Bank Line - Part 6
Narrative by Alistair Macnab; Edited by Fred Henderson
A 20th Century Perspective of a British Ocean Shipping Company
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
Lord Inverforth's Many Other Interests
In addition to building up and developing the Bank Line, the former Andrew Weir, ennobled in 1919 as the Baron Inverforth of Southgate for services to the United Kingdom during and after WWI, was engaged in many other business enterprises, not always directly connected with his ocean shipping interests.
During his presence in the government of Prime Minister Lloyd George he was Surveyor General of Supplies (1917 -1918) then Minister of Munitions (1919-1921). Amongst his responsibilities, he was perhaps best known for depriving the enemy of many essential raw materials by buying up the world’s production of wool, flax, hemp and jute for Britain during the last years of the war. Another of his successful operations was the orderly disposal of war-surplus materiel at the end of the war; sold off at competitive market prices for the benefit of the British exchequer. This last activity took Lord Inverforth to the former battlefields of Northern Europe and the Middle East to obtain a first-hand accounting of the tremendous amount of abandoned military hardware lying around to be picked up by war profiteers, until Inverforth’s management put a stop to unauthorized pillaging.
In addition to his Bank Line shipping activities, Inverforth was asked by King George V to create a new shipping company to replace the Baltic services of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, which had just been absorbed by the Soviet Union. In conjunction with Hans Niels Andersen, the founder of the Danish East Asiatic Company, a 50-50 British-flag company was floated. Called the United Baltic Corporation (UBC), this company was to achieve a leading position in the eastern Baltic trades that ultimately extended to Finland and Poland in post WWII years.
Inverforth and Viscount Pirrie, the chief executive of Harland & Wolff, had become business partners in an international oil bunkering and trading venture in 1915 and because of Harland’s position as one of the companies within the Royal Mail Group, Inverforth was made aware of the convolutions that were affecting that gigantic shipping and shipbuilding empire. When Royal Mail eventually collapsed financially, all its shipping subsidiaries suddenly became available for purchase and Inverforth expressed his interest in Glen and Shire Line and MacAndrew’s. Glen Line was, however, too close to the Holt family and subsequently went in that direction. This left MacAndrew’s which Inverforth arranged to be bought out by UBC in 1935 thus extending UBC’s interests beyond the Baltic to Spain and Portugal.
Photo 1: MacAndrew's Pacheco, built by Harland & Wolff, Govan
As has already been indicated, Inverforth was vitally interested in pursuing crude oil and refinery interests, principally from the point of view of transporting crude, boiler and diesel oils as they would relate to fueling ships on an international basis. He could foresee that coal-fired steamships would eventually be oil-fired and that the new oil engines would become predominant. Harland and Wolff were already producing oil engines of improved horsepower in collaboration with Burmeister and Wain of Copenhagen that would eventually propel the fleet of Bank Line ships and bunkering arrangements had to be available on a world-wide basis just as, in its day, good Welsh coal had been made available all over the world to keep steamships moving.
Accordingly, Inverforth and Pirrie partnered with American interests in the development of the Union Oil Company in competition to the Standard Oil Company of the Rockefellers. This arrangement was working well with oilfields in California, Mexico and Venezuela and ship bunkering facilities in Britain at Southampton, Avonmouth, Liverpool, South Shields and Glasgow and with joint arrangements in the London area at Thameshaven and overseas in France and French North and West African Dependencies through Venture Weir et Cie.
In this development and speculative stage of the international oil business, the British shareholdings waxed and waned, with Inverforth being, at one time, the largest shareholder in the Union Oil Company of California, but by 1919, circumstances seemed to have settled down with Pirrie building ships for Inverforth to operate as the British-Mexican Petroleum Company of Britain which in turn held a 50% holding in the Pan American Petroleum and Transport Company of the USA. Seven tankers were immediately made available for this operation with more ships to come. Pan American was later sold to Standard Oil of Indiana in 1925 but by that time, British-Mexican had become a 51% owner in 1924 of Lago Oil and Transport Company registered in Canada but operating British-flag ships in Lake Maracaibo, Venezuela ferrying crude oil from owned oil holdings in the lake on shallow-draft tankers over the navigation-restricting bar at the lake entrance to a new company-owned refinery then building at San Nicolas on Aruba in the Dutch West Indies.
