Carlos A. Gothong Lines Incorporated Is Still Fighting Back

When the original shipping company Carlos A. Gothong & Company broke up in 1972, one of the successor companies was Carlos A. Gothong Lines Incorporated (CAGLI or Gothong Lines) owned by the scions of the founder Don Carlos A. Gothong. It was eclipsed early by Sulpicio Lines Incorporated which was owned by the once operations manager of the mother company. And then its operation and fleet even got smaller in 1980 when Lorenzo Shipping Corporation of Lorenzo Go and two other siblings went their separate way (this company was later sold to the Magsaysay Shipping Group but later the scions of Lorenzo Go founded the Oceanic Container Lines Incorporated which now has the biggest number of container ships in the country which has the “Ocean” series).

Carlos A. Gothong Lines Inc. again became a significant national liner company in the 1990’s when again they built a fleet of liners starting in 1986 and more significantly in 1987 when they acquired the sister ships Our Lady of Fatima and the Our Lady of Lourdes. The sister ships Sto. Nino de Cebu (the later Our Lady of Medjugorje) and the beautiful Our Lady of Sacred Heart, both acquired in 1990 cemented their national liner position and the big liner Our Lady of Akita, acquired in 1993 declared their intention to play in the big leagues.

The rising company got absorbed when they acquiesced to the creation of big merged shipping company WG & A (which stood for William, Gothong and Aboitiz) in late 1995 and that included their small fleet of RORO Cargo ships and also their Visayas-Mindanao overnight ferries. In this merged company their main representative to the Board of Directors was Bob Gothong who was close to the Aboitizes and not the eldest Bowen Gothong.

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Butuan Bay 1 by Vinz Sanchez

While Bob Gothong never veered from the Aboitiz orbit (take note it was Aboitiz Jebsens which was in charge of the operations fleet maintenance of WG & A), the other siblings of Bob Gothong were not satisfied with the state of things in the merged company and in 2001 they asked out and the process of divestment began. Even before the divestment was completed the revived Carlos A. Gothong Lines Incorporated already had the Butuan Bay 1 ready to sail the Manila-Cebu-Nasipit route which was considered lucky for them and where they were very strong in cargo historically. Instead of being paid in ships, the Gothong siblings were paid in cash (while Bob Gothong remained with WG&A) and for this to happen a lot of WG&A ships, both ROPAX and container ships had to be sold to China ship breakers for cash.

With the proceeds in the divestment that did not include Bob Gothong, the Gothong siblings led by Bowen Gothong acquired the big Manila Bay 1 and Subic Bay 1 in 2003 and 2004, respectively which were as big as their old Our Lady of Akita which burned in 2000 as the SuperFerry 6. The two was followed by the Ozamis Bay 1, also in 2004 and by the Cagayan Bay 1, the sister ship of SuperFerry 2 and SuperFerry 5, in 2007. At its peak the revived Carlos A. Gothong Lines Incorporated had a total of 5 ROPAXes (RORO-Passenger ships) plus a valuable wharf in the new reclaimed land in Mandaue adjacent the Cebu International Port or Cebu Pier 6. But though they had five ferries, the revived CAGLI was only able to regain a limited presence in the Visayas-Mindanao routes which were once dominated by them together with the Trans-Asia Shipping Lines Incorporated.

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The revived Gothong Lines did not prove to be very successful. When they re-entered liner shipping, many passengers were already leaving the liners and they were going to the budget airlines and the intermodal buses using short-distance ferry-ROROs. Cargo was also shifting too to the intermodal system because of the high container rates and the hassles of hauling container vans to the Port of Manila from road congestion to criminality and to the rampant mulcting of the so-called “authorities”. In those years it seemed there was a surplus of bottoms which meant excess ships, a possible result of liberalization and incentives programs of President Fidel V. Ramos.

Gothong Lines then became notorious for late departures and arrivals because they gave preference to cargo which earns more than carrying passengers and they were actually never strong in the passenger department. Repeated complaints led the maritime authority MARINA (Maritime Industry Authority) to suspend their permit to carry passengers. With that happening Gothong Lines simply converted their ROPAXes into RORO Cargo ships just carrying container vans and vehicles.

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With weakness in this business too, soon Cagayan Bay 1 and Ozamis Bay 1 soon found themselves laid up in the Gothong wharf in Mandaue and Butuan Bay 1 was sold after an engine explosion and it became the Trans-Asia 5 of Trans-Asia Shipping Lines Incorporated (TASLI). So in the recent years it was only Manila Bay 1 and Subic Bay 1 which were sailing for Gothong Lines and it seemed the two was enough for their limited cargo and routes. However, as RORO Cargo ships they were inefficient because of their big engines. But even then Gothong Lines were offering discounts and cheap rates in general which only showed how overpriced are container rates in the country. Recently, Cagayan Bay 1 and Ozamis Bay 1 were sold to the breakers but their hulls are still in the Gothong wharf in Mandaue as of the writing of this article.

Many speculated what will happen next to Gothong Lines with two inefficient and obsolescent ships and some were even asking if they will soon cease operations as their two ships were already clearly old and might even be too big for their routes. For me, I always look at their wharf which they retained and I know it is very valuable in terms of market value. Actually, the container shipping company established by their brother Bob Gothong, the Gothong Southern Shipping Lines Incorporated (GSSLI) does not even have an equivalent although it is the more progressive and booming company.

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Panglao Bay 1

Recently, two RORO Cargo ships arrived in the Gothong wharf one after another and they were still relatively new by Philippine standards. These are the Panglao Bay 1 and the Dapitan Bay 1 and from the look of things they are the replacements of Subic Bay 1 and Manila Bay 1. Actually, some three months ago as of the writing of this article, the Subic Bay 1 was already pulled by tugs and it seems here destination is a ship breaker somewhere in South Asia. That happened when the Panglao Bay 1 was already sailing for them. It is speculated that the Manila Bay 1 will be disposed of when Dapitan Bay 1 will already be sailing. In reality, it is possible she already has a buyer now.

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The Panglao Bay 1 was built in 1995 and her external dimensions are 128 meters by 22 meters with a Gross Tonnage (GT) of 5,930 in cubic volume and a cargo capacity of 4,946 tons in Deadweight Tonnage (DWT). Meanwhile, the Dapitan Bay 1 is officially a Vehicle Carrier and was built in 1992 and has the external dimensions 145 meters by 21 meters and has a cubic volume of 7,073 tons in GT and a DWT of 4,485 tons. This ship has different specifications depending on the maritime database. Whatever, these two ships are already the ships of Gothong Lines for the future and they look like worthy replacements for the Subic Bay 1 and Manila Bay 1 though they are a little smaller (but the engines are smaller too which is a plus). But then Gothong Lines might have already studied their cargo capacity needs and concluded that the sizes of the two fits them just right.

And so Carlos A. Gothong Lines Inc. is still fighting back. That is good news as they are the bearer of one of the most storied names in Philippine shipping history.

