The Ship Design Conflict Within WG & A

On the first day of the year 1996, the “Great Merger” officially happened. This brought the fleets and all assets of William Lines Inc. (WLI), Carlos A. Gothong Lines Inc. (CAGLI) and Aboitiz Shipping Corporation (ASC) under one single company and management except for some very old ferries of Aboitiz Shipping Corporation (the likes of Legazpi) and a some ferries and container ships of Aboitiz Jebsens (that was a separate company) which were the container ships acquired from the Ukraine. This was supposedly a preemptive move so local shipping can compete against the purported entry of foreign competition in the inter-island routes which proved to be a bogey or a false story later. How some old shipping families believed that foreigners can enter with a Anti-Cabotage Law in effect that forbids foreign shipping firms from sailing in local routes is beyond me because repeal of any law passes through Congress and our Congress is usually not keen on passing laws that grants free passage to foreigners and if those three liner and container shipping companies are willing, the regional shipping companies and other companies might not be willing and they can also raise a ruckus. But anyway the unlikely merger happened and a very big shipping company was formed from previously competitors.

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Dona Virginia (Credits to Palawan Wildlife Rescue and Conservation Center and Manu Sarmiento)

Any merger usually results in excess assets and in shipping that includes ships aside from management personnel and employees and logistical assets like containers, container yards and buildings. This was easily obvious with the WG&A merger. Since there were excess liners some of it were sent to its regional subsidiary Cebu Ferries Corporation (CFC) like when the Mabuhay 6 (the Our Lady of Good Voyage) and the Our Lady of Lipa were sent there. Meanwhile, all the cruisers liners were offered for sale. They also tried to dispose old and unreliable ROROs like the Dona Cristina, Don Calvino and the Dona Lili that were formerly regional ferries. Actually even some recent liners were also offered for sale. The total was about 10 and that was already about a third of the combined fleet. That also included a handful of container ships.

I knew it early there was a conflict with the disposal of ships when I had as a cabin mate in SuperFerry 7 the cargo manager of William Lines in North Harbor and he was furious because to him it seems that the liners of William Lines were being targeted. Well, that might have been the unintended result of getting Aboitiz Jebsens as fleet and maintenance manager because they will use their old standard in choosing ships (that company was subsequently renamed to WG&A Jebsens to reflect the changed circumstances).

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Don Calvino (Credits to George Tappan and Gorio Belen)

One has to look into recent history to understand this. Aboitiz Shipping Corporation as a liner company did not acquire any liners from 1974 to 1988 and the one they acquired in 1988 was inconsequential as it was just the small and old cruiser liner Katipunan of Escano Lines which became the Legaspi 1. By that time Aboitiz Shipping Corporation had just a few old liners sailing, a combination of former “FS” ships which were on its last legs and a few old cruisers including the pair acquired from Everett Steamship, the Legazpi and the Elcano which were also clearly obsolete already and getting unreliable. It looked to me that without their partner Jebsens Maritime that was influential in their container shipping (which was actually good), they might not have had their blockbuster SuperFerry series.

If one looks at the SuperFerry series of Aboitiz Shipping Corporation, one will easily see its distinguishing characteristics. They are all ROROs (or more exactly ROPAXes) with car ramps at the bow and at the stern, the container vans are all mounted in trailers, trailer caddies hauled them in a fast manner and if possible the two car ramps are both employed so one is dedicated for loading and the other for unloading. Radios are also employed for communication to orchestrate the movement of the container vans so a trailer caddy hauling a container aboard will have a container being unloaded on the way down and markers are used so loading of container vans will not be helter-skelter which can mean difficulty in unloading a container van in an intermediate port.

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Maynilad by Britz Salih

To remedy their serious lack of liners due to non-purchase in the recent years past, Aboitiz Shipping Corporation and Aboitiz Jebsens designed their liners to have short interport hours as in 2 to 3 hours only, the former the preferred time. In Manila and in the endport, the port hours were also very short. With this kind of operation the SuperFerries had a high number of hours at sea on a weekly basis which meant maximum utilization. While a Sulpicio Lines liner will only have a round-trip voyage if the route is Southern Mindanao, an Aboitiz ship will still have a short trip to the likes of Panay within the same week or else do a twice a week Northern Mindanao voyage. With this style, their 4 SuperFerry ships were in practicality the equal of 5 or 6 ships of the competition. Of course with this kind of use of ships a heavy load of preventive maintenance is needed and that happened to be the forte of Aboitiz Jebsens.

