The Convergence, Parallels, Rivalry and Divergence of Sweet Lines and William Lines

For introduction, Sweet Lines is a shipping company that started in Tagbilaran, Bohol while William Lines is a shipping company started in Cebu City after the war while having earlier origins in Misamis Occidental before the war. And like many shipping lines whose founders are of Chinese extraction, the founders of both Sweet Lines and William Lines were first into copra trading before branching into shipping. And long after the two became national shipping lines Bol-anons and people of Misamisnons still have a close identification and affinity to the two shipping companies and in fact were the still the prides of their provinces.

1950 William Lines

1950 William Lines ad. Credits to Philippine Herald and Gorio Belen

William Lines became a national liner company in 1945 just right after the end of the war and almost exactly 20 years before Sweet Lines which was just a Visayas-Mindanao shipping company after the war whose main base is Bohol. The company just became a national liner company when it was able to buy half of the ships and routes of General Shipping Corporation when that company decided to quit the inter-island routes in 1965 after a boardroom squabble among the partner families owning it. And so William Lines had quite a head start over Sweet Lines. Now, readers might be puzzled now where is the convergence.

People who are already old enough now might think the convergence of the two shipping companies, a rivalry in fact, started when Sweet Lines fielded the luxury liner Sweet Faith in the Manila-Cebu route in 1970. That ship raised a new bar in liner shipping then plus it started a new paradigm in Cebu, that of the fast cruiser liner which is more dedicated to passengers and their comfort than cargo and has the highest level of passenger accommodations and amenities. It was really hard to match the Sweet Faith then for she was really a luxury liner even when she was still in Europe. That fast cruiser liner was not just some converted passenger-cargo or cargo-passenger ship which was the origins of practically of all the liners of the postwar period until then.

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Credits to Manila Times and Gorio Belen

Actually, the rivalry of Sweet Lines and William Lines started from convergence. William Lines, in their first 20 years of existence, was basically concentrating on the Southern Mindanao routes but of course its ships which were all ex-”FS” ships then called on Cebu and Tagbilaran first before heading south. Aside from Southern Mindanao, the only other area where William Lines concentrated was the Iligan Bay routes, specifically Iligan and Ozamis, near where the founder and the business of William Lines originated. But in 1966, William Lines started its acquisition of cargo-passenger ships from Europe for conversion here like what Go Thong & Company earlier did and what Sweet Lines will soon follow into. It was actually an expansion as they were not disposing of their old ex-”FS” ships and naturally an expansion of the fleet will mean seeking of new routes or concentration. 

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Credits to Philippine Herald and Gorio Belen

Sweet Lines, meanwhile, had an initial concentration of routes in the Eastern Visayas as a liner company which was dictated by the purchase of half of the fleet of General Shipping Corporation which consisted of five liners which were all ex-”FS” ships except for the new local-built General Roxas plus the Sea Belle of Royal Lines which was going out of business. But Sweet Lines immediately expanded and was also plying already the Cebu and Tagbilaran routes from Manila, naturally, because their main base was Tagbilaran. Then they also entered the Iligan Bay routes in 1967 and it was even using the good Sweet Rose (the former General Roxas) there which was a heavy challenge to all the shipping companies serving there that were just using ex-”FS” ships there previously. Of course, not to be outdone William Lines later brought there their brand-new Misamis Occidental, their flagship then, in 1970. If William Lines had two frequencies a week to the two ports of Iligan Bay in 1967, then that was the frequency of Sweet Lines too. And if William Lines had twice a week frequency to Cebu and Tagbilaran, then that was also the frequency of the expanding Sweet Lines. Their only difference in 1967 was William Lines had routes to Southern Mindanao while Sweet Lines had none there but the latter had routes to the strong shipping region then of Eastern Visayas while William Lines had no route then there.

Another area of confrontation of the two shipping companies was the Visayas-Mindanao regional routes. Sweet Lines was long a power then there especially since that was their place of origin. They then relegated there most of the ex-”FS” ships like the ones they acquired from General Shipping and thus in the late 1960’s they had the best ships sailing there. Meanwhile, William Lines which was also a player there also then used some of their ex-”FS” ships which were formerly in the liner routes (William Lines had a few ex-”FS” ships to spare since they bought five of those from other local shipping companies and they already were receiving former cargo-passenger ships from Europe starting in 1966). So by this time Sweet Lines and William Lines were not only competing in Cebu and Tagbilaran and in Iligan Bay but also in the Visayas-Mindanao regional routes.

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Credits to The Philippines Herald and Gorio Belen 

In the late 1960’s the government provided a loan window for the purchase of brand-new liners and among the countries that provided the funds for that was what was known as West Germany then (this was before the German reunification). From that window, the new liner company Sweet Lines ordered the Sweet Grace from Weser Seebeck of Bremerhaven, West Germany in 1968. William Lines followed suit by ordering a brand-new liner not from West Germany but from Japan which turned out to be the Misamis Occidental and this seemed to be taking the path of the expansion of Negros Navigation Company which was ordering brand-new liners from Japan shipbuilders. 

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Credits to Philippines Herald and Gorio Belen

Imagine for William Lines fielding the brand-new Misamis Occidental in Cebu in 1970 only to be upset by the more luxurious and much faster Sweet Faith in the same year. And that was aside from the also-good Sweet Grace and Sweet Rose also calling in Cebu. Maybe that was the reason, that of not being too outgunned, that William Lines immediately ordered a new ship from Japan, a sister ship of the Don Juan, the flagship of Negros Navigation Company but with a more powerful engine so she can top or at least match the speed of the Sweet Faith and that turned out later to be the legendary liner Cebu City. From its fielding in 1972, the battle of Cebu City and Sweet Faith was the stuff of legends (was using blocks of ice to cool down the engine room of Sweet Faith at full trot a stuff of legend?)

