MV Dunedin Star

The wreck in 1998
United Kingdom
Name: Dunedin Star
Namesake: Dunedin, New Zealand
Owner: Union Cold Storage Ltd
Operator: Blue Star Line
Port of registry: United Kingdom London
Builder: Cammell Laird, Birkenhead
Yard number: 1009
Launched: 29 October 1935
Completed: February 1936
General characteristics
Class and type: refrigerated cargo ship
  • 12,891 GRT
  • tonnage under deck 11,648
  • 8,020 NRT
  • 530 ft (162 m) p/p
  • 551.0 ft (167.9 m) o/a
Beam: 70.4 ft (21 m)
Draught: 43 ft 4 in (13.2 m)
Depth: 32.3 ft (10 m)
Installed power: 2,516 NHP
Capacity: cargo + 21 passengers
Crew: 85
Sensors and
processing systems:
Armament: DEMS
Service record
Operations: Operation Halberd, 1941

MV Dunedin Star was a UK refrigerated cargo liner. It was built by Cammell Laird and Co in 1935–36 as one of Blue Star Line's Imperial Star-class ships, designed to ship frozen meat from Australia and New Zealand to the United Kingdom. It served in the Second World War and is distinguished for its role in Operation Halberd to relieve the siege of Malta in September 1941.

Dunedin Star was lost at the end of November 1942 when it ran aground in the South Atlantic on the Skeleton Coast of South West Africa. A complex sea, air, and land operation overcame many setbacks and rescued all of its passengers, crew, and gunners. An aircraft, a tug and two of the tug's crew were lost in rescue attempts. It took a month for the last of Dunedin Star's crew to reach Cape Town, and more than two months for the last of the rescuers to return.


Cammell Laird and Co in Birkenhead, England built Dunedin Star, launching it on October 29, 1935 and completing it in February 1936.[1] It was owned by Union Cold Storage, a ship-owning company controlled by Blue Star Line.[2]

The Imperial Star class were motor ships. Dunedin Star had a pair of 9-cylinder two-stroke single-acting Sulzer Bros marine Diesel engines developing a total of 2,516 NHP and driving twin screws. Its navigation equipment included wireless direction finding, an echo sounding device and a gyrocompass.[2]

Second World War service

After the United Kingdom entered the Second World War in September 1939 Dunedin Star initially continued its cargo liner service between Britain and Australia. As it was a fast merchant ship, it sailed unescorted until November 1940.[3]

On October 10, 1939, the ship left Liverpool for Brisbane. It called at Las Palmas, Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, East London, Durban, Lourenço Marques, Sydney and Rockhampton, and reached Brisbane on November 26. Three days later, the ship began its return voyage, and called at Newcastle, New South Wales, Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide. It spent Christmas of 1939 sailing west across the Indian Ocean and New Year's Day of 1940 in Cape Town, then called at Las Palmas. On January 18, it reached London.[3]

On January 31, 1940, Dunedin Star left London for Brisbane again. It called at Las Palmas and Gladstone, Queensland, and reached Brisbane on March 10. It began its return voyage six days later, and called at Albany, Western Australia, Fremantle, Cape Town and Las Palmas, reaching London on 3 May.[3]

On June 2, 1940, Dunedin Star left London for Queensland again. It called at Lisbon, São Vicente, Cape Verde, Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Cairns, and reached Townsville in northeastern Queensland on July 18. On June 22 France had surrendered to Germany, which removed the powerful French Navy from the defense of Allied shipping, gave all of France's Atlantic ports and naval bases to the Kriegsmarine and its most strategic airfields to the Luftwaffe. Therefore, when Dunedin Star began its voyage home from Townsville on July 21, it called at Rockhampton and Sydney but then turned east across the Pacific Ocean to Panama. It reached Balboa, Panama on August 23, passed through the Panama Canal and called at Cristóbal, Colón two days later. It called at Curaçao in the Netherlands Antilles before crossing the North Atlantic, reaching Avonmouth on the Bristol Channel on 10 September.[3]

