The San Lorenzo Ruiz of Negros Navigation

This article is about the liner San Lorenzo Ruiz of Negros Navigation and not the short-distance ferry-RORO of Viva Shipping Lines of Batangas. It was just a wonder from me how come MARINA allowed the use of the same name for two different ROROs when that is not normally allowed. And so because of that some people became confused especially if they have not seen the two liners. Actually one won’t see them at the same time because they have different ports of calls and routes. The nearest the two will be near each other was if they were at the same time in Verde Island Passage between Batangas and Mindoro when they are crossing each other’s path as the Viva Shipping Lines vessel is a Batangas to Mindoro ferry and the Negros Navigation ferry uses the strait on the way to the Visayas and Mindanao.

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The San Lorenzo Ruiz by Marlon Griego and Nowell Alcancia

The San Lorenzo Ruiz is one liner I like for its economical design because it is much like the SuperFerry 2, SuperFerry 5, Mabuhay 2, Princess of the Pacific, Princess of the South, Our Lady of Banneux and Cagayan Bay 1. The class they are in have the length of between 128 to 143 meters (or roughly the 130-meter class) with engines between 15,000 to 16,000 horsepower and with a design speed of about 20 knots and a local speed here of about 18 knots after the addition of metal in the superstructure and the passing of nearly two decades of service. This class has the capacity of some 100 TEUs of container vans which is about enough for the local routes. The class’ speed, capacity and amenities are adequate too for a liner and passenger accommodations don’t have to be so maximized unlike the 110-meter liners. This class has definitely more speed too than that class although they don’t have the 20 knots here of the 150-meter liners with 20,000 horsepower engines but their fuel consumption is definitely less. This class is actually what is perfect for the routes that are not serving Cebu, the country’s premier city and port south of Manila.

The speed differential between an 18-knot liner and a 20-knot liner is really not that great. Going to Cebu and rounding the eastern side of Mactan island, the latter will have a transit time of 21 hours and the former will have a transit time of about 22 hours. At 17.5 knots, the SuperFerry 2 and SuperFerry 5 also can do it in 22 hours because they need not use the eastern seaboard of Mactan for the reason that they can pass under the two Mactan bridges because they have folding stern masts. To me it was even a puzzle why so many of our liners were in the 150-meter class with 20,000 or so horsepower and 20 knots. In terms of container capacity the difference is not great since their breadth is just about the same of the 130-140 meter lines. But 15,000 to 16,000 horsepower is much less than 20,000 to 22,000 horsepower in terms of fuel consumption. Well, actually at the height of fuel prices a few years ago the 2GO itself downgraded the engine speeds and consequently the ferries’ speed to save on fuel. Few really run at 20 knots nowadays and that just proves that 20 knots was really never necessary.

The ROPAX ship San Lorenzo Ruiz of Negros Navigation was built by Nipponkai Heavy Industries Co. in Toyama, Japan in 1973 as the Al Nasl of the Taiheiyo Enkai Ferry KK of Nagoya, Japan with the IMO Number 7302093. The ship was 132.1 meters in length over-all with a length between perpendiculars of 124.0 meters. Her breadth was 22.7 meters with an original gross register tonnage (GRT) of 6,844 tons and an original deadweight tonnage (DWT) of 2,480 tons. The ferry was powered by two IHI (Ishikawa Heavy Industries)-built Pielstick engines developing 8,000 horsepower each for a total of 16,000 horsepower and that gave the ship a design speed of 19.5 knots. Her specifications wer actually very near that of the sister ships SuperFerry 2 and SuperFerry 5 which measured 138.6 meters by 22.1 meters and was powered by two MAN diesels built by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries with a total of 15,200 horsepower and a design speed of 19 knots.

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Ebino of Nippon Car Ferry by ‘hunterdosaemon’

Although twin-engined, the ferry was equipped by a single, center funnel with the stern mast atop it and she had a distinctive bridge that is slanted forward from the top to have a better lower view. She had one full passenger deck plus two passenger-half decks at the front. Al Nasl has a sister ship, the Argo and they sailed the Nagoya-Nachikitsuura-Oita route of Taiheiyo Enkai Ferry, a route from the main island of Honshu to the Kyushu island in the south. In 1976, however, the ship was sold to Nippon Car Ferry and she held the route to Ebino city in Kyushu island and thus she was named as the Ebino. As the ferry to Ebino this ship had a passenger capacity of 695 and about 500 lane-meters in rolling cargo space.

