The Aleson Shipping Lines

I really have no command of the history of Aleson Shipping Lines and so that will not be the focus of this article and I will only delve on it on the more recent years. Since many Pinoys have not reached Zamboanga, I want to expose the biggest shipping line of Western Mindanao (and also the whole of Mindanao) and compare it. I have long ago said to ship spotters that Aleson Shipping Lines is bigger than any Cebu overnight shipping company, bar none, and I want to show that so people will know more of one of our great overnight ferry companies.

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There is a saying in Zamboanga that, no matter what, Aleson Shipping will never sell the small cruiser ferry Estrella del Mar. The reason is she is their first ferry ever and they say everything started from that ship. Meanwhile, the second ship of Aleson Shipping is now gone and that is the Aleson 3, a cruiser they bought from Carlos A. Gothong Shipping Lines, Inc. (CAGLI) in 1984 which was the second Dona Conchita.

That was the simple start of Aleson Shipping and in their first decade they did not really expand much. In the first place, they were not a shipping company at the start but a trading company, a regional distributor of goods under Aleson Trading. It seems at the start their shipping was mainly a support to, a horizontal expansion of their trading activities.

It was in the 1990’s when Aleson Shipping made their moves in shipping that featured continuous acquisition of ships that not only involved ferries but also small cargo ships. And that what made them different from some Cebu overnight majors like Trans-Asia Shipping Lines Inc. (TASLI) and Cokaliong Shipping Lines Inc. (CSLI) which for a long time have no cargo ships. And they might have been not that early in ROROs like TASLI but they were not behind CSLI, Palacio Lines and George & Peter Lines. They were ahead in ROROs compared to other overnight ferry companies in Cebu that got big later like Roble Shipping, Lite Shipping, Medallion Transport, etc. Like the mentioned Cebu overnight ferry companies, they might have had ROROs but it was not for vehicles but for palletized and loose cargo that were mainly handled by forklifts. One thing though, they learned how to use container vans much earlier than all those Cebu overnight ferry companies. So who said Zamboanga shipping is behind Cebu shipping in cargo?

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In the mid-1990’s, it dawned on her Zamboanga rivals that Aleson Shipping was acquiring more ships than them and that included the old Number 1 Sampaguita Shipping Corporation. This company also had cargo ships and then Aleson Shipping matched it in number. By 1997 it looked as if there was a new throne holder in Zamboanga. And Aleson Shipping did not make the mistake of Sampaguita Shipping in buying cruisers as overnight ferries since they concentrated on ROROs except for their day ships to Basilan which featured small cruisers.

Before the end of the 1990’s, there was an emphatic display of being the new king of Zamboanga shipping when Aleson Shipping ventured into the liner business when they sailed the Zamboanga-Manila route with the Lady Mary Joy and the Cebu-Dumaguete-Zamboanga-Sandakan route with the Lady Mary Joy 2. This also expansion also featured going to Lucena to do a Marinduque route.

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Photo by Ray Smith

These expansions backfired and Aleson Shipping was not able to sustain those. However, they were able to survive it and they sold their liners and the Alex Craig that went to Lucena. There were other upheavals too in Zamboanga shipping at the start of the new millennium that were caused by over-expansion in the late 1990’s. These were so strong that two old shipping lines of Zamboanga shipping, the Sampaguita Shipping Corp. and SKT Shipping Corp., both collapsed. Among the factors too was the loss of a major overnight route, the Zamboanga-Pagadian route because of the cementing of the parallel highway. Like in Batangas, there was a surplus of bottoms in Zamboanga that resulted in heavy discounting of fares or fare wars. Maybe with other lines of business Aleson Shipping was more geared to absorb shocks in the shipping trade.

With the stoppage of two main rivals and also of some minor rivals, Aleson Shipping turned on the screw and acquired more ships. From 2002 they acquired a ferry every year except in 2005 and 2014 was tops when they acquired 3 ships. And aside from their old cargo ships that bore name of persons, they also began their Aleson Con Carrier or ACC series of cargo ships in 2001. As of this year, 2016, they now have an Aleson Con Carrier 15.

