In 1963 a merchant ship named Alkimos ran aground several times along the coast of Western Australia, beginning on a reef off Beagle Island 240 kilometres north of Perth on March 20 and finally stranding itself 56 kilometres north of Perth near Quinns Rocks.
This was only the final act in a 20 year career from its launch in October 1943 - a career marked by mishap after mishap, until finally embedding itself not just on the reef it now has become an integral part, but in the anals of maritime mythology as a haunted, jinxed ship.
Under all of its names - it had three - it ran aground numerous times, as if pursuing an itinerant passage from reef to reef, compelled to ground itself into the landscape, never settling down, propelling itself onwards towards its eventual grounding.
1943 - MV George M. Shriver
Amazingly, the Alkimos was built in just ten days at Bethlehem-Fairfield Shipyards in Maryland, USA during World War II. Haste was necessary as the ship was part of the US Military's 'Liberty Ship' programme during the second world war, for use in troop and cargo transport.
One of the legends surrounding the ship is that, on the first day of its construction, a couple of welders were sealed between hulls and their ghosts have haunted the vessel ever since (similar to stories regarding an early British steam ship, the Great Eastern). It is a macbre story, and one that goes hand in hand with the other tales of misadventure that befell the ship, however there is no evidence to suggest that it ever happened.
The ship was originally scheduled to be named George M. Shriver, after the Vice President of the Baltimore & Ohio Railway Company in the early 20th century.
1943 - MV Viggo Hansteen
She was launched on 11 October 1943, however, on 20 October, the vessel was one of ten ships re-assigned to the Norwegian Shipping & Trade Mission, and was re-christened Viggo Hansteen. That name recalled the renowned Norwegian union and labour activist Viggo Hansteen, a Norwegian lawyer and politician who was executed by the Nazis in September 1941 during the five-year Occupation of Norway by Nazi Germany.
The first wartime mission for the ship and her crew of forty seven (mixed Norweigian and Canadians) was to Bandur Shapur via the Mediterranean and the Suez Canal. Early in 1944, after steaming through an Atlantic convoy unscathed whilst ships around it went down, the Viggo Hansteen beached itself on an uncharted reef. It miraculously floated itself fee the next morning.
Returning to New York she joined convoy UGS38 on 3 April 1944. This eighty-five ship convoy was attacked on 20 April 1944 by three waves of aircraft near Cape Bengut, but the Viggo Hansteen was unharmed and made it through to Alexandria.
Upon her return to New York the Viggo Hansteen loaded a cargo of ammunition and gliders before setting out again for the Mediterranean. Whilst in New York they also took aboard the Canadian 28 year old Maude Elizabeth Steane to serve as a radio operator.
Canada became involved in the War when it first broke out in 1939 but would not allow women to fight in the Army. This was the case in most nations. The only allied fleet that would permit women to serve was the Norwegian Merchant fleet, which was using docks in Toronto. As a result, many women signed up to help on the Norwegian Merchant Ships including Maud Elizabeth Steane, as a radio operator on the Viggo Hansteen.
28 year old Maud Steane served as a Radio Operator on the ship for just a few months, during which time the ship was being used to transport gliders to Naples. A report of the incident states that, while the ship was unloading the Gliders on 14 August 1944, Maud Steane was shot dead by the ship's Norwegian gunnery officer, before turning the gun on himself.
Because the incident was so horrific, the Military said that Steane had been killed by enemy fire and was classed as the first woman from Toronto to die in active service. Steane was buried in the Allied War Cemetary at Florence, Italy. Since then many have said the ship was cursed by the ghost of Maud Steane.
The murder - suicide aboard the Viggo Hansteen was but one of many unsolved mysteries surrounding the ship. The official report of the incident states that it occurred at Naples on 14 August 1944, but according to archive documents, Viggo Hansteen was at Piombino on that date.
Maud Steane is said to have joined the ship in New York in May 1944, but checking the Voyage Record again, we learn that Viggo Hansteen was on her way from Alexandria to the U.S. at that time, and did not arrive at Hampton Roads, New York, until 8 June.
There followed a series of cross Atlantic convoy duties until the end of the war. Dogged by numerous unexplainable mechanical faults and repairs, crews started reporting paranormal activity on board.
Later in 1944 the Viggo Hansteen was headed toward a Russian port when ahead of her two other merchant ships were bombed by German U-boats. The Viggo Hansteen was spared from attack but later became stranded on a reef not marked on any maps she spent six hours there, a sitting duck until she broke loose under her own power.
After World War II, she was sold two times, first in 1946 to S. Ugelstad from Oslo. She was slightly damaged when she ran aground on 24 April 1952 off New Zealand, north of Moeraki. Then her crew began to see an apparition of a man they named “Harry” wearing oilskins - rubber boots and a dark green seaman’s coat.
1953 - MV Alkimos
After being repaired by her new Costa Rican owners in 1953 she was sold again to a Greek shipping company and was renamed Alkimos - meaning “strong” - after a Greek God.
As Alkimos, the ship plied the world's oceans for a decade. On 20 March 1963, on a voyage from Jakarta to Bunbury, the Alkimos hit Beagle Island Reef, north of Perth near the city of Gerandton, and was towed to Freemantle with heavy damage. It was salvaged and towed to Fremantle, where it underwent repairs for two months.
After settlement of a dispute concerning payment for the repairs, the Alkimos left Fremantle under tow by the ocean-going tug, Pacific Reserves, from Hong Kong. Only a few hours out of port, the tow line gave way and the Alkimos was driven onto the shore. Although the ship remained intact, it could not be floated off at that time, and so it was beached north of Fremantle, filled with water to secure it in place and left in the charge of an on-board caretaker.