Monthly Archives: August 2019

A Tielbank Saga….

The following account is a true one involving the sad loss of the second mate at sea in 1958. It gives his interesting background, including his role on King Faisal of Iraq’s yacht where he had been Master. He was the second mate of the Tielbank on this fateful voyage.

The narrative is written in the style of a novel extract, but it contains only factual information.

S.S. Tielbank………………On leaving China, no final destination was available so the Captain was instructed by the London Office to head for European waters.  With a full cargo of rice the ship seemed to enjoy the prospect of heading home and was coping with the heavy seas with ease.  Everyone aboard was affected at the prospect of returning to Britain and although several weeks remained until they arrived back home, a general feeling of euphoria prevailed.
During the night, the ship turned into the Malacca Straits and just after four in the morning the Chief Officer sent for the senior Apprentice.
“I want you to wake the ‘Serang’ and your two buddies and do a thorough search of the ship from stem to stern.” 
 He restlessly paced the bridge and pulled deeply on his ever-present cigarette.
“ When I came onto the bridge at the start of my watch, the Second Officer was nowhere to be seen.  We are now on a reciprocal course and I’ve doubled the lookouts and reduced speed.”
It was over two hours before they returned to the Bridge to report that they felt certain that the Second Officer was no longer on board. The ‘Serang’ likewise, reported that his efforts had also been unsuccessful. 
 As daylight came it was hoped that something would be seen but nothing was spotted.  Searches were continued and radio contact had been made with the Singapore Coastguard who had alerted all ships in the area.
After a further two hours of cruising at slow speed, the lookouts had nothing to report,
The Captain ordered the return to the original course. 
Searching was continued until they reached the last known position where the Second Officer had taken over the watch from the Third Officer at midnight.
The Captain, his face haggard with grave concern and lack of sleep, finally gave orders for the extra lookouts to be stood down before the ship to continued on it’s passage. 
The Third Officer was the last person known to have seen the missing man, so as a consequence, he had to make a written report to that effect including comments about the Second Officer’s state of mind amongst other things.
The morale was affected but life had to go on and nobody relished entering the Second Officers cabin to deal with his belongings, although his desk had been searched in case some sort of letter had been left.
The immediate effect did have some rather paradoxical benefits, which, in the circumstances were hardly welcomed.  The Third Officer was promoted to Second Officer and the senior apprentice became the acting Third Officer.
The least junior apprentice became the senior apprentice.
It is probably for Insurance purposes that most Officers sail at a rank below their Certification thus promotion is made easy and served to satisfy the Company’s Insurance requirements.
Later in the passage the personal effects of the missing Officer were packed up. 
 The packing was duly carried out by the Chief Steward with one of the deck Officers present, to recorded the contents in a logbook as they were packed.  Once the packing was completed the cabin was sealed and the luggage was put into storage until a homeport was reached. 
The new Third Officer was very much aware of his elevated status and carried out his duties in a most conscientious manner.  He was able to put into practice a lot of the theory that he had learned at pre-sea training school.  He was to find however, that most of the four hour on and eight hours off watches at sea, consisted of endless scanning of the horizons.  As a consequence he had plenty of time to recall his erstwhile friend and shipmate.
He had first met Jenk’s, as the late Second Officer had become known, when he joined his previous ship in Rotterdam.  They had both been transferred from Newcastle in New South Wales to a ship called the Tealbank, but at slightly different times.
On first meeting Mr. Jenkins appeared unusual in many ways.  He was extremely well bred, refined and courteous but quite elderly for a Second Officer though he had once confided that he had once been Captain of King Faisal’s Yacht.  This bit of information however, was taken with a pinch of salt.
He seemed reserved and didn’t drink but spent much of his spare time listening to classical music; particularly to the violin that he proudly explained was played expertly by his daughter. 
Their previous Captain had been a great friend with his Second Officer, which though unusual, was put down to their similar ages and status.
He recalled the previous day when as duty Officer he had been through the late Navigator’s belongings for recording in the log,
 The newly appointed Third Officer felt that some of hidden history surrounding his former shipmate was now much clearer. The answers to questions about certain gaps in ‘Jenk’s’ previous life had been revealed. 
On their earlier ship and quite out of character, the Second Officer had joined the Radio Officer for a “Jolly” whilst in South America, which resulted in the unfortunate Irish Sparks being replaced.  The then middle apprentice wondered how the Second Officer had avoided a similar fate, a question whose answer became obvious. 
A single lapse by the former Second Officer undoubtedly indicated that had been suffering from some sort of alcoholic denial.  His previous misconduct, now seemed to have been because not only was their Captain a good friend of his gentle navigator but also, that they were both Freemasons.
  Unable to receive similar sympathetic treatment from the new Captain and faced with the prospect of some sort of enquiry back in England, he had apparently taken what he thought was the easy way out.
His lifetime’s personal belongings had been listed and packed away. They included his uniforms and other clothing, and a pristine uniform jacket wrapped in polythene sheeting, complete with Masters insignia.  A trunk contained his collection of classical tapes, an old violin, a bundle of letters tied in a yellow ribbon and the clandestine regalia required for Freemasons.  Among the classical music was a tape of a violin concerto that had been known to reduce the departed gentleman to tears.
In his Journal were three recent letters.  The first, a single page from his ex wife.  The second letter was a much longer letter from his daughter, whose return address suggested that she was a senior violinist on tour with the London Philharmonic Orchestra.
The final letter was dated July 1958 and remained unopened.  It was post marked as originating in Baghdad.
The Chief Steward had placed the unopened letter on the Chief Officers Desk.
“The Third Officer and I, have been through all of the possessions except this Sir,” he said.
The Chief Officer took the letter and examined the envelope noting its origin as Iraq.  He saw it was addressed to,
 Captain.  D. Jenkins. 
 C/O Merchant Navy Officers Club,
 Pall Mall London W.C.1.                                ‘Kindly forward Urgent.’
“Anything else Chief?” asked the Chief Officer.
The Steward replied,
 “ We went through everything as much as possible and read extracts from other random letters.  Apart from what we already know there was nothing to indicate any reason for a deliberate action on his part.”
“Thanks Chief,   ” the Captain’s deputy replied, “leave it with me.”
The Chief Officer was aware that many freelance Officers left details of their whereabouts at the Officers club for forwarding and noticed a scribble in pencil directing the letter to the Company’s Head Office in London.
He vaguely wondered why it hadn’t been opened and left it to one side until later.
The ship made good time to Suez and once through the canal the Chief Officer felt much closer to home and his wife and children. ‘Only two legs left,’ he said to himself, the Mediterranean and into the Atlantic before the Channel and home.
‘I’d better finish the paperwork before Gib.’ He thought.
He had already attended to the stores requisitions, the crew reports and the tedious hand-over forms and reluctantly turned to the remaining task about his late navigation Officer, that he had long been avoiding 
There were forms to fill in and a report to write and whilst he had to stick to the facts, in the rare instances he had to deal with such matters, he tended to hint at misadventure rather than suicide because of insurance and pension provisions but mainly with the feelings of the relatives in mind.
It took nearly three hours to complete the report in spite of having his Third Officers account as a reference. The other forms also required the Captains signature.
He picked up his internal phone and dialed number Zero.
“Captain here,” came the reply.