The Claim of Carlos A. Gothong Lines That They Were First Into ROPAXes Was Most Likely True (But There Was Controversy)

Carlos A. Gothong Lines, Inc. (CAGLI), in their online published history claims they were first into ROROs. The more correct term is probably ROPAX or RORO-Passenger but many people just use the acronym “RORO” and that is what is commonly most understood by many. It was said that when new patriarch Alfredo (Alfred) Gothong went on self-imposed exile in Canada, he was able to observe how efficient were the ROROs there and he might have been talking of the short-distance ferry-ROROs including the double-ended ferries in the Vancouver area. It is in that area where Canada has many of those types.

The move to ROROs happened when the then-combined shipping companies Carlos A. Gothong Lines, Inc. (CAGLI) and Lorenzo Shipping Corporation parted ways in 1979 (in actual although the agreement was from 1978) after some 7 years of combined operations which they did to better withstand the shocks of the split that created Sulpicio Lines and the downfall of their copra and oil trading (in strategic partnership with Ludo Do & Lu Ym of Cebu) when the Marcos henchmen moved in into the copra trade and oil refining. When Carlos A. Gothong Lines and Lorenzo Shipping were still combined the former’s ships were mainly doing the Visayas and Visayas-Mindanao routes while the latter’s ships were mainly doing the Southern Mindanao and Western Visayas routes.

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1979 Gothong + Lorenzo shipping schedule (Credits to Times Journal and Gorio Belen)

The year 1979 was very significant for Philippine shipping in so many ways. First, it was the year when containerization went full blast when the leading shipping companies (Aboitiz Shipping, William Lines, Sulpicio Lines, Lorenzo Shipping plus the earlier Sea Transport) went into a race to acquire container ships. That also meant a lull in passenger-cargo ship acquisitions since more and more it was the container ships that were carrying the cargo to the major ports. Before the container ships, it was mainly the passenger-cargo ships that were carrying the inter-island cargoes. The shift to containerization resulted in passenger-cargo ships being laid up in 1980 and 1981 and later it accelerated the process of breaking up of the former “FS” ships.

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1979 container shipping ads (Credits to Times Journal and Gorio Belen)

Second, it was the year that the road plus ship intermodal system truly started when a Cardinal Shipping ROPAX appeared in San Bernardino Strait to connect Luzon and Visayas by RORO. It was the first step but in the next years ROPAXes linking the islands within sight began to mushroom (this is not to negate the earlier intermittent LCTs that also tried to bridge major islands within sight of each other the RORO way).

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A 1980 ad of Cardinal Shipping (Credit to Gorio Belen)

In their split, Carlos A. Gothong Lines and Lorenzo Shipping had two completely different responses to the new paradigm of containerization. The latter tried to join the containerization bandwagon and aside from the acquisition of general cargo ships from Japan for refitting into container ships it also tried to retrofit their earlier general cargo ships into container ships. Maybe Lorenzo Shipping does not have the financial muscle of the others but it tried to make up for this by ingenuity (and maybe Aboitiz Shipping which first tried this approach was their model).

However, Carlos A. Gothong Lines had a different approach. They bypassed the acquisition of container ships and instead went headlong into the acquisition of small ROPAXES (but bigger than the basic, short-distance ferry-ROROs). Most likely their situation as primarily an intra-Visayas and a Visayas-Mindanao shipping operator influenced this. In these routes, there was no need for containers ship as almost all cargoes there are either loose cargo or palletized cargo that are loaded mainly in overnight ships.

There is controversy which shipping company fielded the first RORO in the Philippines (setting aside the earlier LCTs). Negros Navigation claims their “Sta. Maria” was first in RORO liners. That ship came in 1980 and it was a RORO liner, obviously. But as far as ROROs or ROPAXes, there is indubitable proof that Cardinal Shipping fielded the “Cardinal Ferry 1” in 1979 in the San Bernardino Strait crossing.

To make the debate murkier still, the “Northern Star” (a double-ended ferry at first before she was converted and she became the latter “Northern Samar”) and “Badjao” of Newport Shipping arrived in 1978 but they were not doing RORO routes then. By the way, the San Bernardino RORO service became only feasible when the roads in Samar were already passable so it cannot come earlier.

Carlos A. Gothong Lines might win the debate, however, because in 1976 they already had the small RORO “Don Johnny” which they used as a passenger-cargo ship from Manila to Leyte but not as a RORO. This ship later became the “Cardinal Ferry 2” of Cardinal Shipping that was the first to bridge the Surigao Strait as a RORO (that was not an LCT) in 1980 with a fixed schedule and daily voyages. And even though the former vehicle carrier “Don Carlos” arrived for Sulpicio Lines in 1977, still Carlos A. Gothong Lines was technically ahead in ROROs.

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The Don Carlos (Credits to Times Journal and Gorio Belen)

From 1980 and ahead of the other shipping companies, Carlos A. Gothong Lines already bet big on ROROs when they fielded such type one after the other. In 1980, the “Dona Lili” and “Don Calvino” arrived for Carlos A. Gothong Lines although there are those who say the former arrived earlier. Negros Navigation might have been right in stressing that their “Sta. Maria” was a RORO liner and was first because the two ROROs of Carlos A. Gothong Lines were just overnight ferries. Nevertheless, both were ROROs or ROPAXes.

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The Dona Lili (Credits to PNA, Daily Express and Gorio Belen)

The “Dona Lili” was a ship built as the “Seiran Maru” in 1967 by Taguma Zosen in Innoshima, Japan. The ferry measured 69.0 meters by 12.0 meters with an original 856 gross register tonnage, a net register tonnage of 448 tons and deadweight tonnage of 553 tons. She was powered by two Daihatsu engines totalling 2,600 horsepower with gave her a sustained speed of 15.5 knots. The permanent ID of the ship was IMO 6713609.

In comparison, the “Sta. Maria” of Negros Navigation was not much bigger at 72.0 meters by 12.6 meters and 1,110 gross register tonnage. Their speed was just about the same since “Sta. Maria” has a design speed of just 15 knots. So one ship was not clearly superior to the other. It just so happened that the routes of the companies dictated the particular role of the ships. By the way the “Sta. Maria” is still existing as the “Lite Ferry 8” so shipping observers still can benchmark her size, visually.

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The Don Calvino (Credits to PAL, George Tappan and Gorio Belen)

The “Don Calvino” was built as the “Shunan Maru” by Naikai Zosen in Onomichi, Japan in 1968. The ship measured 62.6 meters by 13.4 meters with an original gross register tonnage of 881 tons. She was powered by twin Hitachi engines of 2,660 horsepower total and a design speed of 14.5 knots. Her ID was IMO 6829484. As a note, the “Dona Lili” and the “Don Calvino” had long lives and they even outlived their company Carlos A. Gothong Lines which disappeared as a separate company when it joined the merger which created the giant shipping company WG&A.

