Saturday, May 26, 2018
Abemama

The story of Moanaraoi by comparison is well defined and finite.

She was built with dimensions 59.9m x 9.68 x 4.01m by the well-known German small ship builder JJ Sietas at Hamburg Neuenfeldt in 1957, as the Ingrid Horn for the German Heinrich C Horn Linie, a subsidiary of the well-respected Hamburg-Süd shipping line. She spent her first ten years engaged on the worldwide tramping reefer trades, carrying the likes of bananas or frozen fish from out-ports around the world to rendezvous with main line ships for on-carriage to the world markets.

In 1967, she was purchased by the Wholesale Society of Tarawa, the commercial trading arm of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands Colony government, converted at her builders, and re-named Moanaraoi, the third colony ship to carry this proud name. Conversion for island trading included the installation of a stronger, un-stayed mast and longer, stronger derricks, together with a 10 tonne heavy lift derrick; the installation of two additional lifeboats on deck amidships to accommodate deck passengers; and additional crew accommodation with accompanying deck house in the after end of No 2 ‘tween deck to house an enlarged crew, necessary to work cargo in the outer islands. These modifications are clearly depicted in the 40c stamp.

Moanaraoi arrived in the Gilbert and Ellice Islands in the latter part of 1967, and took up her role delivering island supplies and bales of sacks (to receive copra) from her base in Tarawa to the outer islands, bringing back copra – the sun-dried flesh of coconuts – and empty fuel drums. A typical two-month roundvoyage embraced initially a loop around seven ‘ports’ in the Northern and Central Gilbert Islands in the course of which she visited Majuro in the US Trust Territory of the Marshall Islands. Then, having discharged copra from the Northern and Central Islands at Tarawa, she would take on supplies for the Southern Gilberts and the Ellice Islands, together with empty fuel drums for Suva, capital of the Fiji Islands. She then similarly worked up to twelve ‘ports’ in the Southern Gilbert and Ellice Islands, discharging general cargo, and loading copra and empty fuel drums, all of which were taken down to Suva, where the drums would be discharged for refurbishing and filling, and the copra would be discharged for transhipment by the Bank Line’s round-the-world service to the UK. At Suva, the vessel would load a full general cargo, including drummed petroleum products, Pacific biscuits (a staple food), sugar, cement and transhipment cargo from the UK. From Suva, the ship would return to Tarawa via Funafuti, the ‘capital’ of the Ellice Islands, making calls northbound at whatever islands as might have been missed southbound due to inclement working conditions.

The ‘ports’ in the Gilbert and Ellice Islands fell into two broad categories, lagoon ports, which the ship could enter and anchor within, some of them accessible by night by radar; and reef ports, where the ship had to stand on-and-off outside, unable in the main to anchor because of the depth of water, and hold up to the western side of the atoll in way of boat passages blasted by the Royal Marines to facilitate work boat access. Apart from Majuro and Suva, there were no ports in the vessel’s island itinerary where she could go alongside; and at all ports apart from Tarawa, Suva and Majuro, the crew worked the cargo using a miscellany of work boats carried on board – two carvelbuilt surf boats, two large lagoon boats, a heavy towing launch and a couple of light skiffs.

It is worth noting that the Gilbert and Ellice Islands are coral atolls, the maximum height of which above sea level was in the region of three metres. The atolls are geographically configured with their ‘land masses’ bordering the eastern and southern sides of the lagoon, the remaining sides of the lagoon being bordered by coral reefs with the occasional reef islet. A few islands had no lagoon at all. The prevailing trade winds bear down on the eastern sides of the atolls, making working on that side virtually impossible. On the sheltered western reefs, the entrances to the lagoons, sometimes navigable, sometimes not, and the blasted boat passages were situated. The physical conditions imposed by the geographical configuration of the islands made for interesting challenges in terms of cargo operations and voyage planning.

The Gilbert and Ellice Islands were a crown colony, embracing two different ethnic groupings – the Gilbertese were Micronesians, while the Ellice Islanders were Polynesian, the two groups speaking different languages. The isolation of the colony was emphasised by the fact that we only had one cargo service from the outside world a month, the Hamburg Süd’s Columbus Line en route from Australia to West Coast North America, and we had a mail plane from Fiji every fortnight. This placed high emphasis upon the service offered by Moanaraoi.

On all her inter-insular voyages, Moanaraoi carried up to 100 deck passengers. These people lived on deck under a tarpaulin tent stretched over No 2 hatch. While the arrangement might seem primitive to modern tastes, the tented passenger space was essentially a maritime maneaba, the traditional Gilbertese village meeting house. Under the tent, the passengers spread their woven mats, and talked, often all night. The deck passengers tended to be accompanied by their chickens and pigs, and their canoes, such that the ship in the islands frequently took on the aspect of a menagerie.

