The Biggest Passenger-Cargo Ship in the Philippines in the 1930s

The 1930s was a golden era for Philippine passenger shipping. There were a lot of passenger-cargo ships that came and local shipbuilding was also in its peak. We benefited from World War I when demand for abaca, copra and coal went through the roof and it spurred shipbuilding and trading. The development of the internal-combustion engine also greatly helped that.

The Great Depression of 1929 of the US came but did not affect our shipping and shipbuilding, in the main. What were affected were the US producers being competed by our duty-free copra and abaca and so they were in favor of letting the Philippine Islands (that was what our country was called then) go. That was why our “independence missions” then were successful. However, their industrialists continued to covet our mineral resources and protect their industries here.

SS Mayon, Pier 3, Manila, Philippines, preparing to leave for Mindanao and way ports south, August 22, 1933

Copyright: Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System. Posted by John Tewell.

From small liners with just a few hundred gross register tons and whom about half were wooden-hulled, in the years leading to 1930 many steel-hulled liners of nearly a thousand gross register tons or more came. And for the first time, new-builds became commonplace and it was the La Naviera Filipina (the merged shipping company of the Escanos and the Aboitizes) and De la Rama Steamship that led this charge assisted by the independent Aboitiz & Company, Inc.

For the first time, the highest of the totem pole of local shipping being held by Madrigal & Co. and Compania Maritima was being challenged. It was De la Rama Steamship that had the big ships that could challenge the Top Two. La Naviera, meanwhile, have smaller ships but more numerous and the size was understandable because their route is primarily the Central Visayas and they do not do the southern Mindanao route which needs bigger ships.

However, the biggest passenger-cargo ship in the local routes then did not belong to any of the four if our oceangoing liners which are mainly cargo ships with a few passengers are excluded (those were Madrigal & Co. ships). The honor belonged to the Philippine Interisland Steamship Co. with its liner SS Mayon which was acquired in 1930.  The Dollar Steamship Co. of the US was the leader in bringing about this great liner to our waters.

SS Mayon, loading an automobile for a trip to Mindanao and way ports south, Manila, Philippines, August 22, 1933

Copyright: Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System. Posted by John Tewell.

The SS Mayon, a brand-new ship was considered the most luxurious of its time that President Quezon even sails with it. Now, I will let the Philippines Herald tell her story:

“Known as the most luxurious ship in the interisland service, the Mayon was built in 1930 by Vickers-Armstrong, Ltd., In Barrow, Great Britain, for the Philippine Interisland Steamship company. She is classified as 100-A1 by Lloyd’s, the highest classification for ships.

A twin-screw turbine ship, she is of 3,371 gross and 1,529 net tons. She is 347.5 feet long, 50.4 feet wide and 16.3 feet deep. She is capable of a speed of 21 knots, and is equipped with refrigerating machinery.

The Mayon arrived from Glasgow on October 28, 1930, and left on her maiden voyage in Philippine waters six days later. The late Captain Robert Dollar, known as the Grand Old Man of the Pacific, came to the Philippines with Mrs. Dollar to inaugurate the service. Captain and Mrs. Dollar were among the passengers on the maiden voyage of the Mayon to the southern islands.

The Mayon has been used on the Manila-Iloilo-Zamboanga-Cebu run on a weekly schedule, sailing from Manila on Tuesday afternoon and returning on Sunday morning.”

In metric measure, SS Mayon is 105.9 meters in Length Over-all and 15.4 meters in Breadth.

However, the SS Mayon was not making that much money and Dollar Steamship also has its problems including the death of its founder. To save the ship which was the pride of the Philippine merchant marine, the Philippine Government acquired the ship and assigned it to the Manila Railroad Company and one would ask what is a railroad company doing in shipping.

S. S. Princes of Negros and S. S. Mayon at wharf, Iloilo, Philippines, Aug. 23, 1933

Copyright: Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System.

Well, the Manila Railroad Company, the predecessor of Philippine National Railways operated ferries to connect the passengers of their Bicol Line to their South (Luzon) Line. The government especially President Quezon has long been beneficent to the Manila Railroad Co. that they and he also allowed it to operate liners. Well, that service was needed also by the people.

In 1940, the nascent Manila Steamship Co. Inc. acquired the SS Mayon. During that time Manila Railroad Company was already beginning to divest from shipping especially since the South Line and Bicol Line of the company was already connected. It is to the Manila Steamship Co. of the Elizaldes that the Ynchaustis transferred their shipping company to fight in the Spanish Civil War as a matter of principle.

I was in wonder retrospectively how come the Philippines was still investing heavily in shipping when World War II was already raging in Europe. We thought that the Japan Empire will be intimidated by the combined American, British and Dutch forces?

And so war came in December of 1941 and we were immediately in crisis especially after the US Asiatic Fleet abandoned us and hied off to Australia. With that the US Army Transport (USAT) otherwise known as the PI Support Fleet was formed with 25 ships, almost all of whom were passenger-cargo ships and they ferried troops, materiel, government personnel, government records, currency, gold, silver and many other things.

The ship Mayon used as Sinulog prop

A drawing of SS Mayon used as prop in Sinulog. Photo b Mike Baylon of PSSS.

