The Uneven and Controversial Record of Breaking of Passenger Ships in the Philippines

In the recent decades it is only in the 1980’s where I saw a relatively massive ship-breaking of Philippine ferries. Two big factors worked in confluence in that. One, the backbone of Philippine ferries of the postwar years, the former “FS” ships were already breaking down on its own because they were already 40 years old on the average which was already far beyond their estimated design life. Moreover, there was already a shortage of parts and to keep other “FS” ships running some others have to be cannibalized. And these ships were actually badly outgunned already by the newer ferries and as cargo carriers (some were used in that role when they were no longer competitive), they were already overtaken already by the newly-fielded container ships and by cargo ships with fixed schedules like the ships of Sea Transport.

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An example of a former “FS” ship (Credits to Manila Chronicle and Gorio Belen)

The other big factor was the great economic crisis of the 1980’s, the greatest since World War II when there was a contraction of the economy, inflation and the exchange rate were runaway and there was simply no loans available then and interest rates were sky high. Such situation will simply contract the need for ships. This was exacerbated by companies falling by the wayside, bankrupt and shuttered. That even included our auto manufacturing plants. In shipping, a significant percentage of our shipping companies folded and with it went their ships because the remaining shipping companies were just in survival mode and in no mood to take over their ships. That was the second main reason why many of our former “FS” were broken up in the 1980’s. Most of them were scrapped locally specifically in Navotas. The passenger ships of the shipping companies that went belly up in the 1980’s like Compania Maritima also ended up in the breakers and they were not limited to ex-”FS” ships. The 1980’s was really a cruel decade for shipping.

Earlier, in the 1970’s, the former Type “C1” ships were also lost as a class because their engines were no longer good. That also was true of the former Type “N” ships. These ships simply surrendered because they were no longer reliable and parts were hard to come by. And that is one truth in shipping. If a ship is no longer good especially the engines and it cannot be re-engined anymore then it goes to the breakers and no government order to cull is needed for that.

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An example of a former Type “C1” ship (Credits to Phil. Herald and Gorio Belen)

After the 1980’s, ship-breaking followed three main trends. One is the trend set by William, Gothong and Aboitiz (WG&A) and later by its successor Aboitiz Transport System (ATS). WG&A has the penchant to dispose of ship they think are already superfluous. That is actually what happens in mergers and acquisitions (M&A’s). There will always an excess in assets including ships and personnel and the new entity will try to dispose of them to junk “non-performing assets” (NPA’s). That is the reason why still-good liners and overnight ships were disposed to the breakers. There was really no good technical reason to send them there and die.

On the other hand, WG&A and its subsidiary Cebu Ferries Corporation (CFC) had some ships that were nearly ready for the breakers because their engines were already beginning to get unreliable. WG&A tried to sell them as still “good” ships and a few shipping companies got conned buying ROROs with problematic engines and obsolete cruisers. The stinged companies like Sampaguita Shipping had to dispose later these ships.

Our Lady of Banneux (Mis-identified as SF10)

Our Lady of Naju (Mis-identified as OLO Banneux)

Probably the OLO Banneux but Identified as OLO Naju

Sold to raise cash (From http://www.greenshipbreaking.com)

When the two partners in WG&A divested, the Aboitiz family had to dispose of ships to pay them off. This was the reason why Aboitiz Transport System (ATS), the successor company to WG&A had to sell a series of still-good ships, passenger and container, to China breakers early this millennium. In effect, the Gothong and Chiongbian families were paid with cash from scrap metal and their old ships were gone forever.

Aboitiz Transport System also had to sell other ships to the breakers (their liners are too big to be overnight ferries) in order to acquire newer ferries. That was done in the middle of the 2000’s.This is called renewal of the fleet and this is done all the time in other countries. Of course, a company will try to sell their weaker ferries in order to acquire new ones. This pattern also carried over into the successor company of ATS, the shipping company 2GO.

But again the reason to sell was not always based on technical reasons (as in the ship is no longer reliable) but on other considerations. I have observed that the creation of WG&A and its subsequent dissolution created a lot of crooked reasons for selling ships that were not based on the condition of the ship. Some of those were simply connected to cutting of routes and frequencies and the need to come up with cash.

