Sunday, May 3, 2015

Imperial Oil Tankers - Part 6 - small fry, big fry and odd man out

As Canada's largest oil company, Imperial covered both coasts and the Great Lakes and provided harbour bunkering services and deep sea crude transport.


One of the smaller tankers in the Imperial fleet was Imperial Tofino, designed in-house for work in British Columbia, poking its nose into small and remote communities up and down the Pacific coast. When built in 1973 by McKenzie Barge + Marine Ways of North Vancouver, it measured 650 grt. 752 dwt and was only 
about 145 ft long. Not only did it carry various grades of fuel, but it also carried cargo in the form of oil drums, motor oil, lube oil and other packaged petroleum products, so was equipped with a 3 ton deck crane. In 1979 it was lengthened 28 ft to increase the size of its accommodation. Its gross tonnage therefore increased to 764 grt, but deadweight did not change.

Sibyl W. wends its way into Halifax through a crowd of pleasure craft in 1995.

In a surprise move in 1992 Imperial sold the tanker to the Woodward Group's Coastal Shipping Ltd of Newfoundland. The little ship made its way round to the east coast by way of Panama as Sibyl W. It was the second Sybil W. in the Woodward fleet, the first being the former Imperial Quebec [see Part 1 of this series].

 Sibyl W. (ii) loading at Irving Oil's Woodside dock in 1994. Much of the after part of the superstructure was added in the 1979 lengthening.

It arrived in Halifax for the first time September 1, 1992 and  made a few trips here to load for the remote ports of Newfoundland and Labrador that Woodward served. [The company was founded in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, and is still based there. Founder Melvin Woodward started a one truck fuel delivery business there in 1960 after working for Imperial Oil. The company has since expanded into many other business sectors. See this undated bio: or the company's own web site: ]

As Coastal Shipping Ltd expanded with larger tankers, they sold Sibyl W. (ii) to Honduras Aero Marine S de RL of Atlantida, Honduras. The ship is still in service with the same name working around the southern Caribbean from Panama.


Bunkering work was often performed by barges or older tankers retired from the rigours of coastal work.In the early 1960s Imperial's naval architects turned their attention to bunkering and came up with a pair of motorized barges, that were built by Port Weller DryDock. Measuring 734 grt and 1263 dwt, the were to be used in the busy port of Montreal. (With the opening of the St.Lawrence Seaway in 1959 and the prospect of winter navigation, Montreal was entering a boom period.)
Imperial Lachine and Imperial Verdun were fitted with packaged deck mounted engines each driving steerable props.
The need for two such boats in Montreal was questionable, and the Imperial Verdun was laid up from 1976. In 1979 Quebec Tugs bought it and gave it the name Sillery for bunkering work in Quebec City.

Sillery in light condition, in Bassin Louise, Quebec City.

In 1988 Canada Steamship Lines took over ownership from its Quetugs subsidiary, and sold the barge to Provmar Terminals of Hamilton, ON Glenbrook towed the barge from Quebec to Hamilton in November 1988.

 Fully loaded, Sillery heads over to Beauport, in the Port of Quebec.

In 1992 it was sold to McKeil Work Boats and converted to a spill response vessel and owners became Agincourt Investment Ltd, but operated for McKeil Environmental Ltd. It passed through Halifax October 25 of that year bound for the Caribbean under Belize flag. In 1994 owners were listed as Trafalgar Marine and in 2004 it was reflagged to St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
It has been removed from listing in Lloyd's as of January 2012 with the notation "existence in doubt." 

Sister barge Imperial Lachine [no photo in my collection] remained in the Imperial fleet, but in 1997 when the fleet was sold to Algoma, it was towed to Halifax by the tug Atlantic Oak and laid up alongside Imperial Acadia. In the spring of 1998 however, Algoma had decided not to acquire the bunkering operations, and the barge returned to Montreal. It resumed duties until 2002 when it was laid up during the summer and in the fall was sold to McKeil Workboats. In December it was towed to Hamilton, ON by the tug Carroll C. 1. It had been renamed Josée M, but the name was never painted on.
It was refitted in Hamilton and renamed Murex, but in August of 2003 it was downbound in the Seaway in tow of Avantage with the new name Arca. Once in Montreal it went to work again as a bunkering barge for Les Produits Shell Canada. It is still in that service. It is now the only former Imperial tanker still in service in Canada.

