For those who were familiar with the Indian coast the following letter supplied by Terry Gardner will be
of interest. Anchor Line, P & O, B.I. etc. R/Os will recall VWB and the days they told you to anchor offshore for
10 days to await a berth..............
|Courtesy Duncan Mackenzie - SM MAR/98
British India's motor ship CHILKA was built by Swan Hunter
at Newcastle-upon-Tyne in 1950. The 7,132 grt motor ship was broken up in Taiwan in 1972.
The handsome KAMPALA above was built in 1947. She was 10,304 grt,
507 ft in width and had a service speed of 16 knots.
Funnel markings for B.I. had two white bands close together except DUNERA
and DILWARA which had yellow funnels. Hulls were black with a white line, red boot topping, except for some
such as the KAMPALA which had white hulls with a black line. When DUNERA and DILWARRA were on trooping service they
had white hulls with a broad blue band.
Routes were very numerous and formed a network covering the whole of
the Indian Ocean which was the main sphere of operations. Some of the services extended to the U.K. via Suez and the
Mediterranean, to Japan and New Zealand.
|DUNERA Courtesy Laurence Dunn - SM DEC/91
The following extract is taken from a December 1991 edition
of SM. As a 12 year-old schoolboy in 1961 Bob Saxby recalls a two week cruise on the DUNERA, described by Mr. Saxby as 'The
Adventure of a Lifetime'.
"The DUNERA was built in 1937 on the Clyde by Barclay Curle as a troopship. She was 517
ft. long, 63 ft. wide and 12,620 tons gross with diesel engines and twin screws. She had a long foredeck (originally with
three holds) and no forecastle. She ultimately became B.I.'s first educational cruise ship. While serving in this capacity
in 1961 one could still see the remains of two gun turrets abutting one of the three deck houses. The deck on the bow section
was green painted metal but the remainder was timbered. The foredeck was known as 'B' deck and abaft of the main superstructure
it again became an open deck where the small swimming pool was located (in a former hold). Three lifeboats were then located
before encountering the crew's accommodation at the stern. Most of the lifeboats were on 'A' deck together with much of the
cabin class accommodation for teachers and adult passengers. From bow to stern 'C' deck contained dormitories, cafeteria,
shop, cabins, Cabin Class kitchen, cinema and crew's quarters. The stern half of 'C' deck had open sides and was the lowest
point on the ship where you could lean on the rail and observe the sea. 'E', 'D' and 'F' decks housed the bulk of the dormitory
accommodation (boys forward/girls amidships!). 'G' deck was to be found below the waterline and contained the 'games room'
- table tennis in here was quite the experience with the ship rolling and any high shot bounding off the low ceiling with
its exposed girders.
The ship was diesel-powered with twin screws and capable of 14 knots, although on most days we averaged
about 12 and sometimes less in heavy weather. The tour of the bridge was more pleasant. We were each allowed to take the helm
for a few minutes. I was surprised at first that it was only a crew member at the helm and not the captain!. We saw the radio
room and navigation charts and looked into the radar screen. I returned from the bridge very impressed and decided that if
I ever had a career at sea it would be up on the bridge. Our return to the UK was via the Irish Sea into Liverpool, the next
800 lucky children being Merseysiders. We saw salmon bass jumping out of the Irish Sea but visibility was not good enough
to see the Welsh coast. The approach to Liverpool seemed to take for ever but we eventually berthed next to Riverside station,
and left DUNERA with lumps in our throats"
|WANGARATTA - Courtesy James L. Shaw SM JULY/87
The cargo vessel WANGARATTA (1919/7,987 tons),
one of sixteen ships owned by the British India Steam Navigation Co., is seen above passing through the Panama Canal in 1921
At the conclusion of WW2 British India Steam Navigation
Company Ltd., a pioneer shipping firm in the Indian Ocean region, found itself in possession of a fleet reduced by almost
half by the ravages of war. To meet expected post-war demand and increased foreign competition, the company, in cooperation
with several British shipbuilding yards, began an earnest building programme to both re-equip and modernise a fleet which
only two short decades before had been the largest in the world.
