The Many Iterations of M/V Sugbu

Image © Edison Sy. Do not re-upload without permission.

The M/V Sugbu of William Lines began life in Japan as the MV Akebono Maru of the A” Line, one of the sources of second-hand ships of William Lines in Japan (they also acquired second-hand ships from Europe in earlier days and also brand-new ships from Japan). She was built by Usuki Tekkosho in their Saiki yard in 1977 and as originally designed she was a ROLO (Roll-On Lift-Off) ferry. By that, it means she had a cargo boom at the bow and (two) RORO ramps at the stern. ROLO was actually the prevailing design of the A” Line shipping company in that period. As built, she was 137.5 meters in Length Over-all (LOA), a length between perpendiculars (LPP or LBP) of 125.0 meters with a breadth of 20.2 meters. In Japan, she was originally measured to be 4,999 in Gross Register Tons (GRT) with a Deadweight Tonnage (DWT) of 2,700. Her hull was made of steel, she had two masts, a raked stem and a transom stern with two passenger decks. She had an original top speed of 20.5 knots. Her permanent ID was IMO 7633129.

MV Akebono Maru arrived in the Philippines in late 1989 to become the flagship of William Lines. She replaced the former flagship, the venerable MV Dona Virginia. In a locally-done conversion, two passenger decks were added to her with the tallest being on the bridge or navigation deck. This necessitated the extension of the funnels. The cargo boom at the bow was retained and thus she remained a ROLO ship. With the refitting, her Gross Tonnage (GT) rose to 6,624 nominal tons and her Net Tonnage (NT) increased to 3,319 nominal tons (as GT and NT actually have no units). Her passenger capacity increased to 2,600 persons which suggested a maximal use of space. Liners of the era then were expected to have a big passenger capacities and it was already the era of 2,000-passenger liners. As flagship she was fielded into the prime Manila-Cebu route starting in early 1990 where she battled the much-bigger and faster flagship of Sulpicio Lines, the heavyweight MV Filipina Princess, the biggest and fastest ferry then in the country.


The Akebono Maru © T. Mikami


M/V Sugbu © Masahiro Homma

In December of 1993, William Lines acquired the grand Sun Flower Osaka (formerly Sun Flower 5) to start the Wililines Mabuhay series for the company and to compete against the SuperFerry series of Aboitiz Shipping and the grand liners of Sulpicio Lines. MV Mabuhay 1 became the new flagship and hence, holder of the Manila-Cebu route and she was soon followed by the MV Wililines Mabuhay 2. To upgrade the MV Sugbu to the Mabuhay standard, she was sent to Singapore for upgrading. There she was lengthened, her passenger accommodations and amenities were upgraded, her bridge equipments were modernized and the engines were remanufactured.

In 1995, she came back to the Philippines as the MV Wililines Mabuhay 3. Her new length was now 157.1 meters (an increase of over 20 meters) and her Gross Tonnage (GT) increased to 7,878. Her new Net Tonnage (NT) was 3,969 and her DWT (Deadweight Tonnage) was 3,219 tons. Her bridge was relocated forward and a beautiful sloped foredeck was built below the bridge. With that, her cargo booms disappeared but she had two RORO ramps at the stern arrangement to handle rolling cargo. Her passenger capacity was reduced to 2,334 persons which means more space and amenities. She was divided into 7 (!) classes – the Special Suite, Suite, Cabin for 2, Cabin for 4/6, Deluxe, Deluxe Tourist and Economy. All those seven classes have different rates or fares. Coming back to the William Lines, she was assigned to the newly-created route Manila-Davao-Dadiangas-Manila-Cagayan-Iloilo-Manila and she was sailing again at 20 knots with few in-port hours. She had the fastest Manila-Davao sailing at 42 hours and the fastest Dadiangas-Manila transit time at 36 hours. The route was an express route and she had express speed to match that. It was also designed to show Aboitiz Shipping that William Lines can also do express shipping and maybe even better than them.

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M/V Wilines Mabuhay 3. From lonelyplanetimages.com (Note: If you are the owner of this photo please contact us so we can give the proper credit. Thanks!)

In 1996, with the accession of William Lines to WG&A, she became the MV SuperFerry 8. In that new company, her route assignment changed but it was still an express route with express speed. In fact, she was assigned a route similar to that of MV SuperFerry 1 in Aboitiz’s time which is a Manila-Iloilo-General Santos City-Davao route coupled with a Manila-Iloilo route on the same week. Actually, the two ships were sailing the same exact route but with different departure days. Later, when the MV SuperFerry 10 was pulled out from the Manila-Cebu route the three ships were given a rotating Manila-Iloilo-General Santos City-Davao route. That pairing earlier or later can be done without a hitch because the three ships have the same speed of 20 knots (which is critical in a pairing to be able to maintain the same departures and arrivals) and more or less the same capacity in passengers and cargo. That route is the longest ferry route in the Philippines existing then and it is a compliment to the shipping companies which fielded express liners with express speed. Only 20-knot ferries were actually ever assigned in this route. With that, the voyages did not take too long unlike in the old past when male passengers will already have beards, as they say, by the time they disembark at the end of the voyage.


M/V SuperFerry 8 © T. Mikami

However, such express speed took a toll on the main engines of MV SuperFerry 8 which by that time already exceeded a quarter century. The company then decided to re-engine her so that she will remain an express ferry. This was done locally and it was considered a feat because no ship with such size of engines has ever been re-engined locally. But maybe with Keppel of Singapore already owning and running the former Cebu Shipyard & Engineering Works that might not have been such a wonder after all since it was Keppel which originally lengthened and modernized this ship in Singapore and re-engining ships in Singapore is one of their staples. With Aboitiz’s old Wartsila connection, that engine brand was chosen as the replacement and a pair of it with a total of 22,140 horsepower were installed. Through such engines, she was capable again of 20 knots. With that engine change, they also changed the name of ship into MV SuperFerry 19 in 2004.


M/V Superferry 19 in a later variant of the WG&A livery © Wakanatsu


Milne Bay © superferry crew/Flickr

Going into the mid-2000s, upheavals rocked the shipping company WG&A of MV SuperFerry 8/SuperFerry 19 with the divestment of two partner families. This resulted in the need to sell ships, both passenger and cargo to pay off the divestitures. This started the downward turn of the company. In such situation, I was never able to gleam what was the reason why the company leased the newly-reengined MV SuperFerry 19 to Papua New Guinea in 2006. In that country, she was known as MV Milne Bay. Soon, however, she returned to the country and the company itself said she was in a worse condition that when she left. She was refurbished and soon she was sailing again. She then held the Manila-Zamboanga-General Santos City-Davao route. Her newly-renamed company ATS (Aboitiz Transport System) had a route iteration that when the ship does not call on Iloilo port then it calls on Zamboanga port. She was still an express ship in an express route. However, the change this time is many passengers have already left for the budget airlines and the intermodal bus or they get a connecting ship ride in northern Mindanao (mainly Cagayan de Oro and Nasipit ports) by taking a bus first. Cargo has also been affected by the intermodal truck and the increasing number of container ships by the competition.

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M/V SuperFerry 19 © Aristotle Refugio

You can view photos of SF19’s interior here.

With the arrival in the company of the MV SuperFerry 20 and MV SuperFerry 21, along with abandoned routes and frequencies, MV SuperFerry 19 (and MV SuperFerry 1) became superfluous (in the company’s view) and was offered for sale. To mollify feelings in the company, a canard was circulated saying the hull was already weak (weakened by so few cargo maybe). The ship was painted all-white, the sign then she was no longer considered part of the fleet. She was anchored off Talisay, Cebu, becoming a “floating monument” for several months. Soon, ship breakers purchased her and she was broken up in China by the Jiangmen Xinhui Shipbreaking company in July 11, 2011. Her last name, the name she carried in her last voyage was MV Super.


