The Convergence, Parallels, Rivalry and Divergence of Sweet Lines and William Lines

For introduction, Sweet Lines is a shipping company that started in Tagbilaran, Bohol while William Lines is a shipping company started in Cebu City after the war while having earlier origins in Misamis Occidental before the war. And like many shipping lines whose founders are of Chinese extraction, the founders of both Sweet Lines and William Lines were first into copra trading before branching into shipping. And long after the two became national shipping lines Bol-anons and people of Misamisnons still have a close identification and affinity to the two shipping companies and in fact were the still the prides of their provinces.

1950 William Lines

1950 William Lines ad. Credits to Philippine Herald and Gorio Belen

William Lines became a national liner company in 1945 just right after the end of the war and almost exactly 20 years before Sweet Lines which was just a Visayas-Mindanao shipping company after the war whose main base is Bohol. The company just became a national liner company when it was able to buy half of the ships and routes of General Shipping Corporation when that company decided to quit the inter-island routes in 1965 after a boardroom squabble among the partner families owning it. And so William Lines had quite a head start over Sweet Lines. Now, readers might be puzzled now where is the convergence.

People who are already old enough now might think the convergence of the two shipping companies, a rivalry in fact, started when Sweet Lines fielded the luxury liner Sweet Faith in the Manila-Cebu route in 1970. That ship raised a new bar in liner shipping then plus it started a new paradigm in Cebu, that of the fast cruiser liner which is more dedicated to passengers and their comfort than cargo and has the highest level of passenger accommodations and amenities. It was really hard to match the Sweet Faith then for she was really a luxury liner even when she was still in Europe. That fast cruiser liner was not just some converted passenger-cargo or cargo-passenger ship which was the origins of practically of all the liners of the postwar period until then.

1967-6-7 Sweet+William +Escano+Rodrigueza

Credits to Manila Times and Gorio Belen

Actually, the rivalry of Sweet Lines and William Lines started from convergence. William Lines, in their first 20 years of existence, was basically concentrating on the Southern Mindanao routes but of course its ships which were all ex-”FS” ships then called on Cebu and Tagbilaran first before heading south. Aside from Southern Mindanao, the only other area where William Lines concentrated was the Iligan Bay routes, specifically Iligan and Ozamis, near where the founder and the business of William Lines originated. But in 1966, William Lines started its acquisition of cargo-passenger ships from Europe for conversion here like what Go Thong & Company earlier did and what Sweet Lines will soon follow into. It was actually an expansion as they were not disposing of their old ex-”FS” ships and naturally an expansion of the fleet will mean seeking of new routes or concentration. 

7984862449_b0d1173342_z

Credits to Philippine Herald and Gorio Belen

Sweet Lines, meanwhile, had an initial concentration of routes in the Eastern Visayas as a liner company which was dictated by the purchase of half of the fleet of General Shipping Corporation which consisted of five liners which were all ex-”FS” ships except for the new local-built General Roxas plus the Sea Belle of Royal Lines which was going out of business. But Sweet Lines immediately expanded and was also plying already the Cebu and Tagbilaran routes from Manila, naturally, because their main base was Tagbilaran. Then they also entered the Iligan Bay routes in 1967 and it was even using the good Sweet Rose (the former General Roxas) there which was a heavy challenge to all the shipping companies serving there that were just using ex-”FS” ships there previously. Of course, not to be outdone William Lines later brought there their brand-new Misamis Occidental, their flagship then, in 1970. If William Lines had two frequencies a week to the two ports of Iligan Bay in 1967, then that was the frequency of Sweet Lines too. And if William Lines had twice a week frequency to Cebu and Tagbilaran, then that was also the frequency of the expanding Sweet Lines. Their only difference in 1967 was William Lines had routes to Southern Mindanao while Sweet Lines had none there but the latter had routes to the strong shipping region then of Eastern Visayas while William Lines had no route then there.

Another area of confrontation of the two shipping companies was the Visayas-Mindanao regional routes. Sweet Lines was long a power then there especially since that was their place of origin. They then relegated there most of the ex-”FS” ships like the ones they acquired from General Shipping and thus in the late 1960’s they had the best ships sailing there. Meanwhile, William Lines which was also a player there also then used some of their ex-”FS” ships which were formerly in the liner routes (William Lines had a few ex-”FS” ships to spare since they bought five of those from other local shipping companies and they already were receiving former cargo-passenger ships from Europe starting in 1966). So by this time Sweet Lines and William Lines were not only competing in Cebu and Tagbilaran and in Iligan Bay but also in the Visayas-Mindanao regional routes.

