A Century of Riding the Waves: the Hsu Family of Eddie Steamship
York Lo: A Century of Riding the Waves: the Hsu Family of Eddie Steamship
Shanghainese shipowners have dominated the HK shipping industry since the 1950s and within this group the Hsu family traced its start in the shipping business to 1922 when family patriarch Charles Eddie Hsu, an ambitious businessman with interests ranging from aerated water to ports development, bought his first vessel in Shanghai and established Eddie Steamship four years later. The family business bounced back from setbacks in the 1930s under the management of the second generation – V.K. Eddie Hsu and W.H. Eddie Hsu in the 1940s and 1950s. In 1960, the brothers split up with V.K.’s branch over time built up Oak Steamship, Continental Mariner and Sincere Navigation while W.H. took over Eddie and turned it into the world’s largest independently owned bulk cargo carrier at one point before the shipping bust in the 1980s brought the group to its knee and required bailout from the Taiwanese government. Today, the third and fourth generation of the family remains major players in the global shipping business.
The Founding Father: Charles Eddie Hsu (許廷佐 1882-1941)
Left: Charles Eddie Hsu; Center: Eddie Café on Broadway in Shanghai; Right: the Hsu family’s first vessel – “Choushan”
A native of Dinghai (定海) in Ningbo, Charles lost his father, a fisherman, at the age of 6 and went to Shanghai with his mother at the age where he started his career as an apprentice at a metal shop. At the age of 13, he was referred by foreign missionary to work at the Astor House hotel (禮查飯店) in Shanghai where he rose to become the manager of its Grill Room. Like the famous Shanghainese tailor Hsu Ta-cheong who named himself “H. Baromon” (see article), Charles (whose Chinese name was Hsu Ting-cho) adopted the English name Charles Eddie and styled himself as “C. Eddie” (which might explain why both of his sons had Eddie in their names). One of the assistants he hired at Astor House was his nephew Johnson Chou (周祥生, 1895-1974), who later went on to establish Johnson Hire Cars, the largest taxicab company in old Shanghai. With his earnings from tips at the hotel, Charles formed C. Eddie & Co. (益利號) in 1916 as a general storekeeper, ship chandler, navy contractor and coal merchant. He also opened Eddie Café at 68 Broadway, serving both Chinese and foreign food with live music and entertainment. The restaurant, which described itself as “the only high-class café in Shanghai” and “the only real nightclub in China”, was managed by Ernest R. Engley and was renamed Browning’s Café after it was sold to J.H. Browning in 1930.
In 1922, Charles bought his first vessel in partnership with fellow Ningpo tycoon Chu Pao-san (朱葆三) and named it “Chou Shan” (舟山) after a town in their native Ningbo. In 1926, Charles established Eddie Steamship (益利輪船) with three vessels – “SS Yisun” (益蓀) “SS Eddie” (益利) and “SS Yitai” (益泰) which traveled between Shanghai, Canton, HK, Amoy and Swatow.
In January 1927, Charles founded Eddie Aerated Water Co (益利汽水廠) to manufacture a wide range of soda – orangeade, ginger ale, lemonade, sarsaparilla, and cola (named Eddie Kola). Soon he expanded into the related business of glass manufacturing. According to his bio, Charles had no hobbies except for starting new businesses. Aside from the businesses listed above, he teamed up with Tang Chun-chuen (鄧振銓) to open a bank – the Chen Lee Bank (振利銀號). He also had a metal shop which sold metalware from around the world and promoted canned goods manufactured by local and Western manufacturers.
Left: label for Eddie Aerated Water’s Orangeade; Right: Ad for Eddie’s Aerated Water in 1938 (China Press, 26 June 1938: 14)
In 1929, Hsu took on his most ambitious project – the development of the port of Sanmen Bay (三門灣). Located between Ningpo and Taichow, Sanmen Bay is a great location which the Italian government tried to turn into a concession back in 1899. Hsu’s plan was to develop Sanmen Bay into a major port and his investments covered all aspects of infrastructure including piers, warehouses, railroads, roads, factories and airport – all under the “Eddie” brand with companies such as Eddie Pier (益利碼頭), Eddie Godown (益利堆棧) and Eddie Hotel (益利旅館). Unfortunately, Eddie’s vessel carrying lots of supplies for the project was robbed by pirates en route to Sanmen Bay and coupled with the increasing Japanese aggression and investors pulling out as a result, the project resulted in significant losses for the family and the Eddie group of companies collapsed in 1935.
