Fleet profile – The C-5-S-75a Class

The C5-S-75a Class - Drawing by Karsten-Kunibert Krueger-Kopiske 2007

The C-5-S-75a class cargo ship is one of the last remaining bulk cargo ships that remain in service under the U.S. Flag.

An old shot of the President Taylor (shipspotting.com)

A total of 5 ships were constructed under this class at the Newport News Shipbuilding Co. in Newport News, VA from 1968 to 1969.  They entered the fleet just as containerization began to take hold, and thus were also one of the last break-bulk cargo ships build in an American shipyard. Initially all owned by the American Mail Lines, they were all eventually bought by the American President Lines (APL).

The 5 ships in the class were (current disposition/status in parentheses):

S.S. Alaskan Mail (S.S. Cape Girardeau – MARAD RRF)

S.S. Indian Mail (S.S. Cape Gibson – MARAD RRF)

S.S. American Mail (S.S. Cleveland – Sold for scrap, 2009)

S.S. Korea Mail (Scrapped, 1995)

S.S. Hong Kong Mail (Scrapped, 2008)

With excellent lines, a cruising speed of 21 knots, and passenger capacity of 12, these ships were truly proud and capable ships that represented what could be described as the Cadillac’s of the U.S. fleet at the time.  The ships were known to be interesting and a pleasure to serve on.  They had an elaborate library, a card room with etched glass partitions, mahogany furniture, and officer and crew messes on different decks.

The extremely detailed and excellent historical website on the U.S. Maritime Commission http://usmaritimecommission.de provides a historical summary of this class:

When Newport News delivered the ALASKAN MAIL to the American Mail Line Ltd.of Seattle, Washington they were the largest general cargoliners at this time. One characteristic feature on this vessel will be the Bipood masts designed by MacGregor. American Mail, incidentally, was the first U.S.vessel operator to adopt the Bipod mast cargo handling system in 1959, and the continued usage on all their subsequently built ships has made the distinctive appearing Bipod the pre-dominently recognizable characteristic of its Fleet. Designed for any kind of cargo the vessel can carry in various amounts breakbulk, liquid cargo and containers and made this vessels to the most versatile cargo ships at this time. Main turbines and gears were constructed by General Electric Corp. The main engine is a cross compound, double-reduction gear type with L-P and H-P turbine developing 21,600 shp at 102 rpm and 24,000 shp at 105 rpm. In October 1973 ALASKAN MAIL was sold to APL. In April she was renamed to PRESIDENT ADAMS. In April 1988 title was transferred to Marad and she was renamed to CAPE GIRARDEAU. INDIAN and KOREAN MAIL also sold to APL and renamed to PRESIDENT JACKSON and PRESIDENT TAYLOR. In March 1988 PRESIDENT JACKSON was transferred to Marad and renamed to CAPE GIBSON. PRESIDENT TAYLOR was sold in January 1989 to Lykes and renamed to STELLA LYKES. HONGKONG MAIL was sold in May 1978 to APL and renamed to PRESIDENT WILSON. She was again resold in May 1987 to Lykes and renamed to SUE LYKES. A remarkable career has the last ship of this class the AMERICAN MAIL. Delivered in October 1969, she was sold to APL in May 1978 and renamed to PRESIDENT CLEVELAND. Again resold in November 1988 to the New York based Victory Maritime Inc.and renamed in February 1989 to CLEVELAND, she is by this time (2007) still in service and one of the last remaining vessels of this time.

Find an even more detailed description of the class here.

A recent photo of the S.S. Wilson
The S.S. Cleveland shortly before scrapping. (shipspotting.com)

15 Comment

  1. sid fujinari says: Reply

    I’ve had the honor to sail on all 5 of these ships. I’ve sailed as AB on all five and deck maintenance a the SS President Cleveland, Wilson, and Adams if my memory serves me right. So as you see, I sailed them when Mail Lines were aquired by American President Lines out of the Sailor’s Union of the Pacific hall in Seattle. All were Seattle based though we picked up grain from Sacramento after the Mt.St.Helens eruptions interrupted passage through the Columbia river where we got grain in Portland Oregon. I sailed them from1980-1990 when the ships were beginning to be sold, scrapped or run by MSTS. They sailed so smoothly, steered like a charm even with 7 knots of current going up or down the mighty Columbia river. The “A” frame king post forward were like sights to aim at day markers.They carried each and everything and could go to a bare dock as Belawan on Sumatra to back load raw rubber.I’ll never  experience the thrill of setting up gear, splicing wire rope and improvise with snatch blocks to counter the outboard swing of the boom if using them at sea,etc. There are just too many memories, and they’re all in my heart!

