S.S. Manhattan & the Northwest Passage


Patch image courtesy of Capt. Joseph Osifat (88 Dept)
S.S.Manhattan mid-body being towed thru the C&D canal 1969  Collection of DMK
S.S.Manhattan during North West Passage
Courtesy: D.Kavanagh
Post Conversion to Ice Breaking Tanker
Length, Overall...........................................1005 Ft. (306.4m)
Beam..........................................................132 Ft. (40.2m)
Draft.............................................................52 Ft. (15.8m)
Speed...........................................................17 Knots
Shaft Horsepower, Max.............................43,000
Cargo Capacity.......................................106,000 DWT

Length, Overall...........................................940.0 Ft.
Beam..........................................................132 Ft.
Draft.............................................................xx Ft.
Speed..........................................................17.75 Knots
Shaft Horsepower, Max...............................xx,xxx
Cargo Capacity.......................................115,000 DWT

Pre-conversion to Ice Breaking Tanker
Pre-conversion photos taken in  Feb & March, 1963
Conversion to Ice Breaking Tanker  1969
Taking on the North West Passage
S.S.Manhattan mid-body being towed thru the C&D canal 1969  Collection of DMK
Early Tuesday, Feb. 26th, 1969, the largest merchant ship under the United States flag came up the Delaware River to keep an appointment with the largest floating dry dock in the United States.  Everybody knows the only dock answering that description is our No.3 and sure enough, she headed all 940 feet of her in toward our piers in preparation for docking.  When she came to rest, she stretched across ends of piers 2, 3 and 4.  Pumping out her fuel oil and preparing her to go on dry dock took until Wednesday afternoon.  She was in position in dock about 7 p.m.  About four hours then went by while her turbines cooled, after which the dock started to rise.  In the wee hours of Thursday, Feb 28, she was high and dry. Frank Farrel, foreman of riggers, who was in charge of the operation and said that the normal procedures of using the traveling cables to bring the ship on the dock could not be used due to the ships 132 Ft. beam on our 140 Ft wide dry dock.
(Transcribed from the March, 1963 Our Yard magazine)
About 1/4 of the way
on to the dry dock.
Early Feb. 26th on way
to #3 Dry Dock
Welding the stern and
midship section together
Courtesy: Inquirer
New Prow (Left) and stern
waiting for bow section
Courtesy: Inquirer
Bow Section built and launched
on a new section of #3 Dry Dock
Courtesy: Bob Hartman
On #3 Dry Dock  with new
bow section attached
Courtesy: Bob Hartman
At 4 Pier waiting for Prow
to be installed
Courtesy: Bob Hartman
Bow being moved toward
midship section #3 Dry Dock
Courtesy: Bob Hartman
Protection from ice being
installed on rudders & propellers.
Courtesy: Bob Hartman
Prow being guided into
position off of 1 Pier
Courtesy: Bob Hartman
Prow installed
Courtesy: Bob Hartman
Northwest Passage Bound
Courtesy: Joe Osiphat
S.S.Manhattan with the ice
Breaker John D. McDonald
Courtesy: D.Kavanagh
S.S.Manhattan during North West Passage navigation equip.
Courtesy: Joe Osiphat
S.S.Manhattan on her way
Courtesy: Bob Hartman
S.S.Manhattan during North West Passage
Courtesy: D.Kavanagh
S.S.Manhattan during North West Passage
Courtesy: Joe Osiphat
S.S.Manhattan during North West Passage, Radio Room
Courtesy: Joe Osiphat
Courtesy: Maritime Reporter & Engineering News
The icebreaking tanker S.S.Manhattan made an historic voyage to test the feasibility of using the Artic Northwest Passage as a year round trade route.  Humble Oil & Refining Co., the sponsor of the project hoped to prove that the Passage can be used by special ships to deliver Arctic oil to U.S. East Coast ports.  The cost for this project reached $54-Million.  Benefits of an open Polar sea route included increasing U.S. self-sufficiency in oil.  The converted Manhattan was well equipped for the task.  Even before the modifications, the Manhattan was stronger and more powerful than any ship of its type in the world.  Built in 1962 in Bethlehem Steels' shipyard in Quincy, Mass,  the Manhattan is the largest merchant ship ever to fly the American flag and the largest commercial ship ever constructed in the U.S.  It's 43,000 shaft horsepower powerplant is nearly 1-1/2 times more powerful than those on ships twice her size.  In addition to size, the Manhattan was highly maneuverable, due to twin five-bladed propellers and twin rudders.  In short, the Manhattan is a one-vessel breed of supertanker, more powerful, and more maneuverable than any similar ship on the seas.