10818876314_80039ca06d_z

Credits to The Philippines Herald and Gorio Belen 

In the late 1960’s the government provided a loan window for the purchase of brand-new liners and among the countries that provided the funds for that was what was known as West Germany then (this was before the German reunification). From that window, the new liner company Sweet Lines ordered the Sweet Grace from Weser Seebeck of Bremerhaven, West Germany in 1968. William Lines followed suit by ordering a brand-new liner not from West Germany but from Japan which turned out to be the Misamis Occidental and this seemed to be taking the path of the expansion of Negros Navigation Company which was ordering brand-new liners from Japan shipbuilders. 

3225718292_a6dec1b2fa_o

Credits to Philippines Herald and Gorio Belen

Imagine for William Lines fielding the brand-new Misamis Occidental in Cebu in 1970 only to be upset by the more luxurious and much faster Sweet Faith in the same year. And that was aside from the also-good Sweet Grace and Sweet Rose also calling in Cebu. Maybe that was the reason, that of not being too outgunned, that William Lines immediately ordered a new ship from Japan, a sister ship of the Don Juan, the flagship of Negros Navigation Company but with a more powerful engine so she can top or at least match the speed of the Sweet Faith and that turned out later to be the legendary liner Cebu City. From its fielding in 1972, the battle of Cebu City and Sweet Faith was the stuff of legends (was using blocks of ice to cool down the engine room of Sweet Faith at full trot a stuff of legend?)

6792038394_9f60353c1f_z(1)

Credits to Philippine Herald and Gorio Belen

As background to that, in 1970 with only the brand-new liner Misamis Occidental William Lines had to fend off Sweet Faith, Sweet Rose, also the first Sweet Sail which was a former liner of Southern Lines that was not an ex-”FS” ship but much faster and at times also the brand-new liner Sweet Grace . William Lines had a few converted cargo-passenger ships from Europe calling in Cebu already on the way to Southern Mindanao then but Sweet Lines had the same number of that also. If William Lines found aggressiveness in ship purchases from the mid-1960’s, Sweet Lines turned out to be more aggressive that in a short period of less than a decade it was already in the coattails of William Lines over-all and even beating it to Cebu, the backyard of William Lines. That was how aggressive was Sweet Lines in their initial ascent as a national liner company. And would anyone believe that in 1970 Sweet Lines was no longer using any ex-”FS” ship in its national liner routes, the first national liner company to do so (when other competitors were still using that type well in to the 1980’s)? So their ad their they were modern seems it was not a made-up stuff only.

5467415362_1b9a2a7b2a_z

A former cargo-passenger ship from Europe using the eastern seaboard of Mindanao route. Credits to Times Journal and Gorio Belen

But that was not even the end of the expansion of Sweet Lines which the company penetrated the Southern Mindanao, the bread and butter of William Lines (note: Compania Maritima, Gothong & Co. and Philippine Steam Navigation Co. were stronger there having more ships) using the eastern seaboard of Mindanao, a route that William Lines do not serve. It is actually a shortcut, as pointed out by Sweet Lines but there are not many intermediate ports that can be served there to increase the volume of the cargo and the passengers (and so Sweet Lines passed through more ports before heading to Surigao and Davao). Besides, the seas of the eastern seaboard are rough many months of the year and maybe that was the reason why Sweet Lines used their bigger former cargo-passenger ships from Europe rather than using their small ex-”FS” ships (in this period their competitors to Davao were still using that type).

And so, in 1972, William Lines entered the stronghold of Sweet Lines, which it dominated, the port of Tacloban which the company was not serving before. Was that to repay the compliments of Sweet Lines entering their Iligan Bay bastion and their ports of Cebu and Tagbilaran plus the foray of Sweet Lines in Davao? William Lines entered Tacloban alright but it was a tepid attempt at first by just using an ex-”FS” ship (maybe they just want to take away some cargo). Their main challenge in Tacloban will come three years later in 1975 with their fast cruiser liner Tacloban City, only the third of its type in William Lines after the liners Misamis Occidental and Cebu City and that maybe shows how itching was William Lines in returning the compliments. Or showing up Sweet Lines.

