In The Middle of the 1960’s We Needed New Liners and Europe Filled That Need And Not Japan

With the exception of De la Rama Steamship Company, the Philippine liner shipping companies that were born or resurrected after World War II were dependent on the former “FS” (for Freight and Supply) ships from the US Navy. That type of ship was the backbone of our postwar passenger fleet; it was also the most numerous. One reason for that was so many of that type was built during World War II and most were deployed in the Pacific Ocean campaign of the US. Having to pay for the Philippine prewar ships they requisitioned for the war effort that type became the most common replacement given by the US together with the former “F” ships. Aside from direct replacement, the US also had to dispose so many of them and instead of bringing them back to the US where they have no use of them, many were just given to the Philippine government as aid and reparations. The Philippine government then put them up for sale at near-bargain prices (about $60,000 only; where can you get a ship that cheap?). Of course, as always, political considerations mattered and so those who have political connections had the inside track in the purchase of these vessels.

Many of the Philippine liner shipping companies were so enamored with these former “FS” ships that they practically purchased no other vessel type for the next twenty years after the war. Among those were William Lines Incorporated, Southern Lines Incorporated (they also had former “F” ships too) and General Shipping Corporation. In other liner shipping companies’ fleets like that of Philippine Steamship Navigation Company/Everett Steamship, Hijos de F. Escano Incorporated and Manila Steamship Company, the former “FS” ships were in clear majority. Even in the venerable Compania Maritima’s fleet half of those were former “FS” ships. Meanwhile, half of fleet of Madrigal Shipping Company was composed of former “Y” ships which were related to the former “FS” ships. These were former tankers converted into passenger-cargo ships. There was no Negros Navigation Company route then yet to Manila. What had a route then to Manila was the small Ledesma Shipping Lines. Negros Navigation Company became a liner company when they and Ledesma Shipping Lines merged.

Being “enamored” with former “FS” ships also had a reason. They were cheap and while they may be basic sea transportation, the passengers were willing to put up with its deficiencies. And for whatever deficiency, sometimes good food is enough to make passengers overlook it. And so whenever a former “FS” ship becomes available in the market the liner shipping companies readily snapped it up. That goes true even for the fleet of the shipping companies that quit the shipping business like Manila Steamship in 1956 (along with some much smaller shipping companies).

The future great Carlos A. Go Thong & Company was not among the recipients of ships from the US as reparation. Their first ships were salvaged “F” ships that they bought. They only had their first ex-”FS” ships when they bought out the Pan-Oriental Shipping Company of the Quisumbings of Mandaue which then went into motorcycle assembly (the Norkis-Yamaha concern). Like Go Thong, the style of the other smaller passenger liner shipping company was to lengthen the hull of the former “F” ships so these will be “FS” ships equivalent. That was the origin of the first flagship of Go Thong, the Dona Conchita. However, some other small liner shipping companies which did not have enough capital or were just sailing minor routes simply sailed straight their small ex-”F” ships. Some other were also using converted minesweepers and PT boats. Many of the shipping companies in regional routes were using converted “F” ships and converted minesweepers.

These former “FS” ships like the other war surplus ships from the US like the “C1-M-AV1” ships were classified as “passenger-cargo” ships. Obviously, they carry passengers and cargo but it actually has a deeper meaning. In those days, passenger liner shipping companies don’t normally operate pure cargo ships like these recent decades. It is actually these passenger-cargo ships that carry the bulk of cargo in the inter-island route in liner operations (which means there is a fixed route and schedule). The passenger capacities of the ships then were small (there were no 1,000-passenger capacity liners then yet and tops then was just about 700 passenger capacity and normal was just about 300). What was more prized then sometimes were the cargo holds of the ships. Handled by booms (there were no container vans yet) the interport hours were long and departures especially in the interports were not prompt. As long as there is cargo to be loaded, the ships would not leave. Unloading of cargo then in the interport can already take several hours and with so many interport calls the longest-distance ports like Davao takes one week to be reached.

