Category Archives: Historic Ships

Remembering Canada’s Titanic, Cruise Ships Sunk Harland & Wolff Financial Troubles

RMS Empress of Ireland 1908
Photo:Public Domain (Library and Archives Canada / PA-116389)

Remembering Canada’s Own Titanic-Like Maritime Disaster (TVO today, 15 Aug 2022)

I’m also willing to bet that almost none of you knows that two years later, on May 29, 1914, a similar passenger ship called the Empress of Ireland suffered a similar fate in the St. Lawrence River, in Canada, causing the deaths of nearly 1,000 souls.  Why are we so familiar with one tale, while we know next to nothing about the other? Maybe because Titanic was on its maiden voyage, and the Empress had nearly 200 missions to its credit. But I can spend the next several paragraphs trying to rectify the situation.

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Costa Concordia, 12 Feb 2012
Horacio Arevalo via Wikimedia Commons
The Costa Concordia was righted, re-floated, and sent to Genoa where it was scrapped. All that remains are the surviving lifeboats now on other vessels. The area it sank had to cleaned up to prevent environmental damage.

How Many Cruise Ships Have Sunk? (Cruise Mummy, 15 Aug 2022)

Within the last 100 years, only 10 cruise ships have sunk, if you include river cruises. Almost 900 people have died in these incidents but around half of those can be attributed to one river cruise ship sinking. Many of the incidents involved no loss of life at all. Arguably the most famous cruise ship sinking in the last 100 years is that of the Costa Concordia. She sank in 2012 and is the only modern major ocean cruise ship serving passengers from around the world to have sunk during a cruise.

(I suspect they will get lots of email on this-MT)

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Harland & Wolff David and Goliath crane in Belfast, 2006
Plastic Jesus (Dave) via Wikimedia Commons

Harland & Wolff Reports £25.5m Loss As Expenses From Growth Swell (MSN, 16 Aug 2022)

Shipbuilder Harland and Wolff has reported a widened pre-tax loss of £25.5m as expenses swelled during its Covid-19 recovery. It added that it had £20m in future contracted revenue. More recently, outside of the reported period, Harland and Wolff has struck two deals – worth £8.5m and £10m – with waste management company Cory Group and its subsidiary Riverside Energy Park to build barges for transporting waste on the River Thames. Bosses said the company had made an operating loss of £22.3m (up from £9.1m in July 2020). Chief executive John Wood said the company had gone from a “one-project non-revenue generating” company to having “one of the largest” fabrication footprints in the UK.

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Treasures That Survived From Titanic, And Today Are Worth A Fortune (MSN, 16 Aug 2022)

Slideshow of many Titanic items that survived the sinking and their astronomical value.

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Poster Advertising Vinolia Otto Soap for Titanic
Image: Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Reality of Bathroom Accommodations on the ‘Titanic’ Show How Much Times Have Changed (MSN, 18 Aug 2022)

For example, did you know that there were only two bathtubs on the ship for first class passengers to use, one for men and one for women? And that this was considered a big deal, since most ships didn’t have any bathtubs on board at all?  Most of the first-class passengers didn’t even get to have their own private bathrooms, since those were reserved for the wealthiest people on the ship.

[The article does not quite explain that first and second class, they did have their own sinks to wash up . There were showers available but, to conserve water, the use of bathtubs was limited so you had to reserve them in advance. It was considered a luxury to have two bathtubs. Even today cruise ships use showers rather than bathtubs to conserve water. Pity the poor stewards that had to clean the bathtubs after every use or make sure the water tanks were filled in the first- and second-class suites so that people had hot and cold running water in their basins. MT]

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Image: Duncan Harris via Wikimedia Commons

New Theory Argues That It Wasn’t The Iceberg That Caused The Titanic’s Demise (25 Entertainment.ie, 16Aug 2022)

The theory of a fire on board had been suggested in the past, but new analysis of rarely seen photographs has prompted researchers to attribute the fire to being the primary cause of the ship’s demise. Irish journalist Senan Molony, who has spent more than 30 years researching the sinking of the Titanic, studied photographs taken by the ship’s chief electrical engineers before it left Belfast shipyard. He identified 30-foot-long black marks along the front right-hand side of the hull which suggest this area was damaged before the iceberg struck the ship’s lining.

