The Mabuhay 1/SuperFerry 10

When Sulpicio Lines fielded the great liner Filipina Princess in the premier route to Cebu in 1988, their main competitor William Lines had to suffer silently for several years. That was because sticking to their old Japanese agent that send them ferries from A” Line, they cannot roll out an equivalent and their liner and new flagship Sugbu that was fielded to the Cebu route in 1990 does not begin to match the Sulpicio Lines flagship (although in actual passengers carried, she can according to a research). And to think in their last match-up in this primary route of the country at the start of the 1980’s, their flagship Dona Virginia, which was the biggest and fastest liner in the country then was at least the equal of the Sulpicio Lines flagship Philippine Princess.

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Sun Flower 5 (from Funikichemurase)

In 1992, William Lines was able to field the Maynilad but although she was impressive and modern-looking she was still not the match of the Filipina Princess especially with her great deficit in speed as she was really a slow ship. In 1993, however, William Lines was able to acquire one of the legendary Sun Flower ships from Blue Highway Line, the Sun Flower 5. It had everything a great liner should possess — the size, the beautiful looks, the luxurious interiors and the speed. It was more than a match for the Filipina Princess which suddenly looked dated by comparison. But Sulpicio Lines will not be denied and they also fielded one of the Sun Flower liners from Blue Highway Line, too, the Sun Flower 11. This liner was bigger, just as well-appointed but a little slower. This ship became the Princess of the Orient and so a great battle of flagships began again in the premier route to Cebu.

The Sun Flower 5 was built in 1973 by the Kurushima Dockyard Company in their Onishi shipyard. She was the third in the Sun Flower series of luxury ships which were all sister ships. However, Sun Flower 11, the future Princess of the Orient, was a little different from the rest. She was a stretched version and she had two center funnels in a line. Two later ships, meanwhile, were shortened versions of the series.

Sun Flower 5 was exactly 185.0 meters in length over-all and her beam was 24.0 meters. Her length between perpendiculars was only 170.0 meters. That difference can be gleaned in her long bow that nearly resembles a clipper bow. She was 12,710 in gross tons, her cubic measure, and her deadweight tonnage (DWT), her cargo carrying capacity, was 3,231 tons. The ship had three passenger decks, two car decks and a mezzanine deck for sedans. Her navigation deck also served as the sun deck and accessible to passengers. She had the permanent ship ID IMO 7302108.

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Mabuhay 1 by Britz Salih

The ship’s RORO ramps were already of the modern design. It was no longer located at the bow which was already deemed as more dangerous then as continuous pounding of the waves over the years along with corrosion were already shown to weaken bow ramps. A frontal collision could also prove calamitous for the ship as shown by experiences. What she had were a pair of front quarter ramps on the port and on the starboard sides. She also had a pair of quarter ramps at the stern. That was a very advantageous set-up because docked sideways she can load and unload simultaneously. Docked stern-wise or Mediterranean style, she can also load and unload at the same time. She had three-piece hydraulic ramps which can always be straightened full-out and long, whether it is high tide or low tide, whether she is docked in a high pier or low pier.

Since her front ramps were no longer located at the bow, it no longer needed to be oval. Instead, it was sleek which gave her a more modern look. She had a single center funnel which also served as the stern mast. To complete the modernity, she was a pioneer among liners in using the new and more efficient bulbous stem. This breaks and guides the waters around the ship better so giving the ships’ speed a little boost. Or put it in another way, for the same speed, a little less fuel will be needed. She was equipped with four Hitachi diesel engines with a total output of 26,080 horsepower. This was coupled to two synchronizers in order to turn the two propellers. She had a top speed of 25.5 knots when new which was really fast for that time. To make the voyage more comfortable in rough waters, she was equipped with fin stabilizers.

