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

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

1950 William Lines

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

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

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

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Credits to Manila Times and Gorio Belen

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

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Credits to Philippine Herald and Gorio Belen

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

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

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Credits to The Philippines Herald and Gorio Belen 

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

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Credits to Philippines Herald and Gorio Belen

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

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Credits to Philippine Herald and Gorio Belen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1980 Dona Virginia

Credits to Daily Express and Gorio Belen

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

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Credits to Philippine Daily Express and Gorio Belen

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

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

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

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One of the Magic Elixirs of William Lines and Carlos A. Gothong & Co.

The term “magic elixir” refers to a potion that gives one powers and in modern usage it refers to a sort of magic that was the reason for an entity to rise. In this article I am not referring to something illegal but to one of the reasons for the rise of two of the most storied shipping companies of the Philippines where in their peak were contending for the bragging rights of being the biggest shipping company in the country.

Historically, the Chinese mestizo shipping companies were not as blessed as the Spanish mestizo shipping companies which antedated them in the business. The latter not only had a head start but they also possessed powerful political connections and that was very important then in getting loans from the Philippine National Bank (PNB) which dominated commercial banking then as there was almost no other commercial bank big enough in that time able to finance acquisition of ships. It was also crucial in getting ships from the National Development Corporation and earlier in getting surplus ex-”FS” ships from the Rehabilitation Finance Commission that was awarded as war compensation by the US Government.

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A 1950 ad of William Lines (Credits to Phil. Herald and Gorio Belen)

Of the two companies, William Lines had an earlier start and it was also blessed by political connections – the founder of the company, William Chiongbian happened to be a powerful Congressman who in his run for the Senator missed by one just slot (and his brother was a Congressman too at the same time but in another province). Carlos A. Gothong & Co. had to start from the bottom as it began almost a decade later than William Lines in liner shipping. But later it was blessed by a good strategic relationship with Lu Do & Lu Ym, the biggest copra concern then when copra was skyrocketing to being the Number 1 cash commodity and export commodity of the country.

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The first liner of Gothong & Co. (Credits to Manila Bulletin and Gorio Belen)

In the national liner scene, after its restart right after the end of the Pacific War, the strongest after a generation were the shipping companies that had routes to Southern Mindanao. Left behind were the shipping companies that just concentrated in the Visayas routes like Southern Lines, General Shipping, Philippine President Lines/Philippine Pioneer Lines/Galaxy Lines and other smaller shipping companies to Eastern Visayas, Bicol and the near routes to Mindoro, northern Panay and Palawan. Actually, in my totem pole of national liner companies in 1972, the Top 5 — Compania Maritima, Gothong & Co., Aboitiz Shipping+PSNC, William Lines and Sweet Lines — all have routes to Southern Mindanao.

What made Southern Mindanao the “magic elixir” of William Lines and Gothong & Co. when the latter was not even a liner company in the latter half of the 1940’s and William Lines was behind many shipping companies that preceded them?

In business, there is nothing better barring the illegal than a customer base that simply keeps growing and growing. And that was what Mindanao then was to the shipping companies Southern Mindanao. Before the war the population of Southern Mindanao was small and was practically composed by natives. That was before the government encouraged and assisted the resettlement of people from other parts of the Philippines to resolve what was called then as the “population pressure” (rapidly growing population in an agricultural economy with not enough land anymore to be divided into the next generation and there were no contraceptives yet then and the average number of children was five).

Northern Mindanao after the war already had Visayan migrants as it was just near the Visayas and the Spaniards was able to establish a strong foothold there even in the 19th century. But Southern Mindanao almost had no transplanted population and it is this part of the Philippines that experienced the greatest population boom after the war with what was called by the Moro National Liberation Front as the “colonization” of Mindanao (well, even some politician used the word “colonization” before that became politically incorrect). Where before in the 1948 Census the transplanted population was just a minority in Mindanao, in the 1960 Census the natives suddenly realized they were already the new minority and in the 1970 Census they saw they were beginning to get marginalized (Sultans and Datus who were once Mayors were even beginning to lose the elections).

This population boom, the opening of land for cultivation and the consequent exploitation of the natural resources of Mindanao needed transport and it was not by air (and not by road definitely) but by ship. And by this all shipping companies that were plying the Southern Mindanao routes benefited a lot. Of course shipping companies serving Northern Mindanao also benefited but not to the same extent as the Southern Mindanao shipping companies. And anyway the shipping companies serving Southern Mindanao were the same shipping companies serving Northern Mindanao (with exception of Escano Lines which has also routes to Northern Mindanao but not Southern Mindanao) and so the benefit of those serving Southern Mindanao were double.

