M.V. Bon Jour = Magda Maria = Mi Amigo

Ship details: The SS Margarethe, a small cargo boat of 98 feet length, was built in 1921 by Deutsche Werke A.G. of Kiel, West Germany as a 129 ton, 23 foot wide three mast schooner for Ernst Simon A.G. The boat was one of three identical boats made by the ship yard, one was used as a tug in South America while the third was used in the Far East. Ernst Simon sailed the boat around the Baltic carrying general cargo. In 1927 the SS Margarethe was sold to Heinrich Kopplemann who renamed the boat Olga after his wife. In 1928 the Olga was strengthened and a four cylinder engine installed, in the process one of the masts was replaced. In 1936 the original engine was replaced with a six cylinder Klockner-Humbolt Deutz engine and the length of the boat was increased to 111 feet by adding a new centre section. From June 5th 1941 the Olga was commandeered by the German Kriegsmarine, the landing craft squadron trials unit based at Emden. The Olga operated out of Putlos, near Kiel as an auxiliary vessel. On 18th November 1943 the Olga’s war service ended and the boat was refitted out by Kriegsmarine. The Olga was now 111 feet 4 inches long, 23 feet wide, had two wooden masts and one 72 foot steel mast. The engine was 150 horse power and could travel at 8 knots when fully loaded, the hold size was 9570 cubic feet. In 1944 the Olga was returned to the Kopplemanns. Heinrich Kopplemann died during the war, his wife taking over the business with her son. In 1951 the length of the Olga was increased to 133 feet 9 inches.

In 1959 the MS Olga was located in Kiel, West Germany and was considered suitable for conversion into a radio ship. On 31st May 1960 MS Olga was taken to Norder Werft in Hamburg, West Germany. The hold was converted into studios, transmitter room and crew quarters. The engineer in charge was seventy-three year old Dr Pepke, with Captain Kaj Hallonsten acting as consultant. It was planned to suspend the antenna between two 125 foot masts, but in the end only one mast used used. On 10th August a letter was sent to the shipyard reminding them it was illegal to install, repair or operate a radio station without the governments permission, a law passed when Hitler was in power. The MV Bon Jour, as the ship had now been renamed, sailed for Langeline, Copenhagen where she docked at the free port. The mast was erected and two 10,000 Watt Continental Electronics 316B crystal controlled transmitters were installed, flown in from the USA in 6,000 loose parts.

On 20th December 1960 at 18:00 hours the ship set sail for her anchorage near Stockholm. On the journey it was noticed that the mast stays were working loose, and the MV Bon Jour dropped anchor off the island of Gotska Sandon to repair the damage. On 23rd December the ship continued to its final location, and anchored at what was thought to be the correct position. The transmitter was switched on and a large blue flash came from the aerial. The fishing boat Dannette spent all day looking for the ship. On Christmas Eve the fishing boat Dannette eventually found the MV Bon Jour. On Christmas Day the crew abandoned the ship as they feared the mast was going to collapse in the heavy seas. A pilot boat took the crew to Sandhamn. On Boxing Day the salvage tug Neptune took the crew back to the MV Bon Jour, which was still in one piece. The MV Bon Jour was towed to Sandhamn on 27th December. The captain suggested that he take the ship to Lidingo for repairs, but on arrival they found the shipyard had closed six months earlier. A new captain was appointed, John Johnansson. The ship sailed to Abo in Finland and entered the Crichton Fulcan shipyard. The Finnish government put pressure on the shipyard not to fulfil the work, and the ship had to anchor in Chalk Harbour. The shipyard sent men out to the MV Bon Jour to complete the repairs. On 4th February 1961 the MV Bon Jour was repaired. The vessel sailed for Orno, arriving on the 6th. On 6th February a storm blew up, and to enable the engineers to complete final tests the ship looked for calmer waters, a loud crack was heard from the mast, and once again the ship had to return to port. On the next day new insulators were fitted at the Finnboda shipyard in Stockholm. A thorough check of all the equipment was made. On 21st February the MV Bon Jour left port and sailed to her anchorage. After only a few days technical problems forced the ship to return to Finnboda. On 1st March the ship was back at her anchorage. On the next day the Swedish Parliament passed a law, any ship entering Swedish waters could have its broadcasting equipment confiscated. The Swedish Government put pressure on Nicaragua to withdraw the ships registration.
The ship was re-registered in Panama but to enable this the ship had to be renamed M.V. Magda Maria.

