COMPANY HISTORY
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A Century of Success

Arrival of the Manchester City (1)

 

Dwindling Fleet

Ships We Forgot to Remember

The story of Manchester Liners from 1898 to the company's diamond jubilee year of 1958 has already been told by Mr R. B. Stoker in articles published in "Sea Breezes" in May 1948 and July 1958. Now Mr Stoker has written an account of the company's subsequent 25 years, packed with some of the most exciting and far reaching developments in world shipping. It is reproduced here from Volume 58 No. 467 Novemnber 1984 & 468 December 1984 and Volume 59 469 January 1985 & 470 February 1985 of "Sea Breezes" with their kind permission.

Manchester Liners 1959 - 1984

By Robert Burdon Stoker

Part 2

Continuing the story of Manchester Liners, Mr Stoker relates the development of the company's container services between 1969 and 1978 and outlines the bids that were made for the company during that period.

 

ON December 12, 1969 His Ex­cellency Mr. Charles S. A. Ritchie C.C., High Commissioner for Canada, officially opened the new Manchester Liners House, an elegant 10-storey building situated only a quarter of a mile from the container terminal.

At the suggestion of the writer, the building was designed in a curve to symbolise the bridge of a ship, modelled on the bridge of the Manchester Miller. Appropriately, Mr Ritchie swung a bottle of champagne against a front pillar before unveiling a plaque and declaring the building open.

Included in the complex, a new Customs Hall containing a long room for goods clearance and a Queen's Warehouse for impounded goods, twin parks for over 250 cars and a self-service petrol station, named Maple Leaf garage.

Canadian links are obvious. At the main entrance stands a 32ft. high Canadian Indian totem pole, specially carved for Manchester Liners at the request of Mr. Rob Stoker by Douglas Cranmer, of the Kwakiutl tribe of In­dians, British Columbia.

The pole has four symbolic representations — the eagle, ruler of the skies; the killer whale, master of the seas; the raven, a messenger sym­bolic of trade; and a chief holding copper, indicating the wealth and power appropriate to a chief.

In the foyer, is a carving depicting a polar bear fighting a sea monster. The carving, a gift from Furness Withy and Company, the then general agents in

Canada for Manchester Liners, was the work of an Eskimo named Mikigeeak, of Cape Dorset, Baffin Island.

Also in the foyer, is a 14 x 7ft. mosaic depicting marine life, the materials used being pebbles, sea glass, broken pottery from garden and seashore, abalone shells from the Californian coast and stones from a Scottish river bed.

The mosaic was designed and created by Eleanor Mather — Lady Mather, wife of Manchester industrialist Sir William Mather. In the restaurant is a mural depicting Canadian life, scenery and people, designed and painted by David Stoker, son of Mr Stoker.

Part of the office accommodation was let to dockside, shipping, freighting and similar interests.

Speaking at the opening ceremony, Mr Stoker again used the style of Longfellow's Hiawatha to say:

We/come to our brand new wigwam

Air conditioned 'gainst the hotness Insulated 'gains ( the coldness

Cosy home for eager beavers

Helicoptered on the rooftop

Totem-poled 'gainst evil spirits

Built within a virgin forest

Will be when the trees are grown up)

Parking space for Minis — ha ha!

Perched above the fragrant water (Five per cent is really water)

Launched with such a jolly party.

Mr Ritchie said that by courageous pioneering efforts, Manchester Liners had established the first cellular con­tainer service into Canada, had not only strengthened the ties between two great nations but had made it possible for Canadian manufacturers attempting to break into the British market to offer their customers in Britain speedy and safe delivery of their products.

In congratulating Mr Stoker and Mr Tony Roberts, Mr Ritchie said the pioneering of container trade with Canada had been tackled with the same flair as that demonstrated by Sir Francis Drake, difficulties being sum­moned with a high degree of daring and initiative.

Saying that wealth can be measured by the number of friends. Mr Ritchie assured Manchester Liners that their friends in Canada were legion.

 

 

The '70s — a Decade of Development

THE 1970s saw the container revolution producing enormous changes not only in shipping but in in­dustrial. commercial and trading patterns, with the "box" spreading its influence to many other parts of the world in addition to the North Atlantic.

New lines came into being, heavily supported by their banks.One of these, on the American trade, was Seatrain with three very fast — and very fuel-consuming -- gas turbine ships. These ships did not last very long.

Manchester Liners spread its container expertise into the Mediterranean where, from 1971 onwards the company pioneered container services to an ever-increasing number of countries.

The introduction of cellular container vessels meant that port turn-round was cut from 10 or more days to a couple of days or less. There were great reductions in pilferage of and damage to cargo.

The catchment area for cargo was greatly extended. Cheap unit trains enabled cargo to be transported economically to and from distant points. For example, in Britain the rail rate from Manchester to Southampton was less than the road rate from Manchester to Birmingham.

