When Eastern Visayas Ports And Shipping Were Still Great

Growing up I heard tales from my late father how great Tacloban port was. He told me about its importance, its physical dimensions, the location, the size of the bodegas outside it and even its relation to Gen. Douglas MacArthur. I had the idea that Tacloban was the greatest port east of Cebu and my father told me that no port in the Bicol Region compares to Tacloban port and not even his beloved Legaspi port (that was the spelling of it then before it became “Legazpi”). He told me Tacloban port will not fade because the Romualdezes were in power in Leyte and everybody knows the relation of that clan to Ferdinand Marcos then (still a President, not yet a dictator). Ironically, my father was later proven wrong not because of politics but because of a paradigm shift in shipping that he was not able to anticipate (when the intermodal trucks and buses sank Eastern Visayas shipping).

So I always wondered what made Tacloban port click then. From my father, when I was still young, I got to learn what is a regional trade center, a regional capital, the importance of the two and it so happened that Tacloban happened to be both. The city by Cancabato Bay was really the dominant market east of Cebu City, bar none. My father always drilled me about cash crops and commodities and how it impacted or shall we say how it shaped shipping. He told me the government can always build ports and send ships to a port by inducement but he said if there is no cargo it won’t last as he stressed cargo makes shipping and not the other way around. Now, how many in government knows that maxim? Definitely not Gloria Macapagal Arroyo who loves “ports to nowhere” a lot!

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Tacloban port. Photo by Gerry Ruiz.

My father was very aware of the shift of the primary cash crop from abaca to copra in the 1950’s and its impact on shipping. In high school, I saw that with my own eyes. Proud, wealthy families in our province which grew rich on abaca handicrafts and trading suddenly became more modest in living. I saw how their bodegas became empty and how the abaca workers suffered. At the same time, I also saw how busy the private port of Legaspi Oil became. Legaspi Oil, an American firm, was then the biggest copra exporter of the country.

Our old man also told me about San Pablo City and how desiccated coconut and coconut oil milling made it one of our earliest cities. He also related me when I was in high school that Laguna was no longer the king of coconut. Leyte was the new lord and I understood by inference how that will boost Tacloban port, its shipping and the city itself.

With PSSS (Philippine Ship Spotters Society) co-founder Gorio Belen’s research in the National Library I had more flesh of what my father was telling me when I was young. Tacloban was a great port of call in the 1960’s and 1970’s and that was visible with the frequency of ships there and the quality of its ships. Definitely it cannot match Cebu or even Iloilo but it was not far behind the latter. And to think the latter had ships calling that were still going to Zamboanga and Southern Mindanao (Cotabato, Dadiangas and Davao). Tacloban also had ships still going south to Surigao, Butuan or even Davao but it was not that many. What Tacloban had were ships calling in Catbalogan or Masbate before steaming further. There were also ships calling in Tacloban first before heading for Cebu.

Entering the ’60’s, Iloilo had 10 ship calls weekly while Tacloban had 7. That was when Cagayan de Oro only had 4 ship calls per week from Manila but Butuan and Surigao both had 6 each. Won’t you wonder with those figures? Well, Cagayan de Oro only became great when it became a gateway to Southern and Central Mindanao with the improvement of the highways. That will also tell one how Tacloban, the gateway to Eastern Samar then, stacked up to other ports. Catbalogan is also not far behind because in the main the ships that called on Tacloban also called on Catbalogan first to maximize passenger and cargo volume.

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Catbalogan port. Photo by Joe Cardenas of PSSS.

In the 1960’s, it was air-conditioning that already defined what is a luxury ship and Tacloban was among the first that had a ship with air-conditioning beginning with the MV Sweet Rose in 1967 (and she served Tacloban for long) and the MV Sweet Grace in 1970. Both were liners of Sweet Lines and they were good ships with good service (I first heard that phrase from my late father, funny). And that was when other great shipping companies still did not have that kind of ship (and that will also tell how great Sweet Lines then). Even the great port of Cebu still had plenty of ex-”FS” ships then which was the basic kind of liner then. And that will give one a view of how important Tacloban port was in those days.

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The MV Gen. Roxas which became the MV Sweet Rose. Philippine Herald photo. Reseach by Gorio Belen in the National Library.

A little of history. Right after the war, two shipping companies fought it out in the main Eastern Visayas ports of Tacloban and Catbalogan. These two were the old shipping company Compania Maritima which was of Spanish origin and the General Shipping Company (GSC) which were formed by former World War II military aides coming from distinguished Filipino families that were part of the comprador bourgeoisie. At one time, GSC had more ships to the two ports with three while Compania Maritima only had two. Another old shipping company, the Escano Lines also fought in the Tacloban route. Unlike the two, the ships of Escano Lines still went on to Surigao and Butuan which were their stronghold.

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MV Leyte. Gorio Belen research in the National Library.