On 2nd December 1961 a storm began to blow in from the south west, and continued to get worse. On 6th December seventy mile per hour winds battered the ship, and the anchor started to drag, by 11:00 hours the anchor was not holding and the ship was drifting. At 17:00 hours programmes stopped as all hands were needed on deck to keep the ship afloat. The anchor had been lost and the ships engines had just managed to be started, not knowing the ships position they ran with the wind. During the night one of the mast stays broke. On the next day the ship entered Sandhamn, the law relating to the broadcasting equipment was not enforced, as it was decided that the ship would have been wrecked had she stayed at sea. As usual, seals were put on the transmitter, and repair work carried out. On 8th December the MV Magda Maria sailed back to her anchorage.

On 4th July 1962 the MV Magda Maria sailed to the Spanish port of El Ferroll on the north-west tip of Spain for refitting. The ship arrived at El Ferroll on 2nd August. 

A consortium called Project Atlanta had contracted to buy the Radio Nord ship ‘Magda Maria’ complete after the forced closure of Radio Nord. Atlanta was headed by Australian businessman Allan Crawford who had been the managing director of the American company Southern Music between 1955 and 1959. By the early Sixties he had formed his own independent music company, Merit Music, and was using Project Atlanta as a way to promote his record labels in the European market. 

The ‘Magda Maria’, now renamed the ‘Mi Amigo’, left Spain on September 14th 1962 giving her destination as Dover but apparently ended up in the Thames Estuary. It is possible that some tests were made as a station identifying itself as Radio LN was heard about this time on 306 metres. The project was stalled, however, due to the events surrounding the closure of Radio Mercur which scared off the financial backers and the ship was forced to sail to Ostende. She was reported as being at Flushing between January 11th and 15th 1963 before setting sail again, then had to stop at Brest for repairs to damaged steering gear on the 19th which took a week. Two groups were interested in purchasing the radio ship, Allan Crawford and his partner Major Oliver Smedley and Ronan O’Rahilly with his various backers. Both offers fell through. On January 26th 1963 the ‘Mi Amigo’ left Brest heading for the southern coast of the United States where her American owners planned to turn her into a luxury yacht at Galveston, Texas. 

On 4th March 1963 the Mi Amigo arrived at Galveston. After many months of negotiations Allan Crawford finally managed to secure sufficient finances to purchase her on December 18th. On 28th December the MV Mi Amigo slipped out of Galveston harbour, to escape customs officials inspecting the ship after they learnt that it was going to be used as a radio ship. After nearly being lost in the crossing of the Atlantic, the ship arrived in Las Palmas on January 30th 1964. On February 5th ‘Mi Amigo’ docked at El Ferrol for repairs and stability modifications to be carried out.

The Radio Atlanta ship was owned by Rosebud Shipping of Panama. She was then chartered to Rajah Anstalt, a Liechtenstein company, and leased to Atlantic Services Anstalt, another Liechtenstein company, both owned by Project Atlanta. 

