Black Star Line

16th November 2005, 21:23
Is there anyone out there who ever worked for the Black Star Line? Volta River, Densu River, Ankobra River, Nasia River etc. I recall a Captain in a silk bathrobe who used to grasp the arms of the magnetic compass periscope and bark out meaningless orders in German and another who got thrown into prison for carrying too many deck passengers. A RN submarine coming alongside and offering us a tow; we always had a bad list. Carrying cargo to USA port that didn't exist and the cockroaches that blackened the bulkheads and shared our food. Dear God, it was a nightmare! Is there anyone brave enough to admit they were there too, or did I just imagine it? (Cloud)

16th November 2005, 23:10
Great stuff! I'm sitting here being overlooked by a beautiful carved mahogany head, bought in Takoradi 35 years ago.

I bet you never thought you'd be laughing about that all these years later!

John T.

17th November 2005, 08:42
If I remember right BSL was operated at arm's length by Zim Israel in London. I ws interviewed for an engineering post by the catering superintendent. Three hours on the Densu River looking around and askng questions was enough for me. I fled the ship and never went back to sea. If Polarum is able to laugh now - it will be a miracle.

17th November 2005, 09:04
Not BSL but I did do a trip, as Marconi R/O, on the Herbert Macaulay (X Sussex Trader) of Nigerian National and must say that they were weren't any where as bad as that. Quite enjoyed the trip even if I was ashore in Lagos the night of the first coup,then caught malaria in Port Horcourt so as usual it was any excuse for a P***up so all the bottles decended to my cabin as I was confined to bed


17th November 2005, 10:20
Nigel: I too served on the Herbert Macauley in 1964 and it helped me to recover somewhat from the trauma of BSL. Leaving Poland, I caught the old man staring intently through binoculars at a nearby bulkhead and slurring "The sea's as dark as a shark's **** tonight". I thought 'Here we go again', but I let it pass and it turned out to be a pretty good trip.

Trotterdotpom and TripleX: With therapy and the love of a good woman, I have learnt to laugh again.

17th November 2005, 13:18
Hi Polarum

It was Nov '65 when I joined the HM in Tilbury and the OM was a J Hogg, quite rotund, can't remember the Mate's Name but he was very very rotund.
Nearly didn't make it home as in a storm, in the middle of the night of course, we lost half our deck cargo of logs over the port side. apart from finishing up with the maximum permittable starboard list the deck crew had to go out and lash the rest down. You can image the Elbe pilots reaction when we arrived with, a now much reduced, 10%+ list and large logs hanging over the side. It was the nearest I ever came to sending an SOS which would have been a bit messy as I was unable to sit down!


17th November 2005, 15:56
Hi Nigel. I'm glad you made it back or you might not be here to tell the tale.
I can't remember a rotund Captain Hogg but on another NNL ship 'Oranyan', the old man was extremely obese and would wolf down every single item on the menu. He went home from Tilbury (with all our docking bottles) and died a couple of days later whilst tucking into a meal at home. We forgave him. When I think of him now, I see a large man with a napkin rigged as a bib, and eagerly enjoying an enormous plate of red cabbage. Happy Days Tony C

17th November 2005, 16:24

It was propably all the French Fried Yam that did it.

Have got some pics of HM in it's three guises, I don't know whether you have come across them before. Have attached as HM can let you have the other two if your interested


17th November 2005, 17:07
Yes, please download the other two, Nigel. Here is one from my collection.

18th November 2005, 09:41
Morning Tony

Hopefully I have managed to attached HM pics as Sussex Trader and subsequently as Anel D'Azur


18th November 2005, 11:27
Many thanks Nigel for the two pics. I liked the Herbert Macauley - but not enough to name any of our four children Herbert. Cheers Tony

18th November 2005, 12:57 come on somebody, BSL sounds as though it may be the source of some good laughs. Any pics floating around, cos I can't remember having seen a BSL boat?

