The Sweet RORO

Many, when talking about the Sweet RORO of Sweet Lines Incorporated which is pf Bohol origin talk about her technicals and that is not wrong as there is nothing incorrect in admiring the technical merits of a ship especially that of a luxury liner. But to me I also tend to look at the historical position of things and how they interacted as I am also keen on the historical perspective of the ferries when they came and also their roles. After all, ferries make the shipping companies, at least in the early decades of our shipping history. And, it is in the great liners in which shipping companies are identified by the public.

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The Sweet RORO in original livery. Photo by Lindsay Bridge.

The Sweet RORO came to Sweet Lines when from the peak of the company a great slide was already happening them. This came from a probable mistake when in the late 1970’s the company decided they would henceforth just buy small liners. It was a great reversal from the previous mantra of the company that they will bring great liners, the prime examples of which were the highly regarded Sweet Faith and Sweet Home which were former luxury liners even in Europe. Also included in that was the Sweet Grace which was acquired brand-new from West Germany.

That bad decision came when the top liners of the company, the aforementioned Sweet Faith and the Sweet Home were already graying and if analyzed technically were already threatening to quit in a few years time (and they subsequently did). Coupled with that that the former cargo-passenger ship from Europe, the Sweet Bliss, the Sweet Life/Sweet Dream, the Sweet Lord/Sweet Land and the Sweet Love which buoyed the company early on and helped in their rise were also growing old as they were also built in the 1950’s like the Sweet Faith and the Sweet Home and ferries then were not known to exceed 30 years of life as the metallurgy and technology were still not the same as today when ferries normally exceed 40 years of service life here. Spare and surplus parts are easy to find today and CNC milling of parts are already common whereas that was not the case of 40 years ago. When that decision to just acquire small ferries was made the six liners of Sweet Lines from Europe were already approaching 30 years old save for the Sweet Home (but then this luxury liner, the biggest of her time was actually the first to go because of mechanical problems).

The year 1980 came and one of the biggest crisis in local liner shipping came. This happened when a lot of liners were suddenly laid up because the container ships came into full force all at once and suddenly the old passenger-cargo liners no longer had enough cargo to carry and it was actually cargo which is decisive in the profitability of a passenger-cargo ship. Before the arrival of the container ships of Aboitiz Shipping Corporation, William Lines, Sulpicio Lines, Lorenzo Shipping Corporation, Central Shipping Corporation (the cargo shipping company of Sweet Lines), Sea Transport Company, Negros Navigation Company and Solid Shipping Lines, it was practically just the passenger-cargo liners which were carrying the cargo in liner routes.

Sweet Home was gone in 1979, sold, and Sweet Faith was also gone the next year in 1980, first laid up then sold to the breakers. The new decade came and Sweet Lines had no ship good enough for the premier Manila-Cebu route which they used to dominate albeit with just a small pull only early in the 1970’s but largely gone as the decade was winding down. What they had left to serve as flagship was the cruiser liner Sweet Grace which was ordered brand-new from West Germany in 1968 but which does not have the speed and the size of the now-dominant fast cruiser liners of that era already.

While Sweet Lines was saddled with such problem William Lines rolled out the half-cruiser, half-RORO Dona Virginia in December 1979 which was the biggest liner in the country when she was fielded and with a speed of 20 knots too like the liner she was replacing, the storied Cebu City which came brand-new just in 1972. Then Sulpicio Lines rolled out the Philippine Princess in 1981 and this liner was nearly as big as the Dona Virginia but not as fast. Sweet Grace was far smaller than the two unlike the flagship Filipinas of Compania Maritima which was nearly as big as Dona Virginia and Philippine Princess although not as fast as the two. Sweet Grace was also much slower than the three, she cannot even be considered as a fast cruiser liner and so for the first time since Sweet Lines raised the bar in the Manila-Cebu premier route in 1970 with the Sweet Faith, this time it found itself as the laggard and outmatched. And that was where the decision to just buy small liners bit Sweet Lines hard.

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Photo from a research of Gorio Belen in the National Library

Having money from the proceeds of the disposals of Sweet Home and Sweet Faith, Sweet Lines was obliged to look for their replacement and it is forced that it should be a good and a big one. They did not disappoint when the former Ferry Ruby of the Diamond Ferry which plies the Osaka to Oichi route came to them in 1982 (but the seller was a third by the name of Dimerco Line SA of Panama and more on that later). The ship was nearly as big as her main competitors at 117.5 meters length and 4,700 gross register tons and at 18 knots design speed she was not giving away much to her direct competition, the flagships of the other liner companies although she was still the slowest at full trot among the flagships. And so what Sweet Lines emphasized was her being a RORO liner and its swiftness in cargo loading and unloading. However, the claim of Sweet Lines that she was the first RORO liner in the country is incorrect as the Sta. Maria of Negros Navigation Company came earlier in 1980. She, however, was the first big RORO liner in the country if the Dona Virginia is excluded.

When analyzed technically, the Sweet RORO is a leapfrog in technology compared to her main competitors which were mainly cruiser liners, the old paradigm. She was already a full-pledged ROPAX (RORO-Passenger) ship unlike the Dona Virginia whereas the Philippine Princess and the Filipinas of Compania Maritima were still cruiser ships . Now these four are all flagships and only four shipping companies were competing seriously in the prime Manila-Cebu route as the others like Aboitiz Shipping Corporation and Escano Lines were no longer in serious contention in that route and the others have practically withdrawn from contention there like Lorenzo Shipping Corporation and Carlos A. Gothong Lines Incorporated (but this company later made a comeback in that route). By the way, Negros Navigation Company is not being mentioned here as she was not doing the Manila-Cebu route then.

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Credits to Philippine Daily Express and Gorio Belen

But Sweet RORO might have been too much ahead of her time. Loading vehicles was not yet the wont then in her route (and neither now except for brand-new cars headed for car dealers down south). Container vans were mainly carried by the container ships and at that time there were still a lot of XEUs, the 10-foot container vans which can be handled by forklifts or loaded atop the cruisers at their bow and/or stern. Using chassis for container vans was not yet the standard then and so the full advantage of being a RORO or Roll-on, Roll-off ship was not fully realized when a lot of cargo was still palletized or are still carried loose (however, Sweet RORO had advantage over the others in carrying vehicles and heavy equipment down South). It would be nearly a decade later when the TEUs, the 20-foot container vans will be the new standard in cargo loading and by that time the Sweet RORO was already gone.

The Sweet RORO, the former Ferry Ruby was built by Onomichi Dockyard (Onomichi Zosen) in Onomichi, Japan in 1970 (but Sweet Lines says she was built in another yard) as one of the fast overnight ferries of Japan that bypasses their clogged highways then. She was average in size then (but this is not to disparage her) at 117.5 meters in Length Over-all, 107.0 meters in Length Between Perpendiculars, 20.6 meters in Breadth and 4,619 tons in Gross Register Tonnage. She was 1,943 tons in Net Register Tonnage and 1,477 tons in Deadweight Tonnage. This RORO liner was powered by 4 Kawasaki-MAN V8V 22/30ATL diesel engines with a combined 8,080hp which gave her a top speed of 18 knots which was also average for her size during her time. At that power she would have been more economical in fuel than the other flagships.

The stem of the ship was raked and she had transom stern. She was equipped with ramps bow and aft as access to the car deck. The ship has three decks for the passengers, the uppermost one a local addition (and that deck contained a lobby/relaxation room, the First Class bar and disco plus a game room) and abaft of the funnels is a wide open-air promenade area/sun deck. Aside from First Class and Second Class, a part of her Third Class (now known as “Economy”) is also airconditioned. This is because as-built the ship was fully air-conditioned. Her original passenger capacity as refitted was 1,692, one of the highest then among passenger ships in the country. It was broken down into 148 in 1st Class, 144 in 2nd Class, 400 in air-conditioned 3rd Class and 1,000 in non-airconditioned 3rd Class. The 3rd Class occupied the lowermost passenger deck while the First Class and Second Class accommodations and lobbies were on the deck above that and so it is the middle deck.

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Photo from a research of Gorio Belen in the National Library

Like the Sweet Faith before her, the Sweet RORO plied the premier Manila-Cebu route twice a week with a 22-hour sailing time which means a cruising speed of 18 knots for the 393-nautical mile route which is actually her design speed. It seems the policy of Sweet Lines is sail the ship at design speed because that is what they also did with the Sweet Faith. However, running a ship at 100% usually entails a ship’s not living very long. In 1988, Sweet RORO already had trouble with her engines specifically with her crankshaft as one report said and from that time on she already had difficulty sailing and if she did it is at reduced speed. The next year she was already laid up when she was less than 20 years of age. In 1990, she was sent to India for breaking up, a very short career when her two sister ships was still sailing in Greece up to the new millennium.

In 1987, Sweet RORO had a change of ownership but she was still sailing for Sweet Lines even then. She again became a Panamanian ship with the Dimerco Line SA which was the seller of her to Sweet Lines and to me that indicates a possibility that she was not fully paid for by Sweet Lines and so the seller re-acquired her. This was also about the same time that the Eduardo Lopingco group entered Sweet Lines and took over the management. With the entry of Lopingco additional ships came to the fleet but it turned out those were just chartered from the Hayashi Marine Company of Japan . Later, court cases arose after the company was not able to pay the charter to Hayashi Marine because court records show money was diverted by Lopingco to other ventures.

I wonder but I know financial troubles and mismanagement are ship killers especially when the needed maintenance of the ship are no longer made. And running ships at 100% power is parts-hungry and can result in damages to the engine in the long term especially when maintenance is not up to date. A report said that re-engining her was suggested to the company but nothing came out of it. This was already the time that the company was already headed on the way down after it seems that the founding Lim family has already lost control of the company if court filings are to be believed.

Whatever, the Sweet RORO was a big success in the Manila-Cebu route as actually Sweet Lines was a favorite of many especially the Bol-anons that until today many still remember her fondly (people are more attached then to their great liners unlike today that is why there were ship legends then including the Sweet RORO while now there is no such sentimentality anymore). However, it puzzles me why didn’t they extend the route to Tagbilaran given it was their origins and the ship had a long lay-over anyway in Cebu (was Tagbilaran port too shallow for her then?).

