Sweet Lines and the DFDS Connection

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Sweet Faith by Karsten Petersen

DFDS is the abbreviation of Det Forenede Dampskibs-Selskab A/S (literally “The United Shipping Company” because it is a merger of three shipping companies). It is a Danish shipping company which is the biggest in Northern Europe. Now that reminds me that Maersk (or A.P. Moller-Maersk Group), the biggest shipping company in the whole world is also Danish. It seems the Danish are low-key and not used to trumpeting their horns but they really know shipping. It also sets me thinking that the more heralded shipping Greeks might then just be overrated because of Onassis who was tops in self-promotion. DFDS is an old, highly regarded shipping line that was established in 1866 and that was exactly 150 years ago. The company is both into passenger and cargo shipping historically and now they even have subsidiaries.

Sweet Lines Incorporated is a Philippine shipping company which started as the the Central Shipping Company in Bohol and they only changed name in 1961. Later, to handle their cargo/container shipping, Sweet Lines resurrected that company in 1981 while continuing to use the company Sweet Lines for passenger liner shipping. Sweet Lines actually started before World War II, was interrupted by the war like all other shipping companies then and they continued again after the war using mainly former “F” ships from the US Navy. They were then just a regional shipping company but a dominant regional with routes linking Bohol, Siquijor, Cebu, Leyte and Northern Mindanao along with a few other ports of calls in other parts of Central Philippines.

In 1965, the liner company General Shipping Company quit local shipping and then went into the overseas routes. They sold their local fleet along with its franchises and half of those ended up with Sweet Lines. That provided the opening for a dominant regional player to become a player in the national liner shipping scene. Except for one local-built luxury liner which became the Sweet Rose, all other ships conveyed from General Shipping were former “FS” ships which were the backbone of the Philippine inter-island shipping fleet after the war but which was already getting long in the teeth twenty years hence.

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Photo credit: Manila Chronicle, National Library and Gorio Belen

In 1966, Sweet Lines bought the only liner of Royal Lines, the Princesa and renamed this to Sweet Peace. The next year, they bought the third Governor Wright from Southern Lines and renamed this into Sweet Sail. What is remarkable about these acquisitions is these two ships are better and faster than the former “FS” that was a war surplus of the USA. In 1967, Sweet Lines was sailing these two to Manila with the bigger Sweet Rose and the Sweet Ride, their only ex-”FS” ship in a liner route.

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Photo credit: Manila Chronicle, National Library and Gorio Belen

What Sweet Lines did was they actually handed down to their regional routes their three other ex-”FS” ships from General Shipping Company thus bolstering their regional routes. These were the former General del Pilar, General Trias and General Lim. Since General Shipping always interchanged the names of their ships they then better be identified also with their IMO Numbers to avoid confusion. The three had the IDs IMO 6117992, IMO 6118023 and IMO 6117937 initially. In a change of IDs they were later the IMO 5127762, IMO 5127889 and IMO 5127736, respectively. Under Sweet Lines, the three became the first Sweet Trip, the first Sweet Ride and the first Sweet Hope, respectively. Where before, Sweet Lines only had former “F” ships for the regional battles, now they had also the bigger and better ex-”FS” ships.

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Photo credit: Philippine Herald, National Library and Gorio Belen

This early as a liner company, Sweet Lines’ template was beginning to show – they were not content to simply match the competitors’ fleet and here I am talking of quality and not of numbers. Up to 1967, the liner fleets of most of their competitors still consisted of former “FS” ships and some were lengthened former “F” ships.

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Photo credit: The Philippines Herald, National Library and Gorio Belen

The next moves of Sweet Lines confirmed their model of building their fleet. Their next seven ship acquisitions from 1967 to 1973, for an average of a ship each year consisted of ships acquired from Europe. Five of these were from DFDS and among them was the great Sweet Faith. The two others were no less than the five. One was a brand-new liner built in West Germany, the Sweet Grace and the other was a luxury liner from Italy, the former Caralis, a luxury liner even in Italy which became the first Sweet Home and biggest liner of Sweet Lines until then and one of the few liners in the country then that was over 100 meters in length.

