Monthly Archives: April 2020

The 1934 built INCOMATI

One of the 3 so called ” white ships” she was different in that she received the engines from the burned out liner “BERMUDA”. She had 9 years service before being torpedoed off of Nigeria in 1943 by the U508. Seen here on the moorings in the Hooghly at Calcutta.

The author spent all of 1952 as Apprentice on the Inchanga, left.

FOYLEBANK during a film charter


Captain John Millar commented on this site earlier: “Foylebank was used in the film “Castaway with Tom Hanks. I spent five hours pretending to rescue him steaming up and down the coast off Suva with camera boats taking films. There were about 20secs of her in the film”

CALCUTTA memories…..

Up the Hooghly to Calcutta

This is not a visit to get the pulses racing, but it is memorable and unforgettable for a variety of other reasons.

Picture this: The ship slows without any obvious purpose. Overside, the water colour is mudlike and fast-flowing, and there is no land in sight. Still, a pilot boat approaches. We are at Sandheads, the station for arriving and departing vessels, and it has a long and fascinating history of pilotage involving protracted voyages often taking 2 days or more to reach moorings or the docks in Calcutta. The pilot boards accompanied by many bags. They contain his overnight wear plus all the things necessary for days on board, and more, often including golf clubs or other strange items not immediately associated with pilotage. It is a tradition steeped in time. Once underway, and informed of the draft, he describes the passage ahead, usually involving an overnight safe anchorage. He is a skilled and experienced pilot.

Finally, when the river narrows and the banks close in, the ship approaches a busy built-up area with many boats, and oceangoing ships hanging on buoys midstream, surrounded by dozens of barges. There is a bustle as sampans and hay barges manoevre in all directions across the river, which is very fast flowing. Most are crabbing sideways in the racing water, defying the force of the flow. Overhead scavenging hawks are circling and watching.
Our destination is a berth midstream, calling for the unshackling of anchors and the use of the chains to moor to buoys.
Later, drydocking occurs, and a repair schedule commences, the owners taking full advantage of the ample cheap labour on offer. The noise is intrusive. Sleeping bodies litter the decks. Ashore, children of all ages are begging cheerfully and forcefully for coins. They chant melodious ditties. Ashore at night, smoke rises from compounds near the dock, and lilting Indian music fills the air. Calcutta is weaving its unforgettable spell.


Two of the vessels described below with their history. Not that pretty, but loved by those who sailed on them, it seems…

Ship Class SA-15

Class overview

    Oy Wärtsilä Ab, Turku, Finland
    Valmet Oy, Helsinki, Finland
    Wärtsilä Marine, Helsinki, Finland


    Murmansk Shipping Company
    Far East Shipping Company
    Sakhalin Shipping Company
    NB Shipping
    Bank Line

Subclasses: SA-15 Super
Built: 1982–1987
In service: 1982–
Completed: 19
Active: 2
Scrapped: 17

General characteristics (SA-15)[1]
Type: Ro-ro/General cargo ship

    16,500 GT
    11,000 NT
    20,000 DWT (summer)
    14,700 DWT (Arctic)


    177.20 m (581 ft 4 in) (overall, maximum)[2]
    173.55 m (569 ft 5 in) (overall, hull)
    164.10 m (538 ft 5 in) (waterline)[2]
    159.6 m (523 ft 7 in) (between perpendiculars)[3]

Beam: 24.55 m (80 ft 7 in)
Height: 51.50 m (169 ft 0 in) from keel[4]

    11.35 m (37 ft 3 in) (summer)[3]
    9.00 m (29 ft 6 in) (Arctic)
    8.50 m (27 ft 11 in) (design)

Depth: 15.2 m (49 ft 10 in)
Ice class: ULA
Installed power: 2 × Wärtsilä-Sulzer 14ZV40/48 (2 × 7,700 kW)
Propulsion: Single shaft; KaMeWa CPP, ⌀ 5.6 m (18 ft 4 in)
Speed: 17 knots (31 km/h; 20 mph) (design)
Range: 16,000 nautical miles (30,000 km; 18,000 mi)
Endurance: 60 days
Crew: Accommodation for 42
Notes: As designed; minor differences between ships as well as with SA-15 Super

In 1995 Bank Line, a subsidiary of Andrew Weir Shipping Ltd, purchased four SA-15 class ships, Okha, Bratsk, Tiksi and Nikel, for their westbound round-the-world liner service linking Europe to the South Pacific Islands and Papua New Guinea via the Panama and Suez Canals. The ships, no longer required to sail in the arctic conditions, were renamed Speybank, Arunbank, Foylebank and Teignbank and converted in the United Kingdom for the South Pacific service.

In 2006 China Navigation Co Ltd, the deep-sea shipping arm of John Swire & Sons Ltd, bought the business from Andrew Weir Shipping. The ships, while still managed by Bank Line, were time chartered, renamed to Mahinabank, Tikeibank, Gazellebank and Boularibank, and sent to Singapore for drydocking and extensive refits. Later the company also chartered two more SA-15 class ships, Anatoliy Kolesnichenko and Vasiliy Burkhanov, but unlike the others they were not rebuilt and retained their Russian identity. However, due to the economic downturn of 2009 the round-the-world cargo liner service was discontinued, the charters were ended, and the four converted SA-15 class ships were returned to their original owner and sold for scrap in late 2009.