This fleet had no air support as US aircraft was also withdrawn from the Philippines and the Japanese invaders had complete control of the sky. SS Mayon’s luck ran out on February 2, 1942 when Japanese warplanes caught her in Butuan Bay. She was strafed and bombed and she sank, a piteous fate for one who was formerly the Queen of our seas.

After the war, in 1946, the Manila Steamship acquired a ferry to replace her with the same name SS Mayon. She was almost as big as the original and had a certain resemblance to her. However, she was not a new ship and was even older than the ship she replaced. But I will stop here now as that ship deserves a separate story.

 

 

A Quartet of Sister Ships

The Lite Ferry 1 and Lite Ferry 2 of Lite Ferries, the Maria Helena of Montenegro Shipping Lines Inc. and the Danica Joy of Aleson Shipping Lines share one thing in common which is a common hull design making them all as sister ships. The four were built in different yards and in different years and they have different engines but they share the same superstructure too making them similar from afar though many do not realize that immediately. They also sailed at one time not far from each other and some might even have met in Dumaguete port.

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Among the four, it was Omogo which came first to the Philippines in 1987 from Setonaikai Kisen KK of Hiroshima, Japan to become the Danilo 1 of Danilo Lines. The Sensui Maru of the same Japan company followed in 1989 and she became the Danilo 2 of Danilo Lines. Actually, the two are among our early ferries, a product of the right bet of Danilo Lines on ROROs when they connected the ports of San Carlos and Toledo across the Tanon Strait dividing Negros and Cebu islands. When Danilo Lines was acquired by Lite Shipping Corporation, Danilo 1 became the Lite Ferry 1 and Danilo 2 became the Lite Ferry 2. Officially, however, the two ships still belong to Danilo Lines which was not dissolved yet but everybody knows now they are under Lite Ferries and other ships of Lite Ferries periodically relieve them now in the route and sometimes the two ships are assigned other routes of Lite Ferries.

The third to arrive in the country was the Danica Joy and she was one of the early ROROs of Aleson Shipping Lines when she came in 1994. The last to arrive was the Maria Helena which only came in 2004 after a stint in China with the Qingdao Ferry. Belonging to different companies, the quartet of sister ships have different home ports, the Lite Ferries in Cebu, Danica Joy in Zamboanga and the Maria Helena in Batangas.

Among the four, three were built in 1969 which are the two Lite Ferries and the Maria Helena. The Danica Joy, meanwhile was built in 1972. The Lite Ferry 1 was built by Kanda Zosensho in Kure yard, Japan. The Lite Ferry 2, though having the same owner in Japan was built by a different shipyard in the same year. She was built by Matsuura Tekko in Higashino yard, Japan.

Meanwhile, the Maria Helena was built as the Yanai by Nakamura Shipbuilding and Engineering Works in Yanai yard, Japan for Boyo Kisen KK of Yanai, Japan. She went to China as the Lu Jiao Du 1 in 1993. Lastly, the Danica Joy was built as the Nakajima by Nakamura Zosen in Matsue yard, Japan. [Note: Danica Joy is the same ship as the earlier Danica Joy 1.]

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Photo by James Gabriel Verallo

Lite Ferry 1 has the permanent ID IMO 7005530. Lite Ferry 2 has the permanent ID IMO 6926969. That means her keel was laid ahead of Lite Ferry 1. Maria Helena is also identified as IMO 7535274 and Danica Joy is IMO 7852414. I do not know why the IMO Numbers of Maria Helena and Danica Joy are out of sequence.

The four are not basic, short-distance ferry-ROROs but belongs to the next class higher which are over 40 meters in length (in fact, just below 50 meters LOA). The distinguishing characteristic of the four is the rectangular box at the front or bow of the ship which serves as protection for rain, sea splash and rogue waves. The four looks rectangular from the sides. All except Danica Joy have full two passenger decks here and a single car deck (Danica Joy just have a partial second passenger deck).

The car decks of the four have three lanes and four trucks or buses can be accommodated in each lane (more if it is sedans, SUVs or jeeps). Originally and until now, the four have RORO ramps at the bow and at the stern although all basically just use the stern ramp now for handling rolling cargo hence they dock stern-wise.

All the four have combined bunks and seats so all can be used either as a short-distance RORO or as an overnight ship. All have an airconditioned Tourist class and the usual open-air Economy class. The size of the Tourist class varies among the four, however and so do the passenger capacity. Maria Helena has the smallest passenger capacity among the four at only 310 passengers.

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Maria Helena by John Carlos Cabanillas

The gross tonnage (GT) of Maria Helena might be a little bloated at over 1,000, a pattern I noticed among ships that passed through China (if it is compared to its Japan GT). Meanwhile, the GT of the three others might be a little understated because it was practically unchanged from the Japan GT (when scantlings were added to ships). Until now, the Philippines have no true reliable GT figures (because MARINA does not know how to compute that?).

The four sister ships are equipped with a pair of Daihatsu marine main engines. Three have a total of 2,000 horsepower but the Lite Ferry 2 only has a total of 1,700 horsepower making it the slowest at 13 knots when new. Lite Ferry 1 was capable of 13.5 knots when new while the two others were capable of 14 knots when new. Realistically, they are only capable now of 11-12 knots given their age and the additional metal. Some might even sail at just 10 knots given the demand of the route.

