The Alkimos was a merchant ship, one of many that wrecked off the coast of Western Australia in 1963. What sets it apart are the persistent stories that it's a cursed ship.
Built in a Baltimore shipyard, misfortune seemed to have visited early on when it was said a welder was unintentionally riveted up inside the hull, and found a day later, after he had suffocated. There is another version, where it was several workers who were sealed inside its walls. Supposedly this occurred due to the tight deadline and hurried construction of the ship, which was one of over 2,500 being produced for the war effort.
She launched on October 11, 1943, as the George M. Shriver, however within a week it was rechristened Viggo Hansteen once the vessel was leased to the Norwegian Merchant Navy.
The ship patrolled the Mediterranean Sea, dodging u-boats but at the same time experiencing unexplained mechanical problem. The cargo was ammunition and materials for weapons, and towards the end of the war it transported U.S. soldiers and German prisoners of war, many times traversing the Suez Canal. Most of the crew were Norwegians and Canadians.
The story of the trapped riveters is similar to what supposedly happened during the construction of the ship Great Eastern in 1858. The nexus of the ship's ill fortune was when a riveter was missing and could not be found. It was said he had been sealed up alive in one of the hull compartment. More than 30 years later, when the ship was being broken up for scrap, wreckers found two skeletons, which was believed to be the riveter and his boy helper. She was a cursed ship too, who was broken up on Merseyside in 1889.
In a similar version, In London and Londoners in the Eighteen-Fifties and Sixties, Alfred Rosling Bennett wrote about the skeleton that "it was then remembered that while on the stocks building a pay-clerk had disappeared with a large sum of money... and was supposed to have fled with it", and he questioned if the remains could have been stashed there by workmen who had murdered the man.
The popular legend was that all the Great Eastern's troubles were due to the curse of the two unfortunate riveters trapped within her iron depths.
Another source for the story is the The Great Iron Ship by James Dugan where he wrote, "One day they were breaching a compartment in the inner shell on the port side, when a shriek went up that stopped all work and ran wildly through the port and country. One who hurried to New Ferry to see it was David Duff. He wrote me: 'They found a skeleton inside the ship's shell and the tank tops. It was the skeleton of the basher who was missing. Also the frame of the bash boy was found with him. And so there you are, sir, that is all I can tell you of the Great Eastern.'"
Whether the Alkimos' ill luck started while it was being built or what happened in 1944 is up for debate.
In August, 1944, Maude Steane, 28, a radio operator from Canada was killed by another member in his cabin, who then shot himself. The vessel had docked in Naples, Italy. The newspaper announcements failed to describe how she died only detailing she was the first "Toronto woman to lose her life at sea while on active service" intimating she was killed in action. Her parents were notified by the Norwegian Embassy, and she was buried at the Florence War Cemetery.
The possible identity of the man who killed her could be Anker Kristiansen, 33, a 2nd lieutenant and inspector with The Naval Maritime Shooting Department for the Merchant Navy and a weapons officer who was "onboard the Viggo Hansteen when he died on August 14", the same day as Maude. He was a married man which might account for the secrecy. He was buried in the same graveyard.
It is said the ship is cursed by the ghost of Maude Steane, and it's her spirit that has caused the bad luck which haunted it for years after her death. Or perhaps it was due to changing the ship's ame, not once but twice. According to Maritime superstition doing this brings misfortune to the vessel and its crew.
It is said that during its years of operation those onboard experienced terrifying encounters.
In 1952, the ship ran aground by Katiki Point Lighthouse, off the coast of New Zealand. A year later, it was bought by Faros Shipping, a Greek company who renamed it Alkimos.
In 1961, while carrying 5,000 tons of grain from the Black Sea she had to dock at Avonmouth due to a pronounced list to starboard. It had hit heavy weather on its journey it was suspected the cargo had shifted.
On a trip from Jakarta to Bunbury it struck a reef on March 19, 1963, near the Australian coast on Beagle Island. Experts said she was taking more water than her pumps could handle, and others said that due to her age she could break her back and sink if she was pulled off the reef.
On March 25, Queen Elizabeth sailed by the Alkimos in the royal yacht Britannia. She wanted to photograph the wreck.
Six days after she ran aground the ship was freed. It sat in 36 feet of water in the middle of a reefed lagoon. The propellers were bent and the keel badly dented, however the following day with help of the tug Yuna, she reached open sea and headed towards Fremantle.
