WHEN EASTERN VISAYAS SHIPPING LOST TO THE INTERMODAL

Once upon a time it was liners that connected Eastern Visayas to the national capital. Liners from Manila took several routes. There was a route that after touching parts of the present Northern Samar the passenger-cargo ship will swing north to Bicol ports. There was also a route that will just go to ports on the north coast of Samar up to Laoang, which was the jumping-off point for towns on the northeast coast of Samar that were without roads. There was also a route that after docking in Calbayog and/or Catbalogan the ship will swing south to Tacloban or to Cebu. There was also a route that after calling in Tacloban the ship will swing south and pass the eastern seaboard of Leyte on the way to Surigao, Butuan or even Cagayan. And there was a route where the ship will head to several ports on the western seaboard of Leyte island and some will even proceed to Surigao. There was also a route where ships will dock on ports in the present Southern Leyte and the ship will proceed to Surigao and Butuan. There was even a route that will go first to Surigao and the ship will swing north to Cabalian in the present Southern Leyte.

Among the many ports where liners from Manila called then in Eastern Visayas were Borongan, Laoang, Carangian, Allen, Calbayog, Catbalogan, Tacloban, Calubian, Palompon, Isabel, Ormoc, Baybay, Maasin, Sogod and Cabalian. Shipping companies from the majors to the minor lines were represented in the eastern Visayas routes and ports. Among them were Compania Maritima, Go Thong and the successors Gothong Shipping, Sulpicio Lines and Lorenzo Shipping, General Shipping, William Lines, Sweet Lines, Philippine President Lines and the latter Philippines Pioneer Lines, Galaxy Lines, Escano Lines and Aboitiz Shipping. Among the minor shipping companies North Camarines (and NCL and NORCAMCO), N&S Lines, Rodriguez Shipping, Newport Shipping, Eastern Shipping, Bisayan Land Transport and the latter BISTRANCO, Corominas Richards Navigation, Veloso Shipping, Royal Lines and Samar-Leyte Shipping had routes to Eastern Visayas. Amazingly, all those shipping companies are gone now if not the routes in the region and there are no more liners left sailing to Eastern Visayas.

©Gorio Belen

Shipping of goods and transport of people do not and will never go away. The liners are gone now from Eastern Visayas and what replaced them were the intermodal trucks and buses. Liner shipping simply lost decisively and completely to the intermodal transport and one result of this is the emergence of the so-called “ports to nowhere” or ports that have no ships or meaningful ship calls.

The start of this process of decline and loss started one day in 1979 when “Cardinal Ferry 1”, a RORO arrived to connect the ports of Matnog and Allen. Right after her arrival buses from Manila and Samar began rolling. First to be dominated by the intermodal trucks and buses were the ports in the new province of Northern Samar. In five years all the liners were gone there and it looked as if the foundering of the “Venus” of N&S Lines in Tayabas Bay on October 28, 1984 while trying to outrun a typhoon marked the beginning of the closing of the curtains. Soon Calbayog was also lost too to the intermodal.

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For a time the route touching on Catbalogan and Tacloban survived and the last hold-outs were Sulpicio Lines and William Lines, the two strongest shipping companies in the 1980’s. By this time all the minors were gone along with most of the major shipping companies. Many of them floundered in the great financial crisis of the 1980’s and never recovered. It was not just that crisis that torpedoed them. Shipping of copra, the prime cargo from the 1950s dramatically declined in the 1980’s soon after the near-death of the abaca trade in the 1970’s. Abaca was the primary cargo of shipping from the 1880’s up to the 1950’s and copra was the crop that succeeded it. No crop or produce replaced abaca and copra and as for Cavendish bananas and “Manila Super” mangoes those no longer passed through Manila and were brought by reefers and containers direct to Japan and East Asia. Corn trade also suffered a decline because of importation.

Meanwhile, fresh fish from Eastern Visayas no longer passed to the ships as it was transferred to the refrigerated trucks. With overfishing that that happened in the 1980’s even the dried fish industry of Eastern Visayas was almost killed. Coconut oil mills also sprouted in the region and for copra destined for the major oil mills of Southern Tagalog it was already the LCTs that were transporting copra aside from the intermodal trucks. Even charcoal passed on to the trucks and cargo jeeps.