Another RORO also arrived for Carlos A. Gothong Lines in the same year 1980. However, the ship did not live long. This ferry was the “Dona Josefina” which was built as “Kamishiho Maru” in 1968 by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries in Shimonoseki, Japan. This ship had the external dimensions 71.6 meters by 13.0 meters and her gross register tonnage was 1,067 tons which means she was slightly the biggest of the three that came to Carlos A. Gothong Lines in 1980 and almost a match to the “Sta. Maria” of Navigation in size (incidentally the two ships both came in 1980). This ship was powered by twin Daihatsu engines of 2,600 combined like the “Dona Lili” and her sustained top speed was 15 knots. Her permanent ID was IMO 6823399.

Acquiring three medium-sized ROROs in a year showed the bet of Carlos A. Gothong Lines on ROROs or ROPAXes instead of container ships. Actually in overnight routes, it is ROROs that is needed more because it simplified cargo handling especially with the employment of forklifts which is several times more efficient than a porter and does not get tired. When Carlos A. Gothong Lines acquired RORO cargo ships starting in 1987 with the “Our Lady of Hope” , it was when they had Manila routes already and those cargo ships were used in that route.

Carlos A. Gothong Lines then had a short pause but in 1982 they purchased the ROPAX “Don Benjamin”. This ship was the former “Shin Kanaya Maru” and she was built in 1967 by Shimoda Dockyard Company in Shimoda, Japan. This ship measured 61.0 meters by 13.7 meters and the gross register tonnage was 685 tons and her permanent ID was IMO 7022875. She was powered by a single Nippon Hatsudoki engine of 2,550 horsepower and her design speed was 15 knots. Her engine was the reason the ship did not have a very long career here.

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The Don Benjamin partially scrapped (Photo by Edison Sy)

In 1983, Carlos A. Gothong Lines acquired two more ROROs, the “Dona Casandra” and the “Dona Conchita” which were both ill-fated here. The “Dona Casandra” was the former “Mishima Maru” and built by Hashihama Zosen in Hashihama, Japan. She was smaller than the other ROROs of Carlos A. Gothong Lines at 53.8 meters by 11 meters but her register tonnage was 682 tons. Her engines were twin Daihatsus at 2,000 horsepower total and that gave her a top speed of 14 knots, sustained. She possessed the IMO Number 6729476.

The other ship, the “Dona Conchita” was significantly bigger than the others as she had the external dimensions 82.0 meters by 13.4 meters and Japan gross register tonnage of 1,864 tons. This ship was the former “Osado Maru” and she was built in 1969 by Ishikawajima Heavy Industries (IHI) in Tokyo, Japan with the IMO Number 6908187. This bigger ship with a design speed of 16.5 knots was supposedly what will bring Carlos A. Gothong Lines back in the Manila route. However, both “Dona Casandra” and “Dona Conchita” sank before the decade was out.

While Carlos A. Gothong Lines was acquiring these ships, they were also disposing of their old ferries including ex-”FS” ships they inherited from their mother company Go Thong & Company before the split in 1972. What they did, the selling of old ships to acquire new was actually the pattern too in the other national shipping companies. The war-vintage ships then were already four decades old and were already in its last legs and its equipment and accommodations were already outdated compared to the newer ships that were already beginning to dominate the local waters.

After 1983, Carlos A. Gothong Lines’ ship acquisitions went into a hiatus for three years (but they already acquired six ROROs, much more than the total of the other shipping companies). Well, almost all ship acquisitions stopped then. The crisis that hit the Philippines was really bad and nobody knew then where the country was heading. But in 1986 when the crisis began to ebb and more so in 1987 and 1988 they acquired another bunch of RORO ships, bigger this time including RORO Cargo ships. That was the time that they attempted to become a national liner shipping company again after they became one of the Big Three in Visayas and Visayas-Mindanao shipping (the other two were Sweet Lines and Trans-Asia Shipping).

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The Our Lady of Guadalupe (Credits to Manila Times, Rudy Santos and Gorio Belen)

But then, the return of Carlos A. Gothong Lines as a national liner shipping company is worth another story, as they say.

Abangan.

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.

The Battle for the Southern Mindanao Ports After The War And Before The Era of RORO Liners

Discussing this topic, the author wishes to clarify that the discussion will be limited to the period after World War II. There are not enough research materials yet before the war and in that earlier period Southern Mindanao was not yet that economically important to the country since the great wave of migration to the region only happened starting in the 1950’s and then peaking in the 1960’s and the 1970’s.

Talking of Southern Mindanao ports, these consisted mainly of Davao, General Santos (or Dadiangas) and Cotabato (which is actually Parang or Polloc port located in another town) and to some extent also Pagadian and Kabasalan in earlier times and also Mati and Bislig. Since ships generally used the western approach, inadvertently Zamboanga port will be included in this since all ships to Southern Mindanao port using the western approach will use that as an intermediate stop since it just lies along the route and it has a good passenger and cargo volume.

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Gorio Belen research in the National Library

After World War II, shipping to Southern Mindanao boomed because it was the “new frontier” of the country. There was great migration by Christians from other parts of the country and this was encouraged and supported by the government to ease the “land pressure” in Luzon and Visayas which was the fuel then for the land unrest (read: Pambansang Kilusan ng Magbubukid, Sakdalista movement, Hukbalahap, etc.). The land of Mindanao was being opened through the building of roads and the bounty of the land and the forests were being exploited (without asking the say-so of the native peoples and that fueled the unrest of the latter decades; the Luzon land unrest was “solved” to be replaced by Mindanao unrest and war – what an irony and tragedy!). And so people and goods needed to be transported and in such a situation where “ships come where there is cargo” there was a battle for the Southern Mindanao ports among the local shipping companies. Davao was the primary route and port of Southern Mindanao and almost invariably the Davao ships will also drop anchor in Dadiangas (General Santos City).

At the outset, it was Compania Maritima which led the pack to Southern Mindanao after World War II as she was the biggest liner shipping company then with the most ships, half of which were big by local standards (that means a length of about 100 meters). The company possessed ex-“C1-M-AV1” surplus ships as compensation by the US Government for their ships lost during the war and also big cargo-passenger ships from Europe while the competition had no better than the small ex-“FS” ships from the US Army which have to seek shelter when the seas begin to roil.

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Gorio Belen research in the National Library

Among the Compania Maritima competitors to the Southern Mindanao ports in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s were Philippine Steam and Navigation Company (PSNC), Manila Steamship Company, De la Rama Steamship, William Lines Inc. and Escano Lines. Most of the liner shipping companies of the day then shirked from Southern Mindanao routes because it was taxing on the fleet as the ships needed two weeks for the entire voyage. So just to be able to offer a weekly schedule, two ships of the fleet must be devoted to a Southern Mindanao route.

It was Philippine Steam and Navigation Company (PSNC), being backed by Everett Steamship of the United States, which was more competitive against Compania Maritima as it also had ex-“C1-M-AV1” and ex-“Type N3” ships. PSNC was a venture between Everett Steamship and Aboitiz Shipping (and later with the end of “Parity Rights”, it passed on to the latter). Manila Steamship Co. was competitive, too since it also had a big fleet. However, this company quit shipping after the explosion and fire that hit their flagship “Mayon” in 1955. Meanwhile, De la Rama Steamship even quit earlier to concentrate on international shipping and being an agents after some local issues.

