Container Ships Also Sink Our Liners

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

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Gorio Belen research in the National Library

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

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

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Gorio Belen research in the National Library

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

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Gorio Belen research in the National Library

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

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

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Gorio Belen research in the National Library

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Photo by Edison Sy

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

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

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

Lorcon Dumaguete assisted by tugs

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

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

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

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A Cargo RORO LCT by Asian Shipping Corporation

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

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

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

The Last Stand of Compania Maritima

In the postwar years, Compania Maritima stressed routes going to southern and western Mindanao (because ships going to southern Mindanao dock in Zamboanga first). It was easy for them since they had liners bigger than former “FS” ships, a luxury not available to their competitors and they had more ships (which is needed since the route were long and takes time to come back). That period Compania Maritima was the biggest shipping company in the Philippines and half of their fleet were big ships. In terms of big ships, they then had the most in the country.

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Photo credits: Manila Chronicle and Gorio Belen

Most ships running the southern Mindanao routes were former “FS” ships which were once small cargo ships of the US Army in World War II. In those routes, Compania Maritima were using former passenger-cargo ships from Europe and there was a whale of a difference between those and the former “FS” ships. The extra space and speed matters a lot and smaller ships were simply more bouncy in inclement weather or when the monsoons are blowing hard.

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Their competitors William Lines and Go Thong were just using former “FS” ships in the route and in the case of the latter it was even using lengthened ex-”F” ships. PSNC (Philippine Steam and Navigation Co.) meanwhile has mixed ex-”FS” and ex-C1-M-AV1” ships in the southern Mindanao routes. In 1955, when Everett Steamship’s duo of brand-new luxury liners which were sister ships arrived, the Legazpi and the Elcano, PSNC withdrew the former “C1-M-AV1” ships in the Davao route (Everett SS was then operating through PSNC in partnership with Aboitiz Shipping Corporation).

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A former ex-“C1-M-AV1” ship (Photo credits: Phil. Herald and Gorio Belen)

Compania Maritima was dominant in the southern Mindanao routes because their ships were simply bigger, better and faster. Their only worthy competition were the Legazpi and Elcano but still their ships which were former European passenger-cargo ships were bigger than those and has more cargo capacity, an important feature then since more cargo meant more revenue.

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(Photo credits: Phil. Herald and Gorio Belen)

In those routes to the south, Compania Maritima followed what was in vogue or normal then, that is the ships pass so many intermediate ports (as in up to six) and Cebu or Iloilo will be one of them. The ships will then dock in other Visayan ports like Tagbilaran, Dumaguete or Pulupandan or northern Mindanao ports like Cagayan de Oro, Iligan or Ozamis, among others. In the early ’70’s, Sweet Lines pioneered the route through the eastern seaboard of Mindanao. But just the same their ships docked first in Visayas ports.

That was the reason why ships then took nearly two weeks to complete a voyage and two ships had to alternate in serving a route to southern Mindanao so a weekly schedule can be maintained. Most had Davao as end port and some had Gensan as end port. Those still going to Davao usually docked also in Gensan (it was called Dadiangas then). A few ships had Cotabato as the end port (it was actually the Polloc port in Parang, Cotabato).

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MV Dona Ana (Wikimedia Commons)

However, in 1976, the new paradigm, that of fast cruiser liners came also to Mindanao. Bringers of it were Sulpicio Lines with the Dona Ana and William Lines with the Manila City. These fast ships only took three days to Davao compared to the six days of the liners before. These new ships only had one intermediate stop, Cebu for Sulpicio Lines and Zamboanga for William Lines. Fast cruisers of that era meant a ship can do 18 knots sustained. These fast cruisers had prompt departures and usually they will arrive at the posted ETA.

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Photo credits: Times Journal and Gorio Belen

Aside from the Dona Ana, Sulpicio Lines also introduced small passenger-cargo ships with direct Davao sailings and these ships only took five days for the voyage. In 1978, Sulpicio Lines introduced the fast cruiser liners Don Enrique and Don Eusebio to Southern Mindanao routes. Even with these fieldings, Sulpicio Lines and William Lines maintained their old ships with multiple intermediate ports which took six days and with two ships alternating. But passengers who can’t afford or who don’t want to take the plane suddenly has a faster and more luxurious passage. These moves of Sulpicio Lines and William Lines put a lot of pressure on the other operators.

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Photo credit: Gorio Belen

These new liners of Sulpicio Lines and William Lines, being fast and taking fewer days forced changes in the sailings of the other companies. Sweet Lines then assigned three ships rotating to the Davao route and by using the shorter eastern seaboard route and with just one intermediate port was capable of reaching Davao in 4 days. Sweet Lines cannot match Sulpicio Lines and William Lines because they have no fast cruiser liners (they will try to match in 1983 when they acquired the fast RORO liner Sweet RORO 2).

