RORO Cargo Ships and Vehicle Carriers Can Be Good ROPAX Liners

In shipping, wherever that be in the world, fuel consumption is a critical factor because it takes up 40% of the operational costs of the ship. Here it might even be higher as our ships are old and our mariner rates are so low and apprentices comprise about half of the crew and they are the ones that pay and not the shipping company. So when fuel prices went really high a decade ago even the Fast ROPAXes of Europe capable of 30 knots slowed down to save on fuel. High Speed Crafts (HSCs) suffered also, had to slow down too and some stopped sailing for they were simply unprofitable even at very high load factors.

We too had been victims of that fetish with speed that in the 1990’s and so, many liners capable of 20 knots, locally, came into the country. The list of this is long and I would list it: Filipina Princess, Princess of Paradise, Princess of the Stars, Princess of the Universe, Princess of the World, Princess of the Ocean and Princess of New Unity, all of Sulpicio Lines; SuperFerry 1 of Aboitiz Shipping; Mabuhay 1 and Mabuhay 3 of William Lines; Our Lady of Lipa, SuperFerry 12, SuperFerry 14, SuperFerry 15, SuperFerry 16, SuperFerry 17 and SuperFerry 18 of WG&A; SuperFerry 20 and SuperFerry 21 of Aboitiz Transport System; St. Francis of Assisi, St. Joseph The Worker, St. Peter The Apostle, Mary Queen of Peace, St. Ezekiel Moreno, St. Michael The Archangel and St. Francis Xavier of Negros Navigation. SuperFerry 16 then came back to become the St. Therese of the Child Jesus of 2GO. A total of 26 liners. Now isn’t that too many? And most are 150 meters in length or over and the average passenger capacity is over 2,000 with 3 even breaching the 3,000 mark.

I argue that most proved to be oversized.

That speed came from oversized engines, usually 20,000 horsepower and over which means more fuel consumption and I was not happy with that trend in speed and the trend of upsizing the ships because I know that in the past when liners became bigger than the ex-”FS” ship, many ports with previous connection to Manila were left out because the liners were already too big and their drafts too deep for the small and shallow ports. Then later, the fast cruisers became the new paradigm and more ports have to be left out because to shorten voyage duration the interports were reduced. Gone were the old routes which featured four, five or even six ports of call and with voyages lasting several days.

Those big, fast liners might have been okay when ship passengers were still overflowing when there were still no budget planes and intermodal buses as competition. But that was not okay for the passengers left behind in the abandoned ports. It just created a generation or two of passengers not catered to by ships and grew up not relying on them.

And in the end the liner companies paid dearly for that. Even with advertisements they can no longer be coaxed into riding ships (even if they are painted pink). And that became a disaster for liner shipping when passengers thinned. Too few port calls mean less passengers and cargo – when the ships were already big and guzzling fuel and heavily needing those. And that just helped sink the liner sector of our shipping which has not recovered until now.

I argue that for the passenger loads and cargo sizes now our liners sailing are simply too big and that is the reason why they can’t or won’t call in the smaller ports served by liners until the end of the millennium like Ormoc, Surigao, Tagbilaran, Dapitan and others. It should go down in size and maybe add ports of call and damn if transit times are longer. What is more important is that the ships become fuller so that it will be more profitable. Anyway, those who want fast travel will simply take the budget planes. But still there are still many people which prefer the ships to the planes.

Moreover, the remaining liners now have engines too big to be profitable on marginal routes and smaller ports. I think the engines also have to be downsized. If fuel prices go up once more the liners won’t be profitable again.

24470264000_03f9e86eeb_z(1)

Our Lady of Sacred Heart by Chief Ray Smith

In downsizing and saving on fuel, there is one type of ship that is actually fit for us. These are the former RORO Cargo ships and Vehicle Carriers and we have several  examples of that in the past. Actually for the same size and length, RORO Cargo ships have smaller engines than ships which were ROPAXes from the start. They were not really built for speed but for economy while having a decent speed. And moreover on RORO Cargo ships not much steel has to be added as additional decks.

4874776874_88693a7eb1_b

Our Lady of Medjugorje by Nat Pagayonan

In the past when liners were not that yet big and fast we had very successful liners whose origins were as former RORO Cargo Ships. I think the most famous of these were the sister ships Our Lady of Sacred Heart and the Our Lady of Medjugorje of Carlos A. Gothong Lines Incorporated (CAGLI) which both came in 1990. Beautifully renovated, few suspected their true origins. Weighing the amenities of the ship, they were not inferior to liners of their size. And nor in speed although they have engine horsepowers less than the liners of their size.

3738950198_1bc3099a01_z

Butuan Bay 1 by Vinz Sanchez

It was the revived Carlos A. Gothong Lines (when they split from WG&A) which brought in the next batch of RORO Cargo ships for conversion into liner ROPAXes when they acquired the Butuan Bay 1 and the Ozamis Bay 1 in the early 2000’s. But what puzzled me is they forgot how to convert them into beautiful ROPAXes like before and almost everybody that rode them said they were ugly. And that maybe helped doom the return of Gothong Lines into passenger shipping. When Butuan Bay 1 became the Trans-Asia 5 it became a beautiful ship with first-class interiors. Butuan Bay 1 should have been like that from the very start and if it were, the trajectory of Gothong Lines might have been different (of course they had other problems too).

6557196425_bac010cd62_z

Ozamis Bay 1 by Mike Baylon

It was the Asian Marine Transport Corporation or AMTC that next brought RORO Cargo ships here for conversion into RORO liners. In their Super Shuttle RORO series, they started with the first three converted in to ROPAXes and these were the small Super Shuttle RORO 1, Super Shuttle RORO 2 and Super Shuttle RORO 3. However, the conversions were also not done well and were not worthy of the beautiful small liners of the past. Were they scrimping too like the revived Carlos A. Gothong Lines? Or were they thinking more of the cargo than the passenger revenue?