Two months after she was freed from the Beagle Island Reef, the Alkimos which had been docked at Victoria Quay for 7 weeks was arrested. She was waiting to sail to Hong Kong for inspection on a slip. A writ was issued out of the Perth Supreme Court in which the ship's agent claimed £12,500 in costs for necessaries supplied to the ship between March 20 and May 23.
The account was settled, but her departure was delayed when the 16 Chinese crew members aboard the tug Pacific Reserve, refused to work. The reason was never explained, and this was the vessel which would aid in taking the Alkimos to Hong Kong.
Then the ships were caught in very bad weather which produced giant waves. The Alkimos, which was unmanned came adrift from the tug, when the line snapped. By then newspapers were referring to the ship as "ill-fated", especially after she ran aground less than 24 hours after leaving from Fremantle.
The ship was savaged by waves where it sat at Wreck Point about 25 miles north of Perth.
Though undamaged it could not be re-floated and a caretaker was left onboard until February, 1964 when it was reinflated.
In 1963, Ray Krakouer of Yanchep was a caretaker shortly after she ran aground. He would be there for weeks at a time. He told a local newspaper, "I particularly remember the eerie sight of seeing something coming towards me like a bright light the size of a man. I picked up a piece of 3-foot by 2-foot timber and stood there waiting. I said something like 'Come on, you bastard' but then thought better of it, and dropped the lump of wood and climbed the ladder out of the hold. There was also the clatter of the Morse key in the radio room, though it was locked and sealed by the customs people."
During the time it was grounded, Wayne Morgan, an American exchange student stayed on board as a caretaker in order to prevent looting. He wrote in his diary, "This is no place for anyone with a weak heart."
On July 14, 1963, he wrote,"I've been down to the engine room, but never again. It's the eeriest place on this ship. From the time I left my cabin I could hear footsteps following me. I was scared out of my wits."
Once he witnessed a heavy metal door between the captain's cabin and the bridge slammed shut with incredible force, as if deliberately thrown in anger. He also described seeing a misty figure walking the deck.
When he left he ended up a patient at a psychiatric hospital.
Like others before him, and those who followed, footsteps could heard, loud clanking, and the barking of a dog deep within the hull. This coincided with the ghost of a little dog seen in the engine room during the ship's service. There was the sensation of being watched or touched by unseen hands. There was also the strange noise of a rolling billycan.
During the summer of 1963, the shade of a seaman dubbed "Henry" was spotted onboard.
First to see him was Garry Hugill, 15, son of Bob Hugill a cray fisherman, one of a 2-man partnership that owned the ship. He was described as "tall and sturdily built, with sandy hair." His clothing varied. He usually wore gray trousers and a matching seaman's jacket, and even hot days he wore a full set of oilskins.
Garry was relieving the Filipino watchmen when he saw the ghost in the forward section of the ship. "I looked into a cabin during my rounds of inspection and there he was... lying on his back staring at the deck head. Suddenly I realized there could be nobody else aboard and all I wanted to do was get off that ship." However his relief would not arrive until the next day.
A search of the ship, confirmed what they already knew, which was there was nobody else on board.
A week later Garry saw the ghost again as it disappeared into the engine room, where it closed the bulkhead door behind him.
Then the regular, Filipino watchmen, Ramos, Flora and Benny returned. They had also reported seeing the gray figure moving about the ship as well.
Then in September, 1963, Mrs. Marion Kemp was living on the ship with her husband and 4-year-old daughter. She went into premature labor, and her husband acted as midwife until an ambulance was sent out from Perth. Supposedly the birth was brought on by a fall she took during stormy weather.
The baby died a short time before the ambulance arrived. The drivers had to strip to their underclothes and wade through waist-deep water to reach a ladder, and then the gangway. They tied her into a canvas carrier to lower her over the side. It took three men to carry her out, through water that was already up to their armpits. They set her down while the ambulance was backing up and one of the drivers had to kill a venomous dugite snake which was only 50 feet from the woman. She was taken to King Edward Memorial Maternity Hospital.
In May, 1964, on a calm night without any power on board, or human agency the freighter broke anchor at Eglington Rocks and ran aground. The problem then arose when the tug Pacific Star which had come from Manila in February and helped to re-float the ship was arrested on a claim over £60,000 for an outstanding mortgage, and could not respond to help it from where it was beached.
Eventually it would be found she could not be salvaged due to the damage on her.
In March, 1969, Herbert Voigt, 24, a West German, long-distance swimmer disappeared during an 11 mile swim between Cottesloe Beach and Rottnest Island. All he had as protection against sharks was an 8-inch knife strapped to his left leg. Sadly the wager for this dangerous venture was two kegs of beer.