The original operator of Sun Flower 5 was the Nihon Kosoku Ferry which was under the Terukuni group. She plied the Tokyo-Nachikatsuura-Kochi route. However, the Oil Crisis of 1973 hit the group hard and Terukuni Kaiun went bankrupt but Nihon Shikoku Ferry continued operating. In 1984, the Nihon Kosoku Ferry sold the Sun Flower 5 to her builder, the Kurushima Dock Company and chartered them back in order to continue operating. But Kurushima Dock Company also collapsed and in 1990, the Nihon Enkai Ferry acquired Sun Flower 5 and fielded her in the Osaka-Kagoshima route. In 1991, Sun Flower 5 became the Sun Flower Osaka. Then Nihon Enkai Ferry changed the company’s name into Blue Highway Line.

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SuperFery 10 by Chief Ray Smith

When she came to the Philippines for William Lines in 1993, Sun Flower Osaka was renamed officially as the Wililines Mabuhay 1. But almost nobody called her by her full name and she was simply Mabuhay 1 to most. She started the William Lines series of luxury liners that were beautiful, well-appointed, fast and with good service to match. And with her characteristics, she was really a good and proper progenitor plus a worthy flagship.

In refitting here, her superstructure was largely left untouched and with such, her beautiful lines remained intact. Moreover, William Lines did not try to cram her with passenger accommodations. So for her size and for the standards of the day, her passenger capacity of 2,034 was relatively low. It was just a little over half of the passenger capacity of her main rival Princess of the Orient. Maybe with her intended routes of Manila-Cebu and Manila-Iloilo only with no Mindanao connections, her passenger capacity might have just enough.

The ship had plenty of passenger space as a result and so she had features like conference and function rooms that take up space but which will be unused most of the time. She was intended to be sold as a “floating hotel” where meetings or small conventions can be held and so she has utilities like fax and telephone services and xerox machines. That was not a far-off sell then because liner rates in those days were comparable to hotel rates when the free food was factored in. It was just like staying in a hotel with free conveyance to one’s destination in province. Actually, with this idea, I was able to convince a friend to just take the Princess of the Pacific as their honeymoon suite instead of a hotel in Baguio.

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SuperFerry 10 by Britz Salih

In her sun deck, Mabuhay 1 had a small swimming pool and a wading pool too for children. The sun deck also hosted a playground for children. If that was not one’s taste, there were also video games in the arcade and movies in the theater. For those who liked it “hotter”, one can belt a tune in the videokes or gyrate in the disco. If that was not enough to work a sweat there was also a physical fitness center. However, as a ship feature I noticed that this one was barely patronized. The fitness craze was not yet “on” then for Pinoys. Cruising should be laid back and fun, wasn’t it?

For those who were in a hurry and forgot their grooming for an important meeting or interview, the beauty and grooming salons took care of that. Those in need of relaxation or easing of body pains can go the shipboard massage parlor. The ship had many lounges where passengers can while their time and this included the ship’s many restaurants. This ship with its high net tonnage to passenger ratio had many spaces where one can walk around in the softness of the carpeted floors. The poop decks also served as promenade areas and observation decks. One of the places to visit then for the artistically inclined was the art gallery, a supportive gesture of William Lines to the budding artists of Cebu.

In refitting here, the ship’s gross tonnage (GT) increased to 13,288. She had a local net tonnage (NT) of 5,480 but her deadweight tonnage (DWT) increased a lot to 7,827 tons. She carried the Philippine Call Sign DUHN3.

For William Lines, she sailed to Cebu twice a week and once a week for Iloilo. She took 20 hours for the 393-nautical mile cruise to Cebu and 18 hours for the 343-nautical mile cruise to Iloilo. Locally, her speed was down to 20 knots but that was still fast by local standards. She had an overnight lay-over in Manila every Saturday. Lay-overs like that were very welcome rest to the crew and an opportunity to them to make visits.

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SuperFerry 10 by Chief Ray Smith

Mabuhay 1 did not have that many accommodation classes unlike one will expect for a ship this size. The reason, I surmise, is they respected and used many of the cabin lay-out in Japan. There were four classes in cabin setting, the Special Suite, the Suite, the First Class Cabin for 4 and the De Luxe Cabin for 2 (First Class Cabins have their own Toilet and Baths while De Luxe Cabins only have a wash). There was also the De Luxe (these has better, semi-private bunks), Tourist and Economy. The fare of the highest class was three-and-a-half times the fare of the lowest class.

