One of the Magic Elixirs of William Lines and Carlos A. Gothong & Co.

The term “magic elixir” refers to a potion that gives one powers and in modern usage it refers to a sort of magic that was the reason for an entity to rise. In this article I am not referring to something illegal but to one of the reasons for the rise of two of the most storied shipping companies of the Philippines where in their peak were contending for the bragging rights of being the biggest shipping company in the country.

Historically, the Chinese mestizo shipping companies were not as blessed as the Spanish mestizo shipping companies which antedated them in the business. The latter not only had a head start but they also possessed powerful political connections and that was very important then in getting loans from the Philippine National Bank (PNB) which dominated commercial banking then as there was almost no other commercial bank big enough in that time able to finance acquisition of ships. It was also crucial in getting ships from the National Development Corporation and earlier in getting surplus ex-”FS” ships from the Rehabilitation Finance Commission that was awarded as war compensation by the US Government.

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A 1950 ad of William Lines (Credits to Phil. Herald and Gorio Belen)

Of the two companies, William Lines had an earlier start and it was also blessed by political connections – the founder of the company, William Chiongbian happened to be a powerful Congressman who in his run for the Senator missed by one just slot (and his brother was a Congressman too at the same time but in another province). Carlos A. Gothong & Co. had to start from the bottom as it began almost a decade later than William Lines in liner shipping. But later it was blessed by a good strategic relationship with Lu Do & Lu Ym, the biggest copra concern then when copra was skyrocketing to being the Number 1 cash commodity and export commodity of the country.

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The first liner of Gothong & Co. (Credits to Manila Bulletin and Gorio Belen)

In the national liner scene, after its restart right after the end of the Pacific War, the strongest after a generation were the shipping companies that had routes to Southern Mindanao. Left behind were the shipping companies that just concentrated in the Visayas routes like Southern Lines, General Shipping, Philippine President Lines/Philippine Pioneer Lines/Galaxy Lines and other smaller shipping companies to Eastern Visayas, Bicol and the near routes to Mindoro, northern Panay and Palawan. Actually, in my totem pole of national liner companies in 1972, the Top 5 — Compania Maritima, Gothong & Co., Aboitiz Shipping+PSNC, William Lines and Sweet Lines — all have routes to Southern Mindanao.

What made Southern Mindanao the “magic elixir” of William Lines and Gothong & Co. when the latter was not even a liner company in the latter half of the 1940’s and William Lines was behind many shipping companies that preceded them?

In business, there is nothing better barring the illegal than a customer base that simply keeps growing and growing. And that was what Mindanao then was to the shipping companies Southern Mindanao. Before the war the population of Southern Mindanao was small and was practically composed by natives. That was before the government encouraged and assisted the resettlement of people from other parts of the Philippines to resolve what was called then as the “population pressure” (rapidly growing population in an agricultural economy with not enough land anymore to be divided into the next generation and there were no contraceptives yet then and the average number of children was five).

Northern Mindanao after the war already had Visayan migrants as it was just near the Visayas and the Spaniards was able to establish a strong foothold there even in the 19th century. But Southern Mindanao almost had no transplanted population and it is this part of the Philippines that experienced the greatest population boom after the war with what was called by the Moro National Liberation Front as the “colonization” of Mindanao (well, even some politician used the word “colonization” before that became politically incorrect). Where before in the 1948 Census the transplanted population was just a minority in Mindanao, in the 1960 Census the natives suddenly realized they were already the new minority and in the 1970 Census they saw they were beginning to get marginalized (Sultans and Datus who were once Mayors were even beginning to lose the elections).

This population boom, the opening of land for cultivation and the consequent exploitation of the natural resources of Mindanao needed transport and it was not by air (and not by road definitely) but by ship. And by this all shipping companies that were plying the Southern Mindanao routes benefited a lot. Of course shipping companies serving Northern Mindanao also benefited but not to the same extent as the Southern Mindanao shipping companies. And anyway the shipping companies serving Southern Mindanao were the same shipping companies serving Northern Mindanao (with exception of Escano Lines which has also routes to Northern Mindanao but not Southern Mindanao) and so the benefit of those serving Southern Mindanao were double.

If we analyze the biggest shipping company then which was Compania Maritima, most of its ships were assigned to Southern Mindanao. That was also true for the liners of Gothong & Co. (this company has a lot of cargo-passenger ships then to gather the copra for Lu Do and Lu Ym) and William Lines (which assigned 3/4 of its ships in Southern Mindanao early and Gothong & Co. of to 80% in 1967).

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One will wonder how this small ex-“FS” ship sails all the way to Davao

Although William Lines started ahead of Gothong & Co., the latter vaulted ahead of the former in the 1960’s. I think the reason is William Lines relied too much and too long on the ex-”FS” ships and it was only in 1966 when they acquired other types. Meanwhile, Gothong & Co. acquired ships from Europe earlier and in greater numbers. That does not even include the Type “C1A” ships acquired by Gothong & Co. which were big ships and were really ocean-going plus a lot of small ships the likes of lengthened ex-”F” ships and a host of local-builds. In ports of call, Gothong & Co. simply had too many because of the need to gather the copra of Lu Do & Lu Ym which was exporting a lot (and which Gothong & Co. also carried).

For sure, Compania Maritima which was already the Number 1 right after the war also benefited from the growth of Mindanao. However, their subsequent collapse in 1984 at the height of the financial and economic crisis then besetting the country is of another matter. Sulpicio Lines, the biggest successor company of Gothong & Co. also benefited from Mindanao after their creation in 1972 so much so that later it became the biggest shipping company of the country in the 1980’s.

What happened then to the shipping companies started after the war that just concentrated on Visayan routes? Well, by the 1960’s Southern Lines and General Shipping were already gone from the local scene and a few year later Galaxy Lines, successor to Philippine President Lines, the local operation and Philippine Pioneer Lines was also gone. And the smaller shipping companies like Escano Lines, Bisaya Land Transport (this was also a shipping company) were just in the fringe and barely alive in the 1970’s like the shipping companies that just concentrated in Bicol, Samar and northern Panay. That was also the fate of the shipping companies that was concentrating in what is called MIMAROPA today. After the 1970’s practically only batels survived in the last area mentioned.

