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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The Convergence, Parallels, Rivalry and Divergence of Sweet Lines and William Lines

For introduction, Sweet Lines is a shipping company that started in Tagbilaran, Bohol while William Lines is a shipping company started in Cebu City after the war while having earlier origins in Misamis Occidental before the war. And like many shipping lines whose founders are of Chinese extraction, the founders of both Sweet Lines and William Lines were first into copra trading before branching into shipping. And long after the two became national shipping lines Bol-anons and people of Misamisnons still have a close identification and affinity to the two shipping companies and in fact were the still the prides of their provinces.

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1950 William Lines ad. Credits to Philippine Herald and Gorio Belen

William Lines became a national liner company in 1945 just right after the end of the war and almost exactly 20 years before Sweet Lines which was just a Visayas-Mindanao shipping company after the war whose main base is Bohol. The company just became a national liner company when it was able to buy half of the ships and routes of General Shipping Corporation when that company decided to quit the inter-island routes in 1965 after a boardroom squabble among the partner families owning it. And so William Lines had quite a head start over Sweet Lines. Now, readers might be puzzled now where is the convergence.

People who are already old enough now might think the convergence of the two shipping companies, a rivalry in fact, started when Sweet Lines fielded the luxury liner Sweet Faith in the Manila-Cebu route in 1970. That ship raised a new bar in liner shipping then plus it started a new paradigm in Cebu, that of the fast cruiser liner which is more dedicated to passengers and their comfort than cargo and has the highest level of passenger accommodations and amenities. It was really hard to match the Sweet Faith then for she was really a luxury liner even when she was still in Europe. That fast cruiser liner was not just some converted passenger-cargo or cargo-passenger ship which was the origins of practically of all the liners of the postwar period until then.

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Credits to Manila Times and Gorio Belen

Actually, the rivalry of Sweet Lines and William Lines started from convergence. William Lines, in their first 20 years of existence, was basically concentrating on the Southern Mindanao routes but of course its ships which were all ex-”FS” ships then called on Cebu and Tagbilaran first before heading south. Aside from Southern Mindanao, the only other area where William Lines concentrated was the Iligan Bay routes, specifically Iligan and Ozamis, near where the founder and the business of William Lines originated. But in 1966, William Lines started its acquisition of cargo-passenger ships from Europe for conversion here like what Go Thong & Company earlier did and what Sweet Lines will soon follow into. It was actually an expansion as they were not disposing of their old ex-”FS” ships and naturally an expansion of the fleet will mean seeking of new routes or concentration. 

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Credits to Philippine Herald and Gorio Belen

Sweet Lines, meanwhile, had an initial concentration of routes in the Eastern Visayas as a liner company which was dictated by the purchase of half of the fleet of General Shipping Corporation which consisted of five liners which were all ex-”FS” ships except for the new local-built General Roxas plus the Sea Belle of Royal Lines which was going out of business. But Sweet Lines immediately expanded and was also plying already the Cebu and Tagbilaran routes from Manila, naturally, because their main base was Tagbilaran. Then they also entered the Iligan Bay routes in 1967 and it was even using the good Sweet Rose (the former General Roxas) there which was a heavy challenge to all the shipping companies serving there that were just using ex-”FS” ships there previously. Of course, not to be outdone William Lines later brought there their brand-new Misamis Occidental, their flagship then, in 1970. If William Lines had two frequencies a week to the two ports of Iligan Bay in 1967, then that was the frequency of Sweet Lines too. And if William Lines had twice a week frequency to Cebu and Tagbilaran, then that was also the frequency of the expanding Sweet Lines. Their only difference in 1967 was William Lines had routes to Southern Mindanao while Sweet Lines had none there but the latter had routes to the strong shipping region then of Eastern Visayas while William Lines had no route then there.

Another area of confrontation of the two shipping companies was the Visayas-Mindanao regional routes. Sweet Lines was long a power then there especially since that was their place of origin. They then relegated there most of the ex-”FS” ships like the ones they acquired from General Shipping and thus in the late 1960’s they had the best ships sailing there. Meanwhile, William Lines which was also a player there also then used some of their ex-”FS” ships which were formerly in the liner routes (William Lines had a few ex-”FS” ships to spare since they bought five of those from other local shipping companies and they already were receiving former cargo-passenger ships from Europe starting in 1966). So by this time Sweet Lines and William Lines were not only competing in Cebu and Tagbilaran and in Iligan Bay but also in the Visayas-Mindanao regional routes.

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Credits to The Philippines Herald and Gorio Belen 

In the late 1960’s the government provided a loan window for the purchase of brand-new liners and among the countries that provided the funds for that was what was known as West Germany then (this was before the German reunification). From that window, the new liner company Sweet Lines ordered the Sweet Grace from Weser Seebeck of Bremerhaven, West Germany in 1968. William Lines followed suit by ordering a brand-new liner not from West Germany but from Japan which turned out to be the Misamis Occidental and this seemed to be taking the path of the expansion of Negros Navigation Company which was ordering brand-new liners from Japan shipbuilders. 

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Credits to Philippines Herald and Gorio Belen

Imagine for William Lines fielding the brand-new Misamis Occidental in Cebu in 1970 only to be upset by the more luxurious and much faster Sweet Faith in the same year. And that was aside from the also-good Sweet Grace and Sweet Rose also calling in Cebu. Maybe that was the reason, that of not being too outgunned, that William Lines immediately ordered a new ship from Japan, a sister ship of the Don Juan, the flagship of Negros Navigation Company but with a more powerful engine so she can top or at least match the speed of the Sweet Faith and that turned out later to be the legendary liner Cebu City. From its fielding in 1972, the battle of Cebu City and Sweet Faith was the stuff of legends (was using blocks of ice to cool down the engine room of Sweet Faith at full trot a stuff of legend?)

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Credits to Philippine Herald and Gorio Belen

As background to that, in 1970 with only the brand-new liner Misamis Occidental William Lines had to fend off Sweet Faith, Sweet Rose, also the first Sweet Sail which was a former liner of Southern Lines that was not an ex-”FS” ship but much faster and at times also the brand-new liner Sweet Grace . William Lines had a few converted cargo-passenger ships from Europe calling in Cebu already on the way to Southern Mindanao then but Sweet Lines had the same number of that also. If William Lines found aggressiveness in ship purchases from the mid-1960’s, Sweet Lines turned out to be more aggressive that in a short period of less than a decade it was already in the coattails of William Lines over-all and even beating it to Cebu, the backyard of William Lines. That was how aggressive was Sweet Lines in their initial ascent as a national liner company. And would anyone believe that in 1970 Sweet Lines was no longer using any ex-”FS” ship in its national liner routes, the first national liner company to do so (when other competitors were still using that type well in to the 1980’s)? So their ad their they were modern seems it was not a made-up stuff only.

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A former cargo-passenger ship from Europe using the eastern seaboard of Mindanao route. Credits to Times Journal and Gorio Belen

But that was not even the end of the expansion of Sweet Lines which the company penetrated the Southern Mindanao, the bread and butter of William Lines (note: Compania Maritima, Gothong & Co. and Philippine Steam Navigation Co. were stronger there having more ships) using the eastern seaboard of Mindanao, a route that William Lines do not serve. It is actually a shortcut, as pointed out by Sweet Lines but there are not many intermediate ports that can be served there to increase the volume of the cargo and the passengers (and so Sweet Lines passed through more ports before heading to Surigao and Davao). Besides, the seas of the eastern seaboard are rough many months of the year and maybe that was the reason why Sweet Lines used their bigger former cargo-passenger ships from Europe rather than using their small ex-”FS” ships (in this period their competitors to Davao were still using that type).

And so, in 1972, William Lines entered the stronghold of Sweet Lines, which it dominated, the port of Tacloban which the company was not serving before. Was that to repay the compliments of Sweet Lines entering their Iligan Bay bastion and their ports of Cebu and Tagbilaran plus the foray of Sweet Lines in Davao? William Lines entered Tacloban alright but it was a tepid attempt at first by just using an ex-”FS” ship (maybe they just want to take away some cargo). Their main challenge in Tacloban will come three years later in 1975 with their fast cruiser liner Tacloban City, only the third of its type in William Lines after the liners Misamis Occidental and Cebu City and that maybe shows how itching was William Lines in returning the compliments. Or showing up Sweet Lines.

