The Scapa Flow Landscape Partnership Scheme

The Irene and the loss of the T.G.B.

Irene lies in the bay to the south of Grim Ness, South Ronaldsay © SCRAN

On Monday 17 March 1969, a Liberian cargo ship, Irene, radioed to say that she was in difficulty off the coast of South Ronaldsay and was drifting in a force nine gale. The Longhope Lifeboat, the T.G.B., was launched just before 8pm and was seen by the keepers of the Pentland Skerries Lighthouse at 9.30pm.

Meanwhile, Irene also fired flares, which were seen on South Ronaldsay. A rocket was fired to the vessel and all 17 crew members were safely brought ashore. Concern was mounting for the fate of the T.G.B..

The following day, at around 1.15pm, the Thurso lifeboat discovered the upturned vessel. She towed the lifeboat into Scrabster Harbour. Here the boat was turned over and the body of the Coxswain, Dan Kirkpatrick, was seen in the wheelhouse. Six of the men were down below. One of the crew, Jim Swanson, was missing and his body was never found.

The funeral was held on 22 March, and more than 1,000 mourners turned up to pay their last respects.

The cause of the accident is thought to have been the giant seas, which broke two windows in the wheelhouse. The force of the sea may have swept the coxswain away from the wheel and while control of the boat was lost, the boat then went broadside onto the sea and finally turned over.

Today, the disaster is still remembered by the small and close community of Brims, home of the crewmen.