In 1996, the Ebino came to the Philippines to be the San Lorenzo Ruiz with the Mary Queen of Peace, another former Nippon Car Ferry ship. Maybe the connection started with the San Paolo which arrived for Negros Navigation three year earlier and which was another ship from Nippon Car Ferry. In the Philippines, a partial scantling up to the funnel was added in the navigation deck to hold the Economy class. The passenger capacity of the ship in the Philippines was 1,426 persons only as Negros Navigation chose to not massively change the superstructure of the ship anymore. Because many of the Japan features were retained she had the reputation of having good interiors. Of course with 3,911 in net tons she had plenty of space for passengers. However, although scantlings were added the gross tonnage of the ship went down to 6,051 but her deadweight tonnage rose to 2,995 tons. For cargo handling, the ship only had a stern ramp. Many however, said the lines of the ship was beautiful and I agree with that.

The San Lorenzo Ruiz was used by Negros Navigation in opening their Manila-Iloilo-General Santos City-Davao route. In this route she was in competition with the SuperFerry 1/SuperFerry 8/SuperFerry 10 team-up of WG&A which was a mean line-up of former flagships and gives up nothing to her in amenities and facilities but were a little superior to her in speed. They actually share the same route exactly but where the WG&A line-up can do 20 knots the San Lorenzo Ruiz can only do 19 knots at most. But I wonder why in a Negros Navigation advertisement she was declared sailing at 19.5 knots, her design speed. It might have been possible but that means running at 100% engine speed and that is a killer for a 23-year old ship (later she developed a reputation for being “slow”). She had only a declared passenger capacity of 920 passengers in the advertisement (versus the declared 1,426 in MARINA files and a later 1,850 from another source) but her declared cargo capacity was 140 TEU, higher than the normal 130 to 140-meter ROPAX. That means she retained the partial cargo deck at the “B” level supporting the observation that her conversion here was really not much. Probably, the passenger capacity was only right as they were new in the General Santos City and Davao route. On the other, being new the container capacity might have been high. Just the same, her size might have been just perfect in a newly-developed route.

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San Lorenzo Ruiz by Britz Salih

On the Sulpicio Lines side, she was competing with the Princess of the Pacific in the General Santos City route, a ship with almost the same size as her and almost the same horsepower and powered by twin Pielstick engines also. In the Davao route she was up versus the super-big and fast Filipina Princess whose amenities might not as impressive as her being an older ship in terms of fielding here. Like other Negros Navigation ships her higher accommodations have many variations from Suite to Single Suite to Admiral Suite, Deluxe Cabin, Business Class to Tourist Class, Travelers Class and Tatami Class. I like the Tatami Class because I like to sleep on the floor (with mattress) and I can lie with my shoes on and use my knapsack as mattress and not worry about them getting stolen. I hate sleeping in upper bunks and good that the Tatami Class don’t have them.

After two years Negros Navigation withdrew from the Davao route and just used one ship and modified the route of the San Ezekiel Moreno to Manila-Iloilo-Zamboanga-General Santos City-Davao (that ship had a Manila-Iloilo-Zamboanga-General Santos City route before). The San Lorenzo Ruiz then did the Manila-Iloilo-Ozamis-Iligan-Manila route and Manila-Dumaguete-Tagbilaran-Manila route within the same week. I thought this were very good routes for the San Lorenzo Ruiz as it combines near ports without backtracking and two complete voyages are completed in week which means a high efficiency in the use of the ship. But of course, the giant WG&A have heavy presence in those ports of call and Sulpicio Lines is also serving those ports also but the exact routes of the ships of Sulpicio Lines and WG&A varies with that of the San Lorenzo Ruiz. In Iligan and Ozamis, the San Lorenzo Ruiz was up against the SuperFerry 2/SuperFerry 5/SuperFerry 9 team-up of WG&A and all three of those were about the same dimensional size and engine size of her and so it was probably an even match even in amenities. She was also against that team-up in Dumaguete. In the Tagbilaran and Dumaguete combined route she was up against the SuperFerry 3 and she has a big advantage over this ship in speed, in paper as that ship only has 9,300 horsepower in total. In Tagbilaran she was also up against the Our Lady of Sacred Heart and Our Lady of Medjugorje pairing of WG&A and again she had great advantage in speed and even in amenities aside from the space. She was also superior in everything over the Princess of the Caribbean of Sulpicio Lines in Dumaguete and Ozamis (or the Iloilo Princess which subbed in 1998) and much more superior over the old cruiser Dipolog Princess in the Tagbilaran and Iligan route of Sulpicio Lines.

