MORETA Shipping Lines

Moreta Shipping Lines is a shipping company based in Manila that was founded by Dr. Segundo Moreno of Quezon City and his family. It was originally an overnight ferry company based in Pier 6 of North Harbor that took over the Manila-Occidental Mindoro connection of William Lines. It is an open secret that the Morenos acknowledge their debt of gratitude to William Lines for their start in shipping. For Occidental Mindoro the transfer was a gift because they did not lose their ferry connection to Manila and they still retained their steel ship. The province then had motor boat (“batel”) connections but those did not follow fixed schedules and those beset by accidents. That time there were still no buses from Manila to the province and intermodal trucks were few as the roads and bridges of Occidental Mindoro were very primitive and vehicles have pass through river beds and flooded roads.
In the early days, the island of Mindoro has robust connections to Manila aside from connections to Batangas. Several shipping companies like William Lines, General Shipping, Philippine Steam Navigation Company, Aboitiz Shipping Company, Mabuhay Shipping, Javellana Shipping, Tan Pho, Compania Maritima, North Camarines Lumber (later NORCAMCO), Rio y Compania, South Sea Shipping and Galaxy Lines have routes to several ports in Mindoro like Tilik, Sablayan, Mangarin (later San Jose), Calapan, Pinamalayan and Roxas. Some of these passenger-cargo ships were still on the way to more distant ports in Palawan, Panay, Romblon, Eastern Visayas and Bicol and were treating Mindoro as intermediate port. These ships served as overnight ferries from Manila to Mindoro and almost all were converted ex-FS ships. Aside from these ships, wooden motor boats also connected Mindoro from Manila. These called on the main ports but these also went to smaller ports like Mamburao and Puerto Galera.
William Lines was the only liner company that remained in Mindoro when the 1990’s came (that was the time when rhe ranks of the liner companies have thinned and Batangas was already the main connection to the island). They were alternating the ex-FS ships Don Jose I and Edward and serving Tilik (in Lubang island) and Sablayan in a combined route and San Jose (the former Mangarin) in a separate route and schedule. It was the Edward that last plied a route to Mindoro. By this time the ex-FS ships were already on their last legs after sailing the seas for 47 years. Actually from about 70 ex-FS ships in its earlier years by the 1990 only half-a-dozen were still actively sailing and sickly ones were already donating parts to the still-sailing ones.

M/V Edward of William Lines ©Gorio Belen

William Lines, then in a tight struggle against Sulpicio Lines for the title “Numero 1” was in a midst of liner refleeting to RORO from cruiser while at the same time investing in new container ships. It seems to them reinvesting in a small route detracts from their main vista of their future and so they decided to withdraw from Mindoro like what the other liner companies did before them. To their credit, they helped prepare the transition so Mindoro will not be isolated and they helped pave the way for the emergence of their route successor, the newly-established Moreta Shipping Lines.

In 1992 the first ship of the new company, the Nikki arrived and William Lines and the ship Edward bowed out of the Mindoro shipping scene. Unlike Edward and Don Jose I, the Nikki was a RORO or more exactly a ROPAX. Though a ROPAX she however seldom carried rolling cargo and not even a container van used at the start. They were just doing loose cargo loading using porters and palletized loading using forklifts like the overnight ferry ships of Cebu. Well, even with this kind of loading it is an advance over the booms and porters of the ex-FS ships. Just the same unloading especially in Mindoro takes several hours and up to almost noontime.

M/V Nikki ©Irvine Kinea

Moreta Shipping Lines decided to just retain the Tilik and San Jose routes but separately. With that the Lumangbayan port of Sablayan suddenly almost became a port to nowhere and the only call came from the irregular motor boat from Manila and the twice a week Viva Shipping Lines motor boat from Batangas. Edward was sorely missed there. I have noticed that ports that lost liner connections and became desolate exhibit withdrawal symptoms and old folks sigh and fondly remembers when the old ships were still calling in their place. I found that out in my visits to Lumangbayan and Tayamaan port in Mamburao (now Lumangbayan is again an active port and improved).