My passage to the Gilbert and Ellice Islands and command of Moanaraoi followed an inexorable path over some fifteen years. In the early 1950’s, as an end of term treat, the geography master at the Bishops Stortford College where I received my education, used to read us chapters from Sir Arthur Grimble’s classic book A Pattern of Islands; the spell was cast. As an officer in the New Zealand Shipping Co, our outward passage to New Zealand sometimes took in the Pacific Islands. At Suva, the capital of the Fiji Islands, there would often be in port chunky little white ships, immaculately maintained, deploying the defaced blue ensign of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands Colony; the spell was enhanced! On one such visit to Suva, the ageing survey frigate HMS Cook was in port.

Harbouring a desire to specialise in hydrography, I went on board at the invitation of her CO, Commander Frank Hunt RN. The ship had just returned from the Gilbert Islands, where she had run several lagoon surveys. I was shown around the ship by a general service officer who had been seconded to the hydrographic service and loathed every minute of his time so deployed. He recounted in revulsion having been 2/I/C of a detached survey party comprising two officers and six ratings, living in tents on the atoll of Tabiteuea South in the Gilbert Islands for six weeks. He could not get out of the survey service and back to the G&T navy quickly enough; my reaction by contrast was how could I get a slice of such action? I little realised then, that in just five years’ time, I would be in command in the Gilbert and Ellice Islands using HMS Cook’s excellent chart of Tabiteuea South lagoon.

Then in early 1968, while working ashore in the NZSCo’s head office in London, bored to tears and with containerisation about to change everything, a Crown Agents’ advertisement appeared in the Daily Telegraph for a ‘Marine Officer (Ship’s Master)’ to work in the Gilbert and Ellice Islands Colony. The bottom line was an Atoll Allowance of Aus$200 pa, usually tax free. What’s more romantic than an Atoll Allowance…? I was away!

Read the rest of this article with additional pictures in Sea Breezes Magazine - September 2017 Issue
Click here to subscribe

Subscribe Graphic
h3 class="g-title">Latest Issue - Look Inside! Game Changer

Most Popular

  • 1
  • 2

Top 10 Books and DVDs 2017

Maritime Log

  • Second Heavy Lift Cargo for Power Station Project +

    Eastern Vanquish The second heavy cargo of equipment for the refitting of the Centrica power station at King’s Lynn arrived at the Read More
  • “Third Party Assistance” in Land Attack on Saudi Tanker +

    Abqaiq The Saudi Arabia flag tanker Abqaiq, 302,977dwt, was hit by a shore-launched anti-ship rocket fired by Yemen’s Houthi militia in Read More
  • Record Flies as Second Jack-Up Barge Arrives +

    Albatross What is believed to be the largest ship to visit the harbour in the history of Blyth, in Northumberland, arrived Read More
  • Bibby's Triple Success With Major Contracts +

    Bibby Polaris Three separate multi-million dollar contracts with a major oil and gas company have been won by the Aberdeen-based subsea services Read More
  • New Crane Gives a Lift to Cargo Handling +

    Liebherr Materials Handler Ayr has become the first port in the UK to take delivery of the new model of the Liebherr Materials Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

North America

  • New Training Ship for US Merchant Marine +

    NSNV One Under the 2,232 page omnibus spending measure signed into law by President Donald Trump, the US Maritime Administration is to Read More
  • Giant Cranes Pass Through Puget Sound +

    Zhen Hua 28 A large heavy lift ship carrying four of the largest container cranes for the US West Coast sailed through Puget Read More
  • First Part of Ships’ LNG Conversion Completed +

    North Star The first of four conversion periods that will see the two Orca class rollon, roll-off vessels of Tote Maritime Alaska Read More
  • Four New Landing Stages for New York Ferry +

    NYC Ferry Construction of the new NYC Ferries landing stages on New York’s Lower East Side began at the end of February. Read More
  • Icebreaker Delivers Two Supply Ships to US Antarctic Base +

    Polar Star The US Coast Guard’s only operational heavy icebreaker, the Polar Star, arrived at McMurdo Station, Antarctica, after completing her mission Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Asia-Pacific

  • No Mistaking New Line’s Ships +

    ONE Livery The one ship that can’t be missed is the first for a new container line formed by three Japanese owners. Read More
  • Fatal Collision Blamed on Sudden Turn +

    USS John S McCain The collision between the US Navy destroyer John S McCain and the Greek owned oil/chemical tanker Alnic MC, 50,760dwt, in Read More
  • Nine New Cranes for Four Terminals +

    Zhen Hua 21 The first four of nine giant cranes for the DP World Australia container terminals at Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and Fremantle Read More
  • Six Lifting Decks on New Car Carriers +

    Beluga Ace The first of the new Flexie series of car carriers building for the Japanese shipping company Mitsui OSK Lines, Ltd Read More
  • Eight More for Evergreen +

    Evergreen| The Evergreen Marine Corp of Taiwan, has ordered eight 11,000 teu container ships from the South Korean shipbuilder Samsung Heavy Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Naval Focus