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Where were the other leading national liner companies in this battle of the two? Regarding Gothong & Company, I think their sights were more aimed at the leading shipping company Compania Maritima plus in filling the requirements of strategic partner Lu Do & Lu Ym which was scooping all the the copra that they can get. Actually, the Go Thong & Company and Compania Maritima both had overseas lines then. Meanwhile, the Philippine Steam Navigation Company (PSNC) and plus Aboitiz Shipping Corporation (revived as a separate entity in 1966 after the buy-out of the other half of General Shipping Corporation) and Cebu Bohol Ferry Company, a subsidiary of Aboitiz Shipping Corporation which are operating as one is competing neither here or there as it seems they were just content on keeping what was theirs and that the interests of Everett Steamship, the American partner of Aboitiz in PSNC will be protected and later cornered when the Laurel-Langley Agreement lapses in 1974. Plus Aboitiz through the Cebu Shipyard & Engineering Works were raking it all in servicing the ships of the competition including the lengthening of the ex-”FS” and ex-”F” ships of their competitors (plus of course their own). Their routes are so diverse and even quixotic that I cannot see their focal point. It is not Cebu for sure and whereas their rivals were already acquiring new ships they were moored in maintaining their so-many ex-”FS” ships (they had then the most in the country). Also in owning Cebu Shipyard & Engineering Works they were confident they can make these ships run forever as they had lots of spare parts in stock and maybe that was through their American connection (not only through Everett Steamship but the Aboitizes are also American citizens). Besides, in Everett Steamship they were also in overseas routes and having overseas routes plus domestic shipping was the hallmark of the first tier of shipping companies then aside from having more ships. In this first tier, the Philippine President Lines (PPL) was also in there but later they surrendered their domestic operations.

Meanwhile, the greatest thrust of Gothong & Company it seems was to serve the needs and interests of Lu Do & Lu Ym but it was a strategic partnership that brought Gothong a lot of dividends so much so that before their break-up in 1972 they might have already been ahead of Compania Maritima in the inter-island routes with all the small ships that they are sailing in the regional routes aside from the national routes. Gothong & Company as might not be realized by many is actually a major regional shipping company too and with a bigger area than that served by Sweet Lines and William Lines for they were operating a lot of small ferries whose primary role is to transport the copra of Lu Do & Lu Ym, the biggest copra and coconut oil concern then in the country and carrying passengers is just secondary. In the Visayas-Mindanao routes, the Top 3 were actually Go Thong & Company, Sweet Lines and William Lines, in that order maybe. From Cebu, Go Thong had small ships to as far as Tawi-tawi and the Moro Gulf plus the eastern seaboard of Mindanao and Samar. Sweet Lines, however was very strong in passenger department.

In the early 1970’s, many will be surprised if I will say that the fleets of William Lines and Sweet Lines were at near parity but the former had a slight pull. And that was really a mighty climb by Sweet Lines from just being a major regional shipping company, a result of their aggressiveness and ambition. Imagine nearly catching up William Lines, an established shipping company with loads of political connection (think of Ferdinand Marcos, a good friend of William Chiongbian, the founder) and topping the likes of whatever General Shipping Company, Southern Lines and Escano Lines have ever reached. Entering the late 1970’s, Sweet Lines (and William Lines) were already beginning to threaten the place of Aboitiz Shipping Corporation (including the integrated Philippine Steam Navigation Corporation) which will drop off a lot subsequently after they stopped buying ships after 1974.

Where did the divergence of the two very comparable shipping companies began? It began from 1975 when William Lines started acquiring the next paradigm-changing type of ships, the surplus fast cruiser liners from Japan which Sweet Lines declined to match but which the rising successor-to-Gothong Sulpicio Lines did. At just the start of the 1980’s with the success from this type of ship William Lines and Sulpicio Lines were already jostling to replace the tottering Compania Maritima from its top perch. It seems Sweet Lines failed to realize the lesson that the former cargo-passenger ships from Europe and the brand-new Sweet Grace and the good Sweet Rose fueled their rise in the late 1960’s and that the acquired luxury liners Sweet Faith and Sweet Home continued their rise at the start of the 1970’s. And these former cargo-passenger ships from Europe also propelled Gothong & Company and William Lines in their ascent. Why did Sweet Lines stop acquiring good liners? Was there a financial reason behind their refusal to join the fast cruiser phenomenon? Well, they were not the only ones which did not join the fast cruiser liner bandwagon.

The biggest blunder of Sweet Lines was when they declared in 1978 that henceforth they will just acquire small RORO passenger ships. I do not know if they were imitating Sulpicio Lines which went for small ROROs first (but then that company had fast cruiser liners from Japan). That might have been good for their regional routes but not for the liner routes. And to think their luxury liners Sweet Faith and Sweet Home might already conk out anytime because of old age (yes, both were gone in two years). And so for a short period Sweet Lines have no good liners for Cebu, the time William Lines was fielding their Dona Virginia, the biggest and fastest liner when it was fielded and Sulpicio Lines was fielding the Philippine Princess. What a blasphemy and turn-around! In 1970, just ten years earlier, Sweet Lines was dominating William Lines in the Cebu route. That was a miscalculation from which Sweet Lines never seemed to recover. From fielding the best there, Sweet Lines suddenly had no horse. And so the next chapter of the luxury liner wars in the premier Manila-Cebu route was fought not by William Lines and Sweet Lines but by William Lines and the surging Sulpicio Lines. In just a decade’s time Sweet Lines forgot that it was modernity in ships and aggression in routes that brought them to where they were.

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Credits to Daily Express and Gorio Belen

When Sweet Lines acquired the Sweet RORO in 1982 to battle again in the Manila-Cebu route it was as if they imitated the strategy of Carlos A. Gothong Lines Inc. (CAGLI) to go direct into the RORO or ROPAX paradigm and bypass the fast cruiser liners altogether (but then where was CAGLI in the totem pole of liner companies even if they bypassed the fast cruiser liner stage?). But by then their former cargo-passenger ships from Europe were already failing and will very soon be gone. The net effect was the Sweet Lines liner total was regressing even though they acquired the Sweet RORO 2 in 1983 to pair the Sweet RORO. The reason for this is its former cargo-passenger ships from Europe were already in its last gasps and the small ROROs were never really suited for liner duty except for the direct routes to Tagbilaran and Tacloban. If studied it can be shown that when a liner company stops at some time to buy liners sufficient in numbers and size then they get left behind. This is also what happened to Compania Maritima, Aboitiz Shipping Corporation and Escano Lines, the reason the fell by the wayside in the 1980’s). And that is what happened to Sweet Lines just a little bit later and so its near-parity with Williams Lines which surged in the 1970’s and 1980’s was broken. And that completed their divergence.

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Credits to Philippine Daily Express and Gorio Belen

In the early 1990’s, Sweet Lines will completely fail and stop all shipping operations, in liners, regional shipping and cargo operations (through their Central Shipping Corporation) and sell their ships with some of the ships sadly being broken up (a few of their ships were also garnished by creditors). Meanwhile, William Lines was still trying then to catch up with Sulpicio Lines that had overtaken them through a big splash in big and fast ROPAXes in 1988.

Sweet Lines benefited in the middle of the 1960’s with the quitting of General Shipping and Royal Lines. Later, William Lines, Sulpicio Lines and Sweet Lines benefited with the retreat of Aboitiz Shipping Corporation in the late 1970’s. In the next decade, William Lines and Sulpicio Lines benefited from the collapse of Compania Maritima in the crisis years at the tailend of the Marcos dictatorship. Sweet Lines did not benefit from that because they were not poised to because of their grave error in 1978.

When Sweet Lines collapsed in the early 1990’s it seems among those which benefited was the revived Aboitiz Shipping Corporation which was helped in getting back to the liner business by Jebsens of Norway (think SuperFerry). Well, that’s just the way it is in competition. It is a rat race and one can never pause or stop competing as the others will simply swallow the weak.

Chelsea Shipping Is The New Goliath of Philippine Shipping

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The Chelsea Dominance. The declaration of intent?

