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Benkitlan

April 1946 Completed by Barclay, Curle & Co. Ltd., Glasgow (Yard No. 703) for Ellerman Lines Ltd. (Hall Line Ltd., managers) Liverpool as "CITY of SWANSEA".

9,868 grt

5,618 net

11,740 dwt

498 x 64 x 30'

6 cylinder Doxford, 6,600 bhp by Barclay, Curle & Co. Ltd., Glasgow. 14.5 knots.

29/3/1968 Acquired by the Ben Line Steamers of Leith and renamed "BENKITLAN".

3/9/1972 Arrived at Kaohsiung for breaking up by Chin Tai Steel Enterprise Co. Ltd.



Benkitlan was my first ship. As a newly qualified Radio Officer I had to spend my first year with a Senior Radio Officer to gain experience in the real world of marine radio.


Joined in London King George the 5th Graving Dock on 27th August 1970 as Second Radio Officer to Jack Hearne.


Callsign  GBZT


Our outbound trip was to be 42 days to Penang non-stop, with a slow-down in Table Bay (off Capetewn) for the exchange of mail.


Benkitlan had a Chinese crew with mainly Scots officers, who were to a man, Pesh-heeds! The main tipple being Tennant’s Lager and drunk by the gallon.


Bekitlan was a traditional cargo ship with five cargo holds and four sets of derricks and 220v DC power, provided by three 500kVA diesel generators. There was no a.c. Power on board nor was there any air-conditioning (in the normal sense), only ambient air blown through a series of ventilation ducts and through punka-louvres.


The radio equipment was the Marconi norm: Oceanspan transmitter, Atalanta receiver, plus the usual emergency kit.


After 42 days at sea we reached the island of Penang off the Malaysian coast. The modus operandi of the dock crew was totally new to me. The unloading went on 24 hours a day, a far cry from London where everything started about 8.30 in the morning, stopped at 5pm and only on week days.

Just for fun we were walking round the streets of Penang, visiting street restaurants at 3am. Loved the food, loved the place, so olde worlde colonial.


From Penang we went to the metropolis that is Singapore. The aromas of the street markets was heavenly. The bustle of ‘Change Alley’ where all sorts of bargains were available as long as you haggled for it. Then there was Raffles Square and the famous Hotel.


Then on to Jakarta in Indonesia where it was very hot. I cannot remember what we were unloading here but CKD cars springs to mind. We had a number of CKD boxes(Completely Knocked Down - i.e. cars built and tested, then dis-assembled into their major parts, boxed as a kit for export). We also had many cases of baked beans too. It was a very mixed cargo.


From Jakarta we went up to an oil refinery site on an island just off the Malaysian coast somewhere south of Bangkok. We had a fractionating column on deck. It was as much as half our derricks could manage as it was about 40’ long and 8’ diameter. It was a relief to get rid of it. The ‘leccy’ was worried that the motors in the winches would burn out trying to lift this thing.


Then it was Bangkok! Another unforgettable place where life was lived to the full over the whole 24-hour day. I can remember having Lobster Thermidore several times because it was obscenely cheap. Although we were alongside the quay the river life was one of the main attractions. The river boats ‘sam-pans’ were long and narrow, loaded to the gunwales with fresh fruit and were powered by outboard engines which had very long drive shafts. This meant that the propeller was some 6-10 feet behind the engine. Most of the sellers were women, they were always very cheerful, colourfully dressed and all sporting ‘coolie hats’ to keep the sun off. It was a very lively and colourful sight.


Bangkok was where we pretty much finished our unloading of good brought from England so the task of loading began. Some was loaded in Bangkok but the majority was loaded in Borneo. We went up various expansive rivers at Pontianak and the Rejang River at Sibu in Sarawak. We were loading logs. These logs were tree trunks felled in the jungle and floated down the river in massive great rafts. Every log had to be lifted from the water, brought aboard and placed into the hold with the derricks. We loaded thousands of these tree trunks over the period of about 3 weeks.


Being inland the Radio Officers had no watches to keep. A VHF watch was kept by the Officer in charge of the bridge. It was a good time for us to maintain our equipment. On the deck outside and to the rear of the Radio Room was the battery locker. There were two massive banks of lead-acid batteries which provided emergency power should the ship’s power fail. The Specific Gravity of the electrolyte of every cell in every battery had to be measured and recorded. All of the battery terminals had to be cleaned and copiously greased to prevent corrosion. It was an opportunity to climb the wheelhouse mast to look at the radar antenna. The front of the radar antenna had a thin covering of fibre-glass and the integrity of this had to be checked. The last thing you wanted was water in your wave-guides. Some seagulls in some ports of the world took a fancy to pecking holes in this thin membrane.


The crew, under the guidance of the Chief Officer lowered some of the lifeboats to test the mechanisms. This was an opportunity to test the Emergency Lifeboat Transmitter. For more on this see ‘Emergency Lifeboat Transmitter on the Marconi Equipment page.

Having lowered the lifeboat it was also an opportunity to go for a trip up the river and find some narrow tributaries to take us deeper into the jungle. We wanted to see if we could spot any wildlife, particularly the monkey that made all the racket at sundown. We didn’t see much wildlife, the Mate had to jump into the water to free the prop up from its entanglement with plant life, thus the outing was curtailed.



In the tropics it is safer to drink beer than water! In places like the Rejang River the average daily consumption went something like this: 2 for Breakfast, 4 for Smoko, 6  for lunch, 2 for afternoon tea 6 for evening meal and 4 during the evening if not more. A case a day and no feeling of drunkenness as it was going in one end and being sweated out all over.


After loading the thousands of tree trunks we headed back to civilisation, Singapore and Penang before setting off on our 42 day journey home.


It was a good tour round the far-east –

Penang, Singapore, Djakarta, Bangkok, Rejang River, Pontianak, Singapore, Penang, London


We arrived back in London in early January 1971