Reza Shah The Great

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The ship was built in 1958 by the Verolme Docking and Shipbuilding Company at Rozenburg a small city located at the Rotterdam New Waterway between Rotterdam and the North Sea. Overall length: 202 metres. Gross tonnage: 21130. Speed: 16 knots. The Iranian owners were the National Iranian Tanker Company with the operating office then in London. As Iran had no sea laws at the time the "Reza Shah the Great" and her sister ship "Mohammed Reza Shah" were flying the Dutch flag until the time that such laws would be available and in force. The crew during my stay on board was a mix of Dutch officers and four Iranian junior officers who were trained at the Dutch Nautical College in Rotterdam. The Dutch shipping company Dammers & van der Heide was responsible for manning the ship.

A nice picture of the Reza Shah the Great probably sailing in the English Channel. Aircrafts would make pictures and later sell it to the ship's crew and sometimes the owners. It is evident that the ship has discharged its cargo and is sailing in ballast now.

Here the Reza Shah the Great is even in the port of Venice, Italy. A nice place to visit with a tanker, especially refineries were often located far from the civilised world!

For a change this is a painting of the Reza Shah The Great in the possession of Fred Molenaar who also sailed on this ship. The painting was made by a colleague of his father in 1977. The photo of the ship entering the port of Venice, Italy  -  see above  -  was used as an example for the painting! 

 I had to climb the radar mast on mounted on the top deck to shoot this picture of the fore ship. I had these climbing exercises many times anyway because of the radar scanner and electronic up there. In bad weather it was hardly possible as the swaying in the top of the mast was very big and climbing the ladder had to be done during the short period that the mast was more or less in a vertical position. A few ladder rungs up and then waiting again while holding tightly to the ladder during the swing. The mast was about 15 meter high as the radar scanner had to 'look' over the portal mast on the fore ship to see target right in front of the ship. I still do not understand the function of the portal mast on a tanker....  This contraption gave a lot of bad reflections from the radar's transmitter pulse which showed up as all kinds of noise round the indicator centre.

Another picture taken from the radar mast and this time from the aft ship. 

The company 'Dammers en van der Heide' was managing the ship which was owned by the National Iranian Tanker Company and they were also responsible for delivering the Dutch officers and crew of the ship. The reason of bringing the ship under the Dutch flag was that Iran in those days did not have any sea laws or ocean going shipping tradition. Also there were no licensed Iranian deck- and engine officers available. For this reason a number of Iranians were studying in Dutch maritime schools to obtain a Dutch licence so that in due time they could take over the different positions on board the ship.

I had no experience with this shipping company but from what I heard on the grape vine it was not so good. In some Dutch companies officers and crew members were looked upon as an alien work force whose exponents were either highly contagious or just down right dangerous. This was also the case here as I was about to discover. Some separation from the noble office workers, especially those of the other sex, was called for in these offices. Just to play it safe and hence avoiding dirty looks, grabbing and all that. The separation was usually effected by a small window in a further solid brick wall, a kind of peeping hole. The window's glass pane in this case was of the up and down sliding sort and at child's height. Meaning that one had to break on the knees more or less to be able to communicate with the office worker at the other side.  Quite often the sliding panel was not glass but a solid wooden panel as to protect the office workers from the prying seamen's eyes.  Like in a zoo one should exercise extreme caution with wild animals. If there was no bell button available you where supposed to knock  -  very modestly of course   -   on the glass or wooden panel to make your existence known. It was important that you did not knock too enthusiastically   -  meaning to loudly   -   on the panel as the response time would then increase we discovered. A modest tap or two, not more, was usually best. And then wait for the best. In this office we had the usual situation, the solid panel version. Knock, knock and yes, after a couple of minutes I had a response coming, up went the sliding panel. Because of the window's position, at waist level, we could not see each other, because when both were standing we looked at the wall above the window. One of both had to bend deeply and then look upward in an awkward neck braking position, at the other party. It was expected in such offices that the lesser species, being the alien, would stoop down. However, this time I was in an obstinate mood that day and remained upright and waited for things to happen. This was very confusing for the other party, I saw some grey trousers moving around nervously and he tried to bring me down on my knees by calling at me what I wanted. I more or less shouted back at the person that I refused to communicate in this idiotic way. The panel was closed with a bang. I waited for a couple of minutes and started to leave the office but then a door was opened and somebody stepped out and asked me to step into the office. I was invited to sit down and he did his thing as if nothing had happened. I felt good when I left the office, I had stood up to the system and I had won a small victory, well so it seemed.

