The Biggest Shipping Company Based in Mindanao (Part 1)

Many people will think that the biggest shipping company in Mindanao is 2GO, the only liner company left in the country with its big ships with large Gross Tonnages, one of the measures of a shipping company’s size. Maybe some will also argue that it has to be the Chelsea Logistics Corp. which controls a slew of shipping companies now including 2GO but I disagree because those shipping companies are not necessarily based in Mindanao. How can one argue that Starlite Ferries or Trans-Asia Shipping Lines, Inc. are Mindanao shipping companies? That argument will be more absurd for 2GO itself as it mainly operates out of Manila and Cebu. It just happened that the 2GO and Chelsea Logistics Chairman, the now very prominent Dennis Uy happens to be from Davao where the current President also happens to hail from.

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The biggest shipping company of Mindanao is actually the Aleson Shipping Lines of Zamboanga City founded by Feliciano N. Tan Sr. Now, they happen to be very low-key, one of the reasons why only a few has heard of them except in their own turf. Another key reason is actually very few especially from Luzon and Visayas have ever been to Zamboanga City because of inordinate fear of reported violence, jihadis or even plain Muslims that was inculcated by their families and exacerbated by the media. Actually, many Christians will rather fly to Hongkong than go to Zamboanga (well, many local Christians even fear going to Zamboanga Port). And lastly, most people when thinking of shipping do not bother to understand that shipping is not only about ferries. Shipping is actually about all kinds of crafts including freighters of which Aleson Shipping Lines has many and so the company seems smaller to not-a-few. And those are the reasons why this particular shipping line skips the public consciousness even though it is actually bigger than the Cebu-based overnight ferry companies.

The first vessel acknowledged by Aleson Shipping Corporation was the Estrella del Mar which was a cruiser ship with a clipper stem (sadly, she was recently gone) and was given the IMO Number 8945220. She was a local-built vessel in 1975 by the Varadero de Recodo in Zamboanga City and she was 38.1 meters in length and 230 in Gross Tonnage (a measure I am loathe to use because there are a lot of under-declarations for “considerations” in the country and so I emphasize the length more which is almost always true and people can relate more to that than the Gross Tonnage or GT). The Estrella del Mar originally sailed at 10.5 knots derived from her single Yanmar engine of 850 horsepower.

Estrella del Mar

Photo by Mike Baylon of PSSS

The Estrella del Mar was originally owned by and registered to Feliciano N. Tan, Sr. and was later transferred when the company came into existence. The Aleson Shipping Lines is owned and controlled by the Tan family of Zamboanga City and officially they declare their founding to be October 1, 1976. It was a saying in the Port of Zamboanga that the Tan family will never let go of the Estrella del Mar as it was their ”lucky” ship but it seems obsolescence finally caught up with her as it is hard to sail now without a respectable amount of cargo because fuel prices is high and the design of the vessel as a cruiser does not afford much cargo. The Estrella del Mar was the only local-built ferry of the Aleson Shipping Lines.

The Tan family was already in the goods trading and distribution business even before they got involved in the shipping business that it seems that the latter was an adjunct to the former when they started. In the process of their growth they overtook many Zamboanga shipping companies which started way before them like the Sampaguita Shipping Corporation which was once the biggest in Zamboanga and Mindanao (it is gone now, a victim of over-expansion), the shipping company of the Atilano family which later moved to Cebu and became more known as the Rose Shipping Company (it lost there and is gone now too), the Magnolia Shipping Corporation, the Ever Lines and the Basilan Shipping/Basilan Lines (which is also gone now). It also had contemporaries like the SKT Shipping Lines and the A. Sakaluran Shipping Corp. (this company had fastcrafts as well as traditional ships and Moro boats) which are also both gone now too. Those are just among the most prominent ones as there are many more small and less-prominent shipping companies in Zamboanga and that includes the operators of the many Moro boats (the Mindanao version of the motor boats or lancha/batel of Luzon and the Visayas) which are patterned after the Arab dhow.

Many of those big and small Zamboanga shipping companies are gone now, victims of the surplus of bottoms in the late 1990’s when the incentives of President Fidel V. Ramos on shipping plus the business optimism after the RAM coups were over resulted in overcapacity and brutal fare wars. Additionally, the barter trade of Zamboanga was already down and restricted. The Asian Crisis of 1997 also resulted in lower growth and soon the disastrous “Erap” presidency came. Among the prominent Zamboanga shipping companies, it is only the Magnolia Shipping Corporation and Ever Lines that are still in existence but they are no longer growing. Meanwhile, the Aleson Shipping Lines continued its growth  and acquisitions although they had missteps too like when they acquired big ferries (the Lady Mary Joy and Lady Mary Joy 2) and when they ventured in Luzon and the Visayas which came to naught (as there was also a surplus of bottoms there).

I have noticed that in shipping the companies that exhibit continuous growth are those whose families are not dependent on shipping but have solid core businesses elsewhere. This is true for the Lua family of Cebu which controls Oceanjet but have many other businesses including their famed bottled water business (the “Nature Spring” brand). That is also true for the Sta. Clara Shipping Corporation/Penafrancia Shipping Corporation combine of Bicol where the principal partner happens to have the biggest trading firm in the region and the other partners have their owns businesses too. The Poseidon LCTs of Concrete Solutions, Inc. and Primary Trident Marine Solutions Inc. of the Liu family from Cebu is also another example of one into shipping but the core businesses are elsewhere.

One notable thing I noticed about Mindanao is the other regions were not able to nurture big shipping concerns. Look at the row of Highly Urbanized Cities (HUCs or cities with a population of over 200,000) in the island. Cagayan de Oro has no big shipping corporation and the same is also true for Butuan. Ditto for Cotabato City and Iligan City. General Santos City is only big in fishing fleets and shipyards and that is understandable because of their access to the Celebes Sea fishing grounds. If Davao City was able to produce any, it is only the Chelsea Shipping Corp. which followed and supplied its pioneering sister company, the Phoenix Petroleum. Even the key gateway of Surigao City has no big shipping company either and Ozamis City was only able to produce Daima Shipping Corporation with its fleet of small double-ended ferries in Panguil Bay. Now, Zamboanga City is a gateway too and there are many islands that she supplies, the reason why there are many shipping lines in the city. The need for connection to these islands, Aleson Shipping Lines was able to exploit successfully and for a long time now.

The second ferry of Aleson Shipping Lines came in 1984 when they purchased from Carlos A. Gothong Lines Inc. (CAGLI) the second Dona Conchita (as differentiated from the original lengthened ex-“F”ship Dona Conchita which was the original flagship of the company). This was a cruiser passenger-cargo ship which they renamed into the Aleson Zamboanga and later as the Aleson 3. This was a ship built in 1963 (the same year as Dona Paz (when ROROs – Roll-on, Roll-off ships — were not yet in vogue) by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries as the Taishu Maru with IMO Number 6402420. She had a Length Over-all (LOA) of 59.3 meters, about the same size of the cruiser ships of Trans-Asia Shipping Lines Inc. when it was just starting, to put the size in context. This ship literally has longer legs (and for that her 14 knots from a single Hitachi engine of 1,500 horsepower comes handy). It can go to places that the Estrella del Mar can’t and also carry more cargo. Moreover,the passengers have more comfort as the ship is air-conditioned. Carlos A. Gothong Lines Inc. sold this cruiser ship because they were already converting then into a pure RORO fleet, the first local shipping company to do so. Later, Aleson Shipping sold this ferry to Indonesia.

It is understandable if for a time after acquiring the Aleson Zamboanga that Aleson Shipping Lines did not invest yet in additional ferries. The period of the 1980’s was an very unsettled one as financial and political crises were dominant in the national and economic life of the country. That was the fact of life in the country in that decade when many businesses even doubted if they will even survive. And I would even say that the purchase of Aleson Shipping Lines of their next ferry in 1990 was still a continuation of the 1980’s business malaise and the general conservatism then in investments.

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Photo by Hans Schaefer

The ship, the first Kristel Jane was just a small but beautiful ferry at 33.0 meters LOA (Length Over-all) with a design speed of 11 knots from a single Hanshin engine. She was built by Shin Kochi Jyuko in Kochi, Japan in 1979 as the Orange No. 2 with the IMO Number 7926980. A short-distance ferry which looks like a fastcraft or a Medium Speed Craft (MSC), this vessel had a passenger capacity of 386 and was mainly used for the Basilan route of the company.  However, Aleson Shipping did not keep her very long because in 2000 this first Kristel Jane was sold to Indonesia and became the Indomas 3 (by that year it also appeared that Aleson Shipping already had a small excess of ferries already).

