The Legacy of the Surplus Ships From Europe

After World War II, the passenger shipping companies in the Philippines started almost from scratch as the ships they had before the war were almost all lost by scuttling or through war actions (mainly by aircraft bombing and through gunfire). Like before the war, not all passenger shipping companies were created equal. Some of the old shipping companies had a faster start because war surplus ships were given to them as reparations for the lost commandeered ships (pressed into service for the Allied war effort). The most prominent among those are the vessels of shipping companies Compania Maritima, De la Rama Steamship, Manila Steamship, Philippine Steam Navigation Company (a postwar merger of the Everett Steamship of the US and Aboitiz Shipping), Madrigal Shipping and Escano Lines, all established and politically well-connected shipping companies. The owner of Compania Maritima was a Senator of the Republic, the General Manager of De la Rama Steamship was a son of the former President and the founder was a former Senator, the owner of Manila Steamship was a funder of presidential campaigns, Everett Steamship was an American company which were always supported by the State Department of the USA, the owner of Madrigal Shipping was a Senator of the Republic and it was only Escano Lines which might not be on the level of the six others in terms of political connections but their history anteceded Aboitiz Shipping and was Aboitiz Shipping’s partner before the war in the shipping company La Naviera.

But some other shipping companies which were not established shipping companies before the war had enough money and political connections to be able to also get war surplus ships given to the Philippine Government by the US Government as an aid in jumpstarting the economy. Among these were General Shipping Company (which was owned by several elite families who were funders of national campaigns and were aides of the top politicians), Southern Lines Inc. (owned by the gentility of Western Visayas and the President then was from that region), William Lines Inc. (owned by a powerful and influential Congressman) and Bisaya Land Transport (owned by a Senator of the Republic). That was the secret then of establishing a shipping company fast. One must be a heavyweight in his own right and one must be full of clout to be able to get preferential treatment from the government. And since Chinoys were not in this mold then they were left out in this race except for one (that is William Chiongbian of William Lines). The ability to get US war surplus ships generally determined the pecking order of the shipping companies in the first years after the war, the so-called “Liberation Time”.

Lanao

An example of an ex-“FS” ship. Research by Gorio Belen in the National Library.

Some other companies might not have been so fortunate in acquiring surplus ships and so in order to grow, they had to be good in finding war surplus discards and buying the ships of the shipping companies that were weak and on the verge of quitting. The most prominent examples of these were the growth of Carlos A. Gothong & Company and Sweet Lines Inc. which both started with regional shipping operations and became national liner shipping companies by buying the routes and ships of national shipping companies that quit (Pan-Oriental Shipping for Gothong and half of General Shipping Company for Sweet Lines). Moreover, some shipping companies also lengthened former “F” ships so it will be on the same size as the former “FS” ships. Carlos A. Gothong & Company was good in this regard. Their first flagship when they became a national liner company, the Dona Conchita was actually a lengthened “F” ship.

Dona Conchita

An example of a lengthened “F” ship. Research by Gorio Belen in the Nationa; Library.

The war surplus ships then were preponderantly ex-“FS” ships which were formerly freight and supply ships by the US Army in the Pacific theater of war. There were also some of the bigger “C1-M-AV1” type and similar types like the Type “N” ships which were bigger cargo ships of the US Navy in World War II and used in the ship convoys transporting war material and supplies in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Along with them were the former “Y” ships which were former tankers and related to the “FS” ship in design and the small “F” type, many of which were lengthened and were almost as numerous as the ex-”FS” ships plus an assortment of former minesweepers and PT boats (but note the US also burned a lot of PT boats off Samar thinking they were useless with its gas-guzzling engines).

Mindanao

An example of a former “C1-M-AV1” ship. Research of Gorio Belen in the Nat’l Library.

Initially, aside from US surplus ships, a few big and wealthy shipping companies also sourced ships from Europe after the war (there were plenty of cheap ships then there that were released from war convoy duty). Among the local shipping companies, three stood out for having the capability to acquire ships from Europe after the war. These were the Compania Maritima, the Manila Steamship (or Elizalde y Compania) and Madrigal Shipping which were in the top tier of shipping companies before the war. All of the three were owned by top-ranking industrialists with plenty of high political connections and all the way to Malacanang. Moreover, they all already had the experience of acquiring ships from Europe even before the war. The owners of Compania Maritima, the biggest shipping company then in the country were even dual Philippine and Spanish citizens and they were able to buy a few good cargo-passenger ships from Europe which were just a few years old and almost new.

Meanwhile, the ship acquisitions from Europe of Manila Steamship and Madrigal Shipping consisted of really old ships and especially the latter. These were being disposed of because there was really an abundance of much better and newer war surplus ships then at ludicrously low prices (there was no longer a war after all). The three mentioned shipping companies used ships purchased from Europe to augment their fleet of war-surplus ships from the US.