All the passage classes were entitled to free meals like in the rest of the liner shipping companies before except for Aboitiz Shipping Corporation where meals were not free (but their fares are correspondingly a little less). There were three restaurants according to class group –– the First Class restaurant, the Tourist restaurant and the Economy restaurant. Suite passengers have the option of being served in their cabins. The fare or meal in each class varies a lot along with the plates and table linen as in from none to true restaurant type. It was not eat-all-you-can for rice in the Economy restaurant.

She did not sail long for William Lines because the merger of William Lines, Carlos A. Gothong Lines Inc. (CAGLI) and Aboitiz Shipping Corporation (ASC) happened which produced the super-big (for that time) shipping company William, Gothong & Aboitiz or WG&A Philippines in the first day of1996 (but the agreement was sealed in late 1995). In the combined fleet, she was renamed as the SuperFerry 10. “10” maybe because that signifies perfect or highest. They cannot give the “1” to her because the numbers of the original SuperFerries were not changed and there was already a SuperFerry 1.

There was a question which was the flagship of the WG&A fleet. The big, new ship of Aboitiz Shipping Corporation which arrived in 1996 (and which was originally meant to be the new flagship of Aboitiz Shipping Corporation had there been no merger) was given the number “12”. Initially, both the SuperFerry 10 and SuperFerry 12 held the premier Manila-Cebu, v.v. route which was the indication of which is the flagship. SuperFerry 10, however, is bigger than SuperFerry 12, she was no less luxurious or stunning and their speeds were about equal. They might have been actually co-flagships.

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SuperFerry 10 model (Credits to WG&A and Triztan Mallada)

In WG&A, her accommodation class designations were changed. It was now Economy, Tourist, Business Class, Stateroom and Suite. The last two had to be purchased now on a per-room basis and no longer by person basis. There were also changes in the passage rates. The Economy class became more expensive but the highest classes got cheaper.

In later years, SuperFerry 10 was removed from the Manila-Cebu route and she was paired in rotation with SuperFerry 1 and SuperFerry 8 in the express Manila-Iloilo-General Santos City-Davao route. Later, she was paired with SuperFerry 6 in that route and in other routes like the Manila-Cebu-Cagayan de Oro route. All three had about the same passenger capacity and size and about the same speed too, the bases then for the pairing practice of WG&A. The pairing was a way to maintain the same Manila departures for long routes without resorting to the use of the ship on a short voyage (like a Manila-Iloilo or a Manila-Bacolod route) for the duration of the week. This was most acute in the Davao route where one complete voyage takes five days.

After six years, the merger of the William, Gothong and Aboitiz shipping companies broke apart. The Gothong and Chiongbian (of William Lines) families pulled out from WG&A one after the other. To pay off the divestments, ships (both passenger and cargo) had to be liquidated and sold. This started the one-way trip of WG&A and Cebu Ferries Corporation or CFC (their regional subsidiary) ships to the ship breakers and mainly in China. And, sadly, these were ships that were still in good condition and perfectly sailing as WG&A was really good in ship maintenance through WG&A Jebsens which was the former (and later after the break-up) Aboitiz Jebsens.

Among the casualties of these liquidations, very sadly, was Mabuhay 1 or SuperFerry 10. Together with the Our Lady of Akita 2 (the former Maynilad) and the Our Lady of Naju, they were sent as a batch to a China ship breaker. She was broken up on September of 2002 when she was still a good and reliable ship and just sailing for 9 years here. I just wonder why the divesting partners were not just paid in ships. That move would have been able to preserve our good and great liners instead of them becoming ugly scrap metal.

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From http://www.greenshipspotting.com

And that was the inglorious end of the beautiful and great liner Mabuhay 1, a casualty of a wrong turn in Philippine shipping which was the “Great Merger” that in the end only resulted in the liquidation of two great shipping companies. If that did not happen, I am pretty sure the Mabuhay 1 and the William Lines fleet would have been living until the new millennium and who knows, maybe until now.

