite but her passenger capacity was only 740 persons when her net register tonnage was higher and that means she has more space total and more space per passenger than her sister ships. She had the permanent ID IMO 7118088.

In 1971, when the “Don Juan” arrived, the economic crisis of the country was already deepening and this can be seen in the free fall (called “floating rate” then) of the peso which meant devaluation. With devaluation, the imported goods became more expensive in peso terms which means for the same thing like a same ship, the shipping company has to pay more. With this the ordering of new ships from Japan by Negros Navigation stopped. But in their fleet they already had five brand-new ships which was enough for their limited routes to Western Visayas and their Iloilo-Bacolod route.

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Credit to Chief Ray Smith

In 1976, Negros Navigation will add a 10-year old second-hand ship, the “Don Claudio” which became the biggest ship in the fleet by a small margin. And in 1980 they will acquire their first RORO liner, the “Dona Maria” which was then a 7-year old ship. However, in external dimensions she was just as big as the “Don Vicente” and in design speed she was the slowest at 15 knots save for the first brand-new ship, the “Princess of Negros”.

Negros Navigation sold to Southern Lines the liner they inherited from Ledesma Lines (and Southern Lines sold their old ships to other shipping companies). This was an earlier “Don Julio” which was a re-engined ex-”FS” ship. That means Negros Navigation had the newest fleet since the late ’60s when it was already able to build a fleet of their own. And by reckoning, they still had the newest ships up to the early ’80s, definitely, and most likely up to the second half of this decade. That was what they earned by buying new ships when the competition was still dependent on ex-”FS” ships of World War II vintage.

In the ’80s the other shipping companies were already shedding their their former World War II ships. From thereon all the shipping companies were purchasing surplus ships from Japan built in the late ’60s to the early ’70s, the same age now of the Negros Navigation cruiser ships. When they started acquiring RORO liners it was more or less of the same age and so no company can claim their fleet was younger. With great devaluation it was already suicide for shipping companies to order brand-new ships. It was simply unaffordable by that time already.

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Credit to Gorio Belen

But for a while, for some two decades, Negros Navigation can claim outright they have the youngest liners in the country.

The Sulpicio Lines Fast Cruiser Liners

Don Sulpicio (Doña Paz) and Doña Ana (Doña Marilyn)

From the collection of John Uy Saulog

In the era of cruiser liners, not only did they get bigger but they also got faster. So they competed not only in amenities and passenger service but also in shorter cruising times and this was valuable not only in the far ports like Davao but also in the likes of Cebu and Cagayan de Oro. With fast cruisers, the travel time to the likes of Davao went down from three-and-a-half days to two-and-a-half days. It also brought down the cruising time to Cebu to less than a day.

The leading shipping company in the local routes Compania Maritima had been the first in fast cruisers with the fielding of “Filipinas” in the 1968 and the “Mindanao” in 1970. Both were capable of 18 knots and that was the reference speed then in that era to be considered “fast”. As expected, the two, one after the other. were fielded in the long Davao route.

William Lines followed suit from 1970 when they ordered the brand-new “Misamis Occidental” that was also capable of 18 knots. This was soon followed by the legendary “Cebu City” which was capable of 20.5 knots and this was assigned to the premier Manila-Cebu route. William Lines then followed up with four more fast cruiser liners and they had the biggest number of ships in that category. William Lines fielded their 20.5-knot “Manila City” to the Davao route.

Sweet Lines did not really have a fast cruiser except for the first “Sweet Faith” which they fielded in the prime Manila-Cebu route in a fierce competition with William’s “Cebu City”. This liner which arrived from Denmark in 1970 was capable of 20 knots. She had the pair “Sweet Home” (the first) which came in 1973 from Europe too. Sweet Lines dubbed the two as the “Inimitable Pair”. To be able to compete in the long Davao route, what Sweet Lines did was to use the shorter eastern seaboard on the route to Davao. With this tactic, they were also “fast”, so to say.

Negros Navigation also had their share with fast cruiser liners with the “Dona Florentina” and the beautiful “Don Julio”. This was capped by their fastest cruiser then, the “Don Juan” which was capable of 19 knots. A later ship, the “Don Claudio” was also fast at 18.5 knots when she was still in Japan. May I note that the Negros Navigation cruiser liners were not really in direct competition with their counterparts as they were just then in the Western Visayas routes.

The fragments of the Go Thong empire was late in fast cruiser liner segment. Maybe they needed to take stock and consolidate after their split in 1972. Sulpicio Lines entered the fast cruiser liner category just in 1975, the last among the majors which competed in this field. It has to be noted that Carlos A. Gothong Lines and Lorenzo Shipping did not follow in this category and neither did Aboitiz Shipping and Escano Lines. Only Compania Maritima, William Lines, Sweet Lines, Negros Navigation and Sulpicio Lines participated in this competition but actually Compania Maritima did not acquire any more liners, fast or not, after acquiring “Mindanao” in 1970 even though they had many hull losses in the succeeding years.

