Al mashriq - The Levant

By Captain A.A. Brickhouse, Jr.

Reprinted from World Petroleum, June, 1957
(The reprint was made specially for public
relations distribution for Tapline in 1957.)

As a supertanker loads one mile offshore at berth No. 1, the raised position of indicator No. I on the large hydraulic valves (left) indicates that the appropriate valve is open. These hydraulic valves can be closed by line pressure during loss of power or other emergency. The smaller, electrically operated valves (right) are used to control the loading rate and can be operated manually in case of necessity.

The growing size of tankers, now passing into the "Mammoth" class, has focused attention on terminal facilities around the world capable of accommodating them. One of the world's most efficient and modern terminals, capable of caring for any tanker which may call, is the Sidon terminal of Tapline. It is described here by its superintendent, in charge of its operations.

The story of Tapline is a many faceted one. From Qaisumah, Saudi Arabia, the Trans-Arabian Pipe Line Co.'s 30in. to 31in. crude line first threads its way through the gravel plains and sands of one of the world's most desolate desert areas. Then, from the Saudi Arabian frontier, it traverses arid Jordan and the bleak plains of Syria, finally crossing the eroded ridges of Lebanon's Litani River valley near the ruins of historic Beaufort Castle and within the shadow of Mount Hermon to reach the Mediterranean, 754 miles from Qaisumah, in a story-book setting just south of the ancient Phoenician port of Sidon.

History, geography, difficult terrain, natural beauty, unusual wind and weather conditions, and a high degree of engineering and operating initiative have combined to give Tapline a position unique in the world petroleum industry.

From Qaisumah, where it receives its crude from the gathering system of the Arabian American Oil Co., Tapline currently pumps by means of four stations located at approximately 180-mile intervals in Saudi Arabia about 345,000 b/d to its Mediterranean terminal - an open - roadstead model of efficiency and new techniques designed to meet loading conditions experienced in few other places in the world.

Here, through extensive use of instrumentation and the latest labor-saving devices, only seven men are required to handle all shore operations on each shift. They include a shift foreman, tank-control operator, gauger, powerhouse operator, shorecontrol operator, pumper, and cargo inspector.

Captain A. A. Brickhouse, Jr., superintendent of the Sidon terminal, has been with the Trans-Arabian Pipe Line Co., its affiliated and owner companies, since 1937. From 1947 until transfer to Tapline in 1951, he was assistant superintendent of marine operations for the Arabian American Oil Co. at Ras Tanura, Saudi Arabia. He has also been a relief captain of The Texas Co.'s tanker fleet. During World War II Captain Brickhouse served in the US Naval Reserve in both the Atlantic and Pacift theatres, and was an instructor in navigation, mathematics, and maritime law at the Merchant Marine Officers School, Fort Trumbull, New London, Conn. He was released from active duty in 1946, with the rank of lieutenant commander. He is a native of Norfolk, Va.

As a result of an intensive training program which is in line with the company's fixed policy of doing everything possible to aid the economic and social advancement of the areas in which it operates, Tapline has been able to develop a highly efficient staff of Lebanese nationals. Each employee, as he gains proficiency in his job, is rotated to other jobs until he is familiar with all phases of terminal operations. In addition, each employee is trained in fire-fighting techniques.

At Tapline's terminal, the incoming oil is funneled into a 20-unit tank farm with a maximum capacity of 3,600,000 bbl. and a normal high operating level of 3,500,000 bbl. However, an attempt is made to maintain normal terminal stocks at about 1,000,000 bbl, which is considered as average safe storage.

The following statistics give some idea of the complexities of the terminal operation:

    Total length of crude lines: 23.16 miles.
    Total length of bunker lines: 12.18 miles.
    Total length of all lines: 35.34 miles.
    Total crude line fill: 80,732 bbl.
    Total fuel-oil line fill: 7,535 bbl.
    Total terminal line fill: 88,267 bbl.

Incoming oil is pumped from Turaif, the last of the pump stations in Saudi Arabia, located 246 miles to the east at a 2,719-ft elevation, over the plains of Syria and Jordan and the mountains of Lebanon. At normal flow rates, the pressure of the oil stream entering the terminal is maintained at about 430 psi to keep the line filled as it passes over the mountains. This means that line pressure over the mountains can always be controlled and held slightly above atmospheric pressure to prevent creation of large gas pockets in the line which might result in uncontrollable pressure fluctuations or surges. At reduced flow rates, the terminal back pressure is raised and reaches 960 psi when flow stops.