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Credits to Philippine Herald and Gorio Belen

As background to that, in 1970 with only the brand-new liner Misamis Occidental William Lines had to fend off Sweet Faith, Sweet Rose, also the first Sweet Sail which was a former liner of Southern Lines that was not an ex-”FS” ship but much faster and at times also the brand-new liner Sweet Grace . William Lines had a few converted cargo-passenger ships from Europe calling in Cebu already on the way to Southern Mindanao then but Sweet Lines had the same number of that also. If William Lines found aggressiveness in ship purchases from the mid-1960’s, Sweet Lines turned out to be more aggressive that in a short period of less than a decade it was already in the coattails of William Lines over-all and even beating it to Cebu, the backyard of William Lines. That was how aggressive was Sweet Lines in their initial ascent as a national liner company. And would anyone believe that in 1970 Sweet Lines was no longer using any ex-”FS” ship in its national liner routes, the first national liner company to do so (when other competitors were still using that type well in to the 1980’s)? So their ad their they were modern seems it was not a made-up stuff only.

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A former cargo-passenger ship from Europe using the eastern seaboard of Mindanao route. Credits to Times Journal and Gorio Belen

But that was not even the end of the expansion of Sweet Lines which the company penetrated the Southern Mindanao, the bread and butter of William Lines (note: Compania Maritima, Gothong & Co. and Philippine Steam Navigation Co. were stronger there having more ships) using the eastern seaboard of Mindanao, a route that William Lines do not serve. It is actually a shortcut, as pointed out by Sweet Lines but there are not many intermediate ports that can be served there to increase the volume of the cargo and the passengers (and so Sweet Lines passed through more ports before heading to Surigao and Davao). Besides, the seas of the eastern seaboard are rough many months of the year and maybe that was the reason why Sweet Lines used their bigger former cargo-passenger ships from Europe rather than using their small ex-”FS” ships (in this period their competitors to Davao were still using that type).

And so, in 1972, William Lines entered the stronghold of Sweet Lines, which it dominated, the port of Tacloban which the company was not serving before. Was that to repay the compliments of Sweet Lines entering their Iligan Bay bastion and their ports of Cebu and Tagbilaran plus the foray of Sweet Lines in Davao? William Lines entered Tacloban alright but it was a tepid attempt at first by just using an ex-”FS” ship (maybe they just want to take away some cargo). Their main challenge in Tacloban will come three years later in 1975 with their fast cruiser liner Tacloban City, only the third of its type in William Lines after the liners Misamis Occidental and Cebu City and that maybe shows how itching was William Lines in returning the compliments. Or showing up Sweet Lines.

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Where were the other leading national liner companies in this battle of the two? Regarding Gothong & Company, I think their sights were more aimed at the leading shipping company Compania Maritima plus in filling the requirements of strategic partner Lu Do & Lu Ym which was scooping all the the copra that they can get. Actually, the Go Thong & Company and Compania Maritima both had overseas lines then. Meanwhile, the Philippine Steam Navigation Company (PSNC) and plus Aboitiz Shipping Corporation (revived as a separate entity in 1966 after the buy-out of the other half of General Shipping Corporation) and Cebu Bohol Ferry Company, a subsidiary of Aboitiz Shipping Corporation which are operating as one is competing neither here or there as it seems they were just content on keeping what was theirs and that the interests of Everett Steamship, the American partner of Aboitiz in PSNC will be protected and later cornered when the Laurel-Langley Agreement lapses in 1974. Plus Aboitiz through the Cebu Shipyard & Engineering Works were raking it all in servicing the ships of the competition including the lengthening of the ex-”FS” and ex-”F” ships of their competitors (plus of course their own). Their routes are so diverse and even quixotic that I cannot see their focal point. It is not Cebu for sure and whereas their rivals were already acquiring new ships they were moored in maintaining their so-many ex-”FS” ships (they had then the most in the country). Also in owning Cebu Shipyard & Engineering Works they were confident they can make these ships run forever as they had lots of spare parts in stock and maybe that was through their American connection (not only through Everett Steamship but the Aboitizes are also American citizens). Besides, in Everett Steamship they were also in overseas routes and having overseas routes plus domestic shipping was the hallmark of the first tier of shipping companies then aside from having more ships. In this first tier, the Philippine President Lines (PPL) was also in there but later they surrendered their domestic operations.

Meanwhile, the greatest thrust of Gothong & Company it seems was to serve the needs and interests of Lu Do & Lu Ym but it was a strategic partnership that brought Gothong a lot of dividends so much so that before their break-up in 1972 they might have already been ahead of Compania Maritima in the inter-island routes with all the small ships that they are sailing in the regional routes aside from the national routes. Gothong & Company as might not be realized by many is actually a major regional shipping company too and with a bigger area than that served by Sweet Lines and William Lines for they were operating a lot of small ferries whose primary role is to transport the copra of Lu Do & Lu Ym, the biggest copra and coconut oil concern then in the country and carrying passengers is just secondary. In the Visayas-Mindanao routes, the Top 3 were actually Go Thong & Company, Sweet Lines and William Lines, in that order maybe. From Cebu, Go Thong had small ships to as far as Tawi-tawi and the Moro Gulf plus the eastern seaboard of Mindanao and Samar. Sweet Lines, however was very strong in passenger department.

In the early 1970’s, many will be surprised if I will say that the fleets of William Lines and Sweet Lines were at near parity but the former had a slight pull. And that was really a mighty climb by Sweet Lines from just being a major regional shipping company, a result of their aggressiveness and ambition. Imagine nearly catching up William Lines, an established shipping company with loads of political connection (think of Ferdinand Marcos, a good friend of William Chiongbian, the founder) and topping the likes of whatever General Shipping Company, Southern Lines and Escano Lines have ever reached. Entering the late 1970’s, Sweet Lines (and William Lines) were already beginning to threaten the place of Aboitiz Shipping Corporation (including the integrated Philippine Steam Navigation Corporation) which will drop off a lot subsequently after they stopped buying ships after 1974.

