ON THE WATERFRONT: Pioneering shipbuilding story really is a tale of two halves

Sunderland’s shipbuilding industry was once celebrated for its ground-breaking construction methods, an example being occasional post-war production of ships in two sections.

Friday, 13th November 2020, 12:00 am
Launch of Sygna 1967.

In 1949, John Crown & Sons of Monkwearmouth pioneered this unusual method of shipbuilding in winning a contract to build the 15,067 gross tons motor tanker, Rondefjell. Crowns, which had retained its name after being taken over by neighbours, JL Thompson & Sons in 1946, did not have a berth capable of accommodating the 577-foot vessel.

The solution was to build her in halves and join the sections in dry dock. Built for Olsen & Ugelstad of Oslo, the aft end was launched on April 9, 1951, with the fore section following on October 15. The two sections were later dry-docked at Middle Dock, South Shields, from where they emerged as a complete ship. In January and June of 1954, the 12,315 gross tons Norwegian motor tanker, Andwi was also launched in two parts; the sections being joined together on the Wear by TW Greenwell & Co Ltd. These vessels became known as the Half-Crown ships.

During the 1960s, Austin & Pickersgill Ltd applied similar techniques to save construction time in completing a pair of bulk carriers. Half of the 30,815 gross tons Happy Dragon was launched at Southwick on October 30, 1966, followed by the second half on February 5, 1967. She was built for the Halfdan Greig & Co of Norway.

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Later that year, the two halves of the 30,503 gross tons Sygna were launched into the Wear. Unfortunately, she ended her life as it had begun - in two halves. She broke in two during salvage attempts after being wrecked off New South Wales, Australia in 1974.

Austin & Pickersgill built another bulk carrier in sections, to avoid disrupting production schedules. Originally unnamed and designated as Ship No. 1420, her aft and fore halves were launched on July 12, 1984 and February 22, 1985, respectively.

After being towed to Brigham & Cowan Ltd’s dry dock on the Tyne, the 20,904 gross tons vessel returned to the Wear as the Panamanian-registered Pomorac.