The Unique Nasipit Port and Bay

Nasipit is the main port of Agusan after the Butuan ports (Butuan and Lumbocon) lost that status because the ships no longer came. That was because of the siltation of Agusan River and the general increase in the size and depths of the ships. Nasipit port is unique in topographic sense. It is located in a nearly enclosed bay which looks like a pond. Two enclosing spits of land nearly closes the outlet of the bay. As such Nasipit port is probably the most protected port in the Philippines. But it is deep enough that 160-meter ferries used to dock before in Nasipit. Those were great liners Princess of Paradise of Sulpicio Lines Inc. and the Our Lady of Akita of Carlos A. Gothong Lines Inc. which later became the SuperFerry 6 of WG&A.

13582793575_80d2a01e29_z

Photo by Janjan Salas

The very small Nasipit Bay was once the home of the famed Nasipit Lumber Inc. which used to produce veneer, plywood and other types of processed wood products. The plant of the company was once the original user of that bay and the bay also served as the stocking pond of their logs and their wharf inside the bay was where the cargo ships loading their products once docked. Nasipit port was built adjacent to Nasipit Lumber with the latter nearer the entrance of the bay. Nasipit Lumber has closed long ago when logs and lumber became scarce and new rules protecting the ancestral domain were drawn. Now that plant is even gone now including the buildings. What remained are some the concrete floors and just parts of their old wharf.

5869029452_8b7a15b908_z

The former location of Nasipit Lumber

Now the permanent resident of the bay is the power barge of Therma Marine Inc., an Aboitiz Power Corporation subsidiary and this is located in the inner part of the nearly-enclosed bay. Also in Nasipit Bay, inside the port is the Port Maritime Office (PMO) of the Philippine Ports Authority (PPA) which is in charge of all the ports in the Caraga Region. The manager of it and the employees wants it transferred to Butuan, however, because it is there that where most of them live. I don’t know if that will push through. Nasipit Bay is also home to swirling rains I have not observed anywhere else and maybe that is due to the peculiar topography of the Nasipit inlet which are surrounded by high hills in a particular way.

5868481857_8bbd5c920b_z

The power barge of Therma South

Nasipit port is a straight quay where the middle it was broken by a slanted RORO ramp which is just a recent alteration. In the inner end smaller ships like tugs and Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) patrol boats are docked. There is a transit shed for cargo and a passenger waiting area in the port terminal building. Docking for big ships is a precise maneuver inside the Nasipit inlet as the bay is very small and there are shallow portions and it is especially dangerous when it is low tide. However, there are not s to contend unlike in the exposed ports.

9430703214_b479cfc344_z

Nasipit port has been the port of passenger ships for a long time now not because it is convenient or near the city (it is actually out of the way and relatively far from the town and highway). The change happened in the 1970’s when the ports of Butuan became shallower because of siltation and there was lack of dredging (the results of which are often just undone by raging annual floods of the great Agusan River). By the 1980’s, Nasipit port has already supplanted the Butuan ports especially since the shallow-draft ex-”FS” ships were already dying from old age and the replacements of that type were already bigger. However, even though the ports have changed many passenger shipping companies still used the name “Butuan Port” when actually they were already docking and using Nasipit port and this entailed confusion to the uninitiated including land-bound researchers doing shipping studies.

There were passenger vessels which did both the Butuan and Nasipit ports. They just gave up on Butuan port when docking there became much dependent on high tide (and risk waiting until noon at times when this would already jeopardize departure time because loading and unloading using booms and porters is slow). One example of this were the former “FS” ships of the Bisaya Land Transport Company of the Cuencos of Cebu (no typo there, that is the actual name of a shipping company which is a division of their land transport). When they find it impossible to dock in Butuan, they then proceed to Nasipit port (to the complain of many passengers).

