Friday, April 3, 2020

Spring is here

As one of the east coast "winter ports", along with Saint John, NB, Halifax always had mixed feelings about the arrival of spring. Ships that would not dare to chance an encounter with ice and had been calling in the winter ports would now be shifting to the St.Lawrence River and even the Great Lakes. This meant a huge reduction in shipping activity in Halifax, with very little offset.

One ray of light was the arrival of the first grain loads from the Lakes. Until 1959 only small ships could reach the Great Lakes, and then only seasonally and grain export ports such as Montreal, Sorel, Trois-Rivieres and Quebec City were also cut off by winter ice. The federal government subsidized railway shipping rates to Halifax so that grain farmers could get their grain to international markets more effectively. Called the "Crow Rate" it meant that the cost to transport grain by rail from the prairies was the same to Vancouver or Halifax. A huge grain elevator was built in Halifax to store grain during the summer and ship it out during the winter.

Once spring arrived, so did grain by ship, from ports as far away as the Lakehead.

Before the St.Lawrence Seaway was built, the size of ships that were able to reach the Great Lakes was limited by the size of the St.Lawrence canals. The earliest canals were minuscule, but by the time of Confederation in 1867 plans were afoot to enlarge the locks to allow ships of roughly 260 feet x 43 ft with a 14 ft draft. Work was mostly completed in 1901.  A series of locks bypassing Niagara Falls, had been built to the same size, and this permitted ships to carry grain (and all sorts of other cargo) from the Great Lakes to salt water.

A special breed of ships, called canallers were built to the maximum dimensions of the locks but with scantlings to permit 16'-6" draft when not "canalling". The ships were also built to Home Trade Class I (trade to the West Indies) or II (Gulf of St.Lawrence and eastern seaboard to New York.) They were thus able to reach Halifax with grain cargoes, but most of the grain arrived by rail because the ships were so small, and the Crow Rate favoured rail.

In the early 1950s shipping companies were experiencing a boom with the post-war expansion of the Canadian economy. Ancient steam powered canallers were not able to meet the demand for ships and despite the looming arrival of the Seaway, they were forced to build new ships but to the old canal dimensions. Knowing that the Seaway would be opening in 1959 they designed the new ships to be lengthened, and even deepened in some cases.

Most of the old steam canallers were scrapped when the Seaway opened. A very few, like the Charles R. Huntley, built in 1926, found new work. Converted to a trailing suction hopper dredge, it worked on construction of the south-end container terminal in Halifax.

It was easy to see why the old ships were no longer profitable. Two of them could fit into the new Seaway locks with room to spare. Shipowners began to build ships to suit the 730 ft x 75 feet dimensions and with smaller crews.

This scene, one of my earliest photos, shows the Canada Steamship lines Elgin, a steam canaller in the foreground and another steamer in the background (identity not recorded).
 In the middle is one of the new diesel canallers, Sarniadoc.

For the first several years after the opening of the St.Lawrence Seaway in 1959 the grain ships coming to Halifax ships were former canal sized ships that had been lengthened. The Hall Corporation of Canada was the company with the most of these ships, all very similar in description.

Rockcliffe Hall

Built in 1958 by Davie Shipbuilding + Repair in Lauzon, QC, as a twin screw motor canaller, the ship was lengthened and deepened in 1961 by Canadian Vickers in Montreal. At 342.8 ft long it now had a tonnage of 3543, up from 2262. It was a regular in Halifax bringing in grain.

In 1972 it went back to Canadian Vickers and was converted to a tanker. Its forward cabins were moved aft and it was renamed Island Transport.

When owners Hall Corporation of Canada Ltd went out of business the ship was sold in 1986 to EnerChem Ship Management and renamed Enerchem Laker. It did not call in Halifax under that name, but it did return in 1990 under the name Recovery VIII after it had been sold to Panama owners.

On Christmas Day 1990 it left Halifax under its own power, but in tow of the Boston tug Russel Jr. Once in protected US waters it carried on to Panama un-aided where it was renamed Morgan Trader in 1998 and Anna II (Honduras flag) in 1998. Its fate since then is uncertain and has likely been out of service for some time.

Hutchcliffe Hall

Another twin screw motor canaller, Hutchcliffe Hall was built by Canadian Vickers in Montreal in 1954. In the reverse of its fleet mate it was lengthened and deepened by Davie Lauzon in 1959, going to 343.8 ft long and increasing from 2143 to 3476 gt. Dwt increased from 2143 to 3376 tonnes.

