Arniston Spa Hotel

THROUGHT THE MUSEUM PORTHOLE: OVERBERG TREASURES STILL IN SITU – HANNINGTON COURT by Jimmy Herbert

The Overberg coastline is the custodian of many known and unknown treasures…

…all still lying in situ on the ocean floor. One such treasure is the cargo of copper ingots still resting in the holds of the WWII British ship, Hannington Court (1941). This 5449 ton-vessel sank off Quoin Point in 1941 with no less than 2500 ton of copper – today it would have been worth a cool R162 million.

After World War I, the Hannington Court was operated directly by the famous Marine salvage company, Risdon Beazely.

Methods used in the 1950s was crude but effective – explosives followed by a smash and grab (see illustration). Although this company was renowned for its success, as is invariably the case, not all was recovered.  According to the historical record, at least 900 tons was left behind. Until the late 1980s, this valuable cargo lay undisturbed in Davey Jones locker until a group of local divers started showing interest. The fact that the wreck was presumed to be lying in deep water dampened the enthusiasm a bit until one of them, the late Captain Peter Willmott, took it on himself to discover this WWII loss. After some months of magnetometer surveying, Peter pinpointed the shipwreck.

The next phase was to get down there into the depths to see if it was the wreck in question, and to ascertain the quantity of recoverable copper. Captain Willmott did the latter with the use of a mini-submarine. Once on the bottom, it was soon established that the stern and bow sections were still well preserved, with railing and all still intact. However, the amidships section was found to be collapsed entirely due to the use of heavy explosives. The latter was utilised to enable the salvors to get to the copper cargo that had been stowed in this area.

On piloting the submarine into this amidships area, Captain Willmott narrated: “and there they were, lying all over the place, stacked like massive EET-SUM-MOR biscuits”. The things dreams are made off! Since the late Captain Willmott, another professional shipwreck explorer, the Swedish born (1954) Sverker Hallström, also visited the site. Sverker, who had already acquired world fame by finding and recovering many cargos from the ocean depths, found this type of salvage not profitable enough for the size of his operation and thus moved on. So there, to this day, lies one of the Overberg’s many treasures!