Folio Dona Paz

Created by Jon Uy Saulog

Sulpicio Lines acquired the “Himeyuri Maru” from Ryukyu Kaiun KK, more famously known as RKK Line in 1975. This ship was built by Onomichi Zosen in Onomichi yard in Japan in 1963. She measured 93.1 meters by 13.6 meters and her cubic volume was 2,602 gross tons. She was powered by a single Niigata engine of 5,500 horsepower and her top speed was 18 knots. Refitted in the Philippines she had a passenger capacity of 1,424. She was given the name “Don Sulpicio” in honor of the founder and she became the flagship of Sulpicio Lines (this was the second ship to carry that name in the fleet). In 1981, after a fire and refitting she was renamed the “Dona Paz”, the second to carry that name in the Sulpicio Lines fleet (the first was an ex-FS ship). A fine ship, she was unfortunately associated with great ignominy later.

In 1976, Sulpicio Lines acquired the sister ship of “Himeyuri Maru” from RKK Lines too, the “Otohime Maru” which was also built by Onomichi Zosen in the same yard in Onomichi, Japan three years later in 1966. She had the same Niigata powerplant of 5,500 horsepower. However, she was rated at 19.5 knots. She was 97.6 meters in length, 13.7 meters in breadth with a cubic volume of 2,991 gross tons. This ship was renamed to “Dona Ana” and together with “Don Sulpicio”, Sulpicio Lines called them the “Big Two”. They were used by Sulpicio Lines in fighting for their stake in the primary Manila-Cebu route. Later, they extended the route of “Dona Ana” to Davao. In 1980, “Dona Ana” was renamed to “Dona Marilyn”. She held the Manila-Iloilo-Zamboanga-Cotabato route of Sulpicio Lines until she was reassigned the Manila-Catbalogan-Tacloban route with the arrival of the “Cotabato Princess”. She held that route until her end.

In 1978, as Sulpicio Lines grew stronger, they acquired from RKK Lines again not one but two ships which were actually sister ships too but bigger than the earlier pair from Ryukyu Kaiun KK. These were the “Tokyo Maru” and the “Okinawa Maru” and again both were built by Onomichi Zosen in Onomichi yard in Japan. The first ship was built in 1969 and the second one was built in 1973. The “Tokyo Maru” had dimensions of 112.2 meters by 15.2 meters and she had cubic measurement of 3,510 gross tons. She was powered by a single Hitachi-B&W engine of 6,150 horsepower which gave her a top speed of 18.5 knots. “Okinawa Maru” measured 111.5 meters by 15.2 meters with a cubic volume of 3,800 gross tons. Her engine was a single Mitsubishi-MAN of 7,600 horsepower which gave her a top speed of 19 knots. Incidentally this engine also powered “Cotabato Princess”, “Nasipit Princess”, “SuperFerry 2”, “SuperFerry 5” and “Cagayan Bay 1”.

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Dipolog Princess and Princess of the Caribbean

Tokyo Maru” was renamed to “Don Eusebio” and “Okinawa Maru” was renamed to “Don Enrique”. When the “Princesses” came into the nomenclature of Sulpicio Lines she became the “Davao Princess” in 1987 because she was actually the Davao specialist. Later, she was renamed to “Iloilo Princess” when she was no longer holding that route (“Filipina Princess” supplanted her in 1993). Her local passenger capacity, as refitted was 1,379. Meanwhile, “Don Eusebio” was renamed to “Dipolog Princess”. She was then sailing the Manila-Dumaguete-Dipolog-Cagayan de Oro-Ozamis route. However, she was not actually calling in Dipolog but in Dapitan port. In her refitting here, her passenger capacity increased to 1,261. Later, she held the Manila-Tagbilaran-Dipolog-Iligan-Cebu route of the company until she was stopped from sailing.

The fifth and last cruiser Sulpicio Lines acquired in this period was the “Naha Maru” which also from RKK Line and she came in 1981. She was bigger than the earlier ships from RKK Line. The ship was built by Onomichi Zosen (again!) in Onomichi yard in Japan in 1972. She measured 130.9 meters by 16.8 meters and she had a cubic measurement of 4,957 gross tons. She was powered by a single Hitachi-B&W engine of 9,200 horsepower, the same type powering “Dipolog Princess” but with more cylinders. She had top speed of 20 knots when new. She was called as the “Philippine Princess” and she became the Sulpicio Lines flagship which means she held the Manila-Cebu route. For a long time, she and the William Lines’ flagship “Dona Virginia” fought in that route. Refitted here, she had a passenger capacity of 1,633.

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Photo credit: Philippine Daily Express and Gorio Belen

As a footnote, much later, when cruiser liners were no longer in vogue, Sulpicio Lines acquired another fast cruiser liner. This was the “Ogasawara Maru” of Tokai Kisen which was built by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries in Shimonoseki, Japan in 1979. She measured 110.5 meters by 15.2 meters and 3,553 gross tons. She was powered by two Mitsubishi engines totalling 11,600 horsepower and her top speed when new was 20.5 knots. She was known as the “Princess of the Caribbean” here and she came in 1997.

Like the William Lines fast cruiser liners, many of these Sulpicio fast cruiser liners also met grim fates (but in general they lasted longer and that is why the PSSS — Philippine Ship Spotters Society have still photos of them). Everybody knows the fate of “Dona Paz” which collided with a tanker in Tablas Strait on December 20, 1987 that resulted in great loss of lives.