13888406256_705b66982b_b

The MV Samar of Compania Maritima (Credits to Philippine Herald and Gorio Belen)

Compania Maritima, the leading shipping company after the Pacific War was one of the earliest to use Nasipit port. Their passenger-cargo ship Samar which is the bigger type of US war-surplus ship used to dock in Nasipit port. That was also true for their passenger-cargo ship Mactan which was in the 80-meter class and whose depth is two meters over the depth of an ex-”FS” ship, the last type of passenger ship that can be shoehorned in the shallow Butuan ports. Their Mindoro and Romblon, both converted ex-”FS” ship docked at both Butuan and Nasipit ports (and maybe that is to increase the passengers and cargo). Their Panay, a bigger ship docked at Nasipit when it can’t in Butuan. Later, even their ex-”FS” ship Leyte was calling exclusively in Nasipit port. Compania Maritima was the first to dominate Nasipit port when the Chinoy shipping companies were just on their way up and not calling on Nasipit port. In the main they came to Nasipit port when Compania Maritima was already gone.

10571613745_fc068bcdcf_h

The MV Panay of Compania Maritima (Credits to Philippine Herald and Gorio Belen)

Some actually just gave up on the Agusan trade when their ships can no longer dock in Butuan and they did not really try to earnestly use Nasipit port like Escano Lines which used to be strong in Butuan. Well, it must have been frustrating for them when the ship can’t dock after a few hours of waiting and then would have to go to Nasipit port anyway to load and unload. Moreover, the floods of Agusan River that happen many months of the year with its floating logs and other debris which can damage the ship propellers and rudders also added to the vagaries in docking in Butuan.

By the 1980’s the passenger ship calls on Nasipit, Butuan and Surigao which are all connected ports went down considerably. There was a big, general downturn in the economy because of economic crisis and container ships began supplanting the passenger-cargo ships in carrying cargo (where before this type carried a lot of the express cargo that are not in bulk or liquid). These new container ships cannot fit in the Butuan ports. However, few of them are coming in Butuan anyway. Another thing, the cargo ace of Nasipit before which were the forest products began slumping as the forest cover was fast going down and it raised a howl and therefore restrictions on logging were placed by the new Aquino administration.

Surigao Princess

The pocket liner Surigao Princess (Photo by Edison Sy)

At the tail end of the Compania Maritima dominance a new liner was calling in Nasipit, the Surigao Princess of Sulpicio Lines which was a pocket liner. In the post-martial law period the Our Lady of Guadalupe of Carlos A. Gothong Lines, Inc. (CAGLI) came. And so these two liners succeeded Compania Maritima were gone as the company went out of business at the height of the political and economic crisis of the mid-1980’s. Soon, the better Our Lady of Lourdes of CAGLI replaced the Our Lady of Guadalupe in that route. In 1988, the big Nasipit Princess of Sulpicio Lines began calling in Nasipit port. But her route was mainly Cebu only as it was still Surigao Princess that was the liner there of Sulpicio Lines Inc. And, the Dona Lili of Gothong was also sailing from Nasipit to Cebu.

8094855421_e052389270_z

The Nasipit Princess by Suro Yan

William Lines, Lorenzo Shipping Corporation and Negros Navigation Company, among the great survivors of the crisis of the 1980’s did not have Nasipit among their ports of call when the 1990’s started. Escano Lines will soon be leaving passenger shipping as well as Bisaya Land Transport. Aboitiz Shipping Corporation is also much-weakened in passenger shipping then as they did not buy liners for 15 long years (however, the will be back with a flash with their SuperFerry series and the were strong in container shipping)

It was Carlos A. Gothong Lines and Sulpicio Lines which were competing in Nasipit port in the 1990’s both in the liner route to Manila and the overnight route to Cebu. Although Nasipit was no longer as grand a destination like when Butuan still had a lot of ships calling, the two companies brought some great liners in Nasipit port like the Our Lady of Akita and the Princess of Paradise and what a show of confidence it was for Nasipit port. That was the heyday of competition when there was much optimism in business and the shipping liberalization and modernization policies of the administration of Fidel V. Ramos (FVR) took effect. A little before the “Great Merger” William Lines will also enter Nasipit port with their liner Mabuhay 2.

