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Most naval personnel hope that their ship will be able to take part in a salvage operation. Those serving on LOCH class frigates between 1950 and 1964 had every reason to think that their chances were somewhat above average as many of this type of escort had been so involved. The attraction was that payments were made to all on board any warship involved in the successful recovery of a vessel in distress. The basic criterion was acknowledgement by the Master of the vessel that help had been requested to ensure the safety of his ship and its' cargo. This was done by completing an insurance document [Lloyds Open Form]. One drawback to this arrangement was that no payment was made in the event of the distressed ship being lost. The basic rule was No cure, No Pay and although great skill and bravery is needed to deal with fires and other hazards, particularly in the case of tankers, no insurance money is then payable. The cases of MV DARA and SS SKAUBRYN described below are examples of this.
After a successful operation, agreement has to be reached between the Admiralty and the insurers concerned in respect of the amount of salvage money to be paid. Once this is established, it is necessary to determine how much will be retained by the Admiralty to cover costs involved, that is, fuel used by ships diverted to assist in rescue work and naval stores used for fire fighting and repair work. The balance is available for payment of salvage money and is divided into share units. The number of units allocated to individual officers and ratings depends upon the class appropriate to their rank.
There are 13 classes for Commanders and below, each having a number of share units. Flag Officers and Captains are covered by 17 separate special classes. These vary considerably according to rank, responsibility and seniority with unit allocations varying between 1,250 for a full Admiral and 100 for a Captain with less than 3 years seniority. Other examples are — a Commander-in-command has a first class allocation with 60 shares and a Petty Officer gets eight shares. The lowest category (13th class) covers supernumeraries who have two shares. The special classes are used to cover instances when a Captain or a Flag Officer is in command of a salvage operation.
Some of the more significant operations involving dangerous or unusual circumstances are described below:
HM Ships LOCH KILLISPORT and LOCH ALVIE, September 1958 -
SS MELIKA and SS FERNAND GILABERT.
This large salvage operation lasted from 13 to 28 September 1958. Special congratulations were made in an Admiralty general message to the Commanding Officer of LOCH ALVIE (Captain C L F Webb RN) who was Senior Officer at the scene. Salvage awards were paid to 3700 individuals and totalled £376,000.
The French ship FERNAND GILABERT (10,715grt) and the Liberian MELIKA (20,551grt) collided off the coast of Oman on 13 September 1958 and caused a major maritime disaster. Many HM Ships were involved apart from the two LOCHs. They included HM Ships BULWARK, PUMA and ST BRIDES BAY. Helicopters from the carrier BULWARK were used to rescue some of the injured from the FERNAND GILABERT. Other survivors were rescued by the Swedish ship CERES and taken to Aden for medical attention. Fire broke out on both ships and there were 21 fatal casualties. MELIKA was abandoned but, as her engines were not stopped, she proceeded under her own power on auto-pilot for 20 miles before being sited by aircraft. A salvage party from HMS PUMA then went on board. Subsequently, BULWARK towed the MELIKA to Muscat were 20,000 tons of her cargo was discharged into a Royal Fleet Auxiliary tanker. Fire fighting teams from BULWARK spent several days dealing with fires in FERNAND GILABERT. Salvage work was hampered by rough weather which made the task especially hazardous. Initially, the French tanker was taken in tow by HMS ST BRIDES BAY and later handed over to HMS LOCH KILLISPORT which towed her 300 miles stem first to Karachi, arriving there on 20 September. The awards paid reflect the value of the cargoes on the two tankers, as shown in the Table of Salvage Operations.
HM Ships LOCH KILLISPORT and LOCH INSH, May 1955 -
Italian tanker ARGEA PRIMA
The Italian tanker ARGEA PRIMA collided with the Dutch MV TABIAN in the entrance to the Persian gulf. She was badly holed, on fire and had been abandoned by her crew. Fire fighting parties were put on board and spent two days dealing with the conflagration. As the machinery compartments were usable and towing had proved impracticable, the ARGEA PRIMA proceeded to Bahrein under her own power at 3 knots. Meanwhile TABIAN had been taken in two by a Dutch salvage tug. 'Queen's Commendations' for fire fighting were made to the Engineer Officer (Senior Commissioned Mechanician H Ward, RN) and to the Chief Engineering Mechanic (CPA A James) of HMS LOCH KILLISPORT. Although HMS LOCH INSH was diverted to go to assist in towing operations she was not used and so no salvage money was paid to her crew. The US Navy also took part in the fire fighting work by helping to cool the structure of the ARGEA PRIMA during the RN salvage operation.