It was only in 1994 when there were already incentives from the Fidel V. Ramos administration (actually in Cory Aquino’s administration we had a shortage of ships brought about by the financial crisis of the closing years of the Ferdinand E. Marcos administration when inflation was rampant) when Aleson Shipping Lines made a big move in the ferry business. This was also about the same time when other shipping companies nationwide made their moves too as business optimism was already rising then as the “Gringo” coups and the paralyzing black-outs were already over. In this year, Aleson Shipping Lines acquired two ferries and that suddenly doubled their then-small ferry fleet.

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Photo by Mike Baylon of PSSS

This ferry duo was led by the Danica Joy which seemed to have been named after a granddaughter of the founder who has a hand in the company now. The Danica Joy was built as the Nakajima in Japan in 1972 by the Nakamura Shipbuilding & Engineering Works in Yanai, Japan and she had the IMO Number 7852414. This ferry is bigger than the basic, short-distance ferry-RORO at 48.0 meters LOA and so she has two passenger decks and two engines. She was the ship used by Aleson Shipping Lines in opening their Sandakan, Malaysia route. For a time her twin Daihatsu engines of 2,000 horsepower which was sufficient for 14 knots when new became unreliable but Aleson Shipping Lines opened the checkbooks and now she is a reliable ship again. Right now, the Danica Joy is already the oldest ship remaining in the fleet of Aleson Shipping Lines by age (both ferries and container ships) and date of acquisition as the older ship by acquisition Aleson 3 and Kristel Jane are already gone from the fleet as were the older cargo ships of the company. The Danica Joy is the long-distance ferry replacement for the Aleson III which foundered in Cebu in 1994. She has a sister ship in the country which is the Lite Ferry 6 of Lite Ferries and she was also the former Salve Juliana of the MBRS Lines of Romblon.

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Photo by Albritz Salih of PSSS

The other ferry acquisition by Aleson Shipping Lines in 1994 was the Neveen which was smaller than the Danica Joy. The Neveen was a cruiser ship and she was built by Maebata Shipbuilding in Sasebo, Japan in 1975. This small ferry with the IMO Number 7509976 which was originally the Mishima Maru No.3 had a length of only 35.0 meters and was also used for the short Basilan route. A basic, short-distance ferry, Neveen has only one passenger deck and a single 1,000-horsepower Daihatsu engine which was good for 13 knots when new (with a “thinner” Breadth or Beam a cruiser will be faster than a RORO of the same length and engine). In the last few years of her life, the Neveen‘s engine had been sickly and she spent most of her time laid up in Varadero de Recodo and for sale. She is gone now from the fleet of Aleson Shipping and maybe they no longer re-engined her as she was obsolescent already as she is a cruiser ship.

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Photo by Karl Sabuga of PSSS

In 1995, the company bought a small RORO of 32.3 meters length and she was unusual for a basic, short-distance ferry-RORO as she had stern ramps (versus the normal bow ramp). This was the Alex Craig which was built in 1972 by the Izumi Shipbuiding in Moji, Japan as the Himeshima Maru No. 1, a ferry to a small island off the Japanese main island of Kyushu. This ferry was the smallest of Aleson Shipping up to that date with Gross Tonnage of only 197. She was also the smallest in passenger capacity in the fleet as she was only good for 154 persons. Besides, the Alex Craig also had the smallest engine in the fleet with only 750 horsepower from its single Yanmar Marine engine. However, she was not the slowest in the fleet as her design speed is 12 knots. This small ferry was one of the ships brought by Aleson in its expansion outside of Mindanao, specifically in Marinduque. When they lost there, they sold the Alex Craig and she was acquired by the Davemyr Shipping of Camiguin where she is now sailing as the Dona Pepita. Her sister in the country is also sailing in Camiguin, the ferry Yuhum of Philstone Shipping.

1996 was the year when Aleson Shipping Lines acquired a rather-big RORO for multi-day voyages that is not confined to Mindanao. This is the 84.3-meter Lady Mary Joy with a Gross Tonnage of 2,300 , the first ship of the company which is over 1,000 GT and the biggest ship of the company up to that time. This ship was used by Aleson Shipping in their long Cebu-Dumaguete-Dapitan-Zamboanga-Sandakan route, the longest route of the company ever. Supposedly, this route gives Central Visayas an access to the Sabah market in Malaysia. I thought this was part of the BIMP-EAGA concept being pushed then by the President Ramos in preparation for the ASEAN Free Trade Area. However, the President failed to define correctly what is “free trade” and it just remained as “restricted trade” and so the route was not successful in the long run. This ferry was also used by Aleson Shipping in their Zamboanga-Manila route.

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Photo by Chief Ray Smith of PSSS

The first Lady Mary Joy was a ship built by Taguma Shipbuilding in Innoshima, Japan in 1971 as the Freesia Maru of the ferry company Tosai Kisen KK of Japan and she was given the IMO Number 7101786. In 1986, she became the Happiness No. 2 of the Bright Eagle International Inc. of Panama. In the Philippines the ship was refitted to be a multi-day liner, the first ship of Aleson Shipping in that classification. The Lady Mary Joy was the first ship of the company with a Net Tonnage (NT) of over 1,000 (at 1,213) and the first ferry of the company with a passenger capacity of over 1,000 (at 1,116 persons). She was also the fastest ferry of Aleson Shipping then with a design speed of 17 knots coming from a pair of Niigata engines with a total of 6,000 horsepower. Sadly, this remarkable ship is gone now.

In 1997, Aleson Shipping Lines acquired a ship they will use to battle Sampaguita Shipping Company and SKT Shipping in what was thought of then as a premier route in Western Mindanao, the Zamboanga-Pagadian route which offered an alternative to bumpy, dusty and sometimes dangerous land route. This was the Ferry Taiko which they then renamed into the Nikel Princely. This ship is actually a RORO with just a small stern ramp. She was built by Kanda Shipbuilding Company in their Hiroshima yard in Japan in 1979 with the IMO Number 7900455 with an original 12.5 knots top speed from a pair of Daihatsu engines with a total of only 2,000 horsepower, the reason why she became a slow ship in the future. Nikel Princely is only 49.0 meters in length and she has two passenger decks. She had a passenger capacity of 400 which was accommodated in bunks as the route is an overnight ferry route of about eight hours sailing time.

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Taken from pagadian.com

The Zamboanga-Pagadian route had the best Zamboanga ferries in the late 1990’s as the Nikel Princely battled the Sampaguita Ferry 1 (the former Tacloban City of William Lines) and Sampaguita Ferry 2 (the former Iligan City of  William Lines) of the Sampaguita Shipping Lines and the Pagadian City (the former Madrigal Masbate of Madrigal Shipping) of SKT Shipping. However, in due time, the ferries in the Zamboanga-Pagadian route all lost when the Zamboanga-Pagadian highway was finally paved. I was not surprised by this development as it has been shown in the past and everywhere in the country that in parallel routes the ship cannot compete with the ubiquitous buses and trucks which depart at all times of the day and night, could even be cheaper and it can be hailed right or deliver goods at the gates of the homes of the passengers or shippers. For a time, the Nikel Princely was laid up or was serving as a reliever until the Roble Shipping Corp. of Cebu purchased her in 2009 and she became the Blessed Stars. Later, she was passed on to the new shipping company Theresian Stars and she tried to come back to Zamboanga as the Asian Stars in 2016 doing the Jolo route until she was acquired back by Roble Shipping and she became the Ocean Stars. The sister ship in the Philippines of the Nikel Princely was the former Filipinas Surigao of Cokaliong Shipping Lines Inc. which became the Asian Stars II of the new shipping company Theresians Stars that is plying the Zamboanga-Jolo route.

1998 was a big year for Aleson Shipping Linesas they made their biggest-ever expansion in their history when the acquired four (!) ferries. By this year, it seems that the Aleson Shipping was already the biggest shipping company in Mindanao, arguably, displacing the old Number 1, the Sampaguita Shipping Company. Both companies had many ferries now as well as cargo ships (as both operated cargo ships) but one purchase made Aleson Shipping Lines and that was the acquisition of the Lady Mary Joy 2, the biggest ferry the company has ever acquired and which was as big as some of the smaller liners plying the Manila-Cebu route. Sampaguita Shipping had no ship to match this new flagship of Aleson Shipping which was mainly used for the Zamboanga-Manila route of the company where it battled the liners of WG&A, Sulpicio Lines and Negros Navigation Company.

