The steel motor vessel Cemfjord was launched from the Bremen yard of Detlef Hegemann Rolandwerft in 1984. She measured 83.18m x 11.34m x 4.3m and her tonnage 1850 gross tons, 661 net tons. She was powered by a 6 cylinder diesel engine delvering 1576 brake horse power. She was owned by Partenreederie Baltic Sun of Hamburg and registered in Cyprus. In 1998 she was converted from a general cargo vessel to a specialised cement carrier.
On 29th December 2014 Cemfjord was alongside at Aalborg Portland Cement’s loading terminal at Rordell loading a cargo of 2084 tons of cement bound for Runcorn. During the loading process some issues with equipment resulted in the ship taking on a list but this was overcome and the vessel’s loading completed. At 1pm the Cemfjord departed for Runcorn. Captain Pawel Chruscinski was in command and he had a crew of seven men aboard. As the journey across the North Sea progressed they encountered deteriorating weather and radio messages from the captain indicated that progress was slow and their arrival was likely to be delayed.
By 12:45 on 2nd January the Cemfjord had reached the entrance to the Pentland Firth and was sighted by the crew of the ferry Pentalina who reported the vessel to be upright but struggling into a large swell with the waves breaking over her bow. The next sighting of the Cemfjord came at 2:16pm on the 3rd from the crew of the ferry Hrossey who reported an unusual object floating on the surface. The captain of the ferry went towards the object to investigate and discovered the wreck of the Cemfjord floating upside down with no signs of survivors.
Search and rescue operations began immediately coordinated by Shetland Coastguard but the searches were to no avail. There were no survivors from her crew of eight men. At 9:20pm the Thurso lifeboat reported seeing the Cemfjord sink out of sight.
The subsequent inquiry, relying on electronic data gathered from the Cemfjord as it progressed into the Pentland Firth, concluded that the loss was probably caused by lack of forward speed as the vessel fought against the strong currents and swell running through the firth and the captain’s attempts to keep his vessel on course most probably resulted in the Cemfjord breaching and capsizing rapidly giving the crew no chance to escape. The enquiry concluded that the master should have sought shelter until the weather abated rather than attempting to run through the treacherous Pentland Firth in the conditions prevailing. They were of the view that his decision to do so was most likely due to the commercial pressures of getting his cargo to port on time.
The wreck of the Cemfjord, which many miles from the initial capsizing was discovered and investigated by ROV in position 58° 40.033’N, 002° 32.050’W later in 2015. She lies in 63 metres with a least depth clearance of 58 metres and is mainly in tact lying on her port side.