The Many Iterations of M/V Sugbu

Image © Edison Sy. Do not re-upload without permission.

The M/V Sugbu of William Lines began life in Japan as the MV Akebono Maru of the A” Line, one of the sources of second-hand ships of William Lines in Japan (they also acquired second-hand ships from Europe in earlier days and also brand-new ships from Japan). She was built by Usuki Tekkosho in their Saiki yard in 1977 and as originally designed she was a ROLO (Roll-On Lift-Off) ferry. By that, it means she had a cargo boom at the bow and (two) RORO ramps at the stern. ROLO was actually the prevailing design of the A” Line shipping company in that period. As built, she was 137.5 meters in Length Over-all (LOA), a length between perpendiculars (LPP or LBP) of 125.0 meters with a breadth of 20.2 meters. In Japan, she was originally measured to be 4,999 in Gross Register Tons (GRT) with a Deadweight Tonnage (DWT) of 2,700. Her hull was made of steel, she had two masts, a raked stem and a transom stern with two passenger decks. She had an original top speed of 20.5 knots. Her permanent ID was IMO 7633129.

MV Akebono Maru arrived in the Philippines in late 1989 to become the flagship of William Lines. She replaced the former flagship, the venerable MV Dona Virginia. In a locally-done conversion, two passenger decks were added to her with the tallest being on the bridge or navigation deck. This necessitated the extension of the funnels. The cargo boom at the bow was retained and thus she remained a ROLO ship. With the refitting, her Gross Tonnage (GT) rose to 6,624 nominal tons and her Net Tonnage (NT) increased to 3,319 nominal tons (as GT and NT actually have no units). Her passenger capacity increased to 2,600 persons which suggested a maximal use of space. Liners of the era then were expected to have a big passenger capacities and it was already the era of 2,000-passenger liners. As flagship she was fielded into the prime Manila-Cebu route starting in early 1990 where she battled the much-bigger and faster flagship of Sulpicio Lines, the heavyweight MV Filipina Princess, the biggest and fastest ferry then in the country.

The Akebono Maru © T. Mikami

M/V Sugbu © Masahiro Homma

In December of 1993, William Lines acquired the grand Sun Flower Osaka (formerly Sun Flower 5) to start the Wililines Mabuhay series for the company and to compete against the SuperFerry series of Aboitiz Shipping and the grand liners of Sulpicio Lines. MV Mabuhay 1 became the new flagship and hence, holder of the Manila-Cebu route and she was soon followed by the MV Wililines Mabuhay 2. To upgrade the MV Sugbu to the Mabuhay standard, she was sent to Singapore for upgrading. There she was lengthened, her passenger accommodations and amenities were upgraded, her bridge equipments were modernized and the engines were remanufactured.

In 1995, she came back to the Philippines as the MV Wililines Mabuhay 3. Her new length was now 157.1 meters (an increase of over 20 meters) and her Gross Tonnage (GT) increased to 7,878. Her new Net Tonnage (NT) was 3,969 and her DWT (Deadweight Tonnage) was 3,219 tons. Her bridge was relocated forward and a beautiful sloped foredeck was built below the bridge. With that, her cargo booms disappeared but she had two RORO ramps at the stern arrangement to handle rolling cargo. Her passenger capacity was reduced to 2,334 persons which means more space and amenities. She was divided into 7 (!) classes – the Special Suite, Suite, Cabin for 2, Cabin for 4/6, Deluxe, Deluxe Tourist and Economy. All those seven classes have different rates or fares. Coming back to the William Lines, she was assigned to the newly-created route Manila-Davao-Dadiangas-Manila-Cagayan-Iloilo-Manila and she was sailing again at 20 knots with few in-port hours. She had the fastest Manila-Davao sailing at 42 hours and the fastest Dadiangas-Manila transit time at 36 hours. The route was an express route and she had express speed to match that. It was also designed to show Aboitiz Shipping that William Lines can also do express shipping and maybe even better than them.

M/V Wilines Mabuhay 3. From (Note: If you are the owner of this photo please contact us so we can give the proper credit. Thanks!)