In 1972 the ship was converted to a spoils carrier for the North Traverse dredging project on the St.Lawrence River. It was renamed Ile aux Coudres. In 1982 it was towed to British Columbia and in 1984 renamed Canadian Challenger in 1986 and was eventually scrapped in 2002.

Eastcliffe Hall

Another product of Canadian Vickers in Montreal in 1954, Eastcliffe Hall went back to the same yard in 1959 to increase gt from 2140 to 3335 after lengthening from 259 to 343.3 ft. and deepening from 19.0 to 22.8 ft.

After unloading grain in Halifax in early July 1970 (see photos above) the ship sailed in ballast to Sorel, QC where it loaded pig iron for Saginaw, MI. After transiting the US locks in the St.Lawrence Seaway July 14 the ship wandered off course, grounded, then struck a submerged pier and sank very quickly near Morristown, NY. Nine lives were lost including the captain and his teenage son, the chief engineer his wife and their small daughter.

The ship's cargo was recovered, and the wreck cut down to deck level. Its hull was filled with stone and left in place.

Other shipping lines also has modern canallers that brought grain to Halifax. Among them was N.M.Paterson + Sons Ltd.


Built in 1956 by Atlantic Shipbuilding Co in Newport, Wales, it was a 2193 gt ship equipped with a pair of deck cranes for handling general cargo. It was never enlarged and continued to operate until 1975 when it was sold overseas.

Reamed Emerald by United Arab Emirates owners, it was lost in the Arabian Gulf November 8,  1981.

In January I also covered another pair of canallers in the same trade.

In the early 1970s shipowners began to invest in larger ships and the days of the old canallers were numbered. For several years re-purposed cargo and bulk carriers brought the grain, but eventually it became self-unloaders only.  

In 1983 the first grain arrived on Frankcliffe Hall, on March 29. Even though it was a self-unloader the Halifax grain gallery did not have a hopper system, and still had to use the time consuming grain leg. Eventually the hopper was installed and Frankcliffe Hall was renamed Halifax, but that will be the subject of another post.

The Crow Rate was eliminated, and little grain is exported from Halifax now. Most of the incoming grains (including corn) are for local consumption.

This year, in a bit of a turnaround, the first ship to use the St.Lawrence Seaway on opening day was CSL's Baie St.Paul from Halifax with a load of gypsum for Hamilton, ON. 

Regrettably fuzzy shot of Baie St.Paul loading gypsum for the Lakes on March 27. 

It is possible it will also be the first caller in Halifax from the Great Lakes too since P+H Milling owns the flour mill in Halifax and has a grain storage facility in Hamilton.


Thursday, April 2, 2020


While pawing through the shoeboxes (literally) looking for old photos of interest I came across one that I did not take myself, and there is no credit written on the photo. A little online research reveals that it was taken by Fotoflite,  a British service that specializes in photos of ships in the English Channel. Copies of the photo are available for BPD 18.30 which is well beyond my means for showing here.

Go to fotoflite  and look for image 314764:

The photo is perfectly focused and sharp with no grain. On the other hand my edited version has added all of that and a few other touches without destroying the essential look of the ship.

What caught my eye about this ship and its photo was its very brief, but pivotal connection with Halifax.

Newfoundland Canada Steamships Ltd operated the general cargo service between Halifax and St.John's.  In 1963 Halifax shipping entrepreneur A.C.(Ted) Huxtable bought the company from its parent General Steam Navigation Company of London (controlled by P+O Steam Navigation). At the time the service was maintained by a converted World War II corvette with trip charters from other companies such as Himmelman Supply's OK Service or others when there was demand. Huxtable was also owner of Halifax shipping agents F.K.Warren Ltd.

Bedford II, built at Collingwood, ON as HMCS North Bay was converted to a cargo ship/ reefer, Galloway Kent in 1947, and acquired by Newfoundland Canada in 1951. It was replaced by O.K.Service XI in 1969. Its sister Belle Isle II (ex Wellington Kent, HMCS Huntsville, HMS Woolvesey Castle) was destroyed by fire and sank after it was struck by Holmside in 1960.)