Nikki and Moreta Shipping Lines were warmly embraced by Occidental Mindoro as a worthy successor. It was a plus that the Nikki was more modern, bigger and has an airconditioned Tourist section and real bunks. Though slow she was not slower than the ex-FS ships. The only regret of Mindorenos was the Tilik-Sablayan route was lost and so going to Lubang island which was part of Mindoro means going to Manila first before going back to Lubang. Lubang island became more distant to their mother province.

With their shipping growing Moreta Shipping Lines purchased their second vessel in 1994, the Kimelody Cristy, a bigger, faster and better ROPAX than the Nikki. She was assigned the San Jose route three times a week while Nikki concentrated on the Tilik route. Kimelody Cristy was a better handler of the sometimes-nasty South China Sea swells especially during ‘habagat’ (the southwest monsoon). She was even a better-loved ship in San Jose and with more cargo capacity to boot which was needed by San Jose merchants (the town is almost like a provincial city and the main trading center of Mindoro Strait area) which source their goods from Divisoria and Binondo.

But Kimelody Cristy was not a lucky ship for long. Cruising off the coast of Batangas on the early hours of December 13, 1995, she was hit by fire and explosions. She did not sink but the fire consumed the ship and casualties of at least 14 dead and several wounded ensued. The ship was no longer repaired and she did not sail again.

Kimelody Cristy ©Manila Standard/Gorio Belen

As usual, in the kneejerk reaction culture of the Philippines, accusations of “floating coffins”, “old ships”, “lax enforcement of maritime rules” flew thick and fast immediately. I found it funny that the governor of Occidental Mindoro which just a few months before was hailing Moreta Shipping Lines’ contributions to her province suddenly did a pirouette and began blasting the shipping company too so she won’t be accused of being “lax” on Moreta and so she had to “cry for blood” too.

But as usual, all these things come to pass in the Philippines in a classic “ningas-cogon” (grassfire) fashion and in a short time after the dead are buried “everything is back to normal”. In the same year 1995, even before the Kimelody Cristy burned to a crisp the ferry Conchita of Moreta Shipping Lines has already arrived and she became the permanent replacement of the ill-fated ship. Conchita was a slightly bigger ship than Kimelody Cristy but similar in many respects. The loss of Kimelody Cristy did not really mean Moreta Shipping Lines lacked ships.

M/V Conchita ©Rodney Orca

Way back in the mid-1990s there was already talk of the shipping threat from Batangas. Even to a not-so-keen observer the advantage of the intermodal truck which can make direct deliveries to customers is palpable. It was obvious the only thing holding them back were the very primitive infrastructure of Occidental Mindoro. With the Ramos administration policy of deregulation of the shipping industry players based in Batangas were beginning to mushroom.

Over the next years the combined intermodal and short-distance ferry threat to Moreta Shipping Lines increased as the roads and bridges began to be built and the road connection between the two provinces of Mindoro slowly began to take shape. In 2003, the Roxas-Caticlan sea route materialized and it had a fundamental impact on the sea and intermodal patterns in the area. By this time intermodal buses from Manila were already rolling to Occidental Mindoro via the Wawa port in Abra de Ilog town and rolling down to Sablayan and San Jose and even up to Magsaysay town and with them were trucks including the versatile and powerful wing van trucks.

I wonder if Moreta Shipping Line misread or did not understand the intermodal threat. Maybe they can be forgiven as even the leading shipping company then, the WG&A/2GO failed to understand it too. It’s really hard just sitting around in Manila and not going to Batangas, Calapan, Roxas, Caticlan, Matnog, Allen, Liloan, Lipata, Dumangas, Dapitan, Toledo, San Carlos, Tubigon, Samboan, Amlan, Bogo, Masbate, etc. With declining overnight ferry traffic in Occidental Mindoro they tried a Panay route to Dumaguit and Roxas City by using the Love-1 they purchased in 2004. It seems they never suspected that soon Panay island will be almost completely taken over by the intermodal transport system.