This meant that, particularly in a relatively small country, a container port could draw cargo from the traditional hinterland of other ports. The tariff could be amended to take care of any inland figure and the cargo be taken by any line to whom the end absorption was not exorbitant.

Lines with a good base cargo could add on to that good class cargo from another area on a marginal cost basis. "Berth rights'", in a sense, became out-dated.

These points were, of course, debated at Conference meetings. At the end of one all-day session Mr Tony Roberts, managing director of Manchester Liners, summed matters up by saying, "It is, of course, all a matter of integrity". A spokesman for an American line retorted, inelegantly and ungrammatically, "Integrity — that's a word like Mother's Day!" Fortunately, the line he represented was one which went out of business.

Another problem was the reaction of dock labour to house-to-house container movements, for instance from a Highland distillery direct to the overseas warehouse of the importer. That kind of movement reduced port handling to a minimum.

Then there was the question of groupage, putting less than a container load into a container. This could be carried out at any inland depot, much more than at the docks where a sur­charge had to be paid to the National Dock Labour Board.

Manchester Liners decided it would. none the less, be right to effect as much work as possible at the docks. A "stuffing" and "unstuffing" of con­tainers system was established at Vere Street, Salford, just behind the container terminal.

 

An indication of the delicacy with which labour relations had to be handled is given by the fact that one company which, in an unguarded moment, revealed that they planned to carry out these container stuffing and unstuffing operations not at a southern docks but away from that area found themselves forced to do so for many months by transhipment across to Antwerp at very heavy cost.

The "catchment area" for cargo to and from Britain became extended over the length and breadth of Britain by explosive concurrent developments in road and rail transport, specifically or coincidentally assisting the movement of containers.

The regularity and frequency of the services enabled help in the securing of export orders, such

as a £l½mn. con-tract for the delivery during 1971 of 22,350 tonnes of rolled steel wheel sections required by the North American vehicle industry.

A washing machine company in Staffordshire found it possible to "drip feed" a Canadian production line with sub-assemblies and pans, only a small contingency reserve being necessary in Canada. Confectionery made in Canada arrived in Britain speedily in perfect condition, enabling sales to be increased.

Experience over the first three years demonstrated that in fact the vast majority of cargo was suitable for containerisation. About 90 per cent of the traditional cargo of Manchester Liners was moving by container. New cargo was secured by the introduction of Europex, a system giving exporters of smaller loads a completely supervised door-to-door express service from anywhere in the UK to anywhere in Canada.

Among other major export commodities to Canada were earned goods, machinery, crockery, glass, carpets, chemicals, personal effects, footwear, wines and spirits, typewriters, tea, biscuits, tools, wallpaper, cereal foods, synthetic fibre, engines, sports goods, toys, confectionery, wool, paints and electric motors.

To the United States Mid-West ports of Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago and Milwaukee went spirits, steel bars, lead ingots, diesel engines, machinery, castings, cycles, tiles, aluminium in­gots, glass and sugar confectionery.

In from Canada came aluminium, asbestos, beans, canned goods, copper, ferrosilicon, iron and steel, lumber, soyameal, nickel, paper, board, newsprint, corn starch, tobacco, wood pulp and zinc; from the United States came millet, starch, dross, steel, lubricating oils, hides, sand, flour, granite and electrodes.

It was during 1970, in March. that Manchester Liners, in conjunction with CP and Head Donaldson — and as inheritors of the Cairn Line — started putting vessels directly into Greenock.

Going back a little in time, it may be recalled that in the late 1960's the Donaldson Line, of Glasgow, had suffered from the arrival of the "box" in the whisky trade. They had decided that the huge investment necessary in the container field, not only for new ships but also for fleets of containers, was too heavy. The field was left for CP and ML,

 

The Furness Warren Line — a famous line linking Newfoundland, Nova Scotia and Boston with Liverpool — had two excellent vessels on the trade, the Newfound/and and the Nova Scotia. The Boston sector was attacked by the container, as was the Halifax trade.

Although Manchester Liners handed over their St. John's, Newfoundland interest, more attractive employment was found in the 1970s for these ships. Boston costs were increased by the fact that the Federal Maritime Commission pursued all the Conference Lines, the result being very time-consuming and costly. The Warren Line was out of the trade by this time.

The Bristol City Line, friends of Manchester Liners, had the same agents in Montreal — Furness Withy — and were anxious to join in a container service out of Portbury, but this came to nothing.

Bristol City Line then went into a consortium with Compagnie Maritime Beige and a Canadian partner, Clarke Steamships. However as Portbury was not ready this service went out of the Continent and Southampton. Later on the Bristol third share was bought by Bibby Brothers and then the Clarke share was bought by C.V. Tung, who subsequently became the dominant partner by buying out Bibby.