The First “Great” Merger: The Failed Saga of WG&A and CFC

When WG&A was formed it was ostensibly to combat the entry of foreign shipping companies on local inter-island routes. That was the time of many so-called “deregulation” initiatives of Fidel V. Ramos. But even then I had doubts about this as an cabotage law was in effect in the Philippines. Cabotage effectively prevents foreign shipping companies from plying local routes. And to repeal it an act of Congress is needed and I heavily doubted then that the Philippine Congress will go along with that.

It is generally accepted that it was Aboitiz Shipping that proposed this big merger. Rumors had it that the biggest shipping company, Sulpicio Lines, which was also Cebu-based was also invited but it refused and preferred to go it all alone.

The merger brought together the second, third and fourth-biggest shipping companies in the Philippines reckoned by passenger and cargo operations out of a total of five long-distance liner companies (but may I note which is in fourth place might be disputed by Negros Navigation). It had the effect of lowering the number of long-distance passenger shipping companies from five to three.

The merged company and its subsidiaries were the biggest shipping combine that ever existed in the Philippines in terms of fleet and in terms of route network. It significantly brought to that Visayas-Mindanao and intra-Visayas routes and High Speed Craft(HSC) operations. For the former, the Cebu Ferries Corp. (CFC) was formed and for the latter SuperCat was retained.

Brought into the merger were the following ferries (including their former routes):

WILLIAM LINES INC.
Mabuhay 1 (Manila-Cebu and Manila-Iloilo)
Mabuhay 2 ((Mnl-Surigao-Butuan-Tagbilaran-Mnl and Mnl-Tagbilaran-CDO)
Mabuhay 3 (Manila-Davao-Dadiangas-Manila and Manila-CDO-Iloilo-Manila)
Mabuhay 5 [after a few voyages permanent fielding overtaken by merger]
Dona Virginia (Manila-Dumaguete-Ozamis-Iligan v.v.)
Maynilad (Manila-Zamboanga-Davao)
Masbate I (Manila-Masbate-Catbalogan-Tacloban)
Zamboanga City (Manila-Puerto Princesa v.v.)
Tacloban City (Manila-Batan-Dumaguit-Dipolog v.v.)
Iligan City (Cebu-Iligan v.v.)
Misamis Occidental (Cebu-Ozamis v.v.)
Mabuhay 6 [unfinished]

CARLOS A. GOTHONG LINES INC.
Our Lady of Akita (Manila-CDO-Butuan v.v. and Manila-Cebu v.v.)
Our Lady of Medjugorje (Manila-Dumaguete-Ozamis-Iligan-Cebu v.v.)
Our Lady of Sacred Heart (Manila-Roxas-Palompon-Isabel-Cebu v.v.)
Our Lady of Lourdes (Manila-Dumaguit-Palompon-Cebu v.v.)
Our Lady of the Rule (CDO-Cebu v.v. and CDO-Jagna v.v.)
Our Lady of Naju (Cebu-Ozamis v.v.)
Our Lady of Fatima (Nasipit-Cebu v.v. and Nasipit-Jagna v.v.)
Our Lady of Mt. Carmel (Iligan-Cebu v.v. and Iligan-Dumaguete v.v.)
Our Lady of Guadalupe [reserve/unreliable; formerly Cebu-Surigao v.v.]
Our Lady of Lipa (Cebu-CDO v.v.)
Dona Cristina (Cebu-Tacloban v.v. and Cebu-Palompon v.v.)
Dona Lili (Cebu-Surigao v.v. and Cebu-Maasin v.v.)
Don Calvino [reserve/unreliable; formerly Cebu-Iligan v.v.]
Our Lady of Akita 2 [unfinished]

ABOITIZ SHIPPING CORP.
SuperFerry 1 (Manila-Iloilo-GSC-Davao v.v. and Manila-Iloilo v.v.)
SuperFerry 2 (Manila-Cebu-CDO v.v.)
SuperFerry 3 (Mnl-Zamboanga-Cotabato v.v. w/ Boracay (summer) and Mnl-Dumaguit-Roxas v.v.)
SuperFerry 5 (Mnl-Cebu-Iligan-Dumaguete-Mnl) and Mnl-Dumaguete-CDO-Cebu-Mnl)
Elcano (was not used; obsolete/unreliable; supposedly not brought by ASC to the merger)
Allowing for database inaccuracies, the following cargo ships were brought to the merger:

