At 3am on a damp, misty February morning in 1959, Waterford harbour pilot, Pat Rogers was arriving into Dunmore for work when he spotted a ship close to the shore up the harbour. In a fresh SE wind a small ship had run onto the rocks at Ardnamult Head, or the Middle Head as many locals call it. All her lights were on, and she was flashing an SOS. Pat immediately alerted the lifeboat(1).
The ship was the Helemar-H, an 800 ton Dutch cargo ship operating out of Rotterdam by the Carbeka NV Co. She was en route from Amsterdam to Waterford when the incident occured, carrying 500 tons of fertiliser. Only moments before Pat spotted the vessel most of the crew including the Captain had been asleep in their bunks. While at the wheel a young mate, apparently on his first run to the port, had ignored his captains instruction to wake him once they came in clear sight of the Hook light.
|The Helemar-H on the rocks from the front page of the Irish Times
Accessed from http://www.shipspotters.nl/viewtopic.php?t=1347
The lifeboat Annie Blanche Smith* put to sea at 3.35am and was alongside the ship by 3.50. The Captain requested that she stand by, while his crew attempted to assess the situation. The conditions at the time were described as choppy seas with a strong south easterly wind blowing. After an hour all the lights went out, the engine room having flooded. The lifeboat again went alongside and it was agreed that seven crew would be removed, the Captain and two others remaining aboard. The crew were dropped to Dunmore East, and the lifeboat immediately returned. At 8.25 the remaining three crew abandoned ship, were taken aboard the lifeboat and were dropped to Dunmore East at 9.05. (2)
Of course as often with shipping disasters, the accident is only the beginning of the story and it was so in this case too. A salvage operation swung into action, with two dutch tugs dispatched to the scene, the Simson and the Noord-Holland. The operation was a prolonged one, and initial assessments suggested that the ship would be a total wreck and that just some equipment and fittings might be all that was recoverable. The cargo was considered a total loss and was pumped out into the sea along with thousands of gallons of water. (3)
|At Passage East 3/3/1959. DA.68. Andy Kelly collection
The salvage operation discovered serious damage to the bow of the ship where she had initially struck the cliffs. However, the hull of the ship was also damaged as was the stern. Eventually lightened and the holes temporarily packed she was got off the rocks and towed upriver to Passage East where she was grounded. This allowed for a better assessment and more temporary repairs. It was later decided to tow her to Verolme dockyards
in Cobh, Cork. She later crossed to her home port of Rotterdam under tow from the tug Nestor
, arriving April 6th. (4)
Community Notice Board
2nd Oct: Waterford Institute of Technology
5th Oct: Town Hall Theatre, Galway
12th Oct: Sligo Institute of Technology
19th Oct: Cork University Hospital
23rd Oct: DIT
The ship would later be refurbished and would go on to provide a steady service until she was broken up in 1985. The matter also ended up in court however, where the blame for the event was laid squarely on the shoulders of the young mate, who had displayed a “youthful overconfidence”. In failing to rouse the Captain, R. Landstra as per his instructions the unidentified man had flaunted his duty and put his ship and her crew in peril. (5)
Interestingly no one mentioned that it was Friday 13th. I guess the same oul piseog about the date didn’t exist at the time. It certainly was a misfortunate date for the young mate.
This blog today is prompted by a recent photograph posted by Andy Kelly to the Waterford Maritime History Facebook page (see above).
(1) Irish Times Saturday Feburary 14th 1959. p 1.
(2) The Story of the Dunmore East Lifeboats. Jeff Morris. 2003
(3) Irish Times. Tuesday 17th February 1959. p 4
(4) http://www.shipspotters.nl/viewtopic.php?t=1347 Accessed 19/9/2018
* The crew was given as: Paddy Power, Cox; Richard Murphy, Engineer; Arthur Wescott Pitt; Richard, John & Maurice Power. sourced from Dublin Evening mail 13/2/1959 p 7
Postscript: Maurice Power of Carrick passed along an article from the then Cork Examiner Monday 16th Feb 1959. p 8. A few other details and points of clarification are contained. According to the article, Pat Rogers boarded the pilot vessel and went to the scene. They then turned back and raised the alarm having ascertained the nature of the problem. The life boat initially took four away and stood by, then removed a further three and returned to Dunmore. Meanwhile a coast watch crew were setting up their apparatus in case the need for an over the cliff rescue was required. It was apparently the first time for any of the crew to sail to Waterford, and for the ship too. Some were as young as 16. The other detail that is interesting is that two other vessels were on the scene; A Duncannon based Arklow registered trawler (no name as yet I’m afraid) and a Dutch lugger Tide. The Helemar-H fired two rockets with line attached. One was picked up by the trawler which tried unsuccessfully to haul the ship off the rocks. The tugs mentioned were dispatched from Liverpool and Falmouth.
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