HMS LOCH FYNE, July 1956 –
Swedish tanker JULIUS
This tanker was anchored in the Strait of Hormuz at the entrance to the Persian gulf following engine trouble. HMS LOCH FYNE was diverted whilst on passage to Bahrein and provided technical help. Whilst repair was in hand JULIUS was obliged to cut her anchor cable and was taken in tow by LOCH FYNE. However, manoeuvring problems at slow speed in a crowded waterway made it necessary for the two to be released. Fortunately by that time JULIUS was able to steam at 4 knots and HMS LOCH FYNE remained in company since the tanker had no anchoring facilities. To add a further complication a distress call from the tanker BRITISH WORKER asking for medical assistance was received and LOCH FYNE had to leave in response. Once the patient was embarked the frigate returned and towed the casualty to Bahrein.
HMS LOCH FYNE, January 1957 –
Norwegian tanker GILDA
GILDA had run aground north of Bahrein and requested the provision of barges to allow discharge of her cargo of kerosene. These could not be provided and HMS LOCH FYNE stood by her for 3 days. During this time GILDA was refloated with help from the frigate although some cargo had to be jettisoned before arriving safely in port.
HMS LOCH RUTHVEN, October 1956
Norwegian tanker POLYANA On 21 October a fire following an explosion was reported by POLYANA when in the Persian gulf near Bahrein on passage to Europe. 15 members of her crew of 43 had lost their lives. Several other British warships including the Survey Ship HMS DALRYMPLE as well as HM Ships REBOUBT and BASTION of the Amphibious Warfare Squadron assisted HMS LOCH RUTHVEN in extensive fire fighting work. GILDA was taken in tow to Bahrein by HMS DALRYMPLE with the fire still raging and it was not extinguished until after arrival there 7.5 days later. The stock of fire fighting foam available ashore was so depleted by this work that 1000 gallons had to be flown from UK by BOAC. The towing operation was particularly dangerous since the flames had to be kept clear of the unaffected tanks.
An unusual feature of this particular maritime casualty was that Captain D P Law, MBE DSC RN the Commanding Officer of HMS LOCH RUTHVEN, engaged a Dutch Salvage tug under contract to assist him so that salvage payments could be made exclusively to the RN ships engaged. The total salvage money paid was £45,000 and was the largest single amount paid up to that date. Captain Law received a share of £1,482 — far more then his monthly salary. A CPO in one of the fire fighting parties qualified for a sum of £176.
Failed salvage attempts
HMS LOCH FADA, April 1958 –
Norwegian liner - SKAUBRYN
During passage to East Africa, HMS LOCH FADA was diverted to search for the Norwegian ship SKAUBRYN reported to be on fire in the Indian Ocean on 31 March 1958. The merchant ship had been taking 1288 German emigrants to Australia. As a result of an uncontrollable fire in her engine room she had been abandoned and the survivors were rescued by the British ship CITY OF SYDNEY. After an extensive search LOCH FADA put a boarding party onto the abandoned vessel. They found extensive damage with partially gutting of several compartments. A tow was established and the two ships proceeded towards Aden. During this passage the Dutch tug CYCLOOP arrived and took over responsibility. Alas SKAUBRYN foundered, in tow, 400 miles east of Aden and, therefore, no salvage payments were made.
HM Ships LOCH ALVIE, LOCH FYNE and LOCH RUTHVEN, April 1961 –
British liner - MV DARA
HMS Ruthven (NP/Bryan Woodford)
The loss of the British India Steam Navigation Company's motor vessel DARA was a great tragedy both in of loss of life and in the failure of an extensive salvage operation. The DARA, on passage from Bombay to various ports in the Persian Gulf, had called at Hubai in the south east of the Gulf, about 100 miles from the Strait of Hormuz. Because there were no port facilities at that time, passengers and cargo had to be dealt with from an offshore anchorage. The weather on 7 April deteriorated during the forenoon and owing to the poor anchor holding ground the Master put to sea. DARA headed north into heavy weather with Force 7 winds. It had not been possible to land visitors and local officials so there were extra people on board — a total 819.
By the morning of 8 April the weather had eased and course was reversed to land those who had been obliged to remain aboard. At approximately 0445 there was an explosion in the port passageway near to the engine room. The resultant fire and power failure produced a chaotic situation aggravated by smoke. As the main engine stopped the DARA drifted across the wind. Power was restored using the emergency power supply system but this failed when the generator room was engulfed by the fire. Owing to the extent of smoke and danger from fires, great difficulty was experienced in lowering lifeboats, two of which were lost during launching operations. The DARA was completely abandoned by 0500.
