Rescuing the Helemar H. Dunmore East 1959

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
Marine Planning Ireland have announced  dates/venues for our marine planning Baseline Report roadshow. 
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
(5) Ibid
* 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.


I publish a blog about Waterford Harbours maritime heritage each Friday.  
To subscribe for free to get it to your inbox email tidesntales@irelandmail.com 
which will generate an offer email asking you to subscribe, 
Subscription is free, and you can unsubscribe at any time
I also can be found on you tube

Castaways of the SS Beemsterdijk

When the 42 man crew of the Dutch owned SS Beemsterdijk departed Greenock for Cardiff in January 1941 none of them could have known that all but three would ever see their families again.  Those three fortunate men that survived had the keen eyes of the men in the Brownstown LOP and the prompt action of the crew of the Dunmore East Lifeboat to thank for their salvation.
The SS Beemsterdijk departed the Clyde for bunkers in Cardiff in January 1941. It was  during WWII and ships faced a threat of submarine attack or sea mines. The cargo ship had an international crew aboard and was sailing with a new degaussing system to offset the threat of magnetic mines. However the system seems to have impeded the ships compass and it is thought that the ship lost its way.  On Sunday January 26th the ship struck a mine and was abandoned, all the crew getting safely away.  An SOS had been sent and a reply received confirming a rescue was imminent.  After an hour a party went back aboard the ship as she was staying upright in the water.  Following and examination all the crew returned and the lifeboats were hauled aboard. They waited on deck all Sunday and through the night with eyes on the horizon for the rescue that never came.  By the morning of Monday the ship had sunk very deeply and the captain decided to abandon ship again. The lifeboats were just away when the ship sunk and because of the suction all hands were thrown into the water. 
Photo credit wwwopac maritime digital
The crew were swimming around trying to grasp what they could to help stay afloat. Some overturned lifeboats were righted and men managed to climb aboard, the four castaways of our story managed to reach a life raft.  In time the shipwrecked men drifted apart and four men found themselves alone in the Atlantic on an open raft.  Although it had holds for food and water, these were empty.  The men were; 4th Engineer Van t’Hoff, Steward Peter Schrage, Bosun’s boy Stanley Gillard and a galley boy named Lennerts.  Alone they drifted and although they came within sight of land at times they had no way of signalling.  At one point on Tuesday 28th they were washed off and had to swim back to their raft.  On the Wednesday Lennerts became overcome and disappeared off the raft overnight.  On Thursday 30th they were spotted by the look out post on Brownstown head (LOP 17) and the alarm was raised. (1)
The Dunmore Lifeboat received the call to launch at 10.20am and were launched and heading west in very rough conditions within ten minutes. The raft was spotted heading towards the rocks on Newtown head but in challenging conditions the lifeboat managed to get safely alongside.  The bowman (Muck Murphy) lept aboard the raft and the weakened and distressed sailors were helped aboard the Annie Blanch Smith.(2)

The raft was left to drift and the lifeboat headed back east towards Dunmore East where a reception committee was awaiting. Red cross volunteers and an ambulance were on hand under the direction of the chair of the local branch Arthur Wescott Pitt. Once ashore the men were placed onto stretchers and removed to a local hotel owned by Mr McCarthy* where they received all the attention they required. Meanwhile the raft the men were on was smashed to pieces on the rocks under the Metal Man. Although the Tramore Coast Watching service had turned out in full readiness, one wonders if in the men’s weakened state, they would have survived(3)
Annie Blanche Smith. At Waterford 4th April 1953. Robert Shorthall Collection.
With thanks to Andy Kelly
There were two others who deserve a mention on the fateful morning.  David Tobin, Brownstown and John Power, Coxtown also spotted the men on the raft.  They attempted to row out to rescue them but in the heavy seas an oar was broke and both men had a difficult enough job to regain the safety of the shore.(4)
Of the men’s fate thereafter I could find no more.  They were finally decided to be well enough to travel in late February, being removed to the Waterford County & City Infirmary for follow up treatment.(5) The Waterford Standard of the following day has an interview with both Van t’Hoff and Stanley Gillard in the Sailors Home in Henrietta St, where they are under the care of Mr and Mrs Marno.  Both men are fulsome in their praise for their rescuers and the kindness shown to them in Dunmore and Waterford.  Young Gillard is keen to get back to sea.(6)  Perhaps the older Van t’Hoff is more careful of what he wishes for!
(1) Waterford Standard.  Saturday Feb 8th 1941. p 1  An article featuring an interview with Arthur Wescott Pitt who gave a description of the incident based on talking to the three survivors.
(2) Jeff Morris. The Story of the Dunmore East Lifeboats. 2003
(3) Cork Examiner. Friday January 31st 1941. p 4
(4) Waterford Standard . February 1st 1941. p 1
(5) Munster Express. Friday February 21st 1941. p 5
(6) Waterford Standard. Saturday February 22nd 1941. p 3
* McCarthys was later known as the Ocean and is now known as the Three Sisters.  Thanks to David Carroll for the information.