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Public Domain

The True Story Behind Titanic’s Priest (He’s A Real Life Hero) (Screen Rant, 20 Aug 2022)

Thomas Byles was played by James Lancaster in Titanic, and he only appears in one scene, and it’s a very brief appearance. In it, Byles is seen reciting the Rosary and Revelations 21:4, while many passengers prayed with him and held his hand. Unfortunately, Titanic failed to show Byles’ heroic acts in helping save the lives of many third-class passengers and instead left that to Jack, Tommy, and Fabrizio, who broke their fellow third-class passengers free when they were locked by the ship’s security guards.

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‘Minnesota’s Titanic’: The Sea Wing disaster killed 98, yet the tragedy remains little known (Inforum, 23 Aug 2022)

On July 13, 1890, the steamer Sea Wing was returning from a carnival-like day at a military encampment when it capsized from a sudden and violent storm. Many of the excursionists made the understandable but fateful decision to retreat to the ship’s passenger cabin for protection. When the ship flipped over, they were trapped inside the upside-down boat and drowned. Ninety eight passengers – nearly half of the people on board – died as they were tossed into or submerged in the churning waters. The sense of tragedy was accentuated by the fact that the day had begun so promisingly: a pleasure cruise down the Mississippi River from Diamond Bluff to a National Guard encampment at Camp Lakeview near Lake City.

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Remembering History: The Sinking of the Andrea Doria (26 July 1956)

SS Andrea Doria
SS Andrea Doria
Circa 1953-1956
Unknown photographer
Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

On the night of 25 July 1956 the passenger liner Andrea Doria would collide with the Swedish passenger liner Stockholmoff Nantucket resulting in 51 deaths. It also resulted in one of the largest maritime rescues in modern history.

The Andrea Doria was considered one of the most beautiful of her day, She was not a large ship at 697 feet nor the fastest of the time. With three outdoor swimming pools, paintings and murals that got her dubbed a “floating art gallery,” many passengers loved traveling aboard her. The Andrea Doria had radar and with 11 watertight compartments was considered safe. Its captain, Piero Calamai, was highly regarded mariner and veteran of two world wars. The Doria was returning from Europe having departed Italy on 17 July, was after making some stops, on its way to New York. It would be its 101sttransatlantic crossing.

Aboard the ship were 1,134 passengers that were a varied lot of business travelers, those vacationing, and Italian immigrants. A crew of 572 was aboard making it a total of 1, 706 people aboard the Andrea Doria. The ship’s crew was used to the transatlantic voyages and thought nothing would be any different this time. The sea lanes off the Northeast coast of the United States are heavily trafficked, so most crews are good about watching for other vessels, Radar made that much easier for ships as they would detect another ship even if there was heavy fog. The Swedish passenger liner Stockholm, returning to its home port of Gothenburg, had departed earlier that day from New York. Both ships were coming in opposite directions off Nantucket.

There was heavy fog, but Captain Calamai did not reduce speed that much so as to stay on schedule. The Stockholm was actually steaming north of the recommended eastbound route hoping to cut down its journey time home. Neither ship was following established rules as they approached each other at around 22:30 (10:30 p.m.). Around 22:45 (10:45 p.m.) the Andrea Doria picked up a blip on its radar that was the Stockholm. Third Officer Johan-Ernst Carstens-Johannsen was the watch officer on the Stockholm and picked up the Doria on its own radar as well. Carstens plotted a course that would have the Stockholm pass the Doria port-to-port. Captain Calamai on the Doria decided on a starboard-to-starboard maneuver. However, one of them misread the radar and steered his ship toward the other.

At 23:10 (11:15 p.m.) Captain Calamai spotted the Stockholm’s lights through the fog. A bridge officer shouted the ship was coming at them. Calamai ordered a hard left turn to outrun the Stockholm. Carstens once he saw the Doria attempted to reverse propellers and slow down but it was too late. The Stockholm crashed into the starboard side of the Doria like a battering ram penetrating 30 feet in the hull snapping bulkheads. When it broke loose, it left a large gaping hole in the Andrea Doria. Passengers on the Doria felt a huge jolt followed by the sound of clanging metal. An orchestra in one of the lounges were thrown from the stage by the force of the crash.

Five perished on the Stockholm and forty-six on the Andrea Doria. One Italian immigrant with her children were killed. One man saw the exterior wall of his room was sheared off and his wife, in the bed next to him, gone. One famous story concerns Linda Morgan. The crash killed her stepfather and stepsister, but Morgan’s bed had been lifted and thrown into the Stockholm. Her only injury was a broken arm.

