27th December 1930 –
Queen Mary’s keel is laid

qm-centre-keelBy the late 1920s the directors of Cunard realised that their current fleet was becoming dated, and that marine engineering and technology was moving forward. It was time to have a fresh look at the needs of the modern trans-Atlantic passenger. After an extended design and research period, in early 1929 they put out a tender call to various UK shipyards. The successful bid was from John Brown’s on the Clyde, and on 1st December 1930 the contract was signed. At that time the hull was known simply as 534.

qm-double-bottomThe slip used for Aquitania was lengthened and reinforced ready for the massive new liner. The first keel plate was officially laid on 27th December 1930. Work was underway on what was to become one of the world’s best-known liners – RMS Queen Mary. Work was halted by the Great Depression and Cunard’s faltering finances, but following the UK government’s intervention with a massive loan, she was eventually launched on 26th September 1934. Once fitting out was completed and the trials passed successfully, she left on her maiden voyage on 27th May 1936, to begin a hugely successful career, both as a trans-Atlantic passenger ship and as vitally-important troopship.

She gained the Blue Riband, and fought France’s Normandie several times before World War II, finally retaining it. Her war service saw her entering many areas of the world for which she had not been designed, and the lack of air conditioning aboard made many troops suffer when she was in the tropics. Refurbished after the war, she went on to forge a successful partnership alongside Queen Elizabeth, until the advent of jet aircraft and declining passenger numbers forced her withdrawal  in 1967. Subsequently sold to Long Beach, California, she is permanently moored there as a memorial to the glory days of trans-Atlantic liners.

White Star’s Oceanic I sets new Pacific record

Processed by: Helicon Filter;On 26th December 1876, White Star’s Oceanic I, under Captain Parsell, arrived at San Francisco. She had sailed from Yokohama in 14 days 15 hours 20 minutes, a new record. This beat the previous record set by Pacific Mail’s City of Peking.

Oceanic I was built by Harland & Wolff in Belfast, and had been launched on 27th August 1870. She was the first ship with the hull built up to form the sides of passenger accommodation. She was handed over to White Star on 24th February 1871, and was placed on the Liverpool to New York service. On her maiden voyage there were engine problems and the trip was aborted. Following repairs, she quickly proved popular. She met a severe storm in mid-Atlantic on 24th December 1871, and lost 3 of her 4 propeller blades. The engines were stopped and she raised sails to continue. In spite of this Captain Thompson was able rescue the crew of a sinking American schooner.

oceanic-1870_san-franAt her first refit extra boilers were fitted and bunker capacity increased to giver her more power. A turtleback was fitted and the masts were shortened.

On 17th April 1875 Oceanic I sailed for Hong Kong, to inaugurate a joint service from Hong Kong and Yokohama to San Francisco. She returned to Belfast in late 1879 for another refit before returning to the Pacific. Finally on 17th May 1895 Oceanic I was back at Belfast for another refit, but after a survey she was deemed not worth it. Sold for £8,000 for scrap, she sailed from Belfast on 10th February 1896 on the Thames.

Fathom’s Adonia adds six more Cuba cruises

la-1462247448-snap-photoDespite recent reports that Fathom, a subsidiary of Carnival, was to drop Cuba from its itineraries, the company has just announced that it will be running another six 7-day cruises to Cuba and the Dominican Republic, from February through May 2017. The Cuban authorities have given permission for Fathom’s Adonia to include stops at Santiago de Cuba, the island’s second largest city.

With so many cruise ships now suddenly being allowed into the once-restricted waters, it will be interesting to see how the island and its facilities cope with sudden influxes of tourists and travellers hungry to see how the island has survived. Will it manage to retain its historical integrity or will it all become cheapened and commercialised? Only time will tell……..