Following publication Peter O’Connor sent on the following link which gives much extra detail of the events: http://www.nederlandsekoopvaardijww2.nl/en/

I was also lucky to receive an email for a dutch gentleman who had researched the above piece via Brendan Dunne of Dunmore.  John van Kuijk replied with the following information that he had gleamed on the survivors:

“Hallo Andrew,

Back in 1941 , after a long recovery period Willem van’t Hoff and Peter Schrage both served on other ships and survived the war.

Willem van ‘t Hoff received further leave and treatment at Cape town SA. During the rest of the war he served on ten ships or more. I contacted his daughter. She told me that after the war, as an engineer, he had his career in the Holland America Line serving on various ships. In 1966 he ended his career being the main engineer on board the ss Rotterdam, which now proudly is national heritage as a floating hotel / museum / event in Rotterdam Harbour.  Ironically he died shortly after retirement and before sailing, having been presented with a free trip for both him and his wife to New York. In stead his wife and daughter could make this trip.

After recovery Peter Schrage also served on many ships, being torpedoed in 1944 while on board the ss Bodegraven near West Africa. He survived again! After the war he got married, had his family and sailed the waters of Amsterdam Harbour. So I was told by his closest daughter.  In 1953 he went to the rescue of the victims when the dikes in the province of Zeeland gave way to enormous flooding.

Stanley William Gillard, at the time only 17 years old, had soon recovered from his injuries and was, back in England, able to identify the bodies of some crew being washed ashore near St. Davids’s in Wales. I contacted one of his sons, who was only two years old when his father died in 1954. From hearsay he gathered his father also served on more ships. He then was shipwrecked and for 6 days adrift at sea and suffered frostbite. Until just before his death in 1954 Stanley was working for a die casting firm X raying the castings for defects. His ambition was to run his own fishing boat out of one of the channel ports and set his own wet fish business up.

That’s the story!”

Many thanks to John for sharing this with us.

I publish a maritime blog about Waterford harbours maritime heritage each Friday.  
To subscribe to get it to your inbox email me russianside@gmail.com 

My Facebook and Twitter pages chronical the daily happenings in our beautiful harbour:  
F https://www.facebook.com/whtidesntales  T https://twitter.com/tidesntales


My book on growing up in a fishing village is now published.     

Details of online purchases, local stockists or ebook store available here
         

SS Irish Willow’s mercy mission to Dunmore East

On the 1st September 1942, the SS Irish Willow rounded Hook Head and steamed for Dunmore East. With her destination Waterford port, it was a familiar course. But rather than being met by the pilot boat, this time she was intercepted by the local life boat Annie BlancheSmith.  For not alone had she a cargo of wheat for Halls Flour Mills in the city, she also had 47 souls clutched from the Atlantic, the crew of the torpedoed SS Empire Breeze.

The Irish Willow (1941-46) was originally built in America in 1917 as part of that country’s emergency fleet expansion to cope with the extra demands for shipping during WWI.  In 1941 she was chartered to the newly founded Irish Shipping Co., in an attempt to keep supply lines open to Ireland. She had departed Cork in June and via Wales for bunkers had taken on a cargo of wheat at St Johns NB and was en route to Waterford.

