The Philippines’ First Fast Cruiser Liner

Cruiser liners are our type of comfortable passenger-cargo ships that came before the ROROs (Roll-on, Roll-off ships). They were called cruisers for their type of stern which is curving like a half-moon. This type of ship has no car ramps nor decks for vehicles. What they had were cargo decks with booms to handle the cargo by lifting.

Cruiser liners of the past were slow ships especially those that were surplus ships from the US after the war. The prewar liners were also slow as their engines were not powerful. However, like in cars or planes, gradually the liners became faster until the advent of the fast cruiser liner. These had more powerful engines and were designed for fast turn-around times especially with the use of less in-ports (ports where the liners call in at the middle of the voyage).

The fast cruiser liners we had mainly came from Japan but there were exceptions and among that was the very first cruiser we ever had. Now, what constitutes “fast”? In my grouping and analysis of liners these are the passenger-cargo ships which can do 18 to 20 knots or at the minimum is 17.5 knots, sustained (as 17.5 knots is not too far from 18 knots). Of course, in their ads the shipping companies always stress the less travel time of this kind of ship and William Lines even had monickers for them like “Cheetah of the Sea” or “Sultan of the Sea”.

In this game, it was Negros Navigation who was the series pioneer starting in 1965 with the acquisition of the brand-new Dona Florentina from Japan. Compania Maritima followed suit in 1968 with the brand-new Filipinas and William Lines and Sulpicio Lines just followed lately in 1975 (but eventually they had the most number of fast cruiser liners). Sweet Lines, meanwhile, entered this race with their legendary Sweet Faith in 1970 (and by that time, the fast cruiser liner was already accepted as the new paradigm or mode).

1960 Jul 2 schedules

1960 Apr 30 - Phil President Lines

What the PPL emphasized before the arrival of the President Quezon. ex-“FS” can’t offer much, really. From The Philippines Herald. Research by Gorio Belen in the National Library.

However, the very first to first a fast cruiser liner was the newly-formed shipping company in 1961, the Philippine President Lines or PPL. The ship was the President Quezon and later just the Quezon when an oceangoing ship took that name. When PPL transferred their local operations (they were more of an oceangoing company) to Philippine Pioneer Lines, the ship was renamed to Pioneer Iloilo as it was doing the Manila-Iloilo route. And when the company was renamed into Galaxy Lines after the loss of two ships, the liner was further renamed into the Galaxy, a clear indication she was the flagship of the fleet (the other ships of the fleet were named after constellations). And it seems to me that many who knew her this was the name that stuck to their minds. So this final name of hers will be what I will be mainly using in this article.

The Galaxy started life as a seaplane tender of the US Navy in World War II. Part of the Barnegat-class of small sea plane tenders she was first known as the USS Onslow. Her builder was the Lake Washington Shipyard in Houghton, Washington and she was commissioned in December of 1943. In the US Navy she was known as the AVP-48 and she gained four battle stars during World War II.

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The USS Onslow. A US Naval Historical photo.

In 1947, the USS Onslow was decommissioned by the US Navy and put on reserve but she was recommissioned in 1951 because of the Korean War. She was finally decommissioned in 1960 and sold that same year to the Philippine President Lines. Because of the need for refitting to build passenger accommodations, it was only late in 1961 when she began operation as a commercial ferry.

Even though a fast cruiser liner her first route was Manila-Iloilo-Pulupandan-Cebu-Cagayan de Oro. Later, in Galaxy Lines, she became a dedicated Manila-Iloilo ferry doing a twice a week voyage and her speed was emphasized in their advertisement. It was claimed that she was the fastest ferry in the Philippines which was actually true. With a claimed 19 hours transit time in the Manila-Iloilo route that meant she was averaging 18 knots in the route.

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From the research of Gorio Belen of the PSSS in the National Library.

The President Quezon/Quezon/Pioneer Iloilo/Galaxy was a well-furnished ship and it advertised air-conditioned cabins and dining saloons. But then she might have been in the wrong route as Negros Navigation also offered the same amenities in the Iloilo route. Maybe, she should just have been fielded in the Manila-Cebu route as there were no fast cruiser liners then yet in Cebu.

The Galaxy was a big liner for her time when very few liners touched 100 meters in length. Her Length Over-all (LOA) was 94.7 meters and she had a Breadth of 12.5 meters with a Gross Register Tonnage (GRT) of 2,137 tons. In size, she is approximately that of the infamous Dona Paz which came after her by 14 years. Her two diesel engines produced a combined 6,080 horsepower which was the highest for liners during that time and that gave her a speed of over 18 knots.

