The Result of the Losses of the MV Leyte, MV Guimaras and MV Dadiangas and the Scrapping of the MV Mindanao of Compania Maritima

Nowadays, those four liners of the defunct but once great Compania Maritima will no longer ring a bell to most people. Even in the years when the four were still sailing those were not among the best or the primary liners of the said shipping line except for the MV Mindanao which was actually the second ship to carry that name in Compania Maritima. And so what was the significance then of their losses? This I will try to explain.

The shipping company Compania Maritima of the Philippines (as there were other shipping companies of that name abroad and even in Spain, the country of origin of our Compania Maritima) was the biggest in local passenger shipping from probably  the late Spanish era and until just before the company folded sometime in 1984 at the peak of the political and economic crisis besetting the country then. And so, the company had a run at the top of our passenger shipping field for nearly a century and that is probably a record that can no longer be broken. Compania Maritima in English means “Maritime Company”.

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The logo of Compania Maritima (Credits to Lindsay Bridge)

When the Pacific War ended and the shipping companies were still struggling to get back on its feet they were dependent on the war surplus ships that were being handed down by the Americans. Although Compania Maritima was also a recipient of these kind of ships their rise was not dependent on it as they were capable of acquiring surplus ships from Europe using their Spanish connections (the owners of the company, the Fernandez Hermanos were dual Filipino and Spanish citizens). Their contemporaries Madrigal Shipping and Manila Steamship (the Elizalde shipping company) were also capable of that (now who remembers those two shipping companies?) but their acquisitions were old ships that I suspect were castoffs from convoy duty during the war. In comparison, Compania Maritima’s ships from Europe were just a few years old.

Right off the bat, Compania Maritima had the biggest passenger fleet in local shipping after the war and their best ships were the biggest ferries in the Liberation and post-Liberation years. Aside from their war-surplus ex-”C1-M-AV1” ships which were refrigerated cargo ships during the war, Compania Maritima had ships whose origins were as liners in Europe and it definitely has a difference over passenger ships whose origins were as cargo ships. Among the ships from Europe was their first flagship, the MV Cebu and the sister ships MV Panay and MV Jolo. The latter two were fast cruiser ships of that early Republic shipping years.

Locally, it was almost always that Compania Maritima will have the best and biggest ships and the biggest fleet. They were also among the first to order brand-new liners like the MV Luzon in 1959, the MV Visayas in 1963 and the MV Filipinas in 1968. When the three were fielded those ships were not only the biggest but also the best (as compared to the ex-”C1-M-AV1” and the ex-”C1A” types which were big but not really that luxurious). Not included in this comparison were liners whose main function were as oceangoing liners. Among these are the brand-new ships of De la Rama Steamship which were leased from the government that later will become the subject of a dispute in court.

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Credits to Philippine Herald and Gorio Belen

A ship bigger than the three mentioned was the MV Mindanao of the company which came in 1970 from Europe but was not a brand-new ship having been built in 1959. But her distinction when she was fielded was she was the biggest liner sailing then and even bigger than the flagship MV Filipinas. It was only in December 1979 when her record length will be broken when the MV Dona Virginia came to William Lines.

The MV Mindanao was the last-ever passenger-cargo ship acquired by Compania Maritima and the 1970’s was the decade when they will lose a lot of ships as casualties of typhoons. Some will sink, some will capsize and some will be wrecked. Now those three categories are all different in the determination of the loss of a ship. Not all ship losses actually result in the disappearance of the ship below water. In “wrecking” the ship will still be above water in some beach. In “capsizing”, there are many cases when part of the ship can still be above water or just below the waterline, visible and accessible. But many times also the ship will be in deep waters and so that is called “capsizing and sinking”. If the hull is holed or broke into two it will simply be “sinking”.

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Credits to Gorio Belen

The MV Leyte was a small passenger-cargo ship, technically a multi-day liner but by no means a luxury liner as she was just a former “FS” cargo ship during the war which was converted for passenger-cargo use. As a passenger-cargo ship, her career evolved mainly in serving her namesake island and province through the port of Tacloban in a route extending up to Butuan and Nasipit. There are times though when she also substituted in other routes outside Leyte. The ship was originally known as USS FS-386 in the US Army.