The quartet all have raked bows and transom sterns. All have two masts and two funnels at the sides. However, only Lite Ferry 1 and Lite Ferry 2 have stern passenger ramps which is a trademark of Cebu overnight ferries. This design does not interfere with the car or cargo loading of the ship. This is not possible with Maria Helena because she has no full scantling.

The four have no permanent assigned routes. The nearest to having a permanent route is the Danica Joy in the Dumaguete-Dapitan (Pulauan) route where she was the first short-distance RORO with bunks. Montenegro Lines always rotate their ships but for a time Maria Helena was always in the Bogo-Cataingan route. Meanwhile, Lite Ferries always rotate their ships every so few months.

These four are all starting to advance in years now. However, all are still very reliable. Their metal seems to be still good too. So I don’t see them quitting anytime soon as all are still good ferries especially in the short routes, the routes that loads a dozen vehicles and a few hundred passengers.

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If there is anything that will kill them it will be the wrong proposal being pushed now by some quarters to retire ferries that are over 35 years in age. As if safety in ships is determined by the age of the ships when empirically it is not. Actually, it is vested interests and not just concern for safety that is fueling that push.

Anyway, I hope to see this quartet continue to sail for many more years. They are still capable ferries.

Note: It is possible that Ruby-1 or Ruby-2 of Alexis Shipping that plied the Batangas-Calapan route is also a sister ship of the four. But they are already missing.

How The GIGO Principle Applied to Myrna S. Austria’s Paper In The Port of Batangas

We all know what GIGO or “Garbage In, Garbage Out” means. The paper of Myrna S. Austria on domestic shipping competition is one such example and I will show the GIGO of her paper in the port of Batangas. [I will also show how it applied later in her analyses on the routes from Cebu and other routes; to tackle all in one article will simply be too long.] Her paper:

http://dirp3.pids.gov.ph/ris/rps/pidsrp0302.pdf

In that paper the figures that were used were for 1998 and 1999 but the paper could have been published in 2003. So for consistency I will use data especially vessel data for 1998, primarily and for 1999, secondarily.

Batangas port in 1998-1999 was one of our busiest port in terms of passenger traffic. In those years Batangas port was behind Cebu port and Manila port (in total passengers but not in vessel departures) but it is well ahead of the other Philippine ports.

The number one route from Batangas is the Calapan route and that route will account for about 80% of the passenger departures from Batangas. Other routes then from Batangas were to the following ports : Abra de Ilog, Sablayan and San Jose (all in Occidental Mindoro); Puerto Galera (in Oriental Mindoro); Coron and Puerto Princesa (both in Palawan); Odiongan, Romblon, Banton and Simara (all in Romblon province) and Masbate.

Actually there might have been a few other routes from Batangas that I might have missed because the creation and deletion of routes was very fast in those days as competition in Batangas was really heated up. This was the era of the entry of many shipping companies which was the result of the deregulation policy and shipping incentives laid down by the Fidel V. Ramos administration. In fact, because of the dog-eat-dog competition in Batangas and the simple excess of bottoms, in a few years after 1998 a lot of shipping companies plying routes from Batangas routes will have collapsed including the biggest, the Viva Shipping Lines/Sto. Domingo Shipping/DR Shipping combine of the controversial Don Domingo Reyes.

If the paper of Myrna S. Austria is to be believed there were only three routes from Batangas served by sea vessels bigger than motor bancas in 1998 — the Batangas-Calapan route (and that is served only by SuperCat according to her paper), the Batangas-Puerto Galera route (according to her that is served only by Si-Kat, the small Cavite-built fiberglass-hulled catamaran) and the Batangas-Romblon route (which according to her is only served by Shipshape Ferry Inc.). Of course that is very, very far from the truth and actual situation and if you tell that to porters in Batangas port they will probably whistle in disbelief.

Now if her paper is correct (and it is definitely erroneous) then Batangas will only be a minor port as least as far as passenger shipping is concerned (it is another matter in cargo because Batangas hosts refineries and lot of tankers dock there).

If the paper of Myrna S. Austria is to be believed then there is only one RORO ship docking in Batangas in 1998 was the Princess Camille. And there were only three passenger shipping companies – SuperCat (or Philippine Fast Ferry Corp.), Si-Kat (which was misspelled to Sicat Ferries) and Shipshape Ferry (which owns the Princess Camille). And she says Si-Kat goes to Puerto Princesa, Palawan and not Puerto Galera, Oriental Mindoro which is wrong again. I just wonder how a small catamaran can reach Puerto Princesa from Batangas. Maybe tankers met her along the way?

So in Myrna S. Austria’s paper, Viva Shipping Lines and her legal-fiction companies Sto. Domingo Shipping and DR Shipping simply did not exist when actually it was the biggest in Southern Tagalog during that time with 33 passenger vessels from ROROs to fastcrafts and wooden motor boats (the batels). Most of its ships were based in Batangas with a few in Lucena.

In Myrna S. Austria’s paper, the Montenegro Shipping Lines Inc. (MSLI) also did not exist in 1998 together with its six ROROs and three motor boats. Starlite Ferries and its one RORO also did not exist like MSLI (Starlite added ships in 1999 like MSLI). In the paper, two Atienza clan ROROs also did not exist. That goes true for the motor boats and big motor bancas that go to Banton and Simara (when the paper of Myrna S. Austria lists motor boats and motor bancas in other places including those that just cross the narrow Davao
River).

