B-54 / MARCELI NOWOTKO


General cargo vessel MARCELI NOWOTKO (type B-54)

Keel laid:                               31 January 1955

Launched:                             15 November 1955

Delivered:                             6 November 1956

Fast general cargo vessel for a Far East line. The first large modern and successful oceangoing vessel designed and built in Poland. It was a milestone and the calling card of the Polish shipbuilding industry for many years. This series was continued with the types: B-43 (7 vessels), B-44 (30 vessels), B-40 (16 vessels) and B-442 (9 vessels).

Technical specifications:

capacity:       6,660 GRT; 3666 NRT; 10,273 DWT

dimensions: 153.9 x 19.4 x 8.6 m

propulsion:    Fiat diesel engine with 7800 hp

speed:           16.0 knots

crew:              44 (+ 12 passengers).

Thirty-five type B-54 vessels were built in 1955-1963: 19 for Polish shipowners, 9 for the USSR and 6 for other shipowners.


In 1951, Polish Ocean Lines presented a concept for a ship for a Far East line. The operational principles were developed by the Central Executive of the Polish Merchant Navy. According to these principles, Polish Ship Construction Office No. 1 in Gdańsk designed, using similar Italian ships as a pattern, the type B-54 general cargo vessel, with its design completed in 1952. The first series of these very successful ships was built by Gdańsk Shipyard; the construction of the prototype Marceli Nowotko began on 31 January 1955.

They were general cargo vessels with two continuous decks and an almost completely welded structure. The characteristic streamlined superstructure on the midship extended beyond the fourth hold. The ships had five holds, handled by 18 booms, including a 50-tonne one.

Next, Gdańsk and Szczecin Shipyards built a further 19 ships of this type for Polish Ocean Lines, which were much like the prototype. Another 15 such ships were built for foreign shipowners.

Later, the B-54 design was upgraded. The subsequent types of general cargo vessels based on the Marceli Nowotko and built at Gdańsk Shipyard had the designations B-43 (7 ships built in Gdańsk for the USSR in 1962-63), B-44 (30 ships built in Gdańsk and Szczecin for the USSR in 1963-67), B-40 (20 ships built in Gdańsk and Szczecin for the USSR in 1968-70) and B-442 (5 ships built for Poland and 4 for Turkey in Gdańsk in 1968-72).

The first ship of the series, the Marceli Nowotko, was handed over to Polish Ocean Lines on 6 November 1956. Its maiden voyage was the beginning of a new line to the Far East, calling at Yokohama, Japan, on 14 September 1957. It also launched several other new lines: it was the first Polish ship to call at Rabaul and Port Moresby (March 1971), in autumn 1971 it launched a line to Australia and in Spring 1979 a line to the Philippines. In 1980, it was broken up in Taiwan.

Out of the other Polish ships of this type, several fell victim to the elements. The most tragic event was the fire during the outfitting of the Maria Konopnicka on 13 December 1961, when 22 shipyard workers died.

Equally perilous, although fortunately without casualties, was the fire on the Pekin, which called at Hong Kong on Friday, 8 October 1964, after avoiding three typhoons. A fire broke out in the fourth hold when it was opened at the port to unload Pakistani jute. On the other side of the hold’s bulkhead was the engine room with fuel tanks. The crew tried to put out the fire first with water, then with carbon dioxide. After several hours, the port’s fire brigade joined the operation. The next day, on Saturday afternoon, Typhoon Dorothy approached Hong Kong and the firemen were recalled from the Pekin. For two days, the Polish ship battled the storm and the fire was kept under control by slowly letting gas into the hold. The typhoon subsided only on Tuesday morning. This was when the firefighting resumed by covering the burning jute with foam. However, first they had to remove sacks full of peanuts, under which the jute was stored, in a smoke-filled hold. It took six days to put out the fire. The damage proved to be minor enough that, after a short repair, the Pekin continued its voyage and returned to Gdynia only at the end of January 1965.

A similar fire happened in November 1965 to another type of vessel, the Generał Sikorski, also in Hong Kong.

Another adventure befell two other ships of this type: the Bolesław Bierut and the Djakarta, which in June 1967 found themselves trapped in the Suez Canal that was closed off due to the war in the Middle East. They remained there until May 1975 and were then sold to Greek shipowners. The Bierut sailed as Fay III until it was broken up in 1982; the former Djakarta (renamed Manina III) crashed on the rocks of the island of Kinaros in March 1981.

The Reymont was also a victim of fire; it broke out on 16 April 1979, right after the vessel left Gdynia. In spite of a storm, 37 crew members and 7 passengers were evacuated; unfortunately, two crew members died in the fire. The ship was towed to Gdynia, but the repairs proved uneconomic and the vessel was scrapped in Spain the same year.

With time, the veteran 10,000 DWT vessels became less and less up-to-date and containerisation began to encroach. In 1970, Hel express freighters were sent to a Far East line, followed in 1976 by type B-438 semi-container ships (Franciszek Zubrzycki) as well. The type B-54 vessels began to call at ports with longer handling times. They were eventually scrapped in the 1980s.