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Photo by Toshihiko Mikami of PSSS

The Lady Mary Joy 2 was a full-pledged liner and so Aleson Shipping became one of the handful of shipping companies in modern times to operate liners from Manila (and Cebu overnight ferries can’t claim that distinction nor did they have ferries of this size). This ship was not small (she is even bigger than some Manila liners) as she really liner-sized at 122.0 meters length with a Gross Tonnage of 3,330 with a passenger capacity of 850 persons. In size and external lines she was much like the heralded Sweet RORO of Sweet Lines (but she was actually marginally longer). The Lady Mary Joy 2 by built by Fukuoka Zosen in Fukuoka, Japan in 1974 as the Akitsu Maru of Kyodo Kisen KK and she possessed the IMO Number 7402025. Her design speed is a match for liners of her size at 18.5 knots as she had 12,000 horsepower from a pair of Niigata engines. This liner is gone now, broken up, as Aleson Shipping was not able to hold on to their Manila route as there were plenty of liners during her time.

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Stephanie Marie by Mike Baylon of PSSS

Another acquisition in 1998 was a ship that firmed up the position of the company in Western Mindanao shipping and is still a great asset to the company until today. This is the Stephanie Marie which was the former Marima III in Japan. This ship was built in Japan by tne Kanda Shipbuiding Company in their Kure yard. The length of the ship is 63.2 meters, not unlike many Cebu overnight ferries but she is built as a short-distance ferry with seats which means she has a lot of space and capacity and before the coming of Stephanie Marie 2 she dwarfed then all the ferries going to Basilan. This vessel has two-and-a-half passenger decks with a Tourist Class in the former lounge of the ship which even houses a small a small office. The Stephanie Marie was built in 1979 with the IMO Number 8427278 and she is powered by a pair of Daihatsu engines with a total of 3,200 horsepower giving her design speed was 15 knots. By acquisition she is now the second oldest extant ferry in the fleet of Aleson Shipping Lines. For a long time now this ferry is the mainstay of the company in the Isabela, Basilan route.

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Photo by Mike Baylon of PSSS

Another vessel that was also not small was the Danica Joy 2 which was refitted as an overnight ferry and which can also do longer voyages as in as far as Sandakan, Malaysia and as such she has the accommodations similar to a multi-day liner (she did that route when the liners of Aleson Shipping were already gone). This vessel is about the same size as the Stephanie Marie at 67.2 meters length and she had two passenger decks equipped with bunks. The Danica Joy 2 was built by Nakamura Shipbuilding & Engineering Works in Yanai, Japan in 1982. She was formerly the Orange Hope of the Shikoku Ferry in Japan and she had the permanent ID IMO 8135253. This ferry had a sustained speed of 16 knots when coming from two Daihatsu engines with a total of 4,000 horsepower. In 201-, she became unbalanced while unloading and she capsized while docked in Zamboanga port and now she is already gone from the fleet of Aleson Shipping Lines. She has a sister ship in the country, the Asia Philippines of Trans-Asia Shipping Lines of Cebu which was now sold to George & Peter Lines, also of Cebu.

Not all of Aleson Shipping Lines acquisitions in 1998 were big or relatively big ships. One was a basic, short-distance ferry-RORO of only 32.0 meters in Length Over-all (LOA) which is the Kristel Jane 2. This ferry was built by the Nagasaki Shipyard & Machinery Works in Nagasaki, Japan as the Himawari in 1974 with the IMO Number 7396020.  When Kristel Jane 2 was acquired, she one of the five small ferries in the fleet of the Aleson Shipping Lines with the second-smallest passenger capacity at 188 persons, next only to the Alex Craig. However, this ferry had the slowest design speed in the fleet at only 10 knots. But unlike other short-distance ferry-ROROs, the Kristel Jane 2 had two engines and two screws. She had a total of 800 horsepower from her Mitsubishi engines.

After these big acquisitions, Aleson Shipping Lines went into a relative hiatus of four years as far as ferry additions are concerned. Acquiring the four previously mentioned ferries might have brought financial pressure to the company but it seems there is more than to that. In this period there was obviously a surplus of bottoms already in the country plus the acquisition of liner ferries was not panning out well for the company. Moreover, the Luzon and Visayas forays of Aleson Shipping Lines were not doing well also. The emergence of SRN Fastcrafts which is better known as Weesam Express plus the acquisition of fastcrafts by the A. Sakaluran Shipping Corp. (which also possessed conventional crafts) also put pressure on the company until most of these fastcrafts were moved into the Visayas and also Luzon in the case of A. Sakaluran.

(To be continued….)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Ship Design Conflict Within WG & A

On the first day of the year 1996, the “Great Merger” officially happened. This brought the fleets and all assets of William Lines Inc. (WLI), Carlos A. Gothong Lines Inc. (CAGLI) and Aboitiz Shipping Corporation (ASC) under one single company and management except for some very old ferries of Aboitiz Shipping Corporation (the likes of Legazpi) and a some ferries and container ships of Aboitiz Jebsens (that was a separate company) which were the container ships acquired from the Ukraine. This was supposedly a preemptive move so local shipping can compete against the purported entry of foreign competition in the inter-island routes which proved to be a bogey or a false story later. How some old shipping families believed that foreigners can enter with a Anti-Cabotage Law in effect that forbids foreign shipping firms from sailing in local routes is beyond me because repeal of any law passes through Congress and our Congress is usually not keen on passing laws that grants free passage to foreigners and if those three liner and container shipping companies are willing, the regional shipping companies and other companies might not be willing and they can also raise a ruckus. But anyway the unlikely merger happened and a very big shipping company was formed from previously competitors.

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Dona Virginia (Credits to Palawan Wildlife Rescue and Conservation Center and Manu Sarmiento)

Any merger usually results in excess assets and in shipping that includes ships aside from management personnel and employees and logistical assets like containers, container yards and buildings. This was easily obvious with the WG&A merger. Since there were excess liners some of it were sent to its regional subsidiary Cebu Ferries Corporation (CFC) like when the Mabuhay 6 (the Our Lady of Good Voyage) and the Our Lady of Lipa were sent there. Meanwhile, all the cruisers liners were offered for sale. They also tried to dispose old and unreliable ROROs like the Dona Cristina, Don Calvino and the Dona Lili that were formerly regional ferries. Actually even some recent liners were also offered for sale. The total was about 10 and that was already about a third of the combined fleet. That also included a handful of container ships.

I knew it early there was a conflict with the disposal of ships when I had as a cabin mate in SuperFerry 7 the cargo manager of William Lines in North Harbor and he was furious because to him it seems that the liners of William Lines were being targeted. Well, that might have been the unintended result of getting Aboitiz Jebsens as fleet and maintenance manager because they will use their old standard in choosing ships (that company was subsequently renamed to WG&A Jebsens to reflect the changed circumstances).

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Don Calvino (Credits to George Tappan and Gorio Belen)

One has to look into recent history to understand this. Aboitiz Shipping Corporation as a liner company did not acquire any liners from 1974 to 1988 and the one they acquired in 1988 was inconsequential as it was just the small and old cruiser liner Katipunan of Escano Lines which became the Legaspi 1. By that time Aboitiz Shipping Corporation had just a few old liners sailing, a combination of former “FS” ships which were on its last legs and a few old cruisers including the pair acquired from Everett Steamship, the Legazpi and the Elcano which were also clearly obsolete already and getting unreliable. It looked to me that without their partner Jebsens Maritime that was influential in their container shipping (which was actually good), they might not have had their blockbuster SuperFerry series.

If one looks at the SuperFerry series of Aboitiz Shipping Corporation, one will easily see its distinguishing characteristics. They are all ROROs (or more exactly ROPAXes) with car ramps at the bow and at the stern, the container vans are all mounted in trailers, trailer caddies hauled them in a fast manner and if possible the two car ramps are both employed so one is dedicated for loading and the other for unloading. Radios are also employed for communication to orchestrate the movement of the container vans so a trailer caddy hauling a container aboard will have a container being unloaded on the way down and markers are used so loading of container vans will not be helter-skelter which can mean difficulty in unloading a container van in an intermediate port.

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Maynilad by Britz Salih

To remedy their serious lack of liners due to non-purchase in the recent years past, Aboitiz Shipping Corporation and Aboitiz Jebsens designed their liners to have short interport hours as in 2 to 3 hours only, the former the preferred time. In Manila and in the endport, the port hours were also very short. With this kind of operation the SuperFerries had a high number of hours at sea on a weekly basis which meant maximum utilization. While a Sulpicio Lines liner will only have a round-trip voyage if the route is Southern Mindanao, an Aboitiz ship will still have a short trip to the likes of Panay within the same week or else do a twice a week Northern Mindanao voyage. With this style, their 4 SuperFerry ships were in practicality the equal of 5 or 6 ships of the competition. Of course with this kind of use of ships a heavy load of preventive maintenance is needed and that happened to be the forte of Aboitiz Jebsens.

