Advanced search

Forty-Two Men Were Saved

EARLY on the morning of the 27th of November, 1954, the 20,125-ton Liberian tanker World Concord, which was in ballast and bound from Liverpool to Syria, broke in two during storms of exceptional violence in the Irish Sea.

By a lucky accident none of the members of the crew was near the point where the break took place.

Seven men, including the master, were in the fore part when it broke adrift.

35 men were in the after part.

The first ship to answer the World Concord's S.O.S. was the aircraft carrier H.M.S. Illustrious. At 5.58 in the morning the St. David's coastguard sent an anticipatory message to the honorary secretary of the St. David's life-boat station, Dr. Joseph Soar, that the two ships were then some ten miles north-west-by-west from the Smalls Lighthouse.

The news that the tanker had broken in half reached Dr. Soar at 6.30 and, after discussing the matter with the coastguard station officer, he ordered maroons to be fired at 6.48. He then received conflicting messages, one indicating that the life-boat was needed and one that it was not, but at 7.55 a message from H.M.S. Illustrious asked for the life-boat, and five minutes later this request was confirmed by the Commander-in-Chief, Plymouth.

Launch in Gale The St. David's life-boat, Civil Service No. 6, was launched at 8.28. A moderate gale was then blowing from the west and the sea was rough. There were fierce rain squalls and an overcast sky. Visibility was about one mile.

At 9.15 the Illustrious signalled the life-boat that the World Concord was fifteen miles north-north-west of the South Bishop Lighthouse. The lifeboat reached the after part of the tanker at 11.45.

Tanker Rolling Heavily By this time a fresh gale was blowing from the south, and there was continuous heavy rain. The sea was very rough, with waves reaching 15-20 feet in height, and there was a long and powerful swell. The tanker was rolling heavily, her propellers turning all the time.

The coxswain, Captain William Watts Williams, decided to make a dummy run in on the starboard to discover the best way of taking the men off the stern half of the tanker, which then lay athwart wind. After making this run he asked for the Jacob's Ladder to be shifted to the well deck forward of the break of the poop. In this way a shorter length of ladder would be needed and the confused water around the stern could be more easily avoided.

The coxswain stationed five men forward in the life-boat and came alongside the Jacob's ladder, which had been re-rigged as he had asked.

He took off the first survivor, and the life-boat went slowly ahead and then astern until she was abreast of the tanker's propellers. This manoeuvre had to be repeated 34 times, one survivor being embarked each time. The rescue took fifty minutes and the sur- I vivors, who were 34 Greeks and one j Egyptian, none of whom could speak English, were all taken on board without injury.

Mechanics' Part All this time the mechanic, George Jordan, and the assistant mechanic, Gwillym Davies, had handled the engines with the greatest skill and determination.

The life-boat left the World Concord about 12.30. The weather had grown j steadily worse. Visibility had de- • creased to half a mile, and a whole gale was now blowing from the south.

Through heavy seas the coxswain brought the life-boat through the northern entrance of Ramsey Sound and reached the slipway about three o'clock. The seas were such that rehousing was a difficult operation and the survivors could not be landed for more than a quarter of an hour.

Meanwhile, the fore part of the World Concord had continued to drift with seven men on board. At 1.30 on the afternoon of the 27th of November the honorary secretary of the Rosslare Harbour station, Mr. Eugene McCarthy, was asked if the life-boat could be launched to go to her help.

Worst Seas for Years A severe south-easterly gale had been blowing in St. George's Channel since the day before. The seas had been so heavy that the Fishguard- Rosslare mail steamer had taken six hours instead of the scheduled three hours and fifteen minutes for the crossing. People familiar with weather conditions in the southern Irish sea stated that they were the worst for many years.

The Rosslare Harbour life-boat, Douglas Hyde, was launched at 3.50.

The task of finding the drifting part of the tanker in the prevailing conditions was not an easy one, but at 5.50 the searchlight from H.M.S. Illustrious was sighted on the port bow. After getting further information from the tug Turmoil the life-boat reached the tanker's position at 7.10.

Coxswain Richard Walsh then had to decide whether to try to take the survivors off at once or to wait until daylight. It seemed that the fore part of the tanker was in no immediate danger, and he decided that the risk would be greater if he tried to take the survivors off in darkness. His decision meant that the life-boat would have to stand by for twelve hours in terrible conditions. During the long wait Coxswain Walsh shared the wheel with Second Coxswain William Duggan. It was also extremely difficult to keep sight of the tanker. She showed no lights and was drifting northwards at about 3J knots. About midnight the wind reached full gale force from the westsouth- west.

Broken and Protruding Parts The next morning, at 8.30, Coxswain Walsh decided that the time had come to take off the seven survivors. The tanker's fore part was then running before the wind and sea. She was listing about five degrees to port.

There was a heavy swell and seas sometimes reaching 25 feet in height.

Coxswain Walsh made two dummy runs to the south on the starboard side of what remained of the World Concord. Then he came alongside about half way, keeping the life-boat clear of broken and protruding parts of the tanker.

By manoeuvring the engines he kept the life-boat alongside the 25-feet jumping ladder. In fifteen minutes the remaining seven men, including the master, had been taken on board the life-boat, which suffered only slight damage.

The coxswain believed himself to be rather further south than he was, but he later altered course and at two o'clock in the afternoon an aircraft chartered for press purposes indicated the course to Holy head. About three o'clock the life-boat met the Holyhead life-boat which had been launched shortly before, and the two boats returned to Holyhead at 3.30 in the afternoon. By that time the Rosslare Harbour life-boat had been nearly 26 hours at sea.

Brass Bands Playing When the crew returned to Rosslare more than one thousand people with brass bands playing were there to greet them. Numerous messages of congratulations were read out, including one from Mrs. Sean O'Kelly who had christened the life-boat Douglas Hyde.

For the services to the World Concord the following awards were made: Silver Medal.

Coxswain William Watts Williams, of St. David's, and Coxswain Richard Walsh, of Rosslare Harbour.

Bronze Medal.

Motor Mechanic George Jordan and Assistant Motor Mechanic Gwillym Davies, of St. David's, and Second Coxswain William Duggan and Motor ! Mechanic Richard Hickey, of Rosslare Harbour.

Thanks of the Institution inscribed on Vellum.

Assistant Motor Mechanic John Wickham, Bowman James Walsh, Life-boatman Richard Duggan, Lifeboatman John Duggan, of Rosslare.

Second Coxswain David Lewis, Acting Bowman William Rowlands, Lifeboatman William Morris, Life-boatman Howell Roberts, Life-boatman Richard Chisholm, of St. Davids.

Scale rewards to the St. David's crew and helpers, £21 12s. Additional rewards to the crew, £24. Total rewards, £45 12s. Scale rewards to the Rosslare Harbour crew and helpers, £66 7s. Additional rewards to the crew, £21. Total rewards, £87 7s.

Scale rewards to the Holyhead crew and helpers, £18 4s. 6d.

The owners of the tanker made gifts to the life-boat crews.