Apprentice on the SIBONGA

DUNCAN MILNE, who was senior apprentice on the SIBONGA at the time of the rescue has kindly agreed to write about life onboard. Readers are reminded that the SIBONGA was the Bank Line FIRBANK on time charter.


I was on my last trip as Deck Cadet and, although I didn’t know it at the time, it was to be my last trip with Bank Line. We were on time charter to the East Asiatic Company on a regular run crossing the Pacific between Asia and the Eastern seaboard of America.

We had a really great bunch of officers, together with their wives in three instances, and I remember there being a very good working relationship under the command of Healey Martin sailing with his beloved, late wife, Mildred.

Healey had the greatest respect from all on board Sibonga from the outset and towards the end of the voyage this was to be multiplied a thousand times when he stopped the ship to pick up visitors. From a very personal point of view I felt my own career was kick started by an incident on the previous leg of the voyage   as we headed off down the Columbia River passage. The deck officers had worked like mad all night on a very hectic loading schedule while I was rested to assist Healey and the Pilot to sail the ship first thing in the morning. It was the usual deal with the pilot running the show, Healey standing by to take the blame when it all went wrong, and me operating the engine telegraph and ticking off the buoys and marks as we passed them.

It wasn’t long before Healey decided he could take the blame, if necessary, from the saloon where breakfast was underway. I felt rather proud to be essentially left in charge of the mighty Sibonga despite there being a pilot on the bridge with me. This pride soon turned to trepidation when the pilot, who was already referring to me as ‘mister mate’ pronounced he was going for breakfast as well !

I knew the passage fairly well, we had been up and down numerous times, so all I could do was just take over assuming Healey would be up like a shot as soon as he saw the pilot arrive for breakfast. I have never discussed this with Healey but I did take the ship almost all the way to the bar and no one came up to supervise. I can only assume they actually trusted me to do the pilotage because they must have been chatting over breakfast together. At one point I phoned down and informed the pilot that there was a truck on the beach which our wash was clearly going to swamp and should I reduce speed. The answer was along the lines of ‘just let her rip they shouldn’t be there’!

That was my best hour in Bankline. I hope the great captain won’t mind me telling the story.

By Duncan Milne

Many thanks to Duncan Milne who has kindly agreed to write about his time onboard and at the time of the rescue… Some readers may not be aware that the SIBONGA was the FIRBANK of the Bank Line on time charter to the Danish East Asiatic Company. The rescue of 1000 Vietnamese nationals took place 21 years ago in 1979.

all comments welcome!

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