A total of 525 T-2 tankers were built in U.S. shipyards between 1942 and 1945. Of these, 481 were designated T2-SE-A1, 43 were classed as A2 and one was an A3. However, the entire fleet had the same dimensions: 523.5 feet long by 68 feet in beam and 39 feet in depth. The ships were turbo-electric drive steamers, but the A1s were 6,000 horsepower and the A2s and A3s operated at 10,000 horsepower.
During World War II, a dozen of these ships were lost, leaving more than 400 designated as surplus by the U.S. government after the war.
It cost the U.S. government just over $3 million to construct each ship. Under the 1946 Merchant Ship Sales Act, the ships were valued at $2,026,500 apiece, but that amount could be reduced to $1,505,352 depending on the condition of the vessel.
By 1949, 447 T-2 tankers were sold by the U.S. government to private owners: 244 going to U.S. owners, 71 to the Panamanian flag, of which most were under U.S. control, 51 to Great Britain and the remainder to 10 allied countries.
Of the 244 T-2 tankers that remained under the U.S. flag, 31 went to the Standard Oil Company of New Jersey; 21 to Gulf Oil; 15 to National Bulk Carriers; 13 to the Texas Co. (TEXACO) and Cities Service; nine to Barber Asphalt and the Trinidad Corp.; eight to Independent Tankers; six each to Atlantic Refining, Keystone, North American, Paco, Sun Oil and Tidewater; and 111 to other companies.
The largest owner of foreign-flag T-2 tankers was Overseas Tankership, a jointly owned company of Standard Oil of California and TEXACO. Accordingly, all 40 ships bore the prefix “Caltex” in their names.
By the mid-1950s, many of these wartime tankers were aging and their commercial owners were faced with either expensive overhauls or contracting for replacement tonnage.
In the 15 years since the war, the average deadweight tonnage of tankers had been increasing, with the largest ships over 80,000 tons. However, the 16,600-ton T-2 tanker was a handy, well-built ship that could enter most ports of the world and the turbo-electric power plants were proven reliable.
A third alternative was proposed by the Baltimore-based Maryland Shipbuilding and Drydock Co. and that was to enlarge or “jumboize” the existing bow and stern and replacing the mid or cargo section with a newly built midsection.
After analyzing conversion cost, shipowners found that three T-2 tankers could be converted at the cost of building one new tanker. Another advantage to conversion was the time factor. The new midbody, measuring about 400 feet in length, could be built while the existing ship was still in service. Depending on the need of the shipowner, the deadweight, beam and depth of the midsection could be increased to better suit the intended trade.
The first T-2 tanker to be jumboized was the Gulfmeadows of the Gulf Oil Co. in early 1957. This work was done at the Key Highway yard of Bethlehem Steel in Baltimore. The new 354-foot-long cargo midsection was built at the nearby Sparrows Point Shipyard. The new midbody increased the beam of the ship seven feet, its length to 572 feet and its deadweight to 20,168 long tons. Although it took 114 days to build the midsection, the actual conversion of the ship took only 36 days. The original midship deck house was welded to the new midbody and the ship was renamed Gulfbeaver. The old midbody was then converted to a barge.
Gulf Oil spent $25 million to jumboize the nine T-2 tankers for its fleet. Due to the conversions, 12 to 15 years were added to the service life of these ships. Over time, most of the U.S.-flag fleet of T-2 tankers were converted or jumboized.