Dunedin Star stayed in Avonmouth for a month, leaving on 10 October and reaching Liverpool two days later. On November 1, it left Liverpool with Convoy WS 4, which divided into fast (WS 4F) and slow (WS 4S) sections. Dunedin Star went with WS 4F to Freetown,[4] Sierra Leone and then continued via Durban to Suez, where it arrived on 22 December. It seems to have spent Christmas of 1940 and New Years 1941 in Suez.[3] On January 12, it left for Colombo in Ceylon, where it arrived on 22 January. It made the Red Sea leg of its voyage from Suez to Aden with Convoy SW 4B,[5] then detached and crossed the Indian Ocean unescorted.[3]

Operation Halberd

Part of the escort of Convoy GM 2 to Malta: Royal Navy cruisers HMS Edinburgh, Hermione and Euryalus

By August 1941, Dunedin Star was back in Britain. On August 9, it left the Firth of Clyde with Convoy WS 8C to Scapa Flow,[6] returning to the Clyde on 17 August. Then it and a Blue Star sister ship, Imperial Star, took part in Operation Halberd to relieve the siege of Malta. On 17 September they left the Clyde with Convoy WS 011D, which at sea became Convoy WS 11X.[7] The convoy was bound for Bombay but the ships for Operation Halberd detached in the North Atlantic and reached Gibraltar on 24 September. There eight merchant ships formed Convoy GM 2, which left the same day under heavy Royal Navy escort for Malta.

On September 27, 1941, the Mediterranean Italian Regia Aeronautica aircraft attacked the convoy but were repulsed by naval escorts and air cover. That evening an Italian torpedo bomber hit Imperial Star. No crew were killed and the ship did not sink but was disabled so it was scuttled and abandoned. The remainder of the convoy safely reached the Grand Harbour at Valletta the next day. Dunedin Star stayed in Malta for four weeks, leaving unescorted on 22 October and calling at Gibraltar three days later.[3]

Dunedin Star's movements for the next five months are not recorded. Then on March 22, 1942, it left the Clyde with Convoy WS 17 to Freetown.[8] It continued via Cape Town to the Indian Ocean, reaching Bombay on May 16 and leaving Colombo on July 13 for Fremantle. There it joined Convoy ZK 12, which left on July 27 for Sydney.[9] Dunedin Star detached en route and reached Melbourne on August 3. Again, it returned from Australia to Britain via Panama, where it called on September 17 before crossing the North Atlantic and reaching Liverpool on November 1.[3]


On November 9, 1942, Dunedin Star left Liverpool for Egypt via Saldanha Bay, Cape Town and Aden.[1] Its cargo was munitions and supplies for the British Eighth Army in the Middle East, and it was carrying 85 crew and 21 fare-paying passengers.[10]

MV Dunedin Star is located in Namibia
MV Dunedin Star
Approximate position of Dunedin Star's wreck on the coast of Namibia

Dunedin Star left Liverpool with Convoy ON 145, which convoy was bound for New York.[11] In the North Atlantic Dunedin Star detached and headed for South Africa. However, at 2230 hrs on 29 November off the Skeleton Coast of South West Africa it struck an underwater obstacle,[10] presumed by the subsequent South African Court of Inquiry to be the poorly charted Clan Alpine Shoal.[citation needed] Its wireless operator sent a distress signal, which was received ashore at Walvis Bay.

Dunedin Star began rapidly taking on water and its pumps were unable to cope. Its master, Captain RB Lee, chose to beach the ship for the safety of its passengers, crew, and valuable cargo. In a heavy sea it grounded 550 yards (500 m) offshore, about 50 miles (80 km) south of the Cunene River mouth on the border with Portuguese Angola.[citation needed]

Captain Lee feared the heavy sea could break up the ship. Therefore, he had the crew lower its motor boat and start putting people ashore. The boat completed two trips, putting ashore a total of 63 people including eight women, three babies and a number of elderly men. Then the rough sea disabled the boat and it was stranded on the beach. They were left with no shelter and only the boat's water and food rations to sustain them. Another 42 people, including Captain Lee, were left aboard the beached ship.[10]

