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Ports & Ships Maritime News

31 March 2015
Author: Terry Hutson

Bringing you shipping, freight, trade and transport related news of interest for Africa since 2002


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The Durban-built Voith Schneider-propelled harbour tug MKHUZE (377-gt, built 2003) makes a purposeful sight as she crosses Durban Bay one day last week. Picture: Trevor Jones

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Yemen’s main port of Aden was forced to close yesterday (Monday, 30 March) after the city and port was shelled by Houthi rebels who have closed in on the city. With stevedores and other dock workers staying away because of the shelling, no work was possible except for some oil shipments at the Aden Refinery.

Earlier it was reported that Saudi tanks had entered the city to repel attacks from the rebels and fierce street battles were taking place. This occurred after most of the Yemeni government leaders were reported to have fled the country.

GAC News reports that most of the other Red Sea ports are operating as normal with no hostilities in that part of the country. Offshore terminals are also reported to be operational.

There was some speculation earlier that the port had shut because of the presence offshore of Iranian warships. Iran said however that its ships are in the Gulf of Aden to combat piracy and to protect its shipping while crossing through the Bab el Mandeb Strait from the Red Sea into the Gulf of Aden, where it says there is still a risk from pirates.

Iran claims to have prevented an attack by four pirate boats carrying 32 armed pirates who targeted an Iranian tanker crossing the strait. Several days earlier Iran also claimed that one of its ships, another tanker had come under attack by pirates who tried to board the vessel, but were prevented from doing so by the presence of the Iranian warships.

As with most reports by the Iranian authorities, they are not verifiable by independent sources and there have been suggestions that the sectarian nature of the conflict in Yemen provides another possible purpose for the presence of the Iranian Navy.

In fact, the presence of the Iranian ships has raised some fears of a proxy war developing between Sunni and Shia supporters arising from the presence of Saudi-led Sunni forces versus Shia-led Iranian forces.

The port shutdown can affect the export of between 1.4 and 1.5 million barrels of Masila crude each month – most of which goes to China from the ports of Aden, Al Mukalla, Al Mokha and Al Hudaydah.

In addition, the French company Total operates the Balhaf gas export facility, which exports natural gas mainly to Europe and Asia. China has meanwhile issued a safety alert through its Maritime Safety Administration, saying that Chinese ships should avoid sailing close to the Yemeni coast because of the political turmoil in that country. The MSA said that Chinese ships should adjust the routes they are taking.

Earlier, the Chinese Navy suspended its merchant vessel escort operation for ships sailing in the Gulf of Aden as from 27 March. It could not say when the ban would be lifted.

Chinese Navy ships that have been on counter-piracy patrol in the Gulf are now being held ready to evacuate Chinese citizens from Yemen should this become necessary.

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Work on the new port just to the north of Walvis Bay is set to begin during April, according to the Chinese construction company, China Harbour and Engineering Company (CHEC), which last week began cutting a road to the site, reports the Namibian newspaper Informanté

The new port is being referred to as the SADC Gateway Port.

The same construction company is building a new container terminal at the old Walvis Bay port, on an infill area in the present harbour.

Phase 1 of the Gateway Port involves dredging a 180m wide, 16.5m deep entrance channel and turning basin plus two tanker berths.

The idea is that the first phase of the Gateway Port will replace the existing tanker berths at Walvis Bay, which date back to 1959 and have needed structural rehabilitation work to be carried out.

Included in Phase 1 is the construction of an access roadway from the B2 coastal road westward to the sea, as well as an accommodation facility for the estimated 3,000 workers that will be required.

The new tanker berths will be connected by a pipeline to a new tank farm in the Walvis Bay oil depot area.

Funding for Phase 1 is coming from Namibia’s Ministry of Mines and Energy, as part of its mandate to secure and protect Namibia’s strategic fuel reserves.

The construction period is expected to be 27 months, suggesting that this part of the new port could be in use by August 2017.– Informante

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Tau Morwe, CEO of Transnet National Ports Authority, whose decision to take early retirement has brought about several new appointments

Following the decision by Mr Tau Morwe to step down and take early retirement from his position as Transnet National Ports Authority Chief Executive, Mr Richard Vallihu, the current head of Transnet Engineering has been appointed as his replacement.

At the same time Mr Thamsanqa Jiyane replaces Vallihu as Chief Executive of Transnet Engineering.

Both appointments are effective as from 1 April 2015, although last week’s announcement that Tau Morwe was retiring said he would leave at the end of April.

The new TNPA chief executive has been in charge at Transnet Engineering since 2005, having joined the company ten years previously. In that time TE has been transformed into a successful commercial engineering business beyond just rail and has become Transnet’s centrepiece for its research, development and innovation drive.

