Bulk buying

Article Featured Image
detail of a ship model

Image courtesy of the Liverpool Daily Post and Echo

It seems to me that things are always getting bigger and bigger – sprawling supermarkets, huge cars, massive motorways and, of course, enormous ships.

Every time I look over the Mersey the cargo vessels seem to grow, dwarfing smaller craft such as the ferries. It came as rather a surprise to learn just how long this trend has been developing.

The first bulk carrier ship was the British coast carrier John Bowes in 1852 – she had a steam engine, metal hull and seawater for ballast.

However, it took about 100 years for bulk carriers to come into their own, following the Second World War. They are now a common feature of the maritime world.

International bulk trade expanded among industrialised nations after the Allied victories of 1945. There was a feeling that old scores should be forgotten and the expansion in bulk trading coincided with the growth of the Common Market (EU).

The focus was on European countries, the United States and its former enemy Japan.

Typical of modern bulk carriers was the Wanderer of 1973, depicted in an outstanding model (pictured) on display in Merseyside Maritime Museum’s Life at Sea gallery.

Wanderer was one of three bulk carriers built for the Harrison Line in Japan. Like her sisters, Wayfarer and Warrior, she had six holds and could load and unload her own cargo using five eight-ton capacity deck cranes.

These vessels enabled Harrisons to expand their business into bulk dry cargoes such as iron ore, grain, sugar, fertilisers, scrap iron, sulphur, coal and wood. The 27,135-ton Wanderer was hired out either by the voyage (spot charter) or for a fixed period (time charter) and traded worldwide.

Harrison’s sold the Wanderer in 1987 to a Panamanian company and she was later renamed Ocean Spirit.

The model has superb details from the intricacy of the cranes to the tiny hull markings including the Plimsoll Line, a legal requirement to stop overloading.

Pictures on display include stevedores (dockers) loading general cargo into the hold of a bulk carrier for export to West Africa in 1977.

Bales of Nigerian cotton are seen on a pallet in Liverpool docks about 1970. Even after the development of containers, many goods were still packed using traditional methods.

Bulk carriers today make up 40 per cent of the world’s merchant fleets. They can range from single hold bulkers to huge ore ships capable of carrying an astonishing 365,000 metric tons deadweight.

Try your hand as a stevedore in Liverpool's historic docks in the new online game Cargo-a-go-go.

A new Maritime Tale by Stephen Guy appears every Saturday in the Liverpool Echo. A paperback – Mersey Maritime Tales (£3.99) – is available from the museum, newsagents, bookshops or from the Mersey Shop website (£1 p&p UK).