The Stockholm was damaged but not in danger of sinking. The Andrea Doria was another matter. The Doria suffered critical and was listing 20 degrees starboard allowing seawater to spill through the watertight compartments. There was nothing that could be done so Captain Calamai had to abandon ship. However the list was so bad that the eight portside lifeboats could not be launched. The one starboard side craft remaining could only carry 1,000 people. Radio calls went out at once asking for help from any nearby ships.

“Need lifeboats-as many as possible–can’t use our lifeboats.”

The Stockholm took on passengers but others in the area soon answered the call. A small freighter Cape Ann arrived at 00:30 (12:30 a.m.)  Two U.S. Navy ships arrived as well. Finally, the Ile de France, a massive ocean liner, arrived beside the Doria. With its floodlights it lit up the darkness and began making rescues with its lifeboats. Aboard the Doria, it was quite dangerous. Some passengers were trapped in their cabins and many had to brave smoke-filled hallways and knee-deep water to get to the main deck. The list though had turned the main deck into a steep and slippery slope.  Many had to slide down on the starboard side to get to the lifeboats. The rescue was a massive undertaking and took several hours until by 05:30 (5:30 a.m.)

753 were aboard the Ile de France and everyone else scattered on the four other ships and Stockhold. Captain Calamai was the last to leave and seemed initially to want to go down with his ship. The last lifeboat with crew on it, refused to leave him behind. The rescue fleet then made its way to New York. The Andrea Doria capsized, flooded, and sank at 10:09 (10:09 a.m.). Investigations began right away with both ship owners accusing the other of being responsible. Depositions and court testimony had begun but a court trial was averted with an out of court settlement. Both shipowners contributed to a settlement fund for the victims and absorbed costs of their own damages. The Stockholmwas repaired and put back into service, The owners of the Italian line had to absorb the $30 million loss of the Andrea Doria.

A U.S. Congressional hearing later heard testimony from a variety of experts, witnesses, and survivors. It provided some determination though to this day arguments as to who was responsible and other factors in the sinking remain debated. Everyone agrees that heavy fog played a critical factor in what happened. Other factors that played a role are cited as follows:

  • The failure of the Andrea Doria’s officers to follow proper radar procedures or accurately plot using the chartroom equipment to correctly determine its position and that of the other ship. This would have led them to determine the Stockholm’s correct speed and course.
  • The Andrea Doria was traveling too fast in heavy fog. This was a common practice but violated navigation rules which required speed reduction in these circumstances. In these instance, speed would have been reduced substantially or to completely stop in heavy fog.
  • The ballast of the Andrea Doria was not properly maintained. The fuel tanks were half empty and had no seawater pumped in to make up for the spent fuel. This resulted in a greater list and also violated the Italian line’s directives on this issue. Also the greater list rendered the lifeboats on the port side inoperable.
  • A missing watertight door may have contributed to its sinking as well by letting in more water.
  • The navigation officer on the Stockholm misread the radar thinking he was 15 miles away but instead 5 miles. He also failed to get guidance from a senior officer as required by liner rules. Also this was his first time working the watch alone on a passenger liner.

Captain Piero Calamai would retire and never command a ship at sea again. He used to love the sea but after the sinking hated it. He was vilified for his role in the tragedy. He died in 1972 but sadly never learned that his role in the disaster had undergone a major retrofit. Based on the reconstruction of events by retired US Naval engineer John C. Carrothers, it was determined that the Stockholm’s Third Officer was responsible. A letter to this effect had been sent to him by Carrothers but he died and was never read by him.

In the aftermath of the collision, several rule changes were made so such a tragedy could not occur again. Since radar played a prominent role, shipping lines had to improve training so operators of this equipment could accurately determine the correct distance a ship or other object was on the screen. Rather than rely exclusively on radar equipment, radio contact between approaching ships were required. And new guidance was given to avoid a head-on situation, to turn starboard (right). The sinking of the Andrea Doria was the worst maritime disaster in territorial waters since the Eastland sank in the Chicago River in 1915.

