The Unique Nasipit Port and Bay

Nasipit is the main port of Agusan after the Butuan ports (Butuan and Lumbocon) lost that status because the ships no longer came. That was because of the siltation of Agusan River and the general increase in the size and depths of the ships. Nasipit port is unique in topographic sense. It is located in a nearly enclosed bay which looks like a pond. Two enclosing spits of land nearly closes the outlet of the bay. As such Nasipit port is probably the most protected port in the Philippines. But it is deep enough that 160-meter ferries used to dock before in Nasipit. Those were great liners Princess of Paradise of Sulpicio Lines Inc. and the Our Lady of Akita of Carlos A. Gothong Lines Inc. which later became the SuperFerry 6 of WG&A.

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Photo by Janjan Salas

The very small Nasipit Bay was once the home of the famed Nasipit Lumber Inc. which used to produce veneer, plywood and other types of processed wood products. The plant of the company was once the original user of that bay and the bay also served as the stocking pond of their logs and their wharf inside the bay was where the cargo ships loading their products once docked. Nasipit port was built adjacent to Nasipit Lumber with the latter nearer the entrance of the bay. Nasipit Lumber has closed long ago when logs and lumber became scarce and new rules protecting the ancestral domain were drawn. Now that plant is even gone now including the buildings. What remained are some the concrete floors and just parts of their old wharf.

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The former location of Nasipit Lumber

Now the permanent resident of the bay is the power barge of Therma Marine Inc., an Aboitiz Power Corporation subsidiary and this is located in the inner part of the nearly-enclosed bay. Also in Nasipit Bay, inside the port is the Port Maritime Office (PMO) of the Philippine Ports Authority (PPA) which is in charge of all the ports in the Caraga Region. The manager of it and the employees wants it transferred to Butuan, however, because it is there that where most of them live. I don’t know if that will push through. Nasipit Bay is also home to swirling rains I have not observed anywhere else and maybe that is due to the peculiar topography of the Nasipit inlet which are surrounded by high hills in a particular way.

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The power barge of Therma South

Nasipit port is a straight quay where the middle it was broken by a slanted RORO ramp which is just a recent alteration. In the inner end smaller ships like tugs and Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) patrol boats are docked. There is a transit shed for cargo and a passenger waiting area in the port terminal building. Docking for big ships is a precise maneuver inside the Nasipit inlet as the bay is very small and there are shallow portions and it is especially dangerous when it is low tide. However, there are not s to contend unlike in the exposed ports.

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Nasipit port has been the port of passenger ships for a long time now not because it is convenient or near the city (it is actually out of the way and relatively far from the town and highway). The change happened in the 1970’s when the ports of Butuan became shallower because of siltation and there was lack of dredging (the results of which are often just undone by raging annual floods of the great Agusan River). By the 1980’s, Nasipit port has already supplanted the Butuan ports especially since the shallow-draft ex-”FS” ships were already dying from old age and the replacements of that type were already bigger. However, even though the ports have changed many passenger shipping companies still used the name “Butuan Port” when actually they were already docking and using Nasipit port and this entailed confusion to the uninitiated including land-bound researchers doing shipping studies.

There were passenger vessels which did both the Butuan and Nasipit ports. They just gave up on Butuan port when docking there became much dependent on high tide (and risk waiting until noon at times when this would already jeopardize departure time because loading and unloading using booms and porters is slow). One example of this were the former “FS” ships of the Bisaya Land Transport Company of the Cuencos of Cebu (no typo there, that is the actual name of a shipping company which is a division of their land transport). When they find it impossible to dock in Butuan, they then proceed to Nasipit port (to the complain of many passengers).

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The MV Samar of Compania Maritima (Credits to Philippine Herald and Gorio Belen)

Compania Maritima, the leading shipping company after the Pacific War was one of the earliest to use Nasipit port. Their passenger-cargo ship Samar which is the bigger type of US war-surplus ship used to dock in Nasipit port. That was also true for their passenger-cargo ship Mactan which was in the 80-meter class and whose depth is two meters over the depth of an ex-”FS” ship, the last type of passenger ship that can be shoehorned in the shallow Butuan ports. Their Mindoro and Romblon, both converted ex-”FS” ship docked at both Butuan and Nasipit ports (and maybe that is to increase the passengers and cargo). Their Panay, a bigger ship docked at Nasipit when it can’t in Butuan. Later, even their ex-”FS” ship Leyte was calling exclusively in Nasipit port. Compania Maritima was the first to dominate Nasipit port when the Chinoy shipping companies were just on their way up and not calling on Nasipit port. In the main they came to Nasipit port when Compania Maritima was already gone.

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The MV Panay of Compania Maritima (Credits to Philippine Herald and Gorio Belen)

Some actually just gave up on the Agusan trade when their ships can no longer dock in Butuan and they did not really try to earnestly use Nasipit port like Escano Lines which used to be strong in Butuan. Well, it must have been frustrating for them when the ship can’t dock after a few hours of waiting and then would have to go to Nasipit port anyway to load and unload. Moreover, the floods of Agusan River that happen many months of the year with its floating logs and other debris which can damage the ship propellers and rudders also added to the vagaries in docking in Butuan.

By the 1980’s the passenger ship calls on Nasipit, Butuan and Surigao which are all connected ports went down considerably. There was a big, general downturn in the economy because of economic crisis and container ships began supplanting the passenger-cargo ships in carrying cargo (where before this type carried a lot of the express cargo that are not in bulk or liquid). These new container ships cannot fit in the Butuan ports. However, few of them are coming in Butuan anyway. Another thing, the cargo ace of Nasipit before which were the forest products began slumping as the forest cover was fast going down and it raised a howl and therefore restrictions on logging were placed by the new Aquino administration.

