Fleetwood Tankers Ltd

Information from Coastal Shipping Magazine courtesy of Michael Pryce

Transcribed by Annette Reynolds

The era of steam trawlers sailing from Fleetwood began in 1891, and their numbers gradually increased over the next few years, until by 1910, over 100 steam trawlers operated from the north west Lancashire port.

All such early steam trawlers were coal fired, and even immediately after World War 2 ended in Europe, owners were still building coal fired steam trawlers, because the Ministry of Fuel was worried that the war in the far east could go on for some time, and an adequate supply of oil could not be guaranteed, whereas UK had plenty of coal. However, after the surrender of Japan later in 1945, owners were then encouraged to build oil fired steam trawlers, and conversions from coal fired to oil fired took place.

From the early days of the steam trawlers until after World War 2, most large trawler companies held shares in selected collieries in Lancashire and Yorkshire, and coal for the trawlers was ordered directly from these collieries, and delivered by rail to Fleetwood docks.

In the 1950s, the first large diesel powered trawlers were built, proving to be even more economical to operate than oil fired steam trawlers, with a rough equivalent being five tons of coal to three tons of fuel oil to one ton of diesel oil.

One immediate effect on Fleetwood’s trawler fleets was the provision of oil supplies. From probably after World War 2, Esso had the fuel oil bunkering barge BRITMEX No 10 (475grt/21) based at Fleetwood until 1949. The bunker barge was filled with fuel oil by coastal tankers from Heysham about once a month, tankers used in this service during the last six months of 1948 being ESSO TIOGA (797grt/43), INVERPOOL (680grt/25), SHELBRIT 5 (814grt/43) and SHELBRIT 6 (797grt/44).

Shell and Esso had some form of pooling arrangement to fill her. Early in 1949, the bunker barge was no longer available at Fleetwood, and this made it necessary for oil fired steam trawlers to call at Heysham for bunkers before sailing for the fishing grounds, the first to call being the trawler ADMIRAL SIR JOHN LAWFORD (338grt/30) on 13 January 1949.

A few, if they had missed the tide at Fleetwood, used the waiting time to advantage by bunkering at Heysham before berthing at Fleetwood on the high tide, the trawler RED ARCHER (333grt/28) being the first to do this on 25 February 1949.

A fairly busy trawler bunkering base developed at Heysham, but in later years, this also began to have its drawbacks for the trawler owners. The social shore life of the trawlerman has been well documented, and often involved a fair amount of over indulgence in drink.

Owners frequently experienced problems in sailing trawlers from Fleetwood because the crews were reluctant to leave their watering holes. Then, when the trawlers called at Heysham for bunkers, owners had the same trouble repeated again a few hours later, costing the ship about three hours additional lost time through having to round up the crews from the local pubs and clubs for a second time. Avoiding this problem was one of the factors considered when deciding to supply fuel oil to the trawlers at Fleetwood by tanker from Heysham.

The first tanker build for the company was ONWARD PIONEER, launched by Richard Dunston Ltd., Thorne, on 17 August 1955, and running trials on 29 November 1955. Her first arrival at Heysham from Fleetwood was on 10 December 1955, returning the same day. The new tanker was soon hard at work bunkering the Fleetwood trawler fleet, doing 94 voyages from Heysham to Fleetwood during 1956, 107 during 1957, and 147 during 1958 with a very occasional voyage from Heysham to Workington.

The tanker had just four tanks, with the forward two tanks having a total capacity of 100 tons of diesel oil, whilst the aft two tanks were fitted with steam heating coils and could carry a total capacity of 130 tons of fuel oil.

The Great Grimsby Coal Salt & Tanning Co. constructed oil storage tanks at Fleetwood, and the Fleetwood Fishing Vessel Owners Association negotiated a supply contract with Shell to supply oil for the Fleetwood Trawlers, using Fleetwood Tankers Ltd. To transport it. The distance from Heysham to Wyre Dock, Fleetwood was only nine nautical miles across Morecambe Bay.

A larger vessel was obviously required, and the second tanker built for the company was ONWARD PROGRESS, launched on 14 March 1959 from the Beverley yard of Cook, Welton & Gemmell.

Her first arrival at Heysham from Inverness was on 17 June 1959, sailing the same day for her first voyage to Fleetwood, and completing 56 similar voyages during 1959, whilst ONWARD PIONEER completed another 69 similar voyages in early 1959 until replaced by the new ship. ONWARD PIONEER’S last arrival from Fleetwood at Heysham was on 1 July 1959, after which the tanker sailed with a cargo for Kyle of Lochalsh, and was delivered to new owners on the River Humber, where she continued similar work.

