Originally built 1941 as an armed steam trawler for the Royal Navy by the shipyard Cochrane & Sons Ltd. Selby, England. The trawler was named HMS EDAY with pennant number T-201. The trawler had a crew of 40 men and a triple-expansion steam engine gave a speed of about 12 knots. These trawlers were mainly used as mine sweepers and for guard duties off the harbours. From 04.08.1944 until 19.10.1944 she was let to the Norwegian Navy and sailed as the RNN TROMØY. Delivered back due bad boiler. The HMS EDAY belonged to the Isles-class trawlers, very similar to the Dance-class vessels, one of these, HMS QUADRILLE, became in 1950 the first MURTEN of Keller Shipping.
After the war ended, the Royal Navy discharged the now useless HMS EDAY from service and offered her for sale for commercial use.
Bougth in January 1947 by the Norwegian John Hamre from Haugesund and was delivered at Leith on January 24, 1947. Registered on 31.01.1947 as EDAY at Haugesund, call sign LMFP.
15.3.1947 to 23.4 1947 registered at Oslo, still owned by John Hamre, Haugesund.
23.4 1947 A/S Fjeldøy (T.J. Kyvik) in Haugesund purchased the steamer and converted her into a coastal motor (7-cyl. 520 bhp Atlas-British Auxiliary built 1941 (from "MMS 25") freighter by Leirvik Sveis, Stord, (( 597 GRT 630 dwt, l. 154.00pp / b. 27.7/ D. 14.1 feet, 1 deck, 3 hatch). Delivered in August 1948 (NV (Norske Veritas) 8.1948). The vessel received the name FJELLBERG and sailed under the Norwegian flag with home port Haugesund (call sign: LMFP).
Early 1952 Keller Shipping Ltd. Basel purchased the small cargo vessel for GBP 72.500 and registered her on 23.01.1952 under Swiss flag with the name SEMPACH (call sign: HBFE, off. No. 040). Sempach is the name of a small town and a medieval battle place near Lucerne. She was taken over in Haugesund on January 26, 1952, then the SEMPACH sailed via Aalborg to Casablanca. Apparently the vessel was lengthened by 22 feet (6,7 m) in July 1949 at Hamburg, therefore the Swiss Maritime Navigation Office in Basel demanded a new tonnage measurement (BRT: 643, NRT: 309, DWT: 815). (New dim. not registered in Det Norske Veritas (DNV) register 1951 & 1952).
The SEMPACH traded for Keller-Lines from Genoa to the Western Mediterranean Sea (Italy, France, Spain, Tunisia, Algeria) up to Morocco and Portugal. The crew consisted of 12 men, mostly Italians. The two masters were Germans, first Capt. Rudolf Riebenstahl, then relieved by Capt. Werner Sanders (note, after the war it was very difficult for a German captain to find a job in his country). Also 3 or 4 Swiss citizens sailed as mess boy and sailors on the SEMPACH.
On her way from Genoa to Livorno, the SEMPACH grounded on 12.11.1952 on the banks of Meloria
(Secche della Meloria) off the port of Livorno. However after de-ballasting the vessel came free with her own means and continued her voyage. In Livorno she was docked for inspection and repairs.
Unfortunately only a short life remained for the SEMPACH, already on 27.04.1953 she capsized and sank off the Algerian coast. The entire crew reached the coast unharmed (see report below).
SwissShips, MB, HPS, December 2017
Additional Information and Stories
Signing-on in Haugesund, Norway, January 1952
Carlo Brodbeck, who sailed as an O.S. ordinary sailor on the SEMPACH told us the "adventurous" story of the crew travelling to Haugesund in Southern Norway to take over the vessel. With the Italian crew, probably already tired after a long trip from Italy to Basel, the voyage started or continued by train in Basel via Hamburg, Copenhagen, Oslo to Stavanger. The trains were driven by steam locomotives and moved at a slow pace at these times. On the Danish border sudden excitement commenced, when the immigration officers demanded transit visas from the Italians. Carlo had to translate between the Italians, the officers and the German master, who joined the group in Hamburg. Of course the scheduled train had departed long time ago and everybody was obliged to sleep on the hard banks of a railway inn. At least in the morning they had no long way to go for the breakfast. For the last part from Stavanger to Haugesund a ride of several hours on a ferry boat was necessary.
If one believes the ordeal was ending with the arrival in Haugesund is mislead. The SEMPACH was in dry dock and the crew put on board immediately. In the middle of winter, they had to endure life on board without heating and without any water until the vessel was undocked.
The sinking of the SEMPACH off the Algerian coast, April 1953
Arriving from Malaga, the SEMPACH made a call in Nemours, today Ghazaouet, Algeria, close to the Moroccan boarder, scheduled to continue her voyage along the coast to Oran.
In Nemours about 355 tonnes of bagged oats and 80 tonnes of salted anchovies in barrels were loaded, of which the anchovies and about 20 tonnes of oats were stowed on deck. According to the captain's report the freighter had a total cargo of 634 tonnes on board, of which about 135 tonnes were deck cargo.
After completion of the loading, the SEMPACH sailed on the evening of Monday 27.04.1953 from the port. At 19:30 local time the pilot left and the master set course due north, probably to come off the coast as quick as possible. A long swell from the west rolled on and a light wind of force 2 blew from the northwest. Approximately 3 to 4 nautical miles after the harbour entrance the ship developed a sudden list of 5° to port, changing quickly to a 10° list to starboard. The list continued quickly to aggravate and at 20:00 the master stopped the engine. The crew commenced to jettison some of the deck cargo, but to no success. Ten minutes later, the master ordered to abandon the vessel. They still managed to get the dinghy into the water and the crew and the female passenger left the vessel over the port side and jumped into the water. Hurriedly they got away of the ship to avoid the vortex of the sinking ship. At 20:20 the SEMPACH capsized completely and went to the bottom of the sea. Unfortunately the dinghy had not enough room to accommodate all 13 survivors, some of them had to swim beside the little boat. At 23:00 they reached the harbour of Nemours, unharmed, but certainly exhausted and cold.
The castaways were received by members of the port authorities. The only hotel in town was fully booked, the crew had to stay overnight in the Moorish bath of the town. The next day the rescued were brought to the larger town of Oran (about 180 km), but again due to a bus strike they only arrived in the evening, where they were greeted by the Swiss consul.
Obviously, in the beginning Lloyds and local news papers reported an explosion in the engine room as the reason of the accident. After the French authorities questioned the master and the officers, this initial version was denied. The chief engineer stated, that the engine plant operated normally, further, no water ingress into the engine room occurred.
This accident was also reported in Swiss news papers, the NZZ, Neue Zürcher Zeitung wrote on 29.04.1953 the SEMPACH sank after an explosion on board, but one day later the reported explosion was denied and the sinking attributed to "stormy weather".
About the reason of the sinking no final cause could be established. Obviously the freighter lost its stability and capsized. The master suspected a sudden water ingress into the cargo holds, although the vessel suffered no any grounding. Perhaps improper stowage of the cargo was a factor contributing to the accident. After the departure the vessel had the swell from the side and certainly was rolling heavily.
- Federal archive, Bern
- Master's report
- Report of the maritime authorities, Oran
- Lloyd's reports
- L'Echo d'Alger, 29.04.1953
- NZZ, 29.04. and 30.04.1953
- Carlo Brodbeck, Basel
SwissShips, HPS, April 2016