On February 15th the ‘Mi Amigo’ left Spain, also heading for the same port as the Fredericia, to have a new aerial mast fitted. This came about as the result of an agreement with Allan Crawford which allowed Ronan O’Rahilly the use of Project Atlanta’s London studio to record programmes for Radio Caroline. During February and March both vessels underwent conversions at Greenore but Crawford’s ship was required to leave its berth and anchor in the harbour for a week (to make way for other freighters when her new aerial mast failed to arrive) which increased her refit time considerably. So the vessel to wait outside the ship yard while the MV Fredericia was converted into a radio ship. Work began to erect an aerial mast, and other conversion work was carried out under the supervision of Mr A. N. Thomas, an ex BBC employee. While the two ships were in the shipyard, equipment was removed from both ships by crew from each ship in an effort to gain an upper hand on each other. On 26th March the MV Fredericia left Greenore and sailed towards Felixstowe, Suffolk. Two days later the Mi Amigo left Greenore, heading towards the Thames Estuary. On 21st April a force eight gale blew up off Lands End, and a loud crack was heard, the 141 foot mast started to sway. The ship entered territorial waters and dropped anchor off Falmouth. The storm forced the Mi Amigo to enter Falmouth, and riggers from Portsmouth carried out repairs to the mast. On 23rd April the ship set sail again heading for Frinton on Sea, Essex. On 27th April the Mi Amigo arrived at Frinton on Sea and broadcast the programmes of Radio Atlanta. After the merger with Radio Caroline on July 2nd 1964 Alan Crawford and Project Atlanta continued to run the Caroline South ship Mi Amigo. On 2nd November the MV Mi Amigo changed anchorage, moving south into the Thames Estuary. While the signal into London improved the anchorage was so rough that records did not stay on the record decks. After a few days the original anchorage off Frinton was returned to.

On 20th January 1966 force eight storm was raging at 20:00 hours when Caroline closed down for the night. Around 22:30 hours the swivel rope controlling the three anchors broke, and the ship started to drift. It was snowing, and no one noticed the ship was drifting, Walton coast guard noticed the Mi Amigo was a drift and tried to contact the ship without any success. The tender Offshore One set sail, she managed to get along side the Mi Amigo, and it was only then the crew on board noticed the ship was drifting, and only yards from the beach. The Mi Amigo grounded at Holland Haven, on a stretch just big enough to take her. By 01:30 hours the Walton Lifesaving Apparatus Company had rigged a breeches buoy, and illuminated by flares, the broadcasting staff and ships crew were taken off. As daylight came onlookers could see just how lucky the Mi Amigo had been, either side of her were two groynes. At midnight the tug Titan put a five inch, eight hundred yard cable on the Mi Amigo and made many attempts to pull her free. On 21st January at 02:30 hours the Titan gave up after the cable broke. When daylight arrived the Captain decided to make his own attempt to free the ship, using the anchor in a technique known as kedging, he managed to refloat the ship. The ship anchored a mile offshore for divers to inspect the hull before sailing to Holland with the tug Titian in attendance. On 23rd January the Mi Amigo arrived in Zaandam (Netherlands), and was dry docked at Zaanlandse Scheepsbouw Maatschappij N.V. In February the Cheeta 2 ttok over the caroline South programmes. During the same month Philip Solomon joined as executive director to increase advertising, he was also managing director of Major Minor Records. On 5th April the Mi Amigo, fully overhauled, left Zaandam. On 16th April the vessel returned to her old anchorage.

On 3rd March 1968 the tug Titan had pulled alongside and ordered the station to close down. The duty engineer had tried to broadcast a message, but the microphone was wrenched from his hand, and he was locked in the lounge with the rest of the crew. The Mi Amigo was towed to Amsterdam arriving there on the next day. The Offshore Supply Company was owed £30,000 for tendering the ships, and thinking money was not forthcoming, had towed both Caroline ships to Amsterdam, and seized the ships as security. Attempts were made to get at least one ship to sea to resume broadcasting, an agreement was reached with the owners of the Oceaan VII to be used as a temporary replacement anchored off Frinton on Sea. It was hoped that broadcasts would start on 14th April, Easter Sunday. But, Newspapers, never knowing when to keep quiet, leaked the story. The owners of the Oceaan VII being told that if broadcasts commenced from the ship they would be summoned. The cost of getting both ships on air was estimated at £700,000 and at the time of the merger the companies were said to be worth £1,000,000. Running costs for both ships were about £28,000 a month, and advertising revenue was often about £50,000 a month.

