Civilian ships: Emigrant steamers, icebreakers and cruise liners – kockums supplied the seas with ships

    From modest beginnings in Malmö, Kockums has developed into one of the largest shipyards in the world. More than 600 ships in all have been manufactured at the shipyard, many of which are for civilian use. Ships from Kockums have plied the oceans of the world and have become a second home for many people.

    Kockums became a respected name in international maritime circles early on and its workshop and shipyard was known for ‘painstaking, diligent and honest work’.

    In just over 40 years from its founding, 111 ships were manufactured at the shipyard in the Western Harbour. It was mainly civilian ships of various kinds such as the steam ferries Korsör, Nyborg and Malmö, the passenger ships Öresund and Prinsessan Margareta, the emigrant steamer Hekla, icebreakers for Oslo, Malmö, Stockholm and Norrköping, eight lightships and a pilot boat for the Swedish Board of Pilotage, and a large number of tugboats.

    The cargo vessels included S/S Frans, delivered to Trelleborgs Ångfartygs AB, six tank ships – today called tankers – to Baku, the large S/S Nord to Rederi AB Rex, Stockholm, and the cargo vessels built for Arctic waters A.E. Nordenskiöld and Oscar Dickson.

    Record construction in four months

    An unusual record was set when building the propeller-driven steamer A. E. Nordenskiöld, the contract for which was concluded on 7 January 1879 and completed on 10 May the same year. The short construction period of only four months tells you something about the huge productive capacity of the Kockums shipyard. The ship was ordered under special circumstances. The famous explorer Nordenskiöld was ice-bound in the Arctic Ocean in his steamship Vega. One of the expedition’s financiers, the Russian industrial magnate Alexander Sibiryakov, therefore ordered a ship that would be used on the Yenisei river and would rescue Vega on its way up there.

    However, as ill luck would have it the rescue ship Nordenskiöld also got stuck in the ice and Sibiryakov then ordered another ship that was given the name Oscar Dickson. Vega was ultimately released from the ice and after a triumphant journey around Asia and the Mediterranean the ship sailed into Stockholm in April 1880, where the members of the expedition were welcomed home as heroes. They had found the Northeast Passage.

    One of the greats of Swedish industry, and particularly of shipbuilding, started his career at Kockums as an ‘ordinary’ worker in 1883: Hugo Hammar. He had arrived in Malmö as a 19-year-old student and started at Kockums as an apprentice sheet-metal worker. He was involved in working on the steam corvette Freja for two years and shared a room at the time with fellow apprentice Georg Ahlrot who was the same age as him. As chance would have it, both young men would end up as senior managers: Hammer as one of the founders and managing director of Götaverken in Gothenburg and Ahlrot as managing director of Kockums in Malmö. Hammer has recounted the Kockums era in his memoirs (Minnen).

    A successful move

    Just before World War I a fortunate concentration of the entire Kockums industry took place in the Western Harbour of Malmö, which paved the way for a major expansion and more rational operations. The company was able to take advantage of this after the war when an economic boom caused ship orders to come flooding in. Kockums now started to build motor vessels, ultimately fitted with their own diesel engines produced under licence from Germany.

    One of the most remarkable ships built at the time was the icebreaker Ymer – one of the most powerful in its class and the first icebreaker to be equipped with diesel-electric propulsion. Ymer marked a revolution in Swedish shipping: from now onwards it would be possible for ships to operate during the winter in Swedish waters.

    Ymer remained in service for 44 years. During World War II the ship was fitted with four 75 mm anti-aircraft guns and four machine guns. Ymer was replaced by a new icebreaker with the same name, which was built in Finland in 1976.

    Passenger ship Oscar Dickson
    Kockums in Malmö came from a modest start to becoming one of the world's largest shipyards. In total, more than 600 ships were manufactured at the shipyard, many of them for civilian use. Here Oscar Dickson was ordered to save Nordenskiöld's expedition in the North Arctic Ocean. Maritime Museum.

    Record years and technical refinements

    The real record years came after World War II. A new ship was delivered almost every month. Sometimes even that record was beaten, such as in June 1949 when Kockums had two ships that were completed at the same time: the Norwegian motor vessel Igadi and the motor tanker Soya-Maria, destined for Wallenius Lines. A new refinement on board the Soya-Maria was the radar mast, which had been combined so that on its slender bars it also carried the different signalling equipment used when navigating narrow shipping lanes, in the Suez and Panama Canals and in Venezuela.

    The naming of ships was almost always a ceremonial event and these were sometimes accompanied by special rituals. An example can be cited from 2 September 1952. This was when the 19,400 tonne Ashtarak, which had been ordered by a French shipping company, was launched.

    “The secular christening was performed by Miss Tamara Beglarian using champagne, as is current practice. However, before the guests stepped onto the podium the Dominican priest de Paillerets from St Thomas Priory in Lund along with an assistant priest in full ceremonial robes walked the entire length of the port side and periodically sprinkled it with holy water. They then accompanied the guests onto the podium. The priests then said prayers for the ship and even the bow was sprinkled with holy water. The launch went perfectly in spite of a 14 metre per second crosswind.”

    Kockums was the first Swedish shipyard that undertook to build turbine-driven tankers. A special turbine department was set up at the shipyard in the early 1950s, where staff were working flat out.

    Kockums was continually adopting new technology. The fully-welded hull was an example from the 1930s, computerisation was another from the 1960s. The first central computer was installed in Sea Sovereign, which was delivered to Salénrederierna AB in 1969.

    The purpose of the computer on Sea Sovereign was to develop a sustainable system for optimising safety factors on board and to improve operating economy, by using automatic fuel control among other things. But the computers of the time were not simple machines. Six technicians accompanied the ship on its first journey to monitor computer processes. One of the aspects they were to investigate was how well the computer handled the navigation, including steering of the ship, machinery and cargo handling.

    But not everything had been computerised. A bottle of champagne still had to be smashed against the bow – a task that was entrusted to the Dagmar Salén, the wife of the shipowner Sven Salén.

    The tanker SOYA-MARIA during a test trip.
    The M / T Soya-Maria tanker was intended for the Wallenius shipping companies and was launched in 1949. A new finesse aboard Soya Maria was the radar mast, which had been combined so that it was able to use the various signal devices used for crossing through narrow lanes in Suez - and Panama Canal as well as in Venezuela. The picture from around 1960. The Maritime Museum.

    Finale with a floating casino

    In 1986 the decision was made to wind up civilian ship production. The finale came with all flags flying. The cruise ship M/S Celebration was built for the US shipowner Ted Arison and resembled a floating luxury hotel in Las Vegas style. The luxury cruise ship was twelve storeys high with room for 1,790 passengers and was a real showcase for Swedish industry. On board there was equipment and design from 900 different Swedish companies, including safes from Landskrona, bar counters from Vellinge, showers from Dals Ed, hairdressers' chairs from Stockholm and air conditioning from Gothenburg.

    The very last civilian ship to be launched was named on 22 October 1987: the product tanker M/S Nord Skagerack. This was ship number 603 since the start of the Kockums shipyard in 1870.

    Most of the ships have been kept in the form of models, which are dotted around the shipyard’s large office buildings. Kockums has now decided to donate all the models to Malmö museum, an extraordinary treasure trove of art and a record of an outstanding industrial era in Swedish history.