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 150-meter RORO Liner Class Might Not Really Have Been Fit For Philippine Waters

When the Filipina Princess of Sulpicio Lines, all of 180 meters length arrived in our shores in 1988 it was really a wow! moment. There has never been a liner really like her before and she beat the 4,000 plus gross tons ships, the biggest liners then by a wide mile by her 13,500 gross tonnage. In length she was about 50 meters longer than the previous record holder, the Dona Virginia of William Lines. And she was no slouch, not the slightest bit as she can sail at 26 knots full trot and thereby smashing to smithereens the old record of 20 knots variously run by Sweet Faith, Cebu City and Dona Virginia.

I mentioned Filipina Princess not because she was a 150-meter RORO liner but because I think she was one seminal reason why the greatest liner class appeared in Philippine waters and these were the 160-meter and over liners. To a sense the lesser class of 150-meter liners was a consolation class since 160-meter liners are rare and easier to procure were the 150-meter liners. The Filipina Princess “pushed the boundary” and combined with the reasons of pride, one-upmanship and bragging rights, the other shipping companies felt the pressure to match her. And soon shipping companies serving the Manila-Cebu route had the greatest of our liners in the 160-meter class and over.

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One effect of that is the thought that 150-meter RORO liners are “fit” to serve the main secondary routes and ports like Iloilo, Cagayan de Oro, Zamboanga, General Santos City and Davao. And therein lies my question. This might have been true when we lacked liners in the second half of the 1980’s and first half of 1990’s. This was the time when demand and travel was going up since our economy was recovering from the greatest economic crisis since World War II. And this came from the deadly-for-shipping decade of the 1980’s (specifically its first half) when a lot of liner companies went under and we consequently lost a lot of liners. Add to that that the former backbone of our liner fleet, the ex-”FS” ships were going one by one to the breakers as they have already hit 40 years of service and were already clearly obsolete and having reliability problems already.

Our first response then was to acquire liners in the 100-meter and 110-meter class. Many of the latter actually were maxed in passenger capacity up to 2,000 persons and over and it can fill it then for simply there was really a lot of passengers as our liner companies and liners were practically halved if compared to the baseline year of 1980. So then getting 120-meter, 130-meter and 140-meter liners in the early 1990’s was understandable. The passenger capacity did not really increase by much in these liners but the available passenger areas definitely increased along with the amenities that soon they were marketing these as “floating hotels” and Aboitiz Shipping Corporation even have the position “Hotel Manager” aboard the ship, a professional one and not really a mariner. The “Hotel Manager” was in charge of all things related to serving passengers from the cabins to the bunks and “beddings” down to F&B (food and beverage) and the general cleanliness of the ship including the T&B (toilet and bath). Once upon a time that job when it was still simple was just handled by the ship Purser who also purchase the goods needed by the ship but when the “floating hotels” came that was centrally purchased already and needs of the ship was just replenished in port and decided by a shore-based shipping department which were not mariners in general. This time graduates of hotel and restaurant management were beginning to penetrate the liner industry and more and more passenger service were no longer the responsibility of what was derisively called as “mga tagamasahe ng bakal” (literally, “masseurs of steel”).

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Hotel Manager’s office

A 135-meter or 140-meter ship was already capable of accommodating over 2,000 passengers plus about 100 TEUs of container vans. Wasn’t that enough as capacity for the secondary liner ports? Well, apparently the shipping companies did not think so. Not maybe out of capacity but out of speed. You see, in the main, the 130-meter and 140-meter liners were only capable of sustained cruising speeds here of 17.5 to 18 knots. In the main too, it was only the 150-meter, 20,000-horsepower liners which were capable of 20 knots sustained. That time with the fetish on speed when the fuel was not still that expensive (there was no 9-11 World Trade Tower attack yet which provoked the unending wars of the USA in the Middle East and Afghanistan which raised fuel prices), it is as if 20 knots is already de regueur on the primary and secondary routes. 130-meter and 140-meter liners (and some 120-meter liners too) generally has only 13,500 to 16,800 horsepower so they can’t really run at 20 knots. If there were 120-meter, 130-meter and 140-meter RORO liners also capable of 20 knots the reason is because they have engines of 20,000 horsepower too. Examples of these were the SuperFerry 1, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Ezekiel Moreno, Princess of the Ocean and the Our Lady of Lipa. It is really the total horsepower that produces the speed.

Then from 1995, when the liberalization and ship importation program of President Fidel V. Ramos was already in full swing, a lot of 150-meter, 20,000-horsepower RORO liners and over came and it went on up to the next decade. And the tail end of this binge was the arrival of the four sister ships which became locally known as SuperFerry 20, SuperFerry 21, St. Michael The Archangel and St. Francis Xavier which were 150.9 meters in length and equipped with 25,200-horsepower engines and capable of cruising speeds of 20 knots here except for the St. Michael The Archangel. But were they really necessary?

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St. Michael The Archangel by Jonathan Bordon

The answer might not lie in Sulpicio Lines. They acquired their last liner in 2004, the Princess of the Stars, the biggest-ever ferry to sail here but she was just a statement of the company that they want the biggest and the best liner for maybe the replacement Princess of the Universe to the lost Princess of the Orient was not good enough to be the absolute best, a distinction Sulpicio Lines really wants for themselves alone. Previous to this their last purchase was the Princess of New Unity in 1999. In this ship and the Princess of the Stars, Sulpicio Lines did not try to max the passenger capacity any longer and both were sub-2,000 passengers in capacity. It seems Sulpicio Lines read earlier than the other shipping companies the weakening of passenger demand with the coming of the budget airlines and intermodal buses. But they were strong in cargo which was really where the bulk of the income of the liner companies come from. Imagine a revenue of P17,000 from a 20-footer to Davao in 1995 when an Economy accommodation only gives them about P850 and they still have to provide three square meals a day for at least two-and-a-half days, bunks, hotel services and security to the passengers while they only have to lift and roll the container vans.

Negros Navigation’s purchase of 150-meter RORO liners also did not last long because they soon found themselves with more ships than routes and passengers. It was actually WG&A and later Aboitiz Transport System which purchased many 150-meter (and over) RORO liners. It is from them that one will think that liners below 150 meters are already passe but it seemed they never knew that.

