No.49: Mi Amigo

Radio Caroline 1999 Today, Friday 28th March, marks the 50th anniversary of Radio Caroline, originally a pirate radio station. Piracy on the high seas would not be complete without a shipwreck somewhere, in this case the vessel that became Radio Caroline South, broadcasting from the coast off Essex. This vessel was the Mi Amigo.

Seamen often say that ships have a personality of their own or that a ship is an ‘unlucky’ vessel. Mi Amigo certainly had an adventurous career, despite her origins as a workaday sailing schooner built at Kiel in 1921, operating in the Baltic region. She was commandeered by Nazi forces in 1941-3, and began her career as a radio broadcast vessel off Danish waters in 1960, before Radio Caroline.

During her years operating off the Essex coast, she exemplified the main problem facing stationary vessels. During storms they were extremely vulnerable to running on nearby hazards as they could not quickly steer themselves out of trouble, if at all, if their anchors broke. (Light vessels without motive power were particularly prone to this problem.) Mi Amigo drifted ashore at Holland Haven near Frinton in 1966, struck the Long Sand Head just off the Thames Estuary in 1975 and 1976, before eventually sinking after striking the Long Sand once more in 1980. Her mast was visible for a number of years afterwards and the wreck remains charted in the Estuary: she was recorded in English Heritage’s Modern Wrecks Project of 2010, 30 years after she was lost.

The last words broadcast from Mi Amigo were those of the DJ on duty just before midnight on 19/20 March 1980: “Due to severe weather conditions and the fact that we are shipping quite a lot of water, we’re closing down and the crew are at this stage leaving the ship.” All the crew were rescued by the Sheerness lifeboat, plus Wilson II the canary.

For a photo gallery of Mi Amigo in service and as a sunken wreck, please click here.

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