This page is Captain B.M. Leek's article about Itinda which had originally been published in Sea Breezes April 1996 Issue and later published on the MerchantNavyOfficers.com website. Please see this site's HOME PAGE for information about the background to the content republished here.
It was particularly easy for seafarers of my generation to look with favour at one fleet of ships and, with equal fervour, criticise another. Design, symmetry and livery all came into the equation and our excuse is that, in our day, we were fortunate enough to be around when shipping companies fostered an individual style and took great pride in their ships. For this reason Blue Funnel ships, although of a similar size to those of NZS Co, were instantly recognisable, as were the individual ships of countless other distinctive lines of all nationalities.
With one or two exceptions, the corporate image no longer counts for much and although companies still, half-heartedly, fly their flag and grudgingly have their ships painted from keel to truck by contract labour, once a year in drydock, it all means disappointingly little. Despatch, fuel, crew reductions, and efficiency figure in the balance sheet so there is precious little room left, nowadays, for smartness and imagery. This I think is why so much of the fun and the pride has been taken away from the profession, leaving the seaman to ponder, alone, upon the next meal he is going to get, the date of the ship's arrival home and, above all, his account of wages.
I have often taken broad sideswipes at current naval architects in this series and I am equally tempted to deliver a clumsy broadside against accountants, but I would be better advised to return to my original point. In my opening remark I implied a readiness on the part of my contemporaries to criticise company fleets lock, stock and barrel on the strength of their paintwork, the balance of their design, the funnel decoration or even their house flag. Such wild statements were of course ignored totally by our senior and wiser shipmates who, I hope, dismissed them as no more than foolish expressions of youth.
This partisanship was I suppose always the same. True that during the early 1930s seafarers were glad to get a berth on any old and decrepit "rust-bucket" fortunate enough to be able to offer one and history shows that even the most prestigious of companies had their odd monstrosity which had, thus far, escaped the shipbreakers' torch.
One of the proudest and most successful companies which flew the Red Ensign during the inter-war years was, of course, the mighty British India Line and I am constantly surprised to find that in those days BI's fleet consisted of some of the finest looking passenger ships afloat, running alongside a large number of cargo ships which, to my eye at least, were a picture of unprepossessing gloomy ugliness. Possibly this had something to do with their traditional and nondescript profile: black hulls, black boats, narrow funnels and stone-coloured superstructures which presented an image that even a white ribband could not enliven. Certainly, towards the end of their reign over Indian waters after World War II, the company seems to have undergone a complete change of heart when it altered the odd detail of livery and introduced some of the most innovative and attractive vessels flying the Red Ensign.
The services undertaken by BI were varied, providing direct passenger links from London through the Suez Canal to India, East Africa, Burma, Australia and New Zealand, and regular cargo provision which covered main-line and coastal services between and around five continents. For obvious reasons I shall not even attempt to describe or justify them in any sort of detail.
In 1936 BI ordered the first of a class of seven cargo ships, the Itinda, from the West Hartlepool yard of Messrs William Grey & Co Ltd. Visually the class was nothing to write home about, and the Itinda, the first new BI cargo ship for 13 years, was even unimaginative in terms of her propulsion equipment, relying upon a single set of that good old British fallback, the coal-fired triple-expansion engine. One is even caused to wonder why in March 1938 that august magazine The Shipbuilder and Marine Engine Builder were sufficiently interested to mention anything more than her entry into service and why, in fact, I have been prompted to include her as a "Splendid Ship". The second question, of course, is easily answered: she was an uninterruptedly successful ship, and one which lasted, through various ownerships, probably until 1992.
She was of course built to a completely orthodox design, with a moderately raked stem, a cruiser stern, and a straightforward "three-island" superstructure of forecastle, poop and centre-castle. Below the waterline however, comprehensive hull and propeller model tests were undertaken on behalf of both the builders and owners. An unusual departure from the norm were the fin plates fitted on the fore side of the rudder post to improve manoeuvrability by reducing eddy interference in the propeller race.
The hull was riveted on the conventional transverse system of framing and was complete with a continuous double bottom, arranged for carriage of fresh water and water ballast in seven tanks. Provided with two continuous decks the hull was transversely subdivided by seven watertight and one non-watertight bulkheads carried up to the upper-deck. This subdivision provided a fore-peak ballast tank, three holds and tween-decks, a coal cross-bunker forward of the boiler-room with two holds and tween-decks and an after-peak abaft the engine-room. This arrangement provided a total "grain capacity" of 528,294 cu ft, a water-ballast capacity of 1,506 tons, and bunker space for 750 tons of coal with an additional reserve of 510 tons in the lower tween-decks, abreast the engine casing.
Large insulated meat and vegetable storerooms were provided in the tween-decks below the bridge together with a species (currency and precious cargoes) room, and a linen locker with an entrance hatch in the saloon-pantry above.
The holds were served by two 7-ton SWL derricks mounted on the foremast over No 1 hatch, two 7-ton derricks on the foremast and two 8-ton derricks on derrick-posts over No 2 hatch, two 5-ton derricks on derrick-posts over No 3 hatch, six 7-ton derricks over Nos 4 and 5 hatches mounted on derrick posts and the main mast. A 25-ton "Jumbo" derrick was mounted on the foremast to plumb No 2 hatch. The derricks were powered by 14 7"x12" Clarke-Chapman steam winches each provided with centre barrel and single warping and whipping drums.