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Sold before its time for crooked reasons (Photo by Vinz Sanchez)

Meanwhile, competitor Negros Navigation Company (NENACO) was hit with illiquidity after their massive expansion fueled by bank loans backfired and they had to seek court protection from garnishment proceedings. However, these resulted in ships being laid up and offered for sale. These ships ended up in the hands of foreign breakers because liners were in excess then (and ATS does not buy ferries from competitors) as budget airlines and intermodal buses cut into their revenue..

But the next chopping of ships en masse was even more cruel. This was as a consequence of Sulpicio Lines getting suspended from sailing after the Princess of the Stars capsized in 2008. Stringent conditions were placed by MARINA, the maritime regulatory agency on Sulpicio Lines’ return to passenger operations. Meanwhile, the bulk of their fleet rotted in their Mandaue wharf and in the middle of Mactan Channel. Along with strong public backlash, Sulpicio Lines lost heart and sold off their entire fleet to foreign breakers and a great passenger fleet that took five decades to build was lost in just one stroke. Those who knew shipping knew this great passenger fleet won’t ever be replaced again. Ironically, it is the government bureaucrats regulating them which did not know that.

Princesses laid up

None of these survived the suspension

As a general rule, companies that do not run into trouble do not send ships to the breakers. WG&A (divestment of partners), Negros Navigation (illiquidity) and Sulpicio Lines (suspension) all ran trouble (and MARINA, the maritime regulatory agency tasked with the country’s maritime development was of no help to them whatsoever). Non-liners frequently do not run into trouble and if ever they fold, many of their ships are taken over by other shipping companies (as their ships are easier to sell). That is what happened to the likes of Bicolandia Shipping Lines, San Juan Ferry, Western Samar Shipping Lines, Kinswell Shipping Lines, Shipsafe/Safeship, Mt. Samat Ferry Express, Moreta Shipping Lines, etc. But this did not happen to most of the big fleet of Viva Shipping Lines and its legal-fiction companies, to Sampaguita Shipping and SKT Shipping/Kong San Teo Shipping, both of Zamboanga, Tamula Shipping and many others..

Again, another rule, it is easier taking over a failed small company and small ferries because the sums involved are not astronomic. If it is a big liner company that gets into trouble, it is only the foreign ship-breakers that have the money to buy their ships.

Princess of Negros when she was for sale

A photo when this ship was for sale; ended in the breakers

I just hope our government understands more our ferry companies, their travails and the difficulty of keeping ferry companies afloat. From my observation with government it seems many of them think ferry companies are raking in money. It is not the lure of money which keeps them in shipping but simply their passion for shipping.

Our shipping sector is actually in distress but I still have to hear or read a government pronouncement acknowledging that. They push the shipping companies to modernize in a tone that as if buying ships is just as easy as acquiring buses. But the inescapable truth is our ferries are actually graying now. And so I fear for them, not because they will sink but we all know nothing lasts forever. I wonder if there will be a mass extinction of ferries in the future, say a decade from now like what happened to the “ex-FS” and ex-”C1” ships. If that happens maybe we will more LCTs and maybe surplus ferries from China.

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The Flagship and Great Liner Wars Going Into the Middle ’90s

If the deadly-for-shipping decade of the ’80s ended in 1990, in 1992 and more so in 1993 there was a palpable change of mood in the local shipping industry. There was optimism, a new outlook and the surviving shipping companies were raring to go instead of just trying to keep their heads above water. There was a new administration ruling in Malacanang under President Fidel V. Ramos which has called for shipping modernization (it was not just modernization but also to address our lack of ferries then). It rolled out incentives for shipping including a program to acquire new ships. The power crisis and the coup d’etat attempts against the previous administration were over and business was picking up. An uptick in business is also a call for shipping expansion, so it was thought then.

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I remember that 1992 and 1993 were signal years for Philippine shipping. That was when great liners (Frank Heine and Frank Lose defined this as liners of over 10,000 gross tons) started arriving in local shores and the flagship wars of the local shipping companies began in earnest. It took the competitors of Sulpicio Lines four or five years before they were able to respond to the knock-out punch delivered by Sulpicio Lines in 1988 when they acquired the trio of Filipina Princess, Cotabato Princess and Nasipit Princess. William Lines, then the closest competitor of Sulpicio Lines for the bragging rights of which is Numero Uno rolled out the splendid-looking with impressive interiors, the tall Maynilad in 1992. However, she had an Achilles heel which cannot be remedied – she severely lacked speed, a requirement for great liners and she was just in the 140-meter class, no matter how much superstructure they tried to build into her.

