Completed 1945 as "BELA" for STUK. 29-7-1961 arrived Singapore for scrapping.

IMO number
Call sign
Construction number
5.168 ton
Length overall
Year of construction
Year of renaming/broken up
Service for Shell
1945 to 1961
Flag state
Home port




Date Visitor Anecdote
07/01/2010 - 01:59 Derek Spender


Bela was my first ship. It took me about six weeks before my ignorance in marine matters got me into trouble. We were anchored in Singapore roads waiting for a berth at Pulo Bukom. I was on my own in the engine room when the bridge called down for the steam to be turned onto the fore winch. I complied. The result was some almighty bangs and several flange joints blown out. The second was most uncomplimentary and I learnt a lesson that I have never forgotten. Warm the pipes before opening the valve all the way.

A number of events stand out during my year or so on board. Not in chronological order they were;

1. Going aground in the Musi river: We were taking cargo on at Pladju which is across the Musi river from Palembang in Sumatra. When it was time to leave the river pilots went on strike. A fair number of tankers were stranded. Our Captain decided that he would attempt to go down river without a pilot. I was on the second engineer's watch. At about 03:50 I made my way down the flying bridge to the engine room. Something didn't seem right. Peering through the gloom I saw that although the engine was pumping away, the bank was stationery. Arriving down in the engine room I asked the second why the engine was running but the ship not moving. At first he didn't believe me but I suggested that he go up and take a look forhimself. He came back down in a fury and used the phone to tear a strip off the bridge officer. We then shut down the engine before we completely filled the condensor with mud.

Next morning I was sent out in a lifeboat with the third mate to take soundings. At the bow we found about six feet although the marks claimed twenty eight. At the stern there was about fourty feet. Further out from the stern the bottom was almost up to the surface where the mud had been pumped by the screw. Because of the depth under the stern it was decided tho try and winch the stern sideways to work us off. The third mate and myself took off in the lifeboat, towing a wire rope across to the far bank. On the bank we located a good sized tree in the jungle and fastened the rope to it. We then returned to the lifeboat to return to the ship. As soon as those on the stern saw us leave they began to winch. The rope came up under the lifeboat and caught on the keel. The lifeboat lifted out of the water and began to tip over. We yelled out to the ship but because of the distance no one heard us. I began to think that I was about to swim with the crocs. Fortunately at that point the large tree, roots and all, pulled out of the swampy ground and saved us. We disengaged the wire and returned to the ship.

We were stranded another two days until the pilots resumed work and brought another tanker down to lighten us. With the aid of a tug we were then able to work our way free. The Captain received a commendation from the company for his attempt at strike breaking.

2. Almost losing the timing chain: The Doxford's camshaft was driven by a large chain at the rear of the engine. On one trip it started rattling against its cover. The engine was stopped and the tensioner adjusted. It was soon rattling again. Instead of adjusting, the tensioner was removed for inspection.It was found that the ball races had collapsed and the sprocket was cutting though the axle. Another hour or two and we would have had the chain dropped and who knows what damage would have ocurred. We had no replacement races but a couple of almost fitting races were located. One fitted the sprocket. The other was about a sixteenth of an inch oversize. The sprocket was too large for the lathe so I mounted an angle grinder on the lathe and machined the outside of the race. This was more difficult than it sounds. The race had to be held by its inner and the balls jammed to prevent it turning. The grinder rotated with the lathe rather than against it. The job took about twelve hours to complete. Next I manufactured a new spindle to match the odd bearings. About thirty six hours after stopping we were under way again. I'm not certain but I think a more orthodox repair was done several months later when we docked in Keppel harbour.