The “Dona Marilyn”, meanwhile, foundered in a typhoon off Biliran on October 24, 1988 on her way to Tacloban from Manila. The “Philippine Princess” was hit by fire while refitting in Cebu on December 5, 1997. She was towed to Manila where she was broken up. The “Iloilo Princess” was hit by another fire while also refitting in Cebu on July 4, 2003. She capsized in port and she was broken up, too.

The “Dipolog Princess” was the only survivor of the five. She was among the Sulpicio Lines ships suspended as a consequence of the capsizing of the “Princess of the Stars” in a typhoon in June of 2008. She never sailed again and she was just anchored in Mactan Channel and later moored at the Sulpicio wharf in Pier 7 in Mandaue, Cebu. Together with the “Princess of the Caribbean” she was sold to China breakers and she was demolished in Xinhui, China by Jiangmen Yinhu Ship Breaking Company on January 2011.

Now, even Sulpicio Lines is no more.

The Fast Cruiser Liners of William Lines

1978 William Lines

Photo research of Gorio Belen in the National Library

Among the local passenger liner shipping companies, it was William Lines which believed the most in the fast cruiser liners. They acquired the greatest number of them and promoted them well. Those became the engines of William Lines in their quest to be Number 1 in inter-island shipping and surpass the long pillar of inter-island shipping, the somewhat-legendary Compania Maritima which has Spanish origins and politically well-connected. Well, Don William Chiongbian was politically very well-connected, too as President Ferdinand Marcos was a good friend of him.

Fast” is a relative term. In the 1960’s, that meant just about 16 knots. In the period when William Lines bet big on fast cruiser liners, the 1970’s, that already meant about 18 knots or better. In the late 1980’s and especially in the 1990’s, “fast” meant 20 knots already. In the subsequent decades, “fast” for liners did not creep higher than 20 knots because the fuel prices that crept up and patronage for liners has already began to weaken gradually.

In the 1970’s, William Lines invested in six fast cruiser liners. That began with two brand-new ships, the “Misamis Occidental”, which arrived in 1970 and named after the province origin of the founder Don William Chiongbian. In 1972, the “Cebu City” came and it then engaged in a legendary battle with the first “Sweet Faith” of Sweet Lines in the premier Manila-Cebu route at 20 knots. The fast cruiser liners of William Lines were named after cities of the country that were also their ports of call.

When effects of “free float” of the peso (which meant uncontrolled devaluation in direct language) took hold, the Phillippine shipping companies can no longer afford to acquire brand-new ships and so after 1972 all the liner acquisitions were second-hand already. However, many of these were ships just a decade old or even younger. And so, four second-hand cruiser liners came to William Lines with a gap of one year in their arrivals.

The next fast cruiser to come to William Lines was the “Tacloban City” which they acquired in 1975. This was followed by the “Manila City” in 1976, the “Cagayan de Oro City” in 1977 and finally the “Ozamis City” in 1978. I do not know if “Dona Virginia” can be added to the list as she was also RORO (but with cruiser lines) and she came in December of 1979. Among the named cruisers it was only the “Tacloban City”, the smallest which has difficulty reaching 18 knots but 17.5 knots is already near there.

After that series came a long respite for William Lines in the acquisition of passenger liners and their next acquisition already came in 1987, a RORO already, the “Masbate I”. In that interregnum, they concentrated on building their container ship fleet which was called the “Wilcon”. Two in that series were RORO Cargo ships that can also carry passengers, the “Wilcon I” which came in 1978 and the “Wilcon IV” which came in 1979.

The “Misamis Occidental” was a ship ordered by William Lines from Hayashikane Shipbuilding & Engineering Company and she was built in their Nagasaki shipyard and she was delivered in December of 1970. The ship measured 88.9 meters by 13.5 meters and her cubic volume expressed in gross tons was 1,945. The ship had a top speed of 18 knots and she had a passenger capacity of about 650. She could have sailed faster with a more powerful engine but maybe William Lines did not see the “Sweet Faith” coming for Sweet Lines. William Lines referred to the “Misamis Occidental” as their first luxury liner.

The “Cebu City”, a great flagship was ordered by William Lines from Niigata Engineering and she was built in Niigata, Japan and delivered on September, 1972. Her dimensions were 98.8 meters by 13.8 meters with a cubic measure of 2,452 gross tons. Powered by a 5,670-horsepower Hitachi engine she had a top speed of 20.5 knots and she had a passenger capacity of 807. I am sure that when William Lines ordered her there was a specification that the ship will be able to at least match the “Sweet Faith” of Sweet Lines in speed and also in the accommodations. The name of the ship clearly indicated her first route.

The “Tacloban City”, originally the “Naminoue Maru” of Oshima Unyu was built by Sanoyas Shoji Company in 1962 and she came to William Lines in 1975. Her measurements were 91.1 meters by 12.8 meters and her cubic volume was 2,244 gross tons. She had an original speed of 18.5 knots from her single 5,800-horsepower Mitsubishi engine but being no longer new when she came she was only capable of 17.5 knots when she was fielded here. She was advertised by William Lines as the “Cheetah of the Sea” and she had a passenger capacity of 1,274. She was the first in William Lines to breach the 1,000-passenger capacity mark and she had the highest passenger capacity in William Lines fleet when she was fielded. The name of the ship also indicated her first route and she was designed to take on the “Sweet Grace” of Sweet Lines and the “Don Sulpicio” of Sulpicio Lines which in the route and both the two had airconditioning.