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Maynilad by Britz Salih

Aboitiz Shipping Corporation fielded the SuperFerry 2 in 1992. She was much like in the interiors and size of the SuperFerry 1 at being in the 130-meter class also but her passenger capacity was maxed. However, she was not in the 20-knot class unlike the SuperFerry 1 and Filipina Princess. Twenty knots was already the speed considered necessary then for great liners locally, if they wanted bragging rights. Negros Navigation fielded the San Paolo in 1992 and the Princess of Negros, their new flagship, in 1993. But both were just in the 110-meter class and their speeds were just about equal to SuperFerry 2 at most. Aboitiz Shipping Corporation also fielded the SuperFerry 3 in 1993 but she was also in the 110-meter class like the San Paolo and the Princess of Negros. Moreover, her speed was a little inferior to the two.

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Mabuhay 1 by Britz Salih

In 1993, William Lines and Carlos A. Gothong Lines Inc. (CAGLI) showed two great liners that were a direct challenge to Sulpicio Lines. William Lines fielded the great Mabuhay 1 which was also in the 180-meter class like the Filipina Princess but was more modern-looking. The Our Lady of Akita of Gothong Lines was not as sleek-looking but she was also big being in the 160-meter class. When the two arrived, it was only Filipina Princess which was breaching the 150-meter mark among local liners in length.

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Our Lady of Akita by Britz Salih

News of incoming liners to the Philippines usually become rumors in Japan shipping circles even before the ships prepare to leave Japan waters and that could even be months in advance. After all, it is just a small, close-knit circle and news of a newbuilding of a ship that will replace a sailing one on the same route are also known by the time the keels are laid. And that is about half a year or more before they are even delivered. So speculations are always rife as to where the ships that will be replaced will be headed (in terms of country) and who is the agent and the buyer.

In Japan, a company bet big on the “Highways of the Sea”, the big, fast overnight ROROs which connected the northern and southern parts of Japan to its central part and metropolises. The Terukuni group and its shipping company Nihon Kosoku Ferry built the all-big (only one is less than 180-meters length in a series of seven) Sun Flower series of luxury liners successively between 1972 and 1974. Not only all were grand but all were very well-appointed and tops in comfort. Like floating “hotels of the sea”, they were the Japan equivalent of the legendary Stena series of luxury ferries in Sweden and in Europe.

Terukuni and its shipping company did not earn money from the series and became financially distressed and so changes in the ownership structure came about. Even so, the Sun Flower series became highly regarded. At times, the more important thing was the impact, the lasting impression and the regard created in the public’s mind. The Sun Flower series was well-remembered in Japan to almost the equivalent to being able to lay down a template.

The Philippines was lucky we had Japan connections and so a few of these great and grand liners of Japan came to our shores. Some will notice that the great liners that came later like SuperFerry 20 and SuperFerry 21 (the two were also Sun Flowers) and St. Michael The Archangel and St. Francis Xavier (which are sister ships of the first pair) are no longer as luxurious. Tastes and conditions have changed. In the 1990’s, the new “Highways of the Sea” were just functional ferries and no longer offered First Class. They might rival their 1970’s predecessors in size and speed but they were no match in the arena of appointments and luxury.

Two of these 1970’s beautiful Sun Flower ships came at the same year in the Philippines – amazingly to compete with each other! Sun Flower 5 came to William Lines and became her Mabuhay 1, the progenitor of the highest class of William Lines liners. At 185 meters, she was of the same size as the former reigning queen of Philippine shipping, the Filipina Princess of Sulpicio Lines. But Mabuhay 1 was more-modern looking and she had better appointments. Both were 20-knot class in speed but Filipina Princess was still speedier. After all, she still has an edge of nearly 6,000 horsepower in power output.

