Wick Coastguard Rescues.
Stellatus Tuesday 3rd March 1959
As reported in "The Coastguard" (Vol 11 No. 2 August 1959.)
"Coastguard Anticipation Beat Rescue Call."
When soon after 5 a.m. on the morning of March 3rd the Swedish steamer "Stellatus" ran ashore on a flat ledge near Tippet Rock, south of Duncansby Head, in Freswick bay, Caithness, her Master sent a private message to his owners in Helsingfors that she was in no immediate danger and required no assistance.
Fortunately this message was picked up by Wick Radio who immediately informed the Coastguard, so that when twenty minutes later the "Stellatus" asked for a tug and other assistance, most of the important rescue-action authorities had already been alerted by Mr. Addison, the District Officer, who knows the dangers facing any ship which goes ashore on that treacherous rock-bound part of the coast.
Subsequent events proved how correct he was when the lifeboat rescued the entire crew of twenty-six, including some women, who had abandoned their ship which later became a total wreck.
Wick L.S.A. Company had a twelve miles journey to the casualty which could not be seen from the main road, and to which they were directed by the Wick police who had located the wreck lying parallel to the shore and about 100 yards from the cliffs, which at this point are between 70 and 100 feet high.
The last half-mile was particularly difficult going because the gear had to be man-handled over boggy ground, and while it was being set up, communication with the stranded vessel had been established by the District Officer using a 2lb. rocket and nylon line. There was however, some confusion on board because the crew, after hauling out the whip and making a prolonged study of the tally board, secured the whip block dead centre on the boom of the after derrick instead of on to the mast or some other vertical king post.
This misunderstanding prevented the Company sending out and setting up the hawser, although conditions at the time with the wreck rolling about four degrees each way would have made working very difficult.
Soon afterwards the lifeboat arrived and while she stood by awaiting the Captain's decision whether or not to leave the ship which it could now be seen was severely damaged in the holds and engine room, the coxswain asked, by semaphore, for a weather forecast for the area.
The request as passed to the Met. Office by the police radio car which stood by throughout the rescue operation doing valuable work maintaining communications with Coastguard headquarters at Wick. At about 10 a.m. some of the crew embarked with their belongings on to the lifeboat, but they remained alongside the casualty until nearly 1 p.m. when the lifeboat with fourteen of the crew left for Wick, leaving twelve men still on the wreck.
It was expected that the Captain and Engineer would remain on board, and so during the afternoon preparations were made to set up the hawser. The crew, on Coastguard request through the lifeboat coxswain, had transferred the whip block to a king post forward, for use if the weather worsened and for salvage officer to go aboard on he following morning.
Arrangements were made to set a night watch, and to send the remainder of the L.S.A. Company back to Wick. But when the lifeboat returned to the wreck at about 6 p.m. the Captain decided to abandon ship, and he and the remaining crew were taken off.
This was probably a sound decision as with an onshore wind and the engine room flooded, rescue operations would have been very difficult if the wind had increased during the night.
Days later a strong-easterly wind produced some swell against these rocks and with "Stellatus" swept by spray and breaking seas it could then be seen how difficult the rescue would have been. The lifeboat could only have carried out a rescue by breeches buoy, and all the crew would have had to use the L.S.A. equipment.
A few hours of this pounding and "Stellatus" was broken in half; the stern part falling away into deep water, while the bows came even closer to the cliffs. A few hours later "Stellatus" broke in half. Her bows came closer. Her stern fell into deep water.
Further stories of the Stellatus can be read (with photo's) as reported by:
|the "Press & Journal" newspaper|
|the "John O'Groat Journal" newspaper||Back to Wick Rescue's page|
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