Meanwhile, Gothong & Co. threatened Compania Maritima for Number 1 before their break-up in 1972. Later with the downward spiral of Compania Maritima, Sulpicio Lines and William Lines battled for Number 1. And when Compania Maritima quit and Aboitiz Shipping Corporation also quit Mindanao, Sulpicio Lines (the biggest successor company of Gothong & Co.) and William Lines further benefited. Actually, no shipping company that did not serve Southern Mindanao ever became one the top shipping companies in the country (that was before a lot of liner companies were culled in the crisis of the 1980’s).

That was the importance of Southern Mindanao for the shipping companies of the country. William Lines and successor of Gothong & Co. Sulpicio Lines ended up the Top 2 in Philippine shipping. Know what? They were the only survivors of the Southern Mindanao routes after all the rest quit (of course, Aboitiz Shipping came back later and there were others in container shipping).

Now, there are no more liners to Southern Mindanao, funny. But, of course, that is another story. The magic elixir dried up?

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The P700-Million Peso Mistake

In the old past, the Pulupandan port which is some 25 kilometers south of the capital Bacolod was the main port of Negros Occidental province. It came to be located there because Bacolod has no way to build a deep-water port the because of the shallow slope of its beaches. And for export of sugar, the Negros sugar barons even developed a terminal in Guimaras before the war where foreign ships can dock and load sugar for export.

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From the NENACO Anniversary book

There was not much controversy was found before in Pulupandan being the main port of Negros Occidental. For the short hop to Iloilo the then smaller ferries were able to dock in Bacolod wharf. But for liners to Manila after the war, Pulupandan was the port and even the shipping company founded by Western visayas interests which did exclusive Western Visayas routes, the Southern Lines used Pulupandan port. All liner companies then used Pulupandan port.

Things changed in the 1960’s when Negros Navigation was already “the” Western Visayas shipping company and the company was plotting its rise and it was loaded with political connections. 1960’s was also the decade when from mainly having small and shallow draft ex-FS ships as the primary workhorse for shorter distances, the ships started to get bigger because maybe the population was growing fast and maybe also the economy was also developing because of the population increase (but of course not in a qualitative way – it was still plow and harrow technology of the old ages and mainly tilling of land in individual plots).

For their bigger ships now, Negros Navigation decided to have a new port which turned out to be the Banago port. This port was located in government-owned foreshoreland on a build-operate-transfer (BOT) lease of 50 years.

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Banago port (from “docdoms” in Photobucket)

Banago port was a big success for Negros Navigation. How can it not be when it was located right at the capital and commercial center and Pulupandan is some distance to the south? As a private port, Banago was exclusive to the ships of Negros Navigation as they were the owner and operator of that.

Pulupandan port was then left to decay slowly and get shallow as the years went by. Being near an estuary did not help its case and in any case as the years went by dredging has to be done on ports so the depth will be maintained as silt will naturally accumulate due both to human and natural causes.

The other shipping companies like Sulpicio Lines, William Lines, Lorenzo Shipping and Compania Maritima still used Banago port until the early 1980’s by using the shallow draft ex-FS ships and other vessels of the same size and draft. But in the same decade these types were gone in Pulupandan and there was no way they can still dock their bigger ships there now. And so one by one they abandoned Pulupandan and not even their new container ships called there and Pulupandan completely lost its liners from Manila.

The 1980’s started with Negros Navigation having practical monopoly of shipping to Negros Occidental aside from the occasional small general purpose ship calling in Pulupandan which remained operational and the attempt of Aboitiz Shipping to use Sipalay port in the southern part of Negros Occidental as alternative. So when one has to go to Bacolod by ship (which was much cheaper than the expensive PAL plane then), one then has to go to the nearest negros Navigation ticketing office or booth.

But things never lie still and in the 1990s, the Bacolod Real Estate and Development Company (BREDCO) applied for a reclamation permit with the purpose of building a port. That was subsequently granted and the new BREDCO port slowly began to take shape. When it became operational it was obvious that its design and capacity is much, much superior than the Banago port of Negros Navigation. And that was why I wondered why after so many decades Negros Navigation didn’t care to build a port that is comparable and that they will own forever.

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BREDCO Port (from “docdoms” in Photobucket)

When the merged shipping company WG&A came into being and it wanted to challenge Negros Navigation in its own turf, they had BREDCO which they can approach. BREDCO port served WG&A ships and in an instant the monopoly of Negros Navigation in Bacolod and Negros occidental was suddenly broken. And the competition situation was WG&A had more and better ships than Negros Navigation. If not for the Negrense’s loyalty to Nenaco, WG&A would have pushed Negros Navigation to the brink more rapidly.

In retaliation, Negros Navigation also entered the home turf of WG&A which is Cebu. But they were never particularly successful there as they were like facing three combined shipping companies there especially in cargo and let us not forget that Cebu is also the stronghold of the Number 1 before the “Great Merger” which was Sulpicio Lines. Negros Navigation never really the quality of the great liners serving the Cebu route and so competing there was very tough for them.

Soon BREDCO portwas a roaring success. Not only did it host liners from Manila but also container ships. With the development of the intermodal system, the Bacolod-Dumangas short-distance ferry route took off and not only that the HSC (High Speed Craft) route between Iloilo and Bacolod really took off also and in its wash it even sank the Iloilo-Bacolod short-distance ferries of Negros Navigation which they served since their inception in 1932. By this it was all too obvious that Banago port is no match to BREDCO port in location and in facilities. Well, it was also even able to develop a grain and an oil terminal. They have it all including all the assortment of charges, too to better fund their expansion.

It was obvious then that BREDCO was just a good commercial port and not much more and not even protecting Negros Navigation interests which at the start of the new millennium its fortunes are ebbing fast. Soon Negros Occidental politicians had grumblings against BREDCO to maybe shake up its roost and effect changes. But no dice. BREDCO simply shrugged off all pressures and cases filed. Soon even the Negros Navigation hold on Banago port was gone because their 50-year lease already expired and they have to return the foreshoreland and together with it surrender the port to the government which happened during President Aquino’s term.

When the return of Banago port was imminent, the Negros Occcidental politicians tried to have a government port that will compete with BREDCO. But then all their brain wracking produced just one lousy idea, the re-development of Pulupandan port into a port worthy of regional port standards and for this they committed a budget from the peoples’ coffer of over P700 million. And with that money a new modern port rose in Pulupandan.

