Historical Context and Origins of the Vessels

To better contextualize voyages throughout the Philippines and general Southeast Asia, it is important to explore the maritime history that made up the region. Additionally, it is important to understand the motivations behind both voyages of the MV Doña Paz and the MT Vector, and their origins.

Maritime History in Southeast Asia

Geographical Advantage of Southeast Asia

Conveniently located between India and China, the archipelagos of Southeast Asia were often considered a shortcut between the two destinations. By cutting through Southeast Asia, there was no need to change the mode of transportation and ships could remain in the water consistently from one destination to the next. Additionally, being in close proximity to the circulating monsoon winds, Southeast Asia could benefit from the extensive trade networks going from, but not limited to, the east African coast and along Japan’s southern coast.1

Map depicting pattern of monsoon winds.

To take advantage of the rivers through the archipelagoes, harbors and ports were often located at the openings of rivers into the oceans. Harbors on deltas in southern Vietnam, Thailand, and Cambodia guided cargo ships inland towards bustling markets and offered improved access to commodities.2 Oceans and seas became an essential part of Southeast Asian water travel as the Bay of Bengal and the South China Sea amplified access to farther waters. Bay of Bengal opens to the Indian Ocean, which then allows access to the Swahili coast, the Arabian Sea, the Red Sea, and as far as the Mediterranean. The South China Sea, although a bit more closed off, granted access to smaller seas like Sulu, Banda, Java, and Celebes.3

Alternatively, land routes, although much more demanding and intense, were often seen as more beneficial to merchants than sea routes. When considering seeking out specific political or economical environments, land routes were more flexible and provided more freedom to merchants. Land routes spanning across continents were often traveled with use of caravans, horses, and ox-carts. Some merchants arrived in China after having traveled through modern day Syria, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan from the eastern Mediterranean. Within Southeast Asia, routes spanned from Northern Burma and Siam to Vietnam and Southern China.4

Technological Advancement of Port Cities in Southeast Asia

A strong pattern throughout the developing port cities of Southeast Asia was a strong reliance on the external market, which in turn weakened the domestic economy due to neglect. Since port cities were so dynamic and constantly changing depending on the external market, it was easy for them to fluctuate in influence.5 Due to the increased demand on the Philippines, such as that from the United States and Europe, there was external pressure to improve port cities to ensure efficiency. Of the many ports in the Philippines, the only three that had international influence were Manila, Iloilo and Cebu.6 From the nineteenth to twentieth centuries, these influential ports were further advanced and prepared for international relations through implementation of modern technology.

Map of Luzon, with railway bolded.

Manila, located on the Philippine island of Luzon held the strongest international influence, therefore receiving the most attention regarding technical improvement. The Luzon Railway, built in 1892 by Spanish Administration, was constructed for the purpose of connecting the port of Manila farther inland.7 Railway transportation from productive regions throughout Luzon was a cheaper alternative, and offered inland communities an opportunity to present their goods and commodities at local and international levels. Vice versa, merchants arriving in Manila could use the railways to access remote markets farther inland.8

With the consistent external influence being exerted on Manila, efforts were made to expand the port farther inland under Spanish Administration. Under Board of Works, Port of Manila, the Spanish divided the expansion of Manila into three different sections.

Obras de Character General highlighted the more technical aspects needed to ensure efficiency in the expansion, including creation of topographical sketches, instruments for measurements, reflecting on previous plans for the expansion of the port, and accessing conditions for corrosion in building materials.9 The following section, Construcción del Nuevo Puerto, discusses the logistics covered for the expansion. This covered the addition of blacksmiths to ports for the construction of necessary tools, like hand drills and cranes, and developing a plan for the transportation of stone and ore to the site through use of railways and boats. The last section discusses the complex idea of manually extending the Pasig River inland and improving the docks it was connected to.10

Unfortunately, the intricate plan for the expansion of the Manila port was often complicated by the Philippine’s fluctuating weather conditions, including multiple damaging typhoons. 11