The “Manila City” which came in 1976 was originally the “Nihon Maru” of Mitsubishi Shintaku Ginko. She was built by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries in their Shimonoseki yard in 1970. The ship had the external dimensions 106.3 meters by 14.0 meters and her cubic measurement was 2,998 gross tons. From her twin Mitsubishi engines developing 8,800 horsepower, she had a top speed of 20.5 knots. Her design speed was a match to “Cebu City” but being older she was some half knot slower. However, when she came she had the highest horsepower in the William Lines fleet. She could have been named the “Davao City” to reflect her first route but William Lines already had a ship by this name. Being the biggest in the William Lines passenger fleet, William Lines assigned her a worthy name. The “Manila City” had a passenger capacity of 1,388. She was the best ship in the Davao route when she was fielded there.

The “Cagayan de Oro City” which arrived in 1977 was the former “Hibiscus” in Japan or the “Haibisukasu” of the group Terukuni Yusen KK. She was also built by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries or MHI in 1970 in the Shimonoseki yard. She was 89.2 meters in length, 13.0 meters in breadth and 1,999 gross tons in cubic capacity. She had two Niigata engines developing 7,000 horsepower which gave her a top speed of 19 knots. The ship was assigned the route of her namesake city and she was the best ship in the route when first assigned there The “Cagayan de Oro” had a passenger capacity of 1,200.

The “Ozamis City” which was the “Fuji” of the Mitsubishi Shoji Kaisha in Japan was another ship built by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries in the Shimonoseki yard. The ship was completed in 1965 and she came in 1978 and she had the dimensions 91.7 meters by 13.3 meters with 2,865 gross tons as cubic measure. She had a single 4,900-horsepower Kawasaki-MAN engine which gave her a top speed of 18.5 knots. This ship was also assigned to her namesake city and held that route for a long time. She was also the best ship to Ozamis when first assigned there. Her passenger capacity was 1,214.

The “Manila City” was the biggest of the six and she also had the highest passenger capacity and she was the speediest together with “Cebu City”. She was referred to by William Lines as the “Sultan of the Sea” and maybe those were the reasons why (and maybe there are also true sultans along her route). This ship held the Davao route for a very long time until she was consumed by fire. She was never assigned another route in her career here indicating her specs were high that she was still competitive one-and-a-half decade after she was first fielded.

As flagship, the “Cebu City” held the Manila-Cebu route and was plying it twice week. The fast among the fast “Manila City” was holding the long route to Davao via Zamboanga. The “Cagayan de Oro City” was sailing the Manila-Dumaguete-Cagayan de Oro-Iligan-Cebu route. The “Misamis Occidental” was being used in the Manila-Cebu-Ozamis-Iligan-Dumaguete route. The “Tacloban City” was sailing the Tacloban route twice a week and one of that calls in Catbalogan too. Finally, the “Ozamis City” was running the overnight Cebu-Ozamis route.

By and large the six (the seventh was the “Dona Virginia”) were the primary liners of William Lines in the 1970’s up to the end of the 1980’s. William Lines was relatively late in the fielding of ROROs and the six shouldered on even though the competition already had RORO liners. It will already be 1989 when William Lines will be able acquire a big RORO liner, the “Zamboanga City” and the RORO liner flagship, the “Sugbu” will arrive only in 1990.

The six had successful careers but the majority did not reach old age. Of the six, only the “Misamis Occidental” and the “Tacloban City” will escape hull-loss accidents. The “Cagayan de Oro City” will be hit by fire in Ozamis City port on June 22, 1985. She capsized there but she was refloated and towed to Cebu where she was broken up in 1986.

The “Ozamis City” will be wrecked off Siquijor on October 22, 1990. She was towed to Manila for demolition where she was broken up on November of 1991. “Manila City”, meanwhile, will be hit by a fire in Cebu Shipyard on February 16, 1991. She will be declared a constructive total loss or CTL and she was broken up in 1992.

The most publicized loss among the six was the sinking of “Cebu City” on December 1, 1994 after a collision with the Malaysian container ship, the Pacific International Lines’ “Kota Suria”. This happened at the mouth of Manila Bay when she was late on her way and hurrying to Tagbilaran, Bohol. About 145 persons lost their lives in that accident that happened before dawn.

The “Misamis Occidental” and “Tacloban City” still acceded to the “Great Merger” (which failed) that created the giant shipping company WG&A Philippines. “Tacloban City” was later relegated to the subsidiary Cebu Ferries Corporation but did not sail long in that company. Not being a RORO she was offered for sale early and in 1997, the Sampaguita Shipping Company of Zamboanga purchased her and she became the “Sampaguita Ferry 1” of the said company.

