Swansea and Port Talbot Docks History

Indefatigable and the BOS 4090

The  Indefatigable  was  built  in   Yugoslavia  in  1975  as  the  Sea  Diamond,  later changing  hands  and  becoming  the  Chambon  Bora  and  purchased  by  A.T.C.L.  in 1984 and manned from  Swansea. The  company  had  already  purchased  two  other  vessels of  the  same  class   from  the  French  company, "Compagnie Chambon" at Marseille.

These  twin-screw,  Kort nozzle, anchor-handling tugs were  built by the Tito Shipyard, Beograd, Yugoslavia.
 Principal particulars are:- Length 39.62m o.a.; Beam extreme 9.9m; Draught 4.39m; Moulded depth 5.31m; Fuel capacity 300 t ; Bollard pull 70 tons; Approximate speed 14 knots; Range 5000 miles;  Classification LR + 100 A1 + LMC tug with "anchor handling and multipurpose vessel". Propulsion is by two Burmeister and Wain Alpha type 16V23 Diesel engines with an overload rating of 5200 bhp driving variable-pitch propellers in active Kort nozzles. The sophisticated heavy-duty deck machinery includes an anchor windlass capable of anchoring in water depths up to 1000 ft and a remotely-controlled anchor winch with a line-pull capacity of 225,000 lbs. Fire-fighting equipment includes two water monitors and two foam monitors.

The first vessel purchased was the Chambon Alize, originally built as the Sea Husky in 1975. She was acquired by A.T.C.L. Liverpool in January 1982 and renamed Redoubtable and manned from that port.

(This  vessel  had  a  truly  mysterious  end  and this  is  covered  at the  end  of  this  section.)


The second vessel purchased was the Chambon Sirocco, originally built as the Sea Setter
she was acquired in 1983, renamed Implacable and manned from the Thames


Photographed in the Minch by author on Indefatigables first job

The  Implacable   was  lost  on  December  24th  1984,  27  miles  south  of  St.  Catherine’s  Point  on  the  Isle  of  Wight,  whilst  on  passage  to  the  Falkland  Islands.  The  only  casualty  was  the  Chief  Engineer,  John  Townes,  who  had  left  our  crew  on  the  Indefatigable  two  weeks   previously. This  was  definitely  not  the  news  anyone  wanted  to  hear  on  Christmas  Eve,  even  if  we  were  thousands  of  miles  from  home.

This information was passed on to us on board the Indefatigable on Christmas Eve afternoon, where I was waiting to bring David Thompson Jones ashore, prior to us both flying back to the U.K. D.-T Jones had suffered back injuries while working with the BOS 400


Seen in her livery as Chambon Bora

A  delivery  crew left  Swansea, via Heathrow,  for  Marseilles  on  April  26th,  1984.  Captain  Jack  Jefferies  and  the  Chief  Engineer,  Carl  Gradage,  a  newcomer  to  the  company,  had  spent  the  last  week  in  Marseilles  with  some  senior  management  from  Liverpool  and  London, along  with  our  Swansea  Engineering  Suptd.,  Glyn  Burrows,  overseeing  the   handover.  The  Chambon  Bora  had  spent  the  previous  5  years  working  in  the  Arabian  Gulf.

We  left  Swansea  on  the  midnight  train  to  Reading,  and  most of  the  crew had  met earlier  in  the  Windsor  Arms,  in  St.  Thomas,  where  a  good  deal  of  alcohol  was  consumed  to  ready  us  for  what  lay  ahead.

After  spending  the  first  night  in  Marseilles  in  a  bed  &  breakfast,  we  joined  the  vessel  the  following  morning  where  the  handing  over  activity  was  frenetic,  to  say  the  least.  This  being  the  third  and  last  of  the  vessels  purchased,  the  sellers  decided  to  throw  in  all  the deck  and  engine  spares  as  a  job  lot,  a  decision  that  caused  many  problems  with  the  French  Customs  authority  and  our  backs.

After  a  hectic  day,  most  of  us  decided  to  stay  aboard  and  savour  some  of  the  alcohol  kindly  left  by  the  previous  tenants,  but  as  always,  a  couple  decided  to  head  for  the  ‘delights’  of  Port  de  Bouc  and  predictably,  returned  within  the  hour.