When the Chiongbian and Gothong families agreed to the Aboitiz proposal to have Aboitiz Jebsens as fleet and maintenance manager they should have already known was in store and that is the liners should perform the Aboitiz Jebsens way and that meant those which can’t will fall into disfavor and might be the target for culling because with the Aboitiz Jebsens system a lesser number of liners will be needed to maintain their route system and frequencies. Of course at the start WG & A will try to employ all the liners that were not relegated to their subsidiary Cebu Ferries Corporation. But then new liners were still coming onstream, the liners William Lines, Gothong Lines and Aboitiz Shipping ordered when they were still separate companies. WG & A created new routes and frequencies but in a short time they realized what cannot be maintained because there are not enough passengers or cargo like the routes to Tacloban and Dipolog (Dapitan actually) and the Manila-Dumaguete-Cotabato and Manila-Cebu-Surigao-Davao routes.

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Tacloban City (Credits to Times Journal and Gorio Belen)

With that “weak” and “inefficient” ships will be targets for culling aside from the old liners and there was no question that cruiser liners will be first in the firing line. That type cannot carry much cargo and their cargo handling in the interport is longer as cargo booms are not as fast in loading and unloading unlike trailer caddies. So it was no surprise that the cruiser liners Misamis OccidentalTacloban City and Iligan City, formerly of William Lines were almost immediately up for sale. The small ROPAX Zamboanga City was also offered for sale because her engines were big relative to her size and capacity (16,800-horsepower engines) and she had no ramps at the bow. That also went true for the slow Maynilad (14-15 knots only on 16,800 horsepower). The problem with these is they were all former William Lines ship, the reason why some former William Lines people were upset. But they accepted Aboitiz Jebsens as the fleet manager and so that will almost inevitably be the result.

Some lesser liners survived. The “Our Lady” ships of Gothong Lines survived because for their size and capacity their engines were small and that speaks of efficiency and though while a little slower they were fit for the short routes like the northern Panay routes (Dumaguit and Roxas City) or in the periphery like Masbate and Eastern Visayas. The northern Panay route also became the refuge of the Our Lady of Naju, a former Gothong ship which was also a cruiser. The passengers and cargo of the route were not big and so a big cruiser liner like the Dona Virginia will not fit. But of course all that favored the former Gothong ships. It might just have been a quirk of fate and not necessarily because the Gothong representative to the WG & A Board of Directors who is Bob Gothong is close to the Aboitizes. But then I wonder how the Our Lady of Lipa survived. For her size she has big engines and speed was not really needed in the Dumaguit/Roxas City route. Was it because they wanted to show up their competitor the old but beautiful cruiser liner Don Julio of Negros Navigation? I thought when the old cruiser liner Misamis Occidental was refurbished to become the cruiser ship Our Lady of Montserrat, a former William Lines vessel she might have fitted the route (she was even re-engined and became all-airconditioned like the Our Lady of Naju). Was her speed not really enough for the route? Or WG & A wants a ship that is really superior to the competition?

Our Lady of Banneux

Credits to Keppel Cebu and Ken Ledesma

It was not surprising then that in the early merger years that former William Lines officers and employees would think it was only their vessels which was on the firing line or chopping block.

The beautiful SuperFerry 11 which was fielded after the merger was also not that favored. Her engines are just about okay for her size, she has the speed but then like the Zamboanga City she has no car ramps at the bow because she also came from A” Lines of Japan. She was also destined for William Lines if the merger did not happen. The beautiful Maynilad would have easily been a SuperFerry in terms of size and accommodations if not for her grave lack of speed. Being excess later the SuperFerry 11 and Maynilad were passed to Cebu Ferries Corporation and they were the biggest ships that company ever had. That was after WG & A created an entirely new route for them, the Manila-Ormoc-Nasipit route which in first report was good. But then along the years WG & A and successor company Aboitiz Transport System (ATS) developed a reputation for being very soft in holding and maintaining routes. In Cebu Ferries the SuperFerry 11 was renamed to Our Lady of Banneux and the Maynilad was renamed to Our Lady of Akita 2 after her top passenger deck was removed. The two happened to be ex-William Lines ships also! Although not clearly disfavored (as she made the SuperFerry grade), the Our Lady of Banneux which can run at up to 19 knots had a grounding incident in Canigao Channel from which she never recovered again.

