Isthmian Lines
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S.S. Steel Vendor

Gross Tonnage:8,114Net:4,721
Dimensions:492' 0" x 69' 7" x 29' 5"MC Type:C3-S-A2
Builder:Western Pipe & Steel Co.
San Francisco, CA
Hull #
USMC Hull #
Date of Build:
Engines:2 Steam Turbines DR Geared to Single Screwed ShaftEngine Builder:General Electric Co.
Lynn, MA
Navigation:DF, ESD, GC, RDR, RTDecks, etc.:2 Decks & Open Shelter Deck

Began Isthmian Service:1947Ended Isthmian Service:1971

----------------------------------- Vessel History -----------------------------------
Call Ltrs
Sea PartridgeUS War Shipping Administration, operated by American President Lines as Army Troopship
San FranciscoUSWB
Sea PartridgeUS Maritime Commission
San FranciscoUS
Steel VendorIsthmian Lines, Inc.
New York
New YorkUS

11/27/43: Keel laid.
2/29/44: Launched, sponsored by Mrs. John R. Reilly.
9/30/44: Completed as a Transport (1,906 troops) by building yard for operation for the WSA by American President Lines.
10/2/44: Departed San Francisco on maiden voyage to Puget Sound and Hawaii, returning in November. Vessel remained in Pacific service until December 1945. In addition to the usual ports in the Pacific Islands, she made trips between Seattle and the Alaska - Aleutian area.
2/46: Departed San Francisco for Liverpool and Le Havre, returning to New York in March.
4/46: Released from troop service.
4/46: U.S. Maritime Commission.
1946: Conversion contract awarded to Maryland Drydock Co., Baltimore. MD, at a cost of $260,087, to be completed in 50 calendar days.
1/49: Hit dock damaging plates; repair cost $2,158.
3/2/49: Annual survey found engine damage in thrust bearings; renew thrust shoe at a cost of $4,803.
4/49: As a result of a collision, renew shaft at a cost of $13,000.
2/9 - 2/11/51: On voyage Phillipines to New York, heavy weather damage; renew six plates.
4/3/51: On voyage New Orleans for Calcutta, aground; fit spare propeller and renew shaft, partially renew bilge keels; repairs at Galveston.
3/53: Hit floating log.
4/53: Lost anchor and cable due to crew negligence.
9/14/53: From striking log in March, tailshaft renew, examine main gearing and thrust bearings, together with removals and sundry damages. From alleged crew negligence in April, anchor cable renew, anchor renew. together with sundry damages. All repairs and drydocking at Baltimore.
10/8/53: SIU seaman, in response to new AFL Dockworker's Union's closing of 2 Bull Line 21st St. piers in Brooklyn, walked off STEEL VENDOR, Honolulu for Baltimore, at Shed 4 Erie Basin, preventing dockworkers from working.
10/13/53: Police convoy took 3 truckloads of AFL longshoreman who were unloading the STEEL VENDOR at night off the pier.
10/15/53: Isthmian moves STEEL VENDOR to Port Newark. Ship was boycotted, defying temporary court injunction, by ILA Longshoreman as "hot ship" pending dispute settlement over dismissal of the hiring manager at Erie Basin and his replacement sent Sunday by AFL supporters.
3/26/55: On voyage Houston to Surabaya, touched bottom.
4/26/55; From touching bottom 3/26/55, straighten propeller blades, install additional cribbing in bottom of drydock, together with sundry damages; repairs and drydocking at New York.
6/21/55: Struck dock.
7/12/55: Alleged crew negligence damaged high pressure turbine.
8/15/55: From striking dock 6/21/55, renew 1 plate, 1 partially renew and 1 fair, frames straighten and partially renew, together with sundry damages; repairs at Baltimore.
12/12/55: From damaged high pressure turbine 7/12/55, remove high pressure turbine rotor, renew thrust collar, rebalance rotor and renew bearings and labyrinth packing together with sundry damages and removals; repairs at New York.
4/23/56: From grounding 3/26/55, bilge keel partially renew, tanks steam, clean and test, together with sundry damages; drydocking and repairs at Baltimore.
3/14/61: The master of the steamer STEEL VENDOR, Calcutta for Houston, reports damage to propeller blade as a result of vessel striking oil dock while berthing at Trincomali.
3/16/61: Vessel left Trincomali and proceeding to Cochin at eight knots, probably putting in to Colombo in night of 3/16/61 for repairs.
3/17/61: STEEL VENDOR arrived Colombo.
3/24/61: Left Colombo.
4/14/61: STEEL VENDOR arrived Palermo.
4/19/61: From Palermo, as a result of propeller contact damage 3/14/61 at Trincomali: Spare propeller now fitted. Rudder heavy weather damage in September 1960 and January 1961. Repairs now completed and vessel sailed 4/19/61.
12/11/61: From Calcutta, STEEL VENDOR, Calcutta for Houston, reported collided at 1:30 AM with steam launch SIBSA, belonging to MacNeill & Barry near Akra, about nine miles from Calcutta. Launch had in tow nine iron barges laden with wheat . Due to the impact, three barges and launch sank in midstream and 17 persons are deared drowned.