The year that Manila Steamship quit shipping, the new liner company Carlos A. Go Thong & Company joined the Southern Mindanao battle, too. In the mid-1950’s, with some shake-out in the shipping industry, there were less competitors and ships in this decade (because some really old ships have already quit along with some very small ones). It should be noted, however, that there were ocean-going liners that were originating from Southern Mindanao that goes to Manila first before proceeding to Japan and the USA. Some of those that provided that kind of service were Everett Steamship and Compania Maritima.

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Gorio Belen research in the National Library

In the 1960’s, passenger-cargo ships from Europe that were bigger than the ex-“FS” ships began to arrive in the Philippines and many of these were fielded to the Southern Mindanao routes. Among the users of that type were Go Thong and William Lines. Go Thong was also able to acquire the big World War II surplus “C1-A” ships like the “Manila Bay” and “Subic Bay”. Compania Maritima, however, bought brand-new liners and chartered big reparations cargo-passenger ships from the government-owned National Development Corporation (NDC) and so they held on to their lead in the Southern Mindanao routes in this decade. Meanwhile, Everett/PSNC was not far behind and they even used in Southern Mindanao their new liners from Japan, the “Elcano” and the “Legazpi”. Additionally, there was a new entrant in the late 1960’s, the ambitious Sweet Lines which was one of the beneficiaries of the quitting of General Shipping Company of local routes (the other was Aboitiz Shipping Corporation).

At the start of the 1970’s, Compania Maritima was still ruling the Southern Mindanao routes. But several very interesting developments happened in this decade. First, the big Go Thong/Universal Shipping which already exceeded Compania Maritima in size had broken into three shipping companies and Sulpicio Lines Incorporated, Carlos A. Gothong Lines Incorporated and Lorenzo Shipping Corporation emerged (until 1979 the operation of the latter two were joint). In a few years time, however, Sulpicio Lines grew fast and proved to be a strong competitor. In this decade, it was already slowly becoming obvious that Compania Maritima was losing steam especially as they regularly lost ships in storms. William Lines then was in a race with Sulpicio Lines to dislodge Compania Maritima from its perch. Everett Steamship meanwhile bowed out because of the end of “Parity Rights” of the Americans (and thus they are no longer allowed to do business as a Philippine “national”) and PSNC (their partnership with the Aboitizes) was merged with Aboitiz Shipping Corporation and the latter became the surviving entity. But with no new ships, Aboitiz Shipping Corporation bowed out of Southern Mindanao liner service. However, the combined Lorenzo Shipping Corporation and Carlos A. Gothong Shipping Lines (CAGLI) and Sweet Lines Inc. were still competing heavily in the Southern Mindanao routes in the 1970’s.

Two very important developments happened before the end of the 1970’s. One, containerization began and this changed the game of shipping. Where before it was just practically the liners that carried the cargo, now the carriers split into two, the container ships and the liners. Subsequently, the passenger capacity of the liners grew as they no longer have to devote a lot of space for cargo. By this time, the massive migration of Christians to Southern Mindanao has also boomed its population and consequently more need to travel.

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Gorio Belen research in the National Library

The second development was the introduction of fast cruiser liners that call on just one intermediate port (before a liner to Davao will usually call first in Cebu, Tagbilaran, a northern Mindanao port maybe, Zamboanga definitely and Dadiangas. So where before 10-knot ships like the ex-”FS” and ex-”C1-M-AV1” ships will take two weeks to complete an entire voyage and the faster ex-European passenger-cargo ships cycles every 10 or 11 days, the new fast cruisers complete the voyage in just a week. By my definition, fast cruisers of this period were the liners capable then of 18 knots. Usually, these were not converted cargo-passenger ships from other countries (these were fast cruisers even in Japan, usually). These were also luxury liners in the local parlance and one key feature of that is the availability of air-conditioning. With that truly luxurious suites and cabins became possible.

The fast “Dona Ana” (later “Dona Marilyn”) of Sulpicio Lines which came in 1976 tried to change the game by just having one intermediate port call, in Cebu. William Lines responded with the even faster cruiser “Manila City” (the second) in 1976 which only had Zamboanga as its intermediate port. With their speed and the use of just one intermediate port, the “Dona Ana” and “Manila City” was able maintain a weekly schedule. Although the luxurious flagship “Filipinas” of Compania Maritima was also fast at 17 knots, she dropped by many intermediate ports and so she cannot maintain a weekly sailing. Compania Maritima never dropped the old style of many intermediate ports.

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Photo credits: Times Journal and Gorio Belen

Gothong+Lorenzo was not able to respond well to this challenge (though they tried) as they had no true fast cruiser liners. So, they had to use two ships for a route to maintain a weekly sailing or three ships to maintain a cycle of every 10 days. Sweet Lines also tried but like Gothong+Lorenzo they also have no fast cruisers assigned to Southern Mindanao (they had two though in Cebu, the “Sweet Faith” and the “Sweet Home”). Compania Maritima and Sweet Lines were the users of three ships to the Davao route to be able to cycle a ship every 10 days. Aboitiz Shipping, meanwhile, with no new ships simply dropped out of liner shipping to Southern Mindanao and just concentrated on container shipping.

Although William Lines and Sulpicio Lines already had fast cruiser liners to Southern Mindanao they also still used their old passenger-cargo ships to the region in the late 1970’s in conjunction with their fast cruisers liners. So with them the passengers have a choice of the fast or the slow which was also less luxurious. Fares also differed, of course.

In the container segment of shipping, the battle was toe-to-toe. Aboitiz Shipping rolled out the Aboitiz Concarriers, William Lines had the Wilcons, Sulpicio Lines fielded the Sulcons (Sulpicio Container) and later Lorenzo Shipping sailed the Lorcons (Lorenzo Container). Many of the ships mentioned were once general cargo ships converted into container ships. [The later series Aboitiz container ships were named Superconcarriers and Megaconcarriers.] Lorenzo Shipping then split with Carlos A. Gothong Lines Inc. and the latter then quit Southern Mindanao routes to concentrate on the Visayas-Mindanao routes. [Later, Lorenzo Shipping quit shipping altogether and sold out to the Magsaysay group before they were reborn as the Oceanic Container Lines.]

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Gorio Belen research in the National Library

In passenger liners, William Lines and Sulpicio Lines continued to battle in the Southern Mindanao ports in the 1980’s using fast cruiser liners. Sulpicio Lines had the edge as they had more fast cruiser liners [William Lines still had to make do with their graying former European passenger-cargo ships]. For a while until they quit in 1984, Compania Maritima was battling Sulpicio Lines more than toe-to-toe. After all, Southern Mindanao was the area of concentration of Compania Maritima and in Davao they even have their own port, the MINTERBRO port. Compania Maritima concentrated their best liners, the “Filipinas”, “Visayas” and “Mindanao” plus their passenger-cargo ships “Leyte Gulf” and “Dadiangas” in the General Santos/Davao route before the company’s life expired. While the three were battling, the other liner companies were not able to respond except for Sea Transport Co. and Solid Shipping Lines which were not operating passenger liners. One independent liner company, the Northern Lines Inc. which had routes to Southern Mindanao also quit at about the same time of Compania Maritima at the height of the political and financial crisis leading to the mid-1980’s.

