Monday, August 28, 2006

The encounter of Bencruachan

It is still an amazing thing to me that one could fairly readily finding things on the Internet even things from far away and years ago, thanks to Google.

I’ve noticed earlier the case of the cargo ship Bencruachan which was hit by a freak wave in 1973 without much detail information. Then I recently came across from this info bit:

“I remember standing on the dockside in Hull in the summer of 1973 and looking at the damage done to a Ben Boat, the 'Bencruachan', by a freak wave off South Africa.”

I got curious and start doing some Google to see if I can find further info. It’s not abundant out there. But I did found this comment from the Spring 2003 NORD News:

“Severe damage to large modern cargo ships like the Ben Cruachan – ‘bent like a banana’. . .”
And then this:

“Just dug out these three photos taken by a Yarpie newspaper of the ‘Cruachan’ after she hit the freak wave off the Cape on 2.4.73. . .”

Now I have a date for the encounter which I did not have before. But, not so fast, there's also this details from a Dr. Gordon Avery:

“My wife (16 weeks pregnant) and I were passengeres on "Bencruachan" from Singapore when it was hit by the rogue wave off Durban on 2 May (not April as recorded in your website} 1973. Capt Sinclair was on his last voyage before retiring and the ship was delayed because we had to drop off a sick crew man with appendicitis in Medan, Sumatra. We should have called at Durban for bunkers but due to congestion were diverted to Cape Town which we never of course reached. We remember the episode well since we were helicoptered off and then spent 10 days in Durban before being flown home.It was some wave, some bang I can tell you.”

With a corrected date, I think the case is now firmly substantiated. While I would still wish to know how big was the freak wave that hit Bencruachan, I don’t think that information has ever existed! Here's Bencruachan during her glorious days:


Chris Hunter said...


I worked in Rotterdam for many years as the Ben Line shipchandler and heard this story first-hand from some on board - they reckon she went into the wave and just did not come out again and the weight of the green water on the fo'castle just bent her. There are photo's on the Merchant Navy site showing the plating folded up like a concertina.

Chris Hunter
ex Huttons shipchandlers - Rotterdam

Anonymous said...


I inherited a chess set from my grandfather on which he taught me to play when I was very young in Durban in the 70s/80s. He always kept a piece of card inside the set saying "This Chess set was taken from the hold of the S.S Ben Cruchen which was damaged off the Natal Coast, Year ?. I remember him telling me he bought it from the an auction of damaged goods taken from the ship. Despite his the spelling mistake this was obviously the same ship so thanks for helping me to place a little bit of obscure history which meant a lot to me. Jason Reucassel

Malcolm Fuller said...

Dear Anonymous,

I think that was my chess set! All my household goods were on the BenCruachan, when we returned to the UK from the Far East. It's OK - your uncle can keep the chess set!

Anonymous said...


The Bencruachan was repaired after the accident at the RDM shipyard in Rotterdam. I remember seeing photos of the Bencruachan lying in the dry-dock while a completely new front section was fitted. So the monster wave that hit the Bencruachan was not the end of the ship.

Anonymous said...

I was a cadet on the Benhiant which followed the Cruachan into Durban a few days after the event. I went on board and saw the damage. Essentially, about the first 30-40m was lying at an angle of about 20 degrees to the rest of the ship. The actual point where it folded was a tank full of latex. I expect that may have saved the shio as it would have been watertight forward and aft of the tank. I have a good photo of her alongside in Durban - a very peculiar shape!

Anonymous said...

I was a deck officer with LOF and we were just outside the agullus current which runs along the 100 fathom line, the current can run up to 5 knts, with a strong southerly wind blowing against the current causes the freak waves to form but just a few miles east or west of the 100 fathom line was the safest place to be though the speed is less 2 to 3 knots. and we were in the area at the time of the accedent

Anonymous said...

I was with Ben Line in Singapore at the time of the Bencruachan rogue wave incident.
Capt. Danny Sinclair, who I remember very well, was Senior Master (we did not use the honorarium "Commodore" like Blue Flu and P+O) and indeed on his pre retirement voyage home.
"Bencruachan" was one of four ultra modern 'triple hatch' ships in the "Benledi" class. 'Benwyvis" and "Benalbanach" were the other two. These ships had a service speed of 21 knots. For many years "Benledi" held the world speed record for the fastest passage of a merchant ship between Northern Europe and Singapore - 16 Days 15 hours and 53 minutes, if memory serves.
Capt. Alec McMaster, Ben Line's Marine Superintendent based in Singapore at the time, was despatched to South Africa to arrange towage and emergeny repairs to the vessel.
Alec told me on his return that the estimated height of the rogue wave was 100ft.
A few months later a modern Neptune Orient Line cargo ship was also hit by a rogue also offshore South Africa. That ship (I think she may have been "Neptune Pearl") was literally broken in half mid ships.
Remarkably in both incidents there was no loss of life nor indeed serious injury.