8568077262_d819b8c503_z

The Our Lady of Akita (Credits to Manila Chronicle and Gorio Belen)

When the Great Merger that produced the giant shipping company WG&A came there was a plethora of ever-changing ships that got assigned to Nasipit port unlike in the past when a ferry will hold a route for a decade or even longer. In WG&A, routes and route assignments happen at least once a year and so tracking of ships that served a port became difficult. However, Nasipit was a regular route of the company. That liberalization of FVR also brought the expanding Negros Navigation Company (NENACO) to Nasipit where they used their beautiful St. Francis of Assisi. Unfortunately, that liner burned right in Nasipit quay not long after in 1999 which resulted in the destruction of the ship. The revived Carlos A. Gothong Lines Inc. (CAGLI) also tried the Manila to Nasipit liner route before it just became a Cargo RORO route when they got suspended from passenger shipping. Nasipit still has lots of load, no longer forest products but bananas.

24765782775_ac83aa4215_z(1)

The Our Lady of Lourdes by Chief Ray Smith

With the “Great Merger” and the creation of Visayas-Mindanao subsidiary Cebu Ferries Corporation (CFC), that company also paraded a succession of ships in Nasipit port that is bound to Cebu on an overnight route. It began from the old Our Lady of Lourdes and it ended with Cebu Ferry 2 when CFC was already under the Aboitiz Transport System (ATS), the successor company of WG&A. Sulpicio Lines, their only competitor in the overnight route brought the Cagayan Princess in Nasipit when the Nasipit Princess can no longer sail. This was later followed by the much-better Princess of the Earth. And for a while, the Gothong Southern Shipping Lines Inc. (GSSLI) brought their Dona Rita Sr. to Nasipit port after they acquired the Our Lady of Good Voyage of Cebu Ferries.

9369226726_929cf1e87e_z

Filipinas Butuan in Nasipit port

The port has also a link to Jagna port in Bohol as service to the Bol-anons residing in Mindanao. Usually the Cebu-Nasipit ship of a company will do a once a week call to Jagna on their seventh day and the ship will go back to Nasipit within that seventh day and then resume their route to Cebu.

This decade saw a great downturn for Nasipit in sailing ships. There was only one liner left doing a once a week voyage to Manila and this was usually the St. Leo The Great of 2GO. Sulpicio Lines quit passenger sailing and Gothong Southern also gave up that segment. Even Cebu Ferries quit the Nasipit overnight route to Cebu when they transferred their ships to Batangas.

37240182311_cd1900349a_z

The St. Leo The Great

Now, a completely new cast is in Nasipit port headed by Cokaliong Shipping Lines Inc. (CSLI) which use either their Filipinas Butuan or Filipinas Iligan in the Cebu to Nasipit overnight route with an off day diversion to Jagna. Lite Ferries also has a Nasipit to Jagna ship on the stronger months for sailing but there is no permanently assigned ship. 2GO still has that once a week liner from Manila. Nasipit is not a favorite of container ships except for Carlos A. Gothong Lines.

Passenger shipping which is down already ia affected by the intermodal buses and the budget airlines, both of which offer competitive fares compared to ships and with the advantage of daily departures. Nasipit is also not helped by it being out of the way from the city and the municipality’s policy of barring the buses and commuter vans from the port doesn’t help the case of Nasipit port either in attracting passengers who are turned off the expensive and very cramped tricycle ride which is also vulnerable from the rains driven by the swirling winds of Nasipit inlet.

22920204925_c41e0d60f7_z

The legendary white-out of Nasipit port

I wonder when and how Nasipit port will have a renaissance. Somehow, some day, I just hope that it will come.

Advertisements

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.

8693155098_4935c0d8e5_z

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).

6724442623_7639c25a11_z.jpg

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.

4123278797_ba57bef558_z.jpg

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.

6792040358_c66f0c3602_b

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.

from-wilben-santos

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.

6556396827_19cc84b8c7_b

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.