In the mid-1960’s the workhorse fleet from former US Navy ships were already long in the tooth. There were no more of that type to replace the hull losses and our population and trade was growing. Mindanao too has already experienced great migration from the Visayas and so migrants had to travel and goods had to be exchanged. Obviously there was a need to refleet or add to the fleet. The only company that was still able to acquire former “FS” ships from the US in the 1960’s was the newly-established Philippine President Lines, a shipping company well-backed from the highest circles of government. Most of what they were able to acquire were former “AKL” ships of the US Navy. These were former “FS” ships retained by the US Navy after the war and refurbished for use in supplying the many scattered islands and bases of the US in the wide Pacific Ocean. These ships were among the last of its type released by the US.

Some liner shipping companies which had easy starts because of political connections, specifically, Southern Lines Incorporated and General Shipping Corporation shirked from the challenge and quit shipping and simply sold their ships. Southern Lines’ ships went to various liner shipping companies while that of General Shipping Company was divided between Aboitiz Shipping Corporation and Sweet Lines Incorporated. Amazingly, this gave birth to two separate events and entities. Once again, Aboitiz Shipping Corporation had a fleet of its own (before they were just a partner in the Philippine Steamship and Navigation together with Everett Steamship of the US; before the war they were partners with Hijos de F. Escano in La Naviera Filipina). The second event and entity was the regional shipping company Sweet Lines Incorporated became a long-distance liner company. General Shipping Corporation, meanwhile, followed another bandwagon and moved into foreign routes using ships chartered from the National Development Corporation of the Philippine government. It was not difficult for them because they were well-connected politically.

Since no surplus ships were still available from the US then a new source had to be found. Japan by this time was still building their merchant fleet because these were the years of Japan’s “economic miracle” of galloping growth and so no surplus ships were still available from them at that time. The only logical place to look at would then be Europe as the US as a nearly solid continental country has many locomotives and rail wagons but not passenger liner ships. Before this time Compania Maritima has already shown the way in sourcing surplus passenger-cargo ships from Europe. It was easy for them since they have Spanish origins and connections.

I will start from the companies that made moves in acquiring passenger cargo-ships from Europe starting from the one which made a big move. It was the shipping company Carlos A. Go Thong & Co. that was not a recipient of US reparations which took a big gamble in acquiring passenger-cargo ships from Europe. I don’t know but maybe there should not be a great deal of surprise there as they did not get any favors from the US or the government before which means they will have to pull their own bootstraps up themselves if they want to move up. And over a period of six years until 1969 they acquired a total of 9 European passenger-cargo ships for local waters (the Gothong, Dona Pamela, the Dona Gloria, Tayabas Bay, the Dona Rita, the Dona Helene, the Don Lorenzo, the Don Camilo and the first Don Sulpicio. Aside from the nine, Go Thong was able to acquire the big ships Subic Bay, Manila Bay and Sarangani Bay. The first two were C1-A ships of US built but acquired from Europe while the last was a former ship of De la Rama Steamship. Also acquired in the same period was Dona Anita, the former Governor B. Lopez of Southern Lines which has airconditioning and the Dona Hortencia, a former Northern Lines ship of Japanese origins.

Three of these ex-European ships were former refrigerated cargo ships and that means a lot because with refrigeration facilities then Go Thong can then build First Class sections, lounges and restaurants that have airconditioning. So cold drinks will be available anytime too (when the bulk of Filipino homes don’t have refrigerators yet) along with the capacity to carry loads that should remain frozen or chilled. These things were simply not possible with the ex-”FS” ships and besides these former ships from Europe were bigger, a little faster and they have big cargo holds which means more capacity for generating profitable runs. With 14 ship acquisitions Go Thong was already more than Compania Maritima in the inter-island routes before they broke up in 1972 even though they are using their big ships to Europe and the Far East.