Surigao Princess

The pocket liner Surigao Princess (Photo by Edison Sy)

At the tail end of the Compania Maritima dominance a new liner was calling in Nasipit, the Surigao Princess of Sulpicio Lines which was a pocket liner. In the post-martial law period the Our Lady of Guadalupe of Carlos A. Gothong Lines, Inc. (CAGLI) came. And so these two liners succeeded Compania Maritima were gone as the company went out of business at the height of the political and economic crisis of the mid-1980’s. Soon, the better Our Lady of Lourdes of CAGLI replaced the Our Lady of Guadalupe in that route. In 1988, the big Nasipit Princess of Sulpicio Lines began calling in Nasipit port. But her route was mainly Cebu only as it was still Surigao Princess that was the liner there of Sulpicio Lines Inc. And, the Dona Lili of Gothong was also sailing from Nasipit to Cebu.

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The Nasipit Princess by Suro Yan

William Lines, Lorenzo Shipping Corporation and Negros Navigation Company, among the great survivors of the crisis of the 1980’s did not have Nasipit among their ports of call when the 1990’s started. Escano Lines will soon be leaving passenger shipping as well as Bisaya Land Transport. Aboitiz Shipping Corporation is also much-weakened in passenger shipping then as they did not buy liners for 15 long years (however, the will be back with a flash with their SuperFerry series and the were strong in container shipping)

It was Carlos A. Gothong Lines and Sulpicio Lines which were competing in Nasipit port in the 1990’s both in the liner route to Manila and the overnight route to Cebu. Although Nasipit was no longer as grand a destination like when Butuan still had a lot of ships calling, the two companies brought some great liners in Nasipit port like the Our Lady of Akita and the Princess of Paradise and what a show of confidence it was for Nasipit port. That was the heyday of competition when there was much optimism in business and the shipping liberalization and modernization policies of the administration of Fidel V. Ramos (FVR) took effect. A little before the “Great Merger” William Lines will also enter Nasipit port with their liner Mabuhay 2.

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The Our Lady of Akita (Credits to Manila Chronicle and Gorio Belen)

When the Great Merger that produced the giant shipping company WG&A came there was a plethora of ever-changing ships that got assigned to Nasipit port unlike in the past when a ferry will hold a route for a decade or even longer. In WG&A, routes and route assignments happen at least once a year and so tracking of ships that served a port became difficult. However, Nasipit was a regular route of the company. That liberalization of FVR also brought the expanding Negros Navigation Company (NENACO) to Nasipit where they used their beautiful St. Francis of Assisi. Unfortunately, that liner burned right in Nasipit quay not long after in 1999 which resulted in the destruction of the ship. The revived Carlos A. Gothong Lines Inc. (CAGLI) also tried the Manila to Nasipit liner route before it just became a Cargo RORO route when they got suspended from passenger shipping. Nasipit still has lots of load, no longer forest products but bananas.

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The Our Lady of Lourdes by Chief Ray Smith

With the “Great Merger” and the creation of Visayas-Mindanao subsidiary Cebu Ferries Corporation (CFC), that company also paraded a succession of ships in Nasipit port that is bound to Cebu on an overnight route. It began from the old Our Lady of Lourdes and it ended with Cebu Ferry 2 when CFC was already under the Aboitiz Transport System (ATS), the successor company of WG&A. Sulpicio Lines, their only competitor in the overnight route brought the Cagayan Princess in Nasipit when the Nasipit Princess can no longer sail. This was later followed by the much-better Princess of the Earth. And for a while, the Gothong Southern Shipping Lines Inc. (GSSLI) brought their Dona Rita Sr. to Nasipit port after they acquired the Our Lady of Good Voyage of Cebu Ferries.

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Filipinas Butuan in Nasipit port

The port has also a link to Jagna port in Bohol as service to the Bol-anons residing in Mindanao. Usually the Cebu-Nasipit ship of a company will do a once a week call to Jagna on their seventh day and the ship will go back to Nasipit within that seventh day and then resume their route to Cebu.

This decade saw a great downturn for Nasipit in sailing ships. There was only one liner left doing a once a week voyage to Manila and this was usually the St. Leo The Great of 2GO. Sulpicio Lines quit passenger sailing and Gothong Southern also gave up that segment. Even Cebu Ferries quit the Nasipit overnight route to Cebu when they transferred their ships to Batangas.

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The St. Leo The Great

Now, a completely new cast is in Nasipit port headed by Cokaliong Shipping Lines Inc. (CSLI) which use either their Filipinas Butuan or Filipinas Iligan in the Cebu to Nasipit overnight route with an off day diversion to Jagna. Lite Ferries also has a Nasipit to Jagna ship on the stronger months for sailing but there is no permanently assigned ship. 2GO still has that once a week liner from Manila. Nasipit is not a favorite of container ships except for Carlos A. Gothong Lines.

Passenger shipping which is down already ia affected by the intermodal buses and the budget airlines, both of which offer competitive fares compared to ships and with the advantage of daily departures. Nasipit is also not helped by it being out of the way from the city and the municipality’s policy of barring the buses and commuter vans from the port doesn’t help the case of Nasipit port either in attracting passengers who are turned off the expensive and very cramped tricycle ride which is also vulnerable from the rains driven by the swirling winds of Nasipit inlet.

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The legendary white-out of Nasipit port

I wonder when and how Nasipit port will have a renaissance. Somehow, some day, I just hope that it will come.

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The Weird Classification of Dr. Myrna S. Austria of Primary, Secondary and Tertiary Passenger Routes From Manila and Cebu

In 2003, Dr. Myrna S. Austria published a paper on domestic shipping competition in the Philippine Institute for Development Studies (PIDS) with a base data in the year 1998. I find her paper very erroneous starting from the data which misses a lot of shipping companies because simply put some shipping companies never bother to report to government agencies. Aside from that her classification of shipping routes, both passenger and cargo is also far from reality.