The Dalgliesh Line, operating to Churchill, had been started by Peter Dalgliesh in the 1930s, loading full grain ships from the end of July to early October, basically two voyages. There was a period of terrible droughts and harvest in Western Canada. Peter Dalgliesh stumped the prairie provinces, followed by a Manchester Liners representative. Importers had to place their orders in May for all the year — and then found they had ordered too much. But there was a strong Western lobby at the Bay Association. Each year the ships brought in whisky for the liquor boards.

In 1968 Peter Dalgliesh had led a trade mission to the area. Included in it was the managing director of Manchester Liners, selling the advantages of containers throughout the year. The attraction of the Bay route was broken. By the early 1970s both Peter and his son were tragically dead and the Dalgliesh Line ended.

The Cunard Line, operating from Liverpool, became worried about the expenditure needed to run an efficient container service. They went into a consortium with Continental owners and temporarily left Liverpool.

 

The result was that in the early days of the container service through Montreal there was basically Manchester Liners and CP Ships. The consortium Dart Line put their ships into Halifax, combining this with the New York service.

The British lines, looking at the expenditure involved in big container ships and the tremendous back-up services required had looked to consortia, especially for long-distance trades. Furness took their interest to Australia and New Zealand, joining with the OCL container consortia.

As Manchester Liners had a big minority interest the company was

excluded from this. Manchester Liners relationship with OCL was friendly in fact pin-pointing for OCL a container base in Trafford Park which proved very successful.

The Manchester Faith and Manchester Fame were sold, becoming the IIkon Tak and Ilkon Niki respectively, chartered to continue the Great Lakes service

The Manchester Port, Manchester Renown, Manchester City, Manchester Miller and Manchester Progress were only able to carry a limited number of containers to Chicago so, in August, a feeder service from Montreal was commenced with two small container ships. the Manchester Rapido and Manchester Mercurio, chartered from Spain. These vessels took containers from Montreal on a weekly basis.

The Manchester Miller was converted in 1970 by Smith's Dock Co. Ltd. into a cellular containership and renamed Manchester Quest. The Manchester Progress was also converted for containers and ice-strengthened, becoming the Manchester Concept.

The Manchester City became the Korean Winner, the Manchester Renown the Korean Challenger. The Yugoslavs bought the Manchester Port, which became the Biokovo.

It was also in 1970 that word came that the Mediterranean lines were proposing a consortium for containers. As explained earlier, Manchester Liners had bought Prince Line loading brokers Gough and Crosthwaite, continuing services to the Mediterranean from Manchester as the Manchester Prince Line, operating small vessels to "cream" the traffic and to avoid lengthy times in port.

Although the Manchester Liners share of West Coast trade had gone down to about 5 per cent, it was a profitable percentage. It seemed clear that any consortium would operate out of Liverpool, not Manchester, and that Manchester Liners would be a very minor partner.

Visits were made by Mr Stoker and Mr D. E. Warburton, managing director of Gough and Crosthwaite, to Israel and to Cyprus to sell the container concept, in the broadest possible terms. There were difficulties because of conflicting interests but eventually these were resolved, making it possible for Manchester Liners to commence container services in the following year.

 

Boardroom Battle

THE year 1970 saw another development in the story of Manchester Liners. It began with what Mr R. B. Stoker describes as "a roar of cannons". This was a decision by Furness Withy to bid for the share capital in Manchester Liners which they did not own.

There was an interlocking directorate, Manchester Liners directors Mr James A. MacConochie, Mr Geoffrey Merrant. Mr R. B. Stoker and Mr P.V.O. Evans (Canadian director (also being on the Furness board, Mr. MacConochie, of course, being the chairman of Furness Withy and Co. Ltd. The independent directors of Manchester Liners were Sir Leslie Roberts, Mr Tony Roberts and Mr Mark Pattinson.

It was agreed that negotiations should be carried out with the advice of the respective merchant banks of the two companies, Rae Brothers for Furness Withy and Shroder Wagg for Manchester Liners.

The merchant banks were unable to come to any agreement on a fair price.

The Manchester Liners stockbrokers in Manchester, P.Q. Henriques and Company, came out strongly in the defence of Manchester Liners. They had, in fact, to appear before the Stock Exchange Council and were able to convince the council that they were not privy to special information.

Furness Withy had 42 per cent of the voting stock. A raised forecast resulted in an increase in the bid price, and at the end of a month Furness Withy gained 49.7 per cent of the shares. Their offer was extended and they then received 50.4 per cent later increased to 56 per cent.

It was a difficult period for both lots of directors. The outcome was that Manchester Liners, with a young and flourishing management team, continued as a subsidiary company to Furness Withy.

An interesting financial footnote is that from around a quarter of a million pounds profit during the 1960s, the year to the end of December 1969 showed £372,000; the next half-year 716,000 — £1,008mn. £ for

 
the full year — and the following six months, to the end of December 1970, £645,000.