18th November 2005, 14:26
At the time of Black Star Lines inception I was working as a Cargo Superintendent for the West African Conference in Tilbury. We did the discharge & loading of both Black Star & later Nigerian National Lines. Initially the only difference between the two was that whilst the Black Star purchased well clapped out old tramp tonnage Nig. Nat. purchased not so well clapped out tramps, although in later years both had some new decent tonnage. Initially Black Star only had the Volta River & were handled Agent wise by a London based offshoot of Zim called Star Shipping, inparticular by the London Zim suprimo Capt. Khan.
One of the early dodges for which the Volta River was known was the carrying of far bigger deck cargoes of logs than other similar ships by means of enhancing their stability by flooding #2  lower hold log cargoes once they had departed Ghana thus completing the marjority of the voyage with her marks well submerged, something they were subsequently stopped from doing. The dockers also were not best pleased when discharging #2  to be faced with logs resembling a skating rink & a none too pleasant smell!!!

18th November 2005, 14:36
Pics of two earlier BSL ships Volta River and Densu River. Some were ex-Haines trampships. A ghanaian diplomat was refused a lemonade in howard johnson restaurant and to avoid diplomatic incident president USA ordered increase investment in ghana - later ships in the fleet were bought with the lemonade money and were quite stylish.

18th November 2005, 15:10
I joined the Volta River in Tilbury around 1962, but did a runner a couple of weeks later when she was temporarily moored in Greenhithe. The old man wanted us to sail with only two mates working 12 hours on 12 hours off. Zim superintendent in London: I don’t recall a Captain Khan, but a Captain Gad Hilb who had attempted to break the British blockade of Palestine in 1948. He interviewed me for the job while we were stuck in a lift that was jammed. His minder had an eye patch like Moshe Dayan. But what am I doing? I’m trying to forget all that.

22nd November 2005, 20:41
Hello to all,

I had the pleasure to work, as agent, for BSL in Rotterdam with Dammers and van der Heide Agency as from 1974 untill the last day of BSL.
It was a pleasant time.


( Aad Motz )

23rd November 2005, 10:04
Glad you enjoyed your agency work. Hopefully things had improved since the 1960's and that you were able to some mail to the ship's before they left port.
23rd November 2005, 10:58
does anyone recall these merchant ships ss cavena. ss york city,and the arogoanni my dad served on them billy smith

23rd November 2005, 13:36
Welcome Sharon to SN enjoy the site and all it has to offer.

23rd November 2005, 13:50
I understand what you mean and must confess such things happens. As I have sailed as well I fully understand the social matter and importance of boarddelivery of mail. First you hand the mail and second you ask Captain " did you have a pleasant voyage?".
No or to late delivery are most famous in Antwerp and USA ports, is n't it??


Bruce Carson
23rd November 2005, 13:51
does anyone recall these merchant ships ss cavena. ss york city,and the arogoanni my dad served on them billy smith

Welcome on board and enjoy the postings.
It may be you're looking for information on the Cavina, Tilapa and Ariguani, "banana boats" belonging to Elders & Fyffes.
If so, I'm sure you'll hear from other members with details of those ships.
There's a separate section devoted to E & F on this forum---you may want to check it out.

Bruce C.

23rd November 2005, 21:43

I've been looking back at my diaries. The van de Heide agency was excellent and I'm sure you kept the standard up. On the Nasia River, we played the agency team at football and won 11-6. I think that was the highlight of my BSL career.

Best Wishes. Tony


24th November 2005, 22:36
Thanks for commends. Many times football was arranged. Rather easy to do, because our manager Mr. Arie Blok, was chairmain of a rotterdam amateur footbalclub. I only joined Dammers en van der Heide agency in 1974, so I think we did not meet. I attache the Offin River 1961 at shipyard De Schelde in Flushing. I only know these type of vessel's - 16 in total - and the last four korean built types. Unfortunately I could not find any further BSL vessel on the internet, however will keep on searching.


26th November 2005, 10:30
Working on BSL ships, there is a phrase that is forever etched in my memory and it went something like this: "Inje! Openeen no kraaa, oneeyah no kraaa. Eh Heh!" It meant "Sir, This ship and its Captain are worthless. And there's no lie!" I think it said it all. (Pint)

26th November 2005, 13:47
TripleX: I remember that phrase! Heard it many times. We once set off across the Atlantic with 12 passengers and many logs for the port of Carteret. The passengers must have been inspired to make the trip by the attached poster. Despite a search through our charts and many radio messages, we could not find Carteret on the USA coast. The name sounded vaguely French so it was suggested that we tried Canada but we anchored in NY harbour for guidance. To our relief, Carteret was a small village with a wharf somewhere at the back of Staten Island. I tried to escape with the 3rd Eng in NY but the authorities were keeping a close watch on us all - and rightly so.

