Historic ship off Anguilla coast

By Steve Donahue

In the late 1980s, on the tiny island of Anguilla (1992 population 9,000) in the British West Indies, a group of visionaries decided to clear abandoned/derelict ships from the beaches and harbors and create artificial reefs/dive sites off-shore.

By 1990, a total of seven ships were refloated, towed off the north coast of Anguilla and scuttled in 60 - 80 feet of water.

Unfortunately, in September 1995, Category Five Hurricane Luis made a direct hit on Anguilla, destroying the buoy marking the location of one of the wrecks - the 130 foot inter-island freighter M/V Meppel - along with records and maps kept at the Fisheries Department that showed the location of the wreck.

Because of the usual poor underwater visibility in this area, after the hurricane this wreck was never found.

In 2009, I received an email from a L/Cpl. Rebekah Anderson in the UK, enquiring about the location and condition of the Meppel; her grandfather had once been its captain in the 1940s when it was named Hilda.

Questions were asked of local dive operators and fishermen, and most thought the wreck had been moved by Luis - or possibly even torn apart - as it had not been seen since 1995.

When Rebekah was told that the wreck was lost, she wrote back with some additional information which led the Anguilla Archaeological and Historical Society to make a more detailed search of the area for the ship.

The Society also researched the history of the ship through public records and Rebekah's family.

"Operation Dynamo", the May1940 evacuation of 338,000 Allied troops from Dunkirk on the north coast of France, was one of the most celebrated military events in British history - ironically, a direct result of one of her most crushing defeats. 

That same month, the 130 foot Dutch freighter Hilda, owned by Geert Zoutman and captained by his son Hemmo Zoutman (Rebekah's grandfather), was "loaned" to Britain for the duration of the war, and immediately placed into service in "Operation Dynamo."

(Geert was later imprisoned in occupied Holland, and then escaped, because he refused to tell the Germans where his boat was.)