Businesses were either shut down or sold off in the late 1930s and Eddie Aerated Water for example was acquired by China Finance Federal Inc. In 1941, Charles died of a broken heart at the age of 59. Outside of business, he was a generous philanthropist who had sponsored the establishment of the Ting Cho Free Primary School (廷佐義務小學) in his native Dinghai in 1934 (and continued to be supported by his descendants and run to this day) and supported the Shao He Middle School (上海肇和中學) in Shanghai.
Vung-kwei Eddie Hsu (許文貴, 1905-2007), his descendants and Oak, Sincere and Continental Mariner
Left: V.K. Eddie Hsu (National Repository of Cultural Heritage, Taiwan); Center: Eddie’s “Kondor” sailing from Ningpo to Shanghai in 1945; Right: flag of Sincere Navigation
As the eldest son of Charles, V.K. attended the St. Francis Xavier College in Shanghai and joined the family business in the 1920s. To rebuild the family fortune, V.K. focused on the shipping business of Eddie Steamship. In 1941, the Japanese Navy seized the family’s vessel “Kondor” (高登輪) and after negotiations with the Japanese military, the vessel was returned to the family. Within one week of the end of the War, the “Kondor” which had been renamed the “Tat Fung” became the first vessel to resume the route between Ningpo and Shanghai. When the Communists came to power in 1949, the family moved to Hong Kong and Taiwan.
The early 1950s was boom time for firms like Eddie as the Korean War and the post-War reconstruction in Japan stimulated demand for transportation of grains, raw materials and machinery. By 1959, the year before V.K. split with his brother W.H., the number of vessels in Eddie’s fleet had increased to 8.
After the split, V.K. formed Oak Steamship (和合輪船) in Hong Kong in 1961 and Sincere Navigation (新興航運) in Taiwan in 1968 with the support of his children. V.K. married Mai-chuen Wu (吴美娟, 1904-1988) in 1925 and have 4 sons – Steve Hsu Gee-king (許志勤, 1933-), Frank Hsu Gee-way (許志偉), George Hsu Gee-kong (許志剛) and James Hsu Tse-min (許志明) and 1 daughter. Steve received his B.S. from Louisiana State and M.S. from Kansas State and returned to join the family business after graduation in 1959 and succeeding his father in 1975. In addition to his sons, V.K. was also supported by his son in law Watson Tang Hua-chien (唐化千) and longtime lieutenant Fred Tsai (蔡景本).
In the late 1960s, V.K.’s family teamed up with the family of Hang Seng Bank chairman Ho Sin-hang (何善衡) and fellow Shanghainese shipping magnate T.Y. Chao (趙從衍) of Wah Kwong Shipping (see article on HK Food Products) to form Continental Mariner (新海康航業) with Ho as chairman and V.K. as vice chairman.
Left:Article about the IPO of Continental Mariner in 1973 (WKYP, 1973-8-12); Right: Steve Hsu
The profits of Continental Mariner jumped from HK$3 million in 1968 to HK$4.4 million in 1969 to HK$5 million in 1970, to HK$7.7 million in 1971 to HK$12 million in 1972. In August 1973, Continental Mariner went public in Hong Kong in an offering underwritten by Jardine Fleming, Hang Seng, Wardley and Inchcape, raising a total of HK$55 million. At the time, the firm owned 9 vessels valued at HK$209 million.
Meanwhile, Oak Steamship also grew its fleet to include “Oak River”, “Main Ore” (built 1975, 98047 tons) and “Goldstar”. In 1977, Oak acquired “Sun Dragon” (57404 dwt) from Seiriki Kisen of Japan for 3 billion JPY.
For the fiscal year ending March 1983, Continental reported profits of HK$52 million, a drop of 39% from the previous year. The same year, Ho Sin-hang stepped down as chairman of Continental (he also retired as chairman of Hang Seng Bank the same year) and was succeeded by V.K. while Ho’s son David Ho Tzu-cho (何子焯) was appointed vice chairman. (TKP, 1983-8-31) In 1985, the firm lost HK$180 million as the recession in the shipping industry worsened and the firm was forced to cut its fleet from 11 to 5 by 1988. In the late 1980s, profits at Continental Mariner rebounded to HK$55 million for the year ending March 1990 and four ships (1 Cape-sized, 3 Handy-sized were acquired in 1989 bringing the fleet back to 9 (4 Cape, 2 Panamax, 3 Handy), shipping iron ore, coal and grain in the main global routes.
