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 Sunset of Tacloban Port

Tacloban City is the regional commercial center of Eastern Visayas and this has been so for about a century now. It has the advantage of a central location and a sheltered port and bay. Its reach weakens, however, in the western coast of Leyte which has its own sea connections to a greater trade and commercial center, the great city of Cebu which has been ascendant in the south of the Philippines since half a millennium ago. 

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As a regional commercial center, it is but natural for Tacloban to have a great port with trade routes to many places. That has been the situation of Tacloban since before World War II and even before World War I. It also does not hurt that Tacloban is the capital of the province of Leyte. In fact, because of her superior strategic location, Tacloban even exceeded her mother town which is Palo which is still the seat of the church hierarchy.

Before World War II and after that, passenger-cargo ships from Manila will drop by first in Masbate, Catbalogan and Calbayog before hooking route and proceeding to Tacloban. Some of these ships will then still proceed to Surigao and Butuan or even Cagayan de Oro using the eastern seaboard of Leyte. Tacloban then was the fulcrum of these liner routes going to Eastern Visayas. That route was much stronger than the routes that drop by Ormoc and Maasin and perhaps Sogod and Cabalian before going to Surigao. The two routes were actually competing (like Ormoc and Tacloban are competing). If the route via Tacloban was stronger it is because Tacloban was the trade and commercial center of the region.

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At its peak, Tacloban port hosted some seven passenger-cargo ships from Manila per week from different liner companies. She also had daily regular calls from passenger-cargo ships emanating from Cebu. There were also some ships that originate from as far as Davao which dropped by Surigao first. Such was the importance of Tacloban port then which can still be seen in the size of Tacloban port and the bodegas surrounding it.

There were many liner companies that called over the years in Tacloban from Manila. Among them were Sulpicio Lines (and the earlier Carlos A. Gothong & Co.), Compania Maritima, General Shipping Company, Philippine Steam and Navigation Company, Philippine Pioneer Lines (and later the successor Galaxy Lines), Escano Lines, Sweet Lines, even the combined Carlos A. Gothong Lines Inc. and Lorenzo Shipping Corporation. When it was still sailing local routes, even De la Rama Steamship served Tacloban. Among the minor liner companies, Royal Lines Inc., Veloso Brothers Ltd., N&S Lines, Philippine Sea Transport and Oriental Shipping Agency also served Tacloban. Not all of those served at the same time but that line-up of shipping companies will show how great was Tacloban port then.

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Gorio Belen research in the National Library

For many years there was even a luxury liner rivalry in Tacloban port. This was the battle which featured the Dona Angelina of Sulpicio Lines and the Sweet Rose of Sweet Lines which mainly happened in the 1970s. Sweet Rose was sailing to Tacloban from the late 1960s and was in fact the first luxury liner to that port. The two liners were the best ships then sailing to Tacloban port. The rest, of course, were mainly ex-”FS” ships which was the backbone of the national liner fleet then and there was no shame in that.

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Gorio Belen research in the National Library

Tacloban port was doing well until the late 1970’s when a paradigm change pulled the rug from under their feet. This development was the fielding of a RORO by Cardinal Shipping, the Cardinal Ferry I that connected Sorsogon and Samar. With San Juanico bridge already connecting Samar and Leyte and the Maharlika Highway already completed, intermodal trucks and buses started rolling into Tacloban and Leyte. In fact, in just one year of operation the intermodal link was already a roaring success with many trucks and buses already running to Manila. Soon other ferries were connecting Sorsogon and Samar including the Maharlika I of the government.

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Gorio Belen research in the National Library

With this development the irreversible decline of Tacloban port began. It was a slide that never ever saw a reversal because what happened over the years was the buses and trucks rolling to Tacloban and Leyte just continued to multiply without abatement (and the ROROs in San Bernardino Strait also increased in number). Soon the passengers were already filling the intermodal buses and freight except the heaviest and the bulkiest was also slowly shifted to the trucks. Over the years the number of passenger ships to Tacloban slowly declined as a consequence.

In the late 1980’s, when the pressure of the intermodal was great there were still three national shipping lines with routes to Tacloban – Sulpicio Lines, William Lines and Sweet Lines. In the early 1990’s. when Sweet Lines quit shipping only the top two shipping lines then where still sailing to Tacloban with the Tacloban Princess of Sulpicio Lines and the Masbate Uno of William Lines. Incidentally, the infamous Dona Paz which burned and sank after a collision with a tanker in December 1987 originated from Tacloban.

