The Polish Ocean Lines (POL) were established as a shipping enterprise on 2nd January 1951. It took over the traditions of three other shipowners: the Żegluga Polska S.A., Polish- British Shipping Partnership (so-called "Polbryt") as well or perhaps first of all the Gdynia America Shipping Lines Inc. (GAL). In this sense we can speak about the maintenance of continuity of Polish shipping founded on seafaring traditions of pre-war Republic of Poland. The POL, at the moment of its incorporation, was in possession of 43 vessels of a total cargo carrying capacity of over 200 thousand DWT operating on 13 shipping lines linking Poland with the ports located around the Baltic and the Mediterranean seas, in the Near and the Far East as well as at ports located at the eastern coast of the South America.
The employment in the company amounted to some 3000 people (including 70% seamen).
Between 1951 and 1962 all Baltic Lines and some west European lines were transferred from the POL to the Polish Steamship Inc.
The second half of 1950s marked an important quantitative and qualitative growth of the POL fleet. A particularly successful series of ships were the so-called "ten thousand tonners" built in the Gdańsk Shipyard; during the following decades they have formed the core of the POL's fleet. Altogether not less than 19 vessels of the B-54 type were put into service; the total tonnage in operation at the turn of 1960s increased to 63 vessels of over 440 thousand tons cargo carrying capacity. Thanks to those changes it was possible to start new services to Indonesia, Japan and the United States. In 1957 our flag passenger ship "Batory" inaugurated a regular transatlantic service to Montreal in Canada, becoming a symbol of links between the overseas Poles and their motherland. In the post war years (up to 1957) "Batory" sailed as a chartered vessel in the Indian waters.
A continuous growth in the size of the POL fleet was noted in that decade, thus at the end of 1960s it amounted to a hundred ships with a total cargo carrying capacity of over 800 thousand DWT. The series of B-55, B-516, B-445 and B-41 ship types put into service have admirably increased the shipping offer and competitiveness of the POL fleet, and thus it has become possible to start new regular shipping services to the ports of East Africa, the Middle East, and the western coast of South America. In 1967, because of the war in the Near East the Suez Canal was closed. It forced the Asian lines of the POL to exploit its ships on a considerably extended route around the African continent.
In 1969 the character of passenger shipping tonnage was subject to an important change. The place of the thoroughly exploited and distinguished transatlantic passenger ship "Batory" was taken over by a newer, second hand ship purchased in Holland, named "Stefan Batory".
Because of a considerable increase in the number of services and the volume of cargo carried, a division of POL was set up in Gdańsk. It was the first step towards the construction of a multidivisional organization structure of the shipowner, realizing its tasks more efficiently. The Gdansk location had still another dimension -it attracted cargo to the port of Gdansk and strengthened the prestige of the city.
Within the new, multidivisional structure, operational activities of the fleet were managed by the newly formed departments (divided according to geographical criteria), operating according to the concept of limited internal profit/cost accounting centres.
As a result of re-organisation of the Polish Merchant Marine, on the decision of the Minister of Shipping, ships with general cargo carrying features were transferred from the Polish Steamship Company to the Polish Ocean Lines. These were most often medium - sized vessels exploited on short, regular shipping routes. Thus the tonnage of the POL increased by further 100 thousand tons. At the same time tankers and other tramp shipping vessels were transferred from the POL to the Polish Steamship Company. Thus the Polish merchant fleet was divided into two distinct and separate groups, covering regular shipping services managed by the POL and the tramp fleet operated by the Polish Steamship Company.
The container revolution in the general cargo carrying technology enforced qualitative changes in the structure of exploited tonnage. At that time the POL started to operate new container, semi-container and roll on - roll off vessels. New rapid services between the European ports (5 lines) and in the ocean shipping (i.a. the Australian, Far Eastern and Great Lakes of Canada and the USA) were inaugurated.
In the ferry shipping services the POL exploited 4 ferries (carrying in the years 1975-76 some 200 thousand passengers annually), later (in 1977) transferred to the newly created Polish Baltic Shipping Co. in Kołobrzeg.
