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.

 

“I’m late, I’m late, for a very important date! (Excuse the pun)

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I’m late I’m late for a very important date.

We still had to call at Doha (Qatar), Dammam (Saudi Arabia), Bahrain Island, Kuwait and finally Basrah (Iraq), which is about 90 miles up the Shatt al-Arab from the Persian Gulf.
The Tigris and Euphrates Rivers meet and become the Shatt-al-Arab and in English this means The River of the Arabs, so if people refer to it at the Shatt-al-Arab river they are actually saying the River of the Arabs River, which is a little odd.
The Shatt-al-Arab marks the border between Iraq and Iran (which used to be called Persia).

I’ve indicated the places mentioned with a coloured line under the name, and I’ve also marked Dubai as a reference point.

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We arrived off Abu Dhabi at 6.00 am and once again we anchored, and the labour came out to us in boats and dhows.

A little about Abu Dhabi in the 1960’s.

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The photograph was taken in 1963 by David Riley, who was working for the British Bank of the Middle East at the time.

Abu Dhabi is a small island a few hundred meters off the coast, and in the early ’60’s the only way to cross was via this causeway at low tide. The two petrol drums mark the beginning of the causeway. It wasn’t until August 1968 (after I’d left the area) that a bridge was opened.

Maqta-75  It was known as the bridge to nowhere, but the proper name is Maqta Bridge. The old causeway was called Al Maqta (which means The Crossing) hence the name of the bridge. It was a symbol that Abu Dhabi was joining the rest of the world.

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I took the above in 2017, and if you wish to read a more detailed post about the 2017 visit to Abu Dhabi please click on this link. The link post is more of the current situation than reminiscences of yesteryear.

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Abu Dhabi airport in 1968, in 1965 the landing strip was hard packed sand.

The cargo work went well and we hoped to make up for lost time until that evening we experienced another shamal, but this one was far stronger than the earlier shamal at Dubai in Dubai.
It whipped up sand and the combination of the wind and the sand would strip paint of parts of the ship. It was similar to sand blasting to remove graffiti in a city, and it you were unfortunate to be outside it was a very painful experience for any exposed skin.
All work had to stop as it was too dangerous to allow the boats carrying the labour to come near the ship because the wind, and the sea would smash the boats against the Juna and more than likely sink them.

For the next six days we worked cargo intermittently due to the shamal stopping and later beginning again. It was not a pleasant time for any of us, and we were still on water rationing.

During our off duty hours, the officers had the opportunity of taking a small boat out to try our luck at shark fishing. It was pleasant in the boat, just sitting and chatting while holding the shark line. The main thing that I caught was sunburn, but we did catch a couple of small sharks, well I helped to drag one into the boat. They were not all that big, perhaps just over a metre, (perhaps four feet).
On returning to the ship we gave the two sharks to the crew who cooked them that evening – the first non-frozen fish that we’d had in months.

For a number of reasons, we were now behind schedule and the captain decided after being anchored off Abu Dhabi for six days, that we would sail at midnight, (the seventh day) even if the cargo work was incomplete. We had to be in Basrah (Iraq) to pick up a thousand tons of dates during harvest time.

The Captain considered that if necessary, we would call at Abu Dhabi on our return.

Oh! the joys of cruising in the Persian Gulf when on water rationing!

Places not on my bucket list

Das Island

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The photograph of Das Island has been downloaded from the net –

tc-map1I’ve marked the position of Das Is – under the ‘er’ of Persian under lined in cream.

I think the only main change since 1963 would be the upgraded runway. I always had the feeling that the island was floating on a pool of oil.
Das Island is a hundred miles (160 km) off the coast of Abu Dhabi; the size of the island is three quarters of a mile by one and a half miles, and is famous as a landing spot for migrating birds and a place for sea turtles to breed. Not a particularly sexy place to visit, but apparently the turtles liked this place as a holiday island.