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Pulupandan Port (Photo from BizBilla.com)

Which soon turned practically into a “port to nowhere”. No liners came nor container ships. Just few occasional small freighters will come just like before. The government tried to sell it as a connection to Guimaras. After prodding, the Montenegro Shipping Lines responded and fielded a Pulupandan to Sibunag short-distance ferry-RORO. But then that solitary ferry is no match in weight with all the HSCs and short-distance ferry-ROROS using the BREDCO to Iloilo and Dumangas routes. There was simply no way to compete with the much superior location and development of BREDCO port. It was just like developing Cavite port to compete with North Harbor or developing Argao port to compete with Cebu port.

Now there is pressure to develop a new government port in Bacolod to compete with BREDCO. Huh? I thought it was the mantra of government not to compete with private enterprises (by the way, I am not the defender of BREDCO nor do I have any connection with them; it just titillates me to twit government stupidity), Why don’t they just tow the Pulupandan port to Bacolod to save on cost? Now, if that is only possible so the mistake can be corrected. And where was the stupid NEDA (National Economic Development Authority) in all of this when it should have checked well the validity of government projects? Will the proponents and validators of the Pulupandan port project willing to have their necks garrotted?

Now imagine another regional port in Bacolod costing about a billion pesos to build including land to be purchased just to make up for the Pulupundan error and compete with BREDCO!

When one Negros Occidental congressmen questioned that project, the main proponent which is one of the richest men in Congress simply said he will try to have a similar port in another congressional district north of Bacolod and the congressman which questioned was mollified. Well, with “solons” like this maybe it is high time we close Congress and better just save the money.

And that is the P700-million peso Pulupandan mistake which they will try to remedy by throwing good money after bad.

Negros Navigation Had The Most Modern Fleet From The late ’60’s To The Late ’80’s

When Negros Navigation celebrated it’s Diamond Anniversary in 2007, it issued an anniversary book. Going through the book, the reader might think that all along Negros Navigation was a great liner company. Unfortunately, that was not the case as Negros Navigation started as a shipping company linking just Panay and Negros and this was true even after World War II or nearly three decades after the company was founded. This would also mean that some shipping companies were the main connection of Western Visayas to Manila before Negros Navigation took that role.

Filipino shipping companies came to the fore in the early1930’s when it was becoming clear that a preparatory period for independence was coming. Filipino businessmen then thought they will supplant the then-dominant American businesses here when independence will come (nobody then can anticipate the “Parity Amendment” which came together with our independence).

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Credit to Gorio Belen

In the Commonwealth period, the dominant Western Visayas shipping company was the De la Rama Steamship. Don Esteban de la Rama of Iloilo was a very wealthy businessman and very well-connected politically as he himself was a Senator of the land and Vice-President Osmena was his brother-in-law. In this period, De la Rama Steamship ordered brand-new liners from Germany and those were the best in the land then and comparable to foreign liners.

Like many other shipping companies, De la Rama Steamship lost their liners during the war and after the war they were recipients of reparations by the Americans which promised replacement for the comandeered liners during the war. They also had some new-builds ordered from Japan which became the bone of contention later. In a few years, however, De la Rama Steamship concentrated on foreign trade and gave up their local routes.

After the war, there was another shipping company that served as the main connection of Western Visayas to Manila and this was the Southern Lines which was founded by rich businessmen of Western Visayas which belonged to the upper crust of the society of that region. Southern Lines operated converted former “FS” ships like many shipping companies of that era and it concentrated mainly in linking Iloilo and Bacolod to Manila. This company did not expand to other regions like what Negros Navigation did later.

1947 Southern Lines

Credit to Gorio Belen

Negros Navigation became a liner operation from being a regional when they and Ledesma Lines merged in the late 1950’s. Before this it was Ledesma Lines that had routes to Manila. This merger was the reason why the Ledesma family held substantial holdings in Negros Navigation for several decades until they sold off when they didn’t agree with the national expansion plan of Daniel “Bitay” Lacson in the 1990’s.

Southern Lines went out of operations in the mid-’60s and they sold off their ships but it did not go to Negros Navigation. I am not sure if there was a sell-out of routes to Negros Navigation but it will not really matter then as getting routes was easy for the company as their ownership which also belong to the upper crust of Western Visayas society was very close to President Ferdinand Marcos then.

I am of the mind, however, that the demise of Southern Lines might be an orchestrated move to pave way for the rise of Negros Navigation. The ownership of the two shipping companies are related by kinship and marriage and I think it was obvious which company had the blessings of Malacanang. And actually there is an indirect proof that Negros Navigation already controlled Southern Lines before its demise.

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Credit to Gorio Belen

Negros Navigation as a new liner company built up its fleet not by buying surplus ships but by ordering new, purpose-built liners from Hongkong first and then Japan. Their first brand-new liner was the “Princess of Negros” which was built by Hongkong Whampoa in 1962. This was cruiser with the external dimensions 61.0 meters by 9.5 meters with the cubic dimension 493 gross register tons. The ship had a net register tonnage of 301 tons and a DWT (deadweight tonnage) of 188 tons.

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Credit to Lindsay Bridge

These dimensions were almost like that of an ex-”FS” ship but actually she was even a little smaller. She was speedier though because she was powered by a 1,920-horsepower B&W Alpha engine whose power was almost double that of an “FS” ship and so she was capable of 13 knots sustained. The passenger capacity of the “Princess of Negros” was 349 persons divided into several classes from Economy to Suite in three decks. The ship’s ID was IMO 5284974.

The next new-build liner of Negros Navigation and the others that followed after it was from Japan. This was the “Dona Florentina” which came in 1965 and she ushered the “Dona” series of Negros Navigation. She was built by Hitachi Shipbuilding & Engineering Company in Osaka yard, Japan. The ship measured 95.7 meters by 13.9 meters with a gross register tonnage of 2,095 tons. She was powered by a single 4,400-horsepower Hitachi engine and her design speed was 17.5 knots. This ship’s permanent ID was IMO 6515899.

