Bank Line - Part 10
Narative by Alistair Macnab; Edited by Fred Henderson
For practical and technical reasons, the Articles covering Bank Lines's 20 Century history are presented in the following parts: -
- Part 1 – The transition from sail to steam, then to motorships
- Part 2 – The Inter-War Years
- Part 3 – Bank Line at War & Post-War Rebuilding
- Part 4 – Backing the Multipurpose Ship Concept
- Part 5 – The Varying Fates of the Liner Services
- Part 6 – Bank Line and British Shipbuilding
- Part 7 – The end of Bank Line's Multipurpose Ship Liner Services
- Part 8 - The Sailing Ship Fleet in the 19th Century
- Part 9 - Early 20th. Century Developments: Basrah, Hong Kong, and Rabaul
- Part 10 - United States and Mexico: Western Hemisphere Developments
- Part 11 - Participation in the Petroleum Industry
- Part 12 - Passenger Ships
- Part 13 - Bank Line London
- Part 14 - The Bank Line and the British Merchant Navy
United States and Mexico: Western Hemisphere Developments
The United States of America was at the center of great commercial activity from early on in the 20th. Century which lead to Andrew Weir and Company joining with Howard Houlder and Partners to form a shipping agency in New York in 1901. Through time, however, both companies formed their own separate establishments although they remained as neighbours in adjacent offices. On the Weir side, this outcome lead to the formation of Boyd, Weir and Sewell, Inc., which became general agents for Bank Line in the USA as a Bank Line associated company and survived as such until the dissolution of the Bank Line in the USA in 1989.
In addition to chartering activities, Bank Line were to develop extensive liner services to cater for the U.S.’s growing international commercial connections including the American and Rio Plata Line, the American & Indian Line, American & Indian Branch Line, Bombay American Line, and the American & Oriental Line. At this time, American-flag international shipping was going through a difficult time due to government and public apathy towards international trade as domestic investment was so very profitable. Operational subsidies and government intervention were yet to come in the future. Meantime, American ship operators simply could not compete financially with foreign shipping and were tending to fade away despite having had access to cheap ships from the WWI shipbuilding programme .
American-flag shipping was not yet available then, to service all the expanded trade opportunities that had opened up in the new century when the USA would become the dominant economic country in the world and it would be many years and many subsidy dollars before US shipping interests would be able to take their rightful place in U.S. ocean transportation. In the meantime, the traditional maritime nations - Britain, Germany, and Norway and the other North-west European countries - would be more than willing to transport the commerce of the United States to and from the rest of the world.
Several of these liner services were associated with Bank Line’s recent accession to the Calcutta Liner Conference in 1905 which connected the Bay of Bengal via Ceylon (Sri Lanka) with Boston, New York and Philadelphia which ultimately included calls at Bombay (Mumbai) and Red Sea ports en route. The American and Oriental Line, on the other hand, was an opportunity to participate in what would later be called the “Round the World” services with other British, Norwegian and American lines which took in loading on the U.S. East Coast and West Coast for Far Eastern destinations in a Westbound direction.
The "Round the World Service
Photo 1: Completion of the Panama Canal, looking north at Gold Hill, Cucaracha slide
This operation commenced in 1914 (when the opening of the Panama Canal made the two-coast operation possible) and was a neat connection to the also Westbound direction of the India-U.S. East Coast services described above, creating a complete circumnavigation of the Northern Hemisphere with two separate revenue-producing free-standing services: Bay of Bengal – U.S. East Coast plus U.S. East and West Coasts to the Far East and Bay of Bengal – a very neat arrangement and not duplicated in a Westbound direction until the 1980s when container lines were trying to balance cargo and equipment flows!
Photo 2: Irisbank - Built by Workman Clark (1928) Ltd. One of a class of four 14 knot ships for the "Round the World" service
This early Round the World service was supported by a marine terminal on Staten Island in New York in conjunction with Barber Lines and the Pouch family, and the eventual building of six fast 14 knot motorships in 1930, two from Harland’s (“Foylebank” and “Laganbank”) and four from Workman Clark (“Irisbank”, Lossiebank”, “Taybank” and “Tweedbank”) But it was started as early as 1903 as a joint Weir/Houlder operation and lasted until 1949 excluding WWI and WWII. The American and Rio Plata Line, on the other hand only existed from 1905 until 1941 and was abandoned when the United States entered WWII
The Oil Industry
But the U.S. West Coast was not altogether being overlooked as Andrew Weir’s interest in the oil trade looked to California. In 1913, a British syndicate, lead by Andrew Weir, called the British Union Oil Company negotiated to obtain control of one quarter of California’s known oil assets.
