Story of Sanct Svithun

The first Sanct Svithun: 

The first Sanct Svithun was ordered by Stavangerske Steamship-company in 1926 and would be their first special purpose built ship for Hurtigruten service, replacing their Kong Haakon of 1904. Sanct Svithun was built in Danzig (now Gdansk) and ran her sea trials on June 30th 1927. At the morning of second world war on April 9th 1940, she was in dry dock for maintenance and therefore managed to avoid war duty the first months. 

But her fate was sealed just 3 years later, September 30th 1943, on a southbound journey in a southwesterly gale outside Stadt: she was observed by six British aircrafts around 18:45 hours and attacked with bombs and machine guns. She was hit by a bomb right in front of her funnel and her engine telegraph was destroyed. At full speed and ablaze she headed for shore and ended her seagoing service on Kobbholmene, outside Ervika. A heroic rescue in the crushing seas was initiated by the people in Ervika, and 75 or 76 persons were rescued from the ship. The numbers are a bit unsure but 19 crew, 22 or 26 passengers and 10-12 Germans perished. The burnt out wreck of the ship later slipped off the rocks and slid beneath the waves. 

The second Sanct Svithun:

Sanct Svithun (ii) was a vessel in the Norwegian Coastal Voyage (Hurtigruten) which ended her career at a young age and under tragic circumstances. I often think of the Sanct Svithun - disaster as Norway’s own little Titanic-tragedy because of some striking similarities: the name had been used before and was in no way a ‘lucky’ name for the superstitious of us; a few tiny errors in navigation lead to the loss of the ship and many lives; it was the Captain’s retirement trip; it took many years before the ship was located beneath the sea; and the real facts what really happened that night will never be known, as all bridge officers went down with the ship. 

The second vessel carrying the name Sanct Svithun was ordered by Stavangerske Steamship-company in the autumn of 1956, and was eventually launched at Cantieri Riuniti dell’Adriatico in Ancona, Italy, on May 18th 1950. At her launch, she was practically a completed ship and left for sea trials only a few hours later. On May 25th 1950 she was handed over to her owners and the long voyage home commenced with Captain Samuel Alshager in command. On her voyage to Norway she sailed by Palermo and Algeir, and eventually arrived at her home port of Stavanger on June 4th 1950. Her first sailing in Hurtigruten started in Bergen on June 8th 1950. 

Six years later, in 1956, Captain Alshager relinquished his command of the vessel to Captain Johannes A. Kleveland. 

Sanct Svithun bridge

Bridge of Sanct Svithun

Sanct Svithun first class ladies lounge

Sanct Svithun first class smoking lounge

Sanct Svithun first class dining lounge

Sanct Svithun had like most other coastal steamers in Hurtigruten her hard days in the route: she ran aground in Risøyrenna in January 1952 and she ran aground onto Rødskjaernaget by Brønnøysund on May 1st 1952: both times being able to pull herself off again and continue to Bergen for repairs. 

Sanct Svithun: computer image by CaptainsVoyage Forum member SaintsFCFan

Disaster at Folla:

At 13:00 hours on October 21st 1962 northbound coastal steamer Sanct Svithun departed Trondheim bound for Rørvik with 89 souls on board. Due to incomprehensible circumstances, the ship sails out of course across an open sea-stretch called Folla, gets completely lost, runs aground and founders taking 41 souls with her into her watery grave. 

The ship was due to follow her normal route out the Trondheims Fjord, northwards through the narrow Stokksundet and start on an open sea stretch called Folla by Buholmråsa Lighthouse. The normal route would then take her past Gjeslingene as Folla was nearing completion, and passing Grinna Lighthouse before sailing in Naerøysundet to Rørvik: a trip she had done for many years in all sorts of weather and through all seasons. This time, she would never arrive. 

About 30 minutes after passing Buholmråsa Lighthouse, at 20:30 hours, she would normally have altered her course from 335 degrees to 35 degrees, taking her across the open sea. This time she didn’t, she altered her course much later, at 21:10 hours, and then continued at reduced speed as if they already knew something was not correct. 


At 21:56 hours she ran aground near Nordøyan Lighthouse much further out to sea and ripped open her cargo hold and severely dented the engine room deck. She slid off the rocks shortly afterwards and the engines stopped. She sounded the emergency alarm summoning her guests and crew to the lifeboats while emergency signals were transmitted to the coastal radio station at Rørvik. Sanct Svithun immediately started sinking as the cold seawater filled the ship. Her lifeboats were launched into the wild seas crushing around the ship and at 22:45 hours with the forecastle under water, the lights extinguished. Less than 15 minutes later, the ship was gone. 

Because the ship had sailed off course, presumably without the knowledge of the duty officers, there was a lot of confusion as to which lighthouse they saw as she was sinking: it should normally have been Grinna Lighthouse but the character of the light was not correct. Since they now apparently were completely disoriented and not knowing for sure where they had grounded, they indicated their incorrect position to the coastal radio station at Rørvik.  Southbound coastal steamer Ragnvald Jarl and many local vessels headed out to the position they had received, finding no ship, no lifeboats and no indication of anything being wrong. 

Later in the night, the first lifeboats and first survivors made it ashore at Nordøyan Lighthouse. The rescue was then diverted to the rocks much further out to sea, around Nordøyan. But it was too late, much too late: the Sanct Svithun was gone. 

Many questions were raised following the disaster where 41 souls tragically lost their life, among them her Captain (on his last trip before retirement), the helmsman and all bridge officers perished. How could a top modern vessel at the time with several compasses, available navigational aids and with two very experienced Captain’s make such mistake? How could they get lost at Folla?

The actual whereabouts of the Sanct Svithun wreck was long a mystery, hidden in waters which only a few days of each year could be explored, in waters with endless crushing waves and thousands of rocks, islands and underwater dangers. In the late 80’s, the wreck was eventually found and a group of local divers from Verdalen dived down videotaping the remains of the ship. They made three one hour tapes of video material from the remains of the ship, there was no doubt about her identity: laying on her starboard side jammed between two large rocks near “Oksen” (the OX), at 30-60 meters depth. The video tapes revealed Sanct Svithun all across her stern and on her port bow. She was cleverly found by searching for the large metal content of her hull and metal structure. Since her rediscovery, few divers have been able to revisit. 

Photo of the Sanct Svithun, © Britt H. Kisby

Sanct Svithun in Bessaker, an image taken in 1962, her final year. Bessaker is a few hours sailing away from her final restingplace at Nordøyan. 

Photographer: unknown, shared on Facebook-group Hurtigrutens Venner. 

IMG 6582

Postkort av hurtigrute skipet Sanct Svithun - sansynligvis fra Lofoten/Raftsundet, ukjent fotograf/utgiver. 

Should you have any additional images, want to read more about the disaster, or have anything else that you wish to share related to Sanct Svithun or the disaster by Nordøyan, we would love to hear from you. Please send us an e-mail and help us building on her story. 

Recommended further reading: 

Story of Sanct Svithun (Norwegian article). 

Sanct Svithun discussions-thread on current forum (open for posting by all forum members)

Recommended further reading:

Book: Mayday fra Sanct Svithun (in Norwegian only)

Author: Tormod Aune

Publisher: Hojem Trykkeri, 7800 Namsos (phone 74212150)

Available from Hojem Trykkeri (link to publisher website)


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