Pressure of the incoming stream is controlled by means of a "harp." This "harp," or pressure reducing station, was designed under the guidance of the late Harry Britton, executive vice president. As the oil enters the "harp," it is divided into 12 smaller streams, each passing through a control valve and a friction tube. The 12 streams then are joined again and enter the tank-farm manifold which directs flow into the desired tanks.

The 180,000-bbl storage tanks in the tank farm of Tapline's Sidon terminal are located on a hill, approximately 350 ft above the Mediterranean Sea - permitting the crude oil stored there to flow by gravity to the tanker berths.

Each of the 12 assemblies in the "harp" consists of one double-seated air-operated control valve followed by 40 ft of 3-in. pipe containing a nest of seven 1-in.-diameter stainless-steel tubes. Three of the assemblies are controlled automatically by a back-pressure controller connected to the incoming line, the set point of which is adjusted remotely by the operator in the control house. The remaining nine assemblies are simply opened or closed remotely by the operator as the situation requires to hold the valves on the three automatic assemblies between 40% and 70% open.

The valve on each of these automatic assemblies is provided with a position indicator located in the control house. In the course of the start-up procedure, when these valves reach 70% open position, the operator opens an additional nonautomatic assembly - thus dividing the flow and bringing the three automatic assemblies back into their normal control range.

The crude-oil tank farm is on a bluff approximately 350 ft above sea level. This permits the oil to flow by gravity from the tanks through the shore-control manifold and submarine pipelines and loading hoses to five tanker berths about a mile offshore.

Flow to the tankers is controlled at the shore manifold. Five crude lines run from the tank-farm manifold to the shore-control manifold. At the shore manifold, each of the five lines is equipped with an hydraulically operated gate valve in series with and upstream of two parallel motor-operated plug valves. The hydraulically operated gate valve provides emergency shutoff of the stream entering the tanker. These valves are remotely controlled by two air operated three-way control valves. These, in turn, bleed pressure off the top of the piston in the hydraulic valve and simultaneously supply pressure underneath the piston to raise it and open the gate valve. The hydraulic valve closes when air is released from the three-way control valves, or if the air supply fails.

A tanker "hoses up" for loading at the Sidon terminal. A 12-in. rubber hose connects the ship's manifold with the 12in. submarine hose, 200 ft long, which in turn connects with an under-water crude-loading pipeline. Most berths are also equipped with another submarine pipeline and hose for loading bunkers.

The two plug valves on each berth line are 16-in. Merco-Nordstrom valves operated by Limitorque motors. One of these plug valves can only be fully opened or closed remotely by the operator. The second plug valve is equipped with a Synchrotie position indicator on the shore-control board, and the operator can hold the valve by remote control in any position from zero to 100% open. The operator varies the flow rates as requested from the tanker by operating the plug valves. A pressure recorder for each berth is located on the shore-control board, enabling the operator to note instantaneously any change in loading conditions.


Since it began operations, Tapline has consistently endeavored to persuade the operators of ships calling at Sidon to equip their vessels properly for open-sea loading berths. Some factors are:

  1. Separate ballast tanks which will permit loading to begin as soon as the hose is connected.
  2. Equipment aboard ship which will permit a high rate of loading without back pressure from the vessel restricting the flow. For example the largest tankers handled loaded at only 18,000 bbl per hour, while many T-2's have loaded at 25,000 bbl per hour.
  3. Adequate mooring equipment. This last is extremely important. Ships loading in an unprotected port must have good ground tackle (anchor and anchor chain), and it must be in first-class condition. Ships up to 28,000 dwt should have at least 10 shots of anchor chain (900 ft), and the new larger tankers should have more. Larger tankers will need ms much as 15 shots of chain (1,350 ft) to each anchor.

Cargo lines, to the tanker berths are 20 in., 24 in., or 30 in. in diameter, with eight 25-ft sections of 12-in. loading hose fitted to the end of each cargo line. One 18-in. bunker line has recently been converted to a cargo line.