I  believe  everyone  was  turned  in  around  midnight  and  most  of  us  had  difficulty  in  sleeping  due  to  the  proliferation  of  cockroaches ,  no  doubt  a  result  of  5  years  in  the  Gulf  heat.
I  had  a  2  berth  cabin  below  decks  to  myself  and  remember,  on  turning  in,  placing  my  jeans  on  the  vacant  top  bunk.  I  got  up  about  6 a.m.  to  relieve  myself  and  on  returning  to  my  cabin  discovered  that  my  jeans  were  hanging  on  a  hook  outside  the  cabin.  After  quickly checking  the  contents  of  my  wallet  I  discovered  that  about  £200  in  Francs  had  vanished  along  with  my  Barclaycard. After  alerting  the  rest  of  the  crew,  it  the  became  apparent  that  three  other  crewmembers  had  suffered  the  same  misfortune.  After  informing  the  local  gendarmerie  it  transpired that another  4  vessels  had  fallen  prey  to  our  nocturnal  ‘visitors’.  Nothing  became  of  the  Clouseau  like  investigation  but  the company recompensed us  on  our  return  to  the  U.K.

We  sailed  on  the  Saturday  morning  and  after  some  pretty  severe weather  in  the  vicinity  of  the  Balearic  Islands  we  pulled  into  Gibraltar for  a  few  hours  to  effect  repairs  to  our  radar.

After   an  uneventful  voyage to  Sheerness,  we  dry-docked  in  the  companies  Medway  Dry-Dock  facility.  We  endured  a  severe  going  over  by  H.M.  Customs  Black  Gang  on  departing  the  vessel  before  boarding  a  coach  bound  for  Paddington.  We  travelled  home  on  the  May  Day  Bank  Holiday  Monday,  which  also  coincided  with  my  singing  debut  aboard  the  Paddington  to  Swansea  125  train.  A  most  colourful  and  entertaining  journey  was  had  by  all.

The  Indefatigable  underwent a minor  refit   in  dry-dock  and  we went  back  to  Sheerness a couple  of  weeks  later  of  store  the  vessel  prior  to  starting towage  operations

Arrives in Swansea for the first time on June 26th 1984

After  sailing  from  Sheerness  we  proceeded  on  passage  to  Hartlepool,  where  we  were  to tow  a  loaded  barge to  the  Morecambe  Bay  gas field,  where we  were  to  discharge  a  burn  off  flare  stack  and  then  on  to  Flushing  in  Holland  with  the  rest  of  the  cargo.

We  experienced  steerage  problems  on  passage  and  the  autopilot  was  disengaged  for  a few  hours, reverting  to  the  old  system  of  hand  steering,  all  of  which  coincided  with  a  severe  stomach  upset  for  Clifford  Hughes,  which  surprisingly  cleared  up as  the  same  time as  the  autopilot  problem  was  resolved.  Cliff’s  medicine  was  affectionately  known  as  ‘North  Sea  Jake’  and  its powers  when  aligned  to  engineering  problems  were  legendary.

Everything  went  according  to  plan and  we sailed  on  schedule.  The  towing  winch had  been  witnessed  being  operated prior  to  the  vessel  being  purchased, by  A.T.C.L.  management ,  with  both  wires having  been  run  out  to  their  bitter  ends. So  what  came  next   was  a  big  shock,  after  being  told  that  apart  from  routine  maintenance,  at  this  stage,  no  work  was  required  on  the  winches.

After  clearing  the  Tees  Fairway  buoy  we  started  lengthening  the  tow  and  it  was  then  that  we  encountered  problems  with  the  winch.  After  running  out  about  four  wraps  of  wire,  the  winch  just  jammed  up   with  the  next  lays  being  buried  beneath  the rest. With  the  tide  starting  to  ebb,  it  was  decided  to  recall  the  tug  that  had  assisted  in  the  sailing  to  help  us  to  berth  the  barge.  The  problems  with  the  winch  were  duly  resolved  and  we  proceeded  North  about  to  Morecambe  Bay  where  we  discharged  the  flare,  stack  something  that  I  would  find  myself  moored alongside  17  yrs  later,  when  serving  on  the  Dutch  diving  support  vessel  Markab.

