Given Newfoundland and Labradors connection to the sea you may be surprised to learn that of the nearly 5000 registered sites in this province, fewer than 100 are shipwrecks. This small number is likely the result of a number of factors. Most of the ships connected with our past were wooden and wooden ships generally do not preserve that well in our waters; unless they are quickly buried under mud and silt. The small number is also likely a function of out of sight, out of mind; most shipwrecks are under water and out of the sight if most people including archaeologists. Which brings me to another point, there are very few marine archaeologitsts in Newfoundland and Labrador.
In the case of the wreck of the Empire Energy it isn’t underwater and certainly isn’t out of sight, in fact it’s hard to miss.
The Empire Energy started out as the Grete; a 440 foot long, 6500 ton steam powered cargo ship that was constructed in Rostock, Germany in 1923. In 1932 she was bought by an Italian company and renamed the Gabbiano. In June, 1940 the Gabbiano was in Liverpool berthed near the British warship the HMS Glasgow when Italy declared war on the United Kingdom.
The British Admiralty ordered all Italian ships to be seized. Captain Harold Hickling of the Glasgow sent a boarding crew to the Gabbiano. The Gabbiano crew were completely taken by surprise. They were allowed to collect their personal belongings and were sent to be interned as enemy aliens. After being seized by the United Kingdom and given over to the war effort, the vessel was renamed a third time to the Empire Energy.
For the next 18 months the Empire Energy took part in several successful convoys ferrying cargo from various ports, including several in North America, back to the United Kingdom. On October 29th, 1941 she departed Sydney, Nova Scotia with a cargo of maize as part of Convoy SC 52 with more than 30 other ships. Shortly after leaving the convoy suffered a heavy U-boat attack, they circumnavigated Newfoundland and returned to Sydney on November 5th. Later that day the convoy departed again, this time the Empire Energy ran aground off Big Brook, Newfoundland. All of her crew survived but the ship never got off the rocks and was abandoned.