East London’s maritime history marks two ‘mysteries’ in July

NO ANSWERS: It is still a mystery as to what happened to the SS Waratah that went missing in 1909 after last being seen off the Wild Coast Picture: BCM TOURISM/FACEBOOK

This week marked the anniversary of two significant maritime disasters in East London’s history.

The first concerns the SS Waratah, a triple-deck passenger and cargo ship of the Blue Anchor Line that was traveling from Durban with 211 passengers and crew en route to Cape Town

After departing from Durban on July 26 1909, the Waratah was spotted by the Clan Line steamer SS Clan MacIntyre off the Wild Coast at approximately 4am, overtaking them at about 6am, and disappearing from view at roughly 9.30am.

The Waratah was never seen again.

The fate of the SS Waratah remains a mystery, as no trace of the ship or its passengers have been found.

The next event was the sinking of the Russian vessel the SS Orient, which beached in East London on July 29 1907.

The Orient had been travelling with 21 crew and a cargo of wheat from South Australia when disaster struck.

While passing what was then known as Sandy Beach at night, it was stranded ashore by rough sea conditions and the captain was forced to jettison their cargo to lighten the ship. By July 30, assistance was provided by the East London Stevedoring Company and by that night, more than 400 tonnes of wheat had been dumped.

Despite their efforts, the Orient remained stranded when the tide turned and the ship began to take on water.

While efforts were made to recover whatever of the cargo remained, the crew managed to disembark safely.

On August 15, the ship was auctioned off and sold to WJ Ellis for £130.

However, attempts to free the Orient proved futile, and the ship’s remains still lay there today off of what is now called Orient Beach.

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