Why was this so? That happened because the shipping companies mentioned did not bother to report to the Philippine Ports Authority (PPA) and it seems she did not consult the MARINA Database and so she did not see the list of ferries in the Philippines and its routes). I just wonder about ivory tower researchers. All they know is go to government offices when government data has a lot of leaks. They won’t bother going to the ports and see with their own eyes and hear with their own ears.

In her paper I noticed a lot of ports missing and a lot of shipping companies not listed both in passenger and cargo shipping, nationally. Once, I read that the PPA themselves admitted that only about 55% of the companies report to them. I even wonder if that is not a rose-tinted estimate especially in cargo. One of the major reason for this is they are not the maritime regulatory agency (that is the MARINA or Maritime Industry Authority) and maybe the shipping companies felt that reporting to them is not mandatory. Another major reason is there are more private ports than PPA ports and a lot of ports that are under the local government units (LGUs). There are even ports that are not registered or authorized to operate (it is the PPA themselves that pointed that out).

The PPA will also not know the passenger and cargo ships existing since they don’t maintain a shipping database. There are even unregistered ships and there are motor bancas and fishing bancas taking passengers and cargo although they are not authorized by the maritime regulatory agency. So why would they report to the PPA? The so-many Moro boats of Zamboanga, Sulu and Tawi-tawi are in the main unregistered and they number over 200.

In Myrna S. Austria’s paper, the average age of passenger ferries in 1999 was 9.98 years and these were mainly the High Speed Crafts and Medium Speed Crafts. The average age for passenger-cargo ships in 1999 was just 9.27 years (gasp!). Who can believe that!? That only happened because she missed a lot of shipping companies in her research. The true average age of our passenger-cargo ships then was over 20 years. Otherwise Senator Richard Gordon and former MARIA Administrator Maria Elena Bautista won’t be railing against the age of our ships. And I have the database to prove that our ships are really much older than Myrna S. Austria’s data.

The centerpiece of the study of Myrna S. Austria is the use of the Herfindahl-Hirschman Index or HHI to measure shipping competition.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herfindahl_index

But what is the use of that measurement when a lot of companies do not bother to report? Almost all the computations will then be go awry and concentration will seem to be very high. There is no sense to that that index if the data is highly incomplete which was really the case.

In Myrna S. Austria’s paper, there were a lot of routes reported to be with “no competition” or only with “mild competition”. Because most shipping companies were not in the data. [I a future article I will list all the shipping companies and ships she was able to list and I will list all the shipping companies and ships she missed.]

In Batangas when Myrna S. Austria’s paper was published in 2003 a host of shipping companies there were already toppling including the biggest (the Viva-Sto. Domingo-DR combine). Others that toppled were Aquajet Maritime, Sto. Nino Maritime Services and Atienza Shipping (not the current one of Silverio Atienza). Some others left Batangas for thereafter for greener pastures(like the Atienza Shipping Lines of Silverio Atienza and ACG Express Liner) and some sold out (like the Shipshape and Safeship combine and Alexis Shipping). Except for one, all of these were not on the list of Myrna S. Austria.

The competition then in Batangas was “dog-eat-dog” or in Tagalog, “matira ang matibay”. There was rampant undercutting and underpricing and route schedules are not followed. I personally saw how that went on in Batangas when the rolling cargo rate for AUVs went down from P300 to P75 in 1995. When Viva Shipping Line implemented that nobody can follow suit to P75 because all will simply lose. P75 was just ¾ of the aircon bus fare then from Cubao to Batangas port! That was just like charging P120 in today’s (2016) money, less than a tenth of what they charge now. That was how fierce was competition in Batangas then.

Myrna S. Austria never knew that because maybe she never went to Batangas port (I believe in that otherwise she would have known the other shipping companies existing there) and for sure she is not a Batangas shipping passenger. Because of her was paper laden with great incompleteness in data, the conclusions can only be wrong — at least as far as Batangas, the coverage of this article.

Addendum

The Shipping Companies in Batangas in 1998 and Its Passenger Ships Existing By That Year That Myrna S. Austria Missed In Her Paper:

Viva Shipping Lines:

Marian Queen (IMO 7534402)

Viva Sta. Maria (IMO 6814611)

St. Kristopher (IMO 7036292)

Viva Sto. Nino (IMO 6811528)

Viva Penafrancia (IMO 7331410)

Viva Penafrancia 2 (IMO 7908639)

Viva Penafrancia 3 (IMO 7126009)

Viva Penafrancia 4 (IMO 7104025)

Viva Penafrancia 5 (IMO 6908254)

Viva Penafrancia 8 (IMO 6829197)

Viva Penafrancia 9 (IMO 8426250)

Immaculate Conception (IMO 7607974)

Viva San Jose (IMO 7225398)

San Agustin Reyes (IMO 7020774)

Viva Sta. Ana (wooden motor boat; no IMO Number)

Viva Sta. Ana 2 (woodenmotor boat; no IMO Number)

Viva Maria Socorro (wooden motor boat; no IMO Number)

Our Lady of Lourdes (wooden motor boat; no IMO Number)

Socorro II (wooden motor boat; no IMO Number)

Our Lady of the Holy Rosary (fastcraft; IMO 7914731)

Viva Lady of Lourdes (fastcraft; IMO 8895149)