7550514648_09266e314e_z

Super Shuttle RORO 1 by Fr. Bar Fabella

8216319601_782f1d9614_z

Super Shuttle RORO 2 by Nowell Alcancia

18049181780_1072f84fc4_z

Super Shuttle RORO 3 by Mike Baylon

The next batch of Super Shuttle ROROs which were former RORO Cargo ships or variants from the Super Shuttle RORO 7 to Super Shuttle RORO 12 were all big, all former RORO Cargo ships but all were no longer converted in ROPAXes because maybe the first three of AMTC were not particularly successful. I was able to board all of them and their interiors were all good. The cabins for the vehicle drivers were still in good condition and being used along with ships’ drawing rooms and the good, functional galleys. Some even have gyms. Actually what was only needed is to maybe convert the top deck or another deck into good passenger accommodations. Our shipbuilders were good at that in the 1950’s and 1960’s when refrigerated cargo or cargo-passenger ships from Europe were converted into liners for Sulpicio Lines, William Lines and Sweet Lines aside from Compania Maritima.

8261221876_0ffdbdf021_z

Super Shuttle RORO 7 by James Gabriel Verallo

The Super Shuttle RORO 7 and Super Shuttle RORO 8 were the two AMTC ships that were intriguing for me. At 145 and 146 meters length the size is good especially since this is a tall ship with at least 4 RORO decks. The original top sustained speeds are 17 and 17.5 knots from only 6,900 and 7,800 horsepower which is even less than the horsepowers of the Our Lady of Sacred Heart and the Our Lady of Medjugorje which both had top sustained speeds of 17 knots when new and did 16 knots here even with additional metal and age. If 16 knots can be coaxed from the small engines of the two AMTC ships then it might have been enough especially if compared to the speeds the former Cebu Ferries series converted liners are doing now. It will have a good container load with a decent passenger size if one deck is converted into passenger accommodations and the cabins for drivers are used for passengers here. I was hoping AMTC will go in that direction but they did not. It turned out AMTC was no longer interested in liner shipping and was more interested in container shipping and especially the loading of brand-new vehicles destined for car dealers in the south.

8134163772_3ef99c5724_z

Super Shuttle RORO 8 by Aris Refugio

A design speed or original top sustained speed of 15 or 16 knots might not do because converted here with additional metal and with age already they will probably just run at 13 or 14 knots and that is slow for a liner. 15 knots locally is still acceptable but 16 knots is better as proven by the Our Lady of Sacred Heart and Our Lady of Medjugorje. But then on the other hand the last time the former Cebu Ferry 2 ran as a liner to Cebu from Manila she was just being made to run at 14 to 15 knots. Does it mean that speed is already acceptable? That will mean a 28 or 29 hour run to Cebu versus the 22 hours of the big liners. But then passing through interports will mask that. Just feed the passengers well. And I always wondered why liners to Cebu don’t pass Roxas City anymore when it is just on the way. Of course the big ones can’t. At least 2GO tried Romblon port with the St. Anthony de Padua (the former Cebu Ferry 2) the last time around. But then maybe small liners shouldn’t be doing the Cebu route.

11576188695_f05c4f7a2f_z

St. Anthony of Padua by Mike Baylon

9250636562_d1ef0c6613_z

St. Ignatius of Loyola by Mike Baylon

It was Aboitiz Transport System which next brought in RORO Cargo ships for conversion into ROPAXes with their Cebu Ferry 2 and Cebu Ferry 3. Originally these two ships were refitted to be overnight ferries but later when they were transferred out of their Cebu base they were refitted again to become liners. The two are known now as St. Anthony of Padua and St. Ignatius of Loyola under 2GO. Aside from the two, there are other RORO Cargo ships which were converted into ROPAXes but they were not liners but overnight ships. Among these are the Graceful Stars and Oroquieta Stars of Roble Shipping.

32435571852_6b63c60cc4_z

The future Trans-Asia (1) by Mike Baylon

I think there are many RORO Cargo ships around that are about 120-130 meters in length that have a design speed of 18 or 19 knots which can still run here at 16.5 to 17.5 knots and they might just be perfect. I don’t know if that is the case of the Warrior Spirit which recently arrived to become the third Trans-Asia (1) of Trans-Asia Shipping Lines. This might be good as a test case. The length of 126.2 meters is perfect and the design speed is 19 knots from twin engines is also perfect. Trans-Asia Shipping Lines has a good record in conversion. But then she will just be an overnight ship but a big one at that. But the coming Panglao Bay 1 of Carlos A. Gothong Lines might not prove to be a test case as she will not be converted to ROPAX, per report.

Panglao Bay 1

Panglao Bay 1 by Mark Ocul

Trying these former RORO Cargo ships for conversion into ROPAXes might be a safe bet. These RORO Cargo ships might be low-risk in acquisition as their purchases might just be above breaker prices. So if it does not make money the worth of metal as scrap might still pay for the acquisition price. In the future Trans-Asia (1) they are even cutting off metal so windows can be made. That is different from the experience of the Cebu Ferries ships were a lot of metal has to be added because decks have to built.

I think it is good time to try acquiring RORO Cargo ships as our future liners. They might turn out to be good bets and worthwhile liners a la Our Lady of Sacred Heart and Our Lady of Medjugorje.

Advertisements

A Very Efficient Liner For Me

When I look at and gauge a ferry I do not look only at its size and speed because I am not the “Oooh, aaah” type. I also tend to look at the other attributes of the ship including the efficiency, a quality that can be hard to quantify. But with this attitude of mine I can then appreciate other supposedly “lesser” ships and types.

One of the ferries that attracted me was the vessel Our Lady of Sacred Heart of Carlos A. Gothong Lines Incorporated or Gothong for short. She was one of the ferries that brought back Gothong into the Manila route after a hiatus in the aftermath of their split with Lorenzo Shipping Corporation when they just concentrated on Visayas and Visayas-Mindanao routes. At the time of her fielding she might have been the best ship of Gothong. She or her sister ship, the Sto. Nino de Cebu could have been the flagship of Gothong.