As passengers still played a large part in BI's business,
fourteen vessels of the post-war building programme were constructed to accommodate various numbers of passengers. Four of
these vessels, the DUMRA, DWARKA, DARA and the DARESSA, were launched over a period of 4 years in the late 1940s to undertake
the line's India-Persian Gulf trade, a service which had first seen British India colours in 1862.
Through pre-war days
the service had been held down by four similar vessels launched during the First World War. The four 'V's - VARELA, VARSOVA,
VITA and the VASNA had helped to build up BI's reputation for puctuality in the Gulf but, though all had managed to survive
the war, they were, by mid-century, well over 30 years of age.
|DUMRA - Courtesy P & O Steam Navigation Co. - SM JAN/78
The new 'D' class vessels were built much on the
same lines as their earlier predecessors. All hovered around 5,000 gross tons with relatively shallow draughts of 6.5 metres.
Doxford diesels gave the ships a speed range of 13 to 16 knots depending on the particular vessel. Each had cabin accommodation,
varying from an original three class complement of 134 cabin class passengers in the DARA down to 50 cabin class in the DUMRA
and the DWARKA.
From its 1862 beginnings in the Persian Gulf, British India steadily expanded its services, both in
capacity and in the ports of call serviced. The original trade, however, focused on the Bombay to Basra axis and this was
continued until the late sixties when port congestion along the Tigris-Euphrates halted British India services at Kuwait.
The main ports of call continued to be Kuwait, Bahrain, Doha, Dubai, Muscat and Karachi with several smaller ports called
|DARA - Courtesy James Shaw - SM JAN/78
On the morning of April 8th. 1961 the DARA was
returning to Dubai harbour to finish loading cargo and passengers, an activity which had been interrupted some hours earlier
by a gale which forced the ship to put to sea. A sudden bomb explosion occurred between decks which panicked passengers and
crew and started an immediate fire. Though aid was soon furnished by ships in the area, 238 passengers, crew and shore personnel
on board perished in the incident. The DARA herself capsized and sank some miles off Dubai three days later after being taken
in tow by a salvage vessel.
to the above, Narve Sorenson has supplied additional information (November 20/2009)
on had the opportunity to read through extracts from the sea trial documents, mostly based on the book “Last Hours on
Dara”, published in London in 1963, also from articles in the Times and The Guardian in 1961.
these trials survivors expressed criticism as to how the emergency situation was handled by the officers and crew on board
the ship. It was also stated that some individuals performed rescue efforts
over and above the 'call of duty'. None of the officers/crew were fined, but the strong criticism was taken into the
court records which could quite easily have ruined a future maritime career. I have also heard that Captain Elson never went
out to sea again.
have also been speculations during years following the incident that the violent fire could have been caused by an
act of terror, but no evidence of this was forthcoming either during the investigation or at a later date. As to the
number of victims, the official figure is 238. There is, however, some doubt about the validity of this number, some articles
mentioning up to 248 dead. A website in U.A.E. (Emirates) counts 212 passengers and 24 crewmembers. British India’s
homepages lists 238.
uncertainty here is probably due to difficulties we experienced in acquiring information regarding the actual total number
of souls on board. One should also take into consideration the chaotic situation at the time.
the "DARA" eventually put to sea during rough weather there were still people on board, i.e. agents representatives, workers
and passengers who had still not disembarked for some reason. The passenger lists also showed passengers who had not actually embarked
for the coming trip.
In communication with the other rescue vessels at the time , we calculated how many survivors
and dead bodies resulted from the incident and it did not match the total given by the "DARA". Rumors later on
said that there were a number of passengers not registered in any lists, but the book does not refer to this possibility."
|The DARA ablaze off Dubai. - Courtesy SM JAN/78
Cabin and public room layout on the 'D's differed
somewhat between vessels. The DWARKA had been modified from her original design but most rooms were still in their rightful
places. Two-berth cabins occupied the promenade deck with a lounge and library situated forward. A small bar was located amidships,
just aft the cabins and a second smaller lounge occupied its own 'island' at the end of the promenade deck. There was no swimming
pool or social director on the DWARKA. She was, like her former sisters, a working ship and to paying passengers she could
offer little more than transportation, accommodation, decent food and a passage through one of the world's more romantic and
congested bodies of water. Travel time between the two most distant points on the DWARKA's schedule, Bombay and Kuwait, was
seldom longer than two weeks and, in most cases, only nine days.
