The Fast Cruiser Liners of William Lines

1978 William Lines

Photo research of Gorio Belen in the National Library

Among the local passenger liner shipping companies, it was William Lines which believed the most in the fast cruiser liners. They acquired the greatest number of them and promoted them well. Those became the engines of William Lines in their quest to be Number 1 in inter-island shipping and surpass the long pillar of inter-island shipping, the somewhat-legendary Compania Maritima which has Spanish origins and politically well-connected. Well, Don William Chiongbian was politically very well-connected, too as President Ferdinand Marcos was a good friend of him.

Fast” is a relative term. In the 1960’s, that meant just about 16 knots. In the period when William Lines bet big on fast cruiser liners, the 1970’s, that already meant about 18 knots or better. In the late 1980’s and especially in the 1990’s, “fast” meant 20 knots already. In the subsequent decades, “fast” for liners did not creep higher than 20 knots because the fuel prices that crept up and patronage for liners has already began to weaken gradually.

In the 1970’s, William Lines invested in six fast cruiser liners. That began with two brand-new ships, the “Misamis Occidental”, which arrived in 1970 and named after the province origin of the founder Don William Chiongbian. In 1972, the “Cebu City” came and it then engaged in a legendary battle with the first “Sweet Faith” of Sweet Lines in the premier Manila-Cebu route at 20 knots. The fast cruiser liners of William Lines were named after cities of the country that were also their ports of call.

When effects of “free float” of the peso (which meant uncontrolled devaluation in direct language) took hold, the Phillippine shipping companies can no longer afford to acquire brand-new ships and so after 1972 all the liner acquisitions were second-hand already. However, many of these were ships just a decade old or even younger. And so, four second-hand cruiser liners came to William Lines with a gap of one year in their arrivals.

The next fast cruiser to come to William Lines was the “Tacloban City” which they acquired in 1975. This was followed by the “Manila City” in 1976, the “Cagayan de Oro City” in 1977 and finally the “Ozamis City” in 1978. I do not know if “Dona Virginia” can be added to the list as she was also RORO (but with cruiser lines) and she came in December of 1979. Among the named cruisers it was only the “Tacloban City”, the smallest which has difficulty reaching 18 knots but 17.5 knots is already near there.

After that series came a long respite for William Lines in the acquisition of passenger liners and their next acquisition already came in 1987, a RORO already, the “Masbate I”. In that interregnum, they concentrated on building their container ship fleet which was called the “Wilcon”. Two in that series were RORO Cargo ships that can also carry passengers, the “Wilcon I” which came in 1978 and the “Wilcon IV” which came in 1979.

The “Misamis Occidental” was a ship ordered by William Lines from Hayashikane Shipbuilding & Engineering Company and she was built in their Nagasaki shipyard and she was delivered in December of 1970. The ship measured 88.9 meters by 13.5 meters and her cubic volume expressed in gross tons was 1,945. The ship had a top speed of 18 knots and she had a passenger capacity of about 650. She could have sailed faster with a more powerful engine but maybe William Lines did not see the “Sweet Faith” coming for Sweet Lines. William Lines referred to the “Misamis Occidental” as their first luxury liner.

The “Cebu City”, a great flagship was ordered by William Lines from Niigata Engineering and she was built in Niigata, Japan and delivered on September, 1972. Her dimensions were 98.8 meters by 13.8 meters with a cubic measure of 2,452 gross tons. Powered by a 5,670-horsepower Hitachi engine she had a top speed of 20.5 knots and she had a passenger capacity of 807. I am sure that when William Lines ordered her there was a specification that the ship will be able to at least match the “Sweet Faith” of Sweet Lines in speed and also in the accommodations. The name of the ship clearly indicated her first route.

The “Tacloban City”, originally the “Naminoue Maru” of Oshima Unyu was built by Sanoyas Shoji Company in 1962 and she came to William Lines in 1975. Her measurements were 91.1 meters by 12.8 meters and her cubic volume was 2,244 gross tons. She had an original speed of 18.5 knots from her single 5,800-horsepower Mitsubishi engine but being no longer new when she came she was only capable of 17.5 knots when she was fielded here. She was advertised by William Lines as the “Cheetah of the Sea” and she had a passenger capacity of 1,274. She was the first in William Lines to breach the 1,000-passenger capacity mark and she had the highest passenger capacity in William Lines fleet when she was fielded. The name of the ship also indicated her first route and she was designed to take on the “Sweet Grace” of Sweet Lines and the “Don Sulpicio” of Sulpicio Lines which in the route and both the two had airconditioning.