CARLOS A. GOTHONG LINES INC.
Our Lady of Peace (112.9m x 18.0m, 17kts, b. 1974)
Our Lady of Hope (99.0m x17.3m, 17kts, b.1979)

ABOITIZ SHIPPING CORP.
Aboitiz Concarrier V (69.0m x 10.9m, b. 1968)
Aboitiz Concarrier XIV (71.0m x 10.9m, 13kts, b. 1965)
Aboitiz Superconcarrier I (115.1m x17.3m, 14kts, b. 1970)
Aboitiz Superconcarrier II (102.0m x 16.3m, 12.5kts, b. 1970)
Aboitiz Superconcarrier III (105.5m x16.3m, 12.5kts, b. 1976)
Aboitiz Megacarrier 1 (139.7m x 19.3m, 14kts, b. 1975)
Aboitiz SuperRORO 100 (108.2m x20.0m, 16kts, b. 1983)

WILLIAM LINES INC.
Wilcon II
Wilcon 4
Wilcon 5
Wilcon VI
Wilcon VII
Wilcon 8
Wilcon 11
ROCON I

Excluding HSCs which were just beginning to arrive in the Philippines, the combined fleet of WG&A was nearly 50 vessels, slightly more than double the fleet of Sulpicio Lines, previously the biggest shipping company in the country.

SHIP TRANSFORMATIONS AFTER THE MERGER
Mabuhay 1 became SuperFerry10
Mabuhay 2 became SuperFerry 7
Mabuhay 3 became SuperFerry 8
Mabuhay 5 became SuperFerry 9
Mabuhay 6 became Our Lady of Good Voyage
Our Lady Akita became SuperFerry 6
Our Lady of Akita 2 became SuperFerry 11 (and later the Our Lady of Banneux)
Masbate I became Our Lady of Manaoag (in 1998)
Misamis Occidental became Our Lady of Montserrat (in 1997)

VESSELS TRANSFERRED TO CEBU FERRIES CORP.
Our Lady of Lipa (later transferred to WG&A)
Our Lady of the Rule
Our Lady of Lourdes
Our Lady of Fatima
Our Lady of Mt. Carmel
Our Lady of Guadalupe
Dona Cristina
Dona Lili
Don Calvino
Misamis Occidental
Our Lady of Good Voyage (later)
Maynilad (later and also renamed Our Lady of Akita 2)
Our Lady of Banneux (later)
Our Lady of Manaoag (later)

Like all mergers and acquisitions (M&A), the terms “synergy”, “rationalization” and “streamlining” was bandied about as if these terms are positive terms in business. But soon these words brought chills to the rank and file because the sum of the 3 words is actually only one — “chopping block”. This is the field of bean counters where shipping passion is simply thrown out of the window.

Immediately, the Aboitiz Jebsens system was adopted. That means relying on bigger, faster ROROs and short in-port hours which equates to high utilization of ships. That called for good ship engines, a field of expertise of the now-renamed WG&A Jebsens. That system, however, also meant the death knell for the cruiser liners as their cargo booms meant long in-port hours and their having no car decks means low capacity for container vans.

The new style was to put all cargo in container vans and all container vans are mounted in trailers. For fast handling, tractor heads from trucks were no longer good enough. Only dedicated, automatic prime movers with the capability to raise the trailers were used. Calls on in-between ports generally were only 2-3 hours and ships don’t stay overnight at the farthest port of call of a voyage.

With so many ROROs sailing high hours per week (with some ships sailing 145.5 hours out of a 168-hour week), WG&A was confident it could sell less-efficient and slower ropax and container ships without affecting capacity and frequency. Soon some of the vessels were already for sale.