In the 1970s the POL fleet increased to 176 vessels of a total cargo carrying capacity in excess of 1.2 million tons, and the annual amount of cargo carried increased to over 5 million tons. Employment increased to over 10 thousand people (including over 80% seamen).
The beginning of the 1980s was quite promising for the POL, since very modern vessels were put into operation, including the "Inowrocław" on the "Polanglia" route, 4 con-ro ships that were to operate on the North American lines and 4 ro-ro vessels for the Australian line. At that time all those vessels were built abroad. Thanks to those acquisitions the POL could operate a very modern fleet with highly competitive characteristics. At that time it was one of the world's largest container ship operators.
Unfortunately the introduction of the martial law resulted in a situation, that instead of expected profits the POL started to suffer losses. Restrictions applied to Polish cargoes have considerably limited the competitive capacity of the company.
In spite of those difficult conditions the POL continued to renew its tonnage, new ships were introduced in place of exploited vessels. In the 2nd half of 1980s eight new "Warszawa" type multipurpose general cargo carriers were introduced on the south American lines, as well as 5 ro-ro vessels built in the Gdynia Shipyard on the Mediteranean routes. On the other hand 3 large container ships (1700 TEU) of the "Cegielski" type built in the Gdańsk Shipyard were put into operation on the Far Eastern lines.
In the meantime systematically obsolete and exploited vessels were withdrawn from service -several dozen vessels altogether. In 1988 the "Stefan Batory" transatlantic passenger vessel was withdrawn from service, the POL ceased then to offer regular ocean passenger shipping services.
At the end of 1980s the POL fleet was made of 97 ships of a total cargo carrying capacity of 914 thousand tons and even though the fleet was considerably reduced, its functional structure has already been more modern in character.
It has not prevented though the POL from an extensively heavy crisis in the last decade of the 20th century.
Until 1991, when the period of restructuring began, the POL was known as a shipowner involved in regular shipping services covering the whole world.
The 1990s was a period of very complex and difficult period of transition of the whole state. The huge amount of problems in the macroeconomic scale resulted in a situation, when the state has practically given up its interest in shipping. At the same time the world shipping industry experienced a profound crisis, excess tonnage resulted in a drastic fall in freight rates and many shipowners were subject to serious financial problems; some of them went bankrupt, some managed to survive thanks to the aid of their national governments.
The POL had to continue its operations under such complex conditions. The only effective solution was a rapid privatization and an injection of capital. Unfortunately, lack of sufficient determination of the decision makers resulted in a situation, that this process was excessively extended in time. In consequence it led to the shrinking of the POL fleet and a considerable reduction in the scope and the number of regular shipping services.
In the POL itself
The Szczecin exploitation division was privatized most rapidly, the Euroafrica company was incorporated in 1991. Other operational divisions were subject to further privatization processes and thus in 1993 the POL-Levant and POL-America companies were set up, in 1994 the POL-Seal, and in 1996 the POL-Atlantic and POL-Asia companies were established. Besides that a number of non-shipping companies were incorporated, such as e.g. the Maritime Legal Office, and the POL-Team, POL-Catering, POL-Supply, POL-Marine and POL-Crewing companies
Since March 1996, after the establishment of six shipowner companies the activities of the POL as a shipowner was practically finished. At the beginning of 1999 the POL Group was composed of 12 companies (2 under liquidation), including 5 shipping companies. They employed together circa 3 thousand people, including 1450 seamen.
On 29th June 1999 the state owned company POL was transformed into a joint-stock company.
At present the POL tries to partly recreate the shipping- operational activities, and the revenue is acquired mostly from chartering of the tonnage to the POL-Levant company, which forms a part of the POL Group; the shipchandler's activities of the POL-Supply Shipchandler company and provision of shipping services on the basis of its own bill of lading from the ports of China and the Far East, in co-operation with other shipowners within the NVOCC scheme.
The POL incessantly looks for new areas of activity that may in future become a source of revenue. The membership in the European Union and short distance shipping services within the area of European continent creates yet another chance for the development of shipping operations by the company.