Wednesday, June 20, 2018
Abemama

The story of Moanaraoi by comparison is well defined and finite.

She was built with dimensions 59.9m x 9.68 x 4.01m by the well-known German small ship builder JJ Sietas at Hamburg Neuenfeldt in 1957, as the Ingrid Horn for the German Heinrich C Horn Linie, a subsidiary of the well-respected Hamburg-Süd shipping line. She spent her first ten years engaged on the worldwide tramping reefer trades, carrying the likes of bananas or frozen fish from out-ports around the world to rendezvous with main line ships for on-carriage to the world markets.

In 1967, she was purchased by the Wholesale Society of Tarawa, the commercial trading arm of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands Colony government, converted at her builders, and re-named Moanaraoi, the third colony ship to carry this proud name. Conversion for island trading included the installation of a stronger, un-stayed mast and longer, stronger derricks, together with a 10 tonne heavy lift derrick; the installation of two additional lifeboats on deck amidships to accommodate deck passengers; and additional crew accommodation with accompanying deck house in the after end of No 2 ‘tween deck to house an enlarged crew, necessary to work cargo in the outer islands. These modifications are clearly depicted in the 40c stamp.

Moanaraoi arrived in the Gilbert and Ellice Islands in the latter part of 1967, and took up her role delivering island supplies and bales of sacks (to receive copra) from her base in Tarawa to the outer islands, bringing back copra – the sun-dried flesh of coconuts – and empty fuel drums. A typical two-month roundvoyage embraced initially a loop around seven ‘ports’ in the Northern and Central Gilbert Islands in the course of which she visited Majuro in the US Trust Territory of the Marshall Islands. Then, having discharged copra from the Northern and Central Islands at Tarawa, she would take on supplies for the Southern Gilberts and the Ellice Islands, together with empty fuel drums for Suva, capital of the Fiji Islands. She then similarly worked up to twelve ‘ports’ in the Southern Gilbert and Ellice Islands, discharging general cargo, and loading copra and empty fuel drums, all of which were taken down to Suva, where the drums would be discharged for refurbishing and filling, and the copra would be discharged for transhipment by the Bank Line’s round-the-world service to the UK. At Suva, the vessel would load a full general cargo, including drummed petroleum products, Pacific biscuits (a staple food), sugar, cement and transhipment cargo from the UK. From Suva, the ship would return to Tarawa via Funafuti, the ‘capital’ of the Ellice Islands, making calls northbound at whatever islands as might have been missed southbound due to inclement working conditions.

The ‘ports’ in the Gilbert and Ellice Islands fell into two broad categories, lagoon ports, which the ship could enter and anchor within, some of them accessible by night by radar; and reef ports, where the ship had to stand on-and-off outside, unable in the main to anchor because of the depth of water, and hold up to the western side of the atoll in way of boat passages blasted by the Royal Marines to facilitate work boat access. Apart from Majuro and Suva, there were no ports in the vessel’s island itinerary where she could go alongside; and at all ports apart from Tarawa, Suva and Majuro, the crew worked the cargo using a miscellany of work boats carried on board – two carvelbuilt surf boats, two large lagoon boats, a heavy towing launch and a couple of light skiffs.

It is worth noting that the Gilbert and Ellice Islands are coral atolls, the maximum height of which above sea level was in the region of three metres. The atolls are geographically configured with their ‘land masses’ bordering the eastern and southern sides of the lagoon, the remaining sides of the lagoon being bordered by coral reefs with the occasional reef islet. A few islands had no lagoon at all. The prevailing trade winds bear down on the eastern sides of the atolls, making working on that side virtually impossible. On the sheltered western reefs, the entrances to the lagoons, sometimes navigable, sometimes not, and the blasted boat passages were situated. The physical conditions imposed by the geographical configuration of the islands made for interesting challenges in terms of cargo operations and voyage planning.

The Gilbert and Ellice Islands were a crown colony, embracing two different ethnic groupings – the Gilbertese were Micronesians, while the Ellice Islanders were Polynesian, the two groups speaking different languages. The isolation of the colony was emphasised by the fact that we only had one cargo service from the outside world a month, the Hamburg Süd’s Columbus Line en route from Australia to West Coast North America, and we had a mail plane from Fiji every fortnight. This placed high emphasis upon the service offered by Moanaraoi.

On all her inter-insular voyages, Moanaraoi carried up to 100 deck passengers. These people lived on deck under a tarpaulin tent stretched over No 2 hatch. While the arrangement might seem primitive to modern tastes, the tented passenger space was essentially a maritime maneaba, the traditional Gilbertese village meeting house. Under the tent, the passengers spread their woven mats, and talked, often all night. The deck passengers tended to be accompanied by their chickens and pigs, and their canoes, such that the ship in the islands frequently took on the aspect of a menagerie.

