Captain Ken #27 - 'Blue Peter' flag and a port call in the Philippines

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.  

In the 27th Captain Ken article here on PONL Heritage site we hear about an incident in the Philippines when he nearly missed his ship.  

This article was first published in the church magazine in July 2023.

(This article was first published in the July 2023 edition of the Mellor Church Outlook Magazine).

In the days when it was customary to fly 'P', the Blue Peter flag, some 24 hours before the ship was expected to sail from a port I am reminded of one occasion when this became to me a most serious issue indeed.


It was in the late sixties, and I was the Chief Officer of the Blue Funnel cargo liner 'Laomedon'. We were engaged on a joint service with the Swedish East Asia Line, and the Philippine's De La Rama Line, named the Blue Sea Line.  The Service was fascinating as it was based in New York and proceeded east bound, across the North Atlantic, through the Suez Canal to Japan and then across the Pacific Ocean, and through the Panama Canal and West Indies and back to New York via Houston New Orleans, Florida and US East coast ports.  This tremendous service allowed Japan, which at the time was undergoing a post war building frenzy, to enjoy a weekly import of freshly produced plywood directly from the virgin forests of Mindanao. 

International signal flag 'P' for Papa (also known as the 'Blue Peter') - "All persons should report on board as the vessel is about to proceed to sea

The southern ports of Davao and Zamboanga, famous as the out ports of the old Spanish Empire, were extremely popular with our crew, and I was told that an old Filipino sea shanty sang 'When you go to Zamboanga don't forget your girl back home'. 

Davao was rather wild west, and when the local customs officer gave me a lift in his car, I congratulated him how realistic the bullet hole transfers were on his back window.  Some readers 

may remember when these transfers were given out at petrol stations.  'Oh no', he said, 'those holes are real, and are from a guy who tries to shoot me each day'. 

At the small ports where we loaded the newly made plywood, roads were just cut along the coast and deep into the forest. I had been intrigued by the buildings on stilts on several of the jungle peaks, and was surprised to learn that it was there that the native dead bodies were placed. 

When we were only a few hours from completion of cargo loading, the port manager asked if I'd like to drive with him in his jeep to where the trees were being felled (which I didn't appreciate). I was delighted with the opportunity, but horrified when a sudden thunder storm washed away part of the road behind us blocking us off from civilization.  To add insult to injury from where we were stranded, we could see our ship in the distance, of all things, flying the 'Blue Peter' flag; 'I am about to sail'.  Fortunately our captain preferred not to sail without a Chief Officer and did await our rescue.

(This article was first published in the July 2023 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