Where did the divergence of the two very comparable shipping companies began? It began from 1975 when William Lines started acquiring the next paradigm-changing type of ships, the surplus fast cruiser liners from Japan which Sweet Lines declined to match but which the rising successor-to-Gothong Sulpicio Lines did. At just the start of the 1980’s with the success from this type of ship William Lines and Sulpicio Lines were already jostling to replace the tottering Compania Maritima from its top perch. It seems Sweet Lines failed to realize the lesson that the former cargo-passenger ships from Europe and the brand-new Sweet Grace and the good Sweet Rose fueled their rise in the late 1960’s and that the acquired luxury liners Sweet Faith and Sweet Home continued their rise at the start of the 1970’s. And these former cargo-passenger ships from Europe also propelled Gothong & Company and William Lines in their ascent. Why did Sweet Lines stop acquiring good liners? Was there a financial reason behind their refusal to join the fast cruiser phenomenon? Well, they were not the only ones which did not join the fast cruiser liner bandwagon.

The biggest blunder of Sweet Lines was when they declared in 1978 that henceforth they will just acquire small RORO passenger ships. I do not know if they were imitating Sulpicio Lines which went for small ROROs first (but then that company had fast cruiser liners from Japan). That might have been good for their regional routes but not for the liner routes. And to think their luxury liners Sweet Faith and Sweet Home might already conk out anytime because of old age (yes, both were gone in two years). And so for a short period Sweet Lines have no good liners for Cebu, the time William Lines was fielding their Dona Virginia, the biggest and fastest liner when it was fielded and Sulpicio Lines was fielding the Philippine Princess. What a blasphemy and turn-around! In 1970, just ten years earlier, Sweet Lines was dominating William Lines in the Cebu route. That was a miscalculation from which Sweet Lines never seemed to recover. From fielding the best there, Sweet Lines suddenly had no horse. And so the next chapter of the luxury liner wars in the premier Manila-Cebu route was fought not by William Lines and Sweet Lines but by William Lines and the surging Sulpicio Lines. In just a decade’s time Sweet Lines forgot that it was modernity in ships and aggression in routes that brought them to where they were.

1980 Dona Virginia

Credits to Daily Express and Gorio Belen

When Sweet Lines acquired the Sweet RORO in 1982 to battle again in the Manila-Cebu route it was as if they imitated the strategy of Carlos A. Gothong Lines Inc. (CAGLI) to go direct into the RORO or ROPAX paradigm and bypass the fast cruiser liners altogether (but then where was CAGLI in the totem pole of liner companies even if they bypassed the fast cruiser liner stage?). But by then their former cargo-passenger ships from Europe were already failing and will very soon be gone. The net effect was the Sweet Lines liner total was regressing even though they acquired the Sweet RORO 2 in 1983 to pair the Sweet RORO. The reason for this is its former cargo-passenger ships from Europe were already in its last gasps and the small ROROs were never really suited for liner duty except for the direct routes to Tagbilaran and Tacloban. If studied it can be shown that when a liner company stops at some time to buy liners sufficient in numbers and size then they get left behind. This is also what happened to Compania Maritima, Aboitiz Shipping Corporation and Escano Lines, the reason the fell by the wayside in the 1980’s). And that is what happened to Sweet Lines just a little bit later and so its near-parity with Williams Lines which surged in the 1970’s and 1980’s was broken. And that completed their divergence.

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Credits to Philippine Daily Express and Gorio Belen

In the early 1990’s, Sweet Lines will completely fail and stop all shipping operations, in liners, regional shipping and cargo operations (through their Central Shipping Corporation) and sell their ships with some of the ships sadly being broken up (a few of their ships were also garnished by creditors). Meanwhile, William Lines was still trying then to catch up with Sulpicio Lines that had overtaken them through a big splash in big and fast ROPAXes in 1988.

Sweet Lines benefited in the middle of the 1960’s with the quitting of General Shipping and Royal Lines. Later, William Lines, Sulpicio Lines and Sweet Lines benefited with the retreat of Aboitiz Shipping Corporation in the late 1970’s. In the next decade, William Lines and Sulpicio Lines benefited from the collapse of Compania Maritima in the crisis years at the tailend of the Marcos dictatorship. Sweet Lines did not benefit from that because they were not poised to because of their grave error in 1978.

When Sweet Lines collapsed in the early 1990’s it seems among those which benefited was the revived Aboitiz Shipping Corporation which was helped in getting back to the liner business by Jebsens of Norway (think SuperFerry). Well, that’s just the way it is in competition. It is a rat race and one can never pause or stop competing as the others will simply swallow the weak.

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The First Liner Built in the Philippines After World War II

In 1957, President Carlos P. Garcia ascended to Malacanang after the death of President Ramon Magsaysay and thereafter he won the Philippine presidency in his own right. While President Magsaysay worked very closely with the Americans and relied on them for the economic development of the country, President Garcia rolled out his “Filipino First” policy. Under that policy, he tried to promote Philippine industries and supported Filipino industrialists, to the consternation of some Americans used to having their way in the country, given first preference and who treated Filipinos like their wards.

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Keel-laying of Hull No.1 (Credits to Phil. Herald and Gorio Belen)

Among the industries President Garcia tried to push forward was shipbuilding (shipbuilding is selling steel too and on the same track President Garcia encouraged steel-making which resulted in the establishment of IISMI or Iligan Integrated Steel Mills Inc. which later became the National Steel Corporation or NSC). That made sense, at least on paper, as our country is an archipelago and hence we need a lot of ships. From an enterprise concerned with refitting and lengthening of ships (where before this was done in Hongkong), NASSCO (National Shipyards & Steel Corporation) went into shipbuilding and Hull No. 1 was laid in the NASSCO shipyard (the Bataan National Shipyard) in Mariveles, Bataan in 1957.

Lacking the experience and equipment maybe, the ship took too long to complete. Well, we are a country where engineering is still in infancy. We are not a country where work is fast and based on a production line and our craftsmen are not used to mass production. That is what we get by being proud of our jeepneys and our talyers. Yes, it can fabricate anything but the speed and quality is low. Essentially, we are a country of fabricators.

