The Island was a 1061nt. steel steamship built by Helsingors Jernsk and Msk, Elsinore (Yard No 147) and launched on 14 April 1915. She was owned by Det Forende D/S (DFDS) of Copenhagen and also registered at that port. Her dimensions were 251.2′ x 38.0′ x 23.5′ and she was powered by a triple expansion steam engine of 233nhp made by her builders.
Despite being launched and delivered to her owners during World War One the early years of the career of the Danish steamship Island were peaceful as she initially sailed to Iceland then was moved to New York where she was chartered to an American company for service down the east coast and to Cuba. In April 1919, after the end of hostilities she returned to Denmark and to re-enter service the following month again sailing between Copenhagen and Reykjavik.
By 1937, with years of successful service behind her, the ageing ship was due to be retired but instead was to end her career when she ran aground on the Isle of May on a voyage via Leith to Iceland from her home port of Copenhagen departing on Sunday 11th, April. Ironically this voyage would probably have been her last as her owners were already considering when the ship should be taken out of service and scrapped.
The voyage, under the command of Captain Lynderson with a crew of eight, had started well with calm seas but the visibility was noted as poor as she crossed the North Sea. There was no cause for alarm and the twenty eight passengers were below in their cabins as the ship steamed slowly towards the Scottish east cost and the Firth of Forth. Some of the passengers were awakened periodically by the sound of the ship’s horn as the captain felt his way through the dark, still night. Without warning, around 5:30 am on the morning of the 13th, the ship ran ashore on the east side of the Isle of May. The ship was steaming slowly at the time and, in fact, the grounding was so gentle that the first some of the passengers knew about it was when the crew arrived at their cabins to wake them and ask them to get dressed to come up on deck. A few passengers had been wakened by the crash and had rushed onto the deck but they were sent back to their cabins to get dressed and await instruction. The Island was holed below the water line and quickly settled by the stern and listed gently to the starboard side.
Thankfully the weather remained calm so it was clear that the passengers and crew were in no immediate danger so, following the instructions of the crew who appeared calm and in control of the situation, the passengers got dressed and prepared themselves for evacuation. They even had time to go below and warm themselves with cups of tea and coffee while they waited to be rescued. The ship’s distress signals had been picked up ashore and the Anstruther lifeboat arrived around 7 am. Twenty six of the passengers, including all fourteen women and two children boarded the lifeboat and were taken back to Anstruther. They were then accommodated in the Commercial Hotel while the lifeboat returned to May Island to take off the two remaining passengers and most of the luggage from the ship. Later that day the crew, except the captain and one other crewman were taken off by the fishery cruiser Brenda. The passengers were later taken to Edinburgh to await the arrival of a new ship. They finally left Scotland for their destinations in the Faroes and Iceland on 21st April on board the steamship Bruarfos.
The following day the salvage vessel Bullger arrived on the scene but efforts to save the ship were thwarted by a heavy easterly swell. The Bullger stood by the wreck but as the days passed and the Island bumped on the rocks the prospect of successfully refloating the ship receded. The salvage team finally managed to board on the 19th but by this time the ship’s hull was badly damaged and she was declared a total loss. Over the next few weeks most of the cargo and the ship’s fitting were removed before the ship was finally abandoned. She was heavily salvaged where she lay in subsequent months.
The remaining wreckage of the Island lies scattered in crevices among large rocks on the east side of May Island in position 56°11.095’N, 002°32.992’W (WGS84). The boiler is visible and other metal remains are spread over a wide area.