Before the era of RORO liners, there were already more container ships to Southern Mindanao than passenger liners. That how strong was the growth of that new paradigm. This new dominant paradigm even forced the fast cruisers to carry container vans atop their cargo holds as that was already the demand of the shippers and traders.

In the 1980’s before the advent of RORO liners starting in 1983 there were actually only a few fast cruiser liners doing the Southern Mindanao routes. Among those was the “Dona Ana”, the pioneer fast cruiser of Sulpicio Lines to Davao. This ship was later pulled out to replace “Don Sulpicio” in the Manila-Cebu route as the ship caught fire and she was renamed to “Dona Marilyn”. However, the fast cruisers “Don Enrique” (the later “Davao Princess” and “Iloilo Princess” and “Don Eusebio” (the later “Dipolog Princess”) alternated in the Manila-Cebu-Davao route. In 1981, when the “Philippine Princess” came, “Dona Marilyn” was reassigned to the Cotabato route. She was the first fast cruiser liner in that route.

Don Sulpicio, Dona Ana and Don Ricardo

Photo by Jon Uy Saulog

On another noteworthy trivia and clarification, Sulpicio Lines also fielded the third “Don Carlos” in the General Santos route in 1977. This ferry was a former vehicle carrier in Japan and so she had a cargo deck and a ramp. However, she was not used as a RORO ship. The ramps were just used to ease the loading of livestock from Gensan. This city sends a lot of those live commodities to Manila. She was actually a “WOWO” ship (Walk on, Walk Off). However, she also takes in heavy equipment and trucks bound for Gensan dealers. So technically “Don Carlos” was the first RORO to Southern Mindanao. But she did not use container vans.

For William Lines, the second “Manila City” (the first “Manila City” was an ex-”FS” ship) was their only fast cruiser to Southern Mindanao for a long time in this decade. Most of the passenger ships they were using in the region were former European passenger-cargo ships like what Sweet Lines were using (the company was also using the “Sweet Grace” to Southern Mindanao which was a brand-new liner in 1968 but was not that fast). Approaching the end of the decade only three national shipping companies were left sailing liners to Southern Mindanao – Sulpicio Lines, William Lines and Sweet Lines. One of the reasons for that was the crisis spawned by the Aquino assassination halved the number of liner companies in the Philippines. It was not because the traffic to Southern Mindanao dropped considerably. In container shipping to Southern Mindanao before the RORO liners came there were six players – Aboitiz Shipping Corporation, William Lines, Sulpicio Lines, Lorenzo Shipping Corporation, Sea Transport Company and Solid Shipping Lines.

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MV Don Carlos (Gorio Belen research in the National Library

In 1983, a new paradigm arrived in the Southern Mindanao routes and it ushered a new era. These are the RORO (or ROPAX) liners which were even bigger and just as fast as the fast cruiser liners. And they can carry more container vans than the fast cruisers. Later, RORO liners were even faster as they can already sail at 20 knots. Can anyone hazard a guess which was the first RORO liner of Southern Mindanao?

I will discuss the era of RORO liners in Southern Mindanao in a subsequent article (as I do not want this article to be too long and unwieldy). With that, it will be a discussion of the recent history of the Southern Mindanao routes and liners.

The Sunset of Tacloban Port

Tacloban City is the regional commercial center of Eastern Visayas and this has been so for about a century now. It has the advantage of a central location and a sheltered port and bay. Its reach weakens, however, in the western coast of Leyte which has its own sea connections to a greater trade and commercial center, the great city of Cebu which has been ascendant in the south of the Philippines since half a millennium ago. 

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http://image.slidesharecdn.com/easternvisayasfinal-150407210918-conversion-gate01/95/eastern-visayas-biliran-2-638.jpg?cb=1428459126

As a regional commercial center, it is but natural for Tacloban to have a great port with trade routes to many places. That has been the situation of Tacloban since before World War II and even before World War I. It also does not hurt that Tacloban is the capital of the province of Leyte. In fact, because of her superior strategic location, Tacloban even exceeded her mother town which is Palo which is still the seat of the church hierarchy.

Before World War II and after that, passenger-cargo ships from Manila will drop by first in Masbate, Catbalogan and Calbayog before hooking route and proceeding to Tacloban. Some of these ships will then still proceed to Surigao and Butuan or even Cagayan de Oro using the eastern seaboard of Leyte. Tacloban then was the fulcrum of these liner routes going to Eastern Visayas. That route was much stronger than the routes that drop by Ormoc and Maasin and perhaps Sogod and Cabalian before going to Surigao. The two routes were actually competing (like Ormoc and Tacloban are competing). If the route via Tacloban was stronger it is because Tacloban was the trade and commercial center of the region.

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At its peak, Tacloban port hosted some seven passenger-cargo ships from Manila per week from different liner companies. She also had daily regular calls from passenger-cargo ships emanating from Cebu. There were also some ships that originate from as far as Davao which dropped by Surigao first. Such was the importance of Tacloban port then which can still be seen in the size of Tacloban port and the bodegas surrounding it.

There were many liner companies that called over the years in Tacloban from Manila. Among them were Sulpicio Lines (and the earlier Carlos A. Gothong & Co.), Compania Maritima, General Shipping Company, Philippine Steam and Navigation Company, Philippine Pioneer Lines (and later the successor Galaxy Lines), Escano Lines, Sweet Lines, even the combined Carlos A. Gothong Lines Inc. and Lorenzo Shipping Corporation. When it was still sailing local routes, even De la Rama Steamship served Tacloban. Among the minor liner companies, Royal Lines Inc., Veloso Brothers Ltd., N&S Lines, Philippine Sea Transport and Oriental Shipping Agency also served Tacloban. Not all of those served at the same time but that line-up of shipping companies will show how great was Tacloban port then.

1979 Dona Angelina

Gorio Belen research in the National Library

For many years there was even a luxury liner rivalry in Tacloban port. This was the battle which featured the Dona Angelina of Sulpicio Lines and the Sweet Rose of Sweet Lines which mainly happened in the 1970s. Sweet Rose was sailing to Tacloban from the late 1960s and was in fact the first luxury liner to that port. The two liners were the best ships then sailing to Tacloban port. The rest, of course, were mainly ex-”FS” ships which was the backbone of the national liner fleet then and there was no shame in that.

