The steel steamship Grof Serenyl Bela was launched from the Hartlepool yard of William Gray and Co Ltd on 28th March 1907. She measured 331.0′ x 48.3′ x 22.0′ and her tonnage was 3275 gross tons, 2365 net tons for the Atlantic Steam Navigation Company of Fuime in what is now Croatia. She was powered by a triple expansion steam engine by Central Marine Engineering Ltd., West Hartlepool delivering 292 net horse power.
At the end of World War One she was ceded temporarily to the French Government before being acquired by the Atlantic Trust Company of Volsco in 1922. In 1924 she was resold, this time to the Fiumana So di Navigatione in Fuime who renamed her Danubio. Finally she was purchased by the Verbormilia SS Co Ltd of London in 1932 who named her Verbormilia.
On 6th February 1940 Verbormilia was en route from Dundee to Blyth in ballast when she ran aground in darkness and fog west of Fast Castle, Berwickshire. Due to wartime reporting restrictions the details surrounding her stranding are sparse but the lack of visible lights due to wartime rules is likely to have contributed to a navigation error by her captain. At around 11:00pm that evening the St Abbs lifeboat received a message from the coastguard that a vessel was ashore near Fast Castle. The Annie Ronald and Isabella Forest was launched at 11:30 and headed towards the scene in a moderate south easterly breeze and choppy seas . Due to the reduced visibility caused by the now dense fog it was two and half hours before they found the exact location of the wreck. She had gone ashore at the base of high cliffs. The local rocket brigade had also made an effort to reach the scene but were unable to do so due to deep drifting snow on the ground in the area. Initially the lifeboat stood by the wreck as it appeared that the men aboard were in no danger but, as the weather deteriorated twenty four of the thirty one crewmen were taken off leaving the officers aboard. The men were landed at St Abbs at 6:40am and the lifeboat returned to the wreck. With the weather continuing to deteriorate six officers were taken off later that morning leaving only the captain, who refused to leave his ships, aboard. The lifeboat dropped off the men at St Abbs and returned to the site with Admiralty salvage officers aboard but, by now, huge waves were breaking over the Verbormilia and the captain finally agreed to leave his ship.
The Verbormilia was later declared a total wreck and subsequently was extensively salvaged. At this point her bell, clearly marked Grof Serenyl Bela, was recovered and now hangs in the clubhouse of the Long Eaton Sea Cadets. The remaining scattered wreckage of the Verbormilia lies in shallow water between four and eight metres in approximate position 55° 55.700’N, 002° 16.500’W.
We would like to thank Lloyd’s Register Foundation – Heritage & Education Centre for allowing us to reproduce documents from their archive in this article.