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Now the other major competitors remaining of Aleson Shipping, the Magnolia Shipping Corporation and Ever Lines are just in niche routes now. Some other competitors also collapsed like KST Shipping (the revived SKT), Basilan Lines, A. Sakaluran and Monte Alegre Shipping. As a result,they are already very dominant in Zamboanga now. They have routes to Jolo, Siasi, Bongao, Isabela City and Lamitan City. They also expanded but only in routse they can manage, the Dapitan-Dumaguete and Dumaguete-Larena routes and the Cebu-Tubigon route. Their cargo and container ships now reach Manila, Batangas and Bacolod aside from their earlier routes to Cebu, Dapitan and Southern Mindanao.

Like in other shipping companies, after 20 years or so there is a generational change at the helm. But instead of weakening like in most family-held shipping companies, I heard and there is outward evidence that the second generation of Aleson Shipping is even fiercer than the founder. And they were decisive in Aleson Shipping not losing the old ships due to weak engines. They opened their wallets and so now those limping ferries are back in fighting form.

The ferry fleet of Aleson Shipping:

Estrella del Mar (short-distance ferry) IMO 8945220, original name. Cruiser built in 1975 by Varadero de Recodo in Zamboanga, Philippines. 38.1m x 6.7m x 3.0m, 230gt, 143nt, 494 pax, 1 x 850hp Yanmar, 10.5kts.

Stephanie Marie (short-distance ferry) IMO 8427278. ROPAX built in 1979 by Kanda Shipbuilding in Kawajiri, Japan as Marima III. 63.2m x 12.0m x 4.1m, 910+gt, 316+nt, 945 pax, 2 x 1,600hp Daihatsu, 15kts.

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Neveen (short-distance ferry) IMO 7509976. Cruiser built in 1975 by Maebata in Sasebo, Japan as Mishima Maru No. 3. 35.0m x 6.4m x 2.8m, 223gt, 61+nt, 332 pax, 1 x 1,000hp Daihatsu, 13kts. [This is laid up.]

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Danica Joy (built as overnight ferry) IMO 7852414. ROPAX built in 1972 by Nakamura in Yanai, Japan as Nakajima. 48.0m x 11.3m x 3.7m, 483+gt, 245nt, 448pax, 2 x 1,000hp Daihatsu, 13kts.

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Danica Joy 2 (overnight ferry) IMO 8135253. ROPAX built in 1982 by Nakamura in Yanai, Japan as Orange Hope. 62.7m x 12.0m x 4.5m, 998+gt, 491nt, 636pax, 2 x 2,000hp Daihatsu, 16kts. [She capsized in Zamboanga port Sept. 2016; salvageable.]

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Sea Jet (High Speed Craft) No IMO Number. Fastcraft built in 2003 by Far East in Sibu, Malaysia as Sea Jet. 38.7m x 4.2m x 1.6m, 97gt, 26nt, 2 x 1,600 Mitsubishi, 30kts.

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Kristel Jane 3 (overnight ferry) IMO 8313489. ROPAX built in 1983 by Usuki in Usuki, Japan as Ferry Izena. 57.3m x 11.2m x 3.2, 494+gt, 270 nt, 512pax, 2 x 1,620hp Niigata, 16kts.

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Trisha Kerstin 1 (short-distance ferry) IMO 8608509. ROPAX built in 1986 by Fujiwara in Omishima, Japan as Wakashio. 43.8m x 11.6m x 3.3m, 384+gt, 72+nt, 695pax, 1 x 1,300hp Yanmar, 12.5kts.

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Ciara Joie (basic, short-distance ferry) IMO 7824778. ROPAX built in 1979 by Imamura in Kure, Japan as Kamagiri No. 3. 38.2m x 8.6m x 3.0m, 235gt, 139nt, 203pax, 1 x 900hp Daihatsu, 10.5kts.

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Trisha Kerstin 2 (overnight ferry) IMO 8824373. ROPAX built in 1989 by Fujiwara in Omishima, Japan as Geiyo. 59.5m x 12.3m x 3.0m, 699gt+, 241nt, 2 x 1,500hp Daihatsu, 14.5kts.

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Anika Gayle (Low Speed Craft) No IMO Number. Ferry built in 1992 in Japan as Victoria. 86gt, 332pax, single engine, 11kts.