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Hull No. 1 as the General Roxas (Credits to Phil. Herald and Gorio Belen)

Maybe there was a problem of timing and priority too. In the time Hull No. 1 was under construction it was also the same time that reparations ships were beginning to come to the Philippines because the final peace treaty between Japan and her victim countries was already signed. Reparations ships came from the reparations payment of Japan as settlement of the damages she inflicted because of the war she launched in the Pacific in 1941 (but it was just basically payment for public works and infrastructure damage and did not include personal damages which were never paid by Japan unlike Germany).

Hull No. 1 was financed by a loan from the government-owned Development Bank of the Philippines to the tune of P2.5 million or a little over $ 1 million dollars then. Hull No. 1 was launched on July 1959 and completed as a passenger-cargo ship in May 1960 and she became the ship General Roxas of the General Shipping Company. This company previously just operated a fleet of former “FS” ships before which were cargo ships converted into passenger-cargo use. The General Roxas was way ahead in size, quality and comfort compared to the ex-”FS” ships and she was probably the flagship of General Shipping Company which operated routes to Palawan, Romblon, Masbate, Bicol, the Visayas and Northern Mindanao.

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General Roxas when newly-fielded (Credits to Phil. Herald and Gorio Belen)

The General Roxas’ external measurements were 84.7 meters by 12.3 meters by 6.7 meters in L x B x D with a Gross Register Tonnage (GRT) of 1,757 tons. Her Net Register Tonnage (NRT) was 968 and her load capacity in Deadweight Tonnage (DWT) was 1,544 tons. The ship was equipped by a single Uraga engine of 2,200 horsepower which gave her a top sustained speed of 13.5 knots when still new. The General Roxas has two sister ships built also by NASSCO and these were the General del Pilar (later the Mactan of Compania Maritima) and the Governor B. Lopez of Southern Lines Incorporated. The latter was built in the same yard and almost simultaneously with General Roxas.

The General Roxas’ hull steel, engine and navigational equipment all came from Japan. The ship had air-conditioning and in those days it was practically what defined what is a luxury liner. Her First Class accommodations, lounges and dining rooms were all air-conditioned. This ship had three passenger decks and for handling cargo she had booms in the front section or bow of the ship. Cargo was stowed below the passenger decks and above and on the engine deck. The ship is a cruiser ship (it was not yet the time of the ROROs which can load vehicles through ramps) with a high prow. The ship later was assigned the IMO Number 5128015.

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A miniature to show underwater portion of General Roxas (Credits to Phil. Herald and Gorio Belen)

In General Shipping Company, she was the second General Roxas as the company had an earlier ship named General Roxas too and that was a former “FS” ship (and that is the beauty of IMO Numbers as it can differentiate ships with the same names). In General Shipping Corporation the first route of General Roxas was Manila-Iloilo-Pulupandan-Iligan. Iligan then was beginning to boom because of the Maria Cristina power plant which provided cheap hydroelectric power and Iloilo and Pulupandan ports served two big and progressive islands.

But despite two new passenger-cargo ships and a healthy fleet, in 1965, after a boardroom dispute General Shipping Company abandoned inter-island shipping and moved into international shipping. Their local fleet and routes were then divided between Aboitiz Shipping Corporation and the former regional shipping company Sweet Lines Incorporated which then became a national liner company (however, the new ship General del Pilar became the Mactan of Compania Maritima). Among the ships acquired by Sweet Lines was the General Roxas which became the Sweet Rose in the new company.

In the new liner fleet of Sweet Lines (to distinguish it from the regional fleet of Sweet Lines which mainly had the small ex-”F” ships), the Sweet Rose was the biggest and best ship. However, the tactic then of Sweet Lines was to field their ships not on the primary routes and so Sweet Rose was assigned the Manila-Catbalogan-Tacloban-Cebu, v.v. route. Right after fielding Sweet Rose was the newest, the best and fastest ship in the route that only had ex-”FS” ships before and this helped stabilize the company in the national routes for she then dominated that route.

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Credits to Phil. Herald and Gorio Belen

The ship’s next route was Manila-Cebu-Iligan-Ozamis route when the Sweet Grace, a brand-new ship from West Germany arrived. That only confirmed that the Manila-Catbalogan-Tacloban-Cebu, v.v. route was the primary route of Sweet Lines before the arrival of the fast cruiser liner Sweet Faith in 1970 and Sweet Rose was the flagship of the company before 1968 when Sweet Grace came.

In the early 1970’s, the Sweet Rose was returned to the Manila-Catbalogan-Tacloban-Cebu, v.v. route in a pairing with the Sweet Grace. That indicated the level of importance Sweet Lines assigned to the route which was not high in the priority of other shipping companies (well, before William Lines entered the route with their fast cruiser liner Tacloban City in 1975) and that jeopardized a bread and butter route for Sweet Lines as the Tacloban City was a faster and superior ship.

The Sweet Rose stayed on the route though but she now called in Masbate instead of Catbalogan leaving Sweet Grace to serve that port. However, she was assigned again the Manila-Catbalogan-Tacloban route after Sweet Lines invaded Mindanao routes outside Northern Mindanao and Sweet Grace did the Manila-Cebu-Zamboanga route.

Sweet Rose never left the Catbalogan/Tacloban route again but in the 1980’s she began having unreliability in her engine and this trouble even reached the authorities. Engines of her period were not really that tough and she had the bad luck of having been equipped with an Uraga engine which was not a top of the line Japanese engine. She too had difficulty coping with Tacloban City and the Dona Angelina, the ship used by Sulpicio Lines when it entered the Catbalogan/Tacloban route just before Tacloban City came. The Dona Angelina which came from Europe also had air-conditioning like the Tacloban City. As a footnote, Sweet Rose also went up against her sister ship in the route when the Mactan was fielded there by Compania Maritima. That was before Mactan sank in 1973.

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Credits to Times Journal and Gorio Belen

In the great political and economic crisis that started with the Aquino assassination in 1983, Sweet Lines culled old liners and the Sweet Rose was among them. Others were the former European ships Sweet Bliss, Sweet Life and Sweet Love, ships they used in the Davao route via the eastern seaboard of Mindanao. That also included Sweet Sound which was a former “FS” ship. It was no dishonor to Sweet Lines because a lot a ships were cut up in this period when the industrial economy shrank and many shipping companies collapsed or shut down like the former No. 1 Compania Maritima.

