House flag of URS (left) and detail of the emblem (right)
Unie van Redding- en Sleepdienst (URS) is based in Antwerp. The company provides salvage and pollution services for the Belgian ports, the river Scheldt and further afield.
URS participated, inter alia, in the British Trent case. This tanker was involved in a collision off the Belgian coast in June 1993. URS also participated in the recovery of pollutants and cargo from the wreck of the Cita, which was lost off St. Mary's, in the Isles of Scilly, in March 1997.
Quoting the company website:
URS was established in 1870, when captain Henri Gerling started with a fleet of six tugs in on the river Scheldt under the name Remorquage à Hélice s.a. (S.à.R.H.) (i.e. tugboats with propeller). The actual name of our company was a result of the alliance, in 1928, between S.à.R.H. and S.A. Remorquage Letzer (established in 1923). URS, together with both its founders, existed as three separate companies until 1974, when the actual group was formed.
They all played an important role during both world wars when they were rendering various services to the allied forces.
A. Broeckaert gives more details on the Tugspotters website (page no longer online):
Founded by Captain Henri Gerling in 1870 in cooperation with John Pickard Best and Walter Ludwig, businessmen. John B. Best was a shipping agent in Antwerp. In 1927 S.à.R.H. starts cooperating with Letzer Towage as Union de Remorquage et Sauvetage S.A. and in 1974 a complete merger takes place with Schelde Sleepvaartbedrijf [Scheldt Towage Co.] leading to the Unie Redding en Sleepdienst of our day.
At a later stage, the S.à.R.H. boats operated from Zeebrugge as well.
The flag of URS, as I saw it at Zeebrugge in summer 2002, is dark blue with a yellow disk containing a dark blue flag charged with the yellow URS monogramme.
The pennant of URS, of the same design, can be seen on photos taken by B. Overdulve in Zeebrugge, 25 March 2004.
G. Devos & S. Vanfraechem (Volle kracht vooruit! Een eeuw Antwerpse Scheepvaartvereniging. Full steam ahead! A century Antwerp Shipping Federation. Pandora, Ghent, 2001) show on pp. 34-35 a large black and white photography with two insets, captioned "a shipping exhibition (...) held in Antwerp from 13 August to 1 October 1905, which the FMA helped to organise", the FMA being the Fédération Maritime d'Anvers or Antwerpse Scheepvaartvereniging, founded 1901 (Photo courtesy Nationaal Scheepvaartmuseum [National Maritime Museum], Antwerp.)
A number of painted panels, grouped by dock, present shipping companies, agents and the like, listing their main destinations and in many instances showing the house flag. From the roof, many of these actually hang down.
The largest flag in the photography is the house flag of the S.A. de Remorquage à Hélice. The flag is also shown as #109 in Lloyd's book of house flags and funnels of the principal steamship lines of the world and the house flags of various lines of sailing vessels, published at Lloyd's Royal Exchange. London. E.C. (1911), also available online thanks to the Mystic Seaport Foundation.
The house flag is red with a white cross throughout, bearing in the centre the embellished Antwerp municipal arms (with mural crown and rose-studded garland); further, four white serifed initials SRàH are placed in the appropriate corners, for readability. Red and white, of course, are the Antwerp city colours.
Although the Lloyd's version shows a fringe in the Belgian colours, this cannot be made out in the photo; admittedly a thin dark bordering stripe shows up so there may have been a fringe after all. In both cases, there is no fringe or stripe at the hoist side but in my opinion is unnecessary at any rate as the flag itself is characteristic enough.
A panel visible in the photo's background lists H. Gerling as Managing Director and L. Bulcke as Assistant Manager (two important names in Antwerp shipping history), further pointing out that the firm is active on (the) river (Scheldt) and the high seas (presumably the North Sea) as well.