“I’ve got some forms for your signature Sir.”
‘Okay bring them up,” the Captain replied before putting the phone down.
The Captain was seated at his desk in his ‘day’ cabin and waived the Chief Officer to a chair.
“No thanks Sir, I’ve just had a Scotch.”
“Good man,” smiled the Captain from the Outer Hebrides.
‘I’ll get you another.’
The Captain signed the documents and reports without reading them.
He had once been a Chief Officer and knew what it was like at the end of a voyage getting all the paperwork done.
“Sad business about Mr. Jenkins,” he offered.
‘Yes Sir,” was the reply, “I’m posting letters to the wife and daughter at Gib. I’ll let you have copies so there’s no conflict. I know yours will be mainly the facts for Head Office. The Marine Superintendent will have been in touch with the family using details taken from your radio contact. There’s nothing really to add,” the Chief Officer responded finishing his drink.
 “How are the junior Officers taking it?”
“Well they were very upset to start with as we all were, but being young and keen, their promotions would have taken their minds off of things.”
“That’s good,” said the Captain. “ I’ll see you at dinner then.”
Returning to his cabin, he finished writing a letter to the late Second Officers daughter and a more difficult letter to his wife who was still listed as his next of kin. 
He poured himself another Scotch and eyed the unopened letter taken from the belongings. Several minutes passed before he decided to open it.  It was dated 13th July 1958.
It began, 
                                                                         Royal Palace
Dear Captain Jenkins, 
I’m sure you know that the situation in the Middle East has become very volatile since President Nasser came to power in Egypt and commandeered the Suez Canal.  The resulting turmoil worldwide is affecting all Arab Countries and I am forever looking over my shoulder. 
The ‘Aliye’ should now be waiting in Turkey and I have been persuaded by my cousin King Hussein of Jordan to take temporary refuge aboard until the present unrest dies down.
I have been meaning to write to you since your departure as ‘Captain’ of the Royal Yacht early in 1957 but firstly and more importantly the purpose of this letter is to request that you once again take command of the Yacht.  On receipt of this letter, wherever you are, telephone the Embassy in London who will arrange First Class Air tickets.  Your salary and conditions will be as before plus half as much again and this of course also applies to your leave and pension entitlements.
The unfortunate incident that led to your departure has now been clarified and you are completely exonerated.  Had I have been aboard at the time, matters would have been very different but those responsible could be excused at their unbending interpretation of Sharia Law when considering alcohol.
You will, without doubt, remember those wonderful times when we both enjoyed wine, women and song, ashore as well as on board the Yacht. These memories are etched on my memory and mean a great deal to me.
There has been a string of Officers since you left but none have really suited, mainly because unlike you they did not speak the language and had little control over the crew.
My dear friend (yes I must call you that) I look forward again to sharing the relaxing evenings especially listening to your violin.
  With the hopes that it may ‘swing the balance,’ and help you make a positive decision, I have arranged for a very special present that awaits you and is locked in the safe of your suite on the “Aliye’. 
 I’ll give you one clue before closing.  It was purchased in Lombardy in Italy at a place called ‘Cremona.’
Your humble and respectful friend,
Faisal.11 Ghazi
The Chief Officer sat in contemplation and topped up his glass.  He remembered the headline well.  He had spent some time on oil tankers before being flown out to join the ship in Freemantle.  Just before he left, the item about Iraq had particularly interested him, as it was a place he regularly visited.
The headline in the ‘Times’ newspaper was in bold letters had proclaimed one word.  Massacre.  The whole Iraqi Royal family and their servants had been slaughtered in a military coupe on July 14th 1958.
After a while he picked up his letter to Jenk’s daughter and placed it together with the letter from Iraq into another envelope which he addressed to Katherine Jenkins care of: –
London Philharmonic Orchestra
Royal Festival Hall
89 Albert Embankment
London SE 7 TP
The ship docked in Gibraltar, late in the evening so that any business had to wait until next day.  On his way back from the Post Office next morning, the Chief Officer passed the Library and on an impulse entered its quiet and cool interior.
The staff obligingly set about to retrieve the journals and newspapers he had asked for.
Lloyds lists is a journal, published in London, that records the whereabouts of most of the World’s shipping especially those insured through Lloyds.  The Chief Officer was intrigued as to what had happened to the Aliye and had decided to carry out investigations as soon as they reached port.  He had intended to wait until they were back in England but his spontaneous decision to enter the library was partly out of burning curiosity and partly to avoid the stifling midday sun.  He also wanted to confirm her location on the 15th July 1958 and the yacht’s latest known position including under whose flag she was now registered.
His researches revealed fairly sparse information as though the World’s press had agreed to restrict detailed particulars.
The best account that he had been able to discover was published in the Unites States in the ‘Sarasota Herald Tribune’ dated July 20th 1958 under the heading: –
Istanbul (AP).
 After a reported fight amongst the Iraq crew, Turkey took protective custody, Sunday, of a yacht, which belonged to the late King Faisal 11 of Iraq.
Two navy gunboats moved alongside the luxurious vessel, the ‘ALIYE’, anchored in the Bosporus and kept all other craft from approaching.
The ‘ALIYE’ had been anchored here several weeks, awaiting the ill fated King and his Uncle Crown Prince Abdul Ilah who intended to board last week for a Mediterranean cruise.
Reported scuffles among the crew were scanty and unconfirmed but crews of vessels anchored nearby, said there had been some disturbance.
The Chief Officer looked up at the library clock and saw it was approaching one o’clock in the afternoon. He had missed the customary changing of the guard, a practice that dated back to 1728 and was one of Gibraltar’s main attractions.
He still had some time before he needed to get back to the ship so he continued with his investigations.  He desperately needed a cigarette but decided to leave it for the moment as he was enjoying the cool breeze from the large overhead fan, it was one of those lattice types often found in the tropics and its large blades made up for its slow rotation.
He had to wait ages before the librarian returned from the archives with a copy of the Washington Post dated July 18th 1958.  He felt flattered that she was helping him so much and thought it a shame that she looked like a stereotype of her profession, right down to having her hair in a bun and wearing thick framed glasses.
He spread the newspaper out on the table.
The headline was in bold letters right across the whole front page: –
The UN Security Council is to convene members of the General Assembly to discuss the crisis throughout the Middle East and the effects it is likely to have on oil supplies.
The troubles started in Iraq with an armed take over of the Government that saw the brutal murders of the complete Royal family.
A BBC reporter sent the following dispatch before taking refuge at the British Embassy in Baghdad.
An armed insurrection took place just after dawn and all strategic government buildings including the media were taken over.
Forces were sent to the Palace where they met with little resistance and during the assault King Faisal 11 was shot dead.  His uncle Crowned Prince Abdul Ilah was wounded and then towed behind an army vehicle before being hanged in public from a prominent building.
During the unrest a serving British Army Colonel was shot dead outside the British Embassy.
Prime Minister Nuri, who had just past his seventieth birthday, was caught while trying to escape, dressed as a woman.  The new ruling party executed him without trial.
John Snow Baghdad.
Out in the sunshine and fresh air, the Chief Officer lit a cigarette and deeply inhaled.  He reflected that fate, luck, or whatever you called it was unpredictable.
One minute you’re a King and own Palaces and a magnificent yacht, and the next minute your dead.  Thank goodness, he thought to himself that these things didn’t seem to happen to ordinary people.  He truly hoped that both the King and Jenk’s had had some great times aboard the yacht and were now enjoying each other’s company elsewhere.
P.S This is a true account of the fate of a merchant Naval Officer known as Jenkins.