The “Misamis Occidental” which was then just being used as an Ozamis-Cebu overnight ferry before the merger was also sent to the WG&A subsidiary Cebu Ferries Corporation and also offered for sale early because she was not a RORO. Having no takers, she was refurbished and re-engined and she was given the new name “Our Lady of Montserrat”. However, she was disposed off to the breakers within two years. She was broken up in China on June 15, 2000.

Today, there are no more traces of the six.

The First “Great” Merger: The Failed Saga of WG&A and CFC

When WG&A was formed it was ostensibly to combat the entry of foreign shipping companies on local inter-island routes. That was the time of many so-called “deregulation” initiatives of Fidel V. Ramos. But even then I had doubts about this as an cabotage law was in effect in the Philippines. Cabotage effectively prevents foreign shipping companies from plying local routes. And to repeal it an act of Congress is needed and I heavily doubted then that the Philippine Congress will go along with that.

It is generally accepted that it was Aboitiz Shipping that proposed this big merger. Rumors had it that the biggest shipping company, Sulpicio Lines, which was also Cebu-based was also invited but it refused and preferred to go it all alone.

The merger brought together the second, third and fourth-biggest shipping companies in the Philippines reckoned by passenger and cargo operations out of a total of five long-distance liner companies (but may I note which is in fourth place might be disputed by Negros Navigation). It had the effect of lowering the number of long-distance passenger shipping companies from five to three.

The merged company and its subsidiaries were the biggest shipping combine that ever existed in the Philippines in terms of fleet and in terms of route network. It significantly brought to that Visayas-Mindanao and intra-Visayas routes and High Speed Craft(HSC) operations. For the former, the Cebu Ferries Corp. (CFC) was formed and for the latter SuperCat was retained.

Brought into the merger were the following ferries (including their former routes):

WILLIAM LINES INC.
Mabuhay 1 (Manila-Cebu and Manila-Iloilo)
Mabuhay 2 ((Mnl-Surigao-Butuan-Tagbilaran-Mnl and Mnl-Tagbilaran-CDO)
Mabuhay 3 (Manila-Davao-Dadiangas-Manila and Manila-CDO-Iloilo-Manila)
Mabuhay 5 [after a few voyages permanent fielding overtaken by merger]
Dona Virginia (Manila-Dumaguete-Ozamis-Iligan v.v.)
Maynilad (Manila-Zamboanga-Davao)
Masbate I (Manila-Masbate-Catbalogan-Tacloban)
Zamboanga City (Manila-Puerto Princesa v.v.)
Tacloban City (Manila-Batan-Dumaguit-Dipolog v.v.)
Iligan City (Cebu-Iligan v.v.)
Misamis Occidental (Cebu-Ozamis v.v.)
Mabuhay 6 [unfinished]

CARLOS A. GOTHONG LINES INC.
Our Lady of Akita (Manila-CDO-Butuan v.v. and Manila-Cebu v.v.)
Our Lady of Medjugorje (Manila-Dumaguete-Ozamis-Iligan-Cebu v.v.)
Our Lady of Sacred Heart (Manila-Roxas-Palompon-Isabel-Cebu v.v.)
Our Lady of Lourdes (Manila-Dumaguit-Palompon-Cebu v.v.)
Our Lady of the Rule (CDO-Cebu v.v. and CDO-Jagna v.v.)
Our Lady of Naju (Cebu-Ozamis v.v.)
Our Lady of Fatima (Nasipit-Cebu v.v. and Nasipit-Jagna v.v.)
Our Lady of Mt. Carmel (Iligan-Cebu v.v. and Iligan-Dumaguete v.v.)
Our Lady of Guadalupe [reserve/unreliable; formerly Cebu-Surigao v.v.]
Our Lady of Lipa (Cebu-CDO v.v.)
Dona Cristina (Cebu-Tacloban v.v. and Cebu-Palompon v.v.)
Dona Lili (Cebu-Surigao v.v. and Cebu-Maasin v.v.)
Don Calvino [reserve/unreliable; formerly Cebu-Iligan v.v.]
Our Lady of Akita 2 [unfinished]

ABOITIZ SHIPPING CORP.
SuperFerry 1 (Manila-Iloilo-GSC-Davao v.v. and Manila-Iloilo v.v.)
SuperFerry 2 (Manila-Cebu-CDO v.v.)
SuperFerry 3 (Mnl-Zamboanga-Cotabato v.v. w/ Boracay (summer) and Mnl-Dumaguit-Roxas v.v.)
SuperFerry 5 (Mnl-Cebu-Iligan-Dumaguete-Mnl) and Mnl-Dumaguete-CDO-Cebu-Mnl)
Elcano (was not used; obsolete/unreliable; supposedly not brought by ASC to the merger)
Allowing for database inaccuracies, the following cargo ships were brought to the merger:

CARLOS A. GOTHONG LINES INC.
Our Lady of Peace (112.9m x 18.0m, 17kts, b. 1974)
Our Lady of Hope (99.0m x17.3m, 17kts, b.1979)