  2. sid fujinari says: Reply

    Admit it. The billionaire ship owners have paid off the politicians to put enough holes in the Jones Act to be able to use it as a colander.   Why are all the clothes made in china or Bangladesh and other countries? Because billionaire corporations as Costco and other billionaire companies greed, not unpayable costs. I would much more Where Cathartt or Ben Davis to work on ships because they would last. I’ll pay difference, but the owners won’t dare take a cut for quality. Sad. Just when Warren Buffet, abillionaire himself admited it’s ludicrous thathe pays less tax than his secretary.

  3. Robert Holt says: Reply

    I was aboard the Alaskan Mail as 3rd Asst Engineer when she left Newport News for Seattle.  I sailed aboard her till 1970.  She is indeed a beautiful ship.

  4. sid fujinari says: Reply

    That must have been really a great experience to have taken it to her home port for her Maiden Voyage Robert! She was the SS President Adams when I sailed on her. When it was bad weather and I would go up for my quartermaster watch from inside, the name plate ” Alaskan Mail ” built in Newport News was always in sight before going through the chartroom to relieve my watch partner at the wheel.

  5. Sid Fujinari says: Reply

    I doubt that very much. It’s that the US is a two party, Both right wing country. The working man has a third of his pay cut with taxes while the billionaires, nay, trillionaire ship owners pay none and are so used to making but not paying that they refuse to sail under American Flag. As for restrictive operating enviroment, all the foreign Flag of convenience ships come and must pay the ILWU workers the same price as an American Flag ship therefore what is restrictive. I payed my tax and knew I needded to but the rich MUST or the countries industrie are all gone. That is now the case and has been, only colonialism, and third word exploitation is become a thing of the pas for developed countries. I admire the Scandanavian countries because socialism is not a bad word as it is here. If everyone payed their share (the rich) in this country, there would still be a viable merchant marine.

  6. R J Trahan says: Reply

    I’ve been searching for some time to discover the fate of the SS Cleveland. It’s bitter/sweet to discover she was sold for scrap in 2009.
    I sailed her off and on for several years in the ’90s. I even requested her (much to the amazement of the business agent) because she was a great ship. She road beautifully, slept great, and was a real pleasure to steer. I was AB and have many fine memories of the Cleveland from many voyages to numerous ports in Africa, the Med, and central and South America.
    It may seem a bit rediculous but I do still think of her from time to time and always with respect and admiration.
    Farewell ole girl! You were great!

  7. jeremy bert says: Reply

    I sailed as AB in the Indian Mail in 78 on the jungle run . Kenny Klouse Bosun. When we got back to the west coast she was renamed The President Jackson. Also made 2 trips on the Wilson (ex Hong Kong Mail) as 3rd Mate. Nervous Norman was Skipper. Later I made 2 trips on the Jackson as 2nd Mate with Weeping Willie as Cap. Then I went full circle and took an AB job to take her from Seattle to Hunter’s Point via Portland . We lost the plant in the Columbia River while I was on the wheel and the Pilot kept his cool steering the ship backwards around a horseshoe bend . Willie sent me forward to show the new green Chief Mate how to disengage the anchor windlass….My last job aboard a C5 was Chief Mate in the Taylor for Waterman SS Co. A crew of SIU Stiffs that thought being able to steer made you an AB. The run was to the Med and The Red Sea. We slushed gear on the Eastbound and cleaned the holds westbound