Dr. Myrna S. Austria’s paper:

https://dirp4.pids.gov.ph/ris/rps/pidsrp0302.pdf

In that paper, Dr. Myrna S. Austria have the following classification of passenger routes from Manila:

Primary routes: Batangas, Cagayan de Oro, Cebu, Dadiangas, Davao, Dipolog, Dumaguete, Estancia, General Santos, Iligan, Iloilo, Masbate, Nasipit, Palawan/Puerto Princesa, San Carlos, Tagbilaran, Zambales and Zamboanga.

Secondary routes: Bacolod, Coron, Cotabato, Leyte, Mindoro, Ormoc, Ozamis, Palompon, Roxas, Surigao and Tacloban.

Tertiary routes: Butuan, Calubian, Corregidor, Dumaguit, El Nido-Liminangcong and Zambales.

Comments:

  1. She did not know Dadiangas and General Santos are just one port. Sulpicio Lines use the old name Dadiangas while the rest use the name General Santos. She also did not know there are no more ships to Butuan from Manila but some shipping companies like WG&A still use the name Butuan instead of Nasipit, the port where they actually dock. And there were no more ships then to Dipolog then and all use Dapitan port already. Hence, the separate entries which affected the port classification.

  2. Since there are many shipping companies not reporting, she completely missed some ports that have ships from Manila. a) In her list there are no ships to Romblon from Manila because MBRS Lines have no report. That company even tried a to San Jose (or Caraingan) in Northern Samar during that time and this is not reflected in her paper. b) There is a “port” named Mindoro but we will not know if that is San Jose in Occ. Mindoro or Lubang (Tilik port) which were both served then by Moreta Shipping Lines. That clearly shows lack of shipping knowledge. c) There is a port named “Leyte”. That could be Baybay and Maasin served with one ship of Sulpicio Lines. But then how about Palompon and Isabel served by WG&A? Did she just lump up all the figures of the four ports? There is a town named Leyte in Leyte province but it does not have a port with ships calling from Manila d) And how about Cuyo which was served by batels then? If the batels of El Nido and Liminangcong are counted then why not Cuyo? Anyone familiar with Isla Puting Bato or the ports by the Pasig River know that there are ships there to Cuyo. e) El Nido and Liminangcong ports are lumped together when those are two different ports in two different towns in Palawan. f) Catbalogan was also missing when this was both served by WG&A and Sulpicio Lines then.

  3. I wonder how Zambales and Batangas were listed. Those two are not regular calls of ships from Manila. If she were counting trucks then those two deserve to be primary ports. And why two listings for Zambales both in the primary and tertiary. Which two ports are that? Again, a glaring lack of shipping knowledge.

  4. Now, I wonder how come Estancia, San Carlos and Masbate can be classified as primary ports when Bacolod, Cotabato, Ozamis, Roxas and Surigao were just considered as secondary ports. There is no way a shipping company will assign their liners to the five secondary ports to those three classified as primary ports. And the size and quality of the liners assigned are clear evidences on how the shipping companies themselves rate the ports. But it seems Myrna S. Austria is not familiar with our liners and their port assignments.

  5. San Carlos is just a sometimes route which happened to have liners again after a short time in the 1980’s when Negros Navigation had no more routes for their old cruisers. They attached Estancia to that so there will be more passengers and cargo and so the rank of Estancia increased because Sulpicio Lines also calls on that.

  6. No way Dumaguit will be that low and lower than Estancia and San Carlos as before the intermodal it will always have a liner since that is the primary port of entry of Aklan.

  7. Corregidor is a special case since it is a plain tourist destination with daily sailings and even more than once. The listed secondary ports of Myrna S. Austria can’t even claim daily departures.

And Dr. Myrna S. Austria has the following classification of passenger routes from Cebu:

Primary routes: Bohol, Dadiangas, Davao, Dumaguete, Estancia, General Santos, Iloilo, Jagna, Masbate, Nasipit, Palawan/Puerto Princesa, Tagbilaran, Tubigon and Zamboanga.

Secondary routes: Bacolod, Butuan, Calbayog, Catanduanes, Dapitan, Dipolog, Leyte, Ormoc, Ozamis, Palompon, Surigao, Tacloban and Talibon.

Tertiary routes: Camiguin, Camotes, Dawahon, Hiligaynon, Iligan, Jetafe, Lapu-lapu, Larena, Lazi, Naval and Sta. Fe.

  1. The lump sum Bohol, Leyte and Camotes betrays ignorance of ports and routes. What ports are those? Probably those are not just one route but she simply can’t parse the data. Hiligaynon is a language and not a port. Is she talking of Hilongos in Leyte?

  2. Davao, Dadiangas/General Santos are not a primary routes from Cebu. Those are just extensions of the routes from Manila where the ship pass by Cebu. Neither is Palawan/Puerto Princesa and Estancia. The two routes from cannot even be sustained over time and historically the two don’t have a route from Cebu.

  3. Butuan is classified low because it was wrongly separated from Nasipit. Dipolog and Dapitan sank to secondary route because they were also wrong separated when every Cebuano knows Nasipit and Dapitan, the true ports are strong routes from Cebu.

  4. I wonder how Ormoc, Ozamis, Surigao and Talibon fell to secondary routes. Ormoc? She must be joking. There are day and night departures to Ormoc multiple times and even by High Speed Crafts (HSCs). Ditto for Talibon which became the primary port of entry of Bohol. The Cebuanos will be falling from their seats laughing when they read that.