In November 1971 Autoport opened in Dartmouth. It was established to import foreign automobiles, but also to transfer North American made autos to Newfoundland. Canadian National Railway was the major shareholder in Autoport and was in direct competition with Canadian Pacific Railway which shipped autos from Saint John, NB to Newfoundland. [see following posts]

Newfoundland Canada Steamships and Clarke Traffic Services (partners in Dart Container Line) formed Trident Steamships Ltd to carry the Autoport traffic to Newfoundland but also the general freight and now containers arriving in Halifax at the newly opened container terminal Halterm. (CN and Clarke were partners in Halterm and Warren were agents for Dart, ZIM and Columbus container lines.)

Clarke and NCSS named the new company Trident Steamships Ltd and chartered the Travetal from J.A. Reinecke of Germany. To operate the vessel in the coastal trade it was transferred to a London based company Rollonoff Shipping and registered in Singapore, which at the time qualified the ship to operate under the British Commonwealth Shipping Agreement. This meant that the ship could trade between Canadian ports. However someone did not read the fine print, and the Seafarers International Union raised a ruckus against Trident for using German officers and Spanish crew - when the agreement required the crew to be citizens of the Commonwealth.

Travetal was built by Rickmers, Bemerhaven in 1970. It had a capacity of 200 cars and could also carry palletized general freight and containers. It measured 1597 gt and 2900 dwt. (Open car decks did not count as enclosed space for tonnage measurement.) The ship had a bow door and stern ramp. RoRo ships were very rare in those days, and this ship was one of the few of the very few its type.

Autoport had chartered Federal Hudson for three months to carry cars to Newfoundland, but it was a conventional three deck cargo ship and very inefficient and slow loading.

Travetal sailed for St.John's on its first trip in March 1972 after loading at Halterm and Autoport. It replaced O.K.Service XI (which carried general cargo and a few containers, but no cars). It also took cargo from its own special palletizing operation in shed 34. The plan was that the ship would also perform feeder services to New England through the port of Boston.

OK Service XI loading palletized and other general cargo at pier 34. Trien Maersk is working general cargo at pier 37.

In early June 1973 the SIU took legal action and sailings were cancelled for a few weeks. A deal was worked out whereby five Canadian officers would be brought aboard to train to take over operation. The German owners did not like this arrangement which was in effect changing the charter to bareboat. On July 1 they "asked" the Canadians to leave the ship and under cover of night the ship sailed, without clearance.

On July 4 it was arrested in Boston. That was the end of Trident, and the ship was not seen in Halifax again. Once more the Province of Nova Scotia was on the hook for a $900,000 loan, of which $702,000 had been spent on setting up the palletizing operation. The line had also received a federal subsidy.

It was fourteen months before a ship was found and another service was started from Autoport to St.John's. And it was Federal Commerce + Navigation (Fednav) again that began operations in October 1974 with Federal Avalon (under Canadian flag).

Federal Avalon was small enough to berth inside the jetties at Autoport.

Today's operator, Oceanex, is a direct descendant of this service (although no longer owned by Fednav).

Amazingly the ship that was Travetal seems to be still in operation in Indonesia. After seven name changes it is listed now as Nusa Agung operating a ferry service from the port of Merak on Java crossing the Sunda Strait to Bakauheni.

More on the Fednav ships and others in following posts.


Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Capt. Jacques Cartier - here we go again

We are stuck with historical characters  - warts and all - whether we like it or not. Denying that these characters existed doesn't work - sweeping them under the carpet is not possible. Nor is it desirable to keep them in the spotlight by glorifying them despite their defects, faults and obedience to cultural norms of the time.
Nevertheless there must be ways of naming ships without being controversial!

The Canadian Coast Guard has "put its foot in it" again with the choice of names for the latest offshore fisheries science vessel . CCGS Capt Jacques Cartier [there is no period after the abbreviated "captain" in the ship's official name*] recognizes the French navigator, cartographer, explorer and colonizer of the early 1500s. It is Cartier we have to thank for being Canada (he misunderstood the Iroquoian word kanata meaning village to mean the entire country).  The ship arrived at BIO March 6 for the first time after completion by Seaspan.

Capt Jacques Cartier at its new home at BIO.

There is no disputing Cartier's navigating skills - he charted much of the Gulf of St. Lawrence and St. Lawrence River for the first time and never lost a ship. His relations with indigenous people were mixed, particularly after he attempted the first year-round colonies near Quebec. Even though those same people saved Cartier and his crews from scurvy by sharing the recipe for what was likely spruce beer, he managed to alienate them by claiming the land for the King of France (as he was ordered to do.)