She was a fine ship ahead of her time. However, the sad part is she did not last long.

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The Mabuhay 1/SuperFerry 10

When Sulpicio Lines fielded the great liner Filipina Princess in the premier route to Cebu in 1988, their main competitor William Lines had to suffer silently for several years. That was because sticking to their old Japanese agent that send them ferries from A” Line, they cannot roll out an equivalent and their liner and new flagship Sugbu that was fielded to the Cebu route in 1990 does not begin to match the Sulpicio Lines flagship (although in actual passengers carried, she can according to a research). And to think in their last match-up in this primary route of the country at the start of the 1980’s, their flagship Dona Virginia, which was the biggest and fastest liner in the country then was at least the equal of the Sulpicio Lines flagship Philippine Princess.

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Sun Flower 5 (from Funikichemurase)

In 1992, William Lines was able to field the Maynilad but although she was impressive and modern-looking she was still not the match of the Filipina Princess especially with her great deficit in speed as she was really a slow ship. In 1993, however, William Lines was able to acquire one of the legendary Sun Flower ships from Blue Highway Line, the Sun Flower 5. It had everything a great liner should possess — the size, the beautiful looks, the luxurious interiors and the speed. It was more than a match for the Filipina Princess which suddenly looked dated by comparison. But Sulpicio Lines will not be denied and they also fielded one of the Sun Flower liners from Blue Highway Line, too, the Sun Flower 11. This liner was bigger, just as well-appointed but a little slower. This ship became the Princess of the Orient and so a great battle of flagships began again in the premier route to Cebu.

The Sun Flower 5 was built in 1973 by the Kurushima Dockyard Company in their Onishi shipyard. She was the third in the Sun Flower series of luxury ships which were all sister ships. However, Sun Flower 11, the future Princess of the Orient, was a little different from the rest. She was a stretched version and she had two center funnels in a line. Two later ships, meanwhile, were shortened versions of the series.

Sun Flower 5 was exactly 185.0 meters in length over-all and her beam was 24.0 meters. Her length between perpendiculars was only 170.0 meters. That difference can be gleaned in her long bow that nearly resembles a clipper bow. She was 12,710 in gross tons, her cubic measure, and her deadweight tonnage (DWT), her cargo carrying capacity, was 3,231 tons. The ship had three passenger decks, two car decks and a mezzanine deck for sedans. Her navigation deck also served as the sun deck and accessible to passengers. She had the permanent ship ID IMO 7302108.

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Mabuhay 1 by Britz Salih

The ship’s RORO ramps were already of the modern design. It was no longer located at the bow which was already deemed as more dangerous then as continuous pounding of the waves over the years along with corrosion were already shown to weaken bow ramps. A frontal collision could also prove calamitous for the ship as shown by experiences. What she had were a pair of front quarter ramps on the port and on the starboard sides. She also had a pair of quarter ramps at the stern. That was a very advantageous set-up because docked sideways she can load and unload simultaneously. Docked stern-wise or Mediterranean style, she can also load and unload at the same time. She had three-piece hydraulic ramps which can always be straightened full-out and long, whether it is high tide or low tide, whether she is docked in a high pier or low pier.

Since her front ramps were no longer located at the bow, it no longer needed to be oval. Instead, it was sleek which gave her a more modern look. She had a single center funnel which also served as the stern mast. To complete the modernity, she was a pioneer among liners in using the new and more efficient bulbous stem. This breaks and guides the waters around the ship better so giving the ships’ speed a little boost. Or put it in another way, for the same speed, a little less fuel will be needed. She was equipped with four Hitachi diesel engines with a total output of 26,080 horsepower. This was coupled to two synchronizers in order to turn the two propellers. She had a top speed of 25.5 knots when new which was really fast for that time. To make the voyage more comfortable in rough waters, she was equipped with fin stabilizers.

The original operator of Sun Flower 5 was the Nihon Kosoku Ferry which was under the Terukuni group. She plied the Tokyo-Nachikatsuura-Kochi route. However, the Oil Crisis of 1973 hit the group hard and Terukuni Kaiun went bankrupt but Nihon Shikoku Ferry continued operating. In 1984, the Nihon Kosoku Ferry sold the Sun Flower 5 to her builder, the Kurushima Dock Company and chartered them back in order to continue operating. But Kurushima Dock Company also collapsed and in 1990, the Nihon Enkai Ferry acquired Sun Flower 5 and fielded her in the Osaka-Kagoshima route. In 1991, Sun Flower 5 became the Sun Flower Osaka. Then Nihon Enkai Ferry changed the company’s name into Blue Highway Line.

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SuperFery 10 by Chief Ray Smith

When she came to the Philippines for William Lines in 1993, Sun Flower Osaka was renamed officially as the Wililines Mabuhay 1. But almost nobody called her by her full name and she was simply Mabuhay 1 to most. She started the William Lines series of luxury liners that were beautiful, well-appointed, fast and with good service to match. And with her characteristics, she was really a good and proper progenitor plus a worthy flagship.

In refitting here, her superstructure was largely left untouched and with such, her beautiful lines remained intact. Moreover, William Lines did not try to cram her with passenger accommodations. So for her size and for the standards of the day, her passenger capacity of 2,034 was relatively low. It was just a little over half of the passenger capacity of her main rival Princess of the Orient. Maybe with her intended routes of Manila-Cebu and Manila-Iloilo only with no Mindanao connections, her passenger capacity might have just enough.

The ship had plenty of passenger space as a result and so she had features like conference and function rooms that take up space but which will be unused most of the time. She was intended to be sold as a “floating hotel” where meetings or small conventions can be held and so she has utilities like fax and telephone services and xerox machines. That was not a far-off sell then because liner rates in those days were comparable to hotel rates when the free food was factored in. It was just like staying in a hotel with free conveyance to one’s destination in province. Actually, with this idea, I was able to convince a friend to just take the Princess of the Pacific as their honeymoon suite instead of a hotel in Baguio.

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SuperFerry 10 by Britz Salih

In her sun deck, Mabuhay 1 had a small swimming pool and a wading pool too for children. The sun deck also hosted a playground for children. If that was not one’s taste, there were also video games in the arcade and movies in the theater. For those who liked it “hotter”, one can belt a tune in the videokes or gyrate in the disco. If that was not enough to work a sweat there was also a physical fitness center. However, as a ship feature I noticed that this one was barely patronized. The fitness craze was not yet “on” then for Pinoys. Cruising should be laid back and fun, wasn’t it?

For those who were in a hurry and forgot their grooming for an important meeting or interview, the beauty and grooming salons took care of that. Those in need of relaxation or easing of body pains can go the shipboard massage parlor. The ship had many lounges where passengers can while their time and this included the ship’s many restaurants. This ship with its high net tonnage to passenger ratio had many spaces where one can walk around in the softness of the carpeted floors. The poop decks also served as promenade areas and observation decks. One of the places to visit then for the artistically inclined was the art gallery, a supportive gesture of William Lines to the budding artists of Cebu.

In refitting here, the ship’s gross tonnage (GT) increased to 13,288. She had a local net tonnage (NT) of 5,480 but her deadweight tonnage (DWT) increased a lot to 7,827 tons. She carried the Philippine Call Sign DUHN3.

For William Lines, she sailed to Cebu twice a week and once a week for Iloilo. She took 20 hours for the 393-nautical mile cruise to Cebu and 18 hours for the 343-nautical mile cruise to Iloilo. Locally, her speed was down to 20 knots but that was still fast by local standards. She had an overnight lay-over in Manila every Saturday. Lay-overs like that were very welcome rest to the crew and an opportunity to them to make visits.

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SuperFerry 10 by Chief Ray Smith

Mabuhay 1 did not have that many accommodation classes unlike one will expect for a ship this size. The reason, I surmise, is they respected and used many of the cabin lay-out in Japan. There were four classes in cabin setting, the Special Suite, the Suite, the First Class Cabin for 4 and the De Luxe Cabin for 2 (First Class Cabins have their own Toilet and Baths while De Luxe Cabins only have a wash). There was also the De Luxe (these has better, semi-private bunks), Tourist and Economy. The fare of the highest class was three-and-a-half times the fare of the lowest class.

All the passage classes were entitled to free meals like in the rest of the liner shipping companies before except for Aboitiz Shipping Corporation where meals were not free (but their fares are correspondingly a little less). There were three restaurants according to class group –– the First Class restaurant, the Tourist restaurant and the Economy restaurant. Suite passengers have the option of being served in their cabins. The fare or meal in each class varies a lot along with the plates and table linen as in from none to true restaurant type. It was not eat-all-you-can for rice in the Economy restaurant.

She did not sail long for William Lines because the merger of William Lines, Carlos A. Gothong Lines Inc. (CAGLI) and Aboitiz Shipping Corporation (ASC) happened which produced the super-big (for that time) shipping company William, Gothong & Aboitiz or WG&A Philippines in the first day of1996 (but the agreement was sealed in late 1995). In the combined fleet, she was renamed as the SuperFerry 10. “10” maybe because that signifies perfect or highest. They cannot give the “1” to her because the numbers of the original SuperFerries were not changed and there was already a SuperFerry 1.

There was a question which was the flagship of the WG&A fleet. The big, new ship of Aboitiz Shipping Corporation which arrived in 1996 (and which was originally meant to be the new flagship of Aboitiz Shipping Corporation had there been no merger) was given the number “12”. Initially, both the SuperFerry 10 and SuperFerry 12 held the premier Manila-Cebu, v.v. route which was the indication of which is the flagship. SuperFerry 10, however, is bigger than SuperFerry 12, she was no less luxurious or stunning and their speeds were about equal. They might have been actually co-flagships.

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SuperFerry 10 model (Credits to WG&A and Triztan Mallada)

In WG&A, her accommodation class designations were changed. It was now Economy, Tourist, Business Class, Stateroom and Suite. The last two had to be purchased now on a per-room basis and no longer by person basis. There were also changes in the passage rates. The Economy class became more expensive but the highest classes got cheaper.