And it then resulted in fleet augmentation alright, their aim. For Compania Maritima, it was enough to vault them to the very top which was their old position before the war. For Manila Steamship and Madrigal Shipping, that move brought them to the rank of majors, just like their position before the war, too. However, their fleet quality was not the same like before the war when they really had good ships in the main. That was the setback caused to them by the order to scuttle the ships in the war. The main replacement ships given by the US to them which were mainly ex-”FS” were nowhere as good as their prewar ships as the replacements were cargo ships in origins and not purpose-built liners (Madrigal Shipping also received ex-“Y” ships aside from ex-“FS” ships). These replacements were also smaller than the lost prewar ships and so they were simply shortchanged by the US . In the main, Manila Steamship and Madrigal Shipping were not given the big ex-“C1-M-AV1” ships which were mainly reserved for Everett Steamship, a US company operating in the country like a national and because of the so-called “Parity Rights”.

The other companies whose ships were also lost in the war like Escano Lines and Aboitiz Shipping also received just ex-“FS” ships as replacements for their good liners before the war. Meanwhile, the smaller shipping companies before the war like the regionals mainly received former “F” ships, former minesweepers and former PT boats as replacements for their lost ships in the war.

Meanwhile, the De la Rama Steamship which was also very well connected politically had a good fate, shall we say. The National Development Corporation (NDC) gave them three big brand-new ships on charter. Aside from that, two big ships of them before the war were also returned to them plus two big war-surplus “Type C1-B” ships were also given to them. Additionally, three ex-“FS” ships plus three ex-“F” ships were also handed to them. And that is aside from four ex-liners they also acquired from abroad. With this fast replacement of their lost fleet (and in size, they rivalled Compania Maritima, the old No. 1), I am wondering if this is somehow connected to former President Sergio Osmena Sr. not contesting seriously his election rivalry against the winner President Manuel Roxas.

Don Isidro

The Don Isidro of De la Rama Steamship lost in war action.

These war surplus ships plus a few surplus European ships were basically enough for our local shipping needs after the war and for the next 15 years and those were augmented by local builds which were mainly wooden-hulled motorboats (batel or lancha).

But one-and-a-half decades after the war, it was already apparent there was already a need to augment our passenger shipping fleet which then consisted almost entirely of war surplus ships from the US. There were ships lost at sea plus our economy has already grown including the population. The whole of Mindanao was finally conquered and ships were needed to connect it to the rest of the country especially southern Mindanao which needs a lot of ships to run a regular schedule. With the general growth of population and the rise of production, the passenger and cargo capacities of the small surplus ships from World War II were no longer enough even though the Philippine President Lines came in 1959 with the last war surplus ships released by the US Navy.

Galaxy

The most prominent ship released by the US to Philippine President Lines. Research by Gorio Belen in the National Library.

And so a lot of additional ships had to be acquired as lengthening of the former “FS” ships was no longer enough. And in the 1960s there were no longer war surplus ships available in the market. The last batch released by the US in 1959-61 already went to different owners including our own Philippine President Lines (PPL) which was a newly-established shipping company then.

In fleet augmentation which was already needed then, a good source has to be found. Japan was not yet a good source of surplus ships then because they still needed their ships for their postwar economic boom. If ships have to be sourced from them, it would have to be ordered brand-new. And the US was also not a good source either because their liners were simply too big. And so Europe was the only possible source (if the ships are surplus) especially Scandinavia which was shedding their older ships and France which has already lost its colonies in Africa.

There were shipping companies that tried augmenting their fleet by ordering brand-new ships locally, from Japan and West Germany using loan windows provided by the government. But from the middle 1960s to the early 1970s, the surplus ships from Europe were more numerous. And the biggest reasoning was that for a brand-new ship, two or three surplus ships can be acquired and thus the capacity and revenue are far greater. Although surplus, it was assumed they will last as long if it was still in good condition and Europe is known for quality.

Why were surplus ships favored by more shipping companies compared to the brand-new? Well, brand-new ships are more expensive to acquire and thus for one brand-new ship, two or three surplus ships can be acquired. If the ratio is one to one, the brand-new ship will take longer to amortize. Moreover, with the subsequent devaluation of the peso in 1962, more pesos were needed to pay off a loan taken to acquire a ship and that will hinder further acquisitions (and President Diosdado Macapagal made sure of that by devaluing the peso in 1962 upon the advice of the US). Surplus or brand-new, the carrying capacity and revenues of the ships are the same (that of the surplus ships from Europe might have more capacity as they were bigger than the ones ordered brand-new and with no less speed except for those ordered by Compania Maritima). Actually, those with surplus ships were the ones that are in a position to offer discounts or rebates which was decisive in cornering cargo. Supposedly, the discounting of rates was “illegal” but it was actually rampant (and were actually sidestepped by the shipping companies on the way up).

