The Hispania was a 644nt steel steamship, built by the Antwerp Engineering Co., Belgium and launched in 1912. Her dimensions were 236.8′ x 37.3′ x 16.2′.
Throughout history there are many hundreds of examples of a captain of a sinking ship choosing to go down with his vessel. Whether this is an act of the ultimate heroism and love for the ship or whether it was to avoid the wrath of the owners of the ship, which in past times was often not insured, can only be a matter for conjecture. There is no doubt that, as ship’s have become more reliable and as insurance of shipping has become universal, in recent times there are only a few examples of a skipper choosing to die with his ship. Captain Ivan Dahn of the Swedish steamship Hispania was one such example.
The Hispania was owned by Rederi A/B Svenska Lloyd and was registered in Gothenburg. Her final voyage began when she left Liverpool, loaded with a full cargo of steel, asbestos and rubber, bound for Varberg in Sweden on Friday 17th December, 1954. The weather was poor as she steamed north through the Irish Sea and the North Channel so Captain Dahn decided to take a route which would give them some protection from the weather by sailing between the islands of the Scottish west coast. Early evening the following day Mull was sighted and they steamed north into the Lynn of Lorne and then north west into the Sound of Mull.
It was very dark and the visibility was almost nil with the storm still raging, driving the rain and sleet into the faces of the Hispania’s crew. Around 9pm, as they approached Tobermory, disaster struck. The ship ran onto Sgeir Mor, a reef close to the Mull shore, and shuddered to a halt. The first officer ordered the engines to full astern and after a short time the ship eased backwards off the reef but she was doomed. She started to list heavily to port and was taking in water rapidly. After running out the starboard anchor to avoid being swept away in the strong tides of the Sound the twenty one crewmen calmly launched two lifeboats but could not convince Captain Dahn to come with them. By this time the storm had abated and they rowed around for about an hour until, with a sudden lurch, probably as a result of a bulkhead giving way, the ship plunged beneath the surface. The last time the crew saw the brave captain he was standing on the bridge, his hand raised to his forehead in a defiant salute. The crew rowed across the Sound and landed safely on the Morven shore.
The Wreck Today
The Hispania’s cargo was salvaged in the 1950’s and in 1957 a wire sweep was carried out but otherwise she is still intact and as she sank in December 1954. She sits upright, with a slight list to starboard, in 30 metres of water in position 56°34.928’N, 005°59.216’W (GPS). She lies just inshore of the red channel marker but is normally buoyed and therefore very easily located. Her bow points due west towards the Mull shore. Depths on the deck range from 15 – 20 metres with of course the holds and engine room much deeper.
She is a spectacular wreck with almost every square inch of her metal surface covered in sealife and the almost inevitable good visibility making her one of the best scenic wreck dives in Scotland. The ship, although one of the most dived wrecks in Scotland, is still virtually intact with companionways and handrails still in place. The sheltered waters of the Sound of Mull make an ideal dive destination and therefore there are few hazards beyond the strong tides and normal dangers of diving an intact but decaying wreck.