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SuperFerry 15 by ‘superferry crew’

In the early 2000’s Aboitiz Transport System (ATS) also felt passenger demand on liners were already weakening. That is why with the acquisition of the SuperFerry 15, SuperFerry 16, SuperFerry 17 and SuperFerry 18 they did not try anymore to max the passenger capacity and instead they let it that TEU capacity is high with the creation of two-level wagon decks as they called them. Aboitiz Transport System was then stressing express cargo and it was the SuperFerry liners that can fill that role and not their container ships which can sail at barely over half the speed of the SuperFerries. Their system was so good that forwarder companies like LBC was using their container vans to move parcels and cargo that were declared as “air cargo” and charged as such (well, they also roll express vans – trucks that roll in the road, that is). With their reliance on SuperFerries, WG&A, the predecessor company of ATS did not invest anymore in newer container ships. What it did was actually to sell their better container ships and so the SuperRORO series of container ships became history.

So WG&A and Aboitiz Transport System (successor company to WG&A) continued to acquire 150-meter RORO liners when ship passenger ridership was already weakening. They might have reason — the express container van trade. But mind you, the freight rates of WG&A and Aboitiz Transport System was actually higher than competition for they can promise shorter delivery time and short enough for forwarder companies with express parcel services to use and deceive customers. It were no longer the passengers the reason for this but the cargo.

When Aboitiz Transport System opportunistically sold SuperFerry 15, SuperFerry 16, SuperFerry 17 and SuperFerry 18 when ship prices were high suddenly, Aboitiz Transport System then had to charter container ships (which can’t run 20 knots) and converted three of their other liners to have two wagon decks, the SuperFerry 2, SuperFerry 9 and SuperFerry 12 and so their passenger capacities were also halved (actually more than halved) along with the passenger amenities and space. By this time Negros Navigation was into a court-administered recovery program and just running a few liners after their bout of illiquidity and soon Sulpicio Lines was practically out of passenger shipping along with the revived Carlos A. Gothong Lines Inc. (CAGLI), MBRS Lines and Moreta Shipping. Aboitiz Transport System had the narrowing (not wide) liner shipping industry practically for themselves except for some resistance from Negros Navigation.

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St. Francis Xavier by John Carlos Cabanillas

Now 2GO, the merger of ATS and Negros Navigation which happened when the latter bought out the former, operates an all-150 meter and 160-meter liner fleet after they sold their older liners (and there is no other liner company left). All can sail at 20 knots or close to 20 knots if needed except one plus the former Cebu Ferries overnight ships which are just used on short routes. Even with passenger capacity of just over 1,000 on the average most of the time they can’t fully fill up these 150-meter liners and nor in cargo as their second wagon decks are practically empty most times except for a few sedans.

If they operate these 150-meter liners on smaller cities and ports it will result in operational losses and that is the reason why they pulled out of lesser ports like Surigao, Tagbilaran, Dapitan, etc. The 150-meter liners were too big for them and they can’t assign the former Cebu Ferries vessels there because they are too small, the distances are too great and they lack the speed of liners and are better suited to the routes they are currently assigned to. That is the disadvantage of 2GO not having liners in intermediate range like the 120- or 130-meter liners before. And that is the misfortune of passengers and shippers in the lesser cities and ports. They now have to have alternate ways to travel or ship and they were given free by ATS and 2GO to the budget airlines and intermodal buses and trucks. Otherwise, some became passengers of the overnight ships and the short-distance ROROs for a connecting voyage to Cebu.

I wonder why 2GO kept on insisting on 150-meter liners with two cargo decks which they can’t fill. They are basically paying the penalty of the 25,000 horsepower of these ships when they can’t also fill the passenger bunks. 2GO can’t even cite the speed of these ships now because their voyages are almost always late in departures as they give priority to cargo and their cargo handling in port is no longer as fast as before and they are a little fond of midnight cargo handling where operations are more dangerous and slower.

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Panglao Bay 1 by Mark Ocul

Can’t they see that their 150-meter liners with such gross horsepowers are passe already? Those are no longer fit for the times, in my eyes. Moving 1,000 plus passengers can be done by lesser liners as shown before with maybe just half of the 25,000 horsepowers of the 150-meter liners. With more modern transmission, 10,000 horsepower engines will already do now and its speeds will just equal the 18 knots these 150-meter liners are doing now. In my mind, the Panglao Bay 1 and Dapitan Bay 1, new Cargo RORO ships of Carlos A. Gothong Lines Inc. would have been fit if employed by 2GO and modified like the coming third Trans-Asia (1) of Trans-Asia Shipping Lines, Inc.

I just hope the coming new management of 2GO (I can’t discuss any other liner company as they are the only surviving now) will focus well on their liner need and come up with better-fitting liners and with a mix that will make them cover more ports and routes and in a more efficient manner.

RORO Cargo Ships and Vehicle Carriers Can Be Good ROPAX Liners

In shipping, wherever that be in the world, fuel consumption is a critical factor because it takes up 40% of the operational costs of the ship. Here it might even be higher as our ships are old and our mariner rates are so low and apprentices comprise about half of the crew and they are the ones that pay and not the shipping company. So when fuel prices went really high a decade ago even the Fast ROPAXes of Europe capable of 30 knots slowed down to save on fuel. High Speed Crafts (HSCs) suffered also, had to slow down too and some stopped sailing for they were simply unprofitable even at very high load factors.

We too had been victims of that fetish with speed that in the 1990’s and so, many liners capable of 20 knots, locally, came into the country. The list of this is long and I would list it: Filipina Princess, Princess of Paradise, Princess of the Stars, Princess of the Universe, Princess of the World, Princess of the Ocean and Princess of New Unity, all of Sulpicio Lines; SuperFerry 1 of Aboitiz Shipping; Mabuhay 1 and Mabuhay 3 of William Lines; Our Lady of Lipa, SuperFerry 12, SuperFerry 14, SuperFerry 15, SuperFerry 16, SuperFerry 17 and SuperFerry 18 of WG&A; SuperFerry 20 and SuperFerry 21 of Aboitiz Transport System; St. Francis of Assisi, St. Joseph The Worker, St. Peter The Apostle, Mary Queen of Peace, St. Ezekiel Moreno, St. Michael The Archangel and St. Francis Xavier of Negros Navigation. SuperFerry 16 then came back to become the St. Therese of the Child Jesus of 2GO. A total of 26 liners. Now isn’t that too many? And most are 150 meters in length or over and the average passenger capacity is over 2,000 with 3 even breaching the 3,000 mark.

