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Seawise Giant: The Enormous Vessel That Remains the Biggest Man-Made Ship Ever Built

BY Tanveer Khan July 6, 2018
Seawise Giant leaving Dubai drydocks.

Seawise Giant leaving Dubai Drydocks. (Auke Visser / Used With Permission)

Ever wondered how huge a ship could be? Well, if a ship couldn’t navigate the English Channel or cross the Egyptian Suez Canal, it ought to be bigger than anything one can ever imagine. Such was the size of the colossal tanker – Seawise Giant – that it could put several other self-proclaimed massive passenger ships or even tankers to shame. It was the biggest man-made ship ever built in human history.

Engineering the biggest ship

As its story goes, construction work on the aptly-named Seawise Giant began in the Oppama shipyard in Kanagawa, Japan in 1974, where it was completed in the year 1979 after five years of hard labour. It is said that an unnamed Greek business tycoon wanted the supertanker built for himself, but when the work on the ship was done, he backed out of the deal.

The ship lay unclaimed for a while, until a Hong Kong-based logistics service provider and container shipping company, Orient Overseas Container Line bought it. It was here that Oppama was given the new name Seawise Giant, which ironically stuck with it forever.

Operation and mishap

The 1500-feet long, 225-feet wide, with a capacity to carry an enormous 564,763 tonnes of weight. Seawise Giant began ferrying huge quantities of crude oil (as much as 4 million barrels) between the Middle Eastern countries and the United States for seven years when tragedy struck her in 1988. Seawise Giant found herself in the midst of the heartbreaking Gulf War that broke out between neighbouring countries Iran and Iraq in the same year when the war was almost nearing its climax.

Anchored in Iran, Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi missiles brought down Seawise Giant and the supertanker, which was obviously carrying highly combustible liquid, and caught fire immediately. The massive balls of fire on the huge oil-carrier were difficult to contain and the ship sunk in the shallow waters off the Iranian coast. Unable to salvage the badly-damaged ship from the depths of the sea, it was soon written-off and lost to time.

Seawise Giant at sea.

Seawise Giant at sea. (Auke Visser / Used With Permission)


While Seawise Giant lay in the ocean bed for a full year, rusting and wasting away, Norway’s Norman International conglomerate toiled hard to bring it afloat once again and give her a new lease of life. Renamed Happy Giant, she was sent to Singapore for repair works, where a whole lot of steel was used to fix her severely damaged body.

She was pressed into service again in 1991, when a Norwegian magnate Jorgen Jahre purchased her and rechristened her Jahre Viking. The gargantuan ship once again began shipping crude oil, working tirelessly for Norway for ten long years. At this point of time, she only had a 40-member crew on her vast deck with Captain Surinder Kumar Mohan at her wheel in command.

Huge in terms of her own weight and the amount of cargo she ferried, Seawise Giant was not an easy ship to steer. She consumed way too much fuel and it was soon becoming an arduous task to navigate her in various important ports, where it was necessary to deliver oil. And so like the proverbial white elephant, she, too, had become a challenge to maintain.

Retirement and dismantling of Seawise Giant

Soon in 2004, Seawise Giant was sold off to the Norwegian First Olsen Tankers company, for which she served as a stationary oil field at Qatar, now under the name Knock Nevis. Her splendid journeys on the ocean had ended and her career as a storage facility for others had only begun. And after six years as an oil field, supplying crude oil to other smaller tankers, in the year 2010, Seawise Giant was withdrawn from service.

Comparison of Seawise Giant (Knock Nevis) with large buildings and ships.

Comparison of Seawise Giant (Knock Nevis) with large buildings and ships. (Fosnez / Wikimedia Commons)

It was time for the gigantic ship, which once cut huge waves of the ocean with her sharp bow, to live out the rest of her days off the course and retire. Here she was renamed one last time as Mont, before being transported to the world-renowned ship-breaking yard in Alang in the Indian state of Gujarat. Workers stripped the last part of her metal body and sold it off, thus ending her stellar 30-year-long service as the biggest ship in the whole world.

Though not many people know of Seawise Giant’s rollercoaster ride on the choppy oceans; her 36-tonne heavy anchor remains to narrate her illustrious tale. Touted as the largest anchor in the world, the last piece of evidence of the greatness of Seawise Giant is its anchor, which now finds itself inside the Hong Kong Maritime Museum, soon to become a centerpiece of the establishment, which will tell the stories of the Goliath ship, now down in the pages of history.

Enjoyed this article? Also, check out “CSCL Globe: The Largest Container Vessel in the World, Until MSC Oscar Usurped its Ranking“.

Recommended Visit:
Hong Kong Maritime Museum | Hong Kong

Fact Analysis:
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