When the “new shipping world” was being built there was Phoenix Petroleum first which was not into shipping anyway. Many thought Phoenix Petroleum would end up like the “independent” oil players then which had a few gasoline stations here and there but were never a threat to the major oil players which have foreign genes. But with the smiling face of the world-famous Manny Pacquiao as mascot, Phoenix Petroleum grew until it challenged the Big 3 which were Petron, Shell and Chevron (which was the former Caltex and Mobil). That was blasphemy for the oldtimers which saw Filoil never got anywhere before.

Phoenix Petroleum got far because they changed the rule of the game. Where before local oil companies had to invest in local refineries to be granted permission to operate, Phoenix Petroleum simply had to import fuel from Singapore and it so happened in Southeast Asia oil prices are only high in the Philippines because a lot of taxes are tacked on to the price of fuel as oil is the milking cow for taxes of the government which rules a vast horde of people exempted from paying taxes because they are too poor.

Along the way to being the fourth Oil Major, Phoenix Petroleum established Chelsea Shipping to handle their fuel transport needs and the company operated a fleet of tankers. But Chelsea Shipping never operated the biggest tanker fleet in the country and their fleet never exceeded ten tankers.

But this year, 2017, Chelsea Shipping made a lot of sea-shaking moves in shipping. Early this year rumor leaked out already that they have already acquired majority control of Trans-Asia Shipping Lines Inc. (TASLI), a Cebu-based regional shipping company with Visayas-Mindanao routes. A bare few months later a boardroom fight erupted in 2GO, the only national liner shipping company left when Dennis Uy, the principal of both Phoenix Petroleum and Chelsea Shipping tried to claim what they felt was their rightful representation after buying shares and the old management group represented by Sulficio Tagud, the old top honcho resisted. But in the end Tagud and company waved the white flag after 2GO gained market value because of the fight and Dennis Uy took control of 2GO.

Weeks passed and the local shipping world was rocked again by a new development when it was announced that Chelsea Shipping is acquiring Starlite Ferries Inc., a Batangas-based regional shipping company lock, stock and barrel. Starlite Ferries has routes to and from Mindoro and its fleet is being reinforced by newbuilds from Japan acquired from a loan from a government-owned bank. It seems the coffers of Phoenix Petroleum and Chelsea Shipping are overflowing to the brim. Is there another acquisition in the making?

Chelsea Shipping now has foothold to the top three passenger shipping hubs in the country which are Cebu, Manila and Batangas. In tankers they are also strong in another hub which is Davao which has the cheapest fuel in the whole country courtesy of Phoenix Petroleum and which piqued Ramon Ang enough that he chopped the fuel prices of Petron. And so Davao fares remained among the highest in the country. Does it make sense? Nope. Maybe it is the moves of Chelsea and Dennis Uy which only makes sense.

I do not know if a second “Great Merger” will happen in Philippine shipping after the first “Great Merger” of 1996 which created William, Gothong and Aboitiz or WG&A, the predecessor company of 2GO. That first one ended in disaster and it only resulted in the death of two great historical shipping companies.

Will history repeat itself? I have my doubts. This time around there is only one top honcho which is Dennis Uy unlike before there was a big merged company with three heads pursuing some kind of a mirage. Actually it could be great for Philippine shipping as Dennis Uy and his patron are both loaded and might have the money to make moves in shipping without going to the banks. Who knows if the moribund shipping industry is revived with their coming?

Now if only Manny V. Pangilinan (MVP) bought out Negros Navigation Company (NENACO) outright some 15 years ago instead of being just a “white knight”. NENACO is one of the merged companies in 2GO. We really need investors with deep pockets in shipping. That is what might turn things around and not due to some government blah-blah.

Is there a renaissance of Philippine shipping in the horizon?

Why Not Iloilo Ferries?

Many decades ago, I was wondering when I first heard the “Queen City of the South” monicker of Iloilo City because I thought it belonged to Cebu City. It was only later when I learned from reading that there was a time when Iloilo City can stand toe-to-toe with Cebu City and that it had a great past entering the 20th century. And that standing was propped up when sugar cane was still gold.

One of the requisites for a city to be great is not only manufacturing. It must also have great transportation links and this is one ace of Cebu City. Cebu has so many shipping companies with many routes and ports of call and so the goods of Cebu reach many islands and places. Conversely, goods needed by Cebu including food to feed its big populace are always available with reasonable prices. Like when I see packed vegetables from Bukidnon, I know many of it are headed to Cebu. I will also then see ads for Fighter Wine which is needed to fuel the muscles of the farmers and cargadores handling those vegetables.

There are probably many reasons why over the decades Cebu City outstripped Iloilo City. And one of those reasons is probably the difference in their shipping where Cebu City far outstrips Iloilo City. While Cebu has a dozen or so homegrown passenger shipping companies some of which are of national stature, Iloilo can barely list a few and most are small. Add to this the fact that Cebu City has perhaps two dozen or more cargo shipping companies and LCT operators while Iloilo City has only a few. These differences alone are more than reason for the disparity of the two cities now. An industry like shipping has a multiplier effect. And that is the reason why Cebu has Tayud, the Navotas counterpart of the shipyard row in the south. And Cebu has many mariners each of whom if deployed abroad contribute to the the economy of their hometowns.

There was a proposal for a petition to be sent to 2GO for the revival of Cebu Ferries. I respectfully disagree. There are so many Visayas and Visayas-Mindanao shipping companies already and some had shown great growth and aggressiveness in the past and among them are Cokaliong Shipping Lines, Lite Ferries, Roble Shipping and Medallion Transport. It will be hard to beat them now when they were not beaten when they were still not that strong. And factor in that the last three are also strong in cargo shipping and in transporting vehicles.

Maybe if 2GO and Negros Navigation Company (NENACO) want to expand to regional operations and maybe to bolster their bases Iloilo City and Bacolod City then they better just establish “Iloilo Ferries” rather than resurrecting Cebu Ferries. It will not be anthema to the company as they already have the equivalent of “Batangas Ferries”. This is what actually became of their Cebu Ferries when it left Visayan waters.

I think Iloilo Ferries can have five routes, to wit (this is a circular listing):

Iloilo-Romblon-Batangas route

Iloilo-Puerto Princesa route

Iloilo-Bacolod-Zamboanga route with a possible extension to General Santos City

Iloilo-Bacolod-Dipolog-Cagayan de Oro route

Iloilo-Cebu route

An Iloilo hub should be able to handle transshipment to other routes like goods from Zamboanga should be transferred to a Batangas or Cebu ship if the cargo is intended for that.

Anent the third route, an Iloilo-Zamboanga ship is needed because that connection has been lost when for a century it has been existing. When that was lost the passengers have to take the uncomfortable bus which has double the transit time.

Regarding the last, why should Trans-Asia Shipping Lines and Cokaliong Shipping Lines have all the fun? That is also the reason for the second route. Why default it to Montenegro Shipping Lines and Milagrosa Shipping?

The fourth route should be able to load vehicles at reasonable rates to better fill up the ship and compete with the Dapitan-Dumaguete ferry.

Regarding the choice of ships, I suggest to just invest in 80 to 100 meter ferries just like what Trans-Asia Shipping Lines and Cokaliong Shipping Lines use. If the route is potentially weak there is no dishonor in settling for 60 to 70 meter ferries like what Aleson Shipping uses for Jolo, Bongao and Sandakan. And that is what might be needed for the Iloilo-Puerto Princesa route.

If there is a shipping line with an Iloilo hub and also serving Bacolod then products of Western Visayas (I am using the old regional grouping) will be pushed and promoted and at the same time products from other regions needed by Western Visayas will also be made available and probably at cheaper prices. Like I know how cheap some products are in Zamboanga and these are not only barter goods. George & Peter Lines is not bashful taking in canned sardines, dried fish and even ginamos for this help fill up their ship and those are really cheap and Zamboanga and the city hosts some 7 canneries.

Dipolog (not Dapitan port) doesn’t have a regular ship link to Manila. With the fourth route ship passengers can be transferred in Iloilo if they are not clients of the budget plane. That is also true for Zamboanga ship passengers to Manila which has only one liner per week.

Since Negros Navigation is Western Visayan then it is their duty to develop Western Visayan shipping. There is probably no need to take cudgels anymore for Cebu Ferries as 2GO is no longer a Central Visayan shipping company. It is Iloilo City, Bacolod City and Western Visayas that need more support now.