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Photo credit: Times Journal and Gorio Belen

The combined Carlos A. Gothong Lines Inc. (CAGLI) and Lorenzo Shipping Company tried a new tack. They simply dropped passenger service to Davao and offered direct cargo sailings (hence, their ships can almost match the sailing times of the Sulpicio and William fast cruisers). Aboitiz Shipping Corporation meanwhile had already dropped Davao and Gensan even before and their ships were sailing up to Pagadian only (which they will also relinquish and abandon southern Mindanao). The other liner companies were not involved in this battle like Escano Lines, Negros Navigation and the minor liner companies because they had no southern Mindanao nor western Mindanao routes even before.

Compania Maritima which like the others used doubling of ships to Davao or Gensan also used the approach of Sweet Lines, that is to triple the ships in a Davao route so their sailings time will be reduced to four days. Their ships are faster than Sweet Lines’ but although they pruned the number of intermediate port they really can’t bring it down to just one port (so they are not faster to Davao than Sweet Lines). By this time Compania Maritima was already using their best and fastest ships to the Davao route and their next echelon of ships were also doing the other southern Mindanao routes. With this tactic Compania Maritima had a very thin coverage of their old northern Mindanao and Eastern Visayas routes.

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The Compania Maritima flagship (Photo credits: Evening News and Gorio Belen)

If Compania Maritima thought they can hold fort with this tactic they were sadly mistaken. In 1978, Aboitiz Shipping Corporation boldly came back to the southern Mindanao routes with its container ships, a new paradigm in Philippine shipping and they were offering direct sailings which means no intermediate ports. With that they can offer a faster (than Compania Maritima and Sweet Lines) and more secure shipping of goods with less damage. William Lines and Sulpicio Lines, not to be outdone, matched this new offering of Aboitiz Shipping Corporation the next year and this was followed soon by Lorenzo Shipping Corporation. Not to be left out was the new Sea Transport Company, a pure cargo company which offered direct container services to southern Mindanao even ahead of the national liner majors.

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Photo credits: Times Journal and Gorio Belen

As mentioned before, Sweet Lines also followed suit with a fast service to Davao with the Sweet RORO 2 in 1983. If Compania Maritima was also strong in Cebu cargo before, by this period the national liner majors also had direct and dedicated container ship sailings to Cebu. Cargo is actually the bread and butter of shipping and since Compania Maritima never invested in container ships in due time they were already badly outgunned. Their competition already had fast cruiser liners and it had containers ships too, both new paradigms that Compania Maritima never possessed and they were still stuck to the old cruisers and old way of sailing.

I don’t know if Compania Maritima ever thought of getting aboard the new paradigms. Whatever, events soon decided things for them. President Marcos’ grip on power was loosening, his health was deteriorating and soon Ninoy Aquino was gunned down in the airport in his return in 1983. Political crisis and financial crisis were soon raging in the land, the peso was sinking very fast and production and trade suffered. Even prime companies were tottering on the edge then because of crushing debt loads when lending from the banks was nearly impossible. In this period, even the local operations of the major car assemblers collapsed – Toyota, Ford, General Motors. Other big companies were closing shop too.

The next year Compania Maritima’s answer to the crisis became known to all. They simply ceased operations too like the motoring majors and soon their dual-citizen owners were on their way back to Spain. Compania Maritima’s ships were laid up but soon they were sold to the breakers one by one. By 1988, none of Compania Maritima’s ships were still existing.

And that was how the old and long No.1 in Philippine shipping ended its life.

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Compania Maritima building in Cebu

The Start and Impact of Containerization on Local Shipping

Containerization or the use of container vans to transport goods began in the Philippines in 1976, a decade after containerization began to take hold internationally. The new method was started by Aboitiz Shipping Corporation when they converted their 1,992-gross ton general cargo ship “P. Aboitiz” into a container carrier. This was followed by the conversion of their general cargo ship “Sipalay” in 1978. These first two container ships had limited capacity in terms of TEU (Twenty Foot Equivalent Unit) which is the common measure of container capacity that can be carried by container ships but it more than showed the direction of cargo loading in the future. And it also showed that general cargo ships can be converted container carriers.

By 1978 and 1979, containerization was already in full swing in the Philippines when major competitor shipping companies William Lines Inc., Sulpicio Lines Inc. and Lorenzo Shipping Company also embraced the new paradigm and competed. This new wave was also joined at the same time by two other small and new shipping companies, the Sea Transport Company and Solid Shipping Lines. Except for these two, our pioneers in container shipping were passenger liner (which means there are fixed schedules and routes) shipping companies.

The leading liner shipping company then which was Compania Maritima declined to follow suit into containerization along with Gothong Lines while the others like Sweet Lines, Negros Navigation and Hijos de F. Escano followed a little later in the early 1980’s. Gothong Lines, however, was into small ROROs early and these can also load container vans. Sweet Lines later founded a separate cargo-container company, the Central Shipping Company.

