Carlos A. Gothong Lines Incorporated Is Still Fighting Back

When the original shipping company Carlos A. Gothong & Company broke up in 1972, one of the successor companies was Carlos A. Gothong Lines Incorporated (CAGLI or Gothong Lines) owned by the scions of the founder Don Carlos A. Gothong. It was eclipsed early by Sulpicio Lines Incorporated which was owned by the once operations manager of the mother company. And then its operation and fleet even got smaller in 1980 when Lorenzo Shipping Corporation of Lorenzo Go and two other siblings went their separate way (this company was later sold to the Magsaysay Shipping Group but later the scions of Lorenzo Go founded the Oceanic Container Lines Incorporated which now has the biggest number of container ships in the country which has the “Ocean” series).

Carlos A. Gothong Lines Inc. again became a significant national liner company in the 1990’s when again they built a fleet of liners starting in 1986 and more significantly in 1987 when they acquired the sister ships Our Lady of Fatima and the Our Lady of Lourdes. The sister ships Sto. Nino de Cebu (the later Our Lady of Medjugorje) and the beautiful Our Lady of Sacred Heart, both acquired in 1990 cemented their national liner position and the big liner Our Lady of Akita, acquired in 1993 declared their intention to play in the big leagues.

The rising company got absorbed when they acquiesced to the creation of big merged shipping company WG & A (which stood for William, Gothong and Aboitiz) in late 1995 and that included their small fleet of RORO Cargo ships and also their Visayas-Mindanao overnight ferries. In this merged company their main representative to the Board of Directors was Bob Gothong who was close to the Aboitizes and not the eldest Bowen Gothong.

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Butuan Bay 1 by Vinz Sanchez

While Bob Gothong never veered from the Aboitiz orbit (take note it was Aboitiz Jebsens which was in charge of the operations fleet maintenance of WG & A), the other siblings of Bob Gothong were not satisfied with the state of things in the merged company and in 2001 they asked out and the process of divestment began. Even before the divestment was completed the revived Carlos A. Gothong Lines Incorporated already had the Butuan Bay 1 ready to sail the Manila-Cebu-Nasipit route which was considered lucky for them and where they were very strong in cargo historically. Instead of being paid in ships, the Gothong siblings were paid in cash (while Bob Gothong remained with WG&A) and for this to happen a lot of WG&A ships, both ROPAX and container ships had to be sold to China ship breakers for cash.

With the proceeds in the divestment that did not include Bob Gothong, the Gothong siblings led by Bowen Gothong acquired the big Manila Bay 1 and Subic Bay 1 in 2003 and 2004, respectively which were as big as their old Our Lady of Akita which burned in 2000 as the SuperFerry 6. The two was followed by the Ozamis Bay 1, also in 2004 and by the Cagayan Bay 1, the sister ship of SuperFerry 2 and SuperFerry 5, in 2007. At its peak the revived Carlos A. Gothong Lines Incorporated had a total of 5 ROPAXes (RORO-Passenger ships) plus a valuable wharf in the new reclaimed land in Mandaue adjacent the Cebu International Port or Cebu Pier 6. But though they had five ferries, the revived CAGLI was only able to regain a limited presence in the Visayas-Mindanao routes which were once dominated by them together with the Trans-Asia Shipping Lines Incorporated.

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The revived Gothong Lines did not prove to be very successful. When they re-entered liner shipping, many passengers were already leaving the liners and they were going to the budget airlines and the intermodal buses using short-distance ferry-ROROs. Cargo was also shifting too to the intermodal system because of the high container rates and the hassles of hauling container vans to the Port of Manila from road congestion to criminality and to the rampant mulcting of the so-called “authorities”. In those years it seemed there was a surplus of bottoms which meant excess ships, a possible result of liberalization and incentives programs of President Fidel V. Ramos.

Gothong Lines then became notorious for late departures and arrivals because they gave preference to cargo which earns more than carrying passengers and they were actually never strong in the passenger department. Repeated complaints led the maritime authority MARINA (Maritime Industry Authority) to suspend their permit to carry passengers. With that happening Gothong Lines simply converted their ROPAXes into RORO Cargo ships just carrying container vans and vehicles.

