The Passenger-Cargo ex-“FS” Ships of the Philippines

Right after World War II, the former FS ships of the US military dominated the Philippine shipping industry. FS means “Freight and Supply”. Their earlier designation was “FP”. The FS series is one of the many types of transport-supply ships used by the US armed forces in World War II.

The FS ships proceeded from one basic design, with variations. There were many contracted shipbuilders in the US that built them. Higgins Industries and Wheeler Shipbuilding were the dominant FS shipbuilders. The FS ships that reached the Philippines were about 54 meters in length with a beam of 9.8 meters. It is about 560 gross tons. Many manufacturers supplied engines for the FS ships from the basic General Motors-Cleveland design.

The bulk of the FP/FS ships were built in the year 1944 and a few were built in 1945. Most were built for the US Army and it was mainly employed in the Pacific theater of operations of the US armed forces. That was one of the reasons why so many FS ships found its way to the Philippines.

As military surplus ships which the US no longer needed anymore after the war, the FS ships were plenty, readily available and very cheap. Many were just given as reparations for the ships requisitioned by the US during the war or were replacements for the ships that were deliberately scuttled during the early phase of the Pacific war to prevent them from falling into enemy hands.

The first batch that came was directly given to the Philippine government for its disposal. Later, some FS ships given to other countries found its way to the Philippines, mainly in the 1950’s and these were private transactions. Even much later, some former FS ships converted by the US Navy for post-war uses (the “AKL” series) found its way to the Philippines as late as the 1960’s. This batch was cornered by the well-connected Philippine President Lines.

Some of FS ships were used unconverted and served as cargo ships carrying a few passengers. Most, however, were converted to true passenger-cargo use. About half were later lengthened in Hongkong and Bataan shipyards and some were even re-engined. Aboitiz Shipping Lines and William Lines were notable for this.

Converted and/or lengthened FS ships added passenger decks and accommodations. But compared to later standards those were still very spartan and meager. Third-class was really hardship class as one has to sleep among the cargo in the lowermost deck which is hot and noisy as it was just above the engine deck. Second class accommodations meant foldable cots and being located a deck above third class. First class is usually located in the bridge deck and is not accessible by the other classes. However, for all classes air-conditioning is non-existent.

Originally running at 12-13 knots, converted FS ships generally ran at 10-11 knots and sometimes even slower as they aged and got heavy. A route in general had many ports of call with long in-port hours due to the slow loading and unloading operations using porters and booms. Southern Mindanao voyages took two weeks to complete, round-trip. Visayas and northern Mindanao routes took one week. In a few short routes to Panay, Palawan, Mindoro, Romblon and Marinduque, a twice a week sailing was possible.

The FS ships generally didn’t have radar and ship masters became versatile in reading the weather and in looking for coves to take cover when the waves became rough for comfort and safety. The FS ships were known for rolling in heavy seas and being slow it cannot outrun a coming typhoon. Many were caught in the seas by storms and foundered or were wrecked.

The FS ships served longer than they were intended or expected to. Most were still sailing in the 1970’s and having completed three decades of service. But by the 1980’s, only the sturdiest of the class survived. A few of the FS ships served until the early 1990’s. It is a matter of conjecture which was the last FS ship sailing in our waters. That FS ship was probably a vessel running cargo somewhere among the lesser-known routes.

Usually death of the engine is the main cause of the retirement of the FS ship. Others were retired because they were no longer competitive in terms of speed and comfort. Many long-surviving shipping companies sold and broke up FS ships late in its life to be able to buy newer replacement ships. However, other lesser companies sold and broke up ships in the economic crisis of the mid-1980’s and went out of the shipping business.

By the mid-1990’s, the FS ships were already history. At the age of 50 even the sturdiest of machineries begin to fail and can no longer be retrofitted. Radar and air-conditioning, musts of the 1980’s can no longer be retrofitted in the FS ships. Nor can they be made to run any faster.

As a whole, the FS ships did not suffer from leaky bottoms or holed hulls. In general, they proved to be sturdy and reliable. The FS ships were one of the most significant types of ships to serve Philippine shipping.

