Alkimos: Perth's Ghost Ship
In 1963 a merchant ship named Alkimos ran aground several times along the coast of Western Australia, beginning on a reef off Beagle Island 240 kilometres north of Perth on March 20 and finally stranding itself 56 kilometres north of Perth near Quinns Rocks.
This was only the final act in a 20 year career from its launch in October 1943 - a career marked by mishap after mishap, until finally embedding itself not just on the reef it now has become an integral part, but in the anals of maritime mythology as a haunted, jinxed ship.
Under all of its names - it had three - it ran aground numerous times, as if pursuing an itinerant passage from reef to reef, compelled to ground itself into the landscape, never settling down, propelling itself onwards towards its eventual grounding.
Amazingly, the Alkimos was built in just ten days at Bethlehem-Fairfield Shipyards in Maryland, USA during World War II. Haste was necessary as the ship was part of the US Military's 'Liberty Ship' programme during the second world war, for use in troop and cargo transport.
One of the legends surrounding the ship is that, on the first day of its construction, a couple of welders were sealed between hulls and their ghosts have haunted the vessel ever since (similar to stories regarding an early British steam ship, the Great Eastern). It is a macbre story, and one that goes hand in hand with the other tales of misadventure that befell the ship, however there is no evidence to suggest that it ever happened.
The ship was originally scheduled to be named George M. Shriver, after the Vice President of the Baltimore & Ohio Railway Company in the early 20th century.
She was launched on 11 October 1943, however, on 20 October, the vessel was one of ten ships re-assigned to the Norwegian Shipping & Trade Mission, and was re-christened Viggo Hansteen. That name recalled the renowned Norwegian union and labour activist Viggo Hansteen, a Norwegian lawyer and politician who was executed by the Nazis in September 1941 during the five-year Occupation of Norway by Nazi Germany.
The first wartime mission for the ship and her crew of forty seven (mixed Norweigian and Canadians) was to Bandur Shapur via the Mediterranean and the Suez Canal. Early in 1944, after steaming through an Atlantic convoy unscathed whilst ships around it went down, the Viggo Hansteen beached itself on an uncharted reef. It miraculously floated itself fee the next morning.
Returning to New York she joined convoy UGS38 on 3 April 1944. This eighty-five ship convoy was attacked on 20 April 1944 by three waves of aircraft near Cape Bengut, but the Viggo Hansteen was unharmed and made it through to Alexandria.
Upon her return to New York the Viggo Hansteen loaded a cargo of ammunition and gliders before setting out again for the Mediterranean. Whilst in New York they also took aboard the Canadian 28 year old Maude Elizabeth Steane to serve as a radio operator.
Canada became involved in the War when it first broke out in 1939 but would not allow women to fight in the Army. This was the case in most nations. The only allied fleet that would permit women to serve was the Norwegian Merchant fleet, which was using docks in Toronto. As a result, many women signed up to help on the Norwegian Merchant Ships including Maud Elizabeth Steane, as a radio operator on the Viggo Hansteen.
28 year old Maud Steane served as a Radio Operator on the ship for just a few months, during which time the ship was being used to transport gliders to Naples. A report of the incident states that, while the ship was unloading the Gliders on 14 August 1944, Maud Steane was shot dead by the ship's Norwegian gunnery officer, before turning the gun on himself.
Because the incident was so horrific, the Military said that Steane had been killed by enemy fire and was classed as the first woman from Toronto to die in active service. Steane was buried in the Allied War Cemetary at Florence, Italy. Since then many have said the ship was cursed by the ghost of Maud Steane.
The murder - suicide aboard the Viggo Hansteen was but one of many unsolved mysteries surrounding the ship. The official report of the incident states that it occurred at Naples on 14 August 1944, but according to archive documents, Viggo Hansteen was at Piombino on that date.
Maud Steane is said to have joined the ship in New York in May 1944, but checking the Voyage Record again, we learn that Viggo Hansteen was on her way from Alexandria to the U.S. at that time, and did not arrive at Hampton Roads, New York, until 8 June.
There followed a series of cross Atlantic convoy duties until the end of the war. Dogged by numerous unexplainable mechanical faults and repairs, crews started reporting paranormal activity on board.
Later in 1944 the Viggo Hansteen was headed toward a Russian port when ahead of her two other merchant ships were bombed by German U-boats. The Viggo Hansteen was spared from attack but later became stranded on a reef not marked on any maps she spent six hours there, a sitting duck until she broke loose under her own power.
After World War II, she was sold two times, first in 1946 to S. Ugelstad from Oslo. She was slightly damaged when she ran aground on 24 April 1952 off New Zealand, north of Moeraki. Then her crew began to see an apparition of a man they named Harry wearing oilskins - rubber boots and a dark green seaman s coat.
After being repaired by her new Costa Rican owners in 1953 she was sold again to a Greek shipping company and was renamed Alkimos - meaning "strong" - after a Greek God. As Alkimos, the ship plied the world's oceans for a decade. On 20 March 1963, on a voyage from Jakarta to Bunbury, the Alkimos hit Beagle Island Reef, north of Perth near the city of Gerandton, and was towed to Freemantle with heavy damage. It was salvaged and towed to Fremantle, where it underwent repairs for two months.