When the Chiongbian and Gothong families agreed to the Aboitiz proposal to have Aboitiz Jebsens as fleet and maintenance manager they should have already known was in store and that is the liners should perform the Aboitiz Jebsens way and that meant those which can’t will fall into disfavor and might be the target for culling because with the Aboitiz Jebsens system a lesser number of liners will be needed to maintain their route system and frequencies. Of course at the start WG & A will try to employ all the liners that were not relegated to their subsidiary Cebu Ferries Corporation. But then new liners were still coming onstream, the liners William Lines, Gothong Lines and Aboitiz Shipping ordered when they were still separate companies. WG & A created new routes and frequencies but in a short time they realized what cannot be maintained because there are not enough passengers or cargo like the routes to Tacloban and Dipolog (Dapitan actually) and the Manila-Dumaguete-Cotabato and Manila-Cebu-Surigao-Davao routes.

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Tacloban City (Credits to Times Journal and Gorio Belen)

With that “weak” and “inefficient” ships will be targets for culling aside from the old liners and there was no question that cruiser liners will be first in the firing line. That type cannot carry much cargo and their cargo handling in the interport is longer as cargo booms are not as fast in loading and unloading unlike trailer caddies. So it was no surprise that the cruiser liners Misamis OccidentalTacloban City and Iligan City, formerly of William Lines were almost immediately up for sale. The small ROPAX Zamboanga City was also offered for sale because her engines were big relative to her size and capacity (16,800-horsepower engines) and she had no ramps at the bow. That also went true for the slow Maynilad (14-15 knots only on 16,800 horsepower). The problem with these is they were all former William Lines ship, the reason why some former William Lines people were upset. But they accepted Aboitiz Jebsens as the fleet manager and so that will almost inevitably be the result.

Some lesser liners survived. The “Our Lady” ships of Gothong Lines survived because for their size and capacity their engines were small and that speaks of efficiency and though while a little slower they were fit for the short routes like the northern Panay routes (Dumaguit and Roxas City) or in the periphery like Masbate and Eastern Visayas. The northern Panay route also became the refuge of the Our Lady of Naju, a former Gothong ship which was also a cruiser. The passengers and cargo of the route were not big and so a big cruiser liner like the Dona Virginia will not fit. But of course all that favored the former Gothong ships. It might just have been a quirk of fate and not necessarily because the Gothong representative to the WG & A Board of Directors who is Bob Gothong is close to the Aboitizes. But then I wonder how the Our Lady of Lipa survived. For her size she has big engines and speed was not really needed in the Dumaguit/Roxas City route. Was it because they wanted to show up their competitor the old but beautiful cruiser liner Don Julio of Negros Navigation? I thought when the old cruiser liner Misamis Occidental was refurbished to become the cruiser ship Our Lady of Montserrat, a former William Lines vessel she might have fitted the route (she was even re-engined and became all-airconditioned like the Our Lady of Naju). Was her speed not really enough for the route? Or WG & A wants a ship that is really superior to the competition?

Our Lady of Banneux

Credits to Keppel Cebu and Ken Ledesma

It was not surprising then that in the early merger years that former William Lines officers and employees would think it was only their vessels which was on the firing line or chopping block.

The beautiful SuperFerry 11 which was fielded after the merger was also not that favored. Her engines are just about okay for her size, she has the speed but then like the Zamboanga City she has no car ramps at the bow because she also came from A” Lines of Japan. She was also destined for William Lines if the merger did not happen. The beautiful Maynilad would have easily been a SuperFerry in terms of size and accommodations if not for her grave lack of speed. Being excess later the SuperFerry 11 and Maynilad were passed to Cebu Ferries Corporation and they were the biggest ships that company ever had. That was after WG & A created an entirely new route for them, the Manila-Ormoc-Nasipit route which in first report was good. But then along the years WG & A and successor company Aboitiz Transport System (ATS) developed a reputation for being very soft in holding and maintaining routes. In Cebu Ferries the SuperFerry 11 was renamed to Our Lady of Banneux and the Maynilad was renamed to Our Lady of Akita 2 after her top passenger deck was removed. The two happened to be ex-William Lines ships also! Although not clearly disfavored (as she made the SuperFerry grade), the Our Lady of Banneux which can run at up to 19 knots had a grounding incident in Canigao Channel from which she never recovered again.

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The ship Zamboanga by Wilben Santos

So actually the William liners were the great casualties of the merger due to redundancy and incompatibility and that was because they were unlike the original SuperFerry liners and they simply cannot make the SuperFerry grade (well, just like the former “Our Lady” ships of Gothong Lines only one of those made the SuperFerry grade, the former Our Lady of Akita which became the SuperFerry 6). Of course their former Mabuhay 1 and Mabuhay 3 which made the SuperFerry grade lived longer. The former Mabuhay 2 was not lucky as she was hit by fire early which led to complete total loss. In the longer run only the Mabuhay 1 and Mabuhay 3 survived and the Mabuhay 3 as SuperFerry 8 was even leased to Papua New Guinea because of the surplus of liners in WG & A.

The liners of Carlos A. Gothong Lines Inc. (CAGLI) were more lucky as they found niche routes and small engines played into their favor. Moreover many of the former Gothong Lines ships were in regional routes and they lived long there including their former small liners the Our Lady of Fatima and the Our Lady of Lourdes which were sister ships. That even included the venerable Our Lady of the Rule and their old Our Lady of Guadalupe which has unreliable engines and I even wonder how she lasted so long. In the regional routes some former ships of William Lines survived like the Our Lady of Good Voyage and the Our Lady of Manaoag.

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Dona Lili (Credits to PNA, Phil. Daily Express and Gorio Belen)

When the Chiongbian family of William Lines divested in 2003 only 2 of their former liners remained in WG & A aside from a few container ships. They were paid off in cash from the passenger and container ships that were scrapped. There were still many Gothong ships in the fleet of WG & A when they divested as most survived the culling but they preferred newly-acquired ships when they restarted independent operations.

And that was the story of the ship design conflict in WG & A which have been one of the reasons why the “Great Merger” unraveled so soon.

An Unheralded and Unknown Liner

William Lines, one the greatest of Philippine shipping companies rose to probably become the country’s Number 1 entering the 1980’s. That rise to paramount position was fueled by their race with Sulpicio Lines to acquire fast cruiser liners from the Misamis Occidental to Cebu City, Tacloban City, Manila City, Cagayan de Oro City and Ozamis City. When they acquired the last-mentioned ship in 1978, they might have been in parity already with the erstwhile Number 1 which was Compania Maritima. But when they acquired the half-RORO, half-cruiser Dona Virginia in 1979 and they joined the race with Aboitiz Shipping and Sulpicio Lines to acquire container ships starting in 1979 with the ROLO Cargo ship Wilcon 1, few will dispute that they were already Number 1 in our seas. That rise was aided by the non-purchase anymore of further ships by Compania Maritima (and the consecutive losses of ships of the company due to maritime accidents) and the split of the old Carlos A. Gothong & Company in 1972 which produced three separate shipping companies — Sulpicio Lines Incorporated, Lorenzo Shipping Corporation and Carlos A. Gothong Lines, Incorporated (CAGLI).

However, while William Lines was mainly Number 1 in the next decade, the company seemed to overly rely on the fast cruiser lines (of which they had the most among the local shipping companies) and were relatively late in the acquisition of RORO liners. After the half-RORO, half-cruiser Dona Virginia, their first acquisition of a full-pledged RORO liner happened in 1987 already when they bought the Masbate I. By the time they acquired that, their main rival Sulpicio Lines has already purchased 4 ROROs and Carlos A. Gothong Lines even more. Sweet Lines had already procured 3 ROROs and and will add two more in 1987 and Negros Navigation has already bought 2. Among the still existent major liner companies, it was only Aboitiz Shipping and Escano Lines which had a zero total liners until 1987. So when Sulpicio Lines acquired 3 big ROROs in 1988, the Filipina Princess, Cotabato Princess and Nasipit Princess, William Lines lost their Number 1 position in the totem pole of local shipping and again few would dispute that.

