The Pennsylvania was a large cargo passenger steamship launched in 1907 from the yard of William Dobson & Co Ltd., Newcastle (Yard No.151). She was powered by a triple expansion steam engine of 361nhp and had dimensions of 354.4′ x 48.0′ x 26.0′.
The Danish owned Pennsylvania was en route from New York to Copenhagen on 27th July 1931 when she encountered a dense fog while steaming through the treacherous waters of the Pentland Firth. The first indication of a problem was a message received by Wick wireless station from St Margaret’s Hope that a steamer had gone aground on south west tip of Swona. A number of the crewmen had managed to row ashore and raise the alarm at a farmhouse on Swona. The farmer, James Rosie, passed the message to St Margaret’s Hope. The message was quickly followed by a transmission from the captain of the ship herself at 4:09pm stating that she was ashore in a dangerous position on west side of Swona. However at this stage the message stated that they were not in need of any immediate further assistance. In response to the initial message to St Margaret’s Hope, a salvage tug was on it’s way from Holm Sound presumably with a view to pulling the stranded ship off the rocks.
Nervertheless the Longhope lifeboat was launched and also headed into the Pentland Firth to the wreck site. The following day, with the lifeboat now back at base and two salvage tugs standing by, the Pennsylvania sent a message to say that tugs were on their way from Denmark to the site so no assistance was required from the local tugs. However, local fishermen, who knew the area well, were already of the view that refloating would be impossible and the ship would probably become a total wreck. This was more or less confirmed when the ship floated briefly and swung broadside onto the rocks. By late in the day on the 28th she reported that there was now more than twenty feet of water in the forehold and other holds had also began to fill. The first Danish tug, the Garm owned by Svitzer Salvage Company, arrived at the ship at 10:30am on the 29th . However, on 30th July the Svitzer Company reported that the Pennsylvania had broken her back. Over the next few days they successfully recovered around half of the valuable copper in the cargo but the ship was clearly a total wreck. Salvage efforts were abandoned on September 5th.
It is assumed that some further salvage of the wreck took place at a later date but some substantial wreckage remains at the site in position 58°44.865’N, 003°03.825’W. The stern section, which is still somewhat in tact, and the large engine which is still clearly visible in a position which is often open to large swells and fierce currents.