The Andrea Doria was now listing 25 degrees and in the Radio Room behind the wheelhouse, a stillness followed the sending of the S.O.S. as seconds ticked away. Then the answers came in rapid succession. The SOS was acknowledged as received first by the South Chatham radio station in Massachusetts and then from the Mackay Radio station on Long Island, New York. The Coast Guard acknowledged the SOS from its radio lookout post in East Moriches, Long Island. The U.S. Navy transport Private William Thomas and the Navy transport Sergeant Jonah E. Kelley, and a Danish freighter and several ships not listed in the radio call sign book aboard the Andrea Doria. These responses to the S.O.S. which showed that ships not too far away would soon be coming to the Andrea Doria's assistance were relayed to Captain Calamai on the bridge. The four radiomen on the Andrea Doria knew that on all the ships radiomen were delivering the Andrea Doria's distress message and position to their captains. The Andrea Doria soon would be receiving position reports from the other ships and then messages that they were on their way.
But it was Radioman First Class RobRoy A. Todd, monitoring messages
on 500 khz at the New York Coast Guard's radio listening station in East Moriches, on the
southern shore of Long Island, who triggered the Coast Guard's Sea and Air Rescue
Co-ordination Center into action. Yelling for the other two men on his watch, he handed
over the two messages that had come in almost simultaneously from ships with the call
signs ICEH and SEJT. The call signs were quickly translated into the names of the two
ships and at 11:25pm word was sent by a direct teletype circuit to the Rescue Center in
New York City:
On the tenth floor of 80 Lafayette Street, Lieutenant (senior grade) Harold W. Parker, Jr., swung into swift routine action. On a large chart of the coastal waters, Lieutenant Parker spotted in an instant the location and availability of all Coast Guard vessels in the Third Coast Guard District extending from Rhode Island to Delaware. The district maintained three ships on rescue duty, alternating weekly in three conditions of readiness. In Status-A a ship has its full crew aboard, motors warmed, and is ready to put to sea on notice. Status-B was standby duty, followed by a number to indicate the hours it would take the crew to return to the ship and be under way. Status-C was off duty and not available.
A telephone call to the Sandy Hook Lifeboat Station in New York Harbor and a relay by voice radio put the 205-foot Coast Guard cutter Tamaroa, which was on Status-A, under way three minutes after the collision message reached Lieutenant Parker. The Owasco, on B-6 status in New London, Connecticut, was alerted via the East Moriches radio station. Lieutenant Parker next dispatched the cutters Yakutat and Campbell of the Coast Guard Cadet (training) squadron, anchored in Cape Cod Bay.
Picking up a telephone "hot line" open wire to the Coast Guard headquarters in Boston, he learned that Boston too had swung into action. The cutter Evergreen, returning to Boston from ice patrol duty off Newfoundland, had been diverted to the disaster scene 100 miles away; the Hombeam, 90 miles away in Woods Hole and the Legare in New Bedford, both on B Status in Massachusetts ports, had been alerted. Every Coast Guard vessel available was dispatched.
Coast Guard stations up and down the coast, from the airfields in Bermuda to Argentia, were alerted and took cross radio bearings on the Andrea Doria's radio signals to pinpoint her position-just in case the position sent by the ship had been incorrect. But whatever its efforts, the Coast Guard was not equipped to be of much immediate help to a distressed ship so far beyond coastal waters.
Considerably closer to the scene was the 390-foot United Fruit Company cargo ship Cape Ann, returning empty from a chartered trip to Bremerhaven, Germany. The twelve-year-old freighter carried a crew of forty-four and only one radioman and he, S. Charles Failla, had closed down the radio shack at 10 p.m., not failing, however, to set the radio's auto alarm on 500 khz for distress calls.
Failla was in bed, in his cabin adjacent to the radio room when the alarm
went off at 11:20 pm. like a shrill alarm clock. The radioman dashed to his radio receiver in
time to catch the Stockholm message and the S.O.S from the Andrea
The radioman found his captain on the bridge, close by the radar, where he had been for the past twelve hours while the 6,600-ton freighter was plowing through thick fog. When Captain Joseph A. Boyd received the news, he rapidly charted his own position and that of the Andrea Doria.
The Andrea Doria was only fifteen
and one-half miles to the southwest, a few degrees off his course to New York.
Other skippers turned their ships toward the Andrea Doria's position and sent word that help was on the way.
The U.S.S Edward H. Allen (DE531) and the U.S.S. Heyliger (DE510) were just completing a reserve training cruise to St. Johns, New Brunswick, Canada and were on their return trip when they responded to the distress call.
The Norwegian freighter Lionne, 150 miles away, asked the Andrea Doria
whether she was needed.
The Private William H. Thomas, a Navy transport returning to New York with troops and dependents from Europe, was nineteen miles east of the Andrea Doria, engulfed in fog. Second Radio Officer Harry E. Rea was drinking a Coke with Third Radio Officer Sorano in the radio shack when an SOS blared on 500 KCs and Harry joined in copying the position the Andrea Doria was giving.
When Harry ran with the message to the bridge they
discovered they were only 19 miles away.
Captain John S. Shea ordered a change of course and joined in the rescue.
