The Umtata was a steam freighter of 8,141 tons built in 1935 by the Swan, Hunter & Wigham Richardson Limited builders of Walker-on-Tyne, England. Owned by the Natal Line (Bullard King & Company Limited of London, to which port she was registered), Umtata was named for a city in the Eastern Cape region of South Africa (Barnette, Vol. 1, p.248). Her dimensions were 451.3 feet by 61.3 feet long and wide. She had made infamy earlier in the war in an incident which made her an easier target later, as she was under tow when sunk the second time. On March 10th 1942 U-161 under Albrecht Achilles (the same officer who had penetrated Trinidad’s Gulf of Praia earlier in the year), entered the narrow confines of Castries, Saint Lucia and sank both the Umtata and the Lady Nelson – a Canadian passenger liner – at their berths. The audacious and unrepeated attack killed 4 persons on board out of the 173 persons on board.
Umtata was raised on the 2nd of May that year, slavaged and temporarily repaired. In order to effect permanent repairs she was towed by the US-owned tug Edmund J. Moran from St. Lucia for Port Everglades via Key West, stopping en route in San Juan Puerto Rico and presumably utilizing the Old Bahama Channel. Umtata’s cargo was 2,000 tons of mineral ore and she and her crew of 92 persons were under the command of Captain R. Own Jones. On the 7thof July 1942 U-571 under Helmut Mohlmann found Umtata and her tug northeast of Key West at the beginning of the Straits of Florida, and placed a torpedo into her, despite a US Navy escort of three ships.
“Ignoring the presence of the enemy warships, Kapitanleutnant Mohlmann and the U-571 moved not position as the convoy approached Miami and fired a torpedo at the Umtata at 2:00 a.m. ..James A. Jolly was radio officer on board the Edmond J. Moran, and he related: ‘…the German submarine waited until the escort, in its circle around us, was on our land side. The submarines then torpedoed the Umtata, It was the middle of the night The captain ordered the tow line to be cut so that the sinking Umtata would not drag the tug down with it.” (Barnette, Vol. 1, p.248). The position was given at 25.35N/80.02W or four miles east of Fowey Rocks near the base of the Keys, however according to Jolly the lights of Miami were silhouetting the ship and so she may have been further north. All 92 members of the crew were rescued by the Edmond J. Moran within four hours and were transferred to the USS Thetis (WPC 115), which landed them at Miami that day (Uboat.net, Ibid.).