Halcyon the Great

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Introduction

Halcyon the Great is included in the list of Court Line Ships by Middlemiss - External Reference #4 , but the exact connection with the company is not clear. We do know that the "Halcyon" prefix was used by Court Line for its tankers.

Halcyon the Great was a tanker with a service life of just 13 years. Around 1971, after her connection with Court Line had ended, her Monrovian owners were in a rocky financial position and she was impounded. She was later used for storage for several years before being broken up.

Halcyon the Great
Halcyon the Great. The date and location are unknown. [1]

Basic Data

Item Value
Type Tanker
Registered owners, managers and operators Court Line Ltd.
Managers Court Line (Ship Management) Ltd. London
Builders Götaverken Arendal AB
Yard Gothenberg
Country Sweden
Yard number 489
Registry N/K
Official number 7102737
Signal letters N/K
Call sign N/K
Classification society N/K
Gross tonnage 113,453
Net tonnage 90,579
Deadweight N/K
Length 1,049.73 ft
Breadth 149.53 ft
Depth 67.76 ft
Draught N/K
Engines Two Stal Laval 24,280kw steam turbines, HP triple reduction geared to LP triple reduction geared to screw shaft
Engine builders A/B Gotaverken
Works Gothenburg
Country Sweden
Power N/K
Propulsion Single screw
Speed 16 knots
Cargo capacity N/K
Crew N/K

Career Highlights

Date Event
19 Mar 1971 Launched
May 1971 Completed and placed on an 18 month charter to Shell Petroleum
1971 Sold to Transocean Tankers Services Inc. Monrovia, Liberia, - Managers Island Navigation Corp. Ltd. Hong Kong, and renamed Energy Prosperity
1978 Became a storage ship at Teluk, Semangka
1983 Laid up at Busan
1984 Broken up by Hyundai Precision & Industry Co. Ltd. Ulsan, South Korea

Service History

No specific information is available about the early service history of Halcyon the Great other than as stated in Career Highlights.

By 1971 the financial situation of her owners was very rocky. The Scanner - External Reference #19, carried the following comment in March 1975:

It is very seldom these days that we hear of large ships being stolen from their owners and being chased by the authorities. About the closest we have come was last year when the British tanker Halcyon The Great was sneaked away from Canadian waters to avoid seizure over an unpaid bunkers bill, the cause of the whole escapade being the bankruptcy of her owners, the Court Line.

The following account “An Interlude with Halcyon the Great, which was once available on the net but seems now to have disappeared, is reproduced here with the permission of the author Roy Philpott - External Reference #20. Roy asked me to point out that this is his personal opinions and reminiscences and should be regarded as such, but it gives some great background information about what was going on at this time.

Modern shipping is possibly one of the last almost unregulated truly international business ventures. The regulations that govern business practice in shipping are almost impossible to police and extremely convoluted. A one-man company with a brass plate on a pokey office in Monrovia can own a ship. It could perhaps be registered on the tiny Pacific island of Vanuatu (a tax haven that has a merchant fleet of well over 500 ships and a population of only a couple of thousand). Some cheap insurance company could then insure the ship and be based in a third country that does not look too closely at certificates. The real owners perhaps hiding behind various convoluted holding companies and agencies set up around the world. It can be manned with cheap labor via an agency in a third world country and managed via a ship management company in yet another. No one really knowing (or caring as long as the money gets paid) who the real owner is. This all works reasonably well as long as things are handled fairly. When things break down however it becomes almost impossible to find out who is responsible or who pays the bills. The losers are always those on the last rung of the ladder, i.e. the seamen that serve on the vessel.

Halcyon the Great was a large crude oil carrier owned (on the surface) by the Halcyon Shipping Company in Monrovia. The Crew was an international mixture with a British Captain, Chief Engineer and Radio Officer. My initial contact with this ship was through the latter. We were running almost parallel for a while and the radio Officer had asked us to relay his traffic for him as the main transmitter had a fault he could not find. We had frequent radio "skeds", where I used to relay his radio traffic and helped him repair his long-range transmitter by 2 MHz R/T discussions and remote diagnosis. Afterwards, we kept in contact over several months until he entered port for discharging at Thameshaven. I later visited the ship whilst on leave and experienced his problems at first hand.

The ship had been bought second hand and had operated a couple of years successfully when the demand for tankers and the freight rates were high. This time she had loaded a cargo of Kuwait Crude oil at Mina Al Ahmadhi with a final destination to be announced but probably within Europe. The cargo, as was quite normal was sold and re-sold several times whilst being transported before finally being destined for England. The ship had been bought when freight rates were high and large profits could be returned. Now however there was a glut of large crude carriers and freight rates had hit rock bottom. A number of VLCC's had been laid up, and others were operating at below cost, just to keep ships and their crews moving. It could sometimes be cheaper to have ships running at a loss, instead of the expensive business of laying them up then returning them back to use again later if and when the market picks up. Also once an experienced crew has been let go or made redundant it is often not easy to get reliable and experienced people back again. Big tanker companies could absorb the costs - for a while. The small operator however was hurt badly.

