The Uneven and Controversial Record of Breaking of Passenger Ships in the Philippines

In the recent decades it is only in the 1980’s where I saw a relatively massive ship-breaking of Philippine ferries. Two big factors worked in confluence in that. One, the backbone of Philippine ferries of the postwar years, the former “FS” ships were already breaking down on its own because they were already 40 years old on the average which was already far beyond their estimated design life. Moreover, there was already a shortage of parts and to keep other “FS” ships running some others have to be cannibalized. And these ships were actually badly outgunned already by the newer ferries and as cargo carriers (some were used in that role when they were no longer competitive), they were already overtaken already by the newly-fielded container ships and by cargo ships with fixed schedules like the ships of Sea Transport.

1956 0917 MV Grace I

An example of a former “FS” ship (Credits to Manila Chronicle and Gorio Belen)

The other big factor was the great economic crisis of the 1980’s, the greatest since World War II when there was a contraction of the economy, inflation and the exchange rate were runaway and there was simply no loans available then and interest rates were sky high. Such situation will simply contract the need for ships. This was exacerbated by companies falling by the wayside, bankrupt and shuttered. That even included our auto manufacturing plants. In shipping, a significant percentage of our shipping companies folded and with it went their ships because the remaining shipping companies were just in survival mode and in no mood to take over their ships. That was the second main reason why many of our former “FS” were broken up in the 1980’s. Most of them were scrapped locally specifically in Navotas. The passenger ships of the shipping companies that went belly up in the 1980’s like Compania Maritima also ended up in the breakers and they were not limited to ex-”FS” ships. The 1980’s was really a cruel decade for shipping.

Earlier, in the 1970’s, the former Type “C1” ships were also lost as a class because their engines were no longer good. That also was true of the former Type “N” ships. These ships simply surrendered because they were no longer reliable and parts were hard to come by. And that is one truth in shipping. If a ship is no longer good especially the engines and it cannot be re-engined anymore then it goes to the breakers and no government order to cull is needed for that.

1960 0625 MV Mindanao

An example of a former Type “C1” ship (Credits to Phil. Herald and Gorio Belen)

After the 1980’s, ship-breaking followed three main trends. One is the trend set by William, Gothong and Aboitiz (WG&A) and later by its successor Aboitiz Transport System (ATS). WG&A has the penchant to dispose of ship they think are already superfluous. That is actually what happens in mergers and acquisitions (M&A’s). There will always an excess in assets including ships and personnel and the new entity will try to dispose of them to junk “non-performing assets” (NPA’s). That is the reason why still-good liners and overnight ships were disposed to the breakers. There was really no good technical reason to send them there and die.

On the other hand, WG&A and its subsidiary Cebu Ferries Corporation (CFC) had some ships that were nearly ready for the breakers because their engines were already beginning to get unreliable. WG&A tried to sell them as still “good” ships and a few shipping companies got conned buying ROROs with problematic engines and obsolete cruisers. The stinged companies like Sampaguita Shipping had to dispose later these ships.

Our Lady of Banneux (Mis-identified as SF10)

Our Lady of Naju (Mis-identified as OLO Banneux)

Probably the OLO Banneux but Identified as OLO Naju

Sold to raise cash (From http://www.greenshipbreaking.com)

When the two partners in WG&A divested, the Aboitiz family had to dispose of ships to pay them off. This was the reason why Aboitiz Transport System (ATS), the successor company to WG&A had to sell a series of still-good ships, passenger and container, to China breakers early this millennium. In effect, the Gothong and Chiongbian families were paid with cash from scrap metal and their old ships were gone forever.

Aboitiz Transport System also had to sell other ships to the breakers (their liners are too big to be overnight ferries) in order to acquire newer ferries. That was done in the middle of the 2000’s.This is called renewal of the fleet and this is done all the time in other countries. Of course, a company will try to sell their weaker ferries in order to acquire new ones. This pattern also carried over into the successor company of ATS, the shipping company 2GO.

But again the reason to sell was not always based on technical reasons (as in the ship is no longer reliable) but on other considerations. I have observed that the creation of WG&A and its subsequent dissolution created a lot of crooked reasons for selling ships that were not based on the condition of the ship. Some of those were simply connected to cutting of routes and frequencies and the need to come up with cash.