Aside from leading Compania Maritima which continuously sourced ships from Europe, five shipping companies joined the trend in purchasing second-hand ships from Europe for conversion here into passenger-cargo liners. These were  Gothong & Company (the old undivided company), Sweet Lines and William Lines, three Chinoy shipping companies working its way up the shipping totem pole plus the new and unknown Dacema Lines. Additionally, the old Madrigal Shipping Company also acquired a ship from Europe during this period. This will be the focus of this article. [However, may I note that Escano Lines did not acquire a surplus ship this period but they acquired three brand new ships, two from West Germany and one from Japan].

The surplus ships from Europe were significantly bigger and faster than the backbone then of Philippine passenger-cargo shipping, the former “FS” ships and the lengthened ex-“F” ships. These ships were generally from 80 to over 100 meters in length and they usually have speeds of 13 to 16 knots. In speed, these ships from Europe were a better fit for the Southern Mindanao routes and its bigger capacity afforded dockings in many in-ports along the way thus making the voyage more profitable.

Sweet Love

An example of a surplus European ship. Gorio Belen research in the National Library.

Other advantages of these European surplus ships compared to the US war-surplus ships were also in comfort and accommodations because as former cargo-passenger ships in Europe they already have passenger accommodations and amenities right at the start and all that was needed in the main was to add Economy passenger accommodations. Also, many of them were already purpose-built liners right from the start and that means more comfort. Additionally, with the former refrigerated cargo ships, it was sure they already had refrigeration and air-conditioning from the start, the marks of a luxury ship hereabouts then.

Sweet Faith

A purpose-built liner from Europe. Gorio Belen research in the National Library.

These ships began arriving in the Philippines from 1963 to the early 1970s when it stopped because we already had a new supplier of surplus ships which was Japan. In total, some 30 ships from Europe came to the Philippines during this period and that is about half of the total ex-“FS” ships we had then. But since these European ships are bigger in gross register tonnage (GRT) which is the measure of a ship’s size, the two types were just about even in capacity. Even if the other war surplus ship types are considered, still the local fleet capacity almost doubled since we also ordered brand-new ships from various sources during this period including from Europe. So that is how the surplus European ship expanded the capacity of our passenger-cargo fleet in the 1960s.

Visayas

An example of a brand-new passenger-cargo ship from Europe. Gorio Belen research in the National Library.

Carlos A. Gothong & Co. was the biggest buyer of surplus ships from Europe with a total of 10 ships but that does not even include some big cargo-passenger ships that they basically used on the ocean-going routes to the Far East and West Germany (but those have limited passenger accommodations). The new national liner company Sweet Lines acquired seven ships from Europe while the venerable Compania Maritima purchased six ships from Europe during this period. William Lines also purchased four ships from Europe (plus two brand-new ships from Japan) during. A new shipping company, the Dacema Lines also purchased two ships from Europe and the old Madrigal Shipping Company also purchased one.

The ex-Europe ships of Go Thong:

  • Gothong (a.k.a. Dona Pamela), built 1950 in Sweden, first known as Cap Gris Nez, acquired in 1963, 88.8m x 12.4m, 14 knots design speed. Once a flagship of Go Thong.
  • Don Arsenio (a.k.a. Tayabas Bay), built 1950 in Denmark, first known as Tekla, acquired in 1965, 110.0m x 14.0m, 14.5 knots design speed.
  • Dona Helene (a.k.a. Don Alberto), built 1950 in France, first known as Atlas, acquired in 1967, 95.4m x 14.0m, 13 knots design speed.
  • Dona Rita, built 1949 in France, first known as Tafna, acquired in 1967, 95.3m x 14.0m, 15 knots design speed. Sister ship of Dona Helene.
  • Don Lorenzo (a.k.a. Dona Julieta), built 1951 in West Germany, first known as Liebenstein, acquired in 1968, 105.1m x 14.2m, 16 knots design speed.
  • Don Camilo, built 1951 in West Germany, first known as Lichtentein, acquired in 1968, 105.1m x 14.2m, 16 knots design speed. Sister ship of Don Lorenzo.
  • Dona Gloria, built 1947 in West Germany, first known as Colombia, acquired in 1969, 85.9m x 11.6m, 13 knots design speed.

Two of the ships from Europe contracted by Go Thong from its agents were actually not built in Europe but were ex-World War II US-built cargo ships that were in Europe  with the original names Cape St. George (which became Subic Bay) and Cape Arago (which became Manila Bay). The two were acquired in 1966 and these were Type “C-1A” ships with external measurements of 125.7m x 18.3m and a design speed of 14.5 knots. The two were used in transporting the Lu Do, Lu Ym coconut products to Europe and the Far East [and the two were assisted by the Sarangani Bay, an NDC-owned repossessed ship from De la Rama Steamship].