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Tacloban Princess by John Carlos Cabanillas

When the WG&A merger came in 1996 the company pulled out the Masbate I from the Tacloban route. The last liners ever to sail the Tacloban route were the Tacloban Princess and the Cebu Princess which alternated in the route. Both belonged to Sulpicio Lines. The liner route from Manila to Tacloban was finally severed when Sulpicio Lines got suspended from passenger service as a consequence of the sinking of the Princess of the Stars when both the Tacloban Princess and the Cebu Princess were sold.

The overnight ferry service from Cebu almost followed the same path and died at almost the same time. The last three shipping companies which had a route there were Roly Shipping, Maypalad Shipping and Cebu Ferries Corporation (which was the successor of CAGLI). But passengers slowly learned that the routes via Ormoc and Baybay were faster and cheaper and the connection was oh-so-easy as the bus terminals of the two cities were just outside the port gates of Ormoc and Baybay. The High Speed Crafts (HSCs) to Ormoc, mainly SuperCat and Oceanjet also made great strides and captured a large portion of the passenger market and it further denied passengers for Tacloban. With the HSCs and overnight ships from Cebu that leave Ormoc in the morning there was no longer any need for Tacloban passengers to wait until night.

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http://www.maritime-executive.com/article/Paralyzed-Philippine-Port-Resumes-Operations-2013-11-21

The last rope for Tacloban port passenger-cargo ships was cut when the new coastal highway from Basey, Samar to Guiuan, Eastern Samar was completed. With that the passenger ships connecting Tacloban and Guiuan had to go as the fast and ubiquitous commuter vans (called “V-hire” in the province) suddenly supplanted them. Trucks also began rolling and some of these were even coming from Cebu via the intermodal.

Now only a few cargo ships dock in Tacloban port. There is still one cargo shipping company based in Tacloban, the Lilygene Sea Shipping Transport Corp. Gothong Southern Shipping Lines meanwhile still has a regular container ship to Tacloban but there are complaints that the rates are high (the consequence of no competition). Whatever, there are still cargoes better carried by ships than by trucks. However, some of the container vans for Leyte are just offloaded now in Cebu and transferred through Cargo RORO LCTs going to several western Leyte ports.

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What might remain for a long time maybe in Tacloban port are the big motor bancas for Buad island in Western Samar which hosts the town of Daram and Bagatao island which hosts the town of Zumarraga. I am not sure of the long-term existence of the other motor bancas for the other Samar towns except for maybe Talalora as more and more they have buses that go to Tacloban and maybe soon the commuter vans will follow. Or maybe even the jeep. The lesson is with roads established the sea connection always have to go in the long term.

Tacloban port is improved now. Improving the port eases port operations but it will not make the ships come back contrary to what the PPA (Philippine Ports Authority) and the government say. It is cargo and passengers that make the ships come to a port but if there are other and better transportation modes that are already available then cargo and passenger volumes drop and sometimes it becomes uneconomical for the ship to continue operating.

So I really wonder what is the point in developing a port in the nearby town of Babatngon as an alternative to Tacloban port. Have the Philippine Ports Authority ever asked who wants to use it? It is not surprising however as the PPA is the master of creating “ports to nowhere” (ports with practically no traffic) especially in the time of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo who was so fond of those (for many “reasons”, of course).

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Ormoc Port by John Luzares

In the past two decades the PPA always touted Tacloban port. For maybe they are based there. There was a denial that actually Ormoc port was already the main gateway to Leyte and it is no longer Tacloban port. Recently however, there seems to be an acknowledgment of the real score — that Ormoc port has actually been the de facto gateway already. The government is now developing Ormoc port and it is good that the PPA vessel arrival and departure site already covers it.

Whatever and however they try, it cannot be denied that the sun is already setting in Tacloban port. It is no longer the same port it used to be in the past because of the intermodal assault changed things.

Like they say, things always change.

Sweet Lines and the DFDS Connection

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Sweet Faith by Karsten Petersen

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

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

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

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Photo credit: Manila Chronicle, National Library and Gorio Belen

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

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Photo credit: Manila Chronicle, National Library and Gorio Belen

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

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Photo credit: Philippine Herald, National Library and Gorio Belen

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

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

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

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Sweet Bliss by Karsten Petersen

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

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

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Photo credit: Times Journal, National Library and Gorio Belen

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

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

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

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

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

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Photo credit: Times Journal, National Library and Gorio Belen