A South African Railways and Harbours tug, the 328 GRT Sir Charles Elliot, left Walvis Bay and headed north to reach the wreck. The 197 GRT minesweeper HMSAS Nerine, a converted civilian vessel, left Walvis Bay at 1400 hrs on 30 November laden with emergency supplies packed into Carley floats to take ashore to the survivors on the beach. The Norwegian 6,465 GRT cargo ship Temeraire and Manchester Liners' 6,048 GRT cargo steamship Manchester Division also diverted to help. Meanwhile, at Windhoek a land rescue convoy, led by Captain JWB Smith of the South African Police, set out to reach those survivors who were ashore.[10]

The ships reached Dunedin Star on 1 or 2 December. Nerine launched some of its supply-laden Carley floats to reach the shore party, but the strong current swept them away. It moved closer to the shore, launched its remaining floats and returned to Walvis Bay. Temeraire launched its motor boat and took 10 men off Dunedin Star, but the boat shipped a lot of water which stopped its motor. The Norwegian boatmen then rowed for an hour and a half to Manchester Division, which took the 10 survivors aboard. The Norwegians were now so exhausted that Temeraire had to take them and their boat back aboard. The next day Sir Charles Elliot arrived. Temeraire again lowered its motorboat, which in four trips rescued the remaining 32 men from Dunedin Star and transferred them all to Sir Charles Elliot. In the heavy sea the tug then struggled to get alongside Manchester Division to transfer all of the rescued men except Captain Lee and his Chief and Second Engineers, who were taken aboard Nerine.[10]

On December 3, Sir Charles Elliot left to return to Walvis Bay, but about 0600 hrs the next morning it grounded just north of Rocky Point. Most of its crew managed to swim ashore through the strong current, but First Officer Angus McIntyre and deckhand Mathias Korabseb did not survive.[10]

At 1400 hrs on December 3, a South African Air Force Lockheed Ventura coastal patrol aircraft was sent from Cape Town to drop supplies on the beach for the survivors. At about 1620 hrs the pilot, Captain Immins Naude, found the beach. His crew dropped the supplies but most were destroyed on impact. Naude landed on a nearby flat piece of land with the intention of rescuing some of the remaining survivors on the beach. Unfortunately, the land was a salt pan disguised by desert sand. The next day it was discovered that the Ventura's undercarriage had sunk through the crusted surface of the salt, damaging the aircraft and leaving it stuck in the sand.[10]

Three other SAAF Venturas flew supply missions to drop water, food and other emergency supplies. They often flew several flights a day to the survivors on the beach. At times they also dropped supplies to Captain Smith's land convoy on the way from Windhoek to the beach. On 8 December Captain Smith's land convoy reached Rocky Point and Sir Charles Elliot's survivors and took them to a makeshift landing strip. There Lt Col PS Joubert landed a Ventura and picked up the tug's surviving crew.[10]

In Walvis Bay, Nerine refuelled and loaded new supplies, and on 7 December headed north again. It reached Dunedin Star two days later and launched its lifeboat, which unsuccessfully tried to fire a line ashore by rocket. Instead Nerine's radio operator, Denis Scully, swam ashore with a rope tied about his waist. That day 14 crew, two women and two children were taken off the beach and transferred to Nerine. On 10 December eight more of the survivors from the beach were transferred to the minesweeper.[10]

Captain Smith's convoy then reached the beach and rescued those survivors who had not been transferred by lifeboat to Nerine. Smith's 11 trucks got back to Windhoek on 23 December, where the survivors stayed before continuing overland by train. They reached Cape Town on 28 December.[10]

On January 17, 1943, Captain Naude left Windhoek leading an overland convoy to recover the Ventura. After on-site repairs and a four-day digging effort, he finally got the plane airborne on 29 January. However, after only 43 minutes' flying time the aircraft developed engine trouble and ditched in the sea about 200 yards offshore near Rocky Point. Naude and his two fellow aircrew members survived the crash and managed to swim ashore. Their returning land convoy rescued them on 1 February.[10][12]

All of Dunedin Star's passengers, crew and DEMS gunners survived, thanks to the courage and resource of many rescuers by sea, air, and land. But it was at a high cost: one Ventura aircraft, the tug Sir Charles Elliot and two of the tug's crew were killed.[10]