Sto. Domingo Shipping Lines:

Sto. Domingo (IMO 7314266)

San Lorenzo Ruiz (IMO 7119862)

San Fernando (IMO 7852634)

Sta. Penafrancia 6 (IMO 8426224)

Sta. Penafrancia 7 (IMO 7740099)

St. Lawrence (IMO 7405273)

Our Lady of Guadalupe-Reyes (fastcraft; no IMO Number)

Our Lady of Fatima 7828947 (fastcraft; IMO 7828947)

DR Shipping:

Penafrancia 10 (local-built fastcraft; no IMO Number)

Penafrancia 11 (local-built fastcraft; no IMO Number)

Penafrancia 12 (local-built fastcraft; no IMO Number)

Our Lady of Mt. Carmel (fastcraft; IMO 7828047)

Montenegro Shipping Lines Inc.:

Maria Angela (IMO 7852919)

Maria Gloria (IMO 6726668)

Maria Isabel (IMO 6720509)

Marie Kristina (IMO 6817962)

Maria Sophia (IMO 8948519)

Marie Teresa (IMO 8021969)

Don Vicente (wooden motor boat; no IMO Number)

Don Francisco (wooden motor boat; no IMO Number)

Dona Matilde (wooden motor boat; no IMO Number)

Starlite Ferries Inc.:

Starlite Ferry 5 (IMO 6829484)

Alexis Shipping:

Ruby 2

Sto. Nino Maritime Services:

STO. 1 Ferry (IMO 9171709)

Source: Philippine Ship Spotters Society (PSSS) Database

Anybody can go to MarineTraffic or Vessel Finder and verify such ships with IMO Numbers existed.

Myrna S. Austria missed a lot, didn’t she?

 

Photo  Credit: Edison Sy

The Basic, Short-Distance Ferry-ROROs of the Batangas-Calapan Route

Basic, short-distance ferry-ROROs are generally the smallest ROROs one can find. They generally average only 30 meters in length and their breadth are generally 10 meters or less. Being basic, they only have a single ramp for vehicles at the front and this is maneuvered by simply hoisting or lowering it through chains and so it cannot compensate for low tide situations. This bow ramp also doubles as the entry and exit of the passengers. The front of the ship has no scantling and so in rainy weather the rain goes direct to the car deck and making it slippery and wet. It is also a disadvantage for the drivers having their vehicle parked there if it is really raining hard.

This type of RORO has only one car deck and only one passenger deck and usually the bridge or pilot house is on the same level as the passenger deck. The basic, short-distance ferry-RORO as refitted here might have two accommodation classes as in an open-air Economy section in the rear and an airconditioned Tourist section at the front which is usually the former sole passenger accommodation in Japan. If that is the case, usually there are benches at the side of the side which is the outside passageway and that is done to increase the passenger accommodation. The Economy section will usually have plastic benches while the seats of the airconditioned Tourist section will usually be foam upholstered seats with no head support. Sometimes fiberglass bucket seats can be found.

Almost all basic short-distance ferry-ROROs have only one engine and it will be 1,000 horsepower at most but in general even less. A few will even have an engine of just 500 horsepower. The most common engine make will be Daihatsu and the usual speed will be 10 to 11 knots which is the common speed too of the common general-purpose cargo ships sailing the Philippine waters.

In Japan, these kind of ferries were classified as “bay and inland ferries” connecting islands/islets or peninsulas of short distance and were expected to be sailing protected waters which means those are waters shielded from the stronger swells of the open seas. That is also the reason why there is no housing at the front of the ship because no rogue waves are expected in their routes in Japan. Some of these ferries will even have windows or openings at the sides and that shows they were really just designed for calm waters.

In the Philippines these ferries will be used even on routes that take several hours. Some were even shoehorned into overnight ferries with bunks and with sailing distances of up to 60 nautical miles and 6 hours of sailing. Talking of make do, that is what we are and that is only a manifestation that we are still a poor country with passengers forgiving the shortcomings of the ferries.

The problem with this is these ferries designed for calm and protected waters are suddenly forced into routes in semi-open waters which we call as “seas”. In order to not get into contradiction because they were “bay and inland” ferries in Japan, our maritime regulatory agency, the MARINA simply renamed the seas where they are sailing into “bays” like the Camotes Sea, the Visayan Sea, the Samar Sea and the Sibuyan Sea were renamed into “Camotes Bay”, “Visayan Bay”, “ Samar Bay” and “Sibuyan Bay”.

The Verde Island Passage that separated Batangas and Mindoro is not really narrow. It is actually a strait where swells can be rough and winds high during the habagat (the southwest monsoon) and it hits the ships there broadside, the worst possible. In the troughs of the high swells it is as if these basic, short-distance ferry-ROROs has been “swallowed” if the observer is far and at sea level. Breaking of the waves really becomes “breaking” where the whole ship shudders and lots of spray are created. Even in bigger ferries this condition results in damages to the loaded vehicles when they scrape against each other or against the bulkhead. Sometimes the wooden stoppers used on the wheels of the vehicles prove not enough.

And yet, two shipping companies regularly use this type of ferry in the Batangas-Calapan route, the Starlite Ferries Inc. and the Besta Shipping Lines Inc. Sometimes, one will also notice this kind of ship bearing the livery of Montenegro Shipping Lines Inc. Normally, the Starlite Polaris and Starlite Nautica of the Starlite Ferries will be running this route. For Besta Shipping it will be their Baleno VII and Baleno Ocho.