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From the Philippine Herald. Research by Gorio Belen of the PSSS in the National Library.

However, as the decade was ending, unreliability began surfacing for Galaxy and that was what the situation too for US war-surplus ships except for the ex-“FS” ships which had electric drives. In 1971 she foundered at her moorings during a storm but she was salvaged. However, her company was soon winding up operations as it was failing. Her last notable service was when she was chartered by the US during their pull-out from Vietnam in 1975.

Now, almost nobody remembers the Galaxy because she last sailed about 45 years ago. However, she was among our best liners during her time and she is really worth remembering.

The Fast Cruiser Liners of the Other Shipping Companies Aside From William Lines and Sulpicio Lines

If we adjust the standards a little for fast cruisers in the 1950’s at just below 18 knots then the first “Don Julio” of Ledesma Shipping Lines will qualify a fast cruiser liner. It should be because she was actually the fastest liner of her era! She was the fastest liner of the 1950’s when she was fielded in 1951 and that was true until she was sold to Southern Lines in 1959.

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Credits to Manila Chronicle and Gorio Belen

The first “Don Julio” was an ex-”FS” ship but lengthened in Hongkong when converted to a passenger-cargo ship like many of her sister ships here. She was the fastest in her period because she was re-engined to higher ratings. Two former diesel engines from submarines which were Fairbanks-Morse diesels of a combined 3,600 horsepower were fitted to her and this gave her a speed of over 17 knots. She was the former “FS-286” built by Wheeler Shipbuilding Corp. in Brookly, Newy York USA. As lengthened her dimensions were 66.2 meters by 10.0 meters with a cubic measure of 1,051 gross register tons and she was the biggest former ex-”FS” ship that sailed in the country. Later, when she passed on to Philippine Pioneer Lines she was known as “Pioneer Leyte”. On October 23, 1966, she was involved in a collision in Manila Bay and she was subsequently broken up.

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Credits to Philippine Herald and Gorio Belen

The next fastest liner in Philippine waters came in 1960. She was formerly a seaplane tender named “Onslow” and built for the US Navy by Lake Washington Shipyard in Houghton, Washington, USA in 1943. Continuing service in the US Navy after the war she was known as “AVP-48”, a supply ship. Released from the US Navy, she was converted as a passenger-cargo ship. She measured 94.7 meters by 12.5 meters with a cubic volume of 2,137. This ship has two engines of 6,080 horsepower giving her a top speed of 18 knots. She was first known as “President Quezon” in the fleet of Philippine President Lines and later she was known as “Quezon”. When she was transferred to the fleet of Philippine Pioneer Lines she was known as “Pioneer Iloilo” and when she was sold to Galaxy Lines she became the flagship of the fleet by the name of “Galaxy”. She foundered at her moorings in Cebu while laid up on October 19, 1971.

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Credits to Evening News and Gorio Belen

In 1968, the leading company then Compania Maritima ordered the liner “Filipinas” from Bremer Vulkan AG in Vegesack, Germany. This flagship has the dimensions 121.0 meters by 18.1 meters and her cubic measurement was 4,997 gross tons. She had a single Bremer Vulkan diesel engine of 8,800 horsepower which gave her a top speed of 18 knots. As a fast and modern cruiser liner, she was used by the company in the long-distance route to Davao via Cebu and Zamboanga, a very logical route for her. She served the company until Compania Maritima ceased sailing and she was sent to Taiwan ship breaker. She was demolished on April 5, 1985 after just 17 years of sailing. She was probably not purchased by other companies here because during that time it was already obvious that the period of the ROROs has arrived and she was a cruiser.

In 1970, Compania Maritima acquired another cruiser liner, a second-hand one, the former “Hornkoog” of Horn-Linie GmbH. This ship was built by Deutsche Werft AG in Finkenwerder, Hamburg, Germany in 1959. She was renamed here as the second “Mindanao” and she was actually longer but thinner than the flagship “Filipinas” at 134.6 meters by 16.1 meters. She had the cubic volume 3,357 gross register tons. This liner was powered by a single diesel engine which gave her a top speed of 18 knots. It seems this fast cruiser liner was mainly used by Compania Maritima in their Far East routes where their name was Maritime Company of the Philippines. Incidentally, this ship was the last-ever liner acquired by Compania Maritima. This ship was broken up in Taiwan in 1980.