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Sold before its time for crooked reasons (Photo by Vinz Sanchez)

Meanwhile, competitor Negros Navigation Company (NENACO) was hit with illiquidity after their massive expansion fueled by bank loans backfired and they had to seek court protection from garnishment proceedings. However, these resulted in ships being laid up and offered for sale. These ships ended up in the hands of foreign breakers because liners were in excess then (and ATS does not buy ferries from competitors) as budget airlines and intermodal buses cut into their revenue..

But the next chopping of ships en masse was even more cruel. This was as a consequence of Sulpicio Lines getting suspended from sailing after the Princess of the Stars capsized in 2008. Stringent conditions were placed by MARINA, the maritime regulatory agency on Sulpicio Lines’ return to passenger operations. Meanwhile, the bulk of their fleet rotted in their Mandaue wharf and in the middle of Mactan Channel. Along with strong public backlash, Sulpicio Lines lost heart and sold off their entire fleet to foreign breakers and a great passenger fleet that took five decades to build was lost in just one stroke. Those who knew shipping knew this great passenger fleet won’t ever be replaced again. Ironically, it is the government bureaucrats regulating them which did not know that.

Princesses laid up

None of these survived the suspension

As a general rule, companies that do not run into trouble do not send ships to the breakers. WG&A (divestment of partners), Negros Navigation (illiquidity) and Sulpicio Lines (suspension) all ran trouble (and MARINA, the maritime regulatory agency tasked with the country’s maritime development was of no help to them whatsoever). Non-liners frequently do not run into trouble and if ever they fold, many of their ships are taken over by other shipping companies (as their ships are easier to sell). That is what happened to the likes of Bicolandia Shipping Lines, San Juan Ferry, Western Samar Shipping Lines, Kinswell Shipping Lines, Shipsafe/Safeship, Mt. Samat Ferry Express, Moreta Shipping Lines, etc. But this did not happen to most of the big fleet of Viva Shipping Lines and its legal-fiction companies, to Sampaguita Shipping and SKT Shipping/Kong San Teo Shipping, both of Zamboanga, Tamula Shipping and many others..

Again, another rule, it is easier taking over a failed small company and small ferries because the sums involved are not astronomic. If it is a big liner company that gets into trouble, it is only the foreign ship-breakers that have the money to buy their ships.

Princess of Negros when she was for sale

A photo when this ship was for sale; ended in the breakers

I just hope our government understands more our ferry companies, their travails and the difficulty of keeping ferry companies afloat. From my observation with government it seems many of them think ferry companies are raking in money. It is not the lure of money which keeps them in shipping but simply their passion for shipping.

Our shipping sector is actually in distress but I still have to hear or read a government pronouncement acknowledging that. They push the shipping companies to modernize in a tone that as if buying ships is just as easy as acquiring buses. But the inescapable truth is our ferries are actually graying now. And so I fear for them, not because they will sink but we all know nothing lasts forever. I wonder if there will be a mass extinction of ferries in the future, say a decade from now like what happened to the “ex-FS” and ex-”C1” ships. If that happens maybe we will more LCTs and maybe surplus ferries from China.

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GT Comparisons of Liners in the Past Below 10,000GT

Here is a listing of liners that were less than 10,000 gross tons. It follows the standard of the book, “The Great Passenger Ships of the World” by Frank Heine and Frank Lose that only list ferries that are over 10,000 gross tons.

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The 2nd Edition of the book

I tried a lower cut-off of just below 3,000 gross tons to include some notable examples. I also included some overnight ships so one can compare them to the smaller liners (and this has bearing on the argument that some overnight ferries are actually fit to be small liners). In this range there is more comparability as the sample is bigger compared to the 10,000 plus GT range. Below 3,000 GT the ships are sometimes too indistinguishable in size.

I did not seek to include all the liners in the past as the list will only be cluttered. The list concentrated on liners of the recent past (which many still have memory of) plus some examples like the flagship Filipinas of Compania Maritima to show how they stack up to more recent liners.

