The 150-meter RORO Liner Class Might Not Really Have Been Fit For Philippine Waters

When the Filipina Princess of Sulpicio Lines, all of 180 meters length arrived in our shores in 1988 it was really a wow! moment. There has never been a liner really like her before and she beat the 4,000 plus gross tons ships, the biggest liners then by a wide mile by her 13,500 gross tonnage. In length she was about 50 meters longer than the previous record holder, the Dona Virginia of William Lines. And she was no slouch, not the slightest bit as she can sail at 26 knots full trot and thereby smashing to smithereens the old record of 20 knots variously run by Sweet Faith, Cebu City and Dona Virginia.

I mentioned Filipina Princess not because she was a 150-meter RORO liner but because I think she was one seminal reason why the greatest liner class appeared in Philippine waters and these were the 160-meter and over liners. To a sense the lesser class of 150-meter liners was a consolation class since 160-meter liners are rare and easier to procure were the 150-meter liners. The Filipina Princess “pushed the boundary” and combined with the reasons of pride, one-upmanship and bragging rights, the other shipping companies felt the pressure to match her. And soon shipping companies serving the Manila-Cebu route had the greatest of our liners in the 160-meter class and over.

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One effect of that is the thought that 150-meter RORO liners are “fit” to serve the main secondary routes and ports like Iloilo, Cagayan de Oro, Zamboanga, General Santos City and Davao. And therein lies my question. This might have been true when we lacked liners in the second half of the 1980’s and first half of 1990’s. This was the time when demand and travel was going up since our economy was recovering from the greatest economic crisis since World War II. And this came from the deadly-for-shipping decade of the 1980’s (specifically its first half) when a lot of liner companies went under and we consequently lost a lot of liners. Add to that that the former backbone of our liner fleet, the ex-”FS” ships were going one by one to the breakers as they have already hit 40 years of service and were already clearly obsolete and having reliability problems already.

Our first response then was to acquire liners in the 100-meter and 110-meter class. Many of the latter actually were maxed in passenger capacity up to 2,000 persons and over and it can fill it then for simply there was really a lot of passengers as our liner companies and liners were practically halved if compared to the baseline year of 1980. So then getting 120-meter, 130-meter and 140-meter liners in the early 1990’s was understandable. The passenger capacity did not really increase by much in these liners but the available passenger areas definitely increased along with the amenities that soon they were marketing these as “floating hotels” and Aboitiz Shipping Corporation even have the position “Hotel Manager” aboard the ship, a professional one and not really a mariner. The “Hotel Manager” was in charge of all things related to serving passengers from the cabins to the bunks and “beddings” down to F&B (food and beverage) and the general cleanliness of the ship including the T&B (toilet and bath). Once upon a time that job when it was still simple was just handled by the ship Purser who also purchase the goods needed by the ship but when the “floating hotels” came that was centrally purchased already and needs of the ship was just replenished in port and decided by a shore-based shipping department which were not mariners in general. This time graduates of hotel and restaurant management were beginning to penetrate the liner industry and more and more passenger service were no longer the responsibility of what was derisively called as “mga tagamasahe ng bakal” (literally, “masseurs of steel”).

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Hotel Manager’s office

A 135-meter or 140-meter ship was already capable of accommodating over 2,000 passengers plus about 100 TEUs of container vans. Wasn’t that enough as capacity for the secondary liner ports? Well, apparently the shipping companies did not think so. Not maybe out of capacity but out of speed. You see, in the main, the 130-meter and 140-meter liners were only capable of sustained cruising speeds here of 17.5 to 18 knots. In the main too, it was only the 150-meter, 20,000-horsepower liners which were capable of 20 knots sustained. That time with the fetish on speed when the fuel was not still that expensive (there was no 9-11 World Trade Tower attack yet which provoked the unending wars of the USA in the Middle East and Afghanistan which raised fuel prices), it is as if 20 knots is already de regueur on the primary and secondary routes. 130-meter and 140-meter liners (and some 120-meter liners too) generally has only 13,500 to 16,800 horsepower so they can’t really run at 20 knots. If there were 120-meter, 130-meter and 140-meter RORO liners also capable of 20 knots the reason is because they have engines of 20,000 horsepower too. Examples of these were the SuperFerry 1, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Ezekiel Moreno, Princess of the Ocean and the Our Lady of Lipa. It is really the total horsepower that produces the speed.

Then from 1995, when the liberalization and ship importation program of President Fidel V. Ramos was already in full swing, a lot of 150-meter, 20,000-horsepower RORO liners and over came and it went on up to the next decade. And the tail end of this binge was the arrival of the four sister ships which became locally known as SuperFerry 20, SuperFerry 21, St. Michael The Archangel and St. Francis Xavier which were 150.9 meters in length and equipped with 25,200-horsepower engines and capable of cruising speeds of 20 knots here except for the St. Michael The Archangel. But were they really necessary?

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St. Michael The Archangel by Jonathan Bordon

The answer might not lie in Sulpicio Lines. They acquired their last liner in 2004, the Princess of the Stars, the biggest-ever ferry to sail here but she was just a statement of the company that they want the biggest and the best liner for maybe the replacement Princess of the Universe to the lost Princess of the Orient was not good enough to be the absolute best, a distinction Sulpicio Lines really wants for themselves alone. Previous to this their last purchase was the Princess of New Unity in 1999. In this ship and the Princess of the Stars, Sulpicio Lines did not try to max the passenger capacity any longer and both were sub-2,000 passengers in capacity. It seems Sulpicio Lines read earlier than the other shipping companies the weakening of passenger demand with the coming of the budget airlines and intermodal buses. But they were strong in cargo which was really where the bulk of the income of the liner companies come from. Imagine a revenue of P17,000 from a 20-footer to Davao in 1995 when an Economy accommodation only gives them about P850 and they still have to provide three square meals a day for at least two-and-a-half days, bunks, hotel services and security to the passengers while they only have to lift and roll the container vans.

Negros Navigation’s purchase of 150-meter RORO liners also did not last long because they soon found themselves with more ships than routes and passengers. It was actually WG&A and later Aboitiz Transport System which purchased many 150-meter (and over) RORO liners. It is from them that one will think that liners below 150 meters are already passe but it seemed they never knew that.

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SuperFerry 15 by ‘superferry crew’

In the early 2000’s Aboitiz Transport System (ATS) also felt passenger demand on liners were already weakening. That is why with the acquisition of the SuperFerry 15, SuperFerry 16, SuperFerry 17 and SuperFerry 18 they did not try anymore to max the passenger capacity and instead they let it that TEU capacity is high with the creation of two-level wagon decks as they called them. Aboitiz Transport System was then stressing express cargo and it was the SuperFerry liners that can fill that role and not their container ships which can sail at barely over half the speed of the SuperFerries. Their system was so good that forwarder companies like LBC was using their container vans to move parcels and cargo that were declared as “air cargo” and charged as such (well, they also roll express vans – trucks that roll in the road, that is). With their reliance on SuperFerries, WG&A, the predecessor company of ATS did not invest anymore in newer container ships. What it did was actually to sell their better container ships and so the SuperRORO series of container ships became history.