24470264000_03f9e86eeb_z

Photo by Chief Ray Smith

The Our Lady of Sacred Heart was a former RORO Cargo ship in Japan which means a ship geared to loading vehicles crossing the islands and taking in just the drivers and the crews of the vehicles, primarily and so the passenger accommodations is limited and the amenities are not that complete. RORO Cargo ships are more of the utilitarian type. She had a sister ship which also came here into the fleet of Gothong, the also-well-regarded Our Lady of Medjugorje (the rebuilt former Sto. Nino de Cebu which caught fire) which looks like her.

What I noticed about the Our Lady of Sacred Heart was the small size of its engine compared to its size and passenger capacity. She only packs a single Mitsui engine of 8,000 horsepower which was even less that of her sister ship’s 9,000 horsepower. Yet she was capable of 16 knots here which was decent already compared to the other liners of her time (which was around 1990) that were also small. Yet that kind tried to pack it her in passenger capacity and were carrying small engines too and were just running at 16 knots to 17 knots too like the SuperFerry 3 of Aboitiz Shipping, the Tacloban Princess and Manila Princess of Sulpicio Lines, the Zamboanga City of William Lines and San Paolo and Sta. Ana of Negros Navigation. To that class, the Our Lady of Sacred Heart belonged together with her sister ship. Among the ships mentioned, the Our Lady of Sacred Heart has the smallest engine together with the Tacloban Princess but the latter ship was smaller than her. Now imagine a ship with just 8,000 horsepower carrying 1,903 passengers with probably about 90 TEU of container vans. In passenger plus container van to engine horsepower ratio, she might have been tops in this metric or index. That for me is efficiency.

What were the origins of this ship? The Our Lady of Sacred Heart, colloquially known as “OLOSH” was built in Japan in 1978 by Mitsui Shipbuilding in Osaka, Japan for the Kuribayashi Kinkai Kisen shipping company. She was originally named as Shinsei Maru with the IMO Number 7718589 and her original dimensions were 112.5 meters by 18.0 meters with an original gross register tonnage of 3,149 tons and a deadweight tonnage of 3,295 tons. This ship has a deep draft and her depth was 12.3 meters.

In 1979, however, this RORO Cargo ship was lengthened to 123.0 meters with a length between perpendiculars of 115.0 meters and her gross register tonnage rose to 3,511 tons. However, she retained her original design speed of 17 knots. RORO Cargo ships were never designed to have big engines like the 146.0-meter Super Shuttle RORO 7 has only 6,990 horsepower, the 145.0-meter Super Shuttle RORO 8 has only 7,800 horsepower and yet their designed speed were 17 and 17.5 knots. Well, even the bigger Super Shuttle RORO 11 and Super Shuttle RORO 12 which are both over 160 meters have engines of only 7,900 and 6,500 horsepower, respectively, and they can do 15 and 16 knots. Such is the efficiency of a RORO Cargo ship.

In 1990, this ship together with her sister came to the Philippines for Carlos A. Gothong Lines and she was forthwith converted into a RORO-Passenger ship or ROPAX in Cebu. Additional passenger decks and accommodations were built and she became a three-passenger-deck liner. Her gross tonnage rose to 4,388 with a net tonnage of 2,237 and her deadweight tonnage was revised to 4,120 tons. In speed, however, she was down to 16 knots because of the additional metal and she had over a decade of sailing already.

She then had her passenger capacity raised to 1,903 persons which was a little outstanding for me, initially. However, I noticed the smaller Tacloban Princess has a passenger capacity of 2,009 and the 138.6-meter SuperFerry 2 has a passenger capacity of 2,643. Meanwhile, the 107.3-meter Sta. Ana has a passenger capacity of 2,106 and the 117.1-meter Zamboanga City has a passenger capacity of 1,875. And so I thought the passenger capacity of the Our Lady of Sacred Heart was plausible even though the passenger capacity of her sister ship was only 1,330 persons.

When the Our Lady of Sacred Heart was fielded, she might have been the most beautiful ship of Gothong, externally. One striking features of hers is the long and high quarter-stern ramp which seemed to suggest she can dock in any kind of wharf, low or high. And for those who will notice, she seemed to be missing one smokestack or funnel (since she has only one engine and no false funnel was built). She also have no openings after two-thirds of her length early on.

3277706557_22a09735c4_z

Taken from a website that cannot be remembered now. No copyright infringement intended.

In Gothong, the Our Lady of Sacred Heart did the unlikely discovery of the company, the unseemly Manila-Roxas City-Palompon-Isabel-Cebu route. Later this route was extended to Ormoc City. At first I cannot get the connection between Capiz and Leyte and yet she was successful there. It seems that for a long time already, the western Leyte area has been neglected by the other shipping companies and only fielded old and obsolete liners there. Actually her ports of call there are substitutes too for Tacloban port and Ormoc port aside from being a connection to Biliran province. And to think there is even a bus from Ormoc to San Ricardo, the southernmost town of Southern Leyte and so the ship even seemed to be a connection to Southern Leyte. In those times the earlier Manila liners to Leyte have been gone already.

The Our Lady of Sacred Heart was the best liner going to Leyte during this time and also probably the best liner too to Capiz. She was doing the western Leyte route until the “Great Merger” that created WG&A came in 1996. When that happened I had some fear for the Our Lady of Sacred Heart as the merger created surplus ships including container ships and even the Zamboanga City which came here only one year before was offered for sale. I know it was the older cruiser ships of WG&A that was more vulnerable but I was worried about the lack of speed of this ferry. At that time 16 knots seemed to be slow already as there was already a lot of ships capable of 17.5 knots and over and there was no way to coax more speed out of the ship with her single small engine.

Besides, I am not sure if WG&A really appreciated her route. Actually the company modified the route as soon as the merger happened – Roxas City was dropped and instead Masbate was substituted. Beyond that I also know the intermodal buses and trucks presented a deadly challenge to the ships calling in Leyte ports. I know that if passengers in Samar can shift from the ferries to the buses then it is highly possible that can also happen in Leyte and there is no reason why not. Daily departures and pick-up by their gates without going through the hassles in the port was a very big selling point of the buses. Meanwhile, for factories and shippers in CALABARZON (Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal and Quezon), trucking in their products is easier, faster and less expensive than in hiring a container van that will fight the traffic and the various illegal exactions in Metro Manila.