The CCGS had to use the term "Capt" because there was already a Jacques-Cartier registered in Canada.

That significant ship has born the name since 1924, and is a virtual floating landmark. See my Navigation Quebec blog
That particular ship has been laid up for several years and was to be brought back into service this year, but that is certainly in doubt now due to the pandemic. Nevertheless do we need two ships named for this man?

Coast Guard ship naming policy requires that sizable ships in the Offshore Oceanographic or Fishing Science category are to be named for "former Canadian scientists or explorers of Canada." To me that means that scientists should be the first choice. Surely the name of a former Canadian scientist could be found, perhaps Sir Frederick Banting? [No scientists are perfect either.]

I know I am "famous" for carping about ships names, but the current policy is not only subject to political interference, but brings the Coast Guard and the federal government into disrepute by its poor, and in some cases thoughtless, choices. Naming ships after people has to be dangerous territory. Why not name ships after species of fish or marine life? One of the ships to be replaced in the current program is the Teleost named uncontroversially after the large class of ray-finned fishes. There are apparently 26,000 species in that group - lots of name choices there!

The other ship is named - wait for it - a former distinguished scientist, Dr. Alfred Needler CM, OBE, FRSC.

CCGS Alfred Needler, built in 1981 was named for a noted scientist.

*Another curiosity about Capt Jacques Cartier's name is that despite being named after a Breton, and resident of St-Malo, France, the name on the ship is rendered "en anglais".  A ship named after a person, in current French usage, should have a hyphen between the first and last names. The abbreviation "Capt" is presumably supposed to do double duty for Captain and Capitaine, but it would also be followed by a hyphen if rendered according to French usage. Interestingly the other ship named for the same explorer has had a hyphen since 1924.

Names for the other two ships in the series Sir John Franklin and John Cabot (aka Zuan Chabotto) are somewhat less controversial choices.

Siem Cicero - not welcome in port

The question raised in Saturday's post has apparently been answered. The Siem Cicero has been restricted from entering port due to Covid-19 - like symptoms among the crew. The ship self reported on March 17, shortly after leaving Emden for Halifax.

Siem Cicero arriving in Halifax in January 2019.

Under the Quarantine Act the Public Health Agency of Canada barred the ship form entering port to prevent any possible spread of the virus or disruption to the supply chain.

According to press accounts the ship will not be cleared to enter port until 14 days after the last symptoms appeared in the crew. Meanwhile the ship continues to drift idly offshore.


Tuesday, March 31, 2020

DART start

Two consortium companies were instrumental in the start of container services to Halifax*. Both companies were founded by established shipping lines that banded together to carry the immense cost of building new ships. Atlantic Container Line (ACL) is perhaps the better known because it is still in operation more than fifty years later, although with completely different owners. There will be more on that line in this blog in the months to come, although most of its story has been told here before.

As you will read, the first Atlantic Star delivered the first RoRo cargo to Halifax March 3, 1970. I somehow neglected to mark that anniversary here.

The first Atlantic Star unloaded the first RoRo cargo to Halifax.

It was ACL's Atlantic Cinderella that unloaded the first cargo at Halterm (now PSA Halifax) in November 1970. I am sure the port will be celebrating that event.

Also in at the beginning was a Canadian company, Clarke Transportation. Its history is far and away too long to recount here,  but you can read the entire story at:

In the 1960s Clarke, a family owned company based in Montreal, had numerous transport related interests including ship agency for Bristol City Line of Steamships. Along with Compagnie Maritime Belge, the three formed Dart Container Line to operate a weekly service from Antwerp and Southampton to Halifax, New York and later Norfolk. They ordered new pure container ships (with no RoRo capability) that turned out to be the largest container ships in the world at the time. With a container capacity of 1500, they were built to withstand the rigors of the North Atlantic year round, and carried most of the containers below deck.

Before the new ships were delivered Dart set up two interim services with CMB running to New York using their own ships and dART (Clarke / BCL  / CMB ) operating Antwerp, Southampton to Halifax using three charters.

The first of those ships to arrive in Halifax was Jorg Kruger on July 17, 1969.