The “Manila City” which came in 1976 was originally the “Nihon Maru” of Mitsubishi Shintaku Ginko. She was built by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries in their Shimonoseki yard in 1970. The ship had the external dimensions 106.3 meters by 14.0 meters and her cubic measurement was 2,998 gross tons. From her twin Mitsubishi engines developing 8,800 horsepower, she had a top speed of 20.5 knots. Her design speed was a match to “Cebu City” but being older she was some half knot slower. However, when she came she had the highest horsepower in the William Lines fleet. She could have been named the “Davao City” to reflect her first route but William Lines already had a ship by this name. Being the biggest in the William Lines passenger fleet, William Lines assigned her a worthy name. The “Manila City” had a passenger capacity of 1,388. She was the best ship in the Davao route when she was fielded there.

The “Cagayan de Oro City” which arrived in 1977 was the former “Hibiscus” in Japan or the “Haibisukasu” of the group Terukuni Yusen KK. She was also built by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries or MHI in 1970 in the Shimonoseki yard. She was 89.2 meters in length, 13.0 meters in breadth and 1,999 gross tons in cubic capacity. She had two Niigata engines developing 7,000 horsepower which gave her a top speed of 19 knots. The ship was assigned the route of her namesake city and she was the best ship in the route when first assigned there The “Cagayan de Oro” had a passenger capacity of 1,200.

The “Ozamis City” which was the “Fuji” of the Mitsubishi Shoji Kaisha in Japan was another ship built by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries in the Shimonoseki yard. The ship was completed in 1965 and she came in 1978 and she had the dimensions 91.7 meters by 13.3 meters with 2,865 gross tons as cubic measure. She had a single 4,900-horsepower Kawasaki-MAN engine which gave her a top speed of 18.5 knots. This ship was also assigned to her namesake city and held that route for a long time. She was also the best ship to Ozamis when first assigned there. Her passenger capacity was 1,214.

The “Manila City” was the biggest of the six and she also had the highest passenger capacity and she was the speediest together with “Cebu City”. She was referred to by William Lines as the “Sultan of the Sea” and maybe those were the reasons why (and maybe there are also true sultans along her route). This ship held the Davao route for a very long time until she was consumed by fire. She was never assigned another route in her career here indicating her specs were high that she was still competitive one-and-a-half decade after she was first fielded.

As flagship, the “Cebu City” held the Manila-Cebu route and was plying it twice week. The fast among the fast “Manila City” was holding the long route to Davao via Zamboanga. The “Cagayan de Oro City” was sailing the Manila-Dumaguete-Cagayan de Oro-Iligan-Cebu route. The “Misamis Occidental” was being used in the Manila-Cebu-Ozamis-Iligan-Dumaguete route. The “Tacloban City” was sailing the Tacloban route twice a week and one of that calls in Catbalogan too. Finally, the “Ozamis City” was running the overnight Cebu-Ozamis route.

By and large the six (the seventh was the “Dona Virginia”) were the primary liners of William Lines in the 1970’s up to the end of the 1980’s. William Lines was relatively late in the fielding of ROROs and the six shouldered on even though the competition already had RORO liners. It will already be 1989 when William Lines will be able acquire a big RORO liner, the “Zamboanga City” and the RORO liner flagship, the “Sugbu” will arrive only in 1990.

The six had successful careers but the majority did not reach old age. Of the six, only the “Misamis Occidental” and the “Tacloban City” will escape hull-loss accidents. The “Cagayan de Oro City” will be hit by fire in Ozamis City port on June 22, 1985. She capsized there but she was refloated and towed to Cebu where she was broken up in 1986.

The “Ozamis City” will be wrecked off Siquijor on October 22, 1990. She was towed to Manila for demolition where she was broken up on November of 1991. “Manila City”, meanwhile, will be hit by a fire in Cebu Shipyard on February 16, 1991. She will be declared a constructive total loss or CTL and she was broken up in 1992.

The most publicized loss among the six was the sinking of “Cebu City” on December 1, 1994 after a collision with the Malaysian container ship, the Pacific International Lines’ “Kota Suria”. This happened at the mouth of Manila Bay when she was late on her way and hurrying to Tagbilaran, Bohol. About 145 persons lost their lives in that accident that happened before dawn.