Love-1 ©Edison Sy

Love-1 is a nice ship, a near-liner masquerading as an overnight ferry. But it was not enough to change the reality that in a parallel route the intermodal transport system will defeat liner and container shipping (well, this is not understood too by Japanese shipping experts too and they are advising our maritime and port agencies through JICA, and maybe wrongly). And so the foray of Moreta Shipping Line to Panay island was not a success and soon they found themselves sailing fewer and fewer routes and schedules and their ships began to have days just anchored idle in North Harbor.

Moreta Cargo 1 ©Mike Baylon

Maybe Moreta Shipping Line was able to read the handwriting on the wall and ventured into Palawan using pure container shipping starting in 2009 by acquiring the Moreta Cargo 1. This was followed by Moreta Cargo 2 and Moreta Cargo 3, both in 2010 and they added new container routes. With their old passenger-cargo routes getting moribund and dying they began selling their ROPAXes starting with their oldest ship by Date of Build (DOB), the Conchita which was sold to Besta Shipping Lines in 2011. Next to be disposed was the Nikki which went to Medallion Transport in 2012. Last to be disposed in 2013 was the beautiful Love-1 which was part of a package deal to Medallion Transport.

Moreta Cargo 2 ©John Cabanillas

With these disposals Moreta Shipping Lines further strengthened its container shipping fleet and acquired the Moreta Cargo 5 in 2012 and Moreta Venture in 2013. Now the shipping company has a pure cargo fleet and it is noteworthy how they were to build it in a short time. More routes were added and now they have container shipping not only to Puerto Princesa but also to Dumaguit, Roxas City, Iloilo, Bacolod and Cagayan de Oro. Ironically, they are now gone in the ports of call in Mindoro where they started from.

Moreta Cargo 3 ©Irvine Kinea
Moreta Cargo 5 ©Mike Baylon
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The Princess of Paradise

In the liner history of the Philippines, there have been ships that were remembered for their sheer speed. One such liner was the “Princess of Paradise” of Sulpicio Lines which was the “Speed Queen” of liners from 1993 until the early 2000s. She was capable of over 21 knots sustained and bursts of up to 23 knots. In the Manila-Cagayan de Oro route her 25 hours transit time for the 513 nautical miles distance was unsurpassed and neither was her time of 19.5 hours for the Manila-Cebu route from 1993 (although the record holder here was the “Filipina Princess”, also of Sulpicio Lines, which was capable of up to 25 knots when she was still new here). She might also be the record holder for the Cagayan de Oro-Cebu and Cebu-Nasipit routes which she can do in just a little over 6 hours each.

Many simply remember “Princess of Paradise” for her speed and not knowing she also stands out in other areas among liners. I was a frequent passenger of “Princess of Paradise” and one of the things that impressed me with her was her abundance of amenities and facilities. She probably has the most number of decks among liners that were usable for the passengers with six. She had four full passenger decks plus a weather deck that also serves as a promenade area which also has a playground. The sixth deck was a dance floor and kiosk at the car deck and that unique location was accessible either by stairs or by elevator. In size, she was actually one of the biggest and longest liners to sail our seas.

Princess of Paradise ©Sulpicio Lines Website

One of the prominent features I found in the “Princess of Paradise” was the restaurant for the Economy Section passengers. It was very big which the size of several basketball courts was. It could seat over 500 but since “Princess of Paradise” has a huge passenger capacity, several meal schedules have to be held and priority is by bunk number. Until this day, I can still remember the long lines that form in that restaurant (and the roving steward calling passengers for meals by going around and ringing a bell like those used by ice cream vendors). But passengers can live up with the queue and I guess part of the reason was the tasty meals of Sulpicio Lines which was combined with its unique offering of “unlimited rice”. As long as one has a big tummy capacity one will never go hungry in a Sulpicio ship.