Actually, with the fleet of the two mentioned shipping companies they don’t have much choice really unless they dispose of this kind of ship. Even if they bring their basic, short-distance ferry-ROROs to the Batangas-Abra de Ilog route it would be no better as the ferry will still be sailing the same waters, the route is even slightly longer and the seas not any milder. For Starlite Ferries bringing their basic, short-distance ferry-ROROs to their Roxas-Caticlan route would be even worse as a choice for that is a longer route with heavier swells and no island cover along the way unlike in the Batangas-Calapan route where Isla Verde is in the middle and even the “Mag-asawang Pulo” brings some protection. Besta Shipping meanwhile only has the Batangas-Calapan and Batangas-Abra de Ilog routes.

Among the 4 ships, actually Starlite Nautica, Starlite Polaris and Baleno Ocho are true sisters and all were built by Naikai Engineering and Shipbuilding Co. in Japan. The Starlite Nautica and the Starlite Polaris were built in the Taguma shipyard of the company while the Baleno Ocho was built in the Setoda shipyard. Meanwhile, Baleno VII was built by the Tokushima Zosen Sangyo in Fukuoka yard in Japan.

The particulars of the four:

Starlite Nautica

Built in 1985 as the Omishima No.7 of the Omishima Ferry with the ID IMO 8505317. She came to the Philippines in 1999. Her measurements are 35.4 meters by 10.0 meters by 3.1 meters. Her dimensional weights are 284 gross tons and 174 net tons with 138 tons in DWT. She is equipped by a single Daihatsu marine engine of 950 horsepower and top speed is 11 knots.

Starlite Polaris

Built in 1975 as the Ehime No.18 with the ID IMO 8895700. She came to the Philippines into the Safeship Marine Corp. as the Prince Kevin. When the company got defunct after the sinking of the Princess Camille in Romblon this ship was sold to Starlite Ferries. Her measurements are 35.4 meters by 9,9 meters by 3.0 meters. Her dimensional weights are 240 gross tons and 153 net tons. She is equipped by a single Daihatsu marine engine of 950 horsepower and top speed is 11 knots.

Baleno VII

Built in 1982 as the New Takashima with the ID IMO 8217702. She came to the Philippines in 2010. Her measurements are 37.2 meters by 8.4 meters by 2.9 meters. Her dimensional weights are 248 gross tons and 143 net tons with 116 tons in DWT. She is equipped with a single Kubota marine diesel engine of 900 horsepower and top speed is 11 knots.

Baleno Ocho

Built in 1984 as the Geiyo No.7 of the Merchant Marine Hub. Later she was known as the Kanon No.11 and Omishima No.5 of Omishima Ferry. She came to the Philippines in 2005. Her measurements are 39.8 meters by 10.0 meters by 3.1 meters. Her dimensional weights are 243 gross tons and 181 net tons with 155 tons in DWT. She is equipped by a single Daihatsu marine engine of 950 horsepower and top speed is 11 knots.

All four are still sailing reliably. All takes in big buses and big trucks and all four sail in both daytime and nighttime.

There are so many of their kind in the Philippines and their number run into the dozens. Some are even older that these four. Almost all are still alive but some have met accidents too and became maritime hull losses like the Sta. Penafrancia 7, Baleno Nine and the Lady of Carmel.

Hope the four won’t follow them.

The Sweet Lines Ships That Went to Viva Shipping Lines

Sweet Lines was a Central Visayas shipping company of Bohol origin so Bol-anons were rightly proud of her. It also had a cargo liner company (which means fixed routes and schedules) named Central Shipping Company aside from cargo ships too in the Sweet Lines fleet. Sweet Lines started from Visayas-Mindanao routes till they graduated to liner shipping. They were able to do that by acquiring half of the fleet and franchises of the General Shipping Company which moved out of passenger liner shipping in the middle of the 1960’s. From such move, Sweet Lines was able to get routes and ships to Manila.

For a generation Sweet Lines did well in liner shipping. They had all the trappings and signs then of a successful liner company including Japanese agents and big liners. One thing that distinguishes them from competition was that they have a strong Visayas-Mindanao shipping then, as a result of their origins (long before Lite Ferries they dominated Bohol routes). In this regard, they were comparable to Carlos A. Gothong Lines Inc. (CAGLI) after the complete split of the original Go Thong shipping company when Lorenzo Shipping Company parted ways with them. However, Sweet Lines was stronger than them and they had true national presence while CAGLI didn’t have that after 1978 since it was Lorenzo Shipping Company which held the Southern Mindanao routes after their final split. Besides, Sweet Lines had its own cargo shipping company which even dabbled in Asian routes for a while. In passenger shipping, they were even ahead of Aboitiz Shipping Company but the latter had a strong cargo and containerized operation which was ahead of Sweet Lines and Central Shipping.

It seems Sweet Lines did not survive well the crisis decade of the 1980’s. I am one of those which did not foresee their fall. There were some distant nasty rumors then but I found it hard to believe as there are always unfounded rumors in shipping. But then they did not acquire great liners at the start of the 1990’s when even Aboitiz Shipping Company (which had a reputation before of not buying decent liners) also bought theirs when the new administration in Malacanang of President Fidel Ramos laid out incentives for shipping purchase and modernization. That was only then when I began to have the feeling they were sliding, a feeling I got before when the old liner shipping company Escano Lines went out of passenger shipping.

