On This Day in Trinity House History – 23 January


Shipwreck of the Constantia S at Casquets Lighthouse

The wreck of the Constantia S, off the Casquets Lighthouse in the Channel Islands, was written up in a 1967 edition of Trinity House’s Flash magazine:

Casquets Lighthouse

Casquets Lighthouse

“At 1015 on 23rd January, 1967, the Keepers at the Casquets Lighthouse observed that m.v. CONSTANTIA S, a Tanker of 5101 net registered tonnage on a voyage from Amsterdam with a cargo of fresh water for Gibraltar, was in danger of striking the rocks, and they immediately hoisted the signal flag ‘U’ (“you are standing into danger”) and signalled with their Aldis Lamp to warn the Tanker’s Master of the danger.

About twenty minutes later the Tanker, which was seemingly out of control, first struck the rock, after almost circling the Lighthouse, near to and E.N.E. of the Casquets South Landing, then drifted off and grounded at Point Colotte where the crew, with the exception of the Master, abandoned ship in two boats. The Master scrambled on to the rocks and was later rescued by a French Helicopter.

Meanwhile the Principal Keeper had reported the situation to St. Peter Port Radio in order to alert the Guernsey Lifeboat, and with his Assistant Keepers rushed to the North Landing with the Schermuly Rocket Gear, lifebelts and ropes after signalling to the boats that this was the safest place to land.

The tide was, however, too strong for the boats to make a landing and they drifted away in the tidal race to the S.E. of the lighthouse.

The weather at the time was wind S.W. force 6 to 8, squally, sea rough, and evidence of the extremely turbulent conditions was provided when the CONSTANTIA S eventually drifted from Point Colotte to the Fourquie Rocks east of the Lighthouse where she broke in two, the bow section sinking on the spot and the after part drifting away to the N.N.E.

Once again the traditions of the Trinity House Service, not only in providing aids to navigation but also in aiding those in distress, were upheld by Principal Keeper O.N. Murphy, and Assistant Keepers A.J. Marsh and J. Malins, by their alertness in warning the wrecked vessel, by maintaining radio contact with the shore and with the lifeboat and other rescue vessels, and standing by with their life-saving apparatus ready to rescue the shipwrecked sailors should they have attempted a landing.

Whilst all this was going on at the scene of the wreck, rescue operations were being organised ashore, and these involved Trinity House m.v. BURHOU, stationed at Alderney, which is 8½ miles from the Casquets, and the Trinity House Boatman Mr. N.J. Allen, although they are not officially part of the local life-saving organisation.

The message about the Tanker being in distress was first received by the Harbour Master at Alderney at about 1130 and he contacted Mr. Allen and alerted a scratch crew for the BURHOU which sailed shortly before noon and arrived off the wrecked tanker at about 1255.

Nick Allen, who knows these waters and their hazards like the back of his hand, took the BURHOU in close and ascertained from the Master of the CONSTANTIA S that the two boats had drifted to the southward. The BURHOU proceeded in search of the boats after a helicopter was observed to be approaching the rocks, thus ensuring that the Master, 61 years old Alexandria Ulasto, would be rescued.

The drifting boats were located about 2 miles south of the Casquets Lighthouse and the British Railways Mail Steamer SARNIA, the first vessel to reach them, managed to rescue the 10 men from the first boat.

Conditions in the vicinity were particularly bad owing to the close proximity of the Casquets S.S.W. Bank, creating a very heavy swell with rough seas, The SARNIA, a vessel of some 4,000 tons was rolling heavily, so much so that the men in the second boat were fearful of going alongside her for the rescue attempt and were relieved when T.H. m.v. BURHOU arrived on the scene.

Then began a feat of superb seamanship on the part of Skipper Nick Allen and his crew which, in spite of the prevailing conditions, resulted in the rescue of the CONSTANTIA S’s Second Officer and nineteen men, entirely without injury to personnel or damage to BURHOU.

When he had made sure that the whole of the Tanker’s crew were safe, Mr. Allen took the men he had rescued into Alderney where they landed at about 1415.

“The English Seamen were terrific” said the Greek Second Officer, Mr. Din Pouloysatis, and what more can we who were not there add to that, excepting perhaps to express our admiration for the courage of Nick Allen and his men for putting to sea without hesitation, and not even strictly within their normal line of duty, to save the lives of those in peril on the sea.

By order of the Board, Mr. Allen was sent a letter of commendation for his action and the high standard of seamanship displayed, which were in accordance with the highest traditions of the Trinity House Service.”

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