In Taiwan, Sincere Navigation moved up market in the 1980s by expanding its routes beyond Japan to Europe and America, buying larger cape-sized and Panamax-sized ships and taking on large global steel mills and electric utilities as clients. Sincere as a result managed to weather the shipping recession in the mid-1980s, acquired two affiliated shipping companies in 1987 and went public in the Taiwan Stock Exchange in 1989. After it went public, Sincere emphasized stability and profitability over volume and growth and maintained a fleet of 12-20 vessels without over-expanding.
In 1992, Oak Steamship was renamed Oak Maritime (和合航業). In 1993, Oak sold its Hong Kong listed shell of Continental Mariner to the PLA controlled China Poly Group (the listed shell was renamed Poly HK in 2005 and Poly Property in 2012) and the four vessels in the Continental Mariner fleet sold to Jin Hui Holdings. In 1996, V.K. retired to Vancouver where he died a decade later at the age of 102.
In 2008, Steve passed the baton to his son Jack Hsu Chi-kao (許積臯), who joined the family business in 1989 and was elected chairman of the HK Shipowners Association. At present, the Oak Maritime group has a fleet of 21 bulkers and tankers with deadweight tonnage in excess of 3.5 million tons. As for Steve, after experiencing improved eyesight from eating blueberries for a summer in Canada, he opened a blueberry farm in Shandong and a tea seed oil farm in Jiangxi after his retirement from shipping.
W.H. Eddie Hsu (許文華, 1919-1987) and Eddie Steamship (益利輪船)
Left: W.H. Eddie Hsu; Center: Flag of Eddie Steamship; Right: One of Eddie’s Panamax vessel flying the R.O.C flag
A graduate of the University of Shanghai (滬江大學) and Oxford University in the UK, W.H. Eddie Hsu embarked on an aggressive program of expansion after taking over Eddie Steamship in 1960 and established three other companies – Far East Navigation (遠東航業), Outerocean Navigation (瀛海航業) and Waywiser Navigation (偉業航業). In 1964, the four companies filed with the Federal Maritime Commission to operate joint cargo and passenger/mail service between ports of US and Canada and Taiwan, Japan, Korea, Philippines, HK, Okinawa, Malaysia and Panama under the trade name of “Eddie Line”. In September of the same year, Eddie began service between Taiwan and Latin America with two 12000 tons cargo liners visiting Latin American ports once every two months. “Kuo Tai” – built in 1944 as “Warren Delano”, acquired by Eddie in 1962, scrapped in 1966. Vessels operated by Eddie in the 1960s included “Shirley” (8763 tons, built as “Asia” in 1946 for Cunard, acquired by Waywiser in 1963, scrapped in Kaohsiung in 1969) and “Harriet Victory” (7651 tons, built in 1945 in California, acquired by Waywiser in 1963, scrapped in Kaohsiung in 1970).
In 1971 Federal Register, the four companies controlled by W.H. controlled a total of 16 vessels as follows:
Eddie – “Jeannie” (1969), “Kally”, “Tailee”, “Polly” , “Ally” (1970) and “Welly”
Far East – “Caroline”, “Tunglee” and “Irene” (13005 tons – Built as “Wolf Creek” in 1944, bought in 1965 from S.S. Niarchos and renamed “Irene” Renamed “Tai Lee” in 1967 and broken down in Kaohsiung in 1977.)