I argue that most proved to be oversized.

That speed came from oversized engines, usually 20,000 horsepower and over which means more fuel consumption and I was not happy with that trend in speed and the trend of upsizing the ships because I know that in the past when liners became bigger than the ex-”FS” ship, many ports with previous connection to Manila were left out because the liners were already too big and their drafts too deep for the small and shallow ports. Then later, the fast cruisers became the new paradigm and more ports have to be left out because to shorten voyage duration the interports were reduced. Gone were the old routes which featured four, five or even six ports of call and with voyages lasting several days.

Those big, fast liners might have been okay when ship passengers were still overflowing when there were still no budget planes and intermodal buses as competition. But that was not okay for the passengers left behind in the abandoned ports. It just created a generation or two of passengers not catered to by ships and grew up not relying on them.

And in the end the liner companies paid dearly for that. Even with advertisements they can no longer be coaxed into riding ships (even if they are painted pink). And that became a disaster for liner shipping when passengers thinned. Too few port calls mean less passengers and cargo – when the ships were already big and guzzling fuel and heavily needing those. And that just helped sink the liner sector of our shipping which has not recovered until now.

I argue that for the passenger loads and cargo sizes now our liners sailing are simply too big and that is the reason why they can’t or won’t call in the smaller ports served by liners until the end of the millennium like Ormoc, Surigao, Tagbilaran, Dapitan and others. It should go down in size and maybe add ports of call and damn if transit times are longer. What is more important is that the ships become fuller so that it will be more profitable. Anyway, those who want fast travel will simply take the budget planes. But still there are still many people which prefer the ships to the planes.

Moreover, the remaining liners now have engines too big to be profitable on marginal routes and smaller ports. I think the engines also have to be downsized. If fuel prices go up once more the liners won’t be profitable again.

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Our Lady of Sacred Heart by Chief Ray Smith

In downsizing and saving on fuel, there is one type of ship that is actually fit for us. These are the former RORO Cargo ships and Vehicle Carriers and we have several  examples of that in the past. Actually for the same size and length, RORO Cargo ships have smaller engines than ships which were ROPAXes from the start. They were not really built for speed but for economy while having a decent speed. And moreover on RORO Cargo ships not much steel has to be added as additional decks.

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Our Lady of Medjugorje by Nat Pagayonan

In the past when liners were not that yet big and fast we had very successful liners whose origins were as former RORO Cargo Ships. I think the most famous of these were the sister ships Our Lady of Sacred Heart and the Our Lady of Medjugorje of Carlos A. Gothong Lines Incorporated (CAGLI) which both came in 1990. Beautifully renovated, few suspected their true origins. Weighing the amenities of the ship, they were not inferior to liners of their size. And nor in speed although they have engine horsepowers less than the liners of their size.

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Butuan Bay 1 by Vinz Sanchez

It was the revived Carlos A. Gothong Lines (when they split from WG&A) which brought in the next batch of RORO Cargo ships for conversion into liner ROPAXes when they acquired the Butuan Bay 1 and the Ozamis Bay 1 in the early 2000’s. But what puzzled me is they forgot how to convert them into beautiful ROPAXes like before and almost everybody that rode them said they were ugly. And that maybe helped doom the return of Gothong Lines into passenger shipping. When Butuan Bay 1 became the Trans-Asia 5 it became a beautiful ship with first-class interiors. Butuan Bay 1 should have been like that from the very start and if it were, the trajectory of Gothong Lines might have been different (of course they had other problems too).

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Ozamis Bay 1 by Mike Baylon

It was the Asian Marine Transport Corporation or AMTC that next brought RORO Cargo ships here for conversion into RORO liners. In their Super Shuttle RORO series, they started with the first three converted in to ROPAXes and these were the small Super Shuttle RORO 1, Super Shuttle RORO 2 and Super Shuttle RORO 3. However, the conversions were also not done well and were not worthy of the beautiful small liners of the past. Were they scrimping too like the revived Carlos A. Gothong Lines? Or were they thinking more of the cargo than the passenger revenue?

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Super Shuttle RORO 1 by Fr. Bar Fabella

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Super Shuttle RORO 2 by Nowell Alcancia

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Super Shuttle RORO 3 by Mike Baylon

The next batch of Super Shuttle ROROs which were former RORO Cargo ships or variants from the Super Shuttle RORO 7 to Super Shuttle RORO 12 were all big, all former RORO Cargo ships but all were no longer converted in ROPAXes because maybe the first three of AMTC were not particularly successful. I was able to board all of them and their interiors were all good. The cabins for the vehicle drivers were still in good condition and being used along with ships’ drawing rooms and the good, functional galleys. Some even have gyms. Actually what was only needed is to maybe convert the top deck or another deck into good passenger accommodations. Our shipbuilders were good at that in the 1950’s and 1960’s when refrigerated cargo or cargo-passenger ships from Europe were converted into liners for Sulpicio Lines, William Lines and Sweet Lines aside from Compania Maritima.

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Super Shuttle RORO 7 by James Gabriel Verallo

The Super Shuttle RORO 7 and Super Shuttle RORO 8 were the two AMTC ships that were intriguing for me. At 145 and 146 meters length the size is good especially since this is a tall ship with at least 4 RORO decks. The original top sustained speeds are 17 and 17.5 knots from only 6,900 and 7,800 horsepower which is even less than the horsepowers of the Our Lady of Sacred Heart and the Our Lady of Medjugorje which both had top sustained speeds of 17 knots when new and did 16 knots here even with additional metal and age. If 16 knots can be coaxed from the small engines of the two AMTC ships then it might have been enough especially if compared to the speeds the former Cebu Ferries series converted liners are doing now. It will have a good container load with a decent passenger size if one deck is converted into passenger accommodations and the cabins for drivers are used for passengers here. I was hoping AMTC will go in that direction but they did not. It turned out AMTC was no longer interested in liner shipping and was more interested in container shipping and especially the loading of brand-new vehicles destined for car dealers in the south.

