Friday, February 23, 2018

ss MahseerBeing able to save lives is both a privilege and a pleasure. For most people, ashore or afloat, it doesn’t happen very often. But to have it happen on your birthday, against almost impossible odds, is indeed a rare inspiration. So it was that a routine voyage to India became special.

At the time I was 2nd Mate with Thos & Jno Brocklebank – the oldest deepsea shipping company in the world. I joined the ss Mahseer at Glasgow in October 1967. With her plain blue and white houseflag flying at the foremast truck – a long company tradition – and her conspicuous 22-inch broad white band on a black hull, she was easy to pick out from other ships.

She was still discharging tea and other Eastern goods. Soon she would head for the Continent to load general cargo for the Mediterranean, Port Said, the Red Sea ports, the Indian Ocean Islands, Ceylon, and India. She would then complete loading at Tilbury before sailing deepsea It was the end of November before we finally left Tilbury.

The Mahseer, built by Hamilton, Glasgow, in 1948, was one of the older ships in the fleet. Nevertheless, she had her good points. She was a good sea ship. Her steam turbines – not beloved of pilots because of poor astern power – were quiet, reliable, and caused little vibration. She made a nice steady 14 knots. She had more than adequate cargo gear and her accommodation was better than average. As 2nd Mate, I had a fair-sized cabin directly under the bridge on the starboard side with a soot-free area of wooden deck just outside – ideal for tropical get-togethers over a few coldies. All the officers were British, with an Indian crew from Calcutta. Our total complement was 69. Gross tonnage was 8,961, dwt 12,000 tons, she was 508 feet long with a beam of 67 feet.

By then all Brocklebanker names had long begun with ‘Ma’ and were of Asiatic origin. Mahseer is the name of various large Indian freshwater fishes of the carp family; this ship was the second in the company to bear that name. A most apt name for what was to happen later that trip. That voyage we had cargo for almost every Red Sea port: Aqaba, Port Sudan, Jeddah, Assab, Massawa, Djibouti, Aden, and Mukalla. We also had cargo for Male, in the Maldives, which was just beginning to develop (if that’s the right word when such unspoiled tropical paradises open up to tourism and all that such ‘development’ brings).

The voyage was uneventful until we reached Aqaba, at the head of the Gulf of Aqaba in Jordan from where you can also see Egypt, Israel, and Saudi Arabia. We were to berth alongside. The pilot – not a Jordanian – was a flamboyant character who had driven down to the jetty in a huge flashy American convertible decorated with a couple of equally flashy peroxide blonde companions who were left in the automobile, so as to get a good view of the ship berthing. The pilot dressed in British MN masters’ uniform – illegally I presume – complete with cap and scrambled egg peak. He had the manner of one who ‘owned’ all he surveyed.

Our OM, Captain Jock Lyle, a tough no-nonsense Scot, was also a ‘character’. So perhaps with two such characters on the bridge it would be something of a battle over who was in ‘command’. I was down aft on stations, so I don’t know exactly what went wrong. The outcome was, however, that we hit the jetty bow-on and ended up with a twofoot gash in our stem above the waterline. Perhaps the pilot was showing off to his female companions and came in too fast – especially on a steam turbine ship with poor astern power – in any case, Jock made it plain he thought the pilot was to blame. As there were no repair facilities, we continued the voyage as we were and fitted our own huge cement box in the fore-peak tank.

This incident put Jock in a filthy mood which only lifted after our sea-rescue several weeks later. In that respect, our involvement in rescue was a double blessing. Meanwhile, one of Jock’s ways of venting his anger was to phone the duty engineer every time he saw a puff of black smoke from our funnel. And he wasn’t very polite about it either. After a long spell doing the round of Red Sea ports, we eventually headed for Malé, capital of the Maldives. Brocklebanks were the first ‘big’ ships to call there. Indeed, a Brocklebank officer had done some fine drawings of the approaches which were later published in the Admiralty Pilot Book to help others.

Malé is part of an atoll, and entrance to the lagoon is through a narrow gap in the ring of islands. We then used to anchor inside and discharge into small barges. At that time there was no airport or tourism. Brocklebankers were still the only big ships calling there and that was not very frequently. Being off the beaten track, the chances of coming across a ship in these waters were indeed minute. This made what happened next little short of miraculous. We sailed from Malé at first light on the 18th February – my 25th birthday. This was still the Northeast Monsoon season and the weather was remarkably fine.

I had completed noon sights and by 1330 hrs was settling down to a quiet watch not expecting to see anything other than flying fish. The sea was smooth with a low gentle swell. Visibility was excellent. It was ideal weather for doing a few chart corrections. As luck would have it, however, I felt lazy and decided to pace the bridge wing and enjoy a bit of bronzing.

