Wednesday, 18 March 2015


23 October, 1910, the Portuguese twin-screw passenger / cargo steamer, Lisboa, ran aground at Soldier's Reef (Paternoster) on her second to maiden voyage. At 7700 tons she was the largest steamer in the Portuguese mercantile marine (Empreza Nacional de Navegacao). The Lisboa was built by D & W Henderson on the Clyde, and commanded by Captain Menezes.  
The Lisboa was en-route from Lisbon to Lourenco Marques, Mozambique, when she experienced strong inshore currents driving her onto the rocks. At the time she carried a component of 250 passengers, 50 crew, prize bulls (for bull-fighting), olive oil and wine. Seven crew drowned while attempting to lower a lifeboat, but the balance of souls made it safely to shore where they endured harsh conditions for three days while waiting to be rescued.
The Lisboa incident included the first official (for South Africa) use of wireless communication from a stricken steamer to summon help. The wireless operator remained on board until he was sure the distress call had been received, after which he leaped into the sea and swam to shore.
This case proved that wireless communication off the South African coast could be effective in times of distress at sea. The Waratah foundered just over a year prior to this and her lack of wireless undoubtedly encouraged authorities to implement and strengthen effective land-based receivers, which paid off in the case of the Lisboa. Although neither vessel could have been saved by communications, the authorities at least knew where the problem occurred and could dispatch rescue teams for those who had made it onto shore.   
An interesting further note; the Lisboa (virtually new like the Waratah) was steaming in the same direction as the Waratah when she foundered - close to shore, where she was vulnerable to inshore currents. Both steamers were known for their extraordinary size, by the standards of the day, which leaves one parting question: 
Contributory factors aside, were both steamers at risk of running off course due to their size?

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