Bank Line (Andrew Weir & Co. Ltd)

(Est. 1905)

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Andrew Weir entered the shipowning business in 1885 in Glasgow when he purchased the barque WILLOWBANK and eventually controlled one of the largest fleets of sailing ships under the British flag. In 1896 the company purchased their first steamship, but it was 1912 before the last sailing ship was sold. In 1905 the company was registered as Bank Line and the head office was moved to London, although the ships continued to be registered in Glasgow.

  In 1917 the United Baltic Corporation was formed with 50% of the shares held by Andrew Weir & Co. and 50% by East Asiatic Co., Copenhagen. However, this was managed as a separate company and is the subject of another fleet list.

The tanker trade was entered in 1920 with the establishment of the British-Mexican Petroleum Co. and this passed into the control of Andrew Weir & Co. in 1930 and subsequently became part of the Anglo-American Oil Co. Motorships were built from 1923 for the service between Rangoon and South Africa with accommodation for 12-1st, 20-2nd and 400-emigrant class passengers. In 1925 a French subsidiary was formed and named Cie. Venture-Weir S.A, Paris and operated services between Antwerp, Dunkirk, Havre, Bordeaux and West African ports. However, by 1928 this company returned to the oil distribution trade. In 1925 the Lago Shipping Co. was established to ship crude oil from Lake Maracaibo to the refineries at Aruba, but control of this company passed to F. J. Wolfe in 1936. The service between Calcutta, Rangoon, Colombo and South Africa was taken over from Bullard, King & Co. in 1933 and became known as the India Natal Line. Ships on this service had accommodation for 50-1st, 20-2nd and facilities for 500 native passengers. In 1935 MacAndrews & Co. were taken over by United Baltic Corporation, which allowed access to the Spanish trade.

During the Second World War the company lost a number of ships as a result of enemy action and, consequently, in the late 1940's and early 1950's there was an extensive program to replace and modernise the fleet. There was a steady flow of new motorships from the yard of Harland & Wolff Ltd and William Doxford & Sons, and, in addition, the company purchased 12 "Liberty" steamships from the United States as well as several more that had been laid down at the end of the war for other owners.

Under the guiding hand of Lord Inverforth the company built up a substantial insurance underwriting and broking department and, together with extensive activity in commodities including nitrate , coal, oil and grain, extended its influence throughout the world with the opening of branches and subsidiary companies.

During his active business life Andrew Weir was highly respected so much so that he was elected President of the Institute of Marine Engineers and was one of the very few honorary members of the Baltic Exchange. Before his death on 17th September, 1955 Lord Inverforth saw his two grandsons, the Hon. Roy and the Hon. Vincent, taking an active interest in the company he had founded 70 years previously.

For many years AWS had offered the last surviving Bank Line service which was the "round the world service" on the Foylebank, Speybank, Arunbank and Teignbank. These ships departed monthly from Hull and Dunkirk, travelling to Papeete in Tahiti, various sparsely populated and unspoiled islands in the South Pacific, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, Singapore then via the Suez Canal, before returning to Europe. The whole voyage takes about 110-120 days, with port time ranging from 1 to 3 days. In 2003 AWS sold Bank Line to China Navigation, an offshoot of Swire Group. The AWS shipping group, which was founded in 1905, runs services between Europe and the South Pacific. The acquisition includes container fleet and agency companies in the Solomon Islands. China Navigation bought the business from Andrew Weir Shipping. Swire Group will timecharter the four vessels used on the route from Andrew Weir. Bank Line in 2006 sent their round-the-world fleet to Singapore for extensive refits and drydockings, during which time the fleet was also given new names. Ships broke from their global roamings after arriving in the east from South Pacific ports, beginning with the Foylebank completing at Port Kelang 10 December 2005 then proceeding to Singapore for her refit. When she returned to service on 21 January 2006, it was under the name Gazellbank. Thus the Foylebank was renamed Gazellbank, the Speybank was renamed Mahinabank, the Arunbank was renamed Tikeibank, and finally the Teignbank was renamed Boularibank. After their refits in Singapore they returned to their globetrotting "round the world" service. In 2007 the Bank Line name was discontinued by Swire Shipping and the service became the westbound "Round the World" service.

On the 22nd June 2009 Swire Shipping announced that they would be discontinuing the historic Bank Line westbound "round the world" service due to the economic downturn with the last sailing from Europe being in April 2009. Thus this ended a long 100 year old tradition and the last remnant of Bank Line would be no more.
As a result the four vessels used on the service, Gazellbank (ex Foylebank), Mahinabank (ex Speybank), Tikeibank (ex Arunbank) and Boularibank (ex Teignbank) were returned to their owner AWS and sold for scrap. In the final months of 2009 the four sisters gradually slipped quietly off on their final voyages to the scrappers. It was the end of an era as the last service, traditions and ships of Bank Line closed forever.

However for one of them - the Boularibank - its last voyage from Europe on the westbound "round the world" service would not be without incident. On what appeared to be her last complete voyage in this service the Boularibank was attacked by Somalian pirates in Arabian Sea 120 North East of Socotra Island on April 28th 2009 when underway from Singapore to Fos (France) with a mainly Russian crew and 9 passengers. When the attackers were spotted at 09.10 hrs. vessel increased speed up to 16 knots. At once a Russian warship patrolling in this part of the sea area was contacted and assurance was given a helicopter would be on the spot within half an hour. The pirates armed with guns and a RPG (Rocket Propelled Grenade) approached the
vessel in two skiffs which were launched from a mother vessel at a speed of about 25 knots. They opened fire with automatic weapens and several bullets hit the superstructure of the vessel without causing much damage. One of two RPG exploded above the bridge another also missed the ship and felt into the water. In order to keep the attackers away from the ship as long as
possible several effective measures had been taken by forehand by the ships management: water hydrant was activated, bundles of heavy timber baulks were hanged on ropes over the ships sites behind the forecastle, container twistlocks were made ready
to throw, the outside staircases were blocked by ropes, all outside watertight doors were closed etc. All passengers and the steward with his staff were ordered to hide in the corridors behind the wheelhouse. During the attack the British master Peter Stapleton continued to carry out the evasive manoeuvres and twice the timber baulks were launched as a result of which the
pirates aborted the attack at 10.33 hrs. A potentially disasterous moment and incident was overcome successfully.

By the 2nd November 2009, it was the turn of the last vessel of the "Bank Line tradition" (MV Mahinabank - former Speybank) to bid farewell as it ran up the beach at Chittagong in Bangladesh and is scrapped. It was not a traditional Bank Line vessel as it was originally built in Finland in 1983 as Okha for the Russans and is designed for Arctic service. It transferred to Bank Line in 1995 and was renamed Speybank and then in 2006 it was renamed Mahinabank. Nevertheless the last vessel of Bank Line and the historic "round the world service" are no more. But they will live on for many a year in our memories and thoughts.

Today Andrew Weir Shipping (Bank Line) is one of the widest ranging shipping companies in the world and is still trading successfully. But its traditional Bank Line shipping services are no more and it has diversified into other operations. Despite this sadly the curtain has now come down on the Bank Line tradition as the last vessel of the line gone to scrap and the round the world service (Bank Line's last suriving shipping service and operated by Swire Shipping) concluded forever. Farewell.

Andrew Weir Shipping Ltd

        (c) Cruise Ship History Collection 2018 including                                                                                                                                                                              A Edward Elliott