There were some smaller shipping companies too in the route like the Philippine Sea Transport, Veloso Lines, Corominas Richards Navigation and the Royal Lines. Among the single ships that also called in the two ports were the M/S Leyte Lady and M/S Lady of Lourdes. In the mentioned shipping lines, converted “FS” and extended “F” ships were the types calling in the two ports. Among that type that served long in the route (but not continuously) was the MV Leyte of Compania Maritima and I mentioned that because that was notable.

In 1955, Everett Steamship through the Philippine Steamship and Navigation Company (PSNC), a joint venture of Everett and Aboitiz entered Catbalogan and Tacloban with the quixotic route Manila-Catbalogan-Tacloban-Bislig-Davao-Dadiangas-Cebu-Manila. They used two brand-new liners alternatingly, the MV Legazpi and the MV Elcano. Those two were the first brand-new liners used solely in the local routes (to distinguish them from the big De la Rama Steamship liners that soon ended up in ocean-going routes).

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Gorio Belen research in the National Library.

The MV Legazpi and MV Elcano were sister ships and fitted what was soon emerging as the new luxury liner class in the country (but the two were not at par with some of the luxury ships before especially the De la Rama Steamship liners which were lost in the war). If one has the money the route was a good way to tour the country and is a direct way to Southern Mindanao without going first to Cebu (because normally a passenger need to go there first from Eastern Visayas to take a connecting voyage). It was a nice route but sadly it did not last long because from the eastern seaboard route its route was shifted to the route rounding Zamboanga (I guess the reason was there was more business there and the seas were not so rough).

In the early ’60s, the Philippine Pioneer Lines, a subsidiary of the Philippine President Lines (PPL) also tried the Catbalogan plus Tacloban route. When they stopped sailing, their successor shipping company Galaxy Lines continued sailing that route but they did not last long when they folded operations as a company. The two companies used ex-“FS” and ex-“AKL” ships from the US Navy.

When General Shipping Company stopped local operations to go ocean-going in the mid-60s (and that provoked a break within the company), one of the companies which acquired half of their fleet and routes was the upstart Sweet Lines which was trying to follow the path of Go Thong & Company in trying be a national liner operation from a regional operations by acquiring an existing national liner shipping company which is quitting business. The other half of General Shipping fleet went to Aboitiz Shipping Company which then was revived as a shipping company separate from PSNC (and maybe the reason was the coming termination of the so-called “Parity Rights” in 1974). However, it was the PSNC that was used as the entity to re-enter the Tacloban but just using an ex-”FS” ship, the MV Carmen which came from the General Shipping Company and renamed.

At this time, however, the dominant shipping company in the Tacloban and Catbalogan route/s was already Compania Maritima (it was also the biggest shipping company then in the Philippines) after their main rival General Shipping exited the local shipping scene. The company had three ships assigned there, two of which were ex-”FS” ships including the aforementioned MV Leyte.

The year 1967 marked a change in the Tacloban and Catbalogan route. For the second time after the short-lived fielding of the luxury liners of PSNC the route had luxury liners again and two were competing against each other. The notable thing was they both came from General Shipping and both were local-builds by NASSCO (National Shipyards and Steel Corp., the current Herma Shipyard) in Mariveles, Bataan. These were the former second MV General Roxas which became the MV Sweet Rose and the former second General Del Pilar which became the third MV Mactan of Compania Maritima.

However, the two were not fast cruiser liners. This category was already multiplying in the country with the fielding of the 17.5-knot brand-new cruisers of Negros Navigation Company, the MV Dona Florentina in 1965 and the MV Don Julio in 1967. This was preceded by the MV President Quezon of the Philippine President Lines which later became the MV Galaxy of Galaxy Lines which was first fielded in 1962. A note, however, the earlier MV Don Julio of Ledesma Lines which was an overpowered (by putting a submarine engine) ex-”FS” ship can also be classified as a fast cruiser liner and it also served the Leyte route shortly as the MV Pioneer Leyte of Philippine Pioneer Lines.

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The earlier MV Don Julio which became the MV Pioneer Leyte. Gorio Belen research in the National Library.

In this tight market, a small shipping company serving Bicol and Northern Samar also tried a Catbalogan and Tacloban route. This was the Rodrigueza Shipping Corporation which was already feeling the effects of the Philippine National Railways in Bicol regarding the movement of cargo. However, two Chinoy shipping companies that will dominate Philippine shipping in a decade-and-a-half’s time were still not represented in the route. The two were William Lines and Sulpicio Lines (which was not yet existent then). The mother company of Sulpicio Lines which was Carlos A. Gothong & Co. was also not in this route at this time. They will come in two years time, however, with the fielding of the first MV Don Enrique which was a lengthened former “FS” ship. You know they tended to start quietly.