6792040358_c66f0c3602_z

Where were the other leading national liner companies in this battle of the two? Regarding Gothong & Company, I think their sights were more aimed at the leading shipping company Compania Maritima plus in filling the requirements of strategic partner Lu Do & Lu Ym which was scooping all the the copra that they can get. Actually, the Go Thong & Company and Compania Maritima both had overseas lines then. Meanwhile, the Philippine Steam Navigation Company (PSNC) and plus Aboitiz Shipping Corporation (revived as a separate entity in 1966 after the buy-out of the other half of General Shipping Corporation) and Cebu Bohol Ferry Company, a subsidiary of Aboitiz Shipping Corporation which are operating as one is competing neither here or there as it seems they were just content on keeping what was theirs and that the interests of Everett Steamship, the American partner of Aboitiz in PSNC will be protected and later cornered when the Laurel-Langley Agreement lapses in 1974. Plus Aboitiz through the Cebu Shipyard & Engineering Works were raking it all in servicing the ships of the competition including the lengthening of the ex-”FS” and ex-”F” ships of their competitors (plus of course their own). Their routes are so diverse and even quixotic that I cannot see their focal point. It is not Cebu for sure and whereas their rivals were already acquiring new ships they were moored in maintaining their so-many ex-”FS” ships (they had then the most in the country). Also in owning Cebu Shipyard & Engineering Works they were confident they can make these ships run forever as they had lots of spare parts in stock and maybe that was through their American connection (not only through Everett Steamship but the Aboitizes are also American citizens). Besides, in Everett Steamship they were also in overseas routes and having overseas routes plus domestic shipping was the hallmark of the first tier of shipping companies then aside from having more ships. In this first tier, the Philippine President Lines (PPL) was also in there but later they surrendered their domestic operations.

Meanwhile, the greatest thrust of Gothong & Company it seems was to serve the needs and interests of Lu Do & Lu Ym but it was a strategic partnership that brought Gothong a lot of dividends so much so that before their break-up in 1972 they might have already been ahead of Compania Maritima in the inter-island routes with all the small ships that they are sailing in the regional routes aside from the national routes. Gothong & Company as might not be realized by many is actually a major regional shipping company too and with a bigger area than that served by Sweet Lines and William Lines for they were operating a lot of small ferries whose primary role is to transport the copra of Lu Do & Lu Ym, the biggest copra and coconut oil concern then in the country and carrying passengers is just secondary. In the Visayas-Mindanao routes, the Top 3 were actually Go Thong & Company, Sweet Lines and William Lines, in that order maybe. From Cebu, Go Thong had small ships to as far as Tawi-tawi and the Moro Gulf plus the eastern seaboard of Mindanao and Samar. Sweet Lines, however was very strong in passenger department.

In the early 1970’s, many will be surprised if I will say that the fleets of William Lines and Sweet Lines were at near parity but the former had a slight pull. And that was really a mighty climb by Sweet Lines from just being a major regional shipping company, a result of their aggressiveness and ambition. Imagine nearly catching up William Lines, an established shipping company with loads of political connection (think of Ferdinand Marcos, a good friend of William Chiongbian, the founder) and topping the likes of whatever General Shipping Company, Southern Lines and Escano Lines have ever reached. Entering the late 1970’s, Sweet Lines (and William Lines) were already beginning to threaten the place of Aboitiz Shipping Corporation (including the integrated Philippine Steam Navigation Corporation) which will drop off a lot subsequently after they stopped buying ships after 1974.

Where did the divergence of the two very comparable shipping companies began? It began from 1975 when William Lines started acquiring the next paradigm-changing type of ships, the surplus fast cruiser liners from Japan which Sweet Lines declined to match but which the rising successor-to-Gothong Sulpicio Lines did. At just the start of the 1980’s with the success from this type of ship William Lines and Sulpicio Lines were already jostling to replace the tottering Compania Maritima from its top perch. It seems Sweet Lines failed to realize the lesson that the former cargo-passenger ships from Europe and the brand-new Sweet Grace and the good Sweet Rose fueled their rise in the late 1960’s and that the acquired luxury liners Sweet Faith and Sweet Home continued their rise at the start of the 1970’s. And these former cargo-passenger ships from Europe also propelled Gothong & Company and William Lines in their ascent. Why did Sweet Lines stop acquiring good liners? Was there a financial reason behind their refusal to join the fast cruiser phenomenon? Well, they were not the only ones which did not join the fast cruiser liner bandwagon.