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Sweet Bliss by Karsten Petersen

Getting five passenger ships one after the other showed the DFDS connection of Sweet Lines. During this period the additional ship requirements of our liner fleets was being sourced from Europe as there were no more available war surplus ships from the USA and there was not yet a significant volume of surplus passenger ships from Japan. Among the local liner companies it was Go Thong & Co., Compania Maritima and William Lines along with the upstart Dacema Lines that were sourcing ships from Europe in significant number during this time.

Of the five ships from DFDS, the most prominent of course and which became the flagship of Sweet Lines in the 1970’s was the Sweet Faith. This ship was a luxury liner even in Europe and was fast. She just sailed the premier Manila-Cebu route and that was paradigm-changing because she started the era of fast cruisers in the postwar years and by just sticking to one particular route without an intermediate port of call. She also launched what was called the “flagship wars” when William Lines decided to match her with the Cebu City. Sulpicio Lines later joined this war with their Don Sulpicio which was the later infamous Dona Paz. Sweet Home also joined this “flagship wars” in 1973 as pair to Sweet Faith doing only the Manila-Cebu route and she was also a fast cruiser aside from being a luxury liner.

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Photo credit: Times Journal, National Library and Gorio Belen

The other four ships from DFDS were passenger-cargo ships in Europe that has a small passenger capacity and which has a cargo boom bisecting the passenger accommodation below the bridge and the scantling at the stern. All four were built by Helsingor Vaerft in Elsinore, Denmark like the Sweet Faith. The four were actually a pair of sister ships. They were also by no means small.

The first that came here were the sisters ships Elsinore, Denmark and Birkholm which arrived in 1967 and 1969, respectively. Here, the were renamed into the Sweet Bliss and the Sweet Life (this ship was later renamed into Sweet Dream). The Broager was actually the younger ship having been built in 1953 while the Birkholm was built in 1950. At 92 meters length, the two were already among the biggest liners in country then with a median speed but certainly a little faster than the war surplus types from the USA, the ex-”FS” ships, the ex-”Y” ships, the ex-”C1-M-AV1” ships and the Type N3 ships.

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The next batch that came were the Ficaria and the Primula and both came in 1972 and they were renamed into the Sweet Lord (later renamed into Sweet Land) and Sweet Love. The two were bigger than the Broager and Birkholm at 101 meters and they had a respectable speed of 14.5 knots when new. The Ficaria was built in 1951 while the Primula was built in 1952. Meanwhile, the Sweet Faith was built in 1950. So all these ships of Sweet Lines from DFDS were actually built in just one period.

By 1974, Sweet Lines was no longer using ex-”FS” ships in the liner routes as they already passed on all this type to their regional routes and to their cargo shipping division. These five ships from DFDS became the backbone of their fleet and reinforced by the Sweet Home (the luxury liner ex-Caralis from Italy), the Sweet Grace (the brand-new liner built in West Germany in 1968) and by the local-built liner Sweet Rose acquired from General Shipping.

This was the peak of the passenger fleet of Sweet Lines when even their respected rivals were still using a lot of war-surplus ships from the USA in their liner routes. At 84 meters the Sweet Rose was the smallest among the eight and that was remarkable. If the length of their liners are averaged Sweet Lines will beat all except the leading Compania Maritima and will about equal the relatively small liner fleet then of Negros Navigation. At this year Sweet Lines might have ranked 4th or 5th in fleet strength nationwide or even as high as 3rd if their regional and cargo shipping are considered. Compania Maritima was already weakening this time with a lot of sinking without new acquisitions, Go Thong & Co., had broken up in 1972 while Aboitiz Shipping Corporation and subsidiary Cebu-Bohol Ferry Company while numerous is simply loaded with old ex-”FS” ships. Actually the First Five or First Six in national shipping then were almost near equals, the first and only time I saw such near-parity.