Now, isn’t “Iloilo Ferries” a great name? If there was a Cebu Ferries and a “Batangas Ferries”, how can that name not be possible? And shouldn’t Negros Navigation honor Iloilo too?

The Diamond Ferries in the Philippines

When the Diamond Ferry Company ordered in 1990 and 1991 their second set of sister ships identical to their first set they ordered earlier, little did they know that the boom times of Japan fueled by the Japan property bubble would soon turn into bust that will bring about years of economic stagnation in their country. Such was the scenario when the Blue Diamond and the Star Diamond came into the Diamond Ferry Company. With the company not being one of the biggest and strongest in Japan, it had more trouble riding out the bad years and so the sister ships had difficulty keeping themselves afloat and it even gave to periods of being laid up.

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The Blue Diamond (Image from http://www.kipio.net)

In 2007, the Diamond Ferry Company and the Blue Highway Line merged to better wear out the storm. This was but natural as they were both majority-controlled already by the stronger shipping company MOL (Mitsui OSK Lines). However, even with the merger the fate of the sister ships did not go any better – they were simply offered for sale from a laid-up condition and for months they were in ship-for-sale sites. In 2007, the Star Diamond was snapped up by China buyers to become the Jiadong Pearl. She was supposedly the stronger ship of the two in the engine department.

That was a puzzling period for me because many shipping investors then were thinking the cruise ship and liner market will go up (and most were disappointed later on). This was about the same time that four liners of Aboitiz Transport Corporation (ATS) were also snapped up by foreign buyers. Quite puzzling for me because the liner prices then were very high as the world metal price suddenly doubled because of the China demand. ATS earned a tidy profit with their opportunistic sale and woe to the shipping companies who bought their liners as none sailed successfully and most were soon for sale after the expenses of refitting and refurbishing (like foreign operators don’t have our Economy class).

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The Star Diamond (Image from advectionfog.net)

The Blue Diamond languished for a while but in 2008 she was acquired by a Korean tour operator and she became the Queen Mary. After about two years, she was again laid up and put up for sale. That time the world metal prices went down to more-or-less normal and ATS was actually among who those who took a look on this ship. They did not purchase this, however, because of a tip that the engines were no longer strong. The ship was, however, was purchased by Negros Navigation Company which lost out in the bidding for the two sister ships of Kansai Kisen K.K. which turned out to be SuperFerry 20 and SuperFerry 21 here. The two SuperFerries were sister ships of Star Diamond and Blue Diamond.

So, in 2011, the Blue Diamond came to the Philippines to become the St. Michael The Archangel of Negros Navigation Company (after SuperFerry 20 and SuperFerry 21 were fielded by ATS). There were hoots initially as the St. Michael The Archangel can only do 17 knots initially while her ATS sister ships can do 20 knots comfortably. When to think they were all sister ships with exactly the same engines and external measurements. To the PSSS (Philippine Ship Spotters Society), this proved that the rumors were true regarding the Blue Diamond‘s engines.

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St. Michael The Archangel by James Gabriel Verallo

The St. Michael The Archangel was sent back for some refitting and she was then able to do some 19 knots. She might have become the flagship of Negros Navigation although there were those who say that the smallest and slowest ship of the company, the San Paolo was actually the flagship of the company. The St. Michael The Archangel was only the fourth sailing ship of Negros Navigation in this period when their other sister ships, the St. Joseph The Worker and the St. Peter The Apostle were not reliable enough (with work on their MAN engines, they became reliable later). It seems when a shipping company has problems, their ships also get sick.

Meanwhile, the Jiadong Pearl was released by her China owners in 2010 and she went to Korea as a tourist ship named the Gwangyang Beech. In 2013, she was sold to Negros Navigation and so the Diamond Ferry sister ships were reunited. The ship was named as St. Francis Xavier in the Negros Navigation fleet (but the naming caused confusion to some because previously the company had a liner named the St. Francis of Assisi). Like SuperFerry 20 and SuperFerry 21, the St. Francis Xavier has no problem doing 20 knots and she is very reliable too.

When Negros Navigation Company (NENACO) acquired Aboitiz Transport System (ATS) to form 2GO, the four sisters all came under one roof. It was St. Michael The Archangel which has a small difference since she had a restaurant-lounge built in the rear sundeck which actually made her better-looking plus it is an appreciated additional passenger facility. St. Francis Xavier, meanwhile, has a small equivalent at the stern. This ship has also a side ramp that is not present in her sister ships. Though sister ships but having different owners before, the four have some minor structural differences if viewed from the outside.

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St. Francis Xavier by Daryl Yting

On the inside, the four has also had similarities in the design and arrangement. But it seems the pair of NENACO have the better and more developed interiors as the former Kansai Kisen ships look too workmanlike and even bland by liner standards. With such better development, the passenger capacities of the NENACO sisters ships are much higher than the former ATS sister ships. The St. Michael The Archangel has a passenger capacity of 1,929 while St. Francis Xavier has a passenger capacity of 1,910. The original passenger capacities of the former ATS ships were only 859 when their length, breadth and superstructure were practically the same as the other two and all retained the dual cargo decks.

The former Diamond Ferries were built by Shin Kurushima Dockyard Company in their Onishi yard in Japan (the sister ships from ATS were built by Kanasashi Company Ltd. Toyohashi Works in Toyohashi, Japan). The St. Michael The Achangel was built in 1990 with the ID IMO 9000455 while St. Francis Xavier was built in 1991 with the ID IMO 8847595. Both had external dimensions of 150.9 meters by 25.0 meters by 13.3 meters. The St. Michael The Archangel has the greater gross tonnage at 17,781 (maybe because of the added restaurant-lounge) while St. Francis Xavier has 15,971. The net tonnages vary too. The St. Michael The Archangel has 5,334 in net tonnage while the St. Francis Xavier has 4,808 in net tonnage. In rated horsepower there is a variance, too. St. Michael The Archangel has 25,200hp like her sisters from ATS while the St. Francis Xavier has only 24,700hp. However, the four are all powered by twin Hitachi-Sulzer engines.

The sisters have the modern bulbous stem and both have transom sterns. Both have two passenger decks and two cargo decks and a dominating single center funnel. 

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St. Michael The Archangel by Mike Baylon

As 2GO ships, the sister ships have no permanent route assignments as in they rotate routes with the other ships of the fleet. However, what separates now the St. Michael The Archangel is her lack of speed compared to her sister ships. Once when I was aboard the Princess of the South going to Manila. I was surprised with how easily we overtook her nearing the Verde Island Passage and our ship was only doing 17 knots. Turns out that before her drydock, she was only running at 14 knots. I heard that lately and from AIS observations that she seldom runs over 17 or 18 knots now which is about two knots below her sisters. It seems the report on weakness the engines was really true. And to think she might have been the primary beneficiary of the parts taken from St. Gregory The Great (the former SuperFerry 20) which was holed by an excursion to the reefs of Guimaras.

There are no reports yet of this kind in St. Francis Xavier. She is as fast and as reliable as the St. Leo The Great (the former SuperFerry 21).The company is proud of her as well as the Ilonggos.

The two former Diamond Ferries look like to be workhorses of 2GO in the years to come. They have finally found a home.

Container Ships Also Sink Our Liners

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

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Gorio Belen research in the National Library

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

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

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Gorio Belen research in the National Library

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

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Gorio Belen research in the National Library

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

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

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Gorio Belen research in the National Library

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Photo by Edison Sy

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

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

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

Lorcon Dumaguete assisted by tugs

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

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

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

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A Cargo RORO LCT by Asian Shipping Corporation

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

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

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

The MARINA “Magic Meter”

The MARINA “Magic Meter” is not something that can be found in a dictionary or a reference book. This is just a term by some ship spotters to describe the syndromes where:

  1. Ships from Japan will be modified and structures or scantlings are added and yet the Gross Tonnage (GT) which is a measure of the volume of the ship will stay the same/unchanged or like Ripley’s “Believe It Or Not” the GT will even go down! Or less worse, the GT will remain the same. And much less worse, the GT will marginally increase.

  2. Another variation is some of the ships (passenger and cargo) will have unmodified superstructures and yet again the GT will go down too.