If we analyze the biggest shipping company then which was Compania Maritima, most of its ships were assigned to Southern Mindanao. That was also true for the liners of Gothong & Co. (this company has a lot of cargo-passenger ships then to gather the copra for Lu Do and Lu Ym) and William Lines (which assigned 3/4 of its ships in Southern Mindanao early and Gothong & Co. of to 80% in 1967).

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One will wonder how this small ex-“FS” ship sails all the way to Davao

Although William Lines started ahead of Gothong & Co., the latter vaulted ahead of the former in the 1960’s. I think the reason is William Lines relied too much and too long on the ex-”FS” ships and it was only in 1966 when they acquired other types. Meanwhile, Gothong & Co. acquired ships from Europe earlier and in greater numbers. That does not even include the Type “C1A” ships acquired by Gothong & Co. which were big ships and were really ocean-going plus a lot of small ships the likes of lengthened ex-”F” ships and a host of local-builds. In ports of call, Gothong & Co. simply had too many because of the need to gather the copra of Lu Do & Lu Ym which was exporting a lot (and which Gothong & Co. also carried).

For sure, Compania Maritima which was already the Number 1 right after the war also benefited from the growth of Mindanao. However, their subsequent collapse in 1984 at the height of the financial and economic crisis then besetting the country is of another matter. Sulpicio Lines, the biggest successor company of Gothong & Co. also benefited from Mindanao after their creation in 1972 so much so that later it became the biggest shipping company of the country in the 1980’s.

What happened then to the shipping companies started after the war that just concentrated on Visayan routes? Well, by the 1960’s Southern Lines and General Shipping were already gone from the local scene and a few year later Galaxy Lines, successor to Philippine President Lines, the local operation and Philippine Pioneer Lines was also gone. And the smaller shipping companies like Escano Lines, Bisaya Land Transport (this was also a shipping company) were just in the fringe and barely alive in the 1970’s like the shipping companies that just concentrated in Bicol, Samar and northern Panay. That was also the fate of the shipping companies that was concentrating in what is called MIMAROPA today. After the 1970’s practically only batels survived in the last area mentioned.

Meanwhile, Gothong & Co. threatened Compania Maritima for Number 1 before their break-up in 1972. Later with the downward spiral of Compania Maritima, Sulpicio Lines and William Lines battled for Number 1. And when Compania Maritima quit and Aboitiz Shipping Corporation also quit Mindanao, Sulpicio Lines (the biggest successor company of Gothong & Co.) and William Lines further benefited. Actually, no shipping company that did not serve Southern Mindanao ever became one the top shipping companies in the country (that was before a lot of liner companies were culled in the crisis of the 1980’s).

That was the importance of Southern Mindanao for the shipping companies of the country. William Lines and successor of Gothong & Co. Sulpicio Lines ended up the Top 2 in Philippine shipping. Know what? They were the only survivors of the Southern Mindanao routes after all the rest quit (of course, Aboitiz Shipping came back later and there were others in container shipping).

Now, there are no more liners to Southern Mindanao, funny. But, of course, that is another story. The magic elixir dried up?

The MV Manila City

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Gorio Belen research in the National Library

William Lines, from their very start and even when their fleet was not yet big always stressed the Southern Mindanao routes, a stress that was even over that of their stress in Northern Mindanao. They have their reasons and it might be economic. Maybe the political came later. It is known that Mr. William Chiongbian, the owner and founder was for a long time a Congressman of Misamis Occidental and was even Governor. Panguil Bay and Iligan Bay was the only consistent stress of William Lines in Northern Mindanao. In Southern Mindanao his brother James Chiongbian was a Congressman for long time of the southern portion of the old Cotabato province.

In Southern Mindanao, for decades William Lines maintained the Manila-Cebu-Tagbilaran-Dumaguete-Zamboanga-Dadiangas-Davao route and even early the company devoted six ships of their fleet in that route to maintain a thrice a week departure from Manila. Even when the former passenger-cargo ships from Europe arrived, William Lines simply plugged it in those routes in place of the former ex-”FS” ships. Later, that basic route had variations like dropping Tagbilaran in one or two of the schedules or inserting Iligan in that schedule or going first to Davao than Dadiangas.