In due time as I expected WG&A gave up on the western Leyte route early in this century and just “donated” its freight and passengers to the trucks and buses (when WG&A gives up on routes, do they realize that money, effort and even careers were spent before creating that route?). Maybe WG&A don’t know as it was Gothong that created the route. And then this period was also the period where they experimented on a Manila-Ormoc-Nasipit route to make use of two bigger ferries (the former Maynilad and the former SuperFerry 11 which were already known as Our Lady of Akita 2 and Our Lady of Banneux) and maybe WG&A thought that new route is a substitute route for western Leyte but then they also gave up on the route soon after. During that ti period, the Our Lady of Sacred Heart was also doing a Sunday overnight route from Iligan to Cebu and she was very popular there as she was much better than the ships that formerly served the route like the Iligan City, the Our Lady of Mount Carmel and the Our Lady of Manaoag)

Soon, the Our Lady of Sacred Heart found herself back in her old route of Roxas City in conjunction with the port of Dumaguit and essentially doing an overnight route. But then not too long after the “master of retreat” WG&A also gave up on this route when the buses and trucks started rolling to Panay island with the creation of the new Roxas, Oriental Mindoro to Caticlan, Malay link. And with that WG&A sold ships again to the breaks but fortunately for the Our Lady of Sacred Heart she was not yet among the unlucky ones. When that happened the Our Lady of Sacred Heart might have been at the bottom already of the new company Aboitiz Transport System, the successor company of WG&A and she was then just a little ahead of her sister ship, the Our Lady of Medjugorje. I thought then already that she was a lucky girl. It looked later that Aboitiz Transport Company or ATS was reserving her for the Palawan route which is not exactly a long route and so it suited her and there was no competition anymore when the Sulpicio Lines ferry, the Iloilo Princess burned and Negros Navigation was already headed into financial crisis and had ships seized by creditors. And so the lack of speed of the Our Lady of Sacred Heart didn’t play to her disadvantage.

8411182698_33d492b538_z

Photo by Jorg Behman. Credit also to John Luzares.

It seems the last route of the Our Lady of Sacred Heart might have been the combined Coron and Puerto Princesa route from Manila. By that time she has signs of oncoming problems with reliability and that is deadly for a single-engined ship (well, if the engine can’t be restarted then a replacement ship would have to be brought in or else tickets have to be refunded and passengers simply get angry with that. Besides, the Aboitiz Transport Company was already cutting on routes and that includes her subsidiary Cebu Ferries Company which are doing the Visayas-Mindanao routes. With the pressure of the intermodal system which relies on buses and trucks plus the short-distance ferry-RORO like in Batangas and Matnog, the Our Lady of Sacred Heart has no more short route to go and Palawan was her last possible stand as she cannot be fielded on longer routes like Mindanao or compete in major ports and routes as she is not a SuperFerry. She might have been an efficient ship but she was never meant for long routes nor for major routes. With the addition of the SuperFerry 15, SuperFerry 16, SuperFerry 17 and SuperFerry 18, the lesser SuperFerry 1, SuperFerry 2, SuperFerry 5 and SuperFerry 9 have to go to lesser routes and that included the Palawan route. It was the end of the line for the “lucky” (until then) Our Lady of Sacred Heart.

I was just wondering why she and her sister the Our Lady of Medjugorje were not sent to the Visayas-Mindanao routes of the Cebu Ferries Corporation (CFC). They could have competed with the Trans-Asia Shipping Lines pair of Asia China and Trans-Asia (1) in the Cagayan de Oro route (and shift their Our Lady of Good Voyage in another route). Actually, the Trans-Asia pair (and sister ships) were smaller but were utilizing engines even bigger than than the ATS pair at 10,400 horsepower each (and the Trans-Asia pair were older too by Date of Build). Maybe Aboitiz and Cebu Ferries does not want a sister ships to sister ships battle? In speed, the former Gothong sister ships can still match the Trans-Asia sister ships (if they were inferior it will not be by over 1 knot and that doesn’t matter much and they can just depart earlier). Was that the reason why they chickened out? In amenities they can match the highly-regarded Trans-Asia pair.

I can see some incongruence here because Cebu Ferries Corporation decided to retain their older and smaller ferry Our Lady of the Rule when that venerable old Gothong Ferry has a same but not identical 8,000-horsepower engine (but twin) when the Our Lady of Sacred Heart was even faster (and definitely more good-looking). But by this time it seems Aboitiz was already bent on shifting to the Cebu Ferries series which might have been faster later because they are smaller ships (their average horsepower was just about the same of the Our Lady of Sacred Heart). On the average that series was shorter than the Our Lady of Sacred Heart by 35 meters. Maybe they do not need the extra capacity as Cebu Ferries Corporation was already weakening in cargo because they charge the highest rates and they were not that proficient in palletized operations which is the norm in the intra-Visayas and Visayas-Mindanao routes. Maybe also there was also the decision already that the Cebu Ferries Corporation will just compete in a few Visayas-Mindanao ports and routes as the company was already outmaneuvered by the competition especially from Cokaliong Shipping Lines Incorporated (CSLI) and Trans-Asia Shipping Lines Incorporated (TASLI) which are good in taking in shippers and making them stick.

The near-equivalent of the Our Lady of Sacred Heart, the Our Lady of Good Voyage also outlasted her. This ship has just 400 horsepower less than OLOSH but she is smaller at 109.2 meters and her passenger capacity is only at 1,076 at her bridge is already near mid-ship. She was also among the smaller liners with small engines but she was fielded later although by age she is almost the age of the Our Lady of Sacred Heart and her engines were not much that better. In accommodations she might have even been less than the Our Lady of Sacred Heart.

8092973042_7a0e33ac50_z

Photo by “suro yan”

Unlucky this time, in late 2005, the Our Lady of Sacred Heart found herself on a lonely, one-way voyage to face the cutters of the Bangladesh shipbreakers and the ship was broken up in early 2006. She was only 28 years old then, young by the age of ferries of today. That only means she died before her time.

Shouldn’t We Be Downsizing Our Liners Now?