Tankers calling at Tapline's terminal are moored with the bow seaward, secured by the vessel's anchors. Each of the berths is supplied with five mooring buoys, 6 1/2 ft in diameter and 12 ft long and firmly anchored to the sea bed. Each is fitted with a pelican hook. The buoys are ranged about 500 ft from the ship to take two breast lines, two stern quarter lines, and a stern line. This system results in a somewhat flexible mooring so there will be a certain amount of "spring" to the ship in swells.

Tapline uses 14 mooring masters-all former tanker captains - to advise the ship's master on all matters regarding, mooring and loading. The ship is brought into the berth with the aid of large target panels onshore. For night berthing, these panels are lighted. The tanker is maneuvered so that its loading connections will center in a theoretical circle, 25 ft in diameter, over the loading hoses. In rough weather this calls for a high degree of seamanship and teamwork between the mooring master and the launches which carry the ships' lines to the mooring buoys.

Mooring Layout: Sidon oil loading terminal south of the town of Sidon - Lebanon. Important: This map is not to be used for navigation.

Tapline operates seven launches from a small man-made L-shaped harbor in the terminal area. These launches are all manned by Lebanese whose excellent seamanship, in the tradition of their Phoenician ancestors, is recognized throughout the world.

The hooking-up process begins immediately after mooring. The cargo, and bunker hoses, resting on the sea bed, are marked by separate buoys at each berth. The launch picks up the line to the cargo hose and passes it to the tanker crew which hoists the hose to, a point somewhat above the deck. The launch crew then passes an elbow joint and additional hose to the tanker to secure the loading hose to its manifold. A similar procedure is followed if bunkers are needed.

For periods of rough weather, the Tapline staff has developed a unique quick-release mechanism which will permit a tanker to drop its loading hoses in less than 60 sec. in emergencies.

1951 1952 1953 1954 1955 1956
Average b/d lifted at Sidon 298,768 309,274 311,183 318,823 311,631 320,826
Total number of cargoes 920 992 926 898 843 827
Average barrels per tanker 118,533 114,107 122,658 129,588 134,929 141,986
Most b/d lifted at Sidon 782,018 1,081,067 1,109,796 896,029 1,062,286 922,406
Average bph loading rate per berth 14,500 15,114 16,480 18,372 18,590 18,964
Hours port closed by weather 500 605 836 696 412 1,045 1/2
Approximate port operating hours 16:30 14:00 14:00 13:00 13:30 13:30
Approximate delays 13:30 3:30 1:30 5:00 4:30 6:30
Approximate overage time in port 30:00 17:30 15:30 18:00 18:00 20:00

Tapline maintains, on a 24-hour operating basis, LF and HF radiotelegraph and VHF FM radiotelephone facilities for communicating directly with tankers at sea destined for loading and with tankers in berth or berthing.

(Map of the Trans Arabian Pipeline)

Through these facilities the ships are able to give ETA information 72, 24, 12, and 2 hours in advance of their arrival. Thus, notice of order of loading, berthing, general information, terminal weather conditions, and technical questions are settled in advance and terminal personnel alerted for the ship arrivals.

All launches are provided with VHF FM radio transmitter-receivers and the mooring masters carry with them VHF portable units when boarding a ship. During berthing and loading operations these VHF FM radiotelephone harbor-control facilities provide highly reliable liaison and control communications between ship and shore, allowing maximum use of the terminal loading facilities.

Tapline was one of the first, if not the first, to provide this complete all-radio control of ship arrival, berthing, loading, and departure at a marine oil terminal. In addition the Tapline terminal is the western terminus for the pipeline dispatching and general purpose HF radiotelephone and radioteletype circuits.

The company's headquarters in Beirut, 30 miles to the north, and the terminal are connected by a duplex VHF carrier teletype circuit. This circuit carries all cable traffic regarding ship nominations and terminal operations plus terminal loading information, lifting cables, ship ETA's from the radio message center at the terminal, and such other miscellaneous traffic for which a written record is required.

As a navigational service for ships at sea destined for Sidon, Tapline operates a low-frequency marine radio beacon on a continuous basis. These communication facilities-which provide the channels for control, liaison, and safety - are an important factor in the high operating efficiency of the terminal.

In the shore-control room at the. Sidon terminal, Nicola Khoury, a Lebanese operator, inserts a pressure-recorder chart on the control panel. Through an intensive training program, Tapline has developed a highly skilled staff of Lebanese nationals.

