Special commission: watch an extract from the centenary film
How has BP’s shipping business navigated its way through 100 years of history? What have been the key world events that have shaped its journey and its fleet? BP Magazine looks at some of the milestones and developments over the past century
On 30 April 1915, the British Tanker Company was established as the shipping arm of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, the forerunner of today’s BP. One hundred years on, its modern-day successor – BP Shipping – marks its centenary year. As it celebrates this milestone, BP Shipping can reflect upon 100 years of ship design and operation involving more than 500 tankers – an average launch rate of one new tanker every 10 weeks for every year of the past century. Along the way, its people have moved much of BP’s oil from field to market around the globe, demonstrated remarkable courage in war and peace, and made outstanding contributions to maritime safety and environmental performance.
The early days
The shipping business was born out of a severe financial crisis that gripped the Anglo-Persian Oil Company (APOC) – later to become BP – in 1913/14. After making one of the world’s most significant oil discoveries at Masjid-i-Suleiman in Persia (now Iran), the challenge for the fledging company was to develop and market the huge quantities of crude oil. But, crucially, it lacked the means to move the oil to potential customers. A timely solution emerged though as the British Government decided to fuel its warships with oil as an alternative to coal. The company chairman, Charles Greenway, invited the British Government to purchase a shareholding. Both sides set to gain from the move: the company with a £2 million injection of cash and the Government with a secure supply of oil, just as a world war broke out.
The war years
Company seafarers saw service in both the Atlantic and the Arctic convoys, supplying oil to Russia, as well as to the North Africa campaign and the D-Day landings. Despite a convoy system, oil tankers were, in the words of Britain’s future queen, Princess Elizabeth: “the ‘bull’s eye’ of every enemy attack”. Later, in 1947, she remarked on this wartime contribution: "No greater heroism has ever been shown than by the men who served in our tankers. Their achievements were of vital importance but seldom spectacular, and it was not often that they received the thanks they deserved.”
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Restoring the fleet
Birth of a supertanker
British Adventure heralded a new era for the oil tanker. At 30,000 dwt, she was the largest tanker in the world
The long way round
Suez crisis diverts tankers around the Cape of Good Hope. The Suez canal is closed for eight years
By its 50th birthday, the BP Tanker Company fleet amounted to 120 ships, totalling 3 million dwt
Oil crisis sparks boom and bust
The 1970s brought an energy crisis: with the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) members taking control of their national resources, price rises and production cuts in reaction to Middle Eastern conflicts. Consumers around the world queued at petrol pumps while industry also ground to a halt due to fuel shortages. There were far more ships than there was oil to carry – and the world’s fleet needed to be reduced, quickly.
After the 1989 grounding of Exxon Valdez off Alaska, all tankers trading oil with the US had to be double-hulled. This design involves surrounding the cargo tanks with a second internal plate at a sufficient distance from the external plate. BP’s first double hull was the 210,000 dwt British Valour.