Let me state already now that my stay on this ship was rather exciting, never a dull moment it seemed. I sometimes looked on things in awe or plain disbelief or doubling up with laughter about the craziness. It had all the ingredients of a bad, good, crazy and hilarious movie. Certainly it had a very high slap stick content. On this ship I also experienced my first - and last mutiny - at full sea. Boy, this really broke the often dull routines as I had experienced on the other let's say more 'regular' ships I had been on. The deck- and engine room officers were a strange mix coming from all kind of other companies. There seemed not to exist, as in other companies, a backbone of company career officers. Many of them or rather most, listening to their stories later on,  had run into some kind of a problem with their original companies. Also the captain who came on board with an organ which was installed and secured in his day cabin, was no exception. He had served in one of the bigger tanker companies earlier. The organ was something new to us. We soon learned that he a was a member and even a minister of a certain Dutch religious sect of which we have many. In his spare time he drove with his wife on a motorcycle with side car through Europe and for some reason quite a bit through Scotland (I take the high road and you take the low road) in order to convert people to his faith. He had a lot of pictures of a German built bunker which in those days was standing right at the waterfront at Hook of Holland and which every seafarer going in and out of Rotterdam had seen for years, including the graffiti on it. One could observe the more than two meter high text "Jezus leeft" or "Jesus lives". He was proud to inform us that he himself had done the painting of the letters on that bunker and that it had been a tedious job to do.  He also had taken the picture which he handed out generously to all, when passing that bunker during his next trip. Back in those days he must have been the first big graffiti-artist in Holland. It was amazing to see how successful he was in recruiting converts on board the ship. He was very, very good at it.  In just a couple of months one of the engine room officer was turning the music pages for him when he played the organ and other converted officers were sitting around during his church sessions. The page turner and three others had been baptized in the captain's bath tub. It probably was an elite kind of sect as no crew members were ever converted, it was a faith for officers only it seemed. On Sundays he had the organ moved to the bridge and played his tunes before the open microphone of the ship's loudspeaker system which could be heard all over the ship. Nice. Well it beat anything I had seen before so far. He also came to me in my cabin once all friendly and cheerful, but I told him right off that if his intention was to discuss his faith with me that I was not interested in any way. Period. It always pays to be very clear and I also have that blunt streak in me I am afraid. We had a short talk and he moved out again probably off to convert another victim. In Port Said he started to hand out yellow leaflets to the merchants peddling their stuff as usual on the deck. It turned out that the leaflets had a story that said that the reader, seen his faith, was in Great Danger. It was their in print, literally: Great Danger. We could not believe our eyes and as serious problems could be expected if misunderstood the chief officer and some of the non-converts went around grabbing the leaflet out of the hands of anybody carrying it. Luckily most could not read proper English only speak a few words or standard sentences at best. When confronted with the harvested leaflets the captain said that it was for the best of the people, but he had to promise to refrain of any other such free hand outs in view of the probably adverse consequences for the ship and owners. In Mena al Ahmadi we would get away not so easily with this. Another disturbing thing was that he used to eat alone in the seclusion of his cabin, three meals per day, which was a very unusual thing to do. I had not seen it before and also not later during my professional life on board ships. What the captain did not seem to notice was that his authority due to this all was gone. It looked as if his private affairs were more important to him then the well-being of the crew and the ship's safety. On top of this there was a curious situation that we had some sort of informal captain on board in the person of a 4th engineer, one of the Iranians who had studied in Holland. He and a couple of others were on board this ship in various ranks. The 4th engineer was a nephew of the Iranian managing director of the company and a lot of crew members on board brought all kind of complaints to him. He then talked to the relevant officer on board or to the captain who was we felt afraid of him due to his connection to the high brass ashore. So if you had a complaint about mail delivery in the Persian Gulf you talked to the 4th engineer and he contacted his uncle and the problem was solved. To me it was the world turned upside down. An example of the strength of his informal position was  the fact this 4th engineer, who did not like the watch system in which he had to participate, soon promoted himself  -  in consultation with the chief engineer and captain  -  to a day time maintenance position which did not exist on the ship before that time.

