Past and future

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When I started work in 1966 on the Crosby Herald as a junior journalist the big local story was the container terminal planned for the north end of Liverpool docks.

There were protests from local residents who feared the area would be ruined by this new dock – now the Liverpool Freeport. Most of the opposition was on environmental grounds – little did people know how radically the port would be transformed by this project.

Models of the Inventor (shown) and Atlantic Causeway stand next to each other in the new Liverpool: World Gateway gallery in Merseyside Maritime Museum. The two ships were only built five years apart but they symbolised a seismic change in the way cargo was carried as container ships took over.

Model of a container ship in a display case

Model of The Inventor. Image courtesy Liverpool Daily Post and Echo.

The Inventor, built in 1964, was one of four heavy-lift cargo liners built for the Harrison Line. With their 180-ton lifting capacity derricks, these ships were built to carry machinery to developing countries.

The sudden rise of Roll On, Roll Off (RORO) ships and containerisation, plus changing trade patterns, shortened the lives of many ships like Inventor. In 1981 she was sold to Singaporean owners, renamed Penta World and scrapped in 1985.

Cargo containers had their origins in the 1780s carrying coal on canals and the first standardised container was introduced in the 1920s. The first purpose-built container ships started operating in Denmark in 1951. Over the following decades more and more operators adopted the system until by 1970 it was unstoppable.

The 15,000-ton Atlantic Causeway was a RORO container ship built in 1969 by Swan Hunter at Wallsend-on-Tyne.

In 1966 five major European shipping companies, including Cunard, joined together to form ACL. Their aim was to share the huge costs involved in building and operating a fleet of RORO container ships trading between Europe and North America.

For more than 30 years ACL, now based in Norway but with offices in Liverpool, has been a giant in the North Atlantic trade. Its ships still visit Liverpool every week and continue to dominate ports vital to the North Atlantic trade.

Atlantic Causeway and her younger sister Atlantic Conveyor were owned by Cunard, managed by Cunard Brocklebank and hired by ACL. In 1982 both ships were converted to carry aircraft and serve in the Falklands War. Conveyor was sunk after being hit by two Argentine Exocet missiles with the loss of 12 lives. Causeway returned home safely having played an important part in supporting the British Task Force.

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 (£1.50 p&p UK).