Sweet Lines was broken up just locally in Acuario Marketing, a local ship-breaking specialist in Navotas in 1984. She was just 24 years old then but actually she was able to outlast her two sister ships. Maybe she was not just good enough for a 30-year service like the former ships from Europe and Japan (the Tacloban City which was built in 1962 lasted until the late 1990’s but then she has the better Mitsubishi engine). The Dona Angelina also lasted over 30 years of sailing.

Sweet Rose is a distant memory now but she holds a record that won’t ever be broken and that is being the first liner ever built in the country after World War II. She was also one of the ships that brought Sweet Lines to her peak in the late 1970’s.

The Fast Cruiser Liners of William Lines

1978 William Lines

Photo research of Gorio Belen in the National Library

Among the local passenger liner shipping companies, it was William Lines which believed the most in the fast cruiser liners. They acquired the greatest number of them and promoted them well. Those became the engines of William Lines in their quest to be Number 1 in inter-island shipping and surpass the long pillar of inter-island shipping, the somewhat-legendary Compania Maritima which has Spanish origins and politically well-connected. Well, Don William Chiongbian was politically very well-connected, too as President Ferdinand Marcos was a good friend of him.

Fast” is a relative term. In the 1960’s, that meant just about 16 knots. In the period when William Lines bet big on fast cruiser liners, the 1970’s, that already meant about 18 knots or better. In the late 1980’s and especially in the 1990’s, “fast” meant 20 knots already. In the subsequent decades, “fast” for liners did not creep higher than 20 knots because the fuel prices that crept up and patronage for liners has already began to weaken gradually.

In the 1970’s, William Lines invested in six fast cruiser liners. That began with two brand-new ships, the “Misamis Occidental”, which arrived in 1970 and named after the province origin of the founder Don William Chiongbian. In 1972, the “Cebu City” came and it then engaged in a legendary battle with the first “Sweet Faith” of Sweet Lines in the premier Manila-Cebu route at 20 knots. The fast cruiser liners of William Lines were named after cities of the country that were also their ports of call.

When effects of “free float” of the peso (which meant uncontrolled devaluation in direct language) took hold, the Phillippine shipping companies can no longer afford to acquire brand-new ships and so after 1972 all the liner acquisitions were second-hand already. However, many of these were ships just a decade old or even younger. And so, four second-hand cruiser liners came to William Lines with a gap of one year in their arrivals.

The next fast cruiser to come to William Lines was the “Tacloban City” which they acquired in 1975. This was followed by the “Manila City” in 1976, the “Cagayan de Oro City” in 1977 and finally the “Ozamis City” in 1978. I do not know if “Dona Virginia” can be added to the list as she was also RORO (but with cruiser lines) and she came in December of 1979. Among the named cruisers it was only the “Tacloban City”, the smallest which has difficulty reaching 18 knots but 17.5 knots is already near there.

After that series came a long respite for William Lines in the acquisition of passenger liners and their next acquisition already came in 1987, a RORO already, the “Masbate I”. In that interregnum, they concentrated on building their container ship fleet which was called the “Wilcon”. Two in that series were RORO Cargo ships that can also carry passengers, the “Wilcon I” which came in 1978 and the “Wilcon IV” which came in 1979.

The “Misamis Occidental” was a ship ordered by William Lines from Hayashikane Shipbuilding & Engineering Company and she was built in their Nagasaki shipyard and she was delivered in December of 1970. The ship measured 88.9 meters by 13.5 meters and her cubic volume expressed in gross tons was 1,945. The ship had a top speed of 18 knots and she had a passenger capacity of about 650. She could have sailed faster with a more powerful engine but maybe William Lines did not see the “Sweet Faith” coming for Sweet Lines. William Lines referred to the “Misamis Occidental” as their first luxury liner.

The “Cebu City”, a great flagship was ordered by William Lines from Niigata Engineering and she was built in Niigata, Japan and delivered on September, 1972. Her dimensions were 98.8 meters by 13.8 meters with a cubic measure of 2,452 gross tons. Powered by a 5,670-horsepower Hitachi engine she had a top speed of 20.5 knots and she had a passenger capacity of 807. I am sure that when William Lines ordered her there was a specification that the ship will be able to at least match the “Sweet Faith” of Sweet Lines in speed and also in the accommodations. The name of the ship clearly indicated her first route.

The “Tacloban City”, originally the “Naminoue Maru” of Oshima Unyu was built by Sanoyas Shoji Company in 1962 and she came to William Lines in 1975. Her measurements were 91.1 meters by 12.8 meters and her cubic volume was 2,244 gross tons. She had an original speed of 18.5 knots from her single 5,800-horsepower Mitsubishi engine but being no longer new when she came she was only capable of 17.5 knots when she was fielded here. She was advertised by William Lines as the “Cheetah of the Sea” and she had a passenger capacity of 1,274. She was the first in William Lines to breach the 1,000-passenger capacity mark and she had the highest passenger capacity in William Lines fleet when she was fielded. The name of the ship also indicated her first route and she was designed to take on the “Sweet Grace” of Sweet Lines and the “Don Sulpicio” of Sulpicio Lines which in the route and both the two had airconditioning.

The “Manila City” which came in 1976 was originally the “Nihon Maru” of Mitsubishi Shintaku Ginko. She was built by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries in their Shimonoseki yard in 1970. The ship had the external dimensions 106.3 meters by 14.0 meters and her cubic measurement was 2,998 gross tons. From her twin Mitsubishi engines developing 8,800 horsepower, she had a top speed of 20.5 knots. Her design speed was a match to “Cebu City” but being older she was some half knot slower. However, when she came she had the highest horsepower in the William Lines fleet. She could have been named the “Davao City” to reflect her first route but William Lines already had a ship by this name. Being the biggest in the William Lines passenger fleet, William Lines assigned her a worthy name. The “Manila City” had a passenger capacity of 1,388. She was the best ship in the Davao route when she was fielded there.