For a major, William Lines Inc. had a rather tepid response. They only acquired two surplus ships from Europe (the sister ships Virginia and Zamboanga City, the first) in the mid-1960’s but they bought two former “FS” ships (the Dona Maria and Don Jose) let go by the other liner shipping companies (yes, they have a definite liking for that). The new liner company Sweet Lines Inc. acquired only one surplus passenger-cargo ships from Europe in this period (the Sweet Bliss) and that is understandable as they were just a new liner company. However, they also bought two passenger-cargo ships discarded by the other liner companies (these were not former “FS” ships).

Meanwhile, Aboitiz Shipping Corporation, at the same time did not purchase any passenger-cargo ship from Europe. But in Philippine Steamship Navigation Company (PSNC) they had three passenger-cargo ships which has airconditioning and refrigeration which only arrived in 1955 (The Legaspi, Elcano and Cagayan de Oro). In effect, for them this is their equivalent of the passenger-cargo ships from Europe. The Philippine President Lines and its successor company for local routes Philippine Pioneer Lines purchased only one passenger cargo ship from Europe (the Aguinaldo) as they were already concentrating on their international routes (and that ship was soon passed to their foreign operations). In fact, they soon transferred their local operations to their subsidiary Philippine Pioneer Lines.

Special note should be given to two liner shipping companies that took a different tack and the higher road — those that purchased brand-new liners instead of surplus. One of them was Hijos de F. Escano (later known as Escano Lines). What they did was to take out loans and they ordered three brand-new passenger-cargo liners from West Germany which already had airconditioning. These are the Fatima, Agustina II and Fernando Escano II. Negros Navigation Company, meanwhile, which is establishing itself as a liner company outdid them and took a different supplier. They ordered brand-new liners with airconditioning starting in 1962 which was followed by one each in 1965 and 1967. Those ships were the second Princess of Negros, the Dona Florentina and the beautiful Don Julio, the second. The difference was they ordered their liners from Japan except for the first which was ordered from Hongkong.

Compania Maritima also ordered one brand-new liner with airconditioning from West Germany, the Visayas. Compania Maritima also acquired two big cargo-passenger ships from De la Rama Steamship, the Lingayen Gulf and the Sarangani Bay. They also acquired a local-built liner from General Shipping Corporation that had already airconditioning which they renamed as the Mactan. As a footnote, Sweet Lines Inc. also ordered one brand-new liner from West Germany, the Sweet Grace which for me was rather surprising for a new liner company given that older but more “conservative” liner companies did not go into this direction.

Among those that did not make moves were Madrigal Shipping Company and De la Rama Steamship, two formerly revered names in shipping. Madrigal Shipping Company were then already disposing ships either to the breakers or to other companies. Among the local liner shipping companies, they, together with the already-defunct-then Manila Steamship Company had the penchant for buying really old ships from Europe before and so its expected life is not long. Moreover, Madrigal Shipping Company was by this time already losing in their quixotic routes to Northern Luzon and Northern Bicol and it was just practically using the remaining life of the ferries they have not disposed off. They had only one ship acquired from Europe in this period that they did not immediately dispose of and this was the Viria. Like the rest of their acquisitions this was small because their routes were minor compared to the rest. Hence, this acquisition was not comparable to the European acquisition of the others.

Meanwhile, De la Rama Steamship at the middle of the 1960’s was beginning to function just as international shipping agents. They have already disposed then of almost all their ships including those chartered from the National Development Corporation and they have long disposed of their former “FS” and “F” ships. Two of their big ships went to Compania Maritima in this period.

The smaller passenger liner companies with lesser routes and revenues proved incapable of moving up to the European category of ships, brand-new or surplus. However, four upstart companies tried to join this trend. The new Dacema Lines Incorporated was able to purchase two old passenger-cargo liners from West Germany in 1967, the Athena and the Demeter. The new E. K. Litonjua Steamship Company Incorporated/Eddie Steamships (Philippines), Incorporated was able to do likewise with three old passenger-cargo ships from various countries, the Sultan KL, the Aurelio KL and the Eddie KL. Another upstart, the Northern Lines Incorporated was able to acquire two passenger-cargo ships in this period (along with cargo ships), the Don Salvador and the Don Rene and surprisingly the source of their ships was Japan. Another newcomer, the MD Shipping Corporation was also able to procure a surplus passenger-cargo ship from Norway, the Leon. Except for the Northern Lines ships the ship mentioned did not really last long because they were already old when they can here.

