When Eastern Visayas Ports And Shipping Were Still Great

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

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

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Tacloban port. Photo by Gerry Ruiz.

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

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

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

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

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Catbalogan port. Photo by Joe Cardenas of PSSS.

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

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

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

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MV Leyte. Gorio Belen research in the National Library.

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

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

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Gorio Belen research in the National Library.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Gorio Belen research in the National Library.

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

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

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Gorio Belen research in the National Library.

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

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

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Gorio Belen research in the National Library

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

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

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Gorio Belen research in the National Library

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

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

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

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Gorio Belen research in the National Library

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

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

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

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Credits to Toshihiko Mikami and funikichemurase

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

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

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Photo by John Cabanillas of PSSS.

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

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

Times have changed. The paradigm changed, too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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How To Lose The Equivalent Of A Liner Fleet in Just Over A Decade: The Decline And Fall of Compania Maritima

For nearly a century since the tailend of the Spanish regime in the Philippines it was Compania Maritima that was the dominant passenger shipping company for most of that period although at times there were also shipping companies that will draw parity or even slightly exceed Compania Maritima. This company has Spanish origins and hence it had the advantage of European connections, a factor not enjoyed by other shipping companies and the plus of that can be felt in ship acquisitions and maybe even capitalization. It also did not hinder Compania Maritima that the owner Fernandez Brothers were not only heavyweight in business but also in politics even in the Commonwealth period and this continued until the early Republic years. As in one of them being a Senator of the Commonwealth and of the Republic. Those were the times when capital was tight and acquiring loans need inside and political connections.

Right after the Republic was born, Compania Maritima or Maritime Company was fast out of the gate and immediately built up a sizable fleet not only in sheer number but even in the size of ships. They were the first among local companies in tapping Europe as source of ships and unlike those sourced by Madrigal and Elizalde, theirs were not old, worn-down ships weathered by convoy duty during the war. There was only one time in the postwar years that a local shipping company was able to match them in sheer number. This was the Aboitiz Shipping Corporation that was the beneficiary of the expiration of the Laurel-Langley Agreement in 1974 when Everett Steamship has to give up their share in Philippine Steamship and Navigation Company. But that fleet of Aboitiz was loaded with small ex-”FS” ships that were already growing old. Compania Maritima had a significant number too of ex-”FS” ships but they were not dependent on that type while that formed the backbone of Aboitiz’s fleet.

However, out of twenty or so ships accumulated through the years with some used for a time in foreign routes, Compania Maritima began losing ships through hull losses at a rate of nearly one per year from 1967 to 1981 when before that they almost had no serious accidents. Of course, like the latter Sulpicio Lines, Compania Maritima “pushes” ships even in inclement weather. But the downturn was so stark I cannot begin to understand it was simply the result of “pushing” or bad luck or the growing age of their fleet. I don’t know if there was a death wish. The weakness of many old Spanish mestizo companies was for too long they simply relied on their initial headstart in capital accumulation which for many resulted from monopolies or warrants given by the Spanish regime. Later, they also had the inside track in Malacanang connections which can do wonder in many things. So when these two factors evaporated, their weaknesses was sadly exposed by the new challengers that grew without the support that the Spanish mestizo companies took for granted.

The middle of the 1960’s also saw a change of occupant in Malacanang who had his own fair boys (well, was there an occupant of that palace who had none?) and these did not include the Fernandezes (their stars were already on the wane then). Suddenly, an outsider was the insider and the former insiders are now the outsiders. That began the decline of the old business empires that were formed during the Commonwealth years or earlier and they were many. Suddenly, the Fernandez shipping companies found they cannot compete in favor with Philippine President Lines (PPL) especially in the international routes. Even the venerable and well-connected but not-in-power De la Rama Steamship was overtaken by Philippine President Lines in the international routes. The redoubtable Madrigals also began to lose steam in this period when they no longer had elective posts.

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There was also a newcomer on the block that was riding the surge of the king of commodity crops which were copra and coconut oil. Abaca was far going down and those which latched into was also being pulled down like the Elizaldes and the Madrigals. Note these two were once great names in shipping. The Sorianos were lucky they were just in beer and beer carrier barges and the Zobels were lucky that their holdings in non-commercial talahib turned out to be golden real estate. That was also the good luck of the Aranetas and Ortigases. The Rufinos were also in shipping but their fortunes in it were not getting better and the Delgados which was in forwarding and shipping was also finding their hold being swept by the boy of the new man in Malacanang.