With the completion of the Montreal bunkering barges, Imperial's designers went to work on a new bunkering vessel for Halifax. A non-propelled barge, I.O.Ltd No.6 followed by the old canaller Imperial Cornwall [both featured in these posts before] had proved less than successful in Halifax where better maneuvering in tight spaces and some seakeeping ability were needed.

The result was Imperial Dartmouth, delivered by Collingwood Shipbuilding in 1970. Built with a more rounded bow, its steerable prop engines were enclosed within the superstructure, rather than sitting on deck, and it was larger with 1992 grt, 2100 dwt and a capacity of 15,300 bbls. Its pumps delivered diesel fuel at 750 bbl/hr.

After a harrowing trip which included a tow from Lauzon with icebreaker escort, it arrived in Halifax December 23, 1970. Thus began a long tenure in the port, with very few outings beyond the harbour entrance. On two occasions it did go out to sea to refuel boats for Richard Branson's transatlantic speed record attempts, but otherwise was towed to Liverpool or other ports for refits.

 Imperial Dartmouth's barge shape and steerable props are more obvious in this  photo of a drydocking in the Novadock at Halifax Shipyard. By contrast, the other ship in the dock is "The Cat" the Yarmouth / Bar Harbour high speed catamaran ferry.

Imperial carried on the bunker business in Halifax after the tanker fleet was sold to Algoma, and Imperial Dartmouth  remained until 2006 as Imperial's last remaining tanker.
It was then sold to Northern Transportation Ltd, renamed  NT Dartmouth and continued as Halifax bunkering tanker until 2009 when the contract ended. [this transaction was covered in several posts from that time]

The ship sailed to Newfoundland on its own bottom but was laid up, with its Canadian registry closed in 2010. In 2012 it was sold and renamed Dartmouth under the Honduran flag. and by September of that year was in the Caribbean and renamed Emporio under the Panamanian flag. Its owners however continued to be Atlantic Pacific International, with manager Caribbean Petroleum International Services SA. At time of writing it is underway off Aruba.

Big Tankers

 Imperial reduced its number of ocean tankers in the 1950s, but in the mid-1960s they got back into ocean trading in a big way. Imperial Ottawa's launch at Kawasaki Dockyard January 12, 1967 coincided with the start of Canada's centennial year, and the 59,257 grt, 110,0452 dwt tanker was a fitting way to mark the celebrations. Designed to operate from Venezuela to Halifax and Portland, ME for the Montreal pipeline, the ship was a super tanker of the time.
A year before the ship's arrival in Canada, preparations were underway at Imperoyal to accommodate the big ship. Dredging to 50 feet was needed at the oil dock, and a second 24" dia pipeline was built connecting number 5 dock to the refinery. It ran to a new 500,000 bbl tank - claimed to be the largest in the western hemisphere. The ship would fill that tank on arrival then move to Portland and feed an additional 350,000 barrels to the Montreal pipeline.
On its first trip the ship left Kobe April 19, 1967 and loaded at Ras Tanura and Karalamaya, arriving Halifax June 14.
Unfortunately the ship's draft was too great for Venezuela's Lake Maracaibo and the ship had to be reassigned to Imperial's parent company and began to run from the Persian Gulf to northern Europe. 
In 1978 it was renamed Esso Aberdeen and converted to bow loading for the North Sea service to Tranmere by Esso Exploration+Production Ltd. They renamed the ship Petro Aberdeen in 1994 but it was soon sent to Alang, arriving there April 9, 1997.
Unfortunately I have no photos of this important ship in my files, but I can refer to Auke Visser's excellent collection:

Odd Man Out

There was one tanker that made the rounds through various tanker fleets, and although owned by Imperial Oil, never carried an Imperial name. Not only that, it did not start out to be a tanker at all.
Originally designed to be  small general cargo ship to carry steel products around the Great Lakes, and with winter navigation in mind, the order was never actually placed with the shipyard. However Collingwood Shipbuilding had reserved a spot for it and had materials on hand, and so by the time the keel was laid July 23, 1968 they had reached a deal with Texaco Canada Ltd to build it as a tanker. Named Texaco Chief it traded on the Great Lakes, St.Lawrence and Atlantic coast. It measured 5038 grt, 6885 dwt and had a capacity of 54,241 bbl.

