53["Wreck of the Glenbank", The Sunday Times (Perth, WA), Sunday 12 February 1911, page 7]

Wreck ot the Glenhank

Grievous Loss of Life - A Tragedy of the Sea - Its Awful Suddenness - Only One Man Saved

Last Monday afternoon the barque Glenbank was at anchor under Depuch Island, on our Nor'-West coast, shipping copper ore brought down from the Whim Well copper mine. She had a crew of 22, and Captain Moberg in command. This is the Nor'-West coast hurricane season, and both Broome and Onslow have recently had blows of destructive violence. On Monday afternoon the conditions portended a big atmospheric disturbance, and Capt. Moberg decided at 3 p.m. to quit the anchorage, and run out into sea room until the threatened gale was past. The map published herewith shows that the route he took was chosen apparently in the belief that the central track of the storm would pass east of Depuch Anchorage. The sequel proved, however, that instead of escaping the storm-fiend, the unfortunate vessel was steered straight into his clutches and to destruction.

From the brief facts at present obtainable, it appears that after getting well away from the anchorage, and clear of Cossack Heads and its low-lying indented shores, the vessel was by 9 p.m. in the open ocean off Legendre Island, and with the ample sea room sought for by the captain. Here she was met by a high wind, and the crew were sent aloft to furl sails. While thus engaged the vessel heeled over to the squall, turned turtle, and went down. The only survivor to tell the tale is a Russian sailor, Antle Katola, who was one of those up aloft when the vessel went over. Katola was fortunate in encountering a boat's oar while in the water, and with its help kept afloat until he ultimately, at daylight, made a landing on the island. Here, during the next three days, and without food or water, the poor fellow passed a miserable time. On Thursday a pearling lugger owned by Banger, of Cossack, was seen standing inshore, and making supreme effort the castaway again took to the water, swam across to a reef a quarter of a mile distant, and happily attracted the attention of the pearlers. Mr. Banger lost no time in running back to Cossack Creek with his charge, and the news of the disaster.

The immediate trouble is to secure an interpreter, for Katola cannot speak English. The crew of the Glenbank were mostly Russians and Norwegians, but it is feared that in addition to her crew, the vessel also had on board four or five men from Balla Balla, who were assisting in the stowage of the cargo. Wreckage is now washing ashore in Nicol Bay, and a search for further survivors has been promptly organised There is, unfortunately, but little chance of finding other survivors, for the escape of Katola is due to such a fortuitous combination of circumstances as can hardly be hoped for in connection with the others on board.

It may be possible to locate the wreck, for the water shoals very gradually off the Nor'-West coast. It is on the average quite 20 miles from shore before a depth of 20 fathoms is reached. A 1400 ton ship 240ft. long, 37ft. in beam, and 21ft. from upper deck to keel, which are the measurements of the Glenbank, is an object which can hardly be missed if diligently sought for in the clear waters under a tropical sun in such shallow soundings. The steam tender Queenie Alice has already been despatched from Cossack by Dalgety and Co. on this mission in search.

There are several points in connection with this latest tragedy of the sea which may well be noticed and carefully weighed at this moment. In the first place Balla Balla, to which Depuch Anchorage is the regular approach, is not a recognised port from the shipping point of view. Vessels calling at such a place find that insurances are difficult to obtain, and for certain vessels are not obtainable at all. For this reason the coastal service steamers, and the boats of the Singapore line, pass the port without calling. Trade of all ordinary kinds is in consequence done by a steam lighter stationed at Cossack, which, receiving the cargo from the steamer lying outside Jarman Island in Cossack Roads, brings it on to Balla Balla jetty at high tide. Ships which come to Balla Balla from overseas in order to receive or discharge cargo, drop anchor in the strait or channel on the east side of Depuch Island. There they can ride in safety under all conditions, if well found in the necessary equipment.

