12th September 2005, 20:27
The Kharg built as a fleet oiler for the Shar of Iran was launched on the Tyneside Walker Naval Yard in February 1977. After fitting out and a brief sea trial she was moored alongside the quay and there she stayed for eight years.
The Shar was gone and the Ayotolla (Forgive the spelling if it's wrong) had taken over. The kharg you see, unlike the RFA Oilers of the day had a large gun on the forecastle head and we had an arms embargeo on all things Iranian, we were backing Saddam at the time. This brings us to 1985, the powers of the time decided the time was right to release the Kharg minus the gun, which they stowed in a shed. This was no pop gun I was told at the time it was valued new at £1 million. The Kharg was drydocked, her hull as you can imagine was filthy after eight years. A few officers had stood by the ship over the whole period, mostly Engineers, The Chief had a daughter born in Whitley Bay and as far as I know she had never been to Iran. Now we come to my bit, on the 3rd of Septenber 1984, I was summond to a conference in Wallsend in my capacity as Tyne Pilot to discuss the sailing and sea trials. The next day I attended the ship for sailing, it was a stormy day blowing nearly gale force from the north when we let go with four tugs in attendance. it was with some relief we reached the piers as the wind was now blowing a full gale and we were glad to reach the safety of the North Sea. Now on most trials there are set objectives, the measured mile for example, but this seemed to be of little or no interest to the Iranians who asked me to run the ship up the coast about ten miles off then turn round and steam south again. We did this for the rest of day one and day two and day three. It was getting boring, to be woken at 6am each morning with a call to prayer by the loud speaker outside of my cabin was getting a bit much. I had made a friend though, the gunnery officer, the fact there were no guns onboard didn't seem to matter. His name I remember was Parviz, at first I thought he was having me on as at that time about ten of the Tyne Pilots were called Purvis and when he said his name it sounded like he was saying Purvis in Geordie. Anyway he became a good friend, even pulled a wire out of the loud speaker so I could have a lie in. What dawned on me after a while was non of the Deck Officers had a clue as to what they were doing. Anchoring each night was a joke and nobody onboard could take a bearing or put a position on the chart. After the third day everyone from the yard left in the pilot cutter leaving me all alone with the Iranians. I set about teaching as many as I could how to take a fix with cross bearing and later with radar bearings. (I kid you not) The man in utimate charge turn out to be an Army officer i'm not sure of the rank. The ships captain had never been outside the Persian gulf before and there was no sextant onboard which was just as well as I would have been the only one able to use it. Don't forget these people were going to eventually sail home to Iran. They were very friendly towards me and assumed correctley that I could speak no Persian and was therefore allowed to stay in the radioroom after connecting them through Cullercoats radio to the Iranian Embassy in London each night. Only myself the captain and the amy officer were allowed to stay all others being ushered away and the door locked. Around day five, the Navigating officer asked me to look at the courses he had set for Iran. Some of the courses down the North Sea even an experienced Collier skipper would not have attempted. The traffic separation through the Dover Straits ignored and then we come to Africa. Instead of steering a course across the south Atlantic to Cape Town he followed the coast line into the bight of Africa hugging the coast at ten miles, he was a bit upset when I told him we would have to start all over. This is getting a bit longer that I thought I'll post this bit and if anyone is interested in the rest I'll continue tomorrow.
13th September 2005, 07:54
I am enjoying it Jeff, look forward to the rest of it.
13th September 2005, 08:11
Fascinating Geoff! More tomorrow? I'll be looking forward to it. Thanks. Doug H
13th September 2005, 09:39
Yes Jeff lets have the final instalment, sounds as though it might be interesting.
13th September 2005, 09:46
I just got to hear the rest of this, sounds to me as if a deck boy would be better qualified than some of these guys. More please Jeff.