The Other Passenger Ships Built in 1967 That Came to the Philippines

There were other ships built in 1967 that also came to the Philippines. Their number is about the same as those still existing until now. If they are gone now it is not because they sank or was lost (except for a few). Most of the reasons why they are gone circles around the situation that they were no longer wanted and there were no other takers. Sometimes that is just the simple reason why ships including ferries are retired, disposed off and broken up.

All of these ferries were built abroad and there were no local-builds (it looks like shipping companies hold on longer to the ships that they built). Some of these were gone even before the turn of the millennium but then they still they lasted more than 30 years of service. So, here then are the passenger ships built in 1967 that came to our country but are no longer around.

Maybe we should start with the grandest of them all, the cruise ship Dona Montserrat of Negros Navigation Company which came in late 1974 but unfortunately she did not last long. She was a fine ship, no doubt, but it seems she was way ahead of her time as most Filipinos don’t have enough money yet for cruises and if they have they would rather go on trips abroad ait is more sosyal. But then Dona Montserrat had voyages even to Hongkong too. Negros Navigation Company bought this cruise ship for $3.4M, a big sum in those days.

DONA MONTSERRAT

Dona Montserrat by Dimas Almada

The Dona Montserrat was originally the Cabo Izarra and built by SECN (Navantia Carenas) in Matagorda, Spain for Ybarra Line. She was a cruiser ship with three passenger decks and with all the amenities of a cruise ship of her size during her period. These included 110 staterooms for 273 passengers, dining salon with international and Filipino cuisine, main lounge, penthouse, library, game room, swimming pool and bars. The ship was fully air-conditioned, fully carpeted and she had a well-equipped galley. Music (as in a band) and entertainment nightly was available in Dona Montserrat. The primary route of this cruise ship was Manila-Corregidor-Iloilo-Zamboanga-Davao aside from cruises to special destinations like Sicogon island and Hongkong.

This cruise ship measured 104.9 meters Length by 15.8 meters Breadth by 10.3 meters Depth, a Depth which means she is a stable ship. Her Gross Register Tonnage was 4,339 tons and her Net Register Tonnage was 1,675 tons. She was powered by two B&W engines developing 7,800 horsepower giving her a top sustained speed of 19.5 knots. So during her time she was the passenger ship with the highest power sailing in the country and in terms of size she was about equal to the bigger fast cruiser liners that arrived in the country in the latter half of the 1970’s.

In less than 5 years, however, Dona Montserrat quit sailing and she was sold to China where she was used a cruise ship.

The next ship in this list was also a cruise ship but she came later, in 1999, but was more successful and was also built in Spain. She was the Coco Explorer No.1 of Coco Explorer Inc. She was more successful maybe because she was able to attract foreign tourists who wanted to explore our hidden coves and islands, do diving tours and being smaller and of shallower draft she was more fit in this role.

COCO EXPLORER - COCO CRUISES

Coco Explorer No.1 by Dimas Almada

The Coco Explorer No.1 was the former Sta. Maria de la Caridad and she was built by Union Levante in Valencia, Spain. This cruise ship measures only 66.9 meters by 11.0 meters by 5.1 meters and her Gross Tonnage is only 1,199 and her Net Tonnage is only 562. In size she is just like many of the Cebu to Leyte overnight ferries but she is not as tall. This ship was powered by MWM engines of 2,000 horsepower total and her design speed was 15 knots. The Coco Explorer No.1 was a cruiser ship.

In 2005, the Coco Explorer No.1 was sold to China for breaking up. Maybe age caught up with her and there was already competition by smaller tour-dive ships in the waters she used to go which was mainly in the direction of Palawan. Moreover, the places which were her haunts were already accessible by other means and there were already facilities like resorts and hotels.