In 1996, with the accession of William Lines to WG&A, she became the MV SuperFerry 8. In that new company, her route assignment changed but it was still an express route with express speed. In fact, she was assigned a route similar to that of MV SuperFerry 1 in Aboitiz’s time which is a Manila-Iloilo-General Santos City-Davao route coupled with a Manila-Iloilo route on the same week. Actually, the two ships were sailing the same exact route but with different departure days. Later, when the MV SuperFerry 10 was pulled out from the Manila-Cebu route the three ships were given a rotating Manila-Iloilo-General Santos City-Davao route. That pairing earlier or later can be done without a hitch because the three ships have the same speed of 20 knots (which is critical in a pairing to be able to maintain the same departures and arrivals) and more or less the same capacity in passengers and cargo. That route is the longest ferry route in the Philippines existing then and it is a compliment to the shipping companies which fielded express liners with express speed. Only 20-knot ferries were actually ever assigned in this route. With that, the voyages did not take too long unlike in the old past when male passengers will already have beards, as they say, by the time they disembark at the end of the voyage.

M/V SuperFerry 8 © T. Mikami

However, such express speed took a toll on the main engines of MV SuperFerry 8 which by that time already exceeded a quarter century. The company then decided to re-engine her so that she will remain an express ferry. This was done locally and it was considered a feat because no ship with such size of engines has ever been re-engined locally. But maybe with Keppel of Singapore already owning and running the former Cebu Shipyard & Engineering Works that might not have been such a wonder after all since it was Keppel which originally lengthened and modernized this ship in Singapore and re-engining ships in Singapore is one of their staples. With Aboitiz’s old Wartsila connection, that engine brand was chosen as the replacement and a pair of it with a total of 22,140 horsepower were installed. Through such engines, she was capable again of 20 knots. With that engine change, they also changed the name of ship into MV SuperFerry 19 in 2004.

M/V Superferry 19 in a later variant of the WG&A livery © Wakanatsu

Milne Bay © superferry crew/Flickr

Going into the mid-2000s, upheavals rocked the shipping company WG&A of MV SuperFerry 8/SuperFerry 19 with the divestment of two partner families. This resulted in the need to sell ships, both passenger and cargo to pay off the divestitures. This started the downward turn of the company. In such situation, I was never able to gleam what was the reason why the company leased the newly-reengined MV SuperFerry 19 to Papua New Guinea in 2006. In that country, she was known as MV Milne Bay. Soon, however, she returned to the country and the company itself said she was in a worse condition that when she left. She was refurbished and soon she was sailing again. She then held the Manila-Zamboanga-General Santos City-Davao route. Her newly-renamed company ATS (Aboitiz Transport System) had a route iteration that when the ship does not call on Iloilo port then it calls on Zamboanga port. She was still an express ship in an express route. However, the change this time is many passengers have already left for the budget airlines and the intermodal bus or they get a connecting ship ride in northern Mindanao (mainly Cagayan de Oro and Nasipit ports) by taking a bus first. Cargo has also been affected by the intermodal truck and the increasing number of container ships by the competition.

M/V SuperFerry 19 © Aristotle Refugio

You can view photos of SF19’s interior here.

With the arrival in the company of the MV SuperFerry 20 and MV SuperFerry 21, along with abandoned routes and frequencies, MV SuperFerry 19 (and MV SuperFerry 1) became superfluous (in the company’s view) and was offered for sale. To mollify feelings in the company, a canard was circulated saying the hull was already weak (weakened by so few cargo maybe). The ship was painted all-white, the sign then she was no longer considered part of the fleet. She was anchored off Talisay, Cebu, becoming a “floating monument” for several months. Soon, ship breakers purchased her and she was broken up in China by the Jiangmen Xinhui Shipbreaking company in July 11, 2011. Her last name, the name she carried in her last voyage was MV Super.

Awaiting her fate © Vincent Paul Sanchez

Once a beautiful and a loved ship, she is just a distant memory now.