Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Digging Deep: A Photo Research Case Study

Puget Sound Maritime volunteer researcher Joe Baar was given the assignment of identifying a number of stray photos unearthed during preparations for our recent big move. His analysis of this photo demonstrates the difficulties and rewards of engaging in photo forensics.

Photo courtesy of Puget Sound Maritime Historical Society, for now....

The Photo

Our photo is a black and white matte print, approximately 14 x 10 inches, of a Japanese motorship maneuvering in a waterway on the U.S. Atlantic coast, just offshore from lighted buoy #30, with a Moran ship-assist tug alongside. PSMHS records give no evidence of the print’s provenance.

The Ship

Neither the ship’s name nor that of the tug is fully legible on the print. However, the shipping company is clearly identified by the ship’s funnel insignia and by lettering on its hull: “Mitsubishi Line”. The ship’s hull, superstructure and masting shapes place it at a time after World War II; the tug’s streamlined funnel shape contributes to this placement. A rough estimate of a ship’s size depends largely on the relative size of its visible components, their proportions, and how they compare to other, known, vessels. If a normal deck is about 10 feet high, then what multiple of this distance matches the height of the ship’s bow as it appears in our photo? Since the ship is positioned at an angle to the camera and its bow is farther away than its other parts, how much should we correct this height for perspective? All this information taken together yields an estimate of around 450 feet in length and probably smaller than 10,000 gross tons measurement – a slightly less boxy design than our World War II EC-2 Liberty ships, but similar in size.

Lloyd’s Register List of Shipowners for 1959-60 shows vessels belonging to Mitsubishi Kaiun Kaisha to include six 7,500 GRT motor ships built 1951-56 and three 8,400 GRT motor ships built 1957-58. Photographs of all nine of these ships, available on the internet, show the former class was configured with a “three-island”-type hull and the latter class was flush-decked with a forecastle. Inspection of the vessel in our photo shows it to be one of the three later vessels, either CALEDONIA MARU, GLORIA MARU, or OCEANIA MARU. Very close inspection of the name visible on the starboard bow allows a conclusive identification as GLORIA MARU.

The When

Japanese shipping lines underwent a consolidation in April 1964 (Chida and Davies, The Japanese Shipping and Shipbuilding Industries, Bloomsbury, 1990). In that month Mitsubishi K.K. transferred its vessels to Nippon Yusen Kabushiki Kaisha (NYK Ltd.), whose funnel, hull colors and markings are entirely different from those of Mitsubishi, so our photo was taken between March 1958 when GLORIA MARU went into service, and April 1964. Lloyd’s Register also reflects this changeover.

A postcard sold in October 2014 on eBay shows GLORIA MARU in a view almost identical to the one in our photo. In general, the ship appears to be moving ahead slowly; a Moran tug is alongside the bridge superstructure moving ahead almost at full speed on what appears to be a parallel course. The card’s reverse side contains the following information:

The M.V. Gloria Maru, with a Moran docking tug at the bow, on its maiden arrival in the world’s busiest harbor. Photo from Moran.

This photo appears to have been taken less than five minutes later than the one in our print, adding significantly to our understanding of the scene. Lacking evidence to the contrary, for the time being we can accept this, and our own photo, as views of the ship on its first arrival in New York. 

EBay Postcard view of M.S. GLORIA MARU taken a few minutes later than our view.

The New York Times’ “Shipping -- Mails” news discloses 14 voyages GLORIA MARU made to the United States’ Atlantic Coast between March 1960 and June 1964. The first arrival occurred on 3/27/1960 from Japan via Cristobal, Panama, and that voyage departed New York on 4/9/1960 destined for Kobe, Japan. A similar pattern was in place for all the following voyages, with occasional intermediate stops, either inbound or outbound, in Hampton Roads, Philadelphia and Baltimore. GLORIA MARU’s Atlantic Coast service continued after June 1964 but since she came under NYK ownership and colors the previous April, information about these voyages is not germane to the identification of this photograph.

The Where

A foreground feature in our photo is lighted buoy number 30. The Moran ship-assist tug would seem to place the general location west of Sandy Hook and south of Orient Point, Long Island. The U.S. Coast Guard’s current Light List for the northern portion of the Atlantic coast discloses 29 red “30” buoys, of which four are lit. One of these is out-of-area in Maine and two have bells, one at Gowanus Flats in New York Harbor’s Upper Bay and one in Raritan Bay just south of Staten Island. The remaining R “30” buoy is in Arthur Kill between Fresh Kills Reach and Tremley Point Reach. The 1947 chart edition does not show any buoy at this location, and the 1966 edition shows this buoy just south of a relatively new pier and dredged dock at the channel’s bend between these two reaches. The surrounding land on both sides of Arthur Kill at this location is low and marshy, which corresponds to what our photo shows. Two chimneys north of Tremley Point, as noted on Chart 285 of the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey, are just visible in the distance on our print, ahead of the tug’s pilot house.

U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey Chart 285, 1966, for the area covered by both photos, showing buoy R30.

The current Google satellite view shows the pier’s southwestern end collapsed into Fresh Kills Reach and the middle part of the pier is enclosed in what appears to be a steel-clad structure two or three storeys high, extending over the dock and supported on three large cylindrical caissons in Arthur Kill. The building extends inland some distance to at least 15 truck loading docks and the site includes baled material stacked on an associated hardstand and two loaded, uncovered barges moored at the remaining northeast pier. Google identifies this complex as the Pratt Industries Paper Division, whose own web site lists its activities as a paper mill for recycled corrugated cardboard. The whole complex is located just south of the Travis-Chelsea NRG Energy electricity generating plant, whose structures were first placed at this location in 1948 by Staten Island Edison. A road and conveyor system connect Pratt and NRG, making possible use of Pratt’s waste products as fuel for the power plant. Further research is needed to determine what the predecessors of the recycling facility were, in order to understand what cargo GLORIA MARU brought or took away in 1960.

In our photo GLORIA MARU appears to have just finished backing down and her engine has completed shifting to an ahead bell. Evidence for this activity is the flattening boil of propwash along her starboard quarter with a growing wash into the stream astern; and a dispersing cloud of smoke wafting toward the photographer. These ships were propelled by a single direct-drive 16-cylinder diesel engine, normally producing visible exhaust when revolutions are increased under maneuvering conditions. GLORIA MARU has backed out of her berth at Travis-Chelsea and is headed north toward Kill van Kull and New York Harbor. If the date is before April 8th then she’s bound for Norfolk; if it’s April 9, 1960 then she’s headed to Kobe, Japan via Panama.

The Why

The print in our collection lacked any material to substantiate its origin, either as notations on the print’s face or on its reverse side, or as an attachment. A search within the contents of all our Deeds of Gift might turn up a reference specific to this print, but such a search would consume far more resources than we have available. We are thus unable to determine where this photo should reside in one of our collections, but whether it should reside there is now easily answered: since our identification process has now placed the photo’s venue definitively on the Atlantic Coast, it clearly falls outside our area of interest and is most likely a candidate for de-accession from our collection.

Joe Baar has been fascinated with ships since his childhood on Brace Point. His lifelong avocation has included stints with the Sea Explorers, small-boat school courtesy of the U.S. Army, working on yachts on Lake Union, and amassing a large collection of maritime books.