Awaiting her fate © Vincent Paul Sanchez

Once a beautiful and a loved ship, she is just a distant memory now.

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M/V St. Thomas Aquinas

The MV St. Thomas Aquinas was a former 2GO liner that was rammed on the side by the container ship Sulpicio Express Siete of Philippine Span Asia Carrier Corporation (PSACC) just south of Mactan Channel near Lauis Ledge lighthouse on the night of August 16, 2013. She sank in a matter of minutes because the PSACC ship feared being a sinking casualty and she pulled back allowing water to rush inside the hull of St. Thomas Aquinas (this is what usually happens when there is an underwater gash in the hull). A total of 137 persons died in the collision and a large oil spill affecting Mactan island resulted. St. Thomas Aquinas was better known locally as SuperFerry 2 and she is included in the book “The Great Passenger Ships of the World” by Frank Heine and Frank Lose (the original title was in German), a book where the Philippine Ship Spotter Society (PSSS) was a contributor.

M/V Superferry 2 folio ©John Aringay

St. Thomas Aquinas started life as the Ferry Sumiyoshi of Meimon Car Ferry K.K. of Kitakyushu, Japan. She was built in the Onomichi yard of Onomichi Zosen and she was the sister ship of Ferry Hakozaki which was better known locally as SuperFerry 5 and later as the St. Joan of Arc of 2GO (this ship is still sailing). Ferry Sumiyoshi’s keel was laid on August 1, 1972, launched on December 19, 1972 and completed on March 20, 1973. Her Length Over-all (LOA) was 138.6 meters and her Length Between Perpendiculars (LBP) was 128.0 meters with a Breadth of 22.15 meters. Originally, her Gross Register Tonnage (GRT) was 7,270 with a Deadweight Tonnage (DWT) of 2,596.
Ferry Sumiyoshi was powered by two Mitsubishi-MAN diesels (MAN engines built under license by Mitsubishi in Japan) of a combined 15,200 horsepower which gave her a service speed of 19 knots. She carried the international ID IMO 7304663 and she was a RORO-Passenger (ROPAX) Ferry. The ship originally had one and a half passenger decks, two and a half cargo decks, a full bridge deck and vehicle ramps at the bow and at the stern. Her original passenger capacity was 900 and she was first fielded in the Osaka-Shinmoji route in Japan.

Ferry Sumiyoshi ©Fakta om Fartyg

In April of 1992 she came to the Philippines to become the Aboitiz SuperFerry 2 (also SuperFerry II) of Aboitiz Shipping Corporation where she was converted into a 4-deck multi-day passenger liner originally serving the Manila-Cebu-Cagayan de Oro route (displacing the SuperFerry 1 in the latter port of call). She was the first liner fielded again by Aboitiz Shipping Corporation in the Manila-Cebu route after the shipping company gave up on that route for paucity of suitable liners (they were however serving the Cebu-Leyte route).

Superferry 2 ©Britz Salih

As reclassified, she had a Gross Tonnage (GT) of 11,405, a DWT of 2,947 and a passenger capacity of over 2,643 divided into the following classes: Stateroom, Cabin (for 2 and 4), Tourist, Deluxe and Economy. Adding weight her depth rose to 8.2 meters and her service speed dropped to 17.5 knots which meant a transit time of 22 hours in the Manila-Cebu route. Having a folding rear mast she can pass under the Mactan bridge. Her car deck can accommodate 108 trailers (she loads “CHA-RO” or container vans mounted on trailers and parked separate from the tractor heads).

Superferry 2 ©Gorio Belen

Aboitiz Shipping Corporation did not provide free meals to the passengers then but the fares were a little lower compared to competition to compensate for that. A passenger then will have his choice of what to eat. One orders meal a la carte in the cafeteria that was centrally located which was open from early morning to just past midnight. Passengers can also lounge here and while away time and various drinks can be ordered any time. The first class passengers have their separate restaurant. There was also a disco-karaoke and a coffee shop.

The ship featured a lounge for upper class passengers and a lobby and front desk for everyone along with other amenities and offerings like a video game arcade, a kiosk and books/magazines and board games for rent and a beauty salon. The ship sides were open and served as passageway and it also served as a viewing deck and smoking area. The sun deck of the ship also serves as a promenade area.

Superferry 2 interior ©Wakanatsu

On January 1, 1996 she passed on to the merger company William, Gothong & Aboitiz (WG&A) and in the renaming of the ferries of the merged fleet she retained the same name as WG&A decided to use the SuperFerry brand with the lesser ferries branded the “Our Lady”, a brand from Gothong Shipping. Initially she held on to her same route but a little later she did other routes (but not the prime Cebu route). Then she was paired with SuperFerry 5 to do rotational routes and a little later more this pairing included the SuperFerry 9 (in rotational pairings WG&A matches the ferries in speed and size). Doing rotational routes that varied over time along with differing assignments and schedules were a WG&A trademark which was hard to track unless one monitors their advertisement in the dailies.

Superferry 2 in WG&A livery ©Wakanatsu

With the divestment of the Chiongbian and Gothong families in WG&A (with the notable exception of Bob Gothong), the company was renamed the Aboitiz Transport System (ATS) in 2003. With sizable sell-off of ships (liners, overnight ferries and container ships), ATS found themselves lacking container capacity especially when they sold off SuperFerry 15, 16, 17 and 18. Part of their remedy aside from chartering container ships was to convert 4-deck liners into liners with only two passenger decks with two container decks. This halved the passenger capacity of the converted ships but almost doubled the container capacity. ATS thought this was the correct solution to declining passenger patronage and lack of container capacity (but later developments proved them wrong).

As converted, the passenger capacity of SuperFerry 2 dropped to only 904 with only two Staterooms and two Cabins. With some engine efficiency adjustments the service speed went up to 18.5 knots (with a maximum equaling her old 19 knots) and with only a few passengers the ship tended to be very cold at night especially when it is raining. The ship moreover became an all-airconditioned ship. Her Net Tonnage (NT) dropped to 5,869. As a two-passenger deck ferry there was much less space for passengers to roam and amenities and facilities were less. The dining area of the upper and lower classes became shared.

Superferry 2 ©Mike Baylon

Later on with the buy-out of Aboitiz Transport System by Negros Navigation using the China-ASEAN Fund loan in 2012 she passed on to the newly merged company 2GO. She was renamed as the St. Thomas Aquinas and she did the Manila-Cebu-Zamboanga and Manila-Cebu-Nasipit routes among other always-changing routes and schedules. In 2GO she was still speedy but with more emphasis put on the declining cargo and because of that like other ships in the fleet she tended to be late because of delayed departures waiting for cargo.

St Thomas Aquinas in 2GO livery. ©Mike Baylon

To make up for lost time because she was four hours late, she was speeding in the early night of August 13, 2013 in Hilutungan Channel and in rounding the southern coast of Mactan island. The area is notorious for radar scatter because of the ship facing land formation with hills, towers and plenty of buildings and vehicles. Also rounding Mactan island the radar won’t give an image of the ships exiting Cebu port and Mactan Channel. The early night too is the peak departure time of ships leaving Cebu. Nearing Lauis Ledge and the reefs of Cordova, Mactan and the narrows and shoals off Talisay, Cebu, the ship barreled into the narrowing shipping lane at over 16 knots when ships were expected to do 15knots or less in that area where the shipping line is curving like in a continuous arc.

At that time Sulpicio Express Siete with an ice-classed bow (reinforced as she was originally a Baltic Sea ship) was exiting Mactan Channel at slow speed. Meanwhile, Trans Asia 9 which was late in departure was catching up and asked permission to overtake on the right or starboard of Sulpicio Express Siete. The shallows of Talisay were looming ahead (a ship of Cokaliong Shipping Lines made a mistake here and ended up high and dry). So Sulpicio Express Siete gave her a wide berth and moved to the middle of the channel and slowed down a bit as she will be veering right soon as she was headed in the direction of Dumaguete while Trans Asia 9 is headed to Cagayan de Oro.