Anonymous said...

For Anonymous 11.38 PM
Were you on "Benhiant" when she and "Benmacdhui" 'kissed' each other while passing in to and out of Port Swettenham (now Port Klang).
I think Capt. Adam Yuill was Master of "Benhiant" at the time. For the life of me I can't remember the name of the Master of "Benmachdhui" although I can still picture him extremely well - he was short, stocky and pretty beligerent.
Alec McMaster had to sort out that fracas also.

Anonymous said...

I was six years old and living in Durban when the incident with the Bencruachan occurred. I remember going down to the dockside with my father, uncle and cousins to have a look at her. She was berthed with her starboard side against the dock and I well remember the strange sight of her steel plates buckled and the bow sloping down towards the water.

My father and uncles had served in the South African Navy and the Royal Navy during the war and sea lore was quite the thing in our family. The freak waves off the Natal Coast in the Agullus current were well known to locals who had anything to do with the sea.

- Peter Collingwood

Anonymous said...

my name is angus mackenzie and i was an A B on board the cruachan when she hit the wave

Anonymous said...

Delighted to see these entries. The Bencruachan was my first ship after leaving Merchant Navy College in 1969 as a navigating officer cadet. I only did one 5 month trip to the Far East and back but strangely enough I do remember going through a typhoon in the South China Seas between the Sunda Strait and Singapore when the ship did roll terrifyingly for several hours. Glad I wasn't on it on this occasion. Thanks for putting this up. I never thought I'd see the old girl again. Jon Hayter oh ps Captain Sinclair was a wonderful Captain

efren huebia said...

year 1960, rise of the Beattles, BEN Cruachan a huge ocean going vessel frequently navigates the far east. UNvulnerable, strong heavy built, I was on one of the ship's hatch. a stevedore workman in Philippines port of Iloilo city, can't remember the exact date

Dr Gordon and Mrs Penny Avery said...

This is amazing. A friend of us alerted us to this site. We are the Dr and Mrs Avery on our way home from the Solomon Islands !! Our daughter is now 41 years old!! We have several newspaper cuttings and can remember the event very well if anyone wants any further information.

Anonymous said...

At the time of the freak accident the ship was doing in excess of 20 knots in a force 11, engine room asked several times to slow down the Captain did receive some critism after an enquiry as the bow was completely out of the sea at the time the wave hit, it was Latex in the forward spaces that saved the ship from going down, the impact was so hard the Foster wheeler boiler moved almost three inches back in the engine room, the ship was very unlucky it struck Whales on two occasions, was put aground in the Bitter lakes at Suez for almost three weeks, and ABs were poisened in Singapore and ship empounded shortly after this she was diverted Kaishun for scrapping, and just to add insult to injury her propellar felL of on the measured mile in the Clyde during her trials.

John Ringrose said...


re the Ben Cruachan. I was the R/O on the Brocklebanks ship the Mahseer in Durban - we had been in terrible weather we got into Durban just before the Cruachan and watched her coming in like Concorde!!.

John Ringrose

Anonymous said...

I was first trip cadet on the"Bencruachan" , when we struck a rogue wave for the second time about 100 miles NE of Durban. It was the 12th January 1975. We were meant to go through the Suez Canal, however the Israel/Egypt war had just finished and the canal was still closed. We sailed from Colombo, Sri Lanka after having taken on bunkers, but found ourselves behind schedule. We were doing 21knots, and found ourselves in the dangerous quadrant of hurricane 'Blandine'. About 2015, there was an almighty bang, and the ship stopped dead. She eventually shuddered forward and the alarms went crazy. Engineers running everywhere. I was on the midnight till four and went up to the bridge to find the captain out on the bridge wing praying. (The only time in my career when I was scared). We sent out a Mayday, and were towed into Durban backwards the next morning. Spent six weeks in dry dock, then limped up the west coast of Africa, and ended up in dry dock in Hamburg for two months. I rejoined her in Hamburg for my second trip. I don't think it was as bad as the first crash. Can't rember the old man, I know it wasn't Ozzie Tucker as he was on leave, it may have been Capt. Sinclair?. Chief Off was Nelson, Ian Steele was 1st Mate, Les ? 3Rd mate. Hughie was 3rd Engineer. Happy days.

Unknown said...

Would it be possible to post the photo?
Trevor C