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Princess of the Orient by Britz Salih

But Sulpicio Lines was not to be denied. The biggest of the Sun Flower series which was the Sun Flower 11 came to Sulpicio Lines and became the Princess of the Orient in 1993. This ship had that distinctive two funnels in one line in the center of the ship, a feature not present in the other Sun Flowers. She was also in the 195-meter class. As such, she will hold the title of being the biggest liner in the Philippines at that time. However, she might have been bigger and taller but she cannot do 20 knots unlike the Mabuhay 1. [As a footnote to this class, another one of the Sun Flowers came in 1999, a true sister of Mabuhay 1. That was the Princess of New Unity of Sulpicio Lines which was the Sun Flower 8 in Japan].

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Princess of Paradise by Aris Refugio

And it was not only the Princess of the Orient that came for Sulpicio Lines in 1993. That year she also acquired the big, fast, tall and well-appointed Princess of Paradise from China (but she was originally sailing in Japan). With her fielding, she will be the next holder of the title “Speed Queen” among the liners, the successor to the Filipina Princess in this category.

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St. Francis of Assisi (saved from the net by ‘rrd80’)

The Princess of Paradise was also in the 160-meter class like the Our Lady of Akita but the former was more modern-looking. The two will battle not only in the Cagayan de Oro route and also the Cebu and Nasipit routes. Meanwhile, the Mabuhay 1 and Princess of the Orient will battle in the premier Cebu route (with Filipina Princess still calling in Cebu on the way to Davao). Mabuhay 1 will also show her colors once a week in Iloilo. It is to this challenge to their home port that Negros Navigation responded in 1994 with the equally-impressive and fast St. Francis of Assisi, their next flagship. She was not that big at 140-meter class but she can also do 20 knots and she was very well-appointed, too.

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Princess of the Pacific by Britz Salih

The third ship that came to Sulpicio Lines in 1993 for its wars for the Number 1 position among our shipping companies was the Princess of the Pacific. She was made tall but she was only 137 meters in length, about the length of the new Aboitiz liners. She had the same speed of 18.5 knots like the Princess of the Orient (and better than SuperFerry 2) but she was not that well-appointed. She also docked in Iloilo on her way to Zamboanga and General Santos City. It seems that like in 1988, to fend off competition Sulpicio Lines acquires a bunch of impressive, new liners.

When Mabuhay 1 came to take over flagship duties for William Lines in the premier route to Cebu, in a short time their former flagship Sugbu previously holding that route quietly disappeared. She headed to Singapore for reincarnation as the third ship of the Mabuhay series in 1994, the Mabuhay 3. When she came back, few were able to recognize her as she was lengthened and the superstructure changed and with modifications she was now capable of 20 knots.

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Mabuhay 3 as Super by Vincent Paul Sanchez

Suddenly, in 1993 we truly had great liners in size and in appointments. They all breached 160 meters in length and they were all in the 10,000-gross ton class. In amenities, luxury and passenger service they were a step ahead of the previous big liners. With their more modern design, even the great Filipina Princess suddenly looked old (but not in speed!).

In this year, we were beginning to reach the pinnacle of local passenger liner shipping. More liners will then come together with a “Great Merger” that produced WG&A. From a lack of bottoms at the start of 1990, it seemed to me that before the decade was out we already had a surplus of liners. This can be shown when older liners especially the cruiser liners were sent to the breakers. Some, however, were acquired by regional shipping companies like the Sampaguita Shipping of Zamboanga. This was also apparent in sending old RORO liners to the overnight routes of Cebu Ferries Corporation.

It was not a one-alley fight, however. Intermodal buses were beginning to muscle in especially in the eastern seaboard and a new budget airline, the Cebu Pacific Air was born. On the cargo side, forwarding and trucking companies were mushrooming powered by the arrival of fast surplus trucks in the Subic free port. And this included the wing van trucks which will soon be the bane of the container vans.

From the pinnacle, where is one headed especially if blind to parallel competition?