When the era of fast cruiser liners arrived with only one intermediate port in the route, William Lines acquired and fielded the fast cruiser MV Manila City in the Manila-Zamboanga-Davao route in 1976. This was actually the second MV Manila City in the Wiliam Lines fleet after the first MV Manila City which was an ex-”FS” ship. Later the second MV Manila City dropped anchor in General Santos City on the way back to Manila. Gensan was the base of Mr. James Chiongbian and the passenger and cargo of Gensan are too big to ignore when it was just on the way.

The MV Manila City was first in competition with the fast cruiser liner MV Dona Ana (later MV Dona Marilyn) of Sulpicio Lines which was augmented later by the fast cruisers MV Don Enrique (later MV Davao Princess and MV Iloilo Princess) and MV Don Eusebio (later MV Dipolog Princess) in 1978. These Sulpicio ships were doing the Manila-Cebu-Davao route. The MV Manila City was faster but she was doing the longer route. All of them were capable of completing the whole route in just a week. Later, in 1979, the Dona Ana was pulled out from the Davao route and she was placed in the twice a week Manila-Cebu route when the flagship of Sulpicio Lines, the MV Don Sulpicio was hit by fire near Batangas while on a voyage.

For 15 long years from 1976 until her death in 1991, the MV Manila City was the only fast cruiser of William Lines in the Southern Mindanao route and she had to contend with the MV Don Enrique and MV Don Eusebio of Sulpicio Lines. For most of this period the MV Manila City was augmented by the other cruisers of William Lines including the former passenger-cargo ships from Europe. Two of them, however, the MV Davao City and MV Zamboanga tried a direct route to Davao. The MV Dumaguete and MV General Santos City also did a Manila-Zamboanga-Davao route. The late 1970’s was no longer an era of too many intermediate ports. Even Sulpicio Lines was also in this new trend in this era.

From 1979, however, William Lines also joined the new paradigm and bandwagon which was containerization. The new container ships made direct sailings with no intermediate ports like a direct route to Davao or General Santos City. With that there was less need to send passenger-cargo ships to Southern Mindanao. However, the MV Manila City continued on its old route and sailed faithfully.

The MV Manila City was a ship built in 1970 by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries in its main yard in Shimonoseki, Japan. Her original name was MV Nihon Maru. She was young when she was sold to William Lines in 1976 at only 6 years of age and use. Her former owner in Japan was Mitsubishi Shintaku Ginko and her ID was IMO 7005798.

The ship’s external measurements were 106.3 meters by 14.0 meters by 6.2 meters and her original gross register tonnage was 2,998 tons. She had a maximum speed of 20.5 knots when new from her twin Mitsubishi engines that totaled 8,800 horsepower (this was high at its time and actually the highest for the local liners from 1976 to 1980). So she was actually bigger and as fast the flagship MV Cebu City of William Lines. She was dubbed as the “Sultan of the Sea” by William Lines.

In the Philippines, the MV Manila City had a gross tonnage of 2,961 with a net tonnage of 1,648. The ship had the highest gross tonnage in the William Lines fleet before the arrival of the MV Dona Virginia. She had a passenger capacity of 1,388 which is again higher than the flagship MV Cebu City. The ship was billed as fully air-conditioned. It seems in the 1970’s this was already the standard for a luxury liner (of course they also touted the passenger service and the food plus the entertainment).

As advertised:”The ship is equipped with the latest navigational and life-saving equipment including self-lighting lamps, an automatic signal transmitter and the latest in compasses and radars. It is fully automated, with the engine room controlled from the bridges.” (From Times Journal, September 24, 1976).

The ship had a raked stem and a cruiser stern. She had two masts, two side funnels and three passenger decks. She had an observation deck atop her bridge which is accessible by passengers. Her loading capacity in Deadweight Tons was 3,766 tons which was higher than the DWT of MV Cebu City.

The MV Manila’s first schedule was:

LV Manila, Wednesday 10AM
AR Zamboanga Thursday 2 PM (18.3 knots average speed)
LV Zamboanga Thursday 12 MN
AR Davao Friday 5 PM (18.3 knots average speed)
LV Davao Saturday 9 PM
AR Zamboanga Sunday 2 PM
LV Zamboanga Sunday 12 MN
AR Manila Tuesday 4 AM

In later years, the departure of MV Manila City from North Harbor changed. At one time she also dropped anchor in Odiongan before proceeding to Zamboanga. This was in the late 1980’s when William Lines was maximizing its routes by dropping by on additional ports in Panay and Romblon.