While the gap between Sulpicio Express Siete and Trans Asia 9 was getting bigger, the late-running Oceanjet 8, a fastcraft of Ocean Fast Ferries speeding from Tagbilaran moved into the gap between the ships and went into the starboard of Sulpicio Express Siete which was not her correct lane and in violation of maritime rules of the seaway. This had the effect of delaying of the veering of Sulpicio Express Siete in her correct lane in a shipping line with divider without marking buoys (AIS showed that at the time of passing of Trans Asia 9 Sulpicio Express Siete was slightly to the left of the median).

After Oceanjet 8 passed and when Sulpicio Express Siete was veering into her lane a reckless maneuver was made – St. Thomas Aquinas sped up and tried to follow Oceanjet 8, a classic case of brinkmanship. Ships don’t slow down and can’t maneuver like cars and the reinforced bow of Sulpicio Siete scraped against the hull and the passenger ramp of St. Thomas Aquinas, cut it up to below the waterline near the stern and the engine room. In moments, St. Thomas Aquinas had a fatal wound and power was knocked out and complete darkness fell in St. Thomas Aquinas with the bow on Sulpicio Express Siete lodged inside the rear hull of the 2GO liner. Some passenger took advantage of this momentary coupling of the two ships and jumped to the bow of the container ship. They were among the luckier ones because in minutes it was obvious their liner was stricken with a mortal blow worse than the Italian liner Andrea Doria.

Timeframe of collision ©Marinetraffic.com/Jeth Casagan

While the Andrea Doria had a good design that limited water intrusion and which kept her afloat for many hours St. Thomas Aquinas was a RORO which lacked watertight doors and compartments. When Sulpicio Express Siete reversed screws and disengaged she immediately developed a dangerous list and she capsized within minutes not affording enough time for proper evacuation which was made more difficult by the darkness. Trans Asia 9 also did not come to the rescue unlike the French liner Ile de France which illuminated Andrea Doria and launched lifeboats to the rescue.

Immediately after the accident charges and counter-charges of fault and recriminations were hurled and mainly by 2GO and netizens were quick to blame PSACC, the former Sulpicio Lines. Their former bad reputation hurt PSACC’s case in the bar of public opinion and it was even made worse by the fact that it was their ship which rammed and sank the other and was beyond the median line initially. Almost to a man almost everybody was blaming PSACC except maybe PSSS and a few others including mariners who understand COLREG (Collision Regulations) which governs rules of the road at sea. A Special Board of Marine Inquiry (SBMI) made an investigation that drew mainly on eyewitness account which tend to be biased depending of which ship they were boarded. In PSSS we noted there was almost no use of AIS which is the ship’s transponder and St. Thomas Aquinas was visible because their MMSI module was active and that gave her location, direction, speed and identity along with other data. It was her AIS which said she was overspeeding and she crossed the bow of the PSACC ship, a maneuver not permitted unless the other ship gave permission (this was also established later by the official investigation report).

Damage on Sulpicio Express Siete ©John Cabanillas

After over a year, the Philippine body tasked with determining fault, the Board of Marine Inquiry (BMI) determined liabilities and this was affirmed by their supervisory body, the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC). It sidestepped a purely COLREG-based decision and instead looked at other technicalities. The result said the St. Thomas Aquinas was mainly at fault because it held that ships moving out of port have priority over incoming ships. The report also noted a collision could have been avoided if both ships slowed down especially since they are not in radio contact.

Up to now the remains of St. Thomas Aquinas still lay near the collision site and lays precariously by her side in a sea ledge like the Costa Concordia. The maritime authority has already decided that 2GO should remove her as she poses hazard to navigation. Meanwhile, the municipality of Cordova is pressing payment for damage to their mangroves and fishing ground due to the oil spill in the aftermath of the sinking. Victims are still seeking further compensation while the two captains directly involved in the collision remain suspended. The other ships involved were not called to bar to answer for their actions.

Pumping oil from the remains of M/V St. Thomas Aquinas

Now, the liner St. Thomas Aquinas is just a memory but a bitter one at that especially for the victims who are not holding on to solid hopes as deadly maritime accidents in the Philippines take the courts up to over a generation to make a final decision.

MORE PHOTOS HERE: https://www.flickr.com/photos/29421855@N07/sets/72157632985526375

The SuperCat 1

The SuperCat 1 is the progenitor of the great SuperCat series which is still well-remembered today. However, unlike what most people think, this is not the same vessel as the latter SuperCat-I which people knew better because she lived longer.

SuperCat 1 didn’t live a long and charmed life. She is also not traceable from databases as her IMO Number is not known and Universal Aboitiz seemed to prefer that her past was simply buried. She came one time in April of 1994, gleaming, impressive and launched with much fanfare, as should be, being a technical advancement and being fastest in the route. However, she was not the first High Speed Craft (HSC) in the Batangas-Mindoro route as the Bullet Express 1 beat her by days (however she was not successful in the route and was largely forgotten in the area).

SuperCat 1 seems to be a Damen catamaran built in Singapore, probably of a fiberglass hull. She was a two-deck passenger HSC equipped with propellers having a speed of over 32 knots. She was capable of 45-minute transit time in the 24-nautical mile Batangas-Calapan route on a clear sea. However, I doubt if she has a motion dampening system as I noticed her tendency to ride like a horse on a rough sea.

SuperCat 1 ©Edison Sy

She was a snazzy ship when she came and with snappy service to boot which one might mistake for airline service then as this kind of service afloat a vessel was not common then. Everything was clean and orderly and the passengers were pampered. Compared to the slow, annoying and humid ROPAXes in the route, her comfort and service were miles and miles ahead. One does not arrive at the end of the route feeling tired and hassled.

With her appearance in the route, the dominant Viva Shipping Lines was forced to respond. Sometime in July of 1994, two fastcrafts appeared to compete with SuperCat 1. However, there was really no match as the Viva fastcrafts were slower and the service was notches below. Soon, an odor was also noticeable as the crew slept overnight on her humid cabin. The only thing going for the Viva fastcrafts was that her fares were significantly lower.

SuperCat 1 stern ©Edison Sy

A canard of “excessive” speed was thrown against SuperCat 1 by the humbled opposition and with that came the whispers of “dangerous”. Many thought this was part of the campaign for her route to be changed to the west of Isla Verde instead of the route between the Mag-asawang Pulo. It was already habagat and that route was known for rougher seas. Soon she was assigned this route and riding her, I had one of three most violent sea rides in my life where majority of the crew threw up and passengers have to be bodily lifted or assisted out of the vessel at the end of the voyage.

One day in September of 1994, SuperCat 1 stuck an underwater object while speeding near Isla Verde on the way to Calapan. She was wrecked and upon salvage the severity of the impact can be seen in the misalignment of the two hulls. Charges of “sabotage” were hurled against the main competition but none were proved. She was never repaired and soon she receded from memory.

Soon after, a new SuperCat-I came to replace her. She was the former Oregrund, a second-hand catamaran built in Sweden by Marinteknik Verkstads. In appearance she was much different from SuperCat 1. Most people thought she was the progenitor of the SuperCat series but they were wrong.

Oreground(future SuperCat-I) ©Penhahk

SuperCat 1 is forgotten now and this is just an article to set the record straight and so that she will also be remembered.

When RORO Reigned Supreme

Retrieved from the Old PSSS Website
written by: Mike Baylon

RORO means Roll-on, Roll-off. As distinguished to LOLO (Load-on, Load-off or Lift-on, Lift-off), RORO has cargo ramps and car decks and cargo is not lifted but loaded through vehicles that have wheels. Unlike cruisers that have cruiser sterns ROROs generally have transom sterns.