So WG&A and Aboitiz Transport System (successor company to WG&A) continued to acquire 150-meter RORO liners when ship passenger ridership was already weakening. They might have reason — the express container van trade. But mind you, the freight rates of WG&A and Aboitiz Transport System was actually higher than competition for they can promise shorter delivery time and short enough for forwarder companies with express parcel services to use and deceive customers. It were no longer the passengers the reason for this but the cargo.

When Aboitiz Transport System opportunistically sold SuperFerry 15, SuperFerry 16, SuperFerry 17 and SuperFerry 18 when ship prices were high suddenly, Aboitiz Transport System then had to charter container ships (which can’t run 20 knots) and converted three of their other liners to have two wagon decks, the SuperFerry 2, SuperFerry 9 and SuperFerry 12 and so their passenger capacities were also halved (actually more than halved) along with the passenger amenities and space. By this time Negros Navigation was into a court-administered recovery program and just running a few liners after their bout of illiquidity and soon Sulpicio Lines was practically out of passenger shipping along with the revived Carlos A. Gothong Lines Inc. (CAGLI), MBRS Lines and Moreta Shipping. Aboitiz Transport System had the narrowing (not wide) liner shipping industry practically for themselves except for some resistance from Negros Navigation.

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St. Francis Xavier by John Carlos Cabanillas

Now 2GO, the merger of ATS and Negros Navigation which happened when the latter bought out the former, operates an all-150 meter and 160-meter liner fleet after they sold their older liners (and there is no other liner company left). All can sail at 20 knots or close to 20 knots if needed except one plus the former Cebu Ferries overnight ships which are just used on short routes. Even with passenger capacity of just over 1,000 on the average most of the time they can’t fully fill up these 150-meter liners and nor in cargo as their second wagon decks are practically empty most times except for a few sedans.

If they operate these 150-meter liners on smaller cities and ports it will result in operational losses and that is the reason why they pulled out of lesser ports like Surigao, Tagbilaran, Dapitan, etc. The 150-meter liners were too big for them and they can’t assign the former Cebu Ferries vessels there because they are too small, the distances are too great and they lack the speed of liners and are better suited to the routes they are currently assigned to. That is the disadvantage of 2GO not having liners in intermediate range like the 120- or 130-meter liners before. And that is the misfortune of passengers and shippers in the lesser cities and ports. They now have to have alternate ways to travel or ship and they were given free by ATS and 2GO to the budget airlines and intermodal buses and trucks. Otherwise, some became passengers of the overnight ships and the short-distance ROROs for a connecting voyage to Cebu.

I wonder why 2GO kept on insisting on 150-meter liners with two cargo decks which they can’t fill. They are basically paying the penalty of the 25,000 horsepower of these ships when they can’t also fill the passenger bunks. 2GO can’t even cite the speed of these ships now because their voyages are almost always late in departures as they give priority to cargo and their cargo handling in port is no longer as fast as before and they are a little fond of midnight cargo handling where operations are more dangerous and slower.

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Panglao Bay 1 by Mark Ocul

Can’t they see that their 150-meter liners with such gross horsepowers are passe already? Those are no longer fit for the times, in my eyes. Moving 1,000 plus passengers can be done by lesser liners as shown before with maybe just half of the 25,000 horsepowers of the 150-meter liners. With more modern transmission, 10,000 horsepower engines will already do now and its speeds will just equal the 18 knots these 150-meter liners are doing now. In my mind, the Panglao Bay 1 and Dapitan Bay 1, new Cargo RORO ships of Carlos A. Gothong Lines Inc. would have been fit if employed by 2GO and modified like the coming third Trans-Asia (1) of Trans-Asia Shipping Lines, Inc.

I just hope the coming new management of 2GO (I can’t discuss any other liner company as they are the only surviving now) will focus well on their liner need and come up with better-fitting liners and with a mix that will make them cover more ports and routes and in a more efficient manner.

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The San Lorenzo Ruiz of Negros Navigation

This article is about the liner San Lorenzo Ruiz of Negros Navigation and not the short-distance ferry-RORO of Viva Shipping Lines of Batangas. It was just a wonder from me how come MARINA allowed the use of the same name for two different ROROs when that is not normally allowed. And so because of that some people became confused especially if they have not seen the two liners. Actually one won’t see them at the same time because they have different ports of calls and routes. The nearest the two will be near each other was if they were at the same time in Verde Island Passage between Batangas and Mindoro when they are crossing each other’s path as the Viva Shipping Lines vessel is a Batangas to Mindoro ferry and the Negros Navigation ferry uses the strait on the way to the Visayas and Mindanao.

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The San Lorenzo Ruiz by Marlon Griego and Nowell Alcancia

The San Lorenzo Ruiz is one liner I like for its economical design because it is much like the SuperFerry 2, SuperFerry 5, Mabuhay 2, Princess of the Pacific, Princess of the South, Our Lady of Banneux and Cagayan Bay 1. The class they are in have the length of between 128 to 143 meters (or roughly the 130-meter class) with engines between 15,000 to 16,000 horsepower and with a design speed of about 20 knots and a local speed here of about 18 knots after the addition of metal in the superstructure and the passing of nearly two decades of service. This class has the capacity of some 100 TEUs of container vans which is about enough for the local routes. The class’ speed, capacity and amenities are adequate too for a liner and passenger accommodations don’t have to be so maximized unlike the 110-meter liners. This class has definitely more speed too than that class although they don’t have the 20 knots here of the 150-meter liners with 20,000 horsepower engines but their fuel consumption is definitely less. This class is actually what is perfect for the routes that are not serving Cebu, the country’s premier city and port south of Manila.

The speed differential between an 18-knot liner and a 20-knot liner is really not that great. Going to Cebu and rounding the eastern side of Mactan island, the latter will have a transit time of 21 hours and the former will have a transit time of about 22 hours. At 17.5 knots, the SuperFerry 2 and SuperFerry 5 also can do it in 22 hours because they need not use the eastern seaboard of Mactan for the reason that they can pass under the two Mactan bridges because they have folding stern masts. To me it was even a puzzle why so many of our liners were in the 150-meter class with 20,000 or so horsepower and 20 knots. In terms of container capacity the difference is not great since their breadth is just about the same of the 130-140 meter lines. But 15,000 to 16,000 horsepower is much less than 20,000 to 22,000 horsepower in terms of fuel consumption. Well, actually at the height of fuel prices a few years ago the 2GO itself downgraded the engine speeds and consequently the ferries’ speed to save on fuel. Few really run at 20 knots nowadays and that just proves that 20 knots was really never necessary.

The ROPAX ship San Lorenzo Ruiz of Negros Navigation was built by Nipponkai Heavy Industries Co. in Toyama, Japan in 1973 as the Al Nasl of the Taiheiyo Enkai Ferry KK of Nagoya, Japan with the IMO Number 7302093. The ship was 132.1 meters in length over-all with a length between perpendiculars of 124.0 meters. Her breadth was 22.7 meters with an original gross register tonnage (GRT) of 6,844 tons and an original deadweight tonnage (DWT) of 2,480 tons. The ferry was powered by two IHI (Ishikawa Heavy Industries)-built Pielstick engines developing 8,000 horsepower each for a total of 16,000 horsepower and that gave the ship a design speed of 19.5 knots. Her specifications wer actually very near that of the sister ships SuperFerry 2 and SuperFerry 5 which measured 138.6 meters by 22.1 meters and was powered by two MAN diesels built by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries with a total of 15,200 horsepower and a design speed of 19 knots.

