20th July 1967
President Garcia is re-floated in Saints Bay
President Garcia was the leader of the Philippines from 1957 until 1961. It was also the name of a 10,826-ton Philippine President Lines cargo ship that ran aground in Saints Bay on 13 July 1967. It took seven days to refloat her.
The ship had been travelling at 12 knots when its crew apparently mistook a navigation light for a lighthouse. En route from Freetown to Rotterdam with a cargo of copra onboard, she showed no sign of slowing until she struck the rocks and got wedged.
“She went aground with a good crunch in Saints Bay,” reported The Guardian, “sinking some small, moored craft in the harbour and damaging others.”
In a retrospective, published in 2007, the Guernsey Press reported that “incredibly not one moored boat had been hit by the lost ship”
According to The Times, an unnamed police sergeant said, “She is lying across the bay, lights blazing and towering over everything. Her bow is on the rocks. The stern is afloat. I don’t think there is a lot of damage.”
An unusual attraction
Even at high tide, she was still two feet too deep to float away. This immediately turned her into something of a spectacle for locals and visitors alike.
As The Mirror reported, “To add to the indignity of the thing, holiday-makers rolled up in their thousands to take in the new attraction. The rush wasn’t really necessary. The vessel seems well and truly aground, and it may be several days before there is a tide high enough to refloat her.”
In the words of the Guernsey Press retrospective,
The police made special arrangements and a field was opened for use as a car park, with the proceeds suitably going to the RNLI. Out in the bay… boatowners from all over the island chugged in to have a closer look and swimmers donned masks and snorkels to take an alternative view.
Worse was to come. A couple of days after running aground, the rocks, which had been bending her bow already, finally pierced her hull. The damage had to be repaired as part of the salvage operation.
An unexpected consequence
By then, even the ship’s cargo of copra, which is dried coconut kernel, was starting to cause problems. The Mirror reported on 18 July that,
A plague of beetles had his the sunny Channel Island of Guernsey. The beetles, or “copra flies” are coming from the copra cargo… The island’s tomato growers fear their products will be affected. Health Officer, Dr A Thomas, has said the beetles are not germ carriers but has warned housewives not to leave meat exposed.
Initially, her crew of around 55 (reports range between 50 and 60) remained onboard. However, the Birmingham Daily Post reported that some swam ashore three days after the collision. Some used planks of wood as floats and reported that there were in fact four holes in the hull.
Three Dutch tugs came to help with the salvage operation, part of which involved removing 300 tons of her cargo. This both lightened the vessel and gave access to the damaged parts of the hull from inside.
Finally, with the help of a high tide, the tugs started to pull her off Guernsey’s rocks at 5pm on 20 July and, just over an hour later, she was back in deep water. They dragged her stern-first to Rotterdam for further repairs.
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