On 29th May 1972 at a public auction held by R W Buis, N A, the MV Mi Amigo was sold to the Hofman Shipping Agency for 20,000 Guilders, who had bid for undisclosed clients (Rob Vermaat and Gerard van Dam). It was assumed the ship would be broken up, but the Dutch Free Radio Organisation announced that after lengthy discussions with the owners they had obtained use of the ship as a free radio museum. Work commenced on restoring the studios and the cabins, so that visitors could stay on the ship and use the studios. On 2nd September the Mi Amigo left her berth in Amsterdam, heading for England as there was a greater interest in a pirate radio museum, or so it was said. In the early hours of the next morning the Mi Amigo dropped anchor off Scheveningen. In the early hours of November 13th a force eleven storm hit the Dutch coast blowing down a third of all the trees, the Mi Amigo lost its anchor and the mast collapsed. On 30th November a make shift aerial was erected.

On 30th December Captain van der Kamp returned to the Mi Amigo on the tender Euro Trip, cut the anchor free and towed the ship to IJmuiden. He was refused permission to enter port and anchored offshore. Police boarded the ship demanding to see the Mi Amigo’s papers (she had none), and it appeared the ship was not registered. The owners of the Euro Trip (Roos) assured all concerned that they would pay all harbour fees, and the Mi Amigo was allowed to enter the port of Amsterdam. Dutch Radio Controle Dienst (Radio Control Services) boarded the ship, and because the transmitter was not complete, they did not seize the ship. The Scheepvaartinspectie (Dutch shipping inspector) also went on board and declared the ship unseaworthy, and could only leave the port of Amsterdam after all major repairs had been completed. Ronan O’Rahilly claimed that he had dismissed all the crew and staff, and called upon the Dutch Navy to intervene on the grounds of piracy on the high seas, his request was ignored. The Haarlem District Court granted an injunction against the owners of the Mi Amigo in favour of the Captain and crew, and ordered the ship impounded. On 1st January 1973 repairs were being carried out, and at 17:00 hours two tugs towed the Mi Amigo down the canal towards the sea. At IJmuiden the Scheepvaartinspectie stopped the ship and ordered a leak in the engine room to be repaired, giving the crew two hours to complete the job. At 22:00 hours Captain van der Kamp boarded the Mi Amigo and claimed her, meanwhile Ronan O’Rahilly had managed to obtain funds, and after several hours of talks the outstanding monies were handed over. On the next day the MV Mi Amigo was taken back to sea by Captain Jacob Taal. On 18th January at 23:50 hours the Mi Amigo broadcast a mayday “we have a fire in the engine room”, but by midnight it had been extinguished by those on board. It had been caused when oil in the bilge had been ignited by a spark from welding being carried out.

On 2nd April 1973 a hurricane force wind hit the Dutch coast and was reported to be the worst storm in living memory. The Mi Amigo rode out the storm with very few problems. During the night the Norderney (Radio Veronica) lost its anchor, drifted and at approximately 22:00 the Norderney grounded fifty yards off Scheveningen harbour. A new generator was taken on board the Mi Amigo, and two new studios were built for Veronica broadcasts from the vessel. With the money that came from hiring the ship to the Veronica organisation, a new mast was erected. On 1st October at 13:41 hours the mast collapsed, leaving a twenty-six foot section standing. On 4th October, after a makeshift aerial was erected, the station resumed broadcasting. On 18th October the makeshift aerial failed. Another new mast was constructed. On 23rd November five sections of nine sections of mast had been erected. But due to storm force winds could not be finished. On Christmas Eve the new 165 foot yellow painted mast was complete.

