Ships of the past: Benwyvis

1 February 2019

Ben Line ships had a substantial share of UK trade to the Far East in the 1960s, and Benwyvis was the second in the Scottish company's Benledi class of cargo-passenger liners designed for the services from Europe to Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Japan and Taiwan. By Andrew Linington

There was intense competition on the Far East services, and the Benledi class of four high-speed ships were designed to boost the efficiency of Ben Line's operations. The elegant vessels featured long forecastles and poops, with a range of fittings and equipment intended to speed up cargo handling.

Built on the Clyde by Charles Connell & Company at a cost of just over £2m, the Leith-registered Benwyvis was launched in June 1966. Sistership Benledi had sailed a maiden voyage from London to Japan in July 1965, while the third vessel in the series – Benalbanach – came into service in 1967. The final vessel, Bencruachan, was launched in 1968 with a modified design enabling the carriage of some containers.

Benwyvis had a total crew complement of 51 and could carry up to 12 passengers in what was described as ‘de luxe’ accommodation. The 11,958grt ship was the fourth Ben Line vessel to bear the name Benwyvis and was 560ft loa.

Propulsion was by a nine-cylinder turbocharged Barclay, Curle & Company two-stroke single-acting Sulzer-type diesel engine, developing 20,700bhp at 119rpm. The vessel had a service speed of 21 knots.

The ship's bridge featured a piece of cutting-edge technology – the Honeywell Dew Pointer, which kept a continuous printed record of all relevant temperatures and dewpoints in the ship's five mechanically-ventilated cargo holds.

Benwyvis had a total crew complement of 51 and could carry up to 12 passengers in what was described as ‘de luxe’ accommodation
One of four elegant high-speed ships in the Benledi class, the 1966-built Benwyvis featured an innovative dew point monitor and stainless steel cargo tanks

The large holds were served by triple hatches, designed to speed up the loading and unloading of cargo. Cargo space included four stainless steel cargo tanks, which did not have to be coated with paraffin wax or periodically chipped and cleaned.

Benwyvis had an eventful first voyage. Sailing from Greenock to load in Hamburg, with shipyard staff onboard completing some unfinished pipework, the vessel ran into bad weather 5.5 miles off Cape Wrath and lost power when fuel to the main engine was cut by a generator problem. The engineers managed to restart the engine with the ship just a mile and a half off the coast.

Sadly, the first three ships in the series were sold by Ben Line in 1972. Bought by Italia Line, they were transferred to a service running between the Mediterranean and the US west coast. Benwyvis was re-named Da Recco and became a wreck in June 1979, after catching fire while laid-up in La Spezia. The ship was towed out to sea, declared a total loss and was broken up in December 1980.

Bencruachan was also broken up in 1980. After spells in lay-up, Benladi and Benalbanach were sold to Panamanian shipping interests, with the former being wrecked in Chittagong outer anchorage during a cyclone in 1987 and the latter being sent to the breakers in 1988.