The horizon was sharp: deep blue sea against paler blue of sky. We were the only thing moving. Then, as I looked ahead, from the corner of my eye I thought I saw something move. Looking round to our port beam I saw a tiny dark speck. At first I thought it might be nothing more than debris – perhaps a log or something that had washed out to sea. There was no movement. Being on the beam, this object would soon vanish again so I decided to have another look at it through my binoculars. Even magnified it still looked like a dark indefinable speck – but then something moved again.

I knew the OM (Old Man (Captain)) would be just getting his head down after a good lunch. After having his beautiful ship scarred by a show-off pilot, he would not be amused if I called him out of his bed to see some seabirds fluttering around an old log. Nevertheless, I decided to risk it.

Soon we had altered course by ninety degrees and were headed for this unidentified object. It was not long before we could see we were heading for a fishing boat with several madly waving crewmembers on board. If we had been half a mile further away, or if I had gone into the chartroom, we would have sailed blissfully past. And the chances of anyone else seeing them were zero.

As we slowed down to come alongside the stricken vessel, we could see four men on their knees with their heads to the deck in typical Muslim style thanks to Allah. The Mahseer was one ‘fish’ they would never forget catching.

Read the rest of this article with additional pictures in Sea Breezes Magazine - November 2013 Issue
Click here to subscribe

Subscribe Graphic

Latest Issue - Look Inside!

Magellan

Most Popular

  • 1
  • 2

Top 10 Books and DVDs 2017

Maritime Log

  • Pier Head Memorial to Battle of the Atlantic +

    Battle of the Atlantic Memorial A campaign has been launched to raise £2.5mn to build a national Battle of the Atlantic Memorial at the Pier Read More
  • Benefits of Shipping Power Station Parts by Sea +

    Power Station Boiler Two new 110 tonnes heat exchangers to be used in refitting Centrica’s power station at King’s Lynn, arrived at the Read More
  • Container Ship Fleet Hits 21m Record +

    Port of Hamburg The world's cellular container ship fleet reached a record 21mn teu last November, according to the analysts Alphaliner. Read More
  • Bravery Awards for Pilots’ Actions +

    Michael G McGee and Michael C Phillips Two pilots who brought a burning ship to safety, averting a major maritime catastrophe, have been presented with the 2017 Read More
  • Mammoth Crane Vessel for Obsolete Platforms +

    OOS Zeelandia The Dutch OOS International Group BV has signed a contract with China Merchants Industry Holdings for the design and building Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

North America

  • Ship Adrift in Port +

    Helsinki Bridge Port tugs and members of the US Coast Guard, the Massport Fire Department, Boston Police Department and the Massachusetts State Read More
  • Services Mark Four Chaplains Tragedy +

    Dorchester Services are being held in many communities in the United States this month to mark the 75th anniversary of the Read More
  • Fast Crew Supply Vessel Launched +

    FCS 7011 As part of its relationship with Damen Shipyards, of the Netherlands, the Louisiana-based shipbuilder Metal Shark is offering the new Read More
  • First Of Three Self-Unloaders Now In Service +

    Algoma Niagara The first of the Algoma Central Corporation’s three Equinox class selfunloading bulk carriers for the Great Lakes and the St Read More
  • Special US Frigate Makes Harbour Trip +

    USS Constitution The historic US frigate Constitution made a special trip to Charlestown, Massachusetts, on Oct 20 last to mark the ship’s Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Asia-Pacific

  • Protests at Certificate for Bangladesh Yard +

    Chittagong Shipbreaking Trade Unions and non-government organisations have protested following the move by the Italian classification society RINA to issue the PHP Read More
  • Automated Port Tested +

    Yangshan Deepwater Port Trial operations have begun at the world’s biggest automated container terminal at Shanghai, China. Read More
  • MHI Splits Into Two +

    MHI Nagasaki Shipyard The Japanese company Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) has established two new wholly-owned companies in a major reorganisation of its shipbuilding Read More
  • Fifth Is A First For Japan +

    MOL Truth The first Japanese-built 20,170 teu container ship was named MOL Truth at a ceremony on Oct 25 at the Imabari Read More
  • Sheep Ban After Ship Fails Safety Checks +

    Al Messilah A livestock carrier lost her licence to carry sheep from Australia after failing port state control checks at a livestock Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Naval Focus

  • New Patrol ship for Danes +

    HDMS Lauge Koch Danish News On 11 December, in a ceremony held at Naval Station Korsør, the Royal Danish Navy commissioned the third Read More
  • Royal Navy ‘Cannibalising’ Ships for Parts +

    HMS Artful UK News Once again, the Royal Navy was in the headlines for all the wrong reasons in the closing months Read More
  • New Oiler for Canada +

    Asterix Canadian News The Royal Canadian Navy’s long wait for a new replenishment oiler for the fleet is nearly at an Read More
  • HMS Queen Elizabeth Arrives at Home Port +