The list is not complete as there were older liners that are in the 3,000 to 10,000 range but I did not include them like the former “C1-M-AV1” ships because the period of comparison will then be too extended in terms of period.

Of course, many a ridiculousness will be noted by the readers who have knowledge of liner shipping. But that is the penalty of not declaring the gross tonnages properly. The penalty also includes not being included in the books “The Great Passenger Ships of the World” (as in Negros Navigation does not have a single entry in the First Edition of that book).

The measurements in the third column are that of Length x Breadth x Depth, a standard description and comparison of size. Gross Tonnage (GT) is the cubic volume of the ship which is the accepted measurement of the size of a ship. The figures are all based on officially declared and accepted GTs by MARINA.

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SuperFerry 3 by Ray Smith

I used the names and the specs when they were first registered here because any misdeclaration starts from there. In ship transfers, the former declared measurements are just carried over into the new owner.

SuperFerry 3

Aboitiz Shipping Corp.

118.0m x 20.4m x 12.7m

9,847 GT

5,885 GT

St. Michael The Archangel

Negros Navigation Co.

150.9m x 25.0m x 13.3m

9,654 GT

9,447 GT

Princess of the World

Sulpicio Lines Inc.

166.0m x 24.0m x 9.7m

9,623 GT

9,235 GT

SuperFerry 1

Aboitiz Shipping Corp.

132.4m x 20.0m x 13.0m

9,184 GT

4,886 GT

Virgin Mary

MBRS Lines

127.7m x 18.3m x 11.0m

9,035 GT

9,035 GT

Cotabato Princess

Sulpicio Lines Inc.

149.1m x 22.8m x 7.3m

7,977 GT

6,521 GT

Sta. Ana

Negros Navigation Co.

107.3m x 20.4m x 8.0m

7,909 GT

6,000 GT

Mabuhay 3

William Lines Inc.

157.1m x 20.2m x 7.4m

7.878 GT

lengthened

Mary Queen of Peace

Negros Navigation Co.

159.5m x 21.5m x 9.0m

7,610 GT

9,551 GT

Mary The Queen (2)

Romblon Shpg Lines

138.3m x 20.5m x 13.7m

7,504 GT

7,053 GT

Princess of the Ocean

Sulpicio Lines Inc.

126.1m x 22,0m x 8.1m

7,297 GT

6,150 GT

Mabuhay 5

William Lines Inc.

141.5m x 23.0m x 7.4m

7,268 GT

5,439 GT

Super Shuttle RORO 3

AMTC

128.8m x 19.9m x 6.8m

7,023 GT

7,023 GT

Our Lady of Akita

CAGLI

162.1m x 26.4m x 7.3m

7,019 GT

8,194 GT

Our Lady of Lipa

CAGLI

124.2m x 16.8m x 6.4m

6,911 GT

4,973 GT

Maynilad

William Lines Inc.

140.5m x 20.5m x 11.9m

6,835 GT

4,997 GT

Princess of the South

Sulpicio Lines Inc.

141.3m x 22.7m x 12.7m

6,773 GT

6,773 GT

Sugbu

William Lines Inc.

137.5m x 20.2m x 6.8m

6,624 GT

4,999 GT

SuperFerry 11

WG&A

143.4m x 16.8m, 9.6m

6,528 GT

4,929 GT

St. Peter The Apostle

Negros Navigation Co.

151.5m x 22.8m, 7.3m

6,090 GT

6,950 GT

St. Joseph The Worker

Negros Navigation Co.

151.5m x 22.8m, 7.3m

6,090 GT

6.939 GT

San Lorenzo Ruiz

Negros Navigation Co.

132.1m x 22.7m, 12.8m

6,051 GT

6,844 GT

San Paolo

Negros Navigation Co.

118.0m x 20.4m, 8.0m

5,908 GT

5,956 GT

St. Francis of Assisi

Negros Navigation Co.

140.1m x 18.5m, 7.0m

5,873 GT

6,801 GT

Zamboanga City

William Lines Inc.

117.1m x 19.0m, 7.1m

5,747 GT

4,188 GT

Mabuhay 6

William Lines Inc.

109.2m x 17.8m x 6.3m

5,463 GT

2,823 GT

St. Ezekiel Moreno

Negros Navigation Co.