FERRIES THAT HAD SECOND LIVES

There are lucky ships that lived two lives. Some met accidents and were properly repaired. Some simply grew old but were modified and modernized. If not for the presence of IMO Numbers which are permanent hull numbers and reflected in maritime databases tracing them would have been difficult but not impossible.
Some ships meet accidents like grounding and capsizing and this can easily happen to LCTs and barges which being flat-bottomed do not have the best stability in a heavy sea. But grounding and capsizing is not a big deal for them as they can be easily refloated, towed and repaired especially since they are equipped with watertight compartments that limit damage when the hull is breached. Having a high density of beams also helps to limit damage due to deformation of structures.
If LCTs and barges are vulnerable then more so are the tugs. They can even capsize while pulling a stuck-up ship. Just the same this type is resilient to damage and can easily be refloated and repaired. Even if they are washed ashore or beached in a typhoon they will sail again like a phoenix. No wonder tugs live very long lives although they are small.
Ferries are a different matter. They are not that resilient. Cargo ships are not much luckier too at times since it can be difficult to refloat them especially when loaded by a heavy cargo. With a cargo of cement that is next to impossible. Tankers are not that lucky too. In a fire or an explosion it is a clear goodbye.
We have a few ships that grew old that were modified after laying up idled for years in some obscure part of a shipyard. One of those is the “Star Ferry-II”of 168 Shipping which was formerly the “Ace-1” of Manila Ace Shipping. Laid up for lack of patronage and suitable route she one year appeared in the Matnog-Allen route. I interviewed a crewman and he told me the captain told them it was rebuilt from various parts thus confirming the suspicion of a PSSS moderator that somehow she has a resemblance especially at the bridge area to the “missing” “Ace-1” which formerly plied the Batangas-Mindoro route.
M/V Ace 1 ©Edison Sy
Star Ferry II ©Joe Cardenas
What is remarkable in her rebirth as “Star-Ferry-II” is she will defeat the claim of “Millennium Uno” of Millennium Shipping as the oldest conventional RORO sailing in the Philippines which means LCTs which are technically ROROs are excluded. “Ace-1” was built in 1961 while “Millennium Uno” was built in 1964, a clear lead of three years. Both are old and weak now but the debate between them will continue.
Nobody that will lay sight at “Lapu-Lapu Ferry 1” of Lapu-Lapu Shipping will ever think she is an old ship. And nobody will ever suspect she is the old second “Sweet Time” of Sweet Lines that seemed to have just disappeared in the Cebu-Bohol route. She was rebuilt in Fortune ShipWorks in Consolacion, Cebu in 2002 but what an incredible rebuild since she no longer has resemblance to her former self. She still retains, however her old Hanshin engine.
Sweet Time ©Edison Sy
Lapu-Lapu Ferry-I ©Mike Baylon

When the overnight ferry-cruiser “Honey” of Lapu-Lapu Shipping disappeared there were questions where she went. After some time a “new” “Lapu-lapu Ferry 8” appeared in the Lapu-Lapu Shipping wharf between Pier 1 and Pier 2. Later, we were able to confirm she was indeed the former “Honey” but what a change. There was also no resemblance to the old ship except for the bridge area as noted by another PSSS moderator. What is amazing is her length increased from 20.1m to 35.8m and her breadth increased too from 6.8m to 7.3m.

Lapu Lapu Ferry 8 ©Mike Baylon

It seems among shipping companies it is Lapu-Lapu Shipping which is the master of ship transformations. Their third ship, the “Rosalia 3” was converted from a former ferry sailing the Bantayan route which stopped operations when ROROs began ruling Bantayan Island. Actually as “Rosalia 3” it is already her third iteration since originally she was a single-screwed fishing vessel. Converted to a passenger ship two more engines and screws were added. At full trot she can actually do 16 knots according to her captain and competitors wonder where such a humble-looking cruiser is drawing her mojo.

Rosalia 3 ©Mike Baylon

In Zamboanga there are ships too that disappeared and then reappeared in a different guise. One of this is the “KC Beatrice” of Sing Shipping which was formerly the “Sampaguita Lei” of the defunct Sampaguita Shipping. Having her prominent features changed she does not look the dowdy old ferry she formerly was. Her engine was also changed. She disappeared for nearly a decade and she re-emerged in 2005.

Sampaguita Lei ©Mike Baylon

Another ship in Zamboanga City that was came back like magic was the long-missing “Rizma” of A. Sakaluran. There were two PSSS founders who were checking her being completed three years ago in Varadero de Recodo in Zamboanga City yet we did not suspect she was the former “Rizma”. We were just wondering then what former ship is “Magnolia Liliflora” as looking at her hull even in the dark we can make out she has an old hull. Now she proudly flies the flag and colors of Magnolia Shipping.

