When Liners Were Still Small and Short-legged

After World War II and for a generation after, the Philippines had so many small and short-legged liners. This was dictated by the situation that when the United States replaced our merchant fleet that was destroyed in World War II as was their promise (since they requisitioned our passenger ships then and the others were ordered destroyed to prevent falling into enemy hands), the replacement they gave were mainly small ships that were not even ferries in the first place. Because of that we had very few big liners in the first two decades after the war. The bulk of our liner fleet then consisted of the small ex-”FS” cargo ships of World War II and the many and even smaller ex-”F” cargo ships, many of which were lengthened like the ex-”FS” ships to increase passenger and cargo capacity. Aside from those two types we also had a few ex-”Y” ships, former tankers which were a little smaller than but related to the ex-”FS” ships plus some “liners” converted from minesweepers and PT boats (can you imagine that?). Conversion to ferries of those were the shipping thing after the war much like the conversion of former Army jeeps of the US Army into the “jeepneys” which became a Filipino thing.

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An example of a converted ex-“FS” ship.  Credits to Gorio Belen and Evening News

The term “liners” here is liberally used to describe the multi-day ships then which had more or less definite schedules for departures of arrivals (they were never very prompt then for various reason but they have published estimated times of departures and arrivals). In general, being small they are of no match in terms of accommodations, comfort and amenities to the liners of the past two or three decades and almost all of them did not possess air-conditioning and some are practically single-class ships and just divided into upper deck and lower deck. Thus, they were really different from the luxury liners we take for granted now.

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A converted and lengthened ex-“F” ship. Credits to Manila Bulletin and Gorio Belen

Being small and doing long routes, the small liners had many intermediate ports of call and there were several reasons for that. One is more ports of call means more passengers and cargo and during that time the country’s population was just a fifth of today’s. Another reason is a lot of localities and islands need connections to the national center which is Manila when during that time our road system was still primitive. And another reason is these ships when built were never meant to carry about three hundred passengers and that meant food, water and other provisions can run out and so the ship must be replenished along the way especially since refrigeration of the ships was limited. This was the time when a rule was instituted that passengers must come to port four hours before departure time (and then suffer more wait if the cargo handling is not yet finished – there are important shippers who with one call can make the ship wait for his last-minute cargo). A reason for that rule is the need to make a head count of passengers and add some figure as allowance and from that calculate the provisions that must be carried by the ship. There was even a running joke that the chandler (the supplier) will only then order how many hogs and chicken must be slaughtered.

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Not an ex-“FS” ship but of the same size. Credits to The Philippines Herald and Gorio Belen.

A characteristic these small liners is the paucity of refrigeration. If there is such the capacity was not really meant for the number of passengers already being carried as a passenger-cargo ship because the ship was just a freight ship during the war with a limited number of crew. As such ice chests had to be employed so that the loaded food provisions will not spoil. But then the ship was not really big for all the supplies needed and revenue cargo is the priority in the holds and in the other cargo areas. Water is an important provision that must also be considered since not only the drinking needs of the passengers must be taken into account.

The longest single legs of these ships were from Manila to Cebu, Manila to Tacloban and Manila to Dumaguete, all of which were just short of 400 nautical miles. With a speed averaging 10 knots that meant a travel time of over one-and-a-half days which means five meals have to be served to the passengers. That transit time does not even include additional time in dodging bad weather and in hiding in coves and letting the storm pass if it is strong. But from Cebu, Tacloban or Dumaguete, these liners are still bound for Northern Mindanao or Southern Mindanao and if the final destination is Davao, it is not even half of the way yet. In fuel, however, it might not have been that much of a concern for these ships were capable of crossing long distances in the Pacific Ocean during the war (but with refueling at sea of course).

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A former minesweepers. Still on the way to Surigao and Davao before the accident. Credits to The Philippines Herald and Gorio Belen.

One advantage of being short-legged is the vessels have to call on a lot of ports along their routes. So in that time a lot of small and minor ports are being served and have connections to Manila, the national port. But maybe one had not heard now of Pulanduta port or Gigantes, Looc, Ibajay, Sangi, Anakan, Victoria, Nato, Angas, Tandoc, Mercedes, Larap, Bacuit, Araceli, Caruray, Casiguran, Carangian, Cabalian, Calubian, Kabasalan, Kolambugan, Sipalay,et cetera, when before they had connections to Manila. Aside from those ports mentioned, the liners then will also drop anchors in the various Mindoro ports, in several Panay ports, a few ports in Romblon province , in Marinduque ports, in Masbate ports too on the way to ports in the east or ports farther down south including ports of Mindanao, the so-called “Land of Promise” then to entice people to move there (but it was disaster for the natives and the Muslims as they lost their ancestral lands).