In later years, SuperFerry 10 was removed from the Manila-Cebu route and she was paired in rotation with SuperFerry 1 and SuperFerry 8 in the express Manila-Iloilo-General Santos City-Davao route. Later, she was paired with SuperFerry 6 in that route and in other routes like the Manila-Cebu-Cagayan de Oro route. All three had about the same passenger capacity and size and about the same speed too, the bases then for the pairing practice of WG&A. The pairing was a way to maintain the same Manila departures for long routes without resorting to the use of the ship on a short voyage (like a Manila-Iloilo or a Manila-Bacolod route) for the duration of the week. This was most acute in the Davao route where one complete voyage takes five days.

After six years, the merger of the William, Gothong and Aboitiz shipping companies broke apart. The Gothong and Chiongbian (of William Lines) families pulled out from WG&A one after the other. To pay off the divestments, ships (both passenger and cargo) had to be liquidated and sold. This started the one-way trip of WG&A and Cebu Ferries Corporation or CFC (their regional subsidiary) ships to the ship breakers and mainly in China. And, sadly, these were ships that were still in good condition and perfectly sailing as WG&A was really good in ship maintenance through WG&A Jebsens which was the former (and later after the break-up) Aboitiz Jebsens.

Among the casualties of these liquidations, very sadly, was Mabuhay 1 or SuperFerry 10. Together with the Our Lady of Akita 2 (the former Maynilad) and the Our Lady of Naju, they were sent as a batch to a China ship breaker. She was broken up on September of 2002 when she was still a good and reliable ship and just sailing for 9 years here. I just wonder why the divesting partners were not just paid in ships. That move would have been able to preserve our good and great liners instead of them becoming ugly scrap metal.

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From http://www.greenshipspotting.com

And that was the inglorious end of the beautiful and great liner Mabuhay 1, a casualty of a wrong turn in Philippine shipping which was the “Great Merger” that in the end only resulted in the liquidation of two great shipping companies. If that did not happen, I am pretty sure the Mabuhay 1 and the William Lines fleet would have been living until the new millennium and who knows, maybe until now.

The First Ship To Claim To Be The Fastest and Most Luxurious Passenger Ship After The War

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Credits to Philippine Herald and Gorio Belen

Right after the war, the Philippines did not have many good ships because the bulk were lost in the war – scuttled, sank, seized by the Japanese and lost. Before the war we have some of the better ships in the Far East bar maybe for the Japan and the ships of the European nations based on the Far East like in Hongkong and Singapore and the USA that are based in Manila, of course. But those Commonwealth ship of ours were almost all lost and few survived. The Americans tried to replace the losses as they promised but the replacements were war-surplus cargo ships converted into passenger use and those were really different from purpose-built passenger-cargo ships in terms of accommodations, comfort and speed.

Among our very few ships that survived the war was the Argus of Don Vicente Madrigal, owner of Madrigal Shipping. This prewar ship was seized by the Japanese on Christmas day in Hongkong where she was laid up for repairs. Pressed into the Japanese war effort, she was renamed as the Gyonan Maru. It is not that much clear to outsiders what was her role in the Japanese war effort but most likely it was transport or convoy duty.

SS Argus 1948

Credits to Manila Chronicle and Gorio Belen

This ship was actually built way back in 1911 and she has very fine origins. This ship was built as a royal yacht Hirondelle by Mediterranee in La Seyne yard in France for His Royal Highness Prince Albert of Monaco. She was a big yacht with the external dimensions 67.2 meters by 11.0 meters and a gross register tonnage of 1,243 tons. The yacht was powered by two steam turbines and her top speed was 16 knots.

Before being acquired by Don Vicente Madrigal who was one of the richest men in the Philippines before the war, the yacht passed through several distinguished owners and the first after the sovereign of Monaco was the well-renowned publisher William Randolph Hearst of the USA who was a very rich and influential man, a media baron in that country during that time. It was 1923 when Hearst acquired the Hirondelle.

In 1925, the yacht passed into the hands of the International Film Service Company of New York which was still a Hearst enterprise and so there might not really be transfer of beneficial use. In 1931, the Hirondelle was sold to James J. Murray and in 1932, the yacht was acquired by Frank H. Finucane. And in 1938, Hirondelle was sold to Rhode Island Navigation Company which were operators of ferries. In the same year the yacht also passed on to the hands of Viking Maritime Corporation Incorporated before being acquired by Don Vicente Madrigal in 1941, the year the Pacific War started. It was only in 1941 when Hirondelle had a change of name and that was to Argus.

Argus as Gyonan Maru was very fortunate to survive the war because very few Japanese ships were left unsunk when Japan surrendered as the US Navy hunted them right down to their bases. Upon termination of the war the remaining Japanese ships were seized by the Americans. There was an order of the SCAP which meant Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers, the title held by General Douglas MacArthur that ships seized by the Japanese at the start of the war would have to be returned to their rightful owners and these should be repaired first and reconditioned to bring it to prewar conditions and Japanese shipyards would have to shoulder that. So in 1946, Argus underwent repairs in Japan to bring her back to the condition when she was seized.

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Credits to Philippine Herald and Gorio Belen

When she went back sailing for Madrigal Shipping after the war, the company advertised her as the fastest passenger ship in the country. She then had the route Manila-Iloilo-Tacloban and her advertised sailing time between Manila and Iloilo was 24 hours. For the 340-nautical mile distance of the route that meant an average speed of a little over 14 knots. That was not well off the design speed and to think Argus was already over 35 years old then. It was also an indictment against the replacement ships given to us by the USA as they were universally slow being former merchantmen during the war.

A little later, in 1949, Argus was superseded in speed by the Don Julio of Ledesma Lines which was an overpowered former “FS” ship which had replacement engines from a submarine. However, Argus was the bigger ship with better accommodations (well, imagine a former yacht which was bigger than an ex-”FS” ship). Also later, Argus changed route and she was only doing the Manila-Iloilo-Pulupandan route and that made more sense, perhaps, as it was a more compact route and able to harness the cargo and passengers of two nearby ports and provinces.

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Credits to Philippine Herald and Gorio Belen

Argus continued sailing but in 1955 her company lost its drive in sailing when one of their ships was lost off Cagayan province where it was trying to beat a typhoon to Aparri port. Ships were sold and those not sold were still made to sail to still use their remaining economic life. But by this time, the great Madrigal business empire was no longer the same and their great cargo fleet was also shrinking because although copra still buoyed it up, the other great cargoes it carried which were abaca and coal were already on the way down and the latter was practically zilch already after ships and the railroad converted to diesel power.

Argus languished around for a while but not sailing as a passenger-cargo ship. By that time Madrigal Shipping was mainly into Bicol routes and these routes then were primarily for cargo. Maybe the owners were waiting for buyers but for a ship with limited cargo capacity but luxurious (and it is cargo that buoys shipping) she was hard to sell. Steam turbines were also out of vogue then already and thought by some as “dangerous” as it can explode and fire results.

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1950 0211 SS Argus b

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Credits to Philippine Herald and Gorio Belen

The ship was finally scrapped in 1965 and that was 54 years after she was built. She could actually have been the last steam-turbine passenger ship that existed in the country.

The Flagship and Great Liner Wars Going Into the Middle ’90s

If the deadly-for-shipping decade of the ’80s ended in 1990, in 1992 and more so in 1993 there was a palpable change of mood in the local shipping industry. There was optimism, a new outlook and the surviving shipping companies were raring to go instead of just trying to keep their heads above water. There was a new administration ruling in Malacanang under President Fidel V. Ramos which has called for shipping modernization (it was not just modernization but also to address our lack of ferries then). It rolled out incentives for shipping including a program to acquire new ships. The power crisis and the coup d’etat attempts against the previous administration were over and business was picking up. An uptick in business is also a call for shipping expansion, so it was thought then.

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I remember that 1992 and 1993 were signal years for Philippine shipping. That was when great liners (Frank Heine and Frank Lose defined this as liners of over 10,000 gross tons) started arriving in local shores and the flagship wars of the local shipping companies began in earnest. It took the competitors of Sulpicio Lines four or five years before they were able to respond to the knock-out punch delivered by Sulpicio Lines in 1988 when they acquired the trio of Filipina Princess, Cotabato Princess and Nasipit Princess. William Lines, then the closest competitor of Sulpicio Lines for the bragging rights of which is Numero Uno rolled out the splendid-looking with impressive interiors, the tall Maynilad in 1992. However, she had an Achilles heel which cannot be remedied – she severely lacked speed, a requirement for great liners and she was just in the 140-meter class, no matter how much superstructure they tried to build into her.

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Maynilad by Britz Salih

Aboitiz Shipping Corporation fielded the SuperFerry 2 in 1992. She was much like in the interiors and size of the SuperFerry 1 at being in the 130-meter class also but her passenger capacity was maxed. However, she was not in the 20-knot class unlike the SuperFerry 1 and Filipina Princess. Twenty knots was already the speed considered necessary then for great liners locally, if they wanted bragging rights. Negros Navigation fielded the San Paolo in 1992 and the Princess of Negros, their new flagship, in 1993. But both were just in the 110-meter class and their speeds were just about equal to SuperFerry 2 at most. Aboitiz Shipping Corporation also fielded the SuperFerry 3 in 1993 but she was also in the 110-meter class like the San Paolo and the Princess of Negros. Moreover, her speed was a little inferior to the two.

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Mabuhay 1 by Britz Salih

In 1993, William Lines and Carlos A. Gothong Lines Inc. (CAGLI) showed two great liners that were a direct challenge to Sulpicio Lines. William Lines fielded the great Mabuhay 1 which was also in the 180-meter class like the Filipina Princess but was more modern-looking. The Our Lady of Akita of Gothong Lines was not as sleek-looking but she was also big being in the 160-meter class. When the two arrived, it was only Filipina Princess which was breaching the 150-meter mark among local liners in length.

