Dragged anchor hazardous cargo big trouble

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From the article:

The containers of hazardous material are reported to include uranium ore, fireworks, various corrosive liquids and antimony in an oxide form.
Whew! If that storm comes in and does a number on the ship, (Very likely since grounded ships tend to break up) this is going to be one nasty job to clean up.​

I was just reading this and it rang another bell. This may be getting a little excessive, but it appears that the more things change, the more they remain the same. Lights believed that the worst of Capetown's problems were solved with the construction of the breakwater, but apparently it didn't cure all of them. It used to be a lot worse when a ship dragged her anchor in a Capetown storm.

"... many and many a ship's bones lie rotting on the beach in Table Bay through lack of protection from the dreaded nor'wester.

First comes the "table cloth" on the mountain. Then the notorious south-easter, which literally brings fine stones and gravel skeltering down from the heights above. That is all right for the ships in the harbour; they are sheltered, but the fun commences when the wind swings round and comes screeching out of the nor'-west. Then the sea and the wind drive right straight into the harbour, and in those days it was a common sight to see a dozen or more sailing ships riding stretched out to their anchors.

On the occasion of which I am speaking in the Primrose Hill, when we rode out a black nor'wester, we paid out 120 fathoms on each anchor, and that is the limit of the cable carried. On to each cable we bent the end of a thirteen inch coir hawser (thirteen inches in diameter); this was laid along the decks and made fast to the mooring bits.

These preparations were, necessarily, carried out before the wind shifted round. Once the sea came into the harbour it was impossible to get forward along the decks.

Ships then are to be seen diving into hugh seas, in far worse condition than when out at sea under shortened canvas. Shipping them green over the bows, and everybody hoping against hope that the ground tackle will hold. It sometimes happens that one anchor, or even the coir spring on some ship will carry away. Then the trouble starts. That particular cable parts, the second anchor will not hold her, she then drifts down and fouls another ship. One or other either sink where they lie, or both part their cables and drive on shore. Once they hit the beach there is not a chance in a thousand of a single soul being saved. Shore lifeboats are called away, but with that gigantic sea running, accompanied by a terrific gale, there is barely time to get the shore lifeboat afloat before one, two and sometimes even three ships will go crashing up on the beach in a jumbled mass, to be pounded to matchwood in a very few minutes...
Now, of course, the breakwater is completed, and one can lie in comfort behind it, and watch the seas doing their worst. They still come right over, but their force is broken."

C.H. Lightoller Titanic and Other Ships

Pat W.

David Haisman

The above article on the ''dreaded nor'wester'' by ''Lights'' brings back a few memories in that port of Cape Town. Whilst serving with Union Castle Line,there were times during the nor'westers in that harbour when we would have to double up on moorings and put out ten inch insurance wires at bow and stern. To see ships of 30 000 tons or more, surging up and down the dockside, almost like small pleasure craft, was a rare sight indeed.
Ropes and wires are usually measured by their circumference and not diameter although the coir ''Lights'' was referring to would have been all of 13 inches in diameter. These great ropes made from coconut fibre were still in use back in the 50's but chiefly used for tug and towing work due to their lightness, flexibility and strength.

The heavy swell around the Cape at certain times throughout the year which is not unlike the Bay of Biscay or the Australian Bight, was known by seamen and South Africans alike as the Cape Rollers. At times it was quite extraordinary to see the enormous height of these rollers and huge liners appearing to virtually climb each wave due to the great gaps in the swell.
Naturally, these heavy seas would have had a devastating effect to shipping in the harbour during the early days before the breakwater was erected.

It was often said that many of the rocks in that breakwater were laid by seamen enduring several weeks hard labour after being jailed due to a confrontation with brandy, ''ticky hock'' and the South African police.
I can believe that !

''I must go down to the sea again,
The lonely sea and sky.
And all I ask is a tall ship,
and a star to steer her by.''


All the best,
Hi, David!

As a matter of fact, the paragraph preceding that passage describes how the breakwater came to be.

"At this time the notorious breakwater was still under construction, and, although representing a cool million, cost the Colony little or nothing, as it was almost wholly built of convict labour.