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With weakness in this business too, soon Cagayan Bay 1 and Ozamis Bay 1 soon found themselves laid up in the Gothong wharf in Mandaue and Butuan Bay 1 was sold after an engine explosion and it became the Trans-Asia 5 of Trans-Asia Shipping Lines Incorporated (TASLI). So in the recent years it was only Manila Bay 1 and Subic Bay 1 which were sailing for Gothong Lines and it seemed the two was enough for their limited cargo and routes. However, as RORO Cargo ships they were inefficient because of their big engines. But even then Gothong Lines were offering discounts and cheap rates in general which only showed how overpriced are container rates in the country. Recently, Cagayan Bay 1 and Ozamis Bay 1 were sold to the breakers but their hulls are still in the Gothong wharf in Mandaue as of the writing of this article.

Many speculated what will happen next to Gothong Lines with two inefficient and obsolescent ships and some were even asking if they will soon cease operations as their two ships were already clearly old and might even be too big for their routes. For me, I always look at their wharf which they retained and I know it is very valuable in terms of market value. Actually, the container shipping company established by their brother Bob Gothong, the Gothong Southern Shipping Lines Incorporated (GSSLI) does not even have an equivalent although it is the more progressive and booming company.

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Panglao Bay 1

Recently, two RORO Cargo ships arrived in the Gothong wharf one after another and they were still relatively new by Philippine standards. These are the Panglao Bay 1 and the Dapitan Bay 1 and from the look of things they are the replacements of Subic Bay 1 and Manila Bay 1. Actually, some three months ago as of the writing of this article, the Subic Bay 1 was already pulled by tugs and it seems here destination is a ship breaker somewhere in South Asia. That happened when the Panglao Bay 1 was already sailing for them. It is speculated that the Manila Bay 1 will be disposed of when Dapitan Bay 1 will already be sailing. In reality, it is possible she already has a buyer now.

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The Panglao Bay 1 was built in 1995 and her external dimensions are 128 meters by 22 meters with a Gross Tonnage (GT) of 5,930 in cubic volume and a cargo capacity of 4,946 tons in Deadweight Tonnage (DWT). Meanwhile, the Dapitan Bay 1 is officially a Vehicle Carrier and was built in 1992 and has the external dimensions 145 meters by 21 meters and has a cubic volume of 7,073 tons in GT and a DWT of 4,485 tons. This ship has different specifications depending on the maritime database. Whatever, these two ships are already the ships of Gothong Lines for the future and they look like worthy replacements for the Subic Bay 1 and Manila Bay 1 though they are a little smaller (but the engines are smaller too which is a plus). But then Gothong Lines might have already studied their cargo capacity needs and concluded that the sizes of the two fits them just right.

And so Carlos A. Gothong Lines Inc. is still fighting back. That is good news as they are the bearer of one of the most storied names in Philippine shipping history.

A Very Efficient Liner For Me

When I look at and gauge a ferry I do not look only at its size and speed because I am not the “Oooh, aaah” type. I also tend to look at the other attributes of the ship including the efficiency, a quality that can be hard to quantify. But with this attitude of mine I can then appreciate other supposedly “lesser” ships and types.

One of the ferries that attracted me was the vessel Our Lady of Sacred Heart of Carlos A. Gothong Lines Incorporated or Gothong for short. She was one of the ferries that brought back Gothong into the Manila route after a hiatus in the aftermath of their split with Lorenzo Shipping Corporation when they just concentrated on Visayas and Visayas-Mindanao routes. At the time of her fielding she might have been the best ship of Gothong. She or her sister ship, the Sto. Nino de Cebu could have been the flagship of Gothong.

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Photo by Chief Ray Smith

The Our Lady of Sacred Heart was a former RORO Cargo ship in Japan which means a ship geared to loading vehicles crossing the islands and taking in just the drivers and the crews of the vehicles, primarily and so the passenger accommodations is limited and the amenities are not that complete. RORO Cargo ships are more of the utilitarian type. She had a sister ship which also came here into the fleet of Gothong, the also-well-regarded Our Lady of Medjugorje (the rebuilt former Sto. Nino de Cebu which caught fire) which looks like her.

