S. Korea’s ferry boat tragedy is only one of many other tragedies!


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Sea Captains in history: what is the rule of the sea?

Informative article about courageous and cowardly captains: http://www.npr.org/2014/04/18/304541866/captains-uncourageous-abandoning-ship-long-seen-as-a-crime

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Excerpt: I Was Shipwrecked on the Andrea Doria! The Titanic of the 1950s

The eastbound ship was approaching quickly. The officers realized that this was a fast-moving ship and traveling in an unassigned lane.

Officer Giannini felt to make sure that his gold crucifix pendant was in place. He noticed that his palms were sweaty but told himself, We are still a safe distance away. If the other vessel maintains its course, all will be fine.

The oncoming ship was now three and a half miles away.

“How close will she pass?” the captain asked.

“About one mile to starboard,” Giannini replied, nervous but still not alarmed.

The captain turned to the helmsman and gave an order. “Steer four degrees to port.”

It was 11:00. With each passing moment, the officers strained to sight the oncoming ship visually. They knew that radar was still not as precise as their own eyes, but the dense fog was robbing them of this advantage.

“Why don’t we hear her?” Giannini asked the captain. “Why doesn’t she whistle?”

The captain was now silent, perhaps focusing on his intuition, as there was not much time to discuss details or even strategy. He recalled watching American movies where the Indian chief, on horseback, sat perfectly still, as if calling upon all of his senses to decide when to raise his arrow and signal attack. Was this to be his unwanted battle?

As Officer Giannini aimed his binoculars out into the eerie night, an unbelievable sight met him head-on: the mast lights of the silent approaching ship were now visible and showing the port-side red light instead of the expected green.

“She is turning! She is turning!” Giannini exclaimed with a blood-curdling cry. “She is showing the red light. She is coming toward us!”

“I see her,” the captain said faintly, his stare fixed rigidly on the other ship racing toward him at full speed.

Incredibly and inexplicably, the other ship was seconds from striking the Andrea Doria at full speed. Captain Calamai knew that he had to act instantly. He knew that in extreme situations, he had a choice to turn in whatever way he deemed wise.

“Hard left!” he shouted, the loudest he’d ever shouted in his life, as he faced his helmsman.

Would his liner respond in time to clear the collision? he wondered, his heart pounding hard enough to feel the beats in his head.

For several seconds, the captain stood immobilized. Officer Franchini realized this but knew that they had to signal their immediate left turn. He asked, “The two whistles?”

The captain nodded.

“The engines?” Franchini was suggesting that they should be shut down to lessen the blow.

“No! Don’t touch the engines! We need all the speed!” It was the captain’s intention to outrace the vessel that was about to broadside his.

At 11:10, the stunned officers of the pristine Italian liner saw a raging foe rip through a curtain of fog on the night water of the Atlantic. The captain clenched his teeth, awaiting the inevitable: the ramming of the Doria’s starboard side.

God, let my passengers be saved! he said in a brief, silent prayer.

The men on the bridge and the lookout in the crow’s nest braced themselves, helpless to save their prized liner. They watched in complete horror as a surreal, unidentified bow punctured the Doria’s double hull. Screeches, groans, and crashes echoed for miles on the Atlantic. Sputtering sparks sprang from the friction of the massive crash. The calm silence of the night was transformed into a cacophony accompanied by grotesque fireworks.

Ten minutes later, the captain was able to identify his offender as it noisily withdrew from the Doria’s entrails and he could read the name, STOCKHOLM.

“Dear God!” Officer Franchini exclaimed as he saw the mass of twisted steel that looked like the jaws of a monster, once the bow of the Stockholm.

As for the Andrea Doria, it now listed heavily, moaning mournfully and almost immobile.

Captain Calamai grabbed the railing…


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Survivors of the Titanic: The Untold Stories

It is hard to believe that it has been a hundred years since the Titanic set sail on her maiden voyage. By now everyone has heard of the tragedy that happened during the ship’s journey. People across the world have been mesmerized by the stories of those who have survived. People from all walks of life have become fascinating parts of history for future generations. Thanks to Hollywood, we now have movies that capture what may have happened during the ship’s final hours. Though we know about the rich and famous, what about those who are rarely talked about. Since there were only slightly mare than 700 survivors, it is time that we heard other sides of the story.


Charles Joughin

Charles has proven that surviving on whiskey can help keep your insides warm. You can actually see his character portrayed in several adaptations of the tragedy as a fun loving drunk who clung on to a railing for dear life. Though he may have been shown as always having fun, Joughin was actually on the ship as a baker and had signed on to work the ship since its delivery in Belfast. As chief baker, Charles was in charge of watching over other bakers who worked under him. When the ship hit the iceberg he immediately took action and got his crew up to the life boats, providing each of them with bread. Through his efforts, he is also known for helping women and children understand the severity of the situation and getting them on life boats. Charles stayed aboard the ship until it began to sink. Once he was in the water he had to survive for almost three hours in the freezing cold until he was rescued. Many attribute the fact that he stayed on the ship and enjoyed whiskey as the reason for him being able to survive the cold for as long as he did.

