Bank Line's Last Efforts in the 1980s

Alistair Macnab
19th May 2009, 21:20
I'm looking for any information about the Bank Line's efforts in the 1980s to explore new ways of staying in business. I was not in the company by then and am interested to learn how the seafarers saw the company as the fleet diminished in size, time chartered vessels were brought in and redundancy became a reality.

01:The new endeavours such as the Bank Line's Transatlantic Service from Europe and the UK (Bristol? Hull?) to Nassau, and the U.S. Gulf along with the "T"Classs of chartered-in ships;

02: The Pacific Islands to California, U.S. Gulf and U.S. East Coast with coffee cocoa;

03: The Bank-Ellerman Service from South Africa to the Arabian Gulf, Pakistan and Bombay round trip service;

04: The Safbank Line between the USA Gulf and East Coast and South and Southeast Africa and return;

05: The introduction of the Round the World South Pacific Service with the ex-Russian vessels;

06: The Ahrenkiel/Bank Line service from Japan to South Africa.

Big order, I know but one or two of you from the large Bank Line contingent here at SN will know about one or two of these new services which, looking back, didn't do much good as far as saving jobs was concerned.

In fact:
DARK THOUGHTS ON MY PART;
Do you think that all the main British shipowners CONSPIRED to withdraw from liner services to give containers every chance of success? You remember the mantra at that time: you can't carry containers on a non-container ship!
Why was it that nearly ALL British breakbulk liner services ended at about the same time? Not that such a strategy (if it were true) was a success. Where are ACT, OCL and all the other British-based consortiums/consortia now?

pete
19th May 2009, 21:59
Alistair, you say it was the Shipowners, was this pressure bought about by successive British Governments after the Seaman's strike ? The Heath Government successfully broke the back of the British MN as Thatcher broke the back of the Unions. It's just another Dark Thought............pete

cboots
20th May 2009, 02:01
Alistair has certainly raised a lot of interesting questions here and ones that reach much further than Bank Line. The demise of the UK flag can be explained, as I have stated on other threads in the past, by the Thatcher/Howe budgets at the outset of the Thatcher government which withdrew accelerated depreciation from the shipping industry. But why were British owners so apparently unable to carry on operations with vessels flagged elsewhere, as did numerous Northern European companies? That is a different and very interesting question and I look forward to the views of other members who I am sure will have insights and information that I am not aware of. And may I enter a personal plea here, please let us not degenerate into another round of union bashing, we've had it all before on many other threads and it is irrelevant. Incidentally, I am mystified by the claim by Pete above that Heath "broke the back of the British MN." Couldn't stand the wretched man myself but I am unaware that he did much evil against the UK merchant fleet; perhaps he would care to expand a little.
CBoots

K urgess
20th May 2009, 12:43
Can we try to limit the politics in this please, Gentlemen.
As you should know the subjects of politics and religion are taboo except outside in the Stormy Weather.
I know it's probably an impossible ask but if it gets too embedded the thread will have to be moved.

When I sailed on the Sprucebank in 1972 we took a part cargo of Coffee and Cocoa, loaded at Lae, to Pier 48A, China Basin, San Francisco.
Discharged over the weekend of 6th to 9th May 1972.
I'm not sure if this was the first time this run was done but it was certainly treated as unusual and something of a treat at the end of a copra run.
The rest of the cargo was discharged in the usual places. Liverpool, Hamburg and Hull, where I paid off. For some reason I didn't pay off until after ten days in Hull (home port).
The perfect end to my days of cruisin' with Bankline. (Thumb)

Charlie Stitt
20th May 2009, 14:02
We can all point the finger at who we think was responsilbe for the loss of our Merchant Fleet, but it serves no purpose. I would be more interested in hearing some comments/answers to Alistair's main questions ref Bank Line's last efforts. I left the Company in 1967 when all appeared well,so found it hard to believe, when I heard in the early 90's that things were going pear shape. Who now carries the bulk sulphur, grain, sugar, etc etc ? (MAD)