Many ex-”FS” ships or even smaller ships were battling in the Catbalogan and Tacloban routes after 1967. Many will battle for there is cargo and copra was so strong then (exports to the US, Japan and Germany when we had 44% share of the world’s exports) not only in Tacloban but also in a way in Catbalogan which was synonymous with fishing before overfishing caught up with them. In this era, imported rice does not yet go direct to the provincial ports and Eastern Visayas is a rice-deficit region and Cotabato and other parts of the country sends rice to it through trans-shipment. Many other grocery and hardware items also come from Manila to the region as Eastern Visayas was not an industrial region.

In the luxury liner category, however, the MV Sweet Rose of Sweet Lines and the  MV Mactan of Compania Maritima started their battle. This was actually a very even battle because the two were sister ships but the third MV Mactan was faster at 16 knots to the 13.5 knots of the MV Sweet Rose because she was fitted with a bigger engine. Compania Maritima fielded the MV Mactan here because the MV Sweet Rose was overpowering their MV Leyte which was just a lengthened ex-”FS” ship. In a few years, however, the MV Mactan will sink in a storm and MV Leyte will come back in the Eastern Visayas routes.

Leading into the next decade, the 1970’s produced significant changes. Aboitiz Shipping Corporation, the successor to PSNC abandoned their Catbalogan and Tacloban routes and just concentrated in Western and Southern Leyte which was their origin (it had lots of copra too). Morever, the rising William Lines was already present and two successor companies of Go Thong & Company, the Sulpicio Lines and Carlos A. Gothong Lines+Lozenzo Shipping Corporation (two shipping companies with combined operations before their split in 1979) were also plying the Catbalogan and Tacloban routes but they were just using ex-”FS” ships. The old partner of Aboitiz Shipping Corporation before the war, the Escano Lines also left Tacloban but maintained Catbalogan as a port of call as long as their MV Rajah Suliman was still capable of sailing.

In the stead of the lost minor shipping lines of the region like Veloso Lines, some minor shipping companies were also doing the route. Among them were N&S Lines and NORCAMCO Lines which were actually Bicol and Northern Samar shipping companies. The two were looking for routes near their turf because of lost passengers and cargo from the opening up of the Maharlika Highway. Well, although Maharlika Highway was not yet fully paved, the trucks were beginning to roll to Bicol and maybe somehow they have already seen the handwriting on the wall. Rodrigueza Shipping, also a Bicol shipping company stopped sailing the route.

Soon, however, Sulpicio Lines upped the ante and fielded a liner with size, air-conditioning and service that will challenge the MV Sweet Rose and MV Mactan. This was the MV Dona Angelina which was a former refrigerated cargo ship in Europe. That type of ship, when converted here as a passenger-cargo ship will automatically have the availability of refrigeration and air-conditioning. At 13.5 knots design speed, she can match the pace of the MV Sweet Rose but not of the MV Mactan. The MV Dona Angelina was the second ship of Sulpicio Lines in the route.

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Gorio Belen research in the National Library.

In response, Sweet Lines brought in their former flagship into the route, the MV Sweet Grace which was acquired brand-new from West Germany in 1968. She has the speed of 15.5 knots but she was not bigger than MV Dona Angelina or even the MV Dona Vicente (that later became the MV Palawan Princess) which was assigned also to the route. Competition was really heating up in 1974 and I remember this year was the peaking of copra prices just before its great fall.

Things were really heated up because next year Sulpicio Lines brought in their new flagship MV Don Sulpicio on its way to Cebu which means a Manila-Catbalogan-Tacloban-Cebu route. Can you imagine that? If former flagship and current flagship will battle in this route then that means Tacloban and Catbalogan were very important ports then. And to think the later well-regarded MV Dona Vicenta also practically debuted on that route. Well, copra was still then a very important crop. In fact it was our primary cash crop then. By the way, the flagship MV Don Sulpicio was the later infamous MV Dona Paz and she came from Tacloban and Catbalogan on her last voyage.

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Gorio Belen research in the National Library.

In the heat of this competition, it was actually the old dominant Compania Maritima that was wilting. Their MV Mactan foundered in 1973 and there was no good replacement available and so the old ship MV Leyte was left shouldering alone and she was already badly outgunned by the ships of Sulpicio Lines and Sweet Lines. In the 1970’s there was no way a former “FS” ships can match the new liners that came from Europe. They simply were bigger, faster and had more amenities.

When the MV Don Sulpicio was assigned the exclusive Manila-Cebu route to join the two-way battle there of MV Cebu City and MV Sweet Faith, the good MV Dona Vicenta replaced her in the route and teamed up with the MV Dona Angelina. In 1976, however, William Lines fielded a very worthy challenger, the namesake of Tacloban which was the MV Tacloban City and she held the Catbalogan and Tacloban route for a long, long time. At 17.5 knots design speed she can match the best of Sulpicio Lines and Sweet Lines. Aside from speed she can also match in size, accommodation and service.