The biggest blunder of Sweet Lines was when they declared in 1978 that henceforth they will just acquire small RORO passenger ships. I do not know if they were imitating Sulpicio Lines which went for small ROROs first (but then that company had fast cruiser liners from Japan). That might have been good for their regional routes but not for the liner routes. And to think their luxury liners Sweet Faith and Sweet Home might already conk out anytime because of old age (yes, both were gone in two years). And so for a short period Sweet Lines have no good liners for Cebu, the time William Lines was fielding their Dona Virginia, the biggest and fastest liner when it was fielded and Sulpicio Lines was fielding the Philippine Princess. What a blasphemy and turn-around! In 1970, just ten years earlier, Sweet Lines was dominating William Lines in the Cebu route. That was a miscalculation from which Sweet Lines never seemed to recover. From fielding the best there, Sweet Lines suddenly had no horse. And so the next chapter of the luxury liner wars in the premier Manila-Cebu route was fought not by William Lines and Sweet Lines but by William Lines and the surging Sulpicio Lines. In just a decade’s time Sweet Lines forgot that it was modernity in ships and aggression in routes that brought them to where they were.

1980 Dona Virginia

Credits to Daily Express and Gorio Belen

When Sweet Lines acquired the Sweet RORO in 1982 to battle again in the Manila-Cebu route it was as if they imitated the strategy of Carlos A. Gothong Lines Inc. (CAGLI) to go direct into the RORO or ROPAX paradigm and bypass the fast cruiser liners altogether (but then where was CAGLI in the totem pole of liner companies even if they bypassed the fast cruiser liner stage?). But by then their former cargo-passenger ships from Europe were already failing and will very soon be gone. The net effect was the Sweet Lines liner total was regressing even though they acquired the Sweet RORO 2 in 1983 to pair the Sweet RORO. The reason for this is its former cargo-passenger ships from Europe were already in its last gasps and the small ROROs were never really suited for liner duty except for the direct routes to Tagbilaran and Tacloban. If studied it can be shown that when a liner company stops at some time to buy liners sufficient in numbers and size then they get left behind. This is also what happened to Compania Maritima, Aboitiz Shipping Corporation and Escano Lines, the reason the fell by the wayside in the 1980’s). And that is what happened to Sweet Lines just a little bit later and so its near-parity with Williams Lines which surged in the 1970’s and 1980’s was broken. And that completed their divergence.

7194079680_ccf8c8c680_z

Credits to Philippine Daily Express and Gorio Belen

In the early 1990’s, Sweet Lines will completely fail and stop all shipping operations, in liners, regional shipping and cargo operations (through their Central Shipping Corporation) and sell their ships with some of the ships sadly being broken up (a few of their ships were also garnished by creditors). Meanwhile, William Lines was still trying then to catch up with Sulpicio Lines that had overtaken them through a big splash in big and fast ROPAXes in 1988.

Sweet Lines benefited in the middle of the 1960’s with the quitting of General Shipping and Royal Lines. Later, William Lines, Sulpicio Lines and Sweet Lines benefited with the retreat of Aboitiz Shipping Corporation in the late 1970’s. In the next decade, William Lines and Sulpicio Lines benefited from the collapse of Compania Maritima in the crisis years at the tailend of the Marcos dictatorship. Sweet Lines did not benefit from that because they were not poised to because of their grave error in 1978.

When Sweet Lines collapsed in the early 1990’s it seems among those which benefited was the revived Aboitiz Shipping Corporation which was helped in getting back to the liner business by Jebsens of Norway (think SuperFerry). Well, that’s just the way it is in competition. It is a rat race and one can never pause or stop competing as the others will simply swallow the weak.

The State of Philippine Shipping at the Start of 1990

The start of decades are many times an opportune way to take stock of things. Many countries do that by holding their censuses and we likewise do that. I want to focus on the year 1990 because the decade previous to that was very difficult and dangerous for the country and the economy. That decade was marked by many crises and turmoils and as a result our economy suffered tremendously. Economically and financially, the 1980’s was our second worst decade in the last century after the 1940’s in which World War II occurred. In that war decade, we were subject to invasion, occupation and devastation and our economy therefore shrank.