This small ship came to Compania Maritima in 1947. Although 53.9 meters in length over-all and 560 gross register tons this ship was lengthened to 66.2 meters with a gross register tonnage of 730 tons. Lengthening of ex-”FS” ships was common then (most were actually lengthened) in order to increase their passenger and cargo capacities. The speed of this type of ship was between 10 and 11 knots and their accommodations were rather spartan.

1965 0201 MV Guimaras

Credits to Philippine Herald and Gorio Belen

The MV Guimaras was not a small liner for her time with a length over-all of 98.6 meters, a gross register tonnage of 3,555 tons and a net register of 1,868 tons. Translated to more modern measurements that is approximately the dimensions of the fast cruiser liners of William Lines of the 1970’s. She actually had the dimensions of the sank MV Cebu City and MV Don Juan which were both flagships but her breadth was one meter wider. It is hard to compare her with the ROPAXes of today as this type have greater beams than the cruiser ships of old and these are generally taller. The “fatter” MV Don Claudio is actually a nearer match but still the breadth of the MV Guimaras was bigger. The MV Guimaras was actually bigger than the flagships of the other shipping companies of her era.

The MV Guimaras was one of the former liners from Europe that came here in the 1960’s to bolster our fleets when surplus ships from the war were no longer available in the market. It was not only Compania Maritima which took this route but also Carlos A. Gothong & Company (the yet-undivided company), William Lines and Sweet Lines. These ferries from Europe actually averaged 100 meters in length over-all and that will give an approximate idea of their size (gross register tonnage is sometimes a subjective measure). On the average their speed was about 15 knots but the speed of the MV Guimaras tops that at 16.5 knots.

The MV Guimaras was the former refrigerated cargo ship Sidi-Aich of the Societe Generale des Transports Maritimes a Vapeur (SGTM) of Marseilles, France and she was completed in 1957 and so when she came she was not yet an old ship. The route of the MV Guimaras from the time she was fielded until she lost was the Manila-Iloilo-Cotabato route although at times she also dropped anchor too in Zamboanga port which was just on the way.

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The Kitala (Credits to Jean Pierre Le Fustec)

The MV Dadiangas was a bigger ship than the MV Guimaras but built in the same year and also in France where she was known as the Kitala of the Compagnie Maritime des Chargeurs Reunis. Like the MV Guimaras she was also a refrigerated cargo ship with passengers and the advantage of this type is air-conditioning and refrigeration is available from the start and so they can be refitted as luxury liners.

This ship was 109.5 meters in length over-all with a gross register tonnage, the cubic volume of 4,143 tons and a net register tonnage of 3,240 tons. For comparison, this ship is already the size of the MV Dipolog Princess and MV Iloilo Princess, both of which reached the new millennium. She came to Compania Maritima in 1969 and her first name in the company was MV Isla Verde. She was subsequently renamed to MV Dadiangas in 1976.

Like the biggest ships of Compania Maritima, the MV Isla Verde also spent part of her career on overseas routes. When she was sailing the local seas her route was to Dadiangas (a.k.a. General Santos City) and Davao. In the later part of her career she was paired with the MV Leyte Gulf of the company in the same route. She is also a relatively fast ship for her time at 16 knots.

A summer Signal No. 3 typhoon of 150-kph center wind strength, the Typhoon “Atang” caught the MV Leyte on a voyage from Manila and she was wrecked in the southwestern portion of Sibuyan island trying to reach shelter, the usual predicament then of ships without radars during the storms of those times. The MV Leyte was almost on a collision course with the oncoming typhoon and so she actually preceded the fate of the MV Princess of the Stars in almost the same area 30 years later. The ship met her sad fate on April 20, 1978.

Meanwhile, the MV Guimaras was caught by the twin storms Typhoon “Etang” and Typhoon “Gening” which intensified the habagat waves and created a storm surge. The MV Guimaras was driven ashore on July 7, 1979 a kilometer south of Turtle Island in Campomanes Bay in Sipalay, Negros Occidental. She could have been trying to reach port as Sipalay has a port or she might have been trying to seek shelter in the bay. And on July 18 of that same year she was officially abandoned. The wreck of MV Guimaras is still there today in shallow waters of about 20 feet and is already a dive site. According to a website, the wreck of the MV Guimaras is already broken now.

