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The oldest working cargo ship in the world (1873)

PortandTerminal.com, September 18, 2020

HALIFAX, NOVA SCOTIA – The 82-foot cargo ship Nordlys — which translates to “Northern Lights” in English — dates back to 1873 making it very possibly the world’s oldest cargo vessel still in operation.

The ship is a wooden ketch built on the Isle of Wight, on the southern coast of England, where she began her life in 1873 as a fishing trawler. The ship has no engine and to this day still operates strictly under sail.

Wooden ketch at sea
The 82-foot Nordlys is a wooden ketch built on the Isle of Wight, on the southern coast of England, where she began her life in 1873 as a fishing trawler.

The Nordlys’ operator Fairtransport is the world’s first modern ’emission-free’ shipping company and is based in the Netherlands.

Nordlys was restored in 2014 and since it was added to the company’s fleet in 2015. She has safely completed 5 grand European voyages. She ships organic cargo — typically organic and traditionally crafted goods like wine, whisky and olive oil — between European ports.

The Nordlys carries a maximum of 30 tons of cargo and accommodates a crew of 3 professionals and 6 trainees.

About Fairtransport

Sailing ship
The Tres Hombres, originally a 1943 Brigantine minesweeper, was the first purchased by Fairtransport

The company Fairtransport was started in the Netherlands in 2007 by three friends — Arjen van der Veen, Jorne Langelaan, and Andreas Lackner – (aka The Tres Hombres) — with the vision to be a zero-emissions cargo company powered by sail alone.

Fairtranport company founders Arjen van der Veen, Jorne Langelaan, and Andreas Lackner – (aka The Tres Hombres)

Their first vessel purchase was a 1943 Brigantine minesweeper that they refitted to carry 35 tons of cargo – renaming her quite aptly, the Tres Hombres. By 2009 they started sailing across the Atlantic Ocean bringing back Rum, Coffee and Chocolate from Northern Brazil, Grenada, the Dominican Republic and Barbados. 

When back in Europe, via the Canary Islands, they deliver to Portugal, France, England, Spain, Germany, Holland and Denmark, also trading in European wine and olive oil.

Wooden sailing ship. Wooden barrel being loaded
Loading cargo onto the ship
Wooden barrels. Sacks. Wooden ship. Flag.
Offloading another cargo delivery from the Tres Hombres PHOTO: Tres Hombres

The company is committed to sailing cargo emission-free focussing on products that are organic, fairly traded or crafted traditionally. They personally meet all of the growers, suppliers and buyers at every step to ensure they can guarantee the products they are delivering. The Tres Hombres was the world’s only engineless cargo ship until they purchased the Nordlys.

With additional reporting by the good people at ecohustler – check out their full feature on Fairtransport by clicking here.

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