A Good Ship That Was Not Able To Outrun A Typhoon

The FS-220, when she came to the Philippines in 1960 was among the last “FS” ships that arrived in the country. She was among the batch used by the US Navy after the war for resupply missions and released from service starting in 1959. For reasons that are not yet clear to me I do not know how the newly-established Philippine President Lines (PPL) was able to corner a big chunk of these last-released “FS” ships. And that batch was the envy of many and even abroad because the US Navy knows how to maintain its ships (and it has the budget) and compared to ex-”FS” ships already in the country which just sails and sails that last batch does not have worn engines yet.

The FS-220 was a ship built by Higgins Industries in New Orleans, USA which was the designer and builder of the famous Higgins boats. She measured 54.9 meters by 9.8 meters by 3.2 meters and originally had 573 tons in gross register tonnage. Like most other “FS” ships she was powered by two GM Cleveland engines with a total of 1,000 horsepower and her maximum speed was 12 knots.

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Photo credits: Philippines Herald and Gorio Belen

FS” ships transferred from the US Army (the operator in World War II) to the US Navy for postwar duty usually have alterations already to suit their mission. Many still undergo further conversions here to suit the local shipping needs and situation and that mainly consists of increasing the passenger capacity.

In the Philippine President Lines fleet, the FS-220 became known as the President Roxas. She was the first ship to carry this name in the fleet. She was also known now by the ID IMO 6117958. Upon conversion, she already had three passenger decks including the lowermost where cargo is also stowed. The first route of the President Roxas was Manila-Cebu-Iligan.

The Philippine President Lines did not last long in the inter-island route and when it concentrated on overseas shipping they established the subsidiary Philippine Pioneer Lines in 1963 to take over the inter-island operations and so the President Roxas went to Philippine Pioneer Lines. Her first route for this new company was the quaint Manila-Masbate-Bulan-Allen-Legaspi-Tabaco route. As such she became a Bicol specialist with a slight diversion to Samar. This was the period when sending a ship to Bicol still made sense.

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Photo credits: The Philippine Herald and Gorio Belen

After two major accidents in 1966 which were the floundering of the Pioneer Cebu in a typhoon and the collision involving Pioneer Leyte which lead to her breaking up, Philippine Pioneer Lines ceased operation. In 1967, Galaxy Lines replaced her and the fleet of Philippine Pioneer Lines was transferred into the Galaxy fleet. The President Roxas became the Venus in the fleet of Galaxy Lines where ships were named after constellations.

She did not last long in Galaxy Lines, however, and was sold immediately sold to N&S Lines, Inc. Galaxy Lines no longer had Bicol routes while N&S Lines had Bicol and Samar routes and maybe the reason for the sale was to avoid taking out a ship in those routes. In N&S Lines, she did the Manila-Allen-Carangian (now known as San Jose)-Legaspi (now spelled as Legazpi)-Laoang route. Only the route to Tabaco port was the one practically dropped.

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Photo credits: Manila Times and Gorio Belen

Venus would hold for long that route and leaving Manila every Tuesday at 9pm. Slowly, she became a fixture in this route. In 1976, a new ship, the Queen of Samar of Newport Shipping Lines issued a challenge to her. There were other passenger-cargo ships to her route from Manila with slightly different ports of call but the ships of the New Shipping Lines were the most dangerous as the Queen of Samar was not the only ship that entered the Northern Samar and nearby routes. In fact, it totaled six. I really can’t understand what was the attraction of Northern Samar and the nearby ports to Newport Shipping Lines.

And then from that in just three years the bottom fell out for these routes because suddenly the San Bernardino Strait was connected by the RORO ship Cardinal I of Cardinal Shipping and suddenly buses and trucks from Manila started running to Samar directly. There was no longer any need to bring the cargo to North Harbor. Ditto for the passengers. Suddenly, the viability of the Samar routes began to evaporate and what was just propping it up was the intermediate route to Masbate.

