Aimee Lykes

ADDED 25 October 2018: We now have a video of Aimee Lykes in dry dock.


The subject of the vessel Aimee Lykes came up in the previous post and my informant Graham Read sent in a picture he took while the vessel was in dry dock in Durban.

Aimee Lykes


She nearly sank after running into the Aliwal Shoal at speed in October 1963 and spent six months being repaired in Durban. There is quite a lot of info about Aimee Lykes on this page.

Graham’s picture sparked quite a few memories for me and I believe it is quite likely that I also viewed the vessel while she was in dry dock. Visits to the harbour and dry dock were staples of the Sunday drives I took with my dad when I was very young and I think it quite likely that we would have gone down to see the vessel after all the publicity she received. In those days, one could walk right up to the edge of the dock and peer down into it. It seemed unimaginably deep and the memory can still give me a cold shiver.

Other popular Sunday drive destinations I remember were Albert Park to play on the swings and the viewing deck at Louis Botha Airport.

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20 Responses

  1. Bryan
    | Reply

    I was a first year apprentice with R.Scott and worked on the repairs, Dennis Smith was burnt on that job when someone using a cutting torch , on the inside cutting outwards burnt Dennis who was on scaffold on the outside, doesn’t seem that long ago although it was, time certainly does fly, ship was on her maiden voyage, and was named after the daughter of one of the bosses of the Lykes Line.

  2. Rob Timmerman
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    I went on board of the Aimee Lykes in the late ’60s with my dad who was a marine surveyor with Capt G A Chettle in the day. He did a cargo survey of sorts whilst I went down to chat with the crew – I was about 12 at the time. I befriended the Chippie (Carpenter) and elderly African -American who gave me a box full of Wrigleys chewing gum which was then not available in SA. Was quite the chap when I gave some to my mates at Prep. (D.P.H.S.). I visited quite a few Lykes Lines ships in the day all named after ladies. The company was then run by the founder’s daughter if memory serves me right.

  3. Tim Gallwey
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    re: Aimee Lykes

    My memory is that the damage resulted from two things (a) the captain was trying to set a record time from New York to Durban, and (b) he either went too close to the Aliwal Shoal, or tried to go inside inside it, in order to pass a ship ahead of him at that part of the voyage. Maybe others can confirm whether or not my idea of what happened is correct.

    • Lynette Rens

      From what I understand, the Admiral was trying to set a record time, and when they came to the shoal there were 2 coasters – one inside the shoal, one outside the shoal, and the Admiral took his ship straight up the middle! He was retired early.

  4. John Weston
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    Lynette’s version is correct as there were two other ships involved, however, it was also due to the fact that it was late in the afternoon and berthing was on a first come first serve basis which meant longer shore leave for the crew.
    I recall the incident very well as my stepfather was the ship repair manager for James Brown & Hamer at the time.
    I addition to that I was the idiot who tripped on a mooring ring and fell down the docks on Monday 30 December 1963 whilst viewing the ship with three of my friends.

  5. Syd Oram
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    What an excellent photograph. And probably as rare as hen’s teeth.

    I was working in the Claims Department of John T. Rennie and Sons at the time. Aimee’s Owners (Lykes Bros) declared a General Average, a practice which requires owners of all cargo on a ship at the time of a casualty to contribute to costs incurred in salvaging the ship and her cargo.

    Rennies were appointed to handle the General Average formalities for cargo for Durban and all points north. As I recall some of the cargo was destined for ports as far north as Eritrea. You can appreciate how difficult a job this was, given the absence of e-mail, fax and quite often, even phone connections. The whole exercise was superbly administered by a lady named Pauline Turkington, with whom I worked from time to time.

    The exchange rate at the time was ZAR1.00 = USD 1.39 – yes, it cost a dollar thirty nine cents to buy one Rand. I took the settlement cheque down to the Shipyard and it is (and I am sure it will remain) the biggest cheque I ever will handle – as I recall ±ZAR 1.5 million, and this in the days when an upmarket house in Durban North could be bought for ZAR 25,000.

