Cheekpoint sailors in a River Mersey rescue

On Saturday night, 12th Nov 1955 my Father, Bob Doherty and two others from Cheekpoint, my Uncle John and Jimmy (O’Dea) Doherty, were departing Liverpool as seamen aboard the MV Ocean Coast in dense fog.  They were carrying general cargo and were bound for Falmouth.

MV Ocean Coast was a twin screw motor cargo vessel of 250 ft in length and a 38ft beam and 1,790 tons deadweight .  She was built for short sea route trips by Leith shipyard for the Coast Lines shipping company and was launched on 31st July 1935.  During the war years she had served the war effort as a supply vessel to Gibraltar and North Africa.  She also played her part in the D Day landings servicing Omaha beach carrying petrol.

MV Ocean Coast

At 22:10 that night the Ocean Coast sent out the following message “Queens Channel, Q15 Buoy, River Mersey.  There has been a collision between two unknown ships.  I am anchored and sending a lifeboat over.  Strong ebb tide running.  One of the ships in the collision has sunk”

It would subsequently emerge that a fully laden Swedish motor oil tanker SS Juno inbound had struck the SS Bannprince which was operated by S William Coe of Liverpool.  The Bannprince was crewed by Northern Ireland men and had been built in 1933 in Glasgow.  She was 165ft 5″ long with a beam of 27ft 2″ and a deadweight of 716 tons.

SS Bannprince

Like the Ocean Coast, the Bannprince had served with a volunteer crew during the war.  She helped to evacuate 337,130 Allied troops from Dunkirk between May and June 1940, following this she was taken over for “Unspecified special government services” and was one of the first ships to land at Sword beach during the D Day landings with much needed medical supplies. 

The Bannprince was outward bound that fateful night, fully laden with coal for Colerain in NI.  The first the crew knew of difficulties was when the ships horn sounded three shrill blasts moments before there was an almighty crash and the ship healed over.  She would sink in ten minutes and most of the crew of 9 had no time to get a lifejacket.  Her lifeboats were submerged..  In the freezing Mersey the crew did what they could to stay together and help those that couldn’t swim into lifejackets found floating or other debris that would sustain them. 

Motor Tanker WWII era

It was almost an hour between collision and the calls from the lifeboat of the Ocean Coast were heard in the water.  At this point most of the sailors were close to exhaustion and had drifted apart.  The boat my father and Jimmy O Dea was in rescued six and a lifeboat from a sister ship Southern Coast picked up the remaining 3 men including the captain and the only crew man to lose his life, second engineer James Ferris of Limavady, Derry.

My father had to jump in the water at one stage to help some of the men out of the water.  Later this gave rise to a yarn from Jimmy O Dea about how they were rowing back to their ship when they noticed my father wasn’t there. They turned back, rowing now with a vengeance only to find my father swinging off a buoy shouting “where the hell were ye then ship mates???”

The Certificate my father received in 1957

They put the six survivors aboard the New Brighton Lifeboat and returned to the Ocean Coast to continue their voyage.  On the 3rd April 1957 my father along with 5 other crew men received a certificate from the Liverpool Shipwreck and Humane Society in recognition of their efforts.  The Captain received a silver cigarette box and the chief officer a parchment.

The Ocean Coast continued to give service into the 1960’s when she seems to have been sold for scrap,  The Bannprince was risen from the Mersey as she was a hazard to shipping and was sold for scrap to a Dutch shipyard.  The Juno, which was only lightly damaged, returned to work. but I couldn’t source any further information.

My father went to sea as a teenager like so many other men of his generation.  Himself, Jimmy and Uncle John are now gone to their rest, and with them probably most of their best stories.

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3 Replies to “Cheekpoint sailors in a River Mersey rescue”

  1. my father Charlie Mc Cann(retired Foyle Pilot) was chief officer on the Bannprince at the time of the collision and still remembers it well at 88 years old.

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