True ROROs started arriving in the Philippines in the 70’s. This does not include the LCTs which are also ROROs in their own right. The very first RORO could have been the “Millennium Uno” of Millennium Shipping. Japan database shows she arrived in the country in 1973. She is still sailing the Liloan-Lipata route.

Millennium Uno ©Mike Baylon

After some lull the next true ROROs arrived starting in 1978 with the “Northern Samar” of Eugenia Tabinas Shipping Lines of Tabaco, Albay which was fielded in the Sorsogon-Samar route. The next to arrive could be the “Laoang Bay” of Newport Shipping in 1979. This ferry was also later known as “Badjao”, “Philtranco Ferry 1” and “Black Double”. MARINA database also shows “Viva Penafrancia – 9” of Viva Shipping, a steel RORO was built locally in Quezon in 1979.

Starting in 1980, arrivals of RORO in the Philippines stepped up and many even arrived that year while cruiser arrivals began to dry up. In 1980, the “Dona Lili”, “Dona Josefina”, “Don Calvino”, all of Gothong Shipping and the “Sta. Maria” of Negros Navigation arrived. The “Eugenia” of Eugenia Tabinas Shipping seems to have arrived this year also. In 1981 the Melrivic 7 of Aznar Shipping in Cebu came.

The first RORO built by the Philippine government to connect the Maharlika Highway, the “Maharlika I” came in 1982 and she was fielded in the Matnog-San Isidro route connecting Sorsogon and Samar. The second of the series, a sister ship, the “Maharlika II” came in 1984 and was fielded in the Liloan-Lipata route connecting Leyte and Surigao thus completing the Maharlika Highway connection. [Nothing is implied here that in was only in this year that Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao were connected as claimed by some.]

Maharlika I ©Edison Sy

Many of the first ROROs were small. The liner companies did not dominate the first arrivals. It seems it is the provincial short-distance island connectors that first truly appreciated the RORO.

After a very short lull the next batch of ROROs arrived and they appeared in Batangas in the mid-80s. This was spurred by the arrival of “Tokishiho” (later “Emerald I”) of Manila International Shipping Lines to which the dominant Viva Shipping Lines of Batangas immediately countered with the “Viva Penafrancia” in 1985.

The first big RORO liners to arrive that rival the size of the big, fast cruisers were the “Sweet RORO” (1982), “Sweet RORO II” (1983) of Sweet Lines and the “Sta. Florentina” of Negros Navigation in 1983.

Sweet RORO ©lindsaybridge

Sulpicio’s entry to the RORO mode started in 1983 with two modest-sized ROROs, the “Surigao Princess” and the “Butuan Princess” which later became the “Cebu Princess”. William Lines’ foray in RORO started only in 1987 with the “Masbate I”. This was followed by the “Zamboanga” in 1989. WLI’s entry in this field was relatively late and they paid with this by relinquishing the number 1 spot in the local shipping pecking order.

Before the 80s ended Sweet Lines has further added “Sweet Home” (1984), “Sweet Faith” (1987), “Sweet Baby” (1987) and “Sweet Pearl” (1989). Sulpicio Lines has also added “Boholana Princess” (1986). Meanwhile, Gothong Shipping already added the “Dona Cristina” (1985), “Our Lady of Guadalupe” (1986) and the sisters “Our Lady of Fatima” and “Our Lady of Lourdes” both in 1987. Aboitiz Shipping meanwhile also entered the RORO race in 1989 with the “SuperFerry 1”.

For a short time it was Gothong Shipping and Sweet Lines that was battling for superiority in the RORO field. However, in 1988 Sulpicio Lines added 3 big RORO liners that dwarfed all previous examples starting with the “Filipina Princess”, then one of the biggest and fastest ROROs in the world, the “Nasipit Princess” and the “Tacloban Princess”. They also added in that year the “Cagayan Princess”. With these additions Sulpicio Lines guaranteed they can never be headed in the RORO field and that stood true until WG&A came along.

Filipina Princess ©Vincent Paul Sanchez

Before the end of the 80’s, a Visayan-Mindanao shipping company also bet big on RORO and this earned the company number 1 in pecking order in that area. Trans-Asia Shipping Lines bought 5 RORO – the “Asia Korea” (1987), the “Asia Thailand” (1987), the “Asia Japan” (1988), the “Asia Brunei” (1989) and the “Asia Taiwan” (1989). They disposed some ROROs later (but always with replacements) until their progress was impeded with the creation of Cebu Ferries Corporation.

Meanwhile, smaller ROROs also sprouted in the same period in the provincial routes starting with the “Princess of Antique” (1985). Among the others are “Danilo 1” (1987) and “Danilo 2” (1988), now the “Lite Ferry 1” and “Lite Ferry 2”, respectively, the “Dona Isabel II” (1988) which was later known as “Bantayan” and now “Siquijor Island 2”, the “Princess Mika” (1988), the “Luzviminda” (1988), the ‘Stephanie Marie” (1989) of Aleson Shipping in Zamboanga, etc. In Batangas the likes of “Sto. Domingo” (1988) and “Viva Penafrancia 3 (1989) came and this was followed by a slew of Domingo Reyes ROROs in the next years until they dominated that port.

Lite Ferry 2 ©James Gabriel Verallo

With that big statement of Sulpicio in 1988 the other long-distance liner companies have to respond and bigger and faster RORO liners came in the 90’s. William Lines created their “Mabuhay” line of luxury RORO liners and aided with their “Maynilad’. Aboitiz Shipping created their “SuperFerry” line. Gothong Shipping converted two RORO cargo ships and out came the “Our Lady of Sacred Heart” and “Our Lady of Medjugorje” augmented by the their big “Our Lady of Akita”. Negros Navigation continued their “Saints” series and out came the “Sta. Ana” (1988), the “Princess of Negros”, the “San Paolo” and the beautiful “St. Francis of Assisi” to be followed by the sisters “St. Peter the Apostle and “St. Joseph the Worker”. Meanwhile, Sweet Lines was not able to keep pace and soon dropped out of shipping in 1994. Also dropping out of passenger shipping were the lesser long-distance ferry companies which were not able to refleet to RORO. These were the Escano Lines and Madrigal Shipping.

Our Lady of Medjugorje folio ©John Michael Aringay

Sulpicio meanwhile did not rest on their laurels in the first half of the 90’s. They topped their “Filipina Princess” with the “Princess of the Orient” (1993) and they also rolled out the formidable “Princess of Paradise”, the speed queen of the era. Also added to their fleet was the “Princess of the Pacific” and the lesser “Manila Princess” and “Tacloban Princess”. At the middle of the 90’s there was no question then which was biggest shipping company in the Philippines.

There was also no question that the previous decade ended with ROROs already beginning to dominate long-distance passenger shipping. However in other provincial ports, save for Batangas maybe, the RORO is not yet dominant.

The Sulpicio Lines hegemony of the early 90s suddenly changed with the merger of 3 major shipping companies to form the “William, Gothong and Aboitiz” or WGA which suddenly topped the fleet of Sulpicio even though it remanded lesser and older ships to subsidiary Cebu Ferries Corp. CFC then became the scourge of the Visayas-Mindanao shipping companies, most of which except for Trans-Asia Shipping were just in the very beginning of the RORO era like their Zamboanga counterparts.

Among those absorbed by the merger were the ships then underway or under refitting like “SuperFerry 12”, “Our Lady of Akita” which became “SuperFerry 11” and later “Our Lady of Banneux”, “Our Lady of Lipa”, “Mabuhay 5” and “Mabuhay 6” which later became the “SuperFerry 9” and “Our Lady of Good Voyage”, respectively. In the year of that merger, Sulpicio Lines responded with the “Princess of the Universe” and “Princess of the World” and Nenaco responded with the “San Lorenzo Ruiz” and the “St. Ezekiel Moreno”.