Margaret Devaney

Margaret was in her late teens when she boarded the ship with a few of her girlfriends. Margaret was leaving Ireland to meet up with her family that was already in New York. While they were on the ship the girls were unaware of what was happening around them until another passenger alerted them that they need to get their lifejackets and head up to the deck. If you have seen Titanic then you probably remember that some of the gates were locked, stranding passengers on their class levels. Through this tragedy, the girls were still able to find themselves to a ladder that lead to a deck. After one of her friends got seasickness, Margaret decided to continue on alone. Up on the deck she was shoved into a boat. Once aboard the boat, there were issues getting the boat loose. Luckily, Margaret had a pocket knife and they were able to use it to get the life boat free.

Dr. Washington Dodge

When he set sail on the Titanic, Dr. Washington Dodge was an affluent banker who was just returning from a European vacation with his wife and son. On the night of the accident the doctor and his wife were walking on the deck when they noticed the swift change in temperature. Later that night they were awaken when the ship hit the iceberg. After seeing that nothing seemed amiss they decided to stay in their room. After a while there was still an air of nervousness that could not be shaken. This time when they emerged from their room they noticed a different picture. People were pushing to get on the life boats and the doctor rushed his family along. Once his wife and child were securely on a boat, Dodge was allowed to get on a boat because of his class. After surviving the sinking vessel, tragedy struck the Dodge family again when Dr. Washington attempted to kill himself in 1919.

Jennie Hansen

There are just some people who bad luck tends to find, and Jennie Hansen is one of those people. Prior to embarking on the Titanic, Jennie was in a hotel fire, almost died in the elevator, and was found unconscious due to gas fumes. Jennie knew in her gut that something bad would happen when she and her husband took the voyage aboard the ship. After the ship hit the iceberg, Jennie’s husband was insistent that she board the life boats and live to tell their story. Both her husband and his brother never made it off the perishing ship. Following the trauma, Jennie recovered in New York where it was discovered that she was no longer able to shed tears. She subsequently suffered from horrific nightmares about the accident.

For more boating stories, insurance, travel tips:



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Librarians: Has your Titanic collection been run aground by patron demand? A new publication will help keep your inventory afloat

Has your Titanic collection been run aground by patron demand? You can keep your inventory afloat by adding an up-close and personal account written by a shipwreck survivor.

Dear librarian,

Among a deluge of requests to carry new publications, you are undoubtedly seeking a good rationale to develop your collection. I hope this letter will be of assistance in making a decision.

The seed for my 2nd publication came when my friend Bill Garzke came to Michigan to collaborate on our annual presentation at U of M’s School of Naval Architecture. Bill is the national chairman of marine forensics for the Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers in DC who appointed me to be a fellow member. Bill, a distinguished author on the Titanic and other shipwrecks expressed his concern in the future of marine forensics. “Do you know that the average age of a naval architect is 43 years old and inching upward? We need to change this!”

Promising to do what I could, I came up with the idea of a novel, I Was Shipwrecked on the Andrea Doria! The Titanic of the 1950s. It is written expressly to inspire a new generation of marine scientists, while educating and entertaining the reader. The ultimate goal is preventing another shipwreck like the one I survived.

Bill later invited me to launch my book at the First International Marine Forensics Symposium in DC. My local release took place at Mariners Church in Detroit on April 15 in honor of the Titanic’s 100th anniversary.

For more concise details, take a look below  and let me know if you have any questions. Thank you and good luck with all your acquisitions.



I Was Shipwrecked on the Andrea Doria! The Titanic of the 1950s

The novel’s distinctive features:

· Featured in author interviews on WWJ, and cited in the NY Times, WGN, WLW, CBS, WXYZ, WJIMA, WDIV, WDYM, and the Italian Tribune in April, 2012. http://www.pierettesimpson.com/press/costa-will concordia/

· Received Honorable Mention from the San Francisco Book Festival for general excellence, the author’s ability to tell a good story, potential to reach a wider audience.  (Teenage category)

· Received a positive Kirkus Review (see below)

·       Written by an Andrea Doria shipwreck survivor, and published author on the topic. (Alive on the Andrea Doria! The Greatest Sea Rescue in History)

·       Book reviewed by the chairman of national marine forensics for the Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers.

·       Edited by two naval architects for scientific accuracy

·       Appropriate for use in science, history, andimmigration classes

·       Written to inspire future generation of marine scientists.

·       Appropriate for readers ages nine through adult

·       Based on real events and characters

·       Website will have instructional support materials: www.IWasShipwreckedontheAndreaDoria.com

·       The author is a professional speaker and available for presentations: http://www.pierettesimpson.com/speaking-events/

Facts in Brief

Publication date: April 5 and 15th, 2012 (national and local releases)

List Price: $9.99*and $6.97 for print and digital versions respectively

Specs: 8.5” x 5.5″, 231 pages

ISBN: 98507760–0–0 for print and 9780985077617 for digital version

LCCN: 2012931871

Wholesale Orders: Ingram, Lightning Source

Publisher: Brio Publications

Includes photos, diagrams, map, and drawings

Contact: Pierette Simpson, 248 349-8557, Pierette@pierettesimpson.com for ordering information/questions

Websites: www.IWasShipwreckedontheAndreaDoria and www.pierettesimpson.com

*Buy two or more from the author and pay only $7.00 after the first copy.