|DWARKA - Courtesy James Shaw and SM JAN/78
The DWARKA was the last of the British India's
vessels in the east. Apart from the cruise ship UGANDA, she was the last B.I. ship still under her original colours and, no
doubt, was one of the oldest passenger ships in the world still maintaining her original route and operating under her original
The other three 'D' ships were eventually sold or lost; the DARA to the terrible explosion in 1961, a case which
still goes unsolved, the DARESSA sold in 1964 to Chandris Lines, and the DUMRA sold in 1976 to Damodoar Bulk Carriers of India
after several years on charter. The DARESSA continued as the cruise ship FAVORITA for some years before being resold in 1969
to Golden Line of Singapore who re-named her KIM HWA. In 1974 she was finally sent to the breakers after 5 years of service
on the Hong Kong-Singapore route.
The DUMRA lived on in the Gulf under the name DAMAN. She tradfed sporadically on
her old route and changed little in appearance. The SIRDHANA, a larger B.I. vessel taken off the India-Japan run in 1963,
assisted in the Persian Gulf trade shortly after the loss of the DARA but she too was finally disposed of and sent to the
breakers in 1972.
Thus in 1977 only the DWARKA remained to continue a British service begun 115 years earlier.
|DARESSA - Courtesy James ShaW SM JAN/78
THE BRITISH INDIA TRIO
|SANGOLA - Courtesy British India Co. SM FEB/88
In the early afternoon hours of July 1st.1953 the
British India Steam Navigation Co's motor ship SANGOLA ran hard aground on Hiraganj Sand in the River Hooghly while on a voyage
from Calcutta to Japan. The ship had a crew of 173 and 1,490 passengers on board. Among the letter was a contingent of men
of the Brigade of Gurkhas bound for posting in Hong Kong. As the ship's position became more precarious throughout the day,
these men were enlisted by the SANGOLA's Master to help control and evacuate civilian passengers, a feat accomplished without
loss during the evening of July 1st and the early morning hours of July 2nd.
For the next 6 days the SANGOLA was at
the mercy of tides and currents on the river, forces that threatened to break the ship in half. To counter this action accommodation
amidships was stripped of furniture by salvage personnel, castings cut, and heavy steel girders fitted fore and aft along
the decks. Air compressors were placed on board and coupled to the steering gear. On July 8th, one week after first running
up on the Sands, the SANGOLA was refloated.
|SANGOLA - Drawing by Duncan Hawes - SM FEB/88
Of 8,646 tons the SANGOLA had been built in 1947
by Barclay Curle & Co. of Glasgow, and handed over to her owners, the British India Steam Navigation Co. Ltd. on June
6th of that year. Measuring 137.15m long, 19.05m beam and 10.67m deep, SANGOLA was the lead ship of a class of three vessels
constructed for British India's post-war Calcutta/Far East service - the 'Apcar Route' - which BI had obtained from the Apcar
family in 1912. The second ship of the series, the 8,608 ton SIRDHANA, was delivered by Swan Hunter & Wigham Richardson,
Wallsend, on December 9th 1947. Together, the two 14 knot vessels teamed with the 1925 built SHIRALA to cover the Apcar trade
until the 8,908 ton SANTHIA was delivered on November 3rd 1950 by Barclay Curle.
|SIRDHANA - Courtesy British India - SM FEB/88
As built, the SANGOLA could accommodate 21 first-class
passengers and 70 second class (30 category 'A' and 40 category 'B') as well as 2,447 on deck. The fitting of the fold-down
bunks reduced the ship's overall deck class capacity to 995. A similar reduction was to be made to the deck passenger capacity
of both the SIRDHANA and the SANTHIA. All three vessels had been built with the Asian coastal trades in mind and large numbers
of native passengers were carried from port to port outside of the monsoon months. Freight, however, was the chief money earner.