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Photo credit: Times Journal, National Library and Gorio Belen

From such strength derived from an insistence on ship quality from the start as a national liner company and by ushering the era of fast cruisers in the postwar years and fighting well the “flagship wars,” I cannot, however. just sweep under the rug how Sweet Lines slipped from its exalted position. Imagine from being a newcomer in the national liner shipping scene in 1965 and reaching near-parity with the leading ones in just nine short years!

Maybe such expansion hit Sweet Lines more than the others when the “floating rate” of the peso (an automatic currency devaluation mechanism) especially after the “Oil Shock” of 1973 when trade balance and foreign currency shortage happened with the fast rise of petroleum products. For five years from 1973 until 1978 they did not acquire any liner. And that is in the situation that their European-sourced liners are already getting old (well, the war-surplus ships from the USA are even older).

While William Lines and Sulpicio Lines were quick to buy fast cruisers from Japan, a new ship source from the middle of the 1970’s, Sweet Lines got stuck up in those crisis years. A news item in the middle of that decade said that Sweet Lines will just concentrate on buying smaller ships and that turned out to be true because their next ship acquisitions turned out to be just in the 50-meter class which is marginal size for a liner. That size of ships they purchased in the late 1970’s were just the size of the ex-”FS” ships and with just the same speed, actually. If that was not regression, I don’t know what is.

Sweet Home

Well, that inaction also happened to Compania Maritima, Aboitiz Shipping Corp., Escano Lines, Carlos A. Gothong Lines Inc.+Lorenzo Shipping Corp. (the two had combined operations there before separating in a few years) and Madrigal Shipping and to all the minor liner shipping companies. The consistent move of William Lines and Sulpicio Lines determined their leading position later (is this what Ana Madrigal later said was “dirty”?). Meanwhile, the slide of the others can be traced to that.

If the other shipping companies that did not make the bold move to fast cruisers thought the next decade will be better, then they probably got the shock of their lives when the economy got worse, much worse in the 1980’s. Financial and political crisis grew with the assassination of Ninoy Aquino and there was widespread discontent. The 1980’s turned into a “massacre decade” for our shipping when most of our liner companies, major and minor, did not survive that decade alive.

Sweet Lines survived that decade alive but they were no longer first rank. Soon they will crash out too. But as they say, that is another story (and worth another article). Abangan!

The Ten Ships From Europe That Vaulted Go Thong To No.1 Before The Break-up in 1972

In the 1960’s, Carlos A. Go Thong & Co., as it was known then. was able to latch their sail to a new commodity crop that will soon rise as the Number 1 commodity crop in the Philippines. That commodity crop was copra and its downstream product coconut oil. In the world this was the decade when coconut oil will displace animal oil (lard) as the primary cooking oil. The Philippines will become the Number 2 producer of copra in the world and the Number 1 exporter. Lu Do and Lu Ym will become the biggest aggregator of copra in the Philippines in that decade and its partnership with Go Thong and its subsidiary for international routes Universal Shipping with bring the two to the highest of heights in the trade of this commodity crop.

Go Thong will have many small ships with small passenger capacities or even none plying distant and out-of the way ports to load copra all over the Visayas and Mindanao. In many ports where they load copra, Go Thong will usually have big bodegas just for copra. In Iligan City, it was big as a city block and right there near the port and part of the city proper. All these copra will go to Lu Do and Lu Ym in Cebu and a portion of it will be milled into coconut oil, both crude coconut oil and refined coconut oil (this is what we buy from the supermarket and stores). The coconut oil and copra (mainly the latter) will be loaded in Universal Shipping vessels to be shipped to Europe (mainly West Germany) and the Far East. Other tankers, both foreign and local will also load coconut oil in the Lu Do and Lu Ym jetty in Cebu that is now partially enclosed by the SRP road.

Along the way with this trading in Europe, Go Thong was able to meet a broker or agent that promised them ten used European cargo-passenger ships that can be used in Philippine waters. In the middle of the 1960’s there was already a need for new liners in the inter-island routes as the population has already increased, the economy has already grown since 1945 and Mindanao was undergoing fast colonization (hence there was a need for ships to load people and cargo). At this time there were no more available former “FS”, former “Y”, former “F”, former PT boats and minesweepers and former “C1-M-AV1” ships from the US. Japan has no great supply yet of surplus ships as they were still in need of them to fuel their economic boom which was called the “Japan miracle”, their process of rising from the ashes of World War II to a great economic power of the world. It was only Europe that can provide the liners we needed then in the mid-1960’s.