  • HMS “Astute” in Cat-And-Mouse Pursuit by Russian Ships +

    HMS Astute British News Ahead of the American led missile strikes against suspected chemical weapon manufacturing plants in Syria in early April, Read More
  • Busy Period for Japanese Navy +

    JS Asahi Japanese News It has been a particularly busy period for the Japanese with a number of new vessels being accepted Read More
  • Historic Port Visit to Vietnam +

    USS Carl Vinson US News In a significant move in March, the nuclear powered aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson made an historic port Read More
  • Russian Minesweeper Fleet Expands +

    Alexander Obukhov Russian News By 2027 the Russian Federation Navy is expected to have acquired a total of ten Alexandrit class minesweepers Read More
  • 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
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Ferry World

  • "Rogaland" Performs for Dunkirk +

    Rogaland I am not normally drawn to such films as the latest Dunkirk release, but on my recent viewing it proved Read More
  • Weather Casualties +

    Hebridean Isles The issue of ferry operation, subsequent to the UK leaving the EU, will rather, regretfully, but unavoidably, continue to feature Read More
  • Superfast Stena +

    Superfast VII Superfast VIII The issue of ferry operation, subsequent to the UK leaving the EU, will rather, regretfully, but unavoidably, continue to feature Read More
  • Sanctions Eased for Mangyongbong 92 +

    Mangyongbong 92 Ever since the 1950s when I was aware of the Soviet merchant marine’s Baltic SS Co vessels which linked Leningrad Read More
  • Estonian Arrow +

    Arrow Viv Llewellyn’s image of the IOM Steam Packet’s chartered Arrow at Poole indicates how advantageous her long term charter to Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Sail Review/Coastal Comment

  • The Benefits of Wheel Spokes +

    Will Everard The Anna (see the print edition for details), like all Dutch craft, has a band around the outside of her Read More
  • Double Dutch Ketches +

    Gallant The Dutch 27.7m steel ketch Gallant, was built as a ‘logger’ in 1916 for the North Sea herring fishery. Read More
  • Focus on Freshspring +

    Freshspring Severn Sea The Scandinavian connection this month, continues with the welcome reappearance of the magnificently versatile Severn Sea 147gt of Bideford seen Read More
  • Fame for Sandgrevstur +

    Vestborg and Sandfrakt I followed up the casualty Fame which featured in my last Coastal Commentary. Read More
  • Hollow Shore Sails +

    Alberta The Hollow Shore yard had been bought by the Testers who totally rebuilt several smacks including Primrose, Lily May, Ethel Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

From the Lookout

  • "Future of the Fjords" +

    Future of The Fjords Norway is a country which takes its environmental responsibilities very seriously and is at the vanguard of changes to reduce Read More
  • Wight Shipyard Co Wins Second Export Order +

    Ultramar In 2017, I had the pleasure of visiting Wight Shipyard Co’s famous Columbine Yard in East Cowes (Isle of Wight) Read More
  • Red Funnel Congratulates New Female Captain +

    Alice Duncan Red Funnel, the Isle of Wight’s awardwinning ferry operator, welcomes the promotion of Alice Duncan to the position of captain. Read More
  • Historic Name in Shipping Lives On +

    MV Coho Way back in 1818, the founders of the Black Ball Line inaugurated the first scheduled freight and passenger service across Read More
  • 2018 Spring Quilliam Lecture +

    Qilliam Lecture Poster "Quilliam Today" is is this year's title for the Spring Quilliam Lecture on Thursday 5th April in Arbory Church. Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Cruise News/Superyacht News

  • "QE2" Comes to Life Again +

    QE2 in Dubai There will be many readers who, for the last decade, have followed the fortunes of the Queen Elizabeth 2. Read More
  • Supersub "Migaloo" +

    Migaloo The future of superyachts and how they may develop over imminent years, keeps superyacht commentators, like me, amused for hours. Read More
  • Superyacht Solution to Housing Shortage +

    Bluebird Diana Yacht Design is doing its bit to help solve the housing shortage. Read More
  • The Bridge +

    Queen Mary 2 QM2 vs the Super Yachts race results between the St Nazaire Bridge and the Verrazano Bridge in New York Read More
  • Just A Storyline? +

    Marco Polo Notwithstanding a number of attempts to emulate “The World” by other operators, any past thoughts of competing with the only Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Ships, Ports and Places

National Maritime Museum of Ireland Interior

Taikoo Dockyard & Engineering Co

On 1 January 1867, John Swire & Sons, having been established as merchants in Liverpool since 1816, opened the first Read More
HMS Hood

The "Hood", My Father - The Ship and Battle - The Bell

In writing about HMS Hood and her service career, I am not going to attempt to cover it fully, as Read More
  • 1
  • 2

Companies, Events and Other Features

HMT Swansea Castle

The Role of British Fishermen in World War I

In WWI, Germany’s policy of wholesale mining of the North Sea and Atlantic was implemented from the day War was Read More
Prince Robert

Three Canadian Princes

Few especially built ships for a trade have become the orphans of economic circumstances faster than a trio built for Read More
  • 1
  • 2