A Good Ship That Was Not Able To Outrun A Typhoon

The FS-220, when she came to the Philippines in 1960 was among the last “FS” ships that arrived in the country. She was among the batch used by the US Navy after the war for resupply missions and released from service starting in 1959. For reasons that are not yet clear to me I do not know how the newly-established Philippine President Lines (PPL) was able to corner a big chunk of these last-released “FS” ships. And that batch was the envy of many and even abroad because the US Navy knows how to maintain its ships (and it has the budget) and compared to ex-”FS” ships already in the country which just sails and sails that last batch does not have worn engines yet.

The FS-220 was a ship built by Higgins Industries in New Orleans, USA which was the designer and builder of the famous Higgins boats. She measured 54.9 meters by 9.8 meters by 3.2 meters and originally had 573 tons in gross register tonnage. Like most other “FS” ships she was powered by two GM Cleveland engines with a total of 1,000 horsepower and her maximum speed was 12 knots.

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Photo credits: Philippines Herald and Gorio Belen

FS” ships transferred from the US Army (the operator in World War II) to the US Navy for postwar duty usually have alterations already to suit their mission. Many still undergo further conversions here to suit the local shipping needs and situation and that mainly consists of increasing the passenger capacity.

In the Philippine President Lines fleet, the FS-220 became known as the President Roxas. She was the first ship to carry this name in the fleet. She was also known now by the ID IMO 6117958. Upon conversion, she already had three passenger decks including the lowermost where cargo is also stowed. The first route of the President Roxas was Manila-Cebu-Iligan.

The Philippine President Lines did not last long in the inter-island route and when it concentrated on overseas shipping they established the subsidiary Philippine Pioneer Lines in 1963 to take over the inter-island operations and so the President Roxas went to Philippine Pioneer Lines. Her first route for this new company was the quaint Manila-Masbate-Bulan-Allen-Legaspi-Tabaco route. As such she became a Bicol specialist with a slight diversion to Samar. This was the period when sending a ship to Bicol still made sense.

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Photo credits: The Philippine Herald and Gorio Belen

After two major accidents in 1966 which were the floundering of the Pioneer Cebu in a typhoon and the collision involving Pioneer Leyte which lead to her breaking up, Philippine Pioneer Lines ceased operation. In 1967, Galaxy Lines replaced her and the fleet of Philippine Pioneer Lines was transferred into the Galaxy fleet. The President Roxas became the Venus in the fleet of Galaxy Lines where ships were named after constellations.

She did not last long in Galaxy Lines, however, and was sold immediately sold to N&S Lines, Inc. Galaxy Lines no longer had Bicol routes while N&S Lines had Bicol and Samar routes and maybe the reason for the sale was to avoid taking out a ship in those routes. In N&S Lines, she did the Manila-Allen-Carangian (now known as San Jose)-Legaspi (now spelled as Legazpi)-Laoang route. Only the route to Tabaco port was the one practically dropped.

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Photo credits: Manila Times and Gorio Belen

Venus would hold for long that route and leaving Manila every Tuesday at 9pm. Slowly, she became a fixture in this route. In 1976, a new ship, the Queen of Samar of Newport Shipping Lines issued a challenge to her. There were other passenger-cargo ships to her route from Manila with slightly different ports of call but the ships of the New Shipping Lines were the most dangerous as the Queen of Samar was not the only ship that entered the Northern Samar and nearby routes. In fact, it totaled six. I really can’t understand what was the attraction of Northern Samar and the nearby ports to Newport Shipping Lines.

And then from that in just three years the bottom fell out for these routes because suddenly the San Bernardino Strait was connected by the RORO ship Cardinal I of Cardinal Shipping and suddenly buses and trucks from Manila started running to Samar directly. There was no longer any need to bring the cargo to North Harbor. Ditto for the passengers. Suddenly, the viability of the Samar routes began to evaporate and what was just propping it up was the intermediate route to Masbate.

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Gorio Belen research in the National Library

Though the Manila ships began to evaporate too in the routes passing through San Bernardino Strait especially those that had concentration to Bicol, the Venus was one of the most resilient and she outlasted practically every other passenger-cargo ship in the Northern Samar routes when to think buses and trucks were already arriving daily there. Maybe there were passengers which still prefer the ship or might have been too attached to them.

Nearing her 40th year of life, Venus was sailing from Samar to Manila. There was a Category 5 super-typhoon then approaching the Philippines from the east and its central pressure was 880 millibars which is even lower than Typhoon “Yolanda”’s 890 millibars (the lower the number the stronger is the typhoon). There was also a typhoon that was developing in South China See at the same time. Maybe Venus thought that by sailing she will be putting distance from the stronger typhoon and might have underestimated or failed to notice the storm in South China Sea which was just a tropical depression when she sailed. It seems Venus also failed to understand well the effects on the sea of a Sibuyan Sea. The two typhoons were actually interacting and in fact the stronger typhoon was sucking the weaker one. Venus might have failed to understand well the risks when she embarked on her final voyage.