What I noticed about the Our Lady of Sacred Heart was the small size of its engine compared to its size and passenger capacity. She only packs a single Mitsui engine of 8,000 horsepower which was even less that of her sister ship’s 9,000 horsepower. Yet she was capable of 16 knots here which was decent already compared to the other liners of her time (which was around 1990) that were also small. Yet that kind tried to pack it her in passenger capacity and were carrying small engines too and were just running at 16 knots to 17 knots too like the SuperFerry 3 of Aboitiz Shipping, the Tacloban Princess and Manila Princess of Sulpicio Lines, the Zamboanga City of William Lines and San Paolo and Sta. Ana of Negros Navigation. To that class, the Our Lady of Sacred Heart belonged together with her sister ship. Among the ships mentioned, the Our Lady of Sacred Heart has the smallest engine together with the Tacloban Princess but the latter ship was smaller than her. Now imagine a ship with just 8,000 horsepower carrying 1,903 passengers with probably about 90 TEU of container vans. In passenger plus container van to engine horsepower ratio, she might have been tops in this metric or index. That for me is efficiency.

What were the origins of this ship? The Our Lady of Sacred Heart, colloquially known as “OLOSH” was built in Japan in 1978 by Mitsui Shipbuilding in Osaka, Japan for the Kuribayashi Kinkai Kisen shipping company. She was originally named as Shinsei Maru with the IMO Number 7718589 and her original dimensions were 112.5 meters by 18.0 meters with an original gross register tonnage of 3,149 tons and a deadweight tonnage of 3,295 tons. This ship has a deep draft and her depth was 12.3 meters.

In 1979, however, this RORO Cargo ship was lengthened to 123.0 meters with a length between perpendiculars of 115.0 meters and her gross register tonnage rose to 3,511 tons. However, she retained her original design speed of 17 knots. RORO Cargo ships were never designed to have big engines like the 146.0-meter Super Shuttle RORO 7 has only 6,990 horsepower, the 145.0-meter Super Shuttle RORO 8 has only 7,800 horsepower and yet their designed speed were 17 and 17.5 knots. Well, even the bigger Super Shuttle RORO 11 and Super Shuttle RORO 12 which are both over 160 meters have engines of only 7,900 and 6,500 horsepower, respectively, and they can do 15 and 16 knots. Such is the efficiency of a RORO Cargo ship.

In 1990, this ship together with her sister came to the Philippines for Carlos A. Gothong Lines and she was forthwith converted into a RORO-Passenger ship or ROPAX in Cebu. Additional passenger decks and accommodations were built and she became a three-passenger-deck liner. Her gross tonnage rose to 4,388 with a net tonnage of 2,237 and her deadweight tonnage was revised to 4,120 tons. In speed, however, she was down to 16 knots because of the additional metal and she had over a decade of sailing already.

She then had her passenger capacity raised to 1,903 persons which was a little outstanding for me, initially. However, I noticed the smaller Tacloban Princess has a passenger capacity of 2,009 and the 138.6-meter SuperFerry 2 has a passenger capacity of 2,643. Meanwhile, the 107.3-meter Sta. Ana has a passenger capacity of 2,106 and the 117.1-meter Zamboanga City has a passenger capacity of 1,875. And so I thought the passenger capacity of the Our Lady of Sacred Heart was plausible even though the passenger capacity of her sister ship was only 1,330 persons.

When the Our Lady of Sacred Heart was fielded, she might have been the most beautiful ship of Gothong, externally. One striking features of hers is the long and high quarter-stern ramp which seemed to suggest she can dock in any kind of wharf, low or high. And for those who will notice, she seemed to be missing one smokestack or funnel (since she has only one engine and no false funnel was built). She also have no openings after two-thirds of her length early on.

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Taken from a website that cannot be remembered now. No copyright infringement intended.

In Gothong, the Our Lady of Sacred Heart did the unlikely discovery of the company, the unseemly Manila-Roxas City-Palompon-Isabel-Cebu route. Later this route was extended to Ormoc City. At first I cannot get the connection between Capiz and Leyte and yet she was successful there. It seems that for a long time already, the western Leyte area has been neglected by the other shipping companies and only fielded old and obsolete liners there. Actually her ports of call there are substitutes too for Tacloban port and Ormoc port aside from being a connection to Biliran province. And to think there is even a bus from Ormoc to San Ricardo, the southernmost town of Southern Leyte and so the ship even seemed to be a connection to Southern Leyte. In those times the earlier Manila liners to Leyte have been gone already.

