Captain Ken #33 - "Ship Shape & Bristol Fashion"

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 33rd in the series of Captain Ken's articles that we have published on the PONL Heritage site, Ken Owen talks about the time in the early 1980s when he organised the shipment of a circus to the Far East, and when the Osaka Bay made her UK call in Portbury rather than Southampton.     

(This article was first published in the February 2024 edition of the Mellor Church Outlook Magazine).

I little thought when I began my series of interesting memories, that I would include my year based ashore in the City of London.

It was in the very early days of containers and we were a small team of ship planners appointed by TRIO Lines, UK, Germany and Japan.  The shipping companies included were Ben Line from Scotland, Overseas Containers Limited from England, Hapag Lloyd from Germany, and NYK and OSK from Japan.  We little thought at the time that this new system would change the entire global business.

Prior to containerisation the cargo liners' cargo was planned by the ship's chief officer, who was well aware that the profit or loss on the voyage depended on the cargo planning.  Due to the present Red Sea crisis we are seeing enormous ships regularly on our TV screens.  Some carry as many as 24 thousand (twenty-foot equivalent) containers, and I frequently think what a skill and responsibility their planners must need.

One Friday night when I was working late in my London office, planning a ship loading in Taiwan, I received an urgent call from the manager of a circus in Germany.  He had booked his circus on one of our ships sailing to the Far East.  He said "You've agreed to carry two circus staff on your ship together with all the animals, could you possibly take an extra one?"  I just couldn't contact any of our management that deal with these matters so I joked, "I've recently sailed on the ship, so I know she won't notice one extra clown, so that's OK".   

When Monday morning came round my phone was red hot.  By giving another free passage to another circus hand it was against the Conference rules and thus considered a bribe to help secure the whole booking!  And of course our Company would not stoop to such behaviour.

Anyway, I managed to make up for accommodating the extra clown.

The ship I had planned was on her way home but had plenty of space remaining due to a Far East holiday.  I arranged for her to call at Jeddah to load several hundred empty containers we had waiting there.  Our other partners agreed to the change of schedule but refused to load any empties so they wouldn't need to pay any port charges.  Then, due to a dockers' strike in Southampton, it was decided to put the ship into Portbury, the new container terminal for Bristol.   As it was a maiden call, the Bristol newspaper displayed a perfect photograph of our ship with all the deck cargo being OCL containers.  The management were specially impressed as all the other photos of the ship fully loaded showed the containers of all five companies in TRIO.

They forgot the extra clown and thanked me for the thoughtful planning.

Above - Bristol Evening Post article from 28/11/1981 reporting on the arrival of the OCL Osaka Bay at Portbury the previous day

Above - Bristol Evening Post article from 07/12/1981 reporting that the Tokyo Bay would also be calling at Portbury.

Captain Ken Owen's articles are being published on a regular basis here but if you are interested in reading others that he has written which we haven't yet used then please feel free to go to