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Trisha Kerstin 3 (overnight ferry) IMO 9125516. ROPAX built in 1995 by Wakamatsu in Kitakyushu, Japan as Camellia 2. 47.9m x 12.0m x 3.6m, 639+gt, 412nt, 1 x 1,300hp Daihatsu, 14kts.

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Lady Mary Joy 3 (overnight ferry) IMO 9006760. Cruiser built in 1990 by Yamanaka in Namikata, Japan as Daito. 73.0m x 11.0m x 5.3m, 835gt, 568nt, 500pax. 2 x 2,000hp Niigata, 17kts.

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Ciara Joie 2 (basic, short-distance ferry) IMO 8216966. ROPAX built in 1982 by Imamura in Kure, Japan as Kamagiri No. 7. 36.1m x 8.7m x 2.9m, 198gt, 100nt, x 386pax, 1 x 750hp Niigata, 10kts.

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Anika Gayle 2 (Medium Speed Craft) No IMO Number. Ferry built in 1990 in Japan as Yamabiko. 27.1m x 6.0m x 2.2m, 116gt, 79nt, 235pax, twin engines, 17kts.

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Lady Mary Joy 1 (overnight ferry) IMO 9088081. Cruiser built in 1994 by Niigata in Niigata, Japan as Funakawa Maru. 57m x 9.0m x 3.9m, 488gt, 1 x 1,800hp Niigata, 13.5kts.

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Ciara Joie 3 (basic, short-distance ferry) IMO 9118862. ROPAX built in 1995 by Izutsu in Japan as Ferry Yumutsu. 10.0m breadth, 191gt, single engine.

Ciara Joie 5 (basic, short-distance ferry) IMO 8615734. ROPAX built in 1987 by Imamura in Kure, Japan as Kofuji No. 8. 36.3m x 10.5m x 3.0m, 264gt, 131nt, 1 x 1,000hp Niigata, 10kts.

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Stephanie Marie 2 (short-distance ferry) IMO 8602062. ROPAX built in 1986 by Kanda in Kawajiri, Japan as Otagawa. 55.9m x 14.0m x 3.8m, 983gt, 1,073pax, 1,300hp Daihatsu, 14kts.

The cargo fleet of Aleson Shipping:

Nico Bryan (used as container ship) IMO 8951956. Small GP ship built in 1976 by Yoshida in Arida, Japan as Meiji Maru No. 11. 53.6m x 9.3m x 3.5m, 244gt, 132nt, 667dwt, 10kts

Aleson Con Carrier 1 (used as container ship) IMO 8720565. Small GP ship built in 1988 by Masui in Nandan, Japan as Kazuhisa Maru. 51.5m x 10.5m x 5.4m, 248gt, 167nt, 601dwt, 10kts.

Aleson Con Carrier 2 (used as general cargo ship) IMO 8718665. Small GP ship built in 1988 by Onoda in Taiyo, Japan as Hamako Maru. 53.1m x 9.5m x 5.1m, 247gt, 167nt, 662dwt, 10kts.

Aleson Con Carrier 3 IMO 8822193. Small GP ship built in 1989 by Miura in Saiki, Japan as Hakko Maru No. 31. 58.7m x 9.6m x 5.0m, 247gt, 170nt, 650dwt, 10kts.

Aleson Con Carrier 5 (used as container ship) IMO 8905505. Small GP ship built in 1989 by Taiyo in Onoda, Japan as Shin Chitose. 53.3 x 9.5m x 5.1m, 246gt, 166nt, 668dwt, 10kts.

Aleson Con Carrier 6 (used as general cargo ship) IMO 8708921. Small GP ship built in 1987 by Miura in Saiki as Sanko Maru. 58.0m x 9.5m x 5.2m, 246gt, 159nt, 680dwt, 10kts.

Aleson Con Carrier 8 (used as container ship) IMO 8708921. Small GP ship built in 1989 by Yamanaka in Namitaka, Japan as Kiku Maru No. 8. 55.8m x 9.3m x 5.5m, 246gt, 168nt, 661dwt, 10kts.

Aleson Con Carrier 9 (used as container ship) IMO 7903146. Small GP ship built in 1979 by Kanda in Kure, Japan as Ashidagawa. 63.3m x 14.2m, 942gt, 324nt, 349dwt, 15kts.

Aleson Con Carrier 10 (used as container ship) IMO 8630796. Small GP ship built in 1987 in Japan. 50.1m x 10.5m, 287gt, 195nt, 674dwt.