The Our Lady of Sacred Heart was the best liner going to Leyte during this time and also probably the best liner too to Capiz. She was doing the western Leyte route until the “Great Merger” that created WG&A came in 1996. When that happened I had some fear for the Our Lady of Sacred Heart as the merger created surplus ships including container ships and even the Zamboanga City which came here only one year before was offered for sale. I know it was the older cruiser ships of WG&A that was more vulnerable but I was worried about the lack of speed of this ferry. At that time 16 knots seemed to be slow already as there was already a lot of ships capable of 17.5 knots and over and there was no way to coax more speed out of the ship with her single small engine.

Besides, I am not sure if WG&A really appreciated her route. Actually the company modified the route as soon as the merger happened – Roxas City was dropped and instead Masbate was substituted. Beyond that I also know the intermodal buses and trucks presented a deadly challenge to the ships calling in Leyte ports. I know that if passengers in Samar can shift from the ferries to the buses then it is highly possible that can also happen in Leyte and there is no reason why not. Daily departures and pick-up by their gates without going through the hassles in the port was a very big selling point of the buses. Meanwhile, for factories and shippers in CALABARZON (Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal and Quezon), trucking in their products is easier, faster and less expensive than in hiring a container van that will fight the traffic and the various illegal exactions in Metro Manila.

In due time as I expected WG&A gave up on the western Leyte route early in this century and just “donated” its freight and passengers to the trucks and buses (when WG&A gives up on routes, do they realize that money, effort and even careers were spent before creating that route?). Maybe WG&A don’t know as it was Gothong that created the route. And then this period was also the period where they experimented on a Manila-Ormoc-Nasipit route to make use of two bigger ferries (the former Maynilad and the former SuperFerry 11 which were already known as Our Lady of Akita 2 and Our Lady of Banneux) and maybe WG&A thought that new route is a substitute route for western Leyte but then they also gave up on the route soon after. During that ti period, the Our Lady of Sacred Heart was also doing a Sunday overnight route from Iligan to Cebu and she was very popular there as she was much better than the ships that formerly served the route like the Iligan City, the Our Lady of Mount Carmel and the Our Lady of Manaoag)

Soon, the Our Lady of Sacred Heart found herself back in her old route of Roxas City in conjunction with the port of Dumaguit and essentially doing an overnight route. But then not too long after the “master of retreat” WG&A also gave up on this route when the buses and trucks started rolling to Panay island with the creation of the new Roxas, Oriental Mindoro to Caticlan, Malay link. And with that WG&A sold ships again to the breaks but fortunately for the Our Lady of Sacred Heart she was not yet among the unlucky ones. When that happened the Our Lady of Sacred Heart might have been at the bottom already of the new company Aboitiz Transport System, the successor company of WG&A and she was then just a little ahead of her sister ship, the Our Lady of Medjugorje. I thought then already that she was a lucky girl. It looked later that Aboitiz Transport Company or ATS was reserving her for the Palawan route which is not exactly a long route and so it suited her and there was no competition anymore when the Sulpicio Lines ferry, the Iloilo Princess burned and Negros Navigation was already headed into financial crisis and had ships seized by creditors. And so the lack of speed of the Our Lady of Sacred Heart didn’t play to her disadvantage.

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Photo by Jorg Behman. Credit also to John Luzares.

It seems the last route of the Our Lady of Sacred Heart might have been the combined Coron and Puerto Princesa route from Manila. By that time she has signs of oncoming problems with reliability and that is deadly for a single-engined ship (well, if the engine can’t be restarted then a replacement ship would have to be brought in or else tickets have to be refunded and passengers simply get angry with that. Besides, the Aboitiz Transport Company was already cutting on routes and that includes her subsidiary Cebu Ferries Company which are doing the Visayas-Mindanao routes. With the pressure of the intermodal system which relies on buses and trucks plus the short-distance ferry-RORO like in Batangas and Matnog, the Our Lady of Sacred Heart has no more short route to go and Palawan was her last possible stand as she cannot be fielded on longer routes like Mindanao or compete in major ports and routes as she is not a SuperFerry. She might have been an efficient ship but she was never meant for long routes nor for major routes. With the addition of the SuperFerry 15, SuperFerry 16, SuperFerry 17 and SuperFerry 18, the lesser SuperFerry 1, SuperFerry 2, SuperFerry 5 and SuperFerry 9 have to go to lesser routes and that included the Palawan route. It was the end of the line for the “lucky” (until then) Our Lady of Sacred Heart.