The Court of Enquiry found Captain Lee culpable for the loss of his ship. Blue Star Line dismissed him and he turned to be a publican in England. In 1943 or 1944, Blue Star re-engaged him as the master of one of the merchant ships for one of the Allied landings in Europe. After this contract, Blue Star did not offer him another ship. He later emigrated to India, where he died shortly after his arrival.[10]

Six of Dunedin Star's crew including an assistant engineer went on to serve on Melbourne Star, and were killed when it sunk in the North Atlantic on April 2, 1943. Dunedin Star's chief electrician went on to serve on the landing ship Empire Javelin, and was killed when it sunk in the English Channel on December 28, 1944.[10]

Some of Dunedin Star's cargo was salvaged in 1951.[1] Some remains are visible to this day on the beach, among them a section of decking from the bow or of the stern.

Successor ship

The second Dunedin Star, built in Glasgow in 1950

After the War, Blue Star Line bought a cargo ship that was being built by Alexander Stephen and Sons at Linthouse on the River Clyde. It had been laid down for Lancashire Shipping Ltd as Bolton Castle for trade with China. However, in 1949, the Chinese Communist Revolution reduced this trade so Lancashire Shipping sold it on the stocks to Blue Star.[13]

The new ship was launched on April 18, 1950 as a second Dunedin Star and completed that September. It was a turbine steamship, and at 7,322 GRT was considerably smaller than its predecessor. Unusually for a Blue Star ship, it had only some of its holds refrigerated. Nevertheless, it spent 25 years in service with the Blue Star group.[13]

In 1968, the ship was transferred to the Blue Star subsidiary Lamport and Holt, which renamed it Roland 2. It spent most of the next seven years on a regular route between Río de la Plata, Brazil and the UK. In 1975, it was sold to Pallas Maritime of Cyprus, who renamed it Jessica. After two more changes of the owner, it was scrapped in 1978 at Gadani ship-breaking yard in Pakistan.[13]

See also

  • Eduard Bohlen – a German cargo and passenger ship that was wrecked on the Skeleton Coast in 1909


  1. ^ a b c "Blue Star's M.V. "Dunedin Star" 1". Blue Star on the Web. 8 September 2013. Retrieved 15 August 2014. includes many photographs of Dunedin Star's launch and some of it at sea
  2. ^ a b Lloyd's Register, Steamships and Motor Ships (PDF). London: Lloyd's Register. 1941. Retrieved 15 August 2014.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Hague, Arnold. "Dunedin Star". Ship Movements. Don Kindell, ConvoyWeb. Retrieved 15 August 2014.
  4. ^ Hague, Arnold. "Convoy WS.4". Shorter Convoy Series. Don Kindell, ConvoyWeb. Retrieved 15 August 2014.
  5. ^ Hague, Arnold. "Convoy SW.4B". Shorter Convoy Series. Don Kindell, ConvoyWeb. Retrieved 15 August 2014.
  6. ^ Hague, Arnold. "Convoy WS.8C". Shorter Convoy Series. Don Kindell, ConvoyWeb. Retrieved 15 August 2014.
  7. ^ Hague, Arnold. "Convoy WS.11X". Shorter Convoy Series. Don Kindell, ConvoyWeb. Retrieved 15 August 2014.
  8. ^ Hague, Arnold. "Convoy WS.17". Shorter Convoy Series. Don Kindell, ConvoyWeb. Retrieved 15 August 2014.
  9. ^ Hague, Arnold. "Convoy ZK.12". Shorter Convoy Series. Don Kindell, ConvoyWeb. Retrieved 15 August 2014.
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n "MV Dunedin Star". MV Melbourne Star. John White. Retrieved 15 August 2014. includes photographs
  11. ^ Hague, Arnold. "Convoy ON.145". ON Convoy Series. Don Kindell, ConvoyWeb. Retrieved 15 August 2014.
  12. ^ Taffrail 1973, p. 131.
  13. ^ a b c "Blue Star's M.V. "Dunedin Star" 2". Blue Star on the Web. 25 November 2012. Retrieved 15 August 2014.

Sources and further reading

External links

  • Mears, Ray (2003). "Extreme Survival". 3. television documentary including interviews with survivors and SAAF pilot Captain Immins Naude

Coordinates: 18°08′S 11°33′E / 18.13°S 11.55°E / -18.13; 11.55

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