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The Container Ship Clifford J. Rogers

The Windsor Star

Windsor, Ontario, January 18, 1955

Work Starts On New Ship for the WP&YR, 1955

    MONTREAL, (CP) - The keel of a 4,000-ton ore carrier to operate between Skagway. Alaska, and Vancouver was laid Monday at the Canadian Vickers Ltd. yard here.
    The order, placed two months ago by the British Yukon Ocean Services Ltd., brought complaints from West Coast ship builders who claimed they should have been given an opportunity to tender for the contract.
    The carrier is scheduled for delivery July 1, and will transport lead, zine and asbestos ores in concentrated forms from Skagway to Vancouver during a six-month season. In the off-season the ship's hold will be freed af special braces used to pack the ore bags and it will run in general service out of Vancouver.
    The vessel will have an overall length of 336 feet and a depth of 47 feet. She will carry a crew of 27.

Montreal Gazette

Montreal, Quebec, May 17, 1955

Vickers Yard Launches Ship For B.C. Run - 1955

    The freighter Clifford J. Rogers was launched yesterday, four months after her keel was laid at the eastend Canadian Vickers yard. She will sail in two months for the West Coast, to carry ore and general cargo between Skagway, Alaska and Vancouver.
    The vessel was launched by Mrs. Frank H. Brown, wife of the chairman of the board of directors of British Yukon Ocean Services Ltd., after whose president the vessel was named.
    Hon. Jean Lesage, Minister of Northern Affairs and Natural Resources, spoke briefly during the ceremony.
    The Rogers is reported to be the first ship on the Pacific coast that will use the "caisson" system of transporting cargo. The system involves use of metal containers for all cargo, saving on handling time and possible cargo damage.
    The vessel will be capable of carrying 168 caissons measuring eight by eight by seven feet. At Skagway, the caissons will be discharged from the ship onto flatcars for the rail trip into the Yukon. The new run will serve Dawson, Mayo, Cassiar, as well as Skagway and Whitehorse.

    The Clifford J. Rogers, Vickers Hull #265, was 102.24 meters long (335 feet, 5 inches), with a beam of 14.33 meters (47 feet), depth of 7.47 meters (24 feet 6 inches) and draft of 5.58 meters (18 feet 4 inches). She was 2,983 gross tons and carried a crew of 15. She had a normal operating speed of 11.75 knots (22 kmh, 13.5 mph), and a maximum speed of 13.00 knots (24 kmh, 14.9 mph).

    Merchant Ships: World Built, Vol. III, 1955 (Adlard Coles Ltd., Southhampton, 1955) described the ship more fully and included a photograph:

4,005 tons d.w. This motor vessel is an example of a container and pallet carrying ship with, however, conventional cargo-handling gear. She was built by Canadian Vickers Ltd., Montreal, for the British Yukon Ocean Services Ltd., Vancouver, and is in service connecting the Yukon territory with Vancouver, B.C. The Clifford J. Rogers has been specially designed for the carriage of palletized lead and zinc concentrates, and asbestos ore in containers, and is the first ship employing the unitized system of cargo handling to be used in the Canadian north country, where freight movements are generally of ores southwards to Vancouver, and general cargo northwards to Skagway, and the Yukon territories. The vessel has been designed to carry 168 containers, stowed two wide and three deep throughout the centre portion of each hold. Several of these containers are insulated, and have provision for heating or refrigerating their contents. General cargo northwards which cannot be packed in containers, and palletized lead and zinc concentrates moving southwards, will be stowed on either side of the loaded containers, in the wings of each hold, being retained by a series of rolling pillars which extend from the hatch coaming to the tank top, and which are spaced approximately 6 ft. apart. The Clifford J. Rogers is propelled by two British Mirrlees 4-cycle diesel engines driving a single screw through reduction gearing, and has a service speed of 14 knots.

    Note that there is some discrepancy in speeds. Other sources also state that the ship was powered by a pair of 1,800 horsepower (1,324 kW) Polar Nohab diesel engines rather than Mirrlees.