140.9m x 22.4m x 8.0m

5,342 GT

7,041 GT

Filipinas

Compania Maritima

121.0m x 18.1m x 9.7m

4,997 GT

4,997 GT

Trans-Asia 5

TASLI

114.8m x 19.0m x 9.6m

4,790 GT

3,864 GT

Philippine Princess

Sulpicio Lines Inc.

130.9m x 16.8m x 5.2m

4,717 GT

4,957 GT

Sweet RORO

Sweet Lines Inc.

117.5m x 20.6m x 6.1m

4,700 GT

4,619 GT

Sweet RORO 2

Sweet Lines Inc.

120.8m x 20.3m x 5.4m

4,693 GT

4,634 GT

Sweet Baby

Sweet Lines Inc.

125.6m x 19.6m x 6.1m

4,545 GT

4,362 GT

Princess of Negros

Negros Navigation Co.

118.9m x 20.6m x 11.2m

4,494 GT

4,700 GT

Our Lady of Medjugorje

CAGLI

123.0m x 18.0m x 12.3m

4,435 GT

3,764 GT

Masbate I

William Lines Inc.

104.6m x 20.0m, 5.4m

4,412 GT

3,350 GT

Dona Virginia

William Lines Inc.

143.5m x 16.8m, 6.5m

4,395 GT

4,990 GT

Our Lady of Sacred Heart

CAGLI

123.0m x 18.0m, 12.3m

4,388 GT

3,511 GT

Sta. Florentina

Negros Navigation Co.

118.9m x 20.6m x 4.8m

4,343 GT

4,445 GT

The Blessed Mother

MBRS Lines

94.7m x 16.2m x 6.3m

4,311 GT

2,399 GT

Manila Princess

Sulpicio Lines Inc.

123.0m x 19.6m x 5.3m

4,149 GT

4.149 GT

Our Lady of Naju

CAGLI

111.4m x 13.9m x 6.2m

4,067 GT

3,123 GT

Butuan Bay 1

CAGLI

114.8m x 19.0m x 9.6m

7,320 GT

3,864 GT

Princess of the Earth

Sulpicio Lines Inc.

110.0m x 19.0m x 11.7m

3,998 GT

3,686 GT

Asia China

TASLI

100.0m x 17.3m x 5.8m

3,991 GT

3,512 GT

Iloilo Princess

Sulpicio Lines Inc.

111.5m x 15.2m x 8.9m

3,935 GT

3,800 GT

Sampaguita Ferry 2

Sampaguita Shipping

100.0m x 16.2m x 7.0m

3,924 GT

3,941 GT

Ozamis Bay 1

CAGLI

130.3m x 20.0m x 13.7m

3,872 GT

4,545 GT

Trans-Asia

TASLI

94.0m x 17.7m x 4.2m

3,797 GT

3,025 GT

Dipolog Princess

Sulpicio Lines Inc.

112.2m x 15.2m x 4.8m

3,786 GT

3,510 GT

Princess of the Caribbean

Sulpicio Lines Inc.

110.5m x 15.2m x 6.2m

3,767 GT

3,553 GT

Dona Marilyn (1)

Sulpicio Lines Inc.

104.0m x 15.0m

3,503 GT

3,265 GT

Tacloban Princess

Sulpicio Lines Inc.

98.3m x 19.2m x 5.9m

3,351 GT

2,664 GT

Lady Mary Joy 2

Aleson Shipping Lines

122.0m x 19.6m x 6.5m

3,330 GT

3,330 GT

Love – 1

Moreta Shipping Lines

93.m x 15.3m x 6.0m

3,184 GT

2,584 GT

Filipinas Butuan

CAGLI

79.8m x 14.3m x 4.8m

3,086 GT

1,867 GT

Filipinas Iligan

CAGLI

79.6m x 14.3m x 4.8m

3,084 GT

1,867 GT

Mary The Queen (1)

MBRS Lines

104.5m x 15.9m x 4.4m

2,998 GT

2,998 GT

Manila City

William Lines Inc.

106.3m x 14.0m x 6.2m

2,961 GT

2,998 GT

Trans-Asia 3

TASLI

110.0m x 16.0m x 0.6m

2,908 GT

2,182 GT

St. Ignatius of Loyola

Cebu Ferries Corp.