    HMS Queen Elizabeth British News An event following the 2010 Defence Review many thought would never happen occurred on Wednesday 16 August when Read More
  • Work Starts on Three Warships +

    Type 25 British News After an almost unseemly wait, the Royal Navy can breathe again having held its breath waiting for the Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Ferry World

  • Lake Cruising +

    Western Belle In the English Lake District, on several of the Lakes, there are lake operations all year round. Read More
  • Wrestling Gales +

    Pride of Kent The sight of the familiar P&O ferry Pride of Kent blown aground while leaving Calais for Dover, is a shock. Read More
  • Indonesian Focus +

    Doro Landa To the Far East – PELNI (Pelayaran Nasional Indonesia) is Indonesia’s national shipping company, state-owned and operated, serving the entire Indonesian Read More
  • New FSG Builds +

    WB Yeats Readers will recall Flensburger Schiffbau-Gesellschaft (FSG), delivered the Ullapool-Stornaway ship Loch Seaforth to CalMac in late 2014, as well as Read More
  • Nostalgic Scout Trip Remembered +

    South Shields Scouts A morale boosting and nostalgic story from not long after WW2 came to my notice. Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Sail Review/Coastal Comment

  • Ocean Troll +

    Ocean Troll Meanwhile, as the oil price is showing signs of recovery and the future of other oil and gas fi elds Read More
  • West Coast Drama +

    Fame High drama off the coast of Harris in December, when the small Norwegian flag freighter Fame, long a familiar presence Read More
  • Pickle +

    Pickle After the Battle of Trafalgar and the death of Nelson in 1805, the Royal Navy sent their fast schooner Pickle Read More
  • Cargo by Sail +

    Tres Hombres and Morgenster At the beginning of October the brigantine Tres Hombres sailed from Den Helder, North Holland, to Zaandam, Amsterdam before beginning Read More
  • From Rix To Stevie Clarkes +

    “Ronrix” leaving for Hull The name Rix is long associated with Humber ports with origins traced to Hull businessman Captain Robert Rix in the Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

From the Lookout

  • International Salvage Union: Challenging Times +

    Costa Concordia The International Salvage Union (ISU) is the global trade association representing marine salvors, its members provide essential services to the Read More
  • Hunterston Port Secures Energy Decommissioning Investment +

    Hunterston Port Hunterston Port and Resource Centre (PARC) in Ayrshire has been awarded grant funding from the Scottish Government that could pave Read More
  • British Antarctic Territory – Royal Research Ships +

    British Antartic Ships Stamps One of the good news stories of 2016 was that, against strong international competition, the famous Merseyside shipbuilding company, Cammell Read More
  • MV Glen Sannox, The UK’s First LNG Ferry +

    MV Glen Sannox Tuesday 21st November 2017 marked a very special occasion when Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon launched the UK's first LNG Read More
  • P&O Report Strong Larne-Cairnryan Freight Demand +

    European Causeway Having spent over twenty years in shipping operations between Loch Ryan (South West Scotland) and Northern Ireland, I still take Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Cruise News/Superyacht News

  • Slice Of The Action +

    YachtQuarters For those who find reading about yachts is not enough, and seek a slice of the action, here is news Read More
  • Innovative Itineraries That Make The Difference +

    Scenic Eclipse Whilst it is true that the majority of new cruise vessels emerging from the world’s shipyards fit into the category Read More
  • Hamburg Highlights its Harbour and Cruise Callers +

    Grand Hamburg Cruise Days Parade There are a number of ports around the globe who promote and celebrate their harbours on a fairly regular basis. Read More
  • Pedal to the Metal? +

    Norwegian Bliss NCL has announced that their new build, the Norwegian Bliss, the company’s 16th ship, is set to launch in June Read More
  • Classic with a Twist +

    Project 697 Reminiscent of the beautiful Aurora B dating from 1992, the newly launched 47-metre and somewhat secretive Project 697 from Feadship Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Ships, Ports and Places

National Maritime Museum of Ireland Interior

National Maritime Museum of Ireland

The National Maritime Museum of Ireland is located in Dun Laoghaire, County Dublin. It is housed in the 180-year-old Mariners Read More
Loch Morar

Empire Ships - An Early Experience

During World War Two, the losses of Britain’s merchant ships rapidly overtook their replacement rate, either from new construction, or Read More
  • 1
  • 2

Companies, Events and Other Features

Endeavour

Clews, Bunts & Reefs

With celebrations being planned next year for the 250 year commemoration of Captain Cook’s first landfall in New Zealand, I Read More
Encounter Bay

Shipping Services between Europe & Australia

In 2019 we will mark the 50th Anniversary of the arrival of the first oceangoing container ship, the Overseas Containers Read More
  • 1
  • 2