The gap between WG&A and Sulpicio Lines and Nenaco was actually narrowing before the end of the millennium as WG&A was intent of selling their “excess” and old ships and it not add any ship to their fleet until 2000. Meanwhile, Sulpicio Lines rolled out the “Princess of the Ocean” and “Princess of the Caribbean”, both in 1997 and the grand “Princess of New Unity” in 1999. Nenaco also added what turned out to be their flagship, the “Mary, Queen of Peace” in 1997.

Princess of New Unity ©britz444
Mary, Queen of Peace ©Rodney Orca

In the provincial routes and ports the millennium ended with the RORO becoming dominant already. On its heels came the long-distance buses and trucks and the delivery trucks of the trade distributors. It can also be said that the requirements of these buses and truckers fuelled the growth of the short-distance ROROs connecting the nearer islands.

RORO liners primary carried container vans in trailer beds. Short-distance ROROs meanwhile primarily carried trucks, buses, jeeps and private vehicles. Overnight ROROs however primarily carried cargo LCL (loose cargo loading) or in pallets. Forklifts were the primary means of loading the cargo. Others call this system break bulk.

If the 90’s were marked by vibrancy and rapid expansion in the long-distance, liner section of shipping the past decade was marked by a long steady retreat of local long-distance shipping and with it the ROROs. This retreat was marked by 2 major spasms — the illiquidity of Nenaco and the suspension of Sulpicio Lines in 2008 after the capsizing of the Princess of the Stars. ROROs were sold and for varying reasons.

Nenaco can’t sustain its expanded route system and their ROROs were laid up and threatened with seizure by creditors. WG&A just wanted to get out of routes they deem were not earning enough. Moreover, Aboitiz has to pay off the divestment of William (the Chiongbian family) and Gothong from the merged company. Then world metal prices peaked and they cashed in on the bonanza. Sulpicio Lines meanwhile decided to sell their ships laid-up by the suspension.

Aside from external problems the long-distance shipping industry was also beset last decade by external threats. Early in 2000’s, the long-distance buses and trucks began to challenge the liners. This began in Samar-Leyte-Biliran. The leading shipping company, WG&A immediately retreated and left the three islands. Soon Masbate and Bohol was also under siege by the buses and lost.

A major factor in that development was the deregulation of the bus sector in the Bicol region and Eastern Visayas. The effect is bus companies sprouted like mushrooms, each seeking more routes, giving wider coverage. As a result passengers need not go to the major centers anymore and it offered the convenience of getting off right by their gates. Moreover, it has also the convenience of a daily departure and a wide choice of buses. As deregulated areas the bus companies were to free to offer low fares and freebies like free ferry fare.

In 2003, the overland route to Panay via Mindoro opened. In a short time came the influx of the buses, trucks and jeeps. The shipping routes to that island were soon under siege. If Nenaco’s withdrawal can be excused by their illiquidity, the leading shipping company, WG&A again simply withdrew without much struggle and just held on to Iloilo port where they are under siege again now. Like in Samar-Leyte-Biliran-Masbate-Bohol this Panay withdrawal of WG&A resulted in selling to the breakers of good ROROs for scrap.

Dangay Port, Roxas, Oriental Mindoro ©Mike Baylon

The second major threat that emerged in the last decade was the emergence of regional container lines to major provincial ports. This provided direct access to foreign markets. And once a direct route is established loaded and empty container vans no longer have to be transshipped via Manila. Before this, the transshipment business was a big source of revenue for long- distance shipping.

Now an even more ominous development is the start of the chartering of banana growers of their own container ships. With their own ships they are no longer dependent on the routes of the container lines. Whereas now if a container line has no route to a certain market country of theirs then they still have to transship via Manila and use the local long-distance liners.

Sasa Port, Davao City ©Aristotle Refugio

A minor threat as of now to long-distance ROROs is the emergence of LCTs as carriers of container vans. But a bigger threat is the inroads of long-distance trucking in the Visayas and Mindanao. The root of the problem is the high cost of charges via long-distance shipping and so they lose out.

Budget airlines will also take out some revenues from long-distance shipping. This is not critical because the bread and butter of long-distance shipping is cargo operations.

One beneficiary of these developments is the short-distance RORO sector which makes possible the island-hopping of the trucks, buses, jeeps and private vehicles. This sector is growing consistently while the long-distance sector is shrinking.

Mukas Port ©Raymond Lapus

For the present, the sector of RORO liners is in crisis. Only ten long-distance RORO liners are left sailing in the country as of now.

The overnight RORO ferry sector is yet unaffected. The only affected portion of this is the companies with routes to Mindoro and Romblon.

The ROROs have eclipsed the cruisers. But the growth sectors now are the short-distance and overnight ferry sectors of the ROROs.

WHEN EASTERN VISAYAS SHIPPING LOST TO THE INTERMODAL

Once upon a time it was liners that connected Eastern Visayas to the national capital. Liners from Manila took several routes. There was a route that after touching parts of the present Northern Samar the passenger-cargo ship will swing north to Bicol ports. There was also a route that will just go to ports on the north coast of Samar up to Laoang, which was the jumping-off point for towns on the northeast coast of Samar that were without roads. There was also a route that after docking in Calbayog and/or Catbalogan the ship will swing south to Tacloban or to Cebu. There was also a route that after calling in Tacloban the ship will swing south and pass the eastern seaboard of Leyte on the way to Surigao, Butuan or even Cagayan. And there was a route where the ship will head to several ports on the western seaboard of Leyte island and some will even proceed to Surigao. There was also a route where ships will dock on ports in the present Southern Leyte and the ship will proceed to Surigao and Butuan. There was even a route that will go first to Surigao and the ship will swing north to Cabalian in the present Southern Leyte.

Among the many ports where liners from Manila called then in Eastern Visayas were Borongan, Laoang, Carangian, Allen, Calbayog, Catbalogan, Tacloban, Calubian, Palompon, Isabel, Ormoc, Baybay, Maasin, Sogod and Cabalian. Shipping companies from the majors to the minor lines were represented in the eastern Visayas routes and ports. Among them were Compania Maritima, Go Thong and the successors Gothong Shipping, Sulpicio Lines and Lorenzo Shipping, General Shipping, William Lines, Sweet Lines, Philippine President Lines and the latter Philippines Pioneer Lines, Galaxy Lines, Escano Lines and Aboitiz Shipping. Among the minor shipping companies North Camarines (and NCL and NORCAMCO), N&S Lines, Rodriguez Shipping, Newport Shipping, Eastern Shipping, Bisayan Land Transport and the latter BISTRANCO, Corominas Richards Navigation, Veloso Shipping, Royal Lines and Samar-Leyte Shipping had routes to Eastern Visayas. Amazingly, all those shipping companies are gone now if not the routes in the region and there are no more liners left sailing to Eastern Visayas.

©Gorio Belen

Shipping of goods and transport of people do not and will never go away. The liners are gone now from Eastern Visayas and what replaced them were the intermodal trucks and buses. Liner shipping simply lost decisively and completely to the intermodal transport and one result of this is the emergence of the so-called “ports to nowhere” or ports that have no ships or meaningful ship calls.

The start of this process of decline and loss started one day in 1979 when “Cardinal Ferry 1”, a RORO arrived to connect the ports of Matnog and Allen. Right after her arrival buses from Manila and Samar began rolling. First to be dominated by the intermodal trucks and buses were the ports in the new province of Northern Samar. In five years all the liners were gone there and it looked as if the foundering of the “Venus” of N&S Lines in Tayabas Bay on October 28, 1984 while trying to outrun a typhoon marked the beginning of the closing of the curtains. Soon Calbayog was also lost too to the intermodal.