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The ship Zamboanga by Wilben Santos

So actually the William liners were the great casualties of the merger due to redundancy and incompatibility and that was because they were unlike the original SuperFerry liners and they simply cannot make the SuperFerry grade (well, just like the former “Our Lady” ships of Gothong Lines only one of those made the SuperFerry grade, the former Our Lady of Akita which became the SuperFerry 6). Of course their former Mabuhay 1 and Mabuhay 3 which made the SuperFerry grade lived longer. The former Mabuhay 2 was not lucky as she was hit by fire early which led to complete total loss. In the longer run only the Mabuhay 1 and Mabuhay 3 survived and the Mabuhay 3 as SuperFerry 8 was even leased to Papua New Guinea because of the surplus of liners in WG & A.

The liners of Carlos A. Gothong Lines Inc. (CAGLI) were more lucky as they found niche routes and small engines played into their favor. Moreover many of the former Gothong Lines ships were in regional routes and they lived long there including their former small liners the Our Lady of Fatima and the Our Lady of Lourdes which were sister ships. That even included the venerable Our Lady of the Rule and their old Our Lady of Guadalupe which has unreliable engines and I even wonder how she lasted so long. In the regional routes some former ships of William Lines survived like the Our Lady of Good Voyage and the Our Lady of Manaoag.

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Dona Lili (Credits to PNA, Phil. Daily Express and Gorio Belen)

When the Chiongbian family of William Lines divested in 2003 only 2 of their former liners remained in WG & A aside from a few container ships. They were paid off in cash from the passenger and container ships that were scrapped. There were still many Gothong ships in the fleet of WG & A when they divested as most survived the culling but they preferred newly-acquired ships when they restarted independent operations.

And that was the story of the ship design conflict in WG & A which have been one of the reasons why the “Great Merger” unraveled so soon.

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The Claim of Carlos A. Gothong Lines That They Were First Into ROPAXes Was Most Likely True (But There Was Controversy)

Carlos A. Gothong Lines, Inc. (CAGLI), in their online published history claims they were first into ROROs. The more correct term is probably ROPAX or RORO-Passenger but many people just use the acronym “RORO” and that is what is commonly most understood by many. It was said that when new patriarch Alfredo (Alfred) Gothong went on self-imposed exile in Canada, he was able to observe how efficient were the ROROs there and he might have been talking of the short-distance ferry-ROROs including the double-ended ferries in the Vancouver area. It is in that area where Canada has many of those types.

The move to ROROs happened when the then-combined shipping companies Carlos A. Gothong Lines, Inc. (CAGLI) and Lorenzo Shipping Corporation parted ways in 1979 (in actual although the agreement was from 1978) after some 7 years of combined operations which they did to better withstand the shocks of the split that created Sulpicio Lines and the downfall of their copra and oil trading (in strategic partnership with Ludo Do & Lu Ym of Cebu) when the Marcos henchmen moved in into the copra trade and oil refining. When Carlos A. Gothong Lines and Lorenzo Shipping were still combined the former’s ships were mainly doing the Visayas and Visayas-Mindanao routes while the latter’s ships were mainly doing the Southern Mindanao and Western Visayas routes.

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1979 Gothong + Lorenzo shipping schedule (Credits to Times Journal and Gorio Belen)

The year 1979 was very significant for Philippine shipping in so many ways. First, it was the year when containerization went full blast when the leading shipping companies (Aboitiz Shipping, William Lines, Sulpicio Lines, Lorenzo Shipping plus the earlier Sea Transport) went into a race to acquire container ships. That also meant a lull in passenger-cargo ship acquisitions since more and more it was the container ships that were carrying the cargo to the major ports. Before the container ships, it was mainly the passenger-cargo ships that were carrying the inter-island cargoes. The shift to containerization resulted in passenger-cargo ships being laid up in 1980 and 1981 and later it accelerated the process of breaking up of the former “FS” ships.

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1979 container shipping ads (Credits to Times Journal and Gorio Belen)

Second, it was the year that the road plus ship intermodal system truly started when a Cardinal Shipping ROPAX appeared in San Bernardino Strait to connect Luzon and Visayas by RORO. It was the first step but in the next years ROPAXes linking the islands within sight began to mushroom (this is not to negate the earlier intermittent LCTs that also tried to bridge major islands within sight of each other the RORO way).