The meals for Tourist Class passengers were served in the big theater-restaurant which was never filled because of its sheer size. It was a nice place, dignified in ambience and not cheap-looking. To me it looks like the area also served as a ballroom in the past with its chandeliers and high ceiling. It was also “unlimited rice” here and waiters rove around asking if one wishes for additional rice. Soup and dessert were always provided and refills of the former were free. Meanwhile, the meals for First Class passengers were served in a smaller restaurant at the uppermost passenger deck which also served as bar and disco. Here the meals were smorgasbord as in “eat all you can”. One can take a whole bowl of salad and the waiters will refill it with a smile. I have always felt the meals alone in First Class were already worth the half the fare if the voyage was via the longer Cebu and Nasipit route.

First Class Restaurant ©Wakanatsu

Aside from the lobby and the foyer above it, the “Princess of Paradise” also has many areas where passengers can while the time and shoot the breeze. One of that was located near the First Class restaurant which was called the “Garden of Eden”. As the name suggests it has a garden setting with tables and artificial trellises to keep out the sun but like in a garden setting raindrops will fall if rain is pouring. There was also a promenade area near the bow and there was a library on the way to that. The outside passageways are also favorite hanging-out places for many passengers. Additionally, the Economy restaurant also doubles as a tambayan or hang-out area. There was also a game room, a beauty parlor, a gift shop, magazine and book for rent corner and many kiosks aboard the ship. The lobby itself is wide with cozy sofas. And there was also the “Lillium Lounge” for upper class passengers.

For entertainment the bar near the theater-restaurant was open as long as there were still customers and I have seen it at times still going strong at 4am in the morning. The theater-restaurant also serves as a night entertainment place after dinner time (the tables were actually different from those used during meals). On half of the times I was aboard there was a live band with singers. To request a song one passes a paper with a bill folded but this was optional. While the night entertainment is going on waiters will be prowling for orders and serving. What I noticed aboard ships is even though hard and mixed drinks are served there is no unruliness. If one gets too loud the hissing of other patrons was enough for all to be reminded of proper decorum.

Princess of Paradise Facilities ©Gorio Belen

My most memorable night there was when a female singer who was based in Japan for many years asked to sing for the crowd and she was really very good and impressive. The hat was overfull of bills and she simply gave it to the band and the singers which were ecstatic with that. She did not take any explaining that she sang for the Japanese for years and really just wished to sing for her kababayans and she serenaded us for two solid hours with the introduction, “Para sa mga kababayan ko”.

“Princess of Paradise” started life as the “Hiryu” in Japan. She was launched on June of 1974 and completed on December of 1974. Her builder was Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and she was built in their Shimoneseki yard. She measured 166.7 meters length over-all (LOA) with a moulded breadth of 22.0 meters. Her original gross register tonnage (GRT) was 8,156 and her deadweight tonnage (DWT) was 2,947. She was equipped with two Mitsubishi-MAN diesel engines of 32,000 horsepower which gave her an original speed of 25 knots. She had two controllable pitch propellers (CPPs). In 1985, she was sold to China where she became the “Jian Zhen”. In 1993, she came to the Philippines to Sulpicio Lines.

Hiryu(future Princess of Paradise) ©Wakanatsu

“Princess of Paradise” was equipped with two vehicle ramps, one at the front quarter and one at the rear quarter, both on the starboard, allowing her loading and unloading operations at the same time. She had a RORO capacity of 129 TEUs and 79 cars. Her new Gross Tonnage (GT) was 14,162 and her Net Tonnage (NT) was 4,927. She had a Depth of 13.2 meters making her a very stable ship and I can attest to that that she is barely affected in Panay Gulf even though the wind is blowing hard on her port side.