In the ten years after the end of World War II, the bulk of our liners were ex-”FS” ships with a sprinkling of former “F” ships, former “Y” ships and former small minesweepers of the US Navy which were even smaller ships. The first-mentioned ship was only 55 meters in length. Passenger capacity then of 200-300 were normal. The built capacity was not too high as our population was still small then with a little over 20 million people and besides, the country and the economy were just beginning to recover from the devastation of the Pacific War

MS GEN LIM

An ex-“FS” ship (Photo credits: Manila Chronicle and Gorio Belen)

In the next decade after that, there came the lengthened former “FS” ships which are over 60 meters in length with three decks. Passenger capacities then rose a bit. The lengthening of ex-”FS” ships, which was still the dominant liner type then was a response to the growing capacity need because the population was beginning to increase and trade was also on the rise. In 1960, our population already rose to 27 million.

In this period, there were no other sources yet of new liners as the European market was not yet discovered except by Compania Maritima and practically there were no surplus ships yet from Japan. It is true that we then already had some big ships mainly in the form of ex-”C1-M-AV1” ships which were US surplus from the war and former European passenger-cargo ships in Compania Maritima’s fleet. These big liners (by Philippine standards) averaged some 100 meters in length.

1971 MV Samar

An ex-“C1’M-AV1” ship (Photo credits: Philippine Herald and Gorio Belen)

In passenger capacity, however, those big liners then were not even double in passenger capacity compared to lengthened ex-”FS” ships. It was normal for them to have cargo holds in the bow and in the stern of the ship with the passenger accommodations in an “island” at the middle of the ship or amidship. Those big liners normally had only about 500 persons in passenger capacity.

Actually, when the European passenger-cargo ship Tekla came in 1965 to become the Don Arsenio of Carlos A. Go Thong & Co., she was then already tops in the Philippines in passenger capacity at about 700 persons. To think Go Thong has the tendency to maximize and pack it in and that ship was already 110 meters in length and one of the biggest in the country. [Well, liners of the 1990’s of that length already had more than double of that in passenger capacity.]

ELCANO (3)

Elcano by suro yan

In the middle of the 1960’s, big ships from Europe started to arrive for Go Thong and William Lines and also for Compania Maritima which had been buying ships from Europe right after the end of the war. These shipping companies had the long routes then which extended up to southern Mindanao which had many intermediate ports. Hence, big capacity matters to them. PSNC (Philippine Steam and Navigation Company) which also had routes to southern Mindanao was using ex-”C1-M-AV1” ships or if not they were using their luxury liners Legazpi and Elcano which were 87 meters in length (the two were sister ships).

It was the pattern that as the years went by the ships got bigger and its passenger capacities rose. That was a function of our country’s population increasing and hence also its trade because more population needs more commodities and goods. I am actually interested in the trivia which liner first had a 1,000 passenger capacity but right now I don’t have that data. Maybe that ship emerged sometime in the 1970’s.

In 1970, we already had a population of 37 million. And one change was Mindanao was already colonized, its population was growing fast and its new people had to connect to the rest of the country because this time most of the population of Mindanao were no longer native-born as in they were migrants from other parts of the country.

7255459802_91c5092fac_z

Don Sulpicio  (Research by Gorio Belen in the National Library)

One benchmark in capacity was the Don Sulpicio which became the Sulpicio Lines flagship when she came in 1975. She had a passenger capacity of 1,424 (this could be the latter figure after refitting from a fire). But her sister ship Dona Ana has a bigger net tonnage and might had a bigger passenger capacity especially since her route was Davao while Don Sulpicio‘s route was only Cebu. The Don Sulpicio later became the infamous Dona Paz which supposedly loaded 4,000 plus passengers (guffaw!)

These two ships were only in the 90-meter class but one thing that changed with the arrival of the cruisers that were not formerly cargo or cargo-passengers ships is that they had full scantling already so the passenger accommodation stretches from the bridge to the stern of the ship. And one more, the liners became taller with more passenger decks and it is even up to bridge or navigation deck.

Of course, their spaces were not as big as the big 1990’s liners. Riding a 1970’s liner, one would find that all the spaces are “miniaturized” from the size of the bunks to the spaces between the bunks, the tables and the restaurants and the lounges. They were simply a different beast than their counterparts two decades later where spaces and amenities were really ample.

4391898574_cf71fcb3b9_z

Research by Gorio Belen in the National Library

In the early 1980’s, passenger capacities of over 1,000 was already commonplace with the biggest liners in the 110 and 120 meter class and with some featuring four passenger decks already. Actually as early as 1979 with the arrival of the sister ships Don Enrique and Don Eusebio which were southern Mindanao specialists, their capacities already touched 1,200 and yet they were only in the 110 meter class. The two were the latter Iloilo Princess and Dipolog Princess, respectively.

Actually, passenger maximization was already the game then as even 70-80 meter liners built in the 1970’s and early 1980’s, both cruisers and ROROs, already had capacities averaging 800 or so persons. These were the pocket liners in the 1980’s when the former smallest, the lengthened “FS” ships were already bowing out. In 1980, the country’s population already reached 48 million. With the development of the roads even the people of the interior were already traveling.

1980 Dona Virginia

Photo credits: Daily Express and Gorio Belen

On December of 1979, the first ship to reach 2,000 in passenger capacity arrived. This ship was the flagship Dona Virginia of William Lines. It was also the longest liner then in the country with a length of 143 meters, the longest then in our ferry fleet. And to think the Dona Virginia was not even a tall ship.

In 1988, further bigger liners arrived in the country. The Cotabato Princess which was also a southern Mindanao liner also reached 2,000 in passenger capacity. Its sister ship Nasipit Princess also had the same capacity. Both were 149 meters in length. But the new champion was the very big Filipina Princess which had a passenger capacity of over 2,900. This great liner had a length of 180 meters.

11076724433_901eb256e7_z

In the 1990’s, liners of 2,000-passenger capacity or a little less became commonplace. The liner with the biggest ever capacity that existed here was the Princess of the Orient with a passenger capacity of 3,900. It was the longest-ever ship that sailed here at 195 meters. Other ships of this era that had passenger capacities of over 3,000 were the Princess of the Universe and the Princess of Paradise. Both were over 165 meters in length. All the ships mentioned from Cotabato Princess up to Princess of Paradise were liners of Sulpicio Lines.