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Ebino of Nippon Car Ferry by ‘hunterdosaemon’

Although twin-engined, the ferry was equipped by a single, center funnel with the stern mast atop it and she had a distinctive bridge that is slanted forward from the top to have a better lower view. She had one full passenger deck plus two passenger-half decks at the front. Al Nasl has a sister ship, the Argo and they sailed the Nagoya-Nachikitsuura-Oita route of Taiheiyo Enkai Ferry, a route from the main island of Honshu to the Kyushu island in the south. In 1976, however, the ship was sold to Nippon Car Ferry and she held the route to Ebino city in Kyushu island and thus she was named as the Ebino. As the ferry to Ebino this ship had a passenger capacity of 695 and about 500 lane-meters in rolling cargo space.

In 1996, the Ebino came to the Philippines to be the San Lorenzo Ruiz with the Mary Queen of Peace, another former Nippon Car Ferry ship. Maybe the connection started with the San Paolo which arrived for Negros Navigation three year earlier and which was another ship from Nippon Car Ferry. In the Philippines, a partial scantling up to the funnel was added in the navigation deck to hold the Economy class. The passenger capacity of the ship in the Philippines was 1,426 persons only as Negros Navigation chose to not massively change the superstructure of the ship anymore. Because many of the Japan features were retained she had the reputation of having good interiors. Of course with 3,911 in net tons she had plenty of space for passengers. However, although scantlings were added the gross tonnage of the ship went down to 6,051 but her deadweight tonnage rose to 2,995 tons. For cargo handling, the ship only had a stern ramp. Many however, said the lines of the ship was beautiful and I agree with that.

The San Lorenzo Ruiz was used by Negros Navigation in opening their Manila-Iloilo-General Santos City-Davao route. In this route she was in competition with the SuperFerry 1/SuperFerry 8/SuperFerry 10 team-up of WG&A which was a mean line-up of former flagships and gives up nothing to her in amenities and facilities but were a little superior to her in speed. They actually share the same route exactly but where the WG&A line-up can do 20 knots the San Lorenzo Ruiz can only do 19 knots at most. But I wonder why in a Negros Navigation advertisement she was declared sailing at 19.5 knots, her design speed. It might have been possible but that means running at 100% engine speed and that is a killer for a 23-year old ship (later she developed a reputation for being “slow”). She had only a declared passenger capacity of 920 passengers in the advertisement (versus the declared 1,426 in MARINA files and a later 1,850 from another source) but her declared cargo capacity was 140 TEU, higher than the normal 130 to 140-meter ROPAX. That means she retained the partial cargo deck at the “B” level supporting the observation that her conversion here was really not much. Probably, the passenger capacity was only right as they were new in the General Santos City and Davao route. On the other, being new the container capacity might have been high. Just the same, her size might have been just perfect in a newly-developed route.

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San Lorenzo Ruiz by Britz Salih

On the Sulpicio Lines side, she was competing with the Princess of the Pacific in the General Santos City route, a ship with almost the same size as her and almost the same horsepower and powered by twin Pielstick engines also. In the Davao route she was up versus the super-big and fast Filipina Princess whose amenities might not as impressive as her being an older ship in terms of fielding here. Like other Negros Navigation ships her higher accommodations have many variations from Suite to Single Suite to Admiral Suite, Deluxe Cabin, Business Class to Tourist Class, Travelers Class and Tatami Class. I like the Tatami Class because I like to sleep on the floor (with mattress) and I can lie with my shoes on and use my knapsack as mattress and not worry about them getting stolen. I hate sleeping in upper bunks and good that the Tatami Class don’t have them.

After two years Negros Navigation withdrew from the Davao route and just used one ship and modified the route of the San Ezekiel Moreno to Manila-Iloilo-Zamboanga-General Santos City-Davao (that ship had a Manila-Iloilo-Zamboanga-General Santos City route before). The San Lorenzo Ruiz then did the Manila-Iloilo-Ozamis-Iligan-Manila route and Manila-Dumaguete-Tagbilaran-Manila route within the same week. I thought this were very good routes for the San Lorenzo Ruiz as it combines near ports without backtracking and two complete voyages are completed in week which means a high efficiency in the use of the ship. But of course, the giant WG&A have heavy presence in those ports of call and Sulpicio Lines is also serving those ports also but the exact routes of the ships of Sulpicio Lines and WG&A varies with that of the San Lorenzo Ruiz. In Iligan and Ozamis, the San Lorenzo Ruiz was up against the SuperFerry 2/SuperFerry 5/SuperFerry 9 team-up of WG&A and all three of those were about the same dimensional size and engine size of her and so it was probably an even match even in amenities. She was also against that team-up in Dumaguete. In the Tagbilaran and Dumaguete combined route she was up against the SuperFerry 3 and she has a big advantage over this ship in speed, in paper as that ship only has 9,300 horsepower in total. In Tagbilaran she was also up against the Our Lady of Sacred Heart and Our Lady of Medjugorje pairing of WG&A and again she had great advantage in speed and even in amenities aside from the space. She was also superior in everything over the Princess of the Caribbean of Sulpicio Lines in Dumaguete and Ozamis (or the Iloilo Princess which subbed in 1998) and much more superior over the old cruiser Dipolog Princess in the Tagbilaran and Iligan route of Sulpicio Lines.

Since the San Lorenzo Ruiz was not competing here versus liners with 20,000 horsepower she then just tried to match the speed of the competition which was about 17.5 knots for the Dumaguete route and 17 knots for the Tagbilaran route and that was probably a wise decision. Versus the smaller ROPAXes of 2GO which has small engines, the SuperFerry 3, Our Lady of Sacred Heart and Our Lady of Medjugorje there was no chance that she can be outsped. I thought then she had a chance in the old Dumaguete-Ozamis-Iligan-Tagbilaran quadrant, a favorite of many ships in the past from the time of ex-”FS” ships and even before. In those routes she was also the local connection of the near islands there.

But then she lost over time. In shipping, it is not just the edge or the parity of the ship that matters. Even more important is the cargo which is the bread and butter of shipping. Now, the old ones also have advantage even in the passengers because of the familiarity including in the schedule. When the new millennium arrived it was already the whole company that was in trouble. They simply had too many ships from loans and there were not enough revenues and the dancing porters and free porterage plus bus links were not enough to do the trick. Soon, Negros Navigation was dropping routes and ports of calls as they found it unprofitable. The time they entered those new routes and ports was the time the country had too many liners, the product of over-expansion during the time of President Fidel V. Ramos who gave incentives for the acquisition of new ship including loans from the then government-owned Philippine National Bank. It was also the time that the true intermodal system, the combination of the long-distance trucks and buses plus the short-distance ferry-ROROs were making great advances and taking away passengers and cargo from the liners. And then there was also the budget airlines which was sucking passengers from the liners as they were already offering fares in parity with the liners.