Waywiser – “Cherry” (42875 dwt), “Minlly” (10499 tons,built in 1959, acquired in 1969, scrapped in Kaohsiung in 1977 ) and “Florence” (10195 tons, built in 1943 for US government as “Opequon”, acquired by Continental Oceanic Navigation in 1966 and renamed as “Florence”, sold to Waywiser in 1969, broken up in Kaohsiung in 1979)
Outerocean – “Greta” (10448 tons, built in 1943 for US government as “Yamhill”, acquired by Outerocean in 1968, broken up in Kaohsiung in 1975), “Shelley”, “Silvana” (9874 tons, built in 1944 as “SS Beaverburn”, owned by Canadian Pacific Steamship (1946-60), owned by W.H. from 1964 until 1971) and “Lisboa”
In the 1970s and early 1980s, W.H. embarked on major expansion and at his peak owned over 50 ships, many of them under the “Transporter” and “Panamax” name:
“Panamax Star” – 33207 tons, built in 1966
“Panamax Jupiter” – 40769 tons, built in 1966 in the UK, acquired by Eddie in 1977, scrapped after fire in 1985
“Panamax World” – tons, built in 1972 by Taiwan Shipbuilding Corporation, largest bulk carrier built by the firm at the time and christened by Perth mayor Sir Thomas Wardle for Taiwan-Australia freight service.
“Panamax Nova” – 36338 tons, built in 1967, owned by Waywiser until 1984
“Panamax Universe” – acquired in 1982 and sold in 1984 to Lobelia Marine
“Panamax Venus” – built in 1973 by China Shipbuilding (W.H. was one of the original private shareholders of the state controlled firm) in Taiwan, 60107 tons, acquired by Chase Manhattan in 1985 and renamed “West Bridge”
“Panamax Uranus” – built in 1966, acquired by Eddie in 1978, renamed “Panamax Solar” in 1983 in transfer to Far Eastern, broken up in Taiwan in 1985.
“Panamax Neptune” – built at Mitsubishi Heavy Industries’ Kobe shipyard in 1973
“Panamax Cosmos” – 66742 dwt, built in 1984, sold in 1991 by Far Eastern to Greek interest
“Jade Transporter” – 66903 tons – built at MHI Hiroshima Machinery Works in 1970
“Metal Transporter” – 56740 tons, built in 1967
“Cobalt Transporter” – 165062 dwt, built in 1972 by Hitachi in Japan, bought by Outerocean in 1983, sold to Formosa Shipping in 1985 and became “Formosa Glory”
“Ore Transporter” – built in 1968 in Japan, renamed “Cretan Sky”
“Gold Transporter” – acquired from Japan in 1982
“Opal Transporter” – 95404 tons, built in 1970 by Mitsui, acquired in 1983 by Waywiser, sold to Formosa Shipping and renamed “Formosa Fortune” in 1985
“Iron Transporter” – 89438 tons, built in 1972 in the UK as “Tyne Bridge”, acquired in 1983 by Far East, sold to Wulfsburg Ltd in HK in 1985 and renamed “East Bridge”
“Emerald Transporter” – 96760 tons, built in 1972
“Steel Transporter” – renamed “Cretan Sun”
Other vessels owned by Eddie during its heydays include “Christina” (1976) “Juliana” (1971) “Anita” (1974) and “Concord Horizon” (built as “London Resolution”, acquired in 1977 by Waywiser)
In 1977, W.H. was appointed to the 13 member ROC Technical Committee to the American Bureau of Shipping. Between 1981 and 1983, W.H. expanded his fleet by 21 vessels at the cost of US$88 million. However, the timing of the expansion proved to be disastrous as the tides of the global shipping trade soon turned and in early 1984, W.H. had to call in his creditors (mostly American banks led by Chase Manhattan) for a rescue package involving debt of US$235 million. By mid summer, more than a third of Eddie’s fleet of 42 ships had been immobilized by the courts in various ports. The Taiwanese government stepped in and rescued the group. W.H. died in 1987 and was survived by his wife Chao Ching-yun (趙晶雲, 1926) and six children – his 2 sons Hsu Chi-chia (許志嘉) and Hsu Chih-chien (許志堅) and 4 daughters including Annie Hsu (許愛貞), who is the wife of Matthew Miau (苗豐強), the founder of Taiwan/US IT giant Mitac/Synnex Group.
Hsu Chih-chien, who graduated from Colby College in 1980, assumed leadership of Eddie Steamship after his father’s death and by 2005 the firm operated 10 bulkers ranging in capacity from 28400 dwt to 34700 dwt. Separate from Eddie, he co-founded Courage Marine (勇利航業) with Wu Chao-huan in 2000 with 10 bulkers and the firm went public in Singapore in 2005. However, as the freight market weakened in the 2010s, Courage posted losses in 2013 and 2014 and Hsu sold the firm in 2015. Today, Eddie owns three bulkers.
Sources (other than those quoted above):
This article was first posted on 16th December 2019.
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