Ennerdale & Story

Norbert Probst

Nuremberg, Germany

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Canon EOS 50-E, 2.8/15mm Fisheye, 1/60s, f9, Subal housing, no flash

Seychelles, Indian Ocean

The Ennerdale story:

The 3rd engineer of the Crew reports:
“I was on board the RFA Ennerdale when she struck a pair of uncharted granite pinnacles off Mahe Island, one of the Seychelles Archipelago. It was at 07:37 hour local time, on June 1st 1970.
The Ennerdale was classified as a mobile reserve tanker in the British Royal Fleet Auxiliary Service. The ship was built 1963 in Germany, by Kieler Howaldswerke as “Naess Scotsman”. This explains why the ship’s bell currently residing in the Seychelles Yacht Club does not bear the name Ennerdale. Prior to the sinking the ship had been supporting Royal Naval vessels in the maintenance of sanctions against the Rhodesian government of Ian Smith by blockading the port of Beira in Mozambique.
As Engineer (3rd) I was on watch in the Engine Room on that day. We had left Mahe earlier at around 7.00 am to refuel HMS Andromeda, but didn’t make it after hitting the pinnacle. All of the ship’s centre tanks from No 1 to No 9, the Pump room and Engine Room were all holed, and sea water was pouring out of the engine crankcase explosion doors, and was very quickly up to the generators. The lights soon went out! We all managed to get into the life boats, but it was a few hours before we were all picked up, as there seemed doubt about the seriousness of the situation, by those ashore. I recall staying with Chief Engineer Brian Davis, and possibly Steve Matthews,(but can’t be sure) in a beautiful house for another week, (I think the owners were away), before we all boarded RFA Hebe, and were taken to Gan, Maldives for the flight home.”
Three commercial tankers named Naess Scotsman (later Ennerdale), Halcyon Breeze and Edenfield, built between 1964 and 1965 and chartered to the Royal Fleet Auxiliary in July 1967 for service East of Suez. The three vessels were given traditional Royal Fleet Auxiliary ‘Dale’ names – Ennerdale, Dewdale and Derwentdale – and underwent limited modifications for service in the Indian Ocean. Officially classed as Mobile Reserve Tankers, they had no RAS (Replenishment at Sea) capability.
Ennerdale isplaced 62,000 tons and measured 710ft in length, 98ft in breadth and 40ft in draught. She was powered by Babcock and Wilcox diesels and had a complement of 51 men.
Brian Harold Lithgow Braidwood, Lt. Cdr, British Royal Navy, Fleet MCDO, Far East Fleet 19 reports:
“R.F.A. ENNERDALE, carrying 42,000 tons of fuel oils, sank in 100 feet of water 11 km (7 miles) from Victoria, Seychelles and it was decided that immediate action should be taken to release the oil while the South East Monsoon would carry the oil clear of the main islands.
Conventional methods of placing explosives alongside the hull, using boats and divers were impractical in the heavy swell. Lieutenant Commander Braidwood, the Far East Clearance Diving Officer, working with Lieutenant Kenworthy, the senior pilot detached from 847 Naval Air Squadron, devised a method whereby 3 mortar bombs placed on a pallet could be lowered into position on the wreck from a helicopter, the cordtex fuse then being ignited by the crew inside the helicopter. With ENNERDALE lying on her starboard side, and using a Wessex HU Mk. 5 helicopter, this method successfully breached the port tanks, releasing about 12,000 tons of oil.
To reach the starboard side tanks another demolition charge was constructed. To place the charge in the correct position divers secured a 45 foot wire pennant to the top of the wreck and, using a gemini dinghy, joined it to a similar wire lowered from the helicopter. The dinghy raced clear, the helicopter crew fit the cordtex fuse and released the bomb tray which, on its ninety foot pennant, sank down alongside the vents on the lower tanks.
Later in the operation when H.M.S. CACHALOT was unable to fire torpedoes into the wreckage to free oil trapped in the hull, the warheads were taken off the torpedoes, and towed and detonated in the same way. When some of the warheads failed to explode, Lieutenant Commander Braidwood dived to investigate the reason. At this stage short pre-cut delay fuses were added and Lieutenant Commander Braidwood ignited the fuses on the surface of the sea, while suspended on the helicopter’s winch wire. There was always a swell, often heavy, and diving was dangerous. Faced with a difficult and unusual situation, Lieutenant Commander Braidwood showed remarkable ingenuity and courage.”
Today the wreck lies in three sections in a depth of 30 meters. The middle part is completely destroyed. The stern section is relatively intact, with wheelhouse and propeller easily accessible. The tangled superstructure is quite interesting, allows relatively safe exploration. Most dives are on the stern of the vessel. The confines protect a huge range of reef fish, schools of Yellow Snappers and a multitude of invertebrates. This is also the home of numerous Brown Morays and some large Scorpion Fish. The site occasionally has current, swell and attracts schooling Pelagics, Eagle Rays, Stingrays, Reef sharks and Whale Sharks in season. My most memorable impression: It was the first time I saw a Tiger Shark (Galeocerdo cuvier) and a Giant Grouper (Epinephelus lanceolatus).


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