The newcomer is actually newcomers as they are a duo. One was the biggest in copra and coconut oil whose signage is still prominent today in SRP in Cebu. This was the Lu Do Lu Ym and their gatherer-carrier locally and their bringer to international markets was the fast-rising Carlos A. Go Thong & Company.

I do not know if the Fernandezes saw their eventual decline in shipping. However, it is not hard to draw visions from the decline of Madrigal, Elizalde, Rufino and Delgado, all very powerful names then and financiers of presidential campaigns one time or another. They have no powerful engine like a commodity crop. They have no hold in Malacanang like before. And there are powerful new challengers buoyed by the need to move goods that they racial kins were beginning to control. Later this change of guard came to be known as the eclipsing of the Castilaloys by the Chinoys or the rise of the taipans. Moreover, the Fernandezes saw their perch in forwarding wrested by a favored boy of Malacanang, the new landsman of the Makati Stock Exchange (now how significant is that?).

What I know is from 1970 Compania Maritima stopped acquiring ships and local shipping history has shown that such a non-move presages the change of the order or standing in shipping. Compania Maritima no longer purchased ships even though they were bleeding from a fast loss of ships. Most of these maritime losses came under a literal storm which means a typhoon.

Compania Maritima first lost a ship on January 16, 1967 when their MV Mindanao, an ex-”C1-M-AV1” ship was wrecked near Odiongan, Romblon on January 16, 1967. That was very remarkable because for twenty years preceding since they restarted operations in 1947, they never lost a ship no matter what typhoon passed the country. However, being beached and wrecked is a lot better than foundering in a storm because a lot of casualties are averted and the remains can either be refloated or broken up depending on the extent of damage. MV Mindanao was broken up the next year, in 1968. This passenger-cargo ship was first known as the MV Star Knot in Compania Maritima’s fleet, the same name she had while on the service of the US Navy in World War II.

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On the same year the first MV Mindanao (there was a later MV Mindanao) was lost, the MV Mindoro, a weak ex-”FS” ship foundered in a storm, the Typhoon “Welming” on November 4, 1967 off Sibuyan island. This ship was first known as the first MV Basilan in the fleet of Compania Maritima before she was renamed in 1952 when another ex-”FS” ship was acquired by the company that will bear that name. When the first MV Mindanao was lost, she was holding the quixotic route Manila-Catbalogan-Tacloban-Surigao-Nasipit-Butuan which passes through the eastern seaboard of Leyte but not under the San Juanico bridge as that bridge was not yet existing at that time.

In 1969, another ex-”C1-M-AV1” ship of Compania Maritima was wrecked again in a storm, the super-typhoon “Eling” (900 hPa!) which was then blowing off northeastern Luzon. This was the MV Siquijor which was earlier known as MV Carrick Bend in their fleet and also when she was still in the US Navy. She was beached in Tag-olo Point on the tip of the longer peninsula enclosing Dapitan Bay and like the MV Mindoro her remains was broken up the next year.

On July 16, 1973, the passenger-cargo ship MV Mactan, the third ship to carry this name in the fleet of Compania Maritima foundered in a storm. She was lost in Tablas Strait on a Nasipit-Manila voyage when two typhoon were affecting our seas. This liner was the MV General del Pilar in the fleet of General Shipping Corporation that was bought brand-new in Japan. She was actually big also at 83 meters length and the only ship of Compania Maritima from Japan except for the taken-over ships from De la Rama Steamship which were the former MV Dona Alicia and MV Dona Aurora (these ships were seized by the National Development Corporation, an entity owned by the Philippine Government, as they are the true owners). The route of MV Mactan is the same as the lost first MV Mindanao which was Manila-Catbalogan-Tacloban-Surigao-Nasipit-Butuan. She was the replacement ship on that route.

The bad streak of Compania Maritima did not end and on September 17, 1973, a liner of theirs from Europe, one of the best in the local waters in the early 1950’s was wrecked in the shores of Pangan-an island, part of the Olango island group of Cebu east of Mactan island. This is the MV Cebu, the biggest in the fleet of Compania Maritima which was only equaled when the brand-new MV Luzon came in 1959 and exceeded only in 1963 when the brand-new MV Visayas arrived from West Germany. Mind you, the MV Luzon and MV Visayas were flagships and so it is an exalted comparison. MV Cebu might be the biggest in their fleet in almost the whole of the 1950’s but it seems it was the MV Panay that they considered their flagship. MV Panay would later share the same fate as MV Cebu. MV Cebu was later broken up in 1974.

