Tragedy and heroism at St Ives January 31st 1938
The steamer ‘ALBA’ was built in the USA and Panamanian registered. She was taking a cargo of coal from Barry, South Wales, to Civita Vecchia in Italy. Her captain Yuluis Horvath was one of 14 hugarians aboard. The other crew were from Yogoslavia, Romania, Spain, Portugal & Italy.
As the vessel approached Scilly, the captain decided to run into St Ives Bay for shelter. He mistakenly assumed the lights he saw were those of the harbour, and alas he dropped anchor off Porthmeor which gave no shelter at all from the gale.
Before her cable held, her stern was on the rocks on the West side of St Ives Head.
Very soon the Caroline Parsons, a 35’6″ self righting motorised lifeboat was launched and approaching the Alba. The Alba was lying head to wind with heavy seas crashing over her starboard side. Coxwain Tommy Cocking got the lifeboat alongside the Alba on her lee side.
The Crew of the Alba took 40 minutes to disembark into the lifeboat despite protestations from the lifeboat crew. The lifeboat had to go astern into the full force of the breakers, but she was hit broadside and rolled upside down. Three lifeboat crew remained onboard when she righted, and the four crew in the water regained the lifeboat and then set about hauling the Alba’s crew from the water.
They pulled 18 men from the water, but continued looking for the missing five whilst attempting to restart the engine of the lifeboat. The starting handle had been damaged during the capsize, and so it was impossible to restart her engine. Slowly the lifeboat drifted towards the rocks, and a line was fired from the shore where many people had gathered to assist the rescue.
Coastguards, police, sea scouts and members of the public scrambled across the rocks to get close enough to the lifeboat to help. All those aboard got ashore, some badly bruised and cut by the rocks. The Caroline Parsons did not survive the night and was left abandoned. At the express wish of the crew, the RNLI removed the engine and some re-usable fittings, and the set fire to the remains to stop souvenir hunters.
The badly battered bodies of the Alba’s 1st and 2nd officers and that of the mess boy were washed ashore. Those of the second officer and the steward were never recovered.
St Ives Boat Services’ Narrated cruise to Seal Island will point out the location of the wreck of the Alba. If the tide is low enough we will show you remains of the wreckage still visible. These are the ship’s boilers from her engine room. There are two sitting on the sand right where the vessel foundered.