When I was in Mindoro I tend to watch liners passing by. That was my pastime and it was really such a great sight and pleasure for a ship lover. There, I already noticed the liners of Sweet Lines were already being outgunned by the new and newer great liners of the competition. The passing Sweet Lines vessels were generally older, smaller and slower compared to the competition and I was not the only one who noticed that.

Sometime in 1994 I heard from dock hands in Mindoro that the brown ships of Sweet Lines seem not to be passing by. On that place, we actually didn’t know the reason why. Cebu is far from Mindoro, there is no connection between the two places as the Cebu ships just pass by without calling. Later, we heard the news that Sweet Lines stopped sailing but it was more of an unconfirmed news. A few speculated they might have just dropped their Manila route.

One day, I think it was in the month of September, I arrived nighttime in Batangas port. I noticed three brown ships tied at the far end of the quay. I asked what ships were they (it was actually dark – Batangas port was not yet developed then). The porter told me those were Sweet Lines ships sold to the Viva Shipping Lines (VSL). We were hurrying as the last bus going to Manila at 11pm is leaving so I just thought I will see them again when I come back to Batangas.

At that time, Viva Shipping Lines was the dominant shipping company of Southern Tagalog (there was no separate region of MIMAROPA yet). It had two sister legal-fiction companies, the Sto. Domingo Shipping Company and DR Shipping Company. Together, all three operated over thirty vessels including wooden motor boats called the “batel” in that area. They were so dominant the other shipping companies feared them. Below-the-belt and bullying tactics were routinely ascribed to them also. As to financial muscle, nobody doubted they were capable of buying three moderately-sized second-hand ferries.

Actually, the three vessels from Sweet Lines fit exactly the ship size needed by Viva Shipping Lines. The three vessels were also badly needed and in fact after they were fielded Southern Tagalog routes still lacked ships. That was how deep were our shortage of bottoms then in the short-distance routes when the new short-distance RORO mode was already beginning to fly. This shortage was actually the result of the calamitous decade of the 1980’s for shipping when we lost so many shipping companies, so many ships including the retirement of the former “FS” ships.

The Viva Shipping Lines had two base ports – Batangas and Lucena – and they had routes to various ports of Mindoro, the Romblon islands, Marinduque and even far-off Masbate. Their wooden motor boats (the batel) also had routes to the various island-towns in the Sibuyan Sea and to Occidental Mindoro. They also had semi-scheduled routes to Burias island and to various ports in the the southern coast of Bicol from Bondoc Peninsula in Quezon province. From Bondoc Peninsula their motor boats ranged up to Marinduque and Lucena. The origin of Viva Shipping Lines was actually Bondoc Peninsula, specifically Villa Reyes in San Narciso, Quezon.

Later, I was asked in Philippine Ship Spotters Society (PSSS) what happened to the ships sold by Sweet Lines to Batangas and what happened to them. This got me interested again in the three brown ships I saw in Batangas and to which I have sailed with the the subsequent years.

The three ships were of moderate size in the Sweet Lines fleet but in Viva Shipping they were already among the largest. The three were the Sweet Pride, the last ship ever acquired by Sweet Lines, in 1991; the Sweet Pearl, acquired in 1989; the Sweet Marine, acquired in 1988. They became the Viva Penafrancia 5, the Viva Penafrancia 3 and the Viva Penafrancia 8, respectively. Later, the Viva Penafrancia 5 and Viva Penafrancia 8 became very well known in Batangas and Calapan.

Sweet Pride was originally the Seikan Maru No. 5 of Higashi Nippon Ferry in Japan. She was built by Taguma Zosen in Innoshima, Japan in 1968 with the ID IMO 6908254. She measured 68.0 meters x 14.2 meters and 1,500gt with 2 x 1,300hp Daihatsu engines and 15.5 knots in speed. As Viva Penafrancia 5, she had a sitting passenger capacity of 900.

Sweet Pearl was originally the Ashizuri of Sukomo Kanko Kisen KK in Japan. She was built Usuki Tekkosho in Usuki, Japan in 1971 with the ID IMO 7126009. She measured 69.7 meters x 13.6 meters and 1,275gt with 2 x 2,000hp Niigata engines and 16 knots in speed. As Viva Penafrancia 3, she had a sitting passenger capacity of 802.

Sweet Marine was originally the Taikan Maru No. 3, also of Higashi Nippon Ferry in Japan. She was built by Shimoda Dockyard Company in Shimoda, Japan in 1968 with the ID IMO 6829197. She measured 60.0 meters x 12.8 meters and 913gt with 2 x 750hp Daihatsu engines and only 11 knots in speed. As Viva Penafrancia 8, she had a sitting passenger capacity of 762. This ferry was the sister ship of Asia Brunei (now Grand Unity of Navios Lines and formerly Blue Water Princess 2 of Blue Magic Ferries), Asia Indonesia (now Grand Venture 1 of Navios Lines) and Filipinas Dapitan of Cokaliong Shipping Lines Inc. I just wonder if in Batangas they realize that the ships of Navios Lines were sister ships of a ferry they once knew as Viva Penafrancia 3.

