Japan emerges while Britain falters

15 Jan 2014
Refrigerated fruit carrier 'Letaba', first in a four-ship class, was the first motor ship in the Safmarine fleet

Refrigerated fruit carrier 'Letaba', first in a four-ship class, was the first motor ship in the Safmarine fleet

The January 1964 issue of 'The Motor Ship' concentrated on reviewing shipbuilding in the previous year, with an emphasis on what were seen as the ‘hot topics’ of the time.

Our predecessors considered the most gratifying aspect of 1963 was the continuing trend towards diesel power rather than steam turbines for ship propulsion, despite the growing size of the ships and the need for speed necessitating higher power. So although fewer motor ships were completed in 1963, 543, was lower than the 600 completed in 1962, in terms of machinery bhp the figures for the two years were virtually equal, at around 4.1 million bhp.

One change was that Sulzer apparently overtook B&W as the market leader in large engines, though it was a close call, especially as the actual bhp produced by Russian licensees could not be established. But whereas today the major honours are shared between two leading designers – Wärtsilä (which includes Sulzer) and MAN (which includes B&W as well as MAN), 50 years ago it was noted that eight manufacturers accounted for some 93% of completed power. For the record these were Sulzer, B&W, MAN, Gotaverken, Fiat, Doxford, Mitsubishi and Stork, in that order. The remaining 7% came from 28 other makers. Those that may still be recognisable today- though not all still produce engines in their own names- included MAK, Niigata, Fairbanks Morse, and Deutz.

The focus on promoting British shipbuilding still attracted important copy, including a message from the Minister for Science, one Quentin Hogg, and from the President of the British Shipbuilding Conference, Alan J Marr. Both were upbeat about future prospects, though the latter sounded cautionary notes about the high cost of steel to UK yards and about labour relations. Where the latter was concerned, he was, hardly surprisingly, scathing about the inflexibility of the trade unions, though in hindsight it is clear that government policies and poor management must share the blame for the rapid decline in the British shipbuilding and other heavy industries.

One British-built ship featured was an 85,600dwt tanker Borgsten, built in Sunderland to DNV class for Fred Olsen. This was notable for being the largest-yet British-built tanker, and the first to be powered by a B&W large-stroke poppet-valve engine. The engine, rated 21,000bhp at 110rpm, was also notable as being able to be controlled from the bridge.

Today, refrigerated cargoes are almost entirely containerised, but it was a different story in 1964, with the January issue describing a 9,700dwt reefer ship of 608,820ft³ capacity built at Greenock for charter to Safmarine. Unlike most other refrigerated ships, this was designed exclusively for the fruit trades, and as such was the largest ship delivered for that traffic. The Letaba had been built in 13.5 months between contract and completion, claimed to be a record, and a timescale that would be near-impossible to match even today. The cargo plant, designed to keep the holds at temperatures ranging from -2°C to +13°C, was supplied by Dutch manufacturer Grasso, driven by Stork pumps, while the electrically-driven cargo handling gear came from Brissoneau et Lorz, of France. Powered by an eight-cylinder 620mm bore Kincaid-built B&W engine of 9,800bhp, this was the first motor ship in the Safmarine fleet.

B&W design machinery had also been specified for the year’s only British passenger ship delivery, the liner Centaur, built by John Brown for Blue Funnel Line, to carry 200 passengers, 4,500 sheep and 50 cattle between Singapore and Western Australia.

Finally, things to come were represented by an article from a Japanese shipbuilder, recording the major strides made in building large tankers for export. This, it seems, had been achieved by favourable financing, slim profit margins and first-class modern yards. In fact only the large yards were enjoying this success, several medium-sized builders had proved unable to compete.