VESSELS SOLD SOON AFTER THE MERGER
Tacloban City (cruiser)
Iligan City (cruiser)
Dona Cristina (slow, small RORO)
Don Calvino (slow, small, unreliable RORO)
Dona Lili (slow, small RORO)
Wilcon 6 (old cargo ship)
Aboitiz Concarrier V (old cargo ship)
Aboitiz Megacarrier 1 (big, modern container ship)
Aboitiz SuperRORO 100 (big, modern container ship)
RoCon I (big, modern container ship, the biggest in the country)

VESSELS OFFERED FOR SALE BUT NOT SOLD THEN
Dona Virginia (cruiser liner)
Maynilad (big but slow RORO liner)
Zamboanga City (ROLO liner)
Our Lady of Naju (cruiser)
Masbate I (slow, small RORO)
Our Lady of Montserrat (cruiser)
SuperRORO 300 (former Our Lady of Hope, container ship)

With WG&A Jebsens managing the fleet, the merger upgraded the amenities, cleanliness and passenger service of the ferries. But initially all meals were for sale; vehement protests from patrons thereafter forced WG&A to backtrack. It was also claimed that safety standards improved as the whole fleet is now internationally-certificated. However this was not reflected in lower hull-loss rates. Ironically, it was the lesser Our Ladies (and not the SuperFerries) which proved to be unsinkable.

WG&A and CFC practiced branding. Branding is good in the sense that it promises consistent quality and service. On the other hand branding also utilizes ads and promotions. If that results in better market share then it should be good. Otherwise it only means higher level of costs. And higher costs are a threat to marginal routes and to less-efficient ships.

Initially, even with a fifth of their fleet sold (and with only one additional ship coming, the SF12 and while losing the SF7 to fire), WG&A was able to offer more frequencies because of the higher utilization of ships. But almost no new ports of call were added except for Bacolod. And probably the only significant new routes were the Manila-Cebu-Surigao-Davao (which passes through the eastern seaboard of Mindanao), Manila-Ormoc-Nasipit, Manila-Dumaguete-Cotabato and Manila-Cebu-Zamboanga-General Santos/Davao routes.

It was Cebu Ferries that added more new ports of call and routes (like Cebu to Dumaguit, Roxas City, Bacolod, Dumaguete, Larena, Jagna and Camiguin and Cagayan de Oro to Dumaguete) which in turn put a lot of pressure on the other Cebu shipping companies. CFC ships were faster than the competition and as former liners they simply outclassed the rest in terms of amenities and service.

Sulpicio Lines and Negros Navigation responded by adding ships. Sulpicio Lines basically kept to their old routes (except for the new Manila-Cebu-Davao-Dadiangas route) but Negros Navigation which previously concentrated only in Western Visayas has to venture in a lot of new routes and ports of call because their fleet more than doubled in a span of a few years. But then by sailing to Cebu, Nenaco also opened their former exclusive port of Bacolod to competition and they lost more than they gained.

This period right after the merger, the late 90s, was probably one of the best in Philippine passenger shipping. Competition was fierce, choices were many and there were a lot of newly-fielded ships. There were more shipping companies in the past but the ships of the 90s were far better than the ships of the earlier periods. In major ports there were nearly daily departures from all the liner companies combined.

But they say good times never really last. But I didn’t expect that the decline will be that soon, that fast, that continuous and what will be left is just the rump of the biggest-ever shipping company in the Philippines.

The first hint of trouble that I detected was when I noticed that WG&A was not properly assessing the threat, challenge and development of the intermodal system in Eastern Visayas which was then growing by leaps and bounds.

If Fidel V. Ramos had a deregulation program in shipping he also had a deregulation program in the bus and truck sectors. As deregulated area, bus companies can now ply Eastern Visayas routes with just a temporary operator’s permit. Soon a lot of buses were plying the Samar-Leyte-Biliran routes. Then the dominant short-distance RORO company in the Matnog-Allen route lost the case to protect their missionary status and new players entered that route ensuring that the ROROs needed will always be there. Long-distance trucking also developed with the loosening of the restrictions in the importation of surplus trucks. And with the advent of radial truck tires long-distance trucking became easy.