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Banda Mashur in Iran now called Bandar-e Mahshahr
In August the temperature can reach 50 c (122 F) not a fun place to be at the best of times.

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Kharg Island

Memories, memories – every time I smell crude oil it all comes back to me.

Five miles (8 km) by half a mile (0.8 km) – 8.1 sq miles (21 sq km) – another island on a pool of oil
The Kharg Island facilities were effectively out of commission at the end of 1986. Heavy bombing of the facilities from 1982 through 1986 by the air forces of Iraq during the Iran-Iraq War had all but destroyed most of the terminal facilities.

It’s other claim to fame is that it has inspired a computer generated a game called Battlefield WiKI . . . enough said.

My final ‘hot spot’ would be Ras al Khaimah. Funny, but Ras al Khaimah means ‘top of the tent’; which is the last place I’d think of in 1963 if I wanted to go camping.

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The thought that Tip Advisor would list the best hotels in Ras al Khaimah would have been science fiction in 1963.

On our return from Europe  it was a fast loading and this time we were off to Wilhelmshaven in Germany, via of course LEFO.
In the next few months we focused on Mina; the corrugated canteen, with its joy of the reason for travel, and visits to Little Aden, but all good things come to end and we finally returned to the Isle of Grain where I paid off the tanker, after nearly nine months, and went home to Birkenhead in June 1963.

I was given eight weeks leave, but after two weeks I was bored. The boredom was my fault because I’d changed. I’d seen some of the world, experienced storms, picked up enough Hindi words to make myself understood to our Indian crew, and could now steer an ocean going vessel. I was even beginning to miss the Mina / Aden ferry I was in a bad way.

My friends back home hadn’t changed. They spoke of last night’s TV, football at the weekend, and they looked forward to their annual holiday.
There was nothing wrong with their life, but it wasn’t for me, after all, I doubted that I would have any reason to go ‘abroad,’ didn’t I say that at school?

The thought of another six weeks of boredom was too much, so I rang the Company and asked for a ship.

The Company obliged, and sent me an airline ticket for Kuwait!

They must have hated me in Head Office .. . .

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I left Heathrow on a Comet 4 for Rome, next stop should have been Damascus, but we were diverted to Beirut, and finally we arrived in Kuwait. On landing I was met in the arrival hall by a representative of the shipping agent and within minutes I had my bag and was through customs and immigration, while many other passengers were still queuing.

Outside I was escorted to a very large American car; (see similar cars in the picture below) the driver opened the rear door and indicated that I should sit in the back. The agent shook my hand and wished me a safe journey, which at the time I thought was a strange comment. After all we were only going to a city hotel. The driver smiled at me, via the rear view mirror, and put his foot down on the accelerator. Now I understood the agent’s comment, within minutes we were travelling at over one hundred miles an hour along a freeway to the city. At that time nobody wore seatbelts. I just hung on to the roof strap. Thirty minutes later we pulled up at the Bristol Hotel in a cloud of dust and sand. I was to wait in this hotel until my ship arrived in to Kuwait.

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I sent the above post card to my parents to let them know that I’d arrived safely. At that time we did not have a phone at home, and e-mail was thirty-five years in the future.
It was mid July and I only ventured out of the hotel in the early morning or late afternoon – it was the height of summer and it was HOT & dusty. The hotel was ‘dry’ i.e they were not allowed to sell alcohol, so one couldn’t have a cold beer in the cool of the evening.
I received a phone call at 4.00 am one morning, and I thought it was the agent telling me that my new ship had arrive – wrong number.
I received another at 10.00 am the same day and this time it was the agent to let me know that I would be collected and taken to my new ship in the early afternoon, the Landuara.
What a difference between this vessel and the tanker. The tanker was just over two years old, and my latest posting was to a vessel that had been launched in 1946, two years after I had been born. Her deadweight was 7200 tons. She didn’t have any air-conditioning, cadets slept two to a cabin, and the cabins were not at all large, in fact the shared cabin was smaller than the single cabins on the tanker.

