Ever since the early days of the 19th century, the Falkland Islands have always had a shipping service both within the archipelago and also to neighbouring countries such as Uruguay and Chile.
The Fitzroy operated during the years of World War II when she was the only vessel to maintain communications with the islands. Between the years from 1936 until 1967, various vessels were used for cargo and passenger carrying within the Falklands, and from and to Montevideo and Punta Arenas. The SS Perth, used as a rescue ship in the North Sea, renamed the Lafonia, lasted only four years in the Falklands before being re-sold by the Government.
In 1948, a coastal vessel, the MV Philomel, arrived in the colony, and for nearly 20 years she worked around the Falklands carrying cargo. In 1957, delivery was made of a new vessel, the 1,792 ton steamship Darwin, built at a cost of over £250,000. She operated mainly between Stanley and Montevideo carrying large quantities of wool shipments, and was finally withdrawn from service in 1972.
In 1972, the Falklands Islands Government took delivery of the small coaster Monsunen for coastal supply work around the islands. In 1966, the Government decided to replace the Philomel with a more modern vessel capable of carrying larger cargoes. Thus the MV Forrest, built by James W Cook & Co (Wivenhoe) Ltd, Essex, came into being in 1967 for the government of the Falkland Islands.
Her hull form was developed by the shipbuilders to give the best possible sea boat for the very heavy sea conditions experienced around the islands. Her dimensions were 86’ x 22’ x 10’9” on a loaded draught of, and hold capacity of 5,700 cu ft. She was powered by a Kelvin TSM8 8 cylinder four stroke, single-acting diesel propulsion, which also drove two 1680-w 24-v generators. The engine was capable of 320 bhp and had a service speed of 9 knots. The Forrest was named as a tribute to Dr W Forrest McWhan, Minister of the Islands’ Tabernacle (United Free Church) from 1934 to 1965, who earned the affection of the local community.
The Forrest arrived in the Falklands on its own, on November 8th 1968, after a 37-day journey from England. Almost a month later, on 1st December 1968, having been commissioned by the Falkland government, she began her cargo transport service between the most distant settlements of the insular territory, distributing large amounts of fuel, and large numbers of animals on her deck.
THE FALKLANDS WAR
0n Friday 2nd April 1982, Argentina invaded and occupied the Falkland Islands in an attempt to establish the sovereignty it had claimed over them. The British government duly responded to the invasion of a territory that had been a Crown colony since 1841. The Forrest was involved in the war both by the British and the Argentine governments. In the years just prior to the invasion of 1982, the Forrest was used by the Royal Marines detachment 8901 to patrol the outer islands, and to provide military training to the settlement volunteers to ensure that no illegal landings took place.
On 3rd March 1982, she was dispatched to keep radar watch over the waters around Port William to the north, and in the early hours, reported sightings of the enemy and a large fleet that was manoeuvring off Cape Pembroke. Early in the conflict, the Forrest was taken over by the Argentine navy under the command of Lieutenant Rafael Gustavo Molini.
When boarded, the British captain, Jack Sollis, showed the Argentine commander the operational aspects of the engine controls; though he declined an offer to remain with the ship,explaining that he wished to remain ashore with his family. On taking over the ship, the Lieutentant Milini’s first act was to change the colour of the ship’s hull profile to a totally black scheme, doing away with the previous white bridge and red funnel.
On returning from one of her supply missions, and being anchored north of Punta Celebrona along with the Coast Guard escort vessel Islas Malvinas, both ships came under fire from a British Sea Lynx helicopter which had been on observation tasks. Return fire was made from the Forrest with her Browning M2 12.7mm machine gun. The Forrest was damaged, not too severely, on the bridge structure; mainly broken windows and with no casualties. The Islas Malvinas took most of the impact with some injuries to her crew members. Both ships returned safely to Puerto Argentina for medical assistance and ship repairs.
During her period under Argentine Command, the Forrest carried out a multitude of tasks, a few of which are listed as follows:-
- Supply of food and armaments to garrisons of Bourbon Island, Darwin, Goose Green and Puerto Miter
- Nightly practice for hospital ships ARA Almirante Irizar and ARA Bahia Paraiso
- Coastal exploration and patrol
- Transportation of troops
- Towing of smaller vessels
- Search and rescue of castaways and corpses.
These missions were carried out with the greatest of courage and skill of the Commander Molini and his crew.
The danger was always there of being detected and attacked by British aircraft. Little could be done in the event of this happening as the ship was only armed with light machine guns. To avoid the danger of being detected, most of the operations were carried out working close in to the coast and only using essential radio and radar. As the British Forces advance continued, and after the re-capture of Darwin and Goose Green, the Forrest was confined to patrol and pilotage tasks in the sea area around Puerto Argentino.