This ship was already part then of the trend of building liners with airconditioning with a length of just short of 100 meters and with 2,000-gross register tons size, a speed of approximately 18 knots and passenger capacity of just below a thousand. During this time this was what was considered then as a “luxury liner”, taken in their size, speed, accommodations, food and passenger service. The “Dona Florentina” can be considered as the first luxury liner of Negros Navigation and she had a passenger capacity of 832 in a net tonnage of 1,015 and a DWT of 1,425 which was the load capacity.

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Credit to Gorio Belen

A sister ship of hers followed the “Dona Florentina” in 1967. This was the “Don Julio” which possessed more beautiful lines and this ship was considered the beauty of her time. She has the same external dimensions as “Dona Florentina” but her cubic capacity was 2,116 gross register tons (this later rose to 2,381 tons), a net register tonnage of 1,111 tons and a DWT of 1,425 tons. The “Don Julio” has the same engine and speed of her sister ship but her passenger capacity was higher at 994 persons. The ship was not built by Hitachi Shipbuilding but by Maizuru Shipyard in Maizuru, Kyoto, Japan. Her permanent ID was IMO 6728549.

Another brand-new ship from Japan, the “Don Vicente” arrived for Negros Navigation in 1969 and she was mainly used for the Iloilo-Bacolod route. However, this ship was bigger than the “Princess of Negros” at 77.4 meters by 12.0 meters. Her gross register tonnage was 1,964 tons and her net register tonnage was 493 tons with a DWT of 576 tons. The ship was built by Niigata Shipbuilding in Niigata, Japan and her permanent ID was IMO 7003763.

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Credit to Dimas Almada

The “Don Vicente” was actually bigger than the converted former “FS” ships, even the lengthened ones, which was the common liner of the era. She was actually faster too at 17 knots which came from a pair of Niigata engines (this was the first-twin screw new ship of Negros Navigation) of 4,000 horsepower total. It would not have been a shame if she was fielded as a liner to Manila but the rich of Western Visayas also wanted a good, exclusive ship for the Iloilo-Bacolod route.

In 1971, a sister ship of “Dona Florentina” and “Don Julio” came from Japan, the “Don Juan” which then became the flagship of Negros Navigation until 1980. She, too, was built by Niigata Shipbuilding in Niigata, Japan. She measured 95.7 meters by 13.8 meters and that was near-identical to her sister ships. Her cubic volumes in gross register tonnage and net register tonnage was 2,310 and 1,330 tons, respectively, and her load capacity in DWT was 1,372 tons.

1971 MS Don Juan

Credit to Gorio Belen

This ship was faster than her sister ships because she was powered by a 5,000-horsepower B&W engine which gave her a sustained speed of 19 knots. Like her sisters ships she had accommodations from Economy to Suite but her passenger capacity was only 740 persons when her net register tonnage was higher and that means she has more space total and more space per passenger than her sister ships. She had the permanent ID IMO 7118088.

In 1971, when the “Don Juan” arrived, the economic crisis of the country was already deepening and this can be seen in the free fall (called “floating rate” then) of the peso which meant devaluation. With devaluation, the imported goods became more expensive in peso terms which means for the same thing like a same ship, the shipping company has to pay more. With this the ordering of new ships from Japan by Negros Navigation stopped. But in their fleet they already had five brand-new ships which was enough for their limited routes to Western Visayas and their Iloilo-Bacolod route.

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Credit to Chief Ray Smith

In 1976, Negros Navigation will add a 10-year old second-hand ship, the “Don Claudio” which became the biggest ship in the fleet by a small margin. And in 1980 they will acquire their first RORO liner, the “Dona Maria” which was then a 7-year old ship. However, in external dimensions she was just as big as the “Don Vicente” and in design speed she was the slowest at 15 knots save for the first brand-new ship, the “Princess of Negros”.

Negros Navigation sold to Southern Lines the liner they inherited from Ledesma Lines (and Southern Lines sold their old ships to other shipping companies). This was an earlier “Don Julio” which was a re-engined ex-”FS” ship. That means Negros Navigation had the newest fleet since the late ’60s when it was already able to build a fleet of their own. And by reckoning, they still had the newest ships up to the early ’80s, definitely, and most likely up to the second half of this decade. That was what they earned by buying new ships when the competition was still dependent on ex-”FS” ships of World War II vintage.

In the ’80s the other shipping companies were already shedding their their former World War II ships. From thereon all the shipping companies were purchasing surplus ships from Japan built in the late ’60s to the early ’70s, the same age now of the Negros Navigation cruiser ships. When they started acquiring RORO liners it was more or less of the same age and so no company can claim their fleet was younger. With great devaluation it was already suicide for shipping companies to order brand-new ships. It was simply unaffordable by that time already.

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Credit to Gorio Belen

But for a while, for some two decades, Negros Navigation can claim outright they have the youngest liners in the country.

The Brief Career of Philippine President Lines (PPL) In The Inter-island Trade

Philippine President Lines. What a grandiose name! Obviously it took off from the American President Lines (APL) whose ships were named after the American Presidents. Similarly, Philippine President Lines (PPL) also named their ships after Philippine Presidents but not all (one reason is we don’t have many Presidents being a young republic). PPL was not as old as American President Lines being established only in the late 1950’s.

Philippine President Lines is an unusual shipping company in the Philippines because it took off and expanded so fast that in so short a time as in less than a decade it was already the biggest shipping company in the country. In the process, it even exceeded the venerable Compania Maritima or CM (and its subsidiary Maritime Company of the Philippines in the overseas trade) in the combined local and foreign trade (later, it was matched by Galleon Shipping Corporation, another company that also grew up very fast).

Philippine President Lines started in the local routes but they gave it up to a subsidiary after just four years and then concentrated on the foreign trade. Along the way, PPL acquired many ocean-going ships which sailed routes to the Far East, Japan and the US West Coast. In the process, the names of the ships of Philippine President Lines changed from “President” to “Liberty” to “Lucky”. Philippine President Lines died as a shipping company when their ships were already named “Lucky”. The company is still alive but its business now are by being ship agents and by engaging in ship manning.

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Photo credits: Philippine Herald and Gorio Belen

The first ship of Philippine President Lines was the FS-223 which was acquired from the US. By 1960, their inter-island passenger fleet was already set. The company was fortunate in this period because it was able to acquire former “AKL” ships which were already being disposed then by the US Navy. “AKL” ships were former “FS” ships that were retained by the US after the war for use of the US Navy in supplying out of the way small posts especially in the Pacific Ocean. “AKL” ships were supposedly better than its ex-”FS” sisters.