The process of the decline of liner shipping in Eastern Visayas accelerated with the Ramos decree allowing the entry of surplus trucks in Subic. Soon the versatile and powerful wing van trucks were rolling down the highways and crossing thru the Matnog-Allen route and San Juanico bridge. There was no more imperative for CALABARZON factories to ship their products through the dangerous, graft-, extortion- and traffic-ridden North Harbor. They can simply call forwarders with wing van trucks and the trucks will roll immediately unlike in North Harbor where they have to wait for the ship schedule and be on the mercy of the arrastre and port thieves. By the time the cargo is loaded in North Harbor, usually the wing van truck was already finished delivering its load in Eastern Visayas. And the wing van truck was not only faster; it was also cheaper with less handling needed since it can bypass the bodega and go straight to the stores and supermarkets and there is no need for haulers and arrastre service in the destination pier.

Balicurato Port ©Jun Marquez

Liners also lost to the intermodal buses since passengers can just hail or stop the Manila bus right by their gates and in Manila there was no longer a need to fight through the crime-ridden North Harbor and battle the horrendous traffic. The bus was also faster and at the same time cheaper especially since Eastern Visayas was a deregulated area hence there are a lot of buses and fares are discounted almost year-round. And buses leave everyday at many hour slots while liners only sail on certain days. Especially for people of Northern Samar they won’t foolishly go to Calbayog because for the same money and time they will already be in Matnog and Matnog is only 12 hours away from Manila, half of the travel time of the Calbayog liner.

Around the year 2000 I realized that if Sulpicio and WG&A will not cooperate and form a consortium of fast, medium-sized liners then I knew in a short time that they will lose even Leyte island to the intermodal. The threat loomed large since there was a Ramos decree making it easier for bus operators to acquire new units. Entry for new players was also easy because of the deregulated nature of the region. I noticed also that wing van trucks were multiplying fast and that can be easily seen in Matnog port then. Motorcycle carriers were also a constant presence in the roads already along with refrigerated trucks whose cargo are not fish but processed meat and other perishable groceries.

Ormoc Port circa 1996 ©Jorg Behman

Instead, starting in 2000, WG&A were selling liners fast, and to the breakers and without replacement. Of course there was already the pressure on the company because of the declared intention of the Gothong and Chiongbian families to divest (and they must be paid somehow). With this move I knew the game was over. There will be no succor for liner shipping here because by this time Escano Lines and Madrigal Shipping had already quit Eastern Visayas passenger shipping and even MBRS Lines who bravely tried Samar again has already retreated.

The odds were tough because the intermodal bus was simply superior in many ways. In southwestern and southern Leyte island even at dawn a passenger just have to leave his baggage by his gate, wait inside his house and the Manila bus will honk and stop. No need to wait long in a port and haggle with porters. And even from that part of Eastern Visayas the total travel time by bus was less and the fare cheaper. Arriving in Manila it is easier to get a connecting ride in Cubao or Pasay and the taxi fare will come out cheaper compared to North Harbor and of course there is the MRT too. Going home to the province there were a lot of attractive buses in Cubao and in Pasay or even in Manila that do not have the hassle of going to the North Harbor.

Then liner shipping in Eastern Visayas came crashing down fast when the “Princess of the Stars” went down in 2008 and passenger operations of Sulpicio Lines was suspended. With the fleet laid up Sulpicio Lines sold the “Tacloban Princess” and the “Palawan Princess” to the breakers and that marked the end of liner shipping for Sulpicio Lines in the region. Not long after that Aboitiz Transport System (ATS) also quit Leyte too. Actually, the loss of Masbate to the intermodal transport practically doomed the ATS route because somehow the intermediate port of Masbate  contributed passengers and cargo to the route.

Laid-up Princesses. ©Mike Baylon

For a time there were no more liners in the regions and even container ships are very few. Recently, 2GO tried to revive a route that passes through Romblon, Masbate and Ormoc on the way to Cebu. Many doubt if that route and service will last because it is really very hard now for liners to beat the intermodal if the route distance is almost the same. There is simply a swarm of buses and trucks forming a formidable opposition to the liners and even to the container ships.

This is one region where the triumph of the intermodal was swift and complete. But this is not known in Japan which advises us (for what?) and which still thinks intermodal trucks are only good for 250 kilometers maximum and cannot imagine wing van truck can beat container shipping. Well, sometimes shipping Ph.Ds are funny.