Vallihu’s replacement at TE, Thami Jiyane joined Transnet in 2001 and has worked as a procurement expert at three of Transnet’s divisions – Port Terminals, National Ports Authority, and Freight Rail. He was head of procurement at the last two divisions.

At Freight Rail, he spearheaded the fleet renewal programme and conceptualised the approach for the purchase of locomotives, which included a strong focus on localisation, supplier and enterprise development.

Jiyane is a teacher by qualification and holds a Bachelor of Business Administration Operations and Supply Chain and a Master of Business Leadership.

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Read all about it…our correspondent Vernon Buxton recalls his fleeting experiences with one of the most gracious and splendid shipping lines ever to grace the Indian Ocean. Just look at those perfect lines…it’s enough to make any avid ship lover burst into tears! Splendid aesthetics aside, the enterprising passenger-cargo mix made these vessels so effective and profitable on the U.K to Africa route…and then…and then…some idiot invented the jet aircraft! The CITY OF EXETER was one of these beautiful vessels I dined upon in Beira harbour during the 1950s.

One of the innumerable advantages of living in Rhodesia in the 1950s was the ease of access to the small Mozambican port of Beira.

Rhodesians in their hundreds would flock to Beira year-round for a fantastic beach holiday and to partake of the joys of Portuguese wines (indeed an acquired taste, for they were a touch rough) and cuisines (always very palatable, especially the famous peri-peri chicken.) Beira was six hours by road from the-then Salisbury (now Harare), with a memorable padkos stop up on Umtali’s Christmas Pass, in the company of a delightful statue of the poet Kingsley Fairbridge and his terrier pet at his feet (later removed for its ‘colonial’ connotations by the hideous Zanu-PF regime.)

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Beira, situated at the mouth of the Pungwe River, was a borderline ‘Third World’ environment, yet with a few smart hotels and certainly plenty of meal-producing ‘Tascas’ positioned all over the town. At most, however, the ambiance was acceptably ‘down-tone’, though entirely charming and certainly very cheap…hence the considerable influx of ‘colonials’ in search of a sun, fun-and-booze-fuelled beach holiday. (Despite its somewhat tarnished image, Beira today enjoys an addictive harbour-town energy, attractive colonial-era architecture and a short, breezy stretch of coastline.)

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An expansive on-the-beach holiday camp called the ‘Estoril’ (some readers are bound to remember this?...with its endless sands, an old wreck and a well-tended lighthouse) played host to scores of these often slightly misbehaved land-locked revellers. It was fun they sought, and fun they got…and the Portuguese loved the revenue they brought to a not entirely prosperous Mozambican port…(one known for its robust tides. You’d maybe have to climb the ladder steeply to get aboard ship and then, a few hours later, walk straight out on to the wharf. I was aboard Principe Perfeito in 1964 when one of these fast-ebbing tides swept the aft section out into the stream and drove the bow into a crane, knocking it to the ground. The ship didn’t even stop to establish if there was a crane driver aloft?)

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Our family enjoyed the many interesting passenger and cargo ships that called at Beira and, having befriended the port captain, we had access to the various people-carriers that mostly spent two or three nights here on a cargo-turnaround voyage. One would be welcomed aboard docked vessels (the pax having disembarked and the new lot not coming aboard for at least the next two days) for drinks and dinner…and on other regular Beira callers such as the Portuguese-owned INFANTE DOM HENRIQUE and PRINCIPE PERFEITO, Italy’s AFRICA and EUROPA and the very beautiful British vessels known as the Ellerman Quartet…namely the identical 13,363gt CITY OF EXETER, CITY OF PORT ELIZABETH, CITY OF YORK and CITY OF DURBAN.

These four vessels (City of Exeter pictured) arrived on the scene in the 1950s in the wake of a long and winding historic heritage, starting with the company, Henry Bucknall & Son, founded in London in 1742 as cork merchants and running old chartered ships. It started ship-owning in 1851 and, in 1891, formed the British & Colonial Steam Navigation Co.

In 1893, Edward Lloyd of Bucknall Bros, together with the Union Line, formed the American & African Line to operate passenger and cargo services between New York, Cape Town and Calcutta. In 1895, Bucentaur SS Co. was established to cater for trade to Canada, USA, Australia and New Zealand.

PIC 6 cityhistory 480 Taken in 1938, the photograph shows three older Ellerman Line ships in the South Basin of Queen’s Dock, London. The ship on the left is the CORINTHIAN and on the right, the CITY OF MARSEILLES. (The Ellerman Quartet ships that followed were considerably more aesthetic.) War clouds were gathering in Europe and these fine ships would soon be in harm’s way. At this time, the Ellerman group of companies owned 105 ships, making it one of the largest cargo fleets in the world. World War ll would hardly wreak as much havoc with shipping lines as would the later advent of the Boeing 707, which decimated shipping lines with an indecent rapidity.