But in the oil business, as already mentioned, the game and the players were constantly changing. In Venezuela amalgamation with Standard Oil interests was eventually undertaken and in Mexico, labor unrest and government nationalization of all foreign-held oil interests brought these activities to a close but not before many Scottish and Northern Irish seafarers had spent their early years at sea or in dredging, shipyard work and port development activities with their wives and children living in company housing in the San Nicolas Colony.
Other Inverforth activities outside shipping and oil were not overlooked. In 1920, Weir interests bought phosphate-bearing land in Florida and Texas and in the following year, Inverforth along with John Ellerman made an unsuccessful bid for the London Times newspaper. These activities were followed by ownership in the Anglo-Burma Rice Co, and by obtaining the entire dates concession in Iraq and the opening of general stores, river services and an airline in that country from a base in Basra. Yet another more recent venture was the establishment of a building society in Southern Rhodesia, eventually Zimbabwe.
Along with Guglielmo Marconi, Inverforth supported the Marconi Company’s competitive bid for the BBC TV system which eventually went to the rival Baird system in 1938 whilst at the same time negotiating with Joseph Kennedy, the father of John F. Kennedy who was to become the American President, to acquire an interest in RKO Radio Pictures, one of the original Hollywood motion picture companies. The association with Marconi was to extend over many decades with the Marconi company providing the radio station and the operators to Bank Line ships. Another joint business with Marconi and others was investment in Cable and Wireless that brought about global communications links.
Lord Inverforth, born Andrew Weir from Kirkcaldy in Fife had, in his own lifetime, redefined opportunism, personal energy, entrepreneurship and canny business acumen to a new level that commanded the respect of everyone with whom he came into contact. Throughout his life he had made personal friends with whom it was his pleasure to make good business. His friendships with Pirrie, Ellerman, Andersen and Marconi already mentioned were extended to such business giants of the day as Thomas Lipton, Edward Doheny and William Lever. Indeed, his buccaneering ways redounded well to his personal fortune and to the fortunes of Bank Line and all the other enterprises he had founded or developed.
He died in 1955 and was succeeded by his son, Andrew Morton Weir, who died in 1975, and his grandson Andrew Roy Weir, whose death at 50 in 1982 was a sad blow to his family and Bank Line. The fourth Baron Inverforth, Andrew Peter Weir, was born in 1966.
Bank Line and British Shipbuilding
The 28 years between 1961 and 1989 were momentous for British ship and engine building and would see such a drastic restructuring of the industry that very little of it was left, especially in the northeast of England, where Bank Line were now placing all their orders for new tonnage. First of all, Doxford, Laing’s and Thompson came together in 1961 to form Doxford and Sunderland Shipbuilding and Engineering Company. This organization became a target for expansion-minded Court Line in 1972. The following year the shipbuilding company was renamed Sunderland Shipbuilders Ltd.
Doxford’s traditional building slips at Pallion were radically altered from 1973 to 1976 by the construction of a new “Ship Factory”; which was a totally enclosed building dock, where two ships could be built side by side. The first ship to be built in the new facility was Bank Line’s m.v.”Cedarbank”, which was floated out and moved to the new fitting out quay in April 1976.
Photo 2: The Pallion Ship Factory with a Bank Line ship umder construction
Court Line collapsed with massive debts in 1974 and the British Government took over the three Sunderland yards in 1975. This action was a prelude to the nationalisation of the entire UK shipbuilding industry, with the formation of British Shipbuilders Corporation in 1977 to take over all the major shipyards, with the exception of Harland & Wolff, which was separately nationalised for Northern Irish political reasons.
