I read, with considerable interest, the article in the February 2018 edition of Sea Breezes on the subject of the Elder Dempster ship, SS Eboe.
My father was a Master with the United Africa Co subsidiary Palm Line, part of Lever Brothers, which was a member of the West African Shipping Conference. In fact, I worked for UAC between 1951 and 1960 when trade was recovering from the war years and shipping was very profitable.
I agree that Elders had the most stylish ships in the trade. These included three mail boats, MV Accra, MV Apapa and MV Aureol which carried the majority of passengers travelling between West Africa and the UK – many either travelling back after leave or returning. After the mid-1950s, BOAC took most of the passenger trade, but many preferred the sea voyage, especially at the end of their 18 month tour.
For non-Conference vessels to break into the trade was, then, quite difficult. The freight rates were maintained by all Conference participants and periodically (maybe every 3 months) shippers would receive a generous freight rebate on condition that all their cargo was shipped by Conference vessels. Any lapse, however small, and the rebate would be lost.
I recollect that Palm Line built many new ships after the war, many, but not all, built at Swan Hunter on the Tyne. The cost of a 5,000 ton (GRT) vessel was around £350,000. Cocoa from the surf port of Accra (Takoradi has a harbour) was important and suffered very little damage when carried on Kru boats through surf. Occasionally, one of the boats would overturn with obvious consequences. New gunny bags were soaked in sea water and dried on the beach before cocoa from up country was repacked. The encrusted salt protected the cocoa and, in fact, sea water does little damage to cocoa. Ship’s sweat is more serious.
At a later stage in my career, I moved to Lloyd’s as a marine broker and it was interesting that a fair rate for general cargo to West Africa, including inland transit of perhaps 1,000 miles up country, was around .325%. The insurance experience was usually good, but regrettably, some time after independence, that changed dramatically and cargo after discharge was uninsurable due to massive theft.
Sea Breezes is a great magazine to tell the stories of vessels, their owners and their crews as well as the interesting trades for which many were specially designed. With containerisation and massive tankers the industry now has a rather bland and impersonal feel with little to excite the imagination. Keep the memories alive. There are those, perhaps of a ‘certain age’ who derive great pleasure from these recollections.
P B COFFEY
29 Riverside Crescent
Derbyshire, DE45 1HF