Alistair Macnab
20th May 2009, 16:33
Keep the observations coming, lads!
I agree with Marconi Sahib, there's nothing to be gained by getting into the politics of the day. In my opinion, Shipowners were big enough and powerful enough to get what they wanted from the government. They all caved practically simultaneously! Yes, there was some flagging out like Blue Star and some rearguard action like Weir's but nothing serious. What WAS serious was the headlong rush into containerships and consortia and we know where that action took us!
Where did the movement of bulk sulphur, grain and sugar go? Into bulk carriers and some British Shipowners went there like Scottish Ship Management. That took care of the big-time tonnage movements to and from specialist bulk handling ports and berths but what about the "liner parcels" of these commodities to secondary ports? Like Charlie, I can't believe that these just faded away.
Let's all give this some serious thought and I welcome your participation.

K urgess
20th May 2009, 17:12
I don't think bulk cargo market has changed much apart from the size of the vessels and shift in companies involved.
So who carries the parcels of lube oils from the States to Oz now?
What do they do up in TPNG (or whatever it's called now) do they load parcels of coffee and cocoa into containers in ports like Lae and Madang?
Or do they ship coastwise to somewhere like Moresby that has the facilities to load containers?
I'm trying to remember what we did on the Sprucebank first time in 1967. After discharging in Europe we loaded cars (VWs, Opels and Mercedes) in Hamburg for the States. Then general bits and bats in NO and Houston for Oz. Probably easily containerised these days. Apart from a water taxi on deck loaded in NO. Then after discharge around Oz to Pirie for lead before the usual copra run.
Weirbank first trip was empty from Europe to Guyana where we loaded bauxite for Oz and then topped up with general and oil at Houston and NO (St Rose for the oil). After Oz it was a normal copra run again.
Weirbank second trip we seemed to spend quite a while in Amsterdam, Hamburg and Rotterdam discharging and seemed to be waiting for something in the last one before sailing empty to load in Houston and NO again. We took some cargo up to Rabaul but I'm not sure if it was from the States or Sydney. Then the normal run up to TPNG except that this time we came back the "long way round" rather than through Panama back to Liverpool.
Funny, reading through the loading ports and cargoes I could swear I can smell copra. Probably just my sweaty socks. [=P]
Having done three pretty similair copra runs I was surprised by my second Sprucebank run.
After discharging and drydocking in Hull we hung around in Hamburg for a week before loading then to Bremen, Antwerp, London and Rotterdam. Sailed straight out through Panama to Noumea and the rest but this time discharging. Mostly luxury goods. I remember an awful lot of cassette players and tapes appearing in cabins.
Then to Brisbane for a cargo of Urea for Penang before coming back to TPNG etc., for the usual load of copra, oil, etc. Then to Frisco as mentioned before.
I have no idea if this was changing patterns of cargo or what. Containers had started appearing in very small quantities by the time I did my last cruise but not as you'd notice generally.
I'd like to know if the run changed any more during the mid to late 70s.
I know someone whose son was an engineering cadet with Bankline in the 90s and it sounded as if things hadn't changed very much as far as ports in general went but cargo handling and types must have changed to a great degree.
I did investigate doing a trip as a passenger with them a couple of years ago but didn't pursue it when I saw that it would in no way resemble a normal copra run. Stays in port were down to a day at a time indicating containerisation for the most part.
No way to go cruisin' with Bankline the good old way. (Sad)

Phillti
20th May 2009, 17:30
Swires are still running the Bank Line sopac service with those famous Russian "Ice Breakers". The ports still look the same (or very similar) to the ones we did in the real Bank Line back in the late 70's check http://www.swireshipping.com/web/services.jsp?fid=219#