From its inception, British Shipbuilders incurred substantial losses, as only the warshipbuilding yards were profitable. In an attempt to stem the losses being incurred in the Pallion shipyard, Sunderland Shipbuilders Ltd was merged with the other Wearside shipbuilder Austin & Pickersgill in 1986, but like most European merchant shipbuilders the combined entity was unable to win orders at viable prices. In exchange for a £45 million EEC regional investment grant, shipbuilding on the Wear was closed down altogether in 1989 and the technically magnificent, but financially disastrous Ship Factory at Pallion placed on a care and maintenance basis, remaining so to this day. The Bank Line Commerative Garden that had been an ornamental feature at the entrance to the Pallion complex has vanished.
During this period, Weir’s continued to favour the Doxford Group. The last ship built by William Doxford was the “Ernebank” in 1965 and the first ship from Doxford and Sunderland was the “Baltic Vanguard” of 1966 for Bank Line’s sister company, United Baltic Corporation (UBC).
Photo 3: Ernebank arriving at Lyttleton, New Zealand
The next Bank Line orders thereafter, known as the "Fleetbank" Class, were in fact closely similar to what the newly named shipbuilding group were advertising as a generic, new standard class of multipurpose cargo tween-decker. These standard ships were:
- Design “A” 16,500 dwt with the accommodation three-quarters aft and a raised poop;
- Design “B” 18,000 dwt with an ‘all aft’ accommodation block with alternation long and short cargo holds; and
- Design “C” 20,000 dwt in a similar layout to “B” but with an extra long hold/hatch at the No.3 position.
There were also ‘liner’ versions of the three classes with additional cargo-handling gear and with respect to “B” and “C”, the accommodation block was again in the three-quarters aft position but with no raised poop. Sunderland Shipbuilders were promoting these designs worldwide, against competing designs from Japan, Korea and Germany.
Meanwhile, the ten units of the "Fleetbank" Class, largely conforming to the Design “A” Liner Version, were coming out from Sunderland Shipbuilders' Pallion and Deptford yards between 1972 and 1978. Of 16,900 dwt on a gross tonnage of 11,500, these ships were powered by a six–cylinder Doxford 2SCSA engine good for 18 knots. The British government and Sunderland Shipbuilders were obviously counting on Bank Line to keep ordering ships as they had done in 1923 with the Gujarat and Inverbank Classes from Harland’s in Glasgow and the Deebank and Irisbank Classes from Workman Clark in Belfast in 1928, not to mention the more recent Firbank Class from Doxford starting in 1957 and the Cloverbank Class from Belfast, also being delivered from 1957.
Photo 4: Fleetbank
The Fleetbank Class had a raised forecastle hull form, four hatches forward of the accommodation block and one hatch abaft, placing the engine in the three-quarters aft position. Cargo gear was traditionally still fitted for union purchase derrick operation from centerline stump masts but with additional gear hung from the bridge front and a pair of sampson posts abaft the accommodation block.
The ships were:
- "Fleetbank" (Delivered Deptford 1972, sold 1981)
- "Cloverbank" (1973 from Deptford - 1981) renamed "Siena" on T/C to Danish EAC (1977 -1978)
- "Birchbank" (1973 from Deptford - 1981)
- "Beaverbank" (1974 from Deptford - 1981)
- "Cedarbank" (1976 from Pallion - 1983)
- "Firbank" (1976 from Pallion - 1983) renamed "Sibonga" on T/C to Danish EAC (1977 - 1979)
- "Streambank" (1977 from Pallion - 1983)
- “Riverbank" (1977 from Pallion - 1983)
- "Nessbank" (1977 from Pallion - 1981)
- "Laganbank" (1978 from Pallion - 1981)
The East Asiatic time charters (EAC) were to allow the Danish company to evaluate the viability of multipurpose ships for their trans-Pacific liner service. They eventually settled on a container/multipurpose type of ship with larger deadweight and much more container-friendly but it proved no competition to the full container ships introduced by other carriers on the same run.