Weather has always been an important element in Tapline's terminal operations. Situated at the base of a mountain range, where some peaks reach 10,000 ft, in relatively shallow water (the depth of the deepest berth is 60 ft), the Tapline roadstead is often subject to sudden and severe storms. Although the winds are usually from the west, they can shift with astonishing rapidity, especially in the winter months, and a ship's mooring facilities must be adequate to withstand them. Sudden storms are particularly prevalent during the. months of January, February, and March. Despite this, the port has a low incidence of closure because of weather conditions. Since its opening in December 1950, the terminal has been closed only 4,361 hours, or an average of about 30 days a year.

In 1956, the weather factor was the worst in Tapline's history. The port was closed 46 times, but the average closure was for less than 22 hours, and the longest 100 hours. Safety factors are, of course, always given primary consideration in any decision to close the port. However, with careful tanker scheduling, the maximum number of tankers held in port by weather during any one day was only seven. The flow through the pipeline never was slowed because of lack of storage in the tank farm, since the capacity of the tankage never was reached.

Since the start of operations, Tapline has loaded over 700 million barrels of crude through its submarine lines to its offshore berths. In a single 24-hour period it has put as much as 1,200,000 bbl aboard vessels. In 1951, with an average delivery to ships of 298,768 b/d, the average cargo was 118,533 bbl and was lifted by 920 tankers. In 1956, the average delivery to ships was 320,826 b/d, and the average cargo was 141,986 bbl which was lifted by 827 tankers (see table).

So far, Tapline has moored and loaded over 5,700 tankers ranging in size from 5,000 dwt too 38,000 dwt. Tapline feels that it has compiled an impressive record of operations in its less than seven years of existence, and it looks to the future to give it an even more important role to play in the world oil picture.

By early 1958, the company expects to have completed a capacity increase program which will step up its present daily average through put by about 90,000 bbl. This capacity increase is being achieved in two steps, as follows:

In control room of terminal's tank farm, Lebanese operator George Asmar makes an adjustment by remote control on the back-pressure control system (right). Gauges (center) indicate amount of oil in each storage tank. Manifold controls (left) indicate pressure on each line, and contain remotecontrol switches for opening and closing the various valves.

1. A radio-controlled auxiliary pumping unit, driven by a 5,000-hp General Electric combustion gas turbine, will be installed at each of three intermediate locations between existing pump stations in Saudi Arabia, and a new station incorporating a combustion gas turbine will be built in Jordan. These units will be started or stopped by means of a VHF radio link with the existing upstream station. A similar unit will be installed at Turaif, westernmost of the pump stations, to meet additional horsepower requirements.

2. Supplemental booster pumps, totaling 1,200 hp, will be installed at each of the other three pump stations to raise the pressure entering the present main-line pumps.

Meanwhile, extensive preparations are now under way at the terminal to improve and speed up loading facilities. At present, Tapline can load at rates up to 30,000 bbl per hour, with the actual loading rate depending pretty much on the individual tanker's equipment. Vessels now calling at the terminal average 7 1/2 hours to load, and up to 18 hours in port. It is expected that the new and larger supertankers will be equipped to load at rates of 40,000 bbl per hour. Tapline will be able to provide this rate, when needed, by the use of larger hose and looped lines.

The "supers" will require about the same average time in port as most of the vessls now being loaded, except in the case of the very largest vessels when a somewhat longer loading period will be necessary. For instance, at a 40,000 bbl-per-hour rate, the largest of the supertankers, a 100,000tonner, with a 750,000-bbl load capacity, could be loaded in 18 3/4 hours.

In addition to the use of larger hoses and looped lines Tapline's plans for meeting the trend toward bigger and bigger tankers calls for the installation of additional mooring buoys of the floating- cylinder type. They will be the same as the buoys presently in use, except that they will be built to withstand a pull of 200 or more tons as against a present 100-ton pull.

Tapline's terminal staff is not concerned so much with the size of the vessels it has to load as it is with the equipment the ships carry. It believes that builders of every large tanker should include provisions for safe and efficient handling at submarine berths. While Tapline feels it can handle any tanker which is nominated in the ordinary course of business, the company reserves the right to refuse to load a vesseI which it considers to have insufficient equipment.

In any event, Tapline is fully prepared for the new era of supertankers. It has the throughput, and it is confident it has the equipment, the personnel, and the know how.