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Super Shuttle RORO 8 by Aris Refugio

A design speed or original top sustained speed of 15 or 16 knots might not do because converted here with additional metal and with age already they will probably just run at 13 or 14 knots and that is slow for a liner. 15 knots locally is still acceptable but 16 knots is better as proven by the Our Lady of Sacred Heart and Our Lady of Medjugorje. But then on the other hand the last time the former Cebu Ferry 2 ran as a liner to Cebu from Manila she was just being made to run at 14 to 15 knots. Does it mean that speed is already acceptable? That will mean a 28 or 29 hour run to Cebu versus the 22 hours of the big liners. But then passing through interports will mask that. Just feed the passengers well. And I always wondered why liners to Cebu don’t pass Roxas City anymore when it is just on the way. Of course the big ones can’t. At least 2GO tried Romblon port with the St. Anthony de Padua (the former Cebu Ferry 2) the last time around. But then maybe small liners shouldn’t be doing the Cebu route.

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St. Anthony of Padua by Mike Baylon

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St. Ignatius of Loyola by Mike Baylon

It was Aboitiz Transport System which next brought in RORO Cargo ships for conversion into ROPAXes with their Cebu Ferry 2 and Cebu Ferry 3. Originally these two ships were refitted to be overnight ferries but later when they were transferred out of their Cebu base they were refitted again to become liners. The two are known now as St. Anthony of Padua and St. Ignatius of Loyola under 2GO. Aside from the two, there are other RORO Cargo ships which were converted into ROPAXes but they were not liners but overnight ships. Among these are the Graceful Stars and Oroquieta Stars of Roble Shipping.

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The future Trans-Asia (1) by Mike Baylon

I think there are many RORO Cargo ships around that are about 120-130 meters in length that have a design speed of 18 or 19 knots which can still run here at 16.5 to 17.5 knots and they might just be perfect. I don’t know if that is the case of the Warrior Spirit which recently arrived to become the third Trans-Asia (1) of Trans-Asia Shipping Lines. This might be good as a test case. The length of 126.2 meters is perfect and the design speed is 19 knots from twin engines is also perfect. Trans-Asia Shipping Lines has a good record in conversion. But then she will just be an overnight ship but a big one at that. But the coming Panglao Bay 1 of Carlos A. Gothong Lines might not prove to be a test case as she will not be converted to ROPAX, per report.

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Panglao Bay 1 by Mark Ocul

Trying these former RORO Cargo ships for conversion into ROPAXes might be a safe bet. These RORO Cargo ships might be low-risk in acquisition as their purchases might just be above breaker prices. So if it does not make money the worth of metal as scrap might still pay for the acquisition price. In the future Trans-Asia (1) they are even cutting off metal so windows can be made. That is different from the experience of the Cebu Ferries ships were a lot of metal has to be added because decks have to built.

I think it is good time to try acquiring RORO Cargo ships as our future liners. They might turn out to be good bets and worthwhile liners a la Our Lady of Sacred Heart and Our Lady of Medjugorje.

The Tacloban Princess

The Tacloban Princess of Sulpicio Lines, although on a more minor liner route is one ferry that impressed me a lot because she is the only ferry in the Philippines that is under 100 meters in length and yet she has a passenger capacity of over 2,000 persons (2,009 actually) which means dense yet clever packing. With only 8,000 horsepower from two main engines, her passenger capacity to horsepower ratio is tops in the land for liners which means a very high efficiency for me in carrying people. Maybe during the time she was fielded in her Manila-Catbalogan-Tacloban route the sailing was still good and since this route had never had good container van load, probably Sulpicio Lines just decided to pack it in in passengers. Maybe, too, the bite of the intermodal buses (and trucks) in Eastern Visayas were not yet that big and painful when she was fielded and Sulpicio Lines still had high hopes for the route because in the past the Manila-Catbalogan-Tacloban route was a great route with many liner shipping companies competing including the biggest shipping companies in our seas then like Compania Maritima, William Lines, Aboitiz Shipping and many others which bowed out earlier. Probably, also, Sulpicio Lines which is in a one-upmanship game with its main rival William Lines do not want to suffer in comparison and heckling because some three years before William Lines fielded the first RORO liner in the route, the Masbate I (but not continuously at first) and this ship’s arrival was backgrounded by the infamous loss of their Manila-Catbalogan-Tacloban liner which was the ill-fated Dona Paz and they do not want a ship inferior to the Masbate I. The Tacloban Princess was Sulpicio Lines’ direct replacement for that lost ship (because the company stopped sailing liners to Tacloban after the disaster and only used the container ship Sulpicio Container VII to carry cargo but not passenger; maybe the feared a backlash). Maybe Sulpicio Lines felt they needed an impressive ship for their comeback and so they fielded the Tacloban Princess, and it be named after Tacloban City for acceptance of the public. So when she was fielded she was the biggest and the best in the route and obviously Sulpicio Lines wanted to salvage lost pride and prestige. Such was the historical background of the coming of the Tacloban Princess.

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The Tacloban Princess by Daryl Yting

In design and lines, I see a large similarity between the Tacloban Princess and the Manila Princess, another ship of Sulpicio Lines although the latter ship is bigger and was not built by the same shipyard and came two years later than the Tacloban Princess. In Manila Princess, Sulpicio Lines did not try anymore to “fill up” that “vacant area” after the poop deck and so there was no scantling above the stern portion of Manila Princess and container vans and other cargo can be stowed directly in that portion using the stern boom of the ship. In the Tacloban Princess, that “vacant area” or “free area” was fully built-up as a big Economy section and that boosted the passenger capacity of the ship (aside from also constructing passenger accommodations from the bridge of the ship up to the funnels). It seems Sulpicio Lines took care to make that stern section as it was beautifully done and her stern looked more modern than the stern of Masbate I. Looking at the quarter-front of the two competing ships, one can see a lot of similarity they being of almost the same size and built at about the same period and that reflects in the design of the ship. But it seems Sulpicio Lines stress more in the aesthetics of the lines and the superstructure and so the Tacloban Princess looked more modern and better pleasing to the eye. Of course, she would never have the lines and aesthetics of later ships as the bridge and forecastle section of the ship is something that is hard to refit or remodel.

