I was approached by a Danish chap named Dierk Hansen in November of last year in that his father Ralf Hansen was an engineer on the MV Flachsee until 1962. Although Ralf was not aboard at the time of her loss, Dierk had researched the vessel and wanted a special surprise for Ralf’s 80th birthday in January 2023. That special surprise was to be some underwater photos and/or video of the Flachsee to present at Ralph’s 80th celebrations. That was not to happen and with inclement weather over the Christmas and New Year together with personal illnesses in the new year, we were never able to diary a dive.

All was forgotten until July this year when Dierk wrote to me again. This time with some negative news in that Ralf has been diagnosed as terminally ill and Dierk wanted to still surprise his father in his latter years.

Port Navalo
The Flachsee as the MV Port Navalo, sometime between 1942 and 1955. Location unknown.

So on Sunday 20th August 2023 with Mutiny Divers, we dived the MV Flachsee of 1,248 GRT of 75m in length, 10.5m width and 4.6m draft. She was built in Bremen, Germany in 1939 she was named the MV Flora before entering service as a Kriegsmarine hospital ship in 1940 named the TSV-N 19. Recommissioned in June 1941 as a minesweeper and named Sperrbrecher-168, she was scuttled in August 1944 in Saint-Nazaire. Raised and repaired after the war in 1947 as the Port Navalo, she was sold to Schuchmann Wilhelm of Hamburg in 1955.

Her Sinking

Her demise was on 11th February 1963 in a collision in thick fog on a voyage from Bremen to cork with general cargo. She collided with the Canadian Canuk Trader (a wartime Liberty ship from Montreal by Canuk Lines) nine miles off Folkestone, northeast of the Varne lightship The Deal Coastguard said “There were no casualties. The collision occurred in fog – about 50 yards visibility”

A dramatic escape from the sea took place off Folkestone on Monday night. The crew of of a German ship launched a lifeboat hurriedly as their ship was sinking after being in a collision in thick fog near the Varne lightship. The vessel was the 1,300-ton Flachsee which was in collision with the 7,000-ton Canuk Trader. The 19 Germans we picked up by the Canuk Trader, who transferred them to the German tug See Falke, which had put out from Dover. Dover lifeboat was put to see but was no required. The Dungeness lifeboat stood by. The German seamen spent the night in a hostel at Dover and later left for their homeland.

The Wreck

Surveyed in 1977, the Flachsee was said to be 24.3m proud in a general depth of 28m with a scour of 30m and 55m in length. In 2016 she was said to be 23m in general depth of 28m, length 36m, width 7m and “intact and upright”.
I have only dived her once in July 2021. My logs show a maximum depth of 32m. My memory was a very dark dive, swimming along the gunwale and descending someway along the ship. I do not know where I was on the vessel. I think this 32m was the seabed, dropping from the gunwale. I remember seeing what I thought was a porcelain European style beer pump, though told by another diver that it was a roll of lino! I am told that there are plastic ducks, toy snorkels, masks and fins as part of general cargo.
Unfortunately Dierk cannot be with us today. Nonetheless, our task at hand today is to dive the Flachsee and photograph or video parts of the ship that will bring back happy memories for Dierk’s father, Ralf. Obviously parts of the ship that can be easily identifiable. Dierk has asked if we could “pick something up from the wreck” as a souvenir? He did ask for the makers plate or bell as an example, but we all know the answer to that one!

On The Day

Four divers reported an excellent 5m to 6m visibility in ambient light at 32m and 18degC water temperatures. Topside was a slight breeze, sunny skies and calm waters with a display from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight over Folkestone in the distance. Three divers were able to take photos, which I will collate and send to Dierk. From what I understand, the ship has been swept and it is a mass of twisted metal, pretty scattered over the sand and shingle seabed. Divers reported seeing various items of cargo at the time of her sinking. So they may not be what you were expecting? Though I know one diver has some photos of an anchor.

One diver did find a small piece of brass. We think it maybe a gimbal for a light? I need to complete some paperwork for the Receiver of Wreck so I can show it to Dierk and Ralf.