The crisis decade of the 1980’s was calamitous to our shipping. In terms of damage, it was even worse compared to the 1940’s. After the war, the United States of America (USA) replaced our ships that they requisitioned for the war (and which were lost). Later, Japan also paid reparations for the shipping damages they caused, in terms of new ships and soft loans, among other goods. In the 1980’s, we had none of such free replacements and we were not able to recover the wealth pillaged by the Marcos dictatorship. Our peso also lost so much value that acquiring ships became very difficult (in fact we can’t even buy new ships anymore unlike before). And that difficulty was reflected in the size and quality of our shipping fleet.

At the start of 1990, our biggest shipping company in the previous three decades, the Philippine President Lines or PPL (they also used the company United President Lines or UPL) was practically dead already. They were just acting as shipping agents and they were no longer sailing ships. And then their main rival in size, the Galleon Shipping Corporation which was a crony company was already bankrupt even before the end of the 1980’s. Another company of similar size, the Maritime Company of the Philippines/Maritime Company Overseas, the ocean-going company of Compania Maritima quit shipping at the middle of the 1980’s. These three companies, our biggest, were all in the foreign trade. The ships of these three companies which were mainly chartered from the National Development Corporation or NDC (a government-owned and controlled corporation) were all seized by or returned to the Philippine Government. Those were then sold one by one to international buyers at bargain prices. These three ocean-going companies all had well over 100,000 gross tons of ships in their fleet, a size only a very few reached in all our decades of shipping.

Another shipping company that was once big, notable and well-connected, the American-owned but Philippine-based Luzon Stevedoring Company (LUSTEVECO) also went under. But this has a myriad of reasons aside from the crisis of the early 1980’s and that included the end of the so-called “Parity Rights” (where Americans were given business and commercial rights in the Philippines as if they were Philippine nationals and they can repatriate profits to the USA 100%). This was due to the Laurel-Langley Agreement taking effect in 1974. This company was practically broken up (under pressure, some said) and its assets and ships went to different companies including the Philippine Government which then passed on its assets to its government-owned shipping companies like the Philippine National Oil Company or PNOC.

Our biggest inter-island shipping company for nearly 90 years, the Compania Maritima which has Spanish origins and which started when Spain was still ruling the Philippines was also gone by the mid-1980’s. They quit at the height of the political and financial crisis then when everybody was panicking and many companies were going bankrupt or otherwise illiquid. The owners, the Fernandez brothers who were dual citizens packed up their bags and headed back to Spain (and to think one of them was a former Senator of the Republic!). Compania Maritima was so big – aside from local ahipping they also had an international shipping line (the Maritime Company of the Philippines/Maritime Overseas Company as mentioned before) plus they owned ports and they had stevedoring and forwarding operations.

A host of our smaller shipping lines with foreign routes also went belly up or quit in the 1980’s. These included General Shipping Corporation, Northern Lines Inc., Transocean Transport Corporation, Philippine Ace Shipping Lines, Philippine Transmarine Carriers, Triton Pacific Maritime Corporation, etc. Actually, so many (as in about three dozens) of our big freighters, refrigerated cargo ships and bulk carriers owned by the National Development Corporation that were chartered to Philippine shipping companies doing overseas routes (especially Galleon Shipping Corporation, Philippine President Lines/United President Lines and Maritime Company of the Philippines/Maritime Company Overseas) were broken up in the 1980’s because they were no longer sailing. About the same number were also sold to foreign shipping companies and usually at bargain prices. The decade of the 1980’s witnessed the practical end of our ocean-going fleet and after that we only had half a dozen ships remaining doing foreign routes and those were mainly below 100 meters in length.

Along with Compania Maritima, the graveyard list of our inter-island shipping companies is really long and so I will just enumerate the them. These companies did not even make it out of that horrendous decade for Philippine shipping:

Galaxy Lines (an offspring of Philippine President Lines)
Northern Lines (referring to their inter-island operation)
North Camarines Lumber Company/NCL/NORCAMCO (they changed names)
N & S Lines
Bisayan Land Transport
Newport Shipping
Cardinal Shipping
Rodrigueza Shipping
May-Nilad Shipping
Javellana Shipping
Visayan Transportation
Corominas, Richards Navigation
Royal Line
Veloso Shipping
Visayas Lines
MD Shipping
Tomas del Rio & Co. (formerly Rio y Olabarrieta)
Balabac Navigation

This is far from a complete list as there were many regional shipping companies which went down quietly and it is hard to enumerate them all for many are indistinct.