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The San Lorenzo Ruiz by Rodney Orca

Soon, the liners of Negros Navigation was being garnished by creditors including the Tsuneishi shipyard in Cebu. Manny V. Pangilinan of Metro Pacific and Smart Telecommunications entered as a white knight and infused money and talked to the creditors and a court-mandated rehabilitation program was put in place. One result of the reorganization that ensued was that Negros Navigation was forced to hold on only to routes that were making money for them and these were basically their old routes before their big expansion from the mid-1990’s. With such a decision, liners have to be sold and many were then subsequently offered for sale by ads. However, here were no local takers and when this happened only shipbreakers from other countries are interested and in the end many of the liners of Negros Navigation ended up with the breakers including those ships transferred to Jensen Shipping. San Lorenzo Ruiz was acquired by Bangladesh breakers and in 2008 she was broken up in Chittagong.

And that was the sad end of one liner I admire.

The Liner That Sank A Liner Company (The Saga of the Princess of the Stars)

The Princess of the Stars of Sulpicio Lines Incorporated was the biggest-ever liner to grace the Philippine seas. She was not the longest, however, because such honor belonged to the Princess of the Orient, also of Sulpicio Lines but compared to that liner the Princess of the Stars was wider and taller and for confirmation, her Gross Tonnage (GT), the measure of the total volume of the ship, was higher. In the comparison, the M/S Philippines of Emilio Yap was excluded because that ship was not a sailing liner but a floating hotel when it came here.

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Photo from homepagenifty2

The Princess of the Stars was the second Ferry Lilac of Shin Nihonkai Ferry Company which is known in Japan for building big liners that sail the open waters of Japan. Shin Nihonkai was among the companies that offered the “Bypasses of the Sea” service in the earlier decades in Japan which meant big, fast ROROs that took in vehicles along sea lanes instead of it battling the clogged highways of Japan then. From utilitarian ROROs, that concept evolved into the “cruiseferries” in the 1970’s which offered hotel-like accommodations aside from being able to carry vehicles. When patronage weakened in the 1980’s due to the rise of other modes of transports that evolved into the “carferries” which is again utilitarian but more comfortable than the first generation of long-distance RORO’s that appeared in the 1960’s.

The Ferry Lilac already belonged to the “carferries” class when built and much like the New Miyako which became the SuperFerry 12 in the Philippines for they were built in the same year but Ferry Lilac was much bigger than the New Miyako. When completed in July of 1984, Ferry Lilac was the largest RORO-passenger ship existing in Japan. She was assigned the Maizuru-Otaru route that passes through the Sea of Japan in the western seaboard of that country. As a “carferry”, although she still had suite rooms and other high class rooms, the emphasis was already on food and restaurants, live entertainment and shows and on game halls. Her capacity was 554 passengers but after remodeling that increased to 788 passengers. Her design and equipment were supposedly of the latest of the period being the “ultimate carferry” then.

The Ferry Lilac‘s design philosophy followed what was the naval design thinking then. Japan researchers determined that the swells of the open seas of Japan has an average of 140 to 145 meters between crests and so they suggested that the length of the liners be greater than that. The belief was that the ship would be able to ride between two crests and such will not pitch too much. However, it seems that was a naive assumption because after the ship’s bow rose with the coming swell the bow will then sink after the swell passed the center of the ship. In Youtube, there are videos of ship bow that appears to be submarining into the sea (of course, it will rise again). This phenomenon also happens to all kinds of ships including container ships, bulkers, military ships and other kind of ships in the heavy swells of the open seas.

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Photo by Joel Bado

The second Ferry Lilac was tall and she had high sides and the superstructure encompasses the whole ship. The philosophy behind the high sides is it serves as a protection against big waves including rogue waves and in case the ship listed she will not take in water easily hence forestalling capsizing. That was proven in later cases like the Ariake (which was hit by a rogue wave) and the Cougar Ace which did not immediately sink even though their sides were already lying in the water. I do not know if the design philosophies mentioned in this paragraph and the previous one weighed on the decision to risk her in a typhoon later. I heard her company was very confident in her ability to survive heavy seas as supposedly these big “carferries” were designed to survive seas generated by tropical cyclones of 120-130kph center wind strength.

The second Ferry Lilac was built by Ishikawajima-Harima Heavy Industries (IHI) in Aioi shipyard in Japan in 1984 and had the permanent ID IMO 8323161. Her dimensions were 192.9 meters by 29.4 meters with a gross register tonnage (GRT) of 18,268 tons. This later rose to 23,824 in gross tonnage (GT) with a net tonnage (NT) of 16,040. Its DWT (deadweight tonnage) was 7,670. The ferry was big but was not really built for speed unlike the big ferries of Japan in the previous decade as her design speed was only 21.5 knots. The power comes from SEMT-Pielstick engines that develops only 26,400 horsepower.

The ferry was released from Japan in 2004 after twenty years of service and went to Sulpicio Lines Inc. There was minimal refitting and there was no change in the superstructure and most works were done just in Cebu port. The refitting were mainly on how the facilities of the ship will conform to local conditions like the provision of an Economy Class and its corresponding Economy restaurant. Otherwise, the facilities and comforts of the ship were already more than enough as with the space for passengers. In the period of her arrival, passenger load of the liners was already declining and so there was no longer any pull to greatly increase the passenger capacity which was just limited to 1,992, a far cry from the 3,912 of the Princess of the Orient which was similar to her in size.

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Photo from Wakanatsu

When Princess of the Stars was fielded she became the flagship of Sulpicio Lines vice the Princess of the Universe. As flagship, she did the Manila-Cebu route twice a week. Sailing, she usually catches the attention of observers for her sheer size. Docked in Manila or Cebu, she simply dwarfed the other ferries and with her height she simply towered above the other ferries. But unlike what others may expect, she was not led by the most senior captain of Sulpicio Lines. Others declined because they know handling a ship that big is more demanding. Looked from an angle, ships of these size were not really designed for Philippine waters. That size might have been demanded when passenger demand was still strong but not in the new millennium and Princess of the Stars might just be part a showcase. More kindly, she can also be looked as the replacement of the big and luxurious Princess of New Unity which was sold to breakers that same year.

The Princess of the Stars did not sail long, however. Sailing on the night of June 20, 2008 for Cebu, she failed to stop and seek shelter unlike two ships of Aboitiz Transport System which dropped anchor and sought shelter in Puerto Galera because of a coming typhoon. The Princess of the Stars simply sailed on when the evening news already warned of Typhoon “Frank” that will pass the northern coast of Leyte on a collision course with the Princess of the Stars (she left Manila at 8pm and the evening news was 6:30pm). The expected strength then of the typhoon was some 120-130kph which was theoretically within the capacity of the ship to handle. Was the voyage a test case of her strength in Philippine typhoons?

I always wondered about the bravado of the Princess of the Stars. Normally before when there was a storm in Eastern Visayas and the ship wanted to still sail to Cebu or northern Mindanao they take the southern route which means from Verde Island Passage the ship turns to Tablas Strait instead of pursuing the route passing through the Sibuyan Sea. The ship will then sail through the seas off the western side of Panay island and then turn to Panay Gulf and round Negros island on its southern part and then head northward to Cebu port. The wind and swells will be strong in Sulu Sea but the ship will be farther from the eye of the typhoon and after rounding the southwest tip of Panay island the wind and swells will already be at the stern of the ship and the rocking will be less. I have been aboard such detours in the past and I know this custom.

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Photo by Rodney Orca

Tucked in and sheltered by an island, the wind and swells will be moderated and not that much felt in a ship. It is after venturing in the open when the roughness of the sea begins. In the past, our ships has learned to use the cover of the islands if they are not seeking shelter. Even small islands like the Romblon islands provide a measure of cover.