  5. Ozamis and Surigao are very strong routes from Cebu and stronger than Estancia, Jagna, Masbate and Zamboanga. And Iligan is almost as strong as Ozamis. Why didn’t Myrna S. Austria just made an interview in Cebu port so she can get her classifications right? Even the lowly porter of Cebu port can make a better classification than what she did.

  6. There is no regular Cebu-Catanduanes route except by tankers.

  7. If she will will count the motor bancas then she will find that there are many trips to Jetafe in a day. And if she will count motor bancas she will also find that there is a Cebu-Pitogo route. That town is now known as Pres. Carlos P. Garcia. Is this her “Bohol port”? Or is that the motor bancas from Pasil and Carbon to the islets and other destinations in Bohol?

  8. Is what she listed as “Camotes” Poro?

  9. Lapu-lapu should not be counted there as that is a special route and a substitute and alternative for jeeps with a very high passenger volume. Unless she is counting the motor bancas to the Hilutungan Channel destinations.

  10.  There are missing routes from Cebu in her paper and these are many and I will group it by direction: a) Plaridel in Misamis Occidental, b) Sogod, Liloan and Cabalian, all in Leyte and San Jose in Dinagat island, c) Cataingan in Masbate (I just wonder if there was still a ship to Placer, Masbate and Bulan, Sorsogon in the year 1998), d) Baybay and Bato which are strong routes and Hindang maybe if Socor Shipping is counted, d) Sindangan or Liloy, too in Zamboanga del Norte.

It seems the paper missed about a third of the routes from Cebu and that is a blatant mistake.

The ignorance of Dr. Myrna S. Austria of ports, routes and shipping companies simply amazes me (if she knew all the shipping companies then she will not miss the routes). Since her paper is on the net it is only a disservice to shipping as it misleads a lot of people including the government. I will discuss that in greater detail when I discuss what shipping companies she missed. Did she think we are like the USA, Europe, the British Commonwealth and other Highly Industrialized Countries where records are complete? We cannot even sanction here companies that does not submit reports nor of companies who do not pay taxes or remit the SSS contributions of their employees.

I wonder why did she not consult people that are really knowledgeable in shipping like the senior mariners or even executives of shipping companies. Well, even simply interviewing the stevedores in Manila and Cebu would have improved her paper a lot. They cannot miss the shipping companies and the routes. The way I analyze her paper she simply depended on what MARINA (Maritime Industry Authority) and the PPA (Philippine Ports Authority) can serve her. And the two government agencies her that the reports and figures are not complete.

The unknowing public might have been treating her paper as “expert analysis”. The truth is it is full of holes and wrong conclusions. And this is the problem in the Philippines where researchers and scholars do paper on fields that they have no knowledge of. If her paper is analyzed by those who really know shipping it will simply be laughed at.

Chelsea Shipping Is The New Goliath of Philippine Shipping

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The Chelsea Dominance. The declaration of intent?

When the “new shipping world” was being built there was Phoenix Petroleum first which was not into shipping anyway. Many thought Phoenix Petroleum would end up like the “independent” oil players then which had a few gasoline stations here and there but were never a threat to the major oil players which have foreign genes. But with the smiling face of the world-famous Manny Pacquiao as mascot, Phoenix Petroleum grew until it challenged the Big 3 which were Petron, Shell and Chevron (which was the former Caltex and Mobil). That was blasphemy for the oldtimers which saw Filoil never got anywhere before.

Phoenix Petroleum got far because they changed the rule of the game. Where before local oil companies had to invest in local refineries to be granted permission to operate, Phoenix Petroleum simply had to import fuel from Singapore and it so happened in Southeast Asia oil prices are only high in the Philippines because a lot of taxes are tacked on to the price of fuel as oil is the milking cow for taxes of the government which rules a vast horde of people exempted from paying taxes because they are too poor.

Along the way to being the fourth Oil Major, Phoenix Petroleum established Chelsea Shipping to handle their fuel transport needs and the company operated a fleet of tankers. But Chelsea Shipping never operated the biggest tanker fleet in the country and their fleet never exceeded ten tankers.

But this year, 2017, Chelsea Shipping made a lot of sea-shaking moves in shipping. Early this year rumor leaked out already that they have already acquired majority control of Trans-Asia Shipping Lines Inc. (TASLI), a Cebu-based regional shipping company with Visayas-Mindanao routes. A bare few months later a boardroom fight erupted in 2GO, the only national liner shipping company left when Dennis Uy, the principal of both Phoenix Petroleum and Chelsea Shipping tried to claim what they felt was their rightful representation after buying shares and the old management group represented by Sulficio Tagud, the old top honcho resisted. But in the end Tagud and company waved the white flag after 2GO gained market value because of the fight and Dennis Uy took control of 2GO.

Weeks passed and the local shipping world was rocked again by a new development when it was announced that Chelsea Shipping is acquiring Starlite Ferries Inc., a Batangas-based regional shipping company lock, stock and barrel. Starlite Ferries has routes to and from Mindoro and its fleet is being reinforced by newbuilds from Japan acquired from a loan from a government-owned bank. It seems the coffers of Phoenix Petroleum and Chelsea Shipping are overflowing to the brim. Is there another acquisition in the making?

Chelsea Shipping now has foothold to the top three passenger shipping hubs in the country which are Cebu, Manila and Batangas. In tankers they are also strong in another hub which is Davao which has the cheapest fuel in the whole country courtesy of Phoenix Petroleum and which piqued Ramon Ang enough that he chopped the fuel prices of Petron. And so Davao fares remained among the highest in the country. Does it make sense? Nope. Maybe it is the moves of Chelsea and Dennis Uy which only makes sense.