  3. Still another variation is the length and/or the breadth of the ship will go down and along with it the GT (and Net Tonnage) of the ship will go down. This is the Philippine version of “shrinking” a ship without it being brought to a kiln drier.

The MARINA “Magic Meter” is of course not available for free. Like many “accommodations” in government, some kind of “transaction” has to take place. Otherwise, it would not happen. For a company to benefit, of course, the regulating agency personnel has to benefit too. With less GT, benefits can accrue like less docking cost, less towing cost (use of tugs), less insurance cost maybe and some other cost-saving benefits. Ask any nautical designer and they will tell you that.

Some companies are very good in the employment of this “tool”. Some else are not that very fond of this. However, one deleterious effect of these shavings is we have so few entries in the first edition of the book, “The Great Passenger Ships of the World” by Frank Heine and Frank Lose which was published in 2010 in Germany. Since they relied on the official GT, and the cut-off is 10,000gt, many of our otherwise-qualified ships were not included. Actually, no ship of Negros Navigation Company was included in that while Aboitiz Shipping Corp., Sulpicio Lines and even Carlos A. Gothong Lines Inc. have liners included in that book. The Philippine Ships Spotters Society (PSSS) knows because it was the contributor of the Philippine ship photos in that book and in fact because of that contribution PSSS has a complimentary copy of that book.

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I have been asked before which among the liner companies was the most notorious for shrinking the GT. I have been coy before but the actual answer is Negros Navigation Company. Well, figures don’t lie and I am just stating the truth. Their St. Peter The Apostle, St. Joseph The Worker, San Paolo, Mary The Queen, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Ezekiel Moreno, San Lorenzo Ruiz, Princess of Negros, Sta. Florentina and Sta. Maria all had lower GTs here compared to when they were in Japan. And we all know all of them had added structures. If we go by official figures, it would be the Sta. Ana that will be their biggest ship outside of St. Michael The Archangel because it is one of the very few ships of Negros Navigation which showed increased GT after modification here. And nobody in his right mind would claim Sta. Ana was the second-biggest ship ever of Negros Navigation Company.

If comparisons of liners’ GTs between different shipping companies are made the more this will be a stuff of laughing sessions. Like the sister ships SuperFerry 2 and SuperFerry 5 made it to the book of Frank Heine and Frank Lose but the sister ships St. Peter The Apostle and St. Joseph The Worker both did not because the NENACO ships are just a little over half the size of the two Aboitiz Transport System (ATS) liners, officially (guffaw!). And the smallest original Aboitiz liner, the SuperFerry 3 is significantly bigger than the Mary, Queen of Peace, also officially. Can anybody believe that? I can make other comparisons but NENACO might cringe and sue me (they shouldn’t, they are the biggest liner company now).

Maybe many will guess that the much-maligned Sulpicio Lines is also a big violator in GT shavings, too. Well, not that much really. Only the Philippine Princess, Surigao Princess and Cagayan Princess showed declines in GT while structures were added while Princess of the Pacific, Manila Princess and Boholana Princess GTs remained the same when the three all had additional structures. Meanwhile, the old Aboitiz Shipping Corporation played it straight – all the GTs of their modified ships rose, as should be. Later, as WG&A and ATS, all the GT of their acquired ships from abroad increased too when structures were added. That also goes true for their subsidiary Cebu Ferries Corporation.

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For William Lines, the GTs of Dona Virginia, Manila City, Ozamis City, Tacloban City and the first Zamboanga City all declined. For Sweet Lines, they played generally straight although the GT increases were minimal. If the GT declined, it was the work of the previous local owner before they acquired it. The old Carlos A. Gothong Lines Inc. (CAGLI) was also good in the shaving game. Among their ships that showed GT declines while structures were added were the Our Lady of Akita, Our Lady of the Rule, Our Lady of Fatima, Our Lady of Lourdes, Our Lady of Guadalupe, Ozamis Bay 1 and Butuan Bay 1.

Among the major Cebu regional shipping companies, Trans-Asia Shipping Lines Inc. (TASLI) and Cokaliong Shipping Lines Inc. (CSLI) also played it straight generally. If scantlings were added then the GTs rose, as it should. The others, well, it seemed on some of their ships they tried to make savings through shavings (pun intended) and that included the defunct Viva Shipping Lines of Batangas. Starlite Ferries and Montenegro Shipping Lines Inc. (MSLI) were, however, generally honest.

One effect of these shavings is some ferries that should be over 1,000 gross tons have less than 1,000 gross tons officially. That means they are not in the list of Shippax International, a European database and publisher when they should be. In Bicol, however, there are ships which should be less than 1,000 gross tons that are over 1,000 gross tons. Before there was a rule that ferries over 1,000 gross tons can sail in Typhoon Signal Number 1. And so they bloated the GTs of their ships!

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This shaving of GT is not much of a phenomenon in the smaller ships including the basic, short-distance ferry-ROROs. If there was a shaving it generally happened this way – there were added structures but the GT simply did not move. And adding some structures are generally done in these ships to add some passenger space. That was the style of shaving there. Anyway, one problem maybe is there might not be people in MARINA who can compute GTs and NTs. They have more lawyers than marine engineers and what they know to compute are legal fees and dues on the ships and shipping companies. Yes, they studied fuzzy math in college.

In cargo ships, the shavings are less common. They usually don’t add structures unlike in the ferries and they just declare the Japan GTs (not in Aleson Shipping though whose local GTs of cargo/container ships are generally higher than its Japan GTs). However, some cargo ships add some extensions in the stern for the crew’s benefit. Usually this is not reflected in GT increase. Tankers and tugs follow the pattern of the cargo ships. These don’t add scantlings and decks and they just declare the Japan GT.

It is in the liner sector where shavings are the greatest. There are some liners that the true GTs are really so far off the actual GTs. However, most of that is rectified now since most of the liners came from Aboitiz Transport System. That shipping company was generally honest in GTs and the GTs were retained under 2GO.

Meanwhile, in recent years, LCTs are coming from China that have high GTs. The liners that came here that went to China first have high GTs too compared to their Japan GTs. Well, who knows if it is the correct one? Like I believe the assertion of a PSSS Moderator-mariner who said the 7,878gt of the 157-meter long, 4-deck SuperFerry 19 is too low.

When will be the time all our ships will have accurate and reliable GTs? The answer is I don’t know.

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Developments in Philippine Shipping in 1965 and 1966

The years 1965 and 1966 witnessed key developments and shifts in Philippine shipping. In those two years, two liner companies quit the local passenger liner shipping scene. These are the General Shipping Company and the Southern Lines Incorporated which both started right after the end of World War II when the US began transferring to us war-surplus ship. Thus the fleet of General Shipping Corporation and Southern Lines Incorporated consisted mainly of converted ex-“FS” ships. General Shipping, however, has two local-built luxury liners, the General Roxas and the General del Pilar. Southern Lines, meanwhile has one local-built luxury liner, the Governor B. Lopez plus the Don Julio from Ledesma Shipping Lines which was an ex-”FS” ship refitted to have luxury accommodations and was fast as she had former submarine engines. The rest of the fleet of the two shipping companies were run-of-the-mill passenger-cargo ships of the time except that Southern Lines had a significant number of the smaller ex-“F” ships in their regional routes.

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General Shipping had a fleet of a dozen liners and it had routes to all over the Visayas but it barely touched Cebu and Mindanao. Meanwhile, Southern Lines’ routes were mainly concentrated in Western Visayas and Romblon. It was the “Negros Navigation” of that region during that time, in effect, because Negros Navigation was just practically a regional operation then and they began as a postwar liner company when Southern Lines went out of the liner shipping scene. The fleet of Southern Lines was just as big as General Shipping but as said earlier a significant number of it was in the regional routes and those were mostly former “F” ships that were a little small for liner use unless lengthened like what was done by Carlos A. Gothong & Co. and others.

How did the national shipping scene stack up in those years? Well, in 1966, there was a near-parity between Compania Maritima, Philippine Steamship & Navigation Company (PSNC) and Carlos A. Gothong & Co. in the inter-island routes. Let me clarify that not counted here were their ships in the international routes. In ranking the shipping companies, Compania Maritima was a little ahead with Philippine Steamship & Navigation Company coming in second and Carlos A. Gothong & Co. trailing in on third. They were the first pack, so to speak as the fleet of the other liner shipping companies were a significantly behind them. If a fourth place will be awarded it will actually go to General Shipping Company. And a fifth place will have to be claimed by William Lines Inc.. This reckoning considers not only the number of ships but also the sizes of the ships as well as if the company has a luxury liner.