It was in Sibuyan Sea when Venus finally discovered the sea was roiling and the winds were unforgiving. The ex-”FS” ships were particularly vulnerable to typhoons and that was why her old captains here were masters of finding the coves and inlets where they can hide or shelter the ship when the weather acts up.

It seems Venus tried to hightail it to a port or was desperately trying to find shelter (as she already diverted from her route if gauged from where she perished). However, in Tayabas Bay it seems Venus was not able to weather the wind and the waves and floundered on October 28, 1984 (in Tayabas Bay the winds then will be hitting her broadside at port). There was no trace of the ship after the typhoon and 36 people perished with her, unfortunately.

On a note, the Lorenzo Container VIII of Lorenzo Shipping Corporation was another ship that floundered in that twin interacting storm. This even bigger ship sank on the same day as Venus north of Abra de Ilog, Occidental Mindoro, in a sea which is even farther than the stronger typhoon (which was incidentally named also as Typhoon “Reming” like the deadliest storm to visit Bicol in the recent decades).

The sinking of Venus even had repercussions in our place. When about to ride a ship, my earthbound relatives would remind me of her fate (you know the oldies then!). The floundering in another typhoon of the Dona Marilyn in a nearby sea, the Samar Sea, four years later in 1988 did not help either.

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Photo credits: Times Journal and Gorio Belen

The Venus served the same route for 17 years. That was long by any local measure. It took two typhoons to end her memorable career. Small shipping companies really take hard a sinking and coupled with weakening routes and the general crisis of that era, the Ninoy post-assassination years, N&S Lines, her company also went under.

After the sinking of Venus, the routes to Northern Samar from Manila also died. In the 1990’s MBRS Lines from Romblon tried to revive it. But there was really no way to defeat the new paradigm, the intermodal system. And so it died again. Finally.

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The Passenger-Cargo ex-“FS” Ships of the Philippines

Right after World War II, the former FS ships of the US military dominated the Philippine shipping industry. FS means “Freight and Supply”. Their earlier designation was “FP”. The FS series is one of the many types of transport-supply ships used by the US armed forces in World War II.

The FS ships proceeded from one basic design, with variations. There were many contracted shipbuilders in the US that built them. Higgins Industries and Wheeler Shipbuilding were the dominant FS shipbuilders. The FS ships that reached the Philippines were about 54 meters in length with a beam of 9.8 meters. It is about 560 gross tons. Many manufacturers supplied engines for the FS ships from the basic General Motors-Cleveland design.

The bulk of the FP/FS ships were built in the year 1944 and a few were built in 1945. Most were built for the US Army and it was mainly employed in the Pacific theater of operations of the US armed forces. That was one of the reasons why so many FS ships found its way to the Philippines.

As military surplus ships which the US no longer needed anymore after the war, the FS ships were plenty, readily available and very cheap. Many were just given as reparations for the ships requisitioned by the US during the war or were replacements for the ships that were deliberately scuttled during the early phase of the Pacific war to prevent them from falling into enemy hands.

The first batch that came was directly given to the Philippine government for its disposal. Later, some FS ships given to other countries found its way to the Philippines, mainly in the 1950’s and these were private transactions. Even much later, some former FS ships converted by the US Navy for post-war uses (the “AKL” series) found its way to the Philippines as late as the 1960’s. This batch was cornered by the well-connected Philippine President Lines.

Some of FS ships were used unconverted and served as cargo ships carrying a few passengers. Most, however, were converted to true passenger-cargo use. About half were later lengthened in Hongkong and Bataan shipyards and some were even re-engined. Aboitiz Shipping Lines and William Lines were notable for this.

Converted and/or lengthened FS ships added passenger decks and accommodations. But compared to later standards those were still very spartan and meager. Third-class was really hardship class as one has to sleep among the cargo in the lowermost deck which is hot and noisy as it was just above the engine deck. Second class accommodations meant foldable cots and being located a deck above third class. First class is usually located in the bridge deck and is not accessible by the other classes. However, for all classes air-conditioning is non-existent.

Originally running at 12-13 knots, converted FS ships generally ran at 10-11 knots and sometimes even slower as they aged and got heavy. A route in general had many ports of call with long in-port hours due to the slow loading and unloading operations using porters and booms. Southern Mindanao voyages took two weeks to complete, round-trip. Visayas and northern Mindanao routes took one week. In a few short routes to Panay, Palawan, Mindoro, Romblon and Marinduque, a twice a week sailing was possible.