Like Compania Maritima, Madrigal Shipping, another old shipping company also did not follow into containerization. The smaller passenger liner companies also did not or were not capable into going to containerization. Among them were Galaxy Lines, N & S Lines, Northern Lines, Bisayan Land Transport, Newport Shipping, Cardinal Shipping, Dacema Lines, Rodrigueza Shipping, etc. Soon all of them were gone from Philippine waters and one reason was that they failed to adapt to the new paradigm and shippers were already demanding for container vans.

Before the advent of container vans, dry cargo were handled bulk or break-bulk. Bulk is when the whole ship is loaded with grains or copra. But bulk shipment is not possible in the passenger-cargo ships then as major parts of the ship is devoted to passengers and its requirements. Along with passengers, the passenger-cargo ships then carried various merchandise as in finished goods from the city like canned goods, “sin” products and construction materials. On the return trip, it would carry farm products like copra, abaca, rice, corn or dried fish. Since it was mixed, it was called break-bulk. It was mainly handled by cargo booms and porters and stowed in the ships’ cargo holds. Since it was mixed and has no containers aside from boxes the handling was long and tedious and it was vulnerable to pilferage and damage by handling and by the weather.

With the coming of container vans the weaknesses of the old way of loading that led to damage and pilferage were minimized by a big degree. Actually, the arranging of the goods was even passed on to the shipper or trader and all the container shipping company had to do was haul aboard the container. The new system needed much less labor (who can be balky at times and disputes with them can lead to delays or intentional damage) than before and the loading is faster because containers can simply be stacked one atop the other. This was difficult with breakbulk because of possible contamination and because the cargo had no containers it was difficulty to simply stack them and this even led to lost cargo spaces.

One initial result of containerization was the need for dedicated container ships as the passenger-cargo ships of that era, the cruisers were not meant for the loading of container vans (although they can carry a few and loaded LOLO). Since our local volume was low, our shipping companies preferred not to order purpose-built container ships. Instead, the discovered path was just to convert general cargo ships into container ships. The needed conversion was actually minimal and since these ships were already equipped with cargo booms then it was easier for everything. Only, the booms needed to be more stout as in it has to have more lifting capacity because of the added weight of the steel of the container van. Container vans were handled LOLO or Lift-On, Lift Off.

With the coming of ROROs with its ramps and car decks starting in 1980, cargo handling became easier. Break-bulk cargo especially the heavier ones can now be handled by the forklifts and transferred to the car decks (which then became cargo decks also but not as cargo holds). Shipping companies have used forklifts before but mainly just in the ports. Now, the first ROROs also carried forklifts in the car decks and the stowing of container vans in the car decks of the ROROs began. These were mainly XEUs (Ten-Foot container vans) which can easily be handled by medium-sized forklifts. Still many of cargoes in the first ROROs were break-bulk.

Some liners of the 1980’s had cargo booms at the front of the ship while having RORO ramps at the stern like the “Zamboanga City” and the “Dona Virginia” of William Lines. It carried container vans at the front of the ship and those were handled LOLO while at the stern they loaded container vans. Actually, some big cruiser liners of the late 1970’s can carry container vans on their upper decks at the stern like the “Don Enrique” and “Don Eusebio” of Sulpicio Lines, the “Cagayan de Oro City” of William Lines and the “Don Claudio” of Negros Navigation”. It was handled LOLO by the cargo booms of those ships.

At the tail end of the 1970’s and at the start of the 1980’s what was prominent was the race of the leading liner shipping companies to acquire general cargo ships and convert it to container ships. Aboitiz Shipping Company was the early leader and they fielded thirteen container ships between 1976 and 1989. Their series was called the “Aboitiz Concarrier” and latter additions were called the “Aboitiz Superconcarrier” and “Aboitiz Megaconcarrier”. William Lines rolled out in the same period eight container ship plus two Cargo RORO ships which can also carry passengers. They named their series as the “Wilcon”. Sulpicio Lines was not to be outdone and they fielded fourteen and these were dubbed as “Sulpicio Container” or “Sulcon”.

In the same period, Lorenzo Shipping, a former major, also rolled out eleven container ship in a series called “Lorenzo Container” or “Lorcon”. Some of these were former general cargo ships of theirs. Sea Transport Company were also able to field eight with place name of their ports of call followed by “Transport” like “Davao Transport”. None of the other liner shipping companies which followed into containerization like Sweet Lines and Negros Navigation had half a dozen container ships. Instead, they began relying on their new RORO ship acquisitions but that was also done by Sulpicio Lines, William Lines, Aboitiz Shipping and Gothong Lines.

The main effect of the rush to acquire container ships was the slowing down of the acquisition of passenger ships. Actually, this might even had an effect on their purchase of RORO passenger OR ROPAX ships. With the collapse of many shipping companies in the crisis decade of the 1980’s, this resulted in a lack of passenger ships at the end of that decade. But there were many container ships as in about sixty and that fleet pushed many shipping companies in the cargo trade out of business in the 1980’s. Two main factors pushed them into the precipice – the economic crisis which made it hard to acquire ships and the loss of patronage because the paradigm in cargo handling had changed. Break-bulk was now already marginalized and frowned upon. Shippers and traders have had enough of pilferage and goods damaged in transit.

