My recent post under the topic 3 Blue Whales Killed By Ship Strike In So Cal Area In 2 Weeks in which I mentioned the British ship Benarty brought to mind another event: that of another of the same company's ships, the well found cargo-passanger liner Bencruachan
The ship was built by Charles Connell in Glasgow in 1968 and she has gone down in history as the last ship that yard built. Named Bencruachan after a Scottish mountain (ben being the galic for mountain) and registered in the port of Leith, she was a steam turbine ship (probably the last steam turbine general cargo vessel built for the British merchant navy, although steam turbine tankers and containerships were built later), she was of some 12,092 grt / 14, 884 dwt and had a length of 558 feet. The ship was eventually scrapped i Kaosuing in 1980.
The ship was on her way home to the UK in early 1973 after her regular voyage to the Far East. Suez had been long closed at this time and the ship was heading back for Europe round the Cape of Good Hope. Not having the "legs" to steam all the way without replenishing her bunkers she was due to call at Durban for oil. Some of you reading this may recall the days when maybe twenty vessels were lying anchored off Durban waiting to enter the port solely for bunkers? Congestion was the norm and as the Bencruachan neared Natal she was given new orders to proceed to Cape Town for bunkers due to extremely severe congestion at Durban.
The Bencruachan never reached Cape Town. She was steaming southwards at 21.5 knots in moderate sea and a sw wind of about force 4 -5 when she was struck by a freak wave off the Transkaai in the wee small hours of 2nd. May. In reality, she was not actually struck by a freak wave but fell into a hole in the sea before the following waves washed over her. The ship survived the incident but only just. The first two cargo holds were completely flooded and the keel was twisted 13 degrees out of true by the force of the sea bearing down on the ship. The main deck was a complete mess with deck cargo which had been carried away or seriously dammaged and, due to the floding of the forward holds, the ship was down by the head with her propeller clear of the water.
A MAYDAY message was sent and later the same day the passangers were helicoptered off thanks to the efforts of the South African Air Force. A sea-going tug was despatched to the aid of the vessel and on arrival connected the towline to the stern of the dissabled Bencruachan. She was then towed stern first to Durban where she was pumped out and the dammaged cargo was discharged. Doubling plates were welded on to strengthen the hull and permission was granted by ship surveyors for the Bencruachan to proceed at three (!!!) knots to Rotterdam where permanent repairs were made.
This particular stretch of the South African coast is noted for these "freak waves". They occur where the Agulhas current is strongest and where southbound ships would like to be to gain the greatest benefit of the favourable current. Northbound ships hug the coast instead hoping at best to benefit from the counter current or at least to avoid the Agulhas curent. Not long before the Bencruachan incident another British ship, the Port Chalmers also suffered the effects of a "freak" wave. She however was more fortunate and was not seriously damaged.
Other vessels have not been so lucky:
In 1909 the British liner SS Waratah on her maiden voyage from Sydney to London dissapeared after having called at Durban for coal. No trace of the ship or her 211 passengers and crew was ever found.
In 1944 the cruiser H.M.S. Birmingham plunged into a deep hole and thereafter was overwhelmed by a huge wave. The C.O. reported wading through knee-high water on a deck more than 60 feet above sea level.
Another incident occured in June of 1968 when the tanker World Glory, carrying 49,000 tons of crude oil, encountered an abnormally large wave 105 km east of Durban and broke in two. Both halves were lost.
Again in 1973, on a week or so after the Bencruachan incident the Singapore registered cargo vessel, Neptune Sapphire, on her maiden voyage, was struck by a "freak" wave in the same spot. The impact caused the bow and 61 m of the forward part of the ship to break away and sink. The remainder of the ship was towed into East London.
In 1980 the supertanker Esso Languedoc was also struck by a freak wave.
The list is certainly longer than this and the museum in East London holds a plaque with the names of all known incidents of ships dammaged or lost of the coast. Not for nothing is this know as The Wild Coast!
What does this tell us yachties? Well my advice is to keep within a few miles of the shore when sailing between Durban and Port Elizabeth.
Aye // Stephen (Formerly fourth officer of the SS Bencruachan