Tag Archives: maritime history

Suez Canal Built (17 Nov 1869)

Suez Canal, between Kantara and El-Fedane. The first vessels through the Canal.
Image Source: Appleton’s Journal of Popular Literature, Science, and Art, 1869
Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

When the Suez Canal officially opened to ships on 17 November 1869, it changed forever how important cargo and passengers would reach Asia. Up until it opened, ships went down the African coast to Cape Agulhas, the southernmost point of Africa (where the Atlantic and Indian oceans meet), to enter Asia. It was certainly a shorter trek than going overland (which used to be the case until the Ottoman Empire closed them off forcing Europeans to find alternative routes to get spices from Asia) but still took a while especially when you had to rely on wind and current to get you there. The Suez Canal cut the travel time substantially and only ships that could not fit into the canal would have to take the longer route.

The genesis of the Suez Canal began in 1854 when Ferdinand de Lesseps (former French consul to Cairo), negotiated a treaty with the Ottoman governor of Egypt to build a canal 1oo miles across the Suez isthmus. Plans were drawn up by an international team of engineers and c0nstruction began in 1859. The Suez Canal Company (formed 1856) was given the right to operate the canal for 99 years. Initial work was done by hand, making it slow until dredgers and steam shovels arrived from Europe. Both labor disputes and a cholera epidemic slowed construction causing a four-year delay in getting it completed. When it opened in 1869, it was only 25 feet deep, 75 feet wide at the bottom, and 200-300 feet wide on the surface. This resulted in less than 500 ships using it the first year. Major improvements would be made in 1876 that allowed for nearly all the ships of the day (and today as well) to pass through it. The Suez Canal became one of the most heavily trafficked shipping lanes in the world.

Aftermath

The British decided to get control of the Suez Canal.  In 1875, Great Britain bought the stock of the new Ottoman governor making them the largest shareholder in the Suez Canal Company. When they invaded and took control of Egypt in 1882, they took control of the Suez Canal as well. Later under the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty of 1936, the Egyptian government (now nearly independent of England), Britain retained rights to protect the canal. In July 1956 Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser nationalized the canal. This resulted in the Suez Crisis of 1956 in which Israel invaded Egypt and British and French troops arrived to occupy the Canal Zone. In 1957, both Britain and France withdrew under international pressure and in March 1957, the canal was once again open to commercial traffic. It would shut again in 1967 during the Six Day War. Tensions between Egypt and Israel would make the Suez Canal a front line between both parties. In 1975 Anwar Sadat would reopen the canal as a gesture of peace and negotiate a peace treaty with Israel. Today the canal plays a vital role in shipping cargo from Asia to Europe and North America. Its strategic importance is recognized by all powers in the region occasionally causing scuffles or even attacks by belligerents wanting to disrupt oil and cargo shipments.

Sources:

Suez Canal
Britannica.com. Retrieved 17 Nov 2022.

Suez Canal Opens
History.com. Retrieved 17 Nov 2022.


Woman Saves Up For Titanic Dive; Cruise and other Ship Disasters

According to the BBC, a woman saved for thirty years to afford the cost of diving to the Titanic wreck.

Woman ‘saves for 30 years’ to see Titanic shipwreck – BBC News
16 Oct 2022

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7 Maritime Disasters More Tragic Than The Titanic
World Atlas, 16 Oct 2022

The tragic sinking of the Titanic in 1912 is undoubtedly the most famous maritime disaster to date. However, there are plenty of other instances that either rival or even dwarf the Titanic in terms of destruction or human loss. Here are seven maritime disasters more tragic than the titanic.

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10 Major Cruise Ships And Passenger Vessels That Sank
Marine Insight, 17 Oct 2022

The Titanic might seem the worst passenger ship accident. However, many historic cruise ships met the same fate, though they were not as famous as the RMS Titanic. The earliest cruise ships were constructed in the 1850s but gained prominence after the World Wars ended when vacationing on the seas seemed attractive. Cruise ships were also constructed before that and targeted the affluent section of society. Also, cruise voyages in the 19th and 20th centuries were fraught with many dangers compared to present-day journeys, which have become relatively safer, thanks to advancements in maritime technologies.