Two liner shipping companies quitting at nearly the same time will trigger realignments as they won’t simply go away as their ships and franchises will go to other shipping companies and that has always been the case. In this particular case their quitting of the General Shipping and Southern Lines not only produced realignments but also births and rebirths two three shipping companies.sli

In the sell-offs of the liners, Aboitiz Shipping Corporation got nearly half of the fleet of General Shipping (and the other half went to Sweet Lines Incorporated). Though Aboitiz Shipping had a start way back in 1907 to support their abaca trade in the pre-World War II period, they were in a merger with Escano Lines in La Naviera shipping company before the war. Then after World War II, they were in a partnership with Everett Steamship in Philippine Steamship & Navigation Company and had no independent operations. [And so it seems when they proposed a merger with William Lines Incorporated and Carlos A. Gothong Lines Incorporated for a merger in 1995, it seems they were simply going back to their old habit?]

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With the purchase of ships and franchises from General Shipping, Aboitiz Shipping was reborn with an independent operation in 1966. And besides that, a little later, they were also able to establish the Cebu-Bohol Ferry Company (CBFC), a shipping company that has no Bohol port of call from Manila but has regional operations. To bolster their fleet, Aboitiz Shipping also purchased two ex-”FS” ships from Philippine Steamship & Navigation Company (PSNC), the Baztan and FS-165. Maybe the two belonged to them anyway as part of their partnership with PSNC. As clarification, the ships acquired from General Shipping did not immediately begin sailing as those were lengthened first locally and refitted. Lengthening of former “FS” ships was a common practice in the 1960’s.

Since Aboitiz Shipping Company, Cebu-Bohol Ferry Company and Philippine Steamship and Navigation Company had combined operations, for the first time after the war there is a shipping combine with more ships total than the leader Compania Maritima. However, the fleet of Aboitiz Shipping Company, Cebu-Bohol Ferry Company and Philippine Steamship and Navigation Company consisted mainly of ex-“FS” ships while the majority of Compania Maritima’s fleet consisted of big ships from Europe and so in terms of Gross Register Tonnage (GRT), an established way of calculating fleet size, Compania Maritima was still ahead. And besides, they have liners in the foreign routes that can also be used for the local routes if those were around.

Sweet Lines Incorporated of Bohol, which was formerly a big regional shipping company in Central Visayas, Eastern Visayas and Northern Mindanao was able to acquire the same number of ships as Aboitiz Shipping from General Shipping Corporation. With the franchises that went along with the ships, Sweet Lines was able to open routes to Manila and for the first time they became a liner shipping company. Meanwhile, General Shipping Company swapped their luxury liner General del Pilar for an ex-“C1-M-AV1” ship Compania Maritima, the Mactan to use it in their international routes. Sweet Lines, however, was able to acquire one of the luxury liners of General Shipping, the General Roxas which became the Sweet Rose. That was the total picture now of how the local fleet of General Shipping Corporation was cut up after it quit the local shipping scene.

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The exit of the other shipping company, the Southern Lines Incorporated also had dramatic aftermaths. With the exit of Southern Lines Incorporated, it was full steam ahead for Negros Navigation Company to become a full-pledged liner shipping company as Western Visayas needed a successor liner company in their place. However, unlike the others which relied at this time with surplus ships from Europe, Negros Navigation built their fleet not by taking over the fleet of Southern Lines but by ordering brand-new liners from Japan starting with the Dona Florentina in 1965 (or with the Princess of Negros of 1962 that was ordered from Hongkong which succeeded the Don Julio, the ex-”FS” ship which went to Southern Lines). [In fact, none of the ships of Southern Lines ended up with Negros Navigation.] The routes and ports of call of Southern Lines and Negros Navigation were almost exactly the same. Take note that the Board of Directors of Southern Lines and Negros Navigation have an intersection and both belonged to the crème de la crème of Iloilo and Negros. The succession of Southern Lines to Negros Navigation was just like a baton passed by a runner to a fellow runner.

The demise of the fleet of Southern Lines did not produce a big realignment in the fleet of others. Firstly, 2/3 of the fleet of Southern Lines were ex-”F” ships which were not liners in the first place. Secondly, the remainder of its fleet, the liners, their major ships were divided almost equally by the other shipping companies. Carlos A. Gothong & Co. got the best, the only luxury liner of Southern Lines which was the Governor B. Lopez which became the first liner of Carlos A. Gothong & Co. with airconditioning, the Dona Ana in their fleet. Another which is better and than the ex-”FS” ships went to Sweet Lines as the Sweet Sail. Two of the liner ships of Southern Lines went to the regional shipping company Visayas Transportation so it did not matter in the national shipping balance.

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For a very short time Compania Maritima and PSNC+Aboitiz Shipping Comp.+Cebu-Bohol Ferry Company was ahead from the others. However it was very short lived since Carlos A. Gothong & Co.’s surplus ships from Europe began arriving in greater numbers starting in the mid-1960’s. William Lines likewise copied that model and also began purchasing surplus ships from Europe to be converted into liners here. Actually PSNC+Aboitiz Shipping Comp.+Cebu-Bohol Ferry Comp.’s share of the lead was tenuous as most of their fleet consisted of war-surplus ships from the US that were beginning to get old and are more prone to accidents. Meanwhile, from 1967 the “suicide” of Compania Maritima’s ships began.

https://psssonline.wordpress.com/2016/09/23/how-to-lose-the-equivalent-of-a-liner-fleet-in-just-over-a-decade-the-decline-and-fall-of-compania-maritima/

So, two liner shipping companies died in the mid-1960’s (actually General Shipping Company shifted to international routes like Ledesma Shipping Co. which had a merger with Negros Navigation earlier) but in their place three liner shipping companies emerged – Aboitiz Shipping Company, Cebu-Bohol Ferry Company and Sweet Lines Incorporated although one is a subsidiary of the other.

Those were the major developments in Philippine liner shipping in the mid-1960’s. That then shaped the liner shipping scene in the Philippines in the next years.gen-luna

Photo Credits: Gorio Belen, Philippine Herald, Manila Chronicle, Philippine Ship Spotters Society, PSSS

The Cruel Loss of the Southern Mindanao Liner Routes

Talking here of Southern Mindanao ports, I am not only referring to Gensan (General Santos City) and Davao but also of Zamboanga and Cotabato which are technically Western Mindanao and Central Mindanao ports. But once the four were all closely interrelated as the routes through them are inter-connected. This connection also goes all the way to Iloilo port which was the intermediate port then of the Southern Mindanao liners.

In the late 1990’s, Davao had six liners to Manila per week which was about the same number Gensan and Zamboanga had. Cotabato had less as in only about two or three as it was not as big as the three other cities. Cotabato port, by the way, is actually the Polloc port in Parang, Maguindanao, a nearby town and not the river port in the city which is too shallow for liners.

I cannot believe that in just over a decade’s time from that all four ports will lose their liner connection to Manila or to Iloilo and Cebu. To think that since the Spanish times all had steamers from Manila with the exception of Gensan which was not yet existing then. Zamboanga has one ship a week now to Manila but several years ago she also lost her liner to Manila. The intermediate port of her liner now is Dumaguete and not Iloilo any more.

The slide first started when Negros Navigation Company (NENACO) shrunk operations due to financial difficulties. Among the routes they abandoned early were their routes to Southern Mindanao (but they held on to the Zamboanga route). The frequency they held was never filled up. Among that could be added to the early loss here was when Aleson Shipping Line of Zamboanga also dropped their liner route when they sold their Lady Mary Joy (not to be confused with the current Lady Mary Joy 1 which is a different ship) to the breakers because its run was not profitable.

But the big slide came when Sulpicio Lines got suspended in 2008 after of the floundering of the Princess of the Stars in a typhoon which drew international and local outcries. In the aftermath of that, stringent regulations were laid out for Sulpicio Lines in order for them to come back to passenger shipping. Only two liners were maintained by Sulpicio Lines after that and they withdrew from all routes in Southern Mindanao (among many other routes too).