The next ship on this list was a beautiful ship and once was a flagship of Negros Navigation Company which was the Don Julio. This ferry was built brand-new for Nenaco by Maizuru Heavy Industries in Maizuru Japan. She measured 95.7 meters by 13.9 meters by 7.5 meters with a Gross Tonnage of 2,381 and a Net Tonnage of 1,111. Her later passenger capacity was 994 with accommodations from Suite to Economy classes. The Don Julio was a cruiser ship where cargo was handled by a boom in the bow which meant slow cargo handling. Cruiser ships also have less cargo capacity compared to RORO ferries. And maybe these were the reasons why she fell into disfavor later in the company.

4060602632_571e84bf15_z

Don Julio by John Ward

The ship has a single Hitachi engine of 4,400 horsepower and her sustained top speed was 17.5 knots qualifying her as a fast cruiser liner of her era. Her main routes were to Iloilo and Bacolod but when she got old and bigger ships came along she was shunted to minor routes like Roxas City. Later, when she can no longer be accommodated in the fleet of Negros Navigation she was transferred to Jensen Shipping and among the routes of the company was Cebu to Iloilo. Later, this ship disappeared without trace and not because she sank. It was simply that databases lost track of her. It was sad because the person after she was named, Congressman Julio Ledesma IV was interested in buying her for posterity.

The Don Julio was a sister ship of the Dona Florentina and the Don Juan, both of Negros Navigation Company and the Cebu City of William Lines, all of which became flagships of their fleets one time or another. Now, that is a distinguised company.

The next ship on this list should be the Iligan City of William Lines which later became the Sampaguita Ferry 3 of Sampaguita Shipping Corporation of Zamboanga City. Originally, this ship was Amami Maru of Amami Kaiun of Japan. She was built by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries in Shimoneseki, Japan and her external measurements were 83.1 meters by 12.0 meters by 4.5 meters. Her Gross Tonnage was 1,512 and her Net Tonnage was 562 and her passenger capacity was 635 persons. She was equipped with a single Mitsubishi engine of 3,800 horsepower which gave her a sustained top speed of 17 knots.

This ship was a cruiser ship and thus she had the same disadvantages of the Don Julio when the RORO ferries came. She was mainly fielded by William Lines in the Cebu-Iligan route and she stayed there until the merger which created WG&A in 1996. She was then transferred to the WG&A subsidiary Cebu Ferries Corporation where she was tried in the Cebu-Roxas City route and other routes. She was not successful and she was one of the ships offered for sale by Cebu Ferries Corporation immediately. By then she was no longer a satisfactory ship as her passenger accommodations were already tiny compared to the current standards of the times then.

In 1997, Iligan City was purchased by Sampaguita Shipping Corporation of Zamboanga City where unmodified she became the Sampaguita Ferry 3. During that time Sampaguita Shipping was building up its fleet to have modern and comfortable overnight ferries for its long routes using bank loans. They also used the abbreviation “SF”, a takeoff from the SF SuperFerry as in they are the SuperFerry of Zamboanga. Well, they even built a modern terminal a la SuperFerry near the entrance of Zamboanga port.

However, Sampaguita Shipping was hit by bad timing because soon the highways out of Zamboanga City became paved and they eventually lost to the buses. Competition also became very tight in Zamboanga which was a product of the deregulation policies and incentives laid out by the Ramos Administration. Modern and new High Speed Crafts (HSCs) even came to Zamboanga City like Weesam Express and the fastcrafts of A. Sakaluran. Under the crushing load of its debts, Sampaguita Shipping defaulted, collapsed and ceased operations. The last heard of Sampaguita Ferry 3 was she was sold to the breakers.

We will then come to three overnight ferries that first came to Carlos A. Gothong Lines Incorporated (CAGLI) locally. The first was the Dona Lili which was very well-known in the Cebu-Nasipit route battling the big Nasipit Princess of Sulpicio Lines. This ship was built in Japan as the Seiran Maru by Taguma Shipbuilding & Engineering Corporation in their Innoshima yard. And in 1980 this ferry came to CAGLI as one of the earliest RORO ships of the company and in the archipelago.

