Idyllic Ports

13th February 2008, 12:37
Idyllic Ports

The USS Co ship MV Navua built in 1955 by Henry Robb was 2000 tons dwt and powered by a 1500 hp Clark-Sulzer 5 cylinder 2 cycle diesel engine capable of steaming at 12 to 13 knots.
She was especially fitted out for the carriage of bananas without refrigeration and this was achieved by the fitting of large forced draft fans over each hold to ventilate the fruit and minimize the build up of gases that accelerated the ripening process. A further feature was her all –white painted hull and superstructure that achieved hold temperatures 10 degrees F below that of a black hull and dark buff superstructure that were the Company’s usual colours.
These features enabled the ship to load green bananas in the Pacific Islands; normally In Apia Western Samoa and Nukualofa in Tonga, and then carry the fruit south to Auckland before they were fully ripe. Sometimes, weather and temperatures permitting, we would deliver as far south as Wellington or Lyttelton.
The only disadvantage to crew was that the accommodation often smelt like a banana split but that was not all that bad.
On arrival in Apia we anchored a few hundred yards offshore and because of tropical weather conditions being subject to rapid change the ship remained in a general state of readiness to put to sea with heat on the main engine and sufficient crew on board to take her out.
The Native cargo men worked around the clock to load. Bananas packed in 50 pound crates were ferried out on barges and the ships gear and cargo nets were used to load.
Western Samoa was originally a German colony but after WW1 the NZ Government became responsible for its administration and the many years of Colonial rule, mainly by missionaries resulted in over 97% of the population being Christian but segregated into differing faiths, something like 35% Congregational, 20% Roman Catholic, 15% Methodist and the balance either Latter Day Saints or Seventh Day Adventists.
Their religious zeal prevented most of them from working on a Sunday so to achieve the ability to work cargo any day and around the clock the cargo worker gangs were assembled according to their religion and the Seventh Day Adventists were always available on Sundays.

The Union Company used to provide each shift with a meal which usually consisted of a small loaf of bread and a tin of Hellaby’s Corned or Bully beef per man. This they craved and loved as it provided a good “Fat fix” in their diet and in fact they revered the Hellaby product so much that they composed a song about it and this was often sung on board by choir like groups of voices and with a beautiful Pacific Island lilt. The words were Samoan but the name “Hella by,” sounding like “lullaby” came through.
Alcohol was banned to the Native population but was readily available to ships crew. A visit to the waterfront police station saw us issued with a strip of bus tickets each one representing the right to buy a bottle of Beck’s beer which we usually cashed in at the famous Aggie Grey’s Hotel on the waterfront during a lunch or evening meal away from the ship.

Looking back around 50 years I remember it as an idyllic port to visit especially during the NZ winter months but I am sure that the same simple natural charm does not exist today.

We normally called in at Nukualofa on the way home to top up the cargo but there we tied up alongside the wharf and being a Feudal Kingdom then ruled by Queen Salote it did not have the same charm as Apia.