The Tacloban Princess started life as the Shinko Maru of the shipping company Nihon Kaiun KK. She was built by the Fukuoka Shipbuilding Company Limited (Fukuoka Zosen) in Fukuoka, Japan and completed in September of 1970 with the IMO Number 7106243. The ship’s length overall (LOA) was 98.3 meters and her breadth or beam was 19.2 meters and her original gross register tonnage (GRT) was 2,664 tons. Her original load capacity in deadweight tons (DWT) as Shinko Maru was 1,266 tons. In Japan the ferry only had two passenger decks and she had no scantlings beyond the funnels.

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The Shinko Maru from Wakanatsu

The ship was fitted with two small engines much like in the mold of the sister ships Our Lady of Fatima and Our Lady of Lourdes of Carlos A. Gothong Lines Incorporated . Her twin engines developed only 8,000 horsepower (it seems these ROPAX ships of about 100 meters in length only has about 8,000 horsepower) but her original sustained top speed was decent at 18.5 knots which was the same as the Gothong sister ships. Here with the added metal and additional age the most that can be coaxed out of her two Niigata engines was only 17 knots but that was already good enough for her size, her route and the general expectation of her shipping era. Actually when she was fielded in the Manila-Catbalogan-Tacloban route she became the fastest liner there and equal to the fastest that sailed there before, the Tacloban City of William Lines.

The Shinko Maru came to the Philippines for Sulpicio Lines in 1990 and she was refitted in Cebu. Another deck was added at the bridge level and after the funnels two and a half passenger decks were added. Since the funnels were near midship, in totality in area of the passenger accommodations of the ferry more than doubled. That system of refitting and the increase in passenger accommodations were the norm of the era much to dramatically increase the passenger accommodations but to the consternation of the Japanese builders and designers but as a general rule they don’t sink or capsize (contrary to what old ship haters with vested interests say now). But the depth and the draft has to increase to maintain stability. Speed however suffers because of the additional steel and the greater draft.

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The Tacloban Princess (edited) by Chief Ray Smith

The maiden voyage of Tacloban Princess was on August 5, 1990 (and with her forthcoming fielding William Lines withdrew their aging and slower already cruiser ship Tacloban City and replaced her permanently with the RORO liner Masbate I. She leaves on Wednesdays at 12 noon for Catbalogan and arrives there 22 hours later and she will depart for Tacloban at Thursdays 1pm and will arrive there at 5pm (which is a little late already for those still needing connecting trips). Departure back to Manila will be Fridays at 12nn and arriving in Catbalogan 4 hours later. The ship will then depart at 6pm and arrives in Manila on Saturdays at 5pm (well, it seems she is fond of late arrivals). The second round-trip voyage of Tacloban Princess within the same week will be a direct one to Tacloban leaving on Sundays at 10am and arriving in Tacloban on Mondays at 1pm. She will then depart Tacloban Monday 4pm (it seems there is really not much cargo if she can leave after only 3 hours in port) and arrive in Manila Tuesdays at 4pm. The Tacloban Princess like her competitor Masbate I was a popular commute to Manila in the early 1990’s when the buses and short-distance ferries were not yet many. Her appeal lies in the free meals and the bunks where one can rest fully. Besides her travel time to Manila is equal that to the bus (if from Tacloban) while being more comfortable and with more amenities than the bus. However, she only had two trips in a week (but then Masbate I also has two trips a week). But then the Cebu Princess, also of Sulpicio Lines still had a Manila-Masbate-Calbayog-Catbalogan-Ormoc-Cebu route then and the Sweet Sail of Sweet Lines also had a Manila-Catbalogan-Tacloban route then. Beside Carlos A. Gothong Lines Inc. also tried a Manila-Catbalogan-Tacloban route (yes, that was how strong this route was then before it was eaten alive by the intermodal system). And so practically nearly everyday there was a ship to Manila and so the appeal of the daily departures of the bus was not that great yet then (I wonder if these competitors realized it then that they were actually “frenemies” but that term did not yet exist then).

In due time, however, the buses and the trucks increased in numbers, they became more ubiquitous with more routes (it was not up to Tacloban mainly anymore but to almost all points of Leyte and Samar islands) and more powerful units (both buses and trucks and the latter segment already had wing van trucks which were built for ease loading and direct delivery). And one strength of the many colorum buses is they know how to search for passengers (they don’t just wait for them to pop up in the terminals). They had the advantage of multiple daily departures and the capacity to pick up or drop by the gates of the houses of the passengers. Plus for those just going to CALABARZON the advantage of taking the bus over the ship is much greater (as in they need not backtrack from Manila anymore). Besides going to or coming out of North Harbor increasingly became more difficult for the passengers compared to the Pasay or Cubao terminals and the Alabang and Turbina pick-up of the buses. I remember then that the buses coming from Eastern Visayas would stop by the eateries before the ascent to Tatlong Eme. There for two pesos one can take a bath from a very strong spring water piped in straight from the mountain and it is so strong one will feel as if he is drowning (but then rinsing takes a very short time only and so the bus need not wait long). Passengers then will arrive in Manila still feeling fresh. Like the ships the Eastern Visayas buses will take in any volume of passenger cargo and will even allot the seats for it for a fee. Passengers will willingly pay for it because getting it to the pier or out will cost money from porters who demands high porterage fees (or from taxi drivers that will demand “special rates”).

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The Tacloban Princess by John Carlos Cabanillas

Before the end of the millennium, however, shipping in Eastern Visayas has already showed signs of distress. The buses and the trucks got more experienced and more organized and additional ferries arrived in the San Bernardino Strait crossing and so more schedules were available. Meanwhile, Sweet Lines and Carlos A. Gothong Lines quit the route and so there were less ships going to Manila. Even before this happened in the Catbalogan/Tacloban route the liners from Manila has already been driven away from Northern Samar and next the Cebu Princess of Sulpicio Lines has to drop the Calbayog call on the way to Ormoc from Masbate and to think Sulpicio Lines has the reputation of being very gritty in terms of abandoning ports of call. The intermodal buses and trucks were already eating the business of the liners even before the last millennium ended.

