On July 26th 1956, Colonel Gamel Abdel Nasser nationalized the joint British/French Suez Canal Company which had been operating the Suez Canal since it was constructed in 1869. On October 29th Israel attacked Egypt and advanced to within 10 miles of the Canal under the pretext of protecting the Canal. Britain and France landed their own troops a few days later.
I joined the ‘British Adventure’, slightly smaller than the ‘Victory’ at 28,000 tons, in mid September and we sailed towards the Persian Gulf via the Suez Canal.
Things had changed as we entered the long breakwaters leading to Port Said, as every 100 yards or so big guns had been emplaced on each side, and de Lessop’s statue, which had stood proudly on the seaward side of Port Said, was toppled from its plinth and made a sorry sight with his head on the ground and his feet pointing to the sky.
As usual, ships formed a convoy outside before entering in strict order and we were number two in the convoy, a Greek ship being ahead of us. The guns pointed out to sea until we passed then, menacingly, swung round one by one to point at us. To look down the barrels of big guns at short distance was rather frightening.
However, we passed through the canal and entered the Red Sea without mishap and thence on to Mina-al-Ahmadi in Kuwait. We wondered what was going to happen when we returned this way.
As we loaded our cargo of crude oil a message was received that ‘under no circumstances were we to approach the Canal’ or enter the Red Sea.
Consequently we discharged part cargo, some 2,000 tons, at Aden, then took a full load of fuel as we were to proceed for home via the Cape of Good Hope. Instead of taking some 12 days via the Canal it would now take about 28 days to get home, the difference in distance being almost 6,000 miles – 4,627 via Suez and over 10,000 via the Cape of Good Hope.
On the way round South Africa we received orders to call at Tenerife and top up the bunkers to capacity; this also was to be discharged at the Isle of Grain with the cargo, leaving sufficient only for the voyage back to Tenerife for the next long haul to the Persian Gulf.
On November 5th we heard that British and French forces had landed at Port Said and Cairo airport had been bombed by British planes.
British Adventure was one of the first tankers to arrive in the UK after the Canal had closed and the refinery was very pleased to see us. At that time, we learnt that two thirds of Europe’s oil came through the Suez Canal. But that pipeline was now closed and the long line of tankers had to travel some 24,000 miles, approximately a month each way, to bring back their precious cargo.
After a couple of these long hauls the Company decided that we needed some ‘R & R’ (Rest and Recreation), so each trip on the way back we called at Durban for a day, which suited us all very well.
by Terry Took © 2015
Terry Took was born in Yorkshire but has lived in Tynemouth for over 50 years. He spent 45 years in the Merchant Navy which included 27 years as North Sea Pilot. He then spent five years as a lecturer at the Marine Department of South Tyneside College.
He is now an Elder Brother in Trinity House and Marine Director.
If you have any comments or would like to contact Terry then please e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.