On the Waterfront: Unease over raging war

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As the repair ship HMS Mullion Cove left the Wear on July 22, 1945, her crew of 300 naval ratings and 200 repair staff must have been filled with unease at the prospect of the long voyage to Far Eastern waters, where the Pacific war was still raging.

Named after a beautiful bay on the Lizard Peninsular in Cornwall, Mullion Cove was needed to provide repair facilities afloat for the sizeable British Pacific Fleet, which was then performing a vital role in defending the flank of the Allied seaborne push against the Japanese.

Commanded by Cdr JE Evans, DSC, RD, RNR, her destination was Trincomalee, Ceylon, which had become an important British base after the fall of Singapore in 1942.

As she would have arrived there close to the end of hostilities, however, her conversion came too late for any meaningful wartime role.

But her conversion into a floating shipyard had been among TW Greenwell and Co Ltd’s most challenging wartime ventures.

Launched by Bartram and Sons, South Dock, on July 10, 1944, as Empire Penang, the vessel had originally been intended as a general cargo ship for the Ministry of War Transport.

Owing to prevailing wartime requirements, however, it was decided that she should be completed as a repair ship.

During fitting-out, Bartrams carried out substantial structural modifications and additions, before the 9,730 tons steamer was towed to Greenwells ship repair yard.

Much of the work undertaken by Greenwells consisted of converting the vessel’s holds into workshops, equipped with tools and machinery enabling the 425-foot-long Mullion Cove to perform a comprehensive range of hull repairs at sea.

A 200-ton hydraulic press, allowing steel plates to be bent and straightened, was installed inside her heavy plate shop.

When she sailed from Sunderland, 350 tones of steel plate were being transported for use in repairing the hulls of damaged British warships.

Other machinery was provided for flanging, drilling, punching and shearing plates, while extensive facilities were also provided for other trades, such as electrical, carpentry, plumbing, smiths and welding.

She also carried her own team of divers and specialist diving apparatus.

Mullion Cove returned to civilian ownership in 1947, being reconverted to a merchant ship at Greenock, before entering the Clunies Shipping fleet as Margaret Clunies in 1948.

Further changes in name and ownership saw her sailing as Waynegate, Katingo, President Magsaysay and Magsaysay between 1951 and 1968.

In July, 1968, while on a voyage from the Philippines to South Korea, an engine room fire led to her being declared a constructive total loss.

The following December, the vessel arrived at her final resting place – the Kyong Nam Products shipbreaking yard at Pusan, South Korea.