On 29th August 1974 Captain Koos van Laar in the boat Dolfijn towed The Mi Amigo to the English coast. The Dolfijn was owned by Delta Diving, which was owned by Captain Tom van de Linden – the man who carried out the bomb attack on the Radio Nordsee International ship Mebo II on 15th May 1971. On the next day the Mi Amigo dropped anchor eighteen miles from the Essex coast, near the Kentish Knock lightship.

On 8th November 1975 at 16:30 hours the anchor chain broke and the ship hit the treacherous Longsand Head Sands. At 19:55 hours the ship was refloated and adrift. At 22:03 hours the ship entered territorial waters. The coast guard were flooded with calls from listeners, but they had been tracking the events since the start and had alerted all emergency services that they might be called upon. About this time the engine on the MV Mi Amigo became unserviceable. On 9th November at 01:00 hours the emergency anchor used to hold the ship. At 16:00 hours the second emergency anchor used to hold the ship. The Mi Amigo had managed to hold her position close to South Edinburgh number 2 buoy. At 20:45 hours the lighthouse tender Mermaid confirmed the position, but considered the Mi Amigo a danger to shipping. On 13th November the Mi Amigo’s tender arrived and towed the ship half a mile north of South Edinburgh number 3 buoy. At 09:30 hours live non stop music returned. On the next day police and home office officials boarded the ship and entered the studios at 14:50 hours, a microphone was switched on and demands for the station to be switched off were heard. On 17th November at 02:30 hours the Mi Amigo contacted North Foreland Radio that the main anchor had been lost, and a spare had been put down. At 08:30 hours Margate life boat arrived and took two crew off, the captain was told no tug was available and was invited to return to shore, but the offer was refused. The Margate lifeboat returned to shore at Ramsgate, conditions were too rough at Margate. On 23rd November at 06:30 hours the Mi Amigo left the South Edinburgh channel and anchored at 51 39 42 North 01 31 52 East, seventeen miles off the Margate coast.

On 10th September 1976 a huge wave broke a port hole and a studio was flooded Programmes resumed by using another studio. At 20:30 hours during the force nine storm the anchor was lost and the ship started to drift. Lifeboats and RAF Manston were put on standby. On the next morning at 03:20 the station left the air, as the Mi Amigo was on a sandbank. The hull was holed in two places and there were six feet of water in some parts of the ship. The English DJs decided to stay, but the Dutch DJs and crew were taken off to Ostend, Belgium. They searched Ostend harbour and found an impounded oil tanker. On board were a large anchor and a chain which they removed during the night and took back to the MV Mi Amigo, where it served for thirteen years until the ship sank on 19th March 1990. On 16th September two tenders arrived with a relief crew and towed the ship clear of the sandbank.

On 18th January 1979 the MV Mi Amigo developed a serious leak. With the shortage of diesel oil and most of the generators not working, the intake of water soon became dangerous. On the next day a “Mayday” was broadcast on an international distress frequency (2182 Khz) and was answered by Thames coast guard. At 15:09 hours the Harwich lifeboat was launched. Three other ships stood by: the May Crest, the Sand Serin (a sand dredger) and the Cambrai. At 18:20 hours five people were taken off the ship. The first time the Mi Amigo had been abandoned while in open seas. On 20th January Peter Chicago went out to the Mi Amigo on a small trawler and managed to jump aboard. Later a salvage crew made up of “free radio supporters” boarded the ship and started to pump out the water from the Mi Amigo.