In the liner front, two old liner companies were no longer carrying passengers at the start of 1990. These were the Escano Lines, a pre-World War II shipping company and Lorenzo Shipping, a spin-off of the old Carlos A. Go Thong & Company. Both decided to just stick to cargo and container shipping. Maybe refleeting for passenger service with liner ships was already too much for them after that crisis decade of the 1980’s.

William Lines and Sulpicio Lines seem to have been the healthiest and definitely the biggest strongest at the start of 1990. Among the shipping companies they were in the best position to take advantage of the fall of erstwhile leader Compania Maritima and the retreat of Lorenzo Shipping and Escano Lines from passenger shipping along with the withdrawal and dissolution of many other various shipping companies in the 1980’s because the two truly had national routes unlike the other liner shipping companies.

William Lines Inc. had nine liners at the start of 1990 and that included two old former FS ships still surviving. Their liners were the Dona Virginia, Manila City, Ozamis City, Cebu City, Tacloban City, Misamis Occidental, Masbate I, Don Jose I and Edward. The last two were ex-FS ships on their last legs. Their overnight ferry was the Iligan City, a former liner then just doing the Cebu-Iligan route. They also had two RORO Cargo ships that can take in passengers and these were the Wilcon I and Wilcon IV. Their other container ships were the Wilcon II, Wilcon III, Wilcon V, Wilcon X and Wilcon XI.

Sulpicio Lines Inc. had eight liners and these were the Filipina Princess, Philippine Princess, Davao Princess, Don Eusebio, Cotabato Princess, Surigao Princess, Cebu Princess and Dona Susana. Their overnight ferries were the Nasipit Princess, Cagayan Princess and Butuan Princess. Their container ships were the Sulpicio Container II, Sulpicio Container III, Sulpicio Container IV, Sulpicio Container V, Sulpicio Container VI, Sulpicio Container VII, Sulpicio Container VIII, Sulpicio Container IX, Sulpicio Container XI, Sulpicio Container XII and Sulpicio Container XIV. Aside from liners, Sulpicio Lines had more ships than William Lines in the other categories (overnight ferries and container ships).

Sweet Lines Inc. had six liners at the start of 1990, the Sweet Baby, Sweet RORO 2, Sweet Glory, the second Sweet Sail and Sweet Hope. Their liner Sweet RORO I was no longer running reliably then and would soon be broken up. Their overnight ships were Sweet Pearl, Sweet Hope, Sweet Marine, Sweet Heart, Sweet Home and the second Sweet Time which sailed Visayas-Mindanao routes. They had a separate cargo-container liner company then which was the Central Shipping Company with the ships Central Mindoro, Central Visayas, Central Cebu and Central Bohol. Another cargo shipping company they had was the Casas Navigation Corporation with the ship Casas Victoria.

Aboitiz Shipping Corporation had three old liners then, the Legazpi, Ormoc and Legaspi 1 (the former Katipunan of Escano Lines) and these were just sailing their two remaining liner routes to Capiz and Leyte. They had four overnight ships, the Elcano, Ramon Aboitiz, the first Aklan, and the ex-FS ship Picket II, which were all old, former liners in their last legs. They also had the Marcelino, an ex-FS ship and Guillermo in the subsidiary Cebu-Bohol Ferry Company. Aboitiz Shipping Corporation had the most container ships locally with twelve: the Aboitiz Superconcarrier I, Aboitiz Superconcarrier II, Aboitiz Superconcarrier III, Aboitiz Megaconcarrier I, Aboitiz Concarrier I, Aboitiz Concarrier II, Aboitiz Concarrier IV, Aboitiz Concarrier VI, Aboitiz Concarrier VIII, Aboitiz Concarrier X, Aboitiz Concarrier XI and Aboitiz Concarrier XII. Container shipping was the strength of Aboitiz Shipping because they concentrated on this when for 14 years they did not buy any liners, the reason their liner fleet wilted.

Negros Navigation Company had five liners sailing then, the Sta. Florentina, Sta. Ana, Don Julio, Don Claudio and Sta. Maria. These were just sailing five routes then – Romblon, Roxas City, Iloilo, Bacolod and Cagayan de Oro. They also had two Iloilo-Bacolod ferries, the cruisers Don Vicente and the Princess of Panay which was a former liner. This shipping company also had four cargo/container ships, the San Sebastian, Connie II, Aphrodite J and Athena J. The last two were local-built cargo ships.