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A 1980 ad of Cardinal Shipping (Credit to Gorio Belen)

In their split, Carlos A. Gothong Lines and Lorenzo Shipping had two completely different responses to the new paradigm of containerization. The latter tried to join the containerization bandwagon and aside from the acquisition of general cargo ships from Japan for refitting into container ships it also tried to retrofit their earlier general cargo ships into container ships. Maybe Lorenzo Shipping does not have the financial muscle of the others but it tried to make up for this by ingenuity (and maybe Aboitiz Shipping which first tried this approach was their model).

However, Carlos A. Gothong Lines had a different approach. They bypassed the acquisition of container ships and instead went headlong into the acquisition of small ROPAXES (but bigger than the basic, short-distance ferry-ROROs). Most likely their situation as primarily an intra-Visayas and a Visayas-Mindanao shipping operator influenced this. In these routes, there was no need for containers ship as almost all cargoes there are either loose cargo or palletized cargo that are loaded mainly in overnight ships.

There is controversy which shipping company fielded the first RORO in the Philippines (setting aside the earlier LCTs). Negros Navigation claims their “Sta. Maria” was first in RORO liners. That ship came in 1980 and it was a RORO liner, obviously. But as far as ROROs or ROPAXes, there is indubitable proof that Cardinal Shipping fielded the “Cardinal Ferry 1” in 1979 in the San Bernardino Strait crossing.

To make the debate murkier still, the “Northern Star” (a double-ended ferry at first before she was converted and she became the latter “Northern Samar”) and “Badjao” of Newport Shipping arrived in 1978 but they were not doing RORO routes then. By the way, the San Bernardino RORO service became only feasible when the roads in Samar were already passable so it cannot come earlier.

Carlos A. Gothong Lines might win the debate, however, because in 1976 they already had the small RORO “Don Johnny” which they used as a passenger-cargo ship from Manila to Leyte but not as a RORO. This ship later became the “Cardinal Ferry 2” of Cardinal Shipping that was the first to bridge the Surigao Strait as a RORO (that was not an LCT) in 1980 with a fixed schedule and daily voyages. And even though the former vehicle carrier “Don Carlos” arrived for Sulpicio Lines in 1977, still Carlos A. Gothong Lines was technically ahead in ROROs.

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The Don Carlos (Credits to Times Journal and Gorio Belen)

From 1980 and ahead of the other shipping companies, Carlos A. Gothong Lines already bet big on ROROs when they fielded such type one after the other. In 1980, the “Dona Lili” and “Don Calvino” arrived for Carlos A. Gothong Lines although there are those who say the former arrived earlier. Negros Navigation might have been right in stressing that their “Sta. Maria” was a RORO liner and was first because the two ROROs of Carlos A. Gothong Lines were just overnight ferries. Nevertheless, both were ROROs or ROPAXes.

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The Dona Lili (Credits to PNA, Daily Express and Gorio Belen)

The “Dona Lili” was a ship built as the “Seiran Maru” in 1967 by Taguma Zosen in Innoshima, Japan. The ferry measured 69.0 meters by 12.0 meters with an original 856 gross register tonnage, a net register tonnage of 448 tons and deadweight tonnage of 553 tons. She was powered by two Daihatsu engines totalling 2,600 horsepower with gave her a sustained speed of 15.5 knots. The permanent ID of the ship was IMO 6713609.

In comparison, the “Sta. Maria” of Negros Navigation was not much bigger at 72.0 meters by 12.6 meters and 1,110 gross register tonnage. Their speed was just about the same since “Sta. Maria” has a design speed of just 15 knots. So one ship was not clearly superior to the other. It just so happened that the routes of the companies dictated the particular role of the ships. By the way the “Sta. Maria” is still existing as the “Lite Ferry 8” so shipping observers still can benchmark her size, visually.

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The Don Calvino (Credits to PAL, George Tappan and Gorio Belen)

The “Don Calvino” was built as the “Shunan Maru” by Naikai Zosen in Onomichi, Japan in 1968. The ship measured 62.6 meters by 13.4 meters with an original gross register tonnage of 881 tons. She was powered by twin Hitachi engines of 2,660 horsepower total and a design speed of 14.5 knots. Her ID was IMO 6829484. As a note, the “Dona Lili” and the “Don Calvino” had long lives and they even outlived their company Carlos A. Gothong Lines which disappeared as a separate company when it joined the merger which created the giant shipping company WG&A.

