One of the Magic Elixirs of William Lines and Carlos A. Gothong & Co.

The term “magic elixir” refers to a potion that gives one powers and in modern usage it refers to a sort of magic that was the reason for an entity to rise. In this article I am not referring to something illegal but to one of the reasons for the rise of two of the most storied shipping companies of the Philippines where in their peak were contending for the bragging rights of being the biggest shipping company in the country.

Historically, the Chinese mestizo shipping companies were not as blessed as the Spanish mestizo shipping companies which antedated them in the business. The latter not only had a head start but they also possessed powerful political connections and that was very important then in getting loans from the Philippine National Bank (PNB) which dominated commercial banking then as there was almost no other commercial bank big enough in that time able to finance acquisition of ships. It was also crucial in getting ships from the National Development Corporation and earlier in getting surplus ex-”FS” ships from the Rehabilitation Finance Commission that was awarded as war compensation by the US Government.

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A 1950 ad of William Lines (Credits to Phil. Herald and Gorio Belen)

Of the two companies, William Lines had an earlier start and it was also blessed by political connections – the founder of the company, William Chiongbian happened to be a powerful Congressman who in his run for the Senator missed by one just slot (and his brother was a Congressman too at the same time but in another province). Carlos A. Gothong & Co. had to start from the bottom as it began almost a decade later than William Lines in liner shipping. But later it was blessed by a good strategic relationship with Lu Do & Lu Ym, the biggest copra concern then when copra was skyrocketing to being the Number 1 cash commodity and export commodity of the country.

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The first liner of Gothong & Co. (Credits to Manila Bulletin and Gorio Belen)

In the national liner scene, after its restart right after the end of the Pacific War, the strongest after a generation were the shipping companies that had routes to Southern Mindanao. Left behind were the shipping companies that just concentrated in the Visayas routes like Southern Lines, General Shipping, Philippine President Lines/Philippine Pioneer Lines/Galaxy Lines and other smaller shipping companies to Eastern Visayas, Bicol and the near routes to Mindoro, northern Panay and Palawan. Actually, in my totem pole of national liner companies in 1972, the Top 5 — Compania Maritima, Gothong & Co., Aboitiz Shipping+PSNC, William Lines and Sweet Lines — all have routes to Southern Mindanao.

What made Southern Mindanao the “magic elixir” of William Lines and Gothong & Co. when the latter was not even a liner company in the latter half of the 1940’s and William Lines was behind many shipping companies that preceded them?

In business, there is nothing better barring the illegal than a customer base that simply keeps growing and growing. And that was what Mindanao then was to the shipping companies Southern Mindanao. Before the war the population of Southern Mindanao was small and was practically composed by natives. That was before the government encouraged and assisted the resettlement of people from other parts of the Philippines to resolve what was called then as the “population pressure” (rapidly growing population in an agricultural economy with not enough land anymore to be divided into the next generation and there were no contraceptives yet then and the average number of children was five).

Northern Mindanao after the war already had Visayan migrants as it was just near the Visayas and the Spaniards was able to establish a strong foothold there even in the 19th century. But Southern Mindanao almost had no transplanted population and it is this part of the Philippines that experienced the greatest population boom after the war with what was called by the Moro National Liberation Front as the “colonization” of Mindanao (well, even some politician used the word “colonization” before that became politically incorrect). Where before in the 1948 Census the transplanted population was just a minority in Mindanao, in the 1960 Census the natives suddenly realized they were already the new minority and in the 1970 Census they saw they were beginning to get marginalized (Sultans and Datus who were once Mayors were even beginning to lose the elections).

This population boom, the opening of land for cultivation and the consequent exploitation of the natural resources of Mindanao needed transport and it was not by air (and not by road definitely) but by ship. And by this all shipping companies that were plying the Southern Mindanao routes benefited a lot. Of course shipping companies serving Northern Mindanao also benefited but not to the same extent as the Southern Mindanao shipping companies. And anyway the shipping companies serving Southern Mindanao were the same shipping companies serving Northern Mindanao (with exception of Escano Lines which has also routes to Northern Mindanao but not Southern Mindanao) and so the benefit of those serving Southern Mindanao were double.