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Gorio Belen research in the National Library

Though the Manila ships began to evaporate too in the routes passing through San Bernardino Strait especially those that had concentration to Bicol, the Venus was one of the most resilient and she outlasted practically every other passenger-cargo ship in the Northern Samar routes when to think buses and trucks were already arriving daily there. Maybe there were passengers which still prefer the ship or might have been too attached to them.

Nearing her 40th year of life, Venus was sailing from Samar to Manila. There was a Category 5 super-typhoon then approaching the Philippines from the east and its central pressure was 880 millibars which is even lower than Typhoon “Yolanda”’s 890 millibars (the lower the number the stronger is the typhoon). There was also a typhoon that was developing in South China See at the same time. Maybe Venus thought that by sailing she will be putting distance from the stronger typhoon and might have underestimated or failed to notice the storm in South China Sea which was just a tropical depression when she sailed. It seems Venus also failed to understand well the effects on the sea of a Sibuyan Sea. The two typhoons were actually interacting and in fact the stronger typhoon was sucking the weaker one. Venus might have failed to understand well the risks when she embarked on her final voyage.

It was in Sibuyan Sea when Venus finally discovered the sea was roiling and the winds were unforgiving. The ex-”FS” ships were particularly vulnerable to typhoons and that was why her old captains here were masters of finding the coves and inlets where they can hide or shelter the ship when the weather acts up.

It seems Venus tried to hightail it to a port or was desperately trying to find shelter (as she already diverted from her route if gauged from where she perished). However, in Tayabas Bay it seems Venus was not able to weather the wind and the waves and floundered on October 28, 1984 (in Tayabas Bay the winds then will be hitting her broadside at port). There was no trace of the ship after the typhoon and 36 people perished with her, unfortunately.

On a note, the Lorenzo Container VIII of Lorenzo Shipping Corporation was another ship that floundered in that twin interacting storm. This even bigger ship sank on the same day as Venus north of Abra de Ilog, Occidental Mindoro, in a sea which is even farther than the stronger typhoon (which was incidentally named also as Typhoon “Reming” like the deadliest storm to visit Bicol in the recent decades).

The sinking of Venus even had repercussions in our place. When about to ride a ship, my earthbound relatives would remind me of her fate (you know the oldies then!). The floundering in another typhoon of the Dona Marilyn in a nearby sea, the Samar Sea, four years later in 1988 did not help either.

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Photo credits: Times Journal and Gorio Belen

The Venus served the same route for 17 years. That was long by any local measure. It took two typhoons to end her memorable career. Small shipping companies really take hard a sinking and coupled with weakening routes and the general crisis of that era, the Ninoy post-assassination years, N&S Lines, her company also went under.

After the sinking of Venus, the routes to Northern Samar from Manila also died. In the 1990’s MBRS Lines from Romblon tried to revive it. But there was really no way to defeat the new paradigm, the intermodal system. And so it died again. Finally.

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The MV Maria Gloria

When Montenegro Shipping Lines Inc. (MSLI) started they were not operators of RORO ships. Instead they were operators of wooden motor boats which were called batel in the Southern Tagalog area. Their batel fleet then consisted of the MB Don Vicente, the MB Don Francisco and the MB Dona Matilde. The first might have been named for the patriarch and founder Vicente Montenegro. The Montenegro Lines batels were dedicated Batangas-Abra de Ilog ships which means that was their only route. However, normally only two of the three will be sailing the route on any given day. Abra de Ilog is the main entry in the north of the province of Occidental Mindoro up to now because it is the nearest to Batangas City, the gateway to the island of Mindoro.

Suddenly, on September 1994, a RORO ship arrived for Montenegro Lines without notice. This was the MV Maria Gloria, the first ever RORO (Roll-On, Roll Off) ship for Montenegro Lines. The ship was also fielded in the Batangas-Abra de Ilog route and at first it competed with their own batels which means one of them has to give up its schedule for MV Maria Gloria. When that ship arrived it was still the time of the complete dominance in Southern Tagalog of Viva Shipping Lines and its legal fiction companies and they were very jealous of any newcomer including in scheduling. This company used to bully their competition and underhanded tactics are routinely ascribed to them. In fact, they are simply feared and many of their wannabe competitors got bankrupted. So when MV Maria Gloria arrived and she was a RORO, the field Viva Shipping Line is very jealous of, there were questions in Batangas how long she would last.

