The Mobeka, a motor cargo vessel was launched from the yard of Flensburger Schiffsbau Gesellschaft of Flensburg, Germany in August 1937. Her steel hull measured 426.5’ x 55.7’ x 25.0’ with tonnage of 6111 gross, 3512 net. She was powered by a large 5 cylinder MAN diesel engine built at their Augsburg factory.
The vessel had been built to the order of Cie Maritime Belge (CMB) and she was employed on their West Africa routes until September 1940, when following the fall of Belgium in WW2, she was transferred to the Ministry of War Transport and put under the management of Elder Dempster based in Liverpool.
Convoy OS.17 departed Liverpool just after midday on 18 January 1942, bound for Freetown, Sierra Leone. The weather was not ideal, fog and intermittent snow showers meant that the convoy found it difficult to keep track of each other to stay in formation. Their route would take them north through the Irish Sea, then through the North Channel and out into the Western Approaches before turning south into the Atlantic.
Visibility continues to hamper progress overnight and into the 19th January and by 07.00 the following morning they have still not established their exact position, navigating on dead reckoning. Aboard the Mobeka, Captain Lauwereins is concerned as the wind is increasing from the south, which has been pushing his ship further north. At 07.53 a light is observed off their starboard side, the lookout thinks it may have been a distress signal from one of the other ships, Captain Lauwereins orders speed reduced to slow ahead. As the vessels momentum reduces, all the crew are alert, straining through the fog to see any sign of the ship. Suddenly around 8:05am the ship shudders to a halt caught on her starboard side, the Mobeka has run aground. An attempt to reverse the vessel fails, it’s clear she has grounded and is caught on rocks, but at this stage they have no idea where they are.
Unbeknown to those aboard the Mobeka, the Coastguard and RNLI were already working a casualty not a quarter of a mile east of their location. The Belgian trawler Anne Marie was ashore off the Coastguard look-out station in Carskey Bay, Southend and it was her distress flares that the crew of the Mobeka had seen.
Around 11.00 the crew of the Mobeka were beginning to see land as the fog began to clear, Captain Lauwereins was obviously concerned with their position, with the weather conditions and for the safety of his crew and passengers. Lines were secured ashore and the ship’s boats were launched but unfortunately only one made it ashore with six passengers and three crew aboard. Two other boats were smashed to pieces as they were lowered to the water, as by now the southerly wind had picked up and increased to a full gale. The remaining forty-four crew members stayed aboard the Mobeka until the lifeboat arrived to take them off safely. Tragically five of the six crew aboard the grounded trawler Anne Marie were drowned that morning.
The exposed position of the Mobeka made salvage unlikely but the Liverpool and Glasgow Salvage Association was called to the scene. On January 22nd they reported her back was broken and she was lying broadside to the shoreline and very exposed to the prevailing weather. By the time the weather allowed them to board her for a detailed examination on the 26th the hull was badly buckled and there was water in every compartment.
The salvage of the cargo was possible and this was started immediately – there was even still some hope that the ship could be saved. Her precious cargo of 5800 tons of war supplies was partly recovered over following months. On the 9th February a diver was sent down for a further examination revealing very extensive damage to the hull, keel and bilges. She was declared a constructive total loss by Lloyd’s. Its worth noting that another vessel from convoy ON.17 was los
The story of the gallant rescue and service provided by the RNLI crew is related in the document below, extracted from The Lifeboat Magazine from 1942.
The Wreck Today
The wreck of the Mobeka has been heavily salvaged over the years but there is still a substantial amount of wreckage lying in general depths less than 10 metres in position 55°17.964’N, 005°42.322’W (GPS). Sections of hull and parts of the engine are still visible close to the shore and items from her cargo of military equipment also litter the seabed. However the site is more a ‘scrapyard’ and there are few recognisable sections of wreckage.
We would like to thank Lloyd’s Register Foundation – Heritage & Education Centre for allowing us to reproduce documents from their archive in this article.