The “Misamis Occidental” and “Tacloban City” still acceded to the “Great Merger” (which failed) that created the giant shipping company WG&A Philippines. “Tacloban City” was later relegated to the subsidiary Cebu Ferries Corporation but did not sail long in that company. Not being a RORO she was offered for sale early and in 1997, the Sampaguita Shipping Company of Zamboanga purchased her and she became the “Sampaguita Ferry 1” of the said company.

The “Misamis Occidental” which was then just being used as an Ozamis-Cebu overnight ferry before the merger was also sent to the WG&A subsidiary Cebu Ferries Corporation and also offered for sale early because she was not a RORO. Having no takers, she was refurbished and re-engined and she was given the new name “Our Lady of Montserrat”. However, she was disposed off to the breakers within two years. She was broken up in China on June 15, 2000.

Today, there are no more traces of the six.

The Mabuhay 2 (SuperFerry 7)

The “Wilines Mabuhay 2” was the second liner in the luxury series “Mabuhay” of William Lines that was designed to compete with the luxury liners of Sulpicio Lines and the SuperFerries of Aboitiz Shipping. In terms of size, she was not as big as the great liners already existing then like the “Princess of the Orient”, the “Mabuhay 1” and the “Princess of Paradise” and neither was she that fast. In terms of match-ups, she was more the match of the SuperFerries in terms of size, speed (except for “SuperFerry 1”) and amenities. All around everybody called her simply as the “Mabuhay 2”.

The “Mabuhay 2” was born as the “Naminoue Maru” in Japan in 1980. Incidentally, the earlier “Naminoue Maru” built in 1962 also came to William Lines where she was known as “Tacloban City”. This “Naminoue Maru” of 1980 with the ID IMO 7920871 was built by Towa Shipbuilding in Shimonoseki, Japan for Arimura Sangyo or A” Line. She had raked stem and a cruiser stern, two masts, two funnels, a high bridge and two passenger decks. She had a deck crane at the front which was used for lifting container vans and two quarter ramps at the stern leading to a car deck so making her a RORO ship.

The ship measured 140.5 meters by 20.5 meters in length and breadth with 4,886 gross register tons as cubic measure and 3,119 deadweight tons in load capacity. She was powered by two Niigata diesel engines with a total of 15,600 horsepower and that gave her a top speed of 20 knots when new. She had a sister ship here, the former “Akitsuki” also from A” Line which also came to William Lines where she was known as the “Maynilad”.

The “Naminoue Maru” was sold by A” Line to William Lines in 1994. She was refitted in Singapore and a deck was added to her. The cargo boom at the front was also removed and three foredecks in a terraced design were also added and above that a promenade deck was made. This made the ship look great and modern. The mezzanine deck for sedans was also converted into added passenger amenities. With this renovation, her gross tonnage rose to 4,996 which looked to be an underestimation (her sister ship Maynilad had a gross tonnage of 6,538) and the net tonnage was 2,009 which seems to be an underestimation, too. The new passenger capacity of the ship was 2,015 which was significantly lower than sister ship “Maynilad” and that meant there were more passenger spaces and amenities aboard her. With more steel now and with 15 years of sailing mileage already her sustained top speed here was reduced to 17.5 knots which was about average for liners brought out in the 1990’s. Her container capacity was 110 TEUs. These container vans were aboard trailers and moved by trailer caddies so loading and unloading was fast.

In sailing for William Lines starting in 1994, she was assigned the Manila-Surigao-Butuan (Nasipit)-Tagbilaran-Manila route and within the same week she sailed a second route, the Manila-Tagbilaran-Cagayan de Oro-Tagbilaran-Manila route which were completely new sets of routes of William Lines. She was being made to run like the SuperFerries with just a few in-port hours. One unusual twist of their routes was the lack of intermediate ports of call and in obviating a Cebu docking. She was mainly a Northern Mindanao liner for William Lines.