Aleson Con Carrier 11 (used as container ship) IMO 8840030. Small GP ship built in 1989 in Japan. 53.3m, 611gt, 348nt, 619dwt.

Aleson Con Carrier 12 IMO 9001370. GP ship built in 1991 by Banguhjin in S. Korea as Dongjin Yokohama. 94.0m x 3.8m x 6.7m, 2448gt, 1349nt, 3386dwt.

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Aleson Con Carrier 15 (used as general cargo ship) IMO 9153848. GP ship built in 1996 by Imamura in Kure, Japan as Mercury Seven. 83.8m x 14.5m, 2921gt, 3773dwt, 12kts.

A total of 19 ferries and 13 cargo/container ships. They are now one of the biggest regional shipping companies in the Philippines. And yet even among ship spotters she is barely known because so few have ever been in Zamboanga.

Maybe in due time the company will earn her merited recognition.

The Short-Lived Return of Madrigal Shipping Company to Passenger Shipping

The Madrigal Shipping Company is a shipping company with a long history although few are still familiar with the name. They started before World War II with the name Madrigal & Company and was probably the Philippines biggest shipping company at that time if listing is limited to Filipinos. However, they were mostly in cargo shipping unlike the rival Compania Maritima of the Fernandezes which concentrated on passenger shipping. The founder of the company, Vicente Madrigal was considered the top Filipino industrialist-businessman then by the reckoning of many and probably is the richest Filipino then. He was also politically very well connected to Malacanang and is a political heavyweight himself being a Senator of the Commonwealth of the Philippines. The Madrigal Shipping Company was connected to the many businesses of Vicente Madrigal and it moved their goods like abaca (Manila hemp), coal, ore, copra and also sugar. However, when World War II happened Madrigal Shipping Company lost their entire fleet save for one. Most were captured by the Japanese which were then subsequently lost to American attacks.

After World War II, the company was renamed to Madrigal Shipping Company and started shipping again in 1946. The company has a mixed passenger-cargo and cargo fleet and the latter has the bigger ships. The passenger-cargo ships of the company was smaller and it might have something to do with the routes it was sailing. Madrigal Shipping Company concentrated its branch of passenger shipping on routes to Bicol and Northern Luzon. The route to Bicol would extend to as far as Larap port in Jose Panganiban town in Camarines Norte and the Northern Luzon route would call on Salomague (in Ilocos Sur), Batanes and Aparri. They also had a passenger-cargo ship that would go round the entire Luzon starting from Manila to Northern Luzon before proceeding to Bicol ports and round the Sorsogon tip of Luzon on the way back to Manila.

The passenger-cargo fleet of Madrigal Shipping Company cannot be called luxury liners by any means as they were simply basic passenger-cargo ships. They can even be described as primarily cargo ships with passenger accommodations and the accommodations are generally of one class only, the Economy class. Half of their passenger fleet consisted of former “Y” ships, the smaller cousin of the ex-”FS” ships which were former tankers. In the postwar shipping fleet of the Philippines only they and Luzon Stevedoring Company (LUSTEVECO) operated ex-”Y” ships but the latter operated them as they were originally were – as tankers. In Madrigal Shipping Company, their ex-”Y” ships were converted in passenger-cargo ships with cargo holds. These ex-”Y” ships seemed to be the replacement ships for the Madrigal ships commandeered by the US for the war effort. The other half of the postwar passenger-cargo fleet of Madrigal Shipping Company consisted of old ships from Europe. The company has a penchant for buying old ships from Europe just like another major shipping company, the Manila Steamship Company.

In 1955, in the aftermath of the capsizing and sinking in Babuyan Channel of their ex-”Y” ship Cetus which was trying to beat a typhoon, Madrigal Shipping Corporation sold all their ex-”Y” ships to North Camarines Lumber Company (no typographic error; this is also a shipping company). I wonder if this has a connection to their reputed superstitiousness. However, it was a favorable sale from the Bicol point of view since North Camarines Lumber Company also has the same passenger routes to Bicol and so no ship was lost on that region. Maybe Madrigal Shipping Company made sure of that as the patriarch Vicente Madrigal was actually born in Bicol and had many businesses there.