In studying maritime losses one lesson that can be gained is it is not a good idea to try to outrun a typhoon or even a tropical storm (the modern terminology if the center wind is below 120kph). This is what MV Dadiangas tried to do when she passed the eastern seaboard of Mindanao on the way back to Manila from Davao. A tropical storm, the Typhoon “Huaning” was also on its way to Surigao and Leyte but was still then at some distance and still weak. But sea disturbance is not confined to within the walls of the typhoon and so the MV Dadiangas ran aground and was wrecked in Siargao island and to think the maximum strength of the typhoon as it was called then was only 95kph. MV Dadiangas was wrecked on June 23, 1980 and was broken up in 1981.

Three lost ships that at first look do not have that much significance. But then the big MV Mindanao of the company was also broken up in 1980. What does it matter here now in the annals of Philippine passenger shipping?

In the closing years of the 1970’s especially in 1978, Compania Maritima, William Lines and Sulpicio Lines were already at near-parity with each other in fleet size and quality especially after the slew of purchases of fast cruisers liners of William Lines and Sulpicio Lines. Meanwhile, Compania Maritima was no longer buying ferries after 1970 and in the 1970’s the company had a lot of ship losses. That means a net decrease for their passenger-cargo fleet while the passenger fleets of her main competitors were getting bigger.

It has long been my wonder if Compania Maritima was ever overtaken as the local Number 1 before their demise. Upon further peering it seems with the consecutive losses of the MV Leyte, MV Guimaras and MV Dadiangas and the scrapping of the MV Mindanao was the tipping point in the relative parity of the three companies. After that the two Chinoy shipping companies were already ahead by a little. The acquisition of William Lines of their new flagship MV Dona Virginia in December 1979 and of the MV Philippine Princess by Sulpicio Lines in 1981 plus their good salvage job on the burned MV Don Sulpicio which became the MV Dona Paz in 1981 were the final additions that pushed William Lines and Sulpicio Lines clearly ahead of Compania Maritima and that was epoch-making as the run on the top of Compania Maritima after nearly a century was finally broken. And to think Sulpicio Lines also lost their MV Dona Paulina in a wrecking in Canigao Island on May 21, 1980 and their old MV Don Manuel had a non-fatal collision on the same year.

By 1981 Compania Maritima only had 3 original liners (the MV Filipinas, MV Luzon and MV Visayas) plus one former refrigerated cargo ship from Europe (the MV Leyte Gulf) and one former ”C1-M-AV1” ship (the MV Samar) plus a few ex-”FS” ships that were not all in passenger service. By that year, William Lines had 6 fast cruiser liners already (the MV Cebu City, MV Misamis Occidental, MV Manila City, MV Cagayan de Oro City, MV Ozamis City and the MV Tacloban City) plus a former refrigerated ship from Europe (the MV Davao City) and 10 ex-”FS” ships in liner and overnight routes. Meanwhile, Sulpicio Lines had 5 fast cruiser liners already (the MV Philippine Princess, MV Don Enrique, Don MV Don Eusebio, MV Dona Paz and MV Dona Marilyn) plus 2 former refrigerated cargo ships from Europe (the MV Dona Angelina and MV Dona Helene), 4 other ships from Europe (the MV Dona Vicenta, MV Don Camilo, MV Dona Gloria and the MV Dona Julieta), the Don Ricardo and MV Don Carlos which were from Japan, the ex-”FS” ships Don Victoriano I and the MV Don Alfredo, the MV Dona Lily from Australia which was the size of an “FS” ship plus the local builds MV Ethel and MV Jeanette. On the balance, in 1981 Sulpicio Lines might already have a very slight pull over William Lines which was a very great comeback from the split of Carlos A. Gothong & Co. in 1972.

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The remains of Compania Maritima in Cebu

To repeat, even without the MV Dona Virginia and the MV Philippine Princess, the two Chinoy shipping lines were already ahead of Compania Maritima. And if the Compania Maritima, William Lines and Sulpicio Lines had rough parity in 1978 what probably tipped the balance were the three lost ships of Compania Maritima and the breaking-up of MV Mindanao in 1980. Four lost liners without replacements. And that is the problem of losing ships and not buying replacements.