But parallel with these new buildings entering the fleet, there was a sharp selling off of older units for further trading. If fact, no fewer than 60 ships were sold to other ship operators between 1970 and 1981 comprising six units of the Beaverbank Class (Copra Boats), 16 out of the original 17 Harland 12000 tonners (The 17th: "Levernbank" was wrecked on the WCSA in 1974), 19 out of 21 Firbank Class from Doxford (the "Trentbank" and "Lindenbank" were casualties in respectively 1964 and 1975), the two Swan Hunter tween-deckers, the six Doxford and the five Harland 15000 tonners of the Taybank and Hazelbank Classes and, surprisingly, six of the ten of the new Doxford Fleetbank Class, that had a very short life within the Bank Line fleet.
The disposal schedule was:
- 1970: "Beaverbank" and "Fleetbank" (Harland Copra Boats); "Cloverbank" (Harland 12000 dwt); "Birchbank" (Doxford 12000 dwt)
- 1971: "Streambank" (Doxford 12000 dwt)
- 1972: "Minchbank" (Harland 12000 dwt);
- 1973: "Nessbank", "Cedarbank", "Foylebank" and "Laganbank" (Harland Copra Boats); "Crestbank" (Harland 12000 dwt); "Firbank" and "Northbank" (Doxford 12000 dwt)
- 1974: "Carronbank" and "Garrybank" (Harland 12000 dwt); "Riverbank", "Yewbank" (Doxford 12000 dwt);
- 1975: "Dartbank" (Harland 12000 dwt); "Teakbank" (Doxford 12000 dwt);
- 1976: "Rosebank", "Ashbank" and "Pinebank" (Harland 12000 dwt); "Wavebank" (Doxford 12000 dwt);
- 1977: "Elmbank" (Harland 12000 dwt); "Avonbank" (Harland 12000 dwt);
- 1978: "Springbank", "Olivebank" (Harland 12000 dwt)"Willowbank", "Larchbank", "Weirbank" and ""Forresbank" (Doxford Copra Boats); "Testbank", "Oakbank" and "Inverbank" (Doxford 12000 dwt); "Speybank" and "Marabank" (Swan Hunter 12000 dwt); "Taybank" (Doxford 15000 dwt)
- 1979: "Lossiebank", "Roybank" and "Weybank" (Harland 12000 dwt); "Rowanbank", "Hollybank", "Sprucebank" and "Laurelbank" (Doxford 12,000 dwt); "Hazelbank", "Irisbank", "Nairnbank", "Maplebank" and "Gowanbank" (Harland 15000 dwt); "Tweedbank", "Beechbank", "Ernebank" and "Teviotbank" (Doxford 15000 dwt);
- 1980: No Disposals
- 1981: "Shirrabank" (Doxford 15000 dwt); "Fleetbank", "Cloverbank", "Birchbank", "Beaverbank", "Nessbank" and "Laganbank" (Doxford 16500 dwt).
Photo 5: Laganbank
Many of the earlier ship units saw careers in Bank Line averaging 16 years but newer ships were disposed of much quicker, the new Fleetbank Class starting being sold off after a mere eight years for "Fleetbank" or only four years for "Riverbank" and "Laganbank". All this activity was brought about because the role of the multipurpose ship was changing so rapidly that cellular container ships were now the choice of liner operators and bulk carriers were now the choice of charterers moving tramp cargoes. It might be said that Doxford and Bank Line had extended the concept of the multipurpose ship just a shade beyond their commercial usefulness.
