Monday, June 11, 2018

Another historic shipping line

Among the best known names in shipowning. J. Lauritzen is rarely seen in Halifax, although it was once a familiar (and sometimes controversial) one.

The Danish shipping company J.Lauritzen was named for Jorgen Lauritzen, the father of founder Ditliev Lautitzen, who was a timber merchant importing products from Norway. Ditliev had not reached the age of 25 (then the age of majority) and could not legally found a firm in his own name, so used that of his father instead to start his own shipping business. This all took place in 1884 and the company still goes by the name to this day.  Over the subsequent years the company grew to become a major player in many branches of shipping including tankers, reefers, general cargo, the offshore and polar navigation.

Now the company is focused on bulk carriers and small gas tankers, although it has other smaller interests too, including ferry operator DFDS. With more than 60 bulkers in its fleet, it is a major player in the world market. Its 31 gas carriers make up 4% of the world's fleet.

Today's arrival, Indian Bulker, is a modern handysize ship of 23,232 grt, 37,717 dwt, built in 1917 by I-S Shipyard, Imabari, Japan for anonymous Japanese owners registered in Panama. It can carry grain, cement in bulk and timber, among other commodities.
It is on long charter to J.Lautitzen and wears the traditional red hull with familiar funnel marking, hull banner and logo.


The ship loaded its cargo in Sorel, QC to maximum freshwater St.Lawrence depth and is here to top up. It is equipped with four 30.5 tonne cranes, but these will not be needed for loading, since the cargo will be delivered by spouts from the grain gallery at pier 28.

The J.Lautitzen company's connection to Halifax goes back to World War I days when its ships were occasional visitors. During World War II several of their ships spent time in Canadian waters. Randa was in Sydney, NS in 1940 when Germany invaded Denmark. The ship was taken over by the Canadian government and operated by CNR for a time. It survived the war and was returned to Lauritzen.

Australian Reefer was one of more than 30 Danish ships in the United States in 1940. Most were taken over by the US government. This one was renamed Pontiac and spent most of the war shuttling between Norfolk, Boston, Halifax, Sydney and Argentia, NL (with side trips to the Caribbean and Iceland). On her last trip in 1945 she was holed by a loose paravane and beached in shallow water near Halifax. The ship was raised, repaired in Halifax and returned to the US but was laid up and never sailed again.

And finally Nora was taken over by the US in 1940, renamed Halma, and was en route Boston to Greenland via Halifax when it was torpedoed and sank off Halifax June 3, 1943.

The story continues in the early 1960s when Lautitzen's ice strengthened ships made winter navigation to Montreal a reality. Helga Dan arrived in Montreal March 12, 1962 setting an early season record. Fleetmate Thora Dan arrived February 28, 1963 and Helga Dan arrived January 4, 1964 and January 1, 1965 - essentially making  Montreal a year round port (for certain ships.)  Prior to this the St.Lawrence was closed to winter navigation from December to April and all its traffic diverted to Halifax or Saint John, NB or even to New York. This meant a lot of work for the Port of Halifax, even though Montreal longshoremen came to Halifax to work in the winter.

Helga Dan 3884 grt, built in 1957 was sold to Cyprus flag owners and renamed Mistsa K. in 1974. Following a grounding in the Bosphorus  April 4, 1982 it was sold for breaking up (oddly) in Greece.
Thora Dan 4014 grt, 1956 was sold to the same owners in 1974 and renamed Elias K. It was broken up in Bomaby in January 1979 following a fire off Madras in November 1977. (Both had been sold on to other owners, but not renamed by the time they were lost.)

When the St.Lawrence opened up, many thought it would be the death knell for Halifax as a port -particulary certain politicians, who objected to federal government icebreaker assistance-  but the coincidental development of containerization saved Halifax from the predicted oblivion.