If we analyze the biggest shipping company then which was Compania Maritima, most of its ships were assigned to Southern Mindanao. That was also true for the liners of Gothong & Co. (this company has a lot of cargo-passenger ships then to gather the copra for Lu Do and Lu Ym) and William Lines (which assigned 3/4 of its ships in Southern Mindanao early and Gothong & Co. of to 80% in 1967).

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One will wonder how this small ex-“FS” ship sails all the way to Davao

Although William Lines started ahead of Gothong & Co., the latter vaulted ahead of the former in the 1960’s. I think the reason is William Lines relied too much and too long on the ex-”FS” ships and it was only in 1966 when they acquired other types. Meanwhile, Gothong & Co. acquired ships from Europe earlier and in greater numbers. That does not even include the Type “C1A” ships acquired by Gothong & Co. which were big ships and were really ocean-going plus a lot of small ships the likes of lengthened ex-”F” ships and a host of local-builds. In ports of call, Gothong & Co. simply had too many because of the need to gather the copra of Lu Do & Lu Ym which was exporting a lot (and which Gothong & Co. also carried).

For sure, Compania Maritima which was already the Number 1 right after the war also benefited from the growth of Mindanao. However, their subsequent collapse in 1984 at the height of the financial and economic crisis then besetting the country is of another matter. Sulpicio Lines, the biggest successor company of Gothong & Co. also benefited from Mindanao after their creation in 1972 so much so that later it became the biggest shipping company of the country in the 1980’s.

What happened then to the shipping companies started after the war that just concentrated on Visayan routes? Well, by the 1960’s Southern Lines and General Shipping were already gone from the local scene and a few year later Galaxy Lines, successor to Philippine President Lines, the local operation and Philippine Pioneer Lines was also gone. And the smaller shipping companies like Escano Lines, Bisaya Land Transport (this was also a shipping company) were just in the fringe and barely alive in the 1970’s like the shipping companies that just concentrated in Bicol, Samar and northern Panay. That was also the fate of the shipping companies that was concentrating in what is called MIMAROPA today. After the 1970’s practically only batels survived in the last area mentioned.

Meanwhile, Gothong & Co. threatened Compania Maritima for Number 1 before their break-up in 1972. Later with the downward spiral of Compania Maritima, Sulpicio Lines and William Lines battled for Number 1. And when Compania Maritima quit and Aboitiz Shipping Corporation also quit Mindanao, Sulpicio Lines (the biggest successor company of Gothong & Co.) and William Lines further benefited. Actually, no shipping company that did not serve Southern Mindanao ever became one the top shipping companies in the country (that was before a lot of liner companies were culled in the crisis of the 1980’s).

That was the importance of Southern Mindanao for the shipping companies of the country. William Lines and successor of Gothong & Co. Sulpicio Lines ended up the Top 2 in Philippine shipping. Know what? They were the only survivors of the Southern Mindanao routes after all the rest quit (of course, Aboitiz Shipping came back later and there were others in container shipping).

Now, there are no more liners to Southern Mindanao, funny. But, of course, that is another story. The magic elixir dried up?

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The Early Years of William Lines

Among the major liner companies, I found William Lines Incorporated striking in some ways. First, in their early days they were very loyal to the former “FS” ships as in they were operating no other type in their first 20 years. Others like Bisaya Land Transport was also like that but they were not a major liner company. Some other majors that initially had a pure ex-”FS” fleet like the General Shipping Company acquired other types earlier than William Lines.