12/14/61: From Calcutta, according to local press reports, 17 persons are feared to have been drowned when the steam launch SIBSA, along with three barges, sank in the the River Hooghly following a collision with the steamer STEEL VENDOR at about 1:30 AM on 12/11/61 near Akra, about nine miles from Calcutta. The SIBSA was towing nine iron barges loaded with wheat from the port of Haldia to Calcutta. The collision occured in midstream when the STEEL VENDOR, bound for the United States, hit the starboard side of the launch with five barges tagged. As a result, the SIBSA, together with three of the barges, sank, while the other six barges, including four tagged on the port side, remained afloat and scattered. According to the police, there were 26 crew on board the launch and 15 persons in the nine barges. All were thrown into the water but 21 from the launch and three from the barges either swam ashore or were resuced. The STEEL VENDOR returned to Calcutta. According to the port authorities, however, 12 persons are missing, but an accurate figure cannot be stated, as the exact number of crew in the barges has not yet been ascertained.
12/18/61: The STEEL VENDOR left Calcutta for Norfolk.
3/28/62: From Moji, steamer STEEL VENDOR at Moji repairing steam pipeline.
3/29/62: From Moji, normal deterioration holing 3 ft. section of superheater outlet line, affecting pipe sockets, flanges and auxiliary generator. Recommeded remove 3 ft. section, fabricate affected pipe, fitting, etc.
4/2/62: STEEL VENDOR left Moji for Seattle.
11/9/62: From Yokohama, STEEL VENDOR, Seattle for Yokohama, due 11/12/62, reports boiler trouble.
11/16/62: STEEL VENDOR arrived Yokohama, 4 days late. Port water tube boiler one piece studded tube ruptured and 19 deformed, to renew, six main condenser tubes holded and cracked, to renew, rear brickwork wasted and collapsed, to rebrick; causes studded tubes negligence, condensor tubes wear and tear.
11/26/62: From Yokohama, STEEL VENDOR sailed for Seattle.
4/6/63: From Kobe, STEEL VENDOR, Portland, OR for Keelung, on arriving reports boiler damage.
4/10/63: At Kobe, starboard boiler floor brickwork and adjacent drum deterioriated and steel casing burnt and distorted, crop and renew bottom floor plate and renew firebricks and insulation in way.
4/9/63: STEEL VENDOR left Kobe from Pusan.
4/26/63: Struck unknown submerged object at Keelung.
5/5/64: From damage alleged sustained 4/26/63 in consequence of striking unknown object: Propeller remove and recondition, spare propeller fit, spare tailshaft fit, stern tube bearing renew, together with sundry damages and removals. Repairs completed at Baltimore. Removed tailshaft being further examined to determine the extent of the fractures.
7/31/64: From Bombay: Lighter unloading cargo from streamer STEEL VENDOR, Houston for Cochin, at No. 10 Alexandra Dock, began listing when compartments flooded with water and thereafter capsized after all cargo removed from lighter onto quay. Port Trust Fire Service later pumped out water from lighter, which removed outside dock.
9/23/64: Heavy weather while on passage from New Orleans to Baltimore.
8/13/65: From New York: Damage alleged sustained in consequence of heavy weather on 9/23/64 while en route from New Orleans to Baltimore: Three shell bottom plates renew and four partially renew, internal members straighten and partially renew, tanks steam, clean and test, together with sundry damages and removals; repairs deferred.
9/20/65: An official of States Marine Corp. said that the company had filed a protest with the State Dept. after learing the steamer STEEL VENDOR, Houston for Calcutta, operated by a subsidiary, Isthmian Lines, Inc., was being detained by the Pakistan Government at Karachi and that part of her cargo was subject to seizure. It is reported the ship carried a general cargo of machinery, bulk oil, flour and other items destined for commercial importers in India.
11/3/65: STEEL VENDOR, Calcutta for Houston, arrived Djibouti with engine circumferential crack approximately four inches long in way of main steam stop flange.
11/4/65: From Djibouti: STEEL VENDOR had engine circumferential crack approximately four inches long in way of main steam stop flange. Repairs made locally, vessel re-examined and found in order; 500 pounds per sq. in. hydrostatic test and 450 pounds per sq. in. normal working steam pressure. Vessel sailed at 1 PM 11/4/65 for Boston where further examination is recommended.