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

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

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

Sweet Home

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

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

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

The Sweet Grace and Sweet Faith and Their Impact for Sweet Lines

The “Sweet Grace” and “Sweet Faith” were two luxury liners that came for Sweet Lines in 1968 and 1970, respectively. These two liners had a lot to do in establishing Sweet Lines not only as a legit liner shipping company in the Philippines but also as one of the majors. As a liner company, Sweet Lines was a relative latecomer in this field as they only ascended to this in 1965. Their competitors Compania Maritima, Philippine Steam and Navigation Company (the partnership of Everett Steamship and Aboitiz Shipping), Escano Lines, William Lines , Carlos A. Go Thong & Co., Madrigal Shipping and Philippine President Lines started way early than them. But Sweet Lines’ rise was fast and this was helped by some astute moves like the purchase of “Sweet Grace” and “Sweet Faith” (this is the first “Sweet Faith”, a clarification since another liner of theirs also carried that name later). This was also helped by the acquisition of “Sweet Rose” locally and by the first “Sweet Home” from Italy.

Sweet Lines actually had pre-World War II origins as the Central Shipping Company. They originated in Bohol and they only changed their name in 1961. Actually, almost anyone who knew them always thought of them as a Bohol shipping company and so Bol-anons were always proud of them. After the war, the company grew to be a regional major with lines from Bohol to Northern Mindanao and Cebu and lines from Cebu to Leyte and Northern Mindanao. But they were not a multi-day liner company yet then as they were just sailing overnight and short-distance routes.

Then in 1965, the liner company General Shipping Company decided to quit local routes and just engage in shipping to the Far East after a board room squabble. With that, General Shipping began to dispose of their liners and franchises and half of those went to Sweet Lines (and the other half went to Aboitiz Shipping Corporation). Three of those liners were ex-FS ships and there is nothing noteworthy there but the fourth one was noteworthy. It was the former “General Roxas” (the second to carry that name in the fleet of General Shipping) and this was one of the two brand-new local-built liners from NASSCO in Mariveles, Bataan that was ordered in 1960 and 1961. The two were sister ships.

They were relatively big for a liner during those early days with the “General Roxas” at 84.7 meters by 12.3 meters. In cubic capacity she had 1,757 gross register tons and 968 net register tons. What was notable was they were already equipped with airconditioning when the very common ex-World War II ships then were not airconditioned like the ex-FS ships and bigger ex-C1-M-AV1. “General Roxas” became the “Sweet Rose” in the Sweet Lines fleet after coming over in 1965. For most of her career in Sweet Lines, this liner held the Manila-Catbalogan-Tacloban route for the company (yes, that was still an important liner route in those days; now that is bread and butter for the intermodal buses).

In 1968, from a soft loan by West Germany through the Philippine Government, Sweet Lines was able to order the “Sweet Grace”, a brand-new liner. This ship was built by Actiengessellschaft ‘Weser’ Seebeckwerpt in Bremerhaven, Germany with the ID IMO 6806951 at a cost of PhP 6.4 million (no typo there; now that money will just buy a high-end BMW). She was a cruiser with two masts, two passenger decks and a cargo boom at the front. The ship had a raked stem and a cruiser stern and a single center funnel. She measured 88.0 meters by 12.8 meters with a depth of 7.1 meters. Her cubic measures was 1,489 gross register tons and her load capacity was 1,590 deadweight tons. Her net tonnage was 690 and her passenger capacity was 18 persons in first class cabins and 650 persons in second class and third class.

The “Sweet Grace” was billed as a luxury liner (most liners then were actually converted cargo-passenger ships). She had an airconditioned lounge and dining salons, a lounge, a bar, piped-in music, TVs and movies – those were what defined a luxury liner then and especially the presence of airconditioning. The ship also had modern navigational aids and those were mainly radar and LORAN then. That is a take against the ex-FS ships which had no radar and which mainly relied on the old compasses and astrolabes. This liner had a single Atlas-MAK engine developing 2,950 horsepower which gave her a top speed of 15.5 knots. She was first deployed to the Manila-Catbalogan-Tacloban and Manila-Cebu routes.

In 1970, Sweet Lines acquired the luxury liner “H.P. Prior” from Det Forenede Dampskibs-Selskab A/S, which is more commonly known as DFDS, a major Danish and European shipping company. She was built by Helsingor Vaerft in Elsinore, Denmark in 1950 and she had the permanent ID IMO 5139131. She had two masts, three decks and a prominent single center funnel. The ship had a raked stem and a retrousse stern. She was bigger than Sweet Grace at 104.0 meters by 14.9 meters with 3,155 gross register tons. She also measured at 1,814 net register tons and 903 deadweight tons. This liner had a passenger capacity of 1,166 with 310 of that in cabins and the rest in airconditioned dormitories including third class. Her superstructure was practically untouched when she came here. She was equipped with two Helsingor-B & W engines with 7,620 horsepower which gave her a top speed of 20 knots, a speed she carried on even here, the first local liner to have that speed. She was our fastest liner in 1970, displacing from the throne the liner “Galaxy” of Galaxy Lines.