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Gorio Belen research in the National Library

And so in this year several ships that can be classified as luxury lines were battling in the route. That was an indication how important was that route. As a note, however, the MV Sweet Grace was reassigned by Sweet Lines to other routes especially since their luxury liner MV Sweet Home was no longer reliable. Meanwhile, the shrinking former nationally dominant Compania Maritima no longer fielded a second ship since they were already lacking ships because they no longer acquired a ship since 1970 despite a rash of hull losses.

In 1979, the death knell of Catbalogan and Tacloban ports was sounded clear although few realized it at that time for there was no concept of intermodal shipping before. This was the fielding of MV Cardinal Ferry I of Cardinal Shipping to span the San Juanico Strait and buses and trucks to and from Manila immediately rolled the new highways of Samar and Leyte. By this time copra as the primary cash and export crop of the country was already receding fast in importance because the export market was already shrinking due to the rise of what is called as substitute oils like corn oil, canola oil and sunflower oil.

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Gorio Belen research in the National Library

It was not Catbalogan and Tacloban which were first swamped by paradigm changes but the other ports of Samar like Laoang, Victoria and Calbayog (which I will discuss in another as these ports are more connected to Bicol and Masbate). The fall of Catbalogan and Tacloban ports will happen much later when copra has almost lost its importance. This was also the time that Manila oil mills has already been sidelined too by the rise of new oil mills in the provinces (and the government actually promoted that).

Although sliding now, for a time it looked like Tacloban and Catbalogan ports will hold on to the onslaught of the intermodal. One reason for that was in the crisis decade of the 1980’s it was the Top 2 Sulpicio Lines and William Lines that were still battling there and for sure none of the two will budge an inch. That was the decade when so many shipping companies quit business altogether (and that was most of our liner companies) and actually no shipping company was left unscathed.

In the late 1980’s, Carlos A. Gothong Lines Inc. (CAGLI) made a comeback in national liner shipping but it did not enter Tacloban or Catbalogan. Instead, they called on the Western Leyte ports of Palompon, Isabel and Ormoc before proceeding to Cebu and it was actually a very successful route for them. Also, the Madrigal Steamship came back to passenger shipping with good luxury liner cruisers (which were already obsolescent as it was already the  time of ROROs or Roll-on, Roll-off ships) and it had a Manila-Romblon-Catbalogan-Tacloban route.

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Gorio Belen research in the National Library

However, this was not a long plus to Eastern Visayas liner shipping because in the early ’90s the venerable Sweet Lines and Escano Lines quit passenger shipping and although the latter still had cargo ships their presence were already receding in the region. And then the Madrigal Steamship did just last a few years and quit their passenger shipping also. There were no other entrants in this period to the region except just before the end of the millennium when the MBRS Lines of Romblon, seeking new routes entered the San Isidro port in Northern Samar. However, they also did not last long.

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MV Our Lady of Sacred Heart in Ozamis port. Jorg Behman photo. Credits: John Luzares

When the “Great Merger”which produced the shipping company WG&A happened in 1996, they did not add a new ship and just altered two routes a little. Actually, what happened is they even pulled out a ferry from Carlos A. Gothong Lines and just left one which was mainly the MV Our Lady of Sacred Heart (WG&A is a shipping company which changed route assignment every now and then). However, one of their ships which was passed on to their regional subsidiary Cebu Ferries Corporation (CFC) tried a Manila-Ormoc-Nasipit route using the MV Our Lady of Akita 2 which was the former MV Maynilad. Although successful, she did not last long because she grounded in Canigao Channel and was never repaired.

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Credits to Toshihiko Mikami and funikichemurase

The last two liners to serve Catbalogan and Tacloban were the MV Masbate Uno of William Lines and WG&A and the MV Tacloban Princess of Sulpicio Lines which had identical routes. The MV Cebu Princess also spelled the latter ship when she was down for repairs. When the MV Masbate Uno left as the the MV Our Lady of Manaoag of Cebu Ferries Corporation she was briefly replaced by the MV Our Lady of Naju in the Tacloban route.

Catbalogan and Tacloban finally had no liners left when Sulpicio Lines was suspended from passenger operations in 2008 when their MV Princess of the Stars sank in a typhoon and the MV Tacloban Princess was sold to a local breaker. That suspension also meant the end of the old MV Palawan Princess of Sulpicio Lines serving the ports of Calubian, Maasin and Baybay in the island of Leyte. That also meant the end of the Manila-Masbate-Ormoc-Cebu route of the MV Cebu Princess of Sulpicio Lines. The WG&A also abandoned Tacloban and just tried to hold on to their Palompon/Ormoc route

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Photo by John Cabanillas of PSSS.

In a short time, however, the Aboitiz Transport System (ATS) which was the successor to WG&A also abandoned their Western Leyte routes too. However, for a time ATS came back and served Ormoc with the Manila-Romblon-Ormoc-Cebu route using the MV St. Anthony of Padua but that did not last long.