At the start of the new millennium the Tacloban Princess was forced to drop the Catbalogan port of call and just make two direct Tacloban voyages in a week. She would leave Manila on Wednesdays at 9am and arrive in Tacloban Fridays at 3pm (which means she slowed down already). She would leave Tacloban on Fridays at 12nn and arrive in Manila on Saturdays at 6pm. Her second voyage to Tacloban would leave on Saturdays at 12 midnight and arrive in Tacloban on Mondays at 6am. She will then forthwith leave Mondays at 12nn and arrive in Manila on Tuesday at 6pm (I never liked these arrivals in Manila; these played right into the hands of the unscrupulous drivers and the holduppers). The Tacloban Princess was then only running at 13 knots and the buses were already faster than her (which normally don’t take more than 24 hours from Tacloban). That was a killer and the end of the line was already showing and only cargo was sustaining her now (plus the diehard ship passengers). But I was already wondering then if the revenues was still enough to sustain her operations but I heard the oldies of Sulpicio Lines are sentimental that they will never really give up on routes (or even of ships).

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The Tacloban Princess by Chief Ray Smith

During that time I was wondering if it is better for Sulpicio Lines to just transfer the Tacloban Princess on another route (and just leave the Cebu Princess and the Palawan Princess on the eastern seaboard routes). I thought Sulpicio Lines was a little wasteful on ships in that part of the country when the handwriting on the wall was already very obvious – that the end I nearing. I thought they could have replicated what Gothong Lines and William Lines did then and combined the Ozamis and Iligan routes (that meant the Cebu Princess will take the Masbate and Tacloban plus the Ormoc routes). Of course if she is transferred she will be up against superior ships of WG&A which with the disposal of their 16-knot ships has none sailing at less than 17.5 knots (but then the Dipolog Princess serving Iligan was also inferior during that time already). But then I know that move could send the Dipolog Princess to the breakers (but by then the comparative Iloilo Princess was lost by fire and she could have taken in its Puerto Princesa route). But then why not swap her with the bigger and faster Princess of the Ocean which was just being used in the overnight Cebu-Cagayan de Oro route? I thought her lack of speed could be hidden there like the Our Lady of Good Voyage. She will be competing with that ship and she is near-parity in size, speed and accommodations. But then Sulpicio Lines was just using the probably more than equal Princess of the Earth in the Cebu-Nasipit route where the big but unreliable Nasipit Princess stayed for long. Sometimes I can’t get the logic of the fielding of ships of Sulpicio Lines. They could have swapped Tacloban Princess for Princess of the Earth and the latter could have been sent to the Palawan routes and she would have been more competitive there to the Aboitiz Transport System (the successor company of WG&A) ferries.

I also thought she could have been swapped with the faster Princess of Carribbean since the Tacloban route does not have much cargo (and the cargo capacity of the Princess of the Caribbean is limited being a cruiser ship). She could then make a three times a week voyage to Tacloban and a modus vivendi could be sought with Aboitiz Transport System (ATS) to also field a fast cruiser (like if they did not sell the Our Lady of Naju) so a six times a week sailing to Leyte could be made (the point of departure could also be Ormoc and the route will be shorter and shuttles could be employed to bring the passengers to and from Tacloban and Maasin; and container vans will be hauled too). But I knew even then such idea is too farfetched as ATS was simply too proud and blind and will rather give up an area as big as a region rather then fight the intermodal buses and trucks (and it is just easier to blame everything to the budget airlies but that palusot will not fly in Eastern Visayas as everybody knows the passengers went to buses and not to the airlines).

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The Tacloban Princess by John Carlos Cabanillas

Later on, the Tacloban Princess had bouts of unreliability, I heard, and sometimes she can’t be seen and the Cebu Princess will make a Manila-Masbate-Tacloban route with a diversion to Cebu. Sometimes it will be the Tacloban Princess making that route and Cebu Princess will be out (it seemed then it was only the ancient Palawan Princess which was always ready to sail the eastern seaboard routes). That time Sulpicio Lines doesn’t advertise much in the papers like before and so monitoring was more difficult. Whatever it can be seen that Sulpicio Lines was making great effort to retain the Eastern Visayas ports of call (and Masbate too) against the relentless onslaught of the intermodal buses and trucks (and almost alone). I heard also then that after a long furlough Tacloban Princess’ engines were being rehabilated. Sulpicio Lines does not easily give up on ships. Well, if they can retain the Palawan Princess and the Dipolog Princess that came in the 1970’s and were obsolete cruisers then why not the better Tacloban Princess? Their antiquated Palawan Princess, to think, was still doing a Leyte route when that ship was built in the 1950’s and was the only liner left without airconditioning.

But one incident and factor dashed all the hopes for the Tacloban Princess. Of course, Sulpicio Lines did not expect another incident on the scale of the Dona Paz tragedy will happen and this time it will doom the entire passenger shipping of the company. Their flagship Princess of the Stars sank in a storm in 2008 and in the aftermath of the reactions Sulpicio Lines was suspended from passenger shipping and in order to get back, stringent conditions were demanded by MARINA (the regulatory agency Maritime Industry Authority) from the company. In the early days of the suspension (which was killing to the mechanical viability of the ships), Sulpicio Lines decided to sell ships to raise cash and among the victims were the Tacloban Princess along with the highly-regarded Princess of Paradise and Cotabato Princess (and in this sense, the Cebu Princess and Cagayan Princess were luckier as they went to Roble Shipping and not to the breakers).

The Tacloban Princess was bought by a Tayud shipyard in Cebu for breaking as we heard. World metal prices was still high then and no shipping company was shopping for a liner as the liner industry was obviously on the way down already because of the growing shares of the budget airlines, the forwarding companies and the intermodal trucks and buses. However, while in the shipyard the Tacloban Princess caught fire and was reduced to charred metal. The incident just made her chopping faster.