However, they held on to their other passenger-cargo ships but of course their routes and frequencies were affected by the sale since they did not purchase replacement passenger-cargo ships. In cargo shipping they were still strong and still buying cargo ships but in passenger-cargo shipping this sale of ex-”Y” heralded their slow retreat. This retreat might also be in anticipation of paradigm changes. Even in those days it is easy to foresee that the rail and the trucks will challenge the ship in Luzon in due time. Being in politics (the daughter Pacita of Vicente Madrigal succeeded him in the Senate) and conversant with government plans they might even have the inside track in foreseeing the future. By the 1970’s only one passenger-cargo ship was still sailing for Madrigal Shipping Company, the Viria and before the end of that decade they were already out of passenger shipping. However, the cargo shipping of the company remained but it also declined in due time. It however sprang a surprise later when together with a Taiwan shipping company it bid for the state-owned National Shipping Company of the Philippines which was then being privatized.

In 1988, to the welcome surprise of many Madrigal Shipping Company came back to passenger shipping as the A.P. Madrigal Steamship Co., Inc. This time it was truly liner shipping and not just like the basic passenger-cargo shipping of before. They did that when they fielded the Madrigal Tacloban in 1988 (this was later known as the Madrigal Romblon), the Madrigal Surigao in 1989 and the Madrigal Masbate in 1990. The notable thing about the three is they were all cruiser ferries and the negative thing is by that time nobody is buying or fielding cruiser ferries anymore because it was already obsolescent and the RORO (Roll On, Roll Off) ships have already proven their superiority over the cruisers (well, maybe not in safety or stability).

The first two ships were actually sister ships named the Tai Shan and the Nam Shan and they were originally Hongkong ferries. They were acquired by A.P. Madrigal Steamship Co., Inc. as bareboat charter with option to purchase from Cortes Shipping of Zamboanga. Tai Shan became the Madrigal Tacloban here while Nam Shan became the Madrigal Surigao. Madrigal Tacloban‘s applied route was Manila-Catbalogan-Tacloban while Madrigal Surigao‘s applied route was Manila-Maasin-Surigao. It was also a welcome move by many since these routes are exactly the same routes just recently vacated by Escano Lines which went out of passenger shipping (they however stuck to cargo-container shipping).

However, some shipping lines including Sulpicio Lines Incorporated and Aboitiz Shipping Company opposed their applications because of the so-called “prior operator” rule which was the usual “basis” for opposing a new entrant to a route. Actually, the two mentioned shipping companies were fearful because A.P. Madrigal Steamship Co., Inc.’s ships were better than their ships in those routes (however, Aboitiz Shipping Company had long ago abandoned their Catbalogan and Tacloban route). And besides Sulpicio Lines Inc. had no Catbalogan/Tacloban ship at that moment because of the sinking of Dona Paz. But however the opposition at the start, A.P. Madrigal Steamship Co., Inc. was eventually allowed by MARINA, the maritime regulatory agency to sail the applied routes.

Even then, there was actually already a problem in these routes as these are also the same routes slowly being threatened already by the intermodal trucks and buses borne by the short-distance ferry-ROROs that were already serving as the “bridges of the sea”. Maybe this was the reason behind what was cited by Aboitiz Shipping Company that they experienced a 60% drop in passenger volume. However, as cruisers that can’t carry much cargo (they were even described as “pure cargo”) maybe Madrigal Shipping Company thought that won’t be much of a problem for them. Maybe they were just intent on beating the competition with superior ships, in their view. Their ships have more beautiful lines anyway. And as bare-boat charters their risk is not high as they can just return the ships if they did not turn in a profit.

Madrigal Tacloban (Madrigal Romblon) and Madrigal Surigao were sister ships and both were built by Niigata Shipbuilding & Repair Incorporated in Niigata, Japan in 1972. The two both measured 78.6 meters by 12.1 meters by 5.6 meters in L x B x D. The LPP was 70.0 meters but Madrigal Surigao had a higher GT at 2,147 while Madrigal Tacloban had 2,136. The NT was 1,035 and the DWT was 312 tons. Both had two masts and two passenger decks on a steel hull with semi-bulbous stem and a retrouvaille stern. They were not equipped with cargo booms. The sister ships were both equipped with twin Niigata diesel engines with a combined 5,100 horsepower that propelled them to a top speed of 17.5 knots. The two ships looked identical.