After the first “Don Julio” from Ledesma Shipping Lines, the coalesced company of Ledesma Lines and Negros Navigation, with the latter as survivor, embarked on a series of orders of new fast cruiser liners which were actually all sister ships. This started with the “Dona Florentina” in 1965. She was built by Hitachi Zosen Corp. in Osaka, Japan and she measured 95.7 meters by 13.9 meters. This liner had a cubic measurement of 2,095 gross register tons and a passenger capacity of 831. She was fitted with a single Hitachi diesel engine with 4,400 horsepower and she had a top speed of 17.5 knots. Since this was still the 1960’s and it was just a shade under 18 knots I already qualify her as a fast cruiser liner. She had a fire while sailing on May 18, 1983 and she was beached on Batbatan Island in Culasi, Antique. She was later towed to Batangas where she was broken up on March 1985.

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Credits to Gorio Belen

The beautiful “Don Julio” followed “Dona Florentina” in 1967 and she became the flagship of the Negros Navigation fleet. She was built in Maizuru Shipyard in Maizuru, Japan and she had the same length and breadth of “Dona Florentina”. She was however a little bigger at 2,381 gross tons and she had a higher passenger capacity at 994. She had the same engine and the same horsepower as “Dona Florentina” and her speed was the same, too. This liner had a long career and she even became part of the transfer of Negros Navigation ships to Jensen Shipping of Cebu. She had her final lay-up sometime ins 2000’s and now her fate is uncertain. Her namesake congressman was however still looking for her several years ago, for preservation purposes. Most likely she is gone now.

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Credits to Times Journal and Gorio Belen

In 1971, Negros Navigation rolled out a new flagship, a sister ship to “Dona Florentina” and “Don Julio” but with a bigger engine and a higher top speed. This was the “Don Juan” with the same length and breadth as the two but fitted with 5,000-horsepower B&W engine which gave her a top speed of 19 knots. Her cubic measure was 2,310 gross register tons and she had a passenger capacity of only 740 because she had more amenities. She was built by Niigata Shipbuilding & Repair in Niigata, Japan. This fast cruiser liner did not sail long because on the night of April 22, 1980, she was hit by tanker “Tacloban City” on her port side while cruising in Tablas Strait at night. She went down quickly with a claimed 1,000 number of lives lost. She was reckoned to be overloaded at that time.

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Credits to Times Journal and Gorio Belen

In 1976, Negros Navigation procured a second-hand fast cruiser liner, the “Don Claudio”. During that time, because of the fast devaluation Philippine shipping companies can no longer afford to acquire new liners. This ship was the former “Okinoshima Maru” of Kansai Kisen KK. She was built in 1966 by Sanoyas Shoji Company in Osaka, Japan. Her dimensions were 92.6 meters by 14.4 meters and her cubic dimensions was 2,721 gross tons. Originally, her passenger capacity was 895. She was equipped with a 3,850-horsepower Mitsui-B&W engine that gave her a top speed of 18.5 knots.

All the fast cruiser liners of Negros Navigation were mainly used in the short routes to Bacolod and Iloilo. Later, some were assigned a route to Roxas City, another short route.

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Credits to Philippinje Herald and Gorio Belen

The last shipping company to have a fast cruiser liner was Sweet Lines. She purchased the “H.P. Prior” from Det Forenede in Denmark in 1970 and when they fielded this they ruled the Manila-Cebu route. She was the legendary and first “Sweet Faith” which later battled in that route the equally-legendary “Cebu City” of William Lines. “Sweet Faith” was built by Helsingor Vaertft in Elsinore, Denmark in 1950. She measured 104.0 meters by 14.9 meters and 3,155 gross register tons as cubic measure. This fast cruiser was equipped by two Helsingor Vaerft diesel engines with a total of 7,620 horsepower which provided her a top speed of 20 knots sustained. She was actually the first liner in the inter-island route capable of 20 knots, a magic threshold. She only sailed for ten years here and in 1980 she was broken up in Cebu.

Sweet Lines had another liner capable of sailing at 18 knots when she was still new. This was the former “Caralis” of Tirrenea Spa di Navale of Italy which was built by Navalmeccanica in Castellamare, Italy. She was the second “Sweet Home” of Sweet Lines and she measured 120.4 meters by 16.0 meters and 5,489 gross register tons in cubic capacity and she can carry 1,200 persons. Sweet Lines advertised her and the “Sweet Faith” as the “Inimitable Pair” and the two were paired in the premier Manila-Cebu route. Sweet Lines sold her in 1978 and she became a floating hotel. She capsized and sank while laid up in Manila on November 24, 1981. She was subsequently broken up.

These were the eight other fast cruiser liners that came to the Philippines which were not part of the fleet of William Lines and Sulpicio Lines in which I had an earlier article.