And so in 2009 Tacloban Princess was already dead, killed by the aftermath of the sinking of the Princess of the Stars. Maybe if she was just the size of an overnight ship she might have survived like the Cebu Princess and Cagayan Princess.

Selling under pressure just kills ships.

The 110-meter RORO Liners

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

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

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

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Sweet RORO by Lindsay Bridge

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

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Sweet RORO 2 as Sweet Glory by Edison Sy

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

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Sta. Florentina by Edison Sy

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

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

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Sweet Baby (Credits to Manila Chronicle and Gorio Belen)

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

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Sta. Ana as Super Shuttle RORO 8 by Rodney Orca

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

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

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Princess of Negros by Rodney Orca

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

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San Paolo by Rodney Orca

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

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SuperFerry 3 by Britz Salih

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

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Our Lady of the Rule by Mike Baylon

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

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

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

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Trans-Asia 3 by Karl Sabuga

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

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

The San Lorenzo Ruiz of Negros Navigation

This article is about the liner San Lorenzo Ruiz of Negros Navigation and not the short-distance ferry-RORO of Viva Shipping Lines of Batangas. It was just a wonder from me how come MARINA allowed the use of the same name for two different ROROs when that is not normally allowed. And so because of that some people became confused especially if they have not seen the two liners. Actually one won’t see them at the same time because they have different ports of calls and routes. The nearest the two will be near each other was if they were at the same time in Verde Island Passage between Batangas and Mindoro when they are crossing each other’s path as the Viva Shipping Lines vessel is a Batangas to Mindoro ferry and the Negros Navigation ferry uses the strait on the way to the Visayas and Mindanao.

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The San Lorenzo Ruiz by Marlon Griego and Nowell Alcancia

The San Lorenzo Ruiz is one liner I like for its economical design because it is much like the SuperFerry 2, SuperFerry 5, Mabuhay 2, Princess of the Pacific, Princess of the South, Our Lady of Banneux and Cagayan Bay 1. The class they are in have the length of between 128 to 143 meters (or roughly the 130-meter class) with engines between 15,000 to 16,000 horsepower and with a design speed of about 20 knots and a local speed here of about 18 knots after the addition of metal in the superstructure and the passing of nearly two decades of service. This class has the capacity of some 100 TEUs of container vans which is about enough for the local routes. The class’ speed, capacity and amenities are adequate too for a liner and passenger accommodations don’t have to be so maximized unlike the 110-meter liners. This class has definitely more speed too than that class although they don’t have the 20 knots here of the 150-meter liners with 20,000 horsepower engines but their fuel consumption is definitely less. This class is actually what is perfect for the routes that are not serving Cebu, the country’s premier city and port south of Manila.

The speed differential between an 18-knot liner and a 20-knot liner is really not that great. Going to Cebu and rounding the eastern side of Mactan island, the latter will have a transit time of 21 hours and the former will have a transit time of about 22 hours. At 17.5 knots, the SuperFerry 2 and SuperFerry 5 also can do it in 22 hours because they need not use the eastern seaboard of Mactan for the reason that they can pass under the two Mactan bridges because they have folding stern masts. To me it was even a puzzle why so many of our liners were in the 150-meter class with 20,000 or so horsepower and 20 knots. In terms of container capacity the difference is not great since their breadth is just about the same of the 130-140 meter lines. But 15,000 to 16,000 horsepower is much less than 20,000 to 22,000 horsepower in terms of fuel consumption. Well, actually at the height of fuel prices a few years ago the 2GO itself downgraded the engine speeds and consequently the ferries’ speed to save on fuel. Few really run at 20 knots nowadays and that just proves that 20 knots was really never necessary.

The ROPAX ship San Lorenzo Ruiz of Negros Navigation was built by Nipponkai Heavy Industries Co. in Toyama, Japan in 1973 as the Al Nasl of the Taiheiyo Enkai Ferry KK of Nagoya, Japan with the IMO Number 7302093. The ship was 132.1 meters in length over-all with a length between perpendiculars of 124.0 meters. Her breadth was 22.7 meters with an original gross register tonnage (GRT) of 6,844 tons and an original deadweight tonnage (DWT) of 2,480 tons. The ferry was powered by two IHI (Ishikawa Heavy Industries)-built Pielstick engines developing 8,000 horsepower each for a total of 16,000 horsepower and that gave the ship a design speed of 19.5 knots. Her specifications wer actually very near that of the sister ships SuperFerry 2 and SuperFerry 5 which measured 138.6 meters by 22.1 meters and was powered by two MAN diesels built by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries with a total of 15,200 horsepower and a design speed of 19 knots.

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Ebino of Nippon Car Ferry by ‘hunterdosaemon’

Although twin-engined, the ferry was equipped by a single, center funnel with the stern mast atop it and she had a distinctive bridge that is slanted forward from the top to have a better lower view. She had one full passenger deck plus two passenger-half decks at the front. Al Nasl has a sister ship, the Argo and they sailed the Nagoya-Nachikitsuura-Oita route of Taiheiyo Enkai Ferry, a route from the main island of Honshu to the Kyushu island in the south. In 1976, however, the ship was sold to Nippon Car Ferry and she held the route to Ebino city in Kyushu island and thus she was named as the Ebino. As the ferry to Ebino this ship had a passenger capacity of 695 and about 500 lane-meters in rolling cargo space.

In 1996, the Ebino came to the Philippines to be the San Lorenzo Ruiz with the Mary Queen of Peace, another former Nippon Car Ferry ship. Maybe the connection started with the San Paolo which arrived for Negros Navigation three year earlier and which was another ship from Nippon Car Ferry. In the Philippines, a partial scantling up to the funnel was added in the navigation deck to hold the Economy class. The passenger capacity of the ship in the Philippines was 1,426 persons only as Negros Navigation chose to not massively change the superstructure of the ship anymore. Because many of the Japan features were retained she had the reputation of having good interiors. Of course with 3,911 in net tons she had plenty of space for passengers. However, although scantlings were added the gross tonnage of the ship went down to 6,051 but her deadweight tonnage rose to 2,995 tons. For cargo handling, the ship only had a stern ramp. Many however, said the lines of the ship was beautiful and I agree with that.