104. 6m x 16.2m x 11.5m

2,825 GT

1,887 GT

Officially, of all our liners of the past that are under 10,000gt, the “biggest”, bar none, was the small liner SuperFerry 3 of Aboitiz Shipping Corporation. She “beats” the big liners St. Michael The Archangel, the biggest ever ship of Negros Navigation before the arrival of St. Francis Xavier. She also beats in size the big liners Princess of the World, Mabuhay 3, Mary Queen of Peace, the Our Lady of Akita and the sisters ships St. Peter The Apostle and St. Joseph The Worker. All of this liners she beat measures over 150 meters in length. What a feat for a liner of just 118 meters length! A candidate for “Ripley’s Believe It Or Not”.

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Photo credits: AeroEye Asia, Jojo Mariano and James Gabriel Verallo

The second surprise here is St. Michael The Archangel just measuring only half of the GTs of her sister ships St. Leo The Great, St. Gregory The Great and St. Francis Xavier at 9,654gt. However, under 2GO that has been remedied already and the newly declared GT is 17,781 and that is already within the range of her sister ships.

At 150+ meters length it seems the GT of a liner can be around 15,000. That can be gleaned in the following examples: St. Pope John Paul II, St. Therese of the Child Jesus, SuperFerry 17, SuperFerry 18, Princess of the Universe, Princess of Paradise, Princess of New Unity, Princess of the Orient, Manila Bay 1, Subic Bay 1 and Filipina Princess. Well, if a liner in the 130 meter class can already exceed 10,000gt that might be correct. Like SuperFerry 2, SuperFerry 5, Cagayan Bay 1 which exceeded that and SuperFerry 1 which nearly so.

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Earlier known as Sta. Ana (Photo by Rodney Orca)

Before St. Michael The Archangel came, the biggest ship ever in the history of Negros Navigation was the small liner Sta. Ana which was just 107 meters in length. How can that be when the sister ships St. Peter The Apostle and St. Joseph The Worker were both over 40 meters longer than her and the Mary The Queen was even longer? And to think Sta. Ana was never a flagship in Negros Navigation. Was there anybody that raised within MARINA the seeming incongruity?

The two Mary’s, Mary Queen of Peace and Mary The Queen were next to each other in the list. But their length difference is over 20 meters and the breadth of the Romblon Shipping Lines vessel was even shorter.

There are some surprises for me as regards to rank like Princess of the Ocean and Super Shuttle RORO 3. At 120 meters plus the two are already 7,000 plus GT (and this is consistent with liners over 130 meters that were over 10,000 GT) and well ahead of other established liners. The Princess of the Ocean basically functioned as an overnight ferry-RORO. That also goes true for the Our Lady of Lipa which is nearly 7,000gt at that same length range.

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Princess of the Ocean by Mike Baylon

San Paolo and Zamboanga City at 118 and 117 meters, respectively at nearly 6,000gt were remarkable. They are right there in size than many Negros Navigation liners that are bigger than them in reality. That is also true for Mabuhay 6 at 109 meters. It seems their GT’s were correct.

Who can believe that at 114 meters Trans-Asia 5 is “bigger” than many established liners that are longer than her? I can say the same for Masbate I which is right there with many established liners at just 104 meters length. Ditto for the very “thin” Our Lady of Naju with a breadth of only 13.9 meters.

The sister ships Filipinas Butuan and Filipinas Iligan are also surprises for me. At just 70 meters each imagine joining this list and even ahead of the much longer Trans-Asia 3. Meanwhile the new series of Cebu Ferries are dubious in GT. At their lengths, imagine all three are all below 3,000gt. Well, for the sub-100 meters in length the GT of The Blessed Mother is the highest at 4,311.

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The Blessed Mother by Nat Pagayonan

Peruse all you can the list. And see the other measurements that are clearly incongruent if one remembers their differing sizes. And also see the GT decreases while structures were added. Maybe they were sent to the MARINA “drying kiln” and so they “shrunk”.

Then tell me if GT measurements make sense here in the Philippines. And if MARINA knows how to compute GTs.