Monday, February 3, 2014

Finished with engines - Cabot on last leg

End of an Era

Cabot ties up at pier 9A this morning.

It was "finished with engines" shortly after 9 am this morning when the ConRo Cabot tied up at pier 9A. Gone are the OCEANEX banners on her sides, hastily painted over, as the ship enters layup until she can be sold.

The ship, and her sister Cicero, had a long history on the Newfoundland run both from Halifax and Montreal, and it is worth recounting here once again.

Cicero in Oceanex colours entering the Narrows of St.John's harbour.

The story starts with Ellerman's Wilson Line, a venerable UK concern, that was expanding its long standing UK/Sweden service (jointly with Fred Olsen) with RoRo ships. They ordered two ships form the equally venerable Smith's Dock in Middlesbrough, England. Smith's had become part of British Shipbuilders when the British industry was nationalized,  but had been a reputable builder of a variety of craft, including the whale catcher upon which the World War II corvette was based. 
All was not well in the yard, and when the Cicero, first of the new ships, was delivered it was found to have serious stability problems and was returned to the yard for corrective measures. The solution was the installation of a flume stabilization tank high above the upper deck aft of the superstructure (just above the "X" in the above photo). The tank, filled with baffles and seawater, was to counteract rolling by the slow sloshing of the water to the other side of the ship.

The solution worked after a fashion, but the ship was thought to be unsuitable for its intended trade and after three years of charters to various companies it was finally sold to Federal Commerce + Navigation of Montreal in 1982. After a charter to Brazil it went into operation from Montreal to Corner Brook and St.John's under the banner of Atlantic Container Express (A.C.E.) with Clarke Shipping as manager In 1991 that service was combined under common ownership with the Halifax/Corner Brook/St.John's service, and was renamed Oceanex. In 1994 Oceanex purchased the ship and continued operating it mostly from Montreal, but sometimes from Halifax as a substitute until November 2006 when it was replaced by Oceanex Avalon. Cicero was sold and sailed from Montreal December 25, 2006 as Aegean Fantasy for service in the Mediterranean, where it operated sporadically until laid up in 2012.

Meanwhile Smith's dock completed the second ship in the series, Cavallo in 1979.

Cavallo lost some of her new paint in a December 1980 transatlantic delivery trip. The orginal Ellerman's Wilson bottle green shows through Fednav red.
It was also fitted with the flume tank, but Ellerman's Wilson Line refused delivery and ship was laid up in a nearly complete state until 1980. Seaforth Fednav, part of Federal Commerce + Navigation bought the ship and it arrived in Halifax for the first time December 19, 1980. It was  placed on the Fednav service from Halifax to Corner Brook and St.John's.

 Cavallo in A.S.L. service had red bulwarks for a time

The Fednav service became Atlantic Sea Route Ltd  (A.S.L.) in 1982 when it combined with Newfoundland Container Line. In 1987 A.S.L. merged into A.C.E., which purchased Cavallo with Clarke Steamships as managers. A.C.E. renamed the ship Cabot,  and it was transferred to the Montreal/CornerBrook/St.John's run.

As Cabot in A.C.E. service, the ship ran on the Montreal service.

A.C.E. became Oceanex in 1991 and they retained the ship's name.Oceanex found that more capacity was needed on the Newfoundland operation and they sent Cabot to be lengthened 25 meters in 1996. The ship's original 5108 gross tons, had been increased to 11,923 when its car decks were reclassified as closed decks, and so the the lengthening increased the tonnage to 14,597.

The lengthened Cabot maintained a weekly schedule on the St.Lawrence, year round.

Since 1996 the ship has shown up in Halifax from time to time as substitute for fleetmate ASL Sanderling during refits, but has run steadily from Montreal to St. John's. (Oceanex cut out the CornerBrook service a few years ago.) In 2005-2006 the ship's Pielstick engines were rebuilt at the Verreault Navigation shipyard in Les Méchins, QC and in January-February 2008 it received a major refit at Las Palmas.

With delivery of Oceanex Connaigra in November 2013, Cabot was retired from service and laid up in Montreal. However when the new ship's propeller hub failed, Cabot was pressed back into service. It made its last commercial sailing from Montreal to St.John's last week, and as soon it unloaded, it sailed to Halifax, arriving this morning.

For a ship that was initially rejected by its owners, it has proven to be a remarkably dependable vessel, sailing year round on difficult routes. However in anticipation of a replacement, the ship has been allowed to run down, and it was in fairly rough looking condition on arrival today.

The question now is whether the ship will be sold on for further service.It seems more likely that it will be sold to a third party and quickly re-sold for scrap, but we will have to wait and see.


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