Another ferry, the Madrigal Masbate came to A.P. Madrigal Steamship Co., Inc. from Taiwan Navigation Company Ltd. of Taipei but this ship was actually homeported in Kaohsiung. This was a beautiful ship with magnificent and modern lines that was built as the Tai Peng by Hayashikane Shipbuilding and Engineering Company Limited in their Nagasaki shipyard in Japan in 1971. The ship measured 77.5 meters by 12.6 meters by 5.5. meters with an LPP of 70.0 meters. She had a GT of 1,992, an NT of 743 and a DWT of 474 tons. The ship had two masts, two passenger decks with a steel hull with a raked stem and a cruiser stern. She was powered by a single Kobe Hatsudoki marine engine of 4,900 horsepower which gave her a top speed of 17 knots.

When all three were already sailing, the renamed Madrigal Tacloban which was now Madrigal Romblon was doing the Manila-Odiongan-Malay (this is better known as Caticlan now) route. Meanwhile, Madrigal Surigao was running the Manila-Odiongan-Maasin-Surigao route. And it was Madrigal Masbate which was sailing the Manila-Catbalogan-Tacloban route. Although they were already set by 1990, the Madrigal ferries, however, did not sail long. This was already the era when more liners were coming fast including great liners with four passenger decks, a passenger capacity of well over 2,000 with a true gross tonnage of 10,000 and over and of speeds nearing 20 knots and with hotel-like accommodations, amenities and service.

And A.P. Madrigal Steamship Co., Inc. was unlucky to bet in routes that were already being eaten up by the intermodal form of transport where trucks, buses and private vehicles are transported between island by the short-distance ferry-ROROs and whose travel times are shorter with flexibility of routes and ubiquity of departures. Moreover to some former ship passengers travelling by intermodal bus it is a new adventure and tourism too to places they have never seen before. To the traders and shippers, the intermodal option meant no more hassles with North Harbor port and the crooked Manila policemen. That also meant no more pilferage and delays and they are no longer at the mercy of the arrastre.

After just a few years, A.P. Madrigal Steamship Co., Inc. quit passenger shipping (however, they were still in cargo shipping). The sister ships Madrigal Romblon and Madrigal Surigao were sold to the breakers and they were broken up in 1994. It was an early death as the ships were only 22 years old. It was also a premature death because if they waited a little longer they might have gone to Sampaguita Shipping Lines which soon geared up to buy former liners to be used in the then-developing Zamboanga-Pagadian route and the Zamboanga-Jolo or Bongao route. They would have better choices than the ships they acquired from WG&A, the former Tacloban City and the former Iligan City as they were newer and have sailed far less nautical miles.

Madrigal Masbate was far luckier than the sisters. In 1994, another Zamboanga shipping company that was buying better overnight ferries (and the shortcut to that is to buy hand-me-down liners), the SKT Shipping Line (later the Kong San Teo shipping company or KST Shipping Line) purchased the laid-up Masbate Madrigal. She was fielded in the premier route to the east Zamboanga then, the Zamboanga-Pagadian route. Appropriately, she was named the Pagadian City. She was by far the best ship in the route, the most beautiful and the most gorgeous ever to call on Pagadian port, as the locals would concede and included in the comparison were the Manila liners which called on Pagadian port in the 1950’s and 1960’s.

Zamboanga City was actually a beehive of acquiring new ferries in the mid-1990’s including new-build fastcrafts. They actually had the most acquisitions of Malaysian fastcrafts then which was equal in number to the Cebu HSCs. Bullet Express and Weesam Express plus the fastcraft Sea Jet actually all originated in Zamboanga and just migrated to the Visayas. In 1996, the latter great Aleson Shipping Lines of Zamboanga was also gearing up. It was actually a dogfight then in Zamboanga between Sampaguita Shipping Lines, SKT Shipping Lines and Aleson Shipping which was latter won by the latest-named. Too unfortunate Madrigal Romblon and Madrigal Surigao were not snagged up in Zamboanga then.

After this episode, Madrigal never went back to liner shipping again. Well, I hope they will try again. After all we have almost no liners left now. They will be applauded this time if they do.

[Photo Credit: Manila Bulletin through Gorio Belen]