But, as usual, Bank Line had hedged their bets. It was readily recognized in the London office that the historic liner services were disappearing. The Bay of Bengal services had all dried up with the drop in worldwide demand for jute and derivatives and the Oriental African Line was falling victim to containerization, national flag carriers or at least to competing multipurpose ships that were faster and more flexible. As a last throw in the Far East - South Africa trade, the original Oriental African Line, an agreement with Ahrenkiel to carry KD automobiles to Port Elizabeth from Japan was struck and a unit-load, container-friendly ship, m.v."Amerika" renamed "Hazelbank" was chartered in, but succumbed to competition in 1987 although "Hazelbank" was kept on for two years on other Bank Line liner services until 1989. A resurrected liner service was tried in 1980: the old U.S. East Coast and Gulf service to and from South Africa was re-launched, having last been operated by Bank Line in 1939. This service was ultimately to bring about cooperation with Safmarine which actually renamed a couple of their own ships with Bank Line names and eventually also with Mediterranean Shipping (MSC) as containers inevitably took over.
In the U.S. Gulf, the Australia service was dispatching up to three ships a month and there was a separate monthly sailing to New Zealand. The Pacific Islands - Homeward (the Copra Service) was also doing well, so it was decided to combine these two strong links into a closed loop and to build a series of purpose-built ships that would operate within this loop on a UK/Continent - U.S.Gulf - Australia - Papua New Guinea - Pacific Islands - U.S.A. West Coast, Gulf and East Coast - UK/Continent rotation. Henceforth, cargo for Nassau and the U.S. Gulf ports would be solicited in the UK and coffee, cocoa and vegetable oils would be loaded in PNG and the Islands for U.S.A. destinations on inducement.
A Radical Change from the Multipurpose Ship Concept
The new ships, the Corabank Class Copra Boat, of six units were built at Swan Hunter's on the River Tyne in the northeast of England. These would be of a short forecastle and a long raised poop configuration. There would be four hatches forward of the accommodation block and one abaft on the raised poop. A mixture of cranes and derricks would service the cargo spaces and there would be two tween decks. Holds 3 and 4 were to be suitable for container carriage as were all hatch tops and hatch squares. 240 teu were originally designed to be carried but as time went on, containers were taken out to the side rails at hatches 3 and 4 and provision was made on top of the docking bridge for the stowage of additional empty units, bringing the container count up to approximately 300 teu. Up to 12 passengers could be accommodated and a passenger lounge was retro-fitted at the after end of the passenger deck on the starboard side on several units of the class.
No fewer than eleven deeptanks of various sizes were included in the design. These were usable for outward-bound non-flamable oils and chemicals from the Gulf and for vegetable oils (coconut and palm) from the Islands. The main engine would be a Doxford 6-cylinder 2 S.C.S.A. oil engine giving a speed of 18 knots.
Photo 6: Corabank
These ships incorporating some mild steel in their construction were conceived by the Bank Line London office under the direction of Captain David Gale who was the Chief Marine Superintendent and were delivered as follows:
- "Corabank" (1973 to disposal in 1984)
- "Meadowbank" (1973 – 1988) renamed "Toana Niugini" (1985 - 1987)
- "Moraybank" (1973 – 1998) renamed "Toana Papua" (1984 - 1986 and 1987)
- "Forthbank" (1973 - 2000)
- "Ivybank" (1974 – 1998)
- "Clydebank" (1974 – 2002)
Photo 7: Clydebank after a passenger lounge was retro-fitted at the after end of the passenger deck
Somewhat similar in layout to the newest Ben Line ships which Weir’s had contemplated buying from Ben Line as that company moved into an all-container mode for its express service and put their cargo liners up for sale, the Corabank Class were certainly different from the standard Bank Boat with a combination of cargo derricks and cranes but not nearly as handy as had been originally conceived. As designed, the spotting of containers in some locations was somewhat inconvenient but was improved as was the TEU count as the ships progressed in service.
At the same time, the Europe-U.S. Gulf leg was recommended for upgrading to a two-way service catering for containers. This was accomplished by chartering-in handy, container-friendly ships as needed to maintain a fortnightly service along with the outbound Bank line ships sailing outwards from Glasgow and Avonmouth to the U.S. Gulf.