Rgds

Tim

cboots
21st May 2009, 03:11
I am sorry that certain other members feel that I am "getting into politics" but any discussion of the demise of the UK flagged fleet cannot avoid the issues and those issues involve actions by governments. In my previous post I have not gone into what was the economic ideology of the Thatcher government as that would probably be inappropriate, I simply stated what was done in the first two budgets handed down by that regime and the obvious effect that it had on UK flagged merchant tonnage. If that is too political for some members well so be it, but a serious discussion of this issue cannot be had without it. Actually, what I thought this thread was going to discuss was why UK shipping companies simply appeared to give up rather than continue in their operations using tonnage under other flags as many European owners did. Now that would be interesting rather than disputing what is history.
CBoots

K urgess
21st May 2009, 11:46
Politics has no place whatsoever in this thread.
The subject is purely Bankline's adaption to the changing scene and the strategies needed to stay in new markets and transportation methods.
The other half of the story does not bear endless repetition of the same sad and tired mantra.

Jim Harris
21st May 2009, 12:30
The bottom line is how much money and profit can be made.
That's where it starts and finishes.

An employer isn't a charity organization, and we're not employed
because we're British and nice guys.

We're employed to make money for the company, and when our
use-by date comes along, we're discarded like an old sandshoe.

"Money is the root of all evil" must be one of the truest of all
sayings.

Regards,

Jim.

cboots
21st May 2009, 12:34
As there is no point whatsoever in trying to have any sort of serious discussion with those who seek to avoid economic reality, and I have no interest in fairy tales, I shall withdraw and admit to defeat by the censors.
Cboots

K urgess
21st May 2009, 12:43
If you feel so strongly about it start a thread somewhere where you might get the same arguments trotted out again.
Like Stormy Weather.
There is no censorship involved it's purely keeping to the subject as set out by the thread starter. If you don't like it you don't have to participate.

Alistair Macnab
21st May 2009, 17:23
Come, come, Gentlemen!
As the starter of the thread, my aim is not to look for villains but to look for heros! I maintain that in the mid-1980s there were several ways for British shipping to go - containerships, dry and wet bulk carriers,ro-ro sips and mulitpurpose cargo ships.
Ship Owners chose what they chose and now we are at where we are.
Can we not bring some collective thinking to how the industry ended up where it did? There were millions of pounds invested in container ships, tankers and dry bulkers so there was no fear of an unacceptable tax burden nor an unsatisfactory return on investment at the time.
No, shipowners invested where they saw the future of British ocean shipping.
Looking at the outcome, could they have invested more wisely? Did any mariners at the time feel that we were taking the wrong path? Were there any companies that bucked the collective trend?
And, with particular reference to Bank Line, could they have done more or done anything else given th "collective Wisdom" of the Chamber of Shipping?

China hand
21st May 2009, 20:02
I once said that there were 22 million good razor blades in every Cora class built. Shot down in flames.
After 5 years , bits were falling off all over the place.
Quote from Mate on WILLOWBANK 2nd trip "Automatic Early Scrap"??
As a pure Old Dreamer of the general cargo ship brigade, who after being told by the Wonderful Old Mob to go forth and multiply; and who found himself in command of a rather beautiful, state of the art, eastern built, highly efficient, general cargo ship (with fantastic concept change availabilities, albeit no liquids apart from tank containers) the next week in Kobe; I have to say, C'mon Alistair, the mob was out of the picture from the first time they boxed copra or gunnies.
I still love the does when 2000 years of experience all try to outbullshit each other in love of the firm that made most of us redundant.
BIG Smile(Cloud)

Duncan112
21st May 2009, 20:45
There was one school of thought that the rot set in when Lord Inverforth died, (6 June 1982) and his son not having attained his majority, control of the shipping line passed to the Hon. Vincent Weir who was more interested in finance and short termism than his brother. Certainly the sale of the fleet appeared to take pace from then. Co-incidentally it was around this time that the Doxford engine - of which Bank Line was fond ceased production. As an aside - what happened to the Bamnk Line Garden at Pallion?