The purpose of the project was said to ensure the world-wide provision of fuel for merchant shipping when coal would cease to be used by steamships and the development of oil engines and oil-fired steamships would come to dominate ship propulsion. Shipping partners in this scheme were Lord Pirrie of Harland and Wolff, Sir Owen Phillips of Royal Mail Line, and P.N. Anderson of the Danish East Asiatic Company with Andrew Weir being the largest financial participant. Initially, British Union would take over the American General Petroleum Company which in turn, as the major stockholder in the Union Oil Company of California would give control of Union Oil to the British Union Oil Company.
Photo 3: Desabla - Weir's first tanker
To set the scheme in motion, the Bank Line steam tanker ”Desabla”, built by Hawthorn Leslie & Co., Newcastle in 1913 and Weir’s first tanker, was assigned to the American General Petroleum Company for Pacific Coast services but World War I intervened and the ship was immediately taken up by the British Government to transport oil from the U.S. Gulf to the United Kingdom and it was during this charter on June 15th 1915 when she was carrying a cargo of linseed oil from Port Arthur, Texas to the U.K. that “Desabla” as “Transport Number 63” was sunk by German submarine-based gunfire and mined. In 2010 the wreck was discovered and identified by divers off the Scottish coast by Marine Quest based out of Eyemouth, Berwickshire.
“Desabla” was one of three sisterships, the other two being “Barneson” (afterwards “Oyleric”) and “Gymeric”. All three ships were of the typical tanker three -island profile of engines aft design but with cylindrical cargo tanks within the hull. Captain W.R. Kennedy was initially assigned to San Francisco to represent British Union as a contract employee of Bank Line Transport and Trading Co. He was succeeded by Captain Walter Gay as time went on who continued to represent the Bank Line interests in California up to and including during WWII.
Photo 4: Edward Laurence Doheny
The well-known, successful, and controversial Californian oil tycoon, Mr. Edward L. Doheny, and Lord Inverforth became colleagues in various oil ventures in California and Mexico, with Inverforth ultimately moving on to Lake Maracaibo, Venezuela, and Aruba when Mexican politics made foreign-controlled oil-based businesses subject to full Mexican control. Weir’s undertaking had been to provide ocean transportation services on Harland & Wolff-built special tankers for coastal and international distribution. Doheny, an American citizen, as the owner and operator of extensive oil-bearing land around Vera Cruz, provided oil production and storage activities. These wide-spread and mutually-dependent enterprises will be discussed later in a future chapter. Suffice to record at this time that Doheny had drilled the first successful oil well in the Los Angeles City Oil Field in 1892 and that his Mexican venture in 1916 at Cerro Azul was the genesis of the British-Mexican Petroleum Company, a Weir subsidiary and subsequently PEMEX, the Mexican government’s oil monopoly. The other British company involved with Mexican oil at this time was Eagle Oil/"Aguila" which suffered the same fate.
Photo 5: Eagle Oil Company's "San Dunstano"
Gulf of Mexico
In 1926, Bank Line commenced a quasi-liner service from the U.S. Gulf and U.S. East Coast ports to South Africa originally based on the transportation of case and barrel oil, bulk sulphur, bulk phosphate, rice, and carbon black. The German-flag Hansa Line was the principal competitor but without the support of the base commodities that Bank Line enjoyed, especially from the Texas Company's case oil business, the German line was at a disadvantage from the start.
Captain G.F. Andoe, who had started out as an Apprentice on the Bank Line sailing ship “Isle of Arran” and come up through the sea-going ranks, was transferred from Andrew Weir’s French-flag operation, Venture Weir S.A., in Lagos, Nigeria to look after this operation and was on hand in 1936, when the company commenced liner sailings from the U.S. Gulf ports to Australia and New Zealand originally based on the transportation of similar commodities being despatched to South Africa, especially case oil from the Texas Company on long-term contract but also including heavy mining, farming and earth-moving equipment. Having started out as charter voyages of bulk sulphur and case oil in 1930, these services were initiated as liner services in conjunction with German carriers, North German Lloyd and Hamburg American Line from 1934, but such cooperation was terminated in 1935 when the pre-WWII situation made this sort of relationship difficult requiring Bank Line to operate the services alone.