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For a time the route touching on Catbalogan and Tacloban survived and the last hold-outs were Sulpicio Lines and William Lines, the two strongest shipping companies in the 1980’s. By this time all the minors were gone along with most of the major shipping companies. Many of them floundered in the great financial crisis of the 1980’s and never recovered. It was not just that crisis that torpedoed them. Shipping of copra, the prime cargo from the 1950s dramatically declined in the 1980’s soon after the near-death of the abaca trade in the 1970’s. Abaca was the primary cargo of shipping from the 1880’s up to the 1950’s and copra was the crop that succeeded it. No crop or produce replaced abaca and copra and as for Cavendish bananas and “Manila Super” mangoes those no longer passed through Manila and were brought by reefers and containers direct to Japan and East Asia. Corn trade also suffered a decline because of importation.

Meanwhile, fresh fish from Eastern Visayas no longer passed to the ships as it was transferred to the refrigerated trucks. With overfishing that that happened in the 1980’s even the dried fish industry of Eastern Visayas was almost killed. Coconut oil mills also sprouted in the region and for copra destined for the major oil mills of Southern Tagalog it was already the LCTs that were transporting copra aside from the intermodal trucks. Even charcoal passed on to the trucks and cargo jeeps.

The process of the decline of liner shipping in Eastern Visayas accelerated with the Ramos decree allowing the entry of surplus trucks in Subic. Soon the versatile and powerful wing van trucks were rolling down the highways and crossing thru the Matnog-Allen route and San Juanico bridge. There was no more imperative for CALABARZON factories to ship their products through the dangerous, graft-, extortion- and traffic-ridden North Harbor. They can simply call forwarders with wing van trucks and the trucks will roll immediately unlike in North Harbor where they have to wait for the ship schedule and be on the mercy of the arrastre and port thieves. By the time the cargo is loaded in North Harbor, usually the wing van truck was already finished delivering its load in Eastern Visayas. And the wing van truck was not only faster; it was also cheaper with less handling needed since it can bypass the bodega and go straight to the stores and supermarkets and there is no need for haulers and arrastre service in the destination pier.

Balicurato Port ©Jun Marquez

Liners also lost to the intermodal buses since passengers can just hail or stop the Manila bus right by their gates and in Manila there was no longer a need to fight through the crime-ridden North Harbor and battle the horrendous traffic. The bus was also faster and at the same time cheaper especially since Eastern Visayas was a deregulated area hence there are a lot of buses and fares are discounted almost year-round. And buses leave everyday at many hour slots while liners only sail on certain days. Especially for people of Northern Samar they won’t foolishly go to Calbayog because for the same money and time they will already be in Matnog and Matnog is only 12 hours away from Manila, half of the travel time of the Calbayog liner.

Around the year 2000 I realized that if Sulpicio and WG&A will not cooperate and form a consortium of fast, medium-sized liners then I knew in a short time that they will lose even Leyte island to the intermodal. The threat loomed large since there was a Ramos decree making it easier for bus operators to acquire new units. Entry for new players was also easy because of the deregulated nature of the region. I noticed also that wing van trucks were multiplying fast and that can be easily seen in Matnog port then. Motorcycle carriers were also a constant presence in the roads already along with refrigerated trucks whose cargo are not fish but processed meat and other perishable groceries.

Ormoc Port circa 1996 ©Jorg Behman

Instead, starting in 2000, WG&A were selling liners fast, and to the breakers and without replacement. Of course there was already the pressure on the company because of the declared intention of the Gothong and Chiongbian families to divest (and they must be paid somehow). With this move I knew the game was over. There will be no succor for liner shipping here because by this time Escano Lines and Madrigal Shipping had already quit Eastern Visayas passenger shipping and even MBRS Lines who bravely tried Samar again has already retreated.

The odds were tough because the intermodal bus was simply superior in many ways. In southwestern and southern Leyte island even at dawn a passenger just have to leave his baggage by his gate, wait inside his house and the Manila bus will honk and stop. No need to wait long in a port and haggle with porters. And even from that part of Eastern Visayas the total travel time by bus was less and the fare cheaper. Arriving in Manila it is easier to get a connecting ride in Cubao or Pasay and the taxi fare will come out cheaper compared to North Harbor and of course there is the MRT too. Going home to the province there were a lot of attractive buses in Cubao and in Pasay or even in Manila that do not have the hassle of going to the North Harbor.

Then liner shipping in Eastern Visayas came crashing down fast when the “Princess of the Stars” went down in 2008 and passenger operations of Sulpicio Lines was suspended. With the fleet laid up Sulpicio Lines sold the “Tacloban Princess” and the “Palawan Princess” to the breakers and that marked the end of liner shipping for Sulpicio Lines in the region. Not long after that Aboitiz Transport System (ATS) also quit Leyte too. Actually, the loss of Masbate to the intermodal transport practically doomed the ATS route because somehow the intermediate port of Masbate  contributed passengers and cargo to the route.

Laid-up Princesses. ©Mike Baylon

For a time there were no more liners in the regions and even container ships are very few. Recently, 2GO tried to revive a route that passes through Romblon, Masbate and Ormoc on the way to Cebu. Many doubt if that route and service will last because it is really very hard now for liners to beat the intermodal if the route distance is almost the same. There is simply a swarm of buses and trucks forming a formidable opposition to the liners and even to the container ships.

This is one region where the triumph of the intermodal was swift and complete. But this is not known in Japan which advises us (for what?) and which still thinks intermodal trucks are only good for 250 kilometers maximum and cannot imagine wing van truck can beat container shipping. Well, sometimes shipping Ph.Ds are funny.

Superferry 1

Aboitiz Shipping Corporation has always been notable for two particular quirks. The first is when they bought a lot of old ex-FS ships in the mid-1960’s from other shipping companies when others were already sourcing ships from Europe and Japan and some are even brand-new. The second is when they did not buy any ferry for 14 straight years from 1974 to 1988 and when they bought one it was another old hand-me-down from Escano Lines, the former “Katipunan”. However, in the same period Aboitiz Shipping Corporation (ASC) bought a lot of cargo ships and they were among the first to containerize. Actually, in the 1980’s ASC was one of the container majors in the local seas through the Aboitiz Concarriers together with the Wilcons of William Lines, the Sulcons of Sulpicio Lines and the Lorcons of Lorenzo Shipping.

With a ferry fleet whose backbone were still the old ex-FS ships Aboitiz Shipping Corporation did not try to compete in the major ferry routes in the 1980’s and instead concentrated on minor routes like routes to northern Panay and Leyte island. However, this laidback attitude on ferry operations all changed when in 1989 when they bought the “Venus” from Japan to become the “SuperFerry 1”. I am not sure if this was part of the Jebsens influence on Aboitiz Shipping but it looks like it. Jebsens of Norway was a partner of Aboitiz in local shipping and they created a company named Aboitiz Jebsens which was in ship maintenance and management.

SuperFerry 1 ©Gorio Belen

“Venus”, a ROPAX (RORO-Passenger ship) with IMO Number 7375856 was built by Shikoku Dockyard in Takamatsu, Japan. She measured 132.4 meters by 20.6 meters and she had an original Gross Tonnage (GT) of 4,006 nominal tons and Deadweight Tonnage (DWT) of 3,194 tons. In Net Tonnage (NT), she measured 1,630 nominal tons with a passenger capacity of 302 and her RORO capacity was 1,030 lane-meters. “Venus” was originally by powered by twin SEMT-Pielsticks which developed a combined 16,700 horsepower giving her a service speed of 20.5 knots. She already had the then-new and modern bulbous stem which gave extra speed. She was completed on December of 1975 and she was then delivered to Arimura Sangyo shipping line of Naha, Okinawa, Japan.

In 1989 Aboitiz Shipping Corporation bought the “Venus” and brought her to the Philippines where she was rebuilt. New decks were added and it now totaled four and additional passenger accommodations were built. Her new Gross Tonnage (GT) was 9,184 nominal tons and her new Net Tonnage (NT) was 2,987 with a passenger capacity of 1,808. Her new Depth was 13.0 meters. Her new name was “Aboitiz SuperFerry 1” and she was the new flagship of Aboitiz Shipping Corporation. “Aboitiz SuperFerry 1” was the first RORO-Passenger (ROPAX) ship of the company.

SuperFerry 1 Brochure ©Mike Baylon

She was launched with fanfare and advertisements were rolled out. They touted the new kind of service and accommodations and pointed out the word “Super” pertained to these and not to the size as she cannot beat the “Filipina Princess” of Sulpicio Lines in that aspect. Indeed, it seems that for the first time a liner sailing in local seas had service crew that were graduates of Hotel and Restaurant Management (HRM) courses and not green mariners trying to serve customers. There was always the smile, the snappiness, the ever-presence and the constant cleaning and mopping. With HRM background they knew how not to say “No” and how not to disappoint passengers. Meals were not free but there is a full-service cafeteria which looked like an office cafeteria that was open till past midnight. The equipment and cleanliness of the toilets and baths were unmatched in the business.

However, in less than a year of sailing, bad luck hit “SuperFerry 1” when she was struck by engine room fire. She was towed to Singapore for repairs where she was fitted with new engines, too. Brand-new Wartsila diesel engines were used which developed a total of 21,200 horsepower. Although heavier now, she was able to regain her old service speed of 20.5 knots with the new more powerful engines. At that speed she was clearly now the second-best to the much more powerful “Filipina Princess”. She was re-launched in 1991 to fanfare and advertisements again.

SperFerry1 Main Engine ©Ralpha Russel Rosauro

With her, Aboitiz Shipping was able to reclaim their old Davao route which before already lain beyond their old cruisers (“SuperFerry” 1 was the first RORO of the company) because of the long distance and the lack of speed which made them the laughing stock of the fast cruisers of Sulpicio Lines and William Lines like the “Davao Princess” and the “Manila City”. With “SuperFerry 1” Aboitiz Shipping and Aboitiz Jebsens pioneered the system of sailing where in-port hours were low and the ship just sails and sails. This was needed because Aboitiz Shipping lacks liners. Promptness was paramount and to shorten loading and unloading time two ramps were used simultaneously and containers that must be handled were radioed to the tractors which was setting records in speed of hauling. In comparison, the rival flagships “Filipina Princess” and “Sugbu” of William Lines were still using the slow booms together with ramps.

The route of SuperFerry 1 was Manila-Iloilo-General Santos City-Davao and Manila-Iloilo. She was the fastest ferry to General Santos City and Davao, bar none. Her intermediate port stops consisted only of two to three hours and she was known for promptness in departures. Once a passenger ramp was lifted it’s already sorry to any passengers even though they are running with all their might towards the ship. Being the newest, fastest and the best passenger service she displaced patronage from rivals in the route and name “SuperFerry” and its brand of service was already being installed in the minds of the riding public of ships.

SuperFerry 1 ©Britz Salih

In the merger of William Lines, Gothong Shipping Corporation and Aboitiz Shipping Corporation that created the new company WG&A she retained her name and her route. Later, “SuperFerry 8”, the former “Mabuhay 3” and “Sugbu” was paired with her in the route. She held on to this route even when the Chiongbian and Gothong families already withdrew from the merged company and her company was renamed the Aboitiz Transport Shipping (ATS). By this time her service speed was already down to 19 knots.

SuperFerry 1 ©Aris Refugio

With the arrival of “SuperFerry 20” and “SuperFerry 21” she was displaced from the Davao route. She was also starting to fall from disfavor as the new style of ATS called for ROPAXes of twin cargo decks and less passenger capacity and amenities, the reason they converted three ferries into this standard. “SuperFerry 1” also has a big engine relative to her cargo capacity which was their primary measurement. Not long after ATS advertised her for sale but there were no local takers as other liner companies do not buy hand-me-downs from rivals and she was too big and her engine too powerful for the Visayas-Mindanao shipping companies. And so she just toiled in minor routes.

Not long after, the merger of Negros Navigation and Aboitiz Transport System happened and she came under 2GO. Doing the Tagbilaran and Dumaguete route she grounded entering Tagbilaran Bay when the new master from Negros Navigation took a shortcut on the reefs. A SuperCat came to the rescue of her passengers and she was later freed. From this accident she sailed almost no more and soon she was just a “floating monument” in Manila Bay. She was, however, renamed the “Sta. Rita de Cascia”.

SuperCat rescue operations ©Vince Sanchez

More photos of the operation can be found by clicking here.

Last year, in 2014, she disappeared from Manila Bay. Later, she reappeared in Indonesia as the “Mutiara Persada 1”. Ship spotters heaved a sigh of relief because Indonesia, like the Philippines, is known for appreciating and taking care of older ships. So for now, it looks like “SuperFerry 1” has escaped the breaker’s torches.

M/V ST. JOAN OF ARC

M/V St. Joan of Arc ©Mark Ocul

With the great decline of the liner industry in the Philippines (from about 60 in 1998 to only about eight sailing at the start of 2015) almost nobody notices that the M/V St. Joan of Arc, the former SuperFerry 5, is now the eldest liner in the Philippines both in date of construction and in the number of years in service which is now 20.  Long for sale and laid up (or more precisely anchored offshore) many times, she claimed this record maybe because of good luck on her part and bad luck on the part of her fleet mates.  It was obvious then that 2GO was gearing to retain her sister St. Thomas Aquinas, the former SuperFerry 2, as shown by her refurbishing and increased speed of 19 knots, which was even better that when she first came here in 1992, as compared to SuperFerry 5’s 17 knots. However, she went down after a collision with Sulpicio Express Siete in Mactan Channel in August of 2013. After that M/V St. Gregory the Great, the former SuperFerry 20, grounded in a reef near Guimaras and sustained damage that was considered beyond economic repair (BER). With no spare ships it looks like JOA, as she is known in abbreviation, might sail on for a while.

St. Joan of Arc is actually a liner (a multi-day ship) but she also belongs to that class of ship which landlubbers (including landlubber officials) call as “overaged” which at even with the most generous allowance means ferries over 40 years old. 40 years marks a special milestone in ships because in the decades past this should be the age when ships are already conking out and ready to die due to metal fatigue and unreliability. But many seriously underestimated the ships, the ability of her caretakers and the availability of surplus and CNC-milled parts. It might look funny to some but we now have a collection of about 100 ferries that are over 40 years old and that number does not include the cargo ships!

St. Joan of Arc was built by Onomishi Zosen in Onomichi, Japan for Meimon Car Ferry. She was completed in May 1973 and was christened the Ferry Hakozaki. She is one of three sister ships built in that shipyard and the other two were Ferry Sumiyoshi which became the St. Thomas Aquinas and Golden Okinawa which became the Cagayan Bay 1 of Gothong Shipping Corp. Her over-all length (LOA) was 138.6 meters and she had a breadth of 22.2 meters and a GT (Gross Tonnage) of 7,287. She was powered by two Mitsubishi-MAN diesel engines developing 15,200 horsepower that gave her an original speed of 19-19.5 knots.

M/V Superferry 5 ©Douglas Adona

She was renamed as the Ferry Cosmo in 1992 and in 1994 she came to Aboitiz Shipping Corp. to become the SuperFerry 5. In the country her GT rose to 11,638 although her superstructure did not change much. Her NT (Net Tonnage) also rose to 6,466 and her passenger capacity was bumped to 2,332.  She started sailing at the start of 1995 and she was inaugurated before her fourth voyage with then Aboitiz endorser Sharon Cuneta in attendance. She then sailed the Manila-Iligan route for Aboitiz Shipping via Cebu. Her service speed then was 17.5-18  knots but it was known she can run faster than that. She can pass underneath the Mactan bridges as one of her features was a folding stern mast.