In Manila’s shadow, are the international ports of Iloilo and Cebu, located on the Visayas Islands. Due do the focus of resources and funds on the improvement of Manila, these ports often lagged behind, but were equally important with their international influence. To facilitate the transportation of inland goods to the ports, similar to Manila, both the Cebu Railway and the Panay Railway systems were implemented.12 The Cebu Railway crossed through agriculturally oriented villages that produced valuable Philippine items, such as abaca, a fiber producing plant. The Panay Railway, extending to the ports of Iloilo, crossed locations that provided rices, abaca and copra. The railway’s successes, in the Visayas Islands, really took off in the beginning of the 20th century with the expansion of international trade.13

The connection of ports and the inland with railway systems were not the only outstanding factor that set the international ports of Manila, Cebu, and Iloilo apart from other ports surrounding the Philippines. International travel overseas required the use of large cargo ships, and not all ports could accommodate the large hulls of these ships. International cargo ships were limited to the Manila, Cebu, and Iloilo ports, as they were the only ports substantially large enough.14 Technological advancements were seen in the shipping industry at the time with the emergence of steam power, the most convenient way to ship all kinds of trade commodities for a reasonable price. With improved technology for transfer of perishable foods, Southeast Asia was able to better represent themselves in the international food industry. Another prominent example of technology advancement at the time were the resources had being amounted into the creation of lighthouses on the coasts of the Philippines. At the end of the 19th century, there was a necessity arising for light systems to facilitate arrival and departure from Philippine ports. Luckily, in 1885, Spanish legislation in Madrid financed construction of a multitude of lighthouses.15

Manila as a Diaspora

With the ongoing external, international activity that occurred in Manila from the sixteenth into the twentieth century, the port became a prospering intercultural diaspora. Along with trading physical commodities, the communities present in Manila were trading their economic and manufacturing tactics, their languages, and their intercultural comprehension.16

“…maritime-based social formations have long served as models for social change in landed societies…”

Stated by Kären Wigen’s, an ocean researcher, in “Manila as Port City”

The credit for the prospering diaspora of Manila can be attributed to the immigrants arriving from most prominently from China, in addition to Japan and the rest Southeast Asia. For immigrants, life in Manila provided a whole new connection to the riches of the sea that could be better embraced within the environment of the well-established port.17 Immigrants were often forced to adapt, some becoming very skillful with the practice, due to the ban on returning home once arrived in Manila. With many different languages present in Manila amongst immigrants and colonial settlers, communication still managed to be efficient. The society embraced the idea of multilingualism, rather than assimilating immigrants into the Castilian language used by the Spanish Administration. The intercultural awareness held by society in Manila made it possible to avoid language barriers, and instead embrace an eagerness to exchange culture with new communities.18 However, it must be noted the uneven distribution of knowledge as a power tool within Manila, as it could meaningfully impact political and economical gains within the region. In Manila, the Spanish could use their advanced systematic knowledge to as a way to maintain superiority over immigrants and natives.19

Unfortunately, the Spanish control struggled to support the multicultural diaspora developing in Manila. In order to isolate Spanish colonial territory from surrounding Chinese and Japanese, the Spanish built themselves into a walled city, know as the Intramuros. The Intramuros, which resembled sixteenth-century Spain, were the capital for Spanish social, religious, and military concerns. They were a place specialized for the Spanish settler and merchants passing through Manila, and those who were permanently resided. The Spanish used the security of the Intramuros as a way to control religious influences in settlements outside of Spanish control.20

Inside of one of the Intramural gates.

Living under the influence of Spanish rule were the Chinese, more specifically the Fijians, who were able to readily adapt to Spanish control, making them the top maritime agent in the region. Additionally, they considered the altering demands of the international American consumers. Putting the Chinese further ahead of other communities, they also fostered gracious relationships with the native populations, even resulting in intermarriages. With a strong connection to the local community of Manila, communication could be facilitated with arrivals from China and interactions with the Spanish.21 There are extensive reasons the Fujianese were attracted to the bustling port of Manila. In search of improved living conditions and reliable income, sailors, merchants, and fishermen turned to Manila, a large portion of those hailing from Fujian. Further, those from Fujian were often very beneficial within port city industry, due to their wide range of skills that could advance industry to meet colonial demand.22 Fujianese retailers and artisans became critical to the material welfare of the island as well, making them very useful to the Spanish, who were often lacking the appropriate skills for cheap material welfare. The Chinese held plenty of influence in urban settings with their domination of worthy professions, such as linguists, shipbuilders, and interpreters.23 However, under Spanish control, the Chinese were limited to their own district known as the Parian. Within the Parian, the Chinese developed many retail and artisan shops, in addition to the well-known silk market. With influence from colonial authorities, the district was encouraged to create boundaries between non-Christian and Christian Chinese.24

