In 1972 Ocean Fleets, commercially known as Blue Funnel,
entered into a partnership with the Inchcape Group to
operate a supply vessel company to be known as Ocean
Inchcape Ltd or O.I.L . While Ocean Fleets had no previous
experience in the field, the Inchcape Group had been the
owners of a single supply ship, the San Pedro Gulf
out in Australia and later had formed an alliance with the
Straits Steamship Company which became the Borneo Straits
Offshore (Pty) BSO. This company had built three ships to
support Shell’s activities off Borneo.
The Inchcape experience was put to use in the design of the
first eight of the company’s ships which were built at a
number of yards in Holland, the company being unable to find
any in UK yards which would deliver this number of vessels,
on time over the following four years. We should remember
here that it was not possible to find one yard to build
eight small ships – two a year – when Halter Moss Point was
averaging 12.3 ships a year over the decade.
In any case, from a number of yards in Holland the four OIL
Mark Ones were delivered in 1972. They were the Oil
Producer, the Oil Prospector, Oil Supplier
and Oil Explorer. They were followed in 1973 by two
further vessels, though by now OIL had learned that the low
bridge structures of the first four were vulnerable to the
sea, and put in an extra deck. These two vessels were called
Oil Venturer and Oil Discoverer, and finally
another two ships were brought into service in 1974, the
Oil Mariner and the Oil Driller. The fleet became
progressively more powerful, starting at about 4000 bhp and
finishing at over 6000 bhp.
In 1988 the
purchase of OSA by OIL was one of the more surprising events
of the decade. Everyone looked back to the mid 1970s when
the OSA fleet had seemed to be in the ascendant, in the same
way as the Maersk fleet was to become at the turn of the
century. When the business needed anchor-handlers OSA would
turn out a few and when it needed pipe-carriers, no problem,
there they were occupying most of the berths alongside in
During the previous decade the OSA anchor-handlers had lain
in the River Tay, grey, glamorous and menacing as they swung
round their anchors for weeks at a time waiting for the day
rates to rise to a point where some-one could afford them.
To the crews of the smaller ships, and at that time that was
everyone else, they were known as “the Grand Fleet”.
OSA, and just to remind everyone - OSA stands for the
“Offshore Supply Association”, had a tendency to build
parallel ships for their main partners, some of them ending
in the letters “turm” and others in the letters “tor”. Hence
the group of 9000 bhp anchor-handlers which entered service
in the mid 1970s were the Schepelsturm, the
Schnoorturm, the Werdertor, the Herdentor
and the extremely large and efficient platform ships were
the Huntetor, the Faldentor, the Kaubturm,
and the Kreuzturm. Some of these vessels still
formed the backbone of the OSA fleet when OIL made the
purchase, and large numbers of small pipe carriers were also
included in the deal.
were very proud of the acquisition and were able to continue
their operations as a world wide service provider. The deal
was done for £28 million and it enhanced OIL’s increasing
reputation as a successful fire sale bidder.
In 1997 Tidewater purchased OIL who were now a fleet of
considerable size due to their acquisition of OSA in 1988.
OIL had become a feature of the world wide supply vessel
industry, being particularly strong in the Far East where
they had kept a strong presence and even in Mexico where a
number of old OIL ships had worked for years. At the time of
the take-over they were operating a fleet of 30 supply
vessels and anchor handlers plus large numbers of crew boats
standby vessels and tugs. The purchase by Tidewater was a
way in which the latter could become a more positive
presence in the heavy duty market and was a sign that the
largest supply ship owner in the world had realised that
they had lost their way.
This is not to say that OIL were the most modern
ship-owners. Although they had built ships in the early
days, when everyone was building, with the passing of time,
and the variable fortunes of the industry, they had traded
on their stability and had purchased second hand tonnage
from less well endowed owners during the downturns. The
combination of the car boot sale approach and the complete
OSA fleet, which had also been of variable age and origins
made the OIL ships a polyglot collection, which could be
expected to challenge the resourcefulness of any ship
manager. But there is no doubt that Tidewater felt
themselves equal to the task.
The above is derived from
the text of "The History of the Supply Ship". Elements of
the OIL and OSA fleet which are of course now part of the
Tidewater organisation are included here. Because of the
limited information now available from Tidewater this page
is compiled using as much information as is available from
other sources. When time allows additions are being made to
this page, as the site is becoming a record of history as
well as a source of current information. It is a sad
comment on the state of the world - I think - that while we
can find photographs of almost all ships which ever existed,
there is very little written information.
bit) 9th May 2013.