Well, MV Maria Gloria lasted and in 1996, Montenegro Lines added another ship, the MV Marie Kristina, a small, basic short-distance ferry RORO. In 1997 Montenegro Lines added the MV Maria Angela, the MV Maria Isabel and the MV Marie Teresa. From then on Montenegro Lines was adding ships every year and their route system grew. In 2002, it was the turn of Viva Shipping Lines and cohorts to become bankrupt and they quit sailing routes one by one. Montenegro Lines grew to become the country’s shipping line with the most number of passenger ROROs (albeit they were generally small and mainly running short-distance routes).

MV Maria Gloria is not a short, basic short-distance ferry-RORO. She is a tad bigger at 42.9 meters by 11.0 meters. One characteristic of this type of RORO is they have their bridge or pilot house on a deck above the passenger deck whereas small, basic short-distance ferry-ROROs have their bridge on the same level as the lone passenger deck. MV Maria Gloria has scantling behind her bridge which serves as a short but another passenger deck. And unlike the small, basic short-distance ferry-ROROs which a lone RORO ramp at the bow, she has RORO ramps at the bow and at the stern. Another difference with the small, basic short-distance ferry-ROROs which have only one engine and one propeller, this type have two engines and two propellers (and also two funnels). She also have that square box at the bow which limits the ingress of rain water in the car deck which makes it slippery. It is also a protection against rogue waves coming at the front.

The MV Maria Gloria started as the MV Tenyo Maru in Japan of the Shimabara Tetsudo (“tetsudo” translates to “railway”) and might have been used in the Shimabara Peninsula east of Nagasaki, Japan. This ferry was built by Kanda Shipbuilding Co. in their Kure yard in Japan in 1967 (so she is just short of one year before she turns “golden” or 50). A steel-hulled ship, she has only one mast with a raked stem and a transom stern. She has three RORO lanes in her car deck with an approximate length of 40 meters. The ship has about 400 lane-meters of rolling cargo space. That will be good for about six long trucks and buses at the sides if there is no obstruction and about eight or nine sedans in the middle. However, in loading, seldom is there an ideal combination of rolling cargo load.

The MV Maria Gloria is a two-class accommodation ship with an airconditioned Tourist accommodation at the front of the middle deck with benches. The rest of the passenger accommodations is open-air Economy. All the accommodations are just sitting as the MV Maria Gloria is just used on short-distance routes connecting the near islands. The total passenger capacity of the ship is 413 persons. Her original Gross Register Tonnage (GRT) in Japan was 356 tons but her Gross Tonnage (GT) went down to 267 in the Philippines even though scantlings at the bridge deck were added. The Net Tonnage (NT) is 104 locally and her loading capacity is 140 tons in Deadweight Tonnage (DWT). The ship’s Depth is 2.5 meters which is really not deep.

The MV Maria Gloria is equipped with two 6-cylinder Daihatsu marine diesels with a total of 1,400 horsepower which gives her a top speed of 11.5 knots. She has a normal complement of 24 and her local Call Sign is DUE 2090. Internationally, her permanent ID is IMO 6726668. Originally, in 1994, the ship’s registered owner was Jovanlyn Trading and General Merchandise, an outfit I have not heard of and she was the only ship of that unknown company. In 2000, her ownership was transferred to Montenegro Shipping Lines, Inc. (MSLI). Maybe at the start she was made to look as if she was only chartered.

Montenegro Lines has the long-time custom of rotating their ship assignments every few months or so. And so like here fleet mates, MV Maria Gloria has already been around, so to say, which means she has already run the gamut of the so-many routes of Montenegro Lines. The only routes she has not been to are the eastern seaboard routes of Montenegro Lines and their Iloilo-Palawan route. Most of the time she held Mindoro routes including her original Batangas-Abra de Ilog route. Lately, she is based in Dumaguete port and she is doing the Siquijor route for the company.