On 19th March 1980, during force ten storms, the anchor chain broke, and the Mi Amigo drifted for ten miles before running aground onto the Long Sand Bank The hull was damaged in the generator room. Water started to pour in. At 23:58 hours the Caroline theme was played for the last time, then DJ Stevie Gordon announced “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. Obviously we hope to be back with you as soon as possible, but we’d just like to assure you all on land that there’s nothing to worry about. We’re all quite safe. Just for the moment we’d like to say goodbye.” DJ Tom Anderson then continued “Yes it’s not a very good occasion really. I have to hurry this as the lifeboat is standing by. We’re not leaving and disappearing, we’re going onto the lifeboat hoping that the pump can take it. If they can, we’ll be back. If not, well I don’t like to say it. I think we will be back one way or another.” DJ Stevie Gordon continued “Yes I think so, From all of us, for the moment goodbye and God bless.” After standing by for three hours the coxswain of the Sheerness lifeboat insisted that the crew leave the ship as parts of the ship are waist deep in water. On the next day the Mi Amigo sank at 51 degrees 35 minutes North, 01 degrees 17 minutes 20 seconds East. Only the mast remained visible. Divers inspected the Mi Amigo and announced that the ship was distorting as it sank into the sand. On 22nd May Thanet Council announced plans to refloat the Mi Amigo and turn it into a tourist attraction in Ramsgate, Kent. But the Mi Amigo was left untouched. During the last week of July 1986 the mast on the MV Mi Amigo collapsed. On 2nd August Trinity House issued a notice (weekly edition 30) stating that the one-hundred and twenty-seven foot mast was no longer visible. On 13th September Trinity House issued an updated notice (weekly edition 36) stating that a can buoy is to be placed at the location of the wreck of the MV Mi Amigo.

John Platt added in March 2005: As of 2003 the Mi Amigo was resting on her port side, half buried in the sand. The hull is broken in two just forward of the bridge and the lower two sections of the mast were still attached to the hull, the rest are missing. The diver who gave me this information removed several objects from the wreck but would not tell me what.

He had responded to the item you put on your site regarding me needing the masts dimensions. He contacted me and asked what measurements did I need saying that he would try to get them for me the next time he dived the wreck. This he did but he gave me but he incorrectly measured the base of the mast, it took me two years to find this out.

The Mi Amigo is considered to be a difficult dive because of the manner in which the water moves there. At best, the wreck can only be dived twice a year and then only for a maximum of 20 minutes when the water is slack. Visibility is always only a matter of a couple of feet at best. The hull is relatively clean of marine growth due to the scouring effect of the sand lifted by the fast flowing water.

When a hole appeared in the hull, the usual procedure was to stop the inflow of water by whatever means. The wooden cradle was then built around the hole and filled with concrete. During one of the ships excursions onto a sand bank the old girl rested on her anchor chain which resulted in a neat line of, I believe 16 holes in the hull. These were filled as above and over time the number of these repairs increased to, again I believe a total of around 28.

When she visited her last sandbank, the motion of the ship moving up and down onto the sandbank knocked nearly all of the concrete blocks off and the water poured in. All the pumps were working but were unable to cope with the volume of water that was entering the ship, thus she was abandoned and sank. Take a look at my pictures of the model MI Amigo I am building. They are on the Yahoo “Radio Caroline Fan mailing list” in the section called “Files”. Open that and scroll down to the folder “JP’s model Mi Amigo and others” and they are in there.

Offshore radio stations: Radio Nord from 21st February 1961 (first tests) to 30th June 1962, Radio Atlanta from 9th May to 2nd July 1964, Radio Caroline South (International) from 3rd July 1964 to 3rd March 1968, sporadic tests from 5th September to 17th December 1972, Radio 199 from 18th December to 21st December 1972, Radio Caroline from 22nd December 1972 to 19th March 1980, Radio Veronica from 11th April to 20th April 1973, Radio Atlantis from 15th July to 18th October 1973, Radio Seagull from 24th July 1973 to 22nd February 1974, Radio Mi Amigo International from 28th December 1973 to 20th October 1978

Locations: International waters off Stockholm (Sweden), off Frinton-on-Sea (UK), off Scheveningen (Netherlands), in the Thamas Estuary near the Kentish Knock Lightship

Photo Rob Olthof