The 7,867 tons deadweight Arena became the sixth vessel to be added to the Irish Shipping wartime fleet when she was bought for £345,950 in July, 1941, following negotiations which began with her owners, Cia. Arena Ltd. of Panama two months earlier.
She was built at New York in 1917 by the Standard Shipbuilding Corporation and was named Jupiter. When she was purchased by Irish Shipping Limited the ship was then lying at Durban, South Africa, from which port she sailed on 10th July, 1941, for Philadelphia. The vessel was eventually delivered at Philadelphia to Capt. T. W. Freehill of Dublin, on behalf of the company, on 23rd September, 1941.
She loaded a cargo of wheat as well as 140 tons of tea, 6 tons of chemicals and some machinery at the United States port before sailing on 28th November for Dublin where she arrived on 26 th December, 1941, on her first visit to a home port as the SS Irish Plane.
Prior to leaving Philadelphia in October, 1941, the vessel was under threat of arrest because of a charge which was raised against her former owners in respect of a claim for damaged cargo on her previous voyage. However, the Vendors secured the release of the ship for Irish Shipping Limited by signing a bond whereby the lien on the vessel was transferred to another ship.
Following discharge of her cargo at Dublin, the Irish Plane (Pictured ) was laid up for repairs which were completed by the end of January, 1942, but the ship was further delayed due to difficulties with the crew.
She eventually sailed for Gourock, Scotland, on 17th February, 1942, to take on bunkers for her voyage to St. John, New Brunswick still under the command of Capt. Freehill.
On her passage to St. John, the Irish Plane ran aground at Tor Point, Cushendun, Co. Antrim on 14th March, 1942, and a subsequent judicial inquiry into the grounding reported that the accident was due to an understandable human error in calculating the ship’s course. Contributory causes were poor visibility and the effects of the necessary neutrality flood lighting which the vessel was obliged to have when sailing out of convoy.
She was re-floated and sailed for Dublin where she underwent repairs at Liffey Dockyard from 2nd April until she sailed again on 28th June, 1942, for Gourock, Scotland, where she took on bunkers for her outward passage to Halifax, Nova Scotia.
On this voyage, the ship was under the command of Capt. Hill Wilson of Islandmagee, Co. Antrim. On passage from Dublin to Halifax in December, 1942. the vessel was forced to seek shelter in Belfast Lough due to exceptionally heavy weather off the North coast of Ireland.
The Irish Plane made three further voyages to Halifax before completing a round trip to Georgetown, Guyana, and Port of Spain, Trinidad, in March, 1943, for a cargo of sugar with Capt. W. J. Henderson as Master. Making his first trip as Deck Boy on that voyage was Jack Craig of Dublin who had business associations with Irish Shipping Limited in the post war years and who recalled the very warm welcome the ship’s officers and crew received from the Irish community in Georgetown.
The vessel was laid up at Dublin from April, 1944 until May, 1945, undergoing a major overhaul and having new furnaces fitted. Immediately after the war had ended, she sailed for Montreal on 6th June, 1945, to load grain and general cargo for discharge at Dublin.
However, the ill-luck which appeared to dog the Irish Plane under Irish Shipping ownership, came to a dramatic end on 1st February, 1947, when the ship went aground at Ballyshane, Ballycotton, Co. Cork, while on passage from Swansea to Cork.
The vessel, which had loaded at New York had already discharged part of her cargo at Dublin and had taken on bunkers at Swansea for her next outward passage to the United States. She was to complete discharge of 1,000 tons of motor car parts at Cork.
Off the south coast of Ireland, the ship’s steering gear developed a defect as she was buffeted by mountainous seas and gale force winds. The vessel was struck by the full force of the gale some two hours out from Cork and started to drift and, without her lights, two anchors were thrown out to prevent her going ashore. Wind and sea proved too much for the anchors to hold the vessel and, pounded by huge waves, she dragged until eventually she became wedged between two large rocks on the beach. Surprisingly, she stood on a perfectly even keel broadside to a cliff which was about fifty yards inshore from the grounded vessel.
Prior to the grounding (Pictured above: The Irish Plane grounded) , a morse code message was sent to the nearby Ballygoilin Life Saving Service and to the Ballycotton Lifeboat Station so that assistance had arrived at an inshore point before the vessel had actually grounded. At dawn all the life saving services in the Cork area had sent crews over snow covered roads to help in the rescue operations. For several hours they signalled to the vessel but received the reply that the crew did not yet want to leave their ship.
Eventually, the ship’s Master, Capt. W. G. Hickman, gave the order to abandon ship. Then one by one the crew climbed to safety across the rescue line which had been put on board and the last to leave the stricken vessel were the Master and Chief Officer, James A. Caird. The Master suffered a fractured leg when he slipped on an oil patch on the landing platform and was subsequently treated in the Mercy Hospital in Cork. Unfortunately, all hope of re-floating the Irish Plane had to be abandoned and she was declared a total loss.
At a Court of Inquiry into the stranding, the ship’s Master, her Chief Engineer, James Kennedy, and the Owners, Irish Shipping Limited, were completely exonerated from all blame for the accident. The Court determined that the cause of the accident was failure of the steam steering gear to operate; breaking of the hand steering gear at a critical time and the severe weather conditions prevailing at that time coupled with bad holding ground for the ship’s anchors. The Court further found that the Owners were not responsible for any act that contributed to the stranding of the vessel and considered that everything possible was done by the Owners to keep and maintain the vessel in a seaworthy condition.
One of the many stories subsequently told in Irish Shipping about the Irish Plane grounding concerned an officer who was reported to have been asleep in his cabin at the time and was suddenly awakened by the jolt as the ship struck the rocks on which she became wedged. He described the incident thus: ” I jumped out of my bunk and looked out the porthole and when I saw a cow staring in at me I knew there was something wrong “.