Shipwreck: Georges A. Rocha

Skip Gillham, Vineland, Ontario, Canada

The small cargo ship Georges A. Rocha likely still rests at Mindelo, Sao Vicente, Cape Verde Islands. The remains of the ship were noted there, wrecked, burned out and aground, as recently as 1998. It may have been there in that condition for over a decade. Lloyds Register Supplement for 1985-86 notes the ship’s "continued existence in doubt". It is shown as it looked in October 1998 thanks to a photo by Hubert Hall.

This vessel began her days on the Great Lakes. It was one of sixteen Western Isles Class trawlers built for the British Admiralty and loaned to the Royal Canadian Navy during World War Two.

The 164-foot long by 27-foot, 7-inch wide escort vessel was launched at the Midland Shipbuilding Company yard at Midland, Ontario, on April 23, 1942. The community is located on Georgian Bay and the ship was commissioned as H.M.S. Manitoulin, honoring the largest freshwater island on the Great Lakes. Enroute to the sea, the vessel paid a courtesy call at Little Current on Manitoulin in Georgian Bay on October 8, 1942, as shown in a photo courtesy of Norman Smith

H.M.C.S Manitoulin

H.M.C.S Manitoulin at Little Current in October 1942.
Photo courtesy Norman Smith

H.M.S. Manitoulin went to the Atlantic and was originally part of the Sydney Force. It was later based at Halifax for coastal convoy escort service because a single Nazi submarine had created havoc in the Gulf of St. Lawrence in the fall of 1942, so added protection for vital supply routes was needed.

Georges A. Rocha

Georges A. Rocha at Mindola, Cape Verde Island, October 1998
Photo by Captain Hubert Hall

Manitoulin was returned to the Royal Navy at Plymouth, England, on June 17, 1945, and later decommissioned. It was sold to Norwegian interests in 1947 and rebuilt the next year as a cargo ship. A German made, 860 horsepower engine, likely from a U-boat, replaced the original engine at this time.

The vessel was renamed Ran in 1947 and Ran B. in 1951. It returned to Canada for Blue Peter Steamships later in 1951 and became known as Blue Peter II. The ship was used to carry fish and freight around Newfoundland, Labrador and the St. Lawrence. It also made one visit to the Great Lakes in 1953.

Another engine, this a 1,000 horsepower model, was installed in 1954, and the ship continued as a successful trader around Maritime Canada. The St. Lawrence Seaway opened in 1959, and the small freighter made one trip through the new waterway to the freshwater lakes in 1960.

The vessel became Blue Bay in 1964 and William S. in 1965. The new owner sent the ship to Hudson Bay and as far as the port of Churchill, Manitoba. On one occasion, it lost its propeller in the cold north and had to be towed back to Eastern Canada for repairs. The vessel was also used in the 1966 seal hunt on the Gulf of St. Lawrence and likely in subsequent years.

Following another sale in 1973, the ship became Queen Patricia and later Georges A. Rocha for service under the flag of Panama. It provided refrigerated cargo service on the Caribbean and beyond until being wrecked, under circumstances unknown to this writer, at Cape Verde Islands off the west coast of Africa.