A Good Ship That Was Not Able To Outrun A Typhoon

The FS-220, when she came to the Philippines in 1960 was among the last “FS” ships that arrived in the country. She was among the batch used by the US Navy after the war for resupply missions and released from service starting in 1959. For reasons that are not yet clear to me I do not know how the newly-established Philippine President Lines (PPL) was able to corner a big chunk of these last-released “FS” ships. And that batch was the envy of many and even abroad because the US Navy knows how to maintain its ships (and it has the budget) and compared to ex-”FS” ships already in the country which just sails and sails that last batch does not have worn engines yet.

The FS-220 was a ship built by Higgins Industries in New Orleans, USA which was the designer and builder of the famous Higgins boats. She measured 54.9 meters by 9.8 meters by 3.2 meters and originally had 573 tons in gross register tonnage. Like most other “FS” ships she was powered by two GM Cleveland engines with a total of 1,000 horsepower and her maximum speed was 12 knots.

6941183974_4fef230346_z

Photo credits: Philippines Herald and Gorio Belen

FS” ships transferred from the US Army (the operator in World War II) to the US Navy for postwar duty usually have alterations already to suit their mission. Many still undergo further conversions here to suit the local shipping needs and situation and that mainly consists of increasing the passenger capacity.

In the Philippine President Lines fleet, the FS-220 became known as the President Roxas. She was the first ship to carry this name in the fleet. She was also known now by the ID IMO 6117958. Upon conversion, she already had three passenger decks including the lowermost where cargo is also stowed. The first route of the President Roxas was Manila-Cebu-Iligan.

The Philippine President Lines did not last long in the inter-island route and when it concentrated on overseas shipping they established the subsidiary Philippine Pioneer Lines in 1963 to take over the inter-island operations and so the President Roxas went to Philippine Pioneer Lines. Her first route for this new company was the quaint Manila-Masbate-Bulan-Allen-Legaspi-Tabaco route. As such she became a Bicol specialist with a slight diversion to Samar. This was the period when sending a ship to Bicol still made sense.

1963-5-6-phil-pioneer-lines

Photo credits: The Philippine Herald and Gorio Belen

After two major accidents in 1966 which were the floundering of the Pioneer Cebu in a typhoon and the collision involving Pioneer Leyte which lead to her breaking up, Philippine Pioneer Lines ceased operation. In 1967, Galaxy Lines replaced her and the fleet of Philippine Pioneer Lines was transferred into the Galaxy fleet. The President Roxas became the Venus in the fleet of Galaxy Lines where ships were named after constellations.

She did not last long in Galaxy Lines, however, and was sold immediately sold to N&S Lines, Inc. Galaxy Lines no longer had Bicol routes while N&S Lines had Bicol and Samar routes and maybe the reason for the sale was to avoid taking out a ship in those routes. In N&S Lines, she did the Manila-Allen-Carangian (now known as San Jose)-Legaspi (now spelled as Legazpi)-Laoang route. Only the route to Tabaco port was the one practically dropped.

1967-6-8-go-thong-ns

Photo credits: Manila Times and Gorio Belen

Venus would hold for long that route and leaving Manila every Tuesday at 9pm. Slowly, she became a fixture in this route. In 1976, a new ship, the Queen of Samar of Newport Shipping Lines issued a challenge to her. There were other passenger-cargo ships to her route from Manila with slightly different ports of call but the ships of the New Shipping Lines were the most dangerous as the Queen of Samar was not the only ship that entered the Northern Samar and nearby routes. In fact, it totaled six. I really can’t understand what was the attraction of Northern Samar and the nearby ports to Newport Shipping Lines.

And then from that in just three years the bottom fell out for these routes because suddenly the San Bernardino Strait was connected by the RORO ship Cardinal I of Cardinal Shipping and suddenly buses and trucks from Manila started running to Samar directly. There was no longer any need to bring the cargo to North Harbor. Ditto for the passengers. Suddenly, the viability of the Samar routes began to evaporate and what was just propping it up was the intermediate route to Masbate.

1974-8-30-schedules

Gorio Belen research in the National Library

Though the Manila ships began to evaporate too in the routes passing through San Bernardino Strait especially those that had concentration to Bicol, the Venus was one of the most resilient and she outlasted practically every other passenger-cargo ship in the Northern Samar routes when to think buses and trucks were already arriving daily there. Maybe there were passengers which still prefer the ship or might have been too attached to them.

Nearing her 40th year of life, Venus was sailing from Samar to Manila. There was a Category 5 super-typhoon then approaching the Philippines from the east and its central pressure was 880 millibars which is even lower than Typhoon “Yolanda”’s 890 millibars (the lower the number the stronger is the typhoon). There was also a typhoon that was developing in South China See at the same time. Maybe Venus thought that by sailing she will be putting distance from the stronger typhoon and might have underestimated or failed to notice the storm in South China Sea which was just a tropical depression when she sailed. It seems Venus also failed to understand well the effects on the sea of a Sibuyan Sea. The two typhoons were actually interacting and in fact the stronger typhoon was sucking the weaker one. Venus might have failed to understand well the risks when she embarked on her final voyage.

It was in Sibuyan Sea when Venus finally discovered the sea was roiling and the winds were unforgiving. The ex-”FS” ships were particularly vulnerable to typhoons and that was why her old captains here were masters of finding the coves and inlets where they can hide or shelter the ship when the weather acts up.

It seems Venus tried to hightail it to a port or was desperately trying to find shelter (as she already diverted from her route if gauged from where she perished). However, in Tayabas Bay it seems Venus was not able to weather the wind and the waves and floundered on October 28, 1984 (in Tayabas Bay the winds then will be hitting her broadside at port). There was no trace of the ship after the typhoon and 36 people perished with her, unfortunately.

On a note, the Lorenzo Container VIII of Lorenzo Shipping Corporation was another ship that floundered in that twin interacting storm. This even bigger ship sank on the same day as Venus north of Abra de Ilog, Occidental Mindoro, in a sea which is even farther than the stronger typhoon (which was incidentally named also as Typhoon “Reming” like the deadliest storm to visit Bicol in the recent decades).

The sinking of Venus even had repercussions in our place. When about to ride a ship, my earthbound relatives would remind me of her fate (you know the oldies then!). The floundering in another typhoon of the Dona Marilyn in a nearby sea, the Samar Sea, four years later in 1988 did not help either.

1977-10-06-sea-transport-ns

Photo credits: Times Journal and Gorio Belen

The Venus served the same route for 17 years. That was long by any local measure. It took two typhoons to end her memorable career. Small shipping companies really take hard a sinking and coupled with weakening routes and the general crisis of that era, the Ninoy post-assassination years, N&S Lines, her company also went under.

After the sinking of Venus, the routes to Northern Samar from Manila also died. In the 1990’s MBRS Lines from Romblon tried to revive it. But there was really no way to defeat the new paradigm, the intermodal system. And so it died again. Finally.

Advertisements

MORETA Shipping Lines

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

M/V Edward of William Lines ©Gorio Belen

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

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

M/V Nikki ©Irvine Kinea

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

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

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

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

Kimelody Cristy ©Manila Standard/Gorio Belen

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

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

M/V Conchita ©Rodney Orca

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

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

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

Love-1 ©Edison Sy

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

Moreta Cargo 1 ©Mike Baylon

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

Moreta Cargo 2 ©John Cabanillas

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

Moreta Cargo 3 ©Irvine Kinea
Moreta Cargo 5 ©Mike Baylon