My passage to the Gilbert and Ellice Islands and command of Moanaraoi followed an inexorable path over some fifteen years. In the early 1950’s, as an end of term treat, the geography master at the Bishops Stortford College where I received my education, used to read us chapters from Sir Arthur Grimble’s classic book A Pattern of Islands; the spell was cast. As an officer in the New Zealand Shipping Co, our outward passage to New Zealand sometimes took in the Pacific Islands. At Suva, the capital of the Fiji Islands, there would often be in port chunky little white ships, immaculately maintained, deploying the defaced blue ensign of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands Colony; the spell was enhanced! On one such visit to Suva, the ageing survey frigate HMS Cook was in port.

Harbouring a desire to specialise in hydrography, I went on board at the invitation of her CO, Commander Frank Hunt RN. The ship had just returned from the Gilbert Islands, where she had run several lagoon surveys. I was shown around the ship by a general service officer who had been seconded to the hydrographic service and loathed every minute of his time so deployed. He recounted in revulsion having been 2/I/C of a detached survey party comprising two officers and six ratings, living in tents on the atoll of Tabiteuea South in the Gilbert Islands for six weeks. He could not get out of the survey service and back to the G&T navy quickly enough; my reaction by contrast was how could I get a slice of such action? I little realised then, that in just five years’ time, I would be in command in the Gilbert and Ellice Islands using HMS Cook’s excellent chart of Tabiteuea South lagoon.

Then in early 1968, while working ashore in the NZSCo’s head office in London, bored to tears and with containerisation about to change everything, a Crown Agents’ advertisement appeared in the Daily Telegraph for a ‘Marine Officer (Ship’s Master)’ to work in the Gilbert and Ellice Islands Colony. The bottom line was an Atoll Allowance of Aus$200 pa, usually tax free. What’s more romantic than an Atoll Allowance…? I was away!

Read the rest of this article with additional pictures in Sea Breezes Magazine - September 2017 Issue
Click here to subscribe

Subscribe Graphic
h3 class="g-title">Latest Issue - Look Inside! Game Changer

Most Popular

  • A Voyage of Discovery with NorthLink Ferries +

  • Nostalgic for Oil Fuel Depots +

  • HMS “Astute” in Cat-And-Mouse Pursuit by Russian Ships +

  • Maersk Expansion +

  • St Helena Finishes Career +

  • 1
  • 2

Top 10 Books and DVDs 2017

Maritime Log

  • Search for Wreck of Shackleton’s Endurance +

    SA Agulhas II A search could be mounted early next year for one of the most famous ships in British Antarctica exploration, the Read More
  • Delayed Polar Research Ship Set for Delivery +

    Kronprins Haakon Norway's new polar research vessel Kronprins Haakon is due to be operational this month, according to Norway’s Institute of Marine Read More
  • Second Heavy Lift Cargo for Power Station Project +

    Eastern Vanquish The second heavy cargo of equipment for the refitting of the Centrica power station at King’s Lynn arrived at the Read More
  • “Third Party Assistance” in Land Attack on Saudi Tanker +

    Abqaiq The Saudi Arabia flag tanker Abqaiq, 302,977dwt, was hit by a shore-launched anti-ship rocket fired by Yemen’s Houthi militia in Read More
  • Record Flies as Second Jack-Up Barge Arrives +

    Albatross What is believed to be the largest ship to visit the harbour in the history of Blyth, in Northumberland, arrived Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

North America

  • Appeal Over Developing New Master Plan +

    Enterprise To operate in California, ports must have a master plan approved by the California Coastal Commission that guides their development Read More
  • Shipyard Prepares Carrier for Laying Up +

    Enterprise In April, the Newport News Shipbuilding division of Huntington Ingalls Industries completed the inactivation of the former US Navy aircraft Read More
  • New Training Ship for US Merchant Marine +

    NSNV One Under the 2,232 page omnibus spending measure signed into law by President Donald Trump, the US Maritime Administration is to Read More
  • Giant Cranes Pass Through Puget Sound +

    Zhen Hua 28 A large heavy lift ship carrying four of the largest container cranes for the US West Coast sailed through Puget Read More
  • First Part of Ships’ LNG Conversion Completed +

    North Star The first of four conversion periods that will see the two Orca class rollon, roll-off vessels of Tote Maritime Alaska Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Asia-Pacific

  • Kotug Takes Over Joint Venture Australian Tugs Firm +

    KT Maritime Tug Kotug Australia has acquired the Teekay Shipping Australia half of their joint towage venture KT Maritime Services. Read More
  • Class Approval for LNG Ore Carrier +

    Hyundai LNG Carrier The South Korean shipbuilder Hyundai Heavy Industries (HHI) has received approval in principle from the Londonbased classification society Lloyd’s Register Read More
  • No Mistaking New Line’s Ships +

    ONE Livery The one ship that can’t be missed is the first for a new container line formed by three Japanese owners. Read More
  • Fatal Collision Blamed on Sudden Turn +

    USS John S McCain The collision between the US Navy destroyer John S McCain and the Greek owned oil/chemical tanker Alnic MC, 50,760dwt, in Read More
  • Nine New Cranes for Four Terminals +

    Zhen Hua 21 The first four of nine giant cranes for the DP World Australia container terminals at Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and Fremantle Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Naval Focus

  • HMS “Astute” in Cat-And-Mouse Pursuit by Russian Ships +

    HMS Astute British News Ahead of the American led missile strikes against suspected chemical weapon manufacturing plants in Syria in early April, Read More
  • Busy Period for Japanese Navy +