Halterm (of which Clarke was a part owner) was not completed yet and the ship tied up at pier 31. It unloaded 161 containers and loaded 92 - all 20 footers - using ship's own gear. Shore cranes moved the containers on the pier as there were no forklifts or RTGs yet.

A sister ship Britta Kruger joined soon after.

The ships were twins, newly built in 1969 by Elsflethwerft in West Germany. Measuring 5383 gt, 7047 dwt, the had a capacity of about 200 TEU, but they were fitted out as general cargo ships.
They carrried two 45 ton and three 22.5 ton derricks.

They were painted in Dart's choice of orange hull colour, the same colour that Bristol City Line and CMB used for their ships.

The third ship was similar. Juno came from the Nobiskrug yard in Rendsburg, measuring 5025 gt, 7500 dwt.

Juno carried one 60 ton derrick amidships, and two 10 ton derricks on masts at the wheelhouse. Although designed to carry 10 ten ton derricks the remaining derricks were not fitted, and shore side cranes were needed to work cargo in number one hold.

When the new Dart ships entered service, the three charters were returned to their German owners and all lasted into the 1990s with multiple changes of name.  Clarke Transportation sold its interest in Dart, which was eventually taken over by C.Y.Tung and folded into OOCL.

Clarke still exists, and is owned in Halifax. Its sole shipping interest is now the ferry Trans St-Laurent that operates seasonally between Rivière-du-Loup and St-Siméon, QC. This year's start date is still scheduled for April 9.

*ZIM was aslo an early line, but remains independent.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Maersk Patras to bypass

The Maersk / CMA CGM  joint transatlantic service skipped Halifax this past weekend. Ships of the line normally call in Halifax on Saturdays but there was no call this time. The line calls in Halifax eastbound only, after its Montreal call.

Maersk Patras sailing on March 3 passes the construction work extending pier 42. 
(Since the photo was taken fill has extended beyond the crib on the far right.)

The ship that would normally have called this weekend, Maersk Patras  has fallen behind on its regular call date (it was last here on March 3, a Tuesday see:
This time round the ship has sailed from Montreal direct for Bremerhaven, skipping Halifax, perhaps allowing the ship to catch up on its regular schedule.

According to Maersk's published schedule the next regular calls on April 4 (ship EM Kea) and April 11 (Maersk Penang)and April 18 (Maersk Palermo) will take place on the regular dates, and Maersk Patras will be back April 24. As I have observed before, maintaining a weekly transatlantic service in winter with four ships is a grueling routine, and time lost can rarely be made up.


Sunday, March 29, 2020

Life Goes On

Services such as shipping continue as much as possible to deliver essential goods, and they must do so safely.

MOL Marvel arrives in Halifax for the first time, with a whole variety of cargo. The ship, measuring 78,316 gt, 79,460 dwt, was built in 2010 by Mitsubishi Heavy in Kobe. In 2015 it was fitted with an experimental screen forward aimed at reducing CO2 emissions by 2% by reducing wind resistance (while the ship was steaming at 17 knots). It has the added benefit of protecting containers stowed forward.

The ship's capacity of 6724 TEU (including 500 reefers) may have been reduced somewhat since the white containers just aft of the screen do not appear to be revenue boxes, but part of the screen. No other ships of the "M" class have been fitted with similar screens, so the results of the experiment may not have lived up to expectations.

For ships to navigate safely aids to navigation such as buoys must be maintained, and spring is usually the time to change then out as winter can be particular hard on them. Others are removed from service for the winter due to ice and are reinstated in spring.

CCGS Sir William Alexander sets this afternoon out for the eastern shore with a deck load of buoys. Having to dodge a solo sailor is a bit odd for this time of year, but the same boat has been running for all winter. (I took a photo of it on February 23: )

Only two of the buoys are identifiable. TA4 for Flying Point and PQ4 for Horne Shoal in the Port Felix /Dover areas.

Another arrival, just getting into the inner anchorage before dusk, was the tanker Tower Bridge. It is coming from Saint John, NB with a part cargo from Europe, but will have to wait until yesterday's arrival sails from Irving Oil's Woodside terminal.

Of typical MidRange size at 27,725 gt, 47,199 dwt the ship is a bit unusual however in that it was built at the Admiralty Shipyard in St.Petersburg. It is operated by the Russian company SCF. Despite the admonishment that Safety Comes First, the company initials represent Sovcomflot. Originally a soviet state owned shipping combine it has been a joint stock company since 1988.