On February 16, 1991, the MV Manila City was on drydock in Cebu Shipyard Engineering Works (CSEW) in Mactan island. While in a graving dock and hot works were being done on the ship by a sub-contractor, the ship caught fire. The next day the ship sank and was declared beyond economic salvage and repair. The vessel was insured was P45,000.000 (in 1991 currency). She was broken on January 1992.

The MV Manila City was replaced initially by the MV Zamboanga City, a RORO liner, in her route. In 1992, her replacement vessel, the MV Maynilad which was a much bigger vessel came. However, this ship, though beautiful and well-appointed was a disappointment in speed since she can only do 15 knots when new which was significantly below the speed of the vessel she replaced. She can also do the route in also one weak, though.

The MV Manila City was a good ship. It is just too bad she did not last long like her contemporaries in the Southern Mindanao route.

The Early Years of William Lines

Among the major liner companies, I found William Lines Incorporated striking in some ways. First, in their early days they were very loyal to the former “FS” ships as in they were operating no other type in their first 20 years. Others like Bisaya Land Transport was also like that but they were not a major liner company. Some other majors that initially had a pure ex-”FS” fleet like the General Shipping Company acquired other types earlier than William Lines.

M.V. Don Victoriano (unverified)

The unlengthened Don Victoriano (Photo credits: Manila Chronicle and Gorio Belen)

Yet, even though they just have a pure ex-”FS” fleet which were small and slow ships that looked vulnerable, William Lines stressed the southern Mindanao routes (Dadiangas and Davao) that needed two ships alternating just to maintain one weekly schedule as a voyage takes nearly two weeks to complete. This is the second striking characteristic I noticed in their history, the stress in southern Mindanao. In fact, because of the weight demanded on a fleet by the southern Mindanao route most of our liner companies then did not enter the southern Mindanao route.

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The lengthened ex-“FS” ship Elena (Gorio Belen research in Nat’l Library)

Only three others aside from William Lines did Southern Mindanao routes. Three other companies did this route for decades — Compania Maritima, Philippine Steam and Navigation Company (PSNC) and Carlos A. Go Thong & Company. The first two were big companies in those days. Manila Steamship Company (Elizalde y Compania) also did the southern Mindanao route before they quit shipping in 1955. It was also a big company. De la Rama Steamship also sailed southern Mindanao routes before they quit local shipping in the early 1950’s.

William Lines started shipping sometime at the tail end of 1945. Everyone knows the company is named after the founder William Chiongbian. And the first ship of the company, the Don Victoriano was named after the father of William Chiongbian. Subsequently, in its first decade, the ships of William Lines were named after his sons and daughters. Jimenez, Misamis Occidental is the place of origin of William Lines.

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Photo credits: Manila Chronicle and Gorio Belen

Actually, William Chiongbian did not start from zero. His father already had trading ships before World War II in support of their copra business. That was normal then before the war. Others that made it big in shipping after World War II had similar origins like Carlos Go Thong and Aboitiz (but the latter was already big even before the war).

The route system then of William Lines was very simple. 6 ships in 3 pairs will do a thrice a week Manila-Cebu-Tagbilaran-Dumaguete-Zamboanga-Davao voyages leaving Manila on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. The rest of the fleet will do a once or twice a week sailing to Panguil Bay (Iligan and Ozamis plus Dumaguete) via Cebu. Was there a route system more simple than that?

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From the research of Gorio Belen in the National Library

It might be simple but actually William Lines was a beneficiary to the growth of traffic to southern Mindanao with the opening of the island to exploitation and colonization by Christians from the rest of the country. The routes to that part of the country were those that grew consistently over the years because of the big increase in population brought about by migration of people. With that came goods and produce that need to be transported.

Actually except for Manila Steamship which quit shipping early after the shock of losing their flagship Mayon to fire and explosion in 1955, all those that stayed in the southern Mindanao route lived long (the Compania Maritima quitting was another story). Many that did short routes from Manila even had shorter life spans like Southern Lines, General Shipping Company and Madrigal Shipping. The southern Mindanao area with its continuously growing production and trade buoyed the shipping companies that stayed there.

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From the research of Gorio Belen in the National Library

The other ships of William Lines in this period were Elena (which later became Virginia VI and Don Jose I), Elizabeth, Edward, Albert (which also became known as Iloilo City), Victor, Henry I and Grace I (which also became the first Manily City). All including the Don Victoriano (which became the second Elena) had their hulls subsequently lengthened to increase capacity. That was needed for the growing traffic and cargo in the routes of William Lines.