6/27/66: From New York: Steamer STEEL VENDOR, damage alleged sustained 9/23/64, in consequence of encountering heavy weather while on passage from New Orleans to Baltimore: One keel plate renew and two partially renew, two shell bottom plates renew and two partially renew, internals straighten and partially renew, tanks steam and test, together with sundry damages and removals; repairs completed.
7/31/67: Steamer STEEL VENDOR, damage alleged sustained at some time and place unknown, discovered on dry dock at Baltimore: Port side two shell plates partially renew, lower adjacent plating fair, internals straighten and partially renew, together with sundry damages and removals; repairs completed.
9/17/68: STEEL VENDOR, Coos Bay from Sattahip, left Portland, OR and collided with Barge S.T. 13.
10/3/71: From Manila: A storm with maximum winds of 55 km. per hour was moving today towards the central Phillipines from the Pacific, the Phillipine Weather Bureau reported. The storm, code named "Elaine", ("Barang"), was moving north-west at 11 km. per hour and was last plotted to be 180 km. off Samar Island, in the central Phillipines. Storm signals have been raised in the area.
10/6/71: From Hong Kong: At 9 PM, GMT, 10/5/71, severe tropical storm "Elaine" was centred near lat. 14 24 N, long. 116 00 E., and was moving very slowly westwards.
10/7/71: From Saigon: Steamer STEEL VENDOR immobilised in lat. 11 50 N., long. 113 00 E., due to boiler trouble, requests towing. Luzon Stevedoring Corp. tug BUCKEYE now en route to undertake towage to Vung Tau.
10/7/71: From Hong Kong: At 9 PM GMT, 10/7/71, typhoon "Elaine" was centred near lat. 17 24 N, long. 112 48 E and was moving west-north-west at about 10 knots.
10/8/71: From London: The following message has been received from New York dated Oct 7: Steamer STEEL VENDOR, en route from Manila to Saigon, loaded with 10,500 metric tons of cement, sustained boiler breakdown on Oct. 5. Advised today entire complement or 40 crewmen abandoned ship and picked up by H.M. aircraft carrier EAGLE. Reason of abandonment not clear but understand Master was fearful vessel would go on reef. Master reported position lat. 10 43 N., long. 114 12 E. Two tugs en route.
10/8/71: From Hong Kong; Helicopters from H.M. aircraft carrier EAGLE yesterday picked up crewmen from American steamer STEEL VENDOR, which grounded in the South China Sea, a military spokesman said today. The STEEL VENDOR was badly holed on a reef in heavy seas about 700 miles south of Hong Kong, he added. No casualties were reported among the crew. The rough seas were caused by typhoon "Elaine", moving westwards across the South China Sea toward China.
10/8/71: From Hong Kong: On Thursday night Oct. 7, H.M. aircraft carrier Eagle rescued the crew of steamer STEEL VENDOR, a naval spokesman said today. The spokesman said the STEEL VENDOR went aground off Loaita Island, a small island between Manila and Spratly Island. The vessel was found to be badly holed on the port side and pinioned on reef with severe working in the heavy seas and swell. The spokesman said the Master of the STEEL VENDOR reported his ship was breaking up and requested all the crewmen be rescued. - United Press International
10/8/71: From Saigon: Steamer STEEL VENDOR drifted and broke up on Spratly Island reefs, no exact position given. Crew rescued by helicopter.
10/8/71: From Manila: Steamer STEEL VENDOR: Owner's agents report vessel sank early PM, Oct. 7, while en route from Manila to Saigon. Giant waves battered the western coast of Luzon last night and the Weather Bureau today warned hundreds of people who evacuated their homes not to return as further high seas could be expected. The 20 to 30 ft. waves which swept the South China Sea last night were whipped up by winds generated by typhoon "Elaine", ("Barang"), which lashed Luzon on Tuesday Oct. 5 a spokesman for the Weather Bureau said. Heavy seas generated by typhoon "Elaine" have killed at least 29 people and left thousands homeless.
10/9/71: From Saigon: Typhoon "Elaine", ("Barang"): Steamer STEEL VENDOR: All previous information was obtained through Saigon ship agents, who received same from Manila. Understand all crew was rescued and returned to Manila. Tug BUCKEYE, dispatched to vessel, could not locate her and is being ordered to return to Saigon on account of the typhoon. Saigon agents requested aerial search by United States Forces. Last message from vessel said she was in danger of grounding. No other news afterwards.
10/20/71: From Manila: Steamer STEEL VENDOR: Surveyor acting on owner's behalf sighted vessel yesterday from plane in originally reported position lat. 10 43 N, long. 114 25 E. Vessel hard aground, listing 20 deg. to starboard, apparently broken across aft end No. 3 hold, covers missing 3, 4 and 5 holds and same flooded.