In the longest route to Davao these small liners will pass by Cebu, Tagbilaran, Dumaguete and Zamboanga ports before heading to Celebes Sea for Cotabato, Dadiangas or Davao. These might even drop by Iligan, Ozamis or Pulauan first. Using the eastern seaboard of Mindanao the liner could have already dropped anchor in Masbate, Catbalogan, Tacloban, Surigao and maybe even Mati or Bislig. Some will pass by Iloilo or Pulupandan ports and Cagayan de Misamis or Iligan ports before going to Southern Mindanao while still passing through some other ports along the way. That was one reason why Surigao was a very important port as it was a critical stop-over then (the next leg if Mati is still a long way to go and especially if it is direct Davao). When to think Surigao was very far from the size of Zamboanga City. That city also functioned as a critical stop-over like Dumaguete. In the longest route then to Davao the most number of interports called before Davao in a route was ten. It will then take over a week before the liner reach Davao and one week was the usual transit time to Davao.

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Not and ex-“FS” ship but of the same size. Credits to Evening News and Gorio Belen

If one had the inclination these long voyages with many stop-overs also afford “free tourism” since the liner will be spending many hours on the intermediate port because of the slow cargo handling then and there will be time to roam the port city (that was what my late father used to do then). The stops then were really long compared to now as the cargo was not yet containerized and only a single boom handles all the loading and unloading aside of course from the backs of the porters. On the other hand for those prone to seasickness these long voyages are simply torture especially if during the monsoons when the weather is acting up. Summer travel doesn’t afford relief, however, as there is no air-conditioning on board, in the main.

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As can be gleaned from the photo there is no air-conditioned section. An ex-“FS” ship. Credits to Gorio Belen and the newspaper.

In those days the position of the Purser was important for he decides what supplies must be purchased along the way and by how much and he has the authority how much will be charged for the cargo loaded along the way. This is the reason why this position is filled by trusted men of the shipping owner. Nowadays, liners with their available big cargo space including refrigerated container vans and freezers plus big pantries is just basically loaded now in Manila and Cebu and if there is a local purchase then it must probably just fish or some vegetables which are cheaper than in the provinces than Manila or Cebu. With strong communication, too, now the tendency is to centralize everything unlike before (there is now what is called as the “commissary”) and so the Purser of the liner, if it still exist is no longer as important as before.

There were really a lot of these small and short-legged ferries then. The biggest reason is when there were no container ships yet these passenger-cargo ships were the main carriers of cargo then, too. So, all in all, some 60 converted ex-”FS” ships sailed our seas and approximately the same number of ex-”F” ships were also sailing. Plus there maybe two dozen small ships of the other types as liners too. So the small liners of the past might be some 140 ships in total or maybe the number will even reach 150 liners. Some of those, however, were primarily used only in the regional routes. But isn’t that number amazing?

But 25 years or a generation after these small liners came and dominated the local waters the fast cruiser liners began arriving in force and it was a paradigm-changing arrival. The main selling point of these fast cruiser liners was their speed. To maximize that selling point and the utilization of the ships that meant reducing travel time to Davao to three days which means a lot of interports had to be stricken off from the routes. Being bigger too that meant the small and shallow ports (and most of which still featured wooden wharves) can no longer be served by them. And so these small ports along the way lost their connection to Manila like the ports I listed earlier which people might no longer know now but had connections to Manila before when the liners were still small and short-legged.

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A fast cruiser liner but the interports are not shortened yet. Credits to Evening News and Gorio Belen.

And then in less than a decade’s time after the fast cruiser liners began arriving another paradigm-changing shift happened in local shipping when the first local container ships appeared in our waters. These container ships have a faster turn-around time than the small and short-legged liners because like the fast cruiser liners these just called on a few interports and sometimes there is even none. With the safety and security offered by the container vans and faster cargo handling soon the death knell to the old small and short-legged liners was sounded and in a few years they were practically gone from our waters.

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The first container ship in local waters. Credits to Times Journal and Gorio Belen.

But if there was a sector that lost with all these advances in speed and size it has to be the small and shallow ports along the way which lost their Manila connection. Some retained their Manila connection for a time but declined in importance like Romblon, Masbate, Catbalogan, Tacloban, Surigao, Tagbilaran and Pulupandan. Those that lost their Manila connection just look and wave at the ships passing their place. As replacement, regional and sub-regional ports had to be developed like Batangas, Lucena, Pilar, Matnog and later the intermodal system linking the islands had to develop, too.