Personal account of life as a wife in the Bank Line – a wistful look back……..

I feel like I’m reclaiming my past. This was a happy time for me, 1980, newly married and travelling the world. Really nothing to be unhappy about. Later, when that marriage was over and I was with my second husband, well, you can’t keep talking about ‘that time when I was happy with my first husband’. So I didn’t. But it was part of my life, and a privilege to be part of that world if only for a short time. It’s one of the things that’s made me who I am, and it’s nice to talk about it.

But thinking about it has also made me a little sad. Wistful, I guess. It’s all so long ago, and so, so far away. We were all so young, and the world literally was our oyster. Everyone on board had been everywhere (granted they’d mostly only been to the bars). It became normal. There was no urgency – you didn’t need to rush around like a tourist – you’d be back, another time, sometime soon. Until you finally paid off your last ship and realised you wouldn’t be.

My last blog post about being at sea saw us leaving Hull and the European coast and heading Deep Sea. We were heading for the Panama Canal. 

That post was three weeks ago, and that’s about how long it took to cross the Atlantic. Every day a little warmer, the sea a little bluer. After nearly three weeks at sea we sailed through the Caribbean and began the approach to Panama. In those three weeks I’d suffered from seasickness, recovered from seasickness, honed my table tennis skills, learnt to play cribbage and discovered that I liked curry.

It was odd to be within sight of other ships, to see islands in the distance, and to realise that the world wasn’t just made of water. You could smell the land – this land smelt of moistness, a watery smell, rain forest.

From Colon to Balboa, north to south cutting through the country of Panama, through the Gatun Lake and out the other side. From the Atlantic to the Pacific in the time it takes to feed a mule. (Ships are guided through the canal by locomotives, called mules. It’s a trick that’s been played on generations of first trippers, to tell them to get carrots from the galley to feed the mules… Ha!!) 

And then off, across the Pacific. We sailed quite close to the Galapagos Islands (you could, back then – there’s an exclusion zone these days and rightly so.) 

Our first South Pacific Island was Tahiti, and the port of Papeete. Again, after a couple of weeks at sea, you could smell the land. Tahiti smells of coconut, like the inside of a Bounty Bar.

I’d done my research –  I knew about Captain Cook and the transit of Venus, I knew about Gauguin. I’d read ‘The Moon and Sixpence’.

So, what did she do – the young wide-eyed traveller, keen to see the world, six weeks out from Hull and arriving in her first South Pacific island??


Nothing at all. 

We docked at 8 in the evening, and we sailed at 6 the next morning. The agent brought no money on board, and they worked cargo all night. 

Never mind, plenty more islands ahead of us. And we’ll be back, sometime soon.

Next stop – Fiji.

Thursobank launch in 1940 – a bad time… Torpedoed and sunk 17 months later. 30 dead.


Ships hit by U-boats


British Motor merchant

Type:Motor merchant
Tonnage5,575 tons
Completed1940 – J. Readhead & Sons Ltd, South Shields 
OwnerAndrew Weir & Co, London 
Date of attack22 Mar 1942Nationality:      British
FateSunk by U-373 (Paul-Karl Loeser)
Position38° 05’N, 68° 30’W – Grid CA 6593
Complement64 (30 dead and 34 survivors).
RouteNew York (20 Mar) – Capetown – Alexandria 
Cargo7839 tons of general cargo 
HistoryCompleted in October 1940 
Notes on eventAt 05.09 hours on 22 March 1942 the unescorted Thursobank (Master Ralph Bryan Ellis) was hit on port side amidships by one G7e torpedo from U-373 about 200 miles south-southeast of Nantucket and sank by the bow five minutes after being struck by a second G7e torpedo, which was fired as coup de grâce from the stern torpedo tube at 05.35 hours. The master, 22 crew members and seven gunners were lost. 29 crew members and five gunners were picked up after three days by the Havsten and landed at Halifax on 28 March. Upon arrival, the surviving Chinese crewmen were arrested for mutiny, having placed the few British survivors in front of the lifeboat, throwing the oars away and refusing to share the food and warm clothing with them. 
On boardWe have details of 64 people who were on board



Tielbank Liberty in 1956

Although standard ships, they were all different in many details, and owners modified them as time passed. Here there are no gun bays on the foreside of the bridge, and the upper wheelhouse is open, unlike many that had a makeshift structure around the wheel and telegraph. A common modifiction was the removal of the t’gallant mast, (not shown here) which was a distinctive feature of the famous Liberty vessels, 2,710 of which were built.

They played a huge part in overcoming the U boat menace in WW2 simply by dint of the numbers launched.

Bank Line Association newsletter

Newsletter No 63 – August 2019



Former Bank Line Marine Superintendent in New Orleans.

Grimsby-native, Michael Ward,, was Apprenticed to Andrew Weir Shipping & Trading Company in December, 1955 after sea-school in Grimsby and Hull Trinity House. His first ship was m.v. “Foylebank”  a new ship recently delivered from Belfast and returning from her maiden voyage. Joining in early January 1956, he was still aboard this fine ship in December of the same year when he celebrated his first Bank Line Christmas along with such Company luminaries as Captain J. Stewart as Master; F.F. (Freddy) Feint as First Mate; and S,J. (Stan) Sweeney as Third Engineer. This was assuredly a ‘star cast’ for a 17-year-old to observe.

Progressing up the ranks and obtaining his ‘Tickets’ as soon as he had sufficient sea-time, Mike was serving as First Mate aboard “Gowanbank” when news came of his first command, the “Streambank” which he joined in the May of 1969 while still in his 30th year. Altogether, his steady disposition and good character had been noted because just three years later he was appointed to the important position of Assistant Marine Superintendent in New Orleans in July 1972.

