PICTURES: The 23,000-ton tanker Hoegh Arrow

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THE building of a record-breaking ship was captured on camera from beginning to end in the years following World War Two – as these stunning Echo photos show.

The 23,000-ton tanker Hoegh Arrow, built by Laings for Norwegian firm Leif Hoegh & Co, was Sunderland’s largest vessel ever when she was launched on July 19, 1950.

Hoegh Arrow no date old ref number 14-1600   picture caption:  The 23,000 ton tanker Hoegh Arrow built  by Messrs Laings.

Hoegh Arrow no date old ref number 14-1600 picture caption: The 23,000 ton tanker Hoegh Arrow built by Messrs Laings.

“Thousands of Wearsiders turned out to watch the launch,” reported the Echo.

“When the ship slid gracefully down the launching ways, cheers rang out through the crowd.

“Some 5,000 people were actually in the Messrs Laing shipyard for the launch, including 1,000 workers – many of whom had worked on the vessel over the years.

“But spectators standing at Low Quay, opposite the yard, were told to leave by police, who feared a dangerously large wash could occur when the ship entered the water.”

Work on the Hoegh Arrow – the first of two vessels built by Laings for Oslo-based Leif Hoegh & Co – is believed to have started in 1948, just three years after war ended.

A major portion of the 600ft vessel had to be expertly welded and, as each stage was completed, so an Echo photographer was on hand to capture all the details.

“But the launch of the Hoegh Arrow was not the end of her relationship with the shipyards of Sunderland,” said Susan Swinney, photographic archivist for the Echo.

“Indeed, Arrow was back again in September 1950 for fitting out – passing under Wearmouth Bridge with only a few feet to spare on her way to Palmer’s Hill Quay.”

Hundreds of sight-seers lined both sides of the bridge as officials from the River Wear Commissioners moved seven buoys to allow a clear passage for the ship.

The whole operation took less than an hour to carry out, with foyboatmen George Watson, Harry Rush, Charles and George Dodds taking charge of mooring Arrow.

Pilot George Gibbins, who oversaw the operation, said: “Thanks to the splendid co-operation of the four tugs, and of the Commissioners, the journey passed without a hitch.

“It was the biggest job I’ve undertaken since I became a pilot 11 years ago. I was on the bridge of Arrow when she launched, and I’ll be in charge when she sails on trials.”

Following her fitting out at Palmer’s Quay – which included installing a Doxford and Sons six-cyliner engine – Arrow worked as a fuel tanker for Hoegh & Co until 1963. She was then sold to Panama firm St Paul Nav Ltd, being renamed St Matthew, and sold again in 1967 to another Panamanian company and renamed Oriental Trader.

“It was very rare for the Echo to take photos of ships all the way through the building process. I expect it was because Arrow was known as a record-breaker,” said Susan. “Her weight of 23,000-tons easily exceeded that of Laing-built British Reliance, which had previously held the record of the largest Wear-built vessel at 16,000 tons.”

l Copies of these photos can be purchased from the Echo. Contact 501 7152 for further details.