As a Sulpicio liner, additional decks were added to her and her passenger capacity was increased to 3,259 persons. Her accommodation classes were divided into Royal Suite, Suite, First Class Cabin, Cabin w/o T&B, Tourist de Luxe, Tourist, Economy De Luxe and Economy. All were air-conditioned except for the Economy. The suite and cabin classes were entitled to the smorgasbord first class dining. The Royal Suite, however, were not for the mere mortals and were reserved for the rich Chinese of Cebu. Several times I tried to book that on the first morning of the two-weeks-before reservation window only to be told each time, “Fully booked”.

Princess of Paradise Folio ©John Michael Aringay

For the record, “Princess of Paradise” was just one of three liners ever in the Philippines that had a capacity of over 3,000 persons (the other were “Princess of the Orient” and “Princess of the Universe”). She was also just one of three liver ever in the country that had engines of over 30,000 horsepower (the others were “Mary Queen of Peace” and “Filipina Princess”).

Her route ever since she was fielded was Manila-Cagayan de Oro-Cebu-Manila-Cebu-Nasipit-Cagayan de Oro-Manila every week. She was one rare liner which did just one route on her entire service in our seas. In the early 2000’s, she had some engine troubles and after repair she was no longer as fast as before and her speed was exceeded by some of the newly-fielded liners but not by much.

Her liner days suddenly ended on June of 2008 when the flagship “Princess of the Stars” of her company capsized in a strong typhoon resulting in a hideous casualty count. With the tremendous public uproar, all the liners of the company were subsequently suspended from sailing and tough conditions were attached for the company to continue passenger operations. In this development, “Princess of Paradise” never sailed again and was just laid up in Pier 7 in Mandaue together with other ships of the Sulpicio Lines fleet.

Princess of Paradise at Cebu Pier Siete ©Aristotle Refugio

One night late in 2009 she quietly disappeared from her Mandaue anchorage. Many hopefully thought she was just in a shipyard somewhere for refitting. But time passed and she was never seen again. Much later, the confirmation came that she was broken up in Xinhui, China on December of 2009.

“Princess of Paradise” was part of the carnage of Sulpicio liners in the aftermath of the loss of the “Princess of the Stars” and the subsequent suspension of the Sulpicio liners. This incident lowered by nearly half our liner fleet and many routes were lost in the aftermath which were never restored again. As of today, there are no more Sulpicio passenger ships left.

Princess of Paradise at Mactan Channel ©Wakanatsu and Toshihiko Mikami

Quo Vadis, Lite Ferry 8?

Nobody might have realized it but Lite Ferry 8 might now be the RORO ferry with the second-most number of years of service in the Philippines after “Melrivic Seven” (excepting also the LCT’s). She first came to our country in 1980 as the “Sta. Maria” of Negros Navigation, the first RORO ship in their fleet. Later, in 2001 she was sold by Negros Navigation to George & Peter Lines where she became the “GP Ferry-1”. After several years, in 2007 she was sold by G&P Lines to Lite Ferries where she became the “Lite Ferry 8” and was designed to compete in the prime route across Camotes Sea, the Cebu-Ormoc route. She is certainly a well-traveled ferry.

“Lite Ferry 8” started life as the “Hayabusa No. 3” of Kyouei Unyu of Japan with IMO Number 7323205. She was built by Yoshiura Zosen in their Kure shipyard and she was completed on April of 1973. As built, her Length Over-all (LOA) was 72.0 meters and her Breadth was 12.6 meters with a Gross Tonnage (GT) of 691 and a Deadweight Tonnage (DWT) of 1,680. She was powered by two Akasaka marine diesel engines totaling 4,200 horsepower routed to two screws. She had a maximum service speed of 15 knots when she was still new.

Sta. Maria ©Gorio Belen

Before leaving Japan, she was renamed as the “Hayabusa No.8”. In December of 1980 she came to Negros Navigation of the Philippines which added decks and passenger accommodations to her. She was among the first RORO’s in the Philippines and the first for Negros Navigation. She could actually be the first RORO liner in the country (as distinguished from short-distance and overnight ferries). Originally, she held the route from Manila to Iloilo and Bacolod and calling on Romblon port along the way. In one sense she replaced the flagship “Don Juan” of the Negros Navigation fleet which sank in a collision on April 22, 1980.