By next morning, Typhoon “Frank” was stronger (it was already developing more strength that night) and its strength was already 165kph, a strength that is not to be messed with. Well, ships going from Australia and the Philippines that pass through our eastern seaboard don’t drop anchor and seek shelter. But they know how to distance themselves from the typhoon. This can be verified through AIS. Where a typhoon is passing the area is clear of ships. Some stop, some take a detour and some seek shelter and drop anchor. Princess of the Stars was in the vicinity of a typhoon and in fact was in a collision course but did neither of the three evasive actions mentioned previously. She simply sailed on until she was already in the eye of the typhoon. Actually, that was a feat of seamanship – to sail into the eye of a strong typhoon. Few can do that (restated, only fools do that).

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Taken from http://www.typhoon2000.com

But the ship did not survive and capsized off the southeast coast of Sibuyan island in an inverted position and stuck in a reef which saved the ship from sinking completely. However, that was no use to most of the passengers and crew of the ship as only 54 survived while 814 were dead or missing and some were washed far away.

Like the Dona Paz tragedy, the Princess of the Stars sinking caused national and international outcry and shamed Sulpicio Lines to heights greater than the Dona Paz tragedy where there was still dispute then who was really at fault in the collision that torched and sank Dona Paz. In the Princess of the Stars case there was no one to blame except for Sulpicio Lines. The company tried to blame the government forecasting agency PAGASA but that did not gain traction. One thing was sure in the accident, the ship was not using state-of-the-art forecasting services like INMARSAT which was the first one to declare that the missing Malaysian Airlines jet MH370 veered south and was lost in the Indian Ocean (when that was not their function or service).

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Credits: NAMRIA and PDI

The backlash of this tragedy was so great it also sank the passenger service of Sulpicio Lines. Now they are forever barred from engaging in passenger liner shipping. And until now they are still haunted by suits. They were even forced to rename their company into the Philippine Span Asia Carrier Corporation (PSACC).

With the sinking, the Philippine government also tightened regulations on sailings during storms. Now, no Philippine ship can sail when the winds reach 60kph or even less at times. Above that only foreign ships are still sailing our waters.

And that is the ironic thing I find now. Imagine only foreign ships can sail our waters when the wind blows. All because of the Princess of the Stars.

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Photo by Britz Salih

Note: I don’t know who wrote the Wikipedia article of Princess of the Stars. It has errors in the specifications of the ship.

Shouldn’t We Be Downsizing Our Liners Now?

In the ten years after the end of World War II, the bulk of our liners were ex-”FS” ships with a sprinkling of former “F” ships, former “Y” ships and former small minesweepers of the US Navy which were even smaller ships. The first-mentioned ship was only 55 meters in length. Passenger capacity then of 200-300 were normal. The built capacity was not too high as our population was still small then with a little over 20 million people and besides, the country and the economy were just beginning to recover from the devastation of the Pacific War

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An ex-“FS” ship (Photo credits: Manila Chronicle and Gorio Belen)

In the next decade after that, there came the lengthened former “FS” ships which are over 60 meters in length with three decks. Passenger capacities then rose a bit. The lengthening of ex-”FS” ships, which was still the dominant liner type then was a response to the growing capacity need because the population was beginning to increase and trade was also on the rise. In 1960, our population already rose to 27 million.

In this period, there were no other sources yet of new liners as the European market was not yet discovered except by Compania Maritima and practically there were no surplus ships yet from Japan. It is true that we then already had some big ships mainly in the form of ex-”C1-M-AV1” ships which were US surplus from the war and former European passenger-cargo ships in Compania Maritima’s fleet. These big liners (by Philippine standards) averaged some 100 meters in length.

1971 MV Samar

An ex-“C1’M-AV1” ship (Photo credits: Philippine Herald and Gorio Belen)

In passenger capacity, however, those big liners then were not even double in passenger capacity compared to lengthened ex-”FS” ships. It was normal for them to have cargo holds in the bow and in the stern of the ship with the passenger accommodations in an “island” at the middle of the ship or amidship. Those big liners normally had only about 500 persons in passenger capacity.

Actually, when the European passenger-cargo ship Tekla came in 1965 to become the Don Arsenio of Carlos A. Go Thong & Co., she was then already tops in the Philippines in passenger capacity at about 700 persons. To think Go Thong has the tendency to maximize and pack it in and that ship was already 110 meters in length and one of the biggest in the country. [Well, liners of the 1990’s of that length already had more than double of that in passenger capacity.]

ELCANO (3)

Elcano by suro yan

In the middle of the 1960’s, big ships from Europe started to arrive for Go Thong and William Lines and also for Compania Maritima which had been buying ships from Europe right after the end of the war. These shipping companies had the long routes then which extended up to southern Mindanao which had many intermediate ports. Hence, big capacity matters to them. PSNC (Philippine Steam and Navigation Company) which also had routes to southern Mindanao was using ex-”C1-M-AV1” ships or if not they were using their luxury liners Legazpi and Elcano which were 87 meters in length (the two were sister ships).

It was the pattern that as the years went by the ships got bigger and its passenger capacities rose. That was a function of our country’s population increasing and hence also its trade because more population needs more commodities and goods. I am actually interested in the trivia which liner first had a 1,000 passenger capacity but right now I don’t have that data. Maybe that ship emerged sometime in the 1970’s.

In 1970, we already had a population of 37 million. And one change was Mindanao was already colonized, its population was growing fast and its new people had to connect to the rest of the country because this time most of the population of Mindanao were no longer native-born as in they were migrants from other parts of the country.

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Don Sulpicio  (Research by Gorio Belen in the National Library)

One benchmark in capacity was the Don Sulpicio which became the Sulpicio Lines flagship when she came in 1975. She had a passenger capacity of 1,424 (this could be the latter figure after refitting from a fire). But her sister ship Dona Ana has a bigger net tonnage and might had a bigger passenger capacity especially since her route was Davao while Don Sulpicio‘s route was only Cebu. The Don Sulpicio later became the infamous Dona Paz which supposedly loaded 4,000 plus passengers (guffaw!)

These two ships were only in the 90-meter class but one thing that changed with the arrival of the cruisers that were not formerly cargo or cargo-passengers ships is that they had full scantling already so the passenger accommodation stretches from the bridge to the stern of the ship. And one more, the liners became taller with more passenger decks and it is even up to bridge or navigation deck.

Of course, their spaces were not as big as the big 1990’s liners. Riding a 1970’s liner, one would find that all the spaces are “miniaturized” from the size of the bunks to the spaces between the bunks, the tables and the restaurants and the lounges. They were simply a different beast than their counterparts two decades later where spaces and amenities were really ample.

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Research by Gorio Belen in the National Library

In the early 1980’s, passenger capacities of over 1,000 was already commonplace with the biggest liners in the 110 and 120 meter class and with some featuring four passenger decks already. Actually as early as 1979 with the arrival of the sister ships Don Enrique and Don Eusebio which were southern Mindanao specialists, their capacities already touched 1,200 and yet they were only in the 110 meter class. The two were the latter Iloilo Princess and Dipolog Princess, respectively.

