Reason for Loss: Foundered in a storm.
The SS Val Salice was an Italian cargo steamer of 2935 gross registered tonnage, quite a large cargo vessel of her day. She was built in 1900 at the Cantieri Navale di Muggiano No. 5 yard in Spezia, Italy. Her original owners were Consorzio Industriale d`Importaziona Caboni of Savona and she was named SS Consorzio Carbonu. In 1906 ownership was transferred to Societa Anonima Navigazione of Alta Italia, Turin and at this time she was renamed Val Salice. The vessel was 100 metres length , with a beam of 14.3 metres and a draught of 4.6 metres. She was powered by a single three cylinder triple expansion reciprocating steam engine connected by a single shaft onto a single screw and produced 233 horse power. On her fateful voyage she was en route from Sunderland on the North East coast of England to Savona in Italy with a cargo of 4000 tons of coke and coal and a complement of thirty crew and officers. The master of the vessel was Captain A. Bolognini.
On the weekend of the 19th – 21st November 1916 one of the worst and prolonged storms raged across the Goodwin Sands and many other parts of the UK. On 19th November 1916 homeward bound for Italy the SS Val Salice altered course to enter the Dover Straits and found herself in the teeth of a severe gale just off the Goodwin Sands. At times the storm reached hurricane force creating conditions across the Goodwins both awful & deadly. Over this weekend two other stranding’s occurred, that of the SS Polta and the SS Sibiria an American ship, both of which grounded in this storm on the South West Goodwins. The SS Sibiria was bound for London with a cargo of Canadian wheat.
The wind was SSW and because a lee tide prevailed, a number of volunteers went to Kingsdown, three miles to windward to help man the lifeboat there. The Kingsdown lifeboat being more favourably located than the Deal lifeboat for reaching the stranded ships.
When attempting to launch the Kingsdown lifeboat the heavy seas bore down and drove the boat back along the shore line swamping it and preventing any further launch attempts. A crew was therefore formed to man the Deal lifeboat the “Charles Dibden” which launched about 10.30 pm and proceeded towards the sands. Navigation was endangered not only because of the heavy sea but also the fact that the Downs was full of shipping riding out the storm without navigational lights as is customary in war time. On reaching the Val Salice the lifeboat following normal practice let go her anchor some distance to windward of the Val Salice and veered down to get alongside. This procedure then enabled the lifeboat to be hauled away to safety from the stranded vessel when the extreme violence of the sea dictated. The seas at times were so immense that the lifeboat was often raised to a great height above the Val Salice and then in turn fell into a deep trough beside it. The seamanship and judgement of Coxswain and crew was critical to the success or failure of such a mission. And, so it was that eventually one by one the crew of the Val Salice were rescued without accident in the most difficult of circumstances. The rescue was greatly aided by HM Guardship throwing her powerful searchlight onto the ship and lifeboat. However, the commanding officer of HM Guardship withdrew the light before the rescue was completed. He afterwards explained that he thought the lifeboat had completed its task and gone away from the scene. His ship was a long way from the rescue action resulting in this misjudgement.
The lifeboat was unable to recover her anchor and this had to be sacrificed together with many fathoms of cable. The lifeboat safely disembarked 30 rescued seamen at 4am after five and a half hours of gallantry, the rescue being described as “little short of miraculous”. The Royal National Lifeboat Institution recognised the first class action of the Coxswain W. Adams by awarding him a clasp to the silver medal which had been awarded previously for the De La Pole rescue. The Italian Government also at a later date, specially honoured this meritorious service to its nationals by presenting to the Coxswain Adams and all his crew medals and diplomas to commemorate this occasion. The presentation was made by Captain Ranneri Biscia of the Italian Royal Navy, the Naval Attaché acting on behalf of the Ambassador. The ceremony took place in Deal Town Hall on 9th August 1924 before a large and representative gathering. The following men formed the crew of the Charles Dibden which effected this gallant rescue :-William Adams (Coxswain), William Marsh (2nd Coxswain), William Hoile, Frank Budd, Thomas Adams, senior, Frank Adams, Walter Redsull, John Webb, William Nicholas, Thomas Brown, Matthew Hoile, Joshua Mockett and Henry Wells.
Soon after the Charles Dibden came ashore with thirty shipwrecked men from the Val Salice signals of distress were made by another large steamer, the Sibiria of New York that was aground on the South West Goodwin near to the wreck of the Val Salice.
The Captain of the SS Val Salice was widely quoted in the press as saying that he had never been shipwrecked before in all his career, but he clearly considered that he had shipped a “Jonah” on board who during four months had been shipwrecked no fewer than three times.
The remains of the SS Val Salice and the SS Sibiria have never been located.
Researched and written by MAT volunteer Robert Steer