In 1972, an additional last ship for them also arrived from Europe, the Dona Angelina which was the former Touggourt which was built in France in 1950. This ship measured 91.4m x 14.0m with a design speed of 13.5 knots.

Among the liner companies then, it was Go Thong that relied the heaviest on ex-Europe ships which they fielded in their major routes especially in their Southern Mindanao routes which they then began to dominate.

The shipping company with the second-most ships from Europe during this period was the new national liner company Sweet Lines with seven. The company needed those to beef up their fleet as they were a new national liner company. One of these was ordered brand-new.

The Sweet Lines ships from Europe:

  • Sweet Bliss, built in 1953 in Denmark, first known as Broager, acquired in 1967, 92.5m x 13.3m, 13 knots design speed.
  • Sweet Grace, built 1968, acquired brand-new, 88.8m x 12.8m, 15 knots design speed. She became the flagship of the company.
  • Sweet Life (a.k.a. Sweet Dream), built in 1950 in Denmark, first known as Birkholm, acquired in 1969, 92.4m x 13.3m, 13 knots design speed. Sister ship of Sweet Bliss.
  • Sweet Faith, built in 1950 in Denmark, first known as P. Prior, acquired in 1970, 104.0m x 14.9m, 20 knots design speed. She was the fastest liner then when she was fielded.
  • Sweet Lord (a.k.a. Sweet Land), built in 1951 in Denmark, first known as Ficaria, acquired in 1972, 101.1m x 14.0m, 14.5 knots design speed.
  • Sweet Love, built in 1952 in Denmark, first known as Primula, acquired in 1972, 101.0m x 14.0m, 14.5 knots design speed. Sister ship of Sweet Lord.
  • Sweet Home, built in 1957 in Italy, first known as Caralis, acquired in 1973, 120.4m x 16.0m, 18 knots design speed.

Compania Maritima already acquired three ferries from Europe from 1949 to 1951. Those three were the best then in the fleet of the company and helped it secure the No. 1 place in the pecking order of liner companies after the war (except for a brief period when De la Rama Steamship challenged them). But the three will not be counted in this topic as they were not reinforcements from Europe in the 1960s when there were no longer war-surplus ships available in the second-hand market (aside from those later released by the US Navy starting in the late 1950s many of whom went to the newly-established Philippine President Lines).

The ships from Europe acquired by Compania Maritima from Europe in the 1960s (two of these were ordered brand-new):

  • Visayas, built in 1963 in West Germany, acquired brand-new, 117.0m x 16.4m, 16 knots design speed. This became the flagship of the company then.
  • Guimaras, built in 1957 in France, first known as Sidi-Aich, acquired in 1964, 98.6m x 14.9m, 16.5 knots design speed.
  • Filipinas, built 1968 in West Germany, acquired brand-new, 121.0 x 18.1m, 18 knots design speed. This became a flagship of the company and was the biggest and fastest liner when she was launched.
  • Isla Verde (a.k.a. Dadiangas) built in 1957 in France, first known as Kitala, acquired in 1969, 109.5m x 15.4m, 16 knots design speed.
  • Leyte Gulf, built in 1957 in France, first known as Foulaya, acquired in 1969, 113.4m x 15.5m, 17.5 knots design speed.
  • Mindanao, built in 1959 in West Germany, first known as Hornkoog, acquired in 1970, 134.6m x 16.1m, 18 knots design speed.

Aside from the six, Compania Maritima also acquired two former ocean-going ships (which were sister ships) from De la Rama Steamship in 1965 which were charted from the National Development Corporation (NDC). These were the Lingayen Gulf (the former Dona Alicia) and Sarangani Bay (the former Dona Aurora). They measured 153.7m x 19.7m with a design speed of 17 knots and built in Japan.

The ex-Europe ships of William Lines:

  • Virginia, built in 1943 in Sweden, first known as Fylgia, acquired in 1966, 102.9m x 13.6m, 14 knots design speed. She became the flagship of the company. She was also known as Virginia IV, Dona Virginia, Dumaguete City, Dumaguete and when she was converted into a container ship she was known as Wilcon VI.
  • William, built in 1948 in Sweden, first known as Ragunda, acquired in 1966, 103.3m x 13.6m, 14 knots design speed. She is the sister ship of Virginia. She was also known as Misamis Occidental, Misamis and Zamboanga City.
  • General Santos City, built in 1956 in Denmark, first known as Blenda, acquired in 1972, 89.4m x 13.0m, 13 knots design speed.
  • Tagbilaran City, built in 1956 in Denmark, first known as Bellona, acquired in 1972, 89.4m x 13.0m, 13 knots design speed. Sister ship of General Santos City. She was known as Wilcon IX when she was converted into a container ship.