Book Description

I Was Shipwrecked on the Andrea Doria! The Titanic of the 1950s

A novel by Pierette Domenica Simpson

On July 25, 1956, after nine days of blissful travel, passengers on the Italian luxury liner Andrea Doria are hurled into a struggle for survival. As the murky fog lifts on the black Atlantic, the sea becomes a mirror in which passengers stare at death in the face. Their destinies are literally suspended on a rope—and in the hands of their fellow passengers and crew.

Written by a survivor of the catastrophic Andrea Doria-Stockholm collision, the novel is an up close and personal anatomy of a shipwreck on the Atlantic Ocean on July 25, 1956.

Frightful premonitions, excerpts from Moby Dick, discussions on the Titanic, and a terrible sea storm, prepare the reader for the inevitable. Ultimately, the story is that of the “greatest sea rescue in history”.


New Release, currently available from the author

$9.99, plus shipping(discounts for orders over 20)

Contact: Pierette@pierettesimpson.com



“Simpson’s telling is a well-paced account of the ship’s decline and the families the catastrophe affected. Her female perspective helps mold a heartily compelling tale…A pleasant voyage for anyone seeking a personal history of the ocean liner.”—Kirkus Reviews

“This story could only be told through the sensibilities of a survivor. It’s so compelling that it could be made into a movie. Yet, Ms. Simpson took measures to preserve scientific, engineering, and historical accuracy.”—William H. Garzke, Jr. Chairman of the Marine Forensics Committee, The Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers.

A fascinating and cinematic novel about one of history’s greatest maritime rescues.  Author and survivor, PieretteSimpson, reconstructs a suspenseful path to the actual collision that is beyond haunting— it’s chilling! Yet, through 9-year-old Piera and her grandparents we relive a story of courage and survival. A book sure to inspire young readers toward maritime science.”—Ruta Sepetys, New York Times bestselling author of Between Shades of Gray

Love the book- awesome.  I just couldn’t put it down and kept on reading. Love the chapter set up between different viewpoints. My kids will read it. I am going to ask about putting a copy inNovi Middle School library—Tammy Latham, engineer, academic mentor, mother of three: 12, 14, 16.

About the Author:

Ms. Simpson became the first shipwreck survivor to give a complete human and scientific account of her own shipwreck with her book, Alive the Andrea Doria! The Greatest Sea Rescued in History. The author is a member of the national marine forensics committee of the Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers. The chairman of marine forensics endorsed her first publication for shipwreck research.


Ms. Simpson frequently speaks about shipwreck survival to local and international groups, including a keynote speech at the ALA National Conference, Chicago, 2010.She has been featured in the New York Times, CBS Sunday Morning, WGN TV and radio, WXYZ and CBS.

For the author’s media interviews: http://www.pierettesimpson.com/press/.


By the same author, award-winning and best-selling:


Featured on “CBS Sunday Morning” with Charles Osgood



On July 25, 1956, the catastrophic ramming of the Stockholm into Italy’s crown jewel, the luxury liner Andrea Doria, sent shock waves around the world.

The author/survivor sensitively and scientifically recreates the human and scientific details of her shipwreck—which could have been another Titanic.

ISBN: 978 –1– 60037–460–9 (Paperback)

978-1-60037-655-9 (audio CD)

978 –1–60037–461—6 (Hardcover)

Available thru Ingram, Baker and Taylor


At the ALA annual conference, I had the wonderful opportunity of hearing Pierette Simpson relate firsthand the story of the collision, rescue and sinking of the Andrea Doria in 1956. Both her story and her presentation had me enthralled!


The heart of the story reveals personal details of immigration, survival, and overcoming hardships. The technical explanationsshow the importance of historical research and documentation: Ms. Simpson’s new data vindicated the Andrea Doria crew and an entire maritime industry, thereby bringing clarity and justice to this most controversial sea disaster.

I believe that her book, Alive on the Andrea Doria! The Greatest Sea Recue in History belongs on the shelves of every library – public, academic, and high school. — Sally Garner Reed, Executive Director ALTAFF, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania


“Finally, a riveting first-hand account of the sinking of the Andrea Doria. Pierette Simpson’s heartfelt, engaging prose and her insight make the reader marvel at the depth of her research and her knack for expressinghuman emotion with the written word.  A real pleasure to read!”  —Kevin McMurray: diver, New York Times journalist, author of Dark Descent and Deep Descent

I am recommending that anyone investigating a ship loss should read your book. This is just how good it   is, Pierette. I particularly was impressed on how you selectively followed up on some of the survivors and showed just how this tragedy affected them in their laterlives….Those who have read it agree that it    is a very good factual account of what happened. — William Garzke, chairman of the Marine Forensics Panel SD-7, Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers.