The Dona Lili had the external measurements 69.0 meters by 12.0 meters by 4.5 meters. Her Gross Register Tonnage in Japan was 856 tons and in conversion here to Gross Tonnage the figure was left unchanged. The ship’s Net Tonnage was 448 and her passenger capacity was 732 persons. The Dona Lili was powered by two Daihatsu marine engines with a total of 2,600 horsepower and her sustained top speed when still new was 15.5 knots. In size, she is just like the Cebu to Leyte overnight ferries of today.

6556396827_19cc84b8c7_z

Credits to PDI and Gorio Belen

When the merger that resulted in WG&A came she was transferred to its subsidiary Cebu Ferries Corporation and in this company she was assigned the Cebu-Tacloban route with also a route to Camiguin. But when Cebu Ferries Corporation dropped its Tacloban route because it was losing to the shorter Ormoc route, it seems Dona Lili did not sail again. By that time Cebu Ferries had an excess of ships because they already dropped a third or more of its former routes and so the older and smaller ferries especially the cruisers had nowhere to go especially since WG&A can drop former liners to Cebu Ferries. With that situation, Dona Lili dropped from sight never to be seen again and not because she sank.

The next ferry that came to Carlos A. Gothong Lines Inc. was their second Don Benjamin (they had an earlier Don Benjamin which was a former “FS” ship) which arrived in 1982. This is a ship that served their Iligan and Ozamis overnight routes for them from Cebu but this ship only lasted until just before the mid-1990’s because of engine issues.

The second Don Benjamin was the former Shin Kanaya Maru in Japan and she was built by the Shimoda Dockyard in Shimoda, Japan. This ship measured 61.0 meters by 13.7 meters by 2.9 meters and in Japan her Gross Register Tonnage was 877 tons. Locally her Gross Tonnage was just 685 and her Net Tonnage was just 268 both of which looks suspiciously low. The second Don Benjamin was a smaller ship than Dona Lili.

Don Benjamin

Don Benjamin partially scrapped by Edison Sy

The Don Benjamin was powered by a single Nippon Hatsudoki engine, a generic Japan engine of 2,550 horsepower. That was good for a sustained top speed of 15 knots. However, her engine seems to be the reason for her undoing as Hatsudoki engines are not long lasting and even early in the 1990’s she was already plagued by unreliability. When the new ship Our Lady of Naju came for Carlos A. Gothong Lines in 1994, she was sent to a Navotas breaker. During those times, re-engining then was not yet common. She was a rare ferry that did not last 30 years in service.

The third ferry from Carlos A. Gothong Lines Inc. was the Dona Casandra, a ship that came also in 1982. She was built as the Mishima in Japan by Hashihama Zosen in Hashihama yard. This ship had the measurements 53.8 meters by 11.0 meters by 3.7 meters, dimensions which were less than the war-surplus “FS” ships. Her Japan Gross Register Tonnage was 487 tons. What I find suspicious in her specifications was her Deadweight Tonnage (DWT) which was only 180 tons in Japan. Was she meant to just carry a few sedans and light trucks?

6835868211_3e6c62cf71_z

Dona Casandra (Credits to Times Journal and Gorio Belen)

Here, after addition of more metal and passenger accommodations her Gross Tonnage rose to 682 but I was not able to obtain her Net Tonnage. The declared passenger capacity of the ferry was 650 persons. The Dona Casandra was powered by two Daihatsu marine engines with a total of 2,000 horsepower and her design speed was 14 knots.

The Dona Casandra did not last long in service because once in a voyage from Butuan to Cebu she foundered on November 21, 1983 in a rough Mindanao Sea experiencing the disturbance of a distant typhoon. She was then carrying lumber aside from passengers. The sinking caused the loss of lives of the bulk of the passengers and crew but the exact number was never established as the ship sank without trace. Was her load to much for her load capacity in DWT and in a rough sea and considering she has added metal to her structure?

The Lorenzo Shipping Corporation also had ships in this list which are about the same size as the mentioned ships of Gothong Lines (once from 1972 to 1979 the two had combined operations). Lorenzo Shipping once was also in passenger shipping and it was even in liner operations albeit not in high profile but later they quit passenger shipping to become an all-cargo operation and maybe that is why many people can’t connect their name to passenger shipping.

