CHRISTIAN SALVESEN
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A BRIEF HISTORY OF CHRISTIAN SALVESEN SHIPPING.

150 years ago Christian Salvesen left Norway to join his brother's business in Scotland. In this abridged article from SM., A.J. Barratt traces the history of the company he created and looks at some of the ships it employed in the timber, whale oil and coal trades.

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Courtesy A.J. Barratt - SM SEP/01

Salvesen's whale factory ship SOURABAYA (1915) was previously the Royal Mail Steam Packet Co's CARMARTHENSHIRE.

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Courtesy A.J. Barratt - SM SEP/01

Above, a raft of Christian Salvesen's whale catchers laid up at Leith harbour, South Georgia. When this base closed in the early 1960s, several of Salvesen's catchers were abandoned and are still there today in various stages of decay.

From the beginning of the 19th century, the Salvesen family owned several commercial enterprises in their native Norway, including shares in a number of ships. In 1843 Johan Theodor Salvesen set up in business as a shipbroker at Grangemouth, a few miles west of Edinburgh and three years later opened another office in Leith. In 1851 his brother, Christian, left Norway to join him in Scotland and was given responsibility for the Leith office. At the time Christian joined the company, the Leith office was being operated jointly with George Turnbull as Turnbull, Salvesen and Company. The main trade involved the export of coal and the import of timber. In 1872, the partnership with Turnbull ended and Christian Salvesen and Co. was formed. Meanwhile Johan concentrated on the Grangemouth office and, in 1853, withdrew completely from the Leith business. Eventually, the company started at Grangemouth passed to the control of F.T. Everard.

UK-NORWAY LINER SERVICE:

In 1864 the Leith-based business, under the management of Christian Salvesen, became agents for Norwegian whale oil and in 1879 the steamship MARNA (1879/1,027 grt) was acquired for use on a regular Leith to Norway service. To allow access to the lucrative Norwegian coastal trades, the ship flew the Norwegian flag, even though Christian Salvesen had become a British citizen in 1857. So regular was this Norwegian trade that the route became a liner service in 1886. It was strengthened in 1928 by the acquisition of the Aberdeen-based Glen Line of John Cook and Son who had three ships employed in the Scotland-Norwegian trade, and in the 1950s UK west coast ports were also served with direct loadings to Norway.

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Courtesy A.J. Barratt - SM SEP/01

The INVERLEITH, above, (1961/15,628 grt) was Salvesen's first bulk carrier. Sold in 1974, she was broken up in 1982.

THE WHALING FLEETS:

Salvesen's association with the importation of whale oil encouraged the company to set up a land-based whaling station at Olna in the Shetland Isles in 1904 where whale catchers were based until the station was closed in 1929. In 1907, the company started Antarctic whaling. Initially a base was established in the Falkland Islands but was soon relocated to Leith Harbour, South Georgia, to be nearer the whaling grounds. Floating factory ships were acquired to operate from the new base, which in turn was serviced by supply ships drawn from the company's tramp ship fleet. The whole operation was managed by the newly formed South Georgia Company. By 1914, Salvesen's whaling fleet consisted of two factory ships, five supply ships and 18 whale catchers. The introduction of stern ramps on factory ships in the late 1920s enabled the whale carcasses to be hauled up onto the deck for cutting up. Before then, harpooned whales were dissected alongside the vessels.

Salvesen's first factory ships to be fitted with stern ramps were SALVESTRIA (1913/11,938 grt) and SOURABAYA (1915/10,107 grt. Many of the factory ships were converted liners. The aforementioned pair were formerly Royal Mail Steam Packet Company's CARDIGANSHIRE and CARMARTHENSHIRE respectively. Other converted liners which found their way into Salvesen's ownership were the former White Star vessels RUNIC (1900/13,801 grt) and REGINA (1918/16,289 grt). On conversion, RUNIC was renamed NEW SEVILLA but the planned conversion of REGINA to WESTERLAND was dropped and she was broken up in 1947.

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Courtesy A.J. Barratt - SM SEP/01

WORLD WAR II SERVICE:

During the depression of the 1930s, several whaling competitors were taken over, so by 1939 a substantial whaling fleet was in operation. It consisted of at least five factory ships, four dedicated support vessels and over 60 catchers. During the war many of the whale catchers were pressed into naval service, while factory ships were used as tankers and heavy lift vessels.
In 1941, the Southern Whaling Company was purchased from Unilever when they ceased whaling. This increased Salvesen's fleet by two factory ships and 15 catchers. However, war losses were considerable - all the 1939 factory ships were lost curing the conflict, as well as half the catchers and support ships. Limited whaling took place between 1939 and 1941, while no expeditions were made until the end of hostilities.
The increased competition and the decline in the number of whales after the war meant commercial whaling was becoming less viable.

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Courtesy A.J. barratt - SM SEP/01

SALVADA (1961/8,876 grt) was one of four sisterships delivered to Salvesen's in the early 1960s. She was sold in 1971 and became the Somali-registered WEDDELL SEA.

