Zoroaster: The World’s First Tanker Ship

Zoroaster – the first tanker ship in the world revolutionized the transportation of liquid cargo. Tanker are an essential cog in the oil transportation operations and their operational existence dates back to the late 1800s, when Swede Ludwig Nobel came up with the idea of transporting oil in tanks securely contained within ships.

History of the Zoroaster Tanker Ship

Prior to the usage of tanker ships, oil was transported by a crude method across water channels. Casks and drums were filled with oil and then transported to the necessary locations. This caused problems not only in terms of the time consumed to load the vessels but also in terms of security and safety concerns for the oil thus stored within the vessels.

This method of transportation through ships was a common in the Soviet Republic, especially in Azerbaijan province of Baku where most of the rock oil excavation operations were concentrated.

Zoroaster Tanker Ship
Representation Image

After carefully observing the transportation methods to ferry the excavated oil between the production areas and to the refineries, Ludvig Nobel proposed an alternative method where instead of filling casks with the excavated oil and then loading them up onto the ships, a pipeline would directly fill the excavated rock oil into the storage tanks built within the vessel. The idea of constructing tanker ships was thus implemented.

While considering the idea of making tanker ships, the construction of the oil tanks within the vessel were also systematically looked into. This was because if the tanks were constructed quite close to the engine and boiler compartments, there could be chances of mishap. Or even in case of absence of proper ventilation, accidents and detonations could be caused. In this context of the tanker vessel’s construction, the contribution of Ludwig Nobel’s brother Robert Nobel is also equally important.

Initially Ludwig Nobel’s proposal was met with resistance and there were not many maritime professionals who believed that his idea could work. However setting aside the doubts of the maritime community, Nobel succeeded in constructing a 12-kilometre (km) long pipe to transport the oil from the drilling zones directly to the vessel in the year 1877. Simultaneously, the Swedish innovator also ordered the construction of a vessel specifically including the above considerations in the same year at a Swedish shipbuilding yardZoroaster – The World’s First Tanker Ship was thus built.

Salient Features of the World’s First Tanker

Named for the Persian prophet Zarathustra, the world’s first tanker ship – the Zoroaster tanker was put into operation in the year 1878. The tanker ship was built with steel (Bessemer variance) while its oil tanker holds were built of iron.

For its time, the tanker ship Zoroaster was quite technologically advanced. It was also reinforced with ballast tanks to balance it on water for better ease in the transportation of its cargo.

The Zoroaster tanker measured over 180 feet lengthwise with a breadth of over 35 feet and a draught of about 10 feet. Around 240 gross tons of crude lamp oil (kerosene) could be ferried by the vessel between the provinces of Astrakhan and Baku along the River Volga and the Caspian Sea route.

After the successful employment of Zoroaster, the Nobel brothers commissioned eight more vessels for their corporation Branobel in the following years, with suitable constructional modifications as required. Each of the vessels’ operation was just as productive as that of Zoroaster which in essence shaped the utilisation of tankersto suit the needs of major maritime operations for centuries to come. Zoroaster Tanker Ship is thus considered the cradle of modern tanker shipping.

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