Updated: Jul 3, 2020
The treacherous East London coast claimed one of its most high-profile victims on Tuesday, 13 August 1974 when the SA Oranjeland ran aground off the Esplanade.
Built just five years earlier in Hamburg, Germany, the state-of-the-art cargo vessel left the Port of East London in what would prove an unforgiving gale.
Within minutes of setting sail, a formidable swell carried the 163-metre freighter onto a reef immediately in front of the Regent Hotel, where she would become firmly lodged.
The crew of the Oranjeland was safely evacuated shortly after she ran aground. The vessel, however, resisted all attempts at being dislodged, despite rescue crews trying for several months to drag her off the rocks.
In early 1975, she broke her back and was finally abandoned. She was later cut into pieces, leaving only the hull which remains visible during spring tide.
Ironically, the Oranjeland – who was en route from Durban to Europe with a cargo of corn, granite and beans – was not scheduled to call in East London at all.
She diverted to East London after coming to the rescue of the crew of the Norwegian carrier, Produce, which had been wrecked on the Aliwal Shoal between Umkomaas and Scottburgh.
In 1989, commercial salvager Peter Sachs launched what was the largest sunken cargo salvage operation ever undertaken in South Africa.
Using a 20-tonne DSV Plus Ultra lifting frame specifically built for this operation, Sachs and his team salvaged 3,300 tonnes of granite from the wreck.