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FERRIES THAT HAD SECOND LIVES

There are lucky ships that lived two lives. Some met accidents and were properly repaired. Some simply grew old but were modified and modernized. If not for the presence of IMO Numbers which are permanent hull numbers and reflected in maritime databases tracing them would have been difficult but not impossible.
Some ships meet accidents like grounding and capsizing and this can easily happen to LCTs and barges which being flat-bottomed do not have the best stability in a heavy sea. But grounding and capsizing is not a big deal for them as they can be easily refloated, towed and repaired especially since they are equipped with watertight compartments that limit damage when the hull is breached. Having a high density of beams also helps to limit damage due to deformation of structures.
If LCTs and barges are vulnerable then more so are the tugs. They can even capsize while pulling a stuck-up ship. Just the same this type is resilient to damage and can easily be refloated and repaired. Even if they are washed ashore or beached in a typhoon they will sail again like a phoenix. No wonder tugs live very long lives although they are small.
Ferries are a different matter. They are not that resilient. Cargo ships are not much luckier too at times since it can be difficult to refloat them especially when loaded by a heavy cargo. With a cargo of cement that is next to impossible. Tankers are not that lucky too. In a fire or an explosion it is a clear goodbye.
We have a few ships that grew old that were modified after laying up idled for years in some obscure part of a shipyard. One of those is the “Star Ferry-II”of 168 Shipping which was formerly the “Ace-1” of Manila Ace Shipping. Laid up for lack of patronage and suitable route she one year appeared in the Matnog-Allen route. I interviewed a crewman and he told me the captain told them it was rebuilt from various parts thus confirming the suspicion of a PSSS moderator that somehow she has a resemblance especially at the bridge area to the “missing” “Ace-1” which formerly plied the Batangas-Mindoro route.
M/V Ace 1 ©Edison Sy
Star Ferry II ©Joe Cardenas
What is remarkable in her rebirth as “Star-Ferry-II” is she will defeat the claim of “Millennium Uno” of Millennium Shipping as the oldest conventional RORO sailing in the Philippines which means LCTs which are technically ROROs are excluded. “Ace-1” was built in 1961 while “Millennium Uno” was built in 1964, a clear lead of three years. Both are old and weak now but the debate between them will continue.
Nobody that will lay sight at “Lapu-Lapu Ferry 1” of Lapu-Lapu Shipping will ever think she is an old ship. And nobody will ever suspect she is the old second “Sweet Time” of Sweet Lines that seemed to have just disappeared in the Cebu-Bohol route. She was rebuilt in Fortune ShipWorks in Consolacion, Cebu in 2002 but what an incredible rebuild since she no longer has resemblance to her former self. She still retains, however her old Hanshin engine.
Sweet Time ©Edison Sy
Lapu-Lapu Ferry-I ©Mike Baylon

When the overnight ferry-cruiser “Honey” of Lapu-Lapu Shipping disappeared there were questions where she went. After some time a “new” “Lapu-lapu Ferry 8” appeared in the Lapu-Lapu Shipping wharf between Pier 1 and Pier 2. Later, we were able to confirm she was indeed the former “Honey” but what a change. There was also no resemblance to the old ship except for the bridge area as noted by another PSSS moderator. What is amazing is her length increased from 20.1m to 35.8m and her breadth increased too from 6.8m to 7.3m.

Lapu Lapu Ferry 8 ©Mike Baylon

It seems among shipping companies it is Lapu-Lapu Shipping which is the master of ship transformations. Their third ship, the “Rosalia 3” was converted from a former ferry sailing the Bantayan route which stopped operations when ROROs began ruling Bantayan Island. Actually as “Rosalia 3” it is already her third iteration since originally she was a single-screwed fishing vessel. Converted to a passenger ship two more engines and screws were added. At full trot she can actually do 16 knots according to her captain and competitors wonder where such a humble-looking cruiser is drawing her mojo.

Rosalia 3 ©Mike Baylon

In Zamboanga there are ships too that disappeared and then reappeared in a different guise. One of this is the “KC Beatrice” of Sing Shipping which was formerly the “Sampaguita Lei” of the defunct Sampaguita Shipping. Having her prominent features changed she does not look the dowdy old ferry she formerly was. Her engine was also changed. She disappeared for nearly a decade and she re-emerged in 2005.