I was just wondering why she and her sister the Our Lady of Medjugorje were not sent to the Visayas-Mindanao routes of the Cebu Ferries Corporation (CFC). They could have competed with the Trans-Asia Shipping Lines pair of Asia China and Trans-Asia (1) in the Cagayan de Oro route (and shift their Our Lady of Good Voyage in another route). Actually, the Trans-Asia pair (and sister ships) were smaller but were utilizing engines even bigger than than the ATS pair at 10,400 horsepower each (and the Trans-Asia pair were older too by Date of Build). Maybe Aboitiz and Cebu Ferries does not want a sister ships to sister ships battle? In speed, the former Gothong sister ships can still match the Trans-Asia sister ships (if they were inferior it will not be by over 1 knot and that doesn’t matter much and they can just depart earlier). Was that the reason why they chickened out? In amenities they can match the highly-regarded Trans-Asia pair.

I can see some incongruence here because Cebu Ferries Corporation decided to retain their older and smaller ferry Our Lady of the Rule when that venerable old Gothong Ferry has a same but not identical 8,000-horsepower engine (but twin) when the Our Lady of Sacred Heart was even faster (and definitely more good-looking). But by this time it seems Aboitiz was already bent on shifting to the Cebu Ferries series which might have been faster later because they are smaller ships (their average horsepower was just about the same of the Our Lady of Sacred Heart). On the average that series was shorter than the Our Lady of Sacred Heart by 35 meters. Maybe they do not need the extra capacity as Cebu Ferries Corporation was already weakening in cargo because they charge the highest rates and they were not that proficient in palletized operations which is the norm in the intra-Visayas and Visayas-Mindanao routes. Maybe also there was also the decision already that the Cebu Ferries Corporation will just compete in a few Visayas-Mindanao ports and routes as the company was already outmaneuvered by the competition especially from Cokaliong Shipping Lines Incorporated (CSLI) and Trans-Asia Shipping Lines Incorporated (TASLI) which are good in taking in shippers and making them stick.

The near-equivalent of the Our Lady of Sacred Heart, the Our Lady of Good Voyage also outlasted her. This ship has just 400 horsepower less than OLOSH but she is smaller at 109.2 meters and her passenger capacity is only at 1,076 at her bridge is already near mid-ship. She was also among the smaller liners with small engines but she was fielded later although by age she is almost the age of the Our Lady of Sacred Heart and her engines were not much that better. In accommodations she might have even been less than the Our Lady of Sacred Heart.

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Photo by “suro yan”

Unlucky this time, in late 2005, the Our Lady of Sacred Heart found herself on a lonely, one-way voyage to face the cutters of the Bangladesh shipbreakers and the ship was broken up in early 2006. She was only 28 years old then, young by the age of ferries of today. That only means she died before her time.

The Battle for the Southern Mindanao Ports After The War And Before The Era of RORO Liners

Discussing this topic, the author wishes to clarify that the discussion will be limited to the period after World War II. There are not enough research materials yet before the war and in that earlier period Southern Mindanao was not yet that economically important to the country since the great wave of migration to the region only happened starting in the 1950’s and then peaking in the 1960’s and the 1970’s.

Talking of Southern Mindanao ports, these consisted mainly of Davao, General Santos (or Dadiangas) and Cotabato (which is actually Parang or Polloc port located in another town) and to some extent also Pagadian and Kabasalan in earlier times and also Mati and Bislig. Since ships generally used the western approach, inadvertently Zamboanga port will be included in this since all ships to Southern Mindanao port using the western approach will use that as an intermediate stop since it just lies along the route and it has a good passenger and cargo volume.