There are few people in the world I regret never having met.This author is,        in many ways, a kindred spirit and one I would like to meet. Perhaps one day! …     Rarely, if ever, have I read such a complete account of the loss of any single     ship and we students of shipwreck should be grateful that such a complete     and honest account was finally published. Ned Middleton, British professional underwater photo- journalist, author, retired sea captain

Scheduled for nationwide release on the 50th anniversary of the tragedy is a     survivor’s tale that is the ultimate page-turner. Alive on the Andrea Doria! reads like a real-life version of the suspense-packed novel/film The Poseidon     Adventure. Switch Poseidon’s locations, era and give fictitious characters     real names and you have the makings of a first-class read from cover to cover.  —Sea Classics, Maritime Journal

“Befitting the fiftieth anniversary of the collision, this book details with     irrefutable scientific evidence what caused the tragedy, challenging all     previous theories. This thrilling tale of survival and intrigue follows the     unjust fate of Captain Calamai so that we realize how the twisted bow     of the damaged Stockholm symbolizes the twist of fate that befell Calamai     and the Italian maritime industry. Alive on the Andrea Doria! will set the     historical record straight at last. —Germaine Strobel, Andrea Doria survivor

Testimonials for Audio CD Book:

Pierette’s poignant narration of a nine-year-old girl surviving a catastrophe is even more compelling than reading her words on the pages of her book– and that’s saying a lot! Her expressive voice invokes vivid memories of my personal experience on that terrible night. I’m honored to be included in her books.

—Mike Stoller, of Leiber & Stoller, legendary songwriters, co-author of the book, Hound Dog


I have listened to the audio book with great admiration. It is very difficult for a survivor of a ship sinking to recount that experience later in life—whether in the printed word or orally. Pierette is to be congratulated for recounting not only her experience but, extraordinarily, that of other survivors. The listener is treated to words done in the native tongue of the survivor. Having been a language teacher has greatly assisted the author inthis endeavor; we are treated to the Andrea Doria and Ile de France pronounced correctly in their native tongue. Emotions of the individuals are also captured and clearly felt. Pierette Simpson has created a masterpiece in recounting a tragic episode in history.—William Garzke, national chairman, marine forensics panel, Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers

The CD was a delight to listen to. I felt transported back in time onto the Andrea Doria. Pierette Simpson’s use of actual survivor voices made the stories more believable than reading them in print. I especially enjoyed the author’s replication of her childhood voice, and that of her grandmother’s in broken English, complete with an Italian accent. It authenticated the journey back to the past.—Marjorie Nanian, attorney and assistant professor of political science, Schoolcraft College, MI








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I Was Shipwrecked on the Andrea Doria! wins Honorable Mention at San Francisco Book Festival

I’m very excited: my new novel won Honorable Mention in the  San Francisco International Book Festival yesterday!  The congratulatory letter  indicated it was a tough competition with entries from around the globe. I entered I Was Shipwrecked on the Andrea Doria! The Titanic of the 1950s in the Teenage Category hoping to increase reading among teens.
The judging was based upon: 1) General excellence and the author’s passion for telling a good story.2) The potential of the work to reach a wider audience.

Available in print and e-book versions on Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble.com

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I Was Shipwrecked on the Andrea Doria! The Titanic of the 1950s–excerpt

From somewhere I heard, “Don’t be chicken! Get your suit on!” It was Patrick beckoning me, if not daring me. He’s nine, too. Why can’t I be as brave as he is? Now I felt really shy, especially since we were always needing someone to translate for us between English and Italian. Nonna led us to some chairs near Patrick’s family.

Patrick’s slender, energetic-looking mother extended her hand as she shaded her face. “I’m Germina Marino, and this is my daughter, Darlene,” she said. The teenage girl gave a smile that matched the warmth of her chestnut hair. Mrs. Marino seemed friendly and outgoing and immediately put us at ease. “And that’s my impatient son, Patrick.” She looked at me recoiling in the huge chair, then added, “Don’t let him rush you, bella. He’s got to be doing something all the time. Just can’t stay still.”

I was momentarily relieved—until I heard an unidentifiable animal noise, accompanied by a big splash that got us all. It was that wild boy. We wiped the water off ourselves and listened to Mrs. Marino tell one of the funniest stories we’d ever heard.

“Since I’m a ‘war bride’—I married an American soldier—my family in Italy invited me and the children for a visit. Four weeks ago, when the Doria was about to leave dock, my son was nowhere to be found. My husband even came onto the boat to search for him. An officer announced his name on the ship loudspeaker. That devil was busy climbing up to the funnel; he opened the windows and kept banging on it so he could wave to people on shore. When he finally heard his name, he didn’t know where to report. A crew member took him by the arm and made him face his father and the captain. If the captain hadn’t been there, that boy would have gotten a good licking!”

We all laughed, knowing that she was embellishing the story, but we wanted to hear more. Nonna was holding her stomach and wiping tears from her eyes as Patrick’s mother continued.

“But the ship had already left the dock, so my husband had to ride back to shore in a tugboat. All of this just added to the humiliation of getting a pizza slice dropped on his new suit while he was waving good-bye from shore earlier. I hope I can get that son of mine back to New York safe!”

I couldn’t remember the last time Nonna laughed. Certainly  not on the way to Genoa (the port of  departure).


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Another Night to Remember– a Vanity Fair feature article

Vanity Fair’s feature on the Costa Concordia is a must read. In chronological order, it encompasses all parties involved: survivors, crew (esp. the captain), Italian Coast Guard and divers, the heroic mayor of Giglio, the townspeople, etc. with great detail. It also follows the demise of the ship in comprehensible language to the layperson. The article is so in-depth, it’s almost like reading a short book on the subject. If you want to become an expert on the largest passenger (cruise) ship disaster (2 times Titanic), here it is: http://www.vanityfair.com/culture/2012/05/costa-concordia-sinking-scandal-italy

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This is the shipwreck story from Hell! Unfortunately it was drowned out by the Costa Concordia story that was traveling  the world concurrently. I wonder why the dichotomy. Every time I read such incidents I question who’s minding ethics on our seas?

