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The Alkimos

The Alkimos is well known as a haunted shipwreck off the coast just North of Perth in Western Australia. Her story begins back during World War II when she was known by another name. On 11 October 1943 the US Liberty Ship George M Shiver was launched in Baltimore, after being built by Bethlehem-Fairfield Shipyards. She was however quickly renamed Viggo Hansteen and added to the Notraship’s Fleet (the Norweigian merchant fleet) under Captain Torbjorn Thorsen.

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. Returning to New York she joined convoy UGS38 on 3 April 1944. This eightyfive 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.

She took on a cargo of ammunition and gliders back in the United States and set 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. Canadian women were not allowed serve at sea with their own fleet and unable to join a foreign fleet from a Canadian port. When the ship arrived in Naples to unload the gliders, a member of the crew shot her dead before turning the weapon on himself. She is buried in the Allied War Cemetary, Florence, Italy and she was the first woman from Toronto to die in active service. The killing was originally reported as a result of enemy fire. The Viggo Hansteen then ferried American troops an later German POWs about before returning back to the United States for early 1945.

There followed a series of cross Atlantic convoy duties until the end of the war. In 1946 the ship was sold to S. Ugelstad from Oslo. She was slightly damaged when she ran aground on 24 April 1952 off New Zealand. She was renamed Alkimos by her new Costa Rican owners in 1953 before being sold to a Greek shipping company. On 20 March 1963 she hit Beagle Island Reef and was towed to Freemantle with heavy damage. After two months of repairs she was to be towed too Hong Kong but went adrift in a storm and beached north of Freemantle. The ship was filled with water to secure her and a caretaker left onboard to guard the ship. In January 1964 a tug towing the refloated ship to Manila was seized by authorities, stranding the old Liberty Ship which was left at anchor. Four months later the anchorage broke and she drifted onto Eglinton Rocks where the damage was so severe they gave up on salvaging her and she was sold for scrap. Even this did not go smoothly as a fire aboard the wreck stopped work.

Cursed and Haunted?
You will find quite a few theories and speculations about the curse of the Alkimos. The murder suicide did happen, however there are also claims that two welders were sealed up between the inner and outer hull whilst the ship was being constructed – which I cannot comment upon as it seems a common motif with tales concerning haunted ships. The changing of the ships name has created speculation that she was unlucky from the date of her launch. I have seen it said that she mysteriously ran aground, which again I can’t comment upon not being a seafarer.

By all acounts though she seemed to have aquired a reputation as being haunted whilst she was actively trading as Alkimos after the war, during the time the caretaker was guarding her and as favourite site for divers to visit (though not one without warnings as parts are very dangerous). A series of ghost sightings were apparently made by the crew whilst she was the Alkimos, smells of cooking have apparently been experienced on the wreck and there are many stories of the misfortunes suffered by anybody having dealings with the ship.

The internet is full of these stories, and whether this is the curse/haunting or the fact that a rusting wreck is a dangerous place in its own right is open to debate. There does seem to be a lot of dubious linking of unrelated events, which are then attributed to the curse of the ship. For instance the death of a long distance swimmer has also been brought into the legend: Herbert Voight disappeared while in training for a long distance swim, his training method of swimming trailing a baby bath full of stubbies seems obscure, and it seems that he disappeared after a heavy drinking session (presumably the contents of his training cart). His skull is said to have washed up on the beach 400 metres from the wreck, but is also reported found in the engine room of the ship (how this was known is again open for debate). Why this should have any relation to the ship curse is anyone’s bet, and is more likely due to ocean currents and alcohol consumption than the pull of the cursed Alkimos. But then who knows, the world is a strange place.

Ian Topham
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