William Lines might have seen the handwriting on the wall that the cruiser liners were heading to obsolescence but what I don’t understand was their continued reliance on Arimura Sangyo, the later A” Lines on second-hand liners. To get their RORO liners, Sulpicio Lines did not rely anymore on their old supplier, the RKK Lines and instead diversified their sourcing. In fact, none of the three liners they purchased in 1988 came from RKK Lines and that itself is telling like they really want ROROs fast.

William Lines tried to pursue Sulpicio Lines in the acquisition battle of RORO liners by purchasing their second full-pledged RORO liner in 1989. Just the same their supplier was still A” Lines and what they got was the Ferry Amami (actually many of their further purchases of liners will still come from this company like the Sugbu which was the latter Mabuhay 3, the Maynilad, Mabuhay 2, Mabuhay 6 and what was supposed to be the Mabuhay 7 which turned out to be the SuperFerry 11 and later Our Lady of Banneux). It seems it was the over-reliance of William Lines on A” Lines that doomed her into sliding into the Number 2 position among the local shipping companies and so Sulpicio Lines did well in diversifying their source.

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Photo by Wilben Santos thru PSSS

The Ferry Amami turned out into the ferry Zamboanga City, a ROPAX liner. This ferry was not known by many because she was not a ship with a route to Cebu and instead served her namesake city at first, obviously, and Cebuanos, the most literate among Pinoys about ships normally don’t go to Zamboanga City. This ferry, like many of the ferries of A” Line in the 1970’s had the design of having a stern ramp but having booms in the bow of the ship which is being hybrid also in some way. Most ROROs that came in this country does not have this design. It might have not been so fit here because the other ferries from A” Lines of William Lines had this boom subsequently removed like in Sugbu, Maynilad, Mabuhay 2, Mabuhay 6 and SuperFerry 11 (the later Our Lady of Banneux). When this boom is being operated, the ship also rocks in cargo loading like in cruiser ships and of course the stern ramp will also move and I think that was the contradiction of this kind of design.

The Zamboanga City is not a big RORO liner but it is comparable to most of the RORO liners that came to the Philippines in the period between 1987 and 1992 which were near 100 meters in length up to a little over 120 meters in length. Among that came in this period were the Our Lady of Fatima, Our Lady of Lourdes, Our Lady of Sacred Heart, Sto. Nino de Cebu (the later Our Lady of Medjugorje) of Carlos A. Gothong Lines, the Masbate I, the Tacloban Princess and Manila Princess of Sulpicio Lines, the Sta. Ana and Princess of Negros of Negros Navigation. To this the Our Lady of the Rule of Carlos A. Gothong Lines can be added but she was not used in a Manila route. The notable exceptions were the 3 big liners that came to Sulpicio Lines in 1988 and the Sugbu, Maynilad, Mabuhay 1, Mabuhay 2 of William Lines and the SuperFerry 1 and SuperFerry 2 of Aboitiz Shipping. However, these small RORO liners of 1987-1992 had passenger capacity from over 1,200 to just over 2,000 and the Zamboanga City itself has a passenger capacity of 1,875. It was the period when the country’s economy was recovering, there was a shortage of liners and ferries in general because of lack of acquisitions in the previous years because of the economic crisis and former surplus World War II ships were already being retired. That was the reason why shipping companies tended to push to the limit the passenger capacities of their ships. And it can get full in the peak season and passengers have to be turned away (I have seen this personally many times).

The Zamboanga City was built by Niigata Shipbuilding & Repair in 1975 in Niigata, Japan as the Emerald Amami of and she had the IMO Number 7435527. The ship’s external dimensions were 117.1 meters in length over-all (LOA), a length between perpendicular (LPP) of 105.0 meters and a beam of 19.0 meters and gross cubic measurements was 4,188 in gross register tonnage (GRT). The ferry originally had two and a half passenger decks and its route was to Amami Oshima in Japan. Emerald Amami had a quarter stern ramp leading to its car deck. The ship already has a bulbous stem which was still a novel design in 1975 and that feature aids the speed of the ship. The big cargo boom dominates the front of the ship.

Emerald Amami was equipped with twin Niigata engines with a total horsepower of 16,800 which were the same engines powering the bigger Akatsuki of A” Line also (the Akatsuki became the Maynilad of the same company). With that powerplant, the Emerald Amami had an original sustained top speed of 20 knots (and the Akatsuki 18 knots because it is bigger). It was an unfortunate choice of engines as the Maynilad was only able to generate 15 knots here (because a lot of metal was added) and the Zamboanga City 17 knots (and William Lines suffered in the process). And because of the two, my respect for Niigata engines went down because the other ships of the size of Emerald Amami here can produce the same speed with just about 10,000 horsepower (like the SuperFerry 3, San Paolo and Princess of Negros). And ships of the size of Akatsuki with that engine horsepower can do much better speeds (like the SuperFerry 2 and SuperFerry 5).

In 1987 Emerald Amami was renamed to Ferry Amami. In 1988, when the new Ferry Amami arrived she was put up for sale and in the next year she came to the Philippines for William Lines which then refitted her for Philippine conditions and that means adding decks to increase passenger capacity and to provide for open-air Economy accommodations (the added decks in her were what became the Economy sections). With that the gross tonnage of the ship increased to 5,747 with a net tonnage of 1,176 which is an understated figure (was this the net register tonnage in Japan?). It does not even meet the International Maritime Organization (IMO) requirement that the net tonnage should be at least one-third of the gross tonnage. The deadweight tonnage of the ship meanwhile remained at 2,082. The Call Sign of Zamboanga Ferry was DUZI. This Zamboanga City was the third ship to carry that name in the fleet of William Lines (and at other times she was only referred to as Zamboanga).

Zamboanga City became the replacement ship for the burned Manila City of William Lines in 1991 and thus held the Manila-Zamboanga-Davao route. She was also tried in the Manila-Iloilo-Zamboanga-Cotabato route later to challenge the Cotabato Princess there when Sulpicio Lines transferred the Filipina Princess to the Davao route and the Maynilad was used by William Lines in that route in 1992. When the Mabuhay liner series started arriving for William Lines, the Zamboanga City was shunted to the Manila-Puerto Princesa route without passing Coron and that was her route until William Lines coalesced with Gothong Lines and Aboitiz Shipping at the end of 1995 to form the super-company WG&A.

In WG&A among the ROROs it was Zamboanga City which was subjected to ignominy. She was assigned the route Manila-Zamboanga-General Santos City early in 1996, a route where her relative lack of speed will show. At this time she was only capable of 16 knots when Maynilad was just capable of 14 knots. Her competitor there was the Princess of the Pacific of Sulpicio Lines which can do 18 knots. In mid-1996 she was assigned the Manila-Dipolog (actually Dapitan)-Ozamis route that was held before by another slowpoke, the 16-knot Our Lady of Good Voyage, the former Ferry Kikai of A” Line which first became the Mabuhay 6 (I noticed a lot of former A” Line ships that came to William Lines this period was afflicted with slow speed).

In 1997 Zamboanga City disappeared from the schedules and she was offered for sale together with the Maynilad. The two were the only RORO liners offered for sale by WG&A. The Maynilad I can understand the reason because there is really no liner that just runs at 14 knots and passengers to Zamboanga when she was still with William Lines complained of the too long transit time even though she does not dock at Iloilo port. But at 16 knots the Zamboanga City was just in the league of SuperFerry 3, the Our Lady of Sacred Heart and just marginally below the Our Lady of Medjugorje. When WG&A started pairing of ships on routes, the three were often paired. All were mechanically reliable just like Zamboanga City but Zamboanga City was always left out. What was her jinx, the cargo boom at the front? Ferry Kikai also had that also but was removed and a deck ahead of the bridge, a Tourist accommodation was created. If that was the problem that could have been done also for Zamboanga City. Or was the 16,800 horsepower engine the real killer that was why she was disliked by WG&A Jebsens that manages the fleet? At least Our Lady of Good Voyage only has 7,600hp engines, the Our Lady of Sacred Heart had 8,000hp engine, the Our Lady of Medjugorje had 9,000hp engines and SuperFerry 3 just had 9,300hp engines. And their speeds were the same. Do the math.

I was wondering then why the cruiser Our Lady of Naju which has the length of 111.4 meters was retained. Its cargo capacity was measly but her route of Dumaguit and Roxas City had minimal cargo anyway and so maybe her 10,000hp engines is what made her acceptable and she was even marginally faster than Zamboanga City. But why the Our Lady of Lipa with 18,800hp engines on 124.2 meters length survived? Well she at least had the speed and she could be used for the speed wars in Cebu-Cagayan de Oro route if needed. Maybe it was really the big engines with no speed that was the albatross on the neck of Zamboanga City. Now maybe if only Dumaguit and Roxas had more cargo then she might have survived instead of the Our Lady of Naju.