I do not know if a second “Great Merger” will happen in Philippine shipping after the first “Great Merger” of 1996 which created William, Gothong and Aboitiz or WG&A, the predecessor company of 2GO. That first one ended in disaster and it only resulted in the death of two great historical shipping companies.

Will history repeat itself? I have my doubts. This time around there is only one top honcho which is Dennis Uy unlike before there was a big merged company with three heads pursuing some kind of a mirage. Actually it could be great for Philippine shipping as Dennis Uy and his patron are both loaded and might have the money to make moves in shipping without going to the banks. Who knows if the moribund shipping industry is revived with their coming?

Now if only Manny V. Pangilinan (MVP) bought out Negros Navigation Company (NENACO) outright some 15 years ago instead of being just a “white knight”. NENACO is one of the merged companies in 2GO. We really need investors with deep pockets in shipping. That is what might turn things around and not due to some government blah-blah.

Is there a renaissance of Philippine shipping in the horizon?

The Shipping Modernization and Liberalization Program of President Fidel V. Ramos, the Formation of WG&A, the Responses of Sulpicio Lines and Negros Navigation and the Aftermath

https://www.flickr.com/photos/42341995@N06/3902290097
Image by Wakanatsu

Early in his term, President Fidel V. Ramos enunciated his policy of shipping liberalization and of modernizing the maritime sector. There was no question then that the maritime industry stagnated in the crisis of the 1980’s. There was apparent lack of bottoms (lack of ships) especially since a significant number of shipping companies nosedived and sank in that decade. Among the most prominent of those were Compania Maritima/Maritime Company of the Philippines, Philippine President Lines/United President Lines and Galleon Shipping. With the very high rates of interest then, the shipping companies were reluctant to borrow from banks to purchase ships. Aside from shipping companies, many local shipbuilders then especially the biggest ones were also distressed.

President Ramos laid out incentives for the purchase of additional ships (but these were not necessarily newer compared to the ships that came in the 1970’s). Many shipping companies took advantage of this and added bottoms. In general, they were expecting for an upturn of the economy that was expected to result in the revival of the shipping industry as in more goods to be shipped means more shipping.

A discordant note, however, also surfaced at the same time of this. A rumor surfaced that foreign ships will be allowed to trade in the local waters. With the small size of the local shipping companies and its old ships, there was no question that they will just be sunk by the foreign shipping companies.

But, personally then, I wondered how could it be when we have an anti-cabotage law which bars foreign ships from plying our inter-island routes. Since it is a law, then for foreign ships to do local routes, it has to be repealed first. And that means it has to pass through both houses of Congress. I thought it had no chance of passing since ship owners have a lot of friends there and many legislators will simply be aghast at the thought of our local ships facing a tsunami-like competition.

It is in this note that a proposal to merge local shipping companies “to face the foreign threat” emerged and it was Aboitiz which was the drum beater to this bandwagon. A proposal was made to merge William Lines, Gothong Shipping and Aboitiz Shipping Lines. This was done in late 1995 and the new company WG&A was formally inaugurated in January 1, 1996. I heard that Sulpicio Lines, the biggest shipping company then (although William Lines disputes this) was invited to the the merger but instead opted out.

With this merger, WG&A suddenly had 33 liners and overnight ships. About 10 or so of those were immediately assigned to their Visayas-Mindanao subsidiary, the Cebu Ferries Corporation. They also had nearly the same number of container ships from big to small. All and all, they had a fleet of over 60 passenger and container ships. This fleet was the greatest ever assembled in the entire history of Philippine shipping.


M/V Our Lady of Good Voyage, Cebu Ferries Corp. © wakanatsu

The ferries were then made to run the Aboitiz Jebsens way which means the very minimum of in-port hours but with intensive maintenance. Even with new routes created and additional frequencies, WG&A had a surplus of ferries and so then they sold the older and slower ones especially the cruisers (which by its nature cannot be made to follow the regimen of short in-port hours). They also started to sell their surplus container ships including the biggest ones.

With a WG&A fleet of that size and with the Aboitiz Jebsens system of sailing, the two other liner companies which were Sulpicio Lines and Negros Navigation faced tremendous pressure in the liner and long-distance routes. It is interesting to discuss how each reacted to their “crisis” (just a note, even if the two merged and even if MBRS Shipping joined them, still WG&A will be bigger than them especially in cargo/container capacity).

Of course, the first move of any of them will be to add newer, bigger and faster ships with amenities and comfort that can match the liners of WG&A. Sulpicio Lines added the MV Princess of the Universe, the MV Princess of the World, the MV Princess of the Caribbean, the MV Princess of the Ocean and the MV Princess of New Unity. This happened between 1996 and 1999 but let it be noted that they lost the MV Princess of the Orient in 1998. Meanwhile, Negros Navigation added the MS St. Ezekiel Moreno, the MS San Lorenzo Ruiz and the MS Mary Queen of Peace in 1997-98 and this was soon after they fielded the sister ships MS St. Peter The Apostle and MS St. Joseph The Worker in late 1995 (let it be noted also that they lost the MS St. Francis of Assisi in 1999).


M/V Princess of the Universe of Sulpicio Lines © zamboships/Flickr

I heard Sulpicio Lines acquired their new liners through their old agent in Japan which means liberal payment terms (Sulpicio Lines was not the only local company which has this kind of connection and privilege). Negros Navigation, meanwhile, relied of the bank position of their leader Daniel Lacson Jr. to acquire the ships through loans from the government-owned Philippine National Bank. It seems this is the first divergence in their approaches on how to handle the WG&A tsunami.