Philippine President Lines acquired their first ship in 1959 and this became the President Magsaysay in their fleet. In 1960, PPL acquired the former FS-220, also from the US and this became the first President Roxas. In 1960, too, their first “AKL” ship came, the former AKL-5 which became the President Quirino. In the same year, they also acquired the passenger-cargo ship Sirius from North Camarines Lumber Company which was not only involved in the logging and lumber business but also in shipping. This was the former FS-265 of the US Army.

In the same year 1960, Philippine President Lines also made a grand acquisition when then were able to acquire a former seaplane tender, the Onslow (AVP-48) which they then converted into a luxury liner with airconditioning and named as the President Quezon. The conversion took a year but when she was fielded she became the fastest liner in the Philippines at 18 knots, beating the old record-holder, the Don Julio of Southern Lines which was formerly a Ledesma Lines ship. In the same year, they were able to acquire another passenger-cargo ship which was named the Lake Taal which was not big enough to carry the name of a President.

In 1961, two former AKL ships from the US Navy reinforced their fleet. The AKL-1 and AKL-2 came which became the President Laurel and the President Osmena in their fleet, respectively. The two ships were the former FS-175 and FS-309 of the US Army (the US Army and not the US Navy operated the “FS” ships in the war). These former “FS” ships were all powered by versions of the 1,000-hp GM Cleveland engines which gave a maximum speed of 12 knots except for the President Laurel that was powered by an 800-hp Enterprise engine which was only capable of 10.5 knots.

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Photo credits: The Philippines Herald and Gorio Belen

The early routes of Philippine President Lines stressed Bicol ports and routes, three out of their five, in fact, in 1960. That was welcome development in the region because that time the Madrigal Shipping routes to Bicol were already flagging. The PPL’s Bicol route even reached Larap and J. Panganiban of Camarines Norte, the farthest Bicol ports from Manila and the diminutive Lake Taal was used in those ports as well as in the ancient port of Tandoc in Caramoan Peninsula.

By 1963, however, the inter-island operation of PPL were transferred to a subsidiary, the Philippine Pioneer Lines. Initially, the word “President” was dropped from the names of the ships but later the word “Pioneer” headed the name of the ships. Like the President Quezon which became Quezon became the Pioneer Iloilo. The number of ships increased but the routes to Bicol declined. Philippine Pioneer Lines then began to stress Cebu like most other shipping companies. Maybe they realized the traffic to Bicol ports was not really that much commensurate.

The significant addition to the Philippine Pioneer Lines fleet was the acquisition of the former Don Julio of Southern Lines which became the Pioneer Leyte in the Philippine Pioneer Lines fleet. Because of this, Philippine Pioneer Lines possessed the two fastest liners in the Philippine seas then.

This is the short tale of the inter-island career of Philippine President Lines. Its successor, the Philippine Pioneer Lines and its further successor, Galaxy Lines deserve a separate article maybe. Abangan!

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Photo credit: Manila Chronicle and Gorio Belen

Sweet Lines and the DFDS Connection

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Sweet Faith by Karsten Petersen

DFDS is the abbreviation of Det Forenede Dampskibs-Selskab A/S (literally “The United Shipping Company” because it is a merger of three shipping companies). It is a Danish shipping company which is the biggest in Northern Europe. Now that reminds me that Maersk (or A.P. Moller-Maersk Group), the biggest shipping company in the whole world is also Danish. It seems the Danish are low-key and not used to trumpeting their horns but they really know shipping. It also sets me thinking that the more heralded shipping Greeks might then just be overrated because of Onassis who was tops in self-promotion. DFDS is an old, highly regarded shipping line that was established in 1866 and that was exactly 150 years ago. The company is both into passenger and cargo shipping historically and now they even have subsidiaries.

Sweet Lines Incorporated is a Philippine shipping company which started as the the Central Shipping Company in Bohol and they only changed name in 1961. Later, to handle their cargo/container shipping, Sweet Lines resurrected that company in 1981 while continuing to use the company Sweet Lines for passenger liner shipping. Sweet Lines actually started before World War II, was interrupted by the war like all other shipping companies then and they continued again after the war using mainly former “F” ships from the US Navy. They were then just a regional shipping company but a dominant regional with routes linking Bohol, Siquijor, Cebu, Leyte and Northern Mindanao along with a few other ports of calls in other parts of Central Philippines.

In 1965, the liner company General Shipping Company quit local shipping and then went into the overseas routes. They sold their local fleet along with its franchises and half of those ended up with Sweet Lines. That provided the opening for a dominant regional player to become a player in the national liner shipping scene. Except for one local-built luxury liner which became the Sweet Rose, all other ships conveyed from General Shipping were former “FS” ships which were the backbone of the Philippine inter-island shipping fleet after the war but which was already getting long in the teeth twenty years hence.

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Photo credit: Manila Chronicle, National Library and Gorio Belen

In 1966, Sweet Lines bought the only liner of Royal Lines, the Princesa and renamed this to Sweet Peace. The next year, they bought the third Governor Wright from Southern Lines and renamed this into Sweet Sail. What is remarkable about these acquisitions is these two ships are better and faster than the former “FS” that was a war surplus of the USA. In 1967, Sweet Lines was sailing these two to Manila with the bigger Sweet Rose and the Sweet Ride, their only ex-”FS” ship in a liner route.

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Photo credit: Manila Chronicle, National Library and Gorio Belen

What Sweet Lines did was they actually handed down to their regional routes their three other ex-”FS” ships from General Shipping Company thus bolstering their regional routes. These were the former General del Pilar, General Trias and General Lim. Since General Shipping always interchanged the names of their ships they then better be identified also with their IMO Numbers to avoid confusion. The three had the IDs IMO 6117992, IMO 6118023 and IMO 6117937 initially. In a change of IDs they were later the IMO 5127762, IMO 5127889 and IMO 5127736, respectively. Under Sweet Lines, the three became the first Sweet Trip, the first Sweet Ride and the first Sweet Hope, respectively. Where before, Sweet Lines only had former “F” ships for the regional battles, now they had also the bigger and better ex-”FS” ships.