Irish Willow 1946  via Frank Cheevers WHG 2013

The Empire Breeze departed Liverpool on August 15th as part of convoy ON 122.  On August 25th the convoy was attacked by German U Boats and both U-176 and U-438 fired torpedoes in the direction of the Empire Breeze.  It was later clarified that U-176 fired the fatal shots, the other sub’s missile having missed their target.

The crew took to the lifeboats and rowed away from their stricken ship, but not before an SOS was sent.  However the rules about stopping in convoy were well understood by her crew and as a dense fog fell, they were left on their own in the middle of the Atlantic.  Two ships did try to locate them, but the fog was too dense and they were passed off.  When the crew spotted their stricken vessel still afloat, it was decided to return and temporarily board her from where hot drinks and extra supplies were sourced and a further distress call sent.

This signal was picked up by the SS Irish Willow, they immediately responded.  However, the decision was not without a lot of risk to the neutral vessel.  They had a fix on the ship using dead reckoning, in other words, they knew the direction the men were in, but not the distance.  In a situation of thick dense fog, by traveling too fast they could collide with the stricken ship and risk their own.  They could also risk colliding with the life boats.  But they also risked the arrival of another U Boat, determined to finish off the job.  As they sailed towards the survivors, all these thoughts must have been with the crew.  Those not on watch were posted on deck as extra lookouts, and every two minutes whistles were blown as a signal to the stricken sailors.

Fishermen’s Hall, Dunmore East

Eventually, the wreck site was reached and the men rescued, and the Irish Willow made the crew as comfortable as possible while making haste towards home.  A message was sent forward to alert the Irish government of the situation and the local Red Cross began to make preparations at the Fisherman’s Hall in Dunmore East.  A reception centre was set up with food, clothing, beds, and medicines.

At 1.30pm the Annie BlancheSmith put to sea, with doctors and ambulance men on board to meet up with the Irish Willow. In two trips the lifeboat landed the 47 survivors and returned to her station at 3.45pm.* Two of the wounded were transferred to the Waterford City & County Infirmary.

Original Painting of the event
posted by Brian Cleare to WMH page Sept 2015

Apparently, coal was in so short a supply in the country at this stage, that the trains were no longer running.  As a consequence, Sean Lemass (Minister for Supplies) had to authorise two buses to be dispatched to bring the crew to Dublin.**  I’m sure from there they were returned to England, and just like my story of Pat Hanlon, were back at sea within days.

The SS Irish Willow continued to Waterford where she was discharged and continued to keep the country fed for the rest of the war.  I know there was most likely Waterford men aboard, but don’t know any of the names I’m afraid.  Bill Gunnip (RIP) who was our neighbour sailed with the company and did the Duffin family and I know the Heffernans, Hearnes and Walsh’s of Passage East were with the company too. Paddy Roche mentioned in a comment that his Grandfather Jim Roche of Ballyhack was aboard the Willow, but was not sure if it was at the same time.  My own grandfather was at sea too.  I’ve read recently that Irish ships saved the lives of 521 sailors of all nationalities and neutral Irish ships were attacked (by both sides) 41 times.  149 Irishmen died and 38 were injured, many permanently.*** That does not include those that sailed under other flags.

Growing up, my war hero’s were gleamed from comics and movies and tended to be military men who managed against all odds to do the impossible, and usually with a lot of gunfire.  But as an adult you see things a little differently. The crews of such ships as the Irish Willow could only turn into danger on hearing an SOS, but that neither diminishes nor fully explains their decision to do so.  They could do no other, but that in itself is very often heroic, especially when the sea is involved.

My Facebook and Twitter pages are more contemporary and reflect not just heritage
and history but the daily happenings in our beautiful harbour:
F https://www.facebook.com/whtidesntales  T https://twitter.com/tidesntales

* Taken from “The Story of the Dunmore East Lifeboats” Brendan and Mary Glody made a present of a copy of it to me during the week.
**McShane. M.  Neutral Shores.  Ireland and the battle of the Atlantic.  2012.  Mercier press.  Cork
*** Bolger. D. The Lonely Sea and Sky.  2016.  New island. Dublin