Since the San Lorenzo Ruiz was not competing here versus liners with 20,000 horsepower she then just tried to match the speed of the competition which was about 17.5 knots for the Dumaguete route and 17 knots for the Tagbilaran route and that was probably a wise decision. Versus the smaller ROPAXes of 2GO which has small engines, the SuperFerry 3, Our Lady of Sacred Heart and Our Lady of Medjugorje there was no chance that she can be outsped. I thought then she had a chance in the old Dumaguete-Ozamis-Iligan-Tagbilaran quadrant, a favorite of many ships in the past from the time of ex-”FS” ships and even before. In those routes she was also the local connection of the near islands there.

But then she lost over time. In shipping, it is not just the edge or the parity of the ship that matters. Even more important is the cargo which is the bread and butter of shipping. Now, the old ones also have advantage even in the passengers because of the familiarity including in the schedule. When the new millennium arrived it was already the whole company that was in trouble. They simply had too many ships from loans and there were not enough revenues and the dancing porters and free porterage plus bus links were not enough to do the trick. Soon, Negros Navigation was dropping routes and ports of calls as they found it unprofitable. The time they entered those new routes and ports was the time the country had too many liners, the product of over-expansion during the time of President Fidel V. Ramos who gave incentives for the acquisition of new ship including loans from the then government-owned Philippine National Bank. It was also the time that the true intermodal system, the combination of the long-distance trucks and buses plus the short-distance ferry-ROROs were making great advances and taking away passengers and cargo from the liners. And then there was also the budget airlines which was sucking passengers from the liners as they were already offering fares in parity with the liners.

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The San Lorenzo Ruiz by Rodney Orca

Soon, the liners of Negros Navigation was being garnished by creditors including the Tsuneishi shipyard in Cebu. Manny V. Pangilinan of Metro Pacific and Smart Telecommunications entered as a white knight and infused money and talked to the creditors and a court-mandated rehabilitation program was put in place. One result of the reorganization that ensued was that Negros Navigation was forced to hold on only to routes that were making money for them and these were basically their old routes before their big expansion from the mid-1990’s. With such a decision, liners have to be sold and many were then subsequently offered for sale by ads. However, here were no local takers and when this happened only shipbreakers from other countries are interested and in the end many of the liners of Negros Navigation ended up with the breakers including those ships transferred to Jensen Shipping. San Lorenzo Ruiz was acquired by Bangladesh breakers and in 2008 she was broken up in Chittagong.

And that was the sad end of one liner I admire.

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When the RORO Liners Came to Zamboanga and Southern Mindanao

The ROROs (Roll-on, Roll-off ships) first came to the Philippines at the end of the 1970’s and in the 1980’s it began to multiply in Luzon and the Visayas. From the moment the ROROs arrived it was already obvious that they were superior to the cruiser ships and that a new paradigm has arrived and the cruiser ships were already headed to obsolescence. However, the ROROs did not multiply fast in general in the 1980’s because it was a decade of great economic and political crises when the value of the peso plunged and inflation was unchecked. At the height of the crisis of the 1980’s almost no loans were available, few foreign currency was available (that it even lead to the creation of the “Binondo central bank) and the interest rates were skyhigh that it was almost suicide to take a loan especially at foreign-denominated one.