Disposition DateComments
197110/7: Stranded @ 10.43 N, 114.12 E, South China Sea, 250 miles WSW of Manila, Phillipines from Manila to Saigon with cargo of cement, following boiler failure.

The vessel departed Houston for the Far East via the Indian Ocean on 7/26. Beginning 9/4, the day before she was due at Rangoon, a series of engine room mishaps took place. On that day, her port boiler economiser ruptured. The level of water in the opposing boiler dropped rapidly but its fires were not shut down and it functioned normally until the end of the month, when leaking tubes were plugged. At Manila, repairs were made to the faulty economiser but, after departure for Saigon with a cargo of cement, more leaks were found in the port boiler, requiring its shutdown for repairs.

It then became impossible to maintain the water level in either boiler, but after further repairs to the economiser, both boilers recommenced operations the next day. Soon after, with the plant restored for normal steaming, the No. 1 generator sustained a major casualty and the emergency generator cut in. Then both turbine feed pumps began to malfunction. After further repairs the ship again attained "full ahead".

On 10/5, with the vessel 700 miles south of Hong Kong, both boilers lost water and the starboard one was cut out, although it was uncertain which one was leaking. The water level in the other continued to drop, so the starboard fires were relit, giving enough power for slow steaming. The water levels still dropped and it was realised both boilers were leaking, so both were secured and the ship suddenly blacked out as the emergency generator starter motor burned out. Later it was started manually and the wash-water pump rigged with a garden hose in an attempt again to refill the starboard heater and boiler. After 6 hours of pumping, the drain valve to the double bottom was found to be open and the heater still empty.

The situation was perilous. Dead in the water in the South China Sea, the vessel was wallowing and rolling up to 40 degrees in heavy seas and typhoon winds. Her bilges were deep with water and some was sloshing over the engine room deck plates. In these conditions the engineers strove to restore the plant by plugging more leaks. Satisfied, they commenced filling the port boiler, again with the garden hose, but leaving the starboard one closed off. In time, the port fires were relit and it was seen that water was rising in the starboard boiler whilst dropping in the port heater. A boiler feedline had been inadvertently left open. So again the port boiler was closed down and with it a loss of suction by the turbine feed pumps.

On the morning of 10/7 the heater was again filled and with it came the hope that steaming on limited revolutions would be possible by the afternoon. At the same time observations enabled her crew to get a navigational fix as the sun broke through for the first time in 4 days. As these were being made, breaking white water of a reef was seen ahead and it was found that their true position was 90 miles south of the dead-reckoning one.

As the wind and seas set the vessel inexorably toward the reef, a distress message was dispatched and the work to restore engine power was accelerated. At 13.45 hours, with no power to operate the windlass, the port anchor was let out on the handbrake; but the brake failed and the chain just ran out to the end. At first it had no effect, then it touched and held, with the reef just 400 yards away. Soon it broke ground and began to drag. Anticipating the main engine to be operative at any minute and that two anchors would finish the chances of a successful manuever, the starboard one was not used. Then, just as the bridge was informed that the main engine was capable of slow revolutions, the ship slammed into the Loaita Bank Reef, near Spratly Island in position 10.43 N, 114.12 E. Badly holed and pinioned by rocks, each roll in the heavy seas took her further on to the reef.

At 14.35 hours a helicopter from the British Aircraft Carrier HMS Eagle appeared and it was decided to evacuate the stricken ship's crew by this means. An hour later, when the Master departed his ship, she was listing badly, was hogged at No. 3 hold and had fractures in the plating.

Later, a sighting from the air showed the ship to be broken in two and flooded.

Photo courtesy of Alex Muir 2010 - All rights reserved.

Photo courtesy of Alex Muir 2010 - All rights reserved.

Photo courtesy of Captain Tom Ellsworth 2004 - All rights reserved.

Photo courtesy of Captain Tom Ellsworth 2004 - All rights reserved.

The information on this web site is the kind contribution of our Historian, Skip Lewis, 2003. Skip, whose dad sailed for Isthmian, is an avid collector and researcher of everything Isthmian and States Marine. In his quest, he has used many sources and publications including Lloyd's of London and Imperial Steel by John Atherton.

If you have any questions about, or information for, this website, please contact us. 2003 - Links - Site Map