Take note that William Lines also acquired two brand-new ships from Japan during this period.

The ex-Europe ships of Dacema Lines:

  1. Demeter, built 1950 in West Germany, first known as Falke, acquired in 1966, 82.8 m x 12.0m, 12 knots design speed.
  2. Athena, built 1950 in West Germany, first known as Adler, acquired in 1967, 82.8 m x 12.0m, 12 knots design speed. Athena and Demeter are sister ships.

The ex-Europe ship of Madrigal Shipping:

  1. Viria, built 1948 in Sweden, first known as Viria too, acquired in 1965, 52.4m x 8.7m, 12 knots design speed.

There were other ships sourced not from Europe but from the British Commonwealth during this period but I just decided to exclude them because they were just about four in number. Most of these belonged to the new shipping company KL Lines which soon gave up.

If one will check the schedules of passenger-cargo ships entering the 1970s, the ex-Europe ships were very dominant in Southern Mindanao while the ex-“FS” ships were sailing up to Northern Mindanao only with just some exceptions  (meanwhile, Negros Navigation which has the most brand-new ships in number was content in just protecting their Western Visayas turf). The new growth area then of Southern Mindanao was no longer for ex-“FS” ships with its lack of speed, capacity, amenities and vulnerability to typhoons (they have to seek shelter earlier and that ruins schedules). Former Southern Mindanao runners, the bigger war-surplus ex-“C1-M-AV1” and ex-“N” ships proved to be less rugged and were not even good for 25 years and so were already out of the equation before the 1970s got going. And so the additions from Europe became the key especially in growth area battles and when liners generally speeded up (the 10 knots sailing speed of the big and small war surplus ships was no longer enough).

Actually, the lack of the bigger and faster ex-European ships precluded other shipping companies from challenging in Southern Mindanao which happened to be the biggest growth area then of the country because of the big influx of settlers and the opening up for exploitation the natural resources of the island. Such their routes ended in Northern Mindanao only, if at all they reached Mindanao because there were shipping companies that sailed up to the Visayas only especially those which continued to rely on ex-“FS” and lengthened “F” ships only.

And so after a decade of ex-European ships coming (roughly in 1972, just before the breaking up of the old Go Thong into three whipping companies), the pecking order of the national liner companies changed. Compania Maritima was still on top but barely as their ship losses from accidents hit them hard. Go Thong which was not a national liner company before the war was already crowding them at the top if they haven’t surpassed Compania Maritima already. PSNC + Aboitiz which had integrated operations was still big with many ships but their fleet consisted mainly of war-surplus ships from the US and are already old although they were still trying to fight in the Southern Mindanao routes (but not up to Davao). The three might be the first tier then although Aboitiz Shipping which will soon absorb PSNC because of the ending of the “Parity Rights” is fast falling.

The second tier might consist of William Lines and Sweet Lines in near parity and just a little below the first tier. Note that Sweet Lines was not even a national liner company some seven years before but the surplus ships from Europe buoyed them up. They have already eclipsed Escano Lines and General Shipping, Philippine Pioneer Lines (and its successors Philippine Pioneer Lines and Galaxy Shipping) and Southern Lines were already gone from the inter-island routes. At this time De la Rama Shipping was just in ocean-going shipping and they acted as local agents for the foreign shipping companies whose ships are sailing here. Madrigal Shipping was already in its sunset and Manila Steamship was gone even before the European surplus ships came in force. Of course, Everett Steamship was also gone too because the “Parity Rights” which allowed them to sail here was already abrogated. Negros Navigation while healthy might just be in third tier all alone. And the fourth tier will consist of so-many small liner companies to Bicol, the Eastern Visayas and the current MIMAROPA now plus Northern Lines, Dacema Lines and KL Lines which all have routes up to Davao.

And so at the start of the 1970s, the biggest shipping companies were those which bet big in Southern Mindanao (especially General Santos City and Davao City) with their surplus European ships (the brand-new ships ordered from abroad were actually not present in Southern Mindanao except those of Compania Maritima). Some shipping companies had new ships but only a few in number and that was not enough as a route to Southern Mindanao to be maintained needs two ships alternating because roundtrip voyages need two weeks. Two ships are needed to maintain a weekly schedule and more if there are many voyages in a week to Southern Mindanao. And that is where the wisdom of buying two or three surplus ships from Europe versus a solo brand-new ship paid off.