The FS ships generally didn’t have radar and ship masters became versatile in reading the weather and in looking for coves to take cover when the waves became rough for comfort and safety. The FS ships were known for rolling in heavy seas and being slow it cannot outrun a coming typhoon. Many were caught in the seas by storms and foundered or were wrecked.

The FS ships served longer than they were intended or expected to. Most were still sailing in the 1970’s and having completed three decades of service. But by the 1980’s, only the sturdiest of the class survived. A few of the FS ships served until the early 1990’s. It is a matter of conjecture which was the last FS ship sailing in our waters. That FS ship was probably a vessel running cargo somewhere among the lesser-known routes.

Usually death of the engine is the main cause of the retirement of the FS ship. Others were retired because they were no longer competitive in terms of speed and comfort. Many long-surviving shipping companies sold and broke up FS ships late in its life to be able to buy newer replacement ships. However, other lesser companies sold and broke up ships in the economic crisis of the mid-1980’s and went out of the shipping business.

By the mid-1990’s, the FS ships were already history. At the age of 50 even the sturdiest of machineries begin to fail and can no longer be retrofitted. Radar and air-conditioning, musts of the 1980’s can no longer be retrofitted in the FS ships. Nor can they be made to run any faster.

As a whole, the FS ships did not suffer from leaky bottoms or holed hulls. In general, they proved to be sturdy and reliable. The FS ships were one of the most significant types of ships to serve Philippine shipping.

The Passenger-Cargo FS Ships in the Philippines:

Aboitiz Shipping Lines/PSNC/Cebu-Bohol Ferry Company:

MV Antonia (FS-280)

MV Carmen (FS-226) [foundered 1987]

MV Mangarin (FS-279) [wrecked 1974]

MV Marcelino (FS-271) [broken up 1992]

MV Baybay (FS-253) [foundered 1980]

MV Davao (FS-200) [sold to William Lines]

MV Kolambugan (FS-194) [sold to William Lines]

MV Kinau (FS-365) [sold to CAGLI]

MV Picket II (FS-167) [broken up]

MV Vizcaya (FS-465) [sold to Escano Lines]

MV Lanao (FS-349)

MV Cotabato (FS-404) [sold]

MV Bais (1) (FS-3190 [wrecked 1978]

MV Baztan (FS-264) [sold to George & Peter Lines]

MV Sorsogon (FS-366) [sold to Rodrigueza Shipping]

MV FS-272 [sold to William Lines]

MV FS-177 [fire, sank 1972]

MV Manuel (FS-165) [converted to barge, 1977]

MV Ormoc (1) (FS-176)

MV Ernest S (FS-147) [sold to Escano Lines]

William Lines:

MV Victor (FS-372) [broken up 1985]

MV Albert (FS-527) [wrecked, broken up 1982]

MV Henry I (FS-196) [sold to Bisayan Land Transport]

MV Don Victoriano (FS-526) [fire, broken up 1982]

MV Edward (FS-224) [broken up 1992]

MV Elizabeth (FS-311) [broken up 1988]

MV Don Jose I (FS-268)

MV Davao City (FS-200) [broken up 1986]

MV Misamis Oriental (FS-194) [fire, sank 1987]

MV Dona Maria (FS-265) [sold to Escano Lines]

General Shipping:

General del Pilar (FS-253) [sold to Aboitiz Shipping]

General Segundo (FS-273) [sold to Sweet Lines]

General Lim (FS-199) [sold to Sweet Lines]

General Lukban (FS-280) [sold to Aboitiz Shipping]

General Mascardo (FS-269)

General Luna (FS-346) [sold to Sweet Lines]

General Mojica (FS-271) [sold to Aboitiz Shipping]

General Capinpin (FS-279) [sold to Aboitiz Shipping]

General Malvar (FS-226) [sold to Aboitiz Shipping]

Compania Maritima:

MV Bohol (FS-550) [wrecked 1971]

MV Corregidor (FS-549) [broken up 1988]

MV Leyte (FS-386) [wrecked 1978]

MV Mindoro (FS-393) [foundered 1967]

MV Romblon (FS-166) [fire, beached 1974]

MV Marinduque (FS-159) [broken up 1988]

MV Masbate (1) (FS-144) [sold to Sweet Lines]

MV Don Isidro (FS-160) [sold to Sweet Lines]

Manila Steamship:

MS Vizcaya (FS-405) [sold to PSNC]

MS Lanao (FS-349) [sold to PSNC]

MS Venus (FS-404) [sold to PSNC]