The end of Bank Line’s SA-15 class ships was not without incident. On 28 April 2009, on her last complete voyage in round-the-world service, Boularibank was attacked by Somalian pirates 120 miles northeast of Socotra Island at the entrance to the Gulf of Aden. Unable to outrun the attackers, Captain Peter Stapleton carried out evasive manoeuvres while under fire from the assailants’ AK-47s and RPGs and had his crew ward off the invaders using water cannons, twistlocks and heavy balks of timber lashed to the guard rails. By the time a destroyer of the Russian Navy arrived at the scene the pirates had given up, leaving Boularibank’s crew of 31, eleven passengers and the captain’s wife unharmed. Stapleton was later awarded the Merchant Navy Medal for exceptional bravery during the attack.

Another converted SA-15 class ship, Foylebank, was briefly featured in the 2000 drama film Cast Away as the ship that rescues the character portrayed by Tom Hanks.

Apprentice and beyond…by Donald McGhee

The writer on the tiller with the MARABANK in the distance

This is a condensed version of the short career of what could only be classified as a Bank Line failure! I started my seagoing career with Donaldson Line of Glasgow, on the western ocean run to St. John and Halifax in winter and the Great Lakes in summer. After the demise of Donaldsons I joined Bank Line to complete my apprenticeship.Donaldsons were a real family type company, where the apprentices were really taken care of and I have to admit to a huge sense of loss when they folded. They even paid us 1/9d an hour overtime on the Great Lakes run!
My first ship was Teviotbank, standing by her in Sunderland as she finished fitting out at Doxfords yard and living ashore in Roker with the other two apprentices. A.J. Whiston was the master and our maiden voyage was cut short due to ongoing engine trouble, resulting in her returning to U.K for repairs. She was a lovely ship.
My next ship was Inverbank, Joined her in Ijmuiden and called in to Bremen, Hamburg and London for outward cargo. Then the Islands, New Guinea run, sugar from Queensland to Singapore, twice and of course Calcutta and East Pakistan for a homeward cargo of jute. B.J. Peterson was the old man, Johnny Lowans the Mate, under whom it was a pleasure to work.
My final ship was Marabank, which was a chapter in my career that saw me ending up in Wellington, a VNC in my discharge book and a stop to any further seagoing. Hindsight is a great thing and all I can say is that there was fault on all sides and that Marabank was not as happy a ship as my former vessels. It turned a hitherto keen and dedicated apprentice into someone whose ideals had been crushed.
I did a brief stint as uncert. 3rd Mate, but unhappily this proved to be a bit premature, as the traffic in the English Channel required me to call for help from the 2nd Mate, Sandy Powell. Good guy. Len Thorne was Master, Mate was Geddes.On the credit side Bank Line remains in my memory as a wonderful company, with superb ships and great people. It would be unrealistic to say that everything and everyone was perfect, as that was not the case and for my part I have to take some of the flak for handling a bad situation in the wrong way! 
My nautical interests have never waned, having owned and sailed several boats, serving as an officer in the NZ Navy Cadets before retiring as a Lt. Cdr, and I am currently master of a heritage paddle steamer, which I enjoy immensely and is probably the limit of where I deserve to be given my lack of deep sea history. I envy those of you Bank Line men who persevered to become masters and were fortunate enough to stick it out.
As far as photos go I can only offer one, that being myself at the tiller of a lifeboat going ashore in Noumea, with Mike Pay the junior app and the 3/E. Taken in 1969, Marabank in the background.
I’m still in touch with several ex shipmates who actually went on to gain their Masters tickets and good on them!
Not many apps jump ship, but I was one and there are regrets, but I would not have today what I have were it not for this , possibly foolish decision made just over 50 years ago!

Donald today in his present role as senior Master on the heritage steamer based on the beautiful Whanganui river in New Zealand(see ‘Trip Advisor’ for more details of the service)

The 1939 built THORNLIEBANK (model)

Built at South Shields by John Readhead and Sons, Ltd in 1937. She was the 4th of a 5 ship order placed just before WW2 started. They were TIELBANK (torpedoed in 1941) TESTBANK (sunk at Bari after an explosion nearby)THORNLIEBANK ( Torpedoed in 1941) THURSOBANK (Torpedoed in 1942). Only the TIELBANK made it safely to the breakers in 1971 after 33 years continuous service.


This was one of the highly successful 18 ship ‘INVERBANK CLASS’ order placed in 1924. Twin screw ‘work horses ‘ of the world they certainly were… The NAIRNBANK served the company for 28 years and was a war survivor. 9 of her sisterships were not so lucky. One (FORRESBANK) was wrecked in 1958 after 33 years service.

Many thanks to for this lovely painting and montage.