Even with these high capacities of 2,000 and over the liners were able to pack it in in the 1990’s. I was once a passenger of the Princess of the Paradise on a Christmas trip when all bunks were taken (maybe if there were vacancies it was in the cabins). I also had a same experience on a June trip aboard the Our Lady of Akita (the latter SuperFerry 6) and the crew had to lay mattresses in the hallways because the ship was overbooked. And that ship have a passenger capacity of over 2,600. [Maybe we were technically not “overloaded” as there might have been vacancies in the cabins.]

Princess of the Orient(SLI)FS

Princess of the Orient from Britz Salih

But things began to change in the new millennium. Maybe there was already a surplus of bottoms because there was a race then to acquire liners in the term of President Fidel V. Ramos as it was encouraged and supported. But budget airlines also came along with the intermodal buses. The demand for ship bunks began to slacken and the liners can no longer pack it in like before.

This trend was reflected in the liners fielded starting in 2000. Among the liners of the new millennium only SuperFerry 17 and SuperFerry 18 reached 2,000 in passenger capacity and just barely. And to think they are 174 meters in length. The new liners of Aboitiz Transport System already had two wagon decks instead of four passenger decks. But on a look-back the two wagon decks were also not fully loaded.

4069208088_7978db031a_z

Photo credit: port of douglas

The liner acquisitions of Sulpicio Lines in the new millennium both did not reach 2,000 passengers in capacity. Not even the very big Princess of the Stars, the Philippines’ biggest liner ever. So even Sulpicio Lines recognized that passenger demand was already declining. But unlike Aboitiz Transport System (ATS), they did not convert liners to have two cargo decks. Well, unlike ATS, Sulpicio Lines have many container ships to carry the container vans.

After 2005, only Aboitiz Transport System, Negros Navigation and latter 2GO still acquired liners (excepting Romblon Shipping Lines). None had a passenger capacity that reached 2,000. Some even had passenger capacities of less than 1,000. Most had two wagon decks that does not get full.

6045010093_3b08390717_z

SuperFerry 21 by Nowell Alcancia

If liners can no longer get full in passengers and in container vans then what is the use of acquiring liners of 150 meters length and with over 20,000 horsepower? It is useless. Liners should have lower horsepower now because fuel is the number one expense in shipping. There is also no use now running them at 19 or 20 knots. The overnight ferries have shown the way. Even though their ships are capable of higher speeds they just use economical speed now. No more racing.

Actually, the new overnight ships like what Cokaliong Shipping Lines is acquiring could be the new liners. These average 80 meters in length. Or maybe ships a little bigger than those could be acquired. And that will be like the former Cebu Ferries that were pulled out from the Visayas-Mindanao routes. Their length averages 95 meters. The engine power of all of these are all not topping 9,000 horsepower and yet they are capable of 17-18 knots if needed and that was the range then of many liners in the 1990’s.

24765782775_ac83aa4215_z

Our Lady of Lourdes by Ray Smith

I think the new size paradigm of the liners should just be about 100 meters maximum with a horsepower of 10,000 or less and a speed of no more than 18 meters. That will be like the smaller liners of the late 1980’s like the Our Lady of Fatima and the Our Lady of Lourdes of Carlos A. Gothong Lines Incorporated (CAGLI) which were 101 meters in length and had 8,200hp. The Tacloban Princess of Sulpicio Lines in that era was 98 meters in length had engines of 8,000hp total. Yet, all three were capable of 17 knots here.

Maybe another and probably better paradigm were the former Our Lady of Medjugorje and the Our Lady of Sacred Heart also of CAGLI. Both were former RORO Cargo ships in Japan but were beautifully refitted here. Both were 123 meters in length but only had 9,000 and 8,000 horsepower, single-engined. The passenger capacity of the two even averaged over 1,500 passengers. They might not be too speedy at about 16 knots but we have to be practical and have to scale back. In amenities and space, the two were good. The former SuperFerry 3 of Aboitiz Shipping Corporation is also a good model. At 118 meters, 9,300 horsepower, 16 knots she was a credible liner then with a passenger capacity of 2,000 . All the quoted speed were when they were already running here when they had additional metal and the engines were no longer new

3161695017_35e7a960d1_z

Our Lady of Medjugorje from Britz Salih

But technology has improved and for the same engine horsepower a ship can be faster. Take for example the Trans-Asia 3 of Trans-Asia Shipping Lines Incorporated. At only 9,000 horsepower and 110 meters in length, she is still capable of 18 knots here.

If liners are smaller with smaller engines then maybe weaker routes abandoned might be viable again. I think Aboitiz Transport System and 2GO had to scale back on routes because their liners and its engines were too big for the weaker routes. They tried to shoehorn a 150-meter liner in the like of Tagbilaran. No liner of that size did a Tagbilaran route before. Like even at the peak of passenger shipping no shipping company sent a liner of that size to Roxas City.

But government also has to help. Maybe, one possible step maybe is to limit the number of container ships. There might be too many of them sailing already. It is growing at a rate much ahead of our trade and production growth. So it simply diminishes the capability of a liner to be viable.

In the past before 1978, our cargo is being carried by the passenger-cargo ships. That was the reason why there was so many liners then as in over 60 in total and even 90 in the 1960’s when ships were smaller and ex-”FS” ships still dominated. What happened next is while our inter-island container fleet is growing, our liner fleet was also growing smaller because cargo is also being carried by the container ships.

1979 Nov Schedules.jpg

Research by Gorio Belen in the National Library

On the same route there is no way a liner can carry cargo cheaper than container ships. For the same length the container ships have much less smaller engines, the acquisition cost is much less, insurance is smaller and crewing is much smaller too and there is less regulation. Of course, they are slow. But let upon liners in competition they can practically sink the liners. I heavily doubt if our government functionaries understand this relationship and history.