Today the wreck lies in 160 feet of water putting it out of the reach of recreational divers. Many professionals have dived down and come back with pictures of the wreck. Even then, diving to this wreck requires both skill and precision since it requires a mixture of gasses and staged decompression. While initial dives early after its demise showed it in mostly good condition, in recent years the decay has become pronounced and in poor condition. Also due to the difficulties of diving to and from the wreck, 22 divers have died between 1956-2017.

Sources

Remembering the Tragic Sinking of the General Slocum (15 June 1904)

General Slocum, date and author unknown.
Image:Public Domain (National Archives)

On 15 June 1904 the PS General Slocum was taking was taking members of the St. Mark’s Evangelical Church to a church picnic. It was supposed to be a wonderful outing for all, and many children were aboard. Fire broke out, most likely in the Lamp Room, and then spread. Due to inadequate safety inspections, failure of Knickerbocker Steamship Company to maintain safety standards, and the ship’s captain, the safety equipment aboard was completely unusable. Ship hoses could not function due to age, most life preservers were so old they fell apart or were weighted inside, and lifeboats were inaccessible. An estimated 1,021 of the 1,342 passengers perished in the tragedy mostly from drowning. It was the single worst loss of life in New York City history until the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

Sadly, many who died were children though sometimes parents or members of the extended family also perished. Some victims were never identified because there was no one living to do so. The funeral procession of the dead was witnessed by many, and the small coffins caused many to cry. One notable incident was a man accompanied by his wife carrying a small coffin under his arms. He could not afford a funeral wagon and so was walking to the cemetery. Fortunately, a man delivering flowers offered him a ride.

The subsequent investigation revealed the poor state of safety equipment on General Slocum. The company laid the blame on Captain Van Schaick and the government inspectors for failing in their duties (who were likely bribed). It would lead to reorganization of the government agency responsible and tighter accountability of ship owners to safety regulations. Today that function is handled by the U.S. Coast Guard and the United States has one the toughest maritime safety regulations in the world.

General Slocum Memorial Tompkins Square Park, Manhattan, New York City
Image:Public Domain (Wikipedia)

 

The Knickerbocker Steamship Company was fined, and Captain Van Schaick would be imprisoned for several years. He was paroled in 1911 and in 1912 President Taft pardoned him. Many believed, although he was captain of General Slocum, the company was ultimately responsible for the tragedy. St. Mark’s Evangelical Church was part of the Little Germany community in New York. The loss brought many together to help the church and its members. However, as people began to move away from the area, the Germans that had made up its base went with it. The church closed and is now a synagogue. A stone memorial to the victims of the General Slocum is at Tompkins Square Park on Manhattan. Today there are those that get together to remember this terrible event in New York City history. Sadly, all the survivors have passed away, the last one in 2004.

The movie Manhattan Melodrama (1934), which stars a young Clark Gable, has as its opening moments the events of the General Slocum which sets in motion the lives of the two characters the movie depicts. Not a bad movie for its time and worth looking at if you have the opportunity.

A memorial plaque placed near the former church of St. Mark’s on the centennial of disaster states:

This is the site of the former St. Mark’s Evangelical Lutheran Church (1857–1940) a mostly German immigrant parish. On Wednesday, June 15, 1904, the church chartered the excursion steamer, GENERAL SLOCUM, to take the members on the 17th annual Sunday school picnic. The steamer sailed up the East River, with some 1400 passengers aboard, when it entered the infamous Hell Gate passage, caught fire and was beached and sank on North Brother Island. It is estimated 1200 people lost their lives, mostly woman and children, dying within yards of the Bronx shore.

The GENERAL SLOCUM had been certified by the U.S. Steam boat Inspection Service to safely carry 2500 passengers five weeks before the disaster. An investigation after the fire and sinking found the lifeboats were wired and glued with paint to the deck, life jackets fell apart with age, fire hoses burst under water pressure, and the crew never had a fire drill. Until the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, the Slocum disaster had been the largest fire fatality in New York City’s history.

Dedicated Sunday, June 13, 2004, by the Steam Centennial Committee.

The Maritime Industry Museum

SUNY-Maritime College, Fort Schulyer, The Bronx, NY


Remembering the Empress of Ireland (29 May 1914)

 RMS Empress of Ireland 1908 Photo:Public Domain (Library and Archives Canada / PA-116389)
RMS Empress of Ireland 1908
Photo:Public Domain (Library and Archives Canada / PA-116389)

The Titanic disaster of 1912 was still making waves when on 29 May 1914, the RMS Empress of Ireland collided with the Norwegian coal freighter Storstad in the Saint Louis River at  Pointe-au-Père, Quebec. It occurred around 0200 in the morning. Storstad hit the starboard side, causing severe damage. Empress began to list and quickly fill with water. Portholes had not been secured before leaving port so many were open (many passengers complained of poor ventilation) so that allowed a lot of water to enter. Many in the lower decks drowned from water coming in from the open portholes.