The Passenger-Cargo FS Ships in the Philippines:

Aboitiz Shipping Lines/PSNC/Cebu-Bohol Ferry Company:

MV Antonia (FS-280)

MV Carmen (FS-226) [foundered 1987]

MV Mangarin (FS-279) [wrecked 1974]

MV Marcelino (FS-271) [broken up 1992]

MV Baybay (FS-253) [foundered 1980]

MV Davao (FS-200) [sold to William Lines]

MV Kolambugan (FS-194) [sold to William Lines]

MV Kinau (FS-365) [sold to CAGLI]

MV Picket II (FS-167) [broken up]

MV Vizcaya (FS-465) [sold to Escano Lines]

MV Lanao (FS-349)

MV Cotabato (FS-404) [sold]

MV Bais (1) (FS-3190 [wrecked 1978]

MV Baztan (FS-264) [sold to George & Peter Lines]

MV Sorsogon (FS-366) [sold to Rodrigueza Shipping]

MV FS-272 [sold to William Lines]

MV FS-177 [fire, sank 1972]

MV Manuel (FS-165) [converted to barge, 1977]

MV Ormoc (1) (FS-176)

MV Ernest S (FS-147) [sold to Escano Lines]

William Lines:

MV Victor (FS-372) [broken up 1985]

MV Albert (FS-527) [wrecked, broken up 1982]

MV Henry I (FS-196) [sold to Bisayan Land Transport]

MV Don Victoriano (FS-526) [fire, broken up 1982]

MV Edward (FS-224) [broken up 1992]

MV Elizabeth (FS-311) [broken up 1988]

MV Don Jose I (FS-268)

MV Davao City (FS-200) [broken up 1986]

MV Misamis Oriental (FS-194) [fire, sank 1987]

MV Dona Maria (FS-265) [sold to Escano Lines]

General Shipping:

General del Pilar (FS-253) [sold to Aboitiz Shipping]

General Segundo (FS-273) [sold to Sweet Lines]

General Lim (FS-199) [sold to Sweet Lines]

General Lukban (FS-280) [sold to Aboitiz Shipping]

General Mascardo (FS-269)

General Luna (FS-346) [sold to Sweet Lines]

General Mojica (FS-271) [sold to Aboitiz Shipping]

General Capinpin (FS-279) [sold to Aboitiz Shipping]

General Malvar (FS-226) [sold to Aboitiz Shipping]

Compania Maritima:

MV Bohol (FS-550) [wrecked 1971]

MV Corregidor (FS-549) [broken up 1988]

MV Leyte (FS-386) [wrecked 1978]

MV Mindoro (FS-393) [foundered 1967]

MV Romblon (FS-166) [fire, beached 1974]

MV Marinduque (FS-159) [broken up 1988]

MV Masbate (1) (FS-144) [sold to Sweet Lines]

MV Don Isidro (FS-160) [sold to Sweet Lines]

Manila Steamship:

MS Vizcaya (FS-405) [sold to PSNC]

MS Lanao (FS-349) [sold to PSNC]

MS Venus (FS-404) [sold to PSNC]

MS Elcano (FS-319) [sold to PSNC]

MS Baztan (FS-264) [sold to PSNC]

MS Sorsogon (FS-366) [sold to PSNC]

MS Marinduque (FS-159) [sold to Compania Maritima]

Philippine President Lines/Philippine Pioneer Lines/Galaxy Lines:

MV Pres. Osmena (1) (FS-309) a.k.a MV Pioneer Iligan/MV Gemini [sold]

MV Pres. Laurel (1) (FS-175) a.k.a. MV Pioneer Butuan/MV Virgo [sold]

MV Pres. Roxas (1) (FS-220) [sold to N&S Lines]

MV Pres. Quirino (1) (FS-275) a.k.a. MV Pioneer Tacloban/MV Odeon [sold to Lorenzo Shipping]

MV Pres. Magsaysay (1) (FS-223) a.k.a. MV Pioneer Cebu [sank 1966]

MV Pres. Quezon (1) (FS-265) [sold to William Lines]

Escano Lines:

MV Tacloban (FS-265) [foundered 1971]

MV Kolambugan (FS-194) [fire, sank 1987]

MV Fernando Escano (FS-178) [sold]

MV Agustina (FS-225) [broken up 1989]

MV Malitbog (FS-403) [broken up 1984]

MV Rajah Suliman (FS-147) [broken up 1984]

Sulpicio Lines:

MV Don Enrique (1) (FS-270) [wrecked 1982]

MV Don Carlos (1) (FS-148) [foundered 1977]

MV Don Alfredo (FS-310) [broken up 1983]

MV Don Jose (1) (FS-318) [sank 1967]

Sweet Lines:

MV Sweet Trip (1) (FS-273) [wrecked 1978]

MV Sweet Ride (1) (FS-346) [broken up 1985]

MV Sweet Hope (1) (FS-199) [wrecked 1984, broken up]

MV Sweet Town (FS-144) [broken up 1982]

