The bulk carrier revolution

By BCShippingNews
September 4 2013
Bulk carriers off Spanish Banks on the West Coast. Photo credit: BC Shipping News
By Syd Heal

In my view, it was never a revolution as it is sometimes termed. The evolution of the single-deck ship dates back to the steel windjammers of the 1870s and later when a succession of large sailing ship bulk carriers came into being. They were built for bulk cargoes like coal, nitrates, iron ore and other heavy bulk of the era. In the First World War, the U.K. government built a group of single-deck tramps of around 8,800 tdw which could be described as forerunners of today’s fleets. After the war, the Swedish Brostrom group built two single-deck ore carriers — Amerikaland and Svealand — for long-term charter to the Bethlehem Steel Corporation of the U.S. Of some 20,000 tdw, they ranked as the largest dry cargo ships in existence for most of their lives and paved the way for a number of specially strengthened, large Swedish ore carriers for Grangesburg-Oxelosund, a related company to the Volvo group.

Like most changes in shipping, the evolution of the bulk carrier got off to a slow start, but really became a significant factor as the wartime classes of standard ships went through a wholesale withdrawal from active trading when they had reached the 20-year stage in their operating lives and were faced with rigorous fifth quadrennial surveys and heavy marine insurance surcharges. As most of the war-built ships in Britain, the U.S. and Canada came into service between 1940 and 1945, the years 1960 to 1965 became the most intense in terms of scrapping and the launch of several classes of so-called “Liberty Replacements” of which the British SD14 was the most popular. They were ‘tween deckers and were not called bulk carriers but did carry many bulk cargoes and were really a bridging vessel between the conventional tramps of the day and full acceptance of the bulk carrier as we know it today. By the end of the 1950s, first generation bulkers of the modern era where starting to appear on world trade routes and the arrival of the Andros Star in Vancouver is well remembered as it created something of a stir in local ship management circles. It was one of the first group of bulkers owned by Orion Shipping & Trading (a Basil Goulandris company) with a ‘breathtaking’ dwt of 15,300 and old-fashioned union purchase cargo handling gear. The Andros sisters were probably the only bulkers ever built with Japanese Navy cruiser turbines, but effectively, they launched the Greek ship-owning fraternity as major owners of the modern bulk carrier.

The concurrent arrival of the modern bulk carrier and the more revolutionary container ship saw a quick end to a great many conventional cargo liner and tramp ship companies. Most of the famous names of the 20thcentury, so well known for their handsome conventional ships and seemingly as strong as the rock of Gibraltar, have disappeared into the pages of history. This applies to most Western and Japanese merchant fleets, but to none more so than the once mighty British flag fleets.

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