Now there are no more liners to Eastern Visayas and only oldtimers remember when its ports and shipping were still great. What the millennials know now are the intermodal buses and the so-many trucks in the many ports of Allen, Northern Samar.

Times have changed. The paradigm changed, too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The First Ship To Claim To Be The Fastest and Most Luxurious Passenger Ship After The War

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Credits to Philippine Herald and Gorio Belen

Right after the war, the Philippines did not have many good ships because the bulk were lost in the war – scuttled, sank, seized by the Japanese and lost. Before the war we have some of the better ships in the Far East bar maybe for the Japan and the ships of the European nations based on the Far East like in Hongkong and Singapore and the USA that are based in Manila, of course. But those Commonwealth ship of ours were almost all lost and few survived. The Americans tried to replace the losses as they promised but the replacements were war-surplus cargo ships converted into passenger use and those were really different from purpose-built passenger-cargo ships in terms of accommodations, comfort and speed.

Among our very few ships that survived the war was the Argus of Don Vicente Madrigal, owner of Madrigal Shipping. This prewar ship was seized by the Japanese on Christmas day in Hongkong where she was laid up for repairs. Pressed into the Japanese war effort, she was renamed as the Gyonan Maru. It is not that much clear to outsiders what was her role in the Japanese war effort but most likely it was transport or convoy duty.

SS Argus 1948

Credits to Manila Chronicle and Gorio Belen

This ship was actually built way back in 1911 and she has very fine origins. This ship was built as a royal yacht Hirondelle by Mediterranee in La Seyne yard in France for His Royal Highness Prince Albert of Monaco. She was a big yacht with the external dimensions 67.2 meters by 11.0 meters and a gross register tonnage of 1,243 tons. The yacht was powered by two steam turbines and her top speed was 16 knots.

Before being acquired by Don Vicente Madrigal who was one of the richest men in the Philippines before the war, the yacht passed through several distinguished owners and the first after the sovereign of Monaco was the well-renowned publisher William Randolph Hearst of the USA who was a very rich and influential man, a media baron in that country during that time. It was 1923 when Hearst acquired the Hirondelle.

In 1925, the yacht passed into the hands of the International Film Service Company of New York which was still a Hearst enterprise and so there might not really be transfer of beneficial use. In 1931, the Hirondelle was sold to James J. Murray and in 1932, the yacht was acquired by Frank H. Finucane. And in 1938, Hirondelle was sold to Rhode Island Navigation Company which were operators of ferries. In the same year the yacht also passed on to the hands of Viking Maritime Corporation Incorporated before being acquired by Don Vicente Madrigal in 1941, the year the Pacific War started. It was only in 1941 when Hirondelle had a change of name and that was to Argus.

Argus as Gyonan Maru was very fortunate to survive the war because very few Japanese ships were left unsunk when Japan surrendered as the US Navy hunted them right down to their bases. Upon termination of the war the remaining Japanese ships were seized by the Americans. There was an order of the SCAP which meant Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers, the title held by General Douglas MacArthur that ships seized by the Japanese at the start of the war would have to be returned to their rightful owners and these should be repaired first and reconditioned to bring it to prewar conditions and Japanese shipyards would have to shoulder that. So in 1946, Argus underwent repairs in Japan to bring her back to the condition when she was seized.

1950 1224 Madrigal Shipping Co - SS Argus Ad

Credits to Philippine Herald and Gorio Belen

When she went back sailing for Madrigal Shipping after the war, the company advertised her as the fastest passenger ship in the country. She then had the route Manila-Iloilo-Tacloban and her advertised sailing time between Manila and Iloilo was 24 hours. For the 340-nautical mile distance of the route that meant an average speed of a little over 14 knots. That was not well off the design speed and to think Argus was already over 35 years old then. It was also an indictment against the replacement ships given to us by the USA as they were universally slow being former merchantmen during the war.

A little later, in 1949, Argus was superseded in speed by the Don Julio of Ledesma Lines which was an overpowered former “FS” ship which had replacement engines from a submarine. However, Argus was the bigger ship with better accommodations (well, imagine a former yacht which was bigger than an ex-”FS” ship). Also later, Argus changed route and she was only doing the Manila-Iloilo-Pulupandan route and that made more sense, perhaps, as it was a more compact route and able to harness the cargo and passengers of two nearby ports and provinces.

1949 0924 Welcome for president_SS Argus

Credits to Philippine Herald and Gorio Belen

Argus continued sailing but in 1955 her company lost its drive in sailing when one of their ships was lost off Cagayan province where it was trying to beat a typhoon to Aparri port. Ships were sold and those not sold were still made to sail to still use their remaining economic life. But by this time, the great Madrigal business empire was no longer the same and their great cargo fleet was also shrinking because although copra still buoyed it up, the other great cargoes it carried which were abaca and coal were already on the way down and the latter was practically zilch already after ships and the railroad converted to diesel power.