Seeking truth behind a tragedy

Jo Chandler

April 21, 2012

The Rabaul QueenThe Rabaul Queen

STORIES of shipwreck, real and imagined, have a special place in the archive of human misery. The notion of being lost at sea, frail souls at the mercy of the elements, taps into our most deep-set fears. Witness the barrage of remembrances of the Titanic, a century on, and the media frenzy around the grounding of European cruise ship the Costa Concordia on the Italian coast in January this year.

Three weeks after the Costa Concordia came to grief, with the loss of 32 lives, it was still making international headlines, overshadowing news that a heavily loaded island ferry vanished in wild seas off the Papua New Guinea coast somewhere around dawn on February 2.

For a while it seemed the story of the MV Rabaul Queen was destined, like the ferry, to sink almost without trace, obscured by the bluster of the continuing maelstrom of Papua New Guinea’s political crisis and by early reports that now appear to have grossly underestimated the loss of life.

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A passenger who drowned sent an image of the rough seas before the ferry sank.A passenger who drowned sent an image of the rough seas before the ferry sank.

Almost three months on, the truth of the tragedy – together with disturbing questions about the conditions on board the ship, its safety systems and those of PNG’s maritime protocols more broadly – is surfacing in the testimony of witnesses summonsed to hearing rooms in Port Moresby and Lae.

Over the past two weeks, more than a dozen survivors have quietly provided raw firsthand insights into what is shaping up as one of the nation’s most devastating recent tragedies.

George Turme, a 20-year-old university student, was the first to testify to the inquiry before Commissioner Warwick Andrew, the Australian judge heading the investigation at the request of the PNG government.

A funeral for one of the  passengers.A funeral for one of the passengers.

Turme swears he was in the company of more than 500 other passengers on that wild, doomed overnight voyage from the island of New Britain to the mainland port of Lae – crammed shoulder to shoulder, packed onto the heaving decks so tight that sleeping, even sitting, was impossible for most.

Turme spent most of the voyage squashed into a toilet area with other men, who assembled around the decks trying to give more protected space in the interior to women and children who spilled across the floors (there were only 50 seats on the whole vessel). It was an act of gallantry that would backfire horribly when the ship capsized.

According to the ship survey certificate presented to the inquiry, the Rabaul Queen could carry a maximum number of unberthed passengers of 295, and up to 15 crew – a total of 310.

If Turme’s estimate that there were more than 500 people on board – and it is one shared by several witnesses in sworn testimony to the inquiry into the disaster, but which outstrips passenger lists drawn from official manifests by about 50 – then well over 250 souls were lost when the Rabaul Queen sank in up to 3000 metres of water.

The true toll may never be known, not least because the lack of records for the infants carried onto the ship by their mothers, and who could not save themselves or be saved.

Turme tells of the desperate, dark hour before the ship sank, as it listed heavily to the left – several witnesses were worried that the Queen seemed to be out of balance right from the time she departed Kimbe wharf.

Around dawn someone – maybe a crew member, though it was impossible to tell as they did not wear uniforms – called on him and about 20 other men to go to the starboard side and try to balance the ship as it negotiated its way through the notoriously treacherous Viliaz Strait, which separates New Britain from the mainland. They tried to lean out over the right side of the ship as the big waves came. ”We look out for the strong wind. So when the waves hit the ship we all bend to the right side and try to balance it,” Turme told Commissioner Andrew.

Once, twice, when really big waves came in, they succeeded in keeping it upright but then ”another strong wave come, came and hit the ship”. It struck the back of the vessel on the starboard side and the Queen began to roll over to the left. Turme and the men with him all leapt into the water as she capsized.

A strong swimmer, Turme kept himself afloat in the dark, oil-slicked seas, swimming desperately away for a few minutes before turning back to see a couple of black life rafts, and climbing aboard one.

”When the vessel went down people were crying and shouting for help, so we tried to rescue some of them, mothers and children. Some of the children were already floating on top of the sea … they were already dead.”

In less than 10 minutes the Rabaul Queen sank under the waves. Turme and another 17 survivors – all adult men, no women or children found their way to the raft – were crowded into his lifeboat, riding the waves and the wind through the dawn and into the next afternoon. The lifeboat held no water, food or medical provisions – just a whistle. Turme and a couple of others vomited.

Lucille Pongi, a mother and housewife from Lae, had also made her way into one of the life rafts. She was a Rabaul Queen veteran, having made the voyage at least 10 times before. This was always the busiest time of the year for the ferry – with a new school term about to begin, students, families and teachers were returning to the mainland after spending Christmas visiting wantoks (extended family) in their island homes. Pongi had worried about overcrowding on previous trips, and recalled for the commission that when she had complained to a crew member a few months earlier – asking how many passengers were aboard – she had been told that the ship took 500 passengers. The man had said, ”We normally take more than that”, she said.

On this trip she was travelling with her sister and her niece. They had already endured a sickening night of wild weather travelling from Rabaul, at the eastern tip of New Britain island, down to Kimbe at the western end.