Another RORO also arrived for Carlos A. Gothong Lines in the same year 1980. However, the ship did not live long. This ferry was the “Dona Josefina” which was built as “Kamishiho Maru” in 1968 by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries in Shimonoseki, Japan. This ship had the external dimensions 71.6 meters by 13.0 meters and her gross register tonnage was 1,067 tons which means she was slightly the biggest of the three that came to Carlos A. Gothong Lines in 1980 and almost a match to the “Sta. Maria” of Navigation in size (incidentally the two ships both came in 1980). This ship was powered by twin Daihatsu engines of 2,600 combined like the “Dona Lili” and her sustained top speed was 15 knots. Her permanent ID was IMO 6823399.

Acquiring three medium-sized ROROs in a year showed the bet of Carlos A. Gothong Lines on ROROs or ROPAXes instead of container ships. Actually in overnight routes, it is ROROs that is needed more because it simplified cargo handling especially with the employment of forklifts which is several times more efficient than a porter and does not get tired. When Carlos A. Gothong Lines acquired RORO cargo ships starting in 1987 with the “Our Lady of Hope” , it was when they had Manila routes already and those cargo ships were used in that route.

Carlos A. Gothong Lines then had a short pause but in 1982 they purchased the ROPAX “Don Benjamin”. This ship was the former “Shin Kanaya Maru” and she was built in 1967 by Shimoda Dockyard Company in Shimoda, Japan. This ship measured 61.0 meters by 13.7 meters and the gross register tonnage was 685 tons and her permanent ID was IMO 7022875. She was powered by a single Nippon Hatsudoki engine of 2,550 horsepower and her design speed was 15 knots. Her engine was the reason the ship did not have a very long career here.

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The Don Benjamin partially scrapped (Photo by Edison Sy)

In 1983, Carlos A. Gothong Lines acquired two more ROROs, the “Dona Casandra” and the “Dona Conchita” which were both ill-fated here. The “Dona Casandra” was the former “Mishima Maru” and built by Hashihama Zosen in Hashihama, Japan. She was smaller than the other ROROs of Carlos A. Gothong Lines at 53.8 meters by 11 meters but her register tonnage was 682 tons. Her engines were twin Daihatsus at 2,000 horsepower total and that gave her a top speed of 14 knots, sustained. She possessed the IMO Number 6729476.

The other ship, the “Dona Conchita” was significantly bigger than the others as she had the external dimensions 82.0 meters by 13.4 meters and Japan gross register tonnage of 1,864 tons. This ship was the former “Osado Maru” and she was built in 1969 by Ishikawajima Heavy Industries (IHI) in Tokyo, Japan with the IMO Number 6908187. This bigger ship with a design speed of 16.5 knots was supposedly what will bring Carlos A. Gothong Lines back in the Manila route. However, both “Dona Casandra” and “Dona Conchita” sank before the decade was out.

While Carlos A. Gothong Lines was acquiring these ships, they were also disposing of their old ferries including ex-”FS” ships they inherited from their mother company Go Thong & Company before the split in 1972. What they did, the selling of old ships to acquire new was actually the pattern too in the other national shipping companies. The war-vintage ships then were already four decades old and were already in its last legs and its equipment and accommodations were already outdated compared to the newer ships that were already beginning to dominate the local waters.

After 1983, Carlos A. Gothong Lines’ ship acquisitions went into a hiatus for three years (but they already acquired six ROROs, much more than the total of the other shipping companies). Well, almost all ship acquisitions stopped then. The crisis that hit the Philippines was really bad and nobody knew then where the country was heading. But in 1986 when the crisis began to ebb and more so in 1987 and 1988 they acquired another bunch of RORO ships, bigger this time including RORO Cargo ships. That was the time that they attempted to become a national liner shipping company again after they became one of the Big Three in Visayas and Visayas-Mindanao shipping (the other two were Sweet Lines and Trans-Asia Shipping).

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The Our Lady of Guadalupe (Credits to Manila Times, Rudy Santos and Gorio Belen)

But then, the return of Carlos A. Gothong Lines as a national liner shipping company is worth another story, as they say.

Abangan.