All existing British shipping services were to be adversely impacted by WWII when the British government took control of all British merchant ships and shipping. In the USA, the South African and Australasian services were temporarily abandoned to emerging, subsidised American-flag ships and, as far as South Africa was concerned, not again picked up by Bank Line until 1979. But with regard to the Australia and New Zealand services, these were resumed soon after the release of Bank Line ships from government control after the war ended. The Australasian services would become major revenue earners right up to the early days of containerization, within a Conference structure that originally included MANZ Line (Ellerman/P&O/Cunard), American Pioneer Line, and Weir. Weir were assigned exclusive loading rights to Gulf ports in exchange for the others’ Canada and U.S. East Coast exclusive access. Farrell Lines subsequently took over the Pioneer slot, whilst Columbus Line (Hamburg-Sud) joined later.
Captain Andoe was eventually joined by Mr. Joe Callahan in New York in 1950 as Engineer Superintendent and in due course he retired to be replaced by Captain Robert Broadley in the 1960s. By this time, the Gulf-based liner services predominated USA shipping activities. Voyage charters involving bulk sugar inbound from Santo Domingo and bulk wheat outbound to India, as well as time-charters to the principal oilfield development companies - Halliburton; Aramco; KBR - these also were Gulf based requiring constant Gulf ports company supervision.
The Port of New Orleans was selected for the location of a company Gulf representation within the offices of long-time Gulf agents, Strachan Shipping Company. Captain Brian Loads (elder brother of Roger Loads –(see the Persian Gulf remarks above)- was appointed as Assistant Marine Superintendent and set up shop in the Crescent City where Bank Line had its own dedicated berth for the continuous receiving of export cargo at Harmony Street Wharf on the Mississippi River.
Photo 6: Some of the Bank Line ships' crests on the compan's berth at Harmony Street, New Orleans
Within a very short time, however, Loads suffered a health crisis that required that a relief should be sent out and this was done in 1968 when your author, Captain Alistair Macnab, was seconded to New Orleans to maintain continuous supervision whilst Captain Loads recovered his health. Unfortunately, this was not to be. Loads, his wife and two young sons returned to the United Kingdom where he eventually died. Captain Macnab was confirmed as Assistant Marine Superintendent, reporting to Captain Broadley in New York and as Mr. Callahan was nearing retirement age, Mr. Roddie MacLeod was confirmed in 1969 as the new Engineer Superintendent in the USA but based also in New Orleans.
By this time in the early 1970s, up to three ships per month were being despatched from the Gulf to Australian main ports with scheduled discharging calls at the main ports of Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Fremantle and calls-on-demand at Burnie, Bell Bay, Port Kembla, Gladstone, Townsville, Cairns and Gove with project and speciality cargoes. New Zealand main ports were served by a separate monthly service with scheduled calls at Auckland, Wellington, Lyttleton, Dunedin, and Bluff.
Inbound ships were entering the Gulf area from Santo Domingo with bulk sugar directly from outbound time charters ex- Northwest Europe to Grancolombiana, Venezuelan Lines, KNSM or Harrison; or light ship passages from the West Coast of South America where Bank Line ships had completed their voyages from Bay of Bengal ports and South Africa on Bank Line’s Indian Chile Line. At the same time, inbound calls were being developed from Papua New Guinea bringing forward green coffee, cocoa beans and bulk coconut oil to the USA markets
Photo 7: Corabank in the Port of Houston clearing a bulk oil berth to return to the company's general cargo loading berth.
Dedicated berths were obtained in Houston at City Docks 23 & 24 for Australia and at Manchester Docks for New Zealand but with the number of bulk oil product parcels being offered, loading ships had to be able to move around private refinery and tankage terminals overnight so as not to impede general cargo loading during day-time shifts.
In 1973, Captain Broadley went on sick leave and was replaced by Captain Macnab in New York and the New Orleans office was restructured with Captain Michael Ward from the sea staff, Captain John Shaw from the Bank Line Durban office, and Mr. Jiggs Brauen as Engineer Superintendent replacing Mr. MacLeod who was reassigned to Head Office in London to be eventually promoted to the Chief Engineer Superintendent position.