It was a cheery gang that laboured there. "So many months," or "so many years on the breakwater," was a common saying, and quickly applied to anyone who was apt to sail a bit too close to the wind. Many proved I.D.B.'s--and many that were not proved--subscribed their little quota to that breakwater; in fact, culprits of petty crimes, which in the ordinary way would have been met with a small fine, were joyfully consigned to carry out Cape Town's ambitious scheme, of protecting the bay with that huge rampart of granite and stone. There is no doubt it was needed, for many and many a ship's bones lie rotting on the beach in Table Bay through lack of protection from the dreaded nor'wester"

Lightoller Titanic and Other Ships

I can easily imagine any of his shipmates saying "Two years on the breakwater!" to him after he'd pulled some practical joke or other, can't you?

Pat W.
As of Friday, preparations were being made to get Sealand Express off the beach. Tons of oil and cargo have been removed and sand has been dredged away on the seaward side. The hull appears to have stood up to the stranding. Watch this space!
Cape Rollers? There's a term I haven't heard in a long time. The first I heard of them was as a yung 'un who read the story of a tanker called the World Glory that was broken in half by one of these waves.

David Haisman

Hi Pat,
I had never read anything of Lightollers but can imagine how Cape Town being so exposed would have been a nightmare to ships anchored in Table Bay during the ''Roller Season'' without the breakwater.
Regarding convict labour etc. the Afrikaner police weren't too kind to foreign seamen in my day either. I can remember two ''green'' Deck Boys on their first trip abroad, going ashore and stealing a radio from a store in Cape Town's Adderly Street.
On arrest, the police reported back to the captain that the boys would be detained until the ship returned two weeks later from Durban on the homeward bound voyage.
Two weeks later, on sailing day, they were brought back to the ship in a ''Paddy Wagon.'' Once onboard after telling their tale and much persuasion from some crew members,they dropped their pants to reveal six well placed ugly looking weals where they had been caned. One could safely say that their ''shopping expedition'' in Cape Town that day turned out to be a bit of a ''bummer''.

Hi Michael,

I do remember something about the World Glory and I do believe there was also the mystery of a fully loaded cargo ship completely disappearing in those regions and to this day has never been found. The name of that particular ship fails me but no doubt someone on this web site may have further details on that.

All the best,


Inger Sheil

The cruiser Suffolk, escorting the Balmoral Castle (with a certain Lieutenant Lowe aboard), had a vicious passage down to Cape Town in 1917. A private diary kept aboard her reveals day after day battling the rollers and taking heavy seas.

Funny you should mention crew getting into trouble in Cape Town, David - judging from the Belgic's logs, some of her crew fell afoul of the local law enforcement there on Lowe's last voyage before joining the Titanic - they sailed with one of them left behind in gaol.
I remebered the World Glory because the incident was written up in...of all things...Popular Mechanics. Can't say as I'm surprised by a fully loaded (Perhaps overloaded???) cargo ship disappearing in those parts. The capes rounding both Africa and South America have been claiming ships for centuries and are not for the faint hearted.

Quite awhile back, the USS Independance...an 85,000 ton aircraft carrier...made the trip from the Atlantic to her new homeport in the Pacific after a lengthy refit. She had to go around Cape Horn since she was way too large for the Panama Canal.

The damage she suffered took $5,000,000 to repair!
David H may be thinking of Waratah, which vanished off the South African coast in 1909. There's been a lot of theorising about how she sank, including claims that she was unstable, but there's still no sign of her.
Sealand Express was refloated on Saturday afternoon local time and will be allowed to enter Cape Town harbour after inspection. Another costly accident.

While on salvage, the fourth piece of Tricolor has been raised and will be taken to Zeebrugge soon.

Paul Rogers

I remember seeing a documentary that mentioned the disappearance of Waratah - at least, I think that was the name of the ship. (I'm getting old now - my memory is definitely going!) The documentary focused on so-called "rogue waves" and how they can exist, despite initial computer models and theories that suggested such waves should be exceptionally rare.

The documentary theorised that Waratah was a victim of a rogue wave - mainly based on a piece of wreckage recovered from the ship (a metal post or bracket, I believe). The bracket would have been substantially above the waterline but, when discovered, was bent back, suggesting that the ship had been hit by a massive force well above the waterline, such as a giant wave.

If I remember correctly, the documentary suggested that rogue waves can occur when strong sea currents are flowing against strong air currents, allegedly a common occurrence off the South African coast.

>>allegedly a common occurrence off the South African coast.<<

I'm quite happy to have never had the opportunity to go there and observe that first hand. The Cape of Good Hope and Cape Horn are quite simply some of the nastiest and most unpredictable stretches of ocean on the planet with a sinister reputation among mariners that's well deserved.
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