Argus languished around for a while but not sailing as a passenger-cargo ship. By that time Madrigal Shipping was mainly into Bicol routes and these routes then were primarily for cargo. Maybe the owners were waiting for buyers but for a ship with limited cargo capacity but luxurious (and it is cargo that buoys shipping) she was hard to sell. Steam turbines were also out of vogue then already and thought by some as “dangerous” as it can explode and fire results.

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Credits to Philippine Herald and Gorio Belen

The ship was finally scrapped in 1965 and that was 54 years after she was built. She could actually have been the last steam-turbine passenger ship that existed in the country.

Negros Navigation Had The Most Modern Fleet From The late ’60’s To The Late ’80’s

When Negros Navigation celebrated it’s Diamond Anniversary in 2007, it issued an anniversary book. Going through the book, the reader might think that all along Negros Navigation was a great liner company. Unfortunately, that was not the case as Negros Navigation started as a shipping company linking just Panay and Negros and this was true even after World War II or nearly three decades after the company was founded. This would also mean that some shipping companies were the main connection of Western Visayas to Manila before Negros Navigation took that role.

Filipino shipping companies came to the fore in the early1930’s when it was becoming clear that a preparatory period for independence was coming. Filipino businessmen then thought they will supplant the then-dominant American businesses here when independence will come (nobody then can anticipate the “Parity Amendment” which came together with our independence).

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Credit to Gorio Belen

In the Commonwealth period, the dominant Western Visayas shipping company was the De la Rama Steamship. Don Esteban de la Rama of Iloilo was a very wealthy businessman and very well-connected politically as he himself was a Senator of the land and Vice-President Osmena was his brother-in-law. In this period, De la Rama Steamship ordered brand-new liners from Germany and those were the best in the land then and comparable to foreign liners.

Like many other shipping companies, De la Rama Steamship lost their liners during the war and after the war they were recipients of reparations by the Americans which promised replacement for the comandeered liners during the war. They also had some new-builds ordered from Japan which became the bone of contention later. In a few years, however, De la Rama Steamship concentrated on foreign trade and gave up their local routes.

After the war, there was another shipping company that served as the main connection of Western Visayas to Manila and this was the Southern Lines which was founded by rich businessmen of Western Visayas which belonged to the upper crust of the society of that region. Southern Lines operated converted former “FS” ships like many shipping companies of that era and it concentrated mainly in linking Iloilo and Bacolod to Manila. This company did not expand to other regions like what Negros Navigation did later.

1947 Southern Lines

Credit to Gorio Belen

Negros Navigation became a liner operation from being a regional when they and Ledesma Lines merged in the late 1950’s. Before this it was Ledesma Lines that had routes to Manila. This merger was the reason why the Ledesma family held substantial holdings in Negros Navigation for several decades until they sold off when they didn’t agree with the national expansion plan of Daniel “Bitay” Lacson in the 1990’s.

Southern Lines went out of operations in the mid-’60s and they sold off their ships but it did not go to Negros Navigation. I am not sure if there was a sell-out of routes to Negros Navigation but it will not really matter then as getting routes was easy for the company as their ownership which also belong to the upper crust of Western Visayas society was very close to President Ferdinand Marcos then.

I am of the mind, however, that the demise of Southern Lines might be an orchestrated move to pave way for the rise of Negros Navigation. The ownership of the two shipping companies are related by kinship and marriage and I think it was obvious which company had the blessings of Malacanang. And actually there is an indirect proof that Negros Navigation already controlled Southern Lines before its demise.

1960 Jul 2 schedules

Credit to Gorio Belen

Negros Navigation as a new liner company built up its fleet not by buying surplus ships but by ordering new, purpose-built liners from Hongkong first and then Japan. Their first brand-new liner was the “Princess of Negros” which was built by Hongkong Whampoa in 1962. This was cruiser with the external dimensions 61.0 meters by 9.5 meters with the cubic dimension 493 gross register tons. The ship had a net register tonnage of 301 tons and a DWT (deadweight tonnage) of 188 tons.

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Credit to Lindsay Bridge

These dimensions were almost like that of an ex-”FS” ship but actually she was even a little smaller. She was speedier though because she was powered by a 1,920-horsepower B&W Alpha engine whose power was almost double that of an “FS” ship and so she was capable of 13 knots sustained. The passenger capacity of the “Princess of Negros” was 349 persons divided into several classes from Economy to Suite in three decks. The ship’s ID was IMO 5284974.

The next new-build liner of Negros Navigation and the others that followed after it was from Japan. This was the “Dona Florentina” which came in 1965 and she ushered the “Dona” series of Negros Navigation. She was built by Hitachi Shipbuilding & Engineering Company in Osaka yard, Japan. The ship measured 95.7 meters by 13.9 meters with a gross register tonnage of 2,095 tons. She was powered by a single 4,400-horsepower Hitachi engine and her design speed was 17.5 knots. This ship’s permanent ID was IMO 6515899.