I was saddened and worried by the departure of Sulpicio Lines. I know the passenger liner segment of shipping was weakening already as budget airlines and the intermodal buses were getting stronger but Sulpicio Lines is not the ordinary shipping company that will immediately withdraw from routes as soon as that route is no longer showing profit. It was one resilient liner that was actually needed then to shore up the weakening passenger liner sector.

I was apprehensive even then of that development because the only remaining liner company in Mindanao which is governed by bean counters is very fast in junking routes and in selling liners to breakers. Even when they fielded the SuperFerry 20 and SuperFerry 21, my apprehensions were not quelled especially since I know they are fast weakening in container shipping because they have the highest rates and new challengers with lower rates are already around and challenging them.

And I was not mistaken in that apprehension because in just over a year they withdrew from Davao but still temporarily retained Gensan. But in about one or two years’ time again they withdrew from Gensan, Cotabato and Zamboanga. With that withdrawal the Iloilo-Zamboanga route was also eliminated.

At about that time, the buses for Manila leaving Ecoland terminal in Davao grew in number. It was not just Philtranco anymore but PP Bus came and soon the so-called “colorums” followed. It was not just the budget airlines that benefited from the withdrawal of the liners.

Davao was at least more fortunate because there are many Manila flights to it and there are plenty of intermodal buses to Manila. Gensan and Cotabato was not that fortunate because even though they have planes to Manila they do not have buses to Manila. Now some people are simply afraid to take flights and some do not have the identification papers needed to board planes. Some are too terrified to enter an airport because they fear losing their way around (well, I found out there were even people who do not know how to order in Jollibee) and also be exposed as stupid barrio folks. They may not really like the buses but they dislike the plane even more.

So some Cotabato folks would take the bus to Davao and transfer to the Davao-Manila bus. People from near Cotabato City also has the option to take the commuter van to Marawi-Iligan so they can take the ship there. Some can also opt for the commuter van for Kapatagan, Lanao del Norte and from there they can connect to Ozamis which both has a ship and a plane. Well, people from Davao or Cotabato province also take the bus or commuter van to Cagayan de Oro where there is also a plane and a ship.

But what kind of cruelty is that of forcing people to travel long land distances in order to catch a ship? Maybe to ameliorate that the only liner company offered tickets to Manila which included a bus ticket of Rural Transit of Mindanao to Cagayan de Oro for a ride that is 320 kilometers from Davao.

With the loss of the Southern Mindanao liners, people also lost their transport for the intermediate routes like Davao-Zamboanga, Gensan-Zamboanga and Cotabato-Zamboanga. Also lost was the intermediate route Iloilo-Zamboanga. Taking a ship then was cheap, relaxing and one disembarks freshened (after taking a bath) and probably fed and ready for the next trip. Now one has to take the plane or the very long bus or commuter van ride.

There is a Davao-Zamboanga plane but it is more expensive than the Tourist class of the former liners. There is no Gensan-Zamboanga or Cotabato-Zamboanga plane as of the present. There is a Zamboanga-Iloilo plane but not daily and it is more expensive than the former liners. Saying it is more expensive does not even include the airport terminal fee nor the airport transfer expenses.

From Zamboanga, people now take the cruel route of a Rural Transit bus up to Bacolod which takes over a day. Mind you the ordinary bus has no comfort room nor meals on board and one is tossed around for that length of time. So the meals are extra expense (it is automatically included in the ticket of Sulpicio Lines). I tell you that ride is backbreaking and it is hard to sleep because at every terminal the bus will stop, open its lights, vendors will board or hawk and there is the general shuffling of people coming up and going down. One also had to look if his luggage is already being taken down by other people.

I also take the very difficult bus-commuter van-bus ride from Davao to Zamboanga and it is backbreaking too and lasts nearly a day if via the Narciso Ramos Highway of Lanao del Sur. The trip is longer and more expensive if it is via Cagayan de Oro. All these alternatives to the ship I am mentioning are all more expensive and the wear to the body is maybe twenty times that of the ship. One reaches his destination fagged out, dehydrated, hungry and stinky.

The Gensan-Zamboanga land trip is no less arduous than the Davao-Zamboanga land trip. Look at the map and one can see the distance is almost the same. If it is via Cagayan de Misamis the distance is even greater. It is only Cotabato-Zamboanga which is a little nearer but the distance is still about 450 kilometers and the waiting time for the commuter van to leave is long as it is basically alas-puno. There is a certain minimum number of passengers before a van will leave (it will cancel the trip if filling up takes too long or the minimum is not reached). And mind you those commuter are not even airconditioned. And in the Pagadian-Zamboanga stretch, the Rural Transit bus is oh-so-slow because there is no competition. Expect up to 12 hours for a 280-kilometer route.

This is the cruel condition left to the passengers when the only remaining liner company in Southern Mindanao jilted and left them. There was a merger again later between the last two liner companies which produced 2GO but still the liners did not return and there is no hope on the horizon that they will return.

Now if only MARINA will relent and allow again some cargo or container ships to take in passengers again that will be better but I don’t see it happening. All they know is to say they are open for new liners companies applying but entering the liner business is too unattractive for all the shipping companies. There are more regulations, more investments needed including in service people and supplies, passenger can balk at delayed arrival or of anything in the service if it is below par. And if there is an accident, for sure, the press and the social media will be baying at their door.

If MARINA knows anything about liner shipping and the plight of Southern Mindanao passengers they should even encourage Asian Marine Transport Corporation (AMTC) to take in passengers because their Cargo ROROs need no modifications to carry people. But does MARINA really know anything about passenger liner shipping? They didn’t even understand that with their too strong restrictions on Sulpicio Lines they will be killing a liner company and that there won’t be a replacement anymore.

Now that is the sad fate of us Southern Mindanao passengers.

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The Pioneering But Hard-Luck Cardinal Shipping

This article could be considered a tribute to Cardinal Shipping Corporation because among all shipping companies I consider them the true pioneers of island connections using short-distance ferry-ROROs (to distinguish it to the earlier LCTs). This is also an attempt to set the record straight because some government functionaries who have no knowledge in shipping repeat and repeat that the government-owned Maharlika ships first connected Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao through short-distance ferry-ROROs when that is simply not true and factually incorrect. Personally, I hate historical revisionism in any form and that is actually what these dumb government functionaries are actually doing and then some clueless young members of media take after what they say. If this is not checked, we will see a kind of Goebbels syndrome in shipping.

As they say, research and documentation are the most important things in making claims or in debunking claims and the Philippine Ship Spotters Society (PSSS) was fortunate a co-founder, Gorio Belen, took time to research in the National Library and found the proofs needed to back up what we oldtimers knew that there were ferries that antedated the government-owned Maharlika ships and sometimes one good proof are newspaper advertisements and photos of their ship docked in Allen port. Well, maybe another good proof would come from some retired bus drivers that loaded their ships aboard Cardinal Ferry 1 and those were mainly Pantranco South bus drivers. I myself is a secondhand source because some of these drivers bought merchandise from us to be sold in Calbayog and Catarman. Of course, another good source will be the Allen and Matnog LGUs (local government units). They will know, definitely, especially some of their retired local politicians and local government employees. Add to that also some retired or still active porters.

Cardinal Shipping Corporation actually started in cargo shipping with the Cardinal V. This is a small cargo ship built in 1968 that was formerly the Ryusho Maru in Japan and that ship engaged in tramper shipping. In 1979, Cardinal Shipping branched out into RORO shipping when they brought out the Cardinal Ferry 1 to do a Matnog-Allen RORO route to the consternation of the wooden motor boats doing the route like the MB Samar and MB Sorsogon of Eugenia Tabinas (later of Bicolandia Shipping Lines). The ports they were using were not yet the modern Matnog Ferry Terminal but the old municipal port of Matnog and in Allen, they used the old BALWHARTECO wharf. Both are no longer existing. The two ports were just near the Matnog Ferry Terminal and the present port of BALWHARTECO.

