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History of SS Uganda: Latest Work

Photo Above; the Uganda undergoing sea trials in the Firth of Clyde July 1952

History of SS Uganda: Text

In 1947 the Board of British India Steam Navigation Ltd (BI) ordered tender action for two new ships to replace five elderly vessels on the prestigious mail and passenger liner service between London and East Africa. BI had lost over fifty ships during the war and many of the rest were beyond their useful economic life. The tender for £3m for both passenger-cargo ships was won by Barclay, Curle & Co Ltd of Clydeholm shipyard and design started that year on Kenya and Katarina with the former being launched late in 1949 and the latter renamed Uganda and launched in January 1952 with her maiden voyage in August that year.

The Uganda had gross tonnage of 14430, with 167 first class and 133 tourist class passengers,  cargo capacity of 11000 cubic metres and a cruising speed of 16 knots.

The liner service consisted of the Suez Canal route to the east African ports of Mombasa, Tanga, Dar-es-Salaam, Beira, Nacala and Zanzibar with varying intermediate stops at Gibraltar, Naples, Malta, Marseilles, Port Said and Aden. When the canal was closed the ship served east Africa via Cape Town. Trade declined in the 1960s with the rise of passenger air travel, increasing use of cargo containerisation, independence of the former British colonies and sanctions against Rhodesia, with the result that the Uganda was withdrawn from the service at the end of 1966, leaving just the Kenya on the route until she too was withdrawn in June 1969.

The transfer of one market from shipping to air ironically provided, through the availability of redundant troopships, a new market for shipping, namely educational cruising which began in earnest in 1961 using the ex-World War Two troopships Dunera and Devonia. Another more modern troopship, the Nevasa, was converted and added to the BI educational cruising fleet in 1965. By 1967 the two earliest ships were due for replacement due to new marine fire regulations and the Uganda undertook an extensive yearlong conversion at a Hamburg shipyard, resulting in 306 passenger cabins, 920 dormitory beds, lecture rooms and classrooms and a gross tonnage increased to 16900.

From early 1968 onwards the BI educational cruising market was provided by the Uganda and Nevasa with a reasonable degree of financial success. However, following the fuel crisis of 1973, and the following economic difficulties in the UK, the Nevasa was withdrawn from service; despite being the larger vessel and five years newer than the Uganda, her fuel consumption counted against her and she was sent for scrap in April 1975. By this time, the Uganda was the sole surviving vessel from the once extensive BI fleet, but under the wing of P&O since 1972.

Schools cruises continued on the Uganda until she was requisitioned by the MoD as a hospital ship for the Falklands conflict during her 352nd educational cruise in April 1982 . Following a refit in Gibraltar which added a helipad, satellite comms and an operating theatre and wards, she arrived in the Falklands in May with 136 medical staff. Up until July she treated 730 casualties (including 150 Argentinians) from naval and land encounters who arrived either by helicopter or from six British and Argentine ambulance ships. Some 150 operations were performed before the conflict ended in July and the Uganda returned to Southampton in August 1982.

After another refit the ship returned to complete eight educational cruises before being chartered again by the MoD to act as a stores and troopship between the Falklands and Ascension Island from January 1983 and April 1985, setting a probable merchant record of over 500 days at sea without visiting a port. At the end of this charter the Uganda was in a poor state and was laid up in the Fal estuary until undertaking her final voyage to the breakers in Kaohsiung (Taiwan) arriving in July 1985. In the event the ship was never broken up but capsized at anchor in typhoon Wayne and remained a wreck for around ten years thereafter.

History of SS Uganda: Text
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