In the event, however, owing to financial complications, in 1908 one John Ellerman was sold a controlling interest in the company…and in 1914 the company was renamed Ellerman & Bucknall Steamship Co. (After 1973, all constituent Ellerman companies were combined into Ellerman City Liners, which in 1987 became Cunard-Ellerman, revealing the twists and turns of any long-established entity.)

This maritime quartet consisted of the-then largest passenger/cargo liners of the once-great Ellerman-Bucknall and were justifiably considered some of the most luxurious round-Africa ships of their day. All operated the multi-call Southampton, Las Palmas, Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, East London, Durban, Lourenco, Marques (now Maputo) and Beira service.

Were your correspondent to be asked if there was any ship that I regretted not sailing on in bygone days?...my immediate response would be that I rue never having taken the opportunity sail between Beira and Southampton on one of these very elegant and luxurious cargo/passenger ships. As a mere youngster (an ‘old soul’ notwithstanding) my imagination was forcefully sparked by just dining on this CITY OF YORK, seen glowing in calm waters with her fine black, orange and grey livery.

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An evening aboard would commence with ‘snorts’ (not cocaine, dear me, just old scotch) and canapés out on the semi-covered deck. At 7 p.m. the xylophone-style gong announced an exquisite white-gloved dinner, with all manner of printed menu offerings, commencing with a selection of hors-d'oeuvres and then a variety of hot or cold soups, a choice of fish dishes and then on to entrés made from every kind of popular meat.

Later, when almost replete, a trolley-load of sweets and cakes was wheeled to your table and you’d point to your preferred choices…and your table steward would proffer your selections on quality, often patterned, crockery. Courvoisier Cognac and exotic liqueurs were de rigueur for afters…all of which I was too young to indulge but, of course, did so with relish later in life, having observed the ‘proper way of doing things’. I miss the quaint mores of British etiquette.

The service was ‘Pom’ to its very core, with all the ritual and detail as was the norm of the British ‘Empah’ at its zenith…and passengers en route to or from Southampton were the beneficiaries of First Class British service in its purist forms.

Before, during and after dinner, an all-male quartet band played popular British and show songs, which led to dancing, when men shed their black tie jackets and ladies danced the light fantastic in elegant, flowing gowns. Ah yes, these middle- and upper-class personages were most decidedly properly dressed for dinner and anything less was frowned upon by the crew, without disguise. There were standards to be met, you know old chap! And quite right too!

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Accommodating just over 100 passengers, the ‘Ellerman Quartet’ was in considerable competition with the larger, famous Royal Rail Ships of the Union-Castle Line. The port-holed accommodations (the balcony was still five or more decades away) featured only single and twin-bedded cabins, all of which were located on A and B Decks…with those on A Deck being fitted with private bathrooms, whilst those on B Deck had shared facilities which, at that time, were an entirely acceptable alternative…because bathrooms were spotless at all times.(Above) CITY OF DURBAN eases out of the port after which it was named…en route to Lourence Marques (now Maputo) and its turnaround port of Beira. The Promenade Deck was a great place to spend the day lounging, checking out ‘who’s who in the zoo’?...and watching deep blue sea vistas sweep by. Bouillon served at 11 am, of course, and gin and tonic to follow by noon, natural-leh! The choice of draft beers was beyond tempting too! All followed by a jolly good afternoon ‘zizz’. With teas, cake and Wyvern sandwiches at 4pm, you know! You have no idea what you missed!

In public spaces, floor-to-ceiling timber panelling was the focal point of interior décor…a soft brown wood with natural flecks, all polished to a mirror shine. Dinner table arrangements comprised powder-white napiery, and the crockery and cutlery gleamed like pure silver. Also, there was in those days nothing so vulgar as a buffet (perish the thought) and one was properly served at the table for all meals. As it should be, of course!

Lounges were located on Promenade Deck, comprising a drawing room (for’ard, with deep-pile couches), a modest foyer, smallish smoke room, compact writing room, and the rather lovely Verandah Café, which was also the dance venue. This delightful and cheerful room overlooked the modest swimming pool aft. Sports Deck was located directly above Promenade Deck. The Restaurant was located on the 2nd deck (below B Deck). For ships of their size, these Ellerman beauties offered excellent children’s facilities…having a large playroom and their own deck space. What more could demanding travellers with rowdy issue have asked?