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Gorio Belen research in the National Library

After World War II, shipping to Southern Mindanao boomed because it was the “new frontier” of the country. There was great migration by Christians from other parts of the country and this was encouraged and supported by the government to ease the “land pressure” in Luzon and Visayas which was the fuel then for the land unrest (read: Pambansang Kilusan ng Magbubukid, Sakdalista movement, Hukbalahap, etc.). The land of Mindanao was being opened through the building of roads and the bounty of the land and the forests were being exploited (without asking the say-so of the native peoples and that fueled the unrest of the latter decades; the Luzon land unrest was “solved” to be replaced by Mindanao unrest and war – what an irony and tragedy!). And so people and goods needed to be transported and in such a situation where “ships come where there is cargo” there was a battle for the Southern Mindanao ports among the local shipping companies. Davao was the primary route and port of Southern Mindanao and almost invariably the Davao ships will also drop anchor in Dadiangas (General Santos City).

At the outset, it was Compania Maritima which led the pack to Southern Mindanao after World War II as she was the biggest liner shipping company then with the most ships, half of which were big by local standards (that means a length of about 100 meters). The company possessed ex-“C1-M-AV1” surplus ships as compensation by the US Government for their ships lost during the war and also big cargo-passenger ships from Europe while the competition had no better than the small ex-“FS” ships from the US Army which have to seek shelter when the seas begin to roil.

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Gorio Belen research in the National Library

Among the Compania Maritima competitors to the Southern Mindanao ports in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s were Philippine Steam and Navigation Company (PSNC), Manila Steamship Company, De la Rama Steamship, William Lines Inc. and Escano Lines. Most of the liner shipping companies of the day then shirked from Southern Mindanao routes because it was taxing on the fleet as the ships needed two weeks for the entire voyage. So just to be able to offer a weekly schedule, two ships of the fleet must be devoted to a Southern Mindanao route.

It was Philippine Steam and Navigation Company (PSNC), being backed by Everett Steamship of the United States, which was more competitive against Compania Maritima as it also had ex-“C1-M-AV1” and ex-“Type N3” ships. PSNC was a venture between Everett Steamship and Aboitiz Shipping (and later with the end of “Parity Rights”, it passed on to the latter). Manila Steamship Co. was competitive, too since it also had a big fleet. However, this company quit shipping after the explosion and fire that hit their flagship “Mayon” in 1955. Meanwhile, De la Rama Steamship even quit earlier to concentrate on international shipping and being an agents after some local issues.

The year that Manila Steamship quit shipping, the new liner company Carlos A. Go Thong & Company joined the Southern Mindanao battle, too. In the mid-1950’s, with some shake-out in the shipping industry, there were less competitors and ships in this decade (because some really old ships have already quit along with some very small ones). It should be noted, however, that there were ocean-going liners that were originating from Southern Mindanao that goes to Manila first before proceeding to Japan and the USA. Some of those that provided that kind of service were Everett Steamship and Compania Maritima.

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Gorio Belen research in the National Library

In the 1960’s, passenger-cargo ships from Europe that were bigger than the ex-“FS” ships began to arrive in the Philippines and many of these were fielded to the Southern Mindanao routes. Among the users of that type were Go Thong and William Lines. Go Thong was also able to acquire the big World War II surplus “C1-A” ships like the “Manila Bay” and “Subic Bay”. Compania Maritima, however, bought brand-new liners and chartered big reparations cargo-passenger ships from the government-owned National Development Corporation (NDC) and so they held on to their lead in the Southern Mindanao routes in this decade. Meanwhile, Everett/PSNC was not far behind and they even used in Southern Mindanao their new liners from Japan, the “Elcano” and the “Legazpi”. Additionally, there was a new entrant in the late 1960’s, the ambitious Sweet Lines which was one of the beneficiaries of the quitting of General Shipping Company of local routes (the other was Aboitiz Shipping Corporation).