That difficulty was reflected in that the first RORO liners and overnight ferries in the country acquired at the peak of this crisis up to 1986 were small and were generally just in the 60 to 70-meter length class only and barely over 1,000 gross tons. Among the examples of those were the Surigao Princess, Cagayan Princess, Boholana Princess, Sta. Maria (of Nenaco and not Viva Shipping Lines), the Viva Sta. Maria and Marian Queen of Viva Shipping Lines and the many ROROs acquired by Carlos A. Gothong Lines like the Dona Lili, Don Calvino, Dona Josefina, Don Benjamin, Dona Casandra, Dona Cristina and the third Sweet Home of Sweet Lines. The notable exceptions in this period were the Sweet RORO and Sweet RORO 2 of Sweet Lines and the Sta. Florentina of Negros Navigation but the three were not really that big (as in 110 to 120 meters LOA). Many liners shipping companies did not bother to purchase a RORO ship in this period like William Lines, Aboitiz Shipping, Lorenzo Shipping, Escano Lines and the moribund Compania Maritima, the erstwhile biggest passenger shipping company.

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Cotabato Princess c. 1988 by Britz Salih

However, if Luzon, the Visayas and Northern Mindanao already had RORO ships in this period described, Zamboanga and Southern Mindanao did not see a RORO liner until 1988 when Sulpicio Lines fielded the Cotabato Princess in the Manila-Iloilo-Zamboanga-Cotabato route and Trans-Asia Shipping Lines Inc. fielded the Asia Korea (the latter Asia Hongkong and the Reina del Rosario of Montenegro Shipping Lines) on the Cebu-Iloilo-Zamboanga-General Santos City route and that RORO ship is actually 82.8 meters in length which is about the size of small liners then like the Our Lady of Guadalupe which arrived in 1986 for Carlos A. Gothong Lines and was 89.7 meters in length. With the overthrow of the dictatorship in 1986 and the general bettering of the economic conditions starting in 1987 the RORO ships being purchased were beginning to get bigger and more many as the difficulty of lending from banks and the interest rates eased and there was new economic optimism.

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Asia Korea (TASLI photo)

The fielding of RORO liners in Zamboanga and Southern Mindanao was not fast at first. In 1989, the Zamboanga City of William Lines came when it did the Manila-Iloilo-Zamboanga route before replacing their burned (in the shipyard) Manila City in the Manila-Zamboanga-Davao route. In 1992, the big but slow Maynilad of the William Lines came and replaced the Zamboanga City in that route and the Zamboanga City was given the Manila-Iloilo-Cotabato-General Santos City route instead to battle the Cotabato Princess (with she bypassing Zamboanga port her travel time to Cotabato was shorter).

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Maynilad (Photo credits: William Lines and Britz Salih)

Sulpicio Lines only fielded their second RORO liner in Southern Mindanao when the Manila Princess came in 1992 to replace their cruiser Davao Princess in the Manila-Cebu-Davao route. Actually during that time the only shipping companies with passenger service still remaining to Zamboanga and Southern Mindanao were Sulpicio Lines, William Lines and Sweet Lines. Such was the effect of the political and economic crises of the 1980’s and the coming of the container ships. Among those who quit Zamboanga and Southern Mindanao then in passenger shipping were Compania Maritima, Aboitiz Shipping and Lorenzo Shipping.

The slowness of the coming of the RORO liners in Zamboanga and Southern Mindanao can be counted this way. In 1992, four years after the first coming of the RORO liners, the southernmost portion of the country only had 4 RORO liners, the Manila Princess and Cotabato Princess of Sulpicio Lines and the Maynilad and Zamboanga City of William Lines (Sweet Lines only had the cruiser Sweet Glory in the route). Well, actually there were not that many liners here compared to the Visayas and Northern Mindanao as most cargo in the region was actually carried by the container ships which outnumber the RORO liners. However, Zamboanga and Southern Mindanao RORO liners were generally bigger than the Visayas and Northern Mindanao RORO liners, on the average.