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Our Lady of Akita by Britz Salih

News of incoming liners to the Philippines usually become rumors in Japan shipping circles even before the ships prepare to leave Japan waters and that could even be months in advance. After all, it is just a small, close-knit circle and news of a newbuilding of a ship that will replace a sailing one on the same route are also known by the time the keels are laid. And that is about half a year or more before they are even delivered. So speculations are always rife as to where the ships that will be replaced will be headed (in terms of country) and who is the agent and the buyer.

In Japan, a company bet big on the “Highways of the Sea”, the big, fast overnight ROROs which connected the northern and southern parts of Japan to its central part and metropolises. The Terukuni group and its shipping company Nihon Kosoku Ferry built the all-big (only one is less than 180-meters length in a series of seven) Sun Flower series of luxury liners successively between 1972 and 1974. Not only all were grand but all were very well-appointed and tops in comfort. Like floating “hotels of the sea”, they were the Japan equivalent of the legendary Stena series of luxury ferries in Sweden and in Europe.

Terukuni and its shipping company did not earn money from the series and became financially distressed and so changes in the ownership structure came about. Even so, the Sun Flower series became highly regarded. At times, the more important thing was the impact, the lasting impression and the regard created in the public’s mind. The Sun Flower series was well-remembered in Japan to almost the equivalent to being able to lay down a template.

The Philippines was lucky we had Japan connections and so a few of these great and grand liners of Japan came to our shores. Some will notice that the great liners that came later like SuperFerry 20 and SuperFerry 21 (the two were also Sun Flowers) and St. Michael The Archangel and St. Francis Xavier (which are sister ships of the first pair) are no longer as luxurious. Tastes and conditions have changed. In the 1990’s, the new “Highways of the Sea” were just functional ferries and no longer offered First Class. They might rival their 1970’s predecessors in size and speed but they were no match in the arena of appointments and luxury.

Two of these 1970’s beautiful Sun Flower ships came at the same year in the Philippines – amazingly to compete with each other! Sun Flower 5 came to William Lines and became her Mabuhay 1, the progenitor of the highest class of William Lines liners. At 185 meters, she was of the same size as the former reigning queen of Philippine shipping, the Filipina Princess of Sulpicio Lines. But Mabuhay 1 was more-modern looking and she had better appointments. Both were 20-knot class in speed but Filipina Princess was still speedier. After all, she still has an edge of nearly 6,000 horsepower in power output.

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Princess of the Orient by Britz Salih

But Sulpicio Lines was not to be denied. The biggest of the Sun Flower series which was the Sun Flower 11 came to Sulpicio Lines and became the Princess of the Orient in 1993. This ship had that distinctive two funnels in one line in the center of the ship, a feature not present in the other Sun Flowers. She was also in the 195-meter class. As such, she will hold the title of being the biggest liner in the Philippines at that time. However, she might have been bigger and taller but she cannot do 20 knots unlike the Mabuhay 1. [As a footnote to this class, another one of the Sun Flowers came in 1999, a true sister of Mabuhay 1. That was the Princess of New Unity of Sulpicio Lines which was the Sun Flower 8 in Japan].

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Princess of Paradise by Aris Refugio

And it was not only the Princess of the Orient that came for Sulpicio Lines in 1993. That year she also acquired the big, fast, tall and well-appointed Princess of Paradise from China (but she was originally sailing in Japan). With her fielding, she will be the next holder of the title “Speed Queen” among the liners, the successor to the Filipina Princess in this category.

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St. Francis of Assisi (saved from the net by ‘rrd80’)

The Princess of Paradise was also in the 160-meter class like the Our Lady of Akita but the former was more modern-looking. The two will battle not only in the Cagayan de Oro route and also the Cebu and Nasipit routes. Meanwhile, the Mabuhay 1 and Princess of the Orient will battle in the premier Cebu route (with Filipina Princess still calling in Cebu on the way to Davao). Mabuhay 1 will also show her colors once a week in Iloilo. It is to this challenge to their home port that Negros Navigation responded in 1994 with the equally-impressive and fast St. Francis of Assisi, their next flagship. She was not that big at 140-meter class but she can also do 20 knots and she was very well-appointed, too.

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Princess of the Pacific by Britz Salih

The third ship that came to Sulpicio Lines in 1993 for its wars for the Number 1 position among our shipping companies was the Princess of the Pacific. She was made tall but she was only 137 meters in length, about the length of the new Aboitiz liners. She had the same speed of 18.5 knots like the Princess of the Orient (and better than SuperFerry 2) but she was not that well-appointed. She also docked in Iloilo on her way to Zamboanga and General Santos City. It seems that like in 1988, to fend off competition Sulpicio Lines acquires a bunch of impressive, new liners.

When Mabuhay 1 came to take over flagship duties for William Lines in the premier route to Cebu, in a short time their former flagship Sugbu previously holding that route quietly disappeared. She headed to Singapore for reincarnation as the third ship of the Mabuhay series in 1994, the Mabuhay 3. When she came back, few were able to recognize her as she was lengthened and the superstructure changed and with modifications she was now capable of 20 knots.

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Mabuhay 3 as Super by Vincent Paul Sanchez

Suddenly, in 1993 we truly had great liners in size and in appointments. They all breached 160 meters in length and they were all in the 10,000-gross ton class. In amenities, luxury and passenger service they were a step ahead of the previous big liners. With their more modern design, even the great Filipina Princess suddenly looked old (but not in speed!).

In this year, we were beginning to reach the pinnacle of local passenger liner shipping. More liners will then come together with a “Great Merger” that produced WG&A. From a lack of bottoms at the start of 1990, it seemed to me that before the decade was out we already had a surplus of liners. This can be shown when older liners especially the cruiser liners were sent to the breakers. Some, however, were acquired by regional shipping companies like the Sampaguita Shipping of Zamboanga. This was also apparent in sending old RORO liners to the overnight routes of Cebu Ferries Corporation.

It was not a one-alley fight, however. Intermodal buses were beginning to muscle in especially in the eastern seaboard and a new budget airline, the Cebu Pacific Air was born. On the cargo side, forwarding and trucking companies were mushrooming powered by the arrival of fast surplus trucks in the Subic free port. And this included the wing van trucks which will soon be the bane of the container vans.

From the pinnacle, where is one headed especially if blind to parallel competition?

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 MV Manila City

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Gorio Belen research in the National Library

William Lines, from their very start and even when their fleet was not yet big always stressed the Southern Mindanao routes, a stress that was even over that of their stress in Northern Mindanao. They have their reasons and it might be economic. Maybe the political came later. It is known that Mr. William Chiongbian, the owner and founder was for a long time a Congressman of Misamis Occidental and was even Governor. Panguil Bay and Iligan Bay was the only consistent stress of William Lines in Northern Mindanao. In Southern Mindanao his brother James Chiongbian was a Congressman for long time of the southern portion of the old Cotabato province.

In Southern Mindanao, for decades William Lines maintained the Manila-Cebu-Tagbilaran-Dumaguete-Zamboanga-Dadiangas-Davao route and even early the company devoted six ships of their fleet in that route to maintain a thrice a week departure from Manila. Even when the former passenger-cargo ships from Europe arrived, William Lines simply plugged it in those routes in place of the former ex-”FS” ships. Later, that basic route had variations like dropping Tagbilaran in one or two of the schedules or inserting Iligan in that schedule or going first to Davao than Dadiangas.

When the era of fast cruiser liners arrived with only one intermediate port in the route, William Lines acquired and fielded the fast cruiser MV Manila City in the Manila-Zamboanga-Davao route in 1976. This was actually the second MV Manila City in the Wiliam Lines fleet after the first MV Manila City which was an ex-”FS” ship. Later the second MV Manila City dropped anchor in General Santos City on the way back to Manila. Gensan was the base of Mr. James Chiongbian and the passenger and cargo of Gensan are too big to ignore when it was just on the way.

The MV Manila City was first in competition with the fast cruiser liner MV Dona Ana (later MV Dona Marilyn) of Sulpicio Lines which was augmented later by the fast cruisers MV Don Enrique (later MV Davao Princess and MV Iloilo Princess) and MV Don Eusebio (later MV Dipolog Princess) in 1978. These Sulpicio ships were doing the Manila-Cebu-Davao route. The MV Manila City was faster but she was doing the longer route. All of them were capable of completing the whole route in just a week. Later, in 1979, the Dona Ana was pulled out from the Davao route and she was placed in the twice a week Manila-Cebu route when the flagship of Sulpicio Lines, the MV Don Sulpicio was hit by fire near Batangas while on a voyage.

For 15 long years from 1976 until her death in 1991, the MV Manila City was the only fast cruiser of William Lines in the Southern Mindanao route and she had to contend with the MV Don Enrique and MV Don Eusebio of Sulpicio Lines. For most of this period the MV Manila City was augmented by the other cruisers of William Lines including the former passenger-cargo ships from Europe. Two of them, however, the MV Davao City and MV Zamboanga tried a direct route to Davao. The MV Dumaguete and MV General Santos City also did a Manila-Zamboanga-Davao route. The late 1970’s was no longer an era of too many intermediate ports. Even Sulpicio Lines was also in this new trend in this era.

From 1979, however, William Lines also joined the new paradigm and bandwagon which was containerization. The new container ships made direct sailings with no intermediate ports like a direct route to Davao or General Santos City. With that there was less need to send passenger-cargo ships to Southern Mindanao. However, the MV Manila City continued on its old route and sailed faithfully.

The MV Manila City was a ship built in 1970 by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries in its main yard in Shimonoseki, Japan. Her original name was MV Nihon Maru. She was young when she was sold to William Lines in 1976 at only 6 years of age and use. Her former owner in Japan was Mitsubishi Shintaku Ginko and her ID was IMO 7005798.

The ship’s external measurements were 106.3 meters by 14.0 meters by 6.2 meters and her original gross register tonnage was 2,998 tons. She had a maximum speed of 20.5 knots when new from her twin Mitsubishi engines that totaled 8,800 horsepower (this was high at its time and actually the highest for the local liners from 1976 to 1980). So she was actually bigger and as fast the flagship MV Cebu City of William Lines. She was dubbed as the “Sultan of the Sea” by William Lines.