Darkest Africa

In  September  1984  the  Indefatigable  left  Swansea  to  tow  a  materials  barge  from  Brest  in  North  West  France,  to  Point  Noir  in  the  Congo. After  safely  delivering the  barge,  the  crew,  under  Captain  Glyn  Fethney  proceeded  to  Douala  in  the  Republic  of  Cameroon,  where  our  crew,  under  the  command  of  Captain  Jack  Jefferies  relieved  them  on  November  8th.

Crane barge BOS 400

After  a  few  days  alongside  in Douala  we  proceeded  south  to  rendezvous  with  the  French  crane  barge  BOS  400.  Our  main  task  was  anchor  handling,  along  with  any  other  tasks  that  occurred.  The  BOS  400  was  a  fairly  new  vessel ,  a  combined  crane  and  lay  barge,  used  in  the  construction  of  oil  platforms and  the  vessel  was  capable of  lifting  1,000 tons  and  was  owned  by  Bouyges  Offshore,  a  subsidiary  company  of  ELF,  the  French  state  owned  petroleum  company.

Crane Barge BOS 400 involved in the building a platform

Indefatigable with BOS 400 in tow

On  June  26th,  1994,  the  BOS  400  was  on  passage  from  Point  Noire  in  the  Congo  to  Cape  Town  under tow  of the  Azerbaijan  registered  tug  Tigre (  ex  Neftegaz 23),  when  she  encountered  one  of  the  notorious  Cape  of  Good  Hope  storms.  In  mountainous  seas,  the  towing  line  parted  and  the  BOS  400  ended  up  being  driven  ashore. Salvage  attempts  were  later  made,  but   due  to  the  severity  of  the weather,  she  ended  up  as  a  constructive  total  loss.

The Neftegaz, a sister ship of the Tigr, ex Neftegaz 23 and a far more substantial
Vessel than the Indefatigable

The BOS 400 ashore off Duiker Point on the coast of the Western Cape
with her back broken

The  owners  of  the  BOS  400  attempted  to  claim  $80  million   from  the  owners  of  the  Tigr, the Azerbaijan  owned  Caspian  Special  Maritime  Rescue  Company , for  the  estimated  value  of  the  vessel.  This  case  finally  ended  up  in  the  House  of  Lords  and  a  small  fraction  of  that  amount  was  awarded.


Once capable of lifting 1,000 tons.

A sorry end for once a fine crane barge


The Redoubtable was sold by A.T.C.L. in November 1990. She was renamed Britoil 3. She was sold on again in 1994 and renamed Geronimo 2. In 2002 she was again sold and renamed Theseus until being sold for the last time in 2004 when she became the Jupiter 6. She was damaged by fire in July 2004 while working in Trinidad.

The JUPITER 6 left Cuba in November 2004,  towing the bulker ITHOMI (previous names were SATSANG then POINTING).

The Master, Chief Engineer and Chief Officer were Ukraine nationals and the other ten crew members were Indian.
Called Port of Spain, Trinidad, left  January 6th 2005 and reached Fortaleza in Brazil on 18 March 2005.

After a short call, the tug left Fortaleza on  March19th  and reached Walvis Bay in Namibia  three and a half months later, on July 1st  2005. The average speed during this crossing of the South Atlantic was 1.3 knots. On arrival at Walvis Bay the vessel went to dry dock where extensive repairs were carried out.

The tug left Walvis Bay on  August 9th 2005 and sent its last position on September 5th 2005: 35.52 S 23.26 E with the final destination being  the ship breaking yard at Alang near Bhavnagar in the Indian state of Gujarat. An intermediate call in Mauritius was probably foreseen.

On 25th September the towed ITHOMI was found drifting by the bulker POSEIDON drifting in position by 37.48 S 28.59
The tug SMIT AMANDLA was sent to recover the vessel. It found the tow line snapped and indications that two emergency towing wires had been rigged. This suggests that problems were encountered towing this vessel.

The conspiracy theories still abound in 2013 and there have been suggestions that the ship was taken by pirates. The crew were once reported to have been imprisoned in Lisbon and awaited a visit from the Indian Embassy officials prior to their release and one of the most confusing issues of all was the EPIRB being activated some time after the tug had disappeared.

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