Carlos A. Gothong Lines Inc. (CAGLI) had three liners then, the Our Lady of Fatima, Our Lady of Lourdes and the Our Lady of Guadalupe. Their overnight ships on Visayas-Mindanao routes were the Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, Dona Cristina, Don Calvino, Dona Lili, Don Benjamin and the RORO Cargo ship Our Lady of Hope, their only cargo ship. Together with Sweet Lines and Trans-Asia Shipping Lines, CAGLI was the dominant Visayas-Mindanao regional shipping company at the start of 1990.

Madrigal Shipping Corporation, a very old shipping company with pre-World War II origins was then attempting a comeback in liner shipping with the cruiser liners Madrigal Surigao and Madrigal Tacloban (but these were registered with the Cortes Shipping Company of Zamboanga which I never heard of). With the routes they were sailing they were, in effect, the partial replacement of the abandoned passenger routes of Escano Lines because they sailed the same routes. By this time, Madrigal Shipping had already shorn off their old liners, cargo ships and routes. They, however, had one big cargo ship sailing an overseas route, the Madrigal Integrity.

For brevity, I shall no longer mention all the cargo shipping companies for they are long because they are many. I will just enumerate and describe the cargo companies which were in the more advanced and more important container liner operations (as distinguished from the general cargo ships and those that were in tramper operations). Only three companies without passenger operations were into cargo-container operations at the start of 1990 – Lorenzo Shipping, Escano Lines and Solid Shipping. Among these three, it was Lorenzo Shipping Corporation which was the biggest with a cargo-container fleet that can match the biggest cargo-container shipping companies that had passenger operations. In their fleet they had the Lorcon I, Lorcon IV, Lorcon V, Lorcon VI, Lorcon IX, Lorcon XI, Lorcon XII (the former liner Sweet Grace which was converted into a container ship), Dona Anita, Euney, Dadiangas Express and Cagayan de Oro Express.

Escano Lines had in their fleet the Virgen de la Paz, Foxbat, Kiowa, La Lealtad, Greyhound, Harpoon, Squirrel, Terrier, Wolverine and two or three other freighters. However, only the first four were container liners (liners have fixed routes and schedules) while the rest were general cargo ships in tramping duties (let it be clarified they can substitute for the first four since practically speaking any general cargo ship can also carry container vans). Moreover, Escano Lines normally carry a mixed breakbulk cargo and container vans in their ships. Meanwhile, the Solid Shipping Lines only had the Solid Uno, Solid Dos and Solid Tres in their fleet. I am not sure if their Maligaya was still with them then. They were small because they were just a new shipping company then. However, one which was bigger than Solid Shipping and had container operations before, the Sea Transport Company, also did not make it to the 1980’s. They quit just before the end of the decade and sold their ships to other shipping companies.

From about two dozen passenger liner companies at the start of 1980, we just had a total of seven passenger liner companies left at the start of 1990 and the seventh was the comebacking Madrigal Shipping Company. Because of the fall in the number of shipping operators and with a fast growing population and the economy reviving, the Philippines at the start of 1990 had a severe lack of inter-island passenger ships. In the international front, there was almost no longer ocean-going ships to speak of. Aboitiz Shipping Company and Eastern Shipping Company were practically the only Philippine shipping companies still trying to do foreign routes then but their number of ships might just add to half a dozen and those were much smaller than the ships of Philippine President Lines, Galleon Shipping Company and Maritime Company of the Philippines. That was how precipitous was our drop in shipping in a span of just ten years because of the crisis decade of the 1980’s.

To think conditions in the other fronts were favorable for shipping as there were no budget airlines yet and so air fares were still high. There were also just a few intermodal buses then and there was a general dearth of bus units too. Because of such factors cited there were a lot of passengers for the ships. Maybe this is what some remember that liners then were full to to the brim and there were many well-wishers in ports during departures (and of course many fetchers too during arrivals). There were always tales of passengers being left behind because there were no more tickets left (I have seen that myself). And there were tales of overloading too, of course. The decade of the 1990’s was actually characterized by new great liners having a passenger capacity of over 2,000. Probably, that was the response to our lack of liners and liner shipping companies then.

And that is the story of our shipping in the 1980’s which was reflected at the start of 1990. In a future article, I will discuss in detail our failure in cargo shipping in the same period. Abangan!

[Image Credit: Gorio Belen and Business World]                                                                                     [Research Support: Gorio Belen]                                                                                                                   [Database Support: Jun Marquez/Mike Baylon/PSSS]