* Company sold last ship in July
* Growing turmoil battering prospects for shipping
By Jonathan Saul
LONDON, Aug 9 Britain's oldest shipping firm, Stephenson Clarke Shipping Ltd, has gone into liquidation after nearly 300 years of trading, becoming a casualty of the worsening global downturn.
Established in 1730, Stephenson Clarke had tried to sell its ships and cut costs in the face of crashing rates for dry bulk shipping on which it relied - transporting cargoes such as coal, grain and iron ore.
But liquidator Tait Walker was appointed on Aug. 3, the company and liquidator said in a statement.
"Whilst previous economic downturns have been weathered, the current market is one of the worst experienced for many years with no upturn forecast for at least 12 to 18 months," a spokesman for the company said.
Dry bulk shipping companies ordered large numbers of new vessels between 2007 and 2009, when freight rates hit record highs. But the extra shipping capacity arrived just as economies were turning down, sending rates tumbling.
Known affectionately as Stevie Clarke, the company sold the last of its six ships in July.
Brothers Ralph and Robert Clarke founded the firm during the reign of King George II when they bought an interest in a sailing vessel.
Stephenson Clarke thrived during Britain's industrial revolution, shipping coal from its home in the northeastern city of Newcastle and later diversifying to ship other commodities including grain, fertilisers and steel in northern Europe, the Mediterranean and West Africa.
Other dry bulk shippers are also struggling with the slump.
In July, lawyers for Deiulemar Shipping, a major Italian dry freight group, said they were seeking to wind up the company to pre-empt formal bankruptcy after prosecutors seized more than half of its fleet. (Editing by Matthew Tostevin)