Mormacrey to the Rescue!
("The Mooremack News," April
(Courtesy of Vincent
The dramatic story of the rescue of 36
tanker crew members during the early morning hours of January 4 in a
gale-tossed Caribbean Sea, 350 miles from the Canal Zone, was revealed in a
report submitted by the Master of the S.S. Mormacrey, cargo-passenger
vessel of the Moore-McCormack Lines.
W. R. Whilden, Master of the S.S.
Mormacrey, en route to Cristobal in the Canal Zone, described how, on
January 2, his radio operator, Ruel E. Cowden, picked up an urgent broadcast
indicating that the fully loaded oil tanker S.S. Adellen, bound from
Cartagena, Colombia, to Curacao, N.W.I., was floundering in heavy seas with
disabled engines and required quick assistance. The Mormacrey’s
course was immediately ordered changed to the direction of the distressed
vessel, and a radio message was sent out advising that the freighter was
coming to the rescue. Radio directions were also given to the tanker to
spread an oil slick to help calm the heavy seas.
The stricken tanker was contacted by radio
again in the early morning of the next day, notifying the master that the
Mormacrey was within 25 miles and directing the tanker to prepare for
rescue. The radio reply indicated that there were no lights or steam
available on the tanker, and that the well-decks were awash, therefore
eliminating the possibility of handling lines amidships. The tanker,
however, suggested that she would fire a rocket with heaving lines attached
for the Mormacrey to take mooring amidship.
At 10 o’clock that night, the Mormacrey
approached the tanker, after first carefully circling. Eight minutes later
she received the line fired from the tanker. Both vessels were now abreast
of each other, rolling in the heavy swells while arrangements were being
made for another line to go from aft to stern of the tanker. Signal light
directions then blinked to the Mormacrey asking her to stand by until
daylight. However, a sudden radio message at 1:45 in the morning of January
3 frantically requested that the Mormacrey close in as the Adellen
was in serious danger, with more than 16 feet of water in her engine room.
The crisis passed, however, as the Mormacrey stood by for an
emergency rescue of the Adellen’s crew members.
At 4:10 that morning, with a northeast gale
blowing down on the two vessels, all hands aboard the Mormacrey
turned to as maneuvers were begun to fasten another line aboard the tanker.
As the rescue vessel came abreast once more, a rocket-propelled hawser was
shot aboard the tanker and made fast. Three hours later, proceeding slowly
ahead with the tanker in tow, the freighter suddenly lurched as the heavy
lines snapped apart. More than 2½ hours were required to maneuver
along-side again in the rough seas, and another rocket line was fired. This
time a towing wire was secured. By noon the Mormacrey had commenced
towing again, but less than an hour later this tow wire parted as well.
Once more the Mormacrey reversed engines and pulled away to maneuver
Meanwhile the tanker was rolling very
heavily in the wind-swept sea—her decks heavily awash. The Mormacrey
continued circling closely near the floundering vessel until the early
morning hours of Tuesday, January 4, when a blinker message from the tanker
notified that lifeboats were being readied for "abandon ship." Aboard the
Mormacrey, the steward prepared blankets and hot coffee in readiness
for the Adellen’s crew members. Jacob’s ladders were lowered
alongside as volunteers offered to man a rescue lifeboat if it became
necessary to launch one. Every man aboard the rescue ship was at an
emergency station ready to render aid.
The powerful searchlight acted as a guiding
beam as the first lifeboat was lowered from the Adellen into the
rough sea, and 21 crew members pulled toward the freighter. Soaking wet,
but cheerful, they clambered aboard to be greeted by the cheers and
backslaps of their rescuers.
Another lifeboat with 15 more men was
lowered from the tanker, and the Mormacrey maneuvered into position
to receive this second boat. Tossing like a cork in the huge rollers, the
lifeboat crew fought against the sea for 31 minutes before the last seaman
was assisted safely aboard the Mormacrey and the lifeboat cut away.
Six men chose to remain aboard the tanker — the Master, Chief Engineer, 3rd
Mate, 1st Asst. Engineer, and a galley boy. Blinker messages between the
Mormacrey and the Adellen continued in order to keep up the
spirits of the men remaining aboard.
All through the night the Mormacrey
kept up her vigil. At one time the Adellen blinked "please keep
close as we are taking much water aboard."
Later another message from the tanker: "Your
light is a very cheery signal to see."
Under the powerful beams of the freighter’s
searchlight, figures could be seen scurrying about the stern of the tanker,
readying lifeboats in the event a quick departure was necessary during the
The early morning of January 5 found seas
and swells continuing very heavily. Strong northeast winds kept the
stricken vessel awash and rolling sluggishly and heavily, with mountains of
water pouring over her.
At 8:30 am, a radio message was received
from the tug Relief, stating that she was racing toward the scene at
top speed. "Lay a smoke screen to help us find you," radioed the salvage
tug. However, it was not until 10:22 that night that the tug was sighted
approximately eight miles away. By 11:40 p.m. the tug had maneuvered into
position to send out a heavy manila hawser across the bow of the seemingly
lost vessel. However, shortly after midnight, the powerful tug took up the
strain on the hawser and proceeded slowly to tow. Anxiously, everyone
prayed the rope would hold — and it did.
A happy radio message
was sent from the Master of the Adellen to the Mormacrey,
acknowledging his sincere thanks and those of his crew. Aboard the
Mormacrey, Captain Whilden ordered the course changed for original