Cervia Past

Steam Tug ‘Cervia’

-A Brief History

Built 1945/1946 by the firm of A. Hall & Company Limited of Aberdeen, CERVIA was one of seventeen 'Empire' sea-going tugs ordered from them by H.M. Government's Ministry of War Transport, for use as Fleet Auxiliaries.

The term 'Empire' was applied to many types of vessel built under Government auspices during the Second World War, ranging in size from large merchant ships to landing craft. Almost all were given names with the 'Empire' prefix, and it was still under the name EMPIRE RAYMOND, that the vessel first saw service on 14th April 1947, when along, with seventeen other tugs she went to the assistance of the luxury Cunard liner QUEEN ELIZABETH, aground on the Brambles Bank in Southampton water. That same year her owners, William Watkins Limited of London, re-named her CERVIA after the small town on the Adriatic coast of Italy where the Watkins family maintained a house.

CERVIA had been one of four vessels purchased to redress the company's war losses (among them the tug MURIA, mined off North Foreland in 1940), and was the second Watkins vessel to bear the name: the original CERVIA, built in 1925, having served the company from 1937 until her disposal in 1947.

The new tug was employed towing in and between ports on both sides of the English Channel and North Sea. After two years she was brought to Gravesend on the River Thames from which base she operated around the Thames estuary and as far north as the Wash. Her longer sea-hauls took her to the notorious Goodwin Sands - scene of countless strandings (and worse). On one occasion CERVIA beat rival tugs to a rescue by steaming from Gravesend to Dover in a mere five hours. Races like that took place on almost every occasion when there was the possibility of salvage and the bounty it earned.

In 1950, Messrs. William Watkins merged with two other companies - Elliot Steam Tug Company and Gamecock Tugs - to form Ship Towage (London) Limited. CERVIA served the newly formed company for four years until, on a dark, foggy night in 1954, disaster struck.

A little before 11.00pm on 25th October, CERVIA, with two other tugs - NAPIA and CHALLENGE, was engaged in towing the 29,734 ton P&O liner ARCADIA out of dock to the Tilbury landing stage. The ARCADIA was being towed stern-first into the tideway and approaching the liner ORCADES, which was waiting to enter the dock. To avoid possible collision with this other ship, ARCADIA put her engines ahead. CERVIA was caught in the liner's wash and pulled over to port. An attempt was made to release the tow, but the towing hook failed to open and CERVIA was dragged under by her own hawser. Her master, Captain William Russell MBE, and four crewmen died. A verdict of accidental death was later recorded on all five victims.

Captain Russell was without doubt a first class skipper, well respected by all who were acquainted with him. Memorial Services were held both in Gravesend and in Ramsgate where St. George's Church was packed to capacity. Later a special service was conducted at the Sailors' Church on the quayside of the Inner Basin of Ramsgate Harbour, at the foot of Jacob's Ladder. It was a fitting tribute to men who had on many occasions brought CERVIA into Ramsgate for repairs and maintenance after having risked their lives to save others and grant assistance to ships in distress.

Two days after the tragedy, CERVIA was refloated and brought into Ramsgate to undergo repairs, after which she returned to the Thames to resume work.

In 1969, Ship Towage (London) Limited, merged with W.H.J. Alexander Company Limited. Together they formed the London Tug Company. CERVIA continued with them until 1972 when she was sold to Medway Maritime Museum. Her stay there, however, lasted just a year and in 1973 she returned to commercial service with International Towing Limited.

Under the ITL flag, CERVIA worked the coastal waters of Europe. In the mid 1970s ITL were offering the lowest rates for coastal towage but, unfortunately, in the early 1980s economic difficulties led to CERVIA being left idle in Ramsgate Harbour. In 1985 she was offered to the East Kent Maritime Trust on an initial 10 year loan.


Official Number 180997: Call sign GDPM: Gross Tonnage 233.
Constructed to Lloyd's standards +100A1 and LMC.
Built 1945-6 by Alexander Hall of Aberdeen.
Length overall: 34.4m (104.85ft),
Length waterline: 32.01m (97.57ft).
Beam: 8,36m (2'7.09ft).
Draught: 3.81m (11,61ft).
Engine: 1,000 hp Triple Expansion Steam built by A. Hall of Aberdeen.
Cylinders: 406mm., 635mm and 1,016mm by 686mm stroke.
Boiler. Pressure: 1.31 1\l/mm2 (190 p.s.i.)
Generator: 10kw 110v DC Generator.
Fuel Capacity: 79 tons.
Water Ballast: 29 tons.
Three watertight Bulkheads.

NOTE Her colours are those of her first company. William Watkins Ltd: Black Funnel with red raid-band, brown and white superstructure, black hull, with white lines.

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