With marginalization, the other cargo liner companies had more difficulty filling up their cargo holds. Voyages became fewer and sailing times ballooned. They became dead duck for the container vans loaded into the fast RORO liners which had fixed schedules. Soon they were on the way out or they had to move to tramper shipping where there are no fixed routes and schedules. During this period cargo liners were even included in the schedule boards of the passenger liners. Their only deficit compared to passenger liners was as cargo ships they had less speed. And since cargo is handled LOLO they also spent more time in the ports.

Now, long-distance break-bulk shipping is almost gone. It is only lively now in the regional routes like the routes originating from Cebu and Zamboanga. In many cases, places and routes they have already evolved into intermodal shipping – the use of trucks which are loaded into short-distance ROROs. In this mode the trucks are the new “containers” or “vessels”. Since that is in competition with container shipping, it is now container shipping which is beginning to be marginalized by the intermodal truck especially if it is supported by the cheap Cargo RORO LCT.

Things change. Always.

A Slew of Hand-Me-Down Cruiser Ferries and Then a Grand Overnight RORO Ferry (The Start of Roble Shipping Inc.)

Jose Roble, the founder of Roble Shipping Incorporated originally was from Danao City. That city is the bastion of the Durano clan and and made to what it is by Ramon M. Durano Sr., one the Grand Old Men of Cebu politics. This was after he was lured by Philippine Presidents to move up north so political tension in Cebu will be de-escalated. They did it with industrial incentives, the reason why Ramon M. Durano Sr. was able to establish factories, plants and processing facilities and even a stake in shipping.

The late Durano patriarch was good in building up people and that included people who made good elsewhere. That included the former Senator Alejandro Almendras (who first made good as Davao Governor), the former Davao Governor Vicente Duterte, father of the recently-elected President of the Philippines Rodrigo Duterte and Jose Roble. Jose Roble was first into cargo handling or arrastre (Roble Arrastre Inc.) until he ventured into shipping under the company Roble Shipping Incorporated.

Roble Shipping is into cargo but what is more known by the public is their passenger operation. They started in 1985 with the cargo vessel Marao, a ship built in 1965. They converted the ship so it can also take in a few passenger and sailed it from Cebu to Hilongos. The year 1985 was the tailend of the Marcos dictatorship and it was a period of great political and economic crisis. It was actually a propitious time to start, but simply, as the shipping lines then of all kinds were under heavy stress and some were collapsing outright and some were also tottering.

For the next twelve years Roble Shipping made passenger ship acquisitions that were very simple and very conservative (but they also bought a few cargo ships). Always, the mark of their acquisitions in this period were the ships they bought were hand-me-downs, old and about ready for the breakers. Early on, tt just seemed to me that they were just one step ahead of Ting Guan, the biggest and legendary scrap metal dealer in Cebu which also buys ships as scrap (the good thing about Ting Guan is they just buy ships that have no more place to go unlike the China and South Asian breakers).

Those were wise moves. If the acquisition failed it can just be sold for scrap with almost no loss compared to the purchase value. Meanwhile, it might even earn and gain recognition for Roble Shipping. That period of the late 1980’s was actually also good for starting in shipping because many shipping companies has already gone under and the former workhorses of our fleet, the ex-”FS” and ex-”F” ships were already in its last breadth and MARINA, the maritime regulatory agency was cracking down heavily on the wooden motor boats (locally called as lancha or batel).

In 1986, Roble Shipping purchased the Don Bonifacio from Carlos A. Gothong Lines. This ship was the former Scorpius of the bankrupt NORCAMCO Lines which had routes to Romblon, Bicol and Northern Samar. Roble Shipping also acquired the former Surigao Transport of the tottering Sea Transport Company. Roble Shipping did the Marao treatment to her and added a small passenger accommodation and renamed her as the May Josephine. She tried the Cebu-Zamboanga route. Roble Shipping also purchased the Waka Maru from Manila Inter Ocean Liners. She became the first Hilongos Diamond. Her name already betrays her route.

All of these ships were built in Japan in the 1950’s, a time when metallurgy was not yet advanced hence engine lives were not that long. The four along with Marao did not serve for any long time for Roble Shipping as they were already beaten up but the company was adept in buying a replacement when a ship of theirs was already in its last gasps. Roble Shipping was good in beating the last life out of a ship and in a sense that was good because in the earlier days one only sends a machinery to the scrap yard when it is already unrepairable. I think the penchant of Roble Shipping in keeping many ships in Mandaue Pier 7 might have started from this – just send in the ships that can sail from a fleet with many old reserves.