ABOITIZ SHIPPING CORP.
Aboitiz Concarrier V (69.0m x 10.9m, b. 1968)
Aboitiz Concarrier XIV (71.0m x 10.9m, 13kts, b. 1965)
Aboitiz Superconcarrier I (115.1m x17.3m, 14kts, b. 1970)
Aboitiz Superconcarrier II (102.0m x 16.3m, 12.5kts, b. 1970)
Aboitiz Superconcarrier III (105.5m x16.3m, 12.5kts, b. 1976)
Aboitiz Megacarrier 1 (139.7m x 19.3m, 14kts, b. 1975)
Aboitiz SuperRORO 100 (108.2m x20.0m, 16kts, b. 1983)

WILLIAM LINES INC.
Wilcon II
Wilcon 4
Wilcon 5
Wilcon VI
Wilcon VII
Wilcon 8
Wilcon 11
ROCON I

Excluding HSCs which were just beginning to arrive in the Philippines, the combined fleet of WG&A was nearly 50 vessels, slightly more than double the fleet of Sulpicio Lines, previously the biggest shipping company in the country.

SHIP TRANSFORMATIONS AFTER THE MERGER
Mabuhay 1 became SuperFerry10
Mabuhay 2 became SuperFerry 7
Mabuhay 3 became SuperFerry 8
Mabuhay 5 became SuperFerry 9
Mabuhay 6 became Our Lady of Good Voyage
Our Lady Akita became SuperFerry 6
Our Lady of Akita 2 became SuperFerry 11 (and later the Our Lady of Banneux)
Masbate I became Our Lady of Manaoag (in 1998)
Misamis Occidental became Our Lady of Montserrat (in 1997)

VESSELS TRANSFERRED TO CEBU FERRIES CORP.
Our Lady of Lipa (later transferred to WG&A)
Our Lady of the Rule
Our Lady of Lourdes
Our Lady of Fatima
Our Lady of Mt. Carmel
Our Lady of Guadalupe
Dona Cristina
Dona Lili
Don Calvino
Misamis Occidental
Our Lady of Good Voyage (later)
Maynilad (later and also renamed Our Lady of Akita 2)
Our Lady of Banneux (later)
Our Lady of Manaoag (later)

Like all mergers and acquisitions (M&A), the terms “synergy”, “rationalization” and “streamlining” was bandied about as if these terms are positive terms in business. But soon these words brought chills to the rank and file because the sum of the 3 words is actually only one — “chopping block”. This is the field of bean counters where shipping passion is simply thrown out of the window.

Immediately, the Aboitiz Jebsens system was adopted. That means relying on bigger, faster ROROs and short in-port hours which equates to high utilization of ships. That called for good ship engines, a field of expertise of the now-renamed WG&A Jebsens. That system, however, also meant the death knell for the cruiser liners as their cargo booms meant long in-port hours and their having no car decks means low capacity for container vans.

The new style was to put all cargo in container vans and all container vans are mounted in trailers. For fast handling, tractor heads from trucks were no longer good enough. Only dedicated, automatic prime movers with the capability to raise the trailers were used. Calls on in-between ports generally were only 2-3 hours and ships don’t stay overnight at the farthest port of call of a voyage.

With so many ROROs sailing high hours per week (with some ships sailing 145.5 hours out of a 168-hour week), WG&A was confident it could sell less-efficient and slower ropax and container ships without affecting capacity and frequency. Soon some of the vessels were already for sale.

VESSELS SOLD SOON AFTER THE MERGER
Tacloban City (cruiser)
Iligan City (cruiser)
Dona Cristina (slow, small RORO)
Don Calvino (slow, small, unreliable RORO)
Dona Lili (slow, small RORO)
Wilcon 6 (old cargo ship)
Aboitiz Concarrier V (old cargo ship)
Aboitiz Megacarrier 1 (big, modern container ship)
Aboitiz SuperRORO 100 (big, modern container ship)
RoCon I (big, modern container ship, the biggest in the country)

VESSELS OFFERED FOR SALE BUT NOT SOLD THEN
Dona Virginia (cruiser liner)
Maynilad (big but slow RORO liner)
Zamboanga City (ROLO liner)
Our Lady of Naju (cruiser)
Masbate I (slow, small RORO)
Our Lady of Montserrat (cruiser)
SuperRORO 300 (former Our Lady of Hope, container ship)

With WG&A Jebsens managing the fleet, the merger upgraded the amenities, cleanliness and passenger service of the ferries. But initially all meals were for sale; vehement protests from patrons thereafter forced WG&A to backtrack. It was also claimed that safety standards improved as the whole fleet is now internationally-certificated. However this was not reflected in lower hull-loss rates. Ironically, it was the lesser Our Ladies (and not the SuperFerries) which proved to be unsinkable.

WG&A and CFC practiced branding. Branding is good in the sense that it promises consistent quality and service. On the other hand branding also utilizes ads and promotions. If that results in better market share then it should be good. Otherwise it only means higher level of costs. And higher costs are a threat to marginal routes and to less-efficient ships.

Initially, even with a fifth of their fleet sold (and with only one additional ship coming, the SF12 and while losing the SF7 to fire), WG&A was able to offer more frequencies because of the higher utilization of ships. But almost no new ports of call were added except for Bacolod. And probably the only significant new routes were the Manila-Cebu-Surigao-Davao (which passes through the eastern seaboard of Mindanao), Manila-Ormoc-Nasipit, Manila-Dumaguete-Cotabato and Manila-Cebu-Zamboanga-General Santos/Davao routes.