1972 was to become a banner year for Captain Ward. First of all, he was assigned to the Company’s principal USA office in New York to temporarily cover the Marine Superintendent’s position of Captain Alistair Macnab to permit him to take home leave. But it was during this time that he first met his wife-to-be Dorothy Gavin whom he married back in New Orleans in November, 1974, setting up house in Metairie, a pleasant suburb of New Orleans. 

Captain Ward continued with superintending cargo stowage aboard the Company’s Gulf-Australia Line; Gulf-New Zealand Line; and inbound bulk sugar charters, all of which added up to five ships a month, and in due course was joined by Engineer Superintendent, Roddie MacLeod who was eventually replaced by “Jiggs” Braun when he was transferred to Head Office in London to become Chief Superintendent Engineer.

Becoming a US citizen in 1994, Ward carried out his duties, attending to the Company ships’ affairs and looking after the Company’s marine terminals, first at Harmony Street and eventually at Governor Nicholls Wharf as containers became more common. The resumption of the Bank Line South Africa Line in 1979 and the amalgamation with Safmarine as SafBank in 1988 was a new responsibility to which was added technical visits throughout Louisiana and to out-of-state manufacturing centres to discuss how existing breakbulk shipments could be containerised given Australia, South Africa, and New Zealand’s preference at the time for 20 ft boxes and US exporters preference for 40 ft units. 

This problem was still ongoing as the Bank and Savill Line was introduced in 1980. But after 19 years of managing the transition of ocean transport into containers the change-over was still presenting problems in Gulf ports. The Bank and Savill service eventually succeeded the conventional ship sailings to Australasia in 1981 although a couple of the newest Bank Line ships of the new “Fleetbank Class”were integrated into the containerised service to accommodate remaining breakbulk cargoes in a bid to maintain schedules. Unfortunately, the mix of full container- and breakbulk-capable ships on an irregular basis proved unwelcome to shippers and cargo support drifted away.

Captain Ward was made redundant at the end of 1981 and general management of all USA operations was invested in London through local agents and the appointment of new Cargo Loading Superintendents along the U.S, East Coast responsible to the various Line Managers in Head Office.

Ward joined the National Cargo Bureau (NCB) in 1982 and was a Marine Surveyor at that organisation until 1987 when as a result of previous good relationships with the International Paper Company and the care and attention Mike had given IPCo’s woodpulp and newsprint shipments when with Bank Line, he was offered the new job of their Marine Surveyor, a position he held until his retirement in 2001.

A full and constantly busy life with Dorothy beside him every step of the way for 44 years based in Metairie. During retirement the Captain remained active in his favourite activities of hiking, swimming, gardening, and golfing, but it was in 2012 that he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. As Dorothy has said, “Mike never met a mountain he didn’t want to climb” so it was especially distressing as his body succumbed to the disease. He died in New Orleans on June 24th 2019.

This writer, was especially fond of Mike and Dorothy Ward. I was Best Man at their wedding in 1974.  Throughout our long and busy partnership in the USA, we had striven mightily to overcome the container problem only to observe it becoming the instrument of the destruction of all our efforts. Bank Line will not see the likes of Captain D.Michael Ward again. His sure-handedness, careful analysis, and sober judgement stood out as testament to this fine man. Head Office’s decision to appoint Mike ashore to New Orleans in 1972 to take care of cargo proved to be a master-stroke with far-reaching beneficial consequences.

Our sympathies extend to Mike’s widow, Dorothy. She is constantly in our thoughts and prayers. God bless her.

Alistair Macnab,

Brooklyn NY 11209

29th July 2019.

Our next Reunion at the Holiday Inn Bromsgrove on 3rd October 2020

I know it is very early but because of the hotel having become a member of the IHG Group making a booking is proving to be complicated by IHG’s procedures and bookings having to be made through a central office and not direct with the hotel.

It would therefore be most helpful if at least those members reading this online could please drop me an email (please note new email address ) stating provisionally whether or not you are intending to attend, just so that I can get an idea of roughly how many rooms I will need to ask them to reserve for us.

Also, in view of the very positive comments made regarding the meal last year unless there are any strong objections, we intend to have the buffet menu to be very similar to that of last year.

Annual Subscriptions  

You will recall from previous newsletters that the Annual Subscription for membership of the Association has been reduced from £25 to £5 – so on checking the records it is somewhat disappointing to see that only approximately 50 % of the membership have actually paid up so far. 

As £5 is such a small sum why don’t those Members who have not paid yet please transfer £10 to our Bank Account to cover this year and next year’s subscriptions.

Bank Lloyds Bank

Account number 23181468

Sort code 30-95-96

The following from Geoffrey Walker who served his apprenticeship with Bank Line (1961-1964 ).

Introducing a new book:-

A Tramp for all Oceans  

by Geoffrey Walker

Published : 2019

A nostalgic chronicle of ships and the sea told by the Author from his experiences sailing around Asia and Oceania during the golden years of shipping throughout the 1960s and 1970s. The narrative encapsulates this fascinating bygone period of charm, mystery, and wonder. From many decades based in Asia, the Author tells his sailors anecdotes of the adventurous years he spent tramping the sea routes of Africa, India, the Far East, and Oceania, under the Red Duster, from Apprentice to Captain. Calling at large and small Ports alike, some little more than clearings in the jungle, up barely navigable rivers or not even marked on an Admiralty Chart. 

The book captivates the last of an era when ships all possessed their own “heart and character, when crewed by what may be described as a“different breed” of seafarer, and  now only lives on in maritime nostalgia.

Available from  or Amazon Books

The book is not intended to be a technical narrative in any way whatsoever, but rather, it is written in a very personalized way to appeal to a wider readership and those who may have a nautical interest, whilst not necessarily having a maritime background.

Please see below another of Alan Rawlinson’s interesting articles which has been reproduced with his kind permission,

A Liberty Ship Apprentice

(The picture is at Ocean Island – author and Jim Haig at ‘ Smoko’.The wreck of the Kelvinbank – another Liberty ship behind)

 In 1954, the Liberty ship Maplebank set off around the world in an unforgettable trip of somewhat drunken revelry, punctuated by routine calm at sea between ports.  In port where drink was available, there were crises after crises as the crew went missing or appeared on deck drunk and unable to work. 

 The Maplebank was one of a dozen so called Sam Boats or Liberty ships bought into Andrew  Weir’s Bank Line after WW2.  Previously named Samwash, she was in the fleet for 10 years to 1957 before being sold on to Liberian registry and named ” African Lord” where she had another 12 years before going to the breakers.  She had also been at the Sicily landings in WW2.  

The author joined her as a 19 year old senior apprentice, in 1954, one of four, later to be three, as one, a Geordie Apprentice, deserted in New Zealand.    