A month after he disappeared in the shark-infested waters, a skull was found on beach close to the Alkinos' wreck. This was unusual since his route was nowhere near the ship's location.
In August 1969, four months after the discovery of the skull, confirmation was received that it belonged to the unfortunate Mr. Voigt.
In October, 1969, 2 days shy of it 26th anniversary leaving the Baltimore harbor in 1943, three demolition workers were lifted by an RAAF helicopter from the blazing hulk of the Alkimos. A fourth man jumped into the water and swam 300 yard to the shore. There was fear of an explosion since 15 canisters of acetylene gas were left on board. It was thought the fire started when timbers crashed through decking into cabins during the demolition work.
A light-aircraft pilot was the one who saw smoke coming from the ship's funnel, and saw that the men were trapped at the rear of the ship. He then notified the RAAF who staged the rescue.
This would not be the first or last time salvage workers would be driven off the wreck by fires that would mysteriously start every time they returned to start work again.
Throughout the years there numerous reports of Henry walking on the deck, many originating from cray fishermen in the area. Some thought it could be a squatter, but no one was ever found. Sightseers also claimed to see the mysterious figure on the deck.
In 1970, an ABC documentary titled, Alkimos: The Ship That Changed Its Name was aired. It detailed the series of misfortunes that wrecked the freighter seven years before.
In 1973, steam was seen billowing from the tunnels of the wreck. Two newspaper reporters went on the wreck to find the smoke came from drums of tar that had somehow caught fire.
While stranded the vessel was bought and sold at least 12 times, and a pattern developed of bankruptcy and life-threatening illnesses for the new owners of the ship. Once the ship was sold they would be freed from the bad luck that had been visited upon them. Crewmen would be injured while they worked on board the vessel, and tugs would catch fire or be damaged.
Footsteps were heard on the ladders and in the kitchen gallery, along with cooking odors. The activity inside the galley would stop when someone investigated, but once the door was shut it would start up again. The salvage personnel who were onboard 24/7 described their tools being moved. They avoided leaving their cabins after nightfall, and when they did they would hear footsteps following them.
Jack Wong Sue (1925-2009) an experienced diver from the area said in 1998, that it was a cursed ship. After a visit during the 1960s, he experienced respiratory problems. He had agreed to spend a night on the Alkimos with a film crew. One of the staff felt an invisible figure brush past him. He heard someone moaning and then rolling over in the opposite bunk even though it was empty.
In 1988, he vowed to have nothing more to do with the ship, then in March 1998, he walked down the stretch of beach opposite the Alkimos and shortly afterwards suffered a severe stroke.
A Queensland clairvoyant said a sailor had been butchered and thrown out of a port hole.
At one stage a priest was brought in to exorcise the ship and lift the curse. He felt someone had met a violent death near the foremast. However practicality won out over fear, and he decided to fish from the deck. He was shocked when the lead sink was hurled back at him with so much force he had to be taken in for medical care. He did not return to perform the exorcism.
Some said that just passing the Alkimos could bring bad luck.
The coastline where the Alkinos finally grounded has claimed hundreds of ships which have run aground on the jagged coral reefs. The most famous are four Dutch East Indiamen merchant vessels carrying bullion and treasure who wrecked between 1629 and 1727. The remains of the Batavia (1629), Vergulde Draeck (Gilt Dragon, 1656), Zuytdorp (1712) and Zeewyk (1727) were all found. Some of the treasure and artifacts were taken to the Western Australian Museum, others were pillaged by divers through the years.
In 1957, six years before the Alkimos wrecked on the beach, Ellis Robinson found what was left of a galleon off Ledge Point, 50 miles north of Perth. He returned to the spot, but couldn't find it. In 1963, Graeme Henderson,15, found the wreck while spearfishing. Robinson believed he was being denied credit for his discovery, and for years afterward he fought legislation that controlled historic shipwrecks. In 1969, he discovered the English wreck, Trial which was lost in 1622. In 1982, he faced trial for conspiring with his common law wife to murder his ex-wife. He was found hanging in his prison cell on November 2, 1983, the day a verdict was expected.
What was it about these wrecks, that wrecked a person's life?
Horses are said to refuse to gallop down the beach opposite where the Alkimos is beached. Dogs also behave when they are in sight of the ship. What's left of it keeps succumbing to the Indian Ocean. It is a popular diving venue, and one wonders if Henry the ghost keeps his vigil along the submerged deck.
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