Maritime inquiry 1939 - 1945

The information below regarding ships in the Nortraship fleet is a direct transcript of the original source "Sjøforklaringer fra andre verdenskrig (1940 - 1945)". The informasjon is collected from maritime inquiries held during and right after the war. The information may differ from the other quality assured information in Krigsseilerregisteret.

November 14, 1940
Atlanterhavet, 250-300 nautiske mil sør for Freetown, 4'24 N. 13'46 W
Torpedert [av tysk ubåt]
Crude Oil
Abadan - Cape Town - Freetown
Crew list
29 [29]
  • Abstract

    January 24, 1941
    Newcastle on Tyne
    Konsul P. Wisness


    Appeared Birger Johan Hansen ... 2nd engineer on the M/T "Havbør" ...

    The witness stated that the M/T "Havbør" was on voyage from Cape Town to Freetown. At Cape Town the vessel had bunkered and taken on board provisions. The vessel had a full cargo of Crude Oil consisting of about 12.500 tons. The cargo had been loaded at Abadan (Persian Gulf).

    Everything was in order on departure from Cape Town. The vessel had 1 gun, 4.7" (12 cm.), and two ordinary magazine guns. The vessel was equipped with paravane.

    The witness came on watch in the engine room at 4 o'clock in the afternoon, and at 5 o'clock there was rung ready ("stand by") to the engine. The chief engineer then came down the engine room and told us that they could see 3 rafts and some wreckage in the sea and 40/50 men lying on these.

    At about 5.15 o'clock, after the engine had been stopped, the M/T "Havbør" put her port lifeboat into the water in order to pick up these men.

    The witness was told that the lifeboat picked up as many as possible from the rafts. Whilst these were being taken on board the M/T "Havbør" the witness, from where he was in the engine room, heard a violent report. The main steam pipe line to the port boiler burst and the lights went out; besides the witness there were one greaser and one fireman in the engine room. There were no further manoeuvres as the engine had already been stopped. They ran up. When they had come to the last ladder on the top engine room grating however they had to turn round on acoount of fire as the whole vessel was ablaze from amidship.

    The witness then tried to get into the boiler room, but did not suceed in this on account of steam pouring out of the fractured steam pipes. Then went back to the manoeuvring platform in ordrer to get hold of the pocket lamp. When he came up again the two others had disappeared. The names of those two were greaser Hofsten from Herre in Bamble and fireman Jensen from Copenhagen. The mass of flames had probably abated in the meantime during which both of them may have run out on deck. The witness covered his head with waste and rushed out on deck by the after part of the casing on the starboard side. The witness jumped into the sea. At this time there was no one to be seen. Only when the witness came into the water did he see two of the crew, neamely:-

    Carpenter Frandsen and

    Fireman Wåg.

    The witness swam towards a raft together with those two. During this the witness lost his lifebelt. When they were getting near to the raft they could see on the same ordinary seaman Fritz Kristiansen (Norwegian), domiciled in the Larvik district. He jumped into the sea again in order to assist the witness, who was by then very exhausted, on to the raft.

    There were now in all 4 men on the raft. A fifth man, motorman Nils Dragsbekk (Danish) from Tisted in Denmark, now also came swimming and was taken up on the raft.

    How the witness was so fortunate as to escape from the flames was owing to the chance that where he jumped over there was a narrow channel which the burning oil had not yet reached.

    The witness is of opinion that the explosion was due to a torpedo which must have struck the vessel on the port side in way of the aftermost cargo tank as it appeared to be from this point that the burning oil was pouring out.

    The witness saw the vessel sink at about 12 o'clock midnight. She had kept ablaze the whole time.

    They now tore loose boards from the raft in order to use them as oars and try to get away from the spreading flames on the surface of the sea. After the vessel had sunk the danger from fire decreased.

    Dragsbekk died on the raft after about 1 1/2 days. He had been badly burnt. During the last 24 hours he was unconscious.

    The 4 others remained on the raft until the 24/11 1940 in the morning when they were picked up by the "Baron Ardrossan", a British vessel.

