x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 July 2017

Time Frame: Boarding ships the hard way in Dubai Creek

This photo, taken in the mid-1950s by the oil worker John Vale, shows passengers boarding an India-bound ship that is moored offshore because the Creek was unnavigable.

Courtesy of John Vale
Courtesy of John Vale

Dredging in Dubai Creek did not begin until 1959. By then, the build-up of sand across the harbour mouth had made the waterway unnavigable to seagoing ships and seriously threatened the commercial future of the port.

Departing from and arriving at Dubai in the mid-1950s involved scenes like this, with larger vessels mooring offshore while passengers and cargo came and went in fleets of small boats.

It was an operation that could be uncomfortable and sometimes dangerous. In 1961, the MVDara caught fire following an explosion - widely believed to have been caused by a bomb brought on board by Omani rebels - while forced to put out to sea in bad weather. At least 283 people died.

The photograph here was taken by John Vale, who worked in the oil industry. His travels took him across Abu Dhabi, Sharjah and Dubai and in the coming months Time Frame will showcase a number of his images. The passengers here are leaving for India on board the MVDe Eerens, operated by the Dutch shipping company Koninklijke Paketvaart-Maatschappi (KMP), which ran a network of routes across the Indian Ocean to former Dutch colonies and today is better known as Maersk. The De Eeerens, laid down in 1947, was eventually sold to an Indonesian line, but ended up at the bottom of the Bay of Jakarta after capsizing and sinking in 1977.

Scenes like this - the anxious faces of workers returning home - still take place in the UAE every day. It is just that the setting is now an airport departure lounge, rather than a rocking lighter tethered to a tramp steamer.

Time Frame is a series that opens a window into the nation's past. Readers are invited to make contributions to yourpics@thenational.ae