J.Lautitzen first built ice class vessels for winter Baltic navigation to Finland, but soon augmented its fleet with stronger ships to be able to sail to Greenland with general cargo and return with iron ore. The ships' capabilities became well known and they were hired for various polar expeditions both to the Arctic and Antarctic. To improve visibility in ice the ships were painted red, now a tradition with the company even though they exited polar work in 1987.

Due to their capabilities in ice several Canadian shipowners acquired J.Lauritzen ships for their fleets. Chief among these was Karlsen Shipping Co of Halifax, an offshoot of the Aalesund, Norway firm of Martin Karlsen. The Halifax company was involved in fishing, whaling and sealing and provision of research ships. The parent firm acquired one of Lauritzen's first polar class ships Kista Dan (and their first ship to be painted red) built in 1952. Renamed Martin Karlsen in 1966 it was brought to Canada in 1968 and participated in the seal hunt and numerous research trips.

In 1979 it was sold to another legendary shipping name, Bowring Steamship Co Ltd of London.
Renamed Benjamin Bowring it served as support vessel for the 1979 British Transglobe Expedition to circumnavigate the globe via the South and North Poles. It became Arctic Gael in 1983 and Olympiakos in 1984. After decade or more laid up in Syros, Greece, it was finally scrapped in Aliaga in 1998.

Karlsens also bought the Varla Dan. A 2354 grt general cargo vessel built in 1960 it was heavily ice strengthened. It had been sold in 1970 to other Norwegian owners and renamed Warla before Karlsen's bought it in 1972 and renamed it Minna. On August 8, 1974 it went aground on a rock pinnacle off Resolution Island in Hudson Strait while on an oceanographic survey. Overcome by heavy weather it slipped off, broke its back and sank before salvage operations could begin.  [Regrettably I have no pictures of this ship.]

Chimo Shipping of St.John's purchased the 2353 grt Perla Dan in 1971. They renamed the 12 year old ship Percy M. Crosbie. After Chimo went out of business Boréal Navigation of Quebec bought the ship in 1981 and renamed it Baie James As the name would imply it was put to work on northern supply but was sold later the same year and became the Panamanian Mothi. It was arrested for wages in 1983, sold at auction in September 1984 and promptly sank in Cuddalore, India in December.

Ritva Dan 3065 grt of 1961 was another polar class vessel acquired by Canadian owners. Transpolaire Ltée of Montreal bought the ship in 1973, renaming it Kakawi. It only lasted a short time in their ownership and was sold to and Egyptian owner in 1975 and renamed Kuwait. Some time later it was beached on Alexandria port mole and remained a derelict for many years.

Perhaps not as relevant, but certainly with a Canadian connection was the collision between Chilean Reefer and Cape Breton Miner in the River Scheldt April 4, 1965. The 'Miner rammed the 'Reefer, which was loaded with bananas, piercing it with the bulbous bow and flooding number two hold, the engine room to the top of the engines, and the shaft tunnel. Remarkably the 'Reefer was beached, salvaged, towed to Hamburg, repaired and returned to service. No word on the bananas.

Despite the large amount of reefer traffic in Halifax in the 1980s I do not recall seeing a J.Lauritzen reefer here.

Although it did not come to Halifax as a Lauritzen polar vessel, the Sirpa Dan called here many times in its second and third careers. Built in 1962 as a 1725 grt, 2325 dwt general cargo ship, it was sold and in 1968 converted to a cable ship, renamed Northern. It was fitted with bow sheaves and all the usual cable ship gear. It worked for the Great Northern Telegraph Company, and called in Halifax frequently. The ship's dramatically cut away icebreaking bow (below the waterline) must have made it difficult to manoeuvre, so a bow thruster was also added.

The ship passed on to Cable + Wireless (Marine) Ltd in 1988 and in 1990 was converted to an oceanographic research ship and renamed Ocean Surveyor. It also called in Halifax under that name - minus the bow sheaves but with other added gear. It may also have been involved in seismic work.
Louis Dreyfus took over ownership in 1995, retaining the name, and finally sold the ship for scrap in Aviles, Spain in 2000.


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