GraySwift Crew Change Service Dubai 1970s

Opening of Dubai's "new" Airport in 1971 had a significant impact on Dubai's place in the Marine Shipping world. Dubai was now ideally placed to become a hub for Shipping Companies wanting to change crews on their Tanker Ships. Gray Mackenzie and Company and Gulf Agencies Company each established their own Tanker Crew Change Service. This is the story of Gray Mackenzie's "Grayswift" Crew Change Service.

How the Crew Change Service worked

In early 1970s Tanker Ships mostly had European Crews. Shipowners assembled the replacement crews in London before flying them to Dubai on either BOAC or MEA. Flight time would have been in excess of seven hours usually with a stop enroute in Beirut or Kuwait and maybe another stop in Bahrain. Arriving in Dubai, the crews were met by their shipping agent and transported to Ras Al Khaimah either by car or coach - a journey of around 2 hours. Arriving in RAK the crews either immediately transferred to a Grayswift Launch to be taken to their ship or to the RAK Hotel pending their boarding Grayswift the next day or later. Grayswift Launch then took the crews offshore to rendezvous with their ship. At the rendezvous, Grayswift manoeuvred along the tanker so the crew could climb the ship's rope ladder and board their ship. The crew's baggage was lifted on board by crane. Grayswift stayed alongside until the old crew had handed over to the new and were ready to leave and repeat the journey but in reverse. During this complete operation neither the Tanker nor Grayswift stopped - they just kept moving!

Grayswift at RAK

Grayswift 1 alongside at Ras Al Khaimah Jetty 1971

The Realities!!!!

Grayswift Launches were built by Halter Marine in New Orleans USA and designed for the offshore oil industry so their fit out was basic! Grayswift Captains attempted to provide an Airline level of service offering coffee, biscuits and sandwiches to their passengers. Most passengers were already exhausted having been traveling for over 14 hours plus, once clear of RAK Harbour, the often violent and unpredictable motion from the launches' high speed in the usually rough seas made eating and drinking physically impossible! These launches frequently carried replacement crews for several Tankers so that meant having to rendezvous with several Tankers in succession with the associated waiting time alongside while the crews made the changeover. The last crew to change will have spent several uncomfortable hours waiting for their turn to come.

Tankers, like aircraft, do not always run to schedule with delays due to weather or technical problems slowing their progress. Traveling on the Tanker Crew Change Service was more in hope than certainty. Crews would sometimes find themselves staying in the Ras Al Khaimah Hotel for days at a time as a consequence of their Tanker encountering breakdowns or bad weather. There was nothing to do in RAK except enjoy what the RAK Hotel offered - and that included a Casino - the only one ever established in the UAE.

Grayswift 1 Drydocking in Dubai 1971

Grayswift 1 being dry docked at Gray Mackenzie Co. Slipway in upper reaches of Dubai Creek 1971

Mechanical Problems and a link to Dubai's Past

The tough conditions under which the Grayswift Launches operated meant they required a lot of maintenance and repair so there were frequent trips to Gray Mackenzie's Slipway in Dubai Creek. The Crew and the Maintenance Staff did not enjoy working at the Slipway. It was located approximately where the Garhoud Bridge is today but back then there was a small local village whose primary activity was catch and drying fish for export. Drying process consisted of spreading the freshly caught fish across the sand around the village to allow the sun to do its work. The pungent odour of drying fish plus the hoards of flies the drying fish attracted made staying and working in this area a test of stamina.

Equally tough was finding a local workshop with the necessary skills and facilities to overhaul the Grayswift engines - a regular three month event because of Grayswift's high workload. Eventually a suitable workshop was identified. They had a surprising range of maintenance facilities and were very familiar with the sort of problems Grayswift experienced. Even more surprising was that they had a modern engine Test Bed albeit was housed in a nondescript corrugated tin shed. They were given a contract to overhaul the Grayswift Engines and became instrumental in keeping the service going.

The reason why this workshop had an Engine Test Bed became apparent several months later when it was revealed the Workshop Owner had been one of Dubai's leading Gold Smugglers. The Workshop originally maintained his smuggling Dhows. The Engine Test Bed was to run and check the Dhow's engines before every gold smuggling run to India!