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Princess of the Pacific (Photo credits: Sulpicio Lines and Britz Salih)

It was starting in 1993 that fielding of RORO liners to the southernmost part of the country accelerated. More RORO liners were actually coming in the country because of the incentives laid by President Fidel V. Ramos. The Princess of the Pacific of Sulpicio Lines came and did the Manila-Iloilo-Zamboanga-Dadiangas route. Aboitiz Shipping came back to Southern Mindanao when they fielded the SuperFerry 1 in the Manila-Iloilo-General Santos-Davao route and their SuperFerry 3 did the Manila-Zamboanga-Cotabato route to the protest of William Lines in the latter which when not resolved resulted in the withdrawal of the liner Zamboanga City and subsequent reassignment of that ship to the Puerto Princesa route. Meanwhile, the super-big former flagship of Sulpicio Lines, the Filipina Princess replaced the Manila Princess in its route and this ship was subsequently assigned to the Manila-Zamboanga-Davao route to compete with the slow but bigger Maynilad.

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Photo credits: Manila Chronicle and Gorio Belen

In 1994, the lengthened and rebuilt Sugbu which became the Mabuhay 3 of William Lines did the Manila-Davao-Dadiangas route. In 1995, just before the merger that produced WG&A no more further RORO liners came but Manila Princess was plagued by unreliability and was just being used as a reserve ship.

When WG&A started sailing in 1996 there were heavy changes to the schedules and routes. Early in the merger, the Maynilad was doing the Manila-Dumaguete-Cotabato route and SuperFerry 3 was assigned her old Manila-Zamboanga-Cotabato route. The Dona Virginia was fielded to the Manila-Zamboanga-General Santos City route and competing head-on with the Princess of the Pacific but she was only a half-RORO, half-cruiser. The SuperFerry 6 was doing the Manila-Surigao-Davao route in contest with the Filipina Princess. And the SuperFerry 1 was doing her old Manila-Iloilo-General Santos City-Davao route. There were more RORO liners now and RORO liners that have not been previously assigned to Zamboanga and Southern Mindanao reached ports here like the Our Lady of Akita of Gothong Lines which became SuperFerry 6 and the old flagship Dona Virginia of William Lines. It was exciting because new ships coming are exciting and because it is a new experience for the passengers.

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SuperFerry 3 by Chief Ray Smith

Along the years there were constant adjustments in the routes and fielding of ships of WG&A as more RORO liners came to their fleet and some liners were disposed off or were lost. Later, WG&A also turned into pairing of ships to do the same route. But it would be hard to mention here all the WG&A routes and schedules as it often changed and I will just risk accusations of inaccuracies and listing many by month will be too tedious.

There was one more change in the area when Negros Navigation invaded Zamboanga and Southern Mindanao in their desire to become a national liner company and compete toe-to-toe with WG&A and Sulpicio Lines. The San Ezekiel Moreno was assigned the Manila-Iloilo-Zamboanga-General Santos route and competing against the Princess of the Pacific. And the San Lorenzo Ruiz (theirs and not the Viva Shipping Lines ship) was fielded to the Manila-Iloilo-General Santos-Davao route in competition then with the SuperFerry 1/SuperFerry 8/SuperFerry 10 pairing.

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San Lorenzo Ruiz by Britz Salih

In the new millennium the RORO liners slowly disappeared from Southern Mindanao and almost too in Zamboanga. Passenger shipping slowly but continuously weakened with the onslaught of the budget airlines (and the intermodal bus too from Davao) whose fares were already in parity with the liners. Soon, even the hoi polloi were also taking the planes and a new generation of passengers deemed the liners as too slow and wouldn’t want to spend two-and-a-half days of their lives cocooned in a liner although they are fed free. The RORO liners soon became for the ship lovers only and for those who feared taking a plane.

In the second decade of the new millennium the Aboitiz Transport System RORO liners to Southern Mindanao disappeared. That was preceded years earlier by the withdrawal of Negros Navigation. Now there are no more liners in Southern Mindanao and in Zamboanga only one liner is left.

Soon RORO liners will just be distant memories in Southern Mindanao.

When RORO Reigned Supreme

Retrieved from the Old PSSS Website
written by: Mike Baylon

RORO means Roll-on, Roll-off. As distinguished to LOLO (Load-on, Load-off or Lift-on, Lift-off), RORO has cargo ramps and car decks and cargo is not lifted but loaded through vehicles that have wheels. Unlike cruisers that have cruiser sterns ROROs generally have transom sterns.