 

1971 — and a Royal Accolade

THE year 1971 was marked by vigorous expansion of container vessel services and associated interlinking activities. The Manchester Merit which had been ordered in Spain, came back from a spell in Canada. Spanish associates and friends Contemar — who were producing transhipment cargo for Canada for Manchester Liners — took her for the first two voyages as the first UK container vessel into the Mediterranean.

Early in 1971 Manchester Liners commenced container services from Manchester to the Eastern Mediterranean, to Malta, Cyprus and Israel. These services, managed by Gough and Crosthwaite, were a blend of the container expertise of Manchester Liners and the experience of Mediterranean trading, dating back to the turn of the century, by Gough and Crosthwaite as loading brokers to the long-est­ablished Prince Line.

In the beginning, Malta created a problem. When the first ship was on the way a delegation of dockers came over to re-open negotiations. The result was that the cargo was discharged at Cyprus, unstuffed and delivered to Malta break-bulk. However the difficulties were overcome and by the end of the year the Manchester Liners share of Mediterranean trade had in-creased from 5 per cent to 35 per cent.

In later years the container vessel services from Manchester were to be extended to Syria, Lebanon, Greece and Italy, plus a sea-land service to Iran. Sales and other functions were closely co-ordinated with those in the rest of the group. The Mediterranean services also brought the benefit of transhipment cargo through the USA and Canada — and vice-versa.

The container revolution was now firmly established — and it meant that the old concept of pier to pier rates on cargo had gone. Having to quote from the shipper's warehouse meant becoming interested and involved in road haulage.

Thomas Craig and Co. Ltd, in road haulage, container storage and repairs, had been acquired in 1970. In 1971 Manchester Liners also acquired. Wardell Warehousing Ltd and Wardell Transport Ltd, of Stretton, near Warrington, and Waugh Road Services Ltd, of Benton Square Industrial Estate, near Newcastle upon Tyne. Commercial Cartage Co. Ltd. located at the East India Dock complex in London, was acquired in 1972.

This provided depots for the storage of containers and, in due course, facilities for minor repairs to containers, an activity which steadily grew in importance.

 

In 1971 the Queen's Award was extended. for the first time, to include invisible exports. Manchester Liners gained the first Queen's Award to go to a shipping company. Presenting the award in September of that year the Lord Lieutenant, Lord Rhodes, said: "You at Manchester Liners have a way of blazing a trail".

All the vessels of Manchester Liners flew the Queen's Award flag.

By the end of the year Manchester Liners was operating the four 12,000 tons deadweight "Challenge" class container vessels, the 10,000 tons deadweight Manchester Quest and the 4,500 tons deadweight Manchester Merit. Other container ships, such as the two Great Lakes feeder vessels based at Montreal, were on charter.

In addition, orders had been placed with British yards for two further container vessels of 4,490

tons deadweight for delivery in 1973, plus orders worth £10 mn for two improved "Challenge" class container vessels for delivery in 1975.

At this period, looking into the future. Manchester Liners became involved with a cargo airship project, an idea revived in the light of new materials and technology to extend container traffic into the areas with poor or non-existent road or rail facilities.

A subsidiary company, Cargo Airships Ltd, was created on a fifty-fifty basis with airship enthusiast and publicist Max Rynish. Feasibility and design studies were commenced in the UK and Canada. an aeronautical engineer was hired and patents were later taken out. The project certainly attracted a great deal of publicity. However although there certainly seemed a future for the right design for the craft, it was subsequently decided to withdraw from this project.

The year 1972 started with a first, when Capt Denis Millard took the Manchester Crusade into Montreal on January 1, the first vessel to arrive. He was presented with the symbolic Gold Cane. The vessel was the fourth of the "Challenge" class container ships to go into service.

A second gantry crane, of 35 tonnes capacity, was in action at the Manchester Container Terminal. The terminal's water frontage had been increased to 850 ft. and could now berth two vessels.

Labour troubles continued both in Canada and Manchester, a dock

 
strike lasting for nine weeks in Montreal closing the container terminal there for that period. There was also a four-week UK national dock strike.

In September, the formal interline agreement between Manchester Liners and CP Air was signed on board the Manchester Crusade complementing that already signed between the company and Air Canada.

Despite all problems, the company was still expanding and still looking for fresh developments associated with containers. The Lakes feeder service had been augmented by the Spanish vessel Fortuna and delivery was also taken of the vessel Frontier, which was suitable for the Mediterranean trade.

In January 1973 Mr Philip K. Gorick was appointed as chief executive of Manchester Liners operations in North America and a director of Manchester Liners (Canada) Ltd of which Mr P.V.O. (Peter) Evans was President.

It had also been decided to broaden the company's base. Instead of operating two ships a week out of Manchester, which was liable to strike disruption, there would be one out of Manchester and one out of Felixstowe and Rotterdam, commencing in April.

The Rotterdam - Felixstowe - Montreal service opened new opportunities for Canadian and European manufacturers at a period marked by Britain's entry into the European Economic Community. The feeder container services from Montreal were also of interest to Continental importers and exporters.

