The launch of the Athelsultan is the occasion for great celebration at the small Smiths Dock shipyard on the South Bank of the Tees in Middlesbrough. The camera lingers on the sea of faces, capturing the excitement of the crowds and workers, who push forward to admire the ship rather than the fur-clad guests of the Athel Line sponsors.
The Athelsultan operated on the Sugar Line routes, a company created by Tate & Lyle, West Indies Sugar Company Ltd. and the United Molasses Company in 1951, of which the wealthy Athel Line was a subsidiary. Smith’s Dock Co. Ltd. opened their “family oriented” shipyard at South Bank in 1909 and formed a strong association with the whaling trade, amongst other clients, building whale-catchers for Christian Salvesen from 1912 until the 1950s. In the 50s and 60s sons still followed fathers onto the docks, and workers lived in communities close to the shipyard. No surprise that there was an emotional launch for the last ship, North Islands, in 1986.