Video | Demolition firm cranes 1939 passenger ship ashore

Mitchell Demolition and Ainscough Crane Hire have worked together to lift 1939 passenger ship the Earl of Zetland ashore at the Albert Edward Dock in North Shields.

Two 500t mobile cranes were required to lift the steel hull vessel, which was registered as one of the UK’s National Historic Ships.

The ship was deployed during World War Two, during which she travelled more than 100,000 miles and carried approximately 600,000 servicemen to and from the Orkney Islands. The vessel is also believed to be one of many small ships involved in the evacuation of Dunkirk.

She was later converted into a diving support vessel, but in 1982 she was deemed no longer seaworthy and converted into a restaurant ship on the Thames near the Embankment. In 1998, she was moved to Albert Edward Dock, where she was again used as a floating restaurant.

In October 2020, an eight-week programme of work began on dismantling the vessel. Mitchell Demolition, which has specialised knowledge in ship breaking, was appointed by BoatFolk, owners of the Royal Quays Marina in which the vessel was located, to undertake the work.

While ships would normally be broken in a dry dock or slipway, there were no appropriate facilities in the marina. The vessel was also trapped inside the confines of the marina having been boxed in when the lock gates were reduced some years ago.

In advance of the lift, Mitchell Demolition stripped the interior, asbestos and oils from the vessel then gas cut the steel frame into manageable pieces before lifting the pieces out one by one to slowly reduce the vessel to a hollow barge.

Mitchell Demolition enlisted Ainscough Crane Hire to undertake the final lift of the vessel, which had an overall length of 48m and width of 9m.

The Earl of Zetland was lifted precisely by the two cranes between surrounding lampposts before being laid to rest on wasteland for scrapping.

Scott Hawes, area sales manager at Ainscough Crane Hire, said: “The Earl of Zetland was a vessel with a proud history, and after many years of service in a range of areas – from playing a role in World War Two to being a popular restaurant – we were happy to work with Mitchell Demolition to give her a dignified, and most importantly, safe send off. It’s for that reason we chose to go with the tandem use of two 500t cranes, which was the safest possible way to complete this lift.”

John Mitchell, managing director at Mitchell Demolition, said: “It was paramount to us that this operation was completed in an efficient, secure and most importantly safe manner that showed respect to such a historic vessel. We felt so much happier to use an experienced crane operator with the reputation of Ainscough – they didn’t disappoint and the lift went as planned with no complications. We wouldn’t hesitate in using them again.”

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