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Gorio Belen research in the National Library

Tacloban port was doing well until the late 1970’s when a paradigm change pulled the rug from under their feet. This development was the fielding of a RORO by Cardinal Shipping, the Cardinal Ferry I that connected Sorsogon and Samar. With San Juanico bridge already connecting Samar and Leyte and the Maharlika Highway already completed, intermodal trucks and buses started rolling into Tacloban and Leyte. In fact, in just one year of operation the intermodal link was already a roaring success with many trucks and buses already running to Manila. Soon other ferries were connecting Sorsogon and Samar including the Maharlika I of the government.

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Gorio Belen research in the National Library

With this development the irreversible decline of Tacloban port began. It was a slide that never ever saw a reversal because what happened over the years was the buses and trucks rolling to Tacloban and Leyte just continued to multiply without abatement (and the ROROs in San Bernardino Strait also increased in number). Soon the passengers were already filling the intermodal buses and freight except the heaviest and the bulkiest was also slowly shifted to the trucks. Over the years the number of passenger ships to Tacloban slowly declined as a consequence.

In the late 1980’s, when the pressure of the intermodal was great there were still three national shipping lines with routes to Tacloban – Sulpicio Lines, William Lines and Sweet Lines. In the early 1990’s. when Sweet Lines quit shipping only the top two shipping lines then where still sailing to Tacloban with the Tacloban Princess of Sulpicio Lines and the Masbate Uno of William Lines. Incidentally, the infamous Dona Paz which burned and sank after a collision with a tanker in December 1987 originated from Tacloban.

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Tacloban Princess by John Carlos Cabanillas

When the WG&A merger came in 1996 the company pulled out the Masbate I from the Tacloban route. The last liners ever to sail the Tacloban route were the Tacloban Princess and the Cebu Princess which alternated in the route. Both belonged to Sulpicio Lines. The liner route from Manila to Tacloban was finally severed when Sulpicio Lines got suspended from passenger service as a consequence of the sinking of the Princess of the Stars when both the Tacloban Princess and the Cebu Princess were sold.

The overnight ferry service from Cebu almost followed the same path and died at almost the same time. The last three shipping companies which had a route there were Roly Shipping, Maypalad Shipping and Cebu Ferries Corporation (which was the successor of CAGLI). But passengers slowly learned that the routes via Ormoc and Baybay were faster and cheaper and the connection was oh-so-easy as the bus terminals of the two cities were just outside the port gates of Ormoc and Baybay. The High Speed Crafts (HSCs) to Ormoc, mainly SuperCat and Oceanjet also made great strides and captured a large portion of the passenger market and it further denied passengers for Tacloban. With the HSCs and overnight ships from Cebu that leave Ormoc in the morning there was no longer any need for Tacloban passengers to wait until night.

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http://www.maritime-executive.com/article/Paralyzed-Philippine-Port-Resumes-Operations-2013-11-21

The last rope for Tacloban port passenger-cargo ships was cut when the new coastal highway from Basey, Samar to Guiuan, Eastern Samar was completed. With that the passenger ships connecting Tacloban and Guiuan had to go as the fast and ubiquitous commuter vans (called “V-hire” in the province) suddenly supplanted them. Trucks also began rolling and some of these were even coming from Cebu via the intermodal.

Now only a few cargo ships dock in Tacloban port. There is still one cargo shipping company based in Tacloban, the Lilygene Sea Shipping Transport Corp. Gothong Southern Shipping Lines meanwhile still has a regular container ship to Tacloban but there are complaints that the rates are high (the consequence of no competition). Whatever, there are still cargoes better carried by ships than by trucks. However, some of the container vans for Leyte are just offloaded now in Cebu and transferred through Cargo RORO LCTs going to several western Leyte ports.

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What might remain for a long time maybe in Tacloban port are the big motor bancas for Buad island in Western Samar which hosts the town of Daram and Bagatao island which hosts the town of Zumarraga. I am not sure of the long-term existence of the other motor bancas for the other Samar towns except for maybe Talalora as more and more they have buses that go to Tacloban and maybe soon the commuter vans will follow. Or maybe even the jeep. The lesson is with roads established the sea connection always have to go in the long term.

Tacloban port is improved now. Improving the port eases port operations but it will not make the ships come back contrary to what the PPA (Philippine Ports Authority) and the government say. It is cargo and passengers that make the ships come to a port but if there are other and better transportation modes that are already available then cargo and passenger volumes drop and sometimes it becomes uneconomical for the ship to continue operating.

So I really wonder what is the point in developing a port in the nearby town of Babatngon as an alternative to Tacloban port. Have the Philippine Ports Authority ever asked who wants to use it? It is not surprising however as the PPA is the master of creating “ports to nowhere” (ports with practically no traffic) especially in the time of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo who was so fond of those (for many “reasons”, of course).

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Ormoc Port by John Luzares

In the past two decades the PPA always touted Tacloban port. For maybe they are based there. There was a denial that actually Ormoc port was already the main gateway to Leyte and it is no longer Tacloban port. Recently however, there seems to be an acknowledgment of the real score — that Ormoc port has actually been the de facto gateway already. The government is now developing Ormoc port and it is good that the PPA vessel arrival and departure site already covers it.

Whatever and however they try, it cannot be denied that the sun is already setting in Tacloban port. It is no longer the same port it used to be in the past because of the intermodal assault changed things.

Like they say, things always change.

Container Ships Also Sink Our Liners

In the past, before 1980, there was no conflict between the our liners and the container ships. First, container ships did not exist before the late 1970’s. Second, before that time, general cargo ships were not many as it is our liners that were mainly carrying the inter-island cargo that should be transported fast and were not in bulk. That was the reason why even though our production and the number of people were not yet as high like today, there were so many liners existing with as high as 90 liners at its very peak.

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Gorio Belen research in the National Library

In the early 1970’s, the Sea Transport Company came into existence. What was notable for this new company is they offered regular express cargo service to Mindanao which means a direct service and aside from loose cargo, their ships were able to carry small container vans which were non-standard as in they were offering 8-foot containers which they themselves designed (it was rectangular in shape). In due time, they also shifted to standard container vans and they fielded pure container carriers.

In 1976, Aboitiz Shipping Corporation converted one of their general cargo ships, the P. Aboitiz into a container carrier. Conversion like this was not difficult because only some internal structures need to be modified so a container van can be slot in and that also means modifying the holds and the hatches. The grabs of the booms also have to be modified by a bit so it can handle a container van.

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Gorio Belen research in the National Library

In 1978, containerization was already in full swing when Aboitiz Shipping Corporation added more container ships and William Lines Incorporated followed suit. The next year, in 1979, Sulpicio Lines Incorporated also joined the bandwagon to be followed in the next year by Lorenzo Shipping Corporation which had already split from its merger with Carlos A. Gothong Lines Inc (CAGLI). Negros Navigation Company also joined this new paradigm in 1980. In 1981, Sweet Lines Incorporated also followed suit but they used their old company name Central Shipping Corporation. Among the major liner companies then, it was only Compania Maritima which did not join this new paradigm.