Type B-54 vessels were built for foreign shipowners, too. The majority, nine vessels, sailed under the Soviet flag; they were decommissioned in 1983-1995. One ship was sold to China and sailed until 2010. From among the three vessels sold to Cuba, one, the Aracello Iglesias, sank in 1970; the others were scrapped in 1986 and 1988. Two other ships of this type, purchased by a Swiss shipowner, were scrapped in the 1980s.


In 1951, Polish Ocean Lines presented a concept for a ship for a Far East line. The operational principles were developed by the Central Executive of the Polish Merchant Navy. According to these principles, Polish Ship Construction Office No. 1 in Gdańsk designed, using similar Italian ships as a pattern, the type B-54 general cargo vessel, with its design completed in 1952. The first series of these very successful ships was built by Gdańsk Shipyard; the construction of the prototype Marceli Nowotko began on 31 January 1955.

They were general cargo vessels with two continuous decks and an almost completely welded structure. The characteristic streamlined superstructure on the midship extended beyond the fourth hold. The ships had five holds, handled by 18 booms, including a 50-tonne one.

Next, Gdańsk and Szczecin Shipyards built a further 19 ships of this type for Polish Ocean Lines, which were much like the prototype. Another 15 such ships were built for foreign shipowners.

Later, the B-54 design was upgraded. The subsequent types of general cargo vessels based on the Marceli Nowotko and built at Gdańsk Shipyard had the designations B-43 (7 ships built in Gdańsk for the USSR in 1962-63), B-44 (30 ships built in Gdańsk and Szczecin for the USSR in 1963-67), B-40 (20 ships built in Gdańsk and Szczecin for the USSR in 1968-70) and B-442 (5 ships built for Poland and 4 for Turkey in Gdańsk in 1968-72).

The first ship of the series, the Marceli Nowotko, was handed over to Polish Ocean Lines on 6 November 1956. Its maiden voyage was the beginning of a new line to the Far East, calling at Yokohama, Japan, on 14 September 1957. It also launched several other new lines: it was the first Polish ship to call at Rabaul and Port Moresby (March 1971), in autumn 1971 it launched a line to Australia and in Spring 1979 a line to the Philippines. In 1980, it was broken up in Taiwan.

Out of the other Polish ships of this type, several fell victim to the elements. The most tragic event was the fire during the outfitting of the Maria Konopnicka on 13 December 1961, when 22 shipyard workers died.

Equally perilous, although fortunately without casualties, was the fire on the Pekin, which called at Hong Kong on Friday, 8 October 1964, after avoiding three typhoons. A fire broke out in the fourth hold when it was opened at the port to unload Pakistani jute. On the other side of the hold’s bulkhead was the engine room with fuel tanks. The crew tried to put out the fire first with water, then with carbon dioxide. After several hours, the port’s fire brigade joined the operation. The next day, on Saturday afternoon, Typhoon Dorothy approached Hong Kong and the firemen were recalled from the Pekin. For two days, the Polish ship battled the storm and the fire was kept under control by slowly letting gas into the hold. The typhoon subsided only on Tuesday morning. This was when the firefighting resumed by covering the burning jute with foam. However, first they had to remove sacks full of peanuts, under which the jute was stored, in a smoke-filled hold. It took six days to put out the fire. The damage proved to be minor enough that, after a short repair, the Pekin continued its voyage and returned to Gdynia only at the end of January 1965.

A similar fire happened in November 1965 to another type of vessel, the Generał Sikorski, also in Hong Kong.

Another adventure befell two other ships of this type: the Bolesław Bierut and the Djakarta, which in June 1967 found themselves trapped in the Suez Canal that was closed off due to the war in the Middle East. They remained there until May 1975 and were then sold to Greek shipowners. The Bierut sailed as Fay III until it was broken up in 1982; the former Djakarta (renamed Manina III) crashed on the rocks of the island of Kinaros in March 1981.

The Reymont was also a victim of fire; it broke out on 16 April 1979, right after the vessel left Gdynia. In spite of a storm, 37 crew members and 7 passengers were evacuated; unfortunately, two crew members died in the fire. The ship was towed to Gdynia, but the repairs proved uneconomic and the vessel was scrapped in Spain the same year.

With time, the veteran 10,000 DWT vessels became less and less up-to-date and containerisation began to encroach. In 1970, Hel express freighters were sent to a Far East line, followed in 1976 by type B-438 semi-container ships (Franciszek Zubrzycki) as well. The type B-54 vessels began to call at ports with longer handling times. They were eventually scrapped in the 1980s.

Type B-54 vessels were built for foreign shipowners, too. The majority, nine vessels, sailed under the Soviet flag; they were decommissioned in 1983-1995. One ship was sold to China and sailed until 2010. From among the three vessels sold to Cuba, one, the Aracello Iglesias, sank in 1970; the others were scrapped in 1986 and 1988. Two other ships of this type, purchased by a Swiss shipowner, were scrapped in the 1980s.

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