SINCE the origins of shipbuilding on the River Wear, a steady growth in vessel tonnages and dimensions eventually cumulated with the launch of the enormous ore/bulk/oil carriers Naess Crusader and Nordic Chieftain from North Sands during the early 1970s.
An important milestone was reached in 1913 with the launch of the river’s first ship exceeding 15,000 tons deadweight.
Named San Jeronimo, she was an oil tanker ordered by Eagle Oil Transport Co and launched by William Doxford and Sons of Pallion, on December 13, 1913.
During sea trials she reached speeds of 11.4 knots before delivery on February 10, 1914.
With a deadweight tonnage of 15,578 and overall length of 540 feet, she was the largest ship built on the Wear up to that time.
A sister-ship, San Nazario, was launched by Doxfords on June 9, 1914, for the same owners and delivered on September 5, that year.
Marginally larger than San Jeronimo by 27 tons, she held the record of being the largest ship constructed on the Wear until after World War Two.
Both ships formed part of a massive order placed by Eagle Oil for ten 15,000 dwt and nine 9,000 dwt tankers.
The remaining 15,000-ton vessels were all built on the Tyne, being named San Melito, San Lorenzo, San Hilario, San Ricardo, San Silvestre, San Tirso, San Valerio and San Urbano.
On-board facilities and equipment surpassed the norm for the era, and included wireless, a freezer store and library.
Boilers could be economically fuelled by either coal or oil, which generated steam to power quadruple-expansion engines.
Eagle Oil Transportation Co was established in 1912 by Weetman Pearson (later Lord Cowdray) to transport oil to Great Britain from his Mexican oil fields, which operated under the title of Mexican Eagle Oil Co and had been founded in 1900.
During World War One, the Admiralty requisitioned San Jeronimo as a fleet oiler at Portland.
San Nazario was torpedoed by a German U-boat south-west of the Scillies in 1917, but managed to reach port for repairs.
After the war, both ships continued to serve Eagle Oil Transport, management of the company being taken over by Royal Dutch Shell in 1919.
In 1928, they were converted to whale factory ships, San Jeronimo becoming Christian Salvesen Co’s Southern Empress.
On October 14, 1942, while en route from the USA to Glasgow with a cargo of fuel oil and landing craft, she was torpedoed and sunk off Newfoundland by U-221 with the loss of 48 lives.
San Nazario was acquired by Bryde and Dahls, entering the Norwegian whaling fleet as Thorshammer.
In 1941, she narrowly evaded capture by German raiders. She was broken up at La Spezia, Italy, in 1962.