She left Manila for Surigao every Thursday at 7am (which I remember was the earliest departure from North Harbor) and this was a direct route and that was unusual for Surigao ship. She left for Tagbilaran every Sunday at 12mn. For the direct Tagbilaran route she took 27 hours for the 429-nautical mile route. This was not at full speed as she arrives at early dawn anyway. For the 459-nautical mile Surigao route, she took 27 hours of sailing. Its Surigao route was the fastest then in the local shipping industry. Before the fielding of Mabuhay 2, William Lines did not have Surigao as a port of call. So that was actually an expansion in the route system of William Lines.

She had seven classes of accommodations – the Special Suite, Suite, Cabin for 2, Cabin for 4/6, Deluxe Cabin for 4/6/8, Deluxe Tourist and the usual and popular Economy. Her Deluxe Tourist was nice for a Tourist but that was the Tourist I remember that had the biggest gap from the next class Economy at almost double. The difference between First Class and Deluxe Cabin was the latter had only a wash and no toilet and bath. The Special Suite was bigger and more opulent than Suite. Economy was the only class without airconditioning and it was the cheapest.

All passage classes in the ship were entitled to free meals and there were three restaurants – the First Class restaurant, the Tourist restaurant and the Economy restaurant. The restaurants were located on the stern or rear of the ship. But like in the rest of the shipping industry Suite passengers can opt to take their meals in their cabins and it will be served there. The cabin telephone is available for that purpose along with other requests.

She had the usual amenities for liners like lounges, lobbies, front desk and promenade areas/viewing decks. Aside from viewing decks on the side which was limited to the open-air Economy class because she was fully built-up to the sides, she had that viewing deck above the terraced foredecks ahead of the bridge. She also had another viewing deck at the front ahead of the Tourist section and below the row of Suites. Those two were probably built as compensation for the lack of viewing platforms on the side because she had no outside passageways. The restaurants also functioned as additional lounging areas.She also had kiosks and a game room/arcade plus a grooming salon.

The “Mabuhay 2” did not sail long as a liner for William Lines b ecause the merger of William Lines, Gothong Lines and Aboitiz Shipping happened which resulted in the creation of the shipping line WG&A Philippines. This came about on the first day of 1996 although the agreements and preparations for the merger were already underway in the last quarter of 1995. In the new combined fleet, she was designated as the SuperFerry 7. In this new company she was given a new route route assignment which was a twice a week Manila-Tagbilaran-Iligan route and she left Manila every Thursday 12 midnight and every Monday at 9 in the morning.

In WG&A, her accommodation designations also changed. Enumerating low to high, it is now Economy, Tourist, Business Class for 2/4, Cabin for 2/4, Stateroom and Suite. Comparing rates for the common Tagbilaran port of call, the rates for all classes except two actually dropped. However, one purchases the Stateroom and the Suite as a room and not by individual. There was not much change inside the ship as the Mabuhay series was approximately equal in furnishings and comfort to the SuperFerry series.

One major change though in WG&A was all ships initially started with no free meals like in the SuperFerries before the merger and one had to pay a la carte. However, this caused such a furor and even outrage and a lot of protests. Passengers after all since the early times of shipping here were used to free meals and meals that led to contentment at that. I was witness to how noisy were the protests and I saw how the ship management caved in and gave free meals to the more vociferous ones. After that, it was like the dam had burst and there was no holding back in giving free meals again. But what I noticed was the rice portion was too small because they were selling extra rice! Still there were protests why there was no free soup! And no free desserts like in Sulpicio Lines! I can only watch in pity and amusement how harassed were the restaurant crews in the early days of the WG&A liners (I was a frequent traveler in those days and I happened to sail with SuperFerry 7 many times).

SuperFerry 7 did not sail long for WG&A and she actually was not assigned to any other route because of that. On March 26, 1997, an unfortunate incident happened and the ship was hit by fire while docked in Pier 4 in Manila North Harbor. There were no more passengers left as the ship had already finished discharging them. She was towed out of Pier 4 so that the fire will not leap to the other WG&A ships docked in Pier 4 like “SuperFerry 12” and the “Our Lady of Medjugorje”. However, the fire completely gutted her superstructure and she capsized near the ports after the pumps failed. Later, the formal investigation concluded it was an electrical fire that started the conflagration. In a few months. her insurer paid for the coverage of the ship and they even announced it in a local daily. The remains of SuperFerry 7 was then raised up and she was subsequently demolished by the salvors.

Mabuhay 2 only sailed here for three years. Very short. She was the first hull loss incident in the fleet of WG&A.

[Photo credits: Gorio Belen and Manila Chronicle]