In the Philippines, the MV Manila City had a gross tonnage of 2,961 with a net tonnage of 1,648. The ship had the highest gross tonnage in the William Lines fleet before the arrival of the MV Dona Virginia. She had a passenger capacity of 1,388 which is again higher than the flagship MV Cebu City. The ship was billed as fully air-conditioned. It seems in the 1970’s this was already the standard for a luxury liner (of course they also touted the passenger service and the food plus the entertainment).

As advertised:”The ship is equipped with the latest navigational and life-saving equipment including self-lighting lamps, an automatic signal transmitter and the latest in compasses and radars. It is fully automated, with the engine room controlled from the bridges.” (From Times Journal, September 24, 1976).

The ship had a raked stem and a cruiser stern. She had two masts, two side funnels and three passenger decks. She had an observation deck atop her bridge which is accessible by passengers. Her loading capacity in Deadweight Tons was 3,766 tons which was higher than the DWT of MV Cebu City.

The MV Manila’s first schedule was:

LV Manila, Wednesday 10AM
AR Zamboanga Thursday 2 PM (18.3 knots average speed)
LV Zamboanga Thursday 12 MN
AR Davao Friday 5 PM (18.3 knots average speed)
LV Davao Saturday 9 PM
AR Zamboanga Sunday 2 PM
LV Zamboanga Sunday 12 MN
AR Manila Tuesday 4 AM

In later years, the departure of MV Manila City from North Harbor changed. At one time she also dropped anchor in Odiongan before proceeding to Zamboanga. This was in the late 1980’s when William Lines was maximizing its routes by dropping by on additional ports in Panay and Romblon.

On February 16, 1991, the MV Manila City was on drydock in Cebu Shipyard Engineering Works (CSEW) in Mactan island. While in a graving dock and hot works were being done on the ship by a sub-contractor, the ship caught fire. The next day the ship sank and was declared beyond economic salvage and repair. The vessel was insured was P45,000.000 (in 1991 currency). She was broken on January 1992.

The MV Manila City was replaced initially by the MV Zamboanga City, a RORO liner, in her route. In 1992, her replacement vessel, the MV Maynilad which was a much bigger vessel came. However, this ship, though beautiful and well-appointed was a disappointment in speed since she can only do 15 knots when new which was significantly below the speed of the vessel she replaced. She can also do the route in also one weak, though.

The MV Manila City was a good ship. It is just too bad she did not last long like her contemporaries in the Southern Mindanao route.

The Diamond Ferries in the Philippines

When the Diamond Ferry Company ordered in 1990 and 1991 their second set of sister ships identical to their first set they ordered earlier, little did they know that the boom times of Japan fueled by the Japan property bubble would soon turn into bust that will bring about years of economic stagnation in their country. Such was the scenario when the Blue Diamond and the Star Diamond came into the Diamond Ferry Company. With the company not being one of the biggest and strongest in Japan, it had more trouble riding out the bad years and so the sister ships had difficulty keeping themselves afloat and it even gave to periods of being laid up.

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The Blue Diamond (Image from http://www.kipio.net)

In 2007, the Diamond Ferry Company and the Blue Highway Line merged to better wear out the storm. This was but natural as they were both majority-controlled already by the stronger shipping company MOL (Mitsui OSK Lines). However, even with the merger the fate of the sister ships did not go any better – they were simply offered for sale from a laid-up condition and for months they were in ship-for-sale sites. In 2007, the Star Diamond was snapped up by China buyers to become the Jiadong Pearl. She was supposedly the stronger ship of the two in the engine department.

That was a puzzling period for me because many shipping investors then were thinking the cruise ship and liner market will go up (and most were disappointed later on). This was about the same time that four liners of Aboitiz Transport Corporation (ATS) were also snapped up by foreign buyers. Quite puzzling for me because the liner prices then were very high as the world metal price suddenly doubled because of the China demand. ATS earned a tidy profit with their opportunistic sale and woe to the shipping companies who bought their liners as none sailed successfully and most were soon for sale after the expenses of refitting and refurbishing (like foreign operators don’t have our Economy class).

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The Star Diamond (Image from advectionfog.net)

The Blue Diamond languished for a while but in 2008 she was acquired by a Korean tour operator and she became the Queen Mary. After about two years, she was again laid up and put up for sale. That time the world metal prices went down to more-or-less normal and ATS was actually among who those who took a look on this ship. They did not purchase this, however, because of a tip that the engines were no longer strong. The ship was, however, was purchased by Negros Navigation Company which lost out in the bidding for the two sister ships of Kansai Kisen K.K. which turned out to be SuperFerry 20 and SuperFerry 21 here. The two SuperFerries were sister ships of Star Diamond and Blue Diamond.

So, in 2011, the Blue Diamond came to the Philippines to become the St. Michael The Archangel of Negros Navigation Company (after SuperFerry 20 and SuperFerry 21 were fielded by ATS). There were hoots initially as the St. Michael The Archangel can only do 17 knots initially while her ATS sister ships can do 20 knots comfortably. When to think they were all sister ships with exactly the same engines and external measurements. To the PSSS (Philippine Ship Spotters Society), this proved that the rumors were true regarding the Blue Diamond‘s engines.

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St. Michael The Archangel by James Gabriel Verallo

The St. Michael The Archangel was sent back for some refitting and she was then able to do some 19 knots. She might have become the flagship of Negros Navigation although there were those who say that the smallest and slowest ship of the company, the San Paolo was actually the flagship of the company. The St. Michael The Archangel was only the fourth sailing ship of Negros Navigation in this period when their other sister ships, the St. Joseph The Worker and the St. Peter The Apostle were not reliable enough (with work on their MAN engines, they became reliable later). It seems when a shipping company has problems, their ships also get sick.

Meanwhile, the Jiadong Pearl was released by her China owners in 2010 and she went to Korea as a tourist ship named the Gwangyang Beech. In 2013, she was sold to Negros Navigation and so the Diamond Ferry sister ships were reunited. The ship was named as St. Francis Xavier in the Negros Navigation fleet (but the naming caused confusion to some because previously the company had a liner named the St. Francis of Assisi). Like SuperFerry 20 and SuperFerry 21, the St. Francis Xavier has no problem doing 20 knots and she is very reliable too.

When Negros Navigation Company (NENACO) acquired Aboitiz Transport System (ATS) to form 2GO, the four sisters all came under one roof. It was St. Michael The Archangel which has a small difference since she had a restaurant-lounge built in the rear sundeck which actually made her better-looking plus it is an appreciated additional passenger facility. St. Francis Xavier, meanwhile, has a small equivalent at the stern. This ship has also a side ramp that is not present in her sister ships. Though sister ships but having different owners before, the four have some minor structural differences if viewed from the outside.

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St. Francis Xavier by Daryl Yting

On the inside, the four has also had similarities in the design and arrangement. But it seems the pair of NENACO have the better and more developed interiors as the former Kansai Kisen ships look too workmanlike and even bland by liner standards. With such better development, the passenger capacities of the NENACO sisters ships are much higher than the former ATS sister ships. The St. Michael The Archangel has a passenger capacity of 1,929 while St. Francis Xavier has a passenger capacity of 1,910. The original passenger capacities of the former ATS ships were only 859 when their length, breadth and superstructure were practically the same as the other two and all retained the dual cargo decks.

The former Diamond Ferries were built by Shin Kurushima Dockyard Company in their Onishi yard in Japan (the sister ships from ATS were built by Kanasashi Company Ltd. Toyohashi Works in Toyohashi, Japan). The St. Michael The Achangel was built in 1990 with the ID IMO 9000455 while St. Francis Xavier was built in 1991 with the ID IMO 8847595. Both had external dimensions of 150.9 meters by 25.0 meters by 13.3 meters. The St. Michael The Archangel has the greater gross tonnage at 17,781 (maybe because of the added restaurant-lounge) while St. Francis Xavier has 15,971. The net tonnages vary too. The St. Michael The Archangel has 5,334 in net tonnage while the St. Francis Xavier has 4,808 in net tonnage. In rated horsepower there is a variance, too. St. Michael The Archangel has 25,200hp like her sisters from ATS while the St. Francis Xavier has only 24,700hp. However, the four are all powered by twin Hitachi-Sulzer engines.

The sisters have the modern bulbous stem and both have transom sterns. Both have two passenger decks and two cargo decks and a dominating single center funnel. 

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St. Michael The Archangel by Mike Baylon

As 2GO ships, the sister ships have no permanent route assignments as in they rotate routes with the other ships of the fleet. However, what separates now the St. Michael The Archangel is her lack of speed compared to her sister ships. Once when I was aboard the Princess of the South going to Manila. I was surprised with how easily we overtook her nearing the Verde Island Passage and our ship was only doing 17 knots. Turns out that before her drydock, she was only running at 14 knots. I heard that lately and from AIS observations that she seldom runs over 17 or 18 knots now which is about two knots below her sisters. It seems the report on weakness the engines was really true. And to think she might have been the primary beneficiary of the parts taken from St. Gregory The Great (the former SuperFerry 20) which was holed by an excursion to the reefs of Guimaras.

There are no reports yet of this kind in St. Francis Xavier. She is as fast and as reliable as the St. Leo The Great (the former SuperFerry 21).The company is proud of her as well as the Ilonggos.

The two former Diamond Ferries look like to be workhorses of 2GO in the years to come. They have finally found a home.

The Smallest and Last Japan “Cruiseferry” To Come To The Philippines

In the late 1960’s, the “Bypasses of the Sea” came into existence in Japan. These were long-distance ROROs (actually ROPAXes) meant to bypass the crowded roads of Japan which was experiencing a sustained economic boom then in what was called the “Japan Miracle” which brought the former war-defeated and occupied country into the forefront of the ranks of nations (Number 2 in fact later). These “Bypasses of the Sea” were workmanlike and were primarily geared to the trucks and its crews and also to passengers in average comfort. Some of these ROROs actually came to the Philippines when they were retired in Japan like the Filipina Princess, the Princess of Paradise, the Princess of the World, the Manila Bay 1, the Subic Bay 1 and the Mary Queen of Peace.

