Saturday, June 29, 2019

No Name Ships

Ships have names, but sometimes the names change. Some say it is unlucky to change a ship's name, but if that were the case there would be many fewer ships sailing the seven seas. Close to 50% of the ships covered in this blog over the years have changed names at least once, and it is not unheard of for a ship to have had four or more or up to ten different names over the years of its life.

Perhaps the ship is sold to a new owner who has a more appropriate name in mind, or is chartered to a company that wants to identify it with its own fleet. Or perhaps the name becomes a point of contention due to a falling out between partners. A recent opinion piece in the Halifax Chronicle Herald recalled an example of the latter situation, but was so riddled with errors that I felt compelled to write a letter to the editor to set the record straight.

My letter was necessarily brief, so here is the longer story behind a very strange choice of names for not one, but for two ships.

In the 1950s, a company named Brunswick Mining and Smelting was behind a large lead and zinc mine near Bathurst, New Brunswick. In 1964 they also announced they would build a lead-zinc smelter and a steel, chemical and fertilizer plant at nearby Belledune, New Brunswick. Partners in the project included K.C.Irving, the New Brunswick industrialist, whose company Engineering Consultants Ltd were to be project managers and numerous other Irving companies as contractors and suppliers.

Irving's shipping company Kent Line was to operate two ships to carry the ore from Belledune to Belgium where another partner, Soc. Gen. des Minerales would carry out further refining. To avoid making non-paying ballast voyages, and to make use of the ships in winter when Belledune was inaccessible due to ice, they were built as combination carriers.

Ships built to carry either oil or bulk or ore cargoes (sometimes called OBOs - oil/ bulk /ore) were not unknown at the time, but were certainly unusual. Alternate holds were equipped to carry ore, with the remaining holds constructed as tanks to carry oil. The ore holds were served by electric cranes.

The two ships were built at Irving's Saint John Dry Dock and Shipbuilding Co and completed in 1964 and 1966. Ownership was in the name of Canadian General Electric, the company that fabricated the ships' propulsion systems and financed construction. They were then chartered to Engineering Consultants Ltd for operation.

The first ship was named M.J.Boylen for Matthew James Boylen, the mining promoter who found the lead zinc deposit and became president of Brunswick Mining and Smelting (BMS). Perhaps as an omen the ship ran aground near Antwerp November 27, 1965.  Fortunately the notorious River Schelde has a muddy bottom and ship was released after three days with only minor damage.

BMS ran into serious cost over runs on the project, owing large amounts to the province as main financial backer. Despite Irving's reported willingness to buy the company, Boylen sold BMS  to Noranda, leaving Irving as a minor shareholder and major creditor. 

In 1966 Irving withdrew from the project. For more on this I recommend John Demont's excellent book Citizens Irving, (McClelland + Stewart, 1991).

Meanwhile the intended honoree of the second ship, New Brunswick premier Louis J. Robichaud had been in numerous disputes with K.C.Irving including over the Province's plan to overhaul its property tax regime. But Robichaud's backing of Noranda's offer was likely the last straw in a fraught relationship. When the the ship was delivered in 1966 it retained its shipyard hull number  H.1070, and never carried the name "L.J.Robichaud" as originally planned.


At about the same time Engineering Consultants Ltd and other Irving entities took over ownership of the first ship and in 1968 renamed it with its shipyard hull number H.1060, and converted it to a pure tanker. It was transferred to Bermuda flag in 1971 and traded internationally, but later returned to Canadian flag with Irving Oil Ltd as owner and Kent Line  Ltd as manager. However due to its steam turbine propulsion system, intended for transatlantic work, it was not a very efficient short haul vessel and spent extended periods laid up in Halifax in 1977 and most of 1980. In January 1981 it shifted to Point Edward, NS (Sydport).

H.1070 was transferred to Bayswater Co, based in Bermuda, with Kent Line Ltd as managers. It kept its ore /oil carrying capability and found some work as a bulk carrier, such as carrying ore from Deception Bay to Germany, but was mostly used as a tanker for Irving Oil. However for a ship of its size, it was no longer an efficient carrier in either mode. It laid up in Halifax in 1980 and in December it also  shifted to Point Edward.
 The two ships remained tied up together at the Syport dock for three and a half  years.

In the summer of 1984 the tug Irving Maple towed out both ships, in a tandem tow, arriving in Santander, Spain July 9, where they were broken up.

The ships had the same hull dimensions of 691 ft x 75.25 ft x 35.94 ft draft and were powered by two Canadian General Electric geared steam turbines of 13,750 ship giving a speed of 15 knots. However H.1060 had one more deck in its superstructure, and thus measured 21,732 gt, 32,143 dwt, whereas H.1070 measured 20,978 gt, 30,847 dwt.

Also interestingly H.1060 featured a black hull for its entire career, whereas H.1070 had the distinctive "biscuit" colour of Irving Oil tankers. This leads me to assume that H.1060 may have carried only black oil (crude or bunker C, asphalt, etc.,) as a tanker, whereas H.1070 carried refined, or "clean" product. With large steam plants however, both were potentially well equipped to carry cargoes that required heating.

One explanation given for not renaming the ships with more typical Irving names was that they were experimental vessels. There may have been some tax advantage in doing that, but there is probably no way of confirming it. The Irving companies are privately held and thus are not required to publish financial details. That Boylen and Robichaud were no longer in favour with K.C.Irving cannot be disputed, and renaming was certainly an obvious sign and reminder of the break up.

The interlocking ownership and vertical integration of the Irving companies has changed over the years with Irving Oil quite separate from the other industrial activities under the J.D.Irving wing.

Irving Oil now operates the largest refinery on the east coast of North America. The recent closure of the slightly larger PES refinery in Philadelphia after a disastrous fire, makes Irving Oil the dominant player in its field, with a large share of the northeastern US market. Irving Oil apparently owns no ships, but has long term charters on several tankers.

The J.D.Irving branch are proprietors of Irving Shipbuilding Inc, owners of Halifax Shipyard, the premier naval constructor in Canada. Their myriad industrial interests include, forestry, construction, transportation agriculture and services. These include Atlantic Towing Ltd, active in offshore and towing, and Harbour Development Ltd, marine contractors.

The former Canadian Government lightship Mikula, the schooner Philip E. Lake and two "no name" ships populated the Sydport pier - all reminders of times long gone.


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