Captain Ken #26 - Encounters with Nature

Captain Ken Owen had a long career at sea which included sailing as master with Overseas Containers Limited (OCL), P&O Containers and P&O Nedlloyd.   Ken is now retired and in 2020 he started writing a monthly article for publication using the pen name 'Captain Ken' in the Mellor Church Outlook magazine.

A number of articles that Ken has written are about his time at sea and he has very kindly agreed that we can share them here.  

This is the 26th of the Captain Ken articles that we have reproduced here on the PONLHeritage site, and in this one Ken talks about some of the wildlife encounters that he had during his time at sea.  

This article was first published in the church magazine in November 2022.

(This article was first published in the November 2022 edition of the Mellor Church Outlook Magazine).

There was a very interesting feature on the radio recently regarding the study of the underwater immense noise emitted by fish.


 Although I have spent a large part of my life sailing on the surface of the world’s oceans, any readers who have been scuba diving, will know far better than me, what it actually sounds like, below the surface.


However, it reminded me of an occasion many years ago , in the port of Belawan in Sumatra, when I was in the main hold of a Blue Funnel cargo liner, from which the entire cargo had been discharged.

There was an extremely loud buzzing noise, which I now know was caused by fish pressing their heads against the ship’s hull, and presumably talking to each other.  It was not normally audible when sailing due to the constant noise of the ship’s engines.

This reminded me of an incident while serving as a midshipman on the same ship and while she was idle awaiting a new cargo, with a colleague, borrowing a canoe, and exploring the mangrove covered riverbank.  To our complete amazement, there were fishes diving into the river from the branches of the mangrove trees.  They were of course mud skippers, which are able to slide from the sea, up the mud bank, and along te sloping tree trunks, where they rest in the sun.


As if that wasn’t interest enough, we were suddenly very alarmed when a large creature appeared out of the undergrowth scaring us into an emergency back paddle, as we thought it was a tiger.  From a safer distance, we were able to realize it was an orangutan which had been silently watching us.   It’s sad to think that both those creatures are now very rare, even in Sumatra.

On a subsequent voyage, after loading bulk sunflower seeds in North China we were accompanied by flocks of small seed eating birds, attracted by the vast amount of spilled seed still all over the ship.  I had noticed that we were accompanied by a remarkable large hawk which perched on top of the main mast and feeding on the smaller birds.

I had shown my interest in this bird to one of our Chinese crew members, and was surprised when he presented me with a large wire cage he had made, containing this wonderful hawk.  He had climbed the mast and simply caught the bird which he explained, thought it was up a tree and therefore perfectly safe.

I politely asked the chief steward if he could spare some meat for my caged bird, and he said  ‘It can have as much as it likes’.  It was remarkably tame but, to the chief steward’s and chef’s horror, would only eat up to a pound of best beef steak per day!  Unfortunately, the seaman who had climbed the mast to catch the bird had also clipped its wings to prevent escape.

As one of our destinations was Hamburg and we did have some creatures bound for a zoo there, I thought I would offer the hawk to the same zoo.  Sadly, another well-meaning member of the crew felt sorry for the hawk and let it out of it’s cage.  He didn’t realise it’s wings were clipped and so it could no longer fly properly, and was equally sad when it drowned in the sea.


When we eventually berthed in London, on my way home, I called at the Natural History Museum in Kensington, and there well displayed, was a stuffed example of our hawk.  It was a Grey faced Buzzard Eagle.   from North China.

Much later, on a fast container ship speeding home from the Far East via the Cape of  Good Hope, a homing pigeon landed on the bridge and made himself comfortable on the bridge wings, being well fed by the watch officer and occasionally entering the wheelhouse and perching on the radar.  To our surprise, as soon as we entered the English Channel, he simply flew off and landed on a similar ship going back the way we had just come. 

(This article was first published in the November 2022 edition of the Mellor Church Outlook Magazine).

For further articles in this series:

Captain Ken Owen has kindly provided us with a new series of articles which will be published on a regular basis here.  If you are interested in reading other articles that he has written which we haven't yet used then please feel free to go to