The TRICHONIS, formerly M/S MOTOL (1925-1978), was initially a bulk petroleum tanker. It came to the Greek seas in 1953 and served as a water transport for the Navy (from 1955 to 1976) and was then used as a floating target until its sinking.
The history of the ship
The auxiliary tanker MOTO was built at the Odero Italian shipyards in Genoa in May 1925 for the Societe Tunisienne pour les Transports de Carburants in Tunis.
(Source: Lloyd’s Ship Registry)
The company was founded on May 16, 1925 for the purpose of shipping oil to the French colony of Tunisia.
In October 1942, during WWII operations in the wider southern Italy/North Africa area, the MOTOL and three other ships sailed from Marseilles to the port of Sousse in Tunisia as part of a support fleet.
(Photos from Pierre Griffe’s book “Le Long Calvaire de l’Optimiste”)
Although scheduled to sail in early November, the local administration issued an order for the MOTOL and two other ships to block the entrance to the port, for fear of an American landing. However, the order was later rescinded.
The occupying Germans departed on the 11th of April 1943 and the remaining ships, including the MOTOL, were scuttled.
Aerial photo during US bombing of Sousse harbour (photo: Library of Congress)
On the 15th April 1943, when the English 8th Army entered the city, widespread destruction was seen. Following is a related video clip (the MOTOL is visible at 1: 05-1: 07 and 1: 36-1: 41):
Layout of the harbour detailing the positions of the ships (photo from Pierre Griffe’s book “Le Long Calvaire de l’Optimiste”)
After the liberation of Sousse, the MOTOL was recovered and returned to its owners. Unlike twenty-nine similar ships which remained on the seabed after the war, it resumed its fuel transportation duties along the Tunisian coast.
In 1953, the vessel was purchased by the Vernicos shipping company.
The person behind the lifebuoy in the centre of the photograph is probably Alexander Vernikos (photo: Vernicu archive)
In 1955, the MOTOL was purchased by the Greek State and delivered to the Navy. It then started its service as the TRICHONIS, supplying water to various Greek islands. It was the only water carrier in the Greek Navy at that time.
Captain P. Mathios, in 1970 as a flagship, on the ship’s bridge (photo: Panteli Mathiou archive)
The TRICHONIS was decommissioned on the 16th December of 1976, and was later used as an Air Force training target until it finally sank in 1978.
The story of the wreck was based on data from the books “Le Long Calvaire de l’Optimiste: The Vapeur de Sauvetage, Récit Historique du Port de Sousse dans la tourmente 1942-1943” (by Pierre Griffe), “Navy Ships 1826-2017” (By Elias Daloumi), data from the Miramar Ship Index and completed with useful information and tips by Aris Bilalis.
[*] Ross J. Robertson is an Australian who has lived in Greece for the past thirty years. He has a BSc (Biology) and is an EFL teacher. He is the co-owner of two private English Language Schools and instructs students studying for Michigan and Cambridge University English Language examinations. He has written various English Language Teaching books for the Hellenic American Union (Greece), Longman-Pearson (UK) and Macmillan Education (UK). He published his debut novel (fiction/humour) entitled ‘Spiked! Read Responsibly’ in 2016. Moreover, he has written several spec screenplays and a number of newspaper articles, including an extensive series on the 75th anniversary of the WWII Liberation of Greece. A keen AOW and Nitrox diver, he is also a shipwreck and research enthusiast and has written features for UK Diver Magazine, US Diver and the Australian newspaper, Neos Kosmos. Ross continues to combine his expertise in English with his love of storytelling and local WWII history to produce exciting materials.