Duncan

Charlie Stitt
22nd May 2009, 10:12
The Bank Line sank because it did not have an Andrew or a Morton Weir at the helm. At the time when Bank Line were going DOWN another BRITISH shipping Company was going UP and Flying THE RED DUSTER, That Company was ,and still is Carisbrooke Shipping of Cowes IOW. Look up, www.caship.com From a 2005 shipping mag I read and I quote. Capt Wester, Company MD . 'We have always been innovative in acquiring new ships, and we have a dedicated commercial department.BUT YOU MUST BE CAREFUL NOT TO TURN A MULTI-PURPOSE VESSEL INTO A MULTI-USELESS VESSEL.You should stick to what you know AND BELIEVE IN, which in our case is minerals,steel,forestry products,dry bulks and general cargoes.' There may well be many more British shipping success stories to tell. Not all doom and gloom folks, keep smiling.(Thumb)

K urgess
22nd May 2009, 12:15
Are we getting close to the conclusion that a lot of the decline and failing to keep up with the market place was down to a lack of the "robber baron" approach.
All the old guard seem to have disappeared at the same time leaving the companies in the hands of people who didn't have a clue about shipping.

GWB
22nd May 2009, 12:51
Let's be honest lad's times have changed Uk is not what it used to be due the costs of running UK crewed ships became prohibitive as was the building of UK ship's.
There are many reasons why it failed we all have been in some way responsible but move on the times have changed.
What is exported now from Uk via manufacturing not much and raw materials required to produce any product not very much. UK is now consumer of foreign goods.

Always look at history but analyze it for the truth not personal ideals.

GWB

Jim Harris
22nd May 2009, 15:10
We can debate this forever, and go round and around in
circles.... but you'll find, much to the chagrin of many that two
simple words that we all learnt in primary school can sum up the
'Bank Line' situation.... and indeed, the terrible world situation that
we all find ourselves in....

PROFIT and GREED.

Regards,

Jim.

K urgess
22nd May 2009, 15:18
I don't think you're going to get any sensible answers, Alistair. (Sad)
We keep getting the same old arguments blaming the same old people for the same old reasons.
Size seems to be a factor in modern sea traffic. More containers for less sea miles.
I'm sure the British weren't the only ones to get it wrong but where did the survivors get it right?

Ian6
22nd May 2009, 16:31
May I make a non-political (and non Bank Line) comment on the demise of general cargo shipping and the change to containers and vast bulk carriers?

The enormous cost of shore-side handling for these giants has led to a few vast and efficient container-ports replacing a larger number of less efficient small conventiona-l ports. A single container ship delivers thousands of containers to a central port that isn't near the ultimate destination resulting in thousands of lorries on the roads. A chunk of the cost of distribution (i.e. the maintenance of roads, the congestion that results, the delays in local transport) is now borne by the public at large. In the 'good' old days less had to be distributed from remote locations by road, the deep-sea ship would call at several ports around the UK and European coasts. Coasters could carry 'break bulk' cargo to even small locations whereas containers require too much infrastructure to support these local operations. The implications of containerisation are wider than just the end of cargo shipping as we knew it 40 years ago and the costs have fallen on more than just us displaced deep-sea sailors.
Ian

Alistair Macnab
22nd May 2009, 17:02
Ian....
I like your take....AND....Charlie's Carisbrooke quote.
Marconi Sahib, if you don't mind, might we keep this string open and develop it from here?
The TOTAL cost of door to door containerization is not widely known but the public are beginning to learn about the cost of domestic infrastructure (roads, bridges, container terminals, harbour dredging etc.) and pollution from truck and terminal operations exhausts. Shipowners knew this a long time ago and were happy to coopt these publicly financed assets into their calculus.
I am not against containers. They are the correct mode for much of the ocean-borne traffic but even today, they only account for 19-20% of the worldwide ocean movement of goods by weight.
But as the boss of Carisbrooke says, what about these other products that don't containerize? He names steel, forest products, dry bulks, generals but I could add ro-ro units, project cargo, heavy lifts and occasional bulk liquid parcels. All these items add up to 15% by weight of the world's ocean-borne traffic and are available for multipurpose ship types. Needless to say, multipurpose is not multiuseless if the intended market is thoroughly researched.
See Next Block......