The first should be the Dona Okai which was the biggest of the three. This ship was also known as Dona Oka 1 and Don Okai in Lorenzo Shipping. What names! The Dona Okai was paired with another ship of the same size in the fleet of Lorenzo Shipping to do their unique Manila-Dipolog-Zamboanga-Pagadian-Dadiangas route which took nearly two weeks to compete and that is why two ships have to be paired in that route so a weekly schedule can be maintained.

The Dona Okai was originally the Ryoho Maru of the Kashima Kisen K.K. shipping company in Japan. She actually had three owners before coming to the Philippines in 1979. When she was sold to Ebisu Kisen K.K. she was converted into a chemical tanker. When she was sold to Daiei Kaiun K.K. In 1973 she was converted back into cargo ship.

The Dona Okai was a cruiser ship built by the Asakawa Shipbuilding Company in Imabari, Japan. She measured 74.2 meters by 10.5 meters by 5.4 meters. In Japan her Gross Register Tonnage was 1,093 but this rose to 1,173 in the country with a Net Register Tonnage of 780. The ship was equipped with a single Makita engine of 1,500 horsepower which gave her a top speed of 12.5 knots.

In 1992, Lorenzo Shipping sold her into another shipping company. She is now deleted from maritime databases which happens when ten years has passed and there is no further news about the ship. She might be a broken-up ship by now.

1980-2-3 Lorenzo Shipping

Lorenzo Shipping schedule, 2/5/80 (Credits to Times Journal and Gorio Belen

The second ship of Lorenzo Shipping was the Dona Lilian which had the external dimensions of 63.7 meters by 9.6 meters by 4.8 meters and in Japan her Gross Register Tonnage was 753 tons. This ferry was a cruiser ship which arrived in the country in 1978.

The Dona Lilian was the former Seiun Maru No.5 of Tsurumi Kisen K.K. of Japan. She was built by Imabari Zosen in Imabari, Japan. In the Philippines her Gross Register Tonnage remained unchanged and her Net Register Tonnage was 487. She was powered by a single Makita engine of 1,300 horsepower and her sustained top speed was just 11 knots, just about the same as freighters of her size as she is a little low on power.

This Lorenzo ferry held for the company the Iloilo and Pulupandan combined route from Manila and one of the last ferries to sail to Pulupandan as this port can only dock shallow draft vessels then (the reason why when ferries grew in size the route was abandoned). When the company eventually withdrew from the Pulupandan route because it can’t compete with the Negros Navigation ships using Banago port in Bacolod, she found herself on the Davao route. However, on a voyage with two distant typhoons affecting local weather conditions, she foundered in heavy seas off Tandag, Surigao del Sur on December 6, 1982.

Lorenzo Shipping had to other ships in this list, the Don Francisco. This ship was actually the second Don Francisco as there had been an earlier ship by that name in the Lorenzo fleet which was a former “FS” ship converted into passenger-cargo use. When the earlier Don Francisco was lost in the earlier part of the year 1978, this ship came to replace the lost ship in the same year 1978.

The second Don Francisco was first known in Japan as the Zensho Maru of the Marujutoko Unyusoko K.K. shipping company. She was built by the Higaki Shipbuilding Company in Imabari, Japan. Her external dimensions were 53.4 meters by 9.3 meters and her Japan Gross Register Tonnage was 496 and she has a speed of 10.5 knots. In terms of external dimensions, cubic volume and speed, this ship is very much alike the once-dominant former “FS” ships converted into ferry use here. This ship is also a cruiser ship.

The ship shouldered on in various capacity under Lorenzo Shipping until when the company was already taking a step back already from passenger ship (the company later on became an all-cargo company utilizing container ships until she was sold to the Magsaysay Group which continued to use the same name). This ship then disappeared from maritime databases but it is assumed that she did not sink and most likely she had just been quietly scrapped.