True ROROs started arriving in the Philippines in the 70’s. This does not include the LCTs which are also ROROs in their own right. The very first RORO could have been the “Millennium Uno” of Millennium Shipping. Japan database shows she arrived in the country in 1973. She is still sailing the Liloan-Lipata route.

Millennium Uno ©Mike Baylon

After some lull the next true ROROs arrived starting in 1978 with the “Northern Samar” of Eugenia Tabinas Shipping Lines of Tabaco, Albay which was fielded in the Sorsogon-Samar route. The next to arrive could be the “Laoang Bay” of Newport Shipping in 1979. This ferry was also later known as “Badjao”, “Philtranco Ferry 1” and “Black Double”. MARINA database also shows “Viva Penafrancia – 9” of Viva Shipping, a steel RORO was built locally in Quezon in 1979.

Starting in 1980, arrivals of RORO in the Philippines stepped up and many even arrived that year while cruiser arrivals began to dry up. In 1980, the “Dona Lili”, “Dona Josefina”, “Don Calvino”, all of Gothong Shipping and the “Sta. Maria” of Negros Navigation arrived. The “Eugenia” of Eugenia Tabinas Shipping seems to have arrived this year also. In 1981 the Melrivic 7 of Aznar Shipping in Cebu came.

The first RORO built by the Philippine government to connect the Maharlika Highway, the “Maharlika I” came in 1982 and she was fielded in the Matnog-San Isidro route connecting Sorsogon and Samar. The second of the series, a sister ship, the “Maharlika II” came in 1984 and was fielded in the Liloan-Lipata route connecting Leyte and Surigao thus completing the Maharlika Highway connection. [Nothing is implied here that in was only in this year that Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao were connected as claimed by some.]

Maharlika I ©Edison Sy

Many of the first ROROs were small. The liner companies did not dominate the first arrivals. It seems it is the provincial short-distance island connectors that first truly appreciated the RORO.

After a very short lull the next batch of ROROs arrived and they appeared in Batangas in the mid-80s. This was spurred by the arrival of “Tokishiho” (later “Emerald I”) of Manila International Shipping Lines to which the dominant Viva Shipping Lines of Batangas immediately countered with the “Viva Penafrancia” in 1985.

The first big RORO liners to arrive that rival the size of the big, fast cruisers were the “Sweet RORO” (1982), “Sweet RORO II” (1983) of Sweet Lines and the “Sta. Florentina” of Negros Navigation in 1983.

Sweet RORO ©lindsaybridge

Sulpicio’s entry to the RORO mode started in 1983 with two modest-sized ROROs, the “Surigao Princess” and the “Butuan Princess” which later became the “Cebu Princess”. William Lines’ foray in RORO started only in 1987 with the “Masbate I”. This was followed by the “Zamboanga” in 1989. WLI’s entry in this field was relatively late and they paid with this by relinquishing the number 1 spot in the local shipping pecking order.

Before the 80s ended Sweet Lines has further added “Sweet Home” (1984), “Sweet Faith” (1987), “Sweet Baby” (1987) and “Sweet Pearl” (1989). Sulpicio Lines has also added “Boholana Princess” (1986). Meanwhile, Gothong Shipping already added the “Dona Cristina” (1985), “Our Lady of Guadalupe” (1986) and the sisters “Our Lady of Fatima” and “Our Lady of Lourdes” both in 1987. Aboitiz Shipping meanwhile also entered the RORO race in 1989 with the “SuperFerry 1”.

For a short time it was Gothong Shipping and Sweet Lines that was battling for superiority in the RORO field. However, in 1988 Sulpicio Lines added 3 big RORO liners that dwarfed all previous examples starting with the “Filipina Princess”, then one of the biggest and fastest ROROs in the world, the “Nasipit Princess” and the “Tacloban Princess”. They also added in that year the “Cagayan Princess”. With these additions Sulpicio Lines guaranteed they can never be headed in the RORO field and that stood true until WG&A came along.

Filipina Princess ©Vincent Paul Sanchez

Before the end of the 80’s, a Visayan-Mindanao shipping company also bet big on RORO and this earned the company number 1 in pecking order in that area. Trans-Asia Shipping Lines bought 5 RORO – the “Asia Korea” (1987), the “Asia Thailand” (1987), the “Asia Japan” (1988), the “Asia Brunei” (1989) and the “Asia Taiwan” (1989). They disposed some ROROs later (but always with replacements) until their progress was impeded with the creation of Cebu Ferries Corporation.

