Thirty years ago a ship called Lake Michigan made a minor ripple in the news of the day. The ship arrived in Halifax January 4, 1989 - although it had been expected on December 31, to load a cargo of bagged flour.
The ship had been carrying the remnants of a sugar cane cargo, and had wanted to dump the offending material in Canadian coastal waters. Environment Canada "caught wind" of the plan and refused permission. Left with little alternative the ship proceeded out to sea, beyond the 200 mile limit, and discharged the cargo there, thus explaining its tardy arrival.
The tug Point Halifax assists in turning the ship.
Despite all this it was a very interesting ship. Built in 1971 by the renowned Doxford and Sunderland Shipbuilding + Engineering Co Ltd's Pallion yard in England , it was among the last (and some would say epitome) of general cargo ships of the pre-container era. It was designed for traditional general trade routes, where cargo was laboriously loaded and unloaded with derricks, in loose or break bulk form.
The first owners were Lineas Interoceanicos SA, a joint venture between the Greek Lyras and Fafalios families. They named the ship Faeton and it was one of six sister ships of the same design.
Measuring 11,502 gt, 17,072 dwt, it had five holds and five hatches (one aft of the superstructure) and carried a host of derricks - one rated at 35 tons and sixteen at 10 tons.
The container revolution caught up with the ship however, and it was outmoded well before its time. It was then shifted to lesser paying and out of the way trades, and allowed to deteriorate on low paying routes. It was sold in 1988 and placed under the Panama flag and renamed Lake Michigan.
After loading its cargo of flour - the bags were stacked on pallets and painstakingly loaded and secured aboard using all those derricks - it sailed on January 28 for Alexandria, Egypt. Soon after arrival there it was sold to Philippine owners and renamed Kota Molek.
Surprisingly perhaps the ship lasted until 2000 when it was scrapped in China, having had a pair of North Korean owners that renamed it in 1995: Myo Hang 3 and 1998: Sangwon. Its longevity was owed to North Korea's isolation, dependant on trade with China, and lack of technological development.
The general cargo ship had reached the pinnacle of its development most would say, and British shipyards too, when containerization revolutionized shipping. Although some owners continued to need ships of this type, this one was among the last of the line. British shipyards also lost their world domination and their closure caused massive social upheaval in Britain. When Doxford and Sutherland (and other nearby yards that had been merged together) was forced to close under British shipyard nationalization in 1988, 6,000 people lost their jobs.