Halcyon the Great was a steam turbine powered vessel and thus expensive to run and maintain. Her days were quite obviously numbered. Messages and letters from the crewmembers' families had complained that wages had not been paid for several months. Complaints to the owners at first received replies saying there had been some temporary banking difficulties but all should now be ok. After a while however they went unanswered and tension mounted. Day to day business was with the Charterers but the owners in Monrovia remained silent.

Halcyon the Great entered Thameshaven and discharged its cargo, but it turned out that the officers and crews wages had still not been paid and the crew refused to take the ship back to sea until their money was forthcoming. The cargo legally belonged to an English oil company and could not be withheld; the ship itself however was another matter. The ship was moved to a "lay-by" berth with the aid of tugs until things could be cleared up. Refusing to sail a ship from a port is not considered as mutiny and anyway the Captain was also supporting his crewmen. He had not been paid either. The ships agents tried to contact the manning agency, who stated that under the contract signed with the owners, all operating expenses (such as crew wages) were to be paid direct by the owners.

Repeated attempts to contact them in Monrovia were fruitless. An attempt to get the Monrovia Authorities involved merely confirmed the obvious. The brass nameplate on the tiny office of the Halcyon Shipping Company had been removed and it was deserted. The ship now effectively had no owner. The officers and crew meanwhile were running out of generator fuel and food. The port dues had not been paid, and a writ had been served to get them to leave the ship. Halcyon the Great however was registered in Monrovia and as such was effectively a little bit of Monrovia moored in England. The crew could not be forced to leave if they did not wish to. As their only way to try to recoup the unpaid wages owed them they decided to stay aboard until either the ship could be sold to pay its debts or the owners were traced and forced to pay up. If they left the ship even only for a few moments, they could be arrested and sent home. Therefore the crew were in a virtual prison aboard their ship!

Numerous seamen's church and welfare organizations such as the Flying Angel tried to help but could only stand by and offer moral support. Money with a large M was required. Local social services helped a little, but no attempt at sorting out the mess seemed to have much chance of success. Several weeks passed and Conditions aboard the Halcyon deteriorated. All attempts to trace the owner(s) had led to nothing. The generators were only run for short periods to conserve what little fuel remained and food was effectively rationed, as there was no money to buy more.

The port authorities threatened to tow the ship out to an anchorage, as the berth was needed. The crewmen had been offered a small sum if they left the ship. If they stayed no one knew how long things would drag on until it could be sold. They had an unenviable decision to make. Stay on and hope that maybe at some undefined time in the future they could go home with some of their back pay or go now with only a pittance but at least their fare home paid for. Inevitably, after a 6 month voyage at sea over a month in their ship "prison" and virtually no food or fuel left, the crew and officers reluctantly left. The only money they received for more than 7-month tour of duty aboard Halcyon the Great was for the first 3 months.

The ship was towed out and anchored by the port authorities. Eventually it was sold for scrap. No one wanted an elderly VLCC and the Halcyon Shipping Company had disappeared into the oblivion from which it had sprung. To my knowledge, no person or company was charged with the unpaid bills. No investigation was started as to who the owner(s) really were. Very likely a few palms were greased in Monrovia, and all problems were eliminated - together with all records. Probably now it is only a few seamen who remember how they were duped out of several thousand dollars of hard earned money, together with effectively several months of their lives.

At least in this instance no one was hurt, and the ship had been reasonably run up until the owners did a bunk. Sometimes however, greedy and unscrupulous owners and masters were the causes of major disasters. Ships have been sunk for the insurance money, or purposely run aground or set fire to. A number of ships' masters are known to have taken part in such activities. Often, their certificates were either forged or bought for a few dollars. It was quite easy up until a few years ago, for almost anyone to buy a foreign going masters or a Chief Engineers certificate for a very reasonable sum in certain countries. Even now it is possible, but more difficult and expensive than before. These certificates were valid world wide - if not very welcome to those in the know. Some of these "captains" had virtually no seagoing experience, and were a hazard to themselves and anyone near them. International policing is difficult to say the least. Sometimes it may only be due to long and painstaking investigations by insurance companies that the truth behind the loss of a ship becomes known. Even then, the culprits are rarely brought to justice.

Image Credits

  1. From the Allen Collection - External Reference #1