The Salvage King was built for Canadian owners in 1924 at a cost of $135,000 and operated on the American and Canadian west coast as part of the Pacific Salvage Company. She was launched from the yard of Bow McLachlan & Co Ltd., Paisley (Yard No.418), and her dimensions were 186.3′ x 36.2′ x 16.2′. She was powered by a triple expansion steam engine of 396nhp and her tonnage was 1164gt.
In the early months of World War II she was hired by the Admiralty for war service. The details of her loss her very curious as they involve a series of inexplicable decisions by her commander Lieutenant Robert Hill RNR that were ultimately to result in the loss of the ship near Duncansby Head on 12th September 1940.
In September 1940 Salvage King was stationed at Scapa Flow as a commissioned rescue tug and fleet support ship. On the 11th the commander received an order to head out from Scapa to the assistance of a tanker off Noss Head. Around midnight they raised anchor and headed out through Switha Gate just after midnight and her commander set a course south heading towards the island of Swona. The night was clear but very dark with a fresh westerly breeze. Speed was gradually increased to full. After some time on this heading the 2nd Officer, George Corke, suggested to Lieutenant Hill that this course could take them dangerously close to Swona. Hill clearly was irritated by the interference of the 2nd Officer although some time later he did make a small adjustment now heading 10 degrees east of south intending to pass Swona to the east. Almost immediately land was sighted straight ahead and Cooke ordered a dramatic turn to the west to avoid the ship running aground. Again Hill was visibly annoyed by Corke’s action despite the obvious fact that they had avoided the Salvage King running aground on Swona. His only action was then to order the ship on to a course of south 20 degrees west.
Satisfied that they had now safely passed Swona, Corke went below and called the Chief Officer to the bridge. The two returned to the bridge to confront the captain. The time now was around 01:15am. At this point land was spotted only a few hundred yards off the port bow which was identified as the north point of Stroma. Hill was nowhere to be seen. The Chief Officer ordered the ship to turn west and then back to the original south 20 degrees west. This manoeuvre resulted in them safely passing Stroma to the west. The Chief Officer sent Corke below to calculate a course from the south point of Swona to take them north of Duncansby Head and so around 01:30 the course was set to south 70 degrees east and the speed reduced to half for safety.
Minutes later Hill returned to the bridge and immediately ordered speed increased to full. He then ordered a course change to south 45 degrees east. Despite warnings from the Chief Officer this would take them dangerously close to land Hill persisted. Almost immediately land and breakers appeared directly ahead of them. Despite a dramatic last minute intervention from the First Officer to turn the ship hard to port Salvage King ran hard aground in a position one mile 285 degrees from Duncansby Head Light. The Longhope lifeboat “Thomas McCunn”came to her assistance and successfully rescued the 35 crew aboard.
The subsequent Court Martial found Hill totally responsible for the loss of the Salvage King. The words used in the conclusion were severe. They held that Hill “ this valuable vessel was grossly and wantonly thrown away by negligence on the part of the accused so bad as to be unbelievable.” Hill was dismissed from the service.
As for the Salvage King she was later dismantled insitu although it is believed that parts of her still remain at the shoreline at Ness of Duncansby.