Kuwait

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The emblem of Kuwait

Kuwait is about 277 miles north of Dammam, or a short seventeen hour voyage, but far enough away for the weather to have changed for the worse.

We arrived off Kuwait at night during a wild storm with high winds and dashing rain that hammered on the bridge windows. The clear view screen was going flat out.

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The Clear View is a circular area of the bridge window that spins at high speed which doesn’t allow water to ‘grip’ on the glass. As the rest of the bridge windows might be ‘blind’ by sea spray or heavy rain the ‘Clear View’ is always clear for those on the bridge, a limited amount of visibility on this night was in great demand.

Of course, we had to arrive during the midnight to 4.00 am watch, which was my watch, so I had all the fun. We had tugs in attendance, which helped us to ease our way alongside, cargo ship in the 1960’s didn’t have side thrusters to ease a ship into a berth.

People don’t think that it can get cold in the Persian Gulf, but it can, and during my time in the tanker (62- 63) we had ice on the deck after a cold night. Admittedly it didn’t last long once the sun came up, but it was still cold if you were out and about.

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The above is Kuwait in the early 1960’s. I sent this post card home to my parents, so I was surprised that it came to light recently. Obviously, I am a hoarder of the old school.

Kuwait may be on certain people’s bucket list today, but in the mid 60’s it was not a holiday town, and foreigners were there to work, and not holiday.

The smell of oil hung over the whole area and just forty kilometres south of Kuwait was Mina al Ahamadi, which was my first port that I visited on my first ship in 1962, which was the tanker.

Due to its location Kuwait has been a crossroad for trade for thousands of years. Evidence has been found that there was a society living in the area 8,000 years ago. The island of Failaka, which is just of the Kuwait coast, is where the Mesopotamian people settled in 2,000 BC.

In 400 BC the Greeks, under Alexander the Great, colonised the area, and even today the remains of a Greek temple and fort can be seen.

In the fifteen hundred Kuwait was under the control of the Portuguese and they built a defensive settlement.

By the 1700’s Kuwait was part of the trading route from India to Basrah, Baghdad, and on to Constantinople. The British East India Company controlled the sea route from India to Kuwait.

Kuwait became a melting pot of nationalities,and was ethnically diverse & was known for its religious tolerance.

In 1899 Kuwait signed a treaty with the British, granting Great Britain the responsibility of Kuwait’s foreign affairs, and Kuwait became a British protectorate.

In the early 20th century during WW 1 Kuwait supported the Ottoman Empire (the Turks), so Great Britain imposed a trade blockade, which damaged Kuwait’s economy.

As the pearl trade declined a number of prominent families turned to smuggling gold from Kuwait to India, and some became very rich.

In the 1960’s it was not uncommon for sailors to take advantage of the fact that Kuwait was a ‘very’ dry State concerning alcohol.
This created opportunities for some to buy spirits on their ship and to hoard it until they reached Kuwait.
On anchoring to wait for the labour to come out to work cargo, small dhows would arrive at night to buy the liquor, via basket at the end of a rope lowered to the dhow. Of course is was cash in the basket before lowering the alcohol.
The cash was then spent in Kuwait to buy gold jewellery, which the ‘smuggler’ wore, around his neck or as bracelets or rings when he went ashore in Bombay.
He would sell the jewellery & have a good time with the profit, and any cash left over would be exchanged for various currencies, other than Indian rupees, using a foreign passport, and so began the circle once again.

Just to be clear I did not take part in this trade.

After WW1 Saudi Arabia attacked Kuwait, in what is now known as the Kuwait Najd War, which further damaged Kuwait. The Saudi’s wanted to incorporate Kuwait into Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia blockaded Kuwait from 1923 to 1937.

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The above map shows how precarious Kuwait was with Saudi Arabia, Iraq & Iran as potential aggressors. Kuwait is the white area on the map.

Kuwait suffered economically for years until 1938, when they found oil and things changed.
Due to the oil Iraq now claimed Kuwait as part of their territory and offered incentives in support of an uprising in Kuwait, which failed.

The oil revenue helped Kuwait to become the largest exporter of oil in the Gulf at that time, and major public works took place throughout the country.

In 1961 they became independent of Britain when the protectorate ended. Six days after they became independent Iraq resumed its claim that Kuwait belonged to Iraq, which was knocked back by the British, and later also by the Arab League.

The period from 1948 to 1982 is recognised as the Kuwaiti golden age of development.

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A close up of the earlier map – I’ve underlined with green Kuwait – also Abadan, and Basrah, which are both on the Shatt Al-Arab, Abadan is in Iran & Basrah is in Iraq.

After discharging our cargo we sailed for Abadan – we were virtually empty of cargo, our fuel was low and we were still on water rationing, so we had very little weight to allow our propeller to dig in to the water – everything on board shook as the engine struggled to drive us forward because only part of the propeller could be used. Talk about shaking . . .    Shake rattle & roll  it was not just the pots & pans, but the furniture, our bunks, the crockery, everything vibrated, and the vibrations were felt through our bodies, which was not a pleasant feeling because it was constant.

We sailed after lunch and took our time to sail the 120 km (about 70 miles) so as to arrive at the mouth of the Shatt al Arab just after midnight, where we anchored to await the pilot for the river transit.

Being on the midnight to 4.00 am watch I was on anchor watch – the pilot for the river transit was due to board us at 4.00 am.