MV Dunedin Star

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Career (Great Britain)
Namesake: Dunedin
Operator: Blue Star Line
Builder: Cammell Laird, Birkenhead
Launched: 29 October 1935
Christened: MV Dunedin Star
Commissioned: February 1936
Fate: Grounded, 29 November 1942, Skeleton Coast
General characteristics
Class & type: Refrigerated Cargo Liner
Displacement: 13000[1]
Length: 530 ft (162 m)
Beam: 70.4 ft (21 m)
Draught: 32.3 ft (10 m)
Propulsion: Two 9-Cylinder 2 S.C.S.A. oil engines by Sulzer Bros, Winterthur, driving twin propellers

MV Dunedin Star I was a Blue Star Line ship that ran aground on the Skeleton Coast of Namibia on November 29, 1942 while carrying passengers and cargo from Liverpool to Saldanha Bay, South Africa and to Aden and Egypt. Her cargo was munitions and supplies for the Allies' World War II effort, while the 21 fare-paying passengers she was carrying were escaping the Blitz plaguing London.[1]


The Dunedin Star, launched in 1935, was a 530 feet (160 m)-long refrigerated cargo liner built by the Cammell Laird company of Birkenhead, England. Three days short of arriving in Saldanha Bay, she struck an underwater obstacle, presumed by the subsequent court of inquiry to be the poorly charted Clan Alpine Shoal. The crew managed to send an SOS distress call, giving their approximate position as 18°08′S 11°33′E / 18.13°S 11.55°E / -18.13; 11.55Coordinates: 18°08′S 11°33′E / 18.13°S 11.55°E / -18.13; 11.55. The message was intercepted onshore at Walvis Bay.

The ship began taking on water rapidly and its pumps were unable to cope. In an effort to preserve the lives of the passengers and the valuable cargo, Captain Lee elected to ground the ship on the beach, 80 km south of the Cunene River mouth. The ship grounded 500 metres (1,600 ft) offshore, forcing the evacuation in heavy seas via its motorboat. After three trips, evacuating forty-two passengers and crew, the motorboat failed, leaving over forty people still on board the stranded ship.[2] Captain Lee therefore contacted Walvis Bay again, requesting further assistance.

On receipt of the SOS, the rescue tug Sir Charles Elliott was dispatched from Walvis Bay and picked up some of those left on board the Dunedin Star. On her way back to Walvis Bay, however, she ran aground near Rocky Point. Two of her crew members lost their lives while trying to swim ashore.[2]

Three days later, four other ships arrived on the scene and rescued those remaining on board the Dunedin Star. Deteriorating weather and sea conditions, however, meant that none were able to reach shore. A Ventura bomber of the South African Air Force, therefore, was sent from Cape Town to drop supplies on the beach for the survivors. In an attempt to rescue women and children, it then landed on a nearby salt pan. Its landing gear, however, broke through the crusted surface of the salt, damaging the aircraft and leaving it stuck in the sands. After on-site repairs and a four-day digging effort, the aircraft finally took off again, only to crash into the sea approximately 43 minutes later. The crew survived the crash, managed to swim ashore, then find their way to the overland rescue convoy en route to the ship. The airmen, together with the original survivors, eventually reached Windhoek on Christmas Eve, twenty-six days after the Dunedin Star had foundered.[3]

Although its rescue was plagued by misfortune, the Dunedin Star became famous because of the perilous conditions the survivors faced after landing on the desolate shore of Namibia's "Skeleton Coast". The coastline is completely inhospitable, guarded on one side by fierce surf and on the other by the near-barren Namib Desert running almost its entire length.

Some of the ship's cargo was salvaged in 1951,[4] while some is still visible to this day on the beach.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Jeff Dawson (2005). Dead Reckoning: The Dunedin Star Disaster. Weidenfeld & Nicolson. ISBN 0-7538-2044-7. Retrieved 2008-03-31. 
  2. ^ a b Amy Schoeman (2003). Skeleton Coast. Struik. ISBN 1-86872-891-9. Retrieved 2008-03-31. 
  3. ^ Ray Mears, Extreme Survival (series 3, 2003), TV documentary featuring interviews with survivors, including the pilot Captain Immins Naude.
  4. ^ "Blue Star's M.V. "Dunedin Star" 1". Retrieved 2008-03-31. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Schoeman, Amy (1998). "Naturally Intimate". Travel Africa Magazine via The Africa Guide. 
  • John H. Marsh; Lyman Anson (1958). Skeleton Coast. Hodder & Stoughton.  (1st ed. by Marsh alone, London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1944)
  • Ray Mears Extreme Survival - Series 3 [2003], TV documentary including interviews with survivors and aircraft pilot Captain Immins Naudir. Amazon
  • Winchester, S. (2010). Atlantic: great sea battles, heroic discoveries, titanic storms, and a vast ocean of a million stories. New York: Harper. ISBN# 978-0-06-170258-7 [1]

External links[edit]