15th August 2008, 16:07
I remember the first Ghanian Master on a Black Star Line vessel was called
Tachie Mensah, hope I've spelt the name right. He was formally a Cadet and subsequently a Deck Officer with Elder Dempsters.
He told me a story about a pilot coming aboard as his vessel was about to enter a port in one of America's southern states. Tachie Mensah was standing on the bridge wing in Tshirt, shorts and flipflops and the pilot came up to him and asked where the Captain was. "I'm the Captain" said TM.
"Don't be sassy with me" said the pilot. So with that TM went to his cabin put on his best uniform whites and braided hat and returned to the bridge.
The pilot nearly fell over with surprise as he had never before encountered an
African Captain. Anyway during his stay in port the pilot took TM out and about all over the place and wined and dined him. TM was not sure wether the pilot felt guilty or it was the novelty factor of having a black Captain in tow.

18th August 2008, 17:10
I remember Capt Tachie Menson well and the story is true. It happened aboard the Nasia River in Jacksonville, Florida around 1963.

The captain was quite a ladies man and enjoyed their company in every port. Indeed, he installed extra soundproofing on the bulkhead that separated his cabin from mine which I considered rather thoughtful of him. One day, he left me a cryptic message: ‘Bluco arriving 4.30.’ Bluco? We puzzled over this for some time and the Israeli chief engineer thought that it might be the engine lubricant that he had ordered. As acting chief mate, and not wishing to disturb the captain, who was taking a nap, I used my initiative. A small crane was rigged to haul it aboard and several deckhands stood by (on overtime) to help stow it. We peered up and down the quayside and impatiently awaited its arrival. Eventually, a taxi drew up alongside and from it emerged a fine figure of a woman. We strained over the railings and, with eyes like chapel hat pegs, watched her gracefully ascend the gangway. ‘Take me to your captain,’ she demanded in a husky foreign voice. ‘Of course, Madam, and what name may I give?’ She flashed me a stunning smile. ‘Just call me Bluco, big boy.’

Happy Days? Not with the Black Star Line!

Avraham Ariel
2nd September 2016, 00:31
I first came across this website in late Aug 2016.
I must say that reading those memoires amazed and amused me.
Considering I logged much more Black Star Line (BSL) sea-time than any of the previous participants, I wish to set the record straight, at least from my own perspective.

My relevant credentials are as follows:
I am a Zim Lines and BSL veteran with 6 years experience in the West African Trade, more than half with BSL. I was born in late 1934 and graduated from Haifa Nautical School in June 1951. I obtained my AB ticket in 1953 and my Master’s in early 1959.
I assumed my first command in Zim in May 1960.

On or about September 1957 I joined the s/s Marsdale in London as a chief officer on a loan from Zim Lines. The vessel was soon renamed “Volta River”, flag changed from British to Ghanian and a complete new crew was signed on. Senior officers were Israelis, junior officers British and Dutch, Crew mainly Ghanians plus several Nigerians. For photo of the vessel please see:

The “Volta River” was the first vessel of the new Ghanian-Israeli joint venture.
On 12 December 1957 we arrived at Takoradi harbour to a tumultuous welcome. A goat was slaughtered and two bottles of gin were poured on the concrete wharf near the gangway, in a stately libation ceremony, cheered by hundreds of well-wishers who included selected members of the cabinet. The latter were headed by none other than the Osagyefo (= redeemer) Dr Kwame Nkrumah, the President and “Father of the nation”. At the URL below one can see the vessel’s senior officers being introduced to the Osagyefo, who is shaking my hand.
First on the right stands Dr. N. Wydra, Zim’s MD at the time.

I left the “Volta River” in 1958 and returned to Zim, where I commanded several ships. I returned to BSL in early 1962, to take over the m/v “Otchi River”, where I served continuous 25 months. That period was the finest of my life. Unlike the “Volta River”, which was a genuine rust bucket, the “Otchi River” was six months old, purpose-built for BSL, under Zim’s planning and supervision. She was air-conditioned, had Sulzer engines, state of the art navigation equipment – the works! Officers were mainly Dutch, with a few emerging young Ghanians. It was a happy ship indeed, especially for me, because my beautiful young wife Ruth accompanied me all that period. I left the “Otchi” only after we decided it was time for us to bring a child to this world.