When RORO Reigned Supreme

Retrieved from the Old PSSS Website
written by: Mike Baylon

RORO means Roll-on, Roll-off. As distinguished to LOLO (Load-on, Load-off or Lift-on, Lift-off), RORO has cargo ramps and car decks and cargo is not lifted but loaded through vehicles that have wheels. Unlike cruisers that have cruiser sterns ROROs generally have transom sterns.

True ROROs started arriving in the Philippines in the 70’s. This does not include the LCTs which are also ROROs in their own right. The very first RORO could have been the “Millennium Uno” of Millennium Shipping. Japan database shows she arrived in the country in 1973. She is still sailing the Liloan-Lipata route.

Millennium Uno ©Mike Baylon

After some lull the next true ROROs arrived starting in 1978 with the “Northern Samar” of Eugenia Tabinas Shipping Lines of Tabaco, Albay which was fielded in the Sorsogon-Samar route. The next to arrive could be the “Laoang Bay” of Newport Shipping in 1979. This ferry was also later known as “Badjao”, “Philtranco Ferry 1” and “Black Double”. MARINA database also shows “Viva Penafrancia – 9” of Viva Shipping, a steel RORO was built locally in Quezon in 1979.

Starting in 1980, arrivals of RORO in the Philippines stepped up and many even arrived that year while cruiser arrivals began to dry up. In 1980, the “Dona Lili”, “Dona Josefina”, “Don Calvino”, all of Gothong Shipping and the “Sta. Maria” of Negros Navigation arrived. The “Eugenia” of Eugenia Tabinas Shipping seems to have arrived this year also. In 1981 the Melrivic 7 of Aznar Shipping in Cebu came.

The first RORO built by the Philippine government to connect the Maharlika Highway, the “Maharlika I” came in 1982 and she was fielded in the Matnog-San Isidro route connecting Sorsogon and Samar. The second of the series, a sister ship, the “Maharlika II” came in 1984 and was fielded in the Liloan-Lipata route connecting Leyte and Surigao thus completing the Maharlika Highway connection. [Nothing is implied here that in was only in this year that Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao were connected as claimed by some.]

Maharlika I ©Edison Sy

Many of the first ROROs were small. The liner companies did not dominate the first arrivals. It seems it is the provincial short-distance island connectors that first truly appreciated the RORO.

After a very short lull the next batch of ROROs arrived and they appeared in Batangas in the mid-80s. This was spurred by the arrival of “Tokishiho” (later “Emerald I”) of Manila International Shipping Lines to which the dominant Viva Shipping Lines of Batangas immediately countered with the “Viva Penafrancia” in 1985.

The first big RORO liners to arrive that rival the size of the big, fast cruisers were the “Sweet RORO” (1982), “Sweet RORO II” (1983) of Sweet Lines and the “Sta. Florentina” of Negros Navigation in 1983.

Sweet RORO ©lindsaybridge

Sulpicio’s entry to the RORO mode started in 1983 with two modest-sized ROROs, the “Surigao Princess” and the “Butuan Princess” which later became the “Cebu Princess”. William Lines’ foray in RORO started only in 1987 with the “Masbate I”. This was followed by the “Zamboanga” in 1989. WLI’s entry in this field was relatively late and they paid with this by relinquishing the number 1 spot in the local shipping pecking order.

Before the 80s ended Sweet Lines has further added “Sweet Home” (1984), “Sweet Faith” (1987), “Sweet Baby” (1987) and “Sweet Pearl” (1989). Sulpicio Lines has also added “Boholana Princess” (1986). Meanwhile, Gothong Shipping already added the “Dona Cristina” (1985), “Our Lady of Guadalupe” (1986) and the sisters “Our Lady of Fatima” and “Our Lady of Lourdes” both in 1987. Aboitiz Shipping meanwhile also entered the RORO race in 1989 with the “SuperFerry 1”.

For a short time it was Gothong Shipping and Sweet Lines that was battling for superiority in the RORO field. However, in 1988 Sulpicio Lines added 3 big RORO liners that dwarfed all previous examples starting with the “Filipina Princess”, then one of the biggest and fastest ROROs in the world, the “Nasipit Princess” and the “Tacloban Princess”. They also added in that year the “Cagayan Princess”. With these additions Sulpicio Lines guaranteed they can never be headed in the RORO field and that stood true until WG&A came along.