At the start of the 1970’s, Compania Maritima was still ruling the Southern Mindanao routes. But several very interesting developments happened in this decade. First, the big Go Thong/Universal Shipping which already exceeded Compania Maritima in size had broken into three shipping companies and Sulpicio Lines Incorporated, Carlos A. Gothong Lines Incorporated and Lorenzo Shipping Corporation emerged (until 1979 the operation of the latter two were joint). In a few years time, however, Sulpicio Lines grew fast and proved to be a strong competitor. In this decade, it was already slowly becoming obvious that Compania Maritima was losing steam especially as they regularly lost ships in storms. William Lines then was in a race with Sulpicio Lines to dislodge Compania Maritima from its perch. Everett Steamship meanwhile bowed out because of the end of “Parity Rights” of the Americans (and thus they are no longer allowed to do business as a Philippine “national”) and PSNC (their partnership with the Aboitizes) was merged with Aboitiz Shipping Corporation and the latter became the surviving entity. But with no new ships, Aboitiz Shipping Corporation bowed out of Southern Mindanao liner service. However, the combined Lorenzo Shipping Corporation and Carlos A. Gothong Shipping Lines (CAGLI) and Sweet Lines Inc. were still competing heavily in the Southern Mindanao routes in the 1970’s.

Two very important developments happened before the end of the 1970’s. One, containerization began and this changed the game of shipping. Where before it was just practically the liners that carried the cargo, now the carriers split into two, the container ships and the liners. Subsequently, the passenger capacity of the liners grew as they no longer have to devote a lot of space for cargo. By this time, the massive migration of Christians to Southern Mindanao has also boomed its population and consequently more need to travel.

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Gorio Belen research in the National Library

The second development was the introduction of fast cruiser liners that call on just one intermediate port (before a liner to Davao will usually call first in Cebu, Tagbilaran, a northern Mindanao port maybe, Zamboanga definitely and Dadiangas. So where before 10-knot ships like the ex-”FS” and ex-”C1-M-AV1” ships will take two weeks to complete an entire voyage and the faster ex-European passenger-cargo ships cycles every 10 or 11 days, the new fast cruisers complete the voyage in just a week. By my definition, fast cruisers of this period were the liners capable then of 18 knots. Usually, these were not converted cargo-passenger ships from other countries (these were fast cruisers even in Japan, usually). These were also luxury liners in the local parlance and one key feature of that is the availability of air-conditioning. With that truly luxurious suites and cabins became possible.

The fast “Dona Ana” (later “Dona Marilyn”) of Sulpicio Lines which came in 1976 tried to change the game by just having one intermediate port call, in Cebu. William Lines responded with the even faster cruiser “Manila City” (the second) in 1976 which only had Zamboanga as its intermediate port. With their speed and the use of just one intermediate port, the “Dona Ana” and “Manila City” was able maintain a weekly schedule. Although the luxurious flagship “Filipinas” of Compania Maritima was also fast at 17 knots, she dropped by many intermediate ports and so she cannot maintain a weekly sailing. Compania Maritima never dropped the old style of many intermediate ports.

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Photo credits: Times Journal and Gorio Belen

Gothong+Lorenzo was not able to respond well to this challenge (though they tried) as they had no true fast cruiser liners. So, they had to use two ships for a route to maintain a weekly sailing or three ships to maintain a cycle of every 10 days. Sweet Lines also tried but like Gothong+Lorenzo they also have no fast cruisers assigned to Southern Mindanao (they had two though in Cebu, the “Sweet Faith” and the “Sweet Home”). Compania Maritima and Sweet Lines were the users of three ships to the Davao route to be able to cycle a ship every 10 days. Aboitiz Shipping, meanwhile, with no new ships simply dropped out of liner shipping to Southern Mindanao and just concentrated on container shipping.

Although William Lines and Sulpicio Lines already had fast cruiser liners to Southern Mindanao they also still used their old passenger-cargo ships to the region in the late 1970’s in conjunction with their fast cruisers liners. So with them the passengers have a choice of the fast or the slow which was also less luxurious. Fares also differed, of course.

In the container segment of shipping, the battle was toe-to-toe. Aboitiz Shipping rolled out the Aboitiz Concarriers, William Lines had the Wilcons, Sulpicio Lines fielded the Sulcons (Sulpicio Container) and later Lorenzo Shipping sailed the Lorcons (Lorenzo Container). Many of the ships mentioned were once general cargo ships converted into container ships. [The later series Aboitiz container ships were named Superconcarriers and Megaconcarriers.] Lorenzo Shipping then split with Carlos A. Gothong Lines Inc. and the latter then quit Southern Mindanao routes to concentrate on the Visayas-Mindanao routes. [Later, Lorenzo Shipping quit shipping altogether and sold out to the Magsaysay group before they were reborn as the Oceanic Container Lines.]