The “Cagayan de Oro City” which arrived in 1977 was the former “Hibiscus” in Japan or the “Haibisukasu” of the group Terukuni Yusen KK. She was also built by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries or MHI in 1970 in the Shimonoseki yard. She was 89.2 meters in length, 13.0 meters in breadth and 1,999 gross tons in cubic capacity. She had two Niigata engines developing 7,000 horsepower which gave her a top speed of 19 knots. The ship was assigned the route of her namesake city and she was the best ship in the route when first assigned there The “Cagayan de Oro” had a passenger capacity of 1,200.

The “Ozamis City” which was the “Fuji” of the Mitsubishi Shoji Kaisha in Japan was another ship built by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries in the Shimonoseki yard. The ship was completed in 1965 and she came in 1978 and she had the dimensions 91.7 meters by 13.3 meters with 2,865 gross tons as cubic measure. She had a single 4,900-horsepower Kawasaki-MAN engine which gave her a top speed of 18.5 knots. This ship was also assigned to her namesake city and held that route for a long time. She was also the best ship to Ozamis when first assigned there. Her passenger capacity was 1,214.

The “Manila City” was the biggest of the six and she also had the highest passenger capacity and she was the speediest together with “Cebu City”. She was referred to by William Lines as the “Sultan of the Sea” and maybe those were the reasons why (and maybe there are also true sultans along her route). This ship held the Davao route for a very long time until she was consumed by fire. She was never assigned another route in her career here indicating her specs were high that she was still competitive one-and-a-half decade after she was first fielded.

As flagship, the “Cebu City” held the Manila-Cebu route and was plying it twice week. The fast among the fast “Manila City” was holding the long route to Davao via Zamboanga. The “Cagayan de Oro City” was sailing the Manila-Dumaguete-Cagayan de Oro-Iligan-Cebu route. The “Misamis Occidental” was being used in the Manila-Cebu-Ozamis-Iligan-Dumaguete route. The “Tacloban City” was sailing the Tacloban route twice a week and one of that calls in Catbalogan too. Finally, the “Ozamis City” was running the overnight Cebu-Ozamis route.

By and large the six (the seventh was the “Dona Virginia”) were the primary liners of William Lines in the 1970’s up to the end of the 1980’s. William Lines was relatively late in the fielding of ROROs and the six shouldered on even though the competition already had RORO liners. It will already be 1989 when William Lines will be able acquire a big RORO liner, the “Zamboanga City” and the RORO liner flagship, the “Sugbu” will arrive only in 1990.

The six had successful careers but the majority did not reach old age. Of the six, only the “Misamis Occidental” and the “Tacloban City” will escape hull-loss accidents. The “Cagayan de Oro City” will be hit by fire in Ozamis City port on June 22, 1985. She capsized there but she was refloated and towed to Cebu where she was broken up in 1986.

The “Ozamis City” will be wrecked off Siquijor on October 22, 1990. She was towed to Manila for demolition where she was broken up on November of 1991. “Manila City”, meanwhile, will be hit by a fire in Cebu Shipyard on February 16, 1991. She will be declared a constructive total loss or CTL and she was broken up in 1992.

The most publicized loss among the six was the sinking of “Cebu City” on December 1, 1994 after a collision with the Malaysian container ship, the Pacific International Lines’ “Kota Suria”. This happened at the mouth of Manila Bay when she was late on her way and hurrying to Tagbilaran, Bohol. About 145 persons lost their lives in that accident that happened before dawn.

The “Misamis Occidental” and “Tacloban City” still acceded to the “Great Merger” (which failed) that created the giant shipping company WG&A Philippines. “Tacloban City” was later relegated to the subsidiary Cebu Ferries Corporation but did not sail long in that company. Not being a RORO she was offered for sale early and in 1997, the Sampaguita Shipping Company of Zamboanga purchased her and she became the “Sampaguita Ferry 1” of the said company.

The “Misamis Occidental” which was then just being used as an Ozamis-Cebu overnight ferry before the merger was also sent to the WG&A subsidiary Cebu Ferries Corporation and also offered for sale early because she was not a RORO. Having no takers, she was refurbished and re-engined and she was given the new name “Our Lady of Montserrat”. However, she was disposed off to the breakers within two years. She was broken up in China on June 15, 2000.

Today, there are no more traces of the six.

The Battle for the Southern Mindanao Ports After The War And Before The Era of RORO Liners

Discussing this topic, the author wishes to clarify that the discussion will be limited to the period after World War II. There are not enough research materials yet before the war and in that earlier period Southern Mindanao was not yet that economically important to the country since the great wave of migration to the region only happened starting in the 1950’s and then peaking in the 1960’s and the 1970’s.

Talking of Southern Mindanao ports, these consisted mainly of Davao, General Santos (or Dadiangas) and Cotabato (which is actually Parang or Polloc port located in another town) and to some extent also Pagadian and Kabasalan in earlier times and also Mati and Bislig. Since ships generally used the western approach, inadvertently Zamboanga port will be included in this since all ships to Southern Mindanao port using the western approach will use that as an intermediate stop since it just lies along the route and it has a good passenger and cargo volume.

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Gorio Belen research in the National Library

After World War II, shipping to Southern Mindanao boomed because it was the “new frontier” of the country. There was great migration by Christians from other parts of the country and this was encouraged and supported by the government to ease the “land pressure” in Luzon and Visayas which was the fuel then for the land unrest (read: Pambansang Kilusan ng Magbubukid, Sakdalista movement, Hukbalahap, etc.). The land of Mindanao was being opened through the building of roads and the bounty of the land and the forests were being exploited (without asking the say-so of the native peoples and that fueled the unrest of the latter decades; the Luzon land unrest was “solved” to be replaced by Mindanao unrest and war – what an irony and tragedy!). And so people and goods needed to be transported and in such a situation where “ships come where there is cargo” there was a battle for the Southern Mindanao ports among the local shipping companies. Davao was the primary route and port of Southern Mindanao and almost invariably the Davao ships will also drop anchor in Dadiangas (General Santos City).