Within its first two decades, in 1961, William Lines also purchased the Kolambugan of Escano Lines. It was used to open a Cagayan de Oro route for the company and she was fittingly renamed as the Misamis Oriental. From Cagayan de Oro the ship also called in Iligan and Ozamis. Also acquired that year was the Davao of A. Matute which became the Davao City in the fleet of William Lines.

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From the research of Gorio Belen in the National Library

That same year the FS-272 of Philippine Steam and Navigation Company was also acquired and this became the Don Jose in their fleet. In 1963, the President Quezon of Philippine President Lines was also acquired and the ship became the Dona Maria in the fleet. At its peak the William Lines passenger fleet consisted of 11 former “FS” ships. However, I am not sure if the latter additions were all lengthened.

In 1966, William Lines acquired their first liners that were not former “FS” ships when they also began acquiring big former passenger-cargo ships from Europe like Go Thong and Compania Maritima. That was the new paradigm then and they were able to latch into it. It was a response to the growing need for additional bottoms when surplus ships were not yet available from Japan in great numbers.

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From the research of Gorio Belen in the National Library

That was the early history of William Lines, the tale of their first 20 years in shipping. Their growth into first rank will come after their first two decades until for a brief period they might have been Number 1 in local passenger shipping.

By the way, they had no ship losses in their first two decades. And that was pretty remarkable given the rate of liner losses over the decades and even in the modern era.

Maybe somebody should do a study what was their safety secret then.

Notes:

The usual length of an unmodified ex-”FS” ship is 53.9 meters with a breadth of 9.8 meters and a depth of 3.2 meters. The Gross Register Tonnage (GRT), a measure of the ship’s volume is usually 560 tons.

The Length, Depth and GRT of the lengthened ex-”FS” ships of William Lines (the Breadths do not change):

Don Victoriano (the second Elena)

62.4m

4.3m

694 tons

Elena (the first)

66.9m

4.3m

694 tons

Elizabeth

66.1m

4.3m

657 tons

Edward

67.3m

4.3m

651 tons

Albert

67.1m

4.3m

648 tons

Victor

62.6m

4.3m

699 tons

Henry I

67.0m

4.3m

648 tons

Grace I

66.3m

4.3m

652 tons

Davao City

67.8m

4.3m

691 tons

Misamis Oriental

68.2m

4.3m

673 tons

Dona Jose (the second Dona Maria)

67.2m

4.3m

699 tons

A Look at George & Peter Lines

George & Peter Lines started in 1964 practically as an offspring and derivative of William Lines Inc. The company came into being because the offsprings of William Chiongbian, founder of William Lines was coming into age and soon will be taking over the company helms that was once occupied by the siblings of William. To make the exit soft, another shipping line was created and that became the George & Peter Lines. It was named after two siblings of William Chiongbian.

The company started with ferries that were ex-”FS” and ex-”F” ships. Nothing terrible and shameful in that as most regional companies had those types as the backbones of their fleets. And to think most regionals were even using wooden motor boats or lancha in the Visayan term. Some others were of US minesweeper or PT boat origin.

George & Peter Lines "Clover" ad

In due time, from the late 1970’s, George & Peter Lines dominated the route going southwest of Cebu. That was the route going to Siquijor, Dumaguete, Dapitan, Zamboanga del Norte (like Liloy), Zamboanga City, Misamis Occidental and Lanao del Norte. That was the time when cruisers were still dominant and ROROs were just beginning to come. George & Peter Lines had some great cruiser ships like the Geopeter, Jhufel and the still-existing Georich. Aside from those three they had former “FS” and former “F” ships which were vintage World War II ships then in the twilight of their careers. Among those were Don Joaquin, Dona Rosario and the Don Victoriano I.

The peak of George & Peter Lines probably occurred during the 1980’s. They were even active in advertising and in promoting their ships and routes. During this time the seas where she was sailing, the conjunction of Zamboanga, Negros, Siquijor and Lanao was already being vacated by the ships from Manila because their once-ubiquitous and many ex-”FS” and lengthened ex-”FS” ships were already beginning to die. Also, the old paradigm of small liners from Manila calling on many ports before heading back was also on the wane because since the 1970’s fast cruisers calling in less ports was already the new paradigm. Passengers want to arrive to their destination in one day or just a little more, not the two or three days of the past even though they are fed well. So liners calling on Masbate or Calbayog or Catbalogan before heading to Cebu and northern Mindanao were beginning to fall out of favor with the passengers. And so sometimes it is the likes of George & Peter Lines which acted as feeder lines to the fast cruisers.