Sta. Maria ©Gorio Belen

With the advent of additional liners in the Negros Navigation fleet, the smaller and slower “Sta. Maria” was withdrawn from the Manila route and shunted to regional routes. Among the routes she did was the Cebu-Iloilo-Puerto Princesa route and later the Iloilo-Bacolod route. In 2000, when Negros Navigation already had a surplus of ships and the parallel route Dumangas-Bacolod was already impacting the Iloilo-Bacolod route she was sold to George & Peter Lines which needed a replacement ship after the loss of their ship “Dumaguete Ferry” to fire.

GP Ferry-1 ©Wakanatsu and Toshihiko Mikami

In George & Peter Lines, she became the “GP Ferry-1” where she basically did the staple Cebu-Dumaguete-Dapitan route of the company which was an overnight and day route on the way to Dapitan and an overnight route on the way back to Cebu. When there were still no short-distance RORO ferries between Dumaguete and Dapitan this was a good route. But when short-distance ferries multiplied in the route and with it dominating the daytime sailing, slowly George & Peter Lines saw their intermediate route jeopardized and the process accelerated with the entry of Cokaliong Lines in the Cebu-Dapitan-Dumaguete route.

I think it is in this context that G&P Lines sold her to Lite Ferries in 2007. By this time her engines were also beginning to get sickly, a factor of age exacerbated with longer route distances. Lite Ferries designed her to compete in the prime Camotes Sea route where the “Heaven Stars” of Roble Shipping Lines and the good overnight ferries of Cebu Ferries were holding sway. However, she was not too successful for Lite Shipping as her old engines seemed to be too thirsty and not too solid for the route. Sometime in 2010, Lite Ferries began using the Lite Ferry 12 for the Ormoc route and after that Lite Ferry 8 already spent considerably more time in anchorage than in sailing. Lite Ferry 12 had considerably smaller engines than “Lite Ferry 8” and her size was just a match for the like of “Wonderful Stars” which was also doing the Cebu-Ormoc route.

Lite Ferry 8 ©Jonathan Bordon

“Lite Ferry 8” was also put up for sale but with the history of her engines any sale except to the breakers will not be easy. Her accommodations and size is not what is used for the short-distance ferries and her engines are also too big for that route class. The only RORO now of her length, engine size and passenger accommodations are the overnight ferries from Cebu to Northern Mindanao but Lite Ferries do not sail such routes except for their route to Plaridel, Misamis Occidental and even in such route lengths the company prefers to use ROROs in the 60-meter class with engines totaling less than 3,000 horsepower.

As of now, “Lite Ferry 8” is almost a ship without a route. She is difficult to find a soft landing spot and she does not have the endurance of the Daihatsu-engined ex-“Asia Indonesia” and ex-“Asia Brunei” which more or less shares her age and size and engine power. Kindly to her, Lite Ferries is not a company known for contacting fast the breakers’ numbers unlike Cebu Ferries and its former mother company.

Lite Ferry 8 ©Aristotle Refugio

So the question lingering about her now is, Quo vadis?.

WHEN EASTERN VISAYAS SHIPPING LOST TO THE INTERMODAL

Once upon a time it was liners that connected Eastern Visayas to the national capital. Liners from Manila took several routes. There was a route that after touching parts of the present Northern Samar the passenger-cargo ship will swing north to Bicol ports. There was also a route that will just go to ports on the north coast of Samar up to Laoang, which was the jumping-off point for towns on the northeast coast of Samar that were without roads. There was also a route that after docking in Calbayog and/or Catbalogan the ship will swing south to Tacloban or to Cebu. There was also a route that after calling in Tacloban the ship will swing south and pass the eastern seaboard of Leyte on the way to Surigao, Butuan or even Cagayan. And there was a route where the ship will head to several ports on the western seaboard of Leyte island and some will even proceed to Surigao. There was also a route where ships will dock on ports in the present Southern Leyte and the ship will proceed to Surigao and Butuan. There was even a route that will go first to Surigao and the ship will swing north to Cabalian in the present Southern Leyte.

