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Shipwrecks and Salvage on the East African Coast

With 1,400 miles of coastline covered by this book, and the frequency with which BI ships visited East Africa, it must be no surprise that the company's vessels account for many references in this catalogue of casualties on East Africa's seaboard. Had the research encompassed the coasts of Somalia, Mozambique, Madagascar and South Africa as well, no doubt the book would have been an extremely weighty volume.

As it is, 240 vessels get a mention. This is by no means the number of vessels wrecked on the coasts of Kenya and Tanzania - the geographic extent of Kevin Patience's seaward survey - but rather most of the known casualties, including many ships which survived to sail another day. It includes, also, and entertainingly, details of casualties of the interior, on Lake Tanganyika and Lake Victoria.

Pemba (BI 1877-1902)
BI's Pemba, built in 1877, was perhaps typical of BI ships getting into difficulties in East Africa. She ran aground on the Zanzibar coast in 1883, was refloated after discharging cargo and continued in service for another 19 years

For each casualty there is a picture of the ship, technical details and a brief description of service and details of events. Although some of BI's most notable ships are included (among which are Modasa, Mulbera, Tilawa, Uganda, and Umballa), the book adds little detail of their misadventures to that available in other published sources. However, it is rather gratifying to discover here that despite the number of BI ships appearing, and the number of groundings, none succumbed on this coast. Some of the photographs used are of poor quality being copies of half-tone screened prints, and unfortunately the photograph of BI's fine Masula has been reversed. Where this book wins, is in gathering many fascinating accounts of the ships navigating - and in some cases being wrecked on - a perilous part of the East Africa coast with its reefs, currents and limited safe anchorages.

One of the lesser-known vessels mentioned is the William Mackinnon, built in Scotland by Inglis in 1890, and named after the founder of British India SN and president of the Imperial British East Africa Company (IBEA). The 70 tons displacement William Mackinnon (in common with other vessels constructed then, and more recently, for trading on the African lakes) was built in Europe, disassembled, and transported to East Africa by sea in knocked-down state. The parts were carried overland from the coast to their destination, except that in the case of the William Mackinnon most of the parts never made it that far. Even by then, IBEA had foundered, Sir William Mackinnon was dead, and the vessel parts had been acquired by Uganda Railway Committee. An amusing piece tells how porters carrying the 3,000 boxes of parts defected, fell ill and died "with the result that the steamer was strewn across the African Shipwrecks and Salvage on the East African Coastcountryside," many of the copper and brass fittings being stolen by tribesmen and turned into jewellery. Eventually, in 1900, the ship was completed at Kisumu with replacement parts.

The author of Shipwrecks and Salvage on the East African Coast has had a career in diving and salvage in the Middle East and East Africa and has undoubtedly put much effort into research for this book, returning in many instances to original sources, including some of those who survived the incidents described. Mr Patience was himself involved in some of the operations and dived on and identified many of the shipwrecks. The book is self-published in hardback.

Shipwrecks and Salvage on the East African Coast 1499-2004, by Kevin Patience. Published by Kevin Patience, 257 Sandbanks Road, Poole, Dorset, BH14 8EY, United Kingdom, pp276, 300 illustrations, £21/£26 inc postage. Tel  01202 707450, email

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