It might be anti-competitive but if the government does not intervene I think our liner sector will sink and be wiped out. One possible intervention even is to decree that vehicles can only be carried by the liners. This will be added revenue for the liners. Or that liners should have fuel that is cheaper. Of course some will balk at that and suspicions of fuel diversion will always be aired. But good controls can be put in place. Unless we as a people is really that corrupt and bribable.

As it is, 2GO is profitable now when the world market prices of oil plummeted. But then one thing that worries me is their fares on the average are not lower than the budget airlines and the intermodal buses. With longer time of travel they cannot compete with budget airlines in the long run. And with frequencies that are not daily the passengers will not really wait for them.

9250636562_d1ef0c6613_z

Maybe we should go back to this size

If the government wants the liner sector to stay it cannot just be verbal encouragement. Press or praise releases and promises are also next to nothing. There should be concrete steps and a program if they really want to save this sector. But is there anybody in government high enough that really understands this sector?

The government can put out all the verbal encouragement for other entities to enter this sector but I don’t think those who know shipping will enter this segment as things stand now. Downsizing is maybe one step that can arrest the downslide of passenger liner shipping.

Cagayan de Oro Port And Trans-Asia Shipping Lines

Cagayan de Oro port is the main connection of Mindanao to Cebu through the sea and in the south it is Cebu that is the primary trade and commercial center. Cebu supplies so many goods to Mindanao and it also attracts a lot of students and professionals from northern Mindanao. Besides a lot of people in Mindanao have Cebu origins. Cebu’s pre-eminence goes back a long, long time ago and that was even before the Spaniards came. When Magellan reached Cebu they noticed that there were many ships from Siam! Sugbu was already a great trading center even before Fernando Magallanes and Lapu-lapu were born.

6554687571_77f7ccdcc1_z

Cagayan de Oro port

Cagayan de Oro was not always the main port of entry from Cebu to Mindanao. Misamis town (Ozamis City now) reached prominence earlier than it and that was why it was the capital of the unified Misamis province then. And in the boom of copra before the 1929 Wall Street Crash in the US, Medina town and Gingoog were even more prosperous than Cagayan de Misamis, the old name of Cagayan de Oro (by the way there is no gold in that city; it was just a name creation to make it more attractive-sounding). Camiguin was also more prosperous then than Cagayan de Misamis (because of copra and not because of lanzones). All these are validated by the biography of former Vice-President Emmanuel Pelaez who hails from the area and whose father was the former Governor of the unified Misamis province.

But things always change and when the interior of Mindanao was opened for exploitation and the Sayre Highway that extended up to Cotabato province was built, slowly the central position of Cagayan de Misamis buoyed it up until it exceeded Misamis, Medina, Gingoog and Camiguin. The Americans’ interest in Bukidnon agribusiness (think pineapple and Del Monte) also helped a great deal and with that even Bugo port in Cagayan de Misamis became a port of importance.

8717650483_03982cdc5f_z

Part of Sayre Highway leading to Bukidnon

Many shipping companies served the growing commerce between Cebu and Cagayan de Oro. Some of earlier ones were national liner companies (almost all liners then going to Cagayan de Oro call in Cebu first) and some were regionals like Central Shipping (but this graduated to the national liner company Sweet Lines). The situation then was national liner companies dominated the Cebu-Cagayan de Oro corridor (in fact the entire Cebu-northern Mindanao corridor). On the side of the regionals, they were then dependent on wooden motor boats and at best they would have ex-”F” ships or ships converted from minesweepers or PT boats.

In 1974, a new shipping company was born in Cebu which was first known as Solar Shipping Lines but they immediately changed their company name to Trans-Asia Shipping Lines Inc. or TASLI for short. This company had an entirely new tack which made them surpass their regional rivals immediately. Their strategy was to buy good surplus cruisers from Japan whose size even exceeded the former “FS” ships which in those days still dominated the fleet of the national liner companies (but which actually are already reaching the end of their reliable service and were already prone to accidents). The age of those surplus ships of TASLI was about the same of the small liners being purchased then from Japan by the national liner companies. So imagine TASLI’s edge in the regional and specifically the Cebu-northern Mindanao shipping wars especially the premier route to Cagayan de Oro.

6696652747_408e272a84_z

Asia Philippines by TASLI

The cruisers of Trans-Asia Shipping Lines were of course faster, more reliable and more comfortable as comfort was not the strength of the former “FS” ships then which has cargo origins. And, of course, the ex-”F” ships, etc. were even more inferior along with the wooden motor boats. Even in the 1970’s when our population was much smaller and the trade of goods then smaller too, Trans-Asia Shipping Lines was able to form a fleet of seven of these modern (by Philippine standards) cruisers which were all built in Japan in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s.

These TASLI ships bore the names which later became familiar even to the current generation: Asia Philippines, Asia Japan, Asia Indonesia, Asia China and Trans-Asia (two were sold and replaced by ships that bore the same name). To complete the modernist approach, Trans-Asia Shipping Lines built a modern main office and an airconditioned ticketing office just across Plaza Independencia which stands until now and the company was justifiably proud of those. And I say I have to congratulate its architect and the owners because the building still looks beautiful four decades later. Their buildings were just near where their ships docked then. Actually, I sometimes go there just to feel the ambiance and the history of the place.

9200340852_630b5e4868_z

TASLI ticketing office

When the new shipping paradigm came which we know today as the RORO ships, Trans-Asia Shipping Lines immediately went aboard and sold their old cruisers. In this field, among the Visayas-Mindanao regional shipping companies, only Carlos A. Gothong Lines Inc. (CAGLI) was ahead of them. In the 1980′,s after the break-up with Lorenzo Shipping Corporation, CAGLI stressed regional operations and they were first to realize the superiority of the ROROs even in the overnight ferry field. Roble Shipping Inc. and Cokaliong Shipping Lines Inc. (CSLI) were among the recipients of the cast-off cruisers of TASLI.