From 1981 it was no longer just a matter of passenger-cargo ships as container ships were already taking a large chunk of the liner business (and in this type William Lines and Sulpicio Lines joined the race against early pacesetter Aboitiz Shipping Corporation while Compania Maritima did not). So actually by 1983, William Lines and Sulpicio Lines were running even less liners as some old and small ships were either laid up, sold or converted to just carrying cargo.

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MINTERBRO Port, the remains of Compania Maritima in Davao

In 1982, the MV Samar was broken up and in 1983 the MV Luzon was also broken up. Compania Maritima was already near extinction then. It was just the dying dance and after that it was already a battle between William Lines and Sulpicio Lines which is Number 1.

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Maritime Hull Losses and Its Lack of Connection to the Age of the Ship

Maritime accidents like collisions are fairly common but that kind of accident does not necessarily result in sinking. Most actually end up with the ships just having dents in their hulls. Capsizing also happens but not all ships that capsize actually sink though they might be touching the sea bottom (because it is in shallow waters). Government authorities are wont to use the term “sinking” but I prefer not to use that term in describing maritime events that results in dead ships because not all ships that figured in maritime accidents actually sink.

The term I prefer to use is “maritime hull losses” since sinking is not the only cause of sailing ships ending up as dead ships. Like fire on the ship that does not sink or beaching of the ship to save the passengers and crew or even wrecking to escape the wrath of the sea. In calamitous events like those, the ship lies over land or might still have buoyancy but the ship ends up dead because it is Beyond Economic Repair or BER. Usually the ending of those three events I mentioned is the breaking up of the ship. To repeat, the ship ends up dead but it did not actually sink.

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Photo Credit: Joel Bado

Sinking is also not an irreversible event. There are sinkings where the ship was refloated after. It can be done if it is in shallow waters and near the shore. Some of the refloated ships are repaired and still sail after that. But many are refloated just to be broken up. The steel of the ship though sunk is still valuable as scrap metal.

I have a database of 350 plus ships from the conclusion of World War II that ended up as maritime hull losses. I suspect this is far from complete since the distribution is skewed in favor of the recent years. What that probably means is there was under-reporting or paucity of reporting in our earlier years or records were lost. This is much possible since many of our ships have IMO Numbers and not all were built by the mainstream shipyards and those are barely covered by the international maritime databases. And the listing of local authorities including MARINA and the Philippine Coast Guard is even more lacking than the international maritime databases.

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Photo Credit: Vince Emille Malazarte

My database of 350 plus maritime hull losses does not include motor bancas unless it is really significant or really big. There are no fishing bancas included and very few steel-hulled fishing vessels are included. And to think that among ship categories fishing bancas and motor bancas will probably rank Number 1 and Number 2 in terms of maritime hull losses and most of them are outright sinking. These are vulnerable crafts and fishing vessels can be caught by storms in the seas because historically PAGASA in not good in making local forecasts (they can only do regional, provincial or city forecasts unlike international weather sites and maritime weather services). Motor bancas can be caught too even without a storm as the wind and waves on the other side of the island might be different from where they came.

The causes of the 350 maritime hull losses can be roughly divided into the following:

  1. Foundering

  2. Wrecking

  3. Grounding that resulted in BER

  4. Capsizing and sinking

  5. Capsizing but not sinking (but BER)

  6. Collision and sinking

  7. Fire, both sunk and not sunk (but BER)

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Photo Credit: Britz Salih

Foundering almost always happens in a storm or typhoon when the ship takes in an excess of water in the hull making it lose it balance. In such case the cargo or the rolling cargo can shift and cause a list. If the pumps fail or it can’t function because of the list it is usually goodbye to the ship already. Foundering can also be caused by the ship’s engine conking out in a storm. In such cases the ship cannot maneuver and will take in water faster. If the ship can’t bail out water fast enough freeboard is lost and soon water will begin entering through spaces that cannot really be sealed enough (and that is why it was already proven that high sides to a ship is a plus for survival). Foundering can be technically called a navigation error. In the main it will not connote that the ship is already old unless the failure of the engine was the primary cause of foundering. But then engine failure can also be caused by shoddy maintenance which is not necessarily old age.

