Thursday, 2 June 2016



Owner:P&O-house flag.svg P&O Steam Navigation Co
Operator:P&O-house flag.svg P&O Steam Navigation Co
Port of registry:United Kingdom London
Route:Tilbury – Bombay
Builder:Caird & CompanyGreenock
Yard number:285
Out of service:20 May 1922
Fate:Sank after collision
General characteristics
Length:499.9 ft (152.4 m)
Beam:54.3 feet (16.6 m)
Draught:26 feet 9 inches (8.15 m)
Depth:24.5 feet (7.5 m)
Installed power:11,000 ihp
Speed:service: 15 kn (28 km/h). Max: 18 kn (33 km/h)
  • Passengers: 301 1st class, 208 2nd class
  • Cargo: 171,303 cubic feet (4,851 m3)
Crew:283 (116 Europeans and 167 Lascars)
Notes:Sister shipsArabiaChinaIndiaPersia

Egypt was a P&O ocean liner. She sank after a collision with Seine on 20 May 1922 in the English Channel. 252 people were rescued from the 338 passengers and crew aboard at the time.[1] A subsequent salvage operation recovered most of the cargo of gold and silver.

Early career

Caird & Company built Egypt at Greenock on the River Clyde, launching her in 1897. She generally ran between United Kingdom and India, but also was a hospital ship in the First World War.

Final voyage

Egypt left TilburyEssex on 19 May 1922 carrying only 44 passengers but a cargo that included gold and silver bullion and gold sovereigns worth over £1 million[2] (around £200 million at the 2012 gold price).
The voyage proceeded normally until the early morning of 20 May when fog was encountered. As a safety measure Captain Collyer greatly reduced the speed of the ship. Egypt remained in fog until the afternoon when the navigator was able to sight landmarks on the French coast and fix the ship's position.
After continuing the voyage for several hours a dense fog bank was suddenly encountered at around 7 o'clock. The engines were stopped but almost immediately afterwards a fog whistle was heard. The steamship Seine emerged through the fog and within seconds struck Egypt's port side. Seine had a strengthened bow for ice-breaking, which penetrated deeply into Egypt's hull before the ships drifted apart.
An SOS distress signal was transmitted and replies were received from Cahiracon and RMS Andes but Egypt sank in less than 20 minutes before either ship arrived.[3] Most of the passengers and crew were able to abandon ship in the lifeboats which were picked up by Seine.


Because the ship had such valuable cargo, it wasn't long before salvage attempts began. However, the Egypt's wreck was not found until 1930. She was found lying upright in a depth of 170 metres (560 ft), making the recovery very difficult with the technology of the time. Giovanni Quaglia from the Genoese company Società Ricuperi Marittimi (So.Ri.Ma.) was in charge of the operation and decided to use a diver in an armoured suit to direct the placing of explosives to blast through the ship to expose the strong room. The diver was then used to direct a grab which picked up the gold and silver. The salvage continued until 1935 by when 98% of the contents of the strong room had been recovered.[4]

This edited article about ship salvage first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 575 published on 20 January 1973.