She was a luxury liner in the truest sense of the word and her comfort and amenities were higher than the liners which came before her. There was an airconditioned dining salon, an airconditioned economy cafeteria and all the passenger areas were airconditioned. For entertainment there were TVs and a mini-theater with movies (this was not common then), stereo music (also not common then) and a supper club (it was an sundown to midnight relaxation/lounging area with drinks, “pulutan” and entertainment by a band which was called a “combo” then). There were four third class dormitories which were all airconditioned (no, that was not an innovation by Aboitiz Transport System). And there was even a two-level sundeck which was popular for passengers for sightseeing, catching the breeze and for socializing. “Sweet Faith” defined what was a luxury liner then. She also defined what was “fast”.

In 1973, another European luxury liner came to Sweet Lines, the former “Caralis” of Tirrenea Spa di Navale of Italy which was built in 1957 by the Navalmeccanica in Castellamare, Italy. In the Sweet Lines fleet she became the second “Sweet Home”. She was a bigger liner than “Sweet Faith”, just as luxurious but not as fast. She was then paired by Sweet Lines with “Sweet Faith” in trying to dominate the Manila-Cebu route. The two were dedicated ships there and they sailed four times a week to Cebu and four times a week to Manila. Sweet Lines advertised them as the “Inimitable Mates”. “Sweet Home” measured 120.4 meters by 16.0 meters with 5,480 gross register tons (GRT) and 3,043 net register tons (NRT) in cubic measurements. Her NRT alone was already bigger than most of the liners of that era and that is just the measurement of the area dedicated to the passengers. The ship had a single Ansaldo engine of 6,200 horsepower which was good for 18 knots when new. Here she was only good for about 16 knots or so. “Sweet Home” had a passengers capacity of 1,200 which was probably the biggest in that era.

All these four liners had a big role in establishing Sweet Lines quick in the passenger liner field. There were other shipping companies that had bigger fleets than them. But what degraded them was that they were still reliant on the small, slow and vulnerable ex-FS ships even on the long routes like the routes to Davao and General Santos City (Dadiangas). These kind of ships were even still in use then in primary ports like Cebu and Iloilo while Sweet Lines began retiring their ex-FS ships from Manila routes when they had already these good liners. So Sweet Lines might not have had a big fleet then but their fleet spoke of quality. Actually if their primary liners then had a weakness it was that they can’t carry much cargo.

Sweet Lines liners were known for prompt departures while many other competitors gave priority to cargo. That means if there was still cargo to be loaded then the ship will still not leave even though it was already past departure time. And that was actually oppressive to most of the passengers as it can be hot in the third class sections of the ships especially during summers. Sweet Lines actually led in airconditioning in that liner era. So while Sweet Lines (not “Sweat Lines”) might have been gone now, many people still remember them for comfort and also the size of their liners then.

In the 1970’s, the fast cruiser liners came and that was the new flag bearer of that era offering shorter travel times in the major routes. Being old ships already when they came here “Sweet Faith” and “Sweet Home” did not last very long. Sweet Lines did not acquire fast cruiser liners like what William Lines, Sulpicio Lines and Negros Navigation did. “Sweet Grace” was still relatively new then but she was not fast in the first place. In the 1970’s, 18 knots already became the definition of what was “fast”.

I noticed in shipping that those who failed to follow the new paradigm lose their place in the hierarchy and that was what happened to Sweet Lines (and to some other liner companies like Compania Maritima, Philippine Steamship and Navigation Company and Aboitiz Shipping Company, Escano Lines and Madrigal Shipping). They tried a shortcut to the RORO era like what Carlos A. Gothong Lines Inc. did. But then maybe, both did not have enough steam for that leap. Other competitors also acquired RORO liners but they still also had their fast cruisers which Sweet Lines did not have. Still, overall, the 1970’s was a good decade for Sweet Lines. And to think they only came in the liner field in 1965. It was in the 1980’s when they started falling back. But then again that is another story….

[Photo Owner: Karsten Petersen]
[Research Support: Gorio Belen]
[Database Support: Jun Marquez/Mike Baylon/PSSS]