These ten passenger-cargo ships for Go Thong along with a few local acquisitions and one from Japan vaulted a shipping company that was relatively late in the liner scene (they became a liner company only in 1954 with the launching of the lengthened ex-”F” ship Dona Conchita) to Number 1 in the very early 1970’s. They overtook the erstwhile leader Compania Maritima which was already then steadily losing ships through maritime accidents in what seemed to be a death wish. Aboitiz Shipping Corporation was then in the process of taking over the Philippine Steam Navigation Company (PSNC), their partnership with Everett Steamship. It had as many ships approximately but most of those were ex-”FS” ships whose size and quality cannot match with the new ships of Go Thong from Europe. Some of those have airconditioning and refrigeration because they were once refrigerated passenger-cargo ships in Europe and those were generally faster. Aboitiz Shipping through Everett Steamship had three good ships ordered new from Japan in 1955, the Legazpi, Elcano and Cagayan de Oro but Go Thong had more ships with airconditioning especially since they were able to acquire the former Gov. B. Lopez from the defunct Southern Lines which became the first Dona Ana.

The ten passenger-cargo ships from Europe which were fueled by the copra trade were the following:

The Gothong which was acquired from Cie Cherifienne d’Armament in 1963 whose first name was Cap Gris Nez. Later she was known as the Dona Pamela. She was built by Solvesborgs Varvs & Reden in Solvesborgs, Sweden in 1950. She measured 88.8 meters by 12.4 meters with a Gross Register Tonnage of 2,347 tons and Net Register Tonnage of 1,272 tons after modification. Her Deadweight Tonnage was 2,317 tons. She was powered with a single Atlas engine which gave her a top speed of 14 knots when new. Take note the US war-surplus ships usually ran only at 11 knots. She went to the fleet of Sulpicio Lines Inc. after the break-up in 1972.

The first Don Sulpicio which was acquired from Rederi A/B Samba in 1964 whose original name was the Colombia. Later she was known as Dona Gloria. She was built by Ekensberg in Stockholm, Sweden in 1947. Her measurements were 85.9 meters by 11.6 meters by 10.0 meters. The ship’s Gross Register Tonnage was 1,759 tons with a Net Register Tonnage of 1,079 tons. The Deadweight Tonnage was 2,235 tons. She was powered by a single Atlas engine of 2,000 horsepower which gave her a top speed of 13 knots when still new. She went to the fleet of Sulpicio Lines Inc. after the break-up.

The Tayabas Bay which was acquired from Liberian Navigation Company SA in 1965 which was first known as the Tekla. Later she was known as the Don Arsenio. She was built by Helsingor Vaerft in Elsinore, Denmark in 1945. She measured 110.0 meters by 14.0 meters by 8.7 meters with a Gross Register Tonnage of 2,306 tons and her Deadweight Tonnage was 4,197 tons. She was powered by a single Helsingors Jernskib engine which gave her a top speed of 14.5 knots when new. This ship was first used in the international routes. She went to the fleet of Carlos A. Gothong Lines Inc. after the break-up.

In 1966, two big sister ships came which were used in the international routes. These were war-surplus former US ships but acquired from European owners.

The Manila Bay, a sister ship of Subic Bay which acquired from from A/S J. Ludwig Mowinckels Rederi in 1966 was first known in Cape Pillar in the US Navy is a Type” C1-A” cargo used used for convoy duty during World War II. She was built by Pennsylvania Shipyard in Beaumont, Texas, USA. Her measurements were 125.7 meters by 8.3 meters and her Gross Register Tonnage was 5,158 tons and her Deadweight Tonnage was 6,440 tons. She was powered by a single Westinghouse engine of 4,000 horsepower which was good for 14 knots when new. This ship was bigger and faster than the Type “C1-M-AV1” ships of which the other local shipping companies have in their fleet then. She was broken up in 1973.