    JS Asahi Japanese News It has been a particularly busy period for the Japanese with a number of new vessels being accepted Read More
  • Historic Port Visit to Vietnam +

    USS Carl Vinson US News In a significant move in March, the nuclear powered aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson made an historic port Read More
  • Russian Minesweeper Fleet Expands +

    Alexander Obukhov Russian News By 2027 the Russian Federation Navy is expected to have acquired a total of ten Alexandrit class minesweepers Read More
  • New Patrol ship for Danes +

    HDMS Lauge Koch Danish News On 11 December, in a ceremony held at Naval Station Korsør, the Royal Danish Navy commissioned the third Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Ferry World

  • St Helena Finishes Career +

    RMS St Helena At last, after much delay, subsequent to the construction of the new airport on St Helena, the island’s namesake ship Read More
  • Maersk Expansion +

    Ulusoy 14 Maersk is making what seems to be a clever, though now very obvious, step to take for a far seeing Read More
  • "Rogaland" Performs for Dunkirk +

    Rogaland I am not normally drawn to such films as the latest Dunkirk release, but on my recent viewing it proved Read More
  • Weather Casualties +

    Hebridean Isles The issue of ferry operation, subsequent to the UK leaving the EU, will rather, regretfully, but unavoidably, continue to feature Read More
  • Superfast Stena +

    Superfast VII Superfast VIII The issue of ferry operation, subsequent to the UK leaving the EU, will rather, regretfully, but unavoidably, continue to feature Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Sail Review/Coastal Comment

  • RFA Pearleaf +

    RFA Pearleaf Thanks to Orkney Image Library for this view of the RFA Pearleaf. Read More
  • Nostalgic for Oil Fuel Depots +

    BP Distributor A collection of fine images of coastal tankers delivering fuel to the Southern Scottish town of Kirkcudbright took my eye. Read More
  • The Benefits of Wheel Spokes +

    Will Everard The Anna (see the print edition for details), like all Dutch craft, has a band around the outside of her Read More
  • Double Dutch Ketches +

    Gallant The Dutch 27.7m steel ketch Gallant, was built as a ‘logger’ in 1916 for the North Sea herring fishery. Read More
  • Focus on Freshspring +

    Freshspring Severn Sea The Scandinavian connection this month, continues with the welcome reappearance of the magnificently versatile Severn Sea 147gt of Bideford seen Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

From the Lookout

  • Major Marine Fabrication Returns to Southampton +

    SMS Pontoon Good positive news from Southampton where marine engineering services firm SMS is, presently, midway through a contract to build three Read More
  • ITF Inspectors Help Repatriate Ukrainian Seafarers +

    Avonmore Crew In this, the second decade of the 21st century, I am still often astonished, saddened and angered by the treatment Read More
  • "Future of the Fjords" +

    Future of The Fjords Norway is a country which takes its environmental responsibilities very seriously and is at the vanguard of changes to reduce Read More
  • Wight Shipyard Co Wins Second Export Order +

    Ultramar In 2017, I had the pleasure of visiting Wight Shipyard Co’s famous Columbine Yard in East Cowes (Isle of Wight) Read More
  • Red Funnel Congratulates New Female Captain +

    Alice Duncan Red Funnel, the Isle of Wight’s awardwinning ferry operator, welcomes the promotion of Alice Duncan to the position of captain. Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Cruise News/Superyacht News

  • ‘Ten Pound Poms’ . . . The Emigration Boom to Australia After WWII +

    New Australia With the cessation of hostilities after the end of WW2 in 1945, a number of Immigration Schemes were introduced by Read More
  • Symphony of Light Hong Kong +

    Symphony of Lights Cruise passengers on a vessel that includes Hong Kong within their itinerary, may have witnessed Hong Kong’s ‘A Symphony of Read More
  • "QE2" Comes to Life Again +

    QE2 in Dubai There will be many readers who, for the last decade, have followed the fortunes of the Queen Elizabeth 2. Read More
  • Supersub "Migaloo" +

    Migaloo The future of superyachts and how they may develop over imminent years, keeps superyacht commentators, like me, amused for hours. Read More
  • Superyacht Solution to Housing Shortage +

    Bluebird Diana Yacht Design is doing its bit to help solve the housing shortage. Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Ships, Ports and Places

National Maritime Museum of Ireland Interior

Taikoo Dockyard & Engineering Co

On 1 January 1867, John Swire & Sons, having been established as merchants in Liverpool since 1816, opened the first Read More
HMS Hood

The "Hood", My Father - The Ship and Battle - The Bell

In writing about HMS Hood and her service career, I am not going to attempt to cover it fully, as Read More
  • 1
  • 2

Companies, Events and Other Features

RMS Tayleur

Mrs Janet Taylor - Mistress of Science

The following is an extract from the presentation of a joint meeting of the Australian Institute of Navigation and the Read More
Hjaltland

A Voyage of Discovery with NorthLink Ferries

The lifeline connection by sea from the north of mainland Scotland to Orkney and Shetland is the stuff of legend. Read More
  • 1
  • 2