Alistair Macnab
22nd May 2009, 17:08
Continued.....
Captain Webster's secret weapon of success is his "dedicated commercial department" which researches markets and allies the company with other successful shippers and consignees and there are plenty of those if you have the right people with the right knowledge and skills to pursue them!
Finally: Note that the Boss of Carisbrooke is a CAPTAIN!!!! Does that not tell you something, all you doom and gloom sayers. I bet his commercial department has its quota of technically and operationally skilled persons, too.

Ian6
22nd May 2009, 17:25
On the theme of general cargo giving way to containers I have bought some of the PLA's (Port of London Authority) DVD's of 'vintage' film of the London Docks. 'Vintage' my foot, it seems like only yesterday. You have only to see the massive amount of handling required using dockers' hooks on bales of cargo or boxes lumped together in cargonets to realise that the politics were secondary to progress. The films boast of the most efficient systems in the World for the Royal Docks in the 1950's but it appears prehistoric now. Once some company was brave and rich enough to invest in containerisation the outcome was as inevitable as the jumbo-jet killing passenger liner traffic.
Who did what on behalf of Unions, Employers or politicians merely affected the speed of change, not the inevitability of change.
Ian

K urgess
22nd May 2009, 17:59
We don't close threads because they go off course a bit, Alistair.
I'm glad to see some good points being raised.
As to Ian's last. the "vintage" footage may look chaotic but hasn't it just moved from the dockside to some giant handling facility miles away from the docks where even the stuff destined for the port of discharge has to go before coming back.
Is it that much of an improvement in efficiency apart from for the shipowner whose ships spend less time in port.

John Rogers
22nd May 2009, 19:19
With the development of containerization shipping another mode of transporting cargo also went down the tube and that was rail.

John.

Alan Rawlinson
22nd May 2009, 19:47
Reading through the posts on this thread reminded me of the '' King Canute '' fable.

Anyone familiar with shippers and exporters and their needs will know that canvassing for breakbulk cargo or generals became gradually more difficult as investment was made, first in palletisation, and then into container loading bays etc. They had to be dragged kicking and screaming into containerisation, but then the tide took over. You have to give the customer what they want.

The generally accepted theory seems to be that the ''powers that be'' cooked up a cunning plan to beat the dockers grip on the ports, but I prefer to think that common sense and technology won the day as the economies of time and turnround took over.

The painful truth is that the Bankline failed to keep up, either in investment or judicious joint venturing, and it cost them the farm. It may have been by design, of course, and that seems to be indicated by some comments by those in the know.

If the sailing ship boys were still on the go today, they would be lamenting the loss of the grain ships!

cheers//AL

Alistair Macnab
23rd May 2009, 20:07
Alan....
I note that shippers had to be brought "kicking and screaming" to containerization which hardly indicates ready acceptance! Nevertheless, it is incontrovertible that containerization is a good thing for goods that are readily containerizable but it is not the ONLY mode of transport that is viable in the 21st. Century.
Here in Houston, we have 14 container berths each 1000 feet long with a minimum of three container cranes at each readily moved around to concentrate on ships requiring more as a recent Maersk ship using five cranes demonstrated. There is also 100 acres of immediate dockside stacking space at each berth. We like to think we are comfortably in the 21st. Century.
But while container traffic has fallen by 35% in the last few months, breakbulk/heavy lift/project cargo has only declined 15% and remains much more buoyant.
There's plenty of life left in non-container cargo yet and its not so dependent upon personal consumption but more on the development of the world's infrastructure.
The general cargo sheds are full with in-transit cargo and you would not see today's unionized longshore labor breaking a sweat other than because of the ambient climate; mechanical handling of cargo on dockside and today's open-hatch ships permitting drop-in stows, having made their job much easier.
Canute could have been smarter. He could have ordered his throne placed at the high water mark and seen the sea retreat. My view is that containerization has reached its natural high water mark.

Alan Rawlinson
24th May 2009, 09:58
Tend to agree, Alistair...