Photo 8: Bank Line's Gulf - Australia Sailing Card
Photo 9: Bank Line's Gulf - Australia Sailing Card
But major developments were in motion. The six breakbulk-container ships of the “Corabank” Class, specially built for the U.S. Gulf –based Lines entered service in 1972, and a transatlantic fortnightly all-container service was introduced to Gulf ports with chartered tonnage. This service also included calls at Nassau in the Bahamas en route.
The South African service mentioned earlier was reintroduced, at first as an independent service and subsequently by a joint operation with Safmarine called Safbank Line. Using Safmarine, Bank Line and chartered tonnage the service was further strengthened by the introduction of the Bank Line’s new “Roachbank” Class in 1979. Additional Bank Line staff were located to the U.S. East Coast to superintend vessel calls at ports in that region with Captains Clem Mossop and Alistair Watson joining the USA-based Bank Line expatriate staff.
For many years, the company had been working on the proposition that the Gulf-Australia and Gulf-New Zealand Lines could be turned into a closed loop structure and the opportunity came about when discussions with Shaw Savill and Albion in London, offered this possibility. Shaw Savill already had a northbound service to Central America, and the Caribbean from Australia and New Zealand based primarily on Produce Board cargoes and it was proposed that Shaw Savill and Bank Line cooperate with each other and develop what was to become the Bank and Savill Line, a full container and reefer round-trip service.
Photo 10: Advertisement for Bank & Savill Line
Accordingly, the Bank Line superintendency in New York was relocated to Houston with Captain Macnab and Captain Shaw to the new Bank and Savill Line USA office in 1978 to await the newbuildings: “Willowbank” (Bank Line), “Dunedin” (Shaw Savill) and “New Zealand Caribbean” (Shipping Corporation of New Zealand) which were delivered in 1980.
In the meantime the traditional Bank Line and Shaw Savill ships were assigned to operate this new service pending delivery of the full-container trio. In the interim, Savill’s provided the small insulated reefer carriers “Mayfield” and “Lindfield” as well as several breakbulk ships whilst Bank Line placed flexible tonnage of the new fast “Laganbank” Class, sometimes with temporary air ducts retrofitted to handle insulated containers in non-cellular holds.
Photo 11: "Lindfield"; Shaw, Savill's contribution to Bank & Savill Line
The range of scheduled ports was somewhat daunting: Vera Cruz, New Orleans, Houston, Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Fremantle, Lyttleton, Wellington, New Plymouth, Auckland, Manzanillo (Mexico), Acajutla, Puntarenas, Balboa-Cristobal, Maracaibo, Willemstad, La Guaira, Port of Spain, Bridgetown, Santo Domingo, Kingston and back to Vera Cruz. This schedule soon proved impossible to maintain with the three dedicated container ships on a round-trip of 60 days and the irregular southbound monthly frequency now offered from the Gulf ports of New Orleans and Houston proved totally inadequate for the trade which quickly fell away to competing carriers and competing ports in California.
At one stroke the traditional Bank Line shippers of bulk liquid and dry bulk parcels, heavy equipment, newsprint and carton stock, bagged commodities, and oil well, farming and mining equipment that were unable to accommodate their exports to containers by virtue of size, weight, or other constraining factors, found themselves shut out and obliged to look for alternative and suitable ocean transportation elsewhere. Truly, the traditional U.S. Gulf cargoes defied containerization for multiple reasons and it was a number of years before heavy lift, ro-ro, bulk parcel tankers, and diversions to other coasts picked up these valuable cargoes.
The photographs used to illustrate this article are from the Ships Nostalgia Galleries, which are available for use in the Directory. The individual photographs used in Part 10 have been provided as follows: -
- Ships Nostalgia - threebs
- Ships Nostalgia - Brent Chambers
- Simon - Bang - Collection
- La Corriente
- Ships Nostalgia - Robert Durant
- Ships Nostalgia - John Hebblewhite
- Ships Nostalgia – Bootsman
- Ships Nostalgia - R798780
- Ships Nostalgia - R798780
- The author (The Bank Line)
- Ships Nostalgia - Torrens
Article written and compiled by Alistair Macnab
Formatting and presentation only, by Fred Henderson
© RVW Productions LLC, 2013
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