WG&A’s response was to withdraw from the Samar-Leyte routes except for the adjacent ports of Ormoc, Palompon and Isabel which actually comprises just one route. But soon under pressure from the buses these were lost too including the port of Masbate City which was also part of this route. Soon the islands of Masbate, Samar, Leyte and Biliran were lost to the intermodal trucks and buses.

Eastern Visayas was a signal victory for the intermodal system which was based on long-distance truck/bus plus the short-distance RORO ship. Wins by the challengers tend to have a multiplier effect. They become stronger, bolder and more confident. If the ship can be beaten in one area then nobody can pooh-pooh anymore that they will not be beaten in the next area of confrontation. And the next challenge probably happened before the WG&A has fully internalized their loss and it happened when they were in relative disarray.

A related development at this time was that WG&A’s new routes failed to stick and only the Bacolod route was able to survive. The new CFC routes also failed to pan out and were being abandoned one by one. One contributory factor for CFC’s retreat is fuel cost. The amenities and service of their ships might have been higher as those were former liners but as former liners it is also the reason why their engines are bigger and consume more fuel. Soon WG&A/CFC were selling ships. This was the second set of disposals and it happened at about the turn of the millennium. Also disposed in this period were at least six catamarans including vessels that came from mergers in the High Speed Craft (HSC) sector (the mergers with the Sea Angels of Negros Navigation and Waterjet).

At the same proximate time, it was already the strategy of WG&A to sell old and inefficient cargo ships and just let the ROROs liners carry the container vans. They then went for bigger ROROs later with twin cargo decks, the reason for the purchases of the SuperFerry 15, SuperFerry 16, SuperFerry 17 and SuperFerry 18.

The next challenge did not come from the intermodal. Rather it was the withdrawal of the Gothong family from the merger except for one scion. Soon the Gothong family re-entered the shipping business and re-established Carlos A. Gothong Lines Inc. (but they were not particular successful). Not long after this development the Chiongbian family (of William Lines) also withdrew from the merged company. But they did not re-enter the shipping business. Let it be noted, because it is important, that all the merged shipping companies independently retained their cargo forwarding businesess. For the Chiongbian family it was the Fast Cargo Transport Corp.(FCTC) and Gothong Cargo Forwarding Corp.(GCFC) for the Gothong family.

One can speculate that the sale of 10 vessels in 2000-02 (including those withdrawn from routes and old container ships) might somehow be connected to these withdrawals. When the company also took out a big loan in this period ($18.6 million) it might also have a relation to this state of affairs. Before the end of 2002, Aboitiz had already bought out its former partners. But it will still be later that the company will be renamed Aboitiz Transport System (ATS).

The next challenge came from the intermodal again. In 2003, the Western Nautical Highway opened and buses, trucks and jeeps were able to roll down to Panay island via Mindoro and Batangas. Soon the shipping routes and shipping companies serving Panay were under great pressure. Again, WG&A chose to withdraw (from Dumaguit and Roxas) and just tried to hold on to Iloilo port.

The opening of the Western Nautical Highway and the consequent withdrawal from routes, the withdrawal of the Chiongbian family and the need for new ROROs provoked a massacre of ships in this period as about 15 ships were disposed in the years 2003-06, both from WG&A and CFC, both ROPAX and container ships. It must also be noted that six catamarans were also sold in this period. WG&A was lucky that at this time world metal prices were peaking. If it hastened the disposal of ships I can say it is probable. Let me state that in the late 1990’s when all three families were still in WG&A, the company did not sell to the breakers, in general. In the first half of the first decade of the new millennium WG&A sold heavily to the breakers especially when world metal prices were peaking.

Attracted by the doubling of world metal price in 2007, WG&A then sold their prized ferries Superferry 15, SuperFerry 16, SuperFerry 17 and SuperFerry 18 to foreign liner companies.In the process they earned a windfall. But this is not without cost as they suddenly lacked the ships needed to carry the container vans. As a stopgap measure WG&A chartered 3 container ships, the “Myriad”, “Markella” and “Eponyma”. They then also converted SuperFerry 2, SuperFerry 9 and SuperFerry 12 into twin-cargo-deck ROPAX ships. Later the subsidiary cargo company 2GO was formed and the chartered ships were returned one by one.

