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Saturday, 11 April 2015

The Blue Star Line (est.1911)

The Early Years (1911 – 1939):

The Vestey family originated from Liverpool, developing a butchery business. They were one of the first businesses to introduce refrigeration into their shops. Previously butchers had to sell off meat at reduced prices on Saturday, the shops being closed on a Sunday. From this developed a business importing meat from South America. Eventually growing to a huge business owning estancias to feed their meat works in Buenos Aires, the "Anglo Frigorifico". This meat works in its heyday could process 5000 head of cattle a day. The saying was that nothing was wasted. The carcasses being exported as chilled beef, together with the offal and hides. Even producing, as a by-product, insulin for diabetics!

The Blue Star Line was founded by the Vestey family to carry their chilled beef from Argentina and other South American countries, where they had large cattle ranches and freezer works. The company was formally registered on 28th July 1911 and the first ships were registered with Lloyds Register of Shipping between 1912 and 1913. Prior to the First World War, seven refrigerated ships sailed under the Blue Star Line banner, carrying eggs and other perishables to England from China. By the First World War it had 12 vessels, all their names starting with Brod. A considerable profit was made over these years with the carriage of beef to supply the allied armies in France. It was for these services that William Vestey was honoured with a baronetcy. It was not until 1920 that the familiar "Stars" began to appear the first being the Albion Star. Soon the ships of Blue Star Line, with their very distinctive funnel colours, became well known all over the world.

The company continued to trade profitably and became famous for its all first class passenger vessels the Almeda Star, Andalucia Star, Arandora Star, Avelona Star and Avila Star. The Arandora Star in particular became popular to the rich and famous for cruising in the Mediterranean, the Baltic and the West Indies. By 1939 the company traded some 38 vessels.

The Second World War (1939 – 1945):

On the outbreak of WWII, most of the vessels were commandeered by the British Government, continuing to carry much needed food to the United Kingdom. Many of the ships being fast for the period and sailed unaccompanied with the result that by the end of the Second World War some 29 ships and 646 Blue Star personnel lost their lives. Including 11 captains, 47 navigating and 88 engineering officers. Most famously was the sinking of the Doric Star by infamous German pocket battleship the Graf Spee and the tragic loss of the Arandora Star to a German Submarine off the west coast of Ireland.

Of the pre-war vessels, only the Albion Star, Australia Star, Brisbane Star, Columbia Star, Fresno Star, Gaelic Star, New Zealand Star, Norman Star, Sydney Star, Trojan Star, Tudor Star (ex. Empire Star) and Britanica survived.

The Final Years (1945 – 1998):

After WWII the company rebuilt the fleet by new building and the purchase of some second hand tonnage. Notable among the new building was the replacement Plate or so called "A"-boats. These cargo passenger ships, the Argentina Star, Brasil Star, Paraquay Star, and Uruquay Star carried some 68 passengers and hanging chilled beef. On a 7-week turn round they sailed from London's Royal Victoria Dock calling at Southampton, Lisbon, Las Palmas, occasionally Recifé, Rio de Janeiro, Santos, Montevideo and finally terminating at Buenos Aires. Many of the passengers were employees of Vestey companies in South America travelling to and from leave in Europe, but the ships were also popular with many round trip passengers escaping the European winter. It must be remembered that this was before the Jumbo Jet, so flying to South America was only for the super rich, by flying boat. The cargo of chilled beef was loaded directly from the company's meat works in Dock Sud in Buenos Aires, taking 7 days. Some general cargo and small quantities of refrigerated cargoes such as fish were carried on the outbound passage.

The company continued trading successfully during the post war years, with operations as far a field as Australia, New Zealand, West and East Coasts of the U.S., South America and Central America, the latter on the banana trades.

The Legacy (1998 onwards):

The company finally was disposed of in 1998 to P&O Nedlloyd, complete with its name and ship's livery including the famous funnel. While most of the container vessels including those formally operating as ACT vessels were also sold to P&O Nedlloyd, most of the refrigerated liner ships were retained in the Vestey organisation under the ownership of Albion Reefers. These were operated by Star Reefers formed by the merging of the conventional reefer fleets of Hamburg Sud and Albion Reefers.

In July 2001 the Vestey Group announced that Star Reefers, operating a fleet of 24 ships had been sold to Norwegian Owners. The business would continue to be managed from London with the staff transferring over. The Norwegian Owners have since forged a joint operation with the Japanese NYK Group, and a new company, NYK Star Reefers Ltd., under the Chairmanship of David Habgood, now controls a fleet of 74 vessels. This finally ended some 90 years association of the Vestey family with the shipping industry. <>Some of the original Blue Star vessels sold to P&O Nedlloyd traded until recently (Feb. '03) under Blue Star colours on the West Coast of America to Australia and New Zealand. They were the America Star (ex ACT 3), Melbourne Star (ex ACT 4), Sydney Star (ex ACT 5) and Queensland Star (ex ACT 6). The last vessel trading, to carry the Blue Star funnel was the America Star which was handed over to the breakers on the 19th February 2003. This was truly the end of an era indeed.

On the 22nd April 2002, P&O Nedlloyd placed its first contract with its own, newly formed ship management company, Reederei Blue Star, based in Hamburg. The time charter agreement covers five 2,500-TEU ships, each for a period of five years, with the first deliveries commencing in late 2003. The vessels, which will be built by Hyundai Heavy Industries in Korea and owned by German KG private investors. They will be used to replace older tonnage to cover positions in the P&O Nedlloyd network. P&O Nedlloyd says it created Reederei Blue Star to diversify its sources for chartered ships.

P&O Nedlloyd Ltd. was acquired by the AP Moller Maersk Group (Maersk) in 2005 and was combined with their existing container shipping business Maersk-Sealand to form Maersk Line. However today the Blue Star colours still live on with the vessels of Reederei Blue Star who provide ship management services and is now owned by the AP Moller Maersk Group.