With more ships, Negros Navigation created new routes and added new ports of call like Davao, General Santos City, Cotabato City (Parang, Maguindanao actually), Dapitan, Ozamis, Iligan, Tagbilaran, Dumaguete, Puerto Princesa and even San Carlos and Toledo. The first word I heard that they could be in trouble with such expansion was when I had a cargo manager as a cabin mate. He explained to me it is cargo that makes routes and not passengers and that a shipping company will not know in six months time if a route would hold. He added it might take one or two years to know and in the process the shipping company has already burned a lot of cash.


M/S Mary Queen of Peace of Negros Navigation © Rodney Orca

Meanwhile, Sulpicio Lines just stuck to the routes they had and used their new ships to modernize and not be outgunned by WG&A. The only significant new route they added was the Manila-Cebu-General Santos City route when the MV Princess of the New Unity came. They did not try matching WG&A route by route and frequency by frequency.

In a few years, it was WG&A which was culling routes, leaving some ports of call and cutting frequencies. This process accelerated with the divestment of the Chiongbian (owners of William Lines) and Gothong families in the Great Merger. And this process happened barely six years into the merger.

In the same span of time, Negros Navigation had already began quitting routes and ports of call, too. Signs of financial distress also began to show. Soon suppliers and contractors went to court to garnish ships for unpaid supplies and for jobs done on ships. Lucky for them, a “white knight” in the person of Manny V. Pangilinan came to their rescue.

Ten years after the start of the liberalization program of President Ramos, the number of liners and container ships in the country had already shrunk. The number of our ocean-going ships with regular frequencies and ports of calls abroad had also been pared to nearly zero. Some of our biggest shipyards were also already in foreign hands.

What went wrong?

The “MV Maynilad”

The liner “Maynilad” of William Lines was named as such because she was the replacement ship for the liner “Manila City” (the second in the fleet to hold that name) which was destroyed by fire in a Cebu shipyard on February 16, 1991 and which was subsequently broken up in 1992. “Manila City” was the cruiser-liner that held for William Lines the Manila-Davao route from 1977 until 1991 when the fast cruiser wars happened in the routes to Davao. So when “Maynilad” succeeded in that route it was not really a surprise.

There was a surprise, however. While the second “Manila City” was a fast cruiser capable of over 19 knots service speed especially when she was newly-arrived, the “Maynilad” was only capable of a little over 14 knots, a speed no longer acceptable for liners of the 1990’s. And to think her sister ship “Mabuhay 2” which came a little bit later in 1993 but which was capable of 17.5 knots service speed.

Akatsuki ©Toshihiko Mikami

“Maynilad” was born as the “Akatsuki” of A” Lines of Japan. She was built by Towa Shipbuilding in the Shimonoseki shipyard. She was launched on May of 1981 and completed on July of 1981. Her measured length over-all (LOA) was 140.5 meter with a moulded breadth of 20.5 meters with a Depth of 7.1 meters. Her original Gross Registered Tons (GRT) was 4,997 and her Deadweight Tonnage (DWT) was 3,128 and her original passenger capacity was 1,032. “Akatsuki” had only 10,200 horsepower from her two Niigata engines and her maximum speed when new was 18 knots. Her unique IMO Number was 8106630.

In 1992, “Akatsuki” came to William Lines of the Philippines to become the “Maynilad”. In refitting two passenger decks were added to her passenger capacity rose to 2,511. Her new GT (Gross Tonnage) was 6,835 and her NT (Net Tonnage) was 4,059. Her DWT was 2,800 and her Depth was 11.9 meters. Her route was Manila-Zamboanga-Davao. Most liners of the era would pass by Iloilo and/or General Santos City but with her lack of speed “Maynilad” cannot afford that.

Maynilad (WLI)
Maynilad ©britz777

“Maynilad” was one of the tallest liners around with five passenger decks. Her accommodation classes ranged from Special Suite, Suite, First Class Cabin for 6, De Luxe, Special Economy and Economy.

Like other A” Line ships of the era, the former “Akatsuki” had cargo booms at the bow or front of the ship and a RORO ramp at the stern or rear. Unlike her sister ship “Mabuhay 2” this cargo loading arrangement was no longer changed. One disadvantage of that aside from the slower loading/unloading rate was the ship swayed every time a container van was lifted by the cargo boom and this was felt by the passengers that already boarded.

With her slow speed for a liner one feedback from passenger of the era was the very long time without seeing port as the Manila-Zamboanga transit time took 37 hours and the Zamboanga-Davao leg took 23 hours. However, she was comfortable enough for liners of the era except when compared to former deluxe liners from Japan. Moreover, especially in William Lines livery she looked good from the outside.

With the merger of William Lines, Gothong Shipping and Aboitiz Shipping in 1996 that created the William, Gothong & Aboitiz she came to the WG&A fleet. Although big and with accommodations good enough she was not renamed a “SuperFerry”. When I asked why the reason given was her lack of speed. Meanwhile, her sister ship “Mabuhay 2” became the “SuperFerry 7”.

In the WG&A fleet she initially retained the Manila-Zamboanga-Davao route. Soon, however, she was removed from that route when faster liners was fielded by WG&A in that route including the new route passing through the eastern seaboard of Mindanao. She bounced through routes where speed was not a premium but there was really no good fit as those routes usually have a smaller traffic and “Maynilad” has a big passenger capacity. She was too big for the routes of Cebu Ferries and soon in 1997 she was advertised for sale together with six other ships of the fleet.

Our Lady of Akita 2 ©via James Gabriel Verallo

There were no takers especially since her tag price was high especially if compared to her Gross Tonnage. When WG&A and Cebu Ferries Corporation (CFC) culled ships in 2000 she was initially transferred to Cebu Ferries and she was renamed the “Our Lady of Akita 2”. This name change caused confusion including in maritime databases. There was a former “Our Lady of Akita” which became the “SuperFerry 6” which was burned and lost in the same year.