MV Sweet News (FS-160) [broken up 1968]

Southern Lines/Visayan Transport:

MS Governor Gilbert (FS-194) [sold to Escano Lines]

MS Governor Smith (FS-314) [sold]

MS Governor Wright (1) (FS-287) [sold]

MS Governor Wright (2) (FS-365) [sold to Aboitiz Shipping]

MV Don Julio (FS-286) [sold to Philippine Pioneer Lines]

Bisaya Land Transport:

MV Don Mariano (FS-260) [broken up]

MV Don Filomena (FS-201) [broken up]

MV Dona Remedios (FS-284) [broken up]

MV Don Mariano (2) (FS-196) [sold to Alma Shipping]

North Camarines Lumber/NCL/NORCAMCO:

MV Sirius (FS-265) [sold to Philippine President Lines]

MV FS-387

MV Taurus (1) (FS-365) [sold to PSNC]

MV Vega (2) [sold to N&S Lines]

N&S Lines:

MV Venus (FS-220) [foundered in 1984]

MV Odeon (FS-275) [sold to Lorenzo Shipping]

MV Vega (2)

De La Rama Steamship:

MS Don Esteban (FS-166) [sold to Compania Maritima]

MS Don Isidro (FS-160) [sold to Sweet Lines]

MS Don Vicente (FS-199) [sold to General Shipping]

Pan-Oriental Shipping:

MV Oriental (FS-318) [sold to Carlos A. Go Thong & Co.]

MV Occidental (FS-350) [sold to Carlos A. Go Thong & Co.]

MV Continental (FS-197) [sold]

Lorenzo Shipping:

MV Don Francisco (FS-350) [wrecked 1978]

MV Don Jolly (1) (FS-275)

Juliano & Co.:

MV Zamboanga-J (FS-178) [sold to Escano Lines]

MV Cotabato-J (FS-279) [sold to General Shipping]

Rodrigueza Shipping:

MV Neptuno (FS-379)

MV Sorsogon (FS-366)

Gothong Lines:

MV Don Benjamin (1) (FS-365) [broken up 1980]

Ledesma Shipping:

Don Julio (FS-286) [sold to Southern Lines]

De Oro Shipping:

MV Insular de Cebu (FS-178) [wrecked 1978]

Philippine Sea Transport:

MV FS-194 [sold to PSNC]

South Sea Shipping:

MV Neptuno (FS-389) [sold to Rodrigueza Shipping]

Sta. Mesa Machinery:

MV Ernest-S (FS-147) [sold to PSNC]

Philsin:

MV Philsin (FS-364)

[Research Support: Gorio Belen]

[Database Support: Jun Marquez, Angelo Blasutta, Mike Baylon]

[Edited and reprinted from an article in the old Philippine Ship Spotters Society website.]

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The Shipping Modernization and Liberalization Program of President Fidel V. Ramos, the Formation of WG&A, the Responses of Sulpicio Lines and Negros Navigation and the Aftermath

https://www.flickr.com/photos/42341995@N06/3902290097
Image by Wakanatsu

Early in his term, President Fidel V. Ramos enunciated his policy of shipping liberalization and of modernizing the maritime sector. There was no question then that the maritime industry stagnated in the crisis of the 1980’s. There was apparent lack of bottoms (lack of ships) especially since a significant number of shipping companies nosedived and sank in that decade. Among the most prominent of those were Compania Maritima/Maritime Company of the Philippines, Philippine President Lines/United President Lines and Galleon Shipping. With the very high rates of interest then, the shipping companies were reluctant to borrow from banks to purchase ships. Aside from shipping companies, many local shipbuilders then especially the biggest ones were also distressed.

President Ramos laid out incentives for the purchase of additional ships (but these were not necessarily newer compared to the ships that came in the 1970’s). Many shipping companies took advantage of this and added bottoms. In general, they were expecting for an upturn of the economy that was expected to result in the revival of the shipping industry as in more goods to be shipped means more shipping.

A discordant note, however, also surfaced at the same time of this. A rumor surfaced that foreign ships will be allowed to trade in the local waters. With the small size of the local shipping companies and its old ships, there was no question that they will just be sunk by the foreign shipping companies.

But, personally then, I wondered how could it be when we have an anti-cabotage law which bars foreign ships from plying our inter-island routes. Since it is a law, then for foreign ships to do local routes, it has to be repealed first. And that means it has to pass through both houses of Congress. I thought it had no chance of passing since ship owners have a lot of friends there and many legislators will simply be aghast at the thought of our local ships facing a tsunami-like competition.