The San Lorenzo Ruiz was used by Negros Navigation in opening their Manila-Iloilo-General Santos City-Davao route. In this route she was in competition with the SuperFerry 1/SuperFerry 8/SuperFerry 10 team-up of WG&A which was a mean line-up of former flagships and gives up nothing to her in amenities and facilities but were a little superior to her in speed. They actually share the same route exactly but where the WG&A line-up can do 20 knots the San Lorenzo Ruiz can only do 19 knots at most. But I wonder why in a Negros Navigation advertisement she was declared sailing at 19.5 knots, her design speed. It might have been possible but that means running at 100% engine speed and that is a killer for a 23-year old ship (later she developed a reputation for being “slow”). She had only a declared passenger capacity of 920 passengers in the advertisement (versus the declared 1,426 in MARINA files and a later 1,850 from another source) but her declared cargo capacity was 140 TEU, higher than the normal 130 to 140-meter ROPAX. That means she retained the partial cargo deck at the “B” level supporting the observation that her conversion here was really not much. Probably, the passenger capacity was only right as they were new in the General Santos City and Davao route. On the other, being new the container capacity might have been high. Just the same, her size might have been just perfect in a newly-developed route.

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San Lorenzo Ruiz by Britz Salih

On the Sulpicio Lines side, she was competing with the Princess of the Pacific in the General Santos City route, a ship with almost the same size as her and almost the same horsepower and powered by twin Pielstick engines also. In the Davao route she was up versus the super-big and fast Filipina Princess whose amenities might not as impressive as her being an older ship in terms of fielding here. Like other Negros Navigation ships her higher accommodations have many variations from Suite to Single Suite to Admiral Suite, Deluxe Cabin, Business Class to Tourist Class, Travelers Class and Tatami Class. I like the Tatami Class because I like to sleep on the floor (with mattress) and I can lie with my shoes on and use my knapsack as mattress and not worry about them getting stolen. I hate sleeping in upper bunks and good that the Tatami Class don’t have them.

After two years Negros Navigation withdrew from the Davao route and just used one ship and modified the route of the San Ezekiel Moreno to Manila-Iloilo-Zamboanga-General Santos City-Davao (that ship had a Manila-Iloilo-Zamboanga-General Santos City route before). The San Lorenzo Ruiz then did the Manila-Iloilo-Ozamis-Iligan-Manila route and Manila-Dumaguete-Tagbilaran-Manila route within the same week. I thought this were very good routes for the San Lorenzo Ruiz as it combines near ports without backtracking and two complete voyages are completed in week which means a high efficiency in the use of the ship. But of course, the giant WG&A have heavy presence in those ports of call and Sulpicio Lines is also serving those ports also but the exact routes of the ships of Sulpicio Lines and WG&A varies with that of the San Lorenzo Ruiz. In Iligan and Ozamis, the San Lorenzo Ruiz was up against the SuperFerry 2/SuperFerry 5/SuperFerry 9 team-up of WG&A and all three of those were about the same dimensional size and engine size of her and so it was probably an even match even in amenities. She was also against that team-up in Dumaguete. In the Tagbilaran and Dumaguete combined route she was up against the SuperFerry 3 and she has a big advantage over this ship in speed, in paper as that ship only has 9,300 horsepower in total. In Tagbilaran she was also up against the Our Lady of Sacred Heart and Our Lady of Medjugorje pairing of WG&A and again she had great advantage in speed and even in amenities aside from the space. She was also superior in everything over the Princess of the Caribbean of Sulpicio Lines in Dumaguete and Ozamis (or the Iloilo Princess which subbed in 1998) and much more superior over the old cruiser Dipolog Princess in the Tagbilaran and Iligan route of Sulpicio Lines.

Since the San Lorenzo Ruiz was not competing here versus liners with 20,000 horsepower she then just tried to match the speed of the competition which was about 17.5 knots for the Dumaguete route and 17 knots for the Tagbilaran route and that was probably a wise decision. Versus the smaller ROPAXes of 2GO which has small engines, the SuperFerry 3, Our Lady of Sacred Heart and Our Lady of Medjugorje there was no chance that she can be outsped. I thought then she had a chance in the old Dumaguete-Ozamis-Iligan-Tagbilaran quadrant, a favorite of many ships in the past from the time of ex-”FS” ships and even before. In those routes she was also the local connection of the near islands there.

But then she lost over time. In shipping, it is not just the edge or the parity of the ship that matters. Even more important is the cargo which is the bread and butter of shipping. Now, the old ones also have advantage even in the passengers because of the familiarity including in the schedule. When the new millennium arrived it was already the whole company that was in trouble. They simply had too many ships from loans and there were not enough revenues and the dancing porters and free porterage plus bus links were not enough to do the trick. Soon, Negros Navigation was dropping routes and ports of calls as they found it unprofitable. The time they entered those new routes and ports was the time the country had too many liners, the product of over-expansion during the time of President Fidel V. Ramos who gave incentives for the acquisition of new ship including loans from the then government-owned Philippine National Bank. It was also the time that the true intermodal system, the combination of the long-distance trucks and buses plus the short-distance ferry-ROROs were making great advances and taking away passengers and cargo from the liners. And then there was also the budget airlines which was sucking passengers from the liners as they were already offering fares in parity with the liners.

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The San Lorenzo Ruiz by Rodney Orca

Soon, the liners of Negros Navigation was being garnished by creditors including the Tsuneishi shipyard in Cebu. Manny V. Pangilinan of Metro Pacific and Smart Telecommunications entered as a white knight and infused money and talked to the creditors and a court-mandated rehabilitation program was put in place. One result of the reorganization that ensued was that Negros Navigation was forced to hold on only to routes that were making money for them and these were basically their old routes before their big expansion from the mid-1990’s. With such a decision, liners have to be sold and many were then subsequently offered for sale by ads. However, here were no local takers and when this happened only shipbreakers from other countries are interested and in the end many of the liners of Negros Navigation ended up with the breakers including those ships transferred to Jensen Shipping. San Lorenzo Ruiz was acquired by Bangladesh breakers and in 2008 she was broken up in Chittagong.

And that was the sad end of one liner I admire.