In the years 1988, 1989 and 1990, Roble Shipping bought the overnight cruiser ferries being retired by Trans-Asia Shipping Lines Inc. (TASLI) which by then was already shifting to overnight RORO ferries. These became the Guada Cristy [1], Guada Cristy [2] and Queen Belinda in their fleet. These ships lasted longer than their earlier ships as they were not really that beaten up. However, Guada Cristy [1] was caught by the strongest typhoon to visit Cebu City in 1990, the Typhoon “Ruping” and was wrecked. Later the Queen Belinda also took the name of Hilongos Diamond. For a time these ferries from Trans-Asia Shipping Lines formed the backbone of Roble Shipping.

Later, in the mid-1990’s Roble Shipping Incorporated acquired the cruiser ferries being retired by Cokaliong Shipping Lines Incorporated (CSLI) in favor of RORO ferries. This is the second time Roble Shipping became the recipient of cruiser ferries being retired. Cruiser ferries have nowhere else to go at that time with the possible exception of Zamboanga so such moves by Roble Shipping extended their lives. These ships became the Leyte Diamond and Cebu Diamond in their fleet and being not beaten up served Roble Shipping well.

In the late 1990’s, Roble Shipping also acquired the Ormoc Star and this ship became very associated with the company. At this decade Roble Shipping was undoubtedly the cruiser ferry specialist of Central Visayas. However, in the midst of all these cruiser ferry purchases, one grand ferry, a RORO big and good enough to be a liner came into the fleet of Roble Shipping Incorporated. This was their first RORO ship and she was called the Southern Queen. She arrived for the company in 1997.

The Southern Queen was no ordinary overnight ferry. From her size, her origin as a Kansai Kisen ship with a classification as cruiseferry and her appointments she can match the best of the overnight ferries in the premier Visayas-Mindanao route, the Cebu-Cagayan de Oro route. She was so good I was even wondering what was she doing in the Roble fleet, no offense meant. I thought she was to be used in the Cebu-Nasipit route, for which Roble Shipping Incorporated is a holder of a Certificate of Public Convenience (CPC) which is otherwise known as a franchise.

The Southern Queen was first known as the Maya Maru in Japan. She was ordered by Kansai Kisen KK from Hashihama Zosen and she was delivered in June 1971. She was built in the Hashihama yard and she measured 89.3 meters by 14.6 meters with a gross register tonnage (GRT) of 3,228 and a deadweight tonnage (DWT) of 508 tons. Maya Maru was a steel-hulled ship with a raked stem and a retrouvaille stern which looks like a transom stern slanted forward. She had a forward mast and a center funnel that was also the stern mast. The ship also had a false funnel at the center which was also an observation and functions deck. The original passenger capacity of Maya Maru was 1,000 passengers in three passenger decks.

The ship had a stern ramp for vehicles and a car deck. Her superstructure encompassed the whole ship so there is no side passageways. Almost the entire passenger area of the ship was airconditioned. She was equipped with two Pielstick engines built by Ishikawajima-Harima Heavy Industries Company which is more popularly known then as IHI. This pair of engines produced a total of 8,400 horsepower and that was shafted to two screws. This gave the ship a top speed of 21 knots originally.

In 1979, Maya Maru was transferred to Sogo Lease KK and she became a cruiseferry with no change of name. She was paired with three other cruiseferries. One was the Sunflower 1, a sister ship of Mabuhay 1 and Princess of New Unity and two other cruiseferries which became known here as the St. Francis of Assisi and Our Lady of Lipa (now, those three is regal company). In 1997, the ship was transferred to Roble Shipping Incorporated where she became the Southern Queen. Under this company the interior was renovated so that she will become an overnight ferry. Bunks were fitted along with a big cabin for the Tourist Class. Since the ship originally had a nearly fully-enclosed superstructure there was not much space where to build an open-air Economy Class except to modify the top deck somehow. The original cabins of the ship were more or less retained as Cabin and Suite Class. The wide functions areas and restaurants of the ship were practically removed but a front desk and a lounge was retained.

In refitting her, although no part of the superstructure was removed, the gross tonnage of the ship went down to 1,598 nominal tons which was an impossibility. Again the MARINA “magic meter” was at work. Her declared net tonnage or NT was 978 nominal tons and the deadweight tonnage (DWT) went down to 478. Her route was Cebu-Ormoc and she was the biggest, most beautiful, most luxurious ship and speediest in that route. Her deployment was a big factor in the establishment of Roble Shipping as a force in Visayas shipping. No longer was she a simple receptor of hand-me-downs. In fact from this time on, they no longer bought a ferry from other companies except when the Cagayan Princess and Cebu Princess of Sulpicio Lines were offered to them under exceptional circumstances and price. And the two was laid up for long in Mandaue Pier 7 as the wont of Roble Shipping before and even now.

In 2002, Southern Queen was renamed as the Heaven Star. Southern Queen/Heaven Star sailed for Roble Shipping for about a decade until her engines became balky and unreliable. With that development she began spending more time moored in their wharf in Mandaue. Initially, Ormoc Star substituted for her but when the Wonderful Stars arrived in 2007 and took her route I smelled the beginning of her end. She might have been fast but speed is really not a big asset in the Cebu to western Leyte routes which average less than 60 nautical miles in distance. Wonderful Stars might not have been as big as her but she has more than enough passenger and cargo capacity and speed good enough for dawn arrivals. However, with an engine horsepower of exactly half of Heaven Star, she is more of a winner. Heaven Star‘s engines actually has a reputation for being thirsty.