Among the shipping companies that were not among the Top 4 (the first tier) in the mid-1960s (and that consisted of Compania Maritima, PSNC + Aboitiz Shipping, Go Thong and William Lines), it was only Sweet Lines and the combined Gothong Lines + Lorenzo Shipping (after 1972) that challenged in Southern Mindanao (the latter used a former brand-new ship acquired from Southern Lines and the other was the Dona Rita from Go Thong, their share in the partition of the old undivided company). Add to that the small Northern Lines, Dacema Lines and KL Lines which all did not last long.

The other shipping companies never entered Southern Mindanao like Escano Lines, Negros Navigation, Southern Lines, General Shipping, Philippine Pioneer Lines (the local successor of Philippine President Lines; and that includes successors Philippine Pioneer Lines and Galaxy Lines)  and Gothong Lines (when Lorenzo Lines split from them) as maybe the route was too taxing, their fleet size was not enough and they don’t have the proper ships. Aboitiz Shipping which was the successor to the Philippine Steam Navigation (PSNC) vessels was still a Southern Mindanao player in the 1970s but gradually they withdrew as they were already losing to the competition as they didn’t actually the proper ships anymore and their fleet was already growing old (what they soon rolled out were not passenger-cargo ships but container ships to Southern Mindanao).

But playing for Southern Mindanao was a critical factor then for the survival of the shipping companies as their business was already under pressure from many quarters and reasons from the 1970s (increased fuel prices, devaluation of the peso, competition from other modes of transport, local wars and other instabilities among others). It was still the area where people are still migrating in, there is still farmland to be opened (and grabbed from the natives) and land concessions were still being awarded to powerful and influential people. There was practically no road from Northern to Southern Mindanao and so the ships were still needed in the latter.

For those that did not play in Southern Mindanao and in Mindanao as a whole, the consequence was soon apparent when they were slowly defeated in the shipping competition and left in the wake or sank in the water. Shipping companies like General Shipping, Southern Lines and Philippine Pioneer Lines disappeared in the local shipping, some were weakened like Bisaya Land Transport and the other minor Eastern Visayas companies till they eventually died too, Gothong Lines practically just became a regional and the small liner companies eventually succumbed too. Some disappeared later from passenger shipping altogether like Escano Lines and Aboitiz Shipping became a ghost of its former self.

Who were the winners in these differing approaches, i.e., brand-new versus surplus ships?  It was actually those that stressed on buying second-hand ships from Europe especially Carlos A. Gothong & Co., William Lines and Sweet Lines if growth will be the basis of the comparison. In due time the three reached the rank of majors when two decades earlier they weren’t near that rank or were just regionals (and the other majors before them all sank except for Aboitiz Shipping which struck gold in container shipping). The surplus ships they purchased from Europe generally lasted 15-20 years (and some were even converted to container ships), just a little lower than the local brand-new ships) but more than enough to recoup their initial investment. However, although Compania Maritima also acquired surplus and brand-new ships from Europe, they also lost because they were bleeding ships from accidents and when Martial Law came they altogether stopped buying ships. The only exception was Negros Navigation which became stronger with brand-new ships and surplus from Japan plus they have a stranglehold in Negros Occidental.

And that was how important were the ex-European ships in our shipping history. They determined the pecking order in local shipping as soon as they arrived in numbers and they were a big factor in determining which will thrive and which will not survive.

 

The Flagship Wars in the Manila-Cebu Route

In the first 15 years after World War II there was not much of what was later called “the flagship wars”. How can there be flagship wars when it was an ex-”FS” ship battling another ex-”FS” ship? The ex-“FS” ship were just small World War II surplus ships from the US Navy that were slow and lumbering just like the freighters. And with the basicness of the ex-”FS” ships, there was really no “luxury” to talk about when there was no airconditioning, no real amenities, no entertainment (unless one brings out a guitar and croons), no true lounges or even enough space to walk about. There were bigger ships like the Type C1-M-AV1 which were also war surplus ships from the US Navy but they were also basic ships and also lack speed (both the two mentioned types only sail at about 11 knots which was also the sailing speed of the general cargo ships). As general rule, cargo ships converted for passenger use do not produce luxury liners. If ever, it would be the former refrigerated cargo ships that can be made into luxury liners or else the best is to buy former luxury liners from Europe.

The Manila-Cebu route was and is still the premier shipping route in the Philippines. This route connects the primary metropolis and manufacturing center to the secondary metropolis and manufacturing center of the country. Hence, the movement of people and goods would be highest in this route. If there is a next premier route it would be the Manila-Iloilo route. The Manila-Cebu route is also the gateway to the routes to Northern Mindanao while the Manila-Iloilo route is the gateway to the routes to Western Mindanao and Southern Mindanao.