Filipina Princess ©Vincent Paul Sanchez

Before the end of the 80’s, a Visayan-Mindanao shipping company also bet big on RORO and this earned the company number 1 in pecking order in that area. Trans-Asia Shipping Lines bought 5 RORO – the “Asia Korea” (1987), the “Asia Thailand” (1987), the “Asia Japan” (1988), the “Asia Brunei” (1989) and the “Asia Taiwan” (1989). They disposed some ROROs later (but always with replacements) until their progress was impeded with the creation of Cebu Ferries Corporation.

Meanwhile, smaller ROROs also sprouted in the same period in the provincial routes starting with the “Princess of Antique” (1985). Among the others are “Danilo 1” (1987) and “Danilo 2” (1988), now the “Lite Ferry 1” and “Lite Ferry 2”, respectively, the “Dona Isabel II” (1988) which was later known as “Bantayan” and now “Siquijor Island 2”, the “Princess Mika” (1988), the “Luzviminda” (1988), the ‘Stephanie Marie” (1989) of Aleson Shipping in Zamboanga, etc. In Batangas the likes of “Sto. Domingo” (1988) and “Viva Penafrancia 3 (1989) came and this was followed by a slew of Domingo Reyes ROROs in the next years until they dominated that port.

Lite Ferry 2 ©James Gabriel Verallo

With that big statement of Sulpicio in 1988 the other long-distance liner companies have to respond and bigger and faster RORO liners came in the 90’s. William Lines created their “Mabuhay” line of luxury RORO liners and aided with their “Maynilad’. Aboitiz Shipping created their “SuperFerry” line. Gothong Shipping converted two RORO cargo ships and out came the “Our Lady of Sacred Heart” and “Our Lady of Medjugorje” augmented by the their big “Our Lady of Akita”. Negros Navigation continued their “Saints” series and out came the “Sta. Ana” (1988), the “Princess of Negros”, the “San Paolo” and the beautiful “St. Francis of Assisi” to be followed by the sisters “St. Peter the Apostle and “St. Joseph the Worker”. Meanwhile, Sweet Lines was not able to keep pace and soon dropped out of shipping in 1994. Also dropping out of passenger shipping were the lesser long-distance ferry companies which were not able to refleet to RORO. These were the Escano Lines and Madrigal Shipping.

Our Lady of Medjugorje folio ©John Michael Aringay

Sulpicio meanwhile did not rest on their laurels in the first half of the 90’s. They topped their “Filipina Princess” with the “Princess of the Orient” (1993) and they also rolled out the formidable “Princess of Paradise”, the speed queen of the era. Also added to their fleet was the “Princess of the Pacific” and the lesser “Manila Princess” and “Tacloban Princess”. At the middle of the 90’s there was no question then which was biggest shipping company in the Philippines.

There was also no question that the previous decade ended with ROROs already beginning to dominate long-distance passenger shipping. However in other provincial ports, save for Batangas maybe, the RORO is not yet dominant.

The Sulpicio Lines hegemony of the early 90s suddenly changed with the merger of 3 major shipping companies to form the “William, Gothong and Aboitiz” or WGA which suddenly topped the fleet of Sulpicio even though it remanded lesser and older ships to subsidiary Cebu Ferries Corp. CFC then became the scourge of the Visayas-Mindanao shipping companies, most of which except for Trans-Asia Shipping were just in the very beginning of the RORO era like their Zamboanga counterparts.

Among those absorbed by the merger were the ships then underway or under refitting like “SuperFerry 12”, “Our Lady of Akita” which became “SuperFerry 11” and later “Our Lady of Banneux”, “Our Lady of Lipa”, “Mabuhay 5” and “Mabuhay 6” which later became the “SuperFerry 9” and “Our Lady of Good Voyage”, respectively. In the year of that merger, Sulpicio Lines responded with the “Princess of the Universe” and “Princess of the World” and Nenaco responded with the “San Lorenzo Ruiz” and the “St. Ezekiel Moreno”.

The gap between WG&A and Sulpicio Lines and Nenaco was actually narrowing before the end of the millennium as WG&A was intent of selling their “excess” and old ships and it not add any ship to their fleet until 2000. Meanwhile, Sulpicio Lines rolled out the “Princess of the Ocean” and “Princess of the Caribbean”, both in 1997 and the grand “Princess of New Unity” in 1999. Nenaco also added what turned out to be their flagship, the “Mary, Queen of Peace” in 1997.