Mind you the accommodations of Zamboanga City are decent and comparable to liners of her period and I can say that because I have ridden her when she was substituted to the Iligan route. I don’t know maybe that was just her role then in WG&A before she was sold – to be a reserve ship. Maybe her size and engine size was really not fit for the Visayas-Mindanao route. Or maybe WG&A prefered the Maynilad there (also known as Our Lady of Akita 2 after one passenger deck was removed). This ferry had better accommodations and bigger cargo capacity and 14 knots can be hidden in a Cebu to northern Mindanao route). Otherwise, she would have taken the slot of the 104.6-meter Our Lady of Manaoag, the former Masbate I. But then that ship only had small engines with 7,600 horsepower.

An unwanted ship, in 2000 the Zamboanga City was finally sold to China breakers. Too unknown, too unheralded that few remember her.

When the RORO Liners Came to Zamboanga and Southern Mindanao

The ROROs (Roll-on, Roll-off ships) first came to the Philippines at the end of the 1970’s and in the 1980’s it began to multiply in Luzon and the Visayas. From the moment the ROROs arrived it was already obvious that they were superior to the cruiser ships and that a new paradigm has arrived and the cruiser ships were already headed to obsolescence. However, the ROROs did not multiply fast in general in the 1980’s because it was a decade of great economic and political crises when the value of the peso plunged and inflation was unchecked. At the height of the crisis of the 1980’s almost no loans were available, few foreign currency was available (that it even lead to the creation of the “Binondo central bank) and the interest rates were skyhigh that it was almost suicide to take a loan especially at foreign-denominated one.

That difficulty was reflected in that the first RORO liners and overnight ferries in the country acquired at the peak of this crisis up to 1986 were small and were generally just in the 60 to 70-meter length class only and barely over 1,000 gross tons. Among the examples of those were the Surigao Princess, Cagayan Princess, Boholana Princess, Sta. Maria (of Nenaco and not Viva Shipping Lines), the Viva Sta. Maria and Marian Queen of Viva Shipping Lines and the many ROROs acquired by Carlos A. Gothong Lines like the Dona Lili, Don Calvino, Dona Josefina, Don Benjamin, Dona Casandra, Dona Cristina and the third Sweet Home of Sweet Lines. The notable exceptions in this period were the Sweet RORO and Sweet RORO 2 of Sweet Lines and the Sta. Florentina of Negros Navigation but the three were not really that big (as in 110 to 120 meters LOA). Many liners shipping companies did not bother to purchase a RORO ship in this period like William Lines, Aboitiz Shipping, Lorenzo Shipping, Escano Lines and the moribund Compania Maritima, the erstwhile biggest passenger shipping company.

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Cotabato Princess c. 1988 by Britz Salih

However, if Luzon, the Visayas and Northern Mindanao already had RORO ships in this period described, Zamboanga and Southern Mindanao did not see a RORO liner until 1988 when Sulpicio Lines fielded the Cotabato Princess in the Manila-Iloilo-Zamboanga-Cotabato route and Trans-Asia Shipping Lines Inc. fielded the Asia Korea (the latter Asia Hongkong and the Reina del Rosario of Montenegro Shipping Lines) on the Cebu-Iloilo-Zamboanga-General Santos City route and that RORO ship is actually 82.8 meters in length which is about the size of small liners then like the Our Lady of Guadalupe which arrived in 1986 for Carlos A. Gothong Lines and was 89.7 meters in length. With the overthrow of the dictatorship in 1986 and the general bettering of the economic conditions starting in 1987 the RORO ships being purchased were beginning to get bigger and more many as the difficulty of lending from banks and the interest rates eased and there was new economic optimism.

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Asia Korea (TASLI photo)

The fielding of RORO liners in Zamboanga and Southern Mindanao was not fast at first. In 1989, the Zamboanga City of William Lines came when it did the Manila-Iloilo-Zamboanga route before replacing their burned (in the shipyard) Manila City in the Manila-Zamboanga-Davao route. In 1992, the big but slow Maynilad of the William Lines came and replaced the Zamboanga City in that route and the Zamboanga City was given the Manila-Iloilo-Cotabato-General Santos City route instead to battle the Cotabato Princess (with she bypassing Zamboanga port her travel time to Cotabato was shorter).

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Maynilad (Photo credits: William Lines and Britz Salih)

Sulpicio Lines only fielded their second RORO liner in Southern Mindanao when the Manila Princess came in 1992 to replace their cruiser Davao Princess in the Manila-Cebu-Davao route. Actually during that time the only shipping companies with passenger service still remaining to Zamboanga and Southern Mindanao were Sulpicio Lines, William Lines and Sweet Lines. Such was the effect of the political and economic crises of the 1980’s and the coming of the container ships. Among those who quit Zamboanga and Southern Mindanao then in passenger shipping were Compania Maritima, Aboitiz Shipping and Lorenzo Shipping.

The slowness of the coming of the RORO liners in Zamboanga and Southern Mindanao can be counted this way. In 1992, four years after the first coming of the RORO liners, the southernmost portion of the country only had 4 RORO liners, the Manila Princess and Cotabato Princess of Sulpicio Lines and the Maynilad and Zamboanga City of William Lines (Sweet Lines only had the cruiser Sweet Glory in the route). Well, actually there were not that many liners here compared to the Visayas and Northern Mindanao as most cargo in the region was actually carried by the container ships which outnumber the RORO liners. However, Zamboanga and Southern Mindanao RORO liners were generally bigger than the Visayas and Northern Mindanao RORO liners, on the average.

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Princess of the Pacific (Photo credits: Sulpicio Lines and Britz Salih)

It was starting in 1993 that fielding of RORO liners to the southernmost part of the country accelerated. More RORO liners were actually coming in the country because of the incentives laid by President Fidel V. Ramos. The Princess of the Pacific of Sulpicio Lines came and did the Manila-Iloilo-Zamboanga-Dadiangas route. Aboitiz Shipping came back to Southern Mindanao when they fielded the SuperFerry 1 in the Manila-Iloilo-General Santos-Davao route and their SuperFerry 3 did the Manila-Zamboanga-Cotabato route to the protest of William Lines in the latter which when not resolved resulted in the withdrawal of the liner Zamboanga City and subsequent reassignment of that ship to the Puerto Princesa route. Meanwhile, the super-big former flagship of Sulpicio Lines, the Filipina Princess replaced the Manila Princess in its route and this ship was subsequently assigned to the Manila-Zamboanga-Davao route to compete with the slow but bigger Maynilad.

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Photo credits: Manila Chronicle and Gorio Belen

In 1994, the lengthened and rebuilt Sugbu which became the Mabuhay 3 of William Lines did the Manila-Davao-Dadiangas route. In 1995, just before the merger that produced WG&A no more further RORO liners came but Manila Princess was plagued by unreliability and was just being used as a reserve ship.

When WG&A started sailing in 1996 there were heavy changes to the schedules and routes. Early in the merger, the Maynilad was doing the Manila-Dumaguete-Cotabato route and SuperFerry 3 was assigned her old Manila-Zamboanga-Cotabato route. The Dona Virginia was fielded to the Manila-Zamboanga-General Santos City route and competing head-on with the Princess of the Pacific but she was only a half-RORO, half-cruiser. The SuperFerry 6 was doing the Manila-Surigao-Davao route in contest with the Filipina Princess. And the SuperFerry 1 was doing her old Manila-Iloilo-General Santos City-Davao route. There were more RORO liners now and RORO liners that have not been previously assigned to Zamboanga and Southern Mindanao reached ports here like the Our Lady of Akita of Gothong Lines which became SuperFerry 6 and the old flagship Dona Virginia of William Lines. It was exciting because new ships coming are exciting and because it is a new experience for the passengers.

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SuperFerry 3 by Chief Ray Smith

Along the years there were constant adjustments in the routes and fielding of ships of WG&A as more RORO liners came to their fleet and some liners were disposed off or were lost. Later, WG&A also turned into pairing of ships to do the same route. But it would be hard to mention here all the WG&A routes and schedules as it often changed and I will just risk accusations of inaccuracies and listing many by month will be too tedious.