Another ship built in 1967 that is no longer around was the former Nadayoshi Maru No.2, a fishing vessel in Japan by Kanasashi Shipbuilding Company in Shizuoka, Japan. In 1974 this ship came into the Philippines and in her first rebuild she was converted into the passenger-cargo ship Gingoog City in 1987 and the name is already suggestive of her route.

In 1991, this ship was sold to the new shipping company Cokaliong Shipping Lines Incorporated (CSLI) which was already expanding their fleet and she became the Filipinas Siargao. This ship measures 49.5 meters by 7.8 meters by 3.6 meters with a Gross Tonnage of 327. Her Net Tonnage of 181 and the passenger capacity is 292 person in bunks as this was an overnight ferry-cruiser. The ship is powered by a single Hanshin engine of 900 horsepower.

8593446482_d29596ce33_z

Filipinas Siargao (Parsed from a framed photo in Cokaliong Tower)

In 1997 the Filipinas Siargao was sold to Ting Guan in Mandaue as scrap because Cokaliong Shipping Lines is already converting to RORO ships. She lasted exactly 30 years.

Another ferry that was built in 1967 that was sold to local breakers under the same conditions in almost the same period but a little later was the beautiful cruiser Sr. San Jose which was even a little bigger than the Filipinas Siargao. The ship was a Cebu to Leyte ferry of the San Juan Shipping of Leyte.

The ship was originally the Tanshu Maru of Kansai Kisen K.K. of Japan. She was built by Hashihama Zosen in Hashihama, Japan. She had three owners in Japan the last of which was the Fukahi Kaiun. The ship had the measurements 54.0 meters by 8.6 meters by 2.3 meters. Her Gross Tonnage was 498 and her Net Tonnage was 185 with a passenger capacity of 558 persons. The Sr. San Jose was powered by a single Akasaka engine of 1,470 horsepower giving her a sustained top speed of 15 knots when new.

The ship together with her company was sold to Lite Ferries in the aftermath of the explosion, burning and sinking of the company’s flagship San Juan Ferry in 2000. When she was sold, Lite Ferries was already fully into ROROs and no further use was needed of her especially since her engines were no longer that good. She was then sold to the breakers.

The next ship on this list is a lost ship but not violently. She was the Princess Camille of the Shipsafe Shipping. The ship had the overnight route Batangas-Romblon but on a voyage on March 21, 2003 she developed a leak in the hull in Romblon port the next day which resulted in her capsizing in the port but her passengers were safe.

sunken ship

Princess Camille remains by Arnel Hutalla

The Princess Camille was the former New Olympia of the Nanbi Kaiun K.K. She was built by the renowned Kanda Shipbuilding Company in Kure, Japan. The measurements of the ship was 39.2 meters by 11.2 meters by 3.4 meters which means she was not a big ferry, just the size of a basic, short-distance ferry-RORO (she is a RORO). Her Gross Tonnage was just 350 and her Net Tonnage was 197. The Princess Camille was equipped with a single Daihatsu engine of 900 horsepower and her top speed was 12 knots. The Princess Camille came to the Philippines when she was already 30 years of age. She reached 36 years of sailing.

The ship was no longer salvaged and her company soon collapsed especially since there was very tight competition then in Southern Tagalog shipping.

There are 13 ferries in this list. Three of the 13 were lost at sea .

One thing I can say is if ferries are no longer relevant then they quit sailing and the shipping owners does not need the government to tell them that.

And another thing is if the engine is no longer good and won’t be re-engined anymore then they also send the ships to the breakers and no government order is also needed for that because on their own shipping owners has enough common sense aside from financial sense.

I now leave it to the readers to weigh the careers of these ferries built in 1967 that are no longer around.

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.

1979 Nov Gothong+Lorenzo

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.

1979 Nov Schedules

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).

6611458869_a1c9d7887d_z

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.

6832018464_4cefc1bb4b_h

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.

6556396827_19cc84b8c7_z

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.

6724442623_7639c25a11_z

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.

Don Benjamin

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).

6746435969_a53df55533_o

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.