After a few years of not sailing Heaven Star was slowly broken up in Roble wharf in Pier 7 in Mandaue starting in 2010. The process took until 2011 when only her hulk remained. We heard the sale of her steel was used to fund the rehabilitation of the two ferries from Sulpicio Lines which became the Theresian Stars and Joyful Stars in their fleet.

Heaven Star might have been completely gone now but her donee Theresian Stars and Joyful Stars are still sailing for Roble Shipping. Now Roble Shipping is one of the Visayan overnight ferry majors.

Really, it doesn’t matter where or how one started, as they say.

[Image Credit: Hans Jason]                                                                                                                             [Database Support: Mervin Go Soon/Jun Marquez/Mike Baylon]

The State of Philippine Shipping at the Start of 1990

The start of decades are many times an opportune way to take stock of things. Many countries do that by holding their censuses and we likewise do that. I want to focus on the year 1990 because the decade previous to that was very difficult and dangerous for the country and the economy. That decade was marked by many crises and turmoils and as a result our economy suffered tremendously. Economically and financially, the 1980’s was our second worst decade in the last century after the 1940’s in which World War II occurred. In that war decade, we were subject to invasion, occupation and devastation and our economy therefore shrank.

The crisis decade of the 1980’s was calamitous to our shipping. In terms of damage, it was even worse compared to the 1940’s. After the war, the United States of America (USA) replaced our ships that they requisitioned for the war (and which were lost). Later, Japan also paid reparations for the shipping damages they caused, in terms of new ships and soft loans, among other goods. In the 1980’s, we had none of such free replacements and we were not able to recover the wealth pillaged by the Marcos dictatorship. Our peso also lost so much value that acquiring ships became very difficult (in fact we can’t even buy new ships anymore unlike before). And that difficulty was reflected in the size and quality of our shipping fleet.

At the start of 1990, our biggest shipping company in the previous three decades, the Philippine President Lines or PPL (they also used the company United President Lines or UPL) was practically dead already. They were just acting as shipping agents and they were no longer sailing ships. And then their main rival in size, the Galleon Shipping Corporation which was a crony company was already bankrupt even before the end of the 1980’s. Another company of similar size, the Maritime Company of the Philippines/Maritime Company Overseas, the ocean-going company of Compania Maritima quit shipping at the middle of the 1980’s. These three companies, our biggest, were all in the foreign trade. The ships of these three companies which were mainly chartered from the National Development Corporation or NDC (a government-owned and controlled corporation) were all seized by or returned to the Philippine Government. Those were then sold one by one to international buyers at bargain prices. These three ocean-going companies all had well over 100,000 gross tons of ships in their fleet, a size only a very few reached in all our decades of shipping.

Another shipping company that was once big, notable and well-connected, the American-owned but Philippine-based Luzon Stevedoring Company (LUSTEVECO) also went under. But this has a myriad of reasons aside from the crisis of the early 1980’s and that included the end of the so-called “Parity Rights” (where Americans were given business and commercial rights in the Philippines as if they were Philippine nationals and they can repatriate profits to the USA 100%). This was due to the Laurel-Langley Agreement taking effect in 1974. This company was practically broken up (under pressure, some said) and its assets and ships went to different companies including the Philippine Government which then passed on its assets to its government-owned shipping companies like the Philippine National Oil Company or PNOC.

Our biggest inter-island shipping company for nearly 90 years, the Compania Maritima which has Spanish origins and which started when Spain was still ruling the Philippines was also gone by the mid-1980’s. They quit at the height of the political and financial crisis then when everybody was panicking and many companies were going bankrupt or otherwise illiquid. The owners, the Fernandez brothers who were dual citizens packed up their bags and headed back to Spain (and to think one of them was a former Senator of the Republic!). Compania Maritima was so big – aside from local ahipping they also had an international shipping line (the Maritime Company of the Philippines/Maritime Overseas Company as mentioned before) plus they owned ports and they had stevedoring and forwarding operations.

A host of our smaller shipping lines with foreign routes also went belly up or quit in the 1980’s. These included General Shipping Corporation, Northern Lines Inc., Transocean Transport Corporation, Philippine Ace Shipping Lines, Philippine Transmarine Carriers, Triton Pacific Maritime Corporation, etc. Actually, so many (as in about three dozens) of our big freighters, refrigerated cargo ships and bulk carriers owned by the National Development Corporation that were chartered to Philippine shipping companies doing overseas routes (especially Galleon Shipping Corporation, Philippine President Lines/United President Lines and Maritime Company of the Philippines/Maritime Company Overseas) were broken up in the 1980’s because they were no longer sailing. About the same number were also sold to foreign shipping companies and usually at bargain prices. The decade of the 1980’s witnessed the practical end of our ocean-going fleet and after that we only had half a dozen ships remaining doing foreign routes and those were mainly below 100 meters in length.

