The steel steam trawler Ben Namur was launched from the Aberdeen yard of Hall Russell (Yard No. 601) in 1919 for Richard Irvin & Company of North Sheilds. She measured 122.2’ x 22.2′ x 12.3′ and her tonnage was 224 gross, 98 net. She was powered by at triple expansion steam engine also supplied by the builders delivering 78 registered horse power. The vessels official number was 139812.
The planned departure of the Ben Namur on 29th September 1920 was delayed due to illness of her skipper William Coates but, two days later, on the 1st October, at around 07:45am Ben Namur, with her crew of eleven experienced fishermen, steamed out of Aberdeen harbour en route to the fishing grounds. Coates, who had still not completely recovered, instructed the mate, Alfred Lawrence, to take the wheel. They steamed out into the North Sea and started fishing. After around 24 hours with no luck Coates, who by this time had recovered sufficiently to take control of the vessel again, set a course north to try their luck in the waters around Orkney.
As they headed north the weather deteriorated and they were forced to lay up for almost a day until the storm abated. By 11am on 5th October they sighted Copinsay and set a course which took them through Eday and Calf Sounds and round Mull Head towards Noup Head which they reached at 16:00 that day. They immediately began to fish and continued to fish the area for four more days. During fishing operations, which proved to be very successful, the skipper only took a depth sounding once and failed to take any other actions to verify their position. At 01:00am on the 10th, with fishing operations complete and a full hold, Coates set a course for Rora Head on the first leg of their return to Aberdeen. At this point, instructing the crewman at the wheel to steer the course set for thirty miles and to call him back to bridge when they reached this point of if the weather became thick before that, Coates went below. At 04:45am, with the log reading twenty eight miles, the Ben Namur ran aground without warning. The crew, including Coates, rushed on deck and immediately began to launch the lifeboat. At this point a large wave smashed into the stranded vessel and washed the lifeboat and two of the crew, the mate Alfred Lawrence and a deckhand Alexander Cordiner, overboard. They two unfortunate men were drowned. Distress flares were fired and the ship’s siren sounded continuously to attract attention to their situation. Soon a number of local residents arrived on the shore close to the wreck. Using a rope attached to a barrel a rope was successfully secured the men ashore and everyone, except the skipper, scrambled to safety. The local rocket brigade then arrived on the scene and rescued the skipper.
The subsequent enquiry held Coates totally responsible for the loss of the Ben Namur as he had failed to take appropriate actions to establish the actual position of the vessel before setting his course to return home. The vessel was not in the position he had assumed and therefore the calculated course, which was correct based on his assumed position, took them directly ashore on the west coast of Orkney, approximately two miles north of Bay of Skaill. Additionally he had failed to take any readings using the sounding lead to verify their position and course after leaving the fishing grounds. His certificate was suspended for twelve months.
The wreck of the Ben Namur was put up for sale on 20 October 1920, sealed offers were sought with a closing date of 2 November. A sale must have been concluded as by May 1921 salvage operations were underway to remove the engine and boiler which were due to be installed in a new trawler already under construction in Aberdeen. As for the removal of the rest of the vessel it is thought this would not be have been a viable option financially.