The State of Shipping 1914

I am still peddling away, but nothing to write home to mum about, but plans are in place for my next big trip. We left Jimmy heading for Turkey and the war, but what was shipping like at the start of that war?

In the early days of the war, Tramp charter came to a virtual standstill through uncertainty, and a strong German Navy forced the closure of many large ports, St. Petersburg, Gothenburg, Copenhagen and Danzig. Another worry for British shipping, in September of that year, was the closure of the Black Sea with Turkey’s control of the Dardanelles. The insatiable appetite for materials for the war effort forced up freight rates, now the glut of shipping was transformed into a famine, this was further frustrated by shipyards giving priority to naval vessels over merchantmen and companies having their ships detained in foreign ports.

Of all the worries during these early years, the greatest danger for British Tramps was the unseen menace that none could have predicted. Glitra, one of C.S. & Co. ships, loaded with a cargo of coal, coke, iron plates and oil, out of Grangemouth and bound for Stavanger, made history when she was stopped by a U-boat just afternoon on the 30 October 1914. Captain Johnson and her crew were ordered into lifeboats and towed by the U-boat for some five hundred yards before being set free to row ashore, their ship’s sluice valve, then opened by the boarding party caused the ship to sink rapidly by the stern. As the war progressed merchant ships were no longer afforded the protection of international convention and sunk without warning. After the sinking of Glitra, and up until the end of hostilities in 1918, Salvesen alone lost 10 of her fleet to enemy action, giving some idea of the scale of losses for merchant ships on the Home Trade. All vessels lost, were covered by the Government’s war risk insurance scheme, however, it was hardly likely to cover the cost of replacement.

Many ships were requisitioned by the Government at a fixed rate agreed by the ship owners and although they reflected the market rate at the time was within weeks outstripped by the market price now six times that agreed. Again Salvesen faired better than many having some of her ships registered under a Norwegian flag, so gained form the Government paying higher prices for the services of neutral vessels. Not only unhappy over the fixed prices paid for the requisitioned vessels, there seemed a great inequality when it came to requisitioning of vessels, some companies having much of their fleet under requisition orders and other free to reap the rich rewards. Certainly from Salvesen’s own books, it is clear they profited handsomely from the war years, their profits in the years before the outbreak of war had only averaged £35,300, jumping to £255.300 in 1915 and in the first six months of 1916, £326,500 was recorded.

To be continued, tomorrow we join Jimmy’s ship in Turkish waters, and in trouble, the Dardanelles.

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