    For handling the cargo, the two masts each had four 10-ton hoists, and a 30-ton heavy-lift crane was installed on the deck. For more information about the development of the White Pass containerized system, see "The White Pass Container Route News, March 1969".

    Although it is often stated that the Clifford J. Rogers was the first ship ever designed and built to handle containerized freight, that is probably not true. M.V. Kooringa of Associated Steamships, Melbourne, may have been the first ship designed specifically to carry containers. Brian J. Cudahy, in "Box boats: how container ships changed the world", says that the Clifford J. Rogers "...may well be the first vessel in the world to be outfitted with below-deck cells for carrying containers." In 1950, the United Steamship Company of Copenhagen built two coastal vessels to carry cargo in containers that could be moved directly from ship to road transport. Malcolm MacLean was the first to use containers the size of truck vans - he converted two tankers to carry a deck cargo of truck vans in 1958, running from American Gulf ports to Atlantic ports.

    In 1965, the Clifford J. Rogers was replaced by the container-tanker ship Frank H. Brown, and in 1967 the M.V. Klondike, a sister ship of the Brown, was added. With the arrival of the Klondike, Clifford J. Rogers was sold to Marine Chartering of San Francisco, who ran her primarily between New Orleans and Central American ports. They sold her to Jardines two years later, but soon chartered her back.

    Sometime in the early 1970s, she was sold to a Greek shipping company, Lampsia Navigation Ltd., who renamed her Lampsia - they, too, chartered her back to Marine Chartering. Finally, under the new name of Drosia she foundered off Cape Hatteras on December 11, 1975, with the loss of eight lives (16 crew members were rescued). The cargo holds had four covers - numbers 1 and 4 were steel and numbers 2 and 3 were wooden. On Friday, December 12, 1975, the UPI reported the sinking:

Search under way for 10
    CAPE HATTERAS, N.C. - Coast Guard and Navy ships and planes searched a 90-mile area of the Atlantic Ocean today for 10 missing crewmen of the sunken vessel Drosia.
    Thirteen crewmen were rescued in a raft and a small boat.
    The duty officer at the Elizabeth City, N.C. Coast Guard Air Station said the Drosia sank four minutes after a hatch ruptured early Thursday.
    "The master of the vessel said the ruptured hatch caused flooding or did some other damage to the ship and caused it to sink in about four minutes," said the Coast Guard.
    The 351-foot ship, hauling a cargo of sugar, carried a crew of 24.

    Note the discrepancies here as well - she carried a crew of 24, but 10 were missing and 13 rescued. Court documents from 1982 relating to the accident state that "Seventeen crew members were rescued, eight others are presumed lost at sea."

    Another article, not credited but clearly also dated December 12, reports the rescue of 3 more survivors ("bringing to 16 the number of survivors") and includes the following:

    Eight men are still missing, but the USS California has reported spotting two lifeboats in the search area and believes two or three more crewmen are aboard. Three survivors have been identified, including the captain of the Drosia, V. Theodorou; her second engineer, Acadios Paulids; and Hector Lopez, a crewman. Two of those rescued today were taken aboard the California. It was not clear who had picked up the third man.
    The captain of the Dorsia reported he was unable to send a distress signal because of the swiftness of the sinking.
    The Hayes, commanded by Capt. John J. Cullen, USN, was on the scene doing hydrographic work when the flare was spotted. A message from the Hayes on the rescue was the first word received by the Coast Guard about the sinking. The Hayes was joined later by by the Navy vessel USS Montogmery and the Coast Guard Cutter Reliance.
    Captain Theodorou said the men had been in the water about 10 hours before managing to get into a rubber life raft. Other men were in another life raft, he said, while still others clung to logs. The first 13 men rescued, including the captain, were taken aboard the Hayes about 8:30 p.m. Thursday.
    Coast Guard helicopters searched through the night using powerful "midnight sun" lights. Additional planes joined the search at daylight. The liner Queen Elizabeth II, passing through the area, offered her assistance. The Coast Guard said there were enough vessels in the search area, but asked the liner to maintain a sharp lookout for possible survivors.

More WP&YR History

An Explorer's Guide to Skagway, Alaska