But as a whole our number of regularly-scheduled ships dropped in number because the ships got bigger and the faster ships had more total voyages in a year. Actually, even the first generation container ships were bigger than the small and short-legged liners. Now their equivalent in size are just the bigger among our intermodal short-distance ferry-ROROs which connect our near islands and is the carrier of the intermodal trucks and buses like those which cross from Batangas to Mindoro, those which cross from Mindoro to Panay, those which link the eastern seaboard of the country, those which link Bicol, Masbate and Cebu and those which link the different Visayan islands, etc.

Now only a few will remember our small and short-legged liners which dominated our seas in the first 25 years or so after the end of World War II when our merchant fleet was born again. None of it exists now even as a museum piece.

A Trip to Cebu by a Fast Van and MV St. Pope John Paul II

Once, the Philippine Ship Spotters Society (PSSS) had a ship spotting meet in Cebu City, the usual venue (since Cebu has the greatest number of ships anyway in the country). I will be undertaking the trip from Davao with a fellow member of the group from Samal. As ship spotters we will be taking the ship and not the plane. We had the choices of Cagayan de Oro, Nasipit or Surigao as embarkation ports but we settled on Cagayan de Oro because our target was the ship MV St. Pope John Paul II and its luxurious Stateroom. We know we will be able to get that room cheap if we book early enough. And we were not mistaken. We were able to get that room at just above the Tourist rate.

The MV St. Pope John Paul II leaves Cagayan de Oro at 10am and if we were lucky that it is on schedule (and during that time 2GO ships were late more often than not) we might still have enough light approaching Cebu port since its ETA was 6pm and so she should be approaching Mactan island when there might still be enough light. We were hoping for some good encounters approaching Mactan.

To be able to board the ship at two hours before departure I estimated we should be able to board a bus at just past midnight in Davao Ecoland terminal. We know we won’t get to sleep much aboard a bus but we planned to make it up aboard the ship since there will still be time to sleep after making a round of the ship taking photos.

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A commuter van similar to what we rode from  Davao to CDO (Photo by Custom Cab)

We went to the bus terminal at 10pm. The bus was our first choice because my companion is afraid of the cheaper and faster commuter van (it is supposedly less safe in case of a collision). We checked the Rural Transit bus inside the terminal. They were using their high-deckers in that stretch of the night and so the fare is P640 instead of P570 (this is aircon fare). My old resistance and animosity against Rural Transit was reawakened. This bus charges high as there is no competition. I came from a deregulated region and I am used to a P500 aircon bus fare for a 380-km Naga-Manila route. The P640 was just for a distance of 320 kilometers.

I told my companion-friend that we check the commuter vans just outside the terminal (it is no longer there now, driven out as having no permit). I asked the rate. It was just P400. I told my companion that with the difference we can buy a lot of food and drinks. And so we decided to take the van but like my old style I told the dispatcher we will take the next van and please reserve the front seats for us.

Our van left at 12 midnight sharp and I was in the front seat. The van was a new Toyota Grandia and the driver is still at his peak years. We made small talk. I always do that and I also mind the quality of his driving. He was competent. There was no over-speeding or reckless driving. He was usually running just in the 100-110kph range but he was serious. No laxing off in the pace. We arrived in Valencia City after exactly two hours. We stopped because a passenger alighted and it was time for some to relieve themselves. The driver waited five minutes in case a chance passenger shows up.

I thought we will be arriving very early. At first thought we will be in Agora of Cagayan de Oro at 6am which is just time enough for breakfast and lounging (as we plan to go to the Macabalan port at 8am). Valencia is already more than halfway of our route. I observed the driver. He is not showing signs of tiredness. The pace was still the same. Our pace slowed a little in Mangima because of the road works but at 3:57am the driver pulled his parking brake lever in Agora terminal and market and we disembarked. I complimented the driver on his driving and gave my thanks and and well wishes. I always do that.

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Agora Market and Terminal (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Our trip just took 3 hours and 57 minutes for the 320-kilometer stretch! That was over 80kph average speed! Now suddenly my companion realized that the buses of Mindanao are real laggards for even aircon buses take 7 hours in that stretch (to think half of the Davao-Cagayan de Oro stretch still lacks habitation and vehicles). Well, the drivers of Rural Transit are too fond of meal and coffee stops and once they see 100kph on the speedometer they back off.

We were lucky the Jollibee store in Agora was already opening. I thought swerte, me tambayan. We really need a friendly place to while away a long time. I told my companion we won’t leave the store unless they kick us out because there is no sense in going to the pier early because one can’t enter anyway and the passenger lounge which has only bucket fiberglass seats might still not be open. And I am not even sure if there is air-conditioning. I said our place is way better than the pier and at least there is activity outside.

At 6am, we called a PSSS member in Cagayan de Oro. He joined us at 7am and so it became livelier. We finally left the store before 9am after 5 hours there (and we extended profuse thanks for the hospitality). We thought our time allowance is perfect.

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Well, things does not turn out that way. We have to have our tickets xeroxed and there is no xerox nearby. It seems the ticket printed by one’s own computer is only for 2GO’s convenience. And we have to line up. These checking of persons in the terminal is just for the benefit of the Americans. It is not for our safety. If someone will bomb they will bomb anyway. And there are much easier targets like the city halls, markets, plazas and other places of gathering including the church. If I am the bomber the port and its terminal will not be my priority.

We were finally able to board and we knew the departure of the ship will be late as it was already announced before we boarded. There goes our chance of a free ship spotting approaching Mactan and Cebu. We made a tour of the ship taking pictures along the way. Our first respite was our free lunch at the separate restaurant for First Class passengers called “Horizon Cafe”. Not that very inviting. So many trainees (and they chatter). And I commented to Aris that 2GO food is just like hospital food. Just enough for one to remove his hungriness but no feeling of being full as it is not Sulpicio Lines. If we were aboard a Sulpicio ship it would have been smorgasbord since we were in First Class.

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Horizon Cafe

MV St. Pope John Paul II is also tiring to tour. The ship is longer and it has more than two passenger decks. Part of the navigation deck structure is also for the passengers and so it is also open unlike in MV St. Gregory The Great and MV St. Leo The Great where it is fenced off. And part of the upper wagon deck is also for passengers. So practically three-and-a-half decks has to be toured. One thing noticeable though for MV St. Pope John The Paul are the big rooms and other facilities not in use and it is obvious that many cabins are unoccupied.

After lunch and a few more shots we took our rest. Time for some sleep. Our Stateroom has two beds, one big and one smaller and near the door there is a divan fronting the bath. There is a cabinet for clothes and smaller cabinets for stowing away things. And a big mirror. The appointments are really for multi-day voyages. The air-conditioning’s cold was just okay although I wanted it a little cooler. What’s the use of a good blanket anyway?

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Stateroom (on the right is the bigger bed)

We woke up at about 4pm (but I really did not sleep much) and again made a round of the ship. It was cooler already and we know we will be up and about until the ship reaches Cebu. And that is one that fags me out a little since it means two hours of so of milling around and taking shots. As we expected approaching Mactan the light was no longer enough for good shots. The price of being late.

Although there were some disappointments, over-all we enjoyed our ride aboard MV St. Pope John Paul II. The Stateroom for the price we paid was treat enough. The ship was still a good ship, not rundown and it was clean and inviting, the main restaurant had plenty of offerings and the service crew tries a lot. Even the restaurant crew are hard-trying. 

We then disembarked in Cebu International Port. Being dark already the shots are also limited. We made our way outside the port and soon hailed a taxi. We will be staying at Mariners’ Court which we expect will be a good vantage point. It did not disappoint. And nor did the ship spotting tours with the group that happened in the next few days.

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.

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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

Superferry 1

Aboitiz Shipping Corporation has always been notable for two particular quirks. The first is when they bought a lot of old ex-FS ships in the mid-1960’s from other shipping companies when others were already sourcing ships from Europe and Japan and some are even brand-new. The second is when they did not buy any ferry for 14 straight years from 1974 to 1988 and when they bought one it was another old hand-me-down from Escano Lines, the former “Katipunan”. However, in the same period Aboitiz Shipping Corporation (ASC) bought a lot of cargo ships and they were among the first to containerize. Actually, in the 1980’s ASC was one of the container majors in the local seas through the Aboitiz Concarriers together with the Wilcons of William Lines, the Sulcons of Sulpicio Lines and the Lorcons of Lorenzo Shipping.

With a ferry fleet whose backbone were still the old ex-FS ships Aboitiz Shipping Corporation did not try to compete in the major ferry routes in the 1980’s and instead concentrated on minor routes like routes to northern Panay and Leyte island. However, this laidback attitude on ferry operations all changed when in 1989 when they bought the “Venus” from Japan to become the “SuperFerry 1”. I am not sure if this was part of the Jebsens influence on Aboitiz Shipping but it looks like it. Jebsens of Norway was a partner of Aboitiz in local shipping and they created a company named Aboitiz Jebsens which was in ship maintenance and management.

SuperFerry 1 ©Gorio Belen

“Venus”, a ROPAX (RORO-Passenger ship) with IMO Number 7375856 was built by Shikoku Dockyard in Takamatsu, Japan. She measured 132.4 meters by 20.6 meters and she had an original Gross Tonnage (GT) of 4,006 nominal tons and Deadweight Tonnage (DWT) of 3,194 tons. In Net Tonnage (NT), she measured 1,630 nominal tons with a passenger capacity of 302 and her RORO capacity was 1,030 lane-meters. “Venus” was originally by powered by twin SEMT-Pielsticks which developed a combined 16,700 horsepower giving her a service speed of 20.5 knots. She already had the then-new and modern bulbous stem which gave extra speed. She was completed on December of 1975 and she was then delivered to Arimura Sangyo shipping line of Naha, Okinawa, Japan.

In 1989 Aboitiz Shipping Corporation bought the “Venus” and brought her to the Philippines where she was rebuilt. New decks were added and it now totaled four and additional passenger accommodations were built. Her new Gross Tonnage (GT) was 9,184 nominal tons and her new Net Tonnage (NT) was 2,987 with a passenger capacity of 1,808. Her new Depth was 13.0 meters. Her new name was “Aboitiz SuperFerry 1” and she was the new flagship of Aboitiz Shipping Corporation. “Aboitiz SuperFerry 1” was the first RORO-Passenger (ROPAX) ship of the company.

SuperFerry 1 Brochure ©Mike Baylon

She was launched with fanfare and advertisements were rolled out. They touted the new kind of service and accommodations and pointed out the word “Super” pertained to these and not to the size as she cannot beat the “Filipina Princess” of Sulpicio Lines in that aspect. Indeed, it seems that for the first time a liner sailing in local seas had service crew that were graduates of Hotel and Restaurant Management (HRM) courses and not green mariners trying to serve customers. There was always the smile, the snappiness, the ever-presence and the constant cleaning and mopping. With HRM background they knew how not to say “No” and how not to disappoint passengers. Meals were not free but there is a full-service cafeteria which looked like an office cafeteria that was open till past midnight. The equipment and cleanliness of the toilets and baths were unmatched in the business.

However, in less than a year of sailing, bad luck hit “SuperFerry 1” when she was struck by engine room fire. She was towed to Singapore for repairs where she was fitted with new engines, too. Brand-new Wartsila diesel engines were used which developed a total of 21,200 horsepower. Although heavier now, she was able to regain her old service speed of 20.5 knots with the new more powerful engines. At that speed she was clearly now the second-best to the much more powerful “Filipina Princess”. She was re-launched in 1991 to fanfare and advertisements again.

SperFerry1 Main Engine ©Ralpha Russel Rosauro

With her, Aboitiz Shipping was able to reclaim their old Davao route which before already lain beyond their old cruisers (“SuperFerry” 1 was the first RORO of the company) because of the long distance and the lack of speed which made them the laughing stock of the fast cruisers of Sulpicio Lines and William Lines like the “Davao Princess” and the “Manila City”. With “SuperFerry 1” Aboitiz Shipping and Aboitiz Jebsens pioneered the system of sailing where in-port hours were low and the ship just sails and sails. This was needed because Aboitiz Shipping lacks liners. Promptness was paramount and to shorten loading and unloading time two ramps were used simultaneously and containers that must be handled were radioed to the tractors which was setting records in speed of hauling. In comparison, the rival flagships “Filipina Princess” and “Sugbu” of William Lines were still using the slow booms together with ramps.

The route of SuperFerry 1 was Manila-Iloilo-General Santos City-Davao and Manila-Iloilo. She was the fastest ferry to General Santos City and Davao, bar none. Her intermediate port stops consisted only of two to three hours and she was known for promptness in departures. Once a passenger ramp was lifted it’s already sorry to any passengers even though they are running with all their might towards the ship. Being the newest, fastest and the best passenger service she displaced patronage from rivals in the route and name “SuperFerry” and its brand of service was already being installed in the minds of the riding public of ships.