Along with Compania Maritima, the graveyard list of our inter-island shipping companies is really long and so I will just enumerate the them. These companies did not even make it out of that horrendous decade for Philippine shipping:

Galaxy Lines (an offspring of Philippine President Lines)
Northern Lines (referring to their inter-island operation)
North Camarines Lumber Company/NCL/NORCAMCO (they changed names)
N & S Lines
Bisayan Land Transport
Newport Shipping
Cardinal Shipping
Rodrigueza Shipping
May-Nilad Shipping
Javellana Shipping
Visayan Transportation
Corominas, Richards Navigation
Royal Line
Veloso Shipping
Visayas Lines
MD Shipping
Tomas del Rio & Co. (formerly Rio y Olabarrieta)
Balabac Navigation

This is far from a complete list as there were many regional shipping companies which went down quietly and it is hard to enumerate them all for many are indistinct.

In the liner front, two old liner companies were no longer carrying passengers at the start of 1990. These were the Escano Lines, a pre-World War II shipping company and Lorenzo Shipping, a spin-off of the old Carlos A. Go Thong & Company. Both decided to just stick to cargo and container shipping. Maybe refleeting for passenger service with liner ships was already too much for them after that crisis decade of the 1980’s.

William Lines and Sulpicio Lines seem to have been the healthiest and definitely the biggest strongest at the start of 1990. Among the shipping companies they were in the best position to take advantage of the fall of erstwhile leader Compania Maritima and the retreat of Lorenzo Shipping and Escano Lines from passenger shipping along with the withdrawal and dissolution of many other various shipping companies in the 1980’s because the two truly had national routes unlike the other liner shipping companies.

William Lines Inc. had nine liners at the start of 1990 and that included two old former FS ships still surviving. Their liners were the Dona Virginia, Manila City, Ozamis City, Cebu City, Tacloban City, Misamis Occidental, Masbate I, Don Jose I and Edward. The last two were ex-FS ships on their last legs. Their overnight ferry was the Iligan City, a former liner then just doing the Cebu-Iligan route. They also had two RORO Cargo ships that can take in passengers and these were the Wilcon I and Wilcon IV. Their other container ships were the Wilcon II, Wilcon III, Wilcon V, Wilcon X and Wilcon XI.

Sulpicio Lines Inc. had eight liners and these were the Filipina Princess, Philippine Princess, Davao Princess, Don Eusebio, Cotabato Princess, Surigao Princess, Cebu Princess and Dona Susana. Their overnight ferries were the Nasipit Princess, Cagayan Princess and Butuan Princess. Their container ships were the Sulpicio Container II, Sulpicio Container III, Sulpicio Container IV, Sulpicio Container V, Sulpicio Container VI, Sulpicio Container VII, Sulpicio Container VIII, Sulpicio Container IX, Sulpicio Container XI, Sulpicio Container XII and Sulpicio Container XIV. Aside from liners, Sulpicio Lines had more ships than William Lines in the other categories (overnight ferries and container ships).

Sweet Lines Inc. had six liners at the start of 1990, the Sweet Baby, Sweet RORO 2, Sweet Glory, the second Sweet Sail and Sweet Hope. Their liner Sweet RORO I was no longer running reliably then and would soon be broken up. Their overnight ships were Sweet Pearl, Sweet Hope, Sweet Marine, Sweet Heart, Sweet Home and the second Sweet Time which sailed Visayas-Mindanao routes. They had a separate cargo-container liner company then which was the Central Shipping Company with the ships Central Mindoro, Central Visayas, Central Cebu and Central Bohol. Another cargo shipping company they had was the Casas Navigation Corporation with the ship Casas Victoria.

Aboitiz Shipping Corporation had three old liners then, the Legazpi, Ormoc and Legaspi 1 (the former Katipunan of Escano Lines) and these were just sailing their two remaining liner routes to Capiz and Leyte. They had four overnight ships, the Elcano, Ramon Aboitiz, the first Aklan, and the ex-FS ship Picket II, which were all old, former liners in their last legs. They also had the Marcelino, an ex-FS ship and Guillermo in the subsidiary Cebu-Bohol Ferry Company. Aboitiz Shipping Corporation had the most container ships locally with twelve: the Aboitiz Superconcarrier I, Aboitiz Superconcarrier II, Aboitiz Superconcarrier III, Aboitiz Megaconcarrier I, Aboitiz Concarrier I, Aboitiz Concarrier II, Aboitiz Concarrier IV, Aboitiz Concarrier VI, Aboitiz Concarrier VIII, Aboitiz Concarrier X, Aboitiz Concarrier XI and Aboitiz Concarrier XII. Container shipping was the strength of Aboitiz Shipping because they concentrated on this when for 14 years they did not buy any liners, the reason their liner fleet wilted.

