This vessel was launched on 3 June 1901 as the Tonbridge from the yard of William Pickersgill, Southwick, Sunderland (Yard No 132), she carried that name until 1919 when she was renamed Veni and transferred to Norwegian ownership. A general cargo steamship, her dimensions were 324.0’x47.1’x21.7’ and her tonnage was 1814nt. Her single propeller was powered by a triple expansion steam engine of 277nhp.
As the crew of the Air Ministry meteorological ship Weather Recorder set off for their lonely vigil at their station in the North Atlantic they could have no idea of the part they were about to play in a dramatic sea rescue off the coast of Islay.
As they steamed through the North Channel, with the lights of Londonderry off their port bow, a mayday message crackled from the ship’s radio. The Norwegian steamship Veni, en route from Leith to Sfax, North Africa, in ballast, had run aground and was sinking fast. She gave her position as off Colonsay. It was the early hours of Sunday January 11th, 1948 and a 50mph gale had pushed the ship east of her intended course. She was in fact on the Balach Rocks, a treacherous, unlit reef lying two miles off Ardnave Point, Islay. Captain Ford on the Weather Recorder sent a message to the Veni telling them that he would be at the scene about 4:30am.
Aboard the Veni Captain Pederson and his twenty seven crew were relieved to hear that help was on its way as their ship, which was badly holed and bumping heavily on the seabed, was gradually slipping off the reef and sinking as she filled with water. As the Weather Recorder approached the area her searchlight was illuminated and directed into the stormy night sky to attract the attention of the Veni’s crew. This signal was answered by a series of red flares from the Veni. The crew of the Veni had manned the pumps hoping to stay afloat until the Weather Recorder arrived but, as 4am approached, Captain Pederson decided that he had to get the crew off the ship and into the lifeboats as he believed that his ship was about to go down.
By now the Weather Recorder was only half a mile from the grounded ship and standing by to pick up the shipwrecked crew at daybreak when they could more safely approach the wreck. Thankfully the storm abated somewhat and the crew of the Veni managed to launch the boats without too much difficulty. As the crew scrambled over the side of the ship the bosun and another member of the crew plunged into the water as the ship lurched in the huge swell. The bosun was injured as he crashed against the side of the lifeboat but he and the other seaman were quickly pulled into the waiting lifeboats. When they were all safely in the boats they fired white flares to let Captain Ford know that they were off the ship. The Weather Recorder steamed carefully to within two lengths of the Veni and picked up the crew who, apart from the two injured seamen who had fallen in the water, were none the worse for their adventure.
Later in the day the salvage tug Salveda arrived on the scene but when they inspected the wreck on the following day they quickly concluded that salvage was impossible and she was abandoned.
The Wreck Today
The wreck of the Veni is located in approximate position 55°55.404’N, 006°17.452’W (GPS), in 18 – 20 metres of water north of the outermost reef of the Balach Rocks. The stern section is fairly in tact and other pieces of wreckage are strewn around on the sandy seabed. This is an extremely exposed site, subject to huge swell even on calm days, only suitable for experienced divers and requiring good boat cover. In anything other than calm weather the site should be avoided.