The unique set of trades that the Bankline served, and the truly global nature, with a huge variety of ports from the extremely remote, to the cutting edge terminals meant that no one ship type suited. Adaptation had to come. It's clear that quarter ramp vessels as favoured by our Scandinavian colleagues suitably equipped with FLT's were, and still are, the most flexible. i.e. able to handle breakbulk, palletised, container, and wheeled cargo. However, even this flexibility can be useless when the ports and terminals are not geared up for it.

When the changes came full blast in the 70's there were 3 vital players - Ships/Ports/Customers. All had to adapt, and various cash incentives were tried with the shippers ( allowances and rebates) and with the ports ( a bit of commercial blackmail, i.e. we'll go somewhere else) but of course, it was far from a smooth process and some trades had to witness the ludicrous process of slinging loaded and MT containers over the side into lighters or wobbly adapted surf boats!

Cheers//AL

Jim Harris
24th May 2009, 10:53
[QUOTE=Alan Rawlinson;324409]Reading through the posts on this thread reminded me of the '' King Canute '' fable.



The generally accepted theory seems to be that the ''powers that be'' cooked up a cunning plan to beat the dockers grip on the ports, but I prefer to think that common sense and technology won the day as the economies of time and turnround took over.



Alan....

Was the 'dockers grip' worldwide, so powerful that it could
have caused such radical changes to shipping?

Regards,

Jim.

P.S.

Charlie Stitt
24th May 2009, 19:16
As Kris said, the dockers just moved further inland.The vast majority of Ships were owned by shareholders were they not? So when the live wire shareholder saw that containers and the mode to transport them, looked like a good investment,, he/she would shift their money away from the conventional ships to containers. Others would soon follow of course until the conventional cargo ships would have to be sold to return shareholders money. End of story for each of these companies. Bank Line however was not just a Private Company ,but a FAMILY one, having a family member boss perhaps with no interest in being a shipowner but knew other business where he could make the capital gained from ship sales work better for him, enhancing his big rosy bank balance , stuff the faithful servants etc. This is my theory and I'm sticking to it, but yes of course it could be the biggest load of rubbish ever,it may have been climate change. However, www.caship.com will show you living proof that a private company of shipowners was able to flourish with guys at the top who were professionals .

China hand
24th May 2009, 20:15
I remember a conversation with Hamish some years ago. A friend of a friend had very cautiously asked if, in (todays) circumstances, he would be willing to accept a 5% return on his investment unless it was for the pure love (or eccentricity) of his own company.
These old shipowners were hard bastards, but they were dedicated to their calling.

Alan Rawlinson
24th May 2009, 20:20
Jim,

The wharfies in OZ and the dockers in the UK had a huge grip on the conventional trades, as we all know, but personally I think the advent of containers and box ships only eased the '' problem ''. Can't see that anyone planned it specially. There was huge inertia to change, and it took several years and massive investment.

I remember 1971 when the Tilbury dockers struck, and OCL/ACT moved their ships over to the near continent to load the re-routed containers, something which could not have been done with sheds full of general cargo, so it was a lesson of sorts to all and sundry.

Charlie must be right about the '' bigger picture '' . Not only the Bankline board, but Ocean Group ( and the West African trade) for another, decided somewhere along the line to forego decades of proud shipping history for a better financial solution to owners and shareholders. If it meant no more traditional trades, so be it - there's little room for sentiment in business!

Hard to stomach when a chunk of your life disappears.

Iain B
25th May 2009, 12:08
Jim,

The wharfies in OZ and the dockers in the UK had a huge grip on the conventional trades, as we all know, but personally I think the advent of containers and box ships only eased the '' problem ''. Can't see that anyone planned it specially. There was huge inertia to change, and it took several years and massive investment.

I remember 1971 when the Tilbury dockers struck, and OCL/ACT moved their ships over to the near continent to load the re-routed containers, something which could not have been done with sheds full of general cargo, so it was a lesson of sorts to all and sundry.