Calgaric arrives at scrappers 25 December 1934

calgaric-at-liverpoolOriginally laid down in 1914 at Harland & Wolff as Orca, for Pacific Steam, she was eventually launched in April 1917 after delays due to war work. Completed as a very basic cargo vessel, once released from war duties she was returned to Belfast and completed as originally planned. Transferred to the Royal Mail group on 1st January 1923, she initially ran on the Hamburg to New York route. Sold to White Star in 1927 for an amazing £1 million, she was renamed Calgaric. Her first voyage for her new owners was on 4th May 1927, from Liverpool to Quebec and Montreal. She was later moved to the Southampton to Canada service, before the effects of the Great Depression meant that she was no longer viable.

calgaric02-bon-voyageCalgaric was laid up at Milford Haven from late 1930, apart from an occasional cruise and a brief summer service to Canada in 1931. No longer wanted following the merger of Cunard and White Star in 1934, Calgaric was sold for £31,000 for scrap. She finally sailed to Rosyth, arriving on 25th December 1934, where she was scrapped soon after.


MSC Cruises order two new ships from STX France

msc-meravigliaMSC Cruises confirmed just before Christmas that they have finalised contracts with STX France for two new cruise ships. They will be an extended version of the Meraviglia class, and will enter service in 2019 and 2020 respectively. The first of the Meraviglia class, pictured above, was launched in September 2016 and is scheduled to enter service in June next year. The second of the class is due to enter service in June 2019.

At 177,000grt, the new ships will accommodate 6,300 passengers in 2,450 cabins. MSC Cruises stated that the two new ships are part of a €9 billion investment plan that includes eleven new cruise ships that will come into service in the next ten years, The current plan is to build all of these vessels at STX France.

White Star’s Britannic gains second Atlantic record

britannic-entering-nyWhite Star’s Britannic, Captain Thompson, gained the westbound record for crossing the Atlantic on 24th December 1876. She crossed from Sandy Hook to Queenstown, 2,882 nautical miles, in 7 days 12 hours 41 minutes. Having already gained the westbound record on 4th November, she was the only White Star vessel to hold both records at the same time.

Britannic was built at Harland & Wolff in Belfast, yard number 83, as were almost all White Star’s vessels. She was White Star’s first two-funnelled steamer, and was originally still rigged as  a four-masted barque to carry sails. Laid down as Hellenic, she was launched on 3rd February 1874, and made her maiden voyage from Liverpool to New York via Queenstown on 25th June 1874. She was unusual in that she was built with the propeller only slightly above the keel, and the engines were tilted slightly aft to keep the shaft inline. A universal joint in the propeller shaft meant the propeller could be raised when in shallow water and lowered for greater thrust when in deeper water. The idea was not successful and she was quickly sent back to Belfast for a more traditional arrangement. At this time the square-rigged masts were removed and pole masts fitted. The next sailing in her new rig left Liverpool on 8th June 1876.

britannic-anchored-out-in-merseyIn August 1877 Britannic broke the westbound record again, taking 7 days 10 hours 53 minutes from Queenstown to Sandy Hook.

Always a popular ship, Britannic enjoyed good passenger numbers. Generally she had a good safety record. On 31st March 1881 she sank an Irish schooner, Julia, but the crew was saved. In July 1881 she went aground off Kilmore in Ireland in heavy fog,  but was quickly refloated and repaired. She suffered a minor collision with White Star’s Celtic in May 1887, when both vessels were slightly damaged. Both captains were later censured for excessive speed in dense fog. In August 1899 she was declared surplus to needs and was to be sold for scrap. Instead she was requisitioned by the British government and used as a troop transport during the Boer War in South Africa. She made 11 round voyages, including two trips collecting troops from New Zealand and Australia. She was finally scrapped at Hamburg in August 1903.