The Subic Bay, the sister ship of Manila Bay was acquired from O. Lorentzen in 1966. She was first known as the Cape St. George in the US Navy fleet and like Manila Bay she was built by Pennsylvania Shipyard in Beaumont, USA but in the year 1942. She had the same external measurements as Manila Bay but her Gross Register Tonnage was a little lower at 5,105 tons and but her Deadweight Tonnage was the same. She had the same powerplant and top speed as the Manila Bay. She was broken up in 1973.

The Dona Rita which was acquired from Cie de Nav Mixte in 1967 was first known as the Tafna. She was built by Lorient Arsenal in Lorient, France in 1949. She measured 95.3 meters by 14.0 meters and she had a Gross Register Tonnage of 2,063 tons and her Deadweight Tonnage was 2,147 tons. She had just a single engine but her top speed when new was 15 knots. She went to the fleet of Lorenzo Shipping Corporation after the break-up in 1972.

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The Dona Helene which was acquired from Cie Generale Transatlantique in 1968 was originally known as the ship Atlas. Later she was known as the Don Alberto. She was built in 1950 by the Chantiers et Ateliers de Provence in Port de Bouc, France. She measured 95.4 meters by 14.0 meters by 8.5 meters and her Gross Register Tonnage was 2,317 tons. Her Net Register Tonnage was 957 tons and her Deadweight Tonnage was 2,267 tons. She also had a single engine, a 3,000-horsepower Sulzer and her top speed when knew was 13 knots. She went to the fleet of Sulpicio Lines Inc. after the break-up.

In that same year 1968, two sister ships were acquired from Norddeutscher Lloyd.

The Don Lorenzo which was acquired from Norddeutscher Lloyd in 1968 and was first known as the Liebenstein and was a sister ship of Don Camilo. Later she was known as the Dona Julieta. She was built in 1951 by Bremer Vulkan in Vegesack, West Germany. Her measurements were 105.1 meters by 14.2 meters by 8.7 meters. The ship’s Gross Register Tonnage was 2,353 tons, her Net Register Tonnage was 1,275 tons and her Deadweight Tonnage was 3,175 tons. She carried 411 passengers. The Don Lorenzo was powered by a single Bremer Vulkan engine of 3,800 horsepower and she was fast at 16 knots top speed when new. She went to the fleet of Sulpicio Lines Inc. after the break-up.

The Don Camilo was also acquired from Norddeutscher Lloyd in 1968 and was first known as the Liechtenstein. She was the sister ship of Don Lorenzo which was also known as Dona Julieta. She was also built in 1951 by Bremer Vulkan in Vegesack, West Germany. She had the same external measurements as her sister ship. Likewise, their dimensional measurements – GRT, NRT and DWT were also the same. She had the same 3,800-horsepower Bremer Vulkan engine which was good for a fast 16 knots when new. This speed was the same as the luxury liners then running the inter-island water. She went to the fleet of Sulpicio Lines Inc. after the break-up.

The second Don Sulpicio was acquired from H/f Eimskipafelag Islands in 1969. She was first known as the Dettifoss and she was a refrigerated passenger-cargo ship and hence she had refrigeration and airconditioning and was a modified version of a luxury ship. She was in effect the flagship of the company from 1969 to 1975 when the third Don Sulpicio came and she became known as the Don Carlos Gothong. She was built in 1949 by Burmeister & Wein (yes, the B&W) in Copenhagen, Denmark. She measured 94.6 meters by 14.0 meters and her Gross Register Tonnage was 2,918 tons and her Deadweight Tonnage was 2,700 tons. She was powered by a single B&W engine and her top speed was fast at 16 knots when new. She went to the fleet of Sulpicio Lines Inc. after the break-up.