George & Peter Lines schedules

But then that decade also saw the rise of a new paradigm, the new RORO (Roll On, Roll Off) ships. George & Peter Lines was not really late in adopting the new shipping paradigm. They were just not as fast to it as Trans Asia Shipping Lines, Sweet Lines and K&T Shipping Lines but they were just at the same time to it with the likes of Cokaliong Shipping Lines, E.B. Aznar Shipping and Danilo Shipping Lines. They were even ahead to it compared to Roble Shipping, Palacio Lines, Island Shipping , Roly Shipping and VG Shipping. Some never even reached the RORO stage like the Rose Shipping/V.Atilano, Gabisan Shipping Lines and Lapu-lapu Shipping. I purposely left out in the comparison the shipping companies which were founded later or which were too small to be in the comparison.

And that is the reason I was wondering why in an interview with the Liner Shipping Route Study (LSRS) done by Nathan & Associates in 1993-1994 aS commissioned by the USAID they expressed apprehension and disapproval of the liberalization program on shipping being pushed by then President Fidel V. Ramos which resulted in the opening of the shipping routes. The one that entered their primary route, the Dumaguete and Dapitan route in 1993 was just a small ship, the Filipinas Dumaguete . Cokaliong Shipping Lines, its owner and operator was no bigger than them and were not really ahead of them in conversion to ROROs. In fact, Filipinas Dumaguete was just the first RORO ship of Cokaliong Shipping Lines Inc. and G & P’s Dumaguete Ferry which was acquired in 1990 was even ahead of that though a little smaller. Was it the fear that Mr. Chester Cokaliong was close to President Ramos? But they still had a big brother then in William Lines. Or was it the accidents that befell Geopeter and Jhufel that resulted in hull losses and which shrank their fleet along with the retirement of the war-surplus vessels that later forcing them to withdraw Georich from the Cebu-Maasin-Surigao route that were haunting them?

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In 1993, George & Peter Lines acquired the relatively big Zamboanga Ferry and this practically became their flagship and meant to hold the Zamboanga route. However, I would say this was not enough to offset the loss of Geopeter to fire and Jhufel to foundering and the subsequent loss too of Dumaguete Ferry to fire too and Pulauan Ferry to sinking. These consecutive losses of ferries to accidents was a great blow to a medium-sized ferry company especially since about that time they also began losing the very old ex-”FS” and ex-”F” ships to old age. They even sold their aging Dona Magna, a small locally-built ferry to Island Shipping Corp.

With the loss of Pulauan Ferry to sinking just south of Mactan island, the George & Peter Lines fleet shrunk to only 2 ferries, the Zamboanga Ferry and the elderly Georich plus a cargo ship, the GP Tramper. To stem the retreat, they acquired the Sta. Maria, a former liner of Negros Navigation that was just being used in the Bacolod-Iloilo route and being overwhelmed by the Bacolod-Dumangas ferries. In their fleet this became the GP Ferry and the biggest ever of George & Peter Lines. But after just two years of service, they also sold this also. Maybe the 4,800 horsepower of the ship was too big for their route, cargo and patronage.

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A few years after that selling they made an advanced arrangement in 2010 with Aboitiz Transport System (ATS) regarding the coming retirement of the ferry Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, a Cebu-Iligan ferry of the ATS subsidiary Cebu Ferries Corporation. Upon retirement, the ferry went direct to George & Peter Lines with nary a modification and the ship became the GP Ferry 2 thereby bringing the George & Peter Lines fleet to 3. It is this 3 that still shouldering on for GP for its diminished route system. They have already left many port in their old route system and all they have now are the ports of Dumaguete, Dapitan and Zamboanga with their main route the Cebu-Dumaguete-Dapitan route. But even here they are pressured by the newer ships of Cokaliong Shipping Lines Inc. which might have even toned down the pressure by reassigning an older ship , the Filipinas Iloilo to the main route of George & Peter Lines.

How long does it last? George & Peter Lines won’t easily quit their last two remaining routes. But their ferries are in advancing ages now. If they don’t acquire ferries anymore, time will come when they will simply have to give up and fade away.

An album on George & Peter Lines:

Georich

Press to open the album.