Sampaguita Lei ©Mike Baylon

Another ship in Zamboanga City that was came back like magic was the long-missing “Rizma” of A. Sakaluran. There were two PSSS founders who were checking her being completed three years ago in Varadero de Recodo in Zamboanga City yet we did not suspect she was the former “Rizma”. We were just wondering then what former ship is “Magnolia Liliflora” as looking at her hull even in the dark we can make out she has an old hull. Now she proudly flies the flag and colors of Magnolia Shipping.

Magnolia Liliflora ©Mike Baylon

There are ships that went through worse fates before being resurrected — they sank, were salvaged and were refitted. One was the “Mindoro Express” which sank in Palawan after being pulled-out from the Matnog-Allen route where she was known as “Christ The King” and “Luzvimin Primo”. She was raised up, repaired and refitted in Keppel Batangas, superstructure was chopped and she re-emerged as the “Maharlika Cinco” of Archipelago Ferries/Philharbor in Liloan-Lipata route. She is now missing again and last report was she was seen laid up in a shipyard in General Santos City.

Mindoro Express ©Edison Sy
Maharlika Cinco ©Joel Bado

It was the same situation for “Joy-Ruby” of Atienza Shipping which was the former “Viva Sto. Nino” of Viva Shipping Lines. She sank stern first nearing the port of Coron and she was stuck up with the bow jutting from sea. She was salvaged and repaired and she reappeared as the “Super Shuttle Ferry 15” of Asian Marine Transport in 2008 and plying the Mandaue-Ormoc route.

Super Shuttle Ferry 15 ©Mike Baylon

More than a decade ago, “Melrivic Three” of Aznar Shipping sank right after leaving the port of Pingag in Isabel, Leyte on the way to Danao. One of the passengers was to later become a PSSS moderator. He says the ferry did not completely sink and was later retrieved from the sea and repaired. This ship is still sailing in the same route.

Melrivic Three ©Jonathan Bordon

If you can’t put a good man down, as they say, that could also be true for ships. “Our Lady of Mediatrix” of Daima Shipping became the unfortunate collateral damage of the bombing of two Super Five buses aboard her while she was about to dock in Ozamis port one day in February 2000. White phosphorus bombs were used and the two buses completely burned along with other vehicles on board. The bridge of the double-ended ferry got toasted along with the car deck but the engine room was intact. Laid up for some time she was towed to the shipyard in Jasaan, Misamis Oriental where she was lovingly restored and she emerged again as the “Swallow-2” of the same company. Her bridge was altered, people know her story but they don’t mind and they still patronize her although about 50 people died in the carnage she went through.

Our Lady of Mediatrix ©BBC News Asia
Swallow-2 ©Mark Ocul
Compared to the tales of “Mindoro Express”, “Joy-Ruby”, “Melrivic Three” and “Our Lady of Mediatrix” ,the story of some LCTs of Asian Marine Transport and Jomalia Shipping that partially capsized near port sounds tame. There is actually not much difficulty in raising them up. Practically, those cases are not really stories of ships living second lives.

There were also other lengthening or renewing of lives of ships. Siquijor-I is supposedly a former fishing vessel and training ship of Siquijor State College that was already laid up. How she ended as a property of the Governor then is another matter. And then there is the SuperFerry 1 which within one year of sailing was hit by engine fire. She was towed to Singapore where she was re-engined and repaired. She came out then much faster.

Siquijor Island 1 ©Jonathan Bordon
SuperFerry 1 ©Aristotle Refugio

A special case was the partially capsized “Ocean King II” which was hit by a rogue wave in Surigao Strait. She was able to make it to Benit port where the Coast Guard made a big but wrong show of rescue (using rapelling ropes instead of just getting bancas nearly and urging all to evacuate at once when the ship would no longer sink as she is touching bottom). She lain there for some time until she was towed to Navotas. We all thought she will be cut up there until one day she emerged as a cargo ship and now named as “Golden Warrior”.

Ocean King II ©rrd5580/flickr
Dragon Warrior ©Aristotle Refugio

There are others that merit attention here. “Gloria Two” and “Gloria Three” of Gabisan Shipping were supposedly rebuilt from fishing vessel hulls and done in Leyte. That is also the case of “April Rose” of Rose Shipping which is now with Atienza Shipping. And the “Bounty Ferry”of Evenesser Shipping is supposedly built from a launch from the US Navy if tales are to be believed.

Bounty Ferry ©Britz Salih

Whatever the case may be, there are many ways of giving ships second lives. There is not much technical difficulties involved unless it is fully submerged and far from land. If near land what it needs is just some concern, a dash of love and of course, cash.