At about the same time, in 2007, a very ominous development took place. Aboitiz partnered with MCC Transport of Singapore, the Asia subsidiary of the A.P. Moller – Maersk Group, the biggest container shipping company in the world and formed the MCC Transport Philippines (MCCTP). Since it met nationality rules, it was able to ply local routes and the ships invested by Maersk were given special permits by MARINA.

If the chartered ships of ATS and the ships of 2GO were a step up over local competition, the ships that came from MCC Transport were still another further step ahead in terms of size, speed and efficiency. MCCTP acted as feeder to MCC Transport which now dominates the Asia container routes. Together with the coming of more regional container ships (after APL) with direct foreign routes (like MELL, PIL, RCL and others), this completely undermined one important bread and butter of local container shipping which is the transshipment of foreign container vans. ATS and subsidiary 2GO cargo operations might have been affected by this but as a group Aboitiz is safe because they are also on the side of the winners through MCCTP.

After the sales of the four of the biggest and most modern SuperFerry ships in 2007, the fleet of ATS/CFC no longer grew. New ships have come like SuperFerry 20, SuperFerry 21, Cebu Ferry 1, Cebu Ferry 2 and Cebu Ferry 3. But ships have also been sold, lost or laid-up like SuperFerry 9, Our Lady of Medjugorje, Our Lady of Good Voyage, Our Lady of the Rule, Our Lady of Mount Carmel and SuperFerry 19.

With only six ships sailing, ATS ports of call were already down to half compared to its peak and in half of these ports the frequencies were down to once a week. CFC ports of call were also down to half and its fleet is less than a third of what it had before. CFC changed its website and no longer claimed it was the biggest Visayan shipping company (which is just a reflection of the truth). The Sulpicio Lines fleet was already bigger than the combined ATS and CFC fleets. If cargo ships are counted, Sulpicio’s fleet was almost double the combined ATS, CFC and 2GO fleets.

In 2008, KGLI-NM, the holding company owning Negros Navigation made an offer for Aboitiz Transport System. When the bank financing the take-over bid asked for more collateral the bid collapsed. This take-over bid was news for a long time because of the significance and it dragged. It was here that ATS propagated the canard that shipping is losing to the budget airlines and it obscured the fact that cargo is the lifeblood of shipping. Ironically it is this same year that regional container ships in Philippine ports multiplied. And not once did I notice Aboitiz discussing its shares in MCC Transport Philippines. But at least the Aboitiz group was frank enough to admit that the business of power generation attracts them more and that they are already heavily investing in it and if ATS is sold it will be one of their primary investment areas.

In 2010, with the assistance of the ASEAN-China Fund, Negros Navigation Company was finally able to secure the deal to buy Aboitiz Transport System and its subsidiaries especially Cebu Ferries Corporation, SuperCat and 2GO, the forwarding company. At its end as an Aboitiz company, ATS, CFC and 2GO had only 9 ROPAX ships and 2 cargo ships sailing which is not any bigger in gross tons than the company it merged in WG&A even if the SuperCats are counted. So in effect that means the bigger William Lines and Gothong sank without any replacement.

Aboitiz always says around that it has already gotten out of shipping and the maritime industry. But they completely obscure the fact that they are still in MCC Transport Philippines (MCCTP) and they completely own now the former Aboitiz Jebsens (renamed back when the Gothong and Chiongbian families withdrew from WG&A). The former Abojeb is in crewing and manning and that is one of the five recognized sectors of the Philippine maritime industry as defined by the government. MCCTP is already in expansion after Aboitiz sold Aboitiz Transport System. [Recently, Aboitiz clarified that some of their family members are engaged in MCCTP.]

Now, Negros Navigation Company owns Aboitiz Transport System and NENACO even retained the name and the brands. It will be a matter of time before it will be evident how big a bag they are holding.

The “great” merger of 1996 started out with a bang, lofty words and promises. It exited with just a whimper. But along the way it sank two great liner companies (William Lines and Gothong) and took down with it the liner industry.