When the exhausted passengers were ordered off in Kimbe for a couple of hours to allow the ship to be cleaned, refuelled and loaded with more passengers and cargo for the last leg of the journey to Lae, some thought better of continuing the journey. Many persevered though, fearful that they would forfeit their 350 kina ($A160) fares, or have to pay a fine to delay the journey.

Pongi was tempted to join them – indeed her son came to speak to her on the wharf at Kimbe because he was so worried. ”He said ‘Mummy, do you wish to travel?” He had heard there was a cyclone warning in Fiji and wild seas forecast through the PNG islands. ”Look at the waves – you still wish to continue?”

As her sister wanted to push on, Pongi felt compelled to continue. But she was not happy. ”I tell you it was so crowded, more than what we normally … had on board. There was no space. You just crampled like that when we were sitting down. There’s no place to stretch your leg, to sleep or rest your bag. We had to, you know, just sit up like this all night … there were so many people on board.”

Another passenger, a man, had told her that when he boarded a woman standing with the manifest and counting heads had told him: ”You are the last one, and the total is 500-something.”

Unable to sleep, she became worried when she heard a strange whistling noise sometime in the dark of the early morning. She roused her sister. Something was not right. ”I think the ship has a hole in it.” Her sister said: ”Well, you’ve got funny ideas.”

But, Pongi told the inquiry, ”the ship was unbalanced, leaning toward the left”. Soon after dawn she was screaming at her sister: ”Dianne, don’t sleep, get up, we’re in trouble. Get the crew to give us a life jacket and get us prepared.”

But the life jackets, when she found them, were padlocked in a wire cage – a claim also made by several other witnesses.

Pongi said she she was ”calling out for the people to give us the life jacket because I knew it was about to sink and I was standing there when the waves hit the ship and it just capsized.

”I was under the water for some time and I don’t know … I had my eyes open and it was like a movie I was watching, under the water inside the sinking ship. I was swimming, trying to, you know, find my way out.

”I could see men, women and children, you know, struggling and then some children were … drowned already, they were just floating.”

People struggled to open sliding glass doors. Somehow she escaped. ”I had a prayer, I said thank you Lord. If you wanted me to die, I could have died already in there.”

She grabbed a ”little rainbow bag” that was floating in the water and clung to it for maybe an hour before finding her way into a lifeboat. Her sister and niece also survived.

Determining the true passenger numbers is one of the central preoccupations of the inquiry. Other main areas of investigation emerging in questioning so far relate to the condition of the vessel; its cargo load; access to life vests and life rafts; the competency of the crew; the weather conditions and processes for the issue of weather warnings (it emerged that the National Weather Service had no internet because the responsible department had not paid the bill); and the competency and oversight of the National Maritime Safety Authority (NMSA).

One passenger witness, architect Roderick Voit, claimed he saw a brown beer bottle thrown from the wheelhouse into the sea soon after the ship left Kimbe wharf.

Insurance and marine survey specialists have given evidence of concerns about the condition of various vessels in the Rabaul Shipping fleet, and one inspection document from 2006 noted that some life rafts were missing – apparently taken for servicing.

Another witness, Roby Naigu, officer in charge of the NMSA, raised concerns about the man at the helm of the Rabaul Queen when she foundered, Captain Anthony Tsiau. Naigu said he believed Tsiau had previously run two ships aground – though his knowledge of this history was challenged by the defence. ”This is the third one, Rabaul Queen, under his command. I believe we would have saved this Rabaul Queen incident if … as an authority we were alerted to this past issue of the same captain who has sunk two other ships already.”

He had also had a confrontation with Tsiau two years earlier after accusing him of inappropriately loading dangerous goods – canisters of oxygen and acetylene – aboard the Rabaul Queen, a matter that had flared into a confrontation and later a legal dispute with the ship’s operator, Rabaul Shipping Ltd.

On the question of passenger overloading, the integrity of manifests has been closely scrutinised. The inquiry has already heard from one passenger who was not listed on any manifest.

The managing director and major shareholder of Rabaul Shipping Ltd, and operator of the Rabaul Queen, Australian-born veteran seaman Captain Peter Sharp has conceded under questioning by counsel assisting, Queensland lawyer Mal Varitimos, that there were up to 376 passengers and crew on board, plus infants.

Sharp has been the focus of intense local anger and personal threats over the tragedy. Three of his other ships were torched in Bougainville shortly after the Rabaul Queen sunk.

Meanwhile investigations by PNG authorities to identify all the people on board, including a public appeal for family and friends to come forward, led to estimates of 453 people on board including children, 230 of whom had been rescued; four bodies located; and 219 listed as missing.

Sharp – who has pledged to fully co-operate with the inquiry – told the inquiry that the Japanese-built, 42-metre vessel had specifications that it could carry 358 adults. This figure appears in some of the insurance and certification documentation tended to the inquiry. He insisted under close questioning that the ship was not overloaded, quoting a provision in the Merchant Shipping Act that a passenger vessel is not overloaded if it does not exceed its load marks as determined on the hull.

”The vessel was operating safely,” Sharp told the commission. He said in loading the vessel his crew would ”basically look at the load line. If they’re not over the load line they consider they are not overloaded.”

More hearings are scheduled to continue at ports along the Rabaul Queen route, and a report is due to be presented to the PNG government by June 30.

Jo Chandler is a senior writer.

