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A New Life for Cairnryan Port
Ship-breaking industry saved Military Port No. 2 from the mothballs
Liam Bailey (wordsworth)     Email Article  Print Article 
Published 2006-12-24 17:16 (KST)   
Cairnryan port's dual purpose deep water piers were unused after the military left and the railway was lifted in the early 1960s. Shipbreaking (Queenbourough) Ltd. (SQL) bought the port in 1969 and in the coming years would return it to its historically prestigious military role. Ship-breaking wasn't new to Cairnryan port; in 1948 Military Port no. 2 and its deep water berths were the chosen venue to break up two prestigious Royal Navy battleships, H.M.S Ramillies and H.M.S Valiant.

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There are no records of any ships broken up at Cairnryan port in 1969 or 1970. So I assume that during this time Queenborough were refurbishing the port to their needs, buying and installing their machinery, as well as hiring staff. From my research, the first ship -- certainly the first ship of historic value -- to be broken up by SQL at Cairnryan's old military port was the H.M.S Dainty in 1971. The H.M.S Dainty was laid down Dec. 17 1945, launched Aug. 16 1950 and commissioned Feb. 26 1953. The Dainty destroyer was scrapped at Cairnryan in January 1971.

HMS Centaur, Hermes-class carrier (courtesy of Navy-photos)
A year later another ship commissioned in 1953 arrived in Cairnryan. This time a light feet aircraft carrier H.M.S Centaur, laid down 1944, launched 1947, was broken up in Cairnryan in 1972 after an eventful career. Two Amphibian class submarines were also broken up at Cairnryan's old military port the same year: the H.M.S. Alderney and the H.M.S. Artful.

The workload of a light fleet carrier and two submarines would keep Queenborough teams in work for a good few years, and the next ship to arrive was one of the two largest aircraft carriers ever built. Audacious class carrier H.M.S. Eagle was laid down in 1942 with her original name Audacious; after the original Eagle was cancelled Audacious was re-named and launched as H.M.S. Eagle in March 1946. Commissioned in 1951, the Eagle spent a short time as the largest ship in the British Navy. She was sold to Deans (shipbuilders) Ltd. for scrap, who sub-let Cairnryan port from Queenborough to break her up in 1978.

HMSEagle R05, Audacious-class aircraft carrier (courtesy of Navy-photos)
©2006 David Page
The Eagle was still being worked on when a second Audacious class supercarrier came in 1980. Leslie Bailey (my father) started working for Queenborough that year and was there to see H.M.S. Ark Royal entering the mouth of Loch Ryan -- "a spectacular sight, because it was silhouetted against a red sky" -- and docking port-bow with the Eagle on Cairnryan pier. The Ark Royal was laid down 1943, but wasn't launched until 1950 and spent a further five years being re-fitted and modernized before being commissioned in 1955.

Leslie has told me about the Ark Royal's time at Cairnryan port. The magnificent ship had been bought for its non-ferrous scrap value by a firm called Mount Star metals, who sub-contracted its breaking to Vickers (ship-builders) Ltd. Vickers' large squad was made up predominantly by hiring local laborers, with one office clerk who was supposed to log and value all the non-ferrous material for company records. Obviously the team of local workers wasn't as experienced, and they were greedy, trying to get as much of the non-ferrous off before it could be properly logged. "One day they loosened the sea-cocks and all the water started pouring in; they nearly sank it. Brian Porter," a local diver and welder, "had to go under with a team from Stranraer sub-aquatics and seal it all back up to stop it sinking." Leslie also said, "when the Ark Royal came it was fully stocked with spare parts and machinery as if it was ready to go to sea."