'Thick fog had surrounded the 8,999-ton P. and O. liner “Egypt” all day, as she had made her way cautiously out of the English Channel. It was still with her as she rounded the French coast into the Atlantic. For hours now, the dull boom of the liner’s foghorns and the answering calls of other ships in the vicinity had grown so monotonous that most of the passengers had paid little attention to them. They were there to enjoy the voyage, and as they dressed for dinner most of them thought only of the pleasures of the evening ahead.
But three men aboard the ship had a very good reason to be worried. The captain, the chief officer and the purser shared both a secret and a responsibility which made their steady glances into the fog-shrouded night doubly anxious. Only they knew that in the ship’s fireproof and thief-proof strongroom lay a cargo so valuable that its existence had to be kept a secret.
Apart from the passengers’ jewelry and valuables, they carried some 2,318 gold and silver bars and a mass of gold sovereigns together valued at over a million pounds. These, the property of the British government, were destined for India and the Far East.
But the three men were fated never to finish the fateful journey which had started at London on 20th May, 1922. While everyone was at dinner a dull, grinding thud shook the ship from stem to stern. As tables overturned, crockery smashed, women screamed and alarm bells rang, it was obvious that the ship was already settling in the water, doomed to be sunk. She had been rammed by a French freighter, which had not seen her in the fog, and a huge hole in her stern had made everything but the abandonment of the ship impossible.
Despite a swift emergency evacuation, 88 men were still on board when the “Egypt” slid noiselessly under the water. Seven years later she was still there, her treasure lying in nearly four hundred feet of water, so well protected that men were already referring to the job of recovering it as “the impossible salvage.”
One man, however, never gave up hope of finding a method of raising the treasure, despite the enormous difficulties. He was Peter Sandberg, a Swedish engineer who lived in England. First of all, however, the problem of the ship’s depth had to be overcome, for at that time divers could not go, deeper than 150 feet.
What was needed was a cast-iron diving shell, strong enough to withstand the enormous water pressures. Fortunately, a German firm had developed a metal diving suit with flexible joints, and Sandberg planned to use this.
After he had signed a contract with Lloyd’s of London to raise the “Egypt’s” gold, he found that another problem, just as difficult as the first, was in pinpointing the exact location of the wreck.
Apart from the fog, the confusion on board had been so great that no one had thought of checking the position of the “Egypt” when it sank, and to search the sea bed over a very great area would be very difficult.
Nevertheless, Peter Sandberg, with the help of an Italian company Sorima, started the search in 1929. By October, they had nothing to show for weeks of effort, and the storms which were becoming more and more frequent were making conditions extremely dangerous. Still Sandberg would not give up, and the following spring he started his search again.
By this time, they were five miles away from the estimated position of the liner. Working under a hot August sun and with the knowledge that autumn would soon be round again, Sandberg and his men felt a depressing lack of enthusiasm as the salvage ships began yet another sweep of the area.
But this one was to be different. The drag caught on an underwater obstruction and brought up a long curved shaft of rusty steel. Amid mounting excitement the crew watched, as a diving cylinder was lowered, to see once and for all if they had really discovered their elusive wreck. Alberto Bargellini, one of the divers, got into the special steel cylinder and was swiftly lowered into the black ocean.
At sixty fathoms, his voice came up urgently on the telephone. “I am on the sea bed. Haul me up a little so I can get out of the mud! I can’t see anything at all.”
Willing hands manoeuvred the cylinder from above, as Bargellini described what he could see.
“I can see something – it’s black and has a flat top – it’s a liner all right,” he said.
He carefully described the superstructure. By now there was no doubt. Men on board the salvage ship were delighted; the “Egypt” had been found.
Weeks of work were needed for a way to be cleared to the sunken ship’s strongroom. Explosive charges were laid, underwater floodlights set up and the painstaking task of completing the salvage operation safely continued slowly day by day. Soon it was obvious that the weather was becoming too bad for the real work of bringing up the bullion to continue. It would have to wait until the following spring. But at least the divers and the other men on board the salvage ship “Artiglio,” who returned to the French coast as winter set in, knew that the most difficult part of their job had been completed.
To while away the winter months usefully, the “Artiglio” went to St. Nazaire to demolish a dangerous wreck in the port there. It was of an American munitions ship. Although it could only be demolished by being blasted with T.N.T. there was no reason to suppose that anything would go wrong. For three months, the crew of the “Artiglio” worked upon her, section by section, until, as Christmas approached, they tried to speed up the operation.
The divers laid the charges and the ship, instead of standing off safely two miles, retreated only 300 yards. And instead of the usual muffled underwater explosion, there was a tremendous noise. The charge had exploded all the munitions on the sunken ship. A huge column of water shot into the air. This and the shock waves forced the “Artiglio” under water. At one moment she had been supervising a successful salvage operation. At the next, only a mushroom shaped cloud of smoke and spray marked where she had been. Only seven of her crew survived.
A replacement ship was soon found and fitted out, but those who went to the wreck of the “Egypt” next year did so with heavy hearts. Yet another summer was spent in cutting the ship open in order for the strongroom to be reached, and it was not until June, 1932, that the grabs finally began to bite deep into the wreck’s treasure vault.
It had taken four years of searching and intensive work. A ship had been lost, men perished and £80,000 spent in a desperate attempt to recover the “Egypt’s” gold. As the winches whirled men waited, silent and tense, to see what the grab would bring up from the sea.
Slowly and ponderously the grab rose from the water, swung round and descended to the deck. The mechanic released the opening gear and a jumble of wreckage cascaded out. Among the wood and metal came the dull yellow glint for which they had waited so long. “Gold! Gold!” came the shouts from the delighted crew. There on the deck were seventeen gold bars – the nucleus of a fortune.
After only three days work, the “Artiglio” set off for Portsmouth with over £180,000 on board. Everyone knew that this was only a start and that, as soon as the weather improved, they could return and set to work again in earnest.
In fact it was over a year later before the operation was completed, but by then it had become the most successful modern treasure hunt of all.
Virtually all the “Egypt’s” treasure had been recovered and well over a million pounds had been shared between Lloyd’s, the insurers, Sorima, the salvagers, and Peter Sandberg. It was Sandberg who had supplied all the ingredients for a successful treasure hunt – detailed planning, hard work, careful checking and a dash of inspiration. The success which followed was no more than his due.'