Among the many ports where liners from Manila called then in Eastern Visayas were Borongan, Laoang, Carangian, Allen, Calbayog, Catbalogan, Tacloban, Calubian, Palompon, Isabel, Ormoc, Baybay, Maasin, Sogod and Cabalian. Shipping companies from the majors to the minor lines were represented in the eastern Visayas routes and ports. Among them were Compania Maritima, Go Thong and the successors Gothong Shipping, Sulpicio Lines and Lorenzo Shipping, General Shipping, William Lines, Sweet Lines, Philippine President Lines and the latter Philippines Pioneer Lines, Galaxy Lines, Escano Lines and Aboitiz Shipping. Among the minor shipping companies North Camarines (and NCL and NORCAMCO), N&S Lines, Rodriguez Shipping, Newport Shipping, Eastern Shipping, Bisayan Land Transport and the latter BISTRANCO, Corominas Richards Navigation, Veloso Shipping, Royal Lines and Samar-Leyte Shipping had routes to Eastern Visayas. Amazingly, all those shipping companies are gone now if not the routes in the region and there are no more liners left sailing to Eastern Visayas.

©Gorio Belen

Shipping of goods and transport of people do not and will never go away. The liners are gone now from Eastern Visayas and what replaced them were the intermodal trucks and buses. Liner shipping simply lost decisively and completely to the intermodal transport and one result of this is the emergence of the so-called “ports to nowhere” or ports that have no ships or meaningful ship calls.

The start of this process of decline and loss started one day in 1979 when “Cardinal Ferry 1”, a RORO arrived to connect the ports of Matnog and Allen. Right after her arrival buses from Manila and Samar began rolling. First to be dominated by the intermodal trucks and buses were the ports in the new province of Northern Samar. In five years all the liners were gone there and it looked as if the foundering of the “Venus” of N&S Lines in Tayabas Bay on October 28, 1984 while trying to outrun a typhoon marked the beginning of the closing of the curtains. Soon Calbayog was also lost too to the intermodal.

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For a time the route touching on Catbalogan and Tacloban survived and the last hold-outs were Sulpicio Lines and William Lines, the two strongest shipping companies in the 1980’s. By this time all the minors were gone along with most of the major shipping companies. Many of them floundered in the great financial crisis of the 1980’s and never recovered. It was not just that crisis that torpedoed them. Shipping of copra, the prime cargo from the 1950s dramatically declined in the 1980’s soon after the near-death of the abaca trade in the 1970’s. Abaca was the primary cargo of shipping from the 1880’s up to the 1950’s and copra was the crop that succeeded it. No crop or produce replaced abaca and copra and as for Cavendish bananas and “Manila Super” mangoes those no longer passed through Manila and were brought by reefers and containers direct to Japan and East Asia. Corn trade also suffered a decline because of importation.

Meanwhile, fresh fish from Eastern Visayas no longer passed to the ships as it was transferred to the refrigerated trucks. With overfishing that that happened in the 1980’s even the dried fish industry of Eastern Visayas was almost killed. Coconut oil mills also sprouted in the region and for copra destined for the major oil mills of Southern Tagalog it was already the LCTs that were transporting copra aside from the intermodal trucks. Even charcoal passed on to the trucks and cargo jeeps.

The process of the decline of liner shipping in Eastern Visayas accelerated with the Ramos decree allowing the entry of surplus trucks in Subic. Soon the versatile and powerful wing van trucks were rolling down the highways and crossing thru the Matnog-Allen route and San Juanico bridge. There was no more imperative for CALABARZON factories to ship their products through the dangerous, graft-, extortion- and traffic-ridden North Harbor. They can simply call forwarders with wing van trucks and the trucks will roll immediately unlike in North Harbor where they have to wait for the ship schedule and be on the mercy of the arrastre and port thieves. By the time the cargo is loaded in North Harbor, usually the wing van truck was already finished delivering its load in Eastern Visayas. And the wing van truck was not only faster; it was also cheaper with less handling needed since it can bypass the bodega and go straight to the stores and supermarkets and there is no need for haulers and arrastre service in the destination pier.