The previous trip had also been an eventful one, with the Master sadly disappearing at sea.  Also, a  fire whilst in the Mississippi River delta was extinguished after she had been beached to enable firefighters to put out the  the blaze. 

On board, it was quickly realised that standards on the American built war time ships was higher than we were used to.  There were no frills, but there was a solid feel to everything, and the most noticeable difference to our usual ships, was in the accommodation. Bunks were wider and better furnished, and the heating was heavy duty.   On the bridge, it was functional and a bit spartan, but again, all fittings seemed clunkier.   The Maplebank still had the gun Bays on the bridge front to remind of the real purpose of their existence.   Down below, a three-cylinder steam engine seemed simple and robust, as indeed, they were.   It is probably true to say that those who sailed on Liberty’s enjoyed the experience, and the memory of these ships is regarded fondly by many. 

It was to be an interesting round the world voyage that would end in Bremen with only one of the original deck crew remaining.     Signing off with a bad discharge, a DR (decline to report) he was the Bosun, but had started the trip as an EDH (efficient deck hand) and found rapid promotion as his shipmates deserted around the Australian and New Zealand ports that we visited.   It was a bit rough that he was made a scapegoat for the misdeeds of his colleagues, but the Master had been frustrated for 15 months by the antics of them all, and probably felt justified.    To my mind it was ironic, and a bit unfair, as he was the only member of the deck crew that had stayed loyal. 

We joined on a cold snowy January day in Bromboro dock, where the Maplebank was discharging Copra and heated coconut oil into road tankers, and the pungent and distinctive smell permeated everything.  Steam winches were clattering away.  To the author it was like home, with a welcoming and familiar smell, but once on board it was immediately apparent that this was no ordinary Bank Boat.     In the apprentices cabin a weighted rubber cosh dangled on the radiator, and the companionway up to the officer’s accommodation had a hinged thick steel door which set us all wondering.  However, we soon settled in, and started to meet our shipmates. It was mid-winter in Birkenhead and the heating was off due to repairs below, so we trooped ashore to eat in the Lever Bros canteen.

Unlike the Asian crews on most of company’s ships, the Liberty’s had so called ‘white’ crews from the Seaman’s pool, and they were Liverpudlians on this voyage with a rich sense of humour.  Many were great seamen. We were to discover that their brand of humour sustained them through all situations, good or bad.   They were irreverent fun to work with, tipsy or not, although the fun wore a but thin when we apprentices had to cover for them, either steering, or covering hatches and working long hours. 


We loaded in the Gulf Ports of Texas and Louisiana after a ballast voyage from Liverpool.   Bulk rock sulphur went into the lower holds, and after levelling, heavy plant like tractors and harvesters were lashed down on top.  General cargo of all sorts, barrels, cartons, and bundles filled the tweendecks.   It was long before containerisation hid nearly all cargo inside ubiquitous steel boxes.   On deck we carried a refinery pressure tank loaded from a floating barge and associated heavy lift crane.  The big thick steel tube took up all of the starboard side of the afterdeck and the deck crew quickly decorated it with painted slogans, Kon Tiki, being the most prominent.       No thought was given to any views the consignees might have!     Amazingly, there was yet no major signs of the boozy mayhem ahead in New Zealand. 

We sailed for the Panama Canal, and arriving at Cristobal in the evening, anchored to complete formalities before an early transit the next day.    It was magical with coloured lights twinkling ashore, and the cooler air after a tropical day.  The crew then disappeared unnoticed after hitching a ride on one of the launches alongside.    In the morning, with no sign of the crew,  a decision had to be made how to proceed and it was decided that with 4 apprentices, a transit could be made without the majority of the deck and engine room staff.     The author spent a few hours at the wheel, spelled by one of the other apprentices, and the pilot, strolling up and down the bridge wing kept up a running commentary with the police ashore as they attempted to find and round up the missing crew members.    One of the engineers has also had a night in Cristobal and unfortunately had been stabbed in a fracas, ending up in hospital.        

The Liberty ships had an upper wheelhouse, a glorified box on stilts which contained a steering console, with a compass, telegraph, whistle lanyard, and a clock.      As it was a small area, it was possible for a nimble helmsman to control all three devices, and the author took a great delight in steering, ringing the telegraph, and blowing the whistle when required by the Canal pilot.      It was shades of Para Handy on his Clyde Puffer but on a larger scale!     The crackly walky talky radio kept us informed as we transited through the Lakes whenever another member of the crew had been located.  After we exited we anchored in Balboa Bay, awaiting developments.  Finally, the rounded up members were sent out on a police launch.       Still feisty, they were handcuffed and released one by one to climb the Pilot ladder on to the deck, where they flung wedges and anything lying around back down on the police boat, which sped away.    The police had had enough.    Fined by the Master the next day, they claimed triumphantly to us apprentices to have nominated the ” Destitute Master Mariners Fund” as their choice for the deducted wages. 

Our deck crew were good seamen, often from families of seafarers, and skills had been learnt which included the sewing of working suits from duck canvas, complete with cap.   The young deck boys had trouble reading however, so the apprentices sometimes read out their letters when asked to do so.           Crossing the line with this Liverpool crew was quite an elaborate affair, a pool being assembled on one of the hatches, and the court of King Neptune suitably dressed in crown and with a gold trident, presiding over the prisoners.  

In New Zealand we discharged around the coast, starting in Auckland and Wellington, and then moving on to Lyttleton and Dunedin in the South Island.   The last port was New Plymouth, back on the North Island, where the sulphur was grabbed out into lorries.    This was also the port where one of the apprentices decided to leave the ship, and he did so successfully, leaving behind all his possessions.   There was a big fuss, being quite unusual to lose an apprentice, and it was made worse because a pact of silence had been agreed among the remaining apprentices in exchange for a few items.  This had given him a valuable head start.     (Some years later there was a report that his parents had visited New Zealand to get him home again.)

We spent time discharging in the pretty port of Lyttleton in the South Island.   Things got bad with  the deck crew drinking heavily and being unable to turn to for work.     They were having fun ashore, and one morning a battered piano appeared on board, commandeered from a shoreside pub, and slung aboard late at night.     It had been wheeled down onto the quay in a prank.    At sailing time no one other than the officers and apprentices were available to cover hatches, lower the derricks, and cast off.    This was duly done, aided by one or two sober crew members, but once outside of port, a rota had to be drawn up for steering and lookout duties until sufficient members of the crew were available for work. The first man collapsed in a heap beneath the wheel after  relieving the exhausted  apprentice.   Desertions had also started, and in these cases, the agent and the police made up the complement by providing seamen who had been rounded up and caught usually from previous ships.   It was a sort of merry go round.      The men took jobs, readily available in those 50’s days, of taxi driving, bar work, or labouring in the building trade.    Both Australia and New  Zealand were much more accommodating than today in how they viewed and treated unexpected arrivals. 

