What’s with those ships moored off of Bethany?

I am the fellow who normally writes pickleball articles, but this story has nothing to do with pickleball and everything to do with curiosity. I thought folks who live here might like to know about those giant ships that were anchored off of Bethany Beach all summer and fall.

I was walking the boardwalk for therapy for my knee replacements, and periodically would ask folks in uniform or lifeguards what they knew about those giants. I asked one younger person what he knew about the ships, and he looked up at me from his cell phone and said, “What ships?”

At that moment I reflected on how Gen. George Washington must have felt when he asked the sentry about the 130 British warships that had collected off the tip of Manhattan. Washington might have asked Sgt. Baker from the 1st Delaware Regiment, one of Col. Haslet’s boys, perhaps more formally than this, “What’s with those ships?” Baker, as he looked up from his card game, might have responded “What ships?” (I always wondered how he started in the militia as a sergeant and ended up as a private.)

But back to those ships… Distance made them seem smaller, but both ships were as wide as a large tugboat, and two and a half football fields long. They were officially recorded as moored in the Big Stone Beach Anchorage, which I think of as inside of the mouth of the Delaware River, but I guess the parking lot was filled.

Approximately 50 to 60 crew members on both ships were playing table tennis and computer games and, I suspect, periodically pulling out the ship’s telescope to check out the beach. Well, at least until they spied me looking out at them, scratching my head…

Both ships were specifically built to haul liquefied petroleum gas products, such as ethane, propane, butane, etc. Liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) is a cleaner residential heating alternative. The price of LPG has been declining — not because of demand, but because crude oil prices have been dampening them. As new oil drilling methods become more popular in Ohio and Pennsylvania, they are able to extract new reserves of natural gas, and pipelines bring the gas to a new LPG port in Wilmington on the Delaware River.

One ship was the Concorde — an LPG tanker built in Korea, incorporated in the Marshall Islands, owned by a Greek company, but flying the flag of the Bahamas. I doubt if there was a tax dodge there — they were just trying to be inclusive — and the following might prove my point.

Last August, the owners required an additional $70 million Japanese loan to supplement the original $758 million dollar purchase in 2015. While sitting idle off our beach, the company claimed in a press release last September an improvement in the average daily operational cost of all of their fleet of tankers to $7,800, but (there is always a but) the fleet’s financial results in August were a $20 million loss on $27 million in revenues.

Now that’s taking gas.

Their ship sat out there for possibly six months, other than a replenishment run up to the Wilmington port.

Getting a handle on the background of both ships has been a bit like trying to catch sandcrabs. The other ship, the Karoline N, was also built in Korea, flew a Liberian flag, was registered in Monrovia, but was owned by General Ore International, which is a mysterious corporation listing an address in Washington, D.C., about a mile from the White House. One source I found was from the leaked Panama Papers that tied so many world leaders to financial tax dodges.

But another maritime source reported that the Karoline N is now owned by a company in Singapore and managed by a company in Panama. Talk about inclusive! The owner of that company lives in Los Angeles and had his mansion on sale last year for $67 million, because apparently a $150,000 margin trade gone south put the company in bankruptcy. Well, this speaks volumes about eating butter rather than margin.

Well, I can report both ships finally must have worked out their problems, because they have been tearing around the world at about 20 mph. Both ships first went up to the new LPG terminal at the Port of Wilmington operated by, with a 50-year lease, Gulftainer — a division of Cresent Petroleum in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates. Gulftainer’s website boasts of their business relationship with a Washington, D.C.-based lobbyist firm whose owner once worked for my old Sigma Chi fraternity brother, now House Majority Whip.

These ships have interesting lives. The first to get the call from the Bethany Beach dugout was the Concorde, to take a load of one of the LPG products to a port 3,300 miles from Delaware, in the Benelux, where they anchored for more than a week in the English Channel before unloading in a special LPG port in Antwerp.

The Karoline N later got their call to go to the Port of Wilmington, and then, after a week or so, headed out 3,200 to a small port in North Africa, across from Gibraltar in Spanish-held Ceuta.

Interestingly, the returning Concorde and the Karoline N looked to me as if they would pass one another in the middle of the Atlantic. I wonder if it was night.

But the Concorde then sped down to the Caribbean, around Florida, and to a port in Galveston, Texas. When the Karoline N returned, she sailed to Houston. But the Concorde had already departed, now headed toward the Panama Canal. Then, the Karoline N departed for the Panama Canal, as if they were in a race around the world, and they both exited on the exact same course, but eventually, after several weeks, took different headings.

As I write this, the Concorde, after a 30-day voyage from Texas, moored at a port in Korea named Yeosu, and unloaded in 24 hours. She is now 7,200 miles away, and now indicates she is due in five weeks in the LPG terminal in Panama City, Fla. In the meantime, the Karoline N is still steaming along at 14 knots for several more weeks, headed for another huge port, in Chiba, Japan.

Because of the sanctions placed on Iran, there has been a tremendous reduction in Iran’s liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) exports, of more than 50 percent. So the products shipped from these American refineries will likely fill the void.

It is interesting that decisions of policymakers in the nation’s capital can determine how long the crew sits on those ships at these various ports, and if dock workers in Wilmington can send their kids to college or if Delaware Bay pilots will be fully employed.

Watching those ships, as they chug along at about 20 mph, literally circumnavigating the world, is a good barometer of the global economy. Walk the beach to stay in shape for pickleball, and watch these global ships sail back and forth between Delaware and other LPG ports around the world.

Vaughn “The Baron” Baker is a Senior Olympics gold-medalist in pickleball, and is public relations director for the First State Pickleball Club (FSPC) and captain of the Ocean View Crew pickleball community. He spent his career working with top tennis professionals while working for Wilson Sporting Goods and introducing the Prince Tennis Racket and Wimbledon Tennis Lines. He also knows more about global shipping than we ever realized. For more information, visit PickleballCoast.com.


By Vaughn Baker

Special to the Coastal Point