Read more: http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/world/seeking-truth-behind-a-tragedy-20120420-1xcl9.html#ixzz1shYmHRAD

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Surviving the Sinking Of the Sea Diamond: an interview

The Sinking of the Sea Diamond

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Gare Maritime

by Mike Poirier

The sinking of the Costa Concordia has drawn inevitable comparisons with both Titanic and other maritime disasters. In this verbatim interview by Michael Poirier, a young survivor of the April 2007 Sea Diamond sinking, Zak Hayes, recalls the experience of evacuation at sea.

1. Could you give me an overview of yourself? Zak: I am 16 years old, from from Winston-Salem North Carolina. I have one sister and numerous pets including 2 dogs, a cat, and a cockatiel. I enjoy swimming and have a pool in my backyard.

2. Why did you book passage aboard the Sea Diamond? Our school takes an annual trip abroad usually to Europe. I went last year to Germany, Italy, Switzerland and Austria and I decided to go again this year. Myself and a group of 144 Students, Parents, and Teachers traveled to Italy and Greece. 77 of those 144 including myself went on the cruise.

3. What was the cost of sailing on the ship? I know that the cost for the 9-Day Tour without the cruise was $1946, and the 14 day trip with the cruise that I went on was $2527. I do not know the exact price but the cruise itself and the extra accommodations after the cruise were about $580 or so. I could find out the exact price on Monday when I go to school and let you know.

4. When did you depart for your trip? I left on March 25th, and returned on Saturday April 7th.

5. Was this your first cruise? No, I went on a Carnival Cruise leaving from Miami and going to Key West and Cozumel, Mexico last fall. I believe that was a 5 day cruise.

Sea Diamond Sinking
Sea Diamond Sinking
Sea Diamond Sinking
Sea Diamond Sinking

6. What did you think of the ship when you boarded it? The passenger accommodation? The public rooms? Well we roomed with 4 students to a room so the passenger accommodations were a bit cramped, but what can you expect when you have student rates. I thought the ship was very nice though, It seemed very clean and organized and fairly new.

7. What was your cabin number and what deck were you on? I was in room 3245 and that was on deck 3. One level above the 2nd level which was actually flooding after it happened.

8. Could you describe sail-away? No there wasn’t a band or confetti I don’t think, there could have been and I just could have missed it.

9. What did you do to occupy your time aboard the ship? Myself, my girlfriend (Samantha Putman) and two friends usually would hang around together. We laid on the top deck at the rear of the ship and tanned then we would go to the Jacuzzi and steam rooms. We also spent time in the cafe on deck 7.

10. What ports were you headed for and how many did you get to? We went to Mykonos, Patmos, Rhodes, and Kusadai? (I’m not sure about the spelling but that was a port in Turkey) We were headed to Santorini when it happened which was our last port of call on the next to last day of the cruise. I believe we were 15 minutes away when it happened.

11. Did you make any new friends while aboard the ship? Well we weren’t really allowed to roam about wherever we pleased we tried to keep close to our chaperones at most times so no I personally didn’t.

12. Where were you when the ship struck and what were you doing? I was on the 7th deck in the cafe having a chocolate milkshake. I remember I was sitting at a table with 2 other guys from my group. We were very close to land, and you could see cliffs out the window. I remember all of a sudden the ship started to shake, and it sounded like the bottom of the ship was scraping for about 10 seconds.

13. What was your impression of the noise? Well like above it sounded like the ship was scraping on something.

14. How badly did the ship list when it happened? Did it begin to heel over immediately or was it slow? It all happened so fast, but it felt like it actually rocked back in forth pretty violently for a few moments, and then it settled down onto the one side at a pretty slanted angle. It then stayed in that position. I remember we all jumped up and were starting to panic, but the waiters and waitresses and crew members told us everything was alright, and that it “happened all the time.” We then sat back down, and I actually finished my milkshake, then the people from the lower levels started running up the stairs some of which were wet from the knee down. Then we all started screaming and panicking and everyone raced up the stairs screaming. Glasses did begin to fall off of shelves and break after the ship started to list. Items were thrown around a bit in my girlfriend’s room when it happened and when it started to tilt she told me.

15. Were you able to return to your cabin to retrieve any items and if so what condition did you find your cabin? No I did not. I remember my girlfriend’s room was about 10 or 15 doors down from mine, and she was in her room with one of her roommates when it happened. She told me that when it hit she actually fell and hit her head on the wall but didn’t know what was going on. One of her friends snuck down through the crewmembers who wouldn’t let people down and she told them to get their life jackets on and come upstairs. My girlfriend didn’t believe her at first then she saw people running with life jackets. She told me she could actually hear water rushing in on the floor below.

16. Did you at anytime see water flooding the ship? I personally did not see it, but after being stuck on the top deck waiting to be rescued for 3 hours people from all levels including level 2 told me that the water there was ankle deep and in some parts knee deep. When we left we went back down to level 3 and exited the site opposite where it struck the reef. I don’t think anyone but the crew exited on the side where it was struck. And my room was not under water at that time I could see Sam’s room from the staircase as we were going down and it wasn’t and my room was 15 or so doors down.

17. Did you believe the ship would really sink or that the evacuation an precautionary measure? No, I seriously 100% believed the ship would not sink. They told us the “situation was under control, and the ship was not taking on any more water.” I was then assured after I was off the ship that my luggage and items would be “put on a barge and shipped to Athens and when I got to Athens if it wasn’t there yet it would be shipped to the United States.”