Actually, passenger maximization was already the game then as even 70-80 meter liners built in the 1970’s and early 1980’s, both cruisers and ROROs, already had capacities averaging 800 or so persons. These were the pocket liners in the 1980’s when the former smallest, the lengthened “FS” ships were already bowing out. In 1980, the country’s population already reached 48 million. With the development of the roads even the people of the interior were already traveling.

1980 Dona Virginia

Photo credits: Daily Express and Gorio Belen

On December of 1979, the first ship to reach 2,000 in passenger capacity arrived. This ship was the flagship Dona Virginia of William Lines. It was also the longest liner then in the country with a length of 143 meters, the longest then in our ferry fleet. And to think the Dona Virginia was not even a tall ship.

In 1988, further bigger liners arrived in the country. The Cotabato Princess which was also a southern Mindanao liner also reached 2,000 in passenger capacity. Its sister ship Nasipit Princess also had the same capacity. Both were 149 meters in length. But the new champion was the very big Filipina Princess which had a passenger capacity of over 2,900. This great liner had a length of 180 meters.

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In the 1990’s, liners of 2,000-passenger capacity or a little less became commonplace. The liner with the biggest ever capacity that existed here was the Princess of the Orient with a passenger capacity of 3,900. It was the longest-ever ship that sailed here at 195 meters. Other ships of this era that had passenger capacities of over 3,000 were the Princess of the Universe and the Princess of Paradise. Both were over 165 meters in length. All the ships mentioned from Cotabato Princess up to Princess of Paradise were liners of Sulpicio Lines.

Even with these high capacities of 2,000 and over the liners were able to pack it in in the 1990’s. I was once a passenger of the Princess of the Paradise on a Christmas trip when all bunks were taken (maybe if there were vacancies it was in the cabins). I also had a same experience on a June trip aboard the Our Lady of Akita (the latter SuperFerry 6) and the crew had to lay mattresses in the hallways because the ship was overbooked. And that ship have a passenger capacity of over 2,600. [Maybe we were technically not “overloaded” as there might have been vacancies in the cabins.]

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Princess of the Orient from Britz Salih

But things began to change in the new millennium. Maybe there was already a surplus of bottoms because there was a race then to acquire liners in the term of President Fidel V. Ramos as it was encouraged and supported. But budget airlines also came along with the intermodal buses. The demand for ship bunks began to slacken and the liners can no longer pack it in like before.

This trend was reflected in the liners fielded starting in 2000. Among the liners of the new millennium only SuperFerry 17 and SuperFerry 18 reached 2,000 in passenger capacity and just barely. And to think they are 174 meters in length. The new liners of Aboitiz Transport System already had two wagon decks instead of four passenger decks. But on a look-back the two wagon decks were also not fully loaded.

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Photo credit: port of douglas

The liner acquisitions of Sulpicio Lines in the new millennium both did not reach 2,000 passengers in capacity. Not even the very big Princess of the Stars, the Philippines’ biggest liner ever. So even Sulpicio Lines recognized that passenger demand was already declining. But unlike Aboitiz Transport System (ATS), they did not convert liners to have two cargo decks. Well, unlike ATS, Sulpicio Lines have many container ships to carry the container vans.

After 2005, only Aboitiz Transport System, Negros Navigation and latter 2GO still acquired liners (excepting Romblon Shipping Lines). None had a passenger capacity that reached 2,000. Some even had passenger capacities of less than 1,000. Most had two wagon decks that does not get full.

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SuperFerry 21 by Nowell Alcancia

If liners can no longer get full in passengers and in container vans then what is the use of acquiring liners of 150 meters length and with over 20,000 horsepower? It is useless. Liners should have lower horsepower now because fuel is the number one expense in shipping. There is also no use now running them at 19 or 20 knots. The overnight ferries have shown the way. Even though their ships are capable of higher speeds they just use economical speed now. No more racing.

Actually, the new overnight ships like what Cokaliong Shipping Lines is acquiring could be the new liners. These average 80 meters in length. Or maybe ships a little bigger than those could be acquired. And that will be like the former Cebu Ferries that were pulled out from the Visayas-Mindanao routes. Their length averages 95 meters. The engine power of all of these are all not topping 9,000 horsepower and yet they are capable of 17-18 knots if needed and that was the range then of many liners in the 1990’s.

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Our Lady of Lourdes by Ray Smith

I think the new size paradigm of the liners should just be about 100 meters maximum with a horsepower of 10,000 or less and a speed of no more than 18 meters. That will be like the smaller liners of the late 1980’s like the Our Lady of Fatima and the Our Lady of Lourdes of Carlos A. Gothong Lines Incorporated (CAGLI) which were 101 meters in length and had 8,200hp. The Tacloban Princess of Sulpicio Lines in that era was 98 meters in length had engines of 8,000hp total. Yet, all three were capable of 17 knots here.

Maybe another and probably better paradigm were the former Our Lady of Medjugorje and the Our Lady of Sacred Heart also of CAGLI. Both were former RORO Cargo ships in Japan but were beautifully refitted here. Both were 123 meters in length but only had 9,000 and 8,000 horsepower, single-engined. The passenger capacity of the two even averaged over 1,500 passengers. They might not be too speedy at about 16 knots but we have to be practical and have to scale back. In amenities and space, the two were good. The former SuperFerry 3 of Aboitiz Shipping Corporation is also a good model. At 118 meters, 9,300 horsepower, 16 knots she was a credible liner then with a passenger capacity of 2,000 . All the quoted speed were when they were already running here when they had additional metal and the engines were no longer new

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Our Lady of Medjugorje from Britz Salih

But technology has improved and for the same engine horsepower a ship can be faster. Take for example the Trans-Asia 3 of Trans-Asia Shipping Lines Incorporated. At only 9,000 horsepower and 110 meters in length, she is still capable of 18 knots here.

If liners are smaller with smaller engines then maybe weaker routes abandoned might be viable again. I think Aboitiz Transport System and 2GO had to scale back on routes because their liners and its engines were too big for the weaker routes. They tried to shoehorn a 150-meter liner in the like of Tagbilaran. No liner of that size did a Tagbilaran route before. Like even at the peak of passenger shipping no shipping company sent a liner of that size to Roxas City.

But government also has to help. Maybe, one possible step maybe is to limit the number of container ships. There might be too many of them sailing already. It is growing at a rate much ahead of our trade and production growth. So it simply diminishes the capability of a liner to be viable.

In the past before 1978, our cargo is being carried by the passenger-cargo ships. That was the reason why there was so many liners then as in over 60 in total and even 90 in the 1960’s when ships were smaller and ex-”FS” ships still dominated. What happened next is while our inter-island container fleet is growing, our liner fleet was also growing smaller because cargo is also being carried by the container ships.

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Research by Gorio Belen in the National Library

On the same route there is no way a liner can carry cargo cheaper than container ships. For the same length the container ships have much less smaller engines, the acquisition cost is much less, insurance is smaller and crewing is much smaller too and there is less regulation. Of course, they are slow. But let upon liners in competition they can practically sink the liners. I heavily doubt if our government functionaries understand this relationship and history.

It might be anti-competitive but if the government does not intervene I think our liner sector will sink and be wiped out. One possible intervention even is to decree that vehicles can only be carried by the liners. This will be added revenue for the liners. Or that liners should have fuel that is cheaper. Of course some will balk at that and suspicions of fuel diversion will always be aired. But good controls can be put in place. Unless we as a people is really that corrupt and bribable.