Texaco Chief in Eastern Passage, on its way to the then Texaco Refinery (which became Gulf, then Ultramar, and is now Valéro's tank storage facility.)

At pier 9. The plates in the dock in the foreground lead to a pipeline to storage tanks on Barrington Street, now operated by Wilson's Fuels.

On September 1, 1986 Texaco Canada was taken over by Imperial Oil, but the ship was not needed in Imperial's fleet and it was placed on charter to Sofati/Soconav.

 The ship operated for a time as Texaco Chief, but its funnel mark was painted over. Here it is upbound off Quebec City with the cruise ship Royal Odyssey in the background.

It was soon given perhaps the most often misspelled and mispronounced name in Canadian shipping history, A.G. Farquharson [pronounced Far-ka-son'].[Andrew Gray Farquharson joined McColl-Fronteanc Oil Co in 1932 and rose through the ranks and after Texaco took over, became its President from 1969 to 1972.]

Just out of drydock with its new red hull colour the crew has painted on the name, but misspelled it. It is at pier 9c in Halifax with the research trawler Lady Hammond tied up at the Bedford Institute in the background. Note the ice knife on the stern to protect the rudder when going astern in ice.

In July-August 1988 the ship was repainted in Socanav's red hull colour at Halifax Shipyard.
In 1996 when successor company Socanav went under, the ship was returned to Imperial Oil. It arrived in Halifax from St.John's September 30, was pumped off at Imperial Oil and went into layup at the IEL dock, then at Dook's dock in Eastern Passage.

 Idle at the IEL dock, wearing the Socanav "swoosh" funnel mark, which was soon painted over.

In July 1997 it was chartered to PetroNav, the Desgagnés tanker operators, but returned to Halifax December 29 and went into warm layup.
In March 1988 as part of Imperial's deal to sell its fleet to Algoma Tankers Ltd. the ship was repainted and renamed Algonova at pier 23 in Halifax- having never carried an Imperial name.

 Freshly painted in Algoma colours at pier 23, newly named Algonova is almost ready to go back to work.

 Showing some signs of wear and tear, despite the new paint, Algonova is underway for the Imperial Oil dock.

Up until then the ship was often seen in Halifax, but with the Algoma takeover it returned to the Great Lakes and did not appear in Halifax again until January 4, 2005 when it arrived as part of a swap. Fleetmate Algosar (ex Imperial St.Clair) was sent to the Lakes for the winter. In the spring of 2006 Algonova made trips back and forth to the Lakes and stayed there for the winter of 2005-2006, but returned to Halifax in May 2006 and worked consistently from Halifax until December.
On December 29, 2006 it tied up at pier 31 for transfer to new owners. In January 2007, after pumping off at Imperial Oil it drydocked at Halifax Shipyard and was renamed Pacifico Trader.
On January 27, 2007 it had raised the Panamanian flag for Belgrave Investors Corp and sailed for Cartagena, Columbia. On arrival it entered into the Panama bunkering trade.
In 2012 it was renamed Great Portobello for Helmer Business Inc, and at time of writing is still in service.


The once mighty Imperial Oil fleet is no more, and only one former member of the fleet, a bunkering barge, still remains operational in eastern Canada. With the closure of Imperial Oil's refining operation in Dartmouth, the likelihood of seeing three Canadian coastal tankers there at the same time is approximately nil.

Three former Imperial tankers, all Algoma, Algofax ex Imperial Bedford, Algonova and Algoscotia ex Imperial Acadia.

For more photos and data on Imperial tankers I can recommend the Esso tankers website of Auke Visser:


1 comment:

  1. McKenzie Barge + Marine Ways - condos now being built on the site.