The early postwar liners calling on Cebu did not have an exclusive route to Cebu much like the prewar liners. From Cebu they will still go to Northern Mindanao ports or even sail to Southern Mindanao ports via Zamboanga. It was not unusual then for liners to have five ports of call in a voyage. That was why complete voyages then to Cebu and Northern Mindanao took one week and complete voyages to Cebu and Southern Mindanao took two weeks. In the latter a liner might have seven ports of call. As they say, “the better to pack ’em in.”

When luxury liners first came they funnily have the code “airconditioned” (airconditioning was rare then). And the word “luxury” also began to be bandied about. In terms of speed they were significantly better than the basic ex-”FS” ships and ex-”C1-M-AV1” ships. Some of the earliest local liners were the trio from Everett Steamship being sailed by Philippine Steamship and Navigation Company (PSNC), the Elcano, Legaspi and Cagayan de Oro which all came in 1955, the Luzon (1959) and Visayas (1963) of Compania Maritima which were doing dual local and foreign routes, the General Roxas (1960) and General del Pilar (1961) of General Shipping Corp., the President Quezon (1960) of Philippine President Lines (which became the Quezon of Philippine Pioneer Lines in 1963 and later the Pioneer Iloilo of the same company in 1965), the Governor B. Lopez (1961) of Southern Lines Inc., the Fatima of Escano Lines (1964).

If one will notice, there is no mention here of a ship of Go Thong & Co. or William Lines and definitely there is no error in the list. In that roost, the President Quezon ruled in speed department at 18 knots and the next fastest to her sailed at only 16 knots with the tailender at 12 knots which was just about the same as the ex-”FS” ships and the ex-”C1-M-AV1” ships. That was the picture of the luxury ship sector of the Philippines two decades after World War II.

In that era, there was no “flagship wars” as understood a decade later. Maybe if the better ships were all doing long routes it will be a wonder where and how they will compete. This is especially true for the luxury liners sailing to Cebu and then proceeding to many southern ports up to Davao. I noticed the tight “flagship wars” started only when there were already true fast cruisers and when the route was exclusively limited to Manila-Cebu.

It was Sweet Faith of Sweet Lines, a newcomer in liner shipping which started the true “flagship wars” in 1970. They were able to acquire that ship which was a luxury liner even in Europe and she was really fast. When she came she became the new postwar benchmark in speed at 20 knots and beating handsomely all the other contenders by at least 2 knots. Maybe she only did the Manila-Cebu route because she had to stress the capture of passengers because she can’t take in a significant amount of cargo. And with her accommodations all-airconditioned that was really more fit for the Manila-Cebu route which not only had more sector passengers and the better-off passengers were also there including the Cebu and Central Visayas rich who were afraid to take planes then. With such a kind of ship Sweet Lines really had to stress in ads her speed, her amenities and her brand of passenger service to capture more passengers.

She was very successful in that strategy and her repute spread far and wide and she earned many praises. It was really a paradigm change in how to do sailing and maybe that was a little too much for the older shipping companies to swallow the noise and swagger of the newcomer. William Lines had a brand-new ship, the Misamis Occidental in the same year she was fielded but she was clearly outmatched by the Sweet Faith because maybe when they finalized the design of the ship they did not see Sweet Faith coming to upset the chart.

The biggest shipping company then, the Compania Maritima, which had the resources to compete did not react and continued their stress on the route passing through Cebu before sailing for Western and Southern Mindanao up to Davao. That was also the response (or lack of response) and strategy of the Philippine Steamship and Navigation Co. which would be later known as Aboitiz Shipping Corp. and besides their luxury trio were already 15 years and outmatched and so maybe they thought they really have no option at all except to not really compete. Meanwhile, Escano Line’s priority was not really Cebu at all, its ships cannot really compete as they did not stress speed when they ordered their brand-new ships. Go Thong & Co. might have been too busy in their European expansion through Universal Shipping and maybe they thought getting all the copra in all the ports possible made more sense (they had lots of small ships for that purpose). General Shipping Corp. and Southern Lines Inc. were also gone and Galaxy Lines, the successor to the Philippine Pioneer Lines was also near to floundering already. Negros Navigation Company, meanwhile, was not competing in the Cebu route and it is in the Manila-Iloilo route where they were flexing the muscles of their brand-new liners.

For two years until 1972 Sweet Faith ruled the Manila-Cebu route. It will be up to a shipping company which long relied solely on ex-”FS” ships (until 1966) to challenge Sweet Faith with their upcoming newbuilding which will turn out to be the liner Cebu City. A sister ship of the liner Don Juan, the flagship of Negros Navigation Company, she was fitted with bigger engines. Since Don Juan can only do 19 knots maybe they decided on bigger engines to be able to compete with the 20 knots of Sweet Faith. Cebu City came in 1972 that began the battle royale of the two flagships whose intensity passed the two ships to shipping folklore long after both ships were gone (only the millennials would not have heard of their battles).