These moves or non-moves determined the fate of the liner shipping companies for the next ten years. With the bold move of Carlos A. Gothong & Co. they moved up fast in the totem pole of the local liner shipping companies that by the start of the 1970’s they were not only barking at the heels of Compania Maritima but has already achieved parity or were even slightly ahead already in the inter-island routes. On the other end of the pole those that did not acquire any or practically had no acquisition were already gone from the inter-island routes in the next ten years and this included Philippine Pioneer Lines and the successor company Galaxy Lines. Madrigal Shipping Company by then had also disposed of almost of their ships and had almost no more ships sailing. The ships of the two companies many of which were ex-”FS” and ex-”Y” ships went to minor liner companies NCL/NORCAMCO Lines (the former North Camarines Lumber) and N&S Lines.

All these moves or non-moves in the middle of the 1960’s determined the fate and the positions of the liner shipping companies from the late 1960’s to the early 1970’s. Go Thong, a relative newcomer in liner shipping moved up a lot in liner shipping tier with their big acquisition. The liner shipping companies that made enough acquisitions in the mid-1960’s chugged along and generally did not lose rank for the next decade, relatively. Among these were Compania Maritima, William Lines Inc., Sweet Lines and Escano Lines. Philippine Steamships and Navigation Co. declined. The ex-”FS” ships were no longer as competitive in the 1970’s and the “C1-M-AV1” ships did not prove resilient and the the Type N3 ships even less durable. Negros Navigation Company was on the way up as they have new ship. The smaller liner companies that were still dependent of ex-”FS” ships (and the related ex-”Y” ships) and the ex-”F” and former minesweepers and were not refleeting were already on the way down. That included Bisayan Land Transport, NORCAMCO, N&S Lines, Rodrigueza Lines and many other small operators.

As recap, twenty years after our inter-island fleet basically relied on war-surplus ships from the US, the first augmentation we had were ferries sourced from Europe as ships from Japan were still rare in the mid-1960’s because they were in the midst of their own economic boom. Up to the end of the 1960’s and early 1970’s we will still source liners from Europe (like the legendary Sweet Faith). It will in the next decade when Japan will be our main supplier of surplus passenger ships.

So from war-surplus ships from the US in the end of the war and up to early 1960’s to European surplus ships in the 1960’s to Japan surplus ships in the 1970’s – these were what marked the early periods of our postwar liner shipping, the period most people now are no longer aware of. This article seeks to fill that void.

[Photo Credit: coasters-remembered.net]

The MV Nikki (a.k.a. MV Lady of All Nations)

When the deadly-for-shipping decade of the 1980’s ended (technically, it ended only at the end of 1990), we still had a few former FS ships sailing. Maybe it was because we really lacked ships them and getting loans was really difficult and interest rates were very high. Maybe, the penchant of Filipinos to squeeze the last ounce of life from mechanical things was also a factor. We are also sentimental in letting go of things that have served us for so long.

One of the last former FS ships still sailing then was the MV Edward of William Lines. The ship was running the short Manila-Tilik (Lubang Island) and Manila-San Jose (Occidental Mindoro) routes. She is running this route but at times it is another former FS ship, the MV Don Jose I, which is in that route. However, it is the MV Edward which is remembered more in the big town of San Jose. She was actually the last on the route, too. This route is a steel-hulled ferry monopoly at that time by William Lines Inc. after other liner companies withdrew or were gone from shipping. They were also able to block the entry of a new competitor. Beside the steel-hulled ferry there were also wooden motor boats (the batel) plying the route but they concentrated on cargo and do not have very regular schedules (it will depend on how full they were and also on the weather).