In 1972, one more ship arrived from Europe which became the Dona Angelina. She was the former Touggourt from Cie de Nav Mixter like the like the Dona Rita. She was also built by Provence in Port de Bouc in 1950. Her measurements were 91.4 meters by 14.0 meters and her Gross Register Tonnage was 2,696 with a Net Register Tonnage of 1,600. Her Deadweight Tonnage is 2,269. She had a Loire engine of 3,000 horsepower that gave her a design speed of 13.5 knots. Dona Angelina went to Sulpicio Lines after the break-up in 1972.

Now, i don’t know why the total is 11. Maybe Dona Angelina is not part of the ten-ship deal as she came three years later than that burst in 1963 to 1969. All were bigger and faster than ex-”FS” ships, even those lengthened ones and they were generally in the size of the former “C1-M-AV1” ships but faster. 

 In this period, Go Thong also acquired other ships from local sources. They took over the former Dona Aurora of the Maritime Company of the Philippines (the international line of Compania Maritima) in 1965 and she became the Sarangani Bay. She was used in the international routes like when she was under the Maritime Company of the Philippines.

In 1966, Go Thong acquired the Gov. B. Lopez from Southern Lines, the only luxury liner of their fleet and which has airconditioning and refrigeration. This became the first Dona Ana. This ship was a local-built by NASSCO in Mariveles, Bataan and she went to Lorenzo Shipping Corporation after the break-up.

Also in 1966, Go Thong acquired the Don Amando from Northern Lines. This was the former Tomokawa Maru from Japan built by Kawasaki Shipbuilding Corporation in Kobe, Japan. In the Go Thong fleet, she was first known as the Dona Hortencia before she became known as the Dona Paz (this is an earlier Dona Paz and not the infamous Dona Paz which was formerly the Himeyuri Maru) in the fleet of Carlos A. Gothong Lines Inc.

A grand total of 15 ship additions from 1963 to 1972 and actually 14 from 1963 to 1969, probably the fastest addition of liners in Philippine shipping history! Including minor ships in out-of-the-way routes, by 1972 Go Thong had already a fleet of more than 30 vessels including cargo ships with more than 20 of those being passenger-cargo ships. This was the biggest fleet then with more than the total of Aboitiz Shipping Corporation and PSNC which only had over 20 vessels. Actually, even in 1970, the start of the new decade they already had the biggest fleet in the inter-island waters. Not included in the comparison was the bigger Philippine President Lines which was in ocean-going routes and its rise was fueled by something else.

In the split of 1972, 16 ships went to the new Sulpicio Lines Inc. Most of these were liners and it included 6 of those 10 ships (two, the Manila Bay and Subic Bay might have been retained by Universal Shipping until their break-up). Compania Maritima had a grand total of 19 ships in 1972.

Even with the split, Sulpicio Lines Inc. started with still one of the biggest fleet in the country at probably third rank in grand total. They did not start at the bottom (and will soon rise to Number 1 again).

That was the rise of Go Thong then which was real fast by any measure.

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Photo Credits: Gorio Belen, Philippine Herald, Philippine Ship Spotters Society

The Sweet Grace and Sweet Faith and Their Impact for Sweet Lines

The “Sweet Grace” and “Sweet Faith” were two luxury liners that came for Sweet Lines in 1968 and 1970, respectively. These two liners had a lot to do in establishing Sweet Lines not only as a legit liner shipping company in the Philippines but also as one of the majors. As a liner company, Sweet Lines was a relative latecomer in this field as they only ascended to this in 1965. Their competitors Compania Maritima, Philippine Steam and Navigation Company (the partnership of Everett Steamship and Aboitiz Shipping), Escano Lines, William Lines , Carlos A. Go Thong & Co., Madrigal Shipping and Philippine President Lines started way early than them. But Sweet Lines’ rise was fast and this was helped by some astute moves like the purchase of “Sweet Grace” and “Sweet Faith” (this is the first “Sweet Faith”, a clarification since another liner of theirs also carried that name later). This was also helped by the acquisition of “Sweet Rose” locally and by the first “Sweet Home” from Italy.