Negros Navigation Company had five liners sailing then, the Sta. Florentina, Sta. Ana, Don Julio, Don Claudio and Sta. Maria. These were just sailing five routes then – Romblon, Roxas City, Iloilo, Bacolod and Cagayan de Oro. They also had two Iloilo-Bacolod ferries, the cruisers Don Vicente and the Princess of Panay which was a former liner. This shipping company also had four cargo/container ships, the San Sebastian, Connie II, Aphrodite J and Athena J. The last two were local-built cargo ships.

Carlos A. Gothong Lines Inc. (CAGLI) had three liners then, the Our Lady of Fatima, Our Lady of Lourdes and the Our Lady of Guadalupe. Their overnight ships on Visayas-Mindanao routes were the Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, Dona Cristina, Don Calvino, Dona Lili, Don Benjamin and the RORO Cargo ship Our Lady of Hope, their only cargo ship. Together with Sweet Lines and Trans-Asia Shipping Lines, CAGLI was the dominant Visayas-Mindanao regional shipping company at the start of 1990.

Madrigal Shipping Corporation, a very old shipping company with pre-World War II origins was then attempting a comeback in liner shipping with the cruiser liners Madrigal Surigao and Madrigal Tacloban (but these were registered with the Cortes Shipping Company of Zamboanga which I never heard of). With the routes they were sailing they were, in effect, the partial replacement of the abandoned passenger routes of Escano Lines because they sailed the same routes. By this time, Madrigal Shipping had already shorn off their old liners, cargo ships and routes. They, however, had one big cargo ship sailing an overseas route, the Madrigal Integrity.

For brevity, I shall no longer mention all the cargo shipping companies for they are long because they are many. I will just enumerate and describe the cargo companies which were in the more advanced and more important container liner operations (as distinguished from the general cargo ships and those that were in tramper operations). Only three companies without passenger operations were into cargo-container operations at the start of 1990 – Lorenzo Shipping, Escano Lines and Solid Shipping. Among these three, it was Lorenzo Shipping Corporation which was the biggest with a cargo-container fleet that can match the biggest cargo-container shipping companies that had passenger operations. In their fleet they had the Lorcon I, Lorcon IV, Lorcon V, Lorcon VI, Lorcon IX, Lorcon XI, Lorcon XII (the former liner Sweet Grace which was converted into a container ship), Dona Anita, Euney, Dadiangas Express and Cagayan de Oro Express.

Escano Lines had in their fleet the Virgen de la Paz, Foxbat, Kiowa, La Lealtad, Greyhound, Harpoon, Squirrel, Terrier, Wolverine and two or three other freighters. However, only the first four were container liners (liners have fixed routes and schedules) while the rest were general cargo ships in tramping duties (let it be clarified they can substitute for the first four since practically speaking any general cargo ship can also carry container vans). Moreover, Escano Lines normally carry a mixed breakbulk cargo and container vans in their ships. Meanwhile, the Solid Shipping Lines only had the Solid Uno, Solid Dos and Solid Tres in their fleet. I am not sure if their Maligaya was still with them then. They were small because they were just a new shipping company then. However, one which was bigger than Solid Shipping and had container operations before, the Sea Transport Company, also did not make it to the 1980’s. They quit just before the end of the decade and sold their ships to other shipping companies.

From about two dozen passenger liner companies at the start of 1980, we just had a total of seven passenger liner companies left at the start of 1990 and the seventh was the comebacking Madrigal Shipping Company. Because of the fall in the number of shipping operators and with a fast growing population and the economy reviving, the Philippines at the start of 1990 had a severe lack of inter-island passenger ships. In the international front, there was almost no longer ocean-going ships to speak of. Aboitiz Shipping Company and Eastern Shipping Company were practically the only Philippine shipping companies still trying to do foreign routes then but their number of ships might just add to half a dozen and those were much smaller than the ships of Philippine President Lines, Galleon Shipping Company and Maritime Company of the Philippines. That was how precipitous was our drop in shipping in a span of just ten years because of the crisis decade of the 1980’s.

To think conditions in the other fronts were favorable for shipping as there were no budget airlines yet and so air fares were still high. There were also just a few intermodal buses then and there was a general dearth of bus units too. Because of such factors cited there were a lot of passengers for the ships. Maybe this is what some remember that liners then were full to to the brim and there were many well-wishers in ports during departures (and of course many fetchers too during arrivals). There were always tales of passengers being left behind because there were no more tickets left (I have seen that myself). And there were tales of overloading too, of course. The decade of the 1990’s was actually characterized by new great liners having a passenger capacity of over 2,000. Probably, that was the response to our lack of liners and liner shipping companies then.

And that is the story of our shipping in the 1980’s which was reflected at the start of 1990. In a future article, I will discuss in detail our failure in cargo shipping in the same period. Abangan!

[Image Credit: Gorio Belen and Business World]                                                                                     [Research Support: Gorio Belen]                                                                                                                   [Database Support: Jun Marquez/Mike Baylon/PSSS]