MS Elcano (FS-319) [sold to PSNC]

MS Baztan (FS-264) [sold to PSNC]

MS Sorsogon (FS-366) [sold to PSNC]

MS Marinduque (FS-159) [sold to Compania Maritima]

Philippine President Lines/Philippine Pioneer Lines/Galaxy Lines:

MV Pres. Osmena (1) (FS-309) a.k.a MV Pioneer Iligan/MV Gemini [sold]

MV Pres. Laurel (1) (FS-175) a.k.a. MV Pioneer Butuan/MV Virgo [sold]

MV Pres. Roxas (1) (FS-220) [sold to N&S Lines]

MV Pres. Quirino (1) (FS-275) a.k.a. MV Pioneer Tacloban/MV Odeon [sold to Lorenzo Shipping]

MV Pres. Magsaysay (1) (FS-223) a.k.a. MV Pioneer Cebu [sank 1966]

MV Pres. Quezon (1) (FS-265) [sold to William Lines]

Escano Lines:

MV Tacloban (FS-265) [foundered 1971]

MV Kolambugan (FS-194) [fire, sank 1987]

MV Fernando Escano (FS-178) [sold]

MV Agustina (FS-225) [broken up 1989]

MV Malitbog (FS-403) [broken up 1984]

MV Rajah Suliman (FS-147) [broken up 1984]

Sulpicio Lines:

MV Don Enrique (1) (FS-270) [wrecked 1982]

MV Don Carlos (1) (FS-148) [foundered 1977]

MV Don Alfredo (FS-310) [broken up 1983]

MV Don Jose (1) (FS-318) [sank 1967]

Sweet Lines:

MV Sweet Trip (1) (FS-273) [wrecked 1978]

MV Sweet Ride (1) (FS-346) [broken up 1985]

MV Sweet Hope (1) (FS-199) [wrecked 1984, broken up]

MV Sweet Town (FS-144) [broken up 1982]

MV Sweet News (FS-160) [broken up 1968]

Southern Lines/Visayan Transport:

MS Governor Gilbert (FS-194) [sold to Escano Lines]

MS Governor Smith (FS-314) [sold]

MS Governor Wright (1) (FS-287) [sold]

MS Governor Wright (2) (FS-365) [sold to Aboitiz Shipping]

MV Don Julio (FS-286) [sold to Philippine Pioneer Lines]

Bisaya Land Transport:

MV Don Mariano (FS-260) [broken up]

MV Don Filomena (FS-201) [broken up]

MV Dona Remedios (FS-284) [broken up]

MV Don Mariano (2) (FS-196) [sold to Alma Shipping]

North Camarines Lumber/NCL/NORCAMCO:

MV Sirius (FS-265) [sold to Philippine President Lines]

MV FS-387

MV Taurus (1) (FS-365) [sold to PSNC]

MV Vega (2) [sold to N&S Lines]

N&S Lines:

MV Venus (FS-220) [foundered in 1984]

MV Odeon (FS-275) [sold to Lorenzo Shipping]

MV Vega (2)

De La Rama Steamship:

MS Don Esteban (FS-166) [sold to Compania Maritima]

MS Don Isidro (FS-160) [sold to Sweet Lines]

MS Don Vicente (FS-199) [sold to General Shipping]

Pan-Oriental Shipping:

MV Oriental (FS-318) [sold to Carlos A. Go Thong & Co.]

MV Occidental (FS-350) [sold to Carlos A. Go Thong & Co.]

MV Continental (FS-197) [sold]

Lorenzo Shipping:

MV Don Francisco (FS-350) [wrecked 1978]

MV Don Jolly (1) (FS-275)

Juliano & Co.:

MV Zamboanga-J (FS-178) [sold to Escano Lines]

MV Cotabato-J (FS-279) [sold to General Shipping]

Rodrigueza Shipping:

MV Neptuno (FS-379)

MV Sorsogon (FS-366)

Gothong Lines:

MV Don Benjamin (1) (FS-365) [broken up 1980]

Ledesma Shipping:

Don Julio (FS-286) [sold to Southern Lines]

De Oro Shipping:

MV Insular de Cebu (FS-178) [wrecked 1978]

Philippine Sea Transport:

MV FS-194 [sold to PSNC]

South Sea Shipping:

MV Neptuno (FS-389) [sold to Rodrigueza Shipping]

Sta. Mesa Machinery:

MV Ernest-S (FS-147) [sold to PSNC]

Philsin:

MV Philsin (FS-364)

[Research Support: Gorio Belen]

[Database Support: Jun Marquez, Angelo Blasutta, Mike Baylon]

[Edited and reprinted from an article in the old Philippine Ship Spotters Society website.]