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Photo credit: Philippine Herald, National Library and Gorio Belen

This early as a liner company, Sweet Lines’ template was beginning to show – they were not content to simply match the competitors’ fleet and here I am talking of quality and not of numbers. Up to 1967, the liner fleets of most of their competitors still consisted of former “FS” ships and some were lengthened former “F” ships.

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Photo credit: The Philippines Herald, National Library and Gorio Belen

The next moves of Sweet Lines confirmed their model of building their fleet. Their next seven ship acquisitions from 1967 to 1973, for an average of a ship each year consisted of ships acquired from Europe. Five of these were from DFDS and among them was the great Sweet Faith. The two others were no less than the five. One was a brand-new liner built in West Germany, the Sweet Grace and the other was a luxury liner from Italy, the former Caralis, a luxury liner even in Italy which became the first Sweet Home and biggest liner of Sweet Lines until then and one of the few liners in the country then that was over 100 meters in length.

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Sweet Bliss by Karsten Petersen

Getting five passenger ships one after the other showed the DFDS connection of Sweet Lines. During this period the additional ship requirements of our liner fleets was being sourced from Europe as there were no more available war surplus ships from the USA and there was not yet a significant volume of surplus passenger ships from Japan. Among the local liner companies it was Go Thong & Co., Compania Maritima and William Lines along with the upstart Dacema Lines that were sourcing ships from Europe in significant number during this time.

Of the five ships from DFDS, the most prominent of course and which became the flagship of Sweet Lines in the 1970’s was the Sweet Faith. This ship was a luxury liner even in Europe and was fast. She just sailed the premier Manila-Cebu route and that was paradigm-changing because she started the era of fast cruisers in the postwar years and by just sticking to one particular route without an intermediate port of call. She also launched what was called the “flagship wars” when William Lines decided to match her with the Cebu City. Sulpicio Lines later joined this war with their Don Sulpicio which was the later infamous Dona Paz. Sweet Home also joined this “flagship wars” in 1973 as pair to Sweet Faith doing only the Manila-Cebu route and she was also a fast cruiser aside from being a luxury liner.

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Photo credit: Times Journal, National Library and Gorio Belen

The other four ships from DFDS were passenger-cargo ships in Europe that has a small passenger capacity and which has a cargo boom bisecting the passenger accommodation below the bridge and the scantling at the stern. All four were built by Helsingor Vaerft in Elsinore, Denmark like the Sweet Faith. The four were actually a pair of sister ships. They were also by no means small.

The first that came here were the sisters ships Elsinore, Denmark and Birkholm which arrived in 1967 and 1969, respectively. Here, the were renamed into the Sweet Bliss and the Sweet Life (this ship was later renamed into Sweet Dream). The Broager was actually the younger ship having been built in 1953 while the Birkholm was built in 1950. At 92 meters length, the two were already among the biggest liners in country then with a median speed but certainly a little faster than the war surplus types from the USA, the ex-”FS” ships, the ex-”Y” ships, the ex-”C1-M-AV1” ships and the Type N3 ships.

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The next batch that came were the Ficaria and the Primula and both came in 1972 and they were renamed into the Sweet Lord (later renamed into Sweet Land) and Sweet Love. The two were bigger than the Broager and Birkholm at 101 meters and they had a respectable speed of 14.5 knots when new. The Ficaria was built in 1951 while the Primula was built in 1952. Meanwhile, the Sweet Faith was built in 1950. So all these ships of Sweet Lines from DFDS were actually built in just one period.

By 1974, Sweet Lines was no longer using ex-”FS” ships in the liner routes as they already passed on all this type to their regional routes and to their cargo shipping division. These five ships from DFDS became the backbone of their fleet and reinforced by the Sweet Home (the luxury liner ex-Caralis from Italy), the Sweet Grace (the brand-new liner built in West Germany in 1968) and by the local-built liner Sweet Rose acquired from General Shipping.

This was the peak of the passenger fleet of Sweet Lines when even their respected rivals were still using a lot of war-surplus ships from the USA in their liner routes. At 84 meters the Sweet Rose was the smallest among the eight and that was remarkable. If the length of their liners are averaged Sweet Lines will beat all except the leading Compania Maritima and will about equal the relatively small liner fleet then of Negros Navigation. At this year Sweet Lines might have ranked 4th or 5th in fleet strength nationwide or even as high as 3rd if their regional and cargo shipping are considered. Compania Maritima was already weakening this time with a lot of sinking without new acquisitions, Go Thong & Co., had broken up in 1972 while Aboitiz Shipping Corporation and subsidiary Cebu-Bohol Ferry Company while numerous is simply loaded with old ex-”FS” ships. Actually the First Five or First Six in national shipping then were almost near equals, the first and only time I saw such near-parity.

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Photo credit: Times Journal, National Library and Gorio Belen

From such strength derived from an insistence on ship quality from the start as a national liner company and by ushering the era of fast cruisers in the postwar years and fighting well the “flagship wars,” I cannot, however. just sweep under the rug how Sweet Lines slipped from its exalted position. Imagine from being a newcomer in the national liner shipping scene in 1965 and reaching near-parity with the leading ones in just nine short years!

Maybe such expansion hit Sweet Lines more than the others when the “floating rate” of the peso (an automatic currency devaluation mechanism) especially after the “Oil Shock” of 1973 when trade balance and foreign currency shortage happened with the fast rise of petroleum products. For five years from 1973 until 1978 they did not acquire any liner. And that is in the situation that their European-sourced liners are already getting old (well, the war-surplus ships from the USA are even older).

While William Lines and Sulpicio Lines were quick to buy fast cruisers from Japan, a new ship source from the middle of the 1970’s, Sweet Lines got stuck up in those crisis years. A news item in the middle of that decade said that Sweet Lines will just concentrate on buying smaller ships and that turned out to be true because their next ship acquisitions turned out to be just in the 50-meter class which is marginal size for a liner. That size of ships they purchased in the late 1970’s were just the size of the ex-”FS” ships and with just the same speed, actually. If that was not regression, I don’t know what is.

