DIVERS placed a remembrance wreath on a shipwreck to honour those who died when it sunk in the First World War.

The SS Fortuna sank off the Sussex coast 100 years ago.

On October 22, 1916, the Dutch steamship, bound from Rotterdam to Cardiff with a cargo of cement, struck a mine laid by a German submarine, and sank nine miles south west of Beachy Head.

Some 15 members of the crew drowned including the captain, Roelof Pieter Voorham, and sailors Johannes Hubertus Beuk and Aart Veenendaal.

A team of six from the Sussex Diving Club at Brighton marina have now gone 32 metres underwater to remember those who sank with a wreath featuring 15 poppies - one for each lost crew member.

Ian Kenney, Pete Lyons, Giorgio Finella, Matt Leach, Sean Duffield and Jane Moffatt took part with Ron Luckett as the coxswain.

Mrs Moffatt said: "The sea was nice and flat but the sun failed to materialise, so it was a bit murky down at 32 metres.The channel hides a rich history of First World War tragedies, and these shipwrecks provide a habitat for an amazing range of underwater life. We regularly dive these sites, but it was poignant on this occasion of the centenary of the Fortuna’s sinking to be able to lay a wreath and pay our respects to the 15 sailors who lost their lives in this incident."

Dutch newspaper reports from the time said it was around 1am on a Saturday night when the ship sailed six miles from the coast. Suddenly there was a large explosion on the starboard side causing the ship to wobble from left to right. A minute later the ship sank. Everyone on board fell into the water. Three survived by getting into the only lifeboat, because the Fortuna sank so quickly it was impossible to lower all the lifeboats in time. By some miracle seven others were saved while everyone else drowned. One of the sailors clung to the edge of the lifeboat. They were brought to Newhaven on the Sunday afternoon and treated well but mourned the loss of their crewmates. The report claimed the captain sank along with the ship because he went back inside his cabin to get some paperwork after the explosion.

Frederick Beuk, a descendent of Johannes Beuk, contacted the divers and thanked them for remembering the incident. He told the club how Johannes was always remembered with a post-mortem picture kept in his parents' hallway for years after his death. His body had been washed ashore at Falling Sands at Beachy Head nearly two days after the sinking, it is thought to have been the only photograph of him.

Frederick Beuk is researching to try and discover the names of the other crew members who died.


SS Fortuna was one of several boats sunk in the English Channel around Brighton by the German U-boat UC16 under the command of Egon van Werner.

Others include the Alaunia, the Vasco and the Leven. The team is planning to dive to as many of the other shipwrecks as possible by the end of 2017 to remember those who died.

The club is welcoming new members. To join or for more information call 01273 808980 or email membership@sussexdiving.co.uk.