In 1992, with the coming of the new administration of President Fidel V. Ramos and his call for shipping modernization, there seems to be a sudden realization by the shipping companies still sailing former FS ships that they finally have to go. There were just a few former FS ships still sailing then and their lives were prolonged by retiring other FS ships and cannibalizing them for parts. Their ranks was also further diminished by the very strong Typhoon “Mike” (Typhoon “Ruping”) that visited Cebu in November 1990 which was very deadly for Cebu shipping.

Instead of acquiring a new ship for the Manila-Tilik and Manila-San Jose routes, William Lines instead decided to withdraw from the route. But, instead of holding on to their residual rights on the route, William Lines instead welcomed and helped a successor in the person of Dr. Segundo Moreno who was previously not in shipping. Dr. Moreno established the shipping company Moreta Shipping Lines and he purchased the MV Ariake Maru No. 6 from Japan. With this changeover, San Jose and Tilik was able to re-establish their regular connection to Manila. This was important as they were dependent on the national capital for manufactured goods and Divisoria and Navotas were the main markets for their agricultural and sea products.

Unlike the former FS ships, MV Ariake Maru No. 6 is a RORO (Roll-on, Roll Off) which means she can load vehicles. Even when used in break-bulk cargo, her main use, a RORO is easier to load and unload and forklifts ease the operation especially in handling heavier cargo. It also means a RORO is less dependent for the services of manual laborers, the porters. MV Ariake Maru No. 6 was actually not bigger than the former FS ship she was replacing but a RORO has a taller cargo deck.

MV Ariake Maru No. 6 has the permanent ID IMO 7632307. She was built by Hayashikane Shipbuilding & Engineering Company in their Nagasaki shipyard in Japan in 1977 for Ariake Ferry. She measured 54.0 meters by 12.8 meters with a Gross Tonnage (GT) of 695, which are all about the same as an FS ship. However, her DWT (Deadweight Tonnage) of 284 tons was way less than the 711 tons of MV Edward, a lengthened FS ship measuring 62.9 meters by 9.8 meters. She was equipped with two Niigata diesel engines with a total of 2,400 horsepower. Her original top speed in Japan was 13.5 knots.

Arriving for Moreta Shipping Lines, she was renamed the MV Nikki and she was converted into an overnight ferry equipped with bunks with a local passenger capacity of 440. She was two-class ship: an airconditioned Tourist with free linen and pillow and a better toilet and bath and an open-air Economy with no free “beddings” (linen). She was considered by her passengers to be more comfortable than the former FS ships she was replacing. As to speed, she was not faster than the former FS ships which only had less than ½ of her engine power at 1,000 horsepower.

Maybe her lack of speed was due to what I heard that she has a spoon hull. That means the design of her hull is similar to a bathtub. Maybe in Japan she was only used for very short-distance routes where the shape of the hull will not matter. Incidentally, this hull is similar to the hull of the barges and LCTs. Assigned to the 120-nautical mile Manila-San Jose route she can’t meet the promised 12-hour sailing time especially when swells are around. Two years after fielding, she settled on a 14-hour sailing time for her route. So sailing at 6pm means a stomach already looking for food once one disembarks.

In Moreta Shipping Lines, the Tilik and San Jose routes destinations were also split into separate routes. However, when the MV Kimelody Cristy arrived for Moreta Shipping Lines in 1994, MV Nikki became a dedicated Tilik (Lubang) ship. There her lack of speed did not matter as Lubang island is just a short distance from Manila. A 10pm departure to that port is already assured of a dawn arrival. 

Moreta Shipping Lines and MV Nikki did good sailing for about a decade or so. But in due time, their Mindoro routes were slowly taken over by the intermodal trucks and buses that was using the short Batangas-Abra de Ilog (Occidental Mindoro) route. As always, the advantage of the intermodal were 24-hour departures and direct delivery to the particular towns or barrios. With such changes, Moreta Lines had to develop other routes and they tried the Panay island routes abandoned by WG&A. But soon, they found out there was nothing much left there and the intermodal was already ascendant there, too.