In succession from 1987, Trans-Asia Shipping Lines acquired Asia Hongkong, a new Asia Japan, Asia Thailand, Asia Taiwan, Asia Brunei and a new Asia Indonesia, a new Asia Singapore, a new Trans-Asia, a new Asia Philippines and a new Asia China with the last one added in 1995. Trans-Asia Shipping Lines were adding more than a new ship a year in this stretch and this brought them easily to the top of the Visayas-Mindanao regional shipping companies. From Cebu as a hub, their routes spread like the spokes of the wheel with routes to Mindanao, the all the major Visayas islands and even Masbate in the Bicol Region. And they dominated the Cebu-Cagayan de Oro route. They even exceeded there Carlos A. Gothong Lines and Sulpicio Lines.

8450882762_6372432c82_z

The jewels of their fleet were the sister ships Trans-Asia and Asia China. The two were nearly liner in size and speed and they had the appointments and comforts of a liner. In those days, the two were probably the best overnight ships in the whole country and Trans-Asia Shipping Lines was justifiably proud of the two. It was more than a statement that “they have arrived”. They were the best among the regionals, the top in the totem pole of this category.

8715425976_cf03c32d9a_z

But storms at sea can suddenly appear out of nowhere and their fury could be fiercer than one might expect. The “typhoon” that battered Trans-Asia Shipping Lines appeared on January 1, 1996 when the “Great Merger” between Williams Lines Inc., Carlos A. Gothong Lines Inc. and Aboitiz Shipping Company happened which produced the giant shipping company WG&A. With the creation of WG&A, a new, more powerful regional shipping company suddenly appeared, the Cebu Ferries Corporation or CFC. It also had another subsidiary, the High Speed Craft (HSC) company SuperCat.

In Cebu Ferries Corporation, WG&A passed on their old liners and the former regional ships of William Lines and CAGLI. To top it and to challenge the jewels of TASLI which were ruling the prime Visayas-Mindanao route, the Cebu-Cagayan de Oro route, CFC fielded the Our Lady of Lipa and later the Our Lady of Good Voyage, a small William Lines liner which was the former Mabuhay 6. So as not to lose in the one-upmanship, Sulpicio Lines then fielded the even bigger Princess of the Ocean which was really a liner in appointments, speed and size.

24240291204_2317f31c80_z

Photo credit: Ray Smith

The Our Lady of Lipa and Princess of the Ocean were both capable of 20 knots and so the races between Cebu and Cagayan de Oro began. The bragging rights comes from which ship will arrive Cagayan de Oro port first. In Cagayan de Oro that matters because maybe half of the passengers will still be travelling long distances to Bukidnon, Davao, Cotabato, Gensan and Lanao (the farthest I heard was still bound for Sarangani islands). If one is able to hitch to a connecting ride before dawn then he will have lunch at home even it is as far as Davao. In won’t be dark already when the passenger reaches Sarangani province unlike before (if one is late and there are no more trips then one sleeps in Gensan).

5905587483_49f2ef5395_z

And reports of 2:00 or 2:30 am arrivals (or even earlier) began filtering back. From an 8pm departure in Cebu! There was no way the sister ships of Trans-Asia Shipping Lines can match that. In comfort and accommodations they probably can match ships fitted as liners (except in speed and maybe in the restaurant). But Cebu Ferries Corporation also has a more extensive route system and in conjunction with WG&A liners passing through Cebu their frequencies can’t be matched. WG&A liners acting also as Visayas-Mindanao liners were simply untouchable like the SuperFerries emanating from Cebu. Or when they use the likes of Our Lady of Sacred Heart in a Vis-Min route. Maybe TASLI then were asking what sea god they have crossed to deserve such a fate and tribulation!

Trans-Asia Shipping Lines tried to fight back (and show they are not cowered). They acquired three more ships in a short stretch between 1997 and 1998, the Trans-Asia 2, the Asia Malaysia and the Asia South Korea. However, they lost two ships to accidents in 1999 and they sold three more ships early this millennium. There was simply a surplus of bottoms in the Visayas-Mindanao routes so there was overcompetition (contrary to what Myrna S. Austria claims but those knowledgeable of Visayas-Mindanao shipping will easily contradict her). A lot of regional shipping companies failed in this period. The growth of others were stunted and that included Trans-Asia Shipping Lines.

4644769795_1762e5f4e3_z

Soon, even Cebu Ferries Corporation stepped back, gave up routes and sold ships. It was not simply the effects of overcompetition on them. The “Great Merger” unraveled and the Chiongbian and Gothong families pulled out and they had to be paid for their shares and so still-good ships were thrown to the torches of the breakers. Later, reeling from the resurgence of competitors, Cebu Ferries Corporation gave up completely and its remaining ships were brought to Batangas (and becoming “Batangas Ferries”, jokingly).

But Trans-Asia Shipping Lines suffered a lot. For ten years from 1998 they didn’t acquire any ships until when the purchased the Trans-Asia 3 in 2008. From 2010, Trans-Asia Shipping Lines acquired four more ships. But the difference this time were they were purchasing ships discarded by others (that was the pattern of their clients Cokaliong Shipping Lines and Roble Shipping Lines before). It seems they have forgotten the formula which brought them to the top. As I observed, they were not the same company after that bruising battle with Cebu Ferries Corporation. The “Great Merger” was actually a curse to our shipping as it turned out. Not only to TASLI but to the whole shipping industry. Shipping companies that were growing were blighted by them, some were even snuffed out completely.

8715143236_5371a2bd53_z

While Trans-Asia Shipping Lines still added four more ferries from 2010, they also lost about the same number through disposals and an accident, the sinking of the Asia Malaysia. And then they sold to the breakers their former jewels which might have weak engines already but the interiors were still superb.

Now one of the cast-offs they bought, the Trans-Asia 5 now just sails as a Cargo RORO ship and another has fast-weakening engine, the Trans-Asia 9 (the Captain of her as Our Lady of Good Voyage admitted to PSSS that its engines were weak already). Trans-Asia Shipping Lines severely lacks ships now and their fleet is beginning to get gray. They still try to hold to the premier Cebu-Cagayan de Oro route but challengers are now baying at their door.

19361639944_34a7f53664_z

I hope they have a renaissance. And like in the 1970’s, 1980’s and 1990’s that they sail boldly on to a new dawn.