Also failure to close the watertight doors led to the quick sinking. Three lifeboats were launched quickly with passengers and crew that were in the upper deck cabins able to get away but as the ship listed further starboard, the other lifeboats could not be used. Ten minutes after the collision, Empress lurched violently on the starboard side allowing 700 passengers and crew to crawl out of portholes and decks on her side. Then 15 minutes later, after it briefly looked like she might have run aground, the hull sank dumping all the people left on her into the icy water. When the final tally was done, 1,012 people lost there lives. 465 survived. Many on the starboard side where asleep and likely drowned in their cabins.

The official enquiry, which began on 16 June 1914, was headed by Lord Mersey who had previously headed the British Titanic enquiry (he would also lead up the enquiry into Lusitania later). Two very different accounts emerged of the collision from the Storstad and Empress. At the end of the day, the commission determined that when Storstad changed course, it caused the collision. The Norwegians did not accept the verdict and held their own enquiry which exonerated the captain and crew of the Storstad. Canadian Pacific, which owned the now sunk Empress of Ireland, pursued a legal claim and won. The Norwegian owners countersued but in the end the liabilities forced them to sell Storstad to put money in the trust funds.

What happened to Empress, though not receiving the same attention as Titanic, was to change ship design. The reverse slanting bow was dangerous in ship-to-ship collisions resulting in below the waterline damage. Bows were redesigned so the energy of the collision would be minimized below the surface. Longitudinal bulkheads were discontinued as they trapped water beneath them causing the ship to list and capsizing. Needless to say portholes were to be secured from that point on (in fact nearly all cruise ships use decoratives that can never be opened). The wreck today has been salvaged many times and is now the only underwater historic site in Canada. The wreck is in shallow water (130 feet) but is notably dangerous dive due to the cold waters, currents, and often impaired visibility.

Sources:
1. The Empress Of Ireland Was Canada’s Titanic(2 Jul 2013, Niagarathisweek.com)

2. RMS Empress of Ireland(Wikipedia)

3. Royal Alberta Museum Online: The Empress of Ireland

 

 

Remembering History: Sinking of Lusitania (7 May 1915)

RMS Lusitania Coming Into Port (circa 1907-1913)
George Grantham Bain Collection, US Library of Congress, Digital Id cph.3g13287.
Public Domain

On 7 May 1915, the Cunard liner RMS Lusitania sailing from New York to Liverpool was torpedoed off Ireland and sank within 18 minutes. Of the 1,959 passengers and crew aboard, only 761 would survive. 128 of the passengers were American.

World War II had begun in 1914 between Britain, France, and Russia (including Belgium, Italy, Portugal, and Serbia) and Germany, Austria Hungary, and Turkey (then called Ottoman Empire). The United States, under President Woodrow Wilson, declared neutrality. Since the U.S. was a major trading partner with Britain, problems arose when Germany tried to quarantine the British Isles using mines.  Several American ships ended up being damaged or sunk as a result. In February 1915, Germany declared unrestricted submarine warfare around British waters. This meant any ship entering these waters were subject to being attacked and sunk by German forces.

To make this very clear, the German embassy in Washington had advertisements run in New York newspapers in early May 1915 that Americans traveling on British or Allied ships in war zones did so at their own risk. In one case, the announcement was on the same page as advertisement of the Lusitania sailing from New York to Liverpool.

Warning issued by Imperial German Embassy in Washington about travelling on RMS Lusitania.
Author Unknown
Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons

The British Admiralty issued warnings, due to merchant ships being sunk off the south coast of Ireland, to ships to avoid the area or take evasive action (zigzagging was advised). The British objected by pointing out that threatening to torpedo all ships was wrong, whether announced in advance or not. During her construction, subsidized by the British government, it was done with the proviso she could be converted to an armed merchant cruiser.