As it is, 2GO is profitable now when the world market prices of oil plummeted. But then one thing that worries me is their fares on the average are not lower than the budget airlines and the intermodal buses. With longer time of travel they cannot compete with budget airlines in the long run. And with frequencies that are not daily the passengers will not really wait for them.

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Maybe we should go back to this size

If the government wants the liner sector to stay it cannot just be verbal encouragement. Press or praise releases and promises are also next to nothing. There should be concrete steps and a program if they really want to save this sector. But is there anybody in government high enough that really understands this sector?

The government can put out all the verbal encouragement for other entities to enter this sector but I don’t think those who know shipping will enter this segment as things stand now. Downsizing is maybe one step that can arrest the downslide of passenger liner shipping.

The M/V Filipina Princess

M/V Filipina Princess © Jonathan Bordon

The liner shipping company Compania Maritima was the biggest in the inter-island routes since 1890. Its reign as Number 1 was largely uninterrupted for 95 years. So, when they quit shipping in at the height of the Philippines’ political and financial crisis in 1985, it sent shock waves in the local shipping industry. But that was nothing yet because before the end of that deadly decade for Philippine shipping, our two biggest ocean-going shipping companies, the Philippine President Lines/United President Lines and Galleon Shipping Corporation also ceased operations. And to think Compania Maritima through its Maritime Shipping Company of the Philippines was our third-ranking shipping company in the overseas routes. That was how bad was our shipping then.

With Compania Maritima out, there was speculation which shipping company would succeed it as top dog. The obvious front runners were William Lines and Sulpicio Lines as the other big one, Aboitiz Shipping Corporation, was no longer buying liners but they were the match of the two in container-cargo shipping. William Lines’ top liners then were cruisers. It might not have been really their choice and maybe that was what their Japanese agent were sending them. Meanwhile, until that juncture the new ROROs of Sulpicio Lines were just medium-sized. But for one thing, they were no longer buying cruiser liners. Well, neither did William Lines because it simply did not buy any liners from 1979 until 1987. Maybe that was also a show how bad shipping was then. In any crisis, many sectors and things are affected and that included shipping. Shipping, as many experts will say, is actually a very good barometer of one country’s economic health.

In 1988, at the tailend of our crisis decade for shipping, Sulpicio Lines scored to what was equivalent of a slam dunk, their bold move that they were claiming for themselves the Number 1 position alone. In this year, three big liners arrived for them headlined by the super-big and super-fast Filipina Princess (the two other ships were the sister ships Cotabato Princess and the Nasipit Princess which at 149.1 meters length over-all were almost the length of the sister ships St. Peter The Apostle and St. Joseph The Worker, at 151.5 meters LOA which came later than them; much later too the sister ships St. Gregory The Great, St. Leo The Great, St. Michael The Archangel and St. Francis Xavier also had lengths over-all of just 150.9 meters).

The Filipina Princess measured 180.5 x 26.4 meters, an unheard of size then in local waters and with speeds reaching 26 knots at full trot, she easily beat then the local speed titleholder, the Dona Virginia which was only capable of 21 knots then, at best. The 32,000 horsepower of Filipina Princess from her two Kawasaki-MAN diesel engines were a record that was only tied by Princess of Paradise in 1993 and only beaten by Mary, Queen of Peace in 1997 but that ship was no match for the speed set by Filipina Princess. In fact, no inter-island liner, past or present equaled or beat the speed set by Filipina Princess. Not even by the legendary-for-speed Princess of Paradise. And with a passenger capacity of 2,960, it was also tops in that department. Those were some measures and records how great this ship was when fielded by Sulpicio Lines in 1988. Size (she was the first local liner over 10,000 gross tons), speed, passenger capacity – she had it all then and arguably, she might also have been the best in amenities and service then. I heard of tales before that passing through Mactan Channel and docking in Cebu port, practically all eyes by witnesses were magnetized by her. I can only imagine the scene but I am not really surprised by that.

The response of the competition to the arrival of Filipina Princess was tepid at best. In the same year, Sta. Ana arrived for Negros Navigation but she was only a 107.3-meter ship, not much bigger than the liners of Carlos A. Gothong Lines Inc. Her relative high passenger capacity was only due to the lack of passageways on the sides which also serve as observation deck for the passengers. In the next year, 1989, William Lines fielded the Sugbu, their new liner replacing their highly-regarded Dona Virginia as flagship but she only measured 137.5 meters in length. In 1990, too, the sister ships Our Lady of Sacred Heart and Sto. Nino de Cebu (later she became the Our Lady of Medjugorje) was acquired by Carlos A. Gothong Lines and they were both 123.0 meters in length. In 1989, too, Aboitiz Shipping Corporation finally bought a new liner, the SuperFerry 1 which was 132.4 meters in length. Sweet Lines had no proper response at all and only bought medium-sized ships.

If one will notice, none of the responses of the competition even reached the length over-all of the two other ships brought in by Sulpicio Lines in 1988, the Cotabato Princess and the Nasipit Princess which both measured, to repeat, at 149.1 meters. That was how big a knock-out punch that Sulpicio Lines brought to the liner wars at the tailend of the that crisis decade for shipping. It there was doubt before which was Number 1 in passenger shipping, there was no more doubt after the arrival of the three ships for Sulpicio Lines.

Although the competition might desire to match Sulpicio Lines, acquiring second-hand great liners from Japan was not as simple as a wish granted. The main reason was even in Japan there are so few liners of that size. And they are only offered for sale if and when their successors have already arrived. It will then take five more years before the competition had a ship approximating the size of Filipina Princess in their fleet. So in a sense, the acquisition of Sulpicio Lines of the three ships and especially the Filipina Princess can be considered a master stroke that simply swept the competition. After the arrival of the three there was no longer a debate who is Numero Uno in passenger shipping.

The Filipina Princess was known as the Ferry Akashia in Japan and she was owned by Shin Nihonkai Ferry. This ferry company was one of the long-distance ferry companies sailing fast ROROs in Japan. During that time Ferry Akashia was built, Japan was experiencing an economic boom and her highways cannot cope with the cargo traffic. The solution discovered in the late 1960’s was to field fast, long-distance ferry-ROROs that will load trucks among others. The sailings they did was just overnight runs. This solution proved popular not only for the trucks but also for the commuters since they will arrive fresh. And so Japan fielded faster and ever bigger ferry-ROROs in the long-distance routes.

Ferry Akashia was built by Kanda Zosensho in their Kure yard in 1973. She carried the permanent ID IMO 7313858. She measured 11,210 gross tons in Japan with a deadweight tonnage (DWT) of 4,173 tons. She had a bow mast and a stern cargo boom which also served as the stern mast. This ship had ramps at the bow and at the stern, the traditional ramp design then. She had a snout-like structure at the bow which was distinctive-looking. Inside it were additional accommodations for the crew and it also housed the winches of the ship. At the navigation deck she had a big false funnel at the center which housed a restaurant. It also functioned as an observation and promenade deck.

In 1988, when her replacement New Akashia arrived for Shin Nihonkai Ferry she was sold to Sulpicio Lines. In refitting and renovation, a deck was added and her gross tonnage rose to 13,705 and she had a declared net tonnage of 8,448. Amazingly, even just her NT was already bigger than all of the existing liners in 1988! Fittingly, she became the Sulpicio Lines flagship and displacing the old flagship Philippine Princess which was their flagship for seven years.