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Gorio Belen research in the National Library

In passenger liners, William Lines and Sulpicio Lines continued to battle in the Southern Mindanao ports in the 1980’s using fast cruiser liners. Sulpicio Lines had the edge as they had more fast cruiser liners [William Lines still had to make do with their graying former European passenger-cargo ships]. For a while until they quit in 1984, Compania Maritima was battling Sulpicio Lines more than toe-to-toe. After all, Southern Mindanao was the area of concentration of Compania Maritima and in Davao they even have their own port, the MINTERBRO port. Compania Maritima concentrated their best liners, the “Filipinas”, “Visayas” and “Mindanao” plus their passenger-cargo ships “Leyte Gulf” and “Dadiangas” in the General Santos/Davao route before the company’s life expired. While the three were battling, the other liner companies were not able to respond except for Sea Transport Co. and Solid Shipping Lines which were not operating passenger liners. One independent liner company, the Northern Lines Inc. which had routes to Southern Mindanao also quit at about the same time of Compania Maritima at the height of the political and financial crisis leading to the mid-1980’s.

Before the era of RORO liners, there were already more container ships to Southern Mindanao than passenger liners. That how strong was the growth of that new paradigm. This new dominant paradigm even forced the fast cruisers to carry container vans atop their cargo holds as that was already the demand of the shippers and traders.

In the 1980’s before the advent of RORO liners starting in 1983 there were actually only a few fast cruiser liners doing the Southern Mindanao routes. Among those was the “Dona Ana”, the pioneer fast cruiser of Sulpicio Lines to Davao. This ship was later pulled out to replace “Don Sulpicio” in the Manila-Cebu route as the ship caught fire and she was renamed to “Dona Marilyn”. However, the fast cruisers “Don Enrique” (the later “Davao Princess” and “Iloilo Princess” and “Don Eusebio” (the later “Dipolog Princess”) alternated in the Manila-Cebu-Davao route. In 1981, when the “Philippine Princess” came, “Dona Marilyn” was reassigned to the Cotabato route. She was the first fast cruiser liner in that route.

Don Sulpicio, Dona Ana and Don Ricardo

Photo by Jon Uy Saulog

On another noteworthy trivia and clarification, Sulpicio Lines also fielded the third “Don Carlos” in the General Santos route in 1977. This ferry was a former vehicle carrier in Japan and so she had a cargo deck and a ramp. However, she was not used as a RORO ship. The ramps were just used to ease the loading of livestock from Gensan. This city sends a lot of those live commodities to Manila. She was actually a “WOWO” ship (Walk on, Walk Off). However, she also takes in heavy equipment and trucks bound for Gensan dealers. So technically “Don Carlos” was the first RORO to Southern Mindanao. But she did not use container vans.

For William Lines, the second “Manila City” (the first “Manila City” was an ex-”FS” ship) was their only fast cruiser to Southern Mindanao for a long time in this decade. Most of the passenger ships they were using in the region were former European passenger-cargo ships like what Sweet Lines were using (the company was also using the “Sweet Grace” to Southern Mindanao which was a brand-new liner in 1968 but was not that fast). Approaching the end of the decade only three national shipping companies were left sailing liners to Southern Mindanao – Sulpicio Lines, William Lines and Sweet Lines. One of the reasons for that was the crisis spawned by the Aquino assassination halved the number of liner companies in the Philippines. It was not because the traffic to Southern Mindanao dropped considerably. In container shipping to Southern Mindanao before the RORO liners came there were six players – Aboitiz Shipping Corporation, William Lines, Sulpicio Lines, Lorenzo Shipping Corporation, Sea Transport Company and Solid Shipping Lines.

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MV Don Carlos (Gorio Belen research in the National Library

In 1983, a new paradigm arrived in the Southern Mindanao routes and it ushered a new era. These are the RORO (or ROPAX) liners which were even bigger and just as fast as the fast cruiser liners. And they can carry more container vans than the fast cruisers. Later, RORO liners were even faster as they can already sail at 20 knots. Can anyone hazard a guess which was the first RORO liner of Southern Mindanao?

I will discuss the era of RORO liners in Southern Mindanao in a subsequent article (as I do not want this article to be too long and unwieldy). With that, it will be a discussion of the recent history of the Southern Mindanao routes and liners.