It was evident that the Rotterdam service, while very promising, would take some time to get into real profitability. After two years with poor results, completely outside the company's control, Mr Stoker went to Montreal where he saw Mr Ian Sinclair, chairman of CP and suggested that after some 70 years it was possibly time to work together rather than as competitors.

CP ships were losing money on their service out of Liverpool so this approach was received favourably. Negotiations took place through the summer between Mr Tony Roberts and CP. In January 1974 Manchester Liners withdrew the Felixstowe - Rotterdam - Montreal service and CP withdrew its Liverpool - Glasgow - Montreal service.

In mid-1973 delivery was taken of the Manchester Vigour and Manchester Zeal, built under cover at Appledore. These were small general purpose vessels which could be used on the Mediterranean, the North Atlantic or be chartered. In fact during the next two years they were variously on charter to Australia, to the American Gulf and then on the North Atlantic to the USA for a year.

To cater for cargo which would not go into containers Golden Cross Line, under the management of Mr. Tony Lowry, went into action.

Industrial peace in 1973, for a change, produced a profit of £645,000 instead of the loss of £516,000 for the comparative period in the previous year. The result in the peaceful year of 1974 can be judged by the fact that the company made £6.1 mn.

The 75th anniversary of the company was in 1973. Congratulations came in from Mr Michael Heseltine, Minister for Aerospace and Shipping; and in Canada from the Rt. Hon. Pierre Elliott Trudeau. Prime Minister and his Minister of Transport, the Rt. Hon. Jean Marchant; the Hon. Alastair Gillespie, Canadian Minister of Industry, Trade and Commerce; from Mr J. H. Warren, Canadian High Commissioner in the UK; Mr Ward Cornell, Agent General for Ontario, and Mr Jean Fournier, Agent General for Quebec, both based in the UK; from the Lord Mayor of Manchester, Alderman Edward Grant; the Mayor of Montreal, M. Jean Drapeau; and Mayor Richard J. Daley, Chicago.

 

There were, of course, a great many other congratulations and good wishes from shippers, all of which showed something of the esteem in which Manchester Liners was held.

In January 1974 Manchester Liners established its own offices in Montreal, Toronto and Winnipeg, the majority of the staff of former general agents Furness Withy becoming Manchester Liners employees. Capt Clive W. Meadowcroft, based in Manchester, and Mr Philip Gorick, based in Montreal, were appointed directors of Manchester Liners Ltd.

Capt Meadowcroft, holder of an extra master's certificate, joined the company in 1968, serving in various commercial roles in the UK, Europe and Canada and being especially concerned with diversification policies.

Mr Gorick, who continued as chief executive of the company's operations in North America. joined Furness Withy in 1950, serving in the Far East, New York and London. In 1964 he was appointed personal assistant to Sir Errington Keville, chairman of Furness Withy; in 1966 a manager of Furness Withy, London: in 1970 chairman of the USA Board and later director of the North American Divisional Board and President of the Furness Withy USA organisation.

Mr. Peter Evans left the ML board to make way for Mr. Gorick, and Mr. Stoker paid a special tribute to Mr. Evans for the way he had looked after the Canadian affairs of Manchester Liners.

Further companies were acquired, Manchester Dry Docks Ltd., in 1974, and also E. Wilcox and Co. (Chains) Ltd.. the latter specialising in manufacturing, repairing and merchanting lifting tackle. Manchester Dry Docks owned three dry docks and a small pontoon dock in the Port of Manchester.

It was really necessary to have dry docks to keep the fleet going. By putting the dry docks together with the marine engineering company Morrell Mills, which had been acquired in 1968. the means existed not only to maintain ships but also to repair and refurbish containers in conjunction with Container Workshops Ltd.

To ensure the better utilisation of containers a data link was installed between Manchester and Montreal. The computer contained full details of the location of all 12,000 containers on both sides of the Atlantic. Every container movement was entered within hours. Visual display units were employed for both entering data and to permit

 
instant interrogation of the computer in real time.

Again, Manchester Liners were leading — the only container company on the North Atlantic at the time to have both a transatlantic data link and VDUs for the purpose of container utilisation control

 

At the beginning of 1975 the Mediterranean container services were extended to Greece, the Manchester Mercurio making the first voyage, sailing on January 18.

Further developments in the Mediterranean were also in hand. Following intensive investigations into ways and means of providing a new container route to Iran from the UK the decision was made to pioneer a service by sea to the Turkish port of Iskenderun and then by road across Turkey to Iran, crossing only one land frontier.

The Medliners-Iran service was in­augurated in July 1975 with the sailing of the vessel Manchester Falcon from Manchester.

Arrangements had been made for a 25-tonne crane in Iskenderun and for a fleet of vehicles able to take containers on a four-day journey to Teheran, passing near to Mount Ararat, supposed to be the resting place of Noah's Ark.