The ship as refitted and remodeled here had only three passenger decks. The stern of the ship including all those that can be reached by the cargo boom was free of passenger areas. That was the period design of Sulpicio Lines and this was exhibited too in Cotabato Princess, Nasipit Princess and Manila Princess (but not so in Tacloban Princess which had a different design). To ease loading and unloading, Filipina Princess also had a starboard side ramp. In Pier 12 of Manila North Harbor with its finger port Filipina Princess can be loaded and unloaded simultaneously from three accesses, the side ramp, the cargo boom and via the stern ramp.

Filipina Princess was probably the first liner in recent decades which offered a special suite, a feature offered only later by the very top tier of our great liners. They called this the Owners’ Cabin and it was only offered in the Manila-Cebu route. However, to many’s dismay, this Owners’ Cabin was not available for mere mortals. It was only issued to the blue-chip Chinese-Filipinos of Cebu known to the management and owners of Sulpicio Lines or to the family and relatives of the owners of Sulpicio Lines.

This ship was probably the liner that offered the most number of accomodation classes among our passenger liners with nine in all. Aside from the Owners’ Cabin, also offered were Suite for 4, Cabin for 4, Cabin for 2 w/o Toilet & Bath, Tourist de Luxe, Tourist, Special Tourist, Economy de Luxe and Economy. I noticed this ship had many cabins and actually that was the hallmark of the big and great liners of the period when many with means still took the liners including their families. These were in the forward parts of the ship and it is distinguished by a row of doors. That portion of the ship was quiet unlike the big rooms of the Tourist and Economy where the chatter is almost constant and there is a regular bustle and movement.

Like the general classification of the period by all big liners, the restaurants were in three classes. The biggest were for those in the Economy classes and it has the minimum fare. Even with simple meals, all will have full stomachs because of the Sulpicio Lines tradition always offering unlimited rice. The middle-level restaurant is for those in the Tourist classes. Here the fare is better and real china and crystal glasses are used. The best restaurant and course is for those in the Cabins and Suites. Here, smorgasbord was the order of the day as in eat-all-you-can and as in Sulpicio Lines tradition they will always replenish the trays and one can eat for a whole two hours if he wants and if he can. I have found in Sulpicio Lines that the extra food and fare in their First Class restaurant plus the other amenities more than compensates for the extra passage charged. Of course, the service is higher too and the smiles are wider.

While the First Class passengers have their own lounge, the restaurant in the false funnel, the area by the front desk, the other restaurants and the poop decks serve as common lounges for all. During the night the poop deck cum lounge emerge on its own when all kinds of drinks including hard drinks can be ordered along with various knick knacks and short orders. Many while the hours here until past midnight and actually this is the part of the ship that is liveliest during the night. The meal times, the lounging and the whiling of time in the various lounges and that poop deck are some of the experiences a ship passenger can experience that is not available in plane flights or in the buses.

Filipina Princess plied only two routes ever in her whole career here that spanned twenty years from 1988 to 2008. As the Sulpicio Lines flagship, she did the Manila-Cebu route twice a week. She left Manila every Tuesday at 10am and every Friday at 8pm. On her return trip, she departed Cebu every Wednesday at 8pm and every Sunday at 10am. At her fastest she will take less than 18 hours for the route, a full two hours faster or more than any ship on that route. And that, I heard was exhilarating for passengers but too short for that extra meal at times.

When the bigger (but not faster) Princess of the Orient arrived for Sulpicio Lines in 1993, the Filipina Princess was displaced to her only second route ever, the Manila-Cebu-Surigao-Davao route. She plied this route just once a week. This route is known for heavy seas during the amihan (Northeast monsoon) but with her size, low height and designed stability she took the swells in the eastern seaboard of Mindanao with aplomb. After all, as a ferry running the heavier seas off Honshu, the main island of Japan, the swells are even rougher there.

In this route, she left Manila every Sunday at 10am and she arrived in Cebu on Monday every 7am or earlier. After several years, her speed has already been restricted and she even lost the speed crown to the Princess of Paradise which can sail up to 23 knots. She left Cebu every Monday at 11am and arrived in Surigao on Mondays at 6pm. Actually, at full trot she can do that leg in six hours. She left Surigao at 10pm, same day, and she arrived in Davao every Tuesday at 2pm. She will have a long lay-over in Davao and will leave on Wednesday at 4pm and she arrived on Surigao every Thursday at 11am. She then leaves Surigao at 1pm and arriving in Cebu at 7pm, same day. The ship will then have an overnight lay-over in Cebu port.

For those with relatives in Cebu this is a chance to make visits. For those who have nowhere to go, the merriment in the poop deck was also as good. She will then leave Cebu Friday at 10am.That means there is enough time to buy pasalubong in Carbon or Colon district or the dried fish market in Taboan. The ship then will arrive in Manila evert Saturday at 7am or earlier and she will have an overnight lay-over there. For the crew who have families or relatives these overnight lay-overs in Manila, Cebu and Davao were good chances to get off the ship and make visits. That was one feature of Sulpicio Lines scheduling then, the long lay-overs and that was good both for the crew and the passengers. It was also good for the engineers because they have time to sort things in the engine department.

As the years advanced, Filipina Princess had some minor adjustments in her second route in terms of the hours of departures and arrivals. But one thing I noticed is she really never lost much speed. Even later in her career she was still capable of 20 knots except when she has some kind of mechanical trouble. Sometimes, she sailed at less than that speed because feeding two giant engines take a lot of fuel. I remember this was also the problem of Mary, The Queen which has bigger engines than her.

One day, the world came crashing down for Filipina Princess. As a result of the capsizing with gross loss of life of their new flagship, the Princess of the Stars, all the ships of Sulpicio Lines were suspended from sailing. That was June of 2008. Together with most ships of the Sulpicio Lines fleet, Filipina Princess anchored in Mactan Channel, awaiting for news if the restrictions imposed on them will abate. Later, she was tied up in the Sulpicio Lines wharf in Pier 7 in Mandaue, Cebu together with other ships of the fleet especially the Dipolog Princess and the Princess of the Caribbean.

In 2011, after three years of waiting, Sulpicio Lines finally lost hope. A new administration has taken over Malacanang and the hated top dog of MARINA, the maritime regulatory agency, was already gone and yet, obviously, there was no change in the restrictions imposed on them. Maybe the publish backlash was simply too great for a more lenient treatment of them. And landlubbers do not really have any understanding of shipping. So, Sulpicio Lines (already renamed to Philippine Span Asia Carrier Corporation) sold their five of their mothballed liners (four have been sold earlier) and only retained two that were sailing.

One night, the favorite time when liners sold to breakers leave, Filipina Princess quietly slipped out of Mandaue quay on her way to India. She was simply towed as crewing her will just mean more expenses to the breakers. For that voyage, she was simply declared as a “barge”. She then found herself after a two-week voyage in Alang, the ship-breaking capital of the world. That was on August 28, 2011. She stayed offshore a while but on October 4, 2011 she was finally beached for breaking.

Her final transaction price was $360/ton (that is computed in lightweight tons). The price will come out to only about about $3.5 million dollars for the whole ship. Cheap.