A compartment was also installed to for the purposes of carrying arms and ammunition if it were needed. Gun mounts were installed for deck cannons, but they were not installed. At the time of her sinking, she was not operating in any official capacity as an armed merchant cruiser. The Germans suspected the ship was being used to transport munitions and her repainting to a grey color was an attempt to disguise her (it was, but to make it harder to spot from a periscope).

The Lusitania was one of the fastest liners on the Atlantic capable of 25 knots (29 mph) with many refinements. With lifts, the wireless telegraph, electric lights, and more passenger space (and more sumptuous accomodations), traveling on the Lusitania or her sister ships Aquitania and Maurentania was considered a good experience by seasoned travelers. The fact that she traveled so fast makes it likely it was simply being in the right place and the right time for the German U-boat. She could not possibly have caught the speedy vessel otherwise (there are arguments about what speed Lusitania was doing at this time off Ireland).

Engraving of Lusitania Sinking by Norman Wilkinson, The Illustrated London News, May 15, 1915
Public Domain(Wikimedia)

Captain William Turner did not use zigzagging while in the area (many argue that it does not really work). The commanding officer of the U-boat,  Walther Schwieger, ordered one torpedo fired around 14:10 (2:10 pm). It struck the Lusitania on the starboard bow. A second explosion within the ship occurred and the ship began to founder starboard quickly. While the crew tried to launch the lifeboats, the severe list made it difficult and impossible in many cases. Only six of the forty-eight lifeboats would be launched. The ship sank in 18 minutes taking with her 1, 198 souls. Of the 764 that did survive (and that is a heroic tale of itself), three would die later from wounds sustained from the sinking. Though close to the coast, it would be some time before assistance arrived. Local fishing ships were the first to provide assistance, and later the naval patrol boat Heron. Other small ships provided assistance as well.

Aftermath

The sinking provoked international fury at Germany. Germany defended its actions saying the ship had been carrying contraband and was an armed auxiliary military cruiser. The reaction within Germany, Austria-Hungary and Turkey was criticism of the sinking. The German government tried to defend the sinking, even though she was not armed, by saying she was carrying contraband and they had warned this would happen. The official statements did not go over well in the United States or in Britain. Editorials in newspapers denounced what Germany had done calling for more to bring them to heel. It was hotly debated within the Wilson administration what to do. Wilson condemned what Germany had done but internally but William Jennings Bryan, the Secretary of State, argued for trying to convince both Britain and Germany to ratchet down some of the actions that had led to Lusitania sinking. Bryan was antiwar and like many did not want the U.S. getting involved in the European war.

President Wilson would send three notes to Germany that made his position clear on the issue. First he said that Americans had the right to travel on merchant ships and for Germany to abandon submarine warfare on such vessels. Second, he rejected German arguments about Lusitania. This note caused Bryan to resign and was replaced by Robert Lansing. The third note was a warning that any subsequent sinkings would be “deliberately unfriendly.” That last one made it clear America’s position on the matter. While many wanted to stay out of the war, if the Germans did do it again they likely would find themselves at war with them.

The British government and press were not happy with Wilson over these notes. He was widely castigated and sneered. The reality was that American public opinion was not in favor of war. Wilson knew this and hoped Germany would stop attacking merchant vessels. There was some attempt within the German government to forbid action against neutral ships, which did curtail unrestricted submarine warfare for a while. British merchant ships were targeted, neutral ships treated differently (boarded and searched for war materials), and passenger ships left alone. But in 1917, Germany announced it would resume unrestricted submarine warfare. Wilson was furious and began preparations for war with Germany.

Sources:

History.com
The Lusitania Resource


Remembering the Sultana (27 April 1865)

“Sultana” at Helena, Arkansas, just prior to its explosion on April 27, 1865.
Photo: Public Domain (U.S. Library of Congress, digital id#cph.3a48909)

On 27 April 1865 the steamboat Sultana carrying recently released Union army prisoners of war exploded on the Mississippi River resulting in 1800 deaths. It is regarded as one of the worst maritime disasters in U.S. history.

The steamboat was already in dire need of repairs before it departed on 24 April from Vicksburg, Mississippi. Sultana’s captain and part owner, J. Cass Mason, was told a proper repair would take days. However, the War Department was paying $5 for every enlisted man and $10 for each officer. Not wanting to miss a big payday, Mason ordered temporary patches and filled the steamboat with as many officers and enlisted that he could. Thanks to a corrupt Union Army quartermaster, 2,400 enlisted and officers were steered to a ship that was rated to carry only 376.  Its decks began to sag and needed reinforcement before it departed for Cairo, Illinois its final destination.

