The steel steamship Anzen was launched from the yard of Ateliers et Chantiers de la Loire, Nantes (Yard No 20) in 1947. She measured 323.1′ x 43.6’ x 18.7′ and her tonnage was 2636 gross tons., 1413 net tons. She was powered by a triple expansion steam engine by Ateliers et Chantiers de la Loire, St Denis. Intially purchased by the French Government she was sold to E. Marcesche et Cie, Lorient in 1949 who renamed her President Emile Marcesche. Sold to her final owners San Paraskevi Shipping Company, Monrovia she was registered in Liberia in 1966 and named Irene.
Her loss, in a storm in March 1969 was to become a story of tragedy for the lifeboat attempting to rescue the crew rather than a story of the loss of the ship itself. The Irene was en route from Granton to Christiansand in Norway in ballast on 17th March 1969 with a crew of eleven aboard when she encountered a Force 10 gale in the middle of the North Sea. She had been struggling to make headway and her initial message reported that she was running low of fuel oil. A second message at 5pm that day stated that she had run out of fuel and was now drifting easterly helpless without power. She required immediate assistance from a tug which was then dispatched to her aid. Two hours later a message relayed that she was now only two miles east of Orkney and the ship was in danger of being swamped in huge seas and, with the deck awash and hatch covers straining, the captain issued a distress call. The tug Cyclone was still sixty miles from the Irene and would arrive too late to stop her going ashore. The call was picked up by Wick radio who called out the Longhope and Kirkwall lifeboats. Two other vessels in the vicinity, Fleetwood trawler Prince Philip and Dutch tug Utrecht, also responded to the call and headed towards the floundering vessel.
As the rescuers proceeded to the scene the Irene was swept, out of control, towards South Ronaldsay. Initially she dropped anchor off shore but the anchors only held briefly before she was swept onto the shore at Bay of Lime, Grim Ness and stranded there on a sandy beach. The crew were safe aboard the vessel and, although she was being battered by wind and swell, were in no immediate danger. The Broughness and Deerness Rescue Companies were called out and reached the scene and successfully rigged up a breeches buoy and pulled the crew to safety.
Meanwhile, Jack Groat, secretary of the Longhope Lifeboat, reported that he had lost contact with the lifeboat but initially he was not too concerned as communications were always difficult in such stormy conditions. However, as time passed with no word from the Longhope boat, it became clear that something was wrong. An RAF Shackleton and helicopter began a search at daylight on the 18th and lifeboats from Thurso and Stronsay also arrived to provide further search resource in the eastern Pentland Firth area. Sadly, at 12:40pm a message was received from the Thurso lifeboat that they had spotted the upturned hull of the Longhope lifeboat which had capsized with the loss of her eight crewmen.
The Irene was abandoned as a total wreck and has gradually deteriorated over the years. Substantial pieces of the ship, and in particular her boilers and engine, remain visible at the site in position 58° 49.098’N, 002° 53.736’W. Picture 5 in the gallery below gives a good idea of what remained c2020.