Comments from the forum - 1

T 28 Toluca
Four for the price of Three

Following on from the delivery of Colima and Mitla from Sunderland TMM started on a further new building program, this sometime in the early 1980’s.

These four new builds were again to be geared container/bulkers for the Far East/Mexico service and were to replace the Bibi class vessels which would then move to the Atlantic.

Basic design was originated in Mexico with Ocean Fleets as design consultants and subsequently plan approval work etc.

In 1985 TMM entered into a contract with Chantiers Normed for the final design and construction of these ships. There was considerable French Government involvement, attempts to protect the workers etc at Chantiers Normed etc etc. In addition a contract for a large number, 4000?, of containers was entered into, again French built for similar reasons.

Chantiers d’Atlantique, (CDA), St. Nazaire, was in a somewhat better position then Normed but had a gap in their order book between completing a pair of cargo ships for Delmas and the construction of the Sovereign of the Seas for RCL.
I suspect CDA exerted some political pressure and was given the contract to build one of these ships using the drawings etc from Normed. It should be remembered that basically shipyards these days are steel fabrication facilities with the majority of the workforce are employed in steelwork areas. St. Nazaire had the best facilities in France for this work, as DLP said later he wished all 4 had been built there.

In 1985 construction commenced at the La Ciotat and La Seyne yards of Normed, (southern France between Marseilles and Toulon) for hulls 335/336/337. The fourth ship, T 28, of the series commenced construction at St. Nazaire in early 1986. The Normed ships were to be assembled at La Ciotat. The planned delivery schedule was 335, 336, T-28, 337.

Ocean Fleets in continuation of their design and plan approval work were also contracted to do the new build site supervision at La Ciotat. Logical as plan approval would continue whilst construction of the first ship took place at least.

Whether OF declined to do the site supervision at St. Nazaire or giving this work to CSMS by TMM was some devious plan by DLP or a sop to CSMS I have no idea/cannot remember. Whatever, CSMS was contracted to do the site supervision at St. Nazaire.

Anyway in early ‘86 John Lee (JCL) arrived in St. Nazaire as the Hull man and I followed shortly afterwards as the Engine man and project leader/owners mouthpiece.

As T 28 was to be the 3rd ship in the series with no design input by Chantiers d’Atlantique our job was basically quality control and reporting back to Mexico. (the latter was a real PIB every 2 weeks if I remember correctly)

So life for JCL and myself was pretty good to start with, no real hassle, nice clean environment etc etc. a pleasant change from ship repair, dry dockings etc although it turned a bit hectic to the end. John Granger joined in the autumn as the Electrical man.
JCL went to Metz a couple of times to see the hatch covers being constructed, nearly froze to death the first time as the covers were being built in an old steelworks building  open to the elements. Trips to various bits of France to see the Main Engine, Alternator Engines, alternators, main switchboard etc was my luck during the first few months.
Gordon  Walker paid a short visit during dock trials to inspect the radio station, Nick Shilstone also visited much later for Planned Maintenance purposes. Brian Hernaman did a spell in during the 1986 summer shipyard vacation period whilst JCL took a break, mainly to  oversee the painting of the hatch covers.

Construction at St. Nazaire proceeded in a steady fashion on schedule whilst in the South
labour unrest was causing considerable problems with their schedule.

By the autumn of 1986 the delays at La Ciotat had become lengthy, mainly due to labour unrest, and to the point that the first ship of the series was unlikely to be delivered on time and the second rapidly approaching the same position. Possibly the result of the French Government refusing to provide any further financial aid in June 1986.  With T 28 the situation was the reverse and completion on schedule a certainty. By early 1987 T 28 had become the lead ship.  Meanwhile in the South delivery of the first and subsequently the second ship had still not taken place and more then 180 days had passed since the contractual delivery date.

Under the terms of the contracts the Owner, TMM, could and did refuse to take delivery of the first two ships as a consequence of the delay exceeding 180 days. The contracts allowed for a number of remedies including walking way completely, re-negotiating the price etc.

Meanwhile at St. Nazaire everything was proceeding smoothly and on schedule, ship afloat, 9th November 1986, dock trials in hand, systems becoming operational etc etc.  Then to sea trials, 27th January 1987, not a complete success as the M.E. Camshaft couplings slipped when approaching 85% load, on passage to Cadiz for blasting and painting of the cargo holds. A high spec job for which the winter weather at St. Nazaire was not acceptable.

Hold painting finished and ship returned to St. Nazaire, 8th March 1987, for final corrections and the last general inspection. This a contractual point at which Owner i.e. supervisors inspect everything again and sign off as accepted. Includes such detail as confirming every cabin has the correct fittings to measuring cylinder liner wear of the Main Engine, every one had to be changed as it happens.

Normally once this inspection was completed a formal delivery ceremony takes place and the ship is accepted by the Owner. For T 28 this would have been on schedule. Might have even been early.

However in the meantime TMM having exercised the option to refuse delivery of the first two ships from La Ciotat, more then 180 days late, put the whole overall picture particularly the financial side, credit terms etc in a different light. If TMM were to take delivery of T 28 on schedule then delivery the other ships and the containers at the original agreed costs would have ensued as required by the master contract and financial agreements etc. A real can of worms.  Notwithstanding that the first two ships by now were completed or as near as dammit TMM with their usual financial acumen could see that by refusing delivery of T 28 they could renegotiate the whole package and get the lot at a better price.

So TMM instructed the supervision team, which now included TMM’s Naval Architect Louis Ocejo, to find reasons for not accepting T 28. Basically this meant documenting anything on the ship which did not meet the requirements of the contract.
To achieve this we had to go through, in order of precedence, the contract, the specification and the approved drawings line by line looking for omissions etc, that could  be used to state the vessel did not meet contractual requirements and therefore was not acceptable to the Owner. Think we came up with 15 to 20 of them, all nit picking details. Seem to recall one which was a ladder in a bunker tank which led no where but was shown on an approved drawing.

Anyway this lot was fired off to the shipyard, volcanic response from their project manager not surprisingly, his first complete ship as project manager; afraid he could not see the big picture.

On instructions from Mexico we did not attend the formal delivery ceremony, 31st March 1987, to which we had been invited. Net result no longer allowed access to the ship, and shortly afterwards ejected from the shipyard, politely of course.

Headlines in the French press about the Mexicans refusing this fine product of CDA etc etc.
Ship was now the property of the shipyard/banks with the former tasked to look after her.
At that time she was afloat in the main harbour of St. Nazaire, easily seen by all and sundry and a definite embarrassment to CDA. So she was taken up river to an obscure lay by berth near Nantes.

For the CSMS supervisors, and I think also for CDA, it was a disappointment that the ship was not delivered at that moment, she was well built and on time, any problems during her construction were minor in the majority of cases.

So we closed up the office, 1st May 1987, and left St. Nazaire to await developments.

If memory serves me right John Granger swallowed the anchor after this, he had got married shortly before coming to St.Nazaire, JC Lee went back to semi retirement and/or sea. I went on sick leave with a slipped disc. Too many double bottom inspections! Dave Litson. Sent by email 18 December 2011.

(to be continued)

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Toluca. Page [1] [2]
Memories from RSL staff. Page No. [1]