In 1996 she was overtaken by the merger of William Lines Inc., Carlos A. Gothong Lines Inc. and Aboitiz Shipping Corp. which created the William, Gothong and Aboitiz Corp. (WG&A). She retained her old name and initially even her Iligan route. One positive change, though, is the conversion from paid meals into free meals as before the merger there was no free food in Aboitiz Shipping Corp. (the operation was cafeteria-type). Initially right after the merger it was still paid meals but passenger protest was fierce and very vocal especially from William and Gothong regulars and so WG&A instituted the traditional free meal system.

M/V Superferry 5 cafeteria ©Wakanatsu

Cleanliness, order and snappy service were the hallmarks of the ship from the very start. Unlike other ferries then when it was an effort to call service personnel, in SuperFerry 5 there will be always someone on duty and on call in every accommodation and cabins have their own telephones should a service crew is needed. And every so often a cleaner will appear even if the accommodations were not dirty. Right after someone used the bathroom or the toilet a utility person will appear, check it up and even wipe the mirror and basin. Cleaning and mopping of the restaurant was also a constant chore especially since it is open 18 hours and it also serves as the main lounge. Maintenance crew will also immediately retouch any surface that showed rust. Everything was spic and span then. There were even premium features like a first-class paid restaurant and the famed “Gloria Maris” chain operated it. This was also the dining room of the first class passengers. There was also a Shakey’s Pizza Parlor but unfortunately both services did not last long for lack of patronage.

M/V Superferry 5 Dining Room ©Wakanatsu

Not long after, WG&A “rationalized” routes which meant culling of ships and maximizing sailing time with few in-port hours and she was paired with SuperFerry 2 and SuperFerry 9 to run routes that were not in a weekly or twice-weekly cycle. Afterwards, like in the rest of the WG&A fleet she was assigned different routes that were changing all too often for effective monitoring.

Less than a decade after the “Great Merger”, CAGLI and William Lines decided to opt out of the merger. WG&A subsequently was renamed as the Aboitiz Transport System (ATS). SuperFerry 5, however retained her name but was not treated the same. Slowly, she lost favor as ATS preferred the ferries they converted into twin cargo decks like the SuperFerry 12, SuperFerry 9, SuperFerry 2 and later the SuperFerry 20 and SuperFerry 21. ATS lacked cargo ships then and they reasoned a twin cargo deck ship will work just as fine but not really because when a ROPAX route is dropped, the cargo service also disappears.

M/V Superferry 5 ©Mark Ocul

After several years, the merger of Negros Navigation and Aboitiz Transport System finally happened after fits and starts. SuperFerry 5 was then renamed the St. Joan of Arc but again she was not in favor and was put up for sale. Especially after the grounding in Coron, Palawan she was mainly unused as the Negros Navigation ships were favored over her like the repair of the then sickly already St. Joseph the Worker and sister St. Peter the Apostle and the continued use of the slow and smoky San Paolo.

With the sale of St. Rita de Casia, the former SuperFerry 1, she is now the only ferry in 2GO that do not have twin cargo decks. So in fact, although she is the smallest now in the fleet she ironically has the biggest passenger capacity. But since liner patronage has already weakened a lot that is no longer a factor as there is no way now her full passenger capacity can be utilized.

With the mantra of “finding the right size”, a euphemism for culling of the fleet I doubt if St. Joan of Arc still has a clear future with 2GO especially with her advanced age and in the light that the long sailing hours of liners is not kind to elderly engines. She might still shoulder on but the “Grim Reaper of Ships” could just be around the corner now especially since her owner company is not exactly fond of old ships and will cull ships even without replacement. So to those who can, my advice is better sail with her now while she is still around as her time remaining might not last long.

M/V St. Joan of Arc ©Tristan Fil Lirasan

TRANS-ASIA 9

The “Trans-Asia 9” of the Trans-Asia Shipping Lines first started life as the “Ferry Kikai” of the then-Arimura Sangyo Lines which operated ferries between Kyushu, a main Japan island and Okinawa and between Okinawa and Taiwan. The Arimura Sangyo name was later modernized into A” Lines. The ship was built in the Fukuoka yard of shipbuilder Fukuoka Zosen, launched in April 1979 and completed on July 1979. She was then 2,823 GRT, the old measure, with an over-all length of 109.2 meters and a beam of  17.9 meters and equipped with two Mitsubishi marine diesels developing 7,600 horsepower which provided her a speed of 18.5 knots, originally. She had just two passenger decks with a cargo boom at the bow and a quarter ramp at the stern, a design common then to many A” Line ships. Her ID is IMO 7823528.

Ferry Kikai ©Wakanatsu

With the arrival of the new “Ferry Kikai” in 1995 she was passed on to the agent connecting A” Line and William Lines of the Philippines. Many of the William Lines ferries of this period came from A” Line. The cargo boom at the bow was removed and replaced by additional passenger accommodations and a passenger deck was also added at the upper level and bringing her passenger capacity to 1,076 and her GT to 5,463 and her NT to 3,594. She first appeared in North Harbor on September of 1995 as the “Mabuhay 6” to the amazement of the passengers in the port. However, she did not last long under that name as the ill-starred merger of William, Gothong and Aboitiz happened on the first day of the new year and she was renamed “Our Lady of Good Voyage”. As a WG&A ferry her first route was to Dapitan with a service speed of just 16.5 knots. After a few years she was remanded to the subsidiary Cebu Ferries Corporation and her route permanently became Cebu to Cagayan de Oro with a once-a-week side trip to Jagna, Bohol.

Our Lady of Good Voyage Photo Collage ©John Michael Aringay

With the advent of the newer Cebu Ferry series of ships last decade she was laid up. When there were no takers the successor owner Aboitiz Transport System offered her to its ally Gothong Southern which took her in during 2010 and she was renamed the “Dona Conchita Sr.”. She held the same route of Cebu-Cagayan de Oro-Jagna with the same frequency. However, after just a short time she was laid up again and put on sale as Gothong Southern was quitting passenger shipping and was just concentrating on container operations and cargo forwarding.

M/V Doña Conchita Sr. ©Jethro Cagasan

It was then that Trans Asia Shipping Lines, Inc. acquired her in 2012 and true to the TASLI style she was refitted, both in passenger accommodations and in the engine room. She is actually more luxurious now and more reliable (she then had weak engines before coming to TASLI). She still holds the same route to Cagayan de Oro but with no more side trip to Jagna. Like with most ferries in the age of high fuel prices she is just using economical speed now and that is usually 13.0 to 13.5 knots which is enough for a 10-hour transit time in her route. Economical speed which means less revolutions per minute also lengthens the life of the engines.

Trans-Asia 9 ©Mike Baylon

As “Trans-Asia 9” she is now equipped with five suites and two cabins and these are located in the center section of the ship together with the Tourist section. A new TASLI feature on “Trans Asia 9” is the aircon economy which they call the “2nd Class Aircon.” This new class is located in the former Tourist section ahead of the bridge. The traditional Economy class is called in “Trans Asia 9” as the “2nd Class Non-Air”.

With more areas devoted to passenger amenities now her passenger capacity is down to 974 passengers. TASLI cut up the superstructure in her upper rear deck to create their traditional outdoor dining area and barbecue garden but instead of lowering the Gross Tonnage and Net Tonnage it shot up to 5,500 and 3,850, respectively. The passenger ramps on the side were also removed and transferred to the stern of the ship.
Suite Room ©Aris Refugio
Economy Aircon ©Aris Refugio
Economy Non-Aircon ©Aris Refugio
Stairway ©Aris Refugio

Under the care of TASLI and knowing how this company treats elderly ships it should not be a surprise if “Trans Asia 9” will keep on sailing well into the next decade.

©Aris Refugio