It was Cebu Ferries that added more new ports of call and routes (like Cebu to Dumaguit, Roxas City, Bacolod, Dumaguete, Larena, Jagna and Camiguin and Cagayan de Oro to Dumaguete) which in turn put a lot of pressure on the other Cebu shipping companies. CFC ships were faster than the competition and as former liners they simply outclassed the rest in terms of amenities and service.

Sulpicio Lines and Negros Navigation responded by adding ships. Sulpicio Lines basically kept to their old routes (except for the new Manila-Cebu-Davao-Dadiangas route) but Negros Navigation which previously concentrated only in Western Visayas has to venture in a lot of new routes and ports of call because their fleet more than doubled in a span of a few years. But then by sailing to Cebu, Nenaco also opened their former exclusive port of Bacolod to competition and they lost more than they gained.

This period right after the merger, the late 90s, was probably one of the best in Philippine passenger shipping. Competition was fierce, choices were many and there were a lot of newly-fielded ships. There were more shipping companies in the past but the ships of the 90s were far better than the ships of the earlier periods. In major ports there were nearly daily departures from all the liner companies combined.

But they say good times never really last. But I didn’t expect that the decline will be that soon, that fast, that continuous and what will be left is just the rump of the biggest-ever shipping company in the Philippines.

The first hint of trouble that I detected was when I noticed that WG&A was not properly assessing the threat, challenge and development of the intermodal system in Eastern Visayas which was then growing by leaps and bounds.

If Fidel V. Ramos had a deregulation program in shipping he also had a deregulation program in the bus and truck sectors. As deregulated area, bus companies can now ply Eastern Visayas routes with just a temporary operator’s permit. Soon a lot of buses were plying the Samar-Leyte-Biliran routes. Then the dominant short-distance RORO company in the Matnog-Allen route lost the case to protect their missionary status and new players entered that route ensuring that the ROROs needed will always be there. Long-distance trucking also developed with the loosening of the restrictions in the importation of surplus trucks. And with the advent of radial truck tires long-distance trucking became easy.

WG&A’s response was to withdraw from the Samar-Leyte routes except for the adjacent ports of Ormoc, Palompon and Isabel which actually comprises just one route. But soon under pressure from the buses these were lost too including the port of Masbate City which was also part of this route. Soon the islands of Masbate, Samar, Leyte and Biliran were lost to the intermodal trucks and buses.

Eastern Visayas was a signal victory for the intermodal system which was based on long-distance truck/bus plus the short-distance RORO ship. Wins by the challengers tend to have a multiplier effect. They become stronger, bolder and more confident. If the ship can be beaten in one area then nobody can pooh-pooh anymore that they will not be beaten in the next area of confrontation. And the next challenge probably happened before the WG&A has fully internalized their loss and it happened when they were in relative disarray.

A related development at this time was that WG&A’s new routes failed to stick and only the Bacolod route was able to survive. The new CFC routes also failed to pan out and were being abandoned one by one. One contributory factor for CFC’s retreat is fuel cost. The amenities and service of their ships might have been higher as those were former liners but as former liners it is also the reason why their engines are bigger and consume more fuel. Soon WG&A/CFC were selling ships. This was the second set of disposals and it happened at about the turn of the millennium. Also disposed in this period were at least six catamarans including vessels that came from mergers in the High Speed Craft (HSC) sector (the mergers with the Sea Angels of Negros Navigation and Waterjet).

At the same proximate time, it was already the strategy of WG&A to sell old and inefficient cargo ships and just let the ROROs liners carry the container vans. They then went for bigger ROROs later with twin cargo decks, the reason for the purchases of the SuperFerry 15, SuperFerry 16, SuperFerry 17 and SuperFerry 18.

The next challenge did not come from the intermodal. Rather it was the withdrawal of the Gothong family from the merger except for one scion. Soon the Gothong family re-entered the shipping business and re-established Carlos A. Gothong Lines Inc. (but they were not particular successful). Not long after this development the Chiongbian family (of William Lines) also withdrew from the merged company. But they did not re-enter the shipping business. Let it be noted, because it is important, that all the merged shipping companies independently retained their cargo forwarding businesess. For the Chiongbian family it was the Fast Cargo Transport Corp.(FCTC) and Gothong Cargo Forwarding Corp.(GCFC) for the Gothong family.

One can speculate that the sale of 10 vessels in 2000-02 (including those withdrawn from routes and old container ships) might somehow be connected to these withdrawals. When the company also took out a big loan in this period ($18.6 million) it might also have a relation to this state of affairs. Before the end of 2002, Aboitiz had already bought out its former partners. But it will still be later that the company will be renamed Aboitiz Transport System (ATS).

The next challenge came from the intermodal again. In 2003, the Western Nautical Highway opened and buses, trucks and jeeps were able to roll down to Panay island via Mindoro and Batangas. Soon the shipping routes and shipping companies serving Panay were under great pressure. Again, WG&A chose to withdraw (from Dumaguit and Roxas) and just tried to hold on to Iloilo port.