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

Forgotten History: U.S. Starts Building Panama Canal (4 May 1905)

Unidentified Ship at Cape Horn sometime between 1885-1954
Unidentified Ship at Cape Horn sometime between 1885-1954
National Library of Australia (via Wikimedia Commons)
Public Domain

For hundreds of years sailors who made the long trek from Europe to the Pacific Ocean had a dream. A dream of one day being able to sail straight across rather than all the way down to the tip of South America where the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans meet. Cape Horn, so named by a Dutch captain in 1615, was a major point shipping point where trade ships plied between Europe and Asia. If you wanted to get to China, Japan, or shipping ports on the Pacific western coast (South America up to Alaska), this was the preferred route for many merchant and military vessels. However, the convergence of both oceans at that area also led to it being a treacherous path at times due to fierce storms that really put the skills of a mariner to a test. Many a ship has sunk in those waters and many explorers saw their fleets thinned out in that area. The building of the transatlantic railway helped reduce the need to ship freight and passengers somewhat but not enough. A land route through the Isthmus of Panama was possible though it had its own perils as well. You had to walk from the one coast to the other through a jungle. The Spanish established Panama on the Pacific and the Nombre de Dios on the Atlantic connected by 49 mile (80 km) simple jungle path. The path was simple and not built for moving cargo but moving people (mostly soldiers) from one coast to the other. People who choose this route over taking a ship faced a hot climate, insects that carried malaria, and other surprises that were not for the faint of heart. A railroad was constructed (at heavy cost) to move people and freight but that still left ships making the dangerous route. Hence the dream of a canal was born

Building it was another matter. The French gave it a try and it was a complete failure. The construction costs quickly mushroomed, and they lost 20,0000 workers due to malaria and accidents. The company collapsed and many speculated it could not be done. The US, for both maritime and military reasons, decided to buy up the French company and do it themselves. At the time, the proposed canal was in Columbia resulting having to negotiate terms for the digging of the canal. However, Columbia and the U.S. could not come to terms, leaving the U.S. with a problem. The area of Panama was inhabited by native people who had tried in the past to gain independence from Columbia but not able to pull it off. An early attempt to recognize Panama independence in 1903 was rejected by Columbia. So, with the full support of the US, Panama declared its independence in November 1903. The treaty signed between Panama and the US allowed for the construction of the canal but gave the US sovereign rights in the canal zone. This allowed the US to not only build the canal but administer and defend it as well. Fees for using the canal would go to the zone but also to Panama as well.

It was on 4 May 1905, formally called Acquisition Day, the project became official, and construction would commence. It was completed in 1914. The 52-mile canal now connected the Atlantic and Pacific oceans without having to sail down to Cape Horn and into the Pacific. Commercial traffic would increase as more cargo and passenger ships could easily move between the two oceans. The 10-mile Panama Canal Zone would grow and become more important as a result. Today only the supersized ships must make the trip down to Cape Horn as they are too big for the Panama Canal.

Today the Panama Canal is recognized as one of the seven wonders of the modern world. In the 1960’s and 1970’s, many Panamanians wanted to revisit the original treaty and gain more control of the canal. In a 1977 treaty signed by President Jimmy Carter and Panama leader Omar Torrijos, it was agreed that the Panama Canal Authority would be turned over to Panama in 1999.

Sources:


Titanic Chronology: 13 April 1912

RMS Olympic’s A la Carte Restaurant, located in B-Deck level. Circa May 1911
Robert John Welch (1859-1936), official photographer for Harland & Wolff
Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons

Titanic is enroute to New York and people settle into their familiar patterns. Mealtimes are very popular to meet with your fellow travelers and all classes have a place to gather and eat. The ticket price covers all three meals though first class has its own a la carte restaurant where you can buy dishes sold separately. Food portions were plentiful, unlike earlier passenger liners, so you got a lot of food for the ticket. In many ways Titanic and other ships that followed this pattern became adept in creating expert meals at any time of the day with a dedicated crew of food professionals with access to quality foods stored aboard the ship. Working off all that food was not the difficult either. You could take laps walking around the deck or use one of the many exercise equipment aboard. The gymnasium was quite impressive with punching bags, stationary bikes (called cycle racing machines), electric horse and camel, and a squash court (men and women played at different times). The mechanical rowing machine was apparently very popular. Of course you could work up a sweat in the Turkish bath or treat yourself to a nice massage. There was an electric bath which today would be like a tanning bed. It was more of a curiosity than anything else. One had to exhibit a certain amount of bravery to get into something that looked like an iron lung.