  8. Arie van der Hel says: Reply

    I have had the pleasure of working not on the SS Cleveland but staying alongside her for several trips, this was in 1991 or 1992. The Cleveland was at anchor in Talamone (Italy) for several weeks and we provided her with cargo (ammunition) from us army camp Darby in Pisa. Each trip we brought about 800 tons of ammo and discharging the cargo into the Cleveland mostly took 2 days, we would then sail back to Pisa to get another load. this went on for about six weeks. I know the Cleveland was under command of captain Gerald R. Williams from Dauthin, Alabama. As we were a small vessel with only 5 crew we were invited several times on board the Cleveland for Lunch, Dinner or just a drink (or 2) Each and every time i boarded her i was amazed by the fine way she was built, at a certain moment she was running out of dieseloil for her generator sets and we provided her with about 1000 gallons of fuel, we did not charge anything as we were in timecharter and had some fuel “left over” Once the operations were almost done and the Cleveland was getting ready to return to the U.S. Captain Williams asked us if we could use some leftover frozen food because all foreign food either had to be eaten or destroyed before entering U.S. waters. We responded that we were always happy with some extra food as this would save us a supermarket trip (like i said we were a small vessel with 5 crew)
    As we were discharging our last bit of ammunition into the Cleveland a great big green net totally filled with all kinds of food suddenly swung over the side and softly landed on our deck, all our freezers and fridges were totally filled up and we have been enjoying the food even weeks after the Cleveland left.
    We had a great time with all of the crew of SS Cleveland but unfortunatly lost contact and never heard anything since.
    Our shipsname was “Marina” and we were a dutch vessel with dutch crew.
    maybe anybody here remembers the “good old days”
    Regards, Arie van der Hel, now working as VTS operator at Terschelling, the Netherlands

  9. tim boehm says: Reply

    I sailed on the ss american mail as 2nd cook and baker. Was on her when we hit a reef in Indonesia. Then to sembowang ship yard in sing. From there they flew us all home. I had sailed on her some years before. My father sailed chief steward out of Portland for over 35 years. Like the loss of Pan am airways, i cry for the loss of our once great country.

  10. gary swan says: Reply

    Bob holt do you remember me we sailed together on Adams

  11. Michael P. Koppenhaver says: Reply

    I had the opportunity to sail upon S.S. PRESIDENT TAYLOR (ex. S.S. KOREAN MAIL) during my 2nd Sailing Period as a Deck Cadet from Kings Point. I boarded her in San Francisco, CA, as she loaded bulk rice in September 1985. We proceeded to Tacoma where we finished loading bulk rice into all holds; they threw big bales of burlap bags, sewing needles and twine on top. We topped off with 20 or so 40FT containers stuffed with cans of VegOil. We proceeded to Davao City, Philippines and offloaded to a feeder ship for 3 weeks in the stream; yep, that was tough work . . . work all day, ashore, then work all day, rinse/repeat! Kaoshiung, Taiwan to dishcarge the containers; Singapore for bunkers; Paradip, India to offload more rice; Visakapatnum, India for more discharge; finally Colombo, Sri Lanka, where my sailing partner, Todd Dailey (Engineer) and I departed. What a ship. It was truly the opportunity of a lifetime. It made my time a Chief Mate onboard M/V ADVANTAGE pale in comparison, in some respects. Miles of wire. A Deck Gang of 15 guys, including a Carpenter. Chief Mate was a former member of the Students for Democratic Society in the ’60’s and, man, did it show! A ship of characters, for sure. I have a picture of my two watchstanding AB’s and myself as Deck Cadet, in the KP boiler suit sporting a scruffy beard. That was many moons ago, for sure.

  12. Kurt Suleski says: Reply

    I was fortunate to sail the S.S. Cleveland in 1986 as an Engine Midshipman from Kings Point when it was the S.S. President Cleveland under American President Lines, and later as her 2nd Engineering Officer with Sealift, Inc. Sailing a ship with old historical design was the most interesting of my 8 year career in the Merchant Marine before moving shoreside. The crew compliment had billets such as 1st and 2nd Cook, Refrigeration man, Carpenter, Electrician, and Purser which are all from the distant past. the Chief Engineer in 1986 was a WWII Chief on his final voyage, and we had the traditional shellback initiation that year and also crossed the international dateline and became members of the Grand Order of the Dragon. That voyage was twelve foreign ports in 92 days. It was like sailing a 1940’s time capsule, traveling the far east and Indian ocean carrying twelve elderly passengers, raw rubber, urea, grain, containers and even railroad cars. As 2nd Engineer, I sailed the Cleveland in a multi-voyage four-island shuttle run from Diego Garcia, Singapore, Subic Bay Phillippines, and Guam. Ships of this vintage style will never be seen again except in Humphrey Bogart movies. I was sad to hear of her scrapping in 2009. It was the experience of a lifetime.

  13. tim boehm says: Reply

    Bob, that was my dad, he sailed chief steward out of portland for almost 40 years

  14. Steve Smith says: Reply

    Harold C. Smith long time SUP sailed on the American Mail when it was new. He loved sailing on Mail line ships. Sad announce his final departure on Oct. 6. 2014

  15. Jeff says: Reply

    Can you define AB for me ?

    thanks.

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