The opening of the Western Nautical Highway and the consequent withdrawal from routes, the withdrawal of the Chiongbian family and the need for new ROROs provoked a massacre of ships in this period as about 15 ships were disposed in the years 2003-06, both from WG&A and CFC, both ROPAX and container ships. It must also be noted that six catamarans were also sold in this period. WG&A was lucky that at this time world metal prices were peaking. If it hastened the disposal of ships I can say it is probable. Let me state that in the late 1990’s when all three families were still in WG&A, the company did not sell to the breakers, in general. In the first half of the first decade of the new millennium WG&A sold heavily to the breakers especially when world metal prices were peaking.

Attracted by the doubling of world metal price in 2007, WG&A then sold their prized ferries Superferry 15, SuperFerry 16, SuperFerry 17 and SuperFerry 18 to foreign liner companies.In the process they earned a windfall. But this is not without cost as they suddenly lacked the ships needed to carry the container vans. As a stopgap measure WG&A chartered 3 container ships, the “Myriad”, “Markella” and “Eponyma”. They then also converted SuperFerry 2, SuperFerry 9 and SuperFerry 12 into twin-cargo-deck ROPAX ships. Later the subsidiary cargo company 2GO was formed and the chartered ships were returned one by one.

At about the same time, in 2007, a very ominous development took place. Aboitiz partnered with MCC Transport of Singapore, the Asia subsidiary of the A.P. Moller – Maersk Group, the biggest container shipping company in the world and formed the MCC Transport Philippines (MCCTP). Since it met nationality rules, it was able to ply local routes and the ships invested by Maersk were given special permits by MARINA.

If the chartered ships of ATS and the ships of 2GO were a step up over local competition, the ships that came from MCC Transport were still another further step ahead in terms of size, speed and efficiency. MCCTP acted as feeder to MCC Transport which now dominates the Asia container routes. Together with the coming of more regional container ships (after APL) with direct foreign routes (like MELL, PIL, RCL and others), this completely undermined one important bread and butter of local container shipping which is the transshipment of foreign container vans. ATS and subsidiary 2GO cargo operations might have been affected by this but as a group Aboitiz is safe because they are also on the side of the winners through MCCTP.

After the sales of the four of the biggest and most modern SuperFerry ships in 2007, the fleet of ATS/CFC no longer grew. New ships have come like SuperFerry 20, SuperFerry 21, Cebu Ferry 1, Cebu Ferry 2 and Cebu Ferry 3. But ships have also been sold, lost or laid-up like SuperFerry 9, Our Lady of Medjugorje, Our Lady of Good Voyage, Our Lady of the Rule, Our Lady of Mount Carmel and SuperFerry 19.

With only six ships sailing, ATS ports of call were already down to half compared to its peak and in half of these ports the frequencies were down to once a week. CFC ports of call were also down to half and its fleet is less than a third of what it had before. CFC changed its website and no longer claimed it was the biggest Visayan shipping company (which is just a reflection of the truth). The Sulpicio Lines fleet was already bigger than the combined ATS and CFC fleets. If cargo ships are counted, Sulpicio’s fleet was almost double the combined ATS, CFC and 2GO fleets.

In 2008, KGLI-NM, the holding company owning Negros Navigation made an offer for Aboitiz Transport System. When the bank financing the take-over bid asked for more collateral the bid collapsed. This take-over bid was news for a long time because of the significance and it dragged. It was here that ATS propagated the canard that shipping is losing to the budget airlines and it obscured the fact that cargo is the lifeblood of shipping. Ironically it is this same year that regional container ships in Philippine ports multiplied. And not once did I notice Aboitiz discussing its shares in MCC Transport Philippines. But at least the Aboitiz group was frank enough to admit that the business of power generation attracts them more and that they are already heavily investing in it and if ATS is sold it will be one of their primary investment areas.

In 2010, with the assistance of the ASEAN-China Fund, Negros Navigation Company was finally able to secure the deal to buy Aboitiz Transport System and its subsidiaries especially Cebu Ferries Corporation, SuperCat and 2GO, the forwarding company. At its end as an Aboitiz company, ATS, CFC and 2GO had only 9 ROPAX ships and 2 cargo ships sailing which is not any bigger in gross tons than the company it merged in WG&A even if the SuperCats are counted. So in effect that means the bigger William Lines and Gothong sank without any replacement.

Aboitiz always says around that it has already gotten out of shipping and the maritime industry. But they completely obscure the fact that they are still in MCC Transport Philippines (MCCTP) and they completely own now the former Aboitiz Jebsens (renamed back when the Gothong and Chiongbian families withdrew from WG&A). The former Abojeb is in crewing and manning and that is one of the five recognized sectors of the Philippine maritime industry as defined by the government. MCCTP is already in expansion after Aboitiz sold Aboitiz Transport System. [Recently, Aboitiz clarified that some of their family members are engaged in MCCTP.]

Now, Negros Navigation Company owns Aboitiz Transport System and NENACO even retained the name and the brands. It will be a matter of time before it will be evident how big a bag they are holding.

The “great” merger of 1996 started out with a bang, lofty words and promises. It exited with just a whimper. But along the way it sank two great liner companies (William Lines and Gothong) and took down with it the liner industry.