At the outset, it was Compania Maritima which led the pack to Southern Mindanao after World War II as she was the biggest liner shipping company then with the most ships, half of which were big by local standards (that means a length of about 100 meters). The company possessed ex-“C1-M-AV1” surplus ships as compensation by the US Government for their ships lost during the war and also big cargo-passenger ships from Europe while the competition had no better than the small ex-“FS” ships from the US Army which have to seek shelter when the seas begin to roil.

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Gorio Belen research in the National Library

Among the Compania Maritima competitors to the Southern Mindanao ports in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s were Philippine Steam and Navigation Company (PSNC), Manila Steamship Company, De la Rama Steamship, William Lines Inc. and Escano Lines. Most of the liner shipping companies of the day then shirked from Southern Mindanao routes because it was taxing on the fleet as the ships needed two weeks for the entire voyage. So just to be able to offer a weekly schedule, two ships of the fleet must be devoted to a Southern Mindanao route.

It was Philippine Steam and Navigation Company (PSNC), being backed by Everett Steamship of the United States, which was more competitive against Compania Maritima as it also had ex-“C1-M-AV1” and ex-“Type N3” ships. PSNC was a venture between Everett Steamship and Aboitiz Shipping (and later with the end of “Parity Rights”, it passed on to the latter). Manila Steamship Co. was competitive, too since it also had a big fleet. However, this company quit shipping after the explosion and fire that hit their flagship “Mayon” in 1955. Meanwhile, De la Rama Steamship even quit earlier to concentrate on international shipping and being an agents after some local issues.

The year that Manila Steamship quit shipping, the new liner company Carlos A. Go Thong & Company joined the Southern Mindanao battle, too. In the mid-1950’s, with some shake-out in the shipping industry, there were less competitors and ships in this decade (because some really old ships have already quit along with some very small ones). It should be noted, however, that there were ocean-going liners that were originating from Southern Mindanao that goes to Manila first before proceeding to Japan and the USA. Some of those that provided that kind of service were Everett Steamship and Compania Maritima.

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Gorio Belen research in the National Library

In the 1960’s, passenger-cargo ships from Europe that were bigger than the ex-“FS” ships began to arrive in the Philippines and many of these were fielded to the Southern Mindanao routes. Among the users of that type were Go Thong and William Lines. Go Thong was also able to acquire the big World War II surplus “C1-A” ships like the “Manila Bay” and “Subic Bay”. Compania Maritima, however, bought brand-new liners and chartered big reparations cargo-passenger ships from the government-owned National Development Corporation (NDC) and so they held on to their lead in the Southern Mindanao routes in this decade. Meanwhile, Everett/PSNC was not far behind and they even used in Southern Mindanao their new liners from Japan, the “Elcano” and the “Legazpi”. Additionally, there was a new entrant in the late 1960’s, the ambitious Sweet Lines which was one of the beneficiaries of the quitting of General Shipping Company of local routes (the other was Aboitiz Shipping Corporation).

At the start of the 1970’s, Compania Maritima was still ruling the Southern Mindanao routes. But several very interesting developments happened in this decade. First, the big Go Thong/Universal Shipping which already exceeded Compania Maritima in size had broken into three shipping companies and Sulpicio Lines Incorporated, Carlos A. Gothong Lines Incorporated and Lorenzo Shipping Corporation emerged (until 1979 the operation of the latter two were joint). In a few years time, however, Sulpicio Lines grew fast and proved to be a strong competitor. In this decade, it was already slowly becoming obvious that Compania Maritima was losing steam especially as they regularly lost ships in storms. William Lines then was in a race with Sulpicio Lines to dislodge Compania Maritima from its perch. Everett Steamship meanwhile bowed out because of the end of “Parity Rights” of the Americans (and thus they are no longer allowed to do business as a Philippine “national”) and PSNC (their partnership with the Aboitizes) was merged with Aboitiz Shipping Corporation and the latter became the surviving entity. But with no new ships, Aboitiz Shipping Corporation bowed out of Southern Mindanao liner service. However, the combined Lorenzo Shipping Corporation and Carlos A. Gothong Shipping Lines (CAGLI) and Sweet Lines Inc. were still competing heavily in the Southern Mindanao routes in the 1970’s.

Two very important developments happened before the end of the 1970’s. One, containerization began and this changed the game of shipping. Where before it was just practically the liners that carried the cargo, now the carriers split into two, the container ships and the liners. Subsequently, the passenger capacity of the liners grew as they no longer have to devote a lot of space for cargo. By this time, the massive migration of Christians to Southern Mindanao has also boomed its population and consequently more need to travel.

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Gorio Belen research in the National Library

The second development was the introduction of fast cruiser liners that call on just one intermediate port (before a liner to Davao will usually call first in Cebu, Tagbilaran, a northern Mindanao port maybe, Zamboanga definitely and Dadiangas. So where before 10-knot ships like the ex-”FS” and ex-”C1-M-AV1” ships will take two weeks to complete an entire voyage and the faster ex-European passenger-cargo ships cycles every 10 or 11 days, the new fast cruisers complete the voyage in just a week. By my definition, fast cruisers of this period were the liners capable then of 18 knots. Usually, these were not converted cargo-passenger ships from other countries (these were fast cruisers even in Japan, usually). These were also luxury liners in the local parlance and one key feature of that is the availability of air-conditioning. With that truly luxurious suites and cabins became possible.

The fast “Dona Ana” (later “Dona Marilyn”) of Sulpicio Lines which came in 1976 tried to change the game by just having one intermediate port call, in Cebu. William Lines responded with the even faster cruiser “Manila City” (the second) in 1976 which only had Zamboanga as its intermediate port. With their speed and the use of just one intermediate port, the “Dona Ana” and “Manila City” was able maintain a weekly schedule. Although the luxurious flagship “Filipinas” of Compania Maritima was also fast at 17 knots, she dropped by many intermediate ports and so she cannot maintain a weekly sailing. Compania Maritima never dropped the old style of many intermediate ports.