Charlie must be right about the '' bigger picture '' . Not only the Bankline board, but Ocean Group ( and the West African trade) for another, decided somewhere along the line to forego decades of proud shipping history for a better financial solution to owners and shareholders. If it meant no more traditional trades, so be it - there's little room for sentiment in business!

Hard to stomach when a chunk of your life disappears.

Jim, Alan, Alister

This has been a really interesting thread and raised a few different issues.

I believe that the impact of containerisation was absolutely massive and is easily comparable as the impact of the railways on the industrialisation of the UK in the 18th century.

There is an excellent book by Marc Levinson called The Box that describes in very readable detail the development and impact of containerisation. There is quite a lot on how unions were affected and what the reactions were particularly in the US (where containerisation started).

As for the impact on UK shipping, it clearly had a massive impact on the liner companies, but I don't think it is correct to suggest that British ship owners were slow or unprepared, certainly not up to the 1980s. Manchester Liners OCL were early and successful in their container ship investments and by the late 70s and early 80s a lot of other liner companies were also replacing general cargo ships with container ships and going into consortia. OCL ACT among others.

The demise of so many liner companies during the 80s was as very much related to the massive shipping depression and over ordering of the late 70s. In the early 80s the global shipping market was a disaster, Freight rates were less than running costs, capital costs were high, running costs (for British companies) were very high, scrap prices were less than the costs to deliver the ship to the scrapper. Inflation was high and asset values disappeared.

Remember the number of laid up ships and companies going bust all over the world.

Containerisation would always spell the end of general cargo shipping and the 1980s shipping depression brought it forward. British liner companies appeared to suffer more than most, but only because there were more of them and they had more liner companies to loose.

What about a short list of some of the other European liner companies that disappeared or merged during the same period? Some I dealt with in those early days, EAC, KNSM, and Hansa line all great companies with good ships and good people.


Iain

Alistair Macnab
25th May 2009, 19:47
Iain.....
You are, of course, perfectly correct in that many Continental liner companies also folded their tents and you named three of the best! To survive the transition from liner company to container company was clearly very difficult for most traditional operators, and some of the early players in containerization have gone by the board as well...SeaLand, SeaTrain, Canadian Pacific, OCL, ACT etc.
But look who's left. Maersk, Atlantic Cargo Line, Hapag-Lloyd, Wilhelmsen, Mediterranean Shipping and the Asians:
Maersk because they were a family company and diversified;
ACL because they employed flexible ships;
Hapag-Lloyd because they had a very successful travel and forwarding agency's deep pockets (and a bit of government pride too, I bet);
Wilhelmsen because they moved out of containers into ro-ros;
MSC because they did a lot of cheap ship conversions as they built up and lowballed freight rates, and
The Asians because of cheap money, and cheaper running costs.

Today's successful breakbulk operators were comparatively small or coastal operators when the mighty crashed down. They analysed what was wrong with the scenario and vowed to not make the same mistakes.
[See next section]

Alistair Macnab
25th May 2009, 20:02
[Continued]....
They started with smaller ships, smaller crews, automated engine rooms and bridges, superior cargo handling equipment and hatch and hold configurations.
They looked for the less sophisticated trade routes and sea ports.
And they ramped up slowly and in response to customer support.
Until they developed and demonstrated a new style of breakbulk liner ship and service. Yesterday, in the Port of Houston (a holiday weekend) there were three Universal Africa Line, one Rickmers, two Intermarine, and one Black Sea Shipping in the upper harbour and doubtless other multipurpose ships at the real multipurpose berths further down the Ship Channel, all engaged in liner voyages.
Timing is everything!
They had no need to fear the big boy container operators but they had a desire to "make it" in ocean shipping. You know the saying: "Do you want to make a small fortune in shipping?" Answer: "Start with a large fortune!" And ENTREPRENEURSHIP! Clever and perceptive folks in the chartering and marketing departments.

To quote a couple of the other contributers to this thread: you need today's version of the original Andrew Weir or his ilk!