Magnolia Liliflora ©Mike Baylon

There are ships that went through worse fates before being resurrected — they sank, were salvaged and were refitted. One was the “Mindoro Express” which sank in Palawan after being pulled-out from the Matnog-Allen route where she was known as “Christ The King” and “Luzvimin Primo”. She was raised up, repaired and refitted in Keppel Batangas, superstructure was chopped and she re-emerged as the “Maharlika Cinco” of Archipelago Ferries/Philharbor in Liloan-Lipata route. She is now missing again and last report was she was seen laid up in a shipyard in General Santos City.

Mindoro Express ©Edison Sy
Maharlika Cinco ©Joel Bado

It was the same situation for “Joy-Ruby” of Atienza Shipping which was the former “Viva Sto. Nino” of Viva Shipping Lines. She sank stern first nearing the port of Coron and she was stuck up with the bow jutting from sea. She was salvaged and repaired and she reappeared as the “Super Shuttle Ferry 15” of Asian Marine Transport in 2008 and plying the Mandaue-Ormoc route.

Super Shuttle Ferry 15 ©Mike Baylon

More than a decade ago, “Melrivic Three” of Aznar Shipping sank right after leaving the port of Pingag in Isabel, Leyte on the way to Danao. One of the passengers was to later become a PSSS moderator. He says the ferry did not completely sink and was later retrieved from the sea and repaired. This ship is still sailing in the same route.

Melrivic Three ©Jonathan Bordon

If you can’t put a good man down, as they say, that could also be true for ships. “Our Lady of Mediatrix” of Daima Shipping became the unfortunate collateral damage of the bombing of two Super Five buses aboard her while she was about to dock in Ozamis port one day in February 2000. White phosphorus bombs were used and the two buses completely burned along with other vehicles on board. The bridge of the double-ended ferry got toasted along with the car deck but the engine room was intact. Laid up for some time she was towed to the shipyard in Jasaan, Misamis Oriental where she was lovingly restored and she emerged again as the “Swallow-2” of the same company. Her bridge was altered, people know her story but they don’t mind and they still patronize her although about 50 people died in the carnage she went through.

Our Lady of Mediatrix ©BBC News Asia
Swallow-2 ©Mark Ocul
Compared to the tales of “Mindoro Express”, “Joy-Ruby”, “Melrivic Three” and “Our Lady of Mediatrix” ,the story of some LCTs of Asian Marine Transport and Jomalia Shipping that partially capsized near port sounds tame. There is actually not much difficulty in raising them up. Practically, those cases are not really stories of ships living second lives.

There were also other lengthening or renewing of lives of ships. Siquijor-I is supposedly a former fishing vessel and training ship of Siquijor State College that was already laid up. How she ended as a property of the Governor then is another matter. And then there is the SuperFerry 1 which within one year of sailing was hit by engine fire. She was towed to Singapore where she was re-engined and repaired. She came out then much faster.

Siquijor Island 1 ©Jonathan Bordon
SuperFerry 1 ©Aristotle Refugio

A special case was the partially capsized “Ocean King II” which was hit by a rogue wave in Surigao Strait. She was able to make it to Benit port where the Coast Guard made a big but wrong show of rescue (using rapelling ropes instead of just getting bancas nearly and urging all to evacuate at once when the ship would no longer sink as she is touching bottom). She lain there for some time until she was towed to Navotas. We all thought she will be cut up there until one day she emerged as a cargo ship and now named as “Golden Warrior”.

Ocean King II ©rrd5580/flickr
Dragon Warrior ©Aristotle Refugio

There are others that merit attention here. “Gloria Two” and “Gloria Three” of Gabisan Shipping were supposedly rebuilt from fishing vessel hulls and done in Leyte. That is also the case of “April Rose” of Rose Shipping which is now with Atienza Shipping. And the “Bounty Ferry”of Evenesser Shipping is supposedly built from a launch from the US Navy if tales are to be believed.

Bounty Ferry ©Britz Salih

Whatever the case may be, there are many ways of giving ships second lives. There is not much technical difficulties involved unless it is fully submerged and far from land. If near land what it needs is just some concern, a dash of love and of course, cash.