The Floristan was a large general cargo steamship of 3483nt. launched in August 1928 from the yard of J. Redhead & Sons of South Shields (Yard No.491), and registered in London. Her dimensions were 415.3′ x 54.2′ x 27.6’. At the time of her loss she had been requisitioned for war transport.
The Strick Line steamship Floristan had been loaded at Manchester with a varied cargo including two complete locomotives as deck cargo and military stores. She set sail on 15th January, 1942 to become part of convoy OS 17 which was destined for Freetown and the Persian Gulf. On the 18th, and as the convoy left the more sheltered waters off the North Channel they ran into a full Atlantic storm. The Floristan became separated from the convoy and following a signal from the Convoy Commodore, her master decided to head for Oban and shelter. By early morning on the 19th January the Floristan was off the west coast of Islay, her crew searching for a fix on Oversay Lighthouse. Unfortunately they were unable to locate the beacon of light due to very poor visibility and made slow progress before running ashore at Kilchiaran Bay later that day.The Port Askaig lifeboat was launched at 11:35pm but by the time she reached the stranded vessel the crew including DEMS gunners, military AA personnel and six passengers had already reached the shore safely in the ship’s boats.
The first report of the fate of the Floristan was made to her owners and to the insurers at Lloyds the following day and stated that there was little prospect of salvage as her back had broken. On the 21st the weather had subsided enough for the master to get aboard his ship and make a full investigation of the situation. He reported the ship lying across the entrance to the bay with her bow close to the north shore, sitting on an even keel aground fore and aft with her back broken immediately behind the bridge. She had water in all her holds and in the engine room but he expected to be able to salvage most of the cargo. Once again the Islay weather was to take a hand as during the next week the sea pounded the ship and by 27th she had broken in two and been driven further inshore. The bow was almost submerged and listing heavily towards the shore and, although salvage of stern section cargo was still felt to be possible the position of the wreck made approach by coaster to offload any cargo impossible.
The Wreck Today
The wreck of the Floristan lies in position 55°45.129’N, 006°28.234’W (GPS) which is at the entrance to Kilchiaran Bay. The wreckage is spread over a wide area with the contents of cargo holds being the most recognisable items.
The seabed in the area is around 10 metres but the wreckage is piled high reaching to within a few metres of the surface in places. The huge chassis of the locomotives lie upside down and are surrounded by jeeps, tyres, batteries and many other items of military supplies. The boiler is the only large item remaining visible of the ship itself. The only hazard at this site is its exposure to the west and the prevailing wind and swell. Even in good weather conditions the wreck is often subject to a heavy ground swell.