Sweet Lines actually had pre-World War II origins as the Central Shipping Company. They originated in Bohol and they only changed their name in 1961. Actually, almost anyone who knew them always thought of them as a Bohol shipping company and so Bol-anons were always proud of them. After the war, the company grew to be a regional major with lines from Bohol to Northern Mindanao and Cebu and lines from Cebu to Leyte and Northern Mindanao. But they were not a multi-day liner company yet then as they were just sailing overnight and short-distance routes.

Then in 1965, the liner company General Shipping Company decided to quit local routes and just engage in shipping to the Far East after a board room squabble. With that, General Shipping began to dispose of their liners and franchises and half of those went to Sweet Lines (and the other half went to Aboitiz Shipping Corporation). Three of those liners were ex-FS ships and there is nothing noteworthy there but the fourth one was noteworthy. It was the former “General Roxas” (the second to carry that name in the fleet of General Shipping) and this was one of the two brand-new local-built liners from NASSCO in Mariveles, Bataan that was ordered in 1960 and 1961. The two were sister ships.

They were relatively big for a liner during those early days with the “General Roxas” at 84.7 meters by 12.3 meters. In cubic capacity she had 1,757 gross register tons and 968 net register tons. What was notable was they were already equipped with airconditioning when the very common ex-World War II ships then were not airconditioned like the ex-FS ships and bigger ex-C1-M-AV1. “General Roxas” became the “Sweet Rose” in the Sweet Lines fleet after coming over in 1965. For most of her career in Sweet Lines, this liner held the Manila-Catbalogan-Tacloban route for the company (yes, that was still an important liner route in those days; now that is bread and butter for the intermodal buses).

In 1968, from a soft loan by West Germany through the Philippine Government, Sweet Lines was able to order the “Sweet Grace”, a brand-new liner. This ship was built by Actiengessellschaft ‘Weser’ Seebeckwerpt in Bremerhaven, Germany with the ID IMO 6806951 at a cost of PhP 6.4 million (no typo there; now that money will just buy a high-end BMW). She was a cruiser with two masts, two passenger decks and a cargo boom at the front. The ship had a raked stem and a cruiser stern and a single center funnel. She measured 88.0 meters by 12.8 meters with a depth of 7.1 meters. Her cubic measures was 1,489 gross register tons and her load capacity was 1,590 deadweight tons. Her net tonnage was 690 and her passenger capacity was 18 persons in first class cabins and 650 persons in second class and third class.

The “Sweet Grace” was billed as a luxury liner (most liners then were actually converted cargo-passenger ships). She had an airconditioned lounge and dining salons, a lounge, a bar, piped-in music, TVs and movies – those were what defined a luxury liner then and especially the presence of airconditioning. The ship also had modern navigational aids and those were mainly radar and LORAN then. That is a take against the ex-FS ships which had no radar and which mainly relied on the old compasses and astrolabes. This liner had a single Atlas-MAK engine developing 2,950 horsepower which gave her a top speed of 15.5 knots. She was first deployed to the Manila-Catbalogan-Tacloban and Manila-Cebu routes.

In 1970, Sweet Lines acquired the luxury liner “H.P. Prior” from Det Forenede Dampskibs-Selskab A/S, which is more commonly known as DFDS, a major Danish and European shipping company. She was built by Helsingor Vaerft in Elsinore, Denmark in 1950 and she had the permanent ID IMO 5139131. She had two masts, three decks and a prominent single center funnel. The ship had a raked stem and a retrousse stern. She was bigger than Sweet Grace at 104.0 meters by 14.9 meters with 3,155 gross register tons. She also measured at 1,814 net register tons and 903 deadweight tons. This liner had a passenger capacity of 1,166 with 310 of that in cabins and the rest in airconditioned dormitories including third class. Her superstructure was practically untouched when she came here. She was equipped with two Helsingor-B & W engines with 7,620 horsepower which gave her a top speed of 20 knots, a speed she carried on even here, the first local liner to have that speed. She was our fastest liner in 1970, displacing from the throne the liner “Galaxy” of Galaxy Lines.

