Lengthy Voyages and Big Cargo All in a Day's Sailing for Tidy Little Agnes Scan

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Brazilian and Indian warships in Simon's Town; the departure of the magnificent sail training vessel Libertad; three gassers anchored in Table Bay, and the oil rig Orca due to sail last Saturday, but had her departure postponed until fair weather. These were the notable local shipping events over the past few days.

Unnoticed except by ardent ship-spotters, an interesting vessel came through the showers on Sunday afternoon to berth at L Berth. Inward from the Arabian Gulf via Durban, the immaculately maintained 88-metre Agnes Scan carried deck cargo, and her spacious single hold contained drill pipes destined for Mossel Bay, hence the fleet of huge trucks on the quay when she berthed.

Aboard, I met the master, Captain Gvozdikov Alexandr, a friendly soul who hails from Belarus, and the genial Captain John Christensen, the cargo planner for the ship's owners, Scan-Trans, a Danish company that operates 32 ships.

Agnes Scan is one of six similar ships designed for the project cargo niche market requiring a shallow draught (5.5m) for entry to small ports, a single hold for out-of-gauge cargo, and equipped with cranes that, working in tandem, have a 70-ton lifting capacity.

At the other end of the Scan-Trade fleet are ships of around 12 000 deadweight, and the company has four ships on order in China for delivery from 2010 to 2011.

Christensen relates that when one of its larger ships, Global Carrier, was in Cape Town earlier this year, she loaded 18 locally built 80-ton boilers for Indonesia.

"Such was the wind," he said, "that I had to replace my glasses. My old ones had been sandblasted by the southeaster."

He first went to sea as a cadet in a 22 000-deadweight Maersk tanker, then considered a large ship. "We had a crew of 55," he told me, "including 19 ABs." In contrast, the crewlist of Agnes Scan takes only nine lines, although a glance down the nationality column shows they are East European and Filipinos.

His introduction to South Africa was 44 years ago when he was aboard a Maersk conventional cargoship on a round-the-world service. Voyages began in Japan, and the service included Hong Kong, South Africa, West Africa, the US east coast, Panama, the US west coast and, finally, the ship dashed across the Pacific to Japan.

Another South African connection came when he commanded the 47m coaster Torshammer, on charter to AE&CI, to carry mining explosives from Durban to East Africa, and from Cape Town to Port Nolloth.

He was not in command that foggy night in August 1972 when the fully-laden Torshammer went ashore near Yzerfontein. The initial distress call from the ship reported that she had grounded on Dassen Island, but the lighthouse keeper found no sign of her, which was not surprising since she was on the beach, about three nautical miles south-east of the island. …