Articles, Maritime History, Vessels

Moyalla Salvage

The salvage of the valuable cargo of the Moyalla is the tale of triumph of a skilled first time salvor over the might of a large professional salvage company. It is a remarkable story of early scuba diving in Ireland and typical of salvage undertaken in the 1950s.

The Moyalla was built in 1927 at Caledon shipbuilding & Engineering Company, Dundee.  She was bound for Galway from Liverpool with a cargo of 36 tons of copper pipes for IMI works at Galway, tar, soda, and ammonia. This was the first cargo to come in since before the war. Representatives of the Limerick Steamship company, the customs and Lloyd’s insurers went out to inspect the wreck.  Twenty employees of Irish Metal Industries were laid off work for a fortnight because of the accident to the Moyalla – the cargo was bound for the IMI factories. It was the first serious mishap the Limerick Steamship company had in Galway. The harbour board meeting observed that the company had weekly sailings from Galway. When discussion about a pilot arose it was customary for the Limerick steamship company to taken on a pilot when she entered the roadstead.  A pilot is optional from the Aran island s in to the roadstead. From the roadstead the pilot is compulsory.

Connacht Tribune 23-2-1946

The Moyalla was inward bound to Galway with 400 tons of cargo when she went off course in heavy fog and was severely holed when she hit Black Rock on February 18th. The vessel struck about midnight and was abandoned by her crew at 4.30 a.m. The crew said the fog was the worst they had ever encountered. The Black rock is clearly charted lying about quarter of a mile off the swimming place at Salthill also known as Black rock. None of the fourteen crew were injured. They rowed ashore in their own boats with Captain E. O’Sullivan. Shortly after she hit the rocks the engine room flooded.  Some of the cargo on the top deck floated clear and was floating around Galway bay. Some of the ammonia must have escaped because dead fish were seen in the vicinity.

When sightseers visited the wreck there was a big hole in her side and she had keeled over. A lot of boxes were floating around the wreck. The ship struck at low water

The pilot Coleman Faherty would go out from Barna and take ships in from the Aran Islands. A Limerick steamship company vessel accustomed to calling at Galway would pick up a pilot further in the bay. The pilots would watch from the bothareen at Barna for the pilot signal flag and go out.  On the night in question the Moyalla did not fly the flag.  Pilots claimed that they were watching the ship in the roads awaiting a signal flag but there was no signal so they did not go out to the ship. The importance of this was their claim that they could see the Moyalla though she was supposed to have run on the rock in fog. The harbour board remarked that the Limerick steamship company were not accustomed to take on a pilot.

Connacht Tribune 20-4-1946

The 755 ton motor salvage vessel Help, arrived in Galway Harbour to salvage the Moyalla . She was specially built for D Day operations at |Port Glasgow in 1943. Though owned by the Admiralty and a fleet auxiliary she is on loan to the Liverpool and Glasgow Salvage Association. She was specially constructed for clearing ports and worked at Cherbourg and Le Havre after the Germans were driven out. Mr H Thomas, the senior salvage officer aboard has worked on 483 ships on the west coast of Britain and Ireland. The Captain Mr Rees took part in the invasion of Sicily and Italy aboard the Salveda and worked on clearing Antwerp Harbour. The crew are highly experienced, Mr Taylor, the assistant salvage officer worked on the Mulberry harbours and the German Fleet at Scapa Flow as did Mr Bell, the diver, and many of the crew. The work on the Moyalla was planned in three stages. The first was to get her upright, patched, and pumped dry. Then get her to harbour and unloaded and finally get her to a yard for repairs. They planned to build a cradle of timber with tripods attached to the bottom of the ship to get her upright.

Captain Ralph Ryan, Nautical Surveyor wrote to the harbour board stating that he had been appointed by the Minister for Industry and Commerce to hold an inquiry into the grounding of the Moyalla. He would be glad to have the views of the harbour board on the adequacy of fog signals in Galway bay. The Harbour master said there had never been a request for fog signals in the bay.