WORLD'S FIRST FREEZER TRAWLER:

Following the company's withdrawal from whaling, new trading activities were pursued. This led the company to adapt the surplus Algerine class minesweeper, HMS FELICITY (1944/1,241 grt built as HMCS COPPERCLIFF) for use as a fishing vessel under the name of FAIRFEE. The fitting of a factory ship stern ramp and refrigeration equipment produced the world's first combined freezer/stern trawler.
After five years of experimentation, she was laid up in 1952 but was followed by three purpose-built vessels: FAIRTRY (1954/2,605 grt) FAIRTRY II (1959/2,857 grt) and FAIRTRY III (1960/2,857 grt). However, due to increased competition, in part from subsidized Eastern Bloc fleets, the company were forced to withdraw all three vessels by 1968. It therefore founded another business: its shore based freezer plants. Although the stern trawlers had gone, Salvesens still owned several other fishing fleets in Britain, Canada, Peru and Ireland. These fleets contained over 70 vessels and mainly served the fish meal trade. The British-flagged fleet produced another innovative development with the introduction of SEMLA (1967/249 grt), the UK's purse seiner net fishing vessel. However, the fishing vessel operations gradually declined. The Peruvian fleet was nationalised and other fleets sold off.

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Courtesy A.J. Barratt - SM SEP/01

GLITRA (1952/992 grt) was the first and smallest of a post-World War II series designed for Salvesen's UK-Scandinavian trade. She was sold in 1969 and became the Cypriot-registered AJAX.

STANDBY SAFETY SHIPS:

Having been involved in trawler operations, it was a logical step for Salvesens to operate former trawlers as standby safety ships when the offshore oil industry began to expand. A joint venture with Boston Deep Sea Fisheries, Safetyships Ltd., was started and this went on to become the wholy-owned subsidiary Salvesen Offshore Services. More ships were acquired for this business: stern trawlers were converted to survey ships, former ferries became pollution control vessels and even an old coastal tanker was converted into an oil recovery vessel. The first of two drilling ships was commissioned in 1974, but by 1980 both had been sold.

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Courtesy A.J. Barratt - SM SEP/01

BARRA HEAD (1980/4,691 grt) was built for Salvesen in Japan and was sold in 1989.

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POST-1945 REPLACEMENTS:

Of the ten ships in the tramping fleet at the outbreak of World War II, seven were lost and three sold by early 1943 leaving the fleet devoid of tramp ships for the rest of the war. Immediately after World War II, to make up the shortage of vessels, CULTRAIN(1941/6,765 grt ex-EMPIRE DARWIN), CULROSS (1946/7,331 grt, ex-EMPIRE PATRIOT) and CUTLER (1941/7,030 grt, ex-EMPIRE RHODES) were purchased from the Ministry of War Transport. However, no more ships entered the fleet until the newly-built 8,995 grt SALDANHA was acquired in 1959. So successful was this vessel that five similar vessels were added to the fleet over the next four years. These ships remained in the fleet until the early 1970s and were employed on liner charters or on the short-lived liner service to North America. The bulk carrier INVERLEITH (1961/15,628 grt) entered the fleet in 1966.

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Courtesy A.J. Barratt - SM SEP/01

SIR CHARLES PARSONS (1986/14,201 grt) was the first of three colliers built for the CEGB by Govan Shipbuilders. Management of the CEGB's fleet was undertaken by Salvesen from 1983 until 1989.

In 1964 the company re-entered the coastal trade when another Leith-based company, A.F. Henry and MacGregor and its fleet of five ships, was acquired. Founded in 1887 as shipbrokers, Henry and MacGregor began ship owning in 1907 after buying the puffer MAYFLOWER (1882/69 grt) for short voyages. Later vessels were employed in the Forth-South Coast coal trade. Voyages undertaken by A.F. Henry and MacGregor's ships became more varied, including Baltic and Great Lakes destinations when not carrying coal. This new excursion into the coal trades led Salvesen to construct a number of small bulk carriers suitable for the trade. Two colliers were subsequently sold to the Central Electricity Board (CEGB) but left under Salvesen management. Over the next few years other CEGB vessels were transferred to Salvesen management.

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Courtesy A.J. Barratt - SM SEP/01

The diesel electric, stern-ramped factory trawler FAIRTRY III (1960/2,859 grt) was designed to quick-freeze her cargo.

Christian Salvesen withdrew from shipping related activities in 1989. The company's colliers were sold to A/s Jebsen of Norway, who also took over the management of the CEGB's super colliers.

Throughout its history the company has shown a remarkable talent for adapting to the prevailing trading conditions of the time and developing new businesses both at sea and ashore. The company's land-based activities, many of which are still being carried out, encompass the refrigeration and distribution trades as well as construction.

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Courtesy Laurence Dunn - SM March/90

The Christian Salvesen sister ships RORA HEAD (left) and BARRA HEAD,  seen here off Tilbury, were sold to Norwegian owners in 1990.

In 1989 the Christian Salvesen PLC of Edinburgh accepted an offer from the Norwegian Jebsen Group and agreed to sell their three remaining vessels - but not the Company's name.  Those involved were the bulk carriers SUMBURGH HEAD (1977/4,694 grt) and the rather later BARRA HEAD and RORA HEAD (both 1980/4,691 grt).  The first of these was built by the Hashihama Zosen, of Imabari,  the others by the Miho Zosensho of Shimuzu.  Ships of some 7,100 tdw, they had a length of 110.5m (363 ft.) and Mitsubishi diesels of 4,500 bhp which gave a speed of 11.75 knots.  With this, Salvesen's withdrawal from shipping, the attractive and century-old red, white and blue-topped funnel disappeared.  Some considerable time elapsed since the SUMBURGH HEAD was taken off the Thames coal trade and the others continued until the end of 1989.

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