    The raft, which the witness and the others had boarded, must have belonged to the English vessel which was torpedoed just before the M/T "Havbør". On the raft there was a can of water, also some bread and tins of sweetened milk. This was mixed with water. After the stock of water was finished we collected water during heavy tropical rain showers. The bread was spoilt by salt water after about 2 days time. Thereafter we drank the milk mixture, the last 2-3 days there was only water. They remained on the raft for about 8 1/2 cays. The witness had to be lifted into the lifeboat owing to exhaustion.

    They suffered severely from the burns. Bandages, which were found in a separate box in the provison tank, were put on.

    The "Baron Ardrossan" took those saved along with her to Freetown where they were all taken to hospital. The witness was there for 14 days.

    On the M/T "Havbør" there was a crew of 33 men in all when the casualty occured. Of these the witness saw no one besides the 5 on the raft.

    Most of the crew were aft, and the witness is of opinion that they must have perished immediately in the masses of flame. The same fate had probably overtaken those who were about to be taken on board from the lifeboat which was lying alongside on the port side about 5-6 metres from the spot where the torpedo struck.

    Those who tried to jump clear must have perished in the burning oil round the vessel.

    Early in the morning, the day after the casualty, they hailed an English lifeboat, probably from the previously mentioned torpedoed vessel. They asked to be taken on board. They were asked how much water they had on the raft, and the lifeboat thereafter sailed on its way without picking up the five on the raft.

    On being questioned by the nautical assessors, the witness stated that the weather was fine all the time.

    The witness added that during the stay at Cape Town 3 men deserted, namely wireless operator Nilsen (?), fireman Halvorsen of Skien and ordinary seaman Hansen.


    Appeared as 2nd witness, Kaj Viggo Frandsen ... carpenter on the M/T "Havbør" ...

    The witness was occupied with work on the boat deck when he observed some dark spots right ahead. They were later found to be rafts. The speed was reduced, thereafter stop. We hailed the rafts. They warned us that submarine was in the neighbourhood. 8 men then went to the gun, 8 men went into a lifeboat. The witness, himself, went down on the tank deck and put out a storm ladder. The chief officer also came along and a fireman. The men on the rafts shouted in reply to our hailing that they had been torpedoed at 2.30 o'clock in the afternoon.

    It would then be about 5.15 to 5.30 o'clock in the afternoon. The lifeboat had now come up on the port side of the M/T "Havbør". She had picked up about 20-30 men, probably two white and the rest coloured seamen. The first man was just about to be taken on board the M/T "Havbør" when the withess heard a violent report. The vessel was struck on the port side in way of the aftermost cargo tank.

    Otherwise the witness made statement in accordance with the 1st witness. He jumped from the forecastle into the sea and, togehter with the chief officer, he swam clear of the flames. The chief officer called out to the witnes, and as the latter turned round in order to look for him he disappeared immediately. The chief officer was badly burnt. The witness saw the master lowering himself down from the bridge by a rope. The rope burnt across and the master fell down on to the deck. He thereafter jumped from the forecastle into the sea. The witness thinks that those who were in the lifeboat perished immediately on account of the masses of flame. The sea was seen to be covered with burning oil.

    The witness got up on to a raft together with the 2nd engineer and a fireman Wåg. Ordinary seaman Kristiansen was then already on the raft. Later motorman Nils Dragsbekk came swimming and he was picked up. He was badly burnt. A lifeboat was seen in the middle of the night, and they asked to be taken on board as they had a sick man. As they had only a couple litres of water on the raft the lifeboat rowed away, probably because they considered the stock of water too little.

    During the stay of about 9 days on the raft the witness saw 3 vessels without it being possible to attract their attention. The two rockets were spoilt.

    Dragsbekk died from burns on the raft during the morning of the 16th November. After his body had been lying on the raft for about 1 hour they agreed about burying him in the sea.

    During the morning of the 9th day the 4 men on the raft were picked up by a vessel of the "Baron Line", registered at Ardrossan.

    On being questioned by Captain Skage, the witness stated that the chief officer acted as wireless operator on the voyage.