By the time, these new Copra Boats were in service in 1974, the Bank Line fleet was down to ten ships but the remaining Fleetbank Class to follow, temporarily brought the ship count up to 16. This was adjusted in 1978 with the the delivery of two large capacity ships from Doxford of some 18,400 dwt called the Crestbank Class. These were somewhat similar to the Doxford 'Liner B' Design and were no doubt offered to Bank Line by the builders at an attractive price as demonstrations of a class of ship that had, so far, found no other buyers. With a gross tonnage of 12,238 their dimensions were similar to the Fleetbank Class except that they were 1.6 metres wider. They also were fitted with “Erman” roll-up nesting main deck hatch covers as opposed to the customary Macgregor type. These two ships were:
- “Crestbank” (1978 to 1986)
- “Fenbank” (1978 to 1984)
Photo 8: Crestbank
Truly, by this time, Bank Line were supporting the dying efforts of British Shipbuilders to get a foothold in the multipurpose ship sector now dominated by shipyards in the Baltic and Far East but this time around, Bank Line were to be the principal seller of superior, second-hand multipurpose British-built ships and of the Doxford engine.
But as a final tribute to British shipbuilders, Bank Line now agreed to purchase a newer version of a multipurpose ship designed by British Shipbuilders as Doxford's now were and this turned out to be Bank Line's last hurrah. These ships were the Fish Class, ships named after a series of fresh water fish and built at two of the British Shipbuilders’ yards in the North East of England. Three came out from Laing's Deptford Yard and three from Pallion. These would also have a deadweight around 18,700 and be powered by a new higher-rated 4-cylinder Doxford 2 S.C.S.A. oil engine which, however, returned speed downwards to 16 knots..
These six ships had what was now the customary five cargo holds and hatches, with four forward of the accommodation and one abaft. What was different from the Fleetbank Class but similar to the Corabank Class was that the No.5 Hatch was on a raised poop. The cargo gear was the "Velle" system of swinging booms with a set at both ends of hatches two, three and four and single systems at hatches one and five.
The Fish Class were:
- "Roachbank" (delivered 1979, sold 1987). Laing's Deptford.
- "Pikebank" (1979 - 1987), Doxford's Pallion.
- "Dacebank" (1979 - 1987), Doxford's Pallion.
- "Ruddbank" (1979 - 1983), Laing's Deptford.
- "Troutbank" (1979 - 1986), Laing's Deptford.
- "Tenchbank" (1979 - 1986), Doxford's Pallion.
Photo 9: Tenchbank
When in Bank Line service these ships were assigned to the U.S.A - South Africa and to the Oriental African services or chartered out to other liner operators. They were quite successful as far as breakbulk cargo was concerned but their very limited container accommodation of 306 teu was to prove totally inadequate. As will be seen from their disposal dates these ships lasted a mere four to eight years.
But there was one more ship to come. This was the "Willowbank", a sister of Shaw Savill's "Dunedin" and a close sister of The Shipping Corporation of New Zealand's "New Zealand Caribbean" These three ships would form the backbone of yet another liner cooperation servicing the U.S. Gulf, Australia and New Zealand, Central America and the Caribbean and would signal Bank Line's fateful if belated recognition of the container and reefer cargo ages.
Photo 10: Willowbank
A complete Bibliography for all of these Articles is given at the end of Part 7
The photographs used to illustrate this article are from Wikimedia Commons and are in the public domain, or the Ships Nostalgia Galleries, which are available for use in the Directory. The individual photographs used in Part 6 have been provided as follows: -
Frontispiece – Wikimedia Commons
- Ships Nostalgia - Stuart Smith
- Ships Nostalgia - Steve Gray
- Ships Nostalgia – TORRENS
- Ships Nostalgia – Brent Chambers
- Ships Nostalgia – Brent Chambers
- Ships Nostalgia – Brent Chambers
- Alistair McNab
- Ships Nostalgia – McMorine
- Ships Nostalgia – TORRENS
- Ships Nostalgia – Fairfield
Article written and compiled by Alistair Macnab
Formatting and presentation only, by Fred Henderson
© RVW Productions LLC, 2010
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