Eagerly awaiting news of our next destination, we were told that the Maplebank had been nominated for the ‘phosphate run’.      This was grim news, as it was well known that ships loading phosphate in Ocean Island and neighbouring Nauru usually stayed on this run for several voyages.    The Bank Line carried phosphate rock for the British Phosphate Commission to supplement the regular carriers, and it went to Australian and New Zealand discharge ports where it was a valuable  fertiliser, after treatment.   So we commenced running up and down from the islands which are near the Equator, and made several voyages through the Tasman sea in all weathers.   It could be very rough. In Ocean Island loading was from barges but Nauru sported a big custom built loading arm which poured the phosphate into the holds, covering everything in dust in the process.  

Christmas 1954 came and went, and it was marked at sea in the usual way, but minus any great quantities of drink.   We knew where that might lead!     In the dining saloon, the stewards went to great lengths to create a festive air.   They blew up a box of condoms in lieu of balloons, and we all ate surrounded by a circle of them, suitably painted, but still obviously condoms.  

Life on board was routine, and we apprentices shared watches on the bridge, steering and keeping lookout.  There was no automatic pilot to take over the boredom of steering which only became interesting for us lads in heavy weather.   In the Tasman sea, fully loaded with phosphate we experienced very heavy weather.       The Captain had his wife on board, and it so happened that she was well up in her husband’s duties, much to our amusement.   The Captain’s first name was Billy, which also happened to be the name of the author’s pet cat, living on the bridge deck.       When we heard the Captain’s wife calling Billy, Billy, come here, it was a bit uncertain which Billy she meant.   Standing more or less silently behind the wheel, hour upon hour, many incidents amused.      On one occasion in heavy weather, the wife summonsed the Captain and said, “. It’s quite bad, Billy, I think we ought to heave to!”     Much hilarity by those within earshot.

The stays in Australia were the highlight on this otherwise monotonous service, and our Liverpool lads made up for lost drinking time – as you do.        On our final run, they exceeded themselves and stowed away lady friends, ( and a male friend), for what was  expected to be a routine round trip.      They stayed more or less hidden in the accommodation, but It was an open secret and seemed to work with our guests staying discreetly in the crews quarters.    The Liberty ship design had all the accomm odation in a central block with the galley handy for all.   It was useful for the apprentices and others on night watches to snack when the need arose.   Disaster struck however, when we were redirected to New Zealand on one particular voyage, and the Customs rummagers there discovered the extra hands.          More fines.   Regular fining was a double edged sword for the company, as the crew had little incentive to stay onboard if their cash account was nearly always empty. 

Ocean Island had a resident population and a club for the benefit of the British Phosphate  company staff, and they challenged visiting ships to both cricket and football.     We arranged teams, and for cricket a mixture of odd looking whites were worn to conform to as near as possible to traditional cricket garb.    One oddity at Ocean Island was the outfield which consisted of very deep ravines where Phosphate had been mined earlier.  Any ball crossing the boundary was likely to be permanently lost. 

Eventually, we were relieved of our phosphate duties, and proceeded to the Spencer Gulf in South Australia to load bulk grain for India.     In Port Lincoln more crew deserted.   In these ports like Wallaroo, Port Pirie, and Port Lincoln, it was the often the author’s job to go around the nearest pubs to persuade the crew to return to the ship.   It was not unusual to see them working, serving drinks from behind the bar.  The success rate was close to zero, and a few choice but humorous words were often added.  The Bosun, a good natured man and a true seaman, also decided to try his luck ashore in Australia during this visit, and left us for good.  

Meanwhile, some of the apprentices and the Maltese carpenter together built a sailing dinghy, and sewed a set of sails.  It was a bit basic but gave hours of fun, being slung over by derrick on the after deck, and sailed in the sheltered waters of the Gulf.    Eventually, it was lost on a trip that proved to be a tad too adventurous.

The run up to India was uneventful, and we made the usual tortuous passage up the Hooghly river to Calcutta.    After discharge, we went onto the buoys in Calcutta, and moored alongside another company’s vessel with an Indian crew.   Looking down on them, some of the Liverpool wags were heard to say, “. Look at them savages, not like us white savages! “

Having Discharged in Calcutta, we then loaded for Buenos Aires in Argentina, and everyone decided we had hit the jackpot at last!        Jubilation all round, with the old hands describing the delights of this notorious haven for seamen, still under Juan Peron when we visited.   He was to be deposed later in the year in a coup d’etat.

Loading bales of gunnies in Calcutta and in Chittagong took some time but eventually we set off for the Cape of Good Hope and onwards to South America without any major incidents.  

Down in the BA docks, there was a notorious area at the time, known as the ‘Arches’ where cafes and bars, dance halls and clubs were flourishing, and it was a magnet for visiting seamen.   On our visit, the atmosphere on shore visits was charged up, especially for us young apprentices, ignorant but game as we were.     Expectations were high as we set out to taste all the delights on offer, and there was a distinctive musical background with orchestras belting out tangos and the loud piano bars wherever we went.    There was a fascination which has lasted to this day. The Argentinians only got going late on into the night, and it was quite usual to see families with young children dining in the city around midnight or later.        As a result of the late hours, some of us took a rest in the evening,  and went ashore better prepared for an all night foray.   

There were many highlights of this visit, or possibly low points, depending on your viewpoint.      On one occasion in an upstairs dance hall, there was the usual music, drinking, and dancing, and some of our crew were seen hanging on to girls on the dance floor and generally having a good time.   Some of them however, the worse for wear, were also spotted urinating in the corner of the room creating damp patches in the ceiling below!

Our discharge alongside took two riotous weeks, and near the last night, shots were heard from the shore in the early hours.     It turned out that some of the returning crew had been fired on by the port police, after they had kicked over bins, and generally created mayhem as they staggered back on board.       There was a breathless discussion in the mess room afterwards as they re-lived what had happened.    It had been a memorable port stay that had fully lived up to expectations. 

Next stop was Vitoria in Brazil to load iron ore for a homeward run.    This was completed without further incident, the loading going very quickly, and giving no time for high jinx ashore.  Only the rhythmic music flooding the radio waves told us what we were missing. 

In Bremen, we all left the ship to travel home in the ferry from the Hook of Holland to Harwich.    Our crew at the end of the voyage were a mixed bag of seamen that had been recruited or obtained in various ports around the world. They were replacements for those that had signed on in Liverpool.    Some were hard cases, with a story to tell, and there were more incidents on the ferry as drink and freedom took hold.      The author’s last recollection of this trip, was an AB with a bird in a cage covered by a cloth.     We were boarding the train in Harwich.  Responding to requests to see the bird, the owner lifted the cloth only to see the parrot laying flat on it’s back in the bottom of the cage with it’s feet in the air.   It was somehow symbolic of the whole unforgettable trip. 