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Our first port of call, after leaving Kuwait, was Basra, about 60 miles up the Shatt al Arab. Many people refer to it as the Shatt al Arab River, but the Arabic meaning is Stream or River of the Arabs, so by putting river at the end we have Stream or River of the Arabs River, which is a bit of a mouthful.

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The river itself denotes the border between Iraq and Iran, and it is the confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates. Basra is about as far upriver as a sea going vessel can reach from the Persian Gulf.

The river flowed through miles and miles of Iraqi and Iranian desert. Khaki was the colour of the day, in fact every day. Sand storms, along with the heat and the flies made this area of the world one of the most unattractive. From memory the only green things I ever saw were the leaves of palms, and the lawn of the British Club, which was not the lush green of England, but a pale green – yellow effort that stood little chance of ever turning a lush green in the searing heat of August. The Shatt al Arab water was a dirty brown combination of local sewers, run off from the surrounding land after oxen had walked in circles to drive water from the river to irrigate the riverbank area, and the occasional shower of rain. It was unthinkable for any of us to wish to swim in such water, walk on it perhaps, but never in it to swim.

palm-treesShatt al Arab river near Basrah

111641They do say that photographs don’t lie – they do, because I’ve never seen the Shatt al Arab look so blue and attractive.

I did hear once that where the Tigris and the Euphrates meet, is where the Garden of Eden is supposed to have been located. Things have changed in the area since Adam and Eve left the garden.

By now it was August the hottest time of the Iraq summer and temperatures during the day were well over the 40 c (106F) mark and when working in the holds of the ship, the temperatures were higher again. At night I used to obtain two very large bath towels, soak them in a bath of fresh water, and put one on the deck of the highest part of the ship, and pull the other over me in an effort to get some sleep before either towel dried out. Sleeping in the cabin was impossible, because of the lack of air conditioning. We did have a small fan, but all that did was move the hot air from over there, to over here, without generating any cooling.
When I was in my fifties I suffered from rheumatism in certain weather conditions and I blame the use of the soaking wet towels as the cause – but without the wet towels we wouldn’t be able to get any sleep. Imagine the conditions for our engineers when they were on duty in the engine room.
At the end of the workday (we were alongside, not moored in the river) we did have the chance to visit the British Club, where we could buy English beer. The members allowed us to use their swimming pool, and they were very kind and friendly to us poor cadets making us ‘honorary’ members. The other advantage of the British Club was that a number of the members had their daughters visiting during the British school holidays (late July to early September), and some of the daughters were my age. . . . . but we were not going to step out of line and cause any problems, after all the Club had been very kind to us, and they sold cold beer.
On the evenings that we didn’t go ashore, we would sit outside our accommodation on the riverside of the ship, not the shore side, and eat watermelon, and hold pip-spiting contests across the river – we never reached the other side. The melons were obtained via barter. Wood in Iraq was expensive and hard to obtain. Our ship used wood as dunnage when stowing cargo during loading cargo (well before containerisation), because it was inexpensive or a waste material from another process. After we had unloaded cargo we would always have plenty of dunnage left over, and we either dumped it at sea (forty years before the PC brigade were invented), or we would reuse some of the dunnage for the next time we loaded cargo. Our old dunnage had value to the local Arabs, so we would swap some for huge watermelons that grew along the banks – we were happy and the local Iraqi boatmen were happy.
After completing our unloading and the loading of export cargo (dates), we dropped down the river to Khoramshah, which is on the Iranian river bank, so we had to remember to refer to the Shatt al Arab as the Arvand Rud (Swift river), which is the Persian (Iranian) name for the river.

kharomInstead of watermelon pips we swapped dunnage for pistachio nuts; we didn’t spit, but flicked the shells across the water. Iran, being the largest producer of this nut ensured we had a regular supply.

Eventually we left the Shatt al Arab / Arvand Rud and sailed for Bombay.

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See https://wordpress.com/post/silverfox175.com/1919 for beer & onions in Bombay.