After unloading cargo in Memphis, Tennessee the Sultana appeared top heavy. The boilers were forced to work hard against the current and swollen Mississippi River. Sometime around 0200 on 27 April three boilers exploded instantly killing many. The explosion caused massive holes and flaming debris that included hot coal that came raining down back on the ship. The Sultana erupted into flames. Frantic Union Army soldiers jumped overboard but many were weakened by being prisoners of war. Some clung to debris, and so many clamored to get on a lifeboat after it was lowered that it sank. Bodies would be found far down river and in trees.

Sadly, other historical events, such as the surrender of Confederate General Joseph Johnston and the capture of John Wilkes Booth pushed this news story aside. It never got the attention it should have.

While overcrowding and corruption are considered the reasons for the disaster, some claim sabotage by Confederate agents using a coal torpedo. Some evidence, such as testimony of eyewitnesses, suggests its possibility. However more recent examinations such as done on History Detectives shows it more likely a disaster caused by overloading a ship that was already in dire need of repair.

Sources
1. Christopher Klein, The Forgotten History of America’s Titanic 150 Years Ago,History.com,27 April 2015.
2. Sultana (Wikipedia)
3. Stephen Ambrose, Remembering Sultana, National Geographic, NationalGeographic.com, 1 May 2001.
4. Sultana Disaster, Tennessee State Library and Archives: Disasters in Tennessee, www.tn.gov
5. The Sultana Disaster (American Battlefield Trust)

Remembering History: The Sinking of Pierre Marquette 18 (9 Sept 1910)

Pere Marquette 18 passing under the State Street Bridge in Chicago while being towed.
Photo: 1910
U.S. Library of Congress digital id# det.4a18153
Public Domain (via Wikipedia)

 

On 9 September 1910, the SS Pere Marquette 18, bound from Ludington to Milwaukee on Lake Michigan, would sink with 27 dead and leaving a mystery as to why she sank.

The SS Pere Marquette was built in 1902 by the American Ship Building Company (Cleveland, Ohio) as a railroad car ferry. The Pere Marquette Railroad Company intended to use her to cross Lake Michigan between the western ports of Kewaunee, Manitowoc, and Milwaukee with the eastern side where Ludington, Michigan was located. With four railroad car tracks, it could accommodate up to thirty railroad cars. It has had fifty staterooms (and other rooms as well) to carry up to 260 passengers as well. However, if you combined both the rooms and the decks it could hold up to 5.000 people. It had a maximum speed of between 13-14 knots (15 or 16 mph).

Between 1907-1909, the ship was converted into an excursion steamer that carried people to events or around Lake Michigan. The railroad tracks were covered over by planking. Despite the ship’s popularity as an excursion steamer, it did not generate the profits hoped by the company, so they did not renew any contracts for the upcoming 1911 pleasure cruise season. It was converted back into a railroad car ferry and on 8 September 1910, she was back in service in that capacity when she departed Ludington, Michigan. She had 62 passengers and crew, 29 rail cards and miscellaneous freight. Around 3 or 4 am the next morning, the helmsman noted the ship was steering properly. An oiler checking on the propeller around the same time noticed water in the stern and reported it to the bridge. He reported 7 feet of water in the stern. Captain Kitty ordered the pumps be turned on, but that did not work, and the stern continued to sink so low that water was coming in through the portholes. Kitty changed the heading to Sheboygan, Wisconsin and had some railroad cars dropped in the water to give the ship more buoyancy. That seemed to work for a while but eventually the stern started sinking again.

Wireless operator Stephen F. Szczepanek was ordered to send the distress call, CQD, to all ships in the area. He sent the message “Car ferry No.18 sinking – help!” for the next hour. Aboard the Pere Marquette 17, it heard the distress call and notified the captain. The ship immediately headed towards the sinking car ferry. It would pull alongside and rendered assistance to those trying to leave the sinking ship. Two other ships would also arrive on the scene: the Pere Marquette 20 and the tug A.A.C. Tessley arrived on scene to assist as well. Sadly, the wireless operator never made it off ship and was the first wireless operator to perish on the Great Lakes. None of the senior officers survived as well making it more difficult to ascertain exactly what happened.