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In the same year, the sister ship of MV Panay, the MV Jolo will also be wrecked. Is there an eerie pattern now? It seems the ships of Compania Maritima suddenly had a great love for the beaches and not in a nice way. Wrecking does not result in great casualties, hence, there is less to settle on the passenger and it does not produce a great outcry from the public. MV Jolo was wrecked in Caballo island near Corregidor on Oct 11, 1973 when the winds of Typhoon “Miling” hit her. This happened just a month after their MV Cebu was lost.

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In April 8, 1974, Compania Maritima would suffer the only maritime hull loss due to fire. This was the MV Romblon, an ex-”FS” ship but the incidental thing is she was also beached! It is really a good coincidence if a fire happens near an island. The route of the MV Romblon was Manila-Capiz-Iloilo-Pulupandan-Sangi-Estancia and the beaching happened in Naujan, Oriental Mindoro. She was among the last liners calling in Pulupandan as silting of the waters of the port demanded that only shallow-draft vessels like the MV Romblon can only dock in the port (in a few years liners will stop calling in Pulupandan and Negros Occidental will become a sole property of Negros Navigation).

On March 23, 1977, it was the turn of the MV Panay to be lost by wrecking (again!). She was lost off Salauan Point the farthest spit of land of Laguindingan, Misamis Oriental near where the new Laguindingan airport stands now. There was no typhoon that time as it was summer. Did she go straight for the shallows or they left the nautical charts ashore?

In my study of maritime losses, I actually did not see a streak as long as what Compania Maritima had. And I was wondering what MARINA (it was already in existence then) was doing. If this was Sulpicio Lines and with Maria Elena Bautista at the helm, I think Compania Maritima will already be shuttered. And this is not the end yet.

On April of 1978, a summer typhoon visited the Philippines. This is the Typhoon “Atang”, a 150 kph typhoon that visited the central Philippines. A lengthened ex-”FS” ship of Compania Maritima was caught in that, the MV Leyte. She was wrecked in the southwestern portion of Sibuyan island trying to reach shelter. She was then on a Manila-Cebu voyage.

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The beaching streak of Compania Maritima would not yet end and on July 6, 1979, the MV Guimaras, a 98-meter liner from Europe will again be wrecked near the boundary of Negros Oriental and Negros Occidental on the southern side. There were two typhoons then in the northern part of the country and maybe the seas then in that place was strong as those two typhoons will suck the sea north.

And on June 23, 1980, another big liner (in those days a liner over 100 meters length is big) of theirs from Europe, the MV Dadiangas will again be lost through wrecking in Siargao island due to Typhoon “Huaning”. The MV Dadiangas was earlier known in the fleet of Compania Maritima as the MV Isla Verde and she was a Manila-Davao ship passing the eastern seaboard of Mindanao, the shortcut route to Davao. It seems changing names of ships from islands to cities did not help them.

Eleven liners lost through accidents in 13 years! Can anyone imagine that!? I am sure the ones commanding the ships of Compania Maritima are not some simple able-bodied seaman. How could they have lost that many and as continuously with most ending on the beaches and on the rocks?

To compare that was more than the fleet of Sweet Lines, Galaxy Lines, Escano Lines, Aboitiz Shipping Company+Cebu-Bohol Ferry Company (outside of Aboitiz’s holdings in Philippine Steamship and Navigation Company) during that time. In that period only the fleets of Gothong A. Gothong & Co., William Lines and Philippine Steamship and Navigation Company could be greater than those 11 ships lost by Compania Maritima but then maybe not in combined gross tonnage because the ships lost by Compania Maritima are generally big.

With those losses, Compania Maritima entered the years of financial crisis of the country in the 1980’s with a much weakened fleet and the loss of Number 1 position in local shipping especially since they did not acquire any more liners after 1970 when they acquired the second MV Mindanao. They also disposed of a few other ships along the way. But still when they began breaking up ships in 1982 and ceasing operations in 1983 they still had 7 ships left although some of these are just old ex-”FS” ships (three) that were barely running.

From a great shipping company and Numero 1, the Compania Maritima went out in a whimper. Kindly, I think they might have had a death wish and a desire for exit already. After closing shop, the Fernandez brothers packed their bags and headed back to Spain, their country of origin. They were dual citizens all throughout.

Photo Credits: Gorio Belen, Philippine Herald, Manila Chronicle, Times Journal

my-leyte