Containers lost at sea –
and typical result

maxresdefault-8-1068x601Recently Hapag-Lloyd’s container ship Bremen Express was forced to stop while eastbound in the Atlantic for undisclosed emergency repairs. While these were being carried out, the ship started rolling, and a number of containers were lost overboard. At the time the vessel was some 1,400 nautical miles off the west coast of Europe. Hapag-Lloyd stated the vessel was not in any danger at the time, and it later continued its journey. It will be inspected once it arrives in the Mediterranean before being allowed to enter the Suez Canal as it heads for Asia. The authorities are said to be conducting an investigation into the incident.

photo-sent-from-the-boat-le-souffle-du-nord-on-december-19th-2016-photo-thomas-ruyantphoto-envoyee-depuis-le-bateau-le-souffle-du-nord-le-19-decembre-2016-photo-thomas-ruyantofni-1-r-1680-1200In an unrelated incident but highlighting the dangers of lost containers, a French sailor, Thomas Ruyant, taking part in the Vendée Round the World yacht race, had to make a distress call. His boat had collided with a floating shipping container while a few hundred miles south of New Zealand. The captain of the yacht reported that his vessel was in danger of splitting in two, after hitting the container while travelling at about 17 knots. Later reports stated that the New Zealand Coast Guard had delivered a pump to the yacht, and the skipper was hoping to make port.


MSC set to take over Hanjin’s Long Beach terminal

hanjinThe Seoul Central District Court has announced that Hanjin, South Korea’s largest shipping line, has recently signed a provisional contract with Swiss-based MSC. This will allow the company to sell off its stake in the Long Beach container terminal in California.

Hanjin, one of the largest container shipping companies in the world, announced last August that it had multi-million dollar debts. It filed for court receivership at the end of August. Since then it has been selling off its principal assets to avoid complete liquidation.

The MSC Flavia is docked at Pier T in the Port of Long Beach.

However the deal has not yet been endorsed by either the port authorities or the US court, and is awaiting satisfactory reports before final signing. The Long Beach Board of Harbor Commissioners is currently studying the offer. If approved, it would mean MSC would be the sole holder of the lease at the terminal. This follows the recent sale of Hanjin’s valuable Asia to US shipping route to Korea Line, its biggest rival.

The collapse of Hanjin is having ripple effects throughout the container shipping industry. Danaos, one of the major owners of containerships, had long-term charters with Hanjin on eight of its ships. As rates continue to drop following the collapse and the oversupply, Danaos has admitted to worries about 2017, as 24 of its ships have charters that expire during the year. It may well have to consider scrapping some of its older vessels to remain solvent. It has already had to obtain waivers from some of its lenders on mortgages for current vessels. It has recently submitted a claim to the Seoul bankruptcy court for $598 million for unpaid charter fees, charges and expenses following on from the Hanjin collapse.


Deteriorating scrap values for containerships

Alang India, may 2016It has been reported by shipbroker Braemar that over 200 containerships have been scrapped so far this year, as overcapacity continues to drive down rates. This amounted to almost 700,000 teu of capacity, compared to just 187,000 last year. In the last 30 days some 32 vessels have been sold for scrapping.

Worst hit were panamax vessels: book values have plunged by over 60%, putting many on a par with their scrap value. However, a recent rise in the number of charters available has meant the number of ships laid-up has dropped from 357 to 336. This still left around 1.4 million teu container slots available worldwide.

The collapse of Hanjin Shipping last August has sent shock waves throughout the industry and made everyone very nervous. 34 ships owned or operated by Hanjin are still idle, including 28 that had been returned to their owners.

Meanwhile charter rates continue at rock-bottom levels: one broker recently claimed he had fixed a panamax charter at $3,900 for a two-month charter with options. However, some companies are profiting from this situation, buying up modern containerships at values said to be equivalent to the steel value.


Troubles for Maersk continue to deteriorate

Following Moller-Maersk’s recent credit rating being downgraded by Moody from BAA1 to BAA2, with a negative outlook, and by Standard & Poor  to BBB, their problems continued to get worse.

maersk-shipperTwo of their offshore supply vessels, Maersk Searcher and Maersk Shipper, were being towed to a ship recycling yard in Turkey by another Maersk vessel, Maersk Battler. On 22nd December they were en route from Fredericia in Denmark. When they were approximately 60 miles off the French coast both vessels sank: at present no reason has been given for the loss of both vessels.

The vessels had been emptied of oil and fuel oil and flushed through, so Maersk stated that there was no danger to the environment. All crew were rescued and were safely on board the Maersk Battler. The French Coast Guard were notified of the incident and were investigating.