Each of the three vessels had four cargo holds, the SANGOLA and SIRDHANA having 402,000 cubic feet of bale capacity plus approximately
11,000 cubic feet of refrigerated space. The SANTHIA, carrying 68 more cabin passengers in 'intermediate' class, had a correspondingly
reduced cargo capacity - 360,000 cubic feet of bale capacity and 115,000 cubic feet of refrigerated space.
|SIRDHANA - Courtesy Robert Gabriel SM FEB/88
The SIRDHANA is pictured above at Singapore
with white hull. All BI passenger ships were repainted in these colours in 1955.
Passenger accommodation aboard the three 'S' class
ships was comfortable but not pretentious. When the last ship of the series, the SANTHIA, came out to Bombay via Mombasa in
late 1950 she was described by her Captain, C.J. Feller, as having "very comfortable and spacious" accommodation, "ventilated
throughout with the Thermotank system". Twenty-five First Class passengers could be berthed on the ship's promenade deck,
two of the two-berth cabins having their own private bathroom and toilet while two of the single-berth cabins had their own
shower and toilet. The First Class Lounge and Smoke Room, were desribed by Captain Feller as "capacious and airy, with deep
windows allowing the passengers to view out".
|SANTHIA - Courtesy British India Line SM FEB/88
In addition to her well cared for First Class passengers,
the SANTHIA could accommodate 68 Second Class passengers on her Bridge and Upper decks anda further 68 Intermediate Cl;ass
passengers in 4, 6 and 8-berth cabins. The Intermediate class eventually became Second class 'C' and was finally dissolved
into a larger 'Saloon Class', which encompassed all cabin accommodation aboard the vessel by the mid-1960s. The Apcar ships
were distinctive externally in that each had its name emblazoned in large Chinese characters on the hull amidships. This tradition
was continued in 1955 when BI passenger ships received white topsides.
The SANTHIA was taken over at Bombay on December
6th 1966 and renamed STATE OF HARYANA. Placed in service with the Shipping Corporation of India, the 16 year-old former British
mail ship served another 10 years, trading mainly between India and ast Africa, before being broken up at Bombay in 1976.
In October of 1971 the SIRDHANA, along with other BI vessels, was transferred to the newly established P & O General
Cargo Division. She was sold for scrap in August of 1972 at Kaohsiung, Taiwan. The DUMRA and KARANJA were sold in 1976, the
former being broken up IN 1979 as the DAMAN. The DWARKA followed in 1982 going to Pakistani breakers at Gadani Beach.
three British India 'S' vessels passed into history rather quickly. Of the three, only the SIRDHANA managed to fulfil her
allotted 25 years. They were working ships, built for a dying trade at a time when technological advance was proceeding all
|KARANJA - Courtesy Rick Hogben SM DEC/89
Built by Alexander Stephen in 1948, KARANJA was
powered by steam turbines, single reduction geared to twin screws, which gave her 16 knots on trials. As first commissioned,
she had passenger accommodation for 60 first class, 180 second and 75 'intermediate' in addition to which she had a certificate
for 1,322 deck passengers on long voyages and no fewer than 2,208 on short voyages - all on a gross tonnage of 10,294! This
accommodation was much modified long before the KARANJA was sold to the SCI in 1976, although she seemed little altered in
outward appearance. She did not live quite as long as the better known RAJULA, which also exchanged her BI colours for those
of the SCI three years earlier, and which was finally broken up at the age of 48, but the 40 year span of NANCOWRY, ex KARANJA,
was a tribute to her builders and owners.
Below, the CARPENTARIA is seen approaching Fremantle, Western Australia in 1973. She was built by Barclay Curle of Glasgow
|CARPENTARIA Courtesy Nicholas Pusenjak - SM FEB/91
British India S.N. Co., once one of the greatest
shipping lines in the world, has disappeared . In India, however, one still comes across the names of its former vessels.
Life is little changed in the villages and towns that offered their titles up to the newbuildings of the Clyde and Tyne. Only
the ships are gone.
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