Wreck Report:

The Court having carefully inquired into the circumstances attending the above-mentioned shipping casualty, finds, for the reasons stated in the Annex hereto, that the loss of the s.s. "Egypt" was due to a collision with the French steamship "Seine" whereby No. 3 hold and the forward boiler room were thrown open to the sea, which caused a rapid inrush of water into the "Egypt," making her list heavily to port and eventually sink; that the loss of life was mainly due to default on the part of the Master and Chief Officer in failing to take proper measures to save life; default on their part in failing to exercise their authority to ensure good order and discipline at the time of the casualty; default on their part in failing to make the crew efficient in collision and boat drill; and failure on the part of the owners through their officials and servants to take proper and effective measures to ensure compliance with their regulations and to exact good discipline on the ship.

The Court suspends the Certificate No. 018399 of the Master, Andrew Collyer, for a period of six months from the date hereof. The Court also severely censures the Chief Officer, Charles Walter Cartwright. 

Dated this 4th day of September, 1922.

The "Egypt," official number 105581, was a British steel single screw steamship built in 1897 at Greenock. Her dimensions were as follows: Length 499.8 feet, breadth 54.3 feet, depth of hold 32.9 feet, gross tonnage 7940.96, and registered tonnage 4207.20. She had triple expansion engines. Her horse-power nominal was 2,500. She was capable of making 18 knots at full speed. She was fitted with wireless installation and carried three operators. She was owned by the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company, of 122, Leadenhall Street, London, her registered manager being Mr. Frank Ritchie. She was fitted with nine watertight bulkheads carried up to the spar deck. In the watertight bulkheads separating the various compartments were 23 watertight doors.

There are a number of interesting points:

- Egypt was 35 ft. longer than Waratah but with a beam of only 54.3 ft., 5.15 ft. less than Waratah's 59.45 ft.. With her prominent top hamper the reduced beam suggests a narrow, deep hull to enhance stability. The Wikipedia figures quoted above are incorrect. Her depth was 32.9 ft. (not including double bottom) and her draught, 24.5 ft. with a freeboard of greater than 8.4 ft. - probably in the region of 11 ft., compared with Waratah's 8.1 ft.. Egypt's significantly lower draught figure of 24.5 ft. compared with Waratah's 30 ft. 4 1/2 in. illustrates better stability without having to resort to functional overloading. Egypt's power output of 11 000 ihp was significantly greater than Waratah's under-powered 5400 ihp, resulting in an improved working top speed of 15 knots. Also note that Egypt's top hamper straddled more than 50% of the length of the hull, improving both structural integrity and stability.

- Despite the fact that Egypt had nine watertight bulkheads up to the spar deck, these did not save her after the collision. 16 passengers and 71 crew perished. After the collision orders were given to close water tight doors but already there was 18 ft. of water in the forward stoke hold and Egypt immediately fell into a significant list to port. This suggests that water tight doors were only effective if kept closed prior to a disaster such as this. Egypt sank within 20 minutes.

- 'But three men aboard the ship had a very good reason to be worried. The captain, the chief officer and the purser shared both a secret and a responsibility which made their steady glances into the fog-shrouded night doubly anxious. Only they knew that in the ship’s fireproof and thief-proof strongroom lay a cargo so valuable that its existence had to be kept a secret.' This proves that significant shipments of bullion belonging to the British Government had to be transported in secret. There is much speculation about gold and silver on board Waratah when she disappeared. The Egypt case illustrates that it is feasible Waratah was transporting Commonwealth gold in secrecy which to some extent would explain the extensive searches and possibly a reason for Captain Ilbery coming about to avoid the approaching gale - risk of loss too great.

- When it came to salvaging and claiming the bullion, a contract was signed between the salvors and Lloyd's. This would apply to the Waratah should her wreck be discovered and valuable cargo retrieved. Neither the descendants of the Lunds nor the P&O Line would have any claim, which would revert to the insurers and underwriters, who covered the loss - roughly 220 000 pounds. Lloyd's would be entitled to a portion of the value of Waratah's retrieved cargo. 220 000 pounds in 1909 would be equivalent to 20 and a half million pounds today!! The haul would have to be significant to cover this commitment to Lloyds minus salvage costs and risk etc...  

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