It is in this note that a proposal to merge local shipping companies “to face the foreign threat” emerged and it was Aboitiz which was the drum beater to this bandwagon. A proposal was made to merge William Lines, Gothong Shipping and Aboitiz Shipping Lines. This was done in late 1995 and the new company WG&A was formally inaugurated in January 1, 1996. I heard that Sulpicio Lines, the biggest shipping company then (although William Lines disputes this) was invited to the the merger but instead opted out.

With this merger, WG&A suddenly had 33 liners and overnight ships. About 10 or so of those were immediately assigned to their Visayas-Mindanao subsidiary, the Cebu Ferries Corporation. They also had nearly the same number of container ships from big to small. All and all, they had a fleet of over 60 passenger and container ships. This fleet was the greatest ever assembled in the entire history of Philippine shipping.


M/V Our Lady of Good Voyage, Cebu Ferries Corp. © wakanatsu

The ferries were then made to run the Aboitiz Jebsens way which means the very minimum of in-port hours but with intensive maintenance. Even with new routes created and additional frequencies, WG&A had a surplus of ferries and so then they sold the older and slower ones especially the cruisers (which by its nature cannot be made to follow the regimen of short in-port hours). They also started to sell their surplus container ships including the biggest ones.

With a WG&A fleet of that size and with the Aboitiz Jebsens system of sailing, the two other liner companies which were Sulpicio Lines and Negros Navigation faced tremendous pressure in the liner and long-distance routes. It is interesting to discuss how each reacted to their “crisis” (just a note, even if the two merged and even if MBRS Shipping joined them, still WG&A will be bigger than them especially in cargo/container capacity).

Of course, the first move of any of them will be to add newer, bigger and faster ships with amenities and comfort that can match the liners of WG&A. Sulpicio Lines added the MV Princess of the Universe, the MV Princess of the World, the MV Princess of the Caribbean, the MV Princess of the Ocean and the MV Princess of New Unity. This happened between 1996 and 1999 but let it be noted that they lost the MV Princess of the Orient in 1998. Meanwhile, Negros Navigation added the MS St. Ezekiel Moreno, the MS San Lorenzo Ruiz and the MS Mary Queen of Peace in 1997-98 and this was soon after they fielded the sister ships MS St. Peter The Apostle and MS St. Joseph The Worker in late 1995 (let it be noted also that they lost the MS St. Francis of Assisi in 1999).


M/V Princess of the Universe of Sulpicio Lines © zamboships/Flickr

I heard Sulpicio Lines acquired their new liners through their old agent in Japan which means liberal payment terms (Sulpicio Lines was not the only local company which has this kind of connection and privilege). Negros Navigation, meanwhile, relied of the bank position of their leader Daniel Lacson Jr. to acquire the ships through loans from the government-owned Philippine National Bank. It seems this is the first divergence in their approaches on how to handle the WG&A tsunami.

With more ships, Negros Navigation created new routes and added new ports of call like Davao, General Santos City, Cotabato City (Parang, Maguindanao actually), Dapitan, Ozamis, Iligan, Tagbilaran, Dumaguete, Puerto Princesa and even San Carlos and Toledo. The first word I heard that they could be in trouble with such expansion was when I had a cargo manager as a cabin mate. He explained to me it is cargo that makes routes and not passengers and that a shipping company will not know in six months time if a route would hold. He added it might take one or two years to know and in the process the shipping company has already burned a lot of cash.


M/S Mary Queen of Peace of Negros Navigation © Rodney Orca

Meanwhile, Sulpicio Lines just stuck to the routes they had and used their new ships to modernize and not be outgunned by WG&A. The only significant new route they added was the Manila-Cebu-General Santos City route when the MV Princess of the New Unity came. They did not try matching WG&A route by route and frequency by frequency.

In a few years, it was WG&A which was culling routes, leaving some ports of call and cutting frequencies. This process accelerated with the divestment of the Chiongbian (owners of William Lines) and Gothong families in the Great Merger. And this process happened barely six years into the merger.

In the same span of time, Negros Navigation had already began quitting routes and ports of call, too. Signs of financial distress also began to show. Soon suppliers and contractors went to court to garnish ships for unpaid supplies and for jobs done on ships. Lucky for them, a “white knight” in the person of Manny V. Pangilinan came to their rescue.

Ten years after the start of the liberalization program of President Ramos, the number of liners and container ships in the country had already shrunk. The number of our ocean-going ships with regular frequencies and ports of calls abroad had also been pared to nearly zero. Some of our biggest shipyards were also already in foreign hands.

What went wrong?