Meanwhile, smaller ROROs also sprouted in the same period in the provincial routes starting with the “Princess of Antique” (1985). Among the others are “Danilo 1” (1987) and “Danilo 2” (1988), now the “Lite Ferry 1” and “Lite Ferry 2”, respectively, the “Dona Isabel II” (1988) which was later known as “Bantayan” and now “Siquijor Island 2”, the “Princess Mika” (1988), the “Luzviminda” (1988), the ‘Stephanie Marie” (1989) of Aleson Shipping in Zamboanga, etc. In Batangas the likes of “Sto. Domingo” (1988) and “Viva Penafrancia 3 (1989) came and this was followed by a slew of Domingo Reyes ROROs in the next years until they dominated that port.

Lite Ferry 2 ©James Gabriel Verallo

With that big statement of Sulpicio in 1988 the other long-distance liner companies have to respond and bigger and faster RORO liners came in the 90’s. William Lines created their “Mabuhay” line of luxury RORO liners and aided with their “Maynilad’. Aboitiz Shipping created their “SuperFerry” line. Gothong Shipping converted two RORO cargo ships and out came the “Our Lady of Sacred Heart” and “Our Lady of Medjugorje” augmented by the their big “Our Lady of Akita”. Negros Navigation continued their “Saints” series and out came the “Sta. Ana” (1988), the “Princess of Negros”, the “San Paolo” and the beautiful “St. Francis of Assisi” to be followed by the sisters “St. Peter the Apostle and “St. Joseph the Worker”. Meanwhile, Sweet Lines was not able to keep pace and soon dropped out of shipping in 1994. Also dropping out of passenger shipping were the lesser long-distance ferry companies which were not able to refleet to RORO. These were the Escano Lines and Madrigal Shipping.

Our Lady of Medjugorje folio ©John Michael Aringay

Sulpicio meanwhile did not rest on their laurels in the first half of the 90’s. They topped their “Filipina Princess” with the “Princess of the Orient” (1993) and they also rolled out the formidable “Princess of Paradise”, the speed queen of the era. Also added to their fleet was the “Princess of the Pacific” and the lesser “Manila Princess” and “Tacloban Princess”. At the middle of the 90’s there was no question then which was biggest shipping company in the Philippines.

There was also no question that the previous decade ended with ROROs already beginning to dominate long-distance passenger shipping. However in other provincial ports, save for Batangas maybe, the RORO is not yet dominant.

The Sulpicio Lines hegemony of the early 90s suddenly changed with the merger of 3 major shipping companies to form the “William, Gothong and Aboitiz” or WGA which suddenly topped the fleet of Sulpicio even though it remanded lesser and older ships to subsidiary Cebu Ferries Corp. CFC then became the scourge of the Visayas-Mindanao shipping companies, most of which except for Trans-Asia Shipping were just in the very beginning of the RORO era like their Zamboanga counterparts.

Among those absorbed by the merger were the ships then underway or under refitting like “SuperFerry 12”, “Our Lady of Akita” which became “SuperFerry 11” and later “Our Lady of Banneux”, “Our Lady of Lipa”, “Mabuhay 5” and “Mabuhay 6” which later became the “SuperFerry 9” and “Our Lady of Good Voyage”, respectively. In the year of that merger, Sulpicio Lines responded with the “Princess of the Universe” and “Princess of the World” and Nenaco responded with the “San Lorenzo Ruiz” and the “St. Ezekiel Moreno”.

The gap between WG&A and Sulpicio Lines and Nenaco was actually narrowing before the end of the millennium as WG&A was intent of selling their “excess” and old ships and it not add any ship to their fleet until 2000. Meanwhile, Sulpicio Lines rolled out the “Princess of the Ocean” and “Princess of the Caribbean”, both in 1997 and the grand “Princess of New Unity” in 1999. Nenaco also added what turned out to be their flagship, the “Mary, Queen of Peace” in 1997.