18. What was the attitude of the crew and the passengers as the ship was sinking? Any panic or nervousness? The passengers on the ship were beyond panic, some were hysteric. People were screaming, crying, and you have to remember that MOST people had NO life jackets on. Our life jackets and the drill that we practiced told us to get our life jackets out of our rooms. When we got to the top deck they started handing them out and people were fighting over them. I had to wear a child’s life jacket. I remember my girlfriend brought up an extra life jacket for a roommate that wasn’t in her room and had it torn from her arms. She also gave away her life jacket to a girl who was crying and screaming that she couldn’t swim.

19. How long before you were able to leave the ship and how did you escape? I think it took myself and my girlfriend who I finally found on the upper deck about 3 hours to get off. We went back down to the 3rd level were they had lowered a ramp from the cruise ship and latched it on to a ramp from a ferry. Well we had to go down to level 3 to get off the ship from the second highest deck where we were waiting outside. It was pitch black so we had to stick the water-activated cords from our life jackets in our mouth to turn on the lights, then we held on to the shoulder strap of the life jacket of the person in front of us and slowly went down the flights of stairs. We then walked across planks to get on the ferry, some people slid down a make-shift slide made of mattresses. I have a video of this on my you tube, and I have a photo as well. Some people from my group climbed down rope ladders, and others exited from a door on the side of the ship and climbed into life boats from there. Some people were actually using the lifeboats on the ship, but the crew had little idea of how to use them, and the doors to the life boats were painted shut.

20. What was your impression of watching the ship sink? Well after the ship sunk 1400 passengers were displaced. I remember waiting for at least an hour maybe more to ride a cable car up the mountain to get food. We had no money, some girls were in nothing but bathing suits. After we got food we returned to the bottom of the mountain and saw the ship on it’s side. At about 1am we got down the mountain to the shore. We then waited in the freezing cold sitting on the street for the next cruise ship that was taking us to Athens to arrive. They passed out blankets but many people didn’t get one. I used a bathroom towel and my girlfriend used a skirt that a woman gave her to wrap up in and keep warm. We waited for at least 3 hours to sign in on the check list and board the next ship. I think at about 4am we were in beds on the next ship. Then we woke up at 9am to get breakfast, then we waited in line for an hour to get our passports back, and waited in line for another hour to get the $200 Euro the cruise line gave us. (I could go on about this story forever so I hope this is alright) But when you think about it, we were a group of 77, we all had 2 $100 dollar bills and people didn’t have change for us all. Half of our group then traveled to London including me where they do not use the Euro. I didn’t spend any of my euro I had it exchanged when I got home.

21. Did you know the two missing passengers? I did not know the 2 missing passengers, but as horrible as it sounds I am so glad I was not one of them. In that situation with such chaos we were so blessed to only have 2 missing passengers. My heart goes out to their family.

22. How long did you stay overseas before you were able to come home? The day after the incident after we rode the other cruise ship overnight we arrived in Athens about Noon-1:00pm. We then headed to the airport and caught a flight to London. We spent a day there in a hotel and touring, most people spent this time buying clothes and girls in bathing suit bottoms finally found pants to wear.

23. Is the shipping line being helpful in regards to loss of luggage and aborted cruise? I’d love to say they were but it wouldn’t be true. We honestly don’t have much of an idea about what to do. I feel like I was lied to when they told me my luggage would be safe. I then saw on you tube the next day in London at the hotel the ship sinking and going all the way under. My heart physically ached when I thought about the rosary beads I got my mother that were blessed by the pope, and the jewelry and clothing I bought my sister, and the wooden ship I bought my father which he collects all in bottom of the ocean along with my favorite clothes, and electronics. It is too overwhelming to even think about. I believe I lost over $4,000 worth of stuff.

24. Did you save any memorabilia from the ship? Postcard, menu, etc…? All of those items along with my souvenirs are in my room. However I do have the boarding/charge card from the cruise ship and room key that has a picture of the ship and my name and cabin number on it.

25. Would you ever sail again? I believe in time I would, but I could want to room on a higher deck and I would definitely want an easier means of getting a life jacket.

26. Will you be keeping up with the official inquiry as to the sinking? Yes of course I will.

27. Has the disaster affected you or your friends where you dream of it? I know that the first day back to school we had grief counselors on hand and we all broke into groups. Some people have had nightmares about the events, others have had other forms of emotional distress. I have had a hard time going to sleep after the first few days but that has gotten better.

28. Now when you watch a documentary or re-creation of a sinking, (such as Titanic, Lusitania or Andrea Doria) do you think your mind will go back to your shipwreck? I’m sure it will, everything that happened that day is comparable to scenes from the Titanic. I kept comparing what was going on around me to the movie. I’m sure watching a movie such as the Titanic again would bring back some painful memories.

29. Do you think the ship should be salvaged (and your items be recovered) or do you think it should stay there? I highly doubt the ship will ever be salvaged but I wish it would. I’m sure most of the items if not all would be ruined from being in the salt water. I hope that people are not allowed to dive down and steal our possessions though and hopefully the spot is under security.

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Sea Diamond Sinking

Michael Poirier


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