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Vessel type Sewage Disposal Tanker
Year launched 1966
Cargo type Sewage
Country of build United Kingdom

Launched in 1966, the effluents tanker Bexley was one of the last British ships involved in dumping sewage sludge at sea.

‘Bovril boats’

Known as the ‘Bovril boats’ because of the colour and consistency of their cargoes, the ships operated for more than 110 years and at their peak dumped more than 9m tonnes of sewage sludge off rivers including the Thames, Tyne, Clyde, Forth, Mersey, Solent and Humber.

Public outcry

London’s sewage sludge shipping operations began in 1887 following a Royal Commission review of the state of the Thames. This was launched in response to the public outcry over the deaths of as many as 700 passengers from the Princess Alice paddle steamer when it sank following a collision near to a raw sewage outfall at Gallions Reach in September 1878.

The inquiry concluded that the sludge removed from sewage during the treatment process should be dumped at sea to reduce the pollution of the Thames and a special fleet of six ships was built for the new trade.

For the next 111 years, the London-based sewage sludge ships would take their cargoes from Beckton and Crossness for disposal on the ebb tide at Black Deep, in the approaches to the Thames Estuary, some 12 miles off Foulness Point in Essex.

The build

Built by Dundee’s Caledon Shipbuilding & Engineering Company for the Greater London Council, the 2,432dwt Bexley was one of the last ships to operate the service. In 1974, ownership was transferred to the Thames Water Authority when it took over responsibility for London’s sewage treatment and disposal. Ownership changed again in 1990 when privatised operations began under the banner of Thames Water Utilities.


During the 1980s, the practice of sewage sludge dumping faced increasing opposition. Bexley was one of several vessels targeted by Greenpeace protests and the European Commission drafted a directive in 1987 which sought to bring the UK into line with other member states bordering the North Sea who had already stopped dumping.

At the end of 1998, the UK finally outlawed at-sea sewage sludge dumping – in line with European directives on urban wastewater treatment and bathing water quality. Bexley was sold to the Indian firm Tomini Shipping and switched to the Honduras flag before being broken up in Mumbai in August 2001.

Bexley fact file


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