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Photo by Wakanatsu

In the next decade, aside from the “Bypasses of the Sea”, a new class of ROROs came into existence in Japan. These were bigger and much more comfortable with hotel-like facilities. These were later dubbed as “cruiseferries”, a portmanteau. These were like cruise ships in comfort and service but as the same time these were still “Bypasses of the Sea”. As “cruiseferries”, these were more geared to attract passengers but these still had the car decks for the trucks and sedans. The “cruiseferries” being faster that most ROROs can travel more distances and longer routes and can cover most of their routes in a night or so, in great comfort. “Sanfurawaa” or the series of Sunflower ships were the leader in this new class and three of their ships eventually went to the Philippines after their retirement. They were known as Princess of the Orient, Mabuhay 1 and Princess of Unity in our waters.

The “cruiseferry” class did not last long, however. In the 1980’s, Japan were no longer building them as passengers were already preferring other modes of transport like the budget planes and the now-ubiquitous “Bullet” trains. The Japan shipping companies scaled back in comfort and began dedicating two decks of the ship to rolling cargo. However, there was still enough comfort for those who seek them although it was no longer as opulent as the “cruiseferries”. Dormitories and second-class cabins were the dominant passenger classes now. These class of ships were called the “carferries” and some of these also reached the Philippines when they were retired in Japan. They were known here as the SuperFerry 12, SuperFerry 15, SuperFerry 16, SuperFerry 17, SuperFerry 18, SuperFerry 20, SuperFerry 21, Princess of the Universe, St. Michael The Archangel and St. Francis Xavier.

There are also other Japan companies which ventured into “cruiseferries”. One of these is the Sanpo Kaiun K.K. which is just a small company. It acquired the White Sanpo 2 in 1981 and she was relatively big compared to their previous ships. This ship was well-appointed it qualified into a “cruiseferry” class albeit a little smaller than the other Japan “cruiseferries”. Her route was Kobe-Imabari-Matsuyama. The year she was acquired, Japan shipping companies were still acquiring “cruiseferries”. It will be just be a little later that the “cruiseferries” will be supplanted by the “carferries”.

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Photo by Britz Salih

In 2000, White Sanpo 2 came to the Philippines after 19 years of service in Japan and she became the SuperFerry 14 of William, Gothong and Aboitiz or WG&A. This was the first ferry not originally ordered by the partners which means it was already the merged company which acquired her. She was also the last Japan “cruiseferry” that came here. Passengers were asking why the later big ferries from Japan were no longer as luxurious. The reason was it was already “carferries” that were coming and no longer “cruiseferries”. Actually, the presence of two car decks is the giveaway the ship that came is a “carferry”.

The SuperFerry 14 was not really as small ship since her length was 155 meters which is nearly 5 meters longer than the sister ships SuperFerry 20, SuperFerry 21, St. Michael The Archangel and St. Francis Xavier and the sister ships St. Peter The Apostle and St. Joseph The Worker and she was just two meter shorter than SuperFerry 8. However if compared to the SuperFerry 6, SuperFerry 10, SuperFerry 12, the Princess of the Universe, the Princess of Paradise, the Princess of the World, the Princess of New Unity, the Mary Queen of Peace, the Manila Bay 1 and the Subic Bay 1 (and of course the earlier Filipina Princess) she would look “small”. It was simply the time that our shipping companies were acquiring bigger and bigger liners and with large passenger capacities too. During that period, liners of 3,000-passenger capacity were already becoming the norm.

The White Sanpo 2 or SuperFerry 14 was actually 155.6 meters by 23.6 meters in dimension with a depth of 13.0 meters. Her gross tonnage (GT) was 10,181 meters in Japan and 10,192 meters in the Philippines. The reason for the almost identical GT was her superstructure here was no longer modified and no decks were added. She was one of the early big liners here where the superstructure was left untouched and the passenger capacity was not maximized. Others like her in this treatment were the Mabuhay 1 or SuperFerry 10 and the Princess of New Unity. For her bigness, SuperFerry 14 only had a passenger capacity of 1,757. Other liners of her length and in her time had passenger capacities of well over 2,000 persons. Her net tonnage (NT) was 4,957.

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The ship with the green sundeck is SuperFerry 14 (copyrights are in the photo)

The White Sanpo 2, the future SuperFerry 14 was built by Hayashikane Shipbuilding and Engineering Company Ltd. in their Shimonoseki yard in Japan in 1981. She has three passenger decks and a single car deck which was accessible by ramps at the bow and the stern. Her design and lines were pretty much traditional of her period. The ship has a semi-bulbous stem and a transom stern and powered by two main engines, all of which were standard in the design of her era. Her permanent ID was IMO 8004210.

Her speed was also par for the course for the big liners then of 150 meters length in the Philippines except for those that didn’t look sleek enough (like the Manila Bay 1 and SuperFerry 6 which looked fat and were not capable of 20 knots here). Since her design speed in Japan was 21 knots, she was still capable of 20 knots here especially since not much metal was added because no decks were added to her. That speed came from a pair of SEMT-Pielstick engines that developed 23,400 horsepower.

As a former “cruiseferry”, SuperFerry 14 had luxurious interiors and accommodations many of which were simply carried over from her Japan features. Since WG&A had many good ships already in the Cebu and Iloilo routes, she was then used by the company to compete with the Negros Navigation ships in the Manila-Bacolod-Cagayan de Oro route. Bacolod was once closed to other shipping companies except for Negros Navigation since they operate privately the only suitable port for big liners then, the Banago port. With the opening of the BREDCO port, WG&A challenged in the Manila-Bacolod-Cagayan de Oro route and SuperFerry 14 was more than a match to the Mary The Queen and the St. Joseph The Worker of NENACO in the Cagayan de Oro route.

First Try

A drawing by Ken Ledesma

The SuperFerry 14 did not sail long, however. On the night of February 27, 2004, a bomb exploded in a Tourist section on a lower deck of the ship an hour and a half after leaving Manila North Harbor when the ship was at the mouth of Manila Bay. The explosion triggered a fire which soon engulfed the whole ship. The firefighting crew of the ship was overwhelmed and the rescue was chaotic. Some passengers simply jumped into the dark sea and some were feared drowned in the aftermath. To think, it was even fortunate that the incident happened in waters near where rescue ships can reach the ship fast.

Rescuers including tugs and a helicopter tried to douse the fire consuming the ship and eventually the fire was controlled. The ship was towed to Bataan even while burning as capsizing will mean a greater loss. On shore, the vessel capsized but she was righted and search and rescue operations continued. With the vessel afloat, rescuers were able to comb the ship and probers investigated the cause of the fire. There was really a blast site that looked like it came from a bomb. The claims of the crew of a bomb exploding was validated.

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Photo from http://www.infolagoon.com

Although the Abu Sayyaf Group immediately claimed responsibility for the firebombing, the government of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo initially dismissed a terrorist attack and instead blamed it on some sort of an accident (the government of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo had the habit of denying terrorist attacks until conclusively proven). But later when suspects from the Rajah Solaiman Movement affiliated with the Abu Sayyaf were captured and admitted what happened to SuperFerry 14, the government changed tune and admitted that what brought the ferry down was really a bomb placed inside a TV set.

Whatever and later, the estimate was some 63 people died and about 53 were missing in the incident for a total body count of about 116. That figure does not include the wounded. Some of the casualties were bright students from an elite school, the MSU-IIT-IDS of Iligan City in Lanao and that included the second-ranking student of the graduating class (she was later given a posthumous joint Salutatorian award by the school).

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Photo from The 4Freedoms Library

SuperFerry 14 never sailed again as her condition is BER (Beyond Economic Repair). In databases, she is marked as CTL (Complete Total Loss). There were pictures of her where the fire was even consuming the bridge of the ship. Besides, passengers don’t want to ride a ship where there was a lot of dead in a previous accident.

A very fine ship but SuperFerry 14 was really unfortunate.

GT Comparisons of Liners in the Past Below 10,000GT

Here is a listing of liners that were less than 10,000 gross tons. It follows the standard of the book, “The Great Passenger Ships of the World” by Frank Heine and Frank Lose that only list ferries that are over 10,000 gross tons.

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The 2nd Edition of the book

I tried a lower cut-off of just below 3,000 gross tons to include some notable examples. I also included some overnight ships so one can compare them to the smaller liners (and this has bearing on the argument that some overnight ferries are actually fit to be small liners). In this range there is more comparability as the sample is bigger compared to the 10,000 plus GT range. Below 3,000 GT the ships are sometimes too indistinguishable in size.

I did not seek to include all the liners in the past as the list will only be cluttered. The list concentrated on liners of the recent past (which many still have memory of) plus some examples like the flagship Filipinas of Compania Maritima to show how they stack up to more recent liners.

The list is not complete as there were older liners that are in the 3,000 to 10,000 range but I did not include them like the former “C1-M-AV1” ships because the period of comparison will then be too extended in terms of period.

Of course, many a ridiculousness will be noted by the readers who have knowledge of liner shipping. But that is the penalty of not declaring the gross tonnages properly. The penalty also includes not being included in the books “The Great Passenger Ships of the World” (as in Negros Navigation does not have a single entry in the First Edition of that book).

The measurements in the third column are that of Length x Breadth x Depth, a standard description and comparison of size. Gross Tonnage (GT) is the cubic volume of the ship which is the accepted measurement of the size of a ship. The figures are all based on officially declared and accepted GTs by MARINA.

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SuperFerry 3 by Ray Smith

I used the names and the specs when they were first registered here because any misdeclaration starts from there. In ship transfers, the former declared measurements are just carried over into the new owner.

SuperFerry 3

Aboitiz Shipping Corp.

118.0m x 20.4m x 12.7m

9,847 GT

5,885 GT

St. Michael The Archangel

Negros Navigation Co.

150.9m x 25.0m x 13.3m

9,654 GT

9,447 GT

Princess of the World

Sulpicio Lines Inc.

166.0m x 24.0m x 9.7m

9,623 GT

9,235 GT

SuperFerry 1

Aboitiz Shipping Corp.