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Gorio Belen research in the National Library

These new container services offered direct sailings as in there were no intermediate ports. With direct service, the container ships might be a little slower than the liners (except for the fast cruisers) but their transit times were not worse than the liners (except to Cebu) because they don’t lose time in an intermediate port or ports. With the speed, convenience, security (no pilferage), lack of damage and contamination, soon the shippers were already shifting en masse to the new container services.

In the liner crisis of 1980 when many liners were deactivated and laid up, it seems the main cause of that was the emergence and immediate success of the container ships and container shipping. Maybe the liners suddenly found they don’t have enough cargo and hence they can’t maintain the old sailing schedule and from the outside it looked like that suddenly there was a “surplus” of bottoms (actually the liners complained of that).

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Gorio Belen research in the National Library

In December 1979, the first RORO liner, the Dona Virginia of William Lines came. This RORO and those that came after her were capable of carrying container vans especially the XEU or 10-foot container vans that can be loaded aboard by the big forklifts. Soon even the fast cruiser liners were also carrying container vans atop their cargo holds especially at the bow of the ship. Some can also carry container vans on a platform in the stern.

Locally, I did not see a new paradigm take hold as fast as container shipping. The ROROs even took longer to be the new paradigm. In containerization, there was even a rush to convert general cargo ships into container ships. All the “new” container ship of Lorenzo Shipping Corporation were converts at the start. The other container shipping companies bought general cargo ships from Japan and converted them into container carriers. Our first container ships looked like general cargo ship unlike the modern container ship which does not look like general cargo ships (and nor can they handle loose cargo).

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In just a little over a year William Lines had 5 container ships (Gorio Belen research in the National Library)

The emergence of the RORO liners even pushed containerization faster as that new kind of ferry is ready-made not only for vehicles or rolling cargo but also for container vans, wheeled in atop chassis (which means atop trailers) or not (if not wheeled then big forklifts “wheeled” them in). There were not yet reach stackers in the early years of our containerization to handle the container vans.

In the 1980’s and the 1990’s, the liners can still hold off the container ships. The reason was there were no budget airlines yet (Philippine Airlines fares then were really stiff) and there were no intermodal buses yet in the bulk of the islands (it was only strong in Eastern Visayas, their pioneer area). And liners can still pack in the passengers (even up to “overloading” or overbooking point) because people has already learned how to travel and there was a great push for migration to Metro Manila (which later led to the overcrowding of this metropolis).

However, when budget airlines and the intermodal buses came in droves, the passengers of the liners dropped. The 2,000 to 3,000 passenger capacity slowly became “too big” and hence the national shipping companies no longer fielded liners with capacities such as this in the new millennium. Aboitiz Transport System (ATS) also tried to reduce passenger capacity and increase cargo capacity by converting some of their liners to have two decks for rolling cargo like what they did in SuperFerry 12, SuperFerry 9 and SuperFerry 2.

Superferry 12

Photo by Edison Sy

Can the liners compete with container ships when the passenger demand dipped? The answer is a plain “No way”. Liners usually have more than three times the horsepower of a local container ship (and it is single-engined which means less spare parts are needed) and yet the local container ship usually have three times the container capacity of a RORO liner. This even became more pronounced when the regime of high oil prices came in the first decade of this millennium. Per fuel prices alone, the container ships can carry each container van much cheaper than what a liner can.

Container vans also do not need the amenities needed by the passengers. Moreover, it does not need the service expected of the passengers which need to be fed and be given more than decent accommodations plus some entertainment. Because of that, the crewing needs of a liner is far higher than that of a container ship. All of those means more expense of the part of the liner company. Besides, a RORO liner is more expensive than a container ship for the same size and its insurance is higher.

Ever since the 1980’s, even when the passenger demand was still great, the national shipping companies were earning more from cargo than their passengers. That is true even today when 2GO admits that almost 70% of their revenues are from cargo (and to think under their roof is SuperCat which widens the passenger revenues). Definitely their investment for liners is greater than their cargo ships. Maybe it was only loyalty to their passengers and passenger shipping why they were not quitting this segment. Maybe it is also because of inertia which means just keeping doing the old things.

Lorcon Dumaguete assisted by tugs

If we look at the recent years we can see that for every liner acquired at least 7 container ships were acquired and this is even a conservative estimate. If we look at the last 10 years starting from 2006, only 11 liners came to our shores and that includes the 3 Cebu Ferries, two of which are still used as overnight ships although already converted into small liners. Meanwhile, MARINA registered 80 or more newly-arrived container ships in the same period. These are the container ships of Oceanic Container Lines, Sulpicio Lines/Philippine Span Asia Carrier Corporation, Lorenzo Shipping Corporation, NMC Container Lines, Solid Shipping Lines, Negros Navigation/Caprotec Corporation/2GO, MCC Transport Philippines (MCCTP), Moreta Shipping Lines, Meridian Cargo Forwarders, Seaview Cargo Shipping Corporation, Escano Lines/Loadstar Shipping Company and West Ocean Lines and Transport acquired in the last ten years. Now how many container lines is that compared to a sole passenger liner company?

There are few liners sailing now and all are under just one company which is 2GO (since Romblon Shipping Lines has already quit). Meanwhile, container ships are still mushrooming and more container shipping companies are joining the field. Even 20 years ago there were already more container ships than liners. Now the container ships are already outstripping the liners in number. And the trend holds true year after year.

The question is why? Well, the simple answer is the shipping companies won’t invest in liners as it does not make sense. More revenues can be earned from container shipping at less investment with less hassles from regulations and supply needs (like the food needed by the passengers). So why would they enter passenger liner shipping? Better “pets” like containers vans rather than people like the passengers who can raise a ruckus and if the ship sinks then goodbye to all the advertising and service spent for the goodwill. If a cargo ship sinks, the uneducated public and the media almost won’t mind at all.

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A Cargo RORO LCT by Asian Shipping Corporation

If cargo is the bread and butter of shipping it will now go to the container lines because they can actually offer the lower shipping rates. If not it will go to the intermodal trucks which has even lower rates. And arriving now recently are the Cargo RORO LCTs which carry container vans (even from Manila) like those of Roble Shipping Incorporated, Ocean Transport and Asian Shipping Corporation. This new paradigm can offer even lower rates than the container ships.

Sometimes it looks like liners are already passe. But I don’t want them to go because I prefer them over planes and the intermodal buses are sometimes too tiring especially those who are no longer young.

Will the liners survive? Now, that is one question I would not like to answer.

The Times of Trouble for Philippine Liner Shipping in the Past

In Philippine liner shipping, obviously the first time of trouble was when the Pacific War erupted after Japan attacked the Philippines and the United States. Liners were requisitioned by the US on the promise that it will be replaced when the war ends. The order then was if the ship cannot reach Australia it has to be scuttled to prevent it from falling into the invader’s hands. Most of our liner fleet then was lost to scuttling and to enemy fire. Some of it were captured and were pressed into enemy service and when Japan was already losing they sank into the bottom of the sea due to US submarine and aircraft attacks.

