Tai Koo Dockyard Tug 2 – captained by James Thirwell when sunk by a mine 1941

Tai Koo Tug 2 image IDJ

Nikki Veriga sent us information about her grandfather James Thirlwell who was a Master Mariner and captained the tug “Tai Koo” on her final voyage. There were actually three Tai Koo Shipyard tugs and the one Nikki’s grandfather was captain of was number 2.

Many thanks to IDJ for sending the image of a belching Tai Koo Tug 2 shown above.

Tug Tai Koo 2 engines wikiswire snipped

Tai Koo 2’s engines Courtesy: WikiSwire

It was built by the yard itself, including its engine, and launched in 1937 for themselves as an ocean-going salvage vessel.

The WikiSwire site says:An interesting feature of the engines was that there were separate steam and exhaust piston valves on the L.P. cylinder operated by one set of valve gear through a crosshead, and the arrangement of the direct acting steam-hydraulic reverse gear, designed to set the valve gear to any required H.P. cut-off, chosen from the graduated index plate at the control lever.

On 12th September 1941 while carrying out salvage operations for the UK government at the Red Sea port of Massawa, (also known as Mitsiwa and Batsi), now in Eritrea, the tug was lost when it struck a mine. Position 16.45 N / 40.05 E (1)

Ian Thirlwell found a document at the UK National Archives which provides details about the tug’s final movements from Hong Kong and concludes with the mine explosion and ship’s foundering at Massawa (or Massowah as the report has it).

Tai Koo Tug 2 Report of sinking UK National Archives snipped

Courtesy: UK National Archives


  1. Tug “Tai Koo 2” : WikiSwire – details about the ship

Related Indhhk articles:

  1. James Thirlwell – Tai Koo Dockyard, Master Mariner and captain of the tug “Tai Koo”
  2. Tai Koo Dockyard
  3. Taikoo Dockyard during the Occupation 1942-1945 – new information and photo
  4. World War Two – BAAG reports – Taikoo Dockyard -1942-1944
  5. Facebook: ‘Photos of Taikoo and Kowloon Dock Families’ group


One comment

  • Peter Cundall

    From 3-8 April 1941, when the British finally captured Massawa, a large number of Italian and some German merchant ships and several Italian warships were scuttled by the Italians at Massawa in Eritrea. Most, judging from photos, were sunk in relatively shallow water. It’s remarkable how few of these ships were salvaged by the British and returned to service, inspite of a shortage of ships at the time. The sinking of the Taikoo no doubt did not assist salvage efforts.

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