SuperFerry 1 ©Britz Salih

In the merger of William Lines, Gothong Shipping Corporation and Aboitiz Shipping Corporation that created the new company WG&A she retained her name and her route. Later, “SuperFerry 8”, the former “Mabuhay 3” and “Sugbu” was paired with her in the route. She held on to this route even when the Chiongbian and Gothong families already withdrew from the merged company and her company was renamed the Aboitiz Transport Shipping (ATS). By this time her service speed was already down to 19 knots.

SuperFerry 1 ©Aris Refugio

With the arrival of “SuperFerry 20” and “SuperFerry 21” she was displaced from the Davao route. She was also starting to fall from disfavor as the new style of ATS called for ROPAXes of twin cargo decks and less passenger capacity and amenities, the reason they converted three ferries into this standard. “SuperFerry 1” also has a big engine relative to her cargo capacity which was their primary measurement. Not long after ATS advertised her for sale but there were no local takers as other liner companies do not buy hand-me-downs from rivals and she was too big and her engine too powerful for the Visayas-Mindanao shipping companies. And so she just toiled in minor routes.

Not long after, the merger of Negros Navigation and Aboitiz Transport System happened and she came under 2GO. Doing the Tagbilaran and Dumaguete route she grounded entering Tagbilaran Bay when the new master from Negros Navigation took a shortcut on the reefs. A SuperCat came to the rescue of her passengers and she was later freed. From this accident she sailed almost no more and soon she was just a “floating monument” in Manila Bay. She was, however, renamed the “Sta. Rita de Cascia”.

SuperCat rescue operations ©Vince Sanchez

More photos of the operation can be found by clicking here.

Last year, in 2014, she disappeared from Manila Bay. Later, she reappeared in Indonesia as the “Mutiara Persada 1”. Ship spotters heaved a sigh of relief because Indonesia, like the Philippines, is known for appreciating and taking care of older ships. So for now, it looks like “SuperFerry 1” has escaped the breaker’s torches.

MAE WESS 4

The ferry “Mae Wess 4” is the latest and biggest ferry in the combined Mae Wess and CW Cole fleet that connects Samal island to the mainland of Davao through the private Caliclic port in Samal and the private Mae Wess port in Sasa, Davao City. She might look like an LCT (Landing Craft Transport) but in actuality she is not as she is not flat-bottomed and she has the hull-form of a traditional ship.

Mae Wess 4 ©Aristotle Refugio
The ferry “Mae Wess 4” was built in a yard just adjacent to the Caliclic port, both of which are owned by Eduardo Bangayan of Davao City. Mr. Bangayan also owns the ferry company along with associated transportation businesses, one of which is the Island City Express buses that are loaded in Mae Wess ferries and which connect Samal destinations to Davao City. The key workers that built “Mae Wess 4” are not Davao-locals; they were veteran ship builders/repairers from the shipyards of Cebu. She was completed in the year 2012.
Mae Wess 4 under construction ©Mike Baylon

She only has one ramp – at the bow. But being wide (at 11.2 meters) relative to her length (of 42.7 meters) the vehicles do not need to embark or disembark backwards as in the case of most ROROs with only one ramp. The rolling cargoes instead make a U-turn at the stern and the first vehicle will park near the bow ramp at the starboard side. There is an “island” that divides the port side from the starboard side.

Mae Wess 4 loading scheme ©Aristotle Refugio

Like LCTs her passenger space is limited considering she takes in buses. However, the bus passengers no longer get off while sailing as do the passengers and drivers of the private vehicles, trucks and motorcycles. In fact many passengers not connected with the vehicles just stand up during the 15-minute trip instead of going up the passenger half-deck at the bridge level. But if it rains they have to go up as this ferry does not have full scantling.

Mae Wess 4 Passender deck ©Janjan Salas

She is powered two Weichai marine engines that totals 900 horsepower and sourced brand-new from China. Her bridge equipment and controls are also China-made and she has one set of controls only. Being new the machinery is still reliable and responsive. Running her route she usually does about 8 knots but that is not the maximum speed.

Mae Wess 4 bridge controls ©Mike Baylon
If shw has any weakness it seems it emanates from her design where the deck is much wider than the hull. On heeling it seems she takes longer than usual to regain balance. However, she has no incident so far even though the cross-current of Pakiputan can be swift at times.
With traffic growing fast between Samal and Davao including the rise of aggregates trucks that cross regularly she is a very successful ferry. Her trips run from early morning up to evening almost without pause. Her owner should be very satisfied in that.
Mae Wess 4 ©Aristotle Refugio