From what I heard, Montenegro Lines takes care well of this ship. That is a normal custom for first ships of a company. Of course, there is no connotation here that she is the “flagship” of the company.

With the easiness to change hull plates now and to acquire replacement engine room and bridge machinery, she seems to be destined for a lot more of life. That is also true for the main engine which can easily be replaced now even with brand-new ones like what were done for several ships of the Montenegro Lines fleet. It is really much easier to preserve an old ship now that to acquire an expensive brand-new one. So it seems the “related” Montenegro Lines and Starlite Ferries Inc. have different approaches.

A dozen years from now I expect MV Gloria will still be easily around and sailing. Montenegro Lines is one of the best locally in preserving old ships and it is not their wont to be included in the list of maritime hull losses (they only have one there in the last 22 years).

Long live the MV Maria Gloria!

[Photo Owner: Ramiro Jr. Aranda]

The Maria Gloria

The “Maria Gloria” was the first steel-hulled ROPAX (RORO-Passenger ship) of Batangas-based Montenegro Shipping Lines, Inc. (MSLI). She arrived on September 1994 and she first sailed the Batangas-Abra de Ilog, Occidental Mindoro route. Before she came, Montenegro Lines was a plain operator of batel boats plying the same Abra de Ilog route. When I first saw “Maria Gloria” when she was newly-arrived, I never thought that one day Montenegro Lines will have the most number of ferries in the Philippines.

The Origin of Montenegro Shipping Lines ©Mike Baylon

In Japan, “Maria Gloria” was known as the “Tenyo Maru” of Shimabara Tetsudo K.K. with the IMO Number 6726668. She was built by Kanda Shipbuilding Co. in their Kure shipyard and she was completed in July of 1967. She had a Length Over-all (LOA) of 43.0 meters, a Length Between Perpendiculars (LBP or LPP) of 39.5 meters and a Beam or Breadth of 11.0 meters. In Japan, she had a GRT of 356 tons. She had a raked stem with ramp and a transom stern with ramp. Her rated Deadweight Tonnage (DWT) is 140 tons. “Tenyo Maru is powered by twin 700-horsepower Daihatsu marine diesel engines for a total of 1,400 horsepower which gave her a service speed of 11.5 knots when new.

When she came to the Philippines, her first listed owner was Jovanlyn Trading & General Merchandise of Frisco, Quezon City, an obscure company. According to Miramar Ship Index, she passed on to Montenegro Lines in 2000 (was she paid in installment?). In the Philippines, her Call Sign was DUE 2090 and her new Gross Tonnage is 267 nominal tons with a Net Tonnage (NT) of 104 tons. She has a passenger capacity of 413 persons, all in sitting accommodations in two classes, Economy and the air-conditioned Tourist. In the country, she sails as a short-distance ferry but she is bigger than the Basic, Short-Distance Ferry-RORO classification of the Philippine Ship Spotters Society (PSSS) as she has 1.5 decks and a length of over 40 meters. She has a capacity of about 110 lane-meters of rolling cargo in three lanes which is good for up to 12 buses or trucks as long as they are not the stretched version. However, her scantling is not full but she has a box in the bow, an additional protection for rough waves and weather.

Maria Gloria ©Mark Anthony Arceño

Built in 1967, “Maria Gloria” will turn 48 years old this year (2015) and she is actually one of the oldest ferries now in the Philippines (the aesthetics of her superstructure shows the lines of her era but, hey, it is not bad or really antique-looking). Her hull still looks good and she still have very reliable engines, a testament to the good quality of maintenance usually employed by her company Montenegro Lines (one can’t find a sickly ship in their fleet). Her usual route is still the same route she plied more than twenty years ago, the Batangas-Abra de Ilog route although at times she is rotated to other routes according to the Montenegro Lines policy of regularly shuffling ship route assignments.

With her condition and the record in caring for their ships of her company, I expect many more years of successful and fruitful sailing for her.

Maria Gloria ©Fr. Bar Ibarra, SVD

More Maria Gloria photos by Raymond Lapus: CLICK HERE