She was a luxury liner in the truest sense of the word and her comfort and amenities were higher than the liners which came before her. There was an airconditioned dining salon, an airconditioned economy cafeteria and all the passenger areas were airconditioned. For entertainment there were TVs and a mini-theater with movies (this was not common then), stereo music (also not common then) and a supper club (it was an sundown to midnight relaxation/lounging area with drinks, “pulutan” and entertainment by a band which was called a “combo” then). There were four third class dormitories which were all airconditioned (no, that was not an innovation by Aboitiz Transport System). And there was even a two-level sundeck which was popular for passengers for sightseeing, catching the breeze and for socializing. “Sweet Faith” defined what was a luxury liner then. She also defined what was “fast”.

In 1973, another European luxury liner came to Sweet Lines, the former “Caralis” of Tirrenea Spa di Navale of Italy which was built in 1957 by the Navalmeccanica in Castellamare, Italy. In the Sweet Lines fleet she became the second “Sweet Home”. She was a bigger liner than “Sweet Faith”, just as luxurious but not as fast. She was then paired by Sweet Lines with “Sweet Faith” in trying to dominate the Manila-Cebu route. The two were dedicated ships there and they sailed four times a week to Cebu and four times a week to Manila. Sweet Lines advertised them as the “Inimitable Mates”. “Sweet Home” measured 120.4 meters by 16.0 meters with 5,480 gross register tons (GRT) and 3,043 net register tons (NRT) in cubic measurements. Her NRT alone was already bigger than most of the liners of that era and that is just the measurement of the area dedicated to the passengers. The ship had a single Ansaldo engine of 6,200 horsepower which was good for 18 knots when new. Here she was only good for about 16 knots or so. “Sweet Home” had a passengers capacity of 1,200 which was probably the biggest in that era.

All these four liners had a big role in establishing Sweet Lines quick in the passenger liner field. There were other shipping companies that had bigger fleets than them. But what degraded them was that they were still reliant on the small, slow and vulnerable ex-FS ships even on the long routes like the routes to Davao and General Santos City (Dadiangas). These kind of ships were even still in use then in primary ports like Cebu and Iloilo while Sweet Lines began retiring their ex-FS ships from Manila routes when they had already these good liners. So Sweet Lines might not have had a big fleet then but their fleet spoke of quality. Actually if their primary liners then had a weakness it was that they can’t carry much cargo.

Sweet Lines liners were known for prompt departures while many other competitors gave priority to cargo. That means if there was still cargo to be loaded then the ship will still not leave even though it was already past departure time. And that was actually oppressive to most of the passengers as it can be hot in the third class sections of the ships especially during summers. Sweet Lines actually led in airconditioning in that liner era. So while Sweet Lines (not “Sweat Lines”) might have been gone now, many people still remember them for comfort and also the size of their liners then.

In the 1970’s, the fast cruiser liners came and that was the new flag bearer of that era offering shorter travel times in the major routes. Being old ships already when they came here “Sweet Faith” and “Sweet Home” did not last very long. Sweet Lines did not acquire fast cruiser liners like what William Lines, Sulpicio Lines and Negros Navigation did. “Sweet Grace” was still relatively new then but she was not fast in the first place. In the 1970’s, 18 knots already became the definition of what was “fast”.

I noticed in shipping that those who failed to follow the new paradigm lose their place in the hierarchy and that was what happened to Sweet Lines (and to some other liner companies like Compania Maritima, Philippine Steamship and Navigation Company and Aboitiz Shipping Company, Escano Lines and Madrigal Shipping). They tried a shortcut to the RORO era like what Carlos A. Gothong Lines Inc. did. But then maybe, both did not have enough steam for that leap. Other competitors also acquired RORO liners but they still also had their fast cruisers which Sweet Lines did not have. Still, overall, the 1970’s was a good decade for Sweet Lines. And to think they only came in the liner field in 1965. It was in the 1980’s when they started falling back. But then again that is another story….

[Photo Owner: Karsten Petersen]
[Research Support: Gorio Belen]
[Database Support: Jun Marquez/Mike Baylon/PSSS]