Another development was the formation of an equal joint company with container manufacturers Adamson Hatchett to produce housing units to container dimensions — and with the portability of containers. The company was named Manchester Adamson. However as in the case of Cargo Airships, it eventually proved that a fifty-fifty company was not really the way to success.

Two new vessels, the Manchester Reward and Manchester Renown, were delivered during the summer. Within a short time the contribution from these vessels, operating on charter in the Far East, helped the company to weather the storms of strikes in Canada and Manchester.

The year 1975 also saw the ap­pointment of Furness Withy director Mr. Brian Shaw to the board of Manchester Liners. Sir Leslie Roberts, father of Mr. Tony Roberts, decided not to seek re-election to the Manchester Liners board, on which he had served since 1947. Mr. Shaw — who was subsequently to become chairman of Furness Withy — was invited to succeed him on the ML board.

Sir Leslie had retired in 1971 as chairman of the Manchester Ship Canal Company, being appointed honorary president. His shipping experience included executive service on the boards of the Leyland Line, Royal Mail Lines and The Pacific Steam Navigation Company.

 

The year 1975 ended on a high note with a new record — the 100th crossing of the North Atlantic by the Manchester Challenge. Mr. Nick Beshwaty, on behalf of the Montreal Harbour Authority, presented the master of the ship Capt. James Illingwonh, with an Eskimo carving to mark the occasion.

The Manchester Concorde was not far behind, completing her 100 voyages when she arrived at Manchester on February 18, 1976 under the command of Capt. Eric Askew.

During her seven years and 100 voyages the Manchester Challenge carried 95,000 containers across the North Atlantic to and from Montreal, which added up to 1,438,590 tonnes. She had logged 553,819 miles, the equivalent of a return trip to the moon.

 

Bid for Manchester Liners

IN the autumn of 1974 there was another partial take-over of Manchester Liners, Furness increasing their holding to 61.6 per cent. This had been brought about to some degree by the activities of Eurocanadian Shipholdings Ltd (ECS) otherwise known as Cast.

Since the end of the 1960s Cast had been chartering vessels to carry bulk loads of steel westbound and copper matte eastbound, to and from the St. Lawrence and Antwerp.

Mr. F. Narby, one of the founders of the company — a Canadian citizen with previous experience of shipping in Egypt, London and in Canada, was an astute and capable charterer. He saw the possibility of putting better class cargo above his bulk carryings.

This was the way in which Sea-Land had started. Manchester Liners had done the same thing before containers by putting liner board from Savannah on top of bulk phosphate from Tampa.

By getting a contract for the carriage of asbestos, Cast was in the simple container business with little capital expenditure. The ships, boxes and mobile cranes could be hired.

Cast started to buy Manchester Liners shares and put in a bid for those not owned by Furness Withy, which was a minority of 44 per cent. Furness decided to try to buy the Manchester-held shares to keep them in friendly hands, to bring their holdings up to 75 per cent. However stockbrokers in Manchester had a millionaire client who bought up all the shares on offer and held them for the highest bidder. Clearly, it was not possible to tell local friends to sell to Furness Withy below the market price.

At the time Lord Beaching, chairman of Furness Withy, was in Germany. The guide lines could not be altered. At first the holding of Cast hardly changed. Furness raised their stakes from 56 per cent to nearly 62 per cent with around 30 per cent of the shares held by the "third man."

Cast then raised the ante from about 110 pence to 155 pence becoming the owners of 37.6 per cent of the equity, with only 0.8 per cent still left as private shareholders. Naturally, the Stock Exchange held an inquiry into the share dealings of the Manchester Liners directors, who were completely exonerated of any wrong doing.

As Cast had been cutting rates on the Canadian-Continental trade and evidently had ambitions about UK trade, Manchester Liners felt that with a large shareholding they would have an interest in Manchester Liners being profitable.

Furness held a meeting with Cast but could not progress any ideas further — so the situation developed that Manchester Liners had majority and minority shareholders who were not talking to each other.

ECS had been buying Furness Withy ordinary shares since June 1974 — and then further efforts to influence Manchester Liners through Furness Withy were begun. Cast, with help from its bankers, built up the stake in Furness Withy, assisted by the forced sale of tanker owner Reksten's shares, acquiring 425,000 by August 1974.

By mid-July 1975 ECS had acquired nearly 2.5 mn Furness Withy shares, Mr. Narby stating that this was to pursue his aim of getting control of Manchester Liners.

Some small sales were subsequently made, reducing the ECS holding in Furness Withy to 2,376.500. However in August, Mr. Narby struck a bargain with Hambros Bank Ltd (Hambros) for the purchase of about 19 per cent of the Furness Withy equity.

In October 1975 Canadian National Railways (CNR) joined Cast by taking an 18 per cent share, Dr. R. A. Bandeen, president and chief executive officer of CNR, becoming a director. This no doubt helped Cast to get further credit.

