The Steel steam yacht Maretanza was launched from the Greenock yard of George Brown and Co Ltd (Yard No 27) on 7th March 1905. She measured 129.5′ x 22.1′ x 12.0′ and her tonnage was 239 gross tons, 104 net tons. She was powered by a triple expansion steam engine by Muir and Houston Ltd., Glasgow delivering 103 net horse power. Built for Sir John Denison-Pender KCMG of Grosvenor Crescent, London she was a magnificent sight. In 1907 she was purchased by Mr William Birtwhistle of Blackburn who renamed her Zarefah. In 1913 she was sold again, this time to Mr Edward Steane Price of London who continued to operate her as his private luxury yacht. In 1913 ownership transferred to Mrs Edward Steane Price before Zarefah was requisitioned by the Admiralty in 1914. On 28th March 1916 the Admiralty completed the purchase of the yacht and equipped her for duties as a minesweeper.
On 8th May 1917 Zarefah was deployed as part of Kirkwall Defence Patrol to search for and destroy mines off Mull Head, Orkney and in Shapinsay Sound. Earlier that same day the German mine laying submarine UC-31 had been the latest enemy submarine to lay mines in the entrance to the strategic allied port of Kirkwall. UC-31 approached the area under the command of Kapitanlieutnant Otto von Schrader. Two days earlier he had stopped and sunk the Dutch fishing vessel Poseidon I off the Dogger Bank but his main objective of the sortie was to deploy the U-boat’s deadly cargo of floating mines. She laid three strings of mines, one off Mull Head and two more across the northerly entrance to Shapinsay Sound. Her KTB record showed that she finished operations at 5.22pm and submerged intending to leave the area immediately. In fact, the KTB later reported that she they had heard the noises of propellers above them and a loud explosion which they reported as probably the successful destruction of an enemy ship. At 6:30pm Zarefah reported that mines had been discovered and operations to clear them began. On board her commander, Lieutenant Alfred Stephen Gilbert RNR had a crew of twenty six men. At 7:09pm one of the mines was detonated by gunfire but only three minutes later Zarefah struck a second mine. A huge explosion erupted just behind the bridge on the port side and Zarefah began to sink immediately by the stern. The crew had little time to launch a boat but one of the ship’s rafts did float free and a number of the crew were able to scramble aboard to be picked up soon after by a launch from the fishing boat Treasure Trove. Sixteen crewmen, including Lieutenant Gilbert, were lost in the incident.
The wreck of the Zarefah lies in position 58° 59.230’N, 002° 41.522’W oriented 015/195 degrees. The wreckage, which lies in 38 metres with a least depth clearance of 34 metres, is well broken and spread over a wide area on a sandy seabed. Some larger pieces of wreckage including the boiler and propeller are visible. The wreck was positively identified by divers in 2002 who recovered the ship’s bell which was donated to the museum at Lyness.
We would like to acknowledge the assistance of the website – Lost in Waters Deep – in the preparation of this article. Link to website – www.lostinwatersdeep.co.uk