The Irish Pine
The next two ships acquired by Irish Shipping Limited were chartered from the United States Maritime Commission through United States Lines on 26th September, 1941. The two vessels were the West Hematite, a vessel of 8,556 tons deadweight, built in Seattle by J. F. Duthrie in 1919, and the West Neris, of 8,542 tons deadweight and built by the South Western Shipbuilding Company, San Pedro, California, also in 1919. Unfortunately, the two ships were to have very short and very similar careers on charter to Irish Shipping Limited. Originally, it was intended to purchase both vessels but the United States Maritime Commission advised the company through the Irish Ambassador in Washington that they were not in a position to sell the two ships but were prepared to charter them through United States Lines.
Pictured above: The wartime Irish Pine
A commentator on shipping affairs writing about the West Hematite referred to her as follows- " She was built as part of the huge wartime programme of merchant ships ordered by the United States after the country's entry into the First World War. However, she was not completed until after hostilities had ended. She was a single screw ship, using steam from dual-purpose boilers and she had a speed of ten knots. For a time she was operated by the United States Shipping Board and then by the Oriole Lines, under whose flag she frequently traded to Great Britain and, indeed, called occasionally at Irish ports. She was laid-up for a time after the banning of American ships from the European war zone in 1940 until she was handed over on charter to Irish Shipping Limited in September, 1941. In appearance, she was strictly utilitarian so she was no beauty, but she did have a useful career in the United States Merchant Marine until the advent of the Second World War."
The West Hematite was chartered for £3,251 per month from September, 1941, and she was delivered to the company at New Orleans on 8th September, 1941, where she was taken over by Capt. F. C. Dick of Belfast on behalf of the company. Despite the best efforts of the company's local representatives, A. K. Miller & Co., the vessel did not sail from New Orleans until 23rd October, 1941, when she left for St. John, New Brunswick to load 6,522 tons of wheat for Dublin. She arrived at Dublin on 11th December, 1941, to complete her first voyage for the company.
On her second voyage she sailed from Dublin, as the Irish Pine, on 31st December, 1941, for Belfast on passage to St. John where she loaded grain for discharge at Foynes. The vessel then made three voyages to Halifax on the third of which she arrived at Dublin on 19th October, 1942. During this period the Irish Pine was under the command of Capt. Matthew O'Neill of Wexford, brother of Capt. John O'Neill who was very soon afterwards appointed General Superintendent with the company. Whilst on passage from Halifax to Limerick on 13th August, 1942, the vessel was involved in the rescue of members of the crew of a British motor vessel, Richmond Castle which had been torpedoed off the south coast of Ireland. The Irish Pine came across a lifeboat filled with survivors of the sinking ship and took them on board in very heavy weather. The survivors were subsequently landed at Kilrush, Co. Clare and later, as a gesture of gratitude, the crew of the Richmond Castle presented Capt. Matthew O'Neill with an inscribed silver salver.
The final voyage
The Irish Pine sailed from Dublin on 29th October, 1942,on charter to W. & H. M. Goulding Ltd..to load a cargo of phosphate rock at Tampa, Florida for discharge at Dublin. This was to be the ship's final ill-fated voyage and she was scheduled to call at Boston on the outward passage to have her tanks overhauled. From Boston the vessel was to proceed to her loading port of Tampa and would then call to Norfolk to take on bunkers for the homeward passage. She was expected to arrive at Boston on 17th November, 1942. In a telegram dated 11th November, the ship's managers, Limerick Steamship Co. Ltd. advised H. W. Brandon & Co., the ship agents at Tampa, that the Irish Pine and the Irish Oak would arrive there about 23rd November. On 13th November the Master of the Irish Pine sent a wireless message to the Boston agents, Furness Withy & Co. Ltd. advising that she would arrive there on 16th November and that was the final communication received from the vessel. A telegram from Limerick Steamship Co. Ltd. to the Boston agents expressed anxiety that there was no news of the vessel. The company's Directors decided at a Board meeting on 3rd December, 1942, that the ship should be presumed lost and that the charterers and all next-of-kin should be so informed. In a letter from Furness Withy to the Limerick Steamship Co. Ltd., dated 28th December, 1942, the final paragraph stated "with regards to O'Neill, we regret that we have received absolutely no further information". For security reasons during that period the names of ships did not appear in letters, telegrams or other communications and were referred to by the names of the relevant ships' masters. The true facts regarding the sinking of the Irish Pine were not known for a further thirty-five years until the German submarine diaries, captured by British forces at the end of the war, were inspected by Capt. Frank Forde in researching material for The Long Watch, his history of the Irish merchant marine during the Second World War. The records show that the Irish Pine was sunk at 0014 on 16th November, 1942, when she was struck aft by the second torpedo fired by the German submarine U-608 and sank stern first within three minutes of being hit. All thirty-three crewmembers were lost with their ship in the greatest tragedy suffered by Irish Shipping Limited during the war.
Casualties of war
The men lost were:-
Master: Capt. Matthew O'Neill, Maudlinstown, Wexford;
Bosun: Stephen Smith, Wellington Place, Wexford.
Donkeyman:- John Nolan, 57 Marino Green, Fairview, Dublin.
Steward: P. Cusack, 105 Evergreen Road, Cork;
E. Donagh was the youngest crewmember at eighteen years old and three others, R. Creighton, F. Cowzer and T. Donohoe were only twenty years old at the time of the sinking.