These liners that were lost during the Pacific War were good liners and many were built in foreign shipyards just in the Commonwealth Era which means they were still new. The older ones were mainly built in the 1920’s. And they were not necessarily small. Many of the good liners before the war were in the 80-meter class (when internationally a 120-meter was already grand).

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A prewar liner, the MV Don Isidro (Photo credits: Commerce and Gorio Belen)

When the US replaced our lost fleet as promised the number might have been right but the quality is different. The former “FS” ships were not the equal of our former liners even in size and to be able to use those they have to be converted and refitted first as they were not really liners but basic cargo ships. “FS” meant “Freight and Supply” after all.

Former “Y” ships were also given as replacement and these were former tankers but still a handful were converted to passenger use by removing the tanks. The former “Y” ships were slightly smaller than the former “FS” ships. For the lost regional ships, the US gave as replacement the former “F” ships, both the steel-hulled and the wooden-hulled types. Former minesweepers were also given as replacement. None of them were passenger ships to begin with and so conversion and refitting still had to be done.

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A former “FS” ship (Photo credits: Philippine Herald and Gorio Belen)

To replace the bigger liners, the US gave Type C1-M-AV1 , Type C1-B and Type N3 ships as replacements but those were also cargo ships and not liners and so they also have to be converted and refitted. None of all these types can match the luxury and comfort of our prewar liners. Were we shortchanged in the deal? I think the answer is obvious. We had purpose-built liners before the war and the replacement were surplus cargo ships that had no use for them anymore because the war has already ended.

1971 MV Samar

A former C1-M-AV1 ship (Photo by Rufino Alfonso)

The second times of trouble for Philippine shipping was the crisis decade of the 1970’s when continuous devaluation of the peso dominated the economic situation. It was the time that taking out big loans was fraught with danger since nobody can foresee when will be the next devaluation (which means in peso value the loan balloons). Because of this uncertainty and risk, the taking out of loans to order brand-new ships completely stopped. There were no more brand-new ships after the Cebu City of William Lines came out in 1972.

If the mid-1960’s was marked by acquisition of second-hand passenger-cargo ships (most were not really liners) from Europe, in the 1970’s the shipping companies were looking for right direction. Inadvertently, Sweet Lines showed the way with the acquisition of the Sweet Faith in 1970 and the Sweet Home in 1973. This started the era of fast cruiser liners in our seas. However, due to the fogs of uncertainty in the economic climate, few realized this was the new paradigm, the fast cruiser liners.

Sweet Lines ad - "Inimitable Mates" (Sweet Home and Sweet Faith)

Photo credit: Jon Saulog

Among the liner companies, only William Lines took up the challenge early with the Cebu City. In the middle of the 1970’s, Sulpicio Lines followed suit and acquired fast cruiser liners beginning with the Don Sulpicio and Dona Ana. William Lines also kept in step by successively acquiring fast cruiser liners which were named after cities, the Manila City, Cagayan de Oro City, Ozamis City, etc.

What happened then to the other liner companies especially the other top guns? In the decade of the 1970’s, Compania Maritima was already in its death spiral but few realized it then because they were held in such high regard because they have been No. 1 for so long. Actually, there might have a death wish in them already. Compania Maritima never bought another liner after the second-hand but big Luzon in 1970 until their demise in 1984. At the same time, their ships were sinking with alarming regularity and mostly by wrecking.

Meanwhile, Aboitiz Shipping Corporation became heir to the PSNC (Philippines Steam and Navigation Company) fleet and operations. The Laurel-Langley Treaty dictated that in 1974 the Americans no longer have the right to do business here as if they are Philippine nationals (they have a right previously because of the Parity Amendment to the Philippine Constitution). But after 1974, Aboitiz Shipping Corporation did not buy a liner anymore and just relied mainly on a few small liners plus the trio of liners ordered by Everett Steamship in Japan in 1955 and the former “FS” ships they already had and the once from PSNC. These ships were already showing signs of mortality as they were already entering their fourth decade of service.

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A liner from Everett SS that went to Aboitiz (Photo credit: Aboitiz Transport System)

Sweet Lines, after acquiring liners that were among the biggest and the best for a decade which pulled them up in the totem pole of liners had the puzzling decision to just buy small liners in the later 1970’s. This happened in a situation when their liners from Europe were already over two decades old. In those times due to weaker metallurgy and finishing, 30 years is almost the longest service that can be expected from liners built in the 1950’s and so this means Sweet Lines has a future problem in the 1980’s. Did Sweet Lines think the 1980’s will be better?

The combined Carlos A. Gothong Lines Inc. (CAGLI) and Lorenzo Shipping Corporation, successor companies to the broken-up Carlos A. Go Thong & Co. also had the same policy decision as Sweet Lines, that is to just buy small liners (many can even be just classified as passenger-cargo ships). Meanwhile, the old Escano Lines also stopped buying ships in 1974 like Aboitiz when they acquired the small Katipunan.

Legaspi 1

The former MV Katipunan (Photo credit: Edison Sy)

All in all, from 1973, only Sulpicio Lines and William Lines acquired big, fast cruiser liners. Compania Maritima, Aboitiz Shipping Corporation, Sweet Lines, Carlos A. Gothong Lines, Lorenzo Shipping Corporation all stopped buying big liners especially the fast cruiser liners (and that type is beyond the means of minor liner shipping companies including Madrigal Shipping). Maybe one reason is the steep cost already of liners because of devaluation, maybe it was the general economic difficulties which produce conservatism in businessmen, maybe it was also procrastination and hoping the next decade will be better.

And so it was not a surprise that in the 1980’s, from a rough equality of the top companies after the break-up of Carlos A. Go Thong & Co. in 1972, the liner scene was dominated by Sulpicio Lines and William Lines because they were the only ones which bet on the new ruling paradigm, the fast cruiser liners. The other simply lost their way or maybe even their enthusiasm and were just waiting for better days.

1978 1207 William Lines

Photo credits: Phil. Daily Express and Gorio Belen

I must admire not the depth of the pockets of the two but the Japanese agents which bet and trusted Sulpicio Lines and William Lines. I think that was the critical factor why the two kept getting fast cruiser liners even though the economic climate was not good over-all. Sulpicio Lines continuously acquired retired cruisers from RKK Lines and William Lines from Arimura Sangyo (the later “A” Line). Incidentally, both are Okinawa shipping lines. So their fast cruiser liners competed in Japan and they continued their rivalry here.

Don Sulpicio (Doña Paz) and Doña Ana (Doña Marilyn)

Photo credit: Jon Saulog

The next decade, the 1980’s, was even more difficult and it resulted in the death of so many liner companies, both major and minor. A new leading paradigm will emerge then, the RORO liners. Some majors will awaken from their stupor and try to compete again. Among them were Aboitiz Shipping Corporation and Carlos A. Gothong Lines Inc. Negros Navigation will also be among them after they also slowed down in buying cruisers (they were not in danger then because their cruisers liners were new and they had a monopoly of Bacolod port).

And that is how the chips broke in the 1970’s. Another time of trouble will happen three decades later but then that is another story worth another article.

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!

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