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

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The Third Princess of Negros

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The first Princess of Negros (Photo credits: the “Commonwealth” and Gorio Belen

Many people when talking of the Princess of Negros which arrived in 1992 think she was the second Princess of Negros after the Princess of Negros which which arrived from Hongkong brand-new in 1962 and which did the Bacolod-Iloilo route. However, there was a prewar Princess of Negros which also arrived brand-new from Hongkong in 1933 which also did the Bacolod-Iloilo route and she was actually the first Princess of Negros and making the Princess of Negros that arrived in 1992 as the third Princess of Negros. Many do not remember now the first Princess of Negros because she was captured by the Japanese military in 1942 during the Pacific War, pressed into their service and was bombed and sank by US warplanes in 1944.

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The second Princess of Negros (from the research of Gorio Belen in the National Library)

The third Princess of Negros was much bigger than the first two Princess of Negros ships as she was a RORO liner whereas the first two were short-distance cruisers. When the third Princess of Negros arrived, she became the flagship of Negros Navigation Inc. Her routes then were only to Bacolod and Iloilo from Manila as Negros Navigation then still basically served Western Visayas ports plus the port of Cagayan de Oro.

When the third Princess of Negros arrived in 1992 she joined her sister ship in the Negros Navigation fleet which was the Sta. Florentina which arrived for Negros Navigation much earlier in 1983. The Sta. Florentina was the Okudogo in Japan while the third Princess of Negros was the Okudogo No. 2. Their Japan owners was the Kurushima Dock. No, the sister ships were not built in Shin Kurushima Dockyard. Before, a shipyard in Japan can also operate ferries as a prop to the shipping industry.

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From the research of Gorio Belen in the National Library

The sister ships were actually built by Shin Kochi Jyuko Company in Kochi, Japan. Okudogo No. 2, the latter Princess of Negros was completed in July of 1973 and given the ID IMO 7323310. She was a RORO ferry with the dimensions 118.9 meters by 20.6 meters with a gross register tonnage (GRT) of 4,700 as built. Her load capacity was 1,664 in deadweight tons (DWT). This RORO had bow and stern ramps as access and the visor bow ramps continued to be operational here when most RORO liners had those welded shut.

The ship had a raked stem and a transom stern. She had two masts, a single center funnel and later full scantling unlike her sister ship Sta. Florentina. The time she was fielded was already the peak of ship passenger demand and big passenger capacities were needed. The ship had three full decks dedicated to the passenger accommodations (but not at the start) and her passenger capacity across six classes was 1,499 persons. Later, this even rose to 2,002 persons when full scantling were built on the ship.

M/S Princess of Negros Folio

Creation by Irvine Kinea

A significant portion of her accommodations was dedicated to ever-so-on-demand Economy section which occupied the sterns of the three passenger decks. The higher classes as well as the restaurants were on the forward sections of that. The bridge deck of the ship was exclusive for navigation and for the accommodation of the crew.

The third Princess of Negros had a single car deck that had about 400 lane-meters. She carried TEU and XEU container vans both mounted on chassis and not and also a few vehicles. Her actual declared capacity was 100 TEU. In the Philippines the third Princess of Negros had only 4,494 in gross tonnage (GT) and 1,291 in net tonnage (NT), a violation of the IMO rule that the net tonnage of a ship cannot be less than 1/3 of its gross tonnage. It is certainly an underestimation given she has full scantling. Her sister ship Sta. Florentina had 1,518 in net tonnage and it had no full scantling.

Princess of Negros

Photo Credit: Edison Sy

The design top speed of the Okudogo No. 2 was 18.5 knots and that comes from 4 Fuji 8M32CH4C engines that develops 10,400 horsepower which is the same powerplant of her sister ship. In the Philippines as the Princess of Negros she usually cruised at 17 knots which was good for a 20-hour transit time to Bacolod or Iloilo. In 1994 she was displaced as the flagship by the beautiful and sleek St. Francis of Assisi but she continued doing the Bacolod and Iloilo routes.

When Negros Navigation began its big expansion program starting in 1995 when Negros Navigation acquired six more bigger and faster liners in a span of just over two years, Princess of Negros no longer did the exclusive Bacolod and Iloilo routes. First, she was sent to the long Cagayan de Oro route in pair with the Sta. Ana. A little later, she was already doing the Roxas City route and in that time she was the best ship in that route.

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Photo credit: Ray Smith

With the entry of the new millennium, the over-expansion of Negros Navigation bit hard and the company was hit by illiquidity and shipyards and suppliers filed suits of garnishment. After that, the ships of Negros Navigation were barely sailing. They did not sink completely, however, as a white knight in the person of Manny V. Pangilinan appeared. However, in the restructuring, routes were cut and many of the RORO liners of Negros Navigation were offered for sale.

During that time there was already a crisis in the liner sector as the passengers had already began drifting to the intermodal buses and budget airlines. Panay island liners were hit hard when the Roxas, Oriental Mindoro to Caticlan, Malay, Aklan route opened in late 2003. Very soon, intermodal trucks and buses began rolling to Panay island and immediately most hit were the ports and ships going to northern and western Panay island ports.

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Photo credit: Ray Smith

The third Princess of Negros was laid up in Manila and for about two years she was appearing in ship-for-sale sites. There were no takers, however, and on 2007 she sailed to Bangladesh when she was bought by Chittagong breakers. She was eventually broken up on April 6, 2007 when she was still a good and reliable ship.

She served just a little over a decade in the Philippines.