In a way it also lead to the mutiny situation which developed later on in the Red Sea. In the engine room a steam pipe had burst causing a lot of noise and steam leaking into the engine room. The very young 2nd engineer, who was in fact a 3rd engineer sailing with a dispensation in the rank of 2nd engineer what was caused by a lack of properly licensed engineers, thought that the situation was extremely dangerous and ordered everybody out of the engine room on to the deck. The chief engineer with a lot of experience did not think that the situation was that dangerous and ordered the 2nd engineer and the others to return to their posts and that he himself would lead the party which would do the repair of the steam pipe. The 2nd engineer, now also supported by the mentioned 4th engineer who had been convinced by the others that things were pretty hopeless, refused the order to go back to their posts. The chief once more ordered them back and appealed to their sensibility as an unmanned engine room is doomed to crash given some time and that would endanger the entire ship's safety, but to no avail. The chief then went down alone into the engine room and the mutineers, now headed by the 4th engineer went to the captain's cabin, who in the mean time had been  informed about the situation but had stayed out of sight in his cabin during all that time. To make a long story short, the chief engineer single handily cured the problem by closing a couple of the many valves and creating a by-pass what took care of the steam leak and had things in control again while the others were still discussing things in the captain's office. I don't know what was discussed but he managed to angry the 4th engineer. In the end it was decided, now also in consultation with the chief engineer that all was well and forgiven and that it had been a misunderstanding. To prevent problems nothing would be mentioned about the incident  in both the bridge and engine room journals. Where had I seen happen this before? Later the 4th engineer wrote a letter to his uncle something like "captain not good" liked he used to say after the incident and he was relieved later, taking his organ with him.

During our trips to the Persian Gulf and v.v. we lost a lot of Dutch crew members, who disappeared especially in French harbours. it was not to hard to travel by train to Holland from there. With crew members I mean sailors, greasers and also cooks and servants. The new captain did not care much about Dutch crew and was glad to see them disappear one after the other. Every time that happened they were replaced at Port Said by Egyptians. The Egyptian servants all came from the Sudan and still had their tribal cuts on both cheeks. They had never seen a ship before and obviously never cleaned a cabin or made up a bed. The still Dutch chief steward, who was a heavy drinker to put it mildly,  was at one time caught red-handed when he was lowering half a cow from the ship into a rowing boat in Port Said harbour. As it turned out he had done that before and had a nice business going for himself. So exit for the chief steward. The new captain had been a Rotterdam harbour pilot for many years and he seemed to have been the best as he always had to moor the big passenger liners usually berthing at the Holland America Line terminal.  The desirable position of  Rotterdam Harbour Master had traditionally gone to an usually already retired royal navy officer, the old governmental job machinery at work. It seemed that the idea was to break with the tradition and that for the first time in history a non navy person would be appointed. As the senior harbour pilot it was generally expected that our captain was to be appointed. However, things were played high over and his dream collapsed. The political and old boys network had done there thing and again a navy man was appointed. Our captain had had it and rightly so I suppose. He decided to step down and go to sea again and this ship was his first ship after his period as a pilot. It was funny to note that he did a lot of arguing with pilots on how to manoeuvre the ship and the required number of tug boats. It had been his speciality for a long time and so he could not keep still if he saw something was not going entirely as is should have. It was too much for one French pilot who left the bridge to the captain and returned to the main deck. Our captain did not mind at all and berthed the ship without a hitch. I could follow all this closely as I had been promoted to helm's man during manoeuvring operations. That had to do with the fact that the Egyptian sailors could not steer a ship at all. Also they did not know what port or starboard meant, so that gave rise to some alarming situations before we found that out. Everybody had assumed that they were experienced sailors, but as it was they had never seen a ship before. They could not handle the ropes either which also was pretty dangerous. Probably they had to pay for their job on board the ship and the party being paid did not care at all about their proficiencies one bit. Nice. The cooks were Egyptians as well and the food pattern changed quite dramatically. We found ourselves eating sheep meat suddenly, which was strong tasting and smelling. The beef had been sold anyway by the crooked chief steward. Also the entire style of cooking changed dramatically and not for the best. As I suspected that I had seen it all now I sometimes also dreamed about taking the train at Port de Bouc in Southern France were we used to come a lot. But officers don't do things like that.

During the war between Iraq and Iran NITC tankers were damaged repeately by enemy missiles etc. An account of such of the tanker "Dena"  -  call sign EQKU  -  can be found here at the following URL: