Completed 1956 as Helisoma for STUK. 1973 sold to African Coasters and renamed Africa Shell. 26-9-1977 arrived Kaohsiung for scrap.

Also known as
IMO number
Call sign
Construction number
19.000 ton
Length overall
Year of construction
Year of renaming/broken up
Service for Shell
1956 to 1977
Flag state
Home port



Name Job Period Details
Bob Hoekstra 3rd mate 1975 to 1977 navigating cadet, 3rd mate


Date Visitor Anecdote
01/22/2015 - 10:06 Bob Hoekstra

I remember one day, having just been promoted to 3rd mate and doing the 8-12 watch at sea. I was on the bridge and could see the bosun and his men painting the foredeck green. One of the cadets (who shall remain nameless to protect the guilty) had been tasked with painting the colour-coded valve handles in the cargo pump room, just forward of the aft accommodation block. I watched as he walked along the deck to the paint store in the forecastle. He took a while, then came out on deck carrying a full 25 liter tin of fire engine red, having removed the lid and stirred the paint well. He was headed aft. But the idiot hadn't put the lid back on the tin. The bosun saw him coming and shouted a warning, but it was too late. His foot hit the still-wet green on the gently rolling deck and he went down. It's amazing how much green deck can be covered by a full tin of red paint. He had to run for his life...

11/21/2012 - 19:41 Tony Veal

The Helisoma Incident


In 1973 I was a career engineer officer in the South African Merchant Navy. I had joined Safmarine in June 1967 after serving my apprenticeship and another year with Shaw Savill & Albion Ltd. In February 1973 I left Safmarine to join Unicorn Shipping who had secured the contract to manage the Mobile Durban a?? a white oiler delivering refined products from the Sapref Durban refinery around the African coast from Walvis Bay to Beira.

The collection & Delivery

Late in June 1973 I went on leave and was staying in Johannesburg with my wife and her family when I was contacted by the Unicorn office and asked to go to Europe and collect a new tanker to join the Mobile Durban. I did not want to go as my leave was needed after a long tour of duty. I said that if my wife could go too I would! The reply was an instant yes, much to my surprise. The next evening we went to Jan Smuts Airport in Johannesburg to get the Luxair flight to Europe. This was the only cheap airline to Europe and operated a Boeing 707 to Luxembourg three times a week. At the airport were the a??collection crewa?? of officers and our trusted Zulu deck and engine room hands. The Zulua??s had come from a blessing in the Durban offices from a Witch Doctor as they had never flown before and were in some trepidation of things to come.

We boarded the plane and flew to Luxembourg overnight via a refuelling in Gabon. None of us knew the vessel we were going to a?? another personnel department triumph. The next morning we collected our luggage tot transfer to a BEA flight to London and my wifesa?? luggage was missing. We went on to Heathrow without her bags and were met by the agent who said that the ship was arriving in Liverpool the next day. My wife and I waited in London for the lost baggage and the others disappeared up north.
We made a fortunate visit to my family in Southampton overnight and then we were told that the ship was in Falmouth. Off we went without luggage but with clothing bought from Marks & Spencera??s. We met up with our crew who had travelled from Liverpool by coach and went to the docks. There was the a??Helisomaa??. Far from a??newa?? but looking clean and tidy.

On board were the Shell engineer officers who would not leave the ship until we arrived. She was still steaming and ready to go. We had a hasty hand over from these stalwarts and together with their notes we bid them farewell and took over. There was no Chief Engineer so I arranged for us to work six hour watches a?? six on , six off, with me in charge of one and Peter Addis the third engineer in charge of the other.

On my first watch I went to read the engine room log books the first entry was a?? a??locked co-ordinates and beamed down to engine rooma??- the entire log book had been filled out Star Trek format for the last two weeks!
The next day we were told that we were going to bunker fuel for the trip to Durban and I was wandering around the deck trying to identify the bunker tanks and pipeline systems when The new chief engineer arrived. a??Williea?? Hunter was a retired Chief Engineer from Shell who lived in the Shetland Isles, I think that Shell had recommended him and his knowledge was priceless. We were soon bunkered and next day we were full away for Durban.

Some old ship we found out soon enough. We were use to a tanker that did six to eight knots. This one would do sixteen easily. As we got used to the systems we started an inventory of stores and testing everything as we had to decide what required work in the refit in Durban before she went into service. She had been operating in the Baltic for two years and no air-conditioning unit worked. We had an uncomfortable time through the tropics fortunately we had plenty of beer!

The trip was relatively uneventful until we were approaching the Cape, we decided that we should run up the second turbo alternator and run both until we shut down alongside in Durban as was the normal safe working practice for Unicorn. Willie Hunter told me that the sequence was to warm the Turbine through and start it up and run it up to 800 RPM when the lub oil pump took over from the hand pump and then I was to wind the stop valve open rapidly as there were critical vibrations during the speeding up process and the quicker it was run up to speed the better. When I did this the unit nearly took off it was shaking so much. I stopped it and repeated the exercise with the same result, before I could slow down the turbine a??Williea?? was beside me. We determined that the turbine was distorted. Apparently everyone was sitting down to dinner in the saloon when I started the turbine and all the cutlery and crockery vibrated off the tables!

We went to Durban on one Turbo alternator.
In Durban the refit was extensive and difficult. The boilers and turbines were refitted, (the bent TA set was straightened) and the tail shaft was pulled for survey. At this time Durban was the hub of marine commerce and refitting. The Suez canal was closed and Cape Town and Durban were overloaded with ships in refit as it was commercially great savings to international companya??s.

All ships were only allowed thirty six hours each in the Durban dry dock. This can be accomplished easily if the planning is correct and we were going according to plan until the tail shaft was pulled inboard and it was discovered that a wire rope had been dragged through the bearing at some time. We were not allowed to stay in the drydock and a large hole was cut in the shipside in way of the engine room and the tailshaft removed. We were then re-floated, ballasted down by the head to keep the vessel afloat with sufficient freeboard at the hole in the side. As you will be aware there were over a hundred Shell a??Ha?? ships and strategic spares were located throughout the world. Another tail shaft soon arrived and was loaded through the hole in the side and refitted. The propeller was refitted with the vessel in the water.

At this time we were trying to re-commission the ship but we could not fire the boilers as the water level in the gauge glasses showed full in the front glasses and empty at the back! Throughout the trip I was on duty for up to sixteen hours a day and then for most of the refit. I was finally relieved to go back on leave just before the Africa Shell went on her a??maiden voyagea??. When my leave was over I went back to the a??Mobile Durbana?? and never sailed in the a??Africa Shella?? again.

Postscript: The a??Africa Shella?? was nicknamed a??The gypsya??s doga?? because all her ribs stuck out, probably from her time in the ice. a??Helisomaa?? according to a??Williea?? Hunter was one of six a??Ha?? ships fitted out as a??white oilersa?? with special cargo tank linings for the petrol diesel and avgas/paraffin refined fuels that we transported. He also said that two a??Ha?? ships were fitted out as bitumen carriers with special tank heating,