M.V. Don Victoriano (unverified)

The unlengthened Don Victoriano (Photo credits: Manila Chronicle and Gorio Belen)

Yet, even though they just have a pure ex-”FS” fleet which were small and slow ships that looked vulnerable, William Lines stressed the southern Mindanao routes (Dadiangas and Davao) that needed two ships alternating just to maintain one weekly schedule as a voyage takes nearly two weeks to complete. This is the second striking characteristic I noticed in their history, the stress in southern Mindanao. In fact, because of the weight demanded on a fleet by the southern Mindanao route most of our liner companies then did not enter the southern Mindanao route.

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The lengthened ex-“FS” ship Elena (Gorio Belen research in Nat’l Library)

Only three others aside from William Lines did Southern Mindanao routes. Three other companies did this route for decades — Compania Maritima, Philippine Steam and Navigation Company (PSNC) and Carlos A. Go Thong & Company. The first two were big companies in those days. Manila Steamship Company (Elizalde y Compania) also did the southern Mindanao route before they quit shipping in 1955. It was also a big company. De la Rama Steamship also sailed southern Mindanao routes before they quit local shipping in the early 1950’s.

William Lines started shipping sometime at the tail end of 1945. Everyone knows the company is named after the founder William Chiongbian. And the first ship of the company, the Don Victoriano was named after the father of William Chiongbian. Subsequently, in its first decade, the ships of William Lines were named after his sons and daughters. Jimenez, Misamis Occidental is the place of origin of William Lines.

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Photo credits: Manila Chronicle and Gorio Belen

Actually, William Chiongbian did not start from zero. His father already had trading ships before World War II in support of their copra business. That was normal then before the war. Others that made it big in shipping after World War II had similar origins like Carlos Go Thong and Aboitiz (but the latter was already big even before the war).

The route system then of William Lines was very simple. 6 ships in 3 pairs will do a thrice a week Manila-Cebu-Tagbilaran-Dumaguete-Zamboanga-Davao voyages leaving Manila on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. The rest of the fleet will do a once or twice a week sailing to Panguil Bay (Iligan and Ozamis plus Dumaguete) via Cebu. Was there a route system more simple than that?

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From the research of Gorio Belen in the National Library

It might be simple but actually William Lines was a beneficiary to the growth of traffic to southern Mindanao with the opening of the island to exploitation and colonization by Christians from the rest of the country. The routes to that part of the country were those that grew consistently over the years because of the big increase in population brought about by migration of people. With that came goods and produce that need to be transported.

Actually except for Manila Steamship which quit shipping early after the shock of losing their flagship Mayon to fire and explosion in 1955, all those that stayed in the southern Mindanao route lived long (the Compania Maritima quitting was another story). Many that did short routes from Manila even had shorter life spans like Southern Lines, General Shipping Company and Madrigal Shipping. The southern Mindanao area with its continuously growing production and trade buoyed the shipping companies that stayed there.

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From the research of Gorio Belen in the National Library

The other ships of William Lines in this period were Elena (which later became Virginia VI and Don Jose I), Elizabeth, Edward, Albert (which also became known as Iloilo City), Victor, Henry I and Grace I (which also became the first Manily City). All including the Don Victoriano (which became the second Elena) had their hulls subsequently lengthened to increase capacity. That was needed for the growing traffic and cargo in the routes of William Lines.

Within its first two decades, in 1961, William Lines also purchased the Kolambugan of Escano Lines. It was used to open a Cagayan de Oro route for the company and she was fittingly renamed as the Misamis Oriental. From Cagayan de Oro the ship also called in Iligan and Ozamis. Also acquired that year was the Davao of A. Matute which became the Davao City in the fleet of William Lines.

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From the research of Gorio Belen in the National Library

That same year the FS-272 of Philippine Steam and Navigation Company was also acquired and this became the Don Jose in their fleet. In 1963, the President Quezon of Philippine President Lines was also acquired and the ship became the Dona Maria in the fleet. At its peak the William Lines passenger fleet consisted of 11 former “FS” ships. However, I am not sure if the latter additions were all lengthened.