This ship was already part then of the trend of building liners with airconditioning with a length of just short of 100 meters and with 2,000-gross register tons size, a speed of approximately 18 knots and passenger capacity of just below a thousand. During this time this was what was considered then as a “luxury liner”, taken in their size, speed, accommodations, food and passenger service. The “Dona Florentina” can be considered as the first luxury liner of Negros Navigation and she had a passenger capacity of 832 in a net tonnage of 1,015 and a DWT of 1,425 which was the load capacity.

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Credit to Gorio Belen

A sister ship of hers followed the “Dona Florentina” in 1967. This was the “Don Julio” which possessed more beautiful lines and this ship was considered the beauty of her time. She has the same external dimensions as “Dona Florentina” but her cubic capacity was 2,116 gross register tons (this later rose to 2,381 tons), a net register tonnage of 1,111 tons and a DWT of 1,425 tons. The “Don Julio” has the same engine and speed of her sister ship but her passenger capacity was higher at 994 persons. The ship was not built by Hitachi Shipbuilding but by Maizuru Shipyard in Maizuru, Kyoto, Japan. Her permanent ID was IMO 6728549.

Another brand-new ship from Japan, the “Don Vicente” arrived for Negros Navigation in 1969 and she was mainly used for the Iloilo-Bacolod route. However, this ship was bigger than the “Princess of Negros” at 77.4 meters by 12.0 meters. Her gross register tonnage was 1,964 tons and her net register tonnage was 493 tons with a DWT of 576 tons. The ship was built by Niigata Shipbuilding in Niigata, Japan and her permanent ID was IMO 7003763.

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Credit to Dimas Almada

The “Don Vicente” was actually bigger than the converted former “FS” ships, even the lengthened ones, which was the common liner of the era. She was actually faster too at 17 knots which came from a pair of Niigata engines (this was the first-twin screw new ship of Negros Navigation) of 4,000 horsepower total. It would not have been a shame if she was fielded as a liner to Manila but the rich of Western Visayas also wanted a good, exclusive ship for the Iloilo-Bacolod route.

In 1971, a sister ship of “Dona Florentina” and “Don Julio” came from Japan, the “Don Juan” which then became the flagship of Negros Navigation until 1980. She, too, was built by Niigata Shipbuilding in Niigata, Japan. She measured 95.7 meters by 13.8 meters and that was near-identical to her sister ships. Her cubic volumes in gross register tonnage and net register tonnage was 2,310 and 1,330 tons, respectively, and her load capacity in DWT was 1,372 tons.

1971 MS Don Juan

Credit to Gorio Belen

This ship was faster than her sister ships because she was powered by a 5,000-horsepower B&W engine which gave her a sustained speed of 19 knots. Like her sisters ships she had accommodations from Economy to Suite but her passenger capacity was only 740 persons when her net register tonnage was higher and that means she has more space total and more space per passenger than her sister ships. She had the permanent ID IMO 7118088.

In 1971, when the “Don Juan” arrived, the economic crisis of the country was already deepening and this can be seen in the free fall (called “floating rate” then) of the peso which meant devaluation. With devaluation, the imported goods became more expensive in peso terms which means for the same thing like a same ship, the shipping company has to pay more. With this the ordering of new ships from Japan by Negros Navigation stopped. But in their fleet they already had five brand-new ships which was enough for their limited routes to Western Visayas and their Iloilo-Bacolod route.

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Credit to Chief Ray Smith

In 1976, Negros Navigation will add a 10-year old second-hand ship, the “Don Claudio” which became the biggest ship in the fleet by a small margin. And in 1980 they will acquire their first RORO liner, the “Dona Maria” which was then a 7-year old ship. However, in external dimensions she was just as big as the “Don Vicente” and in design speed she was the slowest at 15 knots save for the first brand-new ship, the “Princess of Negros”.

Negros Navigation sold to Southern Lines the liner they inherited from Ledesma Lines (and Southern Lines sold their old ships to other shipping companies). This was an earlier “Don Julio” which was a re-engined ex-”FS” ship. That means Negros Navigation had the newest fleet since the late ’60s when it was already able to build a fleet of their own. And by reckoning, they still had the newest ships up to the early ’80s, definitely, and most likely up to the second half of this decade. That was what they earned by buying new ships when the competition was still dependent on ex-”FS” ships of World War II vintage.

In the ’80s the other shipping companies were already shedding their their former World War II ships. From thereon all the shipping companies were purchasing surplus ships from Japan built in the late ’60s to the early ’70s, the same age now of the Negros Navigation cruiser ships. When they started acquiring RORO liners it was more or less of the same age and so no company can claim their fleet was younger. With great devaluation it was already suicide for shipping companies to order brand-new ships. It was simply unaffordable by that time already.

