The Dutch cargo ship "Alpherat" lost with platinum
A War loss - The sinking of the Alpherat
By Pascal Kainic
The steamship "Alpherat" was delivered in August 1928 by William Gray & Co. Ltd West Hartlepool, England for the Dutch shipping company Van Nievelt, Goudrian & Co. in Rotterdam. She was 5759 gross tons and could go at 11 knots. In 1938, the ship was refitted and adjusted to meet the growing needs from the Rotterdam-South America Line and passenger accommodation was increased from 12 to 24 persons.
The bombing and subsequent foundering
Transferred by the Dutch government to the British Ministry of War Transport, she was part of several convoys of supplies, until the 17th of November 1943, When she loaded a full general cargo destined for the United Kingdom...
With the crew, there were also 24 passengers on board; 1 left during the journey through the Red Sea and the Suez canal. She continued in convoy GUS 25 and on 21st December, at 15.50 hours, the ship was located well over 150 miles east of Malta. At that time, the Commodore reported that there probably would take place an air attack on the convoy.
On board the "Alpherat", the anti-aircraft guns were manned and all was prepared for the defense. At 16.50 hours, there indeed approached a formation of German Luftwaffe aircrafts and all the ships opened fire. Nevertheless, the enemy dropped bombs and at 16.55 hours the "Alpherat" was hit on starboard, in the fore part of the ship.
Just after this action, an explosion followed in hold II. The holds were gauged and because there was 1 meter of water in hold II, one pumped immediately, but the water kept rising and holdI also began too fill up. In the meantime, the passengers were warned to prepare to leave the ship. Commander Van Os wanted to keep his ship in the convoy until it becomes dark, as it was too risky to stay behind. But soon, all hopes to save the ship had to be abandoned.
After the Commodore was informed and assistance was asked, the order to leave the ship was given. At 17.30 hours, all persons on board were in the lifeboats at a safe distance off the ship and the British corvette "Saxifrage" took the passengers and crew on board, 83 in all. The "Alpherat" sunk within the next 2 hours. Captain Van Os, his crew and passengers were safely landed at Gibraltar on December 28th, where they happily celebrated New Year's Eve 1944.
From Duban and Port Saïd, she sailed directly to the U.K fully loaded with 7100 tons of general cargo on a government charter. Her heavy and valuable cargo included 1800 bags of cobalt (a little more than 90 tons) and 896 bags of platinum matte (approximately 60 tons), plus asbestos fibre, tobacco, sheepskins, ammunitions and various other goods.
On 10th of January, 1994, the Minister of War Transport himself wrote this letter from Berkeley Square House:
" Dear Captain Van Os,
I have now seen the reports of the sinking of your ship by enemy action, and I write to offer you and your fellow survivors my sincere sympathy in the loss of your ship.
I am glad to know that you and all your officers and crew were saved uninjured.
I very much regret that for a second time a ship under your command should have been the victim of enemy action, and once again I wish to express my great appreciation of the continued courage with which Dutch seamen, in common with the seamen of all the allied nations, are facing the dangers of a calling so vital to the cause for which we are fighting..."
In the 1990's the salvage company Blue Water Recoveries located the wreck of the "Alpherat" with its ship "Deep Sea Worker", in a record depth of 3770 meters ! We don't know if they succeded in salvaging the precious cargo of platinum...