To speed the conversion to a icebreaking tanker, the ship was drydocked at Sun Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company and cut into four pieces.  The 65-foot forward bow was stored at Sun, to be replaced by a new 125-foot icebreaking bow which was built in two sections.  The forward piece was built by Bath Iron Works and the after piece was built by Sun Shipbuilding & Dry  Dock Co.  The forward section, including the No.1 cargo tank, was towed to Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company where it was fitted with a heavy 1-1/2" thick ice belt to protect the sides of the ship from large floes of ice.  The midship section, which included the bridge, was towed to Alabma Dry Dock and Shipbuilding Company where an ice belt, of  steel was also fitted.  The stern section remained at Sun to be strengthened internally.  While the hull work was being carried on, Sun Ship workers were installing additional quaraters, laboratories and electronic gear.  When the hull sections were returned, Sun rejoined them, sealed off most of the cargo tanks (which were used for ballast) and then put the ship through river trials.  As completed, the Manhattan has been lengthened from 940 feet to 1,005 feet, widened by 16 feet to 148 feet, and it weight increased by 9,000 tons.   Accompanying the Manhattan, the first commercial vessel to transit the "Top of the World" route,  was the U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker Westwind and the Canadian icebreaker John A. McDonald.  The Westwind was relieved by the icebreaker Northwind, which traveled eastword from the Bering Sea.
On Sept 2, 1969, the S.S.Manhattan turrned her huge armored bow toward Baffin Island and started encountering her first ice floes at approx. 14 feet thick. The Manhattan, cracking off half-acre floes, sailed on without a quiver.  As the blocks grew larger,  more power was required and the Manhattan broke though ice floes as thick as 60 feet.  When in the McClure strait howver, ice 15 to 20 high and sometimes as deep as 100 feet proved too much for the Manhattan.  Ploughing into thick ice, backing out and going forward again and making very little headway and requiring icebreakers to relieve the pressure on the side of the ship caused a change in direction on Sept. 11th and the Manhattan changed course to the Prince of Wales straight, the more normal route for the Passage.  On Sept. 14, the prow of the Manhattan cracked the last floe at the southern end of Prince of Wales Strait and ahead lay 1,000 miles of open water.  Upon reching Prudhoe Bay, the Manhattan took on a ceremonial barrel of oil.  The return trip was completed on November  12, when the tanker sailed into New York Habor.  In spite of it's accomplishments, the data acquired during this and a second trip concluding that, at the present time, the use of supertankers to move oil from Prudhoe Bay to the East Coast, is not as economical as a pipeline across Alaska.  This study ultimately resulted in Humble joining other oil company's in building the Trans Alaska pipe.
The aforementioned was compiled and transcribed from numerous resources including; National Geographic (March, 1970),  The Lamp (Spring, 1970), American Society for Engineering Education Annual Meeting, June 21-24, 1971. 

Note: See the American Bureau of Shipping website  www.eagle.org for additional information.  When on the site; go to site map, News & Events, publications, then the summer 2005 issue of "Surveyor" pages 18 thru 22. Courtesy of John Curdy.
The Manhattan returned to New York on 10.30.69.  She resumed regular service until 1987.  She was driven aground at Yosu, South Korea on 07.15.87 during the passage of typhoon "Thelma", refloated on 07.27.87 and sold to Hong Kong interests "as lies".  Re-sold to Chinese breakers.  Left Yosu in tow 09.01.87 and arrived at breakers yard prior to 09.06.87.  (Information courtesy of; Fred Eckley (Army Corp. of Eng) and visseraa.topcities.com) Page update: 07.12.05