Alan A Rawlinson

Author of ” Merchant Navy Apprentice 1951-1955″

Willowbank – the second out of five ships to bear this name. Had the bad fortune to be launched at the start of WW2, and paid the price, being torpedoed in June 1940. The crew were saved.

She was on a trip from Durban with a full cargo of Maize, destined for Hull, when the U boat Ace, Engelbert Endress, on the prowl from Kiel found her. He commanded U46, a sub that survived the war and was scuttled against Allied instructions. See the full U 46 story by clicking the link below.

At 19.38 hours on 12 Jun, 1940, U-46 fired a stern torpedo at a ship in convoy SL-34 about 220 miles west-northwest of Cape Finisterre and missed the intended target, but hit the Barbara Marie that broke in two and sank. At 19.46 hours, another torpedo was fired which hit the forward part of Willowbank and caused the ship to sink by the bow. The master and 50 crew members from Willowbank (Master Donald Gillies) were picked up by the British motor merchant Swedru. Read more at wrecksite:

FORTHBANK 1973 BUILT seen below as ‘Pacific Emerald’ in year 2000 in the last of her days…

Seems there was a problem with regulations in 1999 in Belgium – see the account below…

Detainment of MV Forthbank in the harbour of Antwerp In 1999, the 26-year old UK owned MV Forthbank was arrested inthe harbour of Antwerp, Belgium. The ship was believed to be on its way forscrapping at the Alang Beach in India.The ship arrived in Antwerp on December 20 th 1999. The Belgian authoritiesrepresented by the Belgian Flemish Waste Department, OVAM (Basel FocalPoint in Belgium) and the police carried out an investigation on board MVForthbank and requested a written clarification from the owner of the ship, onhis intentions with the ship.
The Belgian Authorities received a written response from the owner on De-cember 20 th 1999. The authorities considered the answer unclear and OVAMbooked a charge at the Antwerp prosecutor who arrested the vessel on the baseof that charge (penal arrest). The charge from OVAM and the arrest of theprosecutor were based on article 26 of the Council Regulation (EEC) No259/93 of February 1 st 1993 on the supervision and control of shipments ofwaste within, into and out of the European Community.
Following the arrest of MV Forthbank, OVAM asked the owner of the ship fora written confirmation, by means of a contract or agreement, that the shipwould return to a European harbour after calling of its final port of Madagascaras stated in the ship’s contract. On the 21 st December 1999, a declaration fromthe insurance company of the MV Forthbank was delivered to the prosecutor.On the basis of this declaration the prosecutor lifted the penal arrest of the ship.Following this , OVAM sent a letter to the owner of MV Forthbank and theprosecutor with a warning that legal action could be taken if the ship went toIndia or any other non-OECD-country following its departure from Antwerp, asthe last harbour of an OECD-country, for demolition. MV Forthbank left theAntwerp harbour.
MV Forthbank was scrapped in 2002 at Chittagong, Bangladesh.

Clydebank,Forthbank, Moraybank and Ivybank Passenger fares and itinerary…in the 1990’s. Amazing value.

These are extracts from a USA travel document of the time….

The statement at the end was going a bit far! i.e. ” Please note that these cargo ships do not look like giant container ships at all: their gracious elegance will delight nostalgic travellers”

Houston ship channel night run – a video – click on the link below…

To all the old ‘Bank Liners’ out there…. You can smell the sulphur and chemicals watching this – pure nostalgia!

Tamapatcharee, alias Ruddbank

The Ruddbank, built 1979 as one of the ‘ Fish’ class vessels, had a long and interesting career. Here goes! Sold to Lamport & Holt 83 and became the ‘ Ramsey’. Made 5 voyages to the Falklands on charter. 1986 became the ‘ Lairg’ in the Vestey Group. 1989 then became the ‘Napier Star’ which somehow enhanced her looks… 1891 sold to Tamapatcharee Shipping HK and took the same name. 1995 purchased by John McCrink (company – South Asia Shipping) who called her ‘Lady Rebecca’. 1999 sold to the International Transport Workers Federation and called ‘Global Mariner’. In 2000 sunk at mile 194 on the river Orinocco after a collision with the ‘ Atlantic Crusader’. The ‘Global Mariner’ had just left the berth and collided when making a turn in the river. A court case found her 100% to blame. See :

Pictures from Geoff Walker – see his book ” A Tramp for all the Oceans” elsewhere on this site.

Isle of Arran – with ‘painted ports’

This beautiful vessel was in the fleet 1895 to 1915 when she was sold to a Liverpool company. 2 Years later in WW1 she was captured by a U boat off of Ireland, and then bombed to destruction. Pictured here in Australian waters.

HISTORICAL NOTE: She was captured and sunk by Fredrich Moeck in U46 who, 3 days later torpedoed a big liner, the Argyllshire, 12,000 tons, and claimed her as lost. However, she managed to reach Falmouth and was repaired to sail on, and to reach the breakers yard at the end of her life.

5 ships sunk in 1 week of February

Sailing Ship FORTHBANK – a beautiful hull profile…

This ship had an interesting career…. Built in 1877 as ‘NEBO’ for a Glasgow company. Changed hands again, before Andrew Weir purchased her in 1894. She became the first ‘ FORTHBANK’ for 15 years before changing name to ‘LEONIDA’ and Peruvian owners in 1909. (a little unusual). Wrecked 2 years later on the S American coast.

POLERIC – a ship with an interesting history

This was a 1900 built ship, a steamer with twin screws and completed as Consuelo for T Wilson of Hull, and used as a cattle carrier for 8 years running cattle between New York and the UK! Then in 1908 named Cainrona by new owners, Cairn Line who ran her between Canada and the UK with 50 First Class and 300 third class passengers. A fire in 1910 led to the rescue of 879 passengers and there was one death. Joined in with Tortona and Gerona which were all then bought by Cunard and she was renamed `Albania. In 1912 Bank Line became the new owner and she became POLARIC. She lasted until 1925 when a cargo of grain shifted and she had to be towed in to New York. Scrapped in Osaka 1929 – a 29 year coloured history!

Here she is as Consuelo

Salamis – Purchased in 1911 for the South Africa-India Trade.

Built in 1899 the Salamis carried 50 1st class passengers and also 650 deck passengers. In 1900 she had transported the New South Wales Naval Brigade with their guns from Australia to Shanghai, and as part of an Interntional brigade that fought to save foreign residents. At that time she was owned by the ‘Aberdeen Line’ that ran to Australia. In 1919 she became the ‘ Kamarina’ in Canada Steamships, and ran to the West Indies. Broken up in Trieste 1924. She was in the Bank Line service from 1911 to 1919.