Cardinal Ferry 1 was one of the many Tamataka Marus that came to the Philippines and one of the earliest. She was Tamataka Maru No. 21 and she was acquired from Shikoku Ferry of Japan. The other Tamataka Marus in the Philippines are the Reina Emperatriz (Tamataka Maru No. 71), Reina Genoveva (Tamataka Maru No. 75), Reina Hosanna (Tamataka Maru No.78), all of Montenegro Shipping Lines Inc. and Marina Ferries, Queen Helen of Arrel Traders (Tamataka Maru No. 31), Golden Arrow of Arrow Shipping (Tamataka Maru No. 51), Viva Penafrancia of Viva Shipping Lines (Tamataka Maru No. 52) and the Dona Isabel of SKT Shipping (Tamataka Maru No. 32).

Cardinal Ferry 1 was a RORO ship built by Sanuki Shipbuilding & Iron Works in Sanuki yard, Japan in 1964. She was just a basic, short-distance ferry-RORO at 39.2 meters by 9.1 meters with a gross register tonnage (GRT) of 355 tons. Cardinal Ferry 1 had a passenger capacity of 400 persons in sitting accommodations and she was powered by a single Niigata diesel engine that gave her a top speed of 10 knots when new. She possessed the ID IMO 7743118.

In 1980, Cardinal Shipping fielded the Cardinal Ferry 2 to sail the Surigao-Liloan-Maasin route. There was no Lipata Ferry Terminal then yet and they used what is known now as the Verano port now in Surigao City. In Liloan, they used the Liloan municipal port as there was no Liloan Ferry Terminal yet. Liloan, Surigao and Maasin were better ports than Allen and Matnog infra-wise as both hosted overnight ships to Cebu. With the fielding of Cardinal Ferry 2, for the first time ever Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao were connected and a vehicle can roll from any part of Luzon to Mindanao and vice-versa. This was the fulfillment of the dreams of many including the late President Diosdado Macapagal in whose administration the JICA-backed Pan-Philippine Highway project (later renamed as Philippine-Japan Friendship Highway because Japan will partly fund the mega-project and war reparations to be paid by Japan will be used in it) first took shape. During Martial Law, this morphed into the Maharlika Highway. However, the government’s version of connection happened only in 1984 with the coming of Maharlika II and that was 4 years after Cardinal Shipping did it.

Cardinal Ferry 2 was the former Shikishima Maru No. 1 in Japan and she was built by Imabari Shipbuilding Company Ltd. in Imabari shipyard, Japan in 1960 (therefore she was older than Cardinal Ferry I) and she possessed the ID IMO 5322867. She was bigger than Cardinal Ferry 1 at 50.1 meters length by 7.8 meters breadth by 3.9 meters depth. The ship has 491 tons in Gross Register Tonnage (GRT), 302 tons in Net Register Tonnage (NRT) and 800 tons in Deadweight Tonnage (DWT). This ferry was powered by a single Makita engine of 640 horsepower and the top speed was 9.5 knots.

The next year, in 1981, Cardinal Shipping laid out the Cardinal Ferry III which was the former Sanyomarugame Maru No.1 of Sanyo Kisen in Japan. She was fielded in the pioneering RORO route of San Jose de Buenavista, Antique to Puerto Princesa, Palawan! [I really wonder until now what sense this made. Maybe a Cebu-Bohol or a Cebu-Leyte connection would have more sense.] This ferry was built by Kanda Shipbuilding Company in Kure yard, Japan in 1965. Her dimensions are 44.5 meters length by 10.0 meters breadth by 2.9 meters depth. Her original Gross Register Tonnage (GRT) was 495 tons with a Deadweight Tonnage (DWT) of 190 tons. The passenger capacity was 350 and she had twin Niigata engines of a total 1,700 horsepower. The ship’s top speed was 13.5 knots which is fast for a small RORO then. The ship’s ID is IMO 6607848.

In the same year of 1981, Cardinal Shipping acquired the former Taysan of Seaways Shipping Corporation which was an old cargo ship built way back in 1956 by Sanoyas Shipbuilding Corporation in Osaka yard, Japan. This became the Cardinal VI in the Cardinal Shipping fleet and like the Cardinal V she engaged in tramper shipping.

The last ferry and ship acquisition of Cardinal Shipping was the Cardinal Ferry Seven in 1982. She was the former Azuki Maru in Japan of Kansai Kyuko. This RORO ship was built in 1964 by Hashihama Zosen in Hashihama yard, Japan. She measured 41.7 meters length by 12.6 meters breadth by 3.6 meters depth. The original Gross Register Tonnage was 473 tons with a Deadweight Tonnage (DWT) of 165 tons . Her passenger capacity was 650 persons (that is a little big!). The ship was powered by two Daihatsu engines of 1,100 horsepower and the top speed was 12.5 knots. The ship’s ID was IMO 6502191.

Although pioneering, Cardinal Shipping was not successful for long. Even before the  Maharlika I arrived in Matnog-San Isidro route in 1982 and the Maharlika II in Lipata-Liloan route in 1984, she was already under pressure. There were already other competitors that came in the two routes especially in Matnog-Allen route like the Northern Star and Laoang Bay of Newport Shipping (before this Newport Shipping has already been sailing a route from Manila to Samar). Eugenia Tabinas also got into ROROs when she was able to acquire the Eugenia from Esteban Lul of the Visayas. Later, she was able to acquire the Northern Star from Newport Shipping which became the Northern Samar after conversion in Cebu.

It was really hard to compete against the new Maharlika ships which did not need to show a profit as it was government-owned (that is how government always worked and the usual hackneyed reasoning is it is “public service”. However, there was no denying that the Maharlika ships were better as it was much newer. Cardinal Shipping also had ships that were not only old but built in the 1960’s when engines were still not that long-lasting as microfinishing was not yet in great use and metallurgical research was not yet that advanced. Their route to Palawan also did not make sense in that period. In San Bernardino Strait, they soon had a dogfight in their hands with many entrants. Not long after, the ships of Cardinal Shipping began losing to competition.

Cardinal Shipping did not completely go away however and it had a rebirth in the form of Cardinal Philippine Carrier which was based in Iloilo City. They were able to retain the former Cardinal Ferry 3 which was now known as Palawan Traders. Before this she was known as the Kanlaon Ferry, a name maybe given so she will stick in her revised route. They then added a pioneering ferry, a catamaran High Speed Craft, the Bacolod Express in 1989 to do the Bacolod-Iloilo route. This was very notable because before her only Manila had High Speed Crafts in the early 1970s. Some of those were even hydrofoils and they were used in a route to Corregidor which was being heavily promoted then as a tourist destination. 

The Bacolod Express was the former Quicksilver I and she was built by NQEA Australia in Cairns, Australia in 1986. She arrived in the country in 1989 and she was formerly known as the Princess of Boracay and in 1990, she became the Bacolod Express. This aluminum-hulled catamaran measured 29.0 meters length by 11.0 meters breadth by 3.2 meters depth and with a gross tonnage of 318 and a net tonnage of 105. She had a passenger capacity of 356 and she was powered by two MWM engines of 2,700 horsepower which gave the High Speed Craft a top speed of 27 knots. This ferry was one beautiful catamaran.

Bacolod Express was successful in her route for a few years. The first sign of trouble came when BREDCO, the incomplete reclamation area then but her port in Bacolod suddenly began refusing her docking. She cannot dock in Banago port because that was controlled then by Negros Navigation Company, a competitor of theirs which operated conventional ferries between Iloilo and Bacolod, the Don Vicente and the Princess of Panay. Definitely, Bacolod Express was taking traffic away from NENACO which had no equivalent at the start to Bacolod Express (they later fielded the St. Michael). Everybody knows NENACO’s board were powers magnificent then in Western Visayas and could make things happen (or not happen).

Not long after, Bacolod Express also began experiencing engine troubles (in less than 10 years of operational life?) thus unreliability plagued her. That was deadly when new competitors came into her route. With Bacolod Express no longer able to carry the flag, Cardinal Philippine Carrier soon quit the business. They sold the Palawan Traders to E.B. Aznar Shipping where she became the Melrivic Seven. Today this ship still sails the Tanon Strait crossing between Escalante and Tabuelan where she once sailed before. She is the only remnant left and living reminder that once there was Cardinal Shipping but many people do not know that. Maybe not even her crew.

That was the sad tale of Cardinal Shipping which was pioneering in very many ways but which lost in the end. I doubt if many still remember them.

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Photo Credits: Gorio Belen, Times Journal and Philippine Daily Express