There was one more change in the area when Negros Navigation invaded Zamboanga and Southern Mindanao in their desire to become a national liner company and compete toe-to-toe with WG&A and Sulpicio Lines. The San Ezekiel Moreno was assigned the Manila-Iloilo-Zamboanga-General Santos route and competing against the Princess of the Pacific. And the San Lorenzo Ruiz (theirs and not the Viva Shipping Lines ship) was fielded to the Manila-Iloilo-General Santos-Davao route in competition then with the SuperFerry 1/SuperFerry 8/SuperFerry 10 pairing.

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San Lorenzo Ruiz by Britz Salih

In the new millennium the RORO liners slowly disappeared from Southern Mindanao and almost too in Zamboanga. Passenger shipping slowly but continuously weakened with the onslaught of the budget airlines (and the intermodal bus too from Davao) whose fares were already in parity with the liners. Soon, even the hoi polloi were also taking the planes and a new generation of passengers deemed the liners as too slow and wouldn’t want to spend two-and-a-half days of their lives cocooned in a liner although they are fed free. The RORO liners soon became for the ship lovers only and for those who feared taking a plane.

In the second decade of the new millennium the Aboitiz Transport System RORO liners to Southern Mindanao disappeared. That was preceded years earlier by the withdrawal of Negros Navigation. Now there are no more liners in Southern Mindanao and in Zamboanga only one liner is left.

Soon RORO liners will just be distant memories in Southern Mindanao.

The Fast Cruiser Liners of William Lines

1978 William Lines

Photo research of Gorio Belen in the National Library

Among the local passenger liner shipping companies, it was William Lines which believed the most in the fast cruiser liners. They acquired the greatest number of them and promoted them well. Those became the engines of William Lines in their quest to be Number 1 in inter-island shipping and surpass the long pillar of inter-island shipping, the somewhat-legendary Compania Maritima which has Spanish origins and politically well-connected. Well, Don William Chiongbian was politically very well-connected, too as President Ferdinand Marcos was a good friend of him.

Fast” is a relative term. In the 1960’s, that meant just about 16 knots. In the period when William Lines bet big on fast cruiser liners, the 1970’s, that already meant about 18 knots or better. In the late 1980’s and especially in the 1990’s, “fast” meant 20 knots already. In the subsequent decades, “fast” for liners did not creep higher than 20 knots because the fuel prices that crept up and patronage for liners has already began to weaken gradually.

In the 1970’s, William Lines invested in six fast cruiser liners. That began with two brand-new ships, the “Misamis Occidental”, which arrived in 1970 and named after the province origin of the founder Don William Chiongbian. In 1972, the “Cebu City” came and it then engaged in a legendary battle with the first “Sweet Faith” of Sweet Lines in the premier Manila-Cebu route at 20 knots. The fast cruiser liners of William Lines were named after cities of the country that were also their ports of call.

When effects of “free float” of the peso (which meant uncontrolled devaluation in direct language) took hold, the Phillippine shipping companies can no longer afford to acquire brand-new ships and so after 1972 all the liner acquisitions were second-hand already. However, many of these were ships just a decade old or even younger. And so, four second-hand cruiser liners came to William Lines with a gap of one year in their arrivals.

The next fast cruiser to come to William Lines was the “Tacloban City” which they acquired in 1975. This was followed by the “Manila City” in 1976, the “Cagayan de Oro City” in 1977 and finally the “Ozamis City” in 1978. I do not know if “Dona Virginia” can be added to the list as she was also RORO (but with cruiser lines) and she came in December of 1979. Among the named cruisers it was only the “Tacloban City”, the smallest which has difficulty reaching 18 knots but 17.5 knots is already near there.

After that series came a long respite for William Lines in the acquisition of passenger liners and their next acquisition already came in 1987, a RORO already, the “Masbate I”. In that interregnum, they concentrated on building their container ship fleet which was called the “Wilcon”. Two in that series were RORO Cargo ships that can also carry passengers, the “Wilcon I” which came in 1978 and the “Wilcon IV” which came in 1979.

The “Misamis Occidental” was a ship ordered by William Lines from Hayashikane Shipbuilding & Engineering Company and she was built in their Nagasaki shipyard and she was delivered in December of 1970. The ship measured 88.9 meters by 13.5 meters and her cubic volume expressed in gross tons was 1,945. The ship had a top speed of 18 knots and she had a passenger capacity of about 650. She could have sailed faster with a more powerful engine but maybe William Lines did not see the “Sweet Faith” coming for Sweet Lines. William Lines referred to the “Misamis Occidental” as their first luxury liner.

The “Cebu City”, a great flagship was ordered by William Lines from Niigata Engineering and she was built in Niigata, Japan and delivered on September, 1972. Her dimensions were 98.8 meters by 13.8 meters with a cubic measure of 2,452 gross tons. Powered by a 5,670-horsepower Hitachi engine she had a top speed of 20.5 knots and she had a passenger capacity of 807. I am sure that when William Lines ordered her there was a specification that the ship will be able to at least match the “Sweet Faith” of Sweet Lines in speed and also in the accommodations. The name of the ship clearly indicated her first route.

The “Tacloban City”, originally the “Naminoue Maru” of Oshima Unyu was built by Sanoyas Shoji Company in 1962 and she came to William Lines in 1975. Her measurements were 91.1 meters by 12.8 meters and her cubic volume was 2,244 gross tons. She had an original speed of 18.5 knots from her single 5,800-horsepower Mitsubishi engine but being no longer new when she came she was only capable of 17.5 knots when she was fielded here. She was advertised by William Lines as the “Cheetah of the Sea” and she had a passenger capacity of 1,274. She was the first in William Lines to breach the 1,000-passenger capacity mark and she had the highest passenger capacity in William Lines fleet when she was fielded. The name of the ship also indicated her first route and she was designed to take on the “Sweet Grace” of Sweet Lines and the “Don Sulpicio” of Sulpicio Lines which in the route and both the two had airconditioning.

The “Manila City” which came in 1976 was originally the “Nihon Maru” of Mitsubishi Shintaku Ginko. She was built by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries in their Shimonoseki yard in 1970. The ship had the external dimensions 106.3 meters by 14.0 meters and her cubic measurement was 2,998 gross tons. From her twin Mitsubishi engines developing 8,800 horsepower, she had a top speed of 20.5 knots. Her design speed was a match to “Cebu City” but being older she was some half knot slower. However, when she came she had the highest horsepower in the William Lines fleet. She could have been named the “Davao City” to reflect her first route but William Lines already had a ship by this name. Being the biggest in the William Lines passenger fleet, William Lines assigned her a worthy name. The “Manila City” had a passenger capacity of 1,388. She was the best ship in the Davao route when she was fielded there.

The “Cagayan de Oro City” which arrived in 1977 was the former “Hibiscus” in Japan or the “Haibisukasu” of the group Terukuni Yusen KK. She was also built by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries or MHI in 1970 in the Shimonoseki yard. She was 89.2 meters in length, 13.0 meters in breadth and 1,999 gross tons in cubic capacity. She had two Niigata engines developing 7,000 horsepower which gave her a top speed of 19 knots. The ship was assigned the route of her namesake city and she was the best ship in the route when first assigned there The “Cagayan de Oro” had a passenger capacity of 1,200.

The “Ozamis City” which was the “Fuji” of the Mitsubishi Shoji Kaisha in Japan was another ship built by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries in the Shimonoseki yard. The ship was completed in 1965 and she came in 1978 and she had the dimensions 91.7 meters by 13.3 meters with 2,865 gross tons as cubic measure. She had a single 4,900-horsepower Kawasaki-MAN engine which gave her a top speed of 18.5 knots. This ship was also assigned to her namesake city and held that route for a long time. She was also the best ship to Ozamis when first assigned there. Her passenger capacity was 1,214.

The “Manila City” was the biggest of the six and she also had the highest passenger capacity and she was the speediest together with “Cebu City”. She was referred to by William Lines as the “Sultan of the Sea” and maybe those were the reasons why (and maybe there are also true sultans along her route). This ship held the Davao route for a very long time until she was consumed by fire. She was never assigned another route in her career here indicating her specs were high that she was still competitive one-and-a-half decade after she was first fielded.

As flagship, the “Cebu City” held the Manila-Cebu route and was plying it twice week. The fast among the fast “Manila City” was holding the long route to Davao via Zamboanga. The “Cagayan de Oro City” was sailing the Manila-Dumaguete-Cagayan de Oro-Iligan-Cebu route. The “Misamis Occidental” was being used in the Manila-Cebu-Ozamis-Iligan-Dumaguete route. The “Tacloban City” was sailing the Tacloban route twice a week and one of that calls in Catbalogan too. Finally, the “Ozamis City” was running the overnight Cebu-Ozamis route.