Incomati – the Bank Line ‘ white ship’ lost in WW2. More information courtesy of

Type:Motor passenger ship
Tonnage7,369 tons
Completed1934 – Workman, Clark & Co Ltd, Belfast 
OwnerAndrew Weir & Co, London 
Date of attack18 Jul 1943Nationality:      British
FateSunk by U-508 (Georg Staats)
Position3° 09’N, 4° 15’E – Grid EV 9933
Complement223 (1 dead and 222 survivors).
RouteTakoradi (16 Jul) – Walvis Bay – Durban – Middle East 
Cargo7000 tons of general cargo, including 3600 tons of cocoa, 2600 tons of stores, mail and 2 aircraft 
HistoryCompleted in April 1934 for Bank Line Ltd (Andrew Weir & Co), Belfast. 
Notes on eventAt 07.56 hours on 18 July 1943 the unescorted Incomati (Master Stephen Fox) was torpedoed and damaged by U-508 about 200 miles south of Lagos. At 08.18 hours, the U-boat began shelling the ship, setting her on fire and left the wreck in sinking condition. One crew member was lost. The master, 101 crew members, eight gunners and 112 passengers were picked up by HMS Boadicea (H 65) (LtCdr F.C. Brodrick, RN) and HMS Bridgewater (L 01) (Cdr N.W.H. Weekes, OBE, RN) and landed at Takoradi. 

Weybank – fog in Hong Kong harbour – a true account with illustration!

How it might have looked!

The Weybank‘s opening scene commenced as we approached Hongkong Island from the south between Cheung Chau Island and Ap Liu Chan (Lama Island) and picked up a pilot. Our troubles started when we soon ran into thick pea-soup fog. Apart from having a pilot aboard we had our radar running as we slowly turned east into the strait known loosely as Victoria Harbour. We were moving at „slow-ahead“/“half-ahead“ intermittent speeds and keeping our eyes glued not only outside but on the radar screen. On the radar we could pick out vessels (steel targets) moored at bouys in the harbour but small vessels such as junks, being built from wood and therefore bad radar beam reflectors were another story. We could pick out the larger cargo junks but smaller ones would only appear as a smudge with luck on the radar screen with every two or three revolutions of the radar antenna. I was standing on the bridge half-asleep staring ahead like all the rest of us into the soup, almost drowsing off until the next blast from our fog horn would cause me to jump out of my skin before slowly drowsing off again. Suddenly, all hell broke loose, „F…, F…, What the F…!“. I and all the others in the wheelhouse saw hard on our port bow a red/orange flash of colour rise up above the f‘ocsle. A junk had cut across our bow but with our slow speed we didn‘t just slice through her. Our bow rose up on contact and with our weight pushed her down as we went over her. We had hit her close to her bow section and this caused about two thirds of the rest of her hull on our port side to rise and twist out of the water smashing her hull, masts and sails against us in the process. We all ran to the port bridge wing just in time to see the crumpled wreckage scrape down the length of our hull before being given a final farewell whack from our propellor. I can‘t remember seeing any of the junk‘s crew, not even any that might have jumped or been thrown into the water but I remember to this day seeing the wreckage disappear aft into the fog surrounding us. We were in territorial HK waters and therefore by law not permitted to transmit in MF or HF. The question of sending an SOS or XXX type of signal however never arose. We were in VHF contact with the pilot station.The pilot picked up the VHF handset, did his thing and then we continued on our way. No „Stop Engines“ or any other such command. To be pragmatic about it, it was a sensible decision. Stop engines and become unmaneuverable in the middle of Victoria Harbour in thick fog? A no brainer! I still though to this day wonder if anyone in the HK harbour authority bothered to try to locate the wreckage/possible survivors or if they just took the stance „ one f…… junk less“. 
We crept along our way until we somehow reached our delegated mooring buoy where a couple of small sampan boats were waiting (who needs radar on a sampan?) to pick up our mooring lines. The fog didn‘t lift for the rest of the day, our gloomy introduction to HK”.


Steamer ” Gifford” built 1913 and involved in 2 world wars…

The ‘ Gifford’ joined the fleet in 1913 and had the bad luck to be in Hamburg at the outbreak of war, when she was interned. Given a new name of ‘ Sperrbrecher 9’ she successfully worked as a blockade runner for the Germans. She was returned to Britain at the end of the war and was sold at auction, becoming the ‘ Sheaf Mount’. After changing hands again, she was first flying the Greek flag, followed by the Italian flag for A Lauro at the start of WW2. Seized by the Americans, she was registered in Panama and named ‘Plaudit’, meeting her end in 1942 being torpedoed by U181 off Port Elizabeth. Some career!

Thursobank – one of 5 vessels built around the start of WW2. Only one survived – the Teviotbank which had 33 years in the fleet…Three others were torpedoed and one, the ‘Testbank’ sank after a Liberty ship blew up alongside…..

At 05.09 hours on 22 March 1942 the unescorted Thursobank (Master Ralph Bryan Ellis) was hit on port side amidships by one G7e torpedo from U-373 about 200 miles south-southeast of Nantucket and sank by the bow five minutes after being struck by a second G7e torpedo, which was fired as coup de grâce from the stern torpedo tube at 05.35 hours. The master, 22 crew members and seven gunners were lost. 29 crew members and five gunners were picked up after three days by the Havsten and landed at Halifax on 28 March. Upon arrival, the surviving Chinese crewmen were arrested for mutiny, having placed the few British survivors in front of the lifeboat, throwing the oars away and refusing to share the food and warm clothing with them.

Empire Steel, a motor tanker managed by Andrew Weir, and torpedoed in 1942 in the Atlantic with great loss of life…

At 03.00 hours on 24 Mar, 1942, the unescorted Empire Steel (Master William John Gray) was hit by two torpedoes from U-123, caught fire and exploded. The U-boat finally sank the burning tanker with gunfire northeast of Bermuda. 35 crew members and four gunners were lost. The master, six crew members and one gunner were picked up by the American tug Edmund J. Moran (towing the Robert E. Lee) and landed at Norfolk, Virginia. Read more at wrecksite:

36 vessels in all were under the management of Andrew Weir, and 5 were torpedoed and lost.

M.V. Cedarbank of the Beaverbank Class. 1955

Centre spread from a 1955 Journal of Commerce supplement

Another of the Copra vessels which were so successful. Like all of the Bank Line fleet, there was no certainty of routing, but a homeward run from the Pacific Islands was always a good possibility. In the fleet for 18 years before becoming the ‘Pola Monika’ for another 6 years trading.


Sad and fascinating that only a handful of the above ships made it through to old age. The others were wrecked, abandoned, torpedoed, mined, burnt, or went missing at sea.

The lucky ones were the River Falloch, Trongate, Loch Ranza, and Gantock Rock. Survival chances of making old age or going to scrap – around 8%!