For BASF, the Rhine has always been hugely important as a transport route. Proof of this is BASF’s own fleet of tanker ships which was in operation right up to the middle of the last century.
Elaborately designed and equipped with the highest technological standards to ensure the special transport of chemicals, the six ships of BASF’s tanker fleet regularly undertook the journeys from Oppau to Basel or to the Netherlands, and were responsible for delivering the lion’s share of goods to the company for many years.
The first ship in the fleet, “BASF 1,” began its service in 1898 and was used to transport sulfuric acid to Leverkusen. In 1925, “BASF 2” was added to the fleet and was mainly used to transport nitric acid. Both ships had an impressive loading capacity of approximately 500 metric tons. Joining in 1927, the “Justus von Liebig” was designed to transport sulfuric acid, as was the “Rudolf Knietsch,” which was added to the fleet in 1938. Two more ships rounded off the fleet in 1937 and 1938. The “Friedrich Wöhler” and “Fritz Haber” were used to transport ammonia and ammonia water.
The tankers generally had a crew of three people: the captain, the sailor and the cabin boy. While the sailor was also responsible for monitoring the machinery, the cabin boy was tasked with cleaning the ship and – if the captain traveled without his wife – cooking the meals.
In those days, the captain’s job was as demanding as it is today: He had to keep an eye on the water level and the weather, as well as the wandering gravel banks of the Upper Rhine, to ensure he brought the approximately 500,000 DM ship safely into harbor.
During the summer months, the ship’s crew worked for around 14 hours a day; in winter, they worked for twelve hours. A total of around eight days was planned for the entire journey from Ludwigshafen to Leverkusen and back, including filling and draining the cargo. “Die BASF,” the company magazine, reported on the (at the time) cutting-edge fleet and its equipment in 1952: “Central heating, electric light and clean running water are as much part of the equipment as the radio communications system, which (…) enables telephone connection to all outside lines on land within two to three minutes, thanks to the Rhine radio communication.”
Only “BASF 2” was destroyed by an air strike near Leverkusen in 1944; all other tankers remained in service after the end of World War II. BASF may no longer have its own fleet of tankers, but twelve ships still dock at the Port of Ludwigshafen and the North Harbor each day.