The ship sank at 7:30 am stern first and the bow rising high into the air. An explosion occurred as she sank, likely caused the pressure of air trapped inside her and likely taking lives with it. 27 lives were lost along with 2 from the Pere Marquette 17. The actual cause of the sinking has never been determined though several theories by investigators and others have been brought forward.

Hard dockings

During the time she served as a excursion steamer, the charter captains treated her roughly and hit pilings when she docked.

Steel Plates issue

Another possible cause is that the steel plates had become loose and since they were underwater allowed water to enter the ship.

No Stern Gate

Older ferries like the Pere Marquette 18 had no rear stern gate to prevent water from entering during storms or heavy wave action.

Stowaways

There were two stowaways aboard, but no one has any idea if they played a role in the sinking.

Leaking Propellor

This would be due to the propellor or its components allowing water into the ship.

Aftermath

The ship was valued at $400,000 and her cargo somewhere between $100,000-$150,000. Captain Kitty was criticized for trying to save his ship and not the people aboard her. In New York City, a memorial was erected in Battery Park in 1915 with the names of wireless operators who had died at sea. Stephen F. Szczepanek is on it right below Jack Phillips, who died on Titanic. Szczepanek was remembered by journalist J. Andrew White as remaining calm, reassuring passengers that help was coming, and returning to the wireless room to continue sending messages. The company would replace the lost ship and name it Pere Marquette 18 that entered service in 1911 and worked until 1952. It was sold for scrap in 1957.

The wreck of the Pere Marquette 18 lies 25 miles off Sheboygan, Wisconsin in 500 feet of water. Until she was found in 2020, she was the largest undiscovered shipwreck in the Great Lakes.

Sources:

The Carferries of the Great Lakes
Wisconsin Shipwrecks-Pere Marquette 18 (1902)
SS Pere Marquette 18 (Wikipedia)
S.S. Pere Marquette 18 Historical Marker (HMdb,org)
Minnesota shipwreck hunters locate long-sought Lake Michigan wreck (MPRNews, 8 Sep 2020)


Ten Years Ago Costa Concordia Sank; Survivors Recall Their Experiences

Costa Concordia shipwreck (wire photo)

On 13 Jan 2012, the Costa Concordia was wrecked off an Italian island in shallow water resulting in 32 deaths and seriously injuring others. A trial later revealed the ship captain likely sailed close to the island to impress a girlfriend (it should be noted that Captain Schettino said sailing close was normal to salute mariners). Captain Schettino along with four crew members and a company official were found at fault for the disaster. The disaster, it was found, resulted from a series of human errors. Now ten years later, survivors are being interviewed about what they remembered that night.

10 years later, Costa Concordia survivors share their stories from doomed cruise ship  Yahoo! News, 12 Jan 2022

 

 

New Year’s Day on Great Lakes

As many of us slept in on New Year’s Day, final pickups and deliveries were being done on the Great Lakes. The region has been under a real Arctic chill of late sending temperature well below zero. The Paul R. Tregurtha is seen departing from Duluth in the morning and it is minus 13 degrees below zero F. You can see the think ice and but more interestingly the sea smoke. This happens when the air is cooler than the water causing this effect. It looks like the water is giving off steam. Due to its morning departure and how cold it was, only a few wavers are there to see it off.

(“COOL” Departure) – Paul R Tregurtha departed Duluth 01/01/2022


Arthur Anderson Entering Duluth Canal 9 Dec 21

It is hard to believe the Arthur Anderson is 69 years old. Built in 1952 for the Pittsburgh Steamship Division of U.S. Steel, she has become one of those lake freighters that has become popular with those who observe such boats on the lake. She has had several refits over the years allowing her to carry up 26,000 tons and with a self-loading boom added in 1981, she can load and unload quicker. She famously was the last ship in contact with the Edmund Fitzgerald on that fateful night of 10 December 1975 when she sank. She reported the loss to the Coast Guard and later participated in searching for survivors. In 2015 the Anderson became stuck in ice in Lake Erie and had to be assisted by the Canadian Coast Guard. After being freed from the ice, the ship was put on long term lay-up to determine her damage and refit as needed. She was returned to service in July 2019 and continues serving on the Great Lakes. Here shew is entering Duluth Canal on 9 Dec 21. It is cool morning but there is large group of people there to see her arrive. Note the ice in the canal indicating winter has most definitely setting in on the Great Lakes. She gives off a master salute as she enters.