HMS Ark, Royal Audacious class aircraft carrier (courtesy of Navy-photos)
©2006 David Page

Queenborough's next work at Cairnryan port was breaking up the H.M.S Blake, bought by them for 占210,000 (US$411,000) on Oct. 29 1982. H.M.S Blake was a Tiger class guided-missile cruiser, laid down in 1942 and launched, partially complete, in 1945; her completion was delayed and she wasn't commissioned until 1961. Leslie said that when she was in Cairnryan to be stripped 21 years later "it was a tidy looking ship, looked as though it could go to sea tomorrow." He also told me that, unlike the Ark Royal, the Blake had been "fairly well stripped before it came to Cairnryan," meaning all the spare parts and machinery had already been removed.

HMS Blake, Tiger-class cruiser (courtesy of Navy-photos)
©2006 David Page

Queenbourough were also the owners and breakers of the next arrival to Cairnryan's old military port. Tribal class general purpose Frigate H.M.S. Mohawk was bought by Queenborough for 占45,150 ($88,385) in 1982. She was laid down 1960, launched 1962, commissioned 1963 and scrapped at Cairnryan 20 years later in the summer of '83. Leslie told me that the Mohawk was a nice-looking ship, as they all were ("none of them were wrecks") but like the Blake, the Mohawk had been pretty well stripped of all spare parts and machinery before making her last journey. "There was a couple of spare parts in named boxes and a bit of splicing."

Another ship broken up by Queenborough Ltd. was the second Centaur class light fleet carrier stripped in Cairnryan, H.M.S. Bulwhark. H.M.S. Bulwhark was laid down 1945, launched 1948 and commissioned 1954. In the early stages of the Falklands War, the Bulwhark was considered for re-activation but it had deteriorated too badly and was sold to Queenborough for scrap in 1984. Like all other ships bought by Queenborough that Leslie worked on, the Bulwhark had been stripped of all spare parts and machinery before her arrival to Cairnryan. Leslie also told me about a tragic accident that happened on the pier shortly after the Bulwhark arrived: a man was killed when a crane jib fell on him.

HMS Bulwhark, Commando carrier (courtesy of Navy-photos)
©2006 David Page
The Bulwhark was the last ship Leslie worked on. He told me that in his time working for Queenborough at Cairnryan that there had been "frequent fires" on the ships while they were being stripped. This was such a regular occurrence in ship-breaking, due to the volume of flammable materials on the ships and the burning equipment used to cut the strong metal, that the port had its own fire-truck, "but the Fire-Brigade from Stranraer were frequently called out." Leslie said that "it's a toss up between the Eagle and the Ark Royal for the ship that caught fire the most" while being broken up, adding "Queenborough were the experts, the rest were just a bunch of chancers".

Another ship was broken up by Queenborough in 1989, R.M.A.S (Royal Maritime Auxilliary Service) Forceful, a paddle tug built and launched in 1957. Queenborough continued to work from the pier, despite, as Leslie told me, divers from Operation Purple Warrior reporting "holes they could swim through" in the pier's pilings in 1987. Queenborough continued their work and it was widely reported that they were stripping down Russian submarines in the early 90s. Leslie confirmed the reports when he told me that Ricky Bertollini, Queenborough manager of the Cairnryan site, telephoned him 1990 and asked him to "come back and work for him" on the Russian subs.

The Cairnryan ship-breaking ended along with the viable use of Cairnryan port when a section of the South Deep collapsed, throwing a digger and its driver into the sea. A work colleague of mine, Susan McGurk, was working as a security guard at Cairnryan ferry terminal at the time, and she told me that the P&O ferry docked at the time launched its lifeboats to rescue the driver. The driver stayed calm and managed to get out of the digger and to the surface. The lifeboats weren't needed because a local diver, John McGarry and his small craft had already reached the scene. The driver was picked up, suffering only shock.

Cairnryan port was sold to Barr Construction Ltd, who used it as a store for a short time before the pier became completely unusable. South Deep is still standing. I have fished off it and can personally vouch for just how unsafe it is. There are more holes than whole's. and I wouldn't trust it with any more than my eight stone (112 lbs./50.8 kg.).
©2006 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Liam Bailey

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