From Glasgow shipyards to the world - Murdo’s story continues

Murdo displays the simple and effective non-lethal anti-piracy methods he devised during a time when piracy risks increased and arming vessels had begun.
Murdo displays the simple and effective non-lethal anti-piracy methods he devised during a time when piracy risks increased and arming vessels had begun.

Following on from Part 1 yesterday (Friday, February 22nd) our online feature about the career of Harris man Murdo Morrison now takes a look at what happened after Murdo was ‘snapped up’ by a shipping company following his five year apprenticeship in a Glasgow shipyard.

Snapped up he was, aboard a British India Steam Navigation Company passenger ship journeying between the UK and India. Yet his first junior engineer placement was not all Murdo had hoped, the ship being powered by a steam turbine.

“I was not in favour of this,” he said. “There’s nothing to see or touch with a steam turbine, it’s all enclosed. If I’d know it was steam, I wouldn’t have gone.”

Things got a little worst when – at his request – he was sent home early in sympathy with a colleague who had found himself in trouble. Murdo chuckled: “They had no choice but to send him home, but I got sent home as well, I think just to give themselves peace!” He added: “That was the start of my career at sea and it got on very well after that.”

Indeed, Murdo’s career took him the world over and saw the Harris man a pioneer of non-lethal anti-pirate methods, train naval engineers for Jordanian Royalty, lend a hand to the British navy and even devise transport for live sheep from Australia to the Middle East!

A year after his first sea experience, 1964, Murdo attained the rank of Second Engineer before reaching the position of Chief Engineer in March 1973 – a post he held for 33 years until retiral.

And illustrative of Murdo’s ‘go-get’ attitude, he sailed almost immediately under the new ticket: “I sailed as Chief Engineer just three days later which was quite unusual,” he said, explaining: “Most people, once they got their ticket they still served as a Second Engineer for about a year before moving up.”

Carving out a reputation over his years at sea, Murdo soon became an industry ‘go-to’ man when usual requests or projects arose. And one such job in the mid-’80s saw him commissioned to train cadets for King Hussain of Jordan.

He said: “King Hussain wanted a Merchant Navy and decided, along with what I think myself, that the Norwegians were the best in the world as far as shipping goes, but at the same time was very keen to have British captains and engineers – he was very pro-British.

“Fortunately I’d been employed a lot by the Norwegians at sea and when the Jordanians got in touch, they said I was the best man for the job.”

Again Murdo was in for a shock from the off when the first group of four cadets – all university educated men – reported in, as he continued: “I had to say that I couldn’t do anything with them; they were too intelligent!

“They all had degrees but couldn’t work a spanner between them. I said the cadets had to have at least some basic engineering experience before being sent on a ship!”

He added: “I eventually got some guys I could work with, just did what I could for them then, but I believe now they have their own engineers – some of the guys I trained up – so it was quite a thing to be involved in.”Murdo’s experience and ingenuity also came to the assistance of the shipping industry in the mid-’90s, when an increased threat of piracy was prompting heated debate about arming cargo and passenger ships, a practise which had been started by American companies.

The Harris sailor recalls being off the Somalian coast – a pirate hot-spot – and hearing such a discussion on the radio aboard the MV Tamapatcharee.

“Arming sailors really wasn’t wanted by so many people. It was like gangsters, if you’re going out armed then they’re going out armed,” he commented.

“I was dead against it and so the Captain and I put our heads together and came up with some really simple but effective anti-piracy measures. We hung nets on top of the rails then if the pirates started to climb them you just turned the high pressure hoses on and push them back to the sea,” he explained.

“On the deck we laid trip-ropes to make things ackward. The ship would be in darkness and you’d turn the search light on and see them [the pirates] jumping back into the sea.

“Hopefully these methods made a difference. They were highlighted by a maritime trade magazine at the time for other ships and captains to copy. I’ve never heard otherwise, so I take it they were effective.”

He helped the Jordanian Royals, the Australian government, and in the final part of our weekend online feature tomorrow (Sunday, February 24th), we’ll see how Murdo also lent a hand to the Royal British Navy.