As cargo carriers too, there were five holds, three for’ard two aft, having a carrying capacity of 607 cu. ft. Once in port, guests enjoyed commanding views of cargo handling and observing such busy scenes also assured one that the a sailing time was not imminent. Some could, and did, go ashore.

Then, around the late 1950s, the Boeing aircraft company of America launched a jet aircraft that could fly at 600 kilometres per hour, and this revolutionary form of travel, which could move you large distances in a short space of time, essentially sounded the death knell for virtually the world’s entire spectrum of ships that could carry passengers. And era would soon enough end (expletive deleted!)

Joining the vast swathe of passenger line casualties, the ‘Ellerman Quartet’ was withdrawn from service in 1971, and all four ships were laid up. Not long after, they were purchased ‘en bloc’ by the Karageorgis Lines, and what followed was varied, sad and, frankly, a depressing story that we’ll avoid for emotional considerations (mine) and for the sake of brevity. Suffice to say that their fates were a travesty of the ‘Best-of-British’ maritime accomplishment…and their short operations hereafter were unquestionably conducted amid a diminished status. Would they’d rather been sunk as reefs.

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In what could be one of the great travesties in maritime history, this is what one of the ‘Ellerman Quartet’ vessels looked like when it fell into wrong hands. The plan was to turn it into a cruise ship, but with not even a modicum of respect for the classic British architecture that set Britain’s vessels apart. Some appalling Greek operator, bereft of any sense of the aesthetic, rendered one ‘City’ ship thus…and let’s not name which ship, calling it MEDITERRANEAN SEA (how original?) So, let’s simply relegate this atrocity to the realms of forgotten history…and leave it at that. What a pity keel-hauling went out of fashion. Honestly, how could they…?

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A fascinating adjunct to the history of the Ellerman-Bucknall company manifests itself today at Cape Town’s Bantry Bay, where a splendid Cape-Edwardian residence of more than ample proportions now operates as a coveted hotel on Kloof Road. In 1962, Sir John and Esther, Lady Ellerman acquired Florida House (built in 1902), renaming it Ellerman House. It became known for its splendid English garden, resplendent with roses and rhododendrons and what have you. The Ellermans entertained Le Tout Cape Town here prodigiously. It was sold in 1988…and the new owners replaced all the existing flora with indigenous fynbos and many species of protea. Today, boasting a priceless collection of famous South African art, Ellerman House is a flourishing business, with its endless charms and sea vistas attracting the rich, famous and discerning from all over the world. Bit o’ alright, isn’t it?

And so concludes a personal recollection of a few dinners enjoyed aboard the immensely grand ‘Ellerman Quartet’ vessels. I know only too well it’s considered passé to dwell on the past, but the thought I’d really love to leave you with is that this was a very special era in maritime history, when passenger ships provided simply the most delicious travel opportunities. The services, taken quite for granted, were always of the highest standards and none of one’s indulgences in this form of getting from A to B were ever about the cost. Sea travel was an infinitely affordable and world-encompassing network of endless choices. All manner of fascinating voyages were available, no matter which hemisphere in which you resided.

The point is, dear reader, if you weren’t around to experience what is recalled above, you really missed something… and I’ll protectively take to my grave some fabulous memories of what was a truly exceptional time to be alive. I do, however, much regret not sailing all the way to England, courtesy of the ‘Ellerman Quartet’. Did you?...if so…you were indeed one of the ‘Lucky Few’.

But hey, I absolutely adore the new cruise liners too…the lightning-speed progression of which is not easy to comprehend…but what a thrill to observe and, even better, to experience!

Wishing you fair winds and following seas…

Vernon Buxton for Ports & Ships

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Picture: Royal Netherlands Navy

Seventy years after the end of World War 2, you wouldn’t expect to find mines still in place in the English Channel, but that is exactly what did happened recently, after which NATO forces set about neutralising them in the only way possible – with a good explosion.

A NATO Mine Countermeasure Group had been tasked with locating and detonating any World War 2 mines still in the North Sea or English Channel, and discovered two mines off Dieppe in France.

In an operation that commenced on 23 March the two were detonated safely.

The NATO operation is titled FR HOD (Historical Ordnance Disposal).

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Gateway port

Ports & Ships publishes regularly updated SHIP MOVEMENT reports including ETAs for ports extending from West Africa to South Africa to East Africa and including Port Louis in Mauritius.

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The Greek bulker INSPIRATION (80,700-dwt, built 2010) made a short call at Durban last week when she entered and berthed briefly alongside the Bluff bulk terminal where she received bunkers. The ship sailed again later that day for the port of Richards Bay where she has remained at the outer anchorage. Pictures: Keith Betts


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