Ben Line Agencies
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|Founded||1992 to present|
|Services||Liner Agency, Port Agency, Offshore Support, Project Logistics, Ship Broking|
Number of employees
|Headquarters||Leith then Edinburgh, Scotland|
|Far East; was Italy, Canada|
Ben Line Agencies (previously Ben Line Steamers) is a Singapore-based shipping agency, operating across Asia. As of 2013, the company had over 110 offices and 2000 employees. Ben Line Agencies operates four specific areas: Port Agency, Liner Agency, Offshore Support and Project Logistics services.
The company in its previous form was founded in Scotland in 1825 under the name of Ben Line.
The Ben Line or Ben Line Steamers, Limited was a Scottish shipping company based in Leith, Scotland which pioneered the Far East Europe trade. A private company, it was largely owned by members of the Thomson family from Leith and the Mitchell family from Alloa.
The company was founded in 1825 as ship-brokers by two brothers, William Thomson (1806-1889) and Alexander Thomson (1795-1880). Their sister Jemima married Thomas Henderson, an older brother of Patrick Henderson. Originally the Thomson brothers were “merchants and marble-cutters” and were involved in importing Carrara marble from Leghorn, Italy, with assistance from Thomas Henderson. Their first ship in 1839 was the barque Carrara of 218 tons, built at Limekilns in Fife and used on the Leith-Leghorn run. The marble business declined in the 1830s, and they acquired in 1840 for £3500 the wooden ship Australia of 388 tons, built on the Tyne in 1825. She was used on the North Atlantic trade, carrying Alloa coal to Canada, and returning with timber to Leith, and was lost on Sable Island on the approaches to the St Lawrence River in 1841. But the North Atlantic trade, carrying coal from William Mitchell’s Alloa Coal Company to Canada and returning with timber to Leith, was a Thomson staple business for years. Several sailing ships acquired in the 1840s were built in Canada.
In the 1850s the Thomsons and Mitchells moved into longer and more profitable routes to Australia and the Far East with larger ships, purchasing nine sailing ships in the 1860s, including the iron ship James Wishart. The Far Eastern ships sailed to China and Japan via a base in Singapore, including the China tea trade. Their first (brig-rigged) steamship, the Benledi of 1557 tons gross was built in Glasgow at Barclay Curle Clydeholm shipyard. Two steamers the Petersburg and Stirling were acquired in 1877 for the Baltic trade. Also in 1877, Benlarig of 1692 tons was built (in Dumbarton), and in 1895 was carrying niter from Chile to New York.
From 1902 to 1914, nine ships were built by Bartram’s of Sunderland, nicknamed “North Country kerosene cans”.
1914 to 1919
By 1914 the Ben Line had 14 ships with names starting with 'Ben', plus 5 Baltic steamers of The Petrograd Steamers, Ltd. Two Ben Line ships were sunk; the Benlarig disappeared in 1917.
In April 1919 The Ben Line Steamers, Ltd was formed as a private company. Previously each ship voyage was a separate actuarial entity, with shareholders holding large or small numbers of 1/64 shares. A new trade was the carriage of soya beans from the Manchurian port of Vladivostok to European ports. New ships were built by Charles Connell and Company of Glasgow. No Ben Line ship was laid up during the depression.
World War II
During World War II, 14 Ben Line ships and 4 ships placed under Ben Line management by the government were lost compared with only two in World War I. Ships managed by the Ben Line included two Mac or Merchant Aircraft Carrier ships, the Empire MacAlpine and the Empire MacKendrick. The Mac ships carried Fairey Swordfish biplanes as well as cargo. In 1943 the company headquarters was moved from Leith to Edinburgh.
Postwar the line concentrated on the Far East trade, with a base in Singapore from 1951. In 1953 an underwater formation in the coasts off North Borneo was named the "Benrinnes Reef" after the ship that discovered it.
1950 to 1972
Between 1950 and 1972, Ben Line continued to develop its liner services between Europe and the Far East, operating fast, custom built tween deck vessels. Ben Line pioneered a number of new trade routes, and became one of the leading liner companies in the trade.
In 1972 Ben Line Ship Management Ltd was formed to offer a comprehensive range of ship management services to smaller owners, providing them with guidance from knowledge that Ben Line had gained over the years.