132.4m x 20.0m x 13.0m

9,184 GT

4,886 GT

Virgin Mary

MBRS Lines

127.7m x 18.3m x 11.0m

9,035 GT

9,035 GT

Cotabato Princess

Sulpicio Lines Inc.

149.1m x 22.8m x 7.3m

7,977 GT

6,521 GT

Sta. Ana

Negros Navigation Co.

107.3m x 20.4m x 8.0m

7,909 GT

6,000 GT

Mabuhay 3

William Lines Inc.

157.1m x 20.2m x 7.4m

7.878 GT

lengthened

Mary Queen of Peace

Negros Navigation Co.

159.5m x 21.5m x 9.0m

7,610 GT

9,551 GT

Mary The Queen (2)

Romblon Shpg Lines

138.3m x 20.5m x 13.7m

7,504 GT

7,053 GT

Princess of the Ocean

Sulpicio Lines Inc.

126.1m x 22,0m x 8.1m

7,297 GT

6,150 GT

Mabuhay 5

William Lines Inc.

141.5m x 23.0m x 7.4m

7,268 GT

5,439 GT

Super Shuttle RORO 3

AMTC

128.8m x 19.9m x 6.8m

7,023 GT

7,023 GT

Our Lady of Akita

CAGLI

162.1m x 26.4m x 7.3m

7,019 GT

8,194 GT

Our Lady of Lipa

CAGLI

124.2m x 16.8m x 6.4m

6,911 GT

4,973 GT

Maynilad

William Lines Inc.

140.5m x 20.5m x 11.9m

6,835 GT

4,997 GT

Princess of the South

Sulpicio Lines Inc.

141.3m x 22.7m x 12.7m

6,773 GT

6,773 GT

Sugbu

William Lines Inc.

137.5m x 20.2m x 6.8m

6,624 GT

4,999 GT

SuperFerry 11

WG&A

143.4m x 16.8m, 9.6m

6,528 GT

4,929 GT

St. Peter The Apostle

Negros Navigation Co.

151.5m x 22.8m, 7.3m

6,090 GT

6,950 GT

St. Joseph The Worker

Negros Navigation Co.

151.5m x 22.8m, 7.3m

6,090 GT

6.939 GT

San Lorenzo Ruiz

Negros Navigation Co.

132.1m x 22.7m, 12.8m

6,051 GT

6,844 GT

San Paolo

Negros Navigation Co.

118.0m x 20.4m, 8.0m

5,908 GT

5,956 GT

St. Francis of Assisi

Negros Navigation Co.

140.1m x 18.5m, 7.0m

5,873 GT

6,801 GT

Zamboanga City

William Lines Inc.

117.1m x 19.0m, 7.1m

5,747 GT

4,188 GT

Mabuhay 6

William Lines Inc.

109.2m x 17.8m x 6.3m

5,463 GT

2,823 GT

St. Ezekiel Moreno

Negros Navigation Co.

140.9m x 22.4m x 8.0m

5,342 GT

7,041 GT

Filipinas

Compania Maritima

121.0m x 18.1m x 9.7m

4,997 GT

4,997 GT

Trans-Asia 5

TASLI

114.8m x 19.0m x 9.6m

4,790 GT

3,864 GT

Philippine Princess

Sulpicio Lines Inc.

130.9m x 16.8m x 5.2m

4,717 GT

4,957 GT

Sweet RORO

Sweet Lines Inc.

117.5m x 20.6m x 6.1m

4,700 GT

4,619 GT

Sweet RORO 2

Sweet Lines Inc.

120.8m x 20.3m x 5.4m

4,693 GT

4,634 GT

Sweet Baby

Sweet Lines Inc.

125.6m x 19.6m x 6.1m

4,545 GT

4,362 GT

Princess of Negros

Negros Navigation Co.

118.9m x 20.6m x 11.2m

4,494 GT

4,700 GT

Our Lady of Medjugorje

CAGLI

123.0m x 18.0m x 12.3m

4,435 GT

3,764 GT

Masbate I

William Lines Inc.

104.6m x 20.0m, 5.4m

4,412 GT

3,350 GT

Dona Virginia

William Lines Inc.

143.5m x 16.8m, 6.5m

4,395 GT

4,990 GT

Our Lady of Sacred Heart

CAGLI

123.0m x 18.0m, 12.3m

4,388 GT

3,511 GT

Sta. Florentina

Negros Navigation Co.

118.9m x 20.6m x 4.8m

4,343 GT

4,445 GT

The Blessed Mother

MBRS Lines

94.7m x 16.2m x 6.3m

4,311 GT

2,399 GT

Manila Princess

Sulpicio Lines Inc.

123.0m x 19.6m x 5.3m

4,149 GT

4.149 GT

Our Lady of Naju

CAGLI

111.4m x 13.9m x 6.2m

4,067 GT

3,123 GT

Butuan Bay 1

CAGLI

114.8m x 19.0m x 9.6m

7,320 GT

3,864 GT

Princess of the Earth

Sulpicio Lines Inc.

110.0m x 19.0m x 11.7m

3,998 GT

3,686 GT

Asia China

TASLI

100.0m x 17.3m x 5.8m

3,991 GT

3,512 GT

Iloilo Princess

Sulpicio Lines Inc.

111.5m x 15.2m x 8.9m

3,935 GT

3,800 GT

Sampaguita Ferry 2

Sampaguita Shipping

100.0m x 16.2m x 7.0m

3,924 GT

3,941 GT

Ozamis Bay 1

CAGLI

130.3m x 20.0m x 13.7m

3,872 GT

4,545 GT

Trans-Asia

TASLI

94.0m x 17.7m x 4.2m

3,797 GT

3,025 GT

Dipolog Princess

Sulpicio Lines Inc.

112.2m x 15.2m x 4.8m

3,786 GT

3,510 GT

Princess of the Caribbean

Sulpicio Lines Inc.

110.5m x 15.2m x 6.2m

3,767 GT

3,553 GT

Dona Marilyn (1)

Sulpicio Lines Inc.

104.0m x 15.0m

3,503 GT

3,265 GT

Tacloban Princess

Sulpicio Lines Inc.

98.3m x 19.2m x 5.9m

3,351 GT

2,664 GT

Lady Mary Joy 2

Aleson Shipping Lines

122.0m x 19.6m x 6.5m

3,330 GT

3,330 GT

Love – 1

Moreta Shipping Lines

93.m x 15.3m x 6.0m

3,184 GT

2,584 GT

Filipinas Butuan

CAGLI

79.8m x 14.3m x 4.8m

3,086 GT

1,867 GT

Filipinas Iligan

CAGLI

79.6m x 14.3m x 4.8m

3,084 GT

1,867 GT

Mary The Queen (1)

MBRS Lines

104.5m x 15.9m x 4.4m

2,998 GT

2,998 GT

Manila City

William Lines Inc.

106.3m x 14.0m x 6.2m

2,961 GT

2,998 GT

Trans-Asia 3

TASLI

110.0m x 16.0m x 0.6m

2,908 GT

2,182 GT

St. Ignatius of Loyola

Cebu Ferries Corp.

104. 6m x 16.2m x 11.5m

2,825 GT

1,887 GT

Officially, of all our liners of the past that are under 10,000gt, the “biggest”, bar none, was the small liner SuperFerry 3 of Aboitiz Shipping Corporation. She “beats” the big liners St. Michael The Archangel, the biggest ever ship of Negros Navigation before the arrival of St. Francis Xavier. She also beats in size the big liners Princess of the World, Mabuhay 3, Mary Queen of Peace, the Our Lady of Akita and the sisters ships St. Peter The Apostle and St. Joseph The Worker. All of this liners she beat measures over 150 meters in length. What a feat for a liner of just 118 meters length! A candidate for “Ripley’s Believe It Or Not”.

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Photo credits: AeroEye Asia, Jojo Mariano and James Gabriel Verallo

The second surprise here is St. Michael The Archangel just measuring only half of the GTs of her sister ships St. Leo The Great, St. Gregory The Great and St. Francis Xavier at 9,654gt. However, under 2GO that has been remedied already and the newly declared GT is 17,781 and that is already within the range of her sister ships.

At 150+ meters length it seems the GT of a liner can be around 15,000. That can be gleaned in the following examples: St. Pope John Paul II, St. Therese of the Child Jesus, SuperFerry 17, SuperFerry 18, Princess of the Universe, Princess of Paradise, Princess of New Unity, Princess of the Orient, Manila Bay 1, Subic Bay 1 and Filipina Princess. Well, if a liner in the 130 meter class can already exceed 10,000gt that might be correct. Like SuperFerry 2, SuperFerry 5, Cagayan Bay 1 which exceeded that and SuperFerry 1 which nearly so.

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Earlier known as Sta. Ana (Photo by Rodney Orca)

Before St. Michael The Archangel came, the biggest ship ever in the history of Negros Navigation was the small liner Sta. Ana which was just 107 meters in length. How can that be when the sister ships St. Peter The Apostle and St. Joseph The Worker were both over 40 meters longer than her and the Mary The Queen was even longer? And to think Sta. Ana was never a flagship in Negros Navigation. Was there anybody that raised within MARINA the seeming incongruity?

The two Mary’s, Mary Queen of Peace and Mary The Queen were next to each other in the list. But their length difference is over 20 meters and the breadth of the Romblon Shipping Lines vessel was even shorter.

There are some surprises for me as regards to rank like Princess of the Ocean and Super Shuttle RORO 3. At 120 meters plus the two are already 7,000 plus GT (and this is consistent with liners over 130 meters that were over 10,000 GT) and well ahead of other established liners. The Princess of the Ocean basically functioned as an overnight ferry-RORO. That also goes true for the Our Lady of Lipa which is nearly 7,000gt at that same length range.

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Princess of the Ocean by Mike Baylon

San Paolo and Zamboanga City at 118 and 117 meters, respectively at nearly 6,000gt were remarkable. They are right there in size than many Negros Navigation liners that are bigger than them in reality. That is also true for Mabuhay 6 at 109 meters. It seems their GT’s were correct.

