It had to happen eventually, but it was a remarkable record. The self-unloading bulk carrier Melvin H. Baker has finally gone to the scrap yard after a lengthy career of 53 years.
This pioneering vessel was built in 1956 by A.G. Weser of Bremen to a conceptual design by the visionary Ole Skaarup. Skaarup, a New York shipowner, conceived of a bulk carrier with an octagonal shaped hold, and a conveyor system, which would speed unloading. Although given credit for this concept, it was not original- Great Lakes ships had variations on it- as did the gypsum carriers of Fundy Gypsum (US Gypsum)- but Skaarup carried it off with his customary panache, and took credfit for it.
Melvin H. Baker was built to carry gypsum from the then new National Gypsum pier in Dartmouth to US east coast ports, and made its first call August 1, 1956, fresh from the shipyard. For the next 38 years it plowed a furrow up and down the coast with gypsum. Aside from two trips to Rotterdam with coal, it carried on in the gypsum trade until its last visit to Halifax March 9, 1994. Even then it took a full load to Baltimore. The ship was named for the founder of the National Gypsum Company and a native of Buffalo, New York, and was on long term charter to National Gypsum from Skaarup Shipping Corp through various intermediaries. Her 1400th call in Dartmouth was marked in July of 1987, so it is likely that she made well over 1500 port visits in her lifetime- a record for the port of Halifax for one ship.
Skaarup sold the ship in 1994, but maintained the management, as the ship sailed from New York March 26, 1994 for Rijeka where she had a refit. Her new owners, Hon Tai Shipping of Taiwan, put her to work in the far east and so she soldiered on until December 24, 2009 when she was delivered to ship breakers, still bearing her original name.
It was an unparalleled career for a ship.
Although the photo was taken on December 25, 1986 it could have been taken many times over. She is seen passing Seaview Park inbound for National Gypsum. The distinctive protuberence on her stern houses conveyors that would be extended out from the ship's sides when unloading. The system is still in use today on another Skaarup ship Georgia S (presently anchored in Bedford Basin) but has become something of a liability, as it restricts the ship to only certain unloading ports that are suited to those conveyors. The more typical deck mounted slewing boom, used by Great Lakes type ships, allows the cargo to be unloaded just about anywhere.