Tangiers, 1911: It had been over five years since English battleships had sailed into Tangiers. For this reason, the majority of the local people went down to the port in spite of the heavy rain and storms. No-one spoke of anything else other than the shipwreck and speculated regarding its rescue.
The Delhi was a transatlantic ship and docked every Tuesday in Gibraltar. The wreck was caused by fog and storms which made the Captain mistake Cape Espartel with Cape Trafalgar, forcing him to search for the mouth of the Straits of Gibraltar further down in the wrong area. The ship was also being swept along by the strong storms. On board the ship were the Duke and Duchess of Fife and their daughters, Maud and Alexandra. The Princess Louise, Princess Royal and Duchess of Fife (Louise Victoria Alexandra Dagmar) (Marlborough House, London, England) member of the British royal family, eldest daughter of King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra, was the fifth person to be styled Princess Royal and upon marriage, she took the title of Duchess of Fife.
First news of the disaster which struck the Delhi reached Tangier by telegram from the ship itself, in which they requested urgent assistance. At the same time the English battleships in Gibraltar received the very same desperate message. A seaman from Tangiers who went out to the accident zone in the steamship Muza, belonging to the the company Bland of Gibraltar, managed to get within a couple of hundred metres from the Delhi and could see that all the passengers were out on the deck. The ship had run aground on a sandbank and was at a distance from the rocks, but the prow was sinking further and further into the water. The authorities were already studying how, once the storm calmed down, to best rescue the passengers and crew. They had two options: one was to approach the ship by sea and the other was by land using cables launched by canyons then passing large baskets along the cables with the crew and passengers inside.
The decision was made to use the first option and all the ships (Spanish, English and French) that had steam launches released them into the water to use prow, stern, leeward and windward sides of their vessels to protect the hull of the ship from the breaking waves. After several attempts, the commander of the British squadron stated that it was an impossible task to carry out and, by means of flag signals, ordered all the launches to return to their ships. The order was obeyed by every launch, with the exception of that of the French cruise ship Friant which managed to recklessly sail beyond the breaker, miraculously avoiding being swallowed up by the crashing waves. Once protected from the currents by the immense bulk of the grounded ship, the French launch of the Friant , based in Tangiers, began to ferry groups of thirty passengers and crew between the Delhi and the nearby shore, leaving the vast ship as a wreck in the breakwater.
Curiously, after rescuing the final passenger, in an absurd display of bravery, the launch chose to return to the French cruise ship, rather than staying at shore. Whilst remaining protected by the large mass of the Delhi, the launch calmly moved forward but, as soon as it emerged from the shelter of the larger boat, a massive wave struck it sideways, overturning it and smashing it into smithereens. The captain, helmsman and the engineer (José Remond, Gregorio Lagarde y Florencio Carel) all drowned whilst the remaining crew remarkably made it to shore.
The Delhi remained there, not far from another ship, the Italian Nuova America, wrecked months previously due to storms.
The survivors of the Delhi were taken to Gibraltar and Delhi where they were looked after and given everything they needed.
Written by Jesús de Castro
Translated by Rachael Harrison
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