On November 28, 1975 the Department of Prices and Consumer Protection referred the matter to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission which then set up a group. under the chairmanship of Mr. J. G. Le Quesne QC, to carry out the inquiry. During the period of the inquiry ECS made further purchases of Furness Withy ordinary shares. By June 10, 1976 ECS held 6,673,960 ordinary shares, representing 24.9 per cent of the issued ordinary capital of Furness Withy.

The hearings of the commission were held during the summer of 1976 under the title "Eurocanadian Shipholdings Ltd and Furness, Withy and Company Ltd and Manchester Liners Ltd."

Manchester Liners, during the hearings, learned for the first time of the ECS objective: to combine the non-Conference service from Antwerp in a three-cornered service via Liverpool to Montreal, using the two new 1,000 TEU Manchester Liners ships, when they were available, and aiming eventually at bigger ships.

The 1,000 TEU container vessels had been ordered by Manchester Liners from Smith's Dock Co. Ltd., for delivery in 1977 — the Manchester Vanguard and Manchester Venture.

The 1,000 TEU capacity was decided on the best advice of the Furness chartering department as the size to fill a gap in the market.

 

An independent study by the Marine Transport Centre, Liverpool, confirmed that if both sizes of ships — that is around 560 TEU and 1,200 TEU — were full, there was a saving of about 16 per cent in favour of the bigger ship. However there were many problems. Furness Withy were very unhappy about Cast having board representation as they were also ship operators on the worldwide market. The other Conference operators were also unhappy at a joint office and service run by a line non-Conference to the Continent and Conference to the UK

CP Ships, especially, having gone out of Liverpool, were in a threatening mood to break up the agreement reached in 1974 with Manchester Liners. This would have resulted in a big reduction in the cargoes of Manchester Liners.

British shippers said that Manchester Liners was the only wholly British line in the UK/Canada trade, that its management was readily accessible and exceptionally effective in support of British interests, and that the company was too important to be under foreign control.

The chairman of the North Atlantic Shippers' Association said that "while nobody is perfect ML is as good a shipping line both as an operator and a Conference member as shippers can realistically hope to see." Many other bodies put in reports, speaking well of Manchester Liners.

The commission, in its report published in October 1976, ruled that the proposed merger was against the public interest, stating: We consider that Manchester Liners is an effective company; in particular it has an impressive record of enterprise and successful innovation.

We received not a single criticism from Manchester Liners customers of the way in which it conducts its business and got positive testimony of the quality of the service which it provides."

Cast was by no means pleased with this judgement and began to put their vessels from Antwerp into Liverpool in order to reduce the carryings of Manchester Liners. However the Liverpool labour went on strike and so Cast pulled out from Liverpool with a view to putting this competitive UK service out of Avonmouth.

When their vessel approached Avonmouth the ancillary workers went out on strike. Cast pulled away from Avonmouth, decided they had had enough of UK labour and that their future lay in operations from Antwerp which would be serviced by feeders from UK ports. The situation arose where Glasgow cargo went from Leith to Antwerp and other cargo going across from London or Harwich.

The story of Manchester Liners was to be dictated for the next few years by the efforts of Cast to increase its carryings.

 

The Second Half of the Seventies

IN 1976 Manchester Liners received another Royal tribute—the presentation of a second Queen's Export Award, an unparalleled achievement. The first Award, made in 1971, recognised the company's work in pioneering Britain's deep-sea cellular container vessel services; the second the earnings brought in from the charter market.

The company, seeking new challenges, then decided that world-wide trading opportunities could be created by the chartering out of cellular container ships. Four vessels, built in Britain for this market, brought valuable export revenue. Two further vessels were on order from Smith's Dock, Middlesbrough, at an approximate total delivered price of £18 mn. During the previous three years the company had increased overseas earnings by almost £15 mn.

The company's container vessels were trading across the Atlantic to the American continent, in the St. Lawrence Seaway, the Great Lakes, the Mediterranean and Middle East, to the Continent and in the Far East.

When the award was presented in August by the Lord Lieutenant, Mr. William A. Downward, he praised the company's container developments, saying "Advances such as this come from co-operation at all levels."

As he spoke, moves were afoot to capitalise on containerisation skills by further broadening the base of the company. Two directors, Mr. Mark Pattinson and Capt. Clive Meadowcroft, went out to look at possibilities in the Middle East, Mr. Pattinson chosen because of his financial expertise, Capt. Meadowcroft of his technical "know-how". 

After one false start in the Gulf, negotiations began with the Alireza family in Jeddah for the setting up of a joint company, The Marine Transport International Company Ltd. Less than three years after its formation, the company was to become the world's largest non-shipping line port manage­ment operator.

Among other highlights of 1976: the shipping of around three million teabags for the Montreal Olympics and the 50th voyage to Chicago by Capt. H. M. Bunker, master of the Lakes feeder vessel Kathleen.