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Photo Credit: Manila Chronicle and Gorio Belen

Wrecking is usually an emergency maneuver of a ship to escape a frothing sea it cannot survive. It is much better than foundering because most of the lives in the ship is saved while in foundering lucky is the soul that can survive the roiling seas that made victim of their ship. And besides in wrecking the remains of the ship can still be salvaged. However, in wrecking there is so much damage in the hull, propeller, rudders and other parts of the ship that it becomes BER especially if the hull is breached in beaching and takes in water. Even without breaching of the hull a storm can also pour so much water into the ship. Wrecking is not be a navigation error and there is also no link to the age of the ship.

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Photo Credit: Salvtug and John Carlos Cabanillas

In grounding, the ship touched bottom while running or hit a rock while sailing. Grounding is certainly a navigation error and it has no connection to the age of the ship unless it was caused by the failure of the steering mechanism. Sometimes grounding are suspected to be an attempt to wreck the ship to just collect insurance but grounding is not common the recent years. Many ships ground actually but few suffer hull breaching that is enough for the ship to be declared BER.

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Photo Credit: Aris Refugio

In capsizing and sinking, there might be a storm or there might not. Sometimes a ship will be hit by a rogue wave, then list if the cargo shifts (rolling cargo is prone to this) and later capsize or is beached. Sometimes there will be a hole that let water into the hull but was only usual in the decades past when hull strength is not yet tested during drydocking. At times a ship will be lost at sea without another ship able to assist and the presumption will first be “missing” and then capsizing and sinking if there is no storm in the vicinity and sufficient time has passed and there is no more sighting of the ship. [It is considered foundering if there was a storm in the vicinity.] In most cases it cannot be connected to the age of the ship unless the hull simply developed a hole. Breaking of the hull into two is not even considered automatically due to old age as the ship might still be new but there was a design defect.

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Ships can also capsize but not sink. These happens when the ship is anchored near the shore in shallow waters, moored in the docks or was even in a shipyard. Sometimes the cause is a storm or a typhoon but since the ship is not navigating then it is not called foundering but instead it is called capsizing. A ship capsizing while moored might have damage that could be considered BER. Events like this also have no direct correlation to the age of the ship unless the previous failure is associated with the age of the ship like perhaps the steering mechanism having a mechanical failure or simply dropped to the sea.

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Photo Credit: Lindsay Bridge

In collision and sinking the hull of the ship is breached letting water in and making the ship lose balance and buoyancy. If the ship goes down fast then many lives can be lost especially if it happens at night. This has also no direct correlation to the age of the ship since the ramming ship does not ask first what is the age of the ship being rammed. It can be new, it can be old.

 

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Photo Credit: Philippine Herald and Gorio Belen

In cases of fire, the ship might sink or might not. If it did not and it resulted in a hull loss it is because the point of BER was reached. This usually happens if the fire started in the engine room fire or a large percentage of the hull of the ship burned especially if it included the bridge. In sustained high temperatures, the superstructure of the ship is compromised and sometimes buckles. In all the 7 cases this might be the case which has the nearest connection to age but it might also just be simple poor maintenance on the part of the shipping company or even weak response of the firefighting crew

There is a small percentage among the 350 plus maritime hull losses of being bombed or there was an explosion or the ship was lost in enemy action (in Vietnam). Again these three cannot be directly connected to the age of the ship.

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Photo Credit: Infolagoon and Ramiro Aranda Jr.

So I really wonder about this plan of Secretary Tugade of culling ships that are 35 years old. Definitely, there is no empirical or historical evidence supporting that. As the shipowners pointed out there is no rule in the IMO (International Maritime Organization) or anywhere that ships over 35 years old must be retired. They are only retired if they can no longer meet inspection or qualification requirements.

The way I observe Secretary Tugade, it is obvious he does not know ships or maritime issues. Maybe he should quit listening to the whispers of Secretary Cusi who has vested interest in shipping and maybe he should study ships first and maritime issues. I am sure his lawyer training did not include maritime courses.

Early in President Duterte’s term I expressed fears against fiats especially fiats that favor vested interests. We might see one developing now.