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Credit to Gorio Belen

But for a while, for some two decades, Negros Navigation can claim outright they have the youngest liners in the country.

The Brief Career of Philippine President Lines (PPL) In The Inter-island Trade

Philippine President Lines. What a grandiose name! Obviously it took off from the American President Lines (APL) whose ships were named after the American Presidents. Similarly, Philippine President Lines (PPL) also named their ships after Philippine Presidents but not all (one reason is we don’t have many Presidents being a young republic). PPL was not as old as American President Lines being established only in the late 1950’s.

Philippine President Lines is an unusual shipping company in the Philippines because it took off and expanded so fast that in so short a time as in less than a decade it was already the biggest shipping company in the country. In the process, it even exceeded the venerable Compania Maritima or CM (and its subsidiary Maritime Company of the Philippines in the overseas trade) in the combined local and foreign trade (later, it was matched by Galleon Shipping Corporation, another company that also grew up very fast).

Philippine President Lines started in the local routes but they gave it up to a subsidiary after just four years and then concentrated on the foreign trade. Along the way, PPL acquired many ocean-going ships which sailed routes to the Far East, Japan and the US West Coast. In the process, the names of the ships of Philippine President Lines changed from “President” to “Liberty” to “Lucky”. Philippine President Lines died as a shipping company when their ships were already named “Lucky”. The company is still alive but its business now are by being ship agents and by engaging in ship manning.

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Photo credits: Philippine Herald and Gorio Belen

The first ship of Philippine President Lines was the FS-223 which was acquired from the US. By 1960, their inter-island passenger fleet was already set. The company was fortunate in this period because it was able to acquire former “AKL” ships which were already being disposed then by the US Navy. “AKL” ships were former “FS” ships that were retained by the US after the war for use of the US Navy in supplying out of the way small posts especially in the Pacific Ocean. “AKL” ships were supposedly better than its ex-”FS” sisters.

Philippine President Lines acquired their first ship in 1959 and this became the President Magsaysay in their fleet. In 1960, PPL acquired the former FS-220, also from the US and this became the first President Roxas. In 1960, too, their first “AKL” ship came, the former AKL-5 which became the President Quirino. In the same year, they also acquired the passenger-cargo ship Sirius from North Camarines Lumber Company which was not only involved in the logging and lumber business but also in shipping. This was the former FS-265 of the US Army.

In the same year 1960, Philippine President Lines also made a grand acquisition when then were able to acquire a former seaplane tender, the Onslow (AVP-48) which they then converted into a luxury liner with airconditioning and named as the President Quezon. The conversion took a year but when she was fielded she became the fastest liner in the Philippines at 18 knots, beating the old record-holder, the Don Julio of Southern Lines which was formerly a Ledesma Lines ship. In the same year, they were able to acquire another passenger-cargo ship which was named the Lake Taal which was not big enough to carry the name of a President.

In 1961, two former AKL ships from the US Navy reinforced their fleet. The AKL-1 and AKL-2 came which became the President Laurel and the President Osmena in their fleet, respectively. The two ships were the former FS-175 and FS-309 of the US Army (the US Army and not the US Navy operated the “FS” ships in the war). These former “FS” ships were all powered by versions of the 1,000-hp GM Cleveland engines which gave a maximum speed of 12 knots except for the President Laurel that was powered by an 800-hp Enterprise engine which was only capable of 10.5 knots.

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Photo credits: The Philippines Herald and Gorio Belen

The early routes of Philippine President Lines stressed Bicol ports and routes, three out of their five, in fact, in 1960. That was welcome development in the region because that time the Madrigal Shipping routes to Bicol were already flagging. The PPL’s Bicol route even reached Larap and J. Panganiban of Camarines Norte, the farthest Bicol ports from Manila and the diminutive Lake Taal was used in those ports as well as in the ancient port of Tandoc in Caramoan Peninsula.

By 1963, however, the inter-island operation of PPL were transferred to a subsidiary, the Philippine Pioneer Lines. Initially, the word “President” was dropped from the names of the ships but later the word “Pioneer” headed the name of the ships. Like the President Quezon which became Quezon became the Pioneer Iloilo. The number of ships increased but the routes to Bicol declined. Philippine Pioneer Lines then began to stress Cebu like most other shipping companies. Maybe they realized the traffic to Bicol ports was not really that much commensurate.

The significant addition to the Philippine Pioneer Lines fleet was the acquisition of the former Don Julio of Southern Lines which became the Pioneer Leyte in the Philippine Pioneer Lines fleet. Because of this, Philippine Pioneer Lines possessed the two fastest liners in the Philippine seas then.

This is the short tale of the inter-island career of Philippine President Lines. Its successor, the Philippine Pioneer Lines and its further successor, Galaxy Lines deserve a separate article maybe. Abangan!

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Photo credit: Manila Chronicle and Gorio Belen