The ship lay high and dry on the flat rock. At the stern the propeller was nearly dry. The steamer Help from the Salvage Association raised ship and put her on cradles. Two salvage pumps were keeping her free of water.  The entire went in to Galway docks in a boat. However when they had finished their refreshments the tide had receded and their boat was trapped inside the dock gates. A breeze blew up and the Moyalla broke the cradles on which she was resting and sank while unattended. She fell back into deeper water. Vessel heeled so that salvage pump was under the ship. The stack remained 6-10 feet above water at low tide. Work was abandoned on June 15 1946

Learning to dive

Christopher Dooley was a good swimmer and became president of the Irish amateur swimming association 1971-72. On one occasion he went down at Salthill in the harbour diver,  P O’Donnell’s hard hat gear.  It required two men to keep the air pump operating. The hard hat gear was very restrictive. It was well known that the Italian navy had perfected light diving gear during the war and it had been copied by the Royal Navy when it was captured at Alexandria. This encouraged him to investigate scuba gear which he bought in Lillywhite’s of Picadilly, London about 1956. This consisted of a dry suit, Siebe Gorman bottles, a Mistral valve but no buoyancy jacket. Also purchased at Lillywhite’s was a book “the physiology of diving” – then the only text available for training. During one gear demonstration at a gala in Galway two visitors came especially from Belfast to see the gear as it was the first scuba apparatus imported into Ireland. Later he was involved in founding the Galway Sub Aqua club.

Since no breathing air compressor was available in Galway. Filling bottles at British Oxygen Company in Dublin was possible. On one occasion he had to take two bottles in a suitcase to London to fill at Lillywhites. There were no Fenzy adjustable buoyancy life jackets at this time but in emergency the weight belt could be dropped.

The first venture into salvage was when Mr Dooley salvaged the propeller off the Okeanos at Carragaholt. The Okeanos was a 7,000 ton Greek vessel grounded on 13-1-1947. She was outward bound from Limerick having unloaded 5,000 tons of grain at limerick for Ranks mills.  The Hammond Lane scrap company had salvaged the metal to the waterline. The initial purpose of the second salvage attempt was to obtain metal plates for Roscommon County Council to cover points where explosives were in use for quarrying. Recovery of the big metal plates proved too difficult but the valuable bronze propeller remained attached to its shaft.  The huge six foot blades and boss were removed by blasting the shaft and sold to a Cork dealer. It was relatively easy to get and use the explosives at this time.

The plan was to use Dun Angus to carry scrap from the Moyalla as she was to be scrapped herself at Haulbowline. 28-6-1958. Viking was to be used as salvage vessel.

Meeting with Lloyds to buy wreck

Went to London to Lloyds and met the secretary, the higher the lift went the more opulent the furnishings became. Christopher was newly discharged from the RAF where he had spent the three-year period between 1944 and 1947 as an engineer.  Lloyds sold the hull for a pittance and armed with ownership of the hull he could go to the cargo owners.  Next he had a meeting with ICI bosses to buy the copper cargo rights. This was held at the ICI offices at Green Park near Ritz hotel.

Irish Lights records

In a letter they gave Christopher Dooley their permission to proceed. The wreck had been claimed to be on the meridian line in the bay where jurisdiction changed from the Harbour board to the Irish Lights.

Galway Harbour Board

Captain White was anxious that the wreck would fall into the roads obstructing the route into the harbour. Ray Freyne proposed that the savage work be allowed, he was a lecturer in engineering in UCG and a consulting engineer.

Salvor salvages his own vessel

During the salvage operation the borrowed support vessel owned by Mr Rabbit  was moored at the Galway docks. One night she took in water through a fractured engine suction and sank at the quayside. Work was delayed while she was patched and pumped out. A crane and slings then raised her from the bottom of Galway docks.