In 1965 I flew to Glasgow, to join BSL’s new-building “Nakwa River”, which was designed with schooling facilities in addition to her usual freighter’s requirements. She had accommodation for 12 cadets, a classroom, teaching gear and extra chief officer and first engineer, who were responsible for educating the cadets. Those worked and learned on a 50/50 work/study basis. It was a very interesting experiment, which within a few short years bore fruit for BSL. Some of the cadets were exceptionally bright. I remember a personal conversation with one, Simon Kpe was his name, whom I cannot forget after 50 years. I told the young man he was wasted at sea, and tried to convince him to trade sea-going for university studies, particularly electrical or nuclear engineering. He politely declined. I hope that later on in life he changed his mind.

I commanded that vessel until February 1966, when I left BSL and Zim, for the position of Operations Manager in Israel’s new Maritime Fruit Carriers.

Not all with BSL was a bed of roses, though. The new company quickly adopted old colonial habits, two of which I remember vividly. First was the five pounds “dash” (=bribe, commission) each seaman had to pay the crew manager upon signing on. Rumor had it that part of the loot went all the way to the top. I fought it my way – by keeping my crews with me for as long as they wished and not yielding to the crew manager’s attempts to fill his coffer through crew changes aboard my ship. Second was an incident with the MD, who asked me once to bring him from London a crystal decanter. My wife bought a nice one at Selfridges for 25 pounds. I handed the decanter and the docket personally to the MD, who expected me, or ship’s petty cash, to bear the cost. He was very surprised – and indeed upset – to see that I insisted on him opening his wallet… I was young and pretty naïve at that time…

Reading again the captions above, and without any disrespect, I can categorically state:
1. Star Shipping was in fact Zim’s agency in London, but there was no Captain Kahn there.
2. Indeed, Zim masters competed in carrying big (and bigger, and bigger) deck cargos of logs and I participated in that unofficial “competition”. We brought that contest with us to BSL, where at the time 4-5 graduates of my class at the Haifa Nautical School served simultaneously as Masters. The efforts to win concentrated on optimizing stowage, never on “enhancing stability” and endangering our ships. None of us had ever flooded a lower hold, nor overloaded his vessel. Well trained in carrying heavy loads of deck cargo, we knew damn well the effect of free surface on ship stability! Moreover, Zim, and BSL, never paid us a bonus for our efforts and achievements. Nor did we expect one.
3. The story about the Ghanian diplomat and his lemonade, etc., is an urban legend.
4. Captain Gad Hilb was my superior, colleague and friend. In the late 1950s he was one of Zim’s favoured marine superintendents and was transferred to London to look after the BSL fleet. True, in 1946-48 he was in command of several “illegal” Jewish immigrant ships, attempting to break the Royal Navy’s Palestine Patrol’s blockade, which was set to stop holocaust survivors from landing in Palestine. He had a second mate’s ticket at the time and was after long WWII service in the US merchant marine.
Captain Hilb never had a minder, not even when the Palestine Patrol and British MI6 were chasing him and his colleagues. The guy with the eye patch was one of the members of his staff. He lost his eye accidently when he served as a third mate. I knew him too.
5. I agree Dammers van de Heide was an excellent shipping agency.

Over the years I got to know very well the coast between Dakar and Pointe Noire, including the Delta Ports. In 1966, after 15 years at sea, of which 6 in command, I reached self-fulfillment and decided it was time to move on. I left BSL full of pleasant memories. The only contact I had since with West Africa were “Nigerian Letters”, which I still receive from time to time, notifying me of the millions awaiting me in Lagos and Abidjan.
Pushing 82, I doubt I’ll ever visit again that coast, which sometimes I miss so much.

Dr Avraham Ariel, PhD, MBA, Master Mariner

China hand
2nd September 2016, 18:38
Interesting times Avraham, thanks for sharing them.

2nd September 2016, 20:08
Fascinating thread. I remember the BS boats from my time with Palm Line, 1965 to 1971, and they all looked well cared for and were good looking ships.

13th September 2016, 11:39
They were smart looking ships, went aboard the Nasia River in Takoradi harbour, the Mate I think it was had got married and the reception was held on board, I think this was around 1963.

10th October 2016, 03:17
My father was one of the West African cadets from the Gambia to become a Master. He was captain of the BSL vessel, Pra River. He has shared some interesting stories about his time in Liverpool and at Outward Bound in Abodervy, Wales. Any thoughts on where I could find drawing of the Pra River?