By and large the six (the seventh was the “Dona Virginia”) were the primary liners of William Lines in the 1970’s up to the end of the 1980’s. William Lines was relatively late in the fielding of ROROs and the six shouldered on even though the competition already had RORO liners. It will already be 1989 when William Lines will be able acquire a big RORO liner, the “Zamboanga City” and the RORO liner flagship, the “Sugbu” will arrive only in 1990.

The six had successful careers but the majority did not reach old age. Of the six, only the “Misamis Occidental” and the “Tacloban City” will escape hull-loss accidents. The “Cagayan de Oro City” will be hit by fire in Ozamis City port on June 22, 1985. She capsized there but she was refloated and towed to Cebu where she was broken up in 1986.

The “Ozamis City” will be wrecked off Siquijor on October 22, 1990. She was towed to Manila for demolition where she was broken up on November of 1991. “Manila City”, meanwhile, will be hit by a fire in Cebu Shipyard on February 16, 1991. She will be declared a constructive total loss or CTL and she was broken up in 1992.

The most publicized loss among the six was the sinking of “Cebu City” on December 1, 1994 after a collision with the Malaysian container ship, the Pacific International Lines’ “Kota Suria”. This happened at the mouth of Manila Bay when she was late on her way and hurrying to Tagbilaran, Bohol. About 145 persons lost their lives in that accident that happened before dawn.

The “Misamis Occidental” and “Tacloban City” still acceded to the “Great Merger” (which failed) that created the giant shipping company WG&A Philippines. “Tacloban City” was later relegated to the subsidiary Cebu Ferries Corporation but did not sail long in that company. Not being a RORO she was offered for sale early and in 1997, the Sampaguita Shipping Company of Zamboanga purchased her and she became the “Sampaguita Ferry 1” of the said company.

The “Misamis Occidental” which was then just being used as an Ozamis-Cebu overnight ferry before the merger was also sent to the WG&A subsidiary Cebu Ferries Corporation and also offered for sale early because she was not a RORO. Having no takers, she was refurbished and re-engined and she was given the new name “Our Lady of Montserrat”. However, she was disposed off to the breakers within two years. She was broken up in China on June 15, 2000.

Today, there are no more traces of the six.

The PMS and PHIDCO Wharves

The two are actually private ports or wharves in Zamboanga City which are practically unknown to outsiders. Even in the city, few are really familiar with them or had visited them. You see these are practically Muslim wharves (although the owners might not be) and Christians in Zamboanga City normally don’t go to Muslim or Moro areas or places as the fear precede and rules the. But for me I go there regularly including the other Muslim wharves like the Tres Marias wharf which is an indigenous “fishport”. I just don’t go to the San Miguel Corporation wharf nearby because they won’t let me in (it is as if ISPS rules there). It seems the fear factor is also present there.

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PMS and PHIDCO wharves

The two wharves are just near each other as in almost adjacent. Both wharves are made of reinforced concrete and was really built for docking steel ships (PMS wharf which is well-maintained even has rubber bumpers). The two wharves lies between Baliwasan and Campo Islam. Now nobody just really visits the latter though there are jeeps going there. Inside the two wharves the lengua franca is Tausug.

PMS wharf or shall we say port is the more prominent of the two. PMS used to mean Petron Marketing Services, hence the initials. Before, it sells fuel, LPG, lubricants, etc. to the vessels going to the islands (called “pulo” there) nearer to Zamboanga. The local fuel companies are actually not competitive in the farther islands which are nearer to Sabah because the people buy their fuel there as it is much cheaper (as this article was written I read the price of gasoline in Malaysia is only P19 in our currency). In fact, Moro boats buy fuel there and bring it to Zamboanga although this is fraught with the risk of being apprehended along with explosion and fire.

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PMS wharf

In PMS wharf, the vessels that dock there also load fuel for their use. However, the bigger trade there is loading LPG in tanks. There are Moro boats there which act as “LPG carriers”. Of course, they have no official authorization to do that but hey! this area is not really known for doing things the “legal” way. In fact, most of the Moro boats in Zamboanga are not even registered. But they sail and it seems nobody really inspects them on the side of MARINA. Going back from Sabah (let me clarify that neither PMS not PHIDCO is not their origin) they can be intercepted, inspected or even apprehended. Not by MARINA or the Coast Guard but by the Navy. It seems it is only the Navy which has enough guns and guts to do that.

PHIDCO meanwhile means Philippine International Development Corporation which is identified with the famous and sometimes controversial Lepeng Wee, the true owner of the legendary but defunct Bullet Express. He has good Malaysian connections (and also to Erap) and thus he was able to establish a plant that will convert coconut oil into intermediate products like fatty alcohol, glycerin and tertiary amines. This was a good project because of its value-added nature but the plant was never able to operate because of the obstacles put by the Chavacano ruling elite of Zamboanga City. So, it was never able to get a permit. The port which was just near the plant fell into disuse until vessels started using it as a docking port. That included Moro boats displaced from Zamboanga Port when it was too congested with vessels docking three across.

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PHIDCO wharf

PMS and PHIDCO ports are home to Moro boats which is now official known as motor launch although they don’t have the hull of a launch since they are supposedly related to the Arab dhow (but in hull structure it looks more like a Chinese junk). It is also different from the Luzon and Visayas motor boats which are called batel or lancha. It is the dominant type of vessel there although there are also steel-hulled ships in PMS along with various types and sizes of fast Moro fish carriers and big passenger-cargo motor bancas some of which are double-deck. PHIDCO mainly docks Moro boats and their number is not great unlike in PMS where there is congestion most times.

The Moro boats and the steel-hulled vessels docking in the two ports are combined passenger-cargo and cargo-passenger. Cargo-passenger means it is primarily for cargo with a few passengers taken in and it might not even be paying passengers as it is customary to take in the owners of the goods and given free passage. These do not have fixed sailing schedules and they will only give an approximate date of departure which means that is the day they think they will already full of cargo and sometimes they are docked there for as long as three weeks. They have to have full cargo as their rates are really very low (I was astounded when I heard quoted rates). Most of the vessels have Bongao as a destination.

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The passenger-cargo motor bancas have a clearer schedule and these sail to the nearer and more minor islands including the Pangutaran group. These are practically the buses and trucks of these islands as the bigger vessels don’t sail to these islands. The two wharves also host Moro boats to other destinations like other towns in Jolo island and island-municipalities off the coast of Sabah like Taganak.

The fish carriers meanwhile come and go and many of these are the fast types that carry exotic and high-priced fishes destined for Hongkong and these will be loaded aboard a plane in Zamboanga for a connecting flight in NAIA. These boats have oversized engine and which are really meant for speed as freshness is a key to their trade (air compressors for the fish is one of their equipment, I have heard). They might not look grand or modern but they are one type of indigenous High Speed Crafts (HSCs). Supposedly some of these can even outrun a SuperCat.

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Since departures of the Moro boats take long, PMS wharf is on almost all days congested especially if the fish carriers are around. But then that adds to the gaiety of the place. It is easy to get inside both wharves. In PHIDCO the gate is always open and there is no guard. In PMS, sometimes they close the gate and one has to knock and be met by a blue guard. Inside, there are times that the operator of the port asks for terminal tickets.

That was when I met the lookalike of Abu Sabaya, the ASG. But he was so disarming (he always laughs) even when he asked what is the purpose of my visit. I told him, “to visit the ships, take photos”. And he had kilig to that. Imagine a Tagalog admiring the ships there that most persons won’t even throw a second look. When I was finished, he asked me if I was satisfied! And he told me to come back anytime.

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A motor launch to Tongkil and facade of PMS

From the sea when one is aboard the Zamboanga Ferry leaving Zamboanga, there is also a great view of the two wharves. From Tres Marias wharf nearby, a boat landing area (and a Muslim area), the two wharves can also be viewed. From Cawa-cawa Boulevard it’s not possible because the view is blocked by some city buildings and by the fishing boats anchored in Baliwasan.

There was a time PMS wharf was closed and was announced by government authorities that it will be shut down. But it still reopened. Knowing Zamboanga, I knew there is no other place where they can transfer the vessels docking there. If they bring it back to Zamboanga Port, it will just get congested again.

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PHIDCO wharf

PMS and PHIDCO wharves, though not favored by the government authorities is actually doing a great service to the city and to shipping and trade. They might not want to admit that but that is actually the situation and I think as long as Moro boats exists the service provided by the two ports will always be needed.

N.B.

Many days the two wharves would dock up to 20 ships. That does no include small motor or fishing bancas.