The Glenbank arrived at Depuch Anchorage on Nov. 25 last, under charter to the Whim Well Copper Mining Co., to take a cargo of copper ore to Europe. She came in ballast from Argentina, and after discharging the ballast started loading up with copper ore. This copper ore, it now appears, was not shipped in bags, but IN BULK. Those who maintain the danger of shipping home wheat in bulk have now this fact confronting them, that shipments of loose copper are thus seat. At the time the Glenbank's captain decided to run out to sea, he had received some 1800 tons, much of it being stowed in the 'tween decks. From Sunday afternoon, when the weather symptoms became alarming, right on to Monday afternoon, when he finally raised anchor, it is therefore fair to assume, the ship was being properly trimmed for sea.

That the trimming was not all accomplished is to be inferred from the presence on board of the shore hands, who have now gone down with the rest to a watery grave. That the measures taken for preventing a shift of the cargo were ineffective seems also to be attested by the awful suddenness of the capsize. That the wind was not unusually high is also suggested by the fact that Capt. Moberg had topsails set, and that Katola was able to swim all night without being exhausted by wave submergence and buffeting. The captain who had left a good anchorage to escape wind, and had obtained a good offing at sea, was hardly likely to be carrying a press of sail at such a moment, when he might expect the very wind he feared. It seems almost certain, therefore, that to the bulk system of transport by ship, and the incomplete trim of the vessel when struck by the squall, the tragedy of the Glenbank is due.

Another question thus raised is the one of harbor control. Who is the harbor master at Balla Balla, and what control does he exercise over a ship loading at Depuch Anchorage? These are questions for the authorities to answer. It may be here pointed out that the Whim Well copper mine is 15 miles inland from the coast. It is connected with the Balla Balla jetty by a private tram line laid down by the company under a concession granted by the Rason Government some years ago. The jetty also was leased to the company for a term, and possibly is still under lease to it. The ore brought from the mine per tramway is put into lighters at the jetty, and then taken across the shallow lagoon to the anchorage at Depuch Island.

When the ship has been filled, her captain must get his ship papers signed, we believe, at Cossack.

The anchorage at Depuch is an eminently safe one, and was first entered by the s.s. Australind in charge of Capt. Mills. It was not until some two years ago that the anchorage and vicinity were surveyed, although for so many years ships had been calling to take off cargoes of ore sent down from the mines. Depuch Island itself is a huge monolith of volcanic rock, rising 514ft. above the sea, and nearly seven miles in circumference. Seen from every point of the compass it has an imposing aspect, and to ships at the anchorage it affords complete shelter from the Nor'-Westers which blow so fiercely at times along this coast.

Why, therefore, Capt. Moberg should, with 1800 tons of loose ore on board his 1400-ton ship, elect the ride out the threatened storm in the open sea instead of at a secure anchorage, is a subject to be deeply pondered. He, brave man, has, along with his crew, paid the penalty for his mistake. The law of storms is one so well-known now, and the "willy-willys" of the Nor'-West agree so well with it, that no shipmaster, even though he be a stranger here, can be excused from ignoring it. These Nor'-West cyclones advance very slowly, as they cross over sea and land. The smaller the vortex centre is, the more nearly will the circulating wind assume hurricane force around that centre, particularly as the descending currents of air strike the ground at the north-west quadrant. Depuch Island is an ideal shelter in such cases, and going ashore on a soft bottom in the lagoon is the worst thing that could happen to the ship in the event of the anchors giving way.

There should be a very dose inquiry into all these matters, particularly as to the probable motive of the captain in going out to sea when he might have stayed in harbor. The fine breeze with which he dropped away from Depuch Island could also have enabled him to run straight out to mid-ocean if he so wished, instead of which he kept as close to the land as would a vessel shaping a course for the voyage to Europe. Off Jarman Island Lighthouse he could have exchanged signals and obtained instructions or advice if he sought such, and in any case could have learned the latest weather conditions and track of the cyclone he was trying to avoid. The moral of it all is that a better service is required all along our Nor'-West coast if the industries of that region are ever to get the stimulus which will lead to their fullest development.