However, she was not a good fit in the CFC routes like the “Our Lady of Banneux” which was also handed down to the CFC fleet as they were simply too big for the routes being full-pledged liners. Soon she was packaged for sale to China along with many other WG&A/CFC ships that included container ships so the Chiongbian and Gothong families who were divesting divesting then from the merged shipping company can be paid.

In September 2003, the former “Maynilad” was broken up in China, a sad end for a ship barely over 20 years old in age and with a service less than a decade in the Philippines if her lay-up period were deducted. Ultimately, her lack of speed, which was a big consideration in WG&A, lessened her use and eventually doomed her.

M/V ST. JOAN OF ARC

M/V St. Joan of Arc ©Mark Ocul

With the great decline of the liner industry in the Philippines (from about 60 in 1998 to only about eight sailing at the start of 2015) almost nobody notices that the M/V St. Joan of Arc, the former SuperFerry 5, is now the eldest liner in the Philippines both in date of construction and in the number of years in service which is now 20.  Long for sale and laid up (or more precisely anchored offshore) many times, she claimed this record maybe because of good luck on her part and bad luck on the part of her fleet mates.  It was obvious then that 2GO was gearing to retain her sister St. Thomas Aquinas, the former SuperFerry 2, as shown by her refurbishing and increased speed of 19 knots, which was even better that when she first came here in 1992, as compared to SuperFerry 5’s 17 knots. However, she went down after a collision with Sulpicio Express Siete in Mactan Channel in August of 2013. After that M/V St. Gregory the Great, the former SuperFerry 20, grounded in a reef near Guimaras and sustained damage that was considered beyond economic repair (BER). With no spare ships it looks like JOA, as she is known in abbreviation, might sail on for a while.

St. Joan of Arc is actually a liner (a multi-day ship) but she also belongs to that class of ship which landlubbers (including landlubber officials) call as “overaged” which at even with the most generous allowance means ferries over 40 years old. 40 years marks a special milestone in ships because in the decades past this should be the age when ships are already conking out and ready to die due to metal fatigue and unreliability. But many seriously underestimated the ships, the ability of her caretakers and the availability of surplus and CNC-milled parts. It might look funny to some but we now have a collection of about 100 ferries that are over 40 years old and that number does not include the cargo ships!

St. Joan of Arc was built by Onomishi Zosen in Onomichi, Japan for Meimon Car Ferry. She was completed in May 1973 and was christened the Ferry Hakozaki. She is one of three sister ships built in that shipyard and the other two were Ferry Sumiyoshi which became the St. Thomas Aquinas and Golden Okinawa which became the Cagayan Bay 1 of Gothong Shipping Corp. Her over-all length (LOA) was 138.6 meters and she had a breadth of 22.2 meters and a GT (Gross Tonnage) of 7,287. She was powered by two Mitsubishi-MAN diesel engines developing 15,200 horsepower that gave her an original speed of 19-19.5 knots.

M/V Superferry 5 ©Douglas Adona

She was renamed as the Ferry Cosmo in 1992 and in 1994 she came to Aboitiz Shipping Corp. to become the SuperFerry 5. In the country her GT rose to 11,638 although her superstructure did not change much. Her NT (Net Tonnage) also rose to 6,466 and her passenger capacity was bumped to 2,332.  She started sailing at the start of 1995 and she was inaugurated before her fourth voyage with then Aboitiz endorser Sharon Cuneta in attendance. She then sailed the Manila-Iligan route for Aboitiz Shipping via Cebu. Her service speed then was 17.5-18  knots but it was known she can run faster than that. She can pass underneath the Mactan bridges as one of her features was a folding stern mast.

In 1996 she was overtaken by the merger of William Lines Inc., Carlos A. Gothong Lines Inc. and Aboitiz Shipping Corp. which created the William, Gothong and Aboitiz Corp. (WG&A). She retained her old name and initially even her Iligan route. One positive change, though, is the conversion from paid meals into free meals as before the merger there was no free food in Aboitiz Shipping Corp. (the operation was cafeteria-type). Initially right after the merger it was still paid meals but passenger protest was fierce and very vocal especially from William and Gothong regulars and so WG&A instituted the traditional free meal system.

M/V Superferry 5 cafeteria ©Wakanatsu

Cleanliness, order and snappy service were the hallmarks of the ship from the very start. Unlike other ferries then when it was an effort to call service personnel, in SuperFerry 5 there will be always someone on duty and on call in every accommodation and cabins have their own telephones should a service crew is needed. And every so often a cleaner will appear even if the accommodations were not dirty. Right after someone used the bathroom or the toilet a utility person will appear, check it up and even wipe the mirror and basin. Cleaning and mopping of the restaurant was also a constant chore especially since it is open 18 hours and it also serves as the main lounge. Maintenance crew will also immediately retouch any surface that showed rust. Everything was spic and span then. There were even premium features like a first-class paid restaurant and the famed “Gloria Maris” chain operated it. This was also the dining room of the first class passengers. There was also a Shakey’s Pizza Parlor but unfortunately both services did not last long for lack of patronage.

M/V Superferry 5 Dining Room ©Wakanatsu

Not long after, WG&A “rationalized” routes which meant culling of ships and maximizing sailing time with few in-port hours and she was paired with SuperFerry 2 and SuperFerry 9 to run routes that were not in a weekly or twice-weekly cycle. Afterwards, like in the rest of the WG&A fleet she was assigned different routes that were changing all too often for effective monitoring.