August saw the retirement of Mr. D. W. Warburton, managing director of Gough and Crosthwaite, followed by the appointment of co-director Mr. R. A. H. (Ray) Farrer as executive manager of the Mediterranean Division of Manchester Liners.

A sad event in the middle of the year. was the death of Sir Leslie Roberts, CBE, former chairman of the Manchester Ship Canal Company and director of Manchester Liners.

On January 1, 1977, the symbolic Gold Cane for the first vessel into Montreal went to Capt. William Hancock, master of the Canadian-registered Sir John Crosbie, on charter to the Golden Cross Line.

Mr. Brian Shaw became managing director of Furness Withy, and Mr. Tony Roberts was appointed to the Furness Withy board, the Manchester Vigour and Manchester Zeal went on to Mediterranean service, the new 946 TEU vessel Manchester Vanguard made her maiden voyage and the sister vessel Manchester Venture was launched by Mrs. Bryanne Alireza, wife of Sheikh Faisal A. Alireza.

 

Marine Transport International, 64 per cent owned by the Alireza organisation, and 36 per cent by Manchester Liners, was contracted by the Saudi Ports Authority, under the leadership of Dr. Fayez I. Badr, presi­dent and chairman of the board, to operate and manage a container berth at Jeddah on behalf of and in conjunction with the authority and the Jeddah Port administration.

The chairman of MTI was Sheikh Youssef M. Alireza; Vice-Chairman and Chief Executive, Sheikh Fahd M. Alireza: President, Mr. Mark Pattinson, Directors, Sheikh Faisal A. Alireza and Capt. Clive Meadowcroft.

Between March and December the whole 30-acre site was fitted out with a Liebherr 90-tonne gantry crane, straddle carriers and fork-lift trucks, with Manchester Adamson "Marco" units for the housing complex.

The berth, number 16, was so successful that it was equipped with a second gantry crane and, in the following year, MTI were awarded the con-tracts to manage and operate two further container berths at Jeddah, numbers 35 and 36.

In order to expand MTI's operations elsewhere a crane was sent out to India to commence container berth services in Bombay. However there was great difficulty in getting money out of India so that this scheme had less attraction than another new container terminal of which the management, later on, was offered.

This terminal at Khor Fakkah in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates was just outside the Hormuz Strait mouth of the Arabian Gulf, strategically situated not only for sending cargo through the Gulf States without having to go into the Arabian Gulf but also for transporting cargo to or from India.

Manchester Liners was also given the opportunity to acquire one line and go into partnership with another to that part of the world but it was decided to concentrate on handling boxes at the terminals.

A supplement published by International Freighting Weekly at the start of 1976 bore the headline "Manchester Liners — born in 1898 and still going strong:"

There were two reasons for celebration. It was not only the 80th birthday year of the company but also the year in which Manchester Liners completed a decade of fully-cellular transatlantic container vessel services.

The year began with another first when Capt. Eric Askew took the Manchester Concorde into Montreal on New Year's Day, to collect the Gold Cane. It was a double celebration for him, too, for a few days later his daughter, living in Toronto, produced a baby girl. However it was also a year again of unofficial strikes.

The decision was made to operate the North Atlantic service from Liverpool, the Mediterranean services continuing from Manchester. At this period the charter market began to go sour with the result that the Manchester Renown and Manchester Reward came home from the Far East. The Manchester Challenge and Manchester Courage were sold.

The £ started to move higher, affecting the company's dollar freight — and a four week lorry strike played havoc with carryings. There was world-wide depression, resulting in Governments subsidising and in fact almost giving away ships.

The rise in the £ had also made the return on the chartering out of vessels, particularly the Manchester Vanguard and Manchester Venture much lower than expected. Although there was demand for them, it was on the basis of 50 per cent of the return which had been predicted and depreciation on loan interest could not be earned, an especially serious matter with the Manchester Vanguard.

The background to this was the fact that shipowners had been encouraged to place orders by the concession of being credited with 100 per cent depreciation in the first year. This meant that if they had a big tax bill they received a refund — but also meant that in future years there was not the benefit of taking the years depreciation off the tax bill.

Assets and borrowing powers were increased, but there was a tread mill effect, to continue building new ships.

The company's tax experts had produced a scheme — rather in advance of its time — whereby through a complex financial structure, Pilkington Brothers, who paid a great deal of tax, bought 75 per cent of the Golden Cross Line, the line which ordered the Manchester Vanguard.

However the expected £8 mn. refund, on the basis of which the ship was ordered, did not arrive for the new owners. The Revenue found some chinks in the agreement. The case went up to the House of Lords in 1982, who found for the Revenue.

There was employment for lawyers but not for British shipbuilders whom the legislation was designed to assist.

In August 1978 Capt. Dennis Millard retired, his place as commodore being taken by Capt. Alan Cookson. Both had been seafarers since boyhood.

Continued....

 
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