The principal officer of customs met the salvors on their return from their first salvage trip. They had brought three or four tubes ashore with them and moored in the docks. Because the newspaper had given the recovery operation some publicity the customs officer resplendent with three rings of gold on his sleeve announced that he was impounding the items recovered. He was asked why, and informed that had he done his homework he would have discovered that the salvage party had legitimate rights to the wreck and cargo. All had been lodged with the harbourmaster and Harbour board.  Apparently, the customs office was a pantomime as the juniors were highly amused to see the said officer put in his place.

Galway Harbour Board at their meeting reported in the Tribune on 28 July 1951 referred to the proposal to do something about the wreck of the Moyalla. The secretary Mr Campbell said that the Irish lights Marine Superintendent Captain Kelly had visited Galway recently. His suggestion was that the Harbour board should remove the wreck because it was becoming a serious danger to shipping in the bay. He said that on foggy nights it would be easy for a ship to slip into the wreck. The Chairman proposed that the matter be referred to the Limerick Steamship Company. However, Mr O’Connor observed that even if the ship were removed the rock on which she rested would remain a danger. The secretary Miss Curran pointed out that the Board had already decided that the wreck was not within their jurisdiction as the line purporting to show their jurisdiction was purely imaginary.

The Harbour Board meeting reported on 24 July 1954 received correspondence from the Department of Industry and Commerce including a letter from a Mr Peter Cloherty, 22 Henry Street Galway and Commander W.G. Everitt M.Y. 316 New Dock Galway who proposed to salvage the wreck. The letter to the board stated that the commissioners would wish to consider what buoying and lighting would be necessary in the interest of other vessels using the port while the salvage operations were taking place. In the letter to Mr Cloherty read out by Lieut. Commander J. White, harbour master, the department stated that the Salvage Association, Lloyds Building London had informed the Department that the underwriters had not waived their rights to the wreck of the Moyalla.  Any arrangements for the salvaging of the vessel or its cargo or payment for any salvage work done would be a matter for settlement with the underwriters.  On receipt of satisfactory evidence that Mr Cloherty had entered into an agreement with the underwriters the Minister would have no objection to the carrying out of the salvage operations on the Moyalla subject to such salvage precautions as might be required by the Harbour Commissioners. The harbour master said a similar letter had been written to Commander Everitt.

The harbour board meeting reported on 14-April 1956 considered a further application for salvage work By Messrs C& J Dooley and Co Ironworkers, William Street Galway & Sea road Galway. In their letter, Messrs Dooley stated that they had made inquiries and discovered that the underwriters and the Limerick Steamship company had no further interest in the wreck. It was because of the reluctance of both parties to give a definite answer that they had approached the Harbour board to use their authority to get them the necessary permission to act. If permission was granted work could commence on the demolition of the wreck during the summer months and would give employment locally. The harbour master Lt Commander J. Whyte said that the receiver of wrecks would not give permission for salvage work until the other parties concerned relinquished their claims.

Mr G.I. Corbett said the Board would have no objection to the demolition of the wreck if it did not commit the Board and did not interfere with shipping. It was agreed to allow Messrs Dooley and Co to go ahead with their salvage work if permission was obtained and that the work did not interfere with shipping.

Salvage work begins on the Moyalla

The copper is in excellent condition. The vessel had a quantity of acid on board and it was thought at one time that this might have come in contact with the copper. In order to reach the copper in the aft hold Mr Dooley had to blast the hold covering to provide a sufficiently large opening. He locates the material and directs the salvage team. He has a raft with winches moored near the wreck. Five other men are working with him on the operation, which is expected to continue until September. Two forward holds in the vessel have not yet been opened. The tubes had been loaded into the hold diagonally and then laid flat because the hatch covers were quite small. The cargo had shifted over the years and the tubes had become tangled. To remove the tubes it was necessary to blow away the side of the ship with explosives.  Part of the cargo included wine and spirits but Mr Dooley was assured that these would be spoiled due the eleven years of immersion. There were even bikes and motorbikes aboard but these were dissolved to thin metal.


Galway Tribune contemporary accounts. The story was repeated 20-4-2007 50th anniversary

Lloyds Register