ONWARD PROGRESS, built by a well established trawler building company, had some of their designs incorporated into the tanker, giving her quite an unusual stern.
ONWARD PROGRESS, although mainly supplying oil bunkers to Fleetwood for the trawlers, was periodically chartered to Shell-Mex & BP for coastal voyages to west coast ports on a regular basis, and in her first full year of service in 1960, as well as performing 78 voyages from Heysham to Fleetwood, also made 23 voyages to Workington from Heysham, and 13 from Heysham to Kirkcudbright, with an odd voyage to Preston, Kyle of Lochalsh, Caernarvon, Loch Baisdale, Barrow, Port Ellen.

In 1961, another small tanker joined the fleet, ONWARD VENTURE, launched on 3 October 1961 by Humber St. Andrews Engineering Co. Ltd. She arrived at Heysham for the first time on 7 November 1961 from Fleetwood, and sailed back to Fleetwood the same day, and the ship settled down to an almost daily voyage between the two ports with gas oil and diesel distillate.

After ONWARD VENTURE arrived, the larger ONWARD PROGRESS, whilst still supplying Fleetwood from Heysham, started making more frequent voyages so other ports chartered to Shell-Mex & BP Ltd. The majority were still made from Heysham to Workington and Kirkcudbright, with a similar number as previous years, but an increased number of voyages were made from Heysham to the Western Isles, and from 1962, included Loch Baisdale, Stornoway, Ardrishaig, Tobermory, Port Ellen (Islay), Brodick, Tiree, Tarbert, and Portree. The cargoes to Workington were by arrangement of Shell and Esso, both for bunkering ore carriers at the port, and for tank storage.

Oil was delivered to the Hydro Electric Board at Stornoway for use in the power station, and to Loch Baisdale for use in the Daliburgh power station. Fuel oil was taken to Jura and Talisker for the whisky distillery at Carbost, and the silica sand quarry at Loch Aline took deliveries of diesel. On Gigha, part loads of up to 200 tons were delivered to private estates, and Macbrayne’s ferries were also supplied. A few voyages were made to Douglas, Peel, Ramsey, Cork, Dublin, Preston and Milford Haven.

With the tankers supplying oil to Fleetwood, the number of trawlers calling at Heysham for bunkers diminished. Initially, diesel and fuel oil were supplied to Fleetwood, but as the majority of trawlers became motorships, eventually only diesel was supplied there to simplify storage, leaving the few remaining oil fired steam trawlers to continue to call at Heysham for fuel oil bunkers. The last regular steam trawlers calling at Heysham in 1966 were SAMUEL HEWETT (586/56), WYRE MARINER (656/56) and Lord Nuffield (466/37).

The coastal oil trade was proving to be a profitable “sideline” to the main business of trawler operations, and in 1966, a small tanker was purchased from other owners, and joined the fleet as ONWARD ENTERPRISE, arriving at Heysham from Fleetwood for the first time on 1 February 1966, and traded to similar ports as ONWARD PROGRESS, and also to Barrow, Waterford, Londonderry, and Arklow.

She made her last sailing from Heysham on 25 January 1973, after which she was sold to other owners. ONWARD VENTURE became a total loss on 16 July 1969 whilst on a voyage from Heysham to Workington with a cargo of 240 tonnes of diesel intended as bunkers for the ore carrier Oremina (6858/56) at Workington. An engine room fire caused a total loss of power, and the ship drifted ashore off Micklam Bay at Lowca, adjacent to a railway embankment. The cargo was pumped ashore, but the ship was not considered to be salvageable.

Because of it’s location, in order to prevent any movement of the hulk in bad weather, large rocks were tipped around and over the hull to hold it in place, a novel form of “burial at sea”! ONWARD PROGRESS had to cease wider coastwide trading, and concentrate on keeping Fleetwood supplied from Heysham for some months.

In order to relieve the pressure, KEELDALE H was chartered from John Harker between August 1970 and January 1971, loading at Heysham, and dividing her time between supplying Fleetwood and Mersey/Manchester Ship Canal ports. She was considered to be a slow ship, often only managing about 5 knots.

A new tanker replaced her, and ONWARD MARINER arrived at Heysham on 19 January 1971 for her first cargo, sailing for Fleetwood the next day. The new ship combined trading to Fleetwood with voyages to the west coast of Scotland and Irish Sea ports the same as earlier ships.

Her last sailing from Heysham was on 31 August 1976, and with the Heysham oil refinery then closed, loaded from Stanlow instead. The virtual demise of the Fleetwood trawler fleets had resulted in an end to large scale bunkering operations at Fleetwood.

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