Sweet Home

Well, that inaction also happened to Compania Maritima, Aboitiz Shipping Corp., Escano Lines, Carlos A. Gothong Lines Inc.+Lorenzo Shipping Corp. (the two had combined operations there before separating in a few years) and Madrigal Shipping and to all the minor liner shipping companies. The consistent move of William Lines and Sulpicio Lines determined their leading position later (is this what Ana Madrigal later said was “dirty”?). Meanwhile, the slide of the others can be traced to that.

If the other shipping companies that did not make the bold move to fast cruisers thought the next decade will be better, then they probably got the shock of their lives when the economy got worse, much worse in the 1980’s. Financial and political crisis grew with the assassination of Ninoy Aquino and there was widespread discontent. The 1980’s turned into a “massacre decade” for our shipping when most of our liner companies, major and minor, did not survive that decade alive.

Sweet Lines survived that decade alive but they were no longer first rank. Soon they will crash out too. But as they say, that is another story (and worth another article). Abangan!

The Passenger-Cargo ex-“FS” Ships of the Philippines

Right after World War II, the former FS ships of the US military dominated the Philippine shipping industry. FS means “Freight and Supply”. Their earlier designation was “FP”. The FS series is one of the many types of transport-supply ships used by the US armed forces in World War II.

The FS ships proceeded from one basic design, with variations. There were many contracted shipbuilders in the US that built them. Higgins Industries and Wheeler Shipbuilding were the dominant FS shipbuilders. The FS ships that reached the Philippines were about 54 meters in length with a beam of 9.8 meters. It is about 560 gross tons. Many manufacturers supplied engines for the FS ships from the basic General Motors-Cleveland design.

The bulk of the FP/FS ships were built in the year 1944 and a few were built in 1945. Most were built for the US Army and it was mainly employed in the Pacific theater of operations of the US armed forces. That was one of the reasons why so many FS ships found its way to the Philippines.

As military surplus ships which the US no longer needed anymore after the war, the FS ships were plenty, readily available and very cheap. Many were just given as reparations for the ships requisitioned by the US during the war or were replacements for the ships that were deliberately scuttled during the early phase of the Pacific war to prevent them from falling into enemy hands.

The first batch that came was directly given to the Philippine government for its disposal. Later, some FS ships given to other countries found its way to the Philippines, mainly in the 1950’s and these were private transactions. Even much later, some former FS ships converted by the US Navy for post-war uses (the “AKL” series) found its way to the Philippines as late as the 1960’s. This batch was cornered by the well-connected Philippine President Lines.

Some of FS ships were used unconverted and served as cargo ships carrying a few passengers. Most, however, were converted to true passenger-cargo use. About half were later lengthened in Hongkong and Bataan shipyards and some were even re-engined. Aboitiz Shipping Lines and William Lines were notable for this.

Converted and/or lengthened FS ships added passenger decks and accommodations. But compared to later standards those were still very spartan and meager. Third-class was really hardship class as one has to sleep among the cargo in the lowermost deck which is hot and noisy as it was just above the engine deck. Second class accommodations meant foldable cots and being located a deck above third class. First class is usually located in the bridge deck and is not accessible by the other classes. However, for all classes air-conditioning is non-existent.

Originally running at 12-13 knots, converted FS ships generally ran at 10-11 knots and sometimes even slower as they aged and got heavy. A route in general had many ports of call with long in-port hours due to the slow loading and unloading operations using porters and booms. Southern Mindanao voyages took two weeks to complete, round-trip. Visayas and northern Mindanao routes took one week. In a few short routes to Panay, Palawan, Mindoro, Romblon and Marinduque, a twice a week sailing was possible.

The FS ships generally didn’t have radar and ship masters became versatile in reading the weather and in looking for coves to take cover when the waves became rough for comfort and safety. The FS ships were known for rolling in heavy seas and being slow it cannot outrun a coming typhoon. Many were caught in the seas by storms and foundered or were wrecked.

The FS ships served longer than they were intended or expected to. Most were still sailing in the 1970’s and having completed three decades of service. But by the 1980’s, only the sturdiest of the class survived. A few of the FS ships served until the early 1990’s. It is a matter of conjecture which was the last FS ship sailing in our waters. That FS ship was probably a vessel running cargo somewhere among the lesser-known routes.

Usually death of the engine is the main cause of the retirement of the FS ship. Others were retired because they were no longer competitive in terms of speed and comfort. Many long-surviving shipping companies sold and broke up FS ships late in its life to be able to buy newer replacement ships. However, other lesser companies sold and broke up ships in the economic crisis of the mid-1980’s and went out of the shipping business.

By the mid-1990’s, the FS ships were already history. At the age of 50 even the sturdiest of machineries begin to fail and can no longer be retrofitted. Radar and air-conditioning, musts of the 1980’s can no longer be retrofitted in the FS ships. Nor can they be made to run any faster.

As a whole, the FS ships did not suffer from leaky bottoms or holed hulls. In general, they proved to be sturdy and reliable. The FS ships were one of the most significant types of ships to serve Philippine shipping.

The Passenger-Cargo FS Ships in the Philippines:

Aboitiz Shipping Lines/PSNC/Cebu-Bohol Ferry Company:

MV Antonia (FS-280)

MV Carmen (FS-226) [foundered 1987]

MV Mangarin (FS-279) [wrecked 1974]

MV Marcelino (FS-271) [broken up 1992]

MV Baybay (FS-253) [foundered 1980]

MV Davao (FS-200) [sold to William Lines]

MV Kolambugan (FS-194) [sold to William Lines]

MV Kinau (FS-365) [sold to CAGLI]

MV Picket II (FS-167) [broken up]

MV Vizcaya (FS-465) [sold to Escano Lines]

MV Lanao (FS-349)

MV Cotabato (FS-404) [sold]

MV Bais (1) (FS-3190 [wrecked 1978]

MV Baztan (FS-264) [sold to George & Peter Lines]

MV Sorsogon (FS-366) [sold to Rodrigueza Shipping]

MV FS-272 [sold to William Lines]

MV FS-177 [fire, sank 1972]

MV Manuel (FS-165) [converted to barge, 1977]

MV Ormoc (1) (FS-176)

MV Ernest S (FS-147) [sold to Escano Lines]

William Lines:

MV Victor (FS-372) [broken up 1985]

MV Albert (FS-527) [wrecked, broken up 1982]

MV Henry I (FS-196) [sold to Bisayan Land Transport]

