At 11am on Sunday, 30 March 1958, a radio enthusiast in Rush, County Dublin, heard the following:
“… ship sinking fast. Nobody aboard can swim … Bearing four-and-a-half miles north-east of the Kish lightship …”
The enthusiast contacted the civic guards, who contacted Howth and Clogherhead lifeboats. Within minutes, two lifeboats were in the water.
The distress call had also been picked up by Seaforth radio station – a maritime radio communications station – and a trawler in the English Channel. The trawler notified the maritime radio station in The Hague. Both The Hague and Seaforth alerted all shipping in the Irish Sea.
Soon, two British coasters, a French naval vessel and an Irish Air Corps aircraft joined the lifeboats.
But when they arrived at the location given in the distress call, they found only calm sea and a strange fog bank. There was no sinking ship - and no wreckage.
The searchers concentrated on this fog bank. And though the ships searched “every square inch of it,” they found no evidence that a ship had sank.
The search continued until 4pm, when Howth civic guards issued the following message: “Call off search. Message was hoax.” Seemingly, two 12-year-old boys had got on board a trawler in Howth Harbour and had some fun with the radio.
“This sort of thing happens quite often,” said Dr J E de Courcy-Ireland, honorary secretary of the Dun Laoghaire branch of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution. “Here in Dun Laoghaire we had four calls last year.”
There’s no reason to doubt the hoax explanation for this incident. But the mysterious fog bank at the location given by the boys was quite a coincidence.
Later that same year, there were a couple of incidents that weren’t so readily explained.
On Sunday, 5 October 1958, it was reported [I have no record of how it was reported] that a ship was on fire, 6 or 7 miles east of Tuskar Rock lighthouse. Rosslare lifeboat was launched, but the crew found only darkness when they arrived at the location given.
A ship called Ribble Head was in that area at the time. And four days later, Ribble Head picked up another distress call. It was an SOS in Morse code, repeated three times, with a 45 second dash after each repetition of the message.
Ribble Head attempted to find the origin of the signal, and Land’s End Radio asked all shipping in St George’s Channel and the Irish Sea to keep a lookout.
But nothing was found, and no ships were reported missing.
The Irish Times, 31 March 1958 & 10 October 1958