Less than a decade after the “Great Merger”, CAGLI and William Lines decided to opt out of the merger. WG&A subsequently was renamed as the Aboitiz Transport System (ATS). SuperFerry 5, however retained her name but was not treated the same. Slowly, she lost favor as ATS preferred the ferries they converted into twin cargo decks like the SuperFerry 12, SuperFerry 9, SuperFerry 2 and later the SuperFerry 20 and SuperFerry 21. ATS lacked cargo ships then and they reasoned a twin cargo deck ship will work just as fine but not really because when a ROPAX route is dropped, the cargo service also disappears.

M/V Superferry 5 ©Mark Ocul

After several years, the merger of Negros Navigation and Aboitiz Transport System finally happened after fits and starts. SuperFerry 5 was then renamed the St. Joan of Arc but again she was not in favor and was put up for sale. Especially after the grounding in Coron, Palawan she was mainly unused as the Negros Navigation ships were favored over her like the repair of the then sickly already St. Joseph the Worker and sister St. Peter the Apostle and the continued use of the slow and smoky San Paolo.

With the sale of St. Rita de Casia, the former SuperFerry 1, she is now the only ferry in 2GO that do not have twin cargo decks. So in fact, although she is the smallest now in the fleet she ironically has the biggest passenger capacity. But since liner patronage has already weakened a lot that is no longer a factor as there is no way now her full passenger capacity can be utilized.

With the mantra of “finding the right size”, a euphemism for culling of the fleet I doubt if St. Joan of Arc still has a clear future with 2GO especially with her advanced age and in the light that the long sailing hours of liners is not kind to elderly engines. She might still shoulder on but the “Grim Reaper of Ships” could just be around the corner now especially since her owner company is not exactly fond of old ships and will cull ships even without replacement. So to those who can, my advice is better sail with her now while she is still around as her time remaining might not last long.

M/V St. Joan of Arc ©Tristan Fil Lirasan

TRANS-ASIA 9

The “Trans-Asia 9” of the Trans-Asia Shipping Lines first started life as the “Ferry Kikai” of the then-Arimura Sangyo Lines which operated ferries between Kyushu, a main Japan island and Okinawa and between Okinawa and Taiwan. The Arimura Sangyo name was later modernized into A” Lines. The ship was built in the Fukuoka yard of shipbuilder Fukuoka Zosen, launched in April 1979 and completed on July 1979. She was then 2,823 GRT, the old measure, with an over-all length of 109.2 meters and a beam of  17.9 meters and equipped with two Mitsubishi marine diesels developing 7,600 horsepower which provided her a speed of 18.5 knots, originally. She had just two passenger decks with a cargo boom at the bow and a quarter ramp at the stern, a design common then to many A” Line ships. Her ID is IMO 7823528.

Ferry Kikai ©Wakanatsu

With the arrival of the new “Ferry Kikai” in 1995 she was passed on to the agent connecting A” Line and William Lines of the Philippines. Many of the William Lines ferries of this period came from A” Line. The cargo boom at the bow was removed and replaced by additional passenger accommodations and a passenger deck was also added at the upper level and bringing her passenger capacity to 1,076 and her GT to 5,463 and her NT to 3,594. She first appeared in North Harbor on September of 1995 as the “Mabuhay 6” to the amazement of the passengers in the port. However, she did not last long under that name as the ill-starred merger of William, Gothong and Aboitiz happened on the first day of the new year and she was renamed “Our Lady of Good Voyage”. As a WG&A ferry her first route was to Dapitan with a service speed of just 16.5 knots. After a few years she was remanded to the subsidiary Cebu Ferries Corporation and her route permanently became Cebu to Cagayan de Oro with a once-a-week side trip to Jagna, Bohol.

Our Lady of Good Voyage Photo Collage ©John Michael Aringay

With the advent of the newer Cebu Ferry series of ships last decade she was laid up. When there were no takers the successor owner Aboitiz Transport System offered her to its ally Gothong Southern which took her in during 2010 and she was renamed the “Dona Conchita Sr.”. She held the same route of Cebu-Cagayan de Oro-Jagna with the same frequency. However, after just a short time she was laid up again and put on sale as Gothong Southern was quitting passenger shipping and was just concentrating on container operations and cargo forwarding.

M/V Doña Conchita Sr. ©Jethro Cagasan

It was then that Trans Asia Shipping Lines, Inc. acquired her in 2012 and true to the TASLI style she was refitted, both in passenger accommodations and in the engine room. She is actually more luxurious now and more reliable (she then had weak engines before coming to TASLI). She still holds the same route to Cagayan de Oro but with no more side trip to Jagna. Like with most ferries in the age of high fuel prices she is just using economical speed now and that is usually 13.0 to 13.5 knots which is enough for a 10-hour transit time in her route. Economical speed which means less revolutions per minute also lengthens the life of the engines.

Trans-Asia 9 ©Mike Baylon

As “Trans-Asia 9” she is now equipped with five suites and two cabins and these are located in the center section of the ship together with the Tourist section. A new TASLI feature on “Trans Asia 9” is the aircon economy which they call the “2nd Class Aircon.” This new class is located in the former Tourist section ahead of the bridge. The traditional Economy class is called in “Trans Asia 9” as the “2nd Class Non-Air”.

With more areas devoted to passenger amenities now her passenger capacity is down to 974 passengers. TASLI cut up the superstructure in her upper rear deck to create their traditional outdoor dining area and barbecue garden but instead of lowering the Gross Tonnage and Net Tonnage it shot up to 5,500 and 3,850, respectively. The passenger ramps on the side were also removed and transferred to the stern of the ship.
Suite Room ©Aris Refugio
Economy Aircon ©Aris Refugio
Economy Non-Aircon ©Aris Refugio
Stairway ©Aris Refugio

Under the care of TASLI and knowing how this company treats elderly ships it should not be a surprise if “Trans Asia 9” will keep on sailing well into the next decade.

©Aris Refugio