In the Sweet Lines fleet, the three were overnight ferry-ROROs and they were relatively big for that role in those days. In Viva Shipping Lines the three were converted to and became workhorses in the short-distance ferry routes of the company. In general, the three were not used for the overnight routes of Viva Shipping Lines.

The Viva Penafrancia 5, Viva Penafrancia 3 and Viva Penafrancia 8 all had successful careers in Viva Shipping Lines. Moreover, the three also became tools in the shipping wars for the continued dominance of Viva Shipping Lines in Southern Tagalog. When the three came for the company in 1994, Viva Shipping Lines still had complete dominance in the region. That was the time there was still lack of bottoms in the Southern Tagalog routes.

However, before the end of the last millennium there were already so many ferries in Batangas. Montenegro Shipping Lines Inc. (MSLI) was growing fast along with the new entrant Starlite Ferries Inc. There was also a slew of smaller shipping companies trying their luck in the area. The overcrowding was also exacerbated by the fast arrivals in the area of the High Speed Crafts (HSCs), both the catamaran and the fastcraft type and they had their own wars too. The area soon degenerated in a dog-eat-dog world or as the Tagalogs would say, “Matira ang matibay”.

As they said, no thing lasts forever. And events revealed that it was Viva Shipping Line which was “hindi matibay” (but of course, “patron saints” have their darlings too). In the early 2000’s, Viva Shipping Lines hit rock, so to say and they were in trouble. Maybe aside from “patron saints”, passenger resentments might have also tipped the scales. They gradually quit sailing and as they did that they left their ships in anchorage in Batangas Bay, in Lucena (they have a shipyard there) and in their original base of San Narciso, Quezon. They then put up their ships for sale.

In 2003, Viva Penafrancia 8 was sold to a Ernesto V. Mercado, a ship breaker followed by Viva Penafrancia 3, also to the same breaker in 2004. Meanwhile, Viva Penafrancia 5, the most regarded of the three was laid up in Elfa Shipyard in Navotas, Metro Manila. She might not be there now and she might have gone to the shipping heavens, too.

And that was the career of the three Sweet Lines ships that went to Viva Shipping Lines. They all died before their time not because they were not good. It was their companies that was not good enough for them.

Note: There was another Sweet Lines ship that went to Viva Shipping Lines in 1988, the second and Japan-built Sweet Faith, the ex-Hakodate Maru No. 11. She became the San Lorenzo Ruiz in Sto. Domingo Shipping Company. This transfer had no connection with the collapse of Sweet Lines, Inc.

The Starlite Ferry

The “Starlite Ferry” of Batangas-based Starlite Ferries Inc. is notable because probably she is the first catamaran RORO ferry in the Philippines (contrary to the claim of Archipelago Philippine Ferries, operator of the new “FastCats” that they were the first). She arrived in the country in 1999 and she sails the Batangas-Calapan route.

Starlite Ferry ©Raymond Lapus

Catamaran ROROs, as catamarans, are twin-hulled but unlike the “SuperCats” they were designed to carry rolling cargo aside from passengers. As such, they are also ROPAXes but with twin hulls.

Starlite Ferry and SuperCat 25 ©Raymond Lapus

“Starlite Ferry” was built in Japan and she was first known as the “Asagumo” of Nippon Car Ferry K.K. She was built by Nippon Kokan Kabushiki Kaisha (NKK) in the Asano shipyard in 1971 with the IMO Number 7235422. “Asagumo” had a Length Over-all (LOA) of 41.4 meters, a Length Between Perpendiculars (LBP) of 39.8 meters and Breadth of 15.9 meters with a Gross Register Tonnage (GRT) of 605 tons. Her Deadweight Tons (DWT) was 178 with a rolling cargo capacity of about 610 lane-meters. In Japan, she was rated at 50 cars capacity. She was powered by two Daihatsu marine diesel engines with a total of 1,300 horseower giving her a service speed of 12.5 knots.

Starlite Ferry ©Raymond Lapus
Starlite Ferry Drydock ©Irvine Kinea

In 1990, she passed on to Sea-Com Corporation with the same name “Asagumo” and in 1992 her new owner was Marine Express Company but the name remained unchanged. In 1999, she came to the Philippines to become a ship of the new shipping company, Starlite Ferries, where she plied the Batangas-Calapan route. In the Philippines, her new Gross Tonnage became 574 tons with a Net Tonnage of 390 tons. Her rated passenger capacity is 572 persons divided into two classes, the non-airconditioned Economy and an airconditioned Tourist equipped with good reclining seats commonly called here as jet seater.

Starlite Ferry Jet Seater ©Raymond Lapus

“Starlite Ferry” has a narrow bridge on a deck above the passenger deck which looks more like a pilot house. She only has one passenger deck with the Tourist up front and below that is the car deck with space for 4 rows of trucks and buses. The ship is equipped with ramps at the bow and at the stern and both are still being used. One thing notable about her ramps is they are narrower than a conventional ROPAX of her size.

“Starlite Ferry” is still a reliable ship and it seems she still has many years of sailing ahead.

Starlite Ferry at Batangas Bay ©Nowell Alcancia

More Starlite Ferry photos:
Starlite Ferry Album by Raymond Lapus
Starlite Ferry Accommodation and Facilities