MV Don Victoriano (FS-526) [fire, broken up 1982]

MV Edward (FS-224) [broken up 1992]

MV Elizabeth (FS-311) [broken up 1988]

MV Don Jose I (FS-268)

MV Davao City (FS-200) [broken up 1986]

MV Misamis Oriental (FS-194) [fire, sank 1987]

MV Dona Maria (FS-265) [sold to Escano Lines]

General Shipping:

General del Pilar (FS-253) [sold to Aboitiz Shipping]

General Segundo (FS-273) [sold to Sweet Lines]

General Lim (FS-199) [sold to Sweet Lines]

General Lukban (FS-280) [sold to Aboitiz Shipping]

General Mascardo (FS-269)

General Luna (FS-346) [sold to Sweet Lines]

General Mojica (FS-271) [sold to Aboitiz Shipping]

General Capinpin (FS-279) [sold to Aboitiz Shipping]

General Malvar (FS-226) [sold to Aboitiz Shipping]

Compania Maritima:

MV Bohol (FS-550) [wrecked 1971]

MV Corregidor (FS-549) [broken up 1988]

MV Leyte (FS-386) [wrecked 1978]

MV Mindoro (FS-393) [foundered 1967]

MV Romblon (FS-166) [fire, beached 1974]

MV Marinduque (FS-159) [broken up 1988]

MV Masbate (1) (FS-144) [sold to Sweet Lines]

MV Don Isidro (FS-160) [sold to Sweet Lines]

Manila Steamship:

MS Vizcaya (FS-405) [sold to PSNC]

MS Lanao (FS-349) [sold to PSNC]

MS Venus (FS-404) [sold to PSNC]

MS Elcano (FS-319) [sold to PSNC]

MS Baztan (FS-264) [sold to PSNC]

MS Sorsogon (FS-366) [sold to PSNC]

MS Marinduque (FS-159) [sold to Compania Maritima]

Philippine President Lines/Philippine Pioneer Lines/Galaxy Lines:

MV Pres. Osmena (1) (FS-309) a.k.a MV Pioneer Iligan/MV Gemini [sold]

MV Pres. Laurel (1) (FS-175) a.k.a. MV Pioneer Butuan/MV Virgo [sold]

MV Pres. Roxas (1) (FS-220) [sold to N&S Lines]

MV Pres. Quirino (1) (FS-275) a.k.a. MV Pioneer Tacloban/MV Odeon [sold to Lorenzo Shipping]

MV Pres. Magsaysay (1) (FS-223) a.k.a. MV Pioneer Cebu [sank 1966]

MV Pres. Quezon (1) (FS-265) [sold to William Lines]

Escano Lines:

MV Tacloban (FS-265) [foundered 1971]

MV Kolambugan (FS-194) [fire, sank 1987]

MV Fernando Escano (FS-178) [sold]

MV Agustina (FS-225) [broken up 1989]

MV Malitbog (FS-403) [broken up 1984]

MV Rajah Suliman (FS-147) [broken up 1984]

Sulpicio Lines:

MV Don Enrique (1) (FS-270) [wrecked 1982]

MV Don Carlos (1) (FS-148) [foundered 1977]

MV Don Alfredo (FS-310) [broken up 1983]

MV Don Jose (1) (FS-318) [sank 1967]

Sweet Lines:

MV Sweet Trip (1) (FS-273) [wrecked 1978]

MV Sweet Ride (1) (FS-346) [broken up 1985]

MV Sweet Hope (1) (FS-199) [wrecked 1984, broken up]

MV Sweet Town (FS-144) [broken up 1982]

MV Sweet News (FS-160) [broken up 1968]

Southern Lines/Visayan Transport:

MS Governor Gilbert (FS-194) [sold to Escano Lines]

MS Governor Smith (FS-314) [sold]

MS Governor Wright (1) (FS-287) [sold]

MS Governor Wright (2) (FS-365) [sold to Aboitiz Shipping]

MV Don Julio (FS-286) [sold to Philippine Pioneer Lines]

Bisaya Land Transport:

MV Don Mariano (FS-260) [broken up]

MV Don Filomena (FS-201) [broken up]

MV Dona Remedios (FS-284) [broken up]

MV Don Mariano (2) (FS-196) [sold to Alma Shipping]

North Camarines Lumber/NCL/NORCAMCO:

MV Sirius (FS-265) [sold to Philippine President Lines]

MV FS-387

MV Taurus (1) (FS-365) [sold to PSNC]

MV Vega (2) [sold to N&S Lines]

N&S Lines:

MV Venus (FS-220) [foundered in 1984]

MV Odeon (FS-275) [sold to Lorenzo Shipping]

MV Vega (2)

De La Rama Steamship:

MS Don Esteban (FS-166) [sold to Compania Maritima]

MS Don Isidro (FS-160) [sold to Sweet Lines]

MS Don Vicente (FS-199) [sold to General Shipping]

Pan-Oriental Shipping:

MV Oriental (FS-318) [sold to Carlos A. Go Thong & Co.]

MV Occidental (FS-350) [sold to Carlos A. Go Thong & Co.]

MV Continental (FS-197) [sold]

Lorenzo Shipping:

MV Don Francisco (FS-350) [wrecked 1978]

MV Don Jolly (1) (FS-275)

Juliano & Co.:

MV Zamboanga-J (FS-178) [sold to Escano Lines]

MV Cotabato-J (FS-279) [sold to General Shipping]

Rodrigueza Shipping:

MV Neptuno (FS-379)

MV Sorsogon (FS-366)

Gothong Lines:

MV Don Benjamin (1) (FS-365) [broken up 1980]

Ledesma Shipping:

Don Julio (FS-286) [sold to Southern Lines]

De Oro Shipping:

MV Insular de Cebu (FS-178) [wrecked 1978]

Philippine Sea Transport:

MV FS-194 [sold to PSNC]

South Sea Shipping:

MV Neptuno (FS-389) [sold to Rodrigueza Shipping]

Sta. Mesa Machinery:

MV Ernest-S (FS-147) [sold to PSNC]

Philsin:

MV Philsin (FS-364)

[Research Support: Gorio Belen]

[Database Support: Jun Marquez, Angelo Blasutta, Mike Baylon]

[Edited and reprinted from an article in the old Philippine Ship Spotters Society website.]