Along with the Chinese, the Japanese were eventually secluded to their own district by the Spaniards, known as Dilao. Within this district, the Japanese embraced the seclusion and stayed loyal to Japanese culture, while building settlements for themselves. The Dilao district followed independent and self-governed values, often resenting Spanish colonial rule and finding ways to honor their own rulers. The Japanese often avoided intermarriage with local people, for the reasons of rejecting assimilation and that women would accompany men during migration.25 Regarding the labor market, the independence exuded by the Japanese led them to managing their own companies and shops, or trading cargo from their own ships. Additionally, some Japanese became maritime mercenaries, with the goal of providing military service to expeditions.26

With high amounts of international influence occurring in Manila, it is important to consider the indigenous population present. As mentioned with the Chinese, intermarriages were not uncommon, and were used efficiently to facilitate communication between the two groups. The increased levels of bilingualism and knowing of Hispanic culture held by the Sino-Filipino community made them more appealing and trustworthy to the Spanish.27

Origins of the MV Doña Paz

Sulpicio Shipping Lines

In 20th century Philippines, it was common for large domestic shipping industries to buy and reconstruct old ships that were previously owned by the Japanese. After renovation, these vessels were renamed and advertised as grand passenger ships. Companies engaging in this process included Sulpicio Lines, Sweet Lines, William Lines Inc., to name a few. Although advertised as trustworthy passenger lines, these companies often lacked the proper finances to support the high maintenance procedures required to properly reconstruct the vessels in the most efficient way. Sulpicio Shipping Lines, now operating as the Philippine Span Asia Carrier Corporation (PSACC), acquired the MV Doña Paz through a similar process from the Japanese.28

PSACC, previously known as Sulpicio Shipping Lines, logo.

Construction and Itinerary of the MV Doña Paz

What would soon become the MV Doña Paz was acquired by Sulpicio Shipping Lines in 1975, a vessel that was originally built in 1963. With the original construction of the ship, it was fabricated with a steel hull, weighing 2,215 tons. The set capacity for the ship was 1,518 passengers, along with a crew of sixty.29

To earn approval for voyage, the MV Doña Paz was inspected by the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG). The mission of the PCG was to ensure vessels were worthy of safe sea travel, and if not, they were to be rejected and sent to get the necessary repairs. The MV Doña Paz successfully completed PCG inspection, and earned all appropriate inspection certificates to demonstrate approval.30

In the archipelago of the Philippines, water transportation with use passenger ships were often a cheaper alternative to air transportation. Set to arrive in Manila in due time for the Christmas holidays, the MV Doña Paz carried passengers hailing from the Philippine islands of Samar and Leyte. The listed amount of passengers already exceeded the set limit, with 1,583 passengers. However, during times of boarding, many who were not listed originally, managed to board the ship. With that, the amount of passengers exceeded the set limit, extremely, with a total count said to be somewhere in between 3,000 and 4,000 passengers, and only 58 members of the crew.31

Origins of the MT Vector

Construction and Itinerary of the MT Vector

The MT Vector, an oil tanker owned by Caltex Philippines, was set to travel from Bataan to Masbate, both regions within the Philippines. The MT Vector, like the MV Dona Paz, was steel-hulled and weighed 629 tons. As an oil tanker, it was commissioned to carry 9,000 barrels of petroleum, including gasoline, crude oil, and kerosene. This ship included a crew of thirteen members.32