The staple route of Manila-Tilik by MV Nikki was affected in another way. Slowly, the motor banca to Lubang from Nasugbu in Batangas became a competitor. With a combined bus and banca, daytime trips became possible with direct disembarkation (unlike the RORO which only dock in Tilik port). The syndrome was much like how the motor banca drove out the RORO in Puerto Galera. Tilik port is not located in either town of Lubang or Looc and the local road was not good either.

By the last half of the 2010’s, the ships of Moreta Lines were barely sailing. At times, only one of their three ferries might be sailing. Reading the writing on the wall, they started cargo shipping in 2009. Not long after, they decided to get out of passenger shipping altogether, sold their passenger ships and used the proceeds to acquire more cargo ships. They then became a pure cargo shipping line (this trying to survive as a shipping line was one characteristic missing in their benefactor William Lines Inc. which decided to go down quietly).

MV Nikki came to Medallion Transport in 2012 which was soon followed by the MV Love-1 of Moreta Shipping Lines also. The two ships were used by Medallion Transport to develop new Medallion routes between Cebu and Leyte together with two other ships (always less one because one is used in Masbate). In Medallion Transport, the MV Nikki was renamed to MV Lady of All Nations and she was used to grab traffic from a competitor in the Cebu-Bato route. Medallion Transport was already sailing this route before but they were just shoehorning short-distance ferries in this overnight route (it has also day trip on the reverse). With the fielding of MV Lady of All Nations, Medallion Transport finally had a true overnight ship in this route, their pioneer route to Cebu from their original home port of Bato, Leyte.

MV Lady of All Nations is still the Medallion Transport mainstay in the Cebu-Bato route. The competition is suffering because it is using single-class cruisers (admittedly, they are faster, however). Meanwhile, Medallion Transport retrofitted MV Lady of All Nations to have Cabin class and Deluxe class (which approximates the Suite class). So, she is now a four-class ship. Five, if the Sitting Economy, a Cebu-Leyte and Cebu-Bohol fixture is included. Her fares starts at P245 per person which is very cheap for a 55-nautical mile distance. Actually, the Cebu-Bato route is known for having the cheapest fares between Cebu and Leyte. The Tourist fare of Ormoc will actually be already Cabin class in MV Lady of All Nations.

In her last drydock in 2014, two years after coming to Medallion Transport, the MV Lady of All Nations spent some time in Star Marine Shipyard in the shipyard row of Cebu in Tayud off Cansaga Bay and the one nearest to the Cansaga bridge. I heard included in the works done in her were upgrading in the engines. It seems it showed as after the drydocking, the MV Lady of All Nations became a faster ship.

She does two departures in a day and this means much more revenues for a medium-distance regional ferry. As such, she approximates in the a day a sailing distance from Cebu to the likes of Surigao, Dapitan, Dipolog, Iloilo, Masbate, Calbayog or Catbalogan. At nighttime, she leaves Cebu for Bato arriving there at dawn. She leaves at mid-morning in Bato to arrive in Cebu at mid-afternoon. She is the favorite there since she a bigger and more comfortable ship than her competition.

It seems it will be a long time before the competition will come out with a ship that will displace her in the Cebu-Bato route. Her main competition are actually the slightly better ships to Hilongos, another port north of Bato and on a parallel competing route to Cebu-Bato route. Maybe that was the reason why Cabin and Deluxe were added to her since the ships in Hilongos have Cabins and Suites. However, with slightly lower fares and the advantage of a shorter distance to the Southern Leyte towns, she has competitive advantages of her own. And with the short distance to Leyte her speed is not that much of an issue and being nearer to the farther destination then that cancels out the speed disadvantage (but this is not applicable to a very slow ship of a competitor in the Hilongos route, a cousin of theirs).

Acquiring her seems to be a genius stroke for Medallion Transport. She is a definite asset for the company. What a definite change of fortune by being a castaway in another route that lost (well, that is also true for MV Lady of Love – an advanced preview)!

Photo Credit: James Gabriel Verallo