RMS Olympic First Class Lounge (1912)
Photo: Robert John Welch (1859-1936), official photographer for Harland & Wolff
Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons

You might decide to relax in the library or send a telegram off to family using the Marconi wireless. April 13 was actually a nice day to be outside on the Titanic. Spring like temperatures were in the upper 50’s, so one could enjoy walking the deck. Or you could be indoors in one of the smoke rooms playing cards. And there were professional gamblers aboard who made a living plying the ocean liners. They were known to White Star and other liners of the day, but the liners simply warned passengers that they were not responsible for such private games. These gamblers were keen on trying to get as much money from those who could afford to lose. And they readily took advantage of the naïve and inexperienced. The did face steely competition though from men who, like the professional gambler, spent time in their gentleman’s clubs (not to be confused with its modern day nearly porn image with strippers) playing cards with other members. They usually were just as skilled as the professional gambler and knew what to watch out for.

Dinners were when everyone in first and second class had to appear in the right way. Men and women  wore formal evening clothes. It was important to be seen properly attired for the meal especially the higher in status you were. To be seen in anything but such attire was unthinkable. A gentleman or lady who showed up in casual clothes for first- or second-class meals would not only get impolite stares but a discreet word that they must dress up to be seated. Breakfast was the only time you could be casual but even then, you did not show up looking sloppy or in gym clothes.

The Grand Staircase of the RMS Olympic
Photo:Public Domain (Wikipedia)

As Titanic traveled on, by 13 April it had gone about 519 miles. During this time, she received many warnings of ice. At 10:30 PM, she got a warning of heavy pack ice from the Rappahannock.  The weather was starting to change. The nice spring weather was going to be replaced by a cold front that by noon the next day would have people wearing heavy clothing and scarves if they wanted to walk outside.

Books

Behe, George TITANIC: SAFETY, SPEED AND SACRIFICE, Transportation Trails, Polo, IL 1997

Eaton John P. & Haas Charles, TITANIC TRIUMPH AND TRAGEDY, SECOND EDITION, W.W. Norton & Company, New York, New York, 1995 First American Edition

Lord, Walter, A NIGHT TO REMEMBER, Holt Rinehart and Winston, New York, New York, 1955. Multiple revisions and reprints, notably Illustrated editions (1976,1977,1978 etc)

Lord, Walter, THE NIGHT LIVES ON, Willian Morrow and Company, New York, New York, 1986 (First Edition)

Lynch, Don & Marshall Ken, TITANIC AN ILLUSTRATED HISTORY, Madison Press Books, Toronto, Ontario Canada, 1992

Internet

Britannica.com
Encyclopedia Titanica
History.com

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Titanic Belfast: 2 Million Visitors

Titanic Belfast (side view) Image:Prioryman (Wikipedia)
Titanic Belfast (side view)
Image:Prioryman (Wikipedia)

When Michael Sweeney walked through the door, the 25-year-old found out he was visitor 2 million. He is quoted as saying “I feel like the king of the world!” This milestone is being celebrated as proof of the enduring attraction of Titanic Belfast. Titanic Belfast CEO Tim Husbands said:

It seems like only yesterday that Titanic Belfast opened and helped turn the city into a major player in the global tourism market. We are three months short of our third birthday and already we are celebrating our two-millionth visitor. This is a tremendous achievement.

That snark who recently maligned Belfast by saying the iceberg did them a favor is probably choking on his shepherd’s pie right about now.

Source:Titanic Belfast Reaches 2 Million Visitors(22 Dec 2014,Belfast Telegraph)