Balicurato Port ©Jun Marquez

Liners also lost to the intermodal buses since passengers can just hail or stop the Manila bus right by their gates and in Manila there was no longer a need to fight through the crime-ridden North Harbor and battle the horrendous traffic. The bus was also faster and at the same time cheaper especially since Eastern Visayas was a deregulated area hence there are a lot of buses and fares are discounted almost year-round. And buses leave everyday at many hour slots while liners only sail on certain days. Especially for people of Northern Samar they won’t foolishly go to Calbayog because for the same money and time they will already be in Matnog and Matnog is only 12 hours away from Manila, half of the travel time of the Calbayog liner.

Around the year 2000 I realized that if Sulpicio and WG&A will not cooperate and form a consortium of fast, medium-sized liners then I knew in a short time that they will lose even Leyte island to the intermodal. The threat loomed large since there was a Ramos decree making it easier for bus operators to acquire new units. Entry for new players was also easy because of the deregulated nature of the region. I noticed also that wing van trucks were multiplying fast and that can be easily seen in Matnog port then. Motorcycle carriers were also a constant presence in the roads already along with refrigerated trucks whose cargo are not fish but processed meat and other perishable groceries.

Ormoc Port circa 1996 ©Jorg Behman

Instead, starting in 2000, WG&A were selling liners fast, and to the breakers and without replacement. Of course there was already the pressure on the company because of the declared intention of the Gothong and Chiongbian families to divest (and they must be paid somehow). With this move I knew the game was over. There will be no succor for liner shipping here because by this time Escano Lines and Madrigal Shipping had already quit Eastern Visayas passenger shipping and even MBRS Lines who bravely tried Samar again has already retreated.

The odds were tough because the intermodal bus was simply superior in many ways. In southwestern and southern Leyte island even at dawn a passenger just have to leave his baggage by his gate, wait inside his house and the Manila bus will honk and stop. No need to wait long in a port and haggle with porters. And even from that part of Eastern Visayas the total travel time by bus was less and the fare cheaper. Arriving in Manila it is easier to get a connecting ride in Cubao or Pasay and the taxi fare will come out cheaper compared to North Harbor and of course there is the MRT too. Going home to the province there were a lot of attractive buses in Cubao and in Pasay or even in Manila that do not have the hassle of going to the North Harbor.

Then liner shipping in Eastern Visayas came crashing down fast when the “Princess of the Stars” went down in 2008 and passenger operations of Sulpicio Lines was suspended. With the fleet laid up Sulpicio Lines sold the “Tacloban Princess” and the “Palawan Princess” to the breakers and that marked the end of liner shipping for Sulpicio Lines in the region. Not long after that Aboitiz Transport System (ATS) also quit Leyte too. Actually, the loss of Masbate to the intermodal transport practically doomed the ATS route because somehow the intermediate port of Masbate  contributed passengers and cargo to the route.

Laid-up Princesses. ©Mike Baylon

For a time there were no more liners in the regions and even container ships are very few. Recently, 2GO tried to revive a route that passes through Romblon, Masbate and Ormoc on the way to Cebu. Many doubt if that route and service will last because it is really very hard now for liners to beat the intermodal if the route distance is almost the same. There is simply a swarm of buses and trucks forming a formidable opposition to the liners and even to the container ships.

This is one region where the triumph of the intermodal was swift and complete. But this is not known in Japan which advises us (for what?) and which still thinks intermodal trucks are only good for 250 kilometers maximum and cannot imagine wing van truck can beat container shipping. Well, sometimes shipping Ph.Ds are funny.