Decrepit tankers Antipolis and Romelia were going where most old ships go to die – a breakers yard in the Far East. It’s almost 35 years to the day (29 July 1977) that they were being towed there from their anchorage in Greece by a small Japanese tug the Kiyo Maru. As in the old days of shipping, the best way to get to Asia is to round Cape Point, but these two ships never made it. They became another statistic in the Cape’s history of over 650 shipwrecks, and as we know from recent experience, more are added to the tally every year.
With a north-wester blowing hard and Table Bay Port too full to accept any more ships, the tug was instructed to head out to sea and anchor between Robben Island and the mainland. As the gale intensified the rope attaching the tankers to the tug snagged on the seabed. The Romelia drifted ahead of the tug pulling its wires underneath and threatening to capsize the tug. With a tangle of wires – some of which were cut, others snapped – it resulted in both the Antipolis and Romelia drifting free and being driven towards the shore.
The Antipolis ran aground at Oudekraal where it can still be seen at low tide, and Romelia broke her back on Llandudno’s Sunset Rocks and was a local landmark for many years until she slid into deeper water not so very long ago and disappeared.