The Finnish steamship Malve was built by the Port Arthur Shipbuilding Company of Ontario, Canada and launched on 19 September 1917 as the SS War Fish (Yard No.17).
She subsequently changed her name and ownership twice to Roubaix in 1920 and Monique Viejeux in 1928, before becoming the Malve under the ownership of L.G. Boxberg in 1930. She measured 251.7′ x 43.2′ x 26.2′ and weighed 2412 gross tons, 1488 net tons. She was powered by a triple expansion steam engine also built by the Port Arthur Shipbuilding Company, delivering 278 nhp.
Communications surrounding the loss of the Malve on the rocks at Balephetrish Bay, Tiree were very confused and for a time it was believed that four men had lost their lives. Thankfully no one died but the ship was to become a total loss.
The story of the wreck begins with a message picked up by Malin Head Wireless station a 2:56am on St Valentine’s Day, 1931. It stated that the ship was ashore at the south end of Coll, but one hour later it was confirmed that she was ashore on Tiree. She had been on a voyage from Tallin to Manchester with a cargo of 2000 tons of paper pulp and timber when she went ashore. The weather had been atrocious with driving snow and gale force winds reducing visibility to almost nil and making navigation impossible. Captain Boxberg knew that he had run aground at low tide and, after an inspection revealed no apparent major damage, he hoped that his ship would come off safely at high tide, so he and his crew stayed aboard while the trawlers River Clyde, Dhoon and Caldew which by now had arrived on the scene, stood by to provide emergency assistance if required.
The captain had guessed right as, after ballast water was pumped out and 50 tons of cargo shifted from hold 3 to hold 4, the ship did indeed refloat with the rising tide and was able to anchor in the bay awaiting a detailed examination for damage the following day. By 5am on the morning of the 15th the wind was rising and unfortunately, the gale force winds pushed her towards the shore again – this time she was doomed. The captain got up steam, but the ship was unable to move ahead as she was surrounded by shallow reefs and eventually, she went hard aground and stuck fast. Realising the danger of the position, as his ship almost immediately began to fill with water; Captain Boxberg put most of his crew ashore in the ship’s boat remaining on board himself with two others. The two trawlers, which had left the scene when the Malve refloated radioed that they thought the captain and his two shipmates might indeed have been drowned as she went ashore for the second time but thankfully this was not the case. However, as the ship began to break up, the captain finally ordered his remaining crew to abandon ship and the three men made their way to the shore in the last lifeboat. Despite a series of attempts to refloat her over the next few days the Malve stayed hard aground and later became a total wreck.
The salvage of the valuable timber cargo was started immediately by a Belfast marine salvage contractor, Patrick McCausland. His salvage steamer Glenlyon was on site to assist with removal of the timber but unfortunately was sunk in Balephetrish Bay following bad weather on 13 April 1931. We have not been able to establish if this vessel was recovered.
Another salvage steamer belonging to Mr McCausland, the SS Milewater, was sent to Tiree in early May but this vessel never arrived as it went ashore on Islay on 10 May and became a total wreck. A third vessel was sent to Tiree, the steam barge Saint Anthony. However, this vessel also sank while working the wreck after springing a leak on 3 September 1931, it is believed this vessel became a total wreck. Clearly the life of a salvage contractor was a difficult and risky one.
The Wreck Today
The remains of the Malve, which has been heavily salvaged, lie on the rocks called Na Sgeirean Mora on the north side of Balephetrish Bay in position 56°31.952’N, 006°52.252’W (GPS). The wreckage is scattered over a wide area on the south side of the reef in shallow water up to 7 metres deep. Little recognisable remains although her propeller shaft is clearly visible, and parts of her engine machinery are also reported to still be in position close to the reef. The site is very exposed from the west and north but otherwise is free from problems.