3. Destroying a relief valve: I was on watch with the second when We were due to enter the river for Port Swettenham, west of Kuala Lumpur, We were waiting for the stand by signal to warm the manouvering pumps and get them started. Suddenly we got a "Stop" signal on the telegraph. There was nothing we could do immediately so I rushed around trying to get pumps started while the Second tried to contact the bridge. before he could, We got a double ring astern. I opened the starting air and continued to try and get the pumps started. The double ring was repeated. Not knowing what was happening, the Second attempted to stop the engine but with fullway on the engine windmilled. Another double ring. The Second attempted to stop the engine with the air. The result was a series of machine gun reports and sheets of flame out of the back of the engine over my head. I nearly had a heart attack! That was it. The Second called the bridge and told them the engine was out of action. When we dismantled the relief valves The heads had been cut to a sharp point as though someone had taken a cutting torch to them. They were beyond repair.

The cause of the problem? The bridge had forgotten to give us our thirty minute warning and had entered the river at full speed. Realising that they couldn't make a bend they sent us down the emergency signals. With the engine out of service, they dropped both anchors. The chain started rattling out Of course the winch brakes couldn't hold it. The mate who was on duty told me later that the last marker links went over the side as the ship came to rest.

4. Starting air problems: Unlike most other engines which started on four or four fifty pounds pressure the Doxford required around six fifty with six being very marginal. Manouvering was always a roulette. Our Captain was fond of making small adjustments back and forth when we berthed. Many times we would be wondering whether or not we could make the next movement. The Second realiosed that he was listening for the air burst out of the funnel so he had the duty engineers give short bursts of air without actually starting the engine. Sure enough, as soon as the air burst came out of the funnel, a "Stop" order would come down followed by a movement in the opposite direction.

This situation was dangerous, the order might have been genuine so the Second decided to overhaul the air compressor. This was a monster of a machine with steam cylinder and all three stages mounted on the same piston rod, stacked one above the other. Fortunately the HP cylinder was at the top and fairly accessible. With cylinder lifted the old rings were soon swapped for a new set coated in preservative and mounted on the forward bulkhead. The compressor was started but the air presure was worse. The compressor was dismantled again. All of the new rings were found stacked at the bottom of the cylinder. Close inspection revealed that they were in fact a worn set which actually fitted between the piston and the badly worn cylinder. God knows why some past engineer had coated the worn rings and mounted them on the parts board. The original rings were replaced and special made to measure ones ordered for later fitting.

5. Sinking the ship: I wasn't directly involved with this. It happened while I was off watch and sleeping. On returning to my watch I was told that the ship had been sunk at the wharf. The Bela, being wartime built, had a lot of cast iron sea water pipes in the bilge. These tended to have a lot of blowholes. Periodically the water would through into one and there would be a jet of water into the bilge. Repairs were normally done with a concrete box. The standby sea water pump was a large Weir's located against the forward bulkhead on the starboard side. The short connection between this and the sea injection valve started leaking so it was decided to sent it ashore for repair or replacement. The sea injection valve was shut down tight and the flange bolts removed. Thye pipe was given a knock. It fell out and water started pouring in through the sea injection valve. The bilge pumps could not handle the volume and the level rose until the water was about level with the inspection doors of the crankcase. Fortunately, at this point, the stern touched bottom and the flow stopped.

A diver found that the disc in the sea valve had fallen on its side so that although the stem was fully down, and felt closed, in fact the ship was open to the sea. The diver repaired the valve. The connection pipe was repaired and replaced. The water was then pumped out of the engine room. This had one sting in its tail. The cooling water was contaminated. Although flushed out and replaced the contamination damaged the surfaces of the glands of the piston cooling pipes. From then on there was a constant problem of water leakage into the oil. Several glands would require packing at almost every port. To remove the water from the oil, the Sharples purifier was run almost constantly. This was very hard on the sintered bronze bush at the bottom. Eventually we ran out of spares so the Second had me turn up some replacements from lignum vitae wood. Except for the first one which seized because of too close tolerances [it swelled with the oil] they worked well but required more frequent replacement. A decided bonus was the removal of the black carbon that collects in most diesel engine lubricants.

Derek Spender