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Photo credits: Times Journal and Gorio Belen

Gothong+Lorenzo was not able to respond well to this challenge (though they tried) as they had no true fast cruiser liners. So, they had to use two ships for a route to maintain a weekly sailing or three ships to maintain a cycle of every 10 days. Sweet Lines also tried but like Gothong+Lorenzo they also have no fast cruisers assigned to Southern Mindanao (they had two though in Cebu, the “Sweet Faith” and the “Sweet Home”). Compania Maritima and Sweet Lines were the users of three ships to the Davao route to be able to cycle a ship every 10 days. Aboitiz Shipping, meanwhile, with no new ships simply dropped out of liner shipping to Southern Mindanao and just concentrated on container shipping.

Although William Lines and Sulpicio Lines already had fast cruiser liners to Southern Mindanao they also still used their old passenger-cargo ships to the region in the late 1970’s in conjunction with their fast cruisers liners. So with them the passengers have a choice of the fast or the slow which was also less luxurious. Fares also differed, of course.

In the container segment of shipping, the battle was toe-to-toe. Aboitiz Shipping rolled out the Aboitiz Concarriers, William Lines had the Wilcons, Sulpicio Lines fielded the Sulcons (Sulpicio Container) and later Lorenzo Shipping sailed the Lorcons (Lorenzo Container). Many of the ships mentioned were once general cargo ships converted into container ships. [The later series Aboitiz container ships were named Superconcarriers and Megaconcarriers.] Lorenzo Shipping then split with Carlos A. Gothong Lines Inc. and the latter then quit Southern Mindanao routes to concentrate on the Visayas-Mindanao routes. [Later, Lorenzo Shipping quit shipping altogether and sold out to the Magsaysay group before they were reborn as the Oceanic Container Lines.]

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Gorio Belen research in the National Library

In passenger liners, William Lines and Sulpicio Lines continued to battle in the Southern Mindanao ports in the 1980’s using fast cruiser liners. Sulpicio Lines had the edge as they had more fast cruiser liners [William Lines still had to make do with their graying former European passenger-cargo ships]. For a while until they quit in 1984, Compania Maritima was battling Sulpicio Lines more than toe-to-toe. After all, Southern Mindanao was the area of concentration of Compania Maritima and in Davao they even have their own port, the MINTERBRO port. Compania Maritima concentrated their best liners, the “Filipinas”, “Visayas” and “Mindanao” plus their passenger-cargo ships “Leyte Gulf” and “Dadiangas” in the General Santos/Davao route before the company’s life expired. While the three were battling, the other liner companies were not able to respond except for Sea Transport Co. and Solid Shipping Lines which were not operating passenger liners. One independent liner company, the Northern Lines Inc. which had routes to Southern Mindanao also quit at about the same time of Compania Maritima at the height of the political and financial crisis leading to the mid-1980’s.

Before the era of RORO liners, there were already more container ships to Southern Mindanao than passenger liners. That how strong was the growth of that new paradigm. This new dominant paradigm even forced the fast cruisers to carry container vans atop their cargo holds as that was already the demand of the shippers and traders.

In the 1980’s before the advent of RORO liners starting in 1983 there were actually only a few fast cruiser liners doing the Southern Mindanao routes. Among those was the “Dona Ana”, the pioneer fast cruiser of Sulpicio Lines to Davao. This ship was later pulled out to replace “Don Sulpicio” in the Manila-Cebu route as the ship caught fire and she was renamed to “Dona Marilyn”. However, the fast cruisers “Don Enrique” (the later “Davao Princess” and “Iloilo Princess” and “Don Eusebio” (the later “Dipolog Princess”) alternated in the Manila-Cebu-Davao route. In 1981, when the “Philippine Princess” came, “Dona Marilyn” was reassigned to the Cotabato route. She was the first fast cruiser liner in that route.

Don Sulpicio, Dona Ana and Don Ricardo

Photo by Jon Uy Saulog

On another noteworthy trivia and clarification, Sulpicio Lines also fielded the third “Don Carlos” in the General Santos route in 1977. This ferry was a former vehicle carrier in Japan and so she had a cargo deck and a ramp. However, she was not used as a RORO ship. The ramps were just used to ease the loading of livestock from Gensan. This city sends a lot of those live commodities to Manila. She was actually a “WOWO” ship (Walk on, Walk Off). However, she also takes in heavy equipment and trucks bound for Gensan dealers. So technically “Don Carlos” was the first RORO to Southern Mindanao. But she did not use container vans.

For William Lines, the second “Manila City” (the first “Manila City” was an ex-”FS” ship) was their only fast cruiser to Southern Mindanao for a long time in this decade. Most of the passenger ships they were using in the region were former European passenger-cargo ships like what Sweet Lines were using (the company was also using the “Sweet Grace” to Southern Mindanao which was a brand-new liner in 1968 but was not that fast). Approaching the end of the decade only three national shipping companies were left sailing liners to Southern Mindanao – Sulpicio Lines, William Lines and Sweet Lines. One of the reasons for that was the crisis spawned by the Aquino assassination halved the number of liner companies in the Philippines. It was not because the traffic to Southern Mindanao dropped considerably. In container shipping to Southern Mindanao before the RORO liners came there were six players – Aboitiz Shipping Corporation, William Lines, Sulpicio Lines, Lorenzo Shipping Corporation, Sea Transport Company and Solid Shipping Lines.

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MV Don Carlos (Gorio Belen research in the National Library

In 1983, a new paradigm arrived in the Southern Mindanao routes and it ushered a new era. These are the RORO (or ROPAX) liners which were even bigger and just as fast as the fast cruiser liners. And they can carry more container vans than the fast cruisers. Later, RORO liners were even faster as they can already sail at 20 knots. Can anyone hazard a guess which was the first RORO liner of Southern Mindanao?

I will discuss the era of RORO liners in Southern Mindanao in a subsequent article (as I do not want this article to be too long and unwieldy). With that, it will be a discussion of the recent history of the Southern Mindanao routes and liners.

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.

1972 0617 MV Sweet Lord

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!