In 1966, William Lines acquired their first liners that were not former “FS” ships when they also began acquiring big former passenger-cargo ships from Europe like Go Thong and Compania Maritima. That was the new paradigm then and they were able to latch into it. It was a response to the growing need for additional bottoms when surplus ships were not yet available from Japan in great numbers.

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From the research of Gorio Belen in the National Library

That was the early history of William Lines, the tale of their first 20 years in shipping. Their growth into first rank will come after their first two decades until for a brief period they might have been Number 1 in local passenger shipping.

By the way, they had no ship losses in their first two decades. And that was pretty remarkable given the rate of liner losses over the decades and even in the modern era.

Maybe somebody should do a study what was their safety secret then.

Notes:

The usual length of an unmodified ex-”FS” ship is 53.9 meters with a breadth of 9.8 meters and a depth of 3.2 meters. The Gross Register Tonnage (GRT), a measure of the ship’s volume is usually 560 tons.

The Length, Depth and GRT of the lengthened ex-”FS” ships of William Lines (the Breadths do not change):

Don Victoriano (the second Elena)

62.4m

4.3m

694 tons

Elena (the first)

66.9m

4.3m

694 tons

Elizabeth

66.1m

4.3m

657 tons

Edward

67.3m

4.3m

651 tons

Albert

67.1m

4.3m

648 tons

Victor

62.6m

4.3m

699 tons

Henry I

67.0m

4.3m

648 tons

Grace I

66.3m

4.3m

652 tons

Davao City

67.8m

4.3m

691 tons

Misamis Oriental

68.2m

4.3m

673 tons

Dona Jose (the second Dona Maria)

67.2m

4.3m

699 tons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Passenger-Cargo FS Ships in the Philippines:

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

MV Antonia (FS-280)

MV Carmen (FS-226) [foundered 1987]

MV Mangarin (FS-279) [wrecked 1974]

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

MV Baybay (FS-253) [foundered 1980]

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

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

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

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

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

MV Lanao (FS-349)

MV Cotabato (FS-404) [sold]

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

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

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

MV FS-272 [sold to William Lines]

MV FS-177 [fire, sank 1972]

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

MV Ormoc (1) (FS-176)

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

William Lines:

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

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

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

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

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

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

MV Don Jose I (FS-268)

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

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

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

General Shipping:

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

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

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

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

General Mascardo (FS-269)

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

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

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

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

Compania Maritima:

MV Bohol (FS-550) [wrecked 1971]

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

MV Leyte (FS-386) [wrecked 1978]

MV Mindoro (FS-393) [foundered 1967]

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

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

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

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

Manila Steamship:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Philippine President Lines/Philippine Pioneer Lines/Galaxy Lines:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Escano Lines:

MV Tacloban (FS-265) [foundered 1971]

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

MV Fernando Escano (FS-178) [sold]

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

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

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

Sulpicio Lines:

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

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

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

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

Sweet Lines:

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

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

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

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

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

Southern Lines/Visayan Transport:

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

MS Governor Smith (FS-314) [sold]

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

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

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

Bisaya Land Transport:

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

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

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

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

North Camarines Lumber/NCL/NORCAMCO:

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

MV FS-387

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

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

N&S Lines:

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

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

MV Vega (2)

De La Rama Steamship:

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

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

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

Pan-Oriental Shipping:

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

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

MV Continental (FS-197) [sold]

Lorenzo Shipping:

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

MV Don Jolly (1) (FS-275)

Juliano & Co.:

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

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

Rodrigueza Shipping:

MV Neptuno (FS-379)

MV Sorsogon (FS-366)

Gothong Lines:

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

Ledesma Shipping:

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

De Oro Shipping:

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

Philippine Sea Transport:

MV FS-194 [sold to PSNC]

South Sea Shipping:

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

Sta. Mesa Machinery:

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

Philsin:

MV Philsin (FS-364)

[Research Support: Gorio Belen]

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

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