Princess of New Unity ©britz444
Mary, Queen of Peace ©Rodney Orca

In the provincial routes and ports the millennium ended with the RORO becoming dominant already. On its heels came the long-distance buses and trucks and the delivery trucks of the trade distributors. It can also be said that the requirements of these buses and truckers fuelled the growth of the short-distance ROROs connecting the nearer islands.

RORO liners primary carried container vans in trailer beds. Short-distance ROROs meanwhile primarily carried trucks, buses, jeeps and private vehicles. Overnight ROROs however primarily carried cargo LCL (loose cargo loading) or in pallets. Forklifts were the primary means of loading the cargo. Others call this system break bulk.

If the 90’s were marked by vibrancy and rapid expansion in the long-distance, liner section of shipping the past decade was marked by a long steady retreat of local long-distance shipping and with it the ROROs. This retreat was marked by 2 major spasms — the illiquidity of Nenaco and the suspension of Sulpicio Lines in 2008 after the capsizing of the Princess of the Stars. ROROs were sold and for varying reasons.

Nenaco can’t sustain its expanded route system and their ROROs were laid up and threatened with seizure by creditors. WG&A just wanted to get out of routes they deem were not earning enough. Moreover, Aboitiz has to pay off the divestment of William (the Chiongbian family) and Gothong from the merged company. Then world metal prices peaked and they cashed in on the bonanza. Sulpicio Lines meanwhile decided to sell their ships laid-up by the suspension.

Aside from external problems the long-distance shipping industry was also beset last decade by external threats. Early in 2000’s, the long-distance buses and trucks began to challenge the liners. This began in Samar-Leyte-Biliran. The leading shipping company, WG&A immediately retreated and left the three islands. Soon Masbate and Bohol was also under siege by the buses and lost.

A major factor in that development was the deregulation of the bus sector in the Bicol region and Eastern Visayas. The effect is bus companies sprouted like mushrooms, each seeking more routes, giving wider coverage. As a result passengers need not go to the major centers anymore and it offered the convenience of getting off right by their gates. Moreover, it has also the convenience of a daily departure and a wide choice of buses. As deregulated areas the bus companies were to free to offer low fares and freebies like free ferry fare.

In 2003, the overland route to Panay via Mindoro opened. In a short time came the influx of the buses, trucks and jeeps. The shipping routes to that island were soon under siege. If Nenaco’s withdrawal can be excused by their illiquidity, the leading shipping company, WG&A again simply withdrew without much struggle and just held on to Iloilo port where they are under siege again now. Like in Samar-Leyte-Biliran-Masbate-Bohol this Panay withdrawal of WG&A resulted in selling to the breakers of good ROROs for scrap.

Dangay Port, Roxas, Oriental Mindoro ©Mike Baylon

The second major threat that emerged in the last decade was the emergence of regional container lines to major provincial ports. This provided direct access to foreign markets. And once a direct route is established loaded and empty container vans no longer have to be transshipped via Manila. Before this, the transshipment business was a big source of revenue for long- distance shipping.

Now an even more ominous development is the start of the chartering of banana growers of their own container ships. With their own ships they are no longer dependent on the routes of the container lines. Whereas now if a container line has no route to a certain market country of theirs then they still have to transship via Manila and use the local long-distance liners.

Sasa Port, Davao City ©Aristotle Refugio

A minor threat as of now to long-distance ROROs is the emergence of LCTs as carriers of container vans. But a bigger threat is the inroads of long-distance trucking in the Visayas and Mindanao. The root of the problem is the high cost of charges via long-distance shipping and so they lose out.

Budget airlines will also take out some revenues from long-distance shipping. This is not critical because the bread and butter of long-distance shipping is cargo operations.

One beneficiary of these developments is the short-distance RORO sector which makes possible the island-hopping of the trucks, buses, jeeps and private vehicles. This sector is growing consistently while the long-distance sector is shrinking.

Mukas Port ©Raymond Lapus

For the present, the sector of RORO liners is in crisis. Only ten long-distance RORO liners are left sailing in the country as of now.

The overnight RORO ferry sector is yet unaffected. The only affected portion of this is the companies with routes to Mindoro and Romblon.

The ROROs have eclipsed the cruisers. But the growth sectors now are the short-distance and overnight ferry sectors of the ROROs.