1973 to 1974
In 1973 The company’s first three container ships, each with a capacity of 3,000 TEUs and a deadweight of 50,000 tons, were delivered. These ships operated within the 17 strong fleet of a three-nation consortium (the Trio Group) made up of Ben Line, Hapag-Lloyd, Mitsui-OSK (MOL), Nippon Yusen Kaisha (NYK) and Overseas Containers Ltd (OCL) all engaged in the Far East trade. The company also entered the bulk trades by purchasing both dry bulk vessels and chemical tankers.
In 1974 The company diversified into offshore oil exploration by forming a partnership with an American firm, Ocean Drilling and Exploration Co (ODECO), an experienced operator. The joint company, which was called Ben Odeco, owned and operated semi-submersible rigs, jack-up rigs and drill ships.
1977 to 1991
By 1977 The Ben Line Group employed over 2,000 shore-based and sea-going staff, and owned a fleet of four container ships, 13 cargo liners, three chemical tankers, six bulk carriers, and five rigs and drill ships. In addition, three oil tankers and one container carrier were managed on behalf of other owners. Furthermore, through the purchase of another company, it owned seven other vessels and became Britain’s biggest offshore drilling contractor.
The Benreoch made history in 1984 as being the heaviest semi-submersible drilling rig (17,200 tons) to be transported on board a semi-submersible carrier, voyaging some 14,000 miles from New Zealand to Spain.
In 1987 a strategic decision to start actively seeking outside shipping agency principals to complement the in-house core business activity of container liner shipping – Ben Line Agencies was established.
In 1991 the remaining ships were sold, and the company combined with the East Asiatic Company of Copenhagen.
Ben Line Agencies (1992 and beyond)
Following the sale of Ben Line’s ships and rigs, emphasis was placed on the development of Ben Line Agencies, which is owned by its key stakeholders, many of whom are managers of the company. Descendants of the original shareholders also retained a substantial interest in the company.
During this period Ben Line Agencies operated from offices in Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand. The main business activity was Liner Agency.
Over the next decade the company built up an impressive portfolio of shipping services including a liner agency, port agency, project logistics, offshore support, international freight forwarding, port representation, tank containers & leasing and P&I club representation and surveying.
The company opened its 50th office in Asia. The office in Kemaman supply base, Malaysia was opened principally to cater for the specific needs of Ben Lines Agencies’ growing number of clients from the offshore sector.
The company, which had expanded to over 80 offices across 15 countries employing over 1,200 staff, celebrated 150 years in Asia. A new hardback book, Ben Line by Graeme Somner, was published in commemoration of this milestone in the company’s history.
Ben Line Agencies celebrated the opening of its 100th office in Asia. The 100th office, which is located next to the Asian Supply Base in Labuan, a growing oil and gas hub in the South China Sea, illustrates Ben Line Agencies' increasing involvement in the offshore oil and gas sector.
As of 2013, the company had over 110 offices and 2000 employees. Operating predominantly under four specific areas: Port Agency, Liner Agency, Offshore Support and Project Logistics services.
Ben Line has recently opened new offices in South Korea and Timor Leste.
Ben Line increased its offices around the Asia region, with the recent opening of their Bintan office in Indonesia, it currently has 116 offices around Asia.
- William Thomson and Company
- Atlantis Air Ltd
- E.G. Thomson (Shipping) Ltd
- Elswick Steam Shipping Co. Ltd
- Salmonier Shipping Co. Ltd
- The Petrograd Steamers, Ltd (for Baltic trade, wound up in 1941).
- Ben Line Containers Ltd (1970)
- Ben Ocean & Ben Asia Container Service (1975)
- Ben Odeco (1974, offshore drilling partnership)
- Sheaf Steam Shipping of Newcastle (acquired 1976)
- Atlantic Drilling Company Ltd
- History of the Ben Line on the Merchant Navy officers website
- History of the Ben Line on the Ships List website
- Ben Line Agencies (company website)
- Ben Line history
- Ben Line LinkedIn profile
- "BENLARIG. [picture] : Glasgow. 1692 tons. Built at Dumbarton. 1887.". Retrieved 15 December 2015.
- "Blown to Sea in a Blizzard". The Morning Call (San Francisco). 23 February 1895. p. 1.
- The Ben Line: The History of a Merchant Fleet 1825-1955 by George Blake (1956, Thomas Nelson, London & Edinburgh)
- Ben Line by Graeme H. Somner (08/01/2010, Ships in Focus Publications) ISBN 978-1-90170354-2