Who can believe that at 114 meters Trans-Asia 5 is “bigger” than many established liners that are longer than her? I can say the same for Masbate I which is right there with many established liners at just 104 meters length. Ditto for the very “thin” Our Lady of Naju with a breadth of only 13.9 meters.

The sister ships Filipinas Butuan and Filipinas Iligan are also surprises for me. At just 70 meters each imagine joining this list and even ahead of the much longer Trans-Asia 3. Meanwhile the new series of Cebu Ferries are dubious in GT. At their lengths, imagine all three are all below 3,000gt. Well, for the sub-100 meters in length the GT of The Blessed Mother is the highest at 4,311.

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The Blessed Mother by Nat Pagayonan

Peruse all you can the list. And see the other measurements that are clearly incongruent if one remembers their differing sizes. And also see the GT decreases while structures were added. Maybe they were sent to the MARINA “drying kiln” and so they “shrunk”.

Then tell me if GT measurements make sense here in the Philippines. And if MARINA knows how to compute GTs.

The Liner That Sank A Liner Company (The Saga of the Princess of the Stars)

The Princess of the Stars of Sulpicio Lines Incorporated was the biggest-ever liner to grace the Philippine seas. She was not the longest, however, because such honor belonged to the Princess of the Orient, also of Sulpicio Lines but compared to that liner the Princess of the Stars was wider and taller and for confirmation, her Gross Tonnage (GT), the measure of the total volume of the ship, was higher. In the comparison, the M/S Philippines of Emilio Yap was excluded because that ship was not a sailing liner but a floating hotel when it came here.

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Photo from homepagenifty2

The Princess of the Stars was the second Ferry Lilac of Shin Nihonkai Ferry Company which is known in Japan for building big liners that sail the open waters of Japan. Shin Nihonkai was among the companies that offered the “Bypasses of the Sea” service in the earlier decades in Japan which meant big, fast ROROs that took in vehicles along sea lanes instead of it battling the clogged highways of Japan then. From utilitarian ROROs, that concept evolved into the “cruiseferries” in the 1970’s which offered hotel-like accommodations aside from being able to carry vehicles. When patronage weakened in the 1980’s due to the rise of other modes of transports that evolved into the “carferries” which is again utilitarian but more comfortable than the first generation of long-distance RORO’s that appeared in the 1960’s.

The Ferry Lilac already belonged to the “carferries” class when built and much like the New Miyako which became the SuperFerry 12 in the Philippines for they were built in the same year but Ferry Lilac was much bigger than the New Miyako. When completed in July of 1984, Ferry Lilac was the largest RORO-passenger ship existing in Japan. She was assigned the Maizuru-Otaru route that passes through the Sea of Japan in the western seaboard of that country. As a “carferry”, although she still had suite rooms and other high class rooms, the emphasis was already on food and restaurants, live entertainment and shows and on game halls. Her capacity was 554 passengers but after remodeling that increased to 788 passengers. Her design and equipment were supposedly of the latest of the period being the “ultimate carferry” then.

The Ferry Lilac‘s design philosophy followed what was the naval design thinking then. Japan researchers determined that the swells of the open seas of Japan has an average of 140 to 145 meters between crests and so they suggested that the length of the liners be greater than that. The belief was that the ship would be able to ride between two crests and such will not pitch too much. However, it seems that was a naive assumption because after the ship’s bow rose with the coming swell the bow will then sink after the swell passed the center of the ship. In Youtube, there are videos of ship bow that appears to be submarining into the sea (of course, it will rise again). This phenomenon also happens to all kinds of ships including container ships, bulkers, military ships and other kind of ships in the heavy swells of the open seas.

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Photo by Joel Bado

The second Ferry Lilac was tall and she had high sides and the superstructure encompasses the whole ship. The philosophy behind the high sides is it serves as a protection against big waves including rogue waves and in case the ship listed she will not take in water easily hence forestalling capsizing. That was proven in later cases like the Ariake (which was hit by a rogue wave) and the Cougar Ace which did not immediately sink even though their sides were already lying in the water. I do not know if the design philosophies mentioned in this paragraph and the previous one weighed on the decision to risk her in a typhoon later. I heard her company was very confident in her ability to survive heavy seas as supposedly these big “carferries” were designed to survive seas generated by tropical cyclones of 120-130kph center wind strength.

The second Ferry Lilac was built by Ishikawajima-Harima Heavy Industries (IHI) in Aioi shipyard in Japan in 1984 and had the permanent ID IMO 8323161. Her dimensions were 192.9 meters by 29.4 meters with a gross register tonnage (GRT) of 18,268 tons. This later rose to 23,824 in gross tonnage (GT) with a net tonnage (NT) of 16,040. Its DWT (deadweight tonnage) was 7,670. The ferry was big but was not really built for speed unlike the big ferries of Japan in the previous decade as her design speed was only 21.5 knots. The power comes from SEMT-Pielstick engines that develops only 26,400 horsepower.

The ferry was released from Japan in 2004 after twenty years of service and went to Sulpicio Lines Inc. There was minimal refitting and there was no change in the superstructure and most works were done just in Cebu port. The refitting were mainly on how the facilities of the ship will conform to local conditions like the provision of an Economy Class and its corresponding Economy restaurant. Otherwise, the facilities and comforts of the ship were already more than enough as with the space for passengers. In the period of her arrival, passenger load of the liners was already declining and so there was no longer any pull to greatly increase the passenger capacity which was just limited to 1,992, a far cry from the 3,912 of the Princess of the Orient which was similar to her in size.

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Photo from Wakanatsu

When Princess of the Stars was fielded she became the flagship of Sulpicio Lines vice the Princess of the Universe. As flagship, she did the Manila-Cebu route twice a week. Sailing, she usually catches the attention of observers for her sheer size. Docked in Manila or Cebu, she simply dwarfed the other ferries and with her height she simply towered above the other ferries. But unlike what others may expect, she was not led by the most senior captain of Sulpicio Lines. Others declined because they know handling a ship that big is more demanding. Looked from an angle, ships of these size were not really designed for Philippine waters. That size might have been demanded when passenger demand was still strong but not in the new millennium and Princess of the Stars might just be part a showcase. More kindly, she can also be looked as the replacement of the big and luxurious Princess of New Unity which was sold to breakers that same year.

The Princess of the Stars did not sail long, however. Sailing on the night of June 20, 2008 for Cebu, she failed to stop and seek shelter unlike two ships of Aboitiz Transport System which dropped anchor and sought shelter in Puerto Galera because of a coming typhoon. The Princess of the Stars simply sailed on when the evening news already warned of Typhoon “Frank” that will pass the northern coast of Leyte on a collision course with the Princess of the Stars (she left Manila at 8pm and the evening news was 6:30pm). The expected strength then of the typhoon was some 120-130kph which was theoretically within the capacity of the ship to handle. Was the voyage a test case of her strength in Philippine typhoons?

I always wondered about the bravado of the Princess of the Stars. Normally before when there was a storm in Eastern Visayas and the ship wanted to still sail to Cebu or northern Mindanao they take the southern route which means from Verde Island Passage the ship turns to Tablas Strait instead of pursuing the route passing through the Sibuyan Sea. The ship will then sail through the seas off the western side of Panay island and then turn to Panay Gulf and round Negros island on its southern part and then head northward to Cebu port. The wind and swells will be strong in Sulu Sea but the ship will be farther from the eye of the typhoon and after rounding the southwest tip of Panay island the wind and swells will already be at the stern of the ship and the rocking will be less. I have been aboard such detours in the past and I know this custom.

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Photo by Rodney Orca

Tucked in and sheltered by an island, the wind and swells will be moderated and not that much felt in a ship. It is after venturing in the open when the roughness of the sea begins. In the past, our ships has learned to use the cover of the islands if they are not seeking shelter. Even small islands like the Romblon islands provide a measure of cover.

By next morning, Typhoon “Frank” was stronger (it was already developing more strength that night) and its strength was already 165kph, a strength that is not to be messed with. Well, ships going from Australia and the Philippines that pass through our eastern seaboard don’t drop anchor and seek shelter. But they know how to distance themselves from the typhoon. This can be verified through AIS. Where a typhoon is passing the area is clear of ships. Some stop, some take a detour and some seek shelter and drop anchor. Princess of the Stars was in the vicinity of a typhoon and in fact was in a collision course but did neither of the three evasive actions mentioned previously. She simply sailed on until she was already in the eye of the typhoon. Actually, that was a feat of seamanship – to sail into the eye of a strong typhoon. Few can do that (restated, only fools do that).

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Taken from http://www.typhoon2000.com

But the ship did not survive and capsized off the southeast coast of Sibuyan island in an inverted position and stuck in a reef which saved the ship from sinking completely. However, that was no use to most of the passengers and crew of the ship as only 54 survived while 814 were dead or missing and some were washed far away.

Like the Dona Paz tragedy, the Princess of the Stars sinking caused national and international outcry and shamed Sulpicio Lines to heights greater than the Dona Paz tragedy where there was still dispute then who was really at fault in the collision that torched and sank Dona Paz. In the Princess of the Stars case there was no one to blame except for Sulpicio Lines. The company tried to blame the government forecasting agency PAGASA but that did not gain traction. One thing was sure in the accident, the ship was not using state-of-the-art forecasting services like INMARSAT which was the first one to declare that the missing Malaysian Airlines jet MH370 veered south and was lost in the Indian Ocean (when that was not their function or service).

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Credits: NAMRIA and PDI

The backlash of this tragedy was so great it also sank the passenger service of Sulpicio Lines. Now they are forever barred from engaging in passenger liner shipping. And until now they are still haunted by suits. They were even forced to rename their company into the Philippine Span Asia Carrier Corporation (PSACC).

With the sinking, the Philippine government also tightened regulations on sailings during storms. Now, no Philippine ship can sail when the winds reach 60kph or even less at times. Above that only foreign ships are still sailing our waters.

And that is the ironic thing I find now. Imagine only foreign ships can sail our waters when the wind blows. All because of the Princess of the Stars.

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Photo by Britz Salih

Note: I don’t know who wrote the Wikipedia article of Princess of the Stars. It has errors in the specifications of the ship.