Princess of New Unity ©britz444
Mary, Queen of Peace ©Rodney Orca

In the provincial routes and ports the millennium ended with the RORO becoming dominant already. On its heels came the long-distance buses and trucks and the delivery trucks of the trade distributors. It can also be said that the requirements of these buses and truckers fuelled the growth of the short-distance ROROs connecting the nearer islands.

RORO liners primary carried container vans in trailer beds. Short-distance ROROs meanwhile primarily carried trucks, buses, jeeps and private vehicles. Overnight ROROs however primarily carried cargo LCL (loose cargo loading) or in pallets. Forklifts were the primary means of loading the cargo. Others call this system break bulk.

If the 90’s were marked by vibrancy and rapid expansion in the long-distance, liner section of shipping the past decade was marked by a long steady retreat of local long-distance shipping and with it the ROROs. This retreat was marked by 2 major spasms — the illiquidity of Nenaco and the suspension of Sulpicio Lines in 2008 after the capsizing of the Princess of the Stars. ROROs were sold and for varying reasons.

Nenaco can’t sustain its expanded route system and their ROROs were laid up and threatened with seizure by creditors. WG&A just wanted to get out of routes they deem were not earning enough. Moreover, Aboitiz has to pay off the divestment of William (the Chiongbian family) and Gothong from the merged company. Then world metal prices peaked and they cashed in on the bonanza. Sulpicio Lines meanwhile decided to sell their ships laid-up by the suspension.

Aside from external problems the long-distance shipping industry was also beset last decade by external threats. Early in 2000’s, the long-distance buses and trucks began to challenge the liners. This began in Samar-Leyte-Biliran. The leading shipping company, WG&A immediately retreated and left the three islands. Soon Masbate and Bohol was also under siege by the buses and lost.

A major factor in that development was the deregulation of the bus sector in the Bicol region and Eastern Visayas. The effect is bus companies sprouted like mushrooms, each seeking more routes, giving wider coverage. As a result passengers need not go to the major centers anymore and it offered the convenience of getting off right by their gates. Moreover, it has also the convenience of a daily departure and a wide choice of buses. As deregulated areas the bus companies were to free to offer low fares and freebies like free ferry fare.

In 2003, the overland route to Panay via Mindoro opened. In a short time came the influx of the buses, trucks and jeeps. The shipping routes to that island were soon under siege. If Nenaco’s withdrawal can be excused by their illiquidity, the leading shipping company, WG&A again simply withdrew without much struggle and just held on to Iloilo port where they are under siege again now. Like in Samar-Leyte-Biliran-Masbate-Bohol this Panay withdrawal of WG&A resulted in selling to the breakers of good ROROs for scrap.

Dangay Port, Roxas, Oriental Mindoro ©Mike Baylon

The second major threat that emerged in the last decade was the emergence of regional container lines to major provincial ports. This provided direct access to foreign markets. And once a direct route is established loaded and empty container vans no longer have to be transshipped via Manila. Before this, the transshipment business was a big source of revenue for long- distance shipping.

Now an even more ominous development is the start of the chartering of banana growers of their own container ships. With their own ships they are no longer dependent on the routes of the container lines. Whereas now if a container line has no route to a certain market country of theirs then they still have to transship via Manila and use the local long-distance liners.

Sasa Port, Davao City ©Aristotle Refugio

A minor threat as of now to long-distance ROROs is the emergence of LCTs as carriers of container vans. But a bigger threat is the inroads of long-distance trucking in the Visayas and Mindanao. The root of the problem is the high cost of charges via long-distance shipping and so they lose out.

Budget airlines will also take out some revenues from long-distance shipping. This is not critical because the bread and butter of long-distance shipping is cargo operations.

One beneficiary of these developments is the short-distance RORO sector which makes possible the island-hopping of the trucks, buses, jeeps and private vehicles. This sector is growing consistently while the long-distance sector is shrinking.

Mukas Port ©Raymond Lapus

For the present, the sector of RORO liners is in crisis. Only ten long-distance RORO liners are left sailing in the country as of now.

The overnight RORO ferry sector is yet unaffected. The only affected portion of this is the companies with routes to Mindoro and Romblon.

The ROROs have eclipsed the cruisers. But the growth sectors now are the short-distance and overnight ferry sectors of the ROROs.