    She was very severely damaged – the engine foundations were lifted up by about 6″ and she was tidal in Hatches 1 and 2 as I remember.

    I went down into the drydock to look at her hull plating and double-bottom frames – the extent of the damage was extraordinary. It was said at the time that had she not been on her maiden voyage, the repair costs were so high relative to her value that she would have been declared a constructive total loss and would have been scrapped.

    There was an interesting meeting about 10 years ago between my elder son, who at the time was a solicitor with a marine practice in London, met up with the then Chief Officer of one the ships being overtaken by the Aimee when she grounded. He casually mentioned my involvement and some interesting discussions resulted, as you may imagine!

  6. Liz
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    My Uncle Rodney has tells me that the story in the Point yacht Club Bar in Durban (at the time) about the incident, was that three ship captains met at a pub in Cape Town and made a wager as to whom could get to Durban first. The two local coaster captains, peeved by the captain of the Aimee Lykes’ boasting, encouraged him to travel as fast as possible. The local captains passes the shoal on eiher side of the shoal and the boastful yank then drove his ship straight down the middle onto the shoal at full speed. He lost his job.

  7. Les
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    I was an 11 year old in 1963 and went into the dock to see under the ship.
    I do have a 2 of pictures of the damage. I took them with my Kodak Brownie.
    I also remember someone falling into the dock around that time.

  8. Tibber
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    My parents were in Durban in Feb 8, 1964 and have a couple slides of the ship. I am going through the slides from the 70 day tour they took for W to E Africa via S Africa. Didn’t really understand the significance of these slides until now. Very interesting story for sure.

  9. Bob Carter
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    Does anyone know how long it stayed in Durban’s dry dock.

  10. Dave Edwards
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    I had the privilege to sail on the Aimee Lykes after her repairs in 1964. We sailed non stop from Durban to Mobile Alabama. I was 12 years old and went to live in Pascagoula Mississippi. I travelled with my aunt and older brother. It was my first sea adventure and I was on my way to a new life. We explored the ship from top to bottom after recovering from sea sickness that lasted 3 days. It was a great adventure . My older brother returned from USA a year later on the Gibbs Lykes. Thanks for the lovely photo of the Aimee in drydock.
    Dave Edwards

  11. Herman Rhodes
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    I was about 36 when I made the South Africa trip on the Aimee. They used the shoreside cranes instead of the cargo winches so being a shore hound, I got to go ashore just about every evening after work. I noticed when the people there found out that I was on the Aimee, they opened up to conversation. They told me that she run aground on her maden voyage but I never knew that three ships were racing. … 🙂 … We were not in Capetown very long but the time we spent here was really nice.

  12. Vernon Johnson
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    I sailed on the Aimee Lykes to Viet Nam in 1967 as an ordinary seaman. She was a very easy ride and was state of the art at that time!

  13. Shirley Beall
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    I can remember running up to the top of the road each morning to see if the Aimee Lykes was still sitting on top of the Ailwal Shoal. We lived in St. Winifreds and the ship was clearly visible from all that way up the coast.

  14. Colin Ogg
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    In October 1963 I was Master of the Smith’s Coaster M.V. Intaba. On the fateful day when Aimee Lykes crashed into Aliwal Shoal I manouvered “Intaba” out of East London harbour (I had a Pilot exemption) headed for Durban…..about a 26 hour passage in that little ship.The following evening as dusk descended and the light a t Green Point bore a point or two on the port bow we steered (as usual) to pass inside the shoal about a mile and a half offshore.At that moment we noticed something very unusual in the vicinity of the shoal…a large vessel apparently stopped with deck lights blazing and derricks swung out. It was only then that we realised that we were looking at the stranded “Aimee Lykes” sending cargo overside in an effort to lighten the vessel!! We altered course slightly to get a better view,and passed within a couple of hundred metres of her but unfortunately had no camera. She very nearly remained as a permanent fixture on the shoal!
    Surprisingly, that was not my only encounter with “Aimee Lykes”. Some months later after she had been discharged from the drydock she was laying alongside the repair quay. I had arrived alongside no12 Maydon Wharf at aprrox midnight (again thanks to having a pilot exemption) and having had a fairly slow and rough passage from EL turned in right away. A couple of hours later I was rudely awoken by the loud and mournful wailing of a ship’s siren and having shot on deck discovered that a violent SW buster had come through and had carried away Aimee’s moorings and she was now drifting across the turning basin under the influence of the violent S Wester and heading straight for my ship! I rushed to get hold of Port Control but fortunately someone beat me to it and a tug arrived just in time….eventually two tugs were needed to get her back to her berth and I was able to get back to sleep.
    I have question….does anyone remember the name of the vessel which,in 1968 or perhaps 1969 arrived in Durban on fire and while trying to berth her the pilot turned her into the wind and the fire spread further!?
    She then lay abandoned (as were the crew) for a long time and think then broken up??