Accommodation was provided for a total complement of 88 European and native crew. Unusually, at the time, no provision was allowed for passengers. The commander was berthed in a suite of rooms adjacent to two senior cadets and the pilot on the captain's bridge, immediately below the navigating bridge. Accommodation for four deck-officers and two junior cadets was arranged on the bridge-deck, to port and starboard of the officers' messroom which overlooked the foredeck. The chief engineer and his staff of five engineers, the butler and two clerks were berthed in cabins flanking the engine-casing on the bridge-deck, abaft No 3 hatch. A European galley, duty messroom, office and bathroom were also included in this space. The ship's only radio officer was provided with a cabin alongside the W/T office on the after side of the navigating-bridge.
The usual assembly of native crew, serang, carpenter, donkey-man, three cooks, two topasses, two tindals, eight servants, 20 lascar seamen and 23 firemen, and four secunnies were housed, somewhat confusedly, within the poop. The ship's general arrangement plan does not include any provision of hospital facilities.
The navigational equipment supplied for the ship were described as straightforward and efficient. I can only assume that this meant that this was limited to the usual magnetic compasses, Walker's electric log repeater, revolution counter, clear-view screens, two engine-room telegraphs and loud-speaking telephones to the engine-room, forecastle head and after docking-bridge. Two sounding machines were fitted on the navigating bridge and I must assume that an echo-sounder was not provided as part of the ship's initial inventory.
The Itinda's LSA provision was similarly basic and, in addition to lifejackets and lifebuoys, consisted of four steel lifeboats mounted below Welin-Machlachlan quadrant davits. Initially the boats were painted black but postwar photographs of the ship show that they were repainted white.
The ship's steering gear was of the steam-hydraulic type, comprising two opposed hydraulic cylinders placed fore and aft and connected to a short tiller arm. The variable-delivery pump was driven by a two-cylinder steam engine controlled by telemotor from the bridge. For emergency, a spare tiller could be connected to the rudder-head stock and operated by relieving tackle led to the barrels of the after warping winch on the poop deck.
The Itinda's propulsion machinery was a simple, conventional triple-expansion engine which worked in conjunction with a Baur-Wach exhaust-steam turbine. The combined output operating at 81 rpm was equivalent to 3500 IMP. The cylinders of the engine were 22, 37 and 65 inches in diameter with a stroke of 48in. The steam exhausted from the engine was delivered to the turbine which, in turn, was connected to the propeller shafting through double-reduction gearing or, alternatively, the exhaust steam was diverted to the condenser when the ship was running astern. Steam was generated in three Howden-Johnson water-tube boilers with a working pressure of 250lb per sq in and a steam temperature of 600°F at the superheater outlet.
The boiler plant and stokehold equipment was designed to cope with the extended use of poor-quality Indian coal. For ash disposal two ejectors were fitted in conjunction with a Lamont steam pump and an ash-hoist supplied by the builders. A Weir evaporator, with a capacity to supply 30 tons of boiler feed-water per day, was also included.
The new ship was launched on November 17, 1937, and ran successful trials, reportedly under exceptionally stormy conditions, between Redcar and the Tyne, on January 25, 1938. Over the measured mile, in the ballast condition, a mean speed of 13.5 knots was achieved. She had cost a mere £187,600.
The ship was evidently designed for use on the BI Indian Coastal Service, which of course explains her simplicity of structure and the choice of her propelling machinery and fuel. After all, the Itinda and her sisters, under normal circumstances, would only rarely have access to European standards of shoreside maintenance and repair. Nevertheless, within a little over a year, the BI Indian regime was to be totally dislocated by the outbreak of World War II and the Itinda was caused to wander further afield.
The ship was temporarily modified to carry a number of cabin and deck passengers, which accommodation was carried throughout the war. The general arrangement plan issued by the builders in 1938 does show a series of port holes along the length of the tween-decks and I can only assume that this meant that deck passengers could be carried as demand merited, but this capability is not noted in any of the books that I have available. Certainly, between April 1940 and March 1946, she was requisitioned for service under Admiralty control, and during this time served as a Military store ship. The ship was unmolested throughout the war, but did experience some damage in a fairly serious fire in her cargo at Columbo in October 1944.
Late in 1949 the Itinda was withdrawn from service to have her coal burning boiler installation updated to burn oil fuel and this was the final act of modernisation of her under the BI flag.
The Itinda was sold for £77,000 to the Clipper Steam Ship Co of Hong Kong on February 4, 1959, and renamed Alinta. Within a year she was resold as the Ho Ping San Shi Ssu for £100,000, into that black hole for ships, the Republic of China. In 1967 she became the Zhan Dou 34 and remained as such until 1992 when she was withdrawn from the register in the absence of any report or any reliable knowledge of her employment or whereabouts.
- By courtesy of Captain B.M. Leek
- By courtesy of the Allan Green Collection, State Library of Victoria