Approval by the PCG for the MT Vector did not go as smoothly as it did for the MV Doña Paz. On its latest PCG inspection, there was evidence of defective problems in the main engine, in the steering mechanisms, and the radio system. Obviously, the MT Vector did not earn the certificate of operation from the PCG, which resulted in the use of fake certificates, instead. Along with the false papers, there was other violations regarding proper licensing, such as licenses for operation of the engine and to navigate open ocean.33, 34

  1. Sutherland, Heather. “Geography as Destiny?: The Role of Water in Southeast Asian History.” In A World of Water: Rain, Rivers and Seas in Southeast Asian Histories, edited by Peter Boomgaard, 29.
  2. Sutherland, “Geography as Destiny,” 30.
  3. Sutherland, “Geography as Destiny,” 30-31.
  4. Sutherland, “Geography as Destiny,” 31.
  5. Tremml-Werner, Birgit. “Manila as Port City.” In Spain, China, and Japan in Manila, 1571-1644, 267–90.
  6. Didac Cubeiro, “Modernizing the Colony: Ports in Colonial Philippines, 1880-1908,” World History Connected, October 2017.
  7. Didac Cubeiro, “Modernizing the Colony: Ports in Colonial Philippines, 1880-1908”
  8. Didac Cubeiro, “Modernizing the Colony: Ports in Colonial Philippines, 1880-1908”
  9. Didac Cubeiro, “Modernizing the Colony: Ports in Colonial Philippines, 1880-1908”
  10. Didac Cubeiro, “Modernizing the Colony: Ports in Colonial Philippines, 1880-1908”
  11. Didac Cubeiro, “Modernizing the Colony: Ports in Colonial Philippines, 1880-1908”
  12. Didac Cubeiro, “Modernizing the Colony: Ports in Colonial Philippines, 1880-1908”
  13. Didac Cubeiro, “Modernizing the Colony: Ports in Colonial Philippines, 1880-1908”
  14. Didac Cubeiro, “Modernizing the Colony: Ports in Colonial Philippines, 1880-1908”
  15. Didac Cubeiro, “Modernizing the Colony: Ports in Colonial Philippines, 1880-1908”
  16. Tremml-Werner, Birgit. “Manila as Port City,” 267.
  17. Tremml-Werner, Birgit. “Manila as Port City,” 273.
  18. Tremml-Werner, Birgit. “Manila as Port City,” 271-72.
  19. Tremml-Werner, Birgit. “Manila as Port City,” 270-71.
  20. Tremml-Werner, Birgit. “Manila as Port City,” 277-78.
  21. Tremml-Werner, Birgit. “Manila as Port City,” 274-75.
  22. Tremml-Werner, Birgit. “Manila as Port City,” 284.
  23. Tremml-Werner, Birgit. “Manila as Port City,” 285.
  24. Tremml-Werner, Birgit. “Manila as Port City,” 278-79.
  25. Tremml-Werner, Birgit. “Manila as Port City,” 282-84.
  26. Tremml-Werner, Birgit. “Manila as Port City,” 286.
  27. Tremml-Werner, Birgit. “Manila as Port City,” 287.
  28. Perez, Anthony R, Carl Abelardo T Antonio, and Rafael J Consunji. The Sinking of the MV Doña Paz – A Critique on Maritime Disaster, 2011.
  29. Perez, Anthony R, Carl Abelardo T Antonio, and Rafael J Consunji. The Sinking of the MV Doña Paz – A Critique on Maritime Disaster, 2.
  30. Perez, Anthony R, Carl Abelardo T Antonio, and Rafael J Consunji. The Sinking of the MV Doña Paz – A Critique on Maritime Disaster, 3.
  31. Perez, Anthony R, Carl Abelardo T Antonio, and Rafael J Consunji. The Sinking of the MV Doña Paz – A Critique on Maritime Disaster, 3.
  32. Perez, Anthony R, Carl Abelardo T Antonio, and Rafael J Consunji. The Sinking of the MV Doña Paz – A Critique on Maritime Disaster, 2-3.
  33. Perez, Anthony R, Carl Abelardo T Antonio, and Rafael J Consunji. The Sinking of the MV Doña Paz – A Critique on Maritime Disaster, 3.
  34. “G.R. No. 131166.” Lawphil.net, 30 Sept. 1999.