After settlement of a dispute concerning payment for the repairs, the Alkimos left Fremantle under tow by the ocean-going tug, Pacific Reserves, from Hong Kong. Only a few hours out of port, the tow line gave way and the Alkimos was driven onto the shore. Although the ship remained intact, it could not be floated off at that time, and so it was beached north of Fremantle, filled with water to secure it in place and left in the charge of an on-board caretaker.
Another tug, Pacific Star, returned and the ship was refloated on 28 February 1964, but the planned journey to Manila had hardly begun when was placed under arrest and seized for monies owed to a company in Manila. The Pacific Star could no longer legally tow or offer aid to the Alkimos and she was set at anchor between the reefs off Eglington Rocks about 4 kilometers south of Yanchep Beach.
The Pacific Star was then set ablaze whilst in port awaiting legal proceedings. Four months later the Alkimos broke anchor and drifted onto Eglinton Rocks some 4.95 Nautical Miles due north from Mindarie Marina.
For the people of Perth, the wrecking of the Alkimos was the biggest thing to happen in their city since the Commonwealth Games in November 1962. The latest twist in the drama was re-enacted every day on the radio and television like a soap opera, with pictures following the ship's misadventures regularly making the front pages of the The West Australian newspaper. On weekends, families would drive up the coast to Yanchep, then make the long trek through the sandhills to get a glimpse of the sticken vessel.
Over the years the Alkimos had several salvage crews and caretakers living on board. The first salvage atempt did not go smoothly as a fire aboard the wreck stopped work. It was more severely damaged that first thought, and that attempt at salvaging it intact was abandoned.
It was later sold by the owners for scrap. Numerous attempts were made to salvage the wreck. In 1969, salvage workers were driven off the wreck by another fire. To the salvage crews that worked on her it became apparent that she was haunted. These men often found unseen hands had moved their tools. Other tools disappeared only to reappear later.
These crews stayed on board 24/7 while they worked on the Alkimos. Many refused to leave their cabins alone at night. If they did, they reported hearing footsteps following them. These footsteps were also heard climbing ladders when all the crew was accounted for. Cooking smells and noises were heard in the galley. When they were investigated the smells and noises ceased. But once the galley door was shut they were heard again. Several men that experienced this became so terrified they quit their jobs.
Alkimos wreck, 1964
The Alkimos was bought and sold at least eight times whilst stranded. Each new owner experienced some grave misfortune once they bought her. Several had to declare bankruptcy, others became gravely ill. But once they sold the wreck they were no longer plagued. One young couple who lived on board as caretakers briefly, had their own misfortune. The wife who was pregnant fell and had to be rushed to the hospital. Her baby was delivered stillborn.
Years went by, and eventually the attempts to salvage the ship stopped. The partly dismantled remains of the ship sat in several metres of water, visible to visitors, for many years, gradually disintegrating, but the legend of the haunted ship continued to grow.
Reports of sightings of the ghost of Henry on the ship began to increase. Cray fishermen in the area reported seeing a man dressed in oilskins on board the Alkimos. At first, they thought he must be a hermit taking refuge on the ship, but when the ship was searched it was discovered that no one was living on board.
Jack Sue author of the book "Ghost of the Alkimos" suffered from a strange respiratory disease and was not expected to live. For ten months he was dangerously ill, and during much of this period he was hospitalised in intensive care.
Countless people who have been near the ship have slipped and fallen or become very ill. It is stated that horses ridden on the beach near the ship became very nervous. They either bolted or refused to pass the ship.
Alkimos wreck, 2012
One cannot help but wonder how many of these so-called occurrences attributed to the curse of the ship are in reality just unrelated events. A rusting, disintegrating hulk on a jagged reef is, after all, a dangerous place to be.
The death of long distance swimmer Herbert Voight was brought into the legend: Voight disappeared while training on a swim between Cottesloe to Rottnest Island. His method of training - trailing a baby bath full of stubbies - seems obscure, but hints that perhaps a heavy drinking session had more to do with his disappearance at sea than the ghost of the Alkimos.
His skull is said to have washed up on the beach 400 metres from the wreck, but is also reported to have been found in the engine room of the ship (how this was known has never been explained). That the ocean currents and alcohol consumption probably had more to do with his death than the curse of the Alkimos, is not palitable to those who choose to blame the curse of the Alkimos.
Ted Snider, a member of the US Navy was doing a preliminary assessment as to see how much explosives would be needed to blow up the Alkimos rudder and propeller. Later Tom Snider left Perth for Onslow with three others in a light aircraft to make another job inspection. North of Carnavon, the plane crashed killing everyone on board. Coincidence or curse?
The area around the Alkimos today is still considered by many to be haunted and cursed, despite reported sightings being few and far between these days. Could this be because, by the end of 2007, the ship had disintegrated to the point were it could barely be seen from shore above the waterline?