In 1973, the liner Sweet Home of Sweet Lines arrived to form a “tag team” to battle Cebu City. She was not as fast as the two at 18 knots but she was bigger and as luxurious as the Sweet Faith because she was already a luxury ship in Europe when she was still the known as the Caralis.

In 1975, Sulpicio Lines joined the Manila-Cebu “flagship wars” when they acquired the second Don Sulpicio from RKK in Japan. Unlike their previous ships this liner had no cargo ship origins. A fast cruiser at 18 knots and with accommodations much like the Cebu City she was also a legit contender. In this wars it is not only speed that was advertised but also punctuality of departures. That is aside from the food, the amenities and the passenger service.

In 1976, the newly-arrived Dona Ana also joined this fray. She was a sister ship of Don Sulpicio but faster at 19 knots and newer. However, she was a Manila-Cebu-Davao ship and she only competed in the Manila-Cebu leg as a “tag team” too with the second Don Sulpicio. Dona Ana also started a new paradigm on her own, the fast cruiser to Davao which she can do in only three days compared to nearly a week of the others. The flagship of Compania Maritima, the liner Filipinas was forced to respond by cutting ports of call and announcing they will sail the Davao route in only 4 days. In a sense this was also a “flagship war”. Later, the Dona Ana became a replacement flagship in the Manila-Cebu route when Don Sulpicio was hit by a bad fire in 1979 and her repairs took two years. By that time, it was another new fast cruiser of Sulpicio Lines, the Don Enrique (later the Davao Princess) that was battling the flagship Filipinas of Compania Maritima in the Davao route along with the liner Manila City of William Lines [there will be a future article on these Manila-Davao fast cruiser battles].

Sweet Faith and Sweet Home lasted just less than a decade in the Manila-Cebu “flagship wars” because they were already old ships when they first came here. Sweet Home quit earlier about 1978 and Sweet Faith quit in 1980. However, even before she quit, the new flagship of William Lines, the Dona Virginia has already arrived. She will be linked in an epic battle not with a flagship of Sweet Lines but with a flagship of Sulpicio Lines. This liner is the Philippine Princess which came in 1981. Dona Virginia had the upperhand as she was faster, bigger and more beautiful-looking and she ruled the Manila-Cebu route. Both were exclusively Manila-Cebu ferries and like those that came in the 1970s they had no cargo ship origins. In this decade Compania Maritima was no longer in the running as they no longer had new ship acquisitions and in fact they quit when the financial and political crises spawned by the Ninoy Aquino assassination broke out.

After an interregnum of two years without a dedicated Manila-Cebu liner, Sweet Lines brought out their new challenger, the luxurious Sweet RORO but she was smaller and her speed was slightly inferior to the flagships of William Lines and Sulpicio Lines. However, she was as luxurious if not more so and she trumpeted an all-airconditioned accommodations and she was a true RORO which was the new type and paradigm that was gaining already. Meanwhile, Aboitiz Shipping Corp. gave up all semblance of a fight and just concentrated in container shipping. The Carlos A. Gothong Lines and Lorenzo Shipping Corp. also withdrew from the Cebu route for practical purposes. Escano Lines were also not buying ships like Aboitiz Shipping and also were not contenders. Negros Navigation Company, like before was not competing in the Manila-Cebu route.

Suddenly, in 1988, Sulpicio Lines did what was equivalent to exploding a grenade in the competition. They were able to acquire the Filipina Princess which broke all local records in size and speed. It was far bigger and far faster than the Dona Virginia of William Lines and was a true RORO. Even though William Lines was able to acquire the RORO liner Sugbu in 1990, she was not a bigger or a faster ship than the Dona Virginia she was replacing as flagship. To rub salt on wound, in the same year Sulpicio Lines also acquired the Cotabato Princess and the Nasipit Princess which were also bigger than the Dona Virginia (and Sugbu) though not as fast. So for few years, in terms of size, Sulpicio Lines possessed the No. 1, 2 and 3 position in terms of ship size.

As to the others, in 1987, Sweet Lines was able to acquire the Sweet Baby but she was not as big as the William Lines and Sulpicio flagships nor can she match them really in speed. Soon, Escano Lines would be quitting liner shipping. There was really a big “consolidation” in the liner shipping industry, a euphemism to cover the fact that a lot of liner shipping companies sank in that horrendous decade for shipping that was the 1980’s. Again, Negros Navigation Company was not competing in the Manila-Cebu route.

With this “consolidation” it just became a mano-a-mano between Sulpicio Lines and William Lines in the Manila-Cebu route with the others reduced more or less to bystanders….

[There is a sequel to this describing the “flagship wars” of the 1990’s.]