Shonas Wrecks - Llama

This page is an entry in Shonas Wreck Guide.


Name: Llama (Ex SS Brilliant)
Type: Oil Tanker
Built: 1890 by Armstrong, Mitchell & Co. of Newcastle
Tonnage 3189 Grt
Owners: Standard Oil Co, of New Jersey
Sunk: 31st Oct 1915 on Stack Skerry, Westray Firth, Orkney whilst on voyage from New York to Copenhagen

The Llama, a 3189 gross tonnage oil tanker, built in 1890 by Armstrong, Mitchell & Co. of Newcastle as the SS Brilliant, was originally owned by a German company, but was taken over by the goverment, renamed and run by Standard Oil of New Jersey, after being interned at the start of WW1.

During WW1 all ships going to and from Europe had to call into a British port to have the cargo checked as part of our blockade of Germany. On October 14, 1915, the Llama sailed from New York for Copenhagen with a cargo of oil, routed via Kirkwall that her papers might be examined.
On October 29 she was stopped by the British warship Virginia and was boarded by a lieutenant and four men, all armed, and her papers examined. The result was signalled to the Virginia and the lieutenant directed to proceed to Kirkwall, which was 400 miles to the east on the further side of the Orkneys, keeping to the northward of Sule Skerry and North Rona and not to pass between the islands at night.

The steamer arrived off Westray Firth, one passage between the islands, on the night of October 30. The next morning the Llama started on a course through Westray Firth but in a few hours struck a rock and was totally lost.

The Llamas anchor bell
Ships bell from the 'Llama'.

A series of court cases in the USA followed the sinking. the District Court initially ruled against the insurer, and the Standard Oil company won their case to recover costs of the the vessel and her cargo. However, the Insurer (the US Government) appealed against the decision in the Circuit Court of Appeals. The risks assumed by the insurer in the two policies included 'takings at sea, arrests, restraints and detainments of all Kings, princes, and peoples, of what nation, condition or quality soever, and all consequences of hostilities or war-like operations, whether before or after declaration of war.' The insurer argued that the loss of the vessel was due to a marine peril not covered by the policies and the original District Court decision was reversed in favour of the insurer.

A second appeal, launched by the Standard Oil Co in early 1925, claimed that at the time of the sinking, the vessel had passed out of the owner's control by a seizure within the policy and as the loss happened while the vessel thus was held by an adverse hand, it followed that the libelant must prevail. The court finally settled in favour of the Standard Oil Co, and awarded a figure of $115,000 to cover the loss of the vessel and $44,686.82 to cover the total loss of the freight, etc.

One of the Llamas portholes
Ships porthole from stern of 'Llama'.

Today, the wreck sits in 13 meters of water and is flattened from the atlantic swells that roll down the firth. The boilers and triple expansion engine are the highest parts, the rest of the ship is well broken, but lots of brass valves and pipes can be seen among the wreckage - evidence of her oil carrying past.

The vessel was stern-engined, and the boilers and collapsed engine mark the rear-most extent of the wreckage. Her stern post is clear to see just aft of her engine. A number of portholes and skylights can still be seen in her twisted hull plates around the boiler area, but most still firmly rivetted in place. Swimming forward from her three boilers over her kelpy remains, you'll pass scattered hull plates before finally get to her main anchor winch and remains of the bow, with her hawser pipes being the most noticeable feature. Somewhere around here should be her bell stanchion, with the remains of the bells tang still attached (this was found to be broken off when the bell was eventually found).

The ships steering wheel boss
Ships wheel boss from helm.