Mark Baber

Dec 29, 2000
The New York Times, 3 May 1

The New York Times, 3 May 1931

Four Bought From White Star by Norwegian Concerns for "Mother Ships"
Medic, Athenic, Runic and Suevic, Once in Australian Service, Made Into

Four of the ships which once operated in the passenger service of the
White Star Line have been sold to Norwegian concerns and remodeled for
service in the Antarctic whaling oil industry, serving as "mother ships"
to the smaller craft which carry groups of whale-killers to battle. The
liners Medic, Athenic, Runic and Suevic, once in the service to
Australia, have been completely overhauled to suit the demands of their
new activities.

Several deck houses have been removed and additional superstructures
built; masts have been changed; additional oil-burners fitted, the
hulls stiffened to withstand the pressure of ice and slipways built in
the stern. The passenger accommodations also have been changed and
quarters built for about 200 officers and men on each ship. In the
present methods of the whaling industry the mother ships are termed
factories and must carry equipment that had no place in their structure
when they were passenger liners.

Carries Smaller Craft

Each of the ships carries five or six smaller craft, about 125 feet
long, built of steel and propelled by steam and equipped with radio
telephone to provide constant communication with the "mother ship." Each
whale-chaser carries a harpoon-gun, the successor of the old harpoon.
Whereas the man who sought a whale once hurled the harpoon by hand and
risked his life in the possibility that the madly flapping fin might
smash his boat to bits, the hunter today shoots the harpoon, which is
timed to explode a few seconds after it has become embedded in the side
of the whale.

The "mother ship" acts as a supply and fuel base for the fleet of
smaller craft and is equipped with large vats in which the whale blubber
is boiled down after the whale has been towed alongside and cut to
pieces. The ships have been altered at the stern to provide a place of
entrance for the whales. The carcass was formerly floated alongside the
whaler, the blubber hacked off with long-handled spades operated from a
platform built from the ship out above the water. Today the carcasses
are hauled on board through a great slipway which has been cut out of
the stern of the ship.

The four White Star liners range from 12,000 to 15,000 tons and were
built between 1898 and 1900 by Harland & Wolff of Belfast. Tables of
whaling tonnage in Clifford Ashley's "The "Yankee Whaler" show that the
average tonnage of the sailing ships, barks and brigs used in the heyday
of the whaling industry was 317 tons and that some were 125 tons,
scarcely larger than the whale chasers of today.

Fate of Ships Unusual

Discussing the new place that has been found for the old ships, The
Ocean Ferry, bulletin of the International Mercantile Marine Company,
the American agent of the White Star Line, says:

"The metamorphosis of the four ex-White Star liners which are playing
such an important part in the revival of a great industry is unusual,
for it is seldom an outmoded vessel that is 'sold down the river' finds
itself having a second blooming in a life of romance and excitement. A
melancholy end in the shipbreakers' yards is the customary fate of the
once lovely and gallant 'ladies of the Atlantic.'

"And once more, as in the halcyon days, whaling is paying: New uses are
being found for the oil. Most of it now goes into the manufacture of
fine toilet soaps and the carcass, once left for the sharks to devour
when the blubber had been cut away, now is converted in the floating
factories into guano, for fertilizer and whale 'flour' used for feeding
cattle. Whalebone, too, is finding a market again, though certainly it
is not being put to the same use it was in the straight-laced days when
waist-lines were fashionable."

An outstanding example of the success of the whalers was the vessel Sir
James Clark Ross, which brought a record cargo of whale oil into this
port April 18: the 55,000 barrels aboard her being valued at more than


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