13th September 2005, 12:10
What you must remember is that for the most part these people were very nice and keen to learn, circumstances had forced them into a situation most of them would have rather done without. I learned through Parviz my friend the gunnery officer who had done some training in the USA that quite a few of the officers were apprehensive about returning to Iran. Many of the senior officers of the armed forces had either fled the country on the demise of the Shar or they had been imprisoned or worse. Anyway day five was a Saturday and after breakfast I went up to the bridge as usual for the weighing of the anchor. On arrival I was informed that we were to stay at anchor and that they would like me to assist the navigating officer to plot courses on the charts to Bandar Abbas, it wasn't strickly what I was there for but I was being well paid and it filled my time in. We spent all morning plotting our courses and the navigating officer was quick to learn and a likeable enough bloke. His first attempt as I said ealier was a brave attempt to go from the Tyne to the Persian Gulf never straying more than 10 miles from the coast, it had never occurred to me up till then that this was possible. It took me a while to convince him of the merits of crossing the Bay of Biscay in one straight line but the final straw as far as he was concerned was when we came to leave the African coast just south of Dakar and head down to Cape Town. I can picture him now, wide eyed asking "That will take days, how will we know where we are". He had a point of course, if there was a sextant onboard no one new were it was and for that matter what it was used for. It was around this time (Lunchtime) that I was summoned to make a call through Cullercoats radio to the Iranian Embassy. After the call I was informed the trials were now complete and we could go back into the river. Now at that time Tyne Tugs had a system that all tugs needed over the weekend up to 9am Monday had to be ordered by 5pm Friday. I explained this to the Amy officer in charge, who told me he had been instructed to return to his beth by the Embassy. I decided the best thing to do was to go through the motions and promptly called the Port Ops asking for a berth and four tugs. They of course replied that the earliest I could get tugs would be Monday. This was passed on and after another phone call things seemed to settle down and I tried a crash course in the use of the D/F with the navigating officer and one other. I was feeling very sorry for the predicament they were in and wanted to do my best to get them back to Iran and thought if they can find the D/F station in Cape Town and steer for it they may be able to find the place, I ringed on the chart all the D/F beacons and call signs in the South Atlantic for them it was the best I could do. That afternoon I received a VHF call from the Harbourmaster, he didn't quite spell it out but I got the distinct impression that the Authorities ashore wanted to wash thier hands of the old Kharg and wave it goodbye. It was suggested to me that as the ship could not enter till Monday and even then it was doubtful if there was a suitable berth available I might like to come ashore in the Pilot cutter and a new pilot could be sent out if and when the ship was cleared to enter. I passed this on to the captain who looked a little doubtful, he disappeared and returned with the Army Officer who told me in no uncertain terms that they would prefer me to stay and pilot their ship back into the river, I told him it could be days before a berth became available but I was left in know doubt that they would not allow me to leave. These people were very nice to me in all respects, they may not have been trained to do the job they were being asked to do, but they were far from stupid. The Enginneers were another kettle of fish, some of them had stood by the ship for years and as far as I was aware were top notch. I was begining to feel half way between honoured guest and hostage. My friend Parviz told me that they felt that if I left they would never get back into the river, they had enough bunkers to get home but a lot of expensive gear was still ashore and they had other things to see to also, not least wives and children. Sunday, day six was also spent at anchor, I stopped putting the courses on for them at Cape Town partly because I didn't think they would get that far and partly because I thought if they do they would manage the rest themselves. After Sunday lunch I was invited into the Captains cabin, on the table was a chart of his home port in Iran, he told me in his new position as captain of the largest vessel in the Iranian navy he would be expected to do his own pilotage when he arrived back. It was difficult to believe this was happening but he wanted me to position his tugs for him to berth first one way and then the other and basicaly talk him through the job. This was becoming a farce but I had nothing better to do, he was a nice enough chap and if he attempted to do what I was telling him at least I would be thousand of miles away at the time. It was about this time he sounded me out about comming with them as an advisor when they sailed for Iran. As a self employed Pilot I could have done this but I remembered Parviz telling me in a hushed voice that some of them had a uncertain future on thier return. I decided I didn't want to be part of that future and declined. By Sunday teatime I was feeling a bit aprehensive, in all my conversations with port ops the question of a berth seemed now to be the problem, one by one I went through all the berths in the river capable of taking a ship of this size and draft, one by one they were ruled out, for reasons I was becoming more and more convinced were political. At one stage it was suggested I contact the Tees as they might have a berth, another helpful suggetion was Hamburg, failing all that there was always Badar Abbas I thought. I had a good long chat with Parviz after dinner on Sunday, he was a bit of a lad, maybe 28ish loved the bars and night clubs in Newcastle and Whitley Bay and I think he would have stayed given half a chance. He was very conceren as gunnery officer that the Iraq airforce would be waiting for them and they had no way of defending themselves, the gun stowed in a shed in Walker was going to be a big miss. Will have to finnish off after lunch. It's taking longer than I thought.
13th September 2005, 12:35
Episode 3 keenly awiated, the suspense of it all.
Methinks Jeff will have to get a secretary.
13th September 2005, 13:11
Great story, cant wait for the next instalment. Hey come on! we all sat on the edge of our seats now...LOL
13th September 2005, 13:23
Thanks Jeff, looking forward to the next part.
13th September 2005, 13:39
Pic of her which I took at Wallsend when she was fitting out.That/s quite a story.Heard that the gun was still there when demolition commenced at Swan Hunter/s sheds but nobody claimed responsibility for it.
13th September 2005, 14:46
Jeff, what an absorbing story I'm going to try and stay up all night waiting for the next episode.
I think it was you who said in another post that you got a pilots ticket (probably the wrong expression) when you have time could you please explain the difference between that and say a mate's ticket (certainly not before you finish this story)
13th September 2005, 15:40
My wife has just thrown a damp sponge in and informed me Shar is spelt Shah, I knew that of course but my keyboard didn't, apologies for any other mistakes, but as a Geordie you'll appreciate English isn't my first language. Anyhow Monday morning was day seven, you have to remember I'd been ashore now for 10 years and this was a long trip for me, so I woke with what we used to call the Channels. It wasn't looking good however, overnight the wind had come away again from the north and there was a good sea running. To land by pilot cutter while at anchor would not now be an option even if the Army officer OK'ed it. I decided my best option was to go all out to try for a berth in the river. I had penciled in around 2pm as the best time to enter and started to try to put pressure on the shore side to give us a berth. Further to this I advised the captain to get on to his embassy to put pressure on saying we were running out of fresh water, we recieved a message from the shore to say that we may have to go to the Tees for fresh water, I explained that the ship had stores on shore at Walker and must come into the Tyne to pick them up. I was told they could be transported to the Tees. I was begining to think this was going to be my best option, my main thoughts were now consintrated in getting ashore one way or the other. What went on behind the scene's I'll never know but by mid morning they gave us a berth, Palmers Hebburn, I showed the captain and Army Officer, they were not happy. All the ships stores were on the north side and Hebburn on the south. All I could think of was being all fast by 5pm and my wife picking me up in the car. After another call to London it was finally agreed and we got the anchor up ready for entry. One thing I forgot to mention was when we sailed we had onboard a crew of riggers from the yard, mostly ex bosuns, one of these had taken the wheel down river. Now we had an Iranian and he wasn't too good, for a start he spoke no English, my Persian was limited to Oh ****, but I was assured he was the best man for the job. Helm orders were given to the navigating officer who translated to the helmsman who then seemed to do whatever he felt like at the time. I really wanted to get alongside and I reasoned that the helmsman would see the sense of doing his best to steer for the hole between the piers so with the tugs ready we made our approach. With a northery wind and a flood tide setting north to south the trick is to drop the ship in from the north which at times looks as though you are hell bent on hitting the north pier, so as you approach there are some nervous coughs and the shuffling of feet from all concerned. I know of course that it's all but impossible to actually hit the north pier in these conditions and are more worried about the south pier. The helmsman however keeps trying to steer for the middle and I via my navigating officer have to keep stopping him. We manage with a struggle, however we are not out of the woods yet. Once the bow is entered the flood tide is just acting on the starboard quarter which tends to make the bow run to starboard, anyone who knows the Tyne will know that's where the Black Midden rocks are, this is not as bad as it sounds because any pilot worth his salt will be watching for this to happen and a quick port twenty will counter it, however if that port twenty is translated as starboard twenty by mistake, you are trouble. This ship was quite a big lump and did 18 knots on full, it took full ahead and hard a Port to pull her out and the tugs chased us up the river. Never mind, thats why I have grey hair and high blood pressure. We managed to berth without further incident and boy was I glad to be all fast. It was a bit sad leaving them in the end, thier future was at best uncertain, but once I got into the car I could put them out of my mind. A few days later on the local news it was reported that about five of the crew jumped ship including the Chief Engineer, I wished them luck. A couple of weeks later while I was thankfully on leave the Kharg sailed and for about a year I wondered if they made it back, then one day I was piloting a British Frigate up to Newcastle Quay and told him the tale, he said she did get home safely, I like to think it was my D/F training. I'm glad anyway and Parviz if you have the internet join up with SN I'd be glad to hear from you. Oh yes and that gun stowed in a shed at Walker naval yard. Well the Yards gone, the sheds gone if anyone out there knows what happened to the gun I would love to know.
13th September 2005, 15:44
Thanks for posting the Picture "Fairfield" I've been looking for one.
13th September 2005, 16:06
A very interesting story, thank you, better than watching tv, any more to follow.
13th September 2005, 16:14
Lots but I don't want to get boring, I'm sure others have interesting tales for us all to enjoy.
13th September 2005, 16:22
I think they keep them to their self, you may have started a trend. Lets hope so.
13th September 2005, 18:26
Thundered, you were asking about Pilots tickets, my profile was a little misleading so here goes.
Each port had or has a slightly different system but as far as the Tyne in concered this was the set up.
In years gone by a pilot apprentice would serve five years on the river then go to sea and wait to be called back to be a pilot. Up until about the middle 1950's no sea going ticket was required although most were at sea for quite a long time and most ended up with seagoing qualifications. When called back an ex apprentice would spend some time on the river with other pilots then be examined by the Pilots Examination Committee before getting a third class licence, this allowed him to pilot ships up to 800 net. The tonnage altered from time to time but it will give you some idea. After two years as a third class pilot he would take a second class licence on passing he could pilot ships up to about 1600 tons. After a further two years he would take a first class licence and could pilot any ship. Over the years things changed slightly, in the late 1950's it was made compusory for all apprentices to get at least a 2nd Mates FG ticket. By 1960 it was compulsory to get either a 1st Mates FG or Home Trade Masters
And the apprenticeship was reduced to four years. The last apprentice finished his time in 1970 These apprentices all required a minimum of !st Mate FG or Home Trade masters, and from then on all future pilots would be taken from sea and have a Masters FG ticket. In the early 1970s the third class licence was reduced to one year and the tonnages increased. The Tyne was going through a reduction of pilots at this time and for every 4 that died or retired they were only making one new pilot, this had the effect of reducing the numbers from 86 when I started my apprenticeship in 1964 to 56 when I became a Pilot in 1975, the last of the apprentices to return did so by 1977 and no pilots were made on the Tyne after that till 2001. By 1988 the number was down to 12 pilots when I retired it was 7. The number now stands at 2 of the old pilots left but since 2001 they have been training new pilots who are employed by the Port of Tyne. Hope this clears things up for you.
13th September 2005, 18:41
Pic of her which I took at Wallsend when she was fitting out.That/s quite a story.Heard that the gun was still there when demolition commenced at Swan Hunter/s sheds but nobody claimed responsibility for it.
The gun was a unique version of the OTO Melara 76mm. The basic gun is a very good piece of kit that is fully automatic can be operated by a variety of fire control systems. Its effectiveness is directly proportional to the quality of the fire control system. The Kharg did not have a fire control system. Someone arranged for OTO to modify a mounting and place an operator in a small greenhouse on the top of the casing. The chances of winning first prize in the lottery are better than the gunner hitting a target smaller than Africa.
13th September 2005, 18:43
Some shipping lines eg;cunard, had choice pilots, how did they get that job,apart from being a freemason which Cunard was full off, I am ex Cunard.
13th September 2005, 19:04
I my time on the Tyne there were no choice pilots for particular companies, but each building yard had a choice pilot for Launches and new builds till they were handed over to the owners, you see we used to sign on new ships as Master, Mate, 2nd Mate the yard pilot would pick a couple of friends to sail with him and in the fullness of time one of these would be chosen by the yard to replace the retiring Yard pilot. By early in 1980s the number of pilots had reduced to the extent that we told the yards we could no longer support this system. After that the yard took whoever we sent.
13th September 2005, 19:12
Oh I forgot we also did a lot of the sea trials for the many great ships built in Sunderland (May we soon get some points in the Premiership) They had an old retired mariner called Captain Humby and either a Sunderland pilot and a Tyne pilot or two Tyne pilots as the mates. The number of Sunderland pilots being as it was they had difficulty supplying pilots for sea trials. We of course never piloted in the Wear.
13th September 2005, 19:15
Interesting point you made "signing on" so did you have a discharge book the same as us, I believe that captains did not have discharge books, wrong or right?
13th September 2005, 19:20
I had a discharge book I left the sea with a 1st Mate FG ticket, a master used to have to show his certificate or at least give the number. Pilots were and as far as I know still can revalidate thier tickets on the strength of being a Pilot mine has long since expired.
13th September 2005, 23:14
Jeff,you Are A First Class Story Teller,and Should Write A Book About Your Experiences..this Was A Fascinating Tale And All The Better For Being Written In Geordie.....doug
14th September 2005, 00:25
It was a fantastic story Jeff written by a master story teller and I thank you for answering my question about pilot qualifications.
14th September 2005, 06:38
That was certainly a good read, cant help but wonder what did happen to the crew when they got back though, certainly nothing very nice I would guess. Perhaps a lot more jumped ship en route.
14th September 2005, 12:08
I think most of them would be OK because they were sent out by the new regime. The ones that were worrying the most I think were the Engineers that had stood by for a long while, but I know the Chief jumped ship along with a few others, I guess it was the ones that felt at most risk. The Chief had a daughter born I think in Marsden Hospital in North Shields, maybe that fact got him citizenship.
14th September 2005, 12:42
I/m sure I/ve got others possibly a lot better than that one.Will have a look.
14th September 2005, 19:29
If you have any I would love to see them.
29th May 2008, 20:13
My name is Ian Sandeman. I've only just heard of this series of posts on the topic of the Iranian Naval Auxiliary KHARG, and I'd like to contribute to the story recounted by Jeff Eagan during 2005.
I am a retired Lieutenant Commander Royal Navy and my last job before I retired was RN Liaison Officer to the KHARG. I arrived in Newcastle in February 1979 (in a howling easterly gale!) and made my acquaintance with the Iranian Captain and other officers of the ship. I shared an office in the Walker yard with a Captain of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary, and between us we were expected to 'guide' the Iranians during KHARG's sea trials before she became fully operational and sailed off to Iran.
I recall that the ship's Captain was not a great personality, and that the person who seemed to wield a disproportionate influence in the ship was an engineer officer, who I believe might well have been the one that Jeff Eagan referred to.
By the time I took up my post the ship had already been to sea once or twice for preliminary sea trials, but then the political situation in Iran deteriorated to such an extent that any planning for further trials became impossible due to a lack of coherent communication between our Ministry of Defence and the Iranian authorities.
By about April 1979, I believe, Ayatollah Khomeni and his revolutionaries had ousted the Shah, and KHARG's Captain and ship's company had no idea of what was going to happen to them. My appointment, and that of the RFA Captain, as Liaison Officers to the ship were then terminated and I left Newcastle at short notice after I had been only seven weeks in post.
I have to admit that I was quite relieved at not having to 'guide' the Iranians, especially while at sea, since I myself had been in shore appointments, with no sea experience, for several years, and would have been quite 'rusty' when it came to actual seagoing!
I often wondered what happened to the ship's company of KHARG after that. I did not envy their prospects under the new regime, especially those of the Captain and his officers.
I knew that KHARG had languished on the Tyne for several years and that she eventually sailed away to Iran, but I was fascinated to read Jeff Eagan's account of his time involved with the ship.
29th May 2008, 21:34
Very interesting thread and stories.
When I was up in South Shields Tech doing my Revalidation in 2001, I was staying in B&B just up the road from Saudi Shields High Street. One of the the restaurants was owned by Iranians who jumped ship from the Kharg. I presume they still own the place, but what a good meal you get in there. If you find it you will probably remember their faces, but also tell them Captain Chris told you to go there.
By the way, is Mr Shift it still there. Capt. Teignmouth (probably spelt wrong)
He used to be our (virtually) live aboard pilot when I was on the laid up Court Line ships.
16th February 2009, 17:59
Attached is a photo of the Khargs gun on the quayside at North Sands Shipyard, Sunderland, just outside the General Store. The date I think was early 1989 shortly after the yards closed.