With a cargo of aviation spirit safely loaded at Aden, we headed once more for the Suez Canal for discharge at Beirut and Larnaca. Beirut was only 228 miles from Port Said so within 24 hours of leaving the canal we were approaching the port.
Lebanon was on the verge of a civil war which erupted in 1958, so it was with some trepidation that we berthed with our 12,000 tons of highly volatile cargo. We were advised that it would be ‘unwise’ to go ashore in Beirut but, unlike the Australian ports, we were quite happy to stay on board the ship. Everyone was very nervous, particularly the officials who came on board.
After about 14 hours in port we sailed the short distance to Cyprus, a mere 108 miles from Beirut and where there was also unrest, so within 12 hours we were approaching yet another of the world’s troubled areas, with the majority of the cargo still in the tanks. Only 4,000 tons had been discharged at Beirut but we were supplying the fuel for the British Air Force in Cyprus.
At that time Cyprus was a British Crown Colony but many local people, led by Archbishop Makarios, resented the British being there and were conducting guerrilla warfare against the armed forces. They eventually gained independence in 1960 but our visit was two years or so before that event. Harold Macmillan, the then Prime Minister of Great Britain, made new proposals for peace in Cyprus in 1958, but these were rejected out of hand by Makarios and the troubles continued.
Our ‘berth’ was at an anchorage some three miles from the port of Larnaca where we picked up an underwater pipeline through which to pump the cargo to shore. It was to take two days to discharge the 8,000 tons remaining in the tanks, as we could only use the pumps at slow speed due to the submerged pipeline.
On the first night I was on watch on the main deck, making sure the cargo was going according to plan. It was a warm night so I sat on deck watching the lights of Larnaca twinkling in the distance when I heard the unmistakeable sounds of a boat’s engine throbbing close by in the darkness. I could see no lights but suddenly, close to the gangway, the navigation lights of a small boat appeared.
An army captain appeared on deck to tell us they were making sure that no-one had stuck limpet mines on our hull. This made me very nervous so I kept a very close watch on the surroundings until I was relieved. Reassuringly, the boat, stayed around the ship for the rest of the time we were there.
We were pleased when the time came to sail onwards, this time to Ancona in Italy to take a cargo to the UK. Some fourteen months after sailing from Falmouth, we arrived on the Tyne for dry-docking – the longest trip I ever did.
by Terry Took © 2016
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.
If you have any comments or would like to contact Terry then please e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.