The youngest ship to be broken

In Ships Mail (SM, July) Andrew Mackinnon asks if the 15-year-old Albert Rickmers was the youngest ship ever to be broken up. The shipping business is very cyclical, and during economic downturns many vessels are broken up prematurely.

After the 1973 oil crisis, tankers were sent for lay-up after completion, and many were scrapped, including BP Tanker’s British Diplomat (1963/30,815gt), which was only 12 years old. Similar things happened during the 1930s Great Depression, most notably with Atlantic Transport Line’s large passenger cargo ships Minnewaska (1923/21,726grt) and Minnetonka (1924/21,998grt), which went to the breakers aged only 11 and ten years respectively.

Mechanical problems can be another factor determining a short service life for a ship, and a case in point in this regard was Shaw, Savill Line’s liner Northern Star (1962/24,731gt, pictured), which had a career of only 13 years. She was scheduled to sail round the world in 77 days, but this had to be revised because of mechanical trouble.

Andrew MacKinnon (SM, July) asks if the 15-year-old Albert Rickmers is the youngest ship to be scrapped, but she would seem to have had a very good working life compared to the VLCCs that were built during the late 1960s and the early 1970s.

During the the late 1960s the major oil companies, and indeed private owners who chartered to the oil companies, were building ever larger tankers, Esso alone ordering 13 such vessels, each of around the 250,00dwt. One of these was Esso Paris, which was launched on 28 January 1969 and went to Kaohsiung for scrapping in December 1978.

Many more VLCCs built in this period only just made it to ten years before scrapping, and virtually all of them spent several years laid up during their short lives, despite potentially having many more working years in front of them. One questionable occurrence was the case of Olympic Bravery, which left her builders at St Nazaire to go straight to lay-up in Norway, but went onto rocks on the Brittany coast at full speed.

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