    • Gerald Buttigieg

      Hi Colin
      I could not answer your question but asked someone who got in touch with someone else and he provided me with an answer. With acknowledgement to Professor Trevor Jones here is the reply:

      I think it may well have been the ALEXFAN. I wasn’t in Durban when she arrived, but she came in with an oil-seed cake cargo on fire. The ship then totted around here for a couple of years, at the old buoys off R-shed, and was then scrapped here.

    • Gerald Buttigieg

      The recent question about the ALEXFAN made me research it a bit and I have found a photo of it as it lay in Durban Harbour abandoned before being scrapped.

      Alexfan Durban Harbour

  15. Colin Ogg
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    HI Gerald.
    Well done! and thanks for your quick thinking! I am almost certain that Prof Jones is correct and that the ship was “Alexfan” it certainly rings a bell with me. This info will now be passed on to my Buddy in Canada who wanted the info.Perhaps he is writing a book? Incidentally if you are in touch with prof Jones you may ask him if he remembers the arrival of the Chinese junk “Ying Hong” in Durban in June 1962……yep you guessed it! that was me and my Buddy Mike Briant who had sailed it from Hong Kong.

    • Gerald Buttigieg

      Hi Colin
      I remember the Chinese Junk coming to Durban in 1962. Why do I think it tied up near the Point Yacht Club? But I have one better, here is a newspaper clipping from 1962 showing the Ying Hong doing a sail past for a press shot. The clipping comes from my late father in law’s 15 year scrap book collection of press cuttings. And it was 1962.
      Chinese Junk in Durban

  16. Jaap de Beer
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    I was the 4th officer on sea duty of the Dutch flag vessel Straat Banka/RIL, from East London to Durban. I believe it must have been was October/November 1963. It was custom on there RIL vessels to navigate just outside the 10 fathom line. My Captain (E. M. Drukker) instructed me accordingly and to keep the echo sounder running during my watch. RIL had well run agencies around the South African coast and the Captain had received messages we were fighting for the berth in Durban with 3 other vessels, one of them apparently being s.s. Aimee Lykes. There 3rd vessel I never saw. Indeed I noted a vessel on my starboard about 2 points abaft the beam at about 4 to 5 miles. Regular bearings showed the bearing did not change and a radar plot indicated this vessel was making about 18 to 19 knots. Putting her position in the chart it was clear she was directly headed to the Aliwal Shoal. I called the Captain at once and he instructed me to follow the international rules to prevent collisions. I tried to contact the vessel by VHF and Aldis signal lamp, without getting any response, so I concentrated the navigation. A little later I looked again at this vessel and clearly saw her bow wave being stopped: the exact time she ran aground at full speed.
    We continued our voyage to Durban. The next morning we got people from the U.S. consulate on board, who wanted statements by all officers and crew on watch or with knowledge during the incident. It was also mentioned that the Captain of the Aimee Lykes was a confused of seeing a vessel so close to the shore. Our Captain refused to make a statement to the consular officers and also forbade us to make any statements as well. He had to appear in court the next day, being represented by a lawyers firm, specialising in such cases.
    Later I heard we were cleared of all wrong-doing (something Lykes Lines claimed). The nautical chart in use at the time of the grounding was a large scale one, from the Northern entrance to the Indian Ocean to Cape off Good Hope. I have never understood why the officer on duty never answered my emergency calls.

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