"Not only is the universe stranger than what we imagine,
it is stranger than what we can imagine."
Sir Arthur Eddington

Connections

The book “Into the Raging Sea”, the tragic true story of the sinking of the U.S. container ship EL Faro three years ago, sent chills through my body. It’s a harrowing and frightening detailed account of a modern ship’s sinking, with all 33 souls lost, at the mercy of a hurricane. In today’s world, how could that have happened? Well, you will have to read the book to find out, but it started me down a trail of connections, free associations and memories.

The most obvious was that I sailed for over 5 years in the U.S. Merchant Marine as a deck officer on the commercial chemical tanker Carbide Seadrift. I could readily relate to the captain’s, officers’ and seamen’s concerns, captured verbatim, on the ill-fated ship’s “black box” for the last 26 hours of their lives. They were sailing into a situation that was becoming dire by the hour. I sailed in the same waters. They between Jacksonville FL and Puerto Rico and I, New York, Puerto Rico and Texas. Some call the area the Bermuda Triangle, but the truth (or reality) of what happens there need not rely on the supernatural for explanations. Maureen and I have also sailed Kalunamoo in the same waters. The El Faro went down in 2015 in hurricane Joaquin not far from the island of San Salvador in an area just east of Long Island and the Bahama reefs. She was pinned between the hurricane and the Bahamas with nowhere to run.

The El Faro was built in 1975 in Sun Shipyard, the same yard that built and launched the Carbide Seadrift in 1942. Between 1940 and 1945, 544 T-2 oil tankers were built by the U.S. Maritime Commission to support the war efforts of the Allies and ourselves in the second world war. They were built in various shipyards during that time, Sun Shipbuilding outside Philadelphia was one of them. Sun Shipyards was a division of Sun Oil Company (known as Sunoco). According to records I found, only 6 of these ships were sunk by enemy torpedoes during the war, the clear majority sold to private companies after the war and continued carrying cargo for many years.
The ship I sailed on, the Carbide Seadrift, was a T-2 tanker launched as the White Plains.
White Plains
White Plains
As the photo shows, it was fitted with a gun (probably one at the stern also) as a “defense” against enemy fire. They were maned by Marine Corp soldiers and not by the commercial crew of the ship. I don’t know if any commercial ships fitted out like this actually or successfully fired in their defense. In 1947 the ship was sold to Sun Oil and the name was changed to the Michigan Sun.
Michigan Sun
Michigan Sun
In 1960 Union Carbide bought it and converted it to a chemical and container carrier. It was renamed Carbide Seadrift (named after Seadrift, Texas). The containers carried Union Carbide’s plastic (polyethylene) pellets in bulk.
Carbide Seadrift
Carbide Seadrift
The ship was then sold to Allied Towing in 1980, re-powered (from steam turbine electric to diesel) and renamed Seadrift. It was laid up in 1984 and finally in 2001, scrapped 59 years after being launched.
Seadrift
Seadrift


The El Faro also went through name, owner and configuration changes during her lifetime. It sailed for 40 years, as many U.S. flagged vessels are pushed to the limits of serviceability. That was one of the factors in her demise. Another factor was that hurricane Joaquin was atypical in path and strength. It gives one pause when believing in the accuracy of forecasts about these storms.

Uncle Charlie
Uncle Charlie

While following the history of these ships (got to love the internet) I remembered an old photo of my uncle that my dad had. It showed him as a crewman on the oil tanker named Plattsburg around 1947. That ship was built in 1943 in Oregon, also for the government. It was sold to an Italian company in 1948 and renamed the Andrea Costa. I worked for that company 30 years later in New York.

Comments

clabue 9/1/2018
SUBJECT: Re: Connections Very cool!!! Thank you! > On Sep 1, 2018, at 10:24 AM, Kalunamoo wrote: > >
Penny Miller 9/1/2018

Loved all the history.  As far as the El Faro the crew paid dearly for the error in judgement on the Captain’s part.

robertosbornjr 9/1/2018
SUBJECT: Re: Connections Really interesting post Bill. Bob On Sat, Sep 1, 2018 at 10:24 AM Kalunamoo < blogcomments-CODTS@[...]> wrote: >