It had not been possible to transmit a distress signal but fortunately the plight of DARA had been observed by the British LST EMPIRE GUILLEMOT and she transmitted a request for assistance. Amongst the ships which went to help were the Norwegian tanker THORSHOLM, the British tanker BRITISH ENERGY and the Japanese YUYO MARU NO 5. In all they rescued 584 survivors. HM Ships LOCH FYNE, LOCH ALVIE and LOCH RUTHVEN were exercising 230 miles west of the DARA's position and were ordered to proceed at best possible speed to assist. Medical aid was sent from Dubai in MV BARPETA and the US destroyer LAFFEY proceed to assist.
To ensure immediate availability, fire fighting equipment and towing gear was prepared on the British frigates during their passage to the scene and LOCH ALVIE transferred her Medical Officer to BRITISH ENERGY. By
nightfall the glowing hull was visible to the approaching rescue ships. Attempts were made by the frigates to cool the structure by playing hoses on the still burning vessel and despite difficult swell conditions, teams of fire fighters were eventually put on board. It was necessary to frequently relieve these teams due to the smoke, and this delayed getting the fires under control. Eventually DARA began to like to starboard due to the accumulation of water and debris. Effort was, therefore, deployed to remove water using portable pumps and to jettison loose gear. Further complications arose with fires in the engine room and after hold being fed with oil from ruptured fuel tanks and by lagging from the refrigerated cargo space. Another factor hampering the salvage attempt was lack of access ladders since those fitted has been made of wood and had been destroyed. DARA continued to drift towards the shore until LOCH ALVIE was able to establish a tow with LOCH RUTHVEN secured alongside. Further delay was caused when the securing cable and power supply feeder from LOCH RUTHVEN parted. By evening it was quite clear that the list was again increasing and fears were raised that sea water would soon be able to enter the ship through open scuttles.
The Master signed a Lloyds Open Form on 9 April with the Royal Navy and the RFA salvage vessel SEA SALVOR which had then arrived on the scene. By the following morning (10 April) it had been decided to beach DARA at first light to complete fire fighting and improve stability. The casualty was taken in tow by SEA SALVOR towards a suitable beaching point, but when with three miles of this position she suddenly increased her list, rolled over and sank at about 0920. Her post side davits still showed above the water. Before HMS LOCH FYNE left the scene she marked the position with flags and buoys to warn shipping of the presence of the wreck.
60 bodies were found on board and the final death toll amounted to 238. Some gold bars and other valuables were recovered from the ship before she foundered. Evidence obtained during the subsequent investigation showed that the fire had been caused by an explosion. Whether this was due to use of a heating stove used by one of the passengers or whether il was deliberately caused is an open question.
No salvage awards were made to any of the ships involved since DARA had sunk. However, her owners made a payment to the Welfare Funds of the three LOCH class frigates which took part, in recognition of the long and exhausting work that they had undertaken.
HMS LOCH LOMOND, AUGUST 1962 –
British ship – MEDINA PRINCESS
The British flagged tramp ship requested assistance from HMS LOCH LOMOND which was paying a visit to Djibouti in French Somaliland. Amazingly, MEDINA PRINCESS was lying alongside the wharf but the Master signed a Lloyds Open Form ! Salvage work was taken in hand immediately by technical staff from the British frigate. All efforts to remove water from the flooded engine room proved in vain. It was suspected that as fast as one sea valve was shut by the salvage team in an attempt to prevent ingress of water, other valves were being opened by persons unknown to ensure that the ship would not be able to sail. The absence of any ship drawings made all salvage attempts a lengthy and hit and miss affair. LOCH LOMOND had to sail three days later and salvage work was then abandoned with no success. MEDINA PRINCESS had a history of disaster since sailing from Europe with a cargo of wheat consigned to China. There has been innumerable problems including a mutiny whilst on passage through the Mediterranean. After LOCH LOMOND left, the MEDINA PRINCESS was towed to a shoal in the harbour at Djibouti and beached by the harbour authorities. The whole dismal affair culminated in a legal action in the High Court in London. Salvage awards were not paid.
TABLE OF SALVAGE OPERATIONS 1950-1964
This table details all the salvage operations undertaken by LOCH Class frigates during the period 1950-1964. It is not a complete listing of all salvage work undertaken by the Royal Navy during this period.
Date of Salvage
Name of frigate(s) involved
Collision & fire
RFA WAVE KING
Feed pump defect
Fuel shortage in poor weather
LOCH KILLISPORT and LOCH ALVIE
MELIKA and FERNAND GILABERT
Ships in Collision off Omani coast
Explosion and fire
LOCH ALVIE, LOCH RUTHVEN and LOCH FYNE
Explosion and fire. Salvage failed.
Flooded Engine Room
Lloyds Casualty Lists, Admiralty Fleet Orders notifying Awards, The Electrical Review (DARA),
Mr A Tremlett and Fleet Photographic Officer, CinC Fleet (Photographs)