Forty-five miles farther to the northeast churning through the same fog was the Tidewater Oil Company tanker Robert E. Hopkins, which had just left Boston on her return trip to Corpus Christi, Texas. The tanker sent her position and said she was coming full speed with her two lifeboats. Her captain, René Blanc, was a man with nerves of steel. He not only navigated the long, empty and unwieldy tanker through the pads of fog, but he zigzagged full speed at fifteen knots through a maze of small fishing boats off the Massachusetts coast before he could reach the open sea.
To say that these men and the masters of the other ships in the vicinity responded to the Andrea Doria's S.O.S. without a moment's hesitation would be untrue. But to their credit, they responded readily, knowing only that the Andrea Doria was in some sort of distress, but not that she was in danger of sinking. The sense of responsibility of a ship's master and the wear upon his nerves when he must decide to put caution aside to risk the safety of his ship and passengers in diverting his ship from course to speed through a thick fog in the hope of aiding a sister ship in distress-this cannot be truly estimated or described by men ashore.
The burden of responsibility borne by the master of a freighter, a tanker or a transport does not weigh as heavily as it does upon the captain of a passenger liner, and the single man who was probably most troubled by receiving the S.O.S. was Baron Raoul de Beaudéan, vacation replacement master of the venerable French liner Ile de France. Carrying 940 passengers and a crew of 826 to Le Havre, France. He might well have told himself, upon receiving the news, "There but for the Grace of God..."
The Ile de France, had left New York at the same time as the Stockholm. Captain de Beaudéan was at the radar when his radio officer, Pierre Allanet, burst into the quiet wheelhouse with news of the disaster. He had picked up an S.O.S .from the Andrea Doria as relayed by an unidentified ship at 11:30 P.M., but he could hear nothing on 500 khz from the Andrea Doria herself. Captain de Beaudéan looked at the message. SOS AT 0320 GMT LAT. 40-30 N, 69-53 W. NEED IMMEDIATE ASSISTANCE. Knowing he was not too far from the scene, he sent the radio officer back for more information and went into the chartroom to fix the position of his ship. Returning with more intercepted messages, the radioman told him that the Andrea Doria had collided with the Stockholm, that several ships were rushing to the scene, including the Cape Ann and the Thomas.
Captain de Beaudéan pondered the worst dilemma of his thirty-five-year career: to go on to France or to turn back to the rescue. He could hardly believe that a modem liner like the Andrea Doria actually was sinking. Nothing in any of the radio messages mentioned sinking. Yet, there was the S.O.S. and the call for immediate assistance. He could not lightly dismiss the S.O.S. as a mistake in judgment of a hysterical captain. He knew the sea too well for that. But the question was: Was the Ile de France herself needed for the rescue? He was under no rigid obligation to go to the rescue. The 1929 International Conference for Safety of Life at Sea, following the rescue fiasco involved in the Titanic disaster, made it mandatory for every ship hearing an S.O.S. to proceed directly to the scene, unless specifically released from that obligation by the ship in distress. But that strict requirement was toned down in the 1948 Conference. Now, as long as other ships were known to be going to the aid of the distressed ship, it was left to the discretion of a ship's master whether or not to respond to an S.O.S.
Captain de Beaudéan was fully aware of the moral demands of the tradition of the sea, but he also realized the tremendous expense of turning back his fuel-hungry ship. He would have a good deal of explaining to do to the French Line if he steamed back to the Andrea Doria and then found the Ile de France was not needed. Yet, if the Ile de France were needed, the French Line would never question his action. It was a complex decision but his alone to make. He was, after all, as the Merchant Marine Minister of France was later to say, the "Sole Master after God" of the Ile de France.
Captain de Beaudéan decided to ask the Andrea Doria directly
if the Ile de France were needed. He sent his ship's position as of 11:40 and asked
the Andrea Doria:
Once his decision was made, Captain de Beaudéan, who had taken
command of the Ile de France only a month before, acted swiftly and surely. He
swung the 793-foot ship around in a wide circle and set a direct course to the scene of
the disaster forty-four miles away. At 11:54 that night, eleven minutes after his first
message to the Andrea Doria was sent, he radioed:
From the Andrea Doria, no answer came. But radioman Failla on
the Cape Ann, correctly surmising the difficulty, relayed:
The captain telephoned to the Engine Room for full speed ahead and set about preparing for the rescue operation ahead. He summoned the second-in-command, Staff Captain Christian Pettre, and gave orders for the preparation of lifeboats, the selecting of crews and the necessity for not alarming, if possible, the passengers on the Ile de France. Her crew responded to the cry of distress with a spirit and enthusiasm akin perhaps to the first regiments who marched across France to the strains of the Marseillaise. News of the disaster spread by word of mouth throughout the crew's quarters in myriad forms of distortion and inaccuracy. But speculation only added fuel to the flames of spirit among the deckhands, cabin boys, engineers, chefs and stewards who rolled out of their bunks after a hard days routine to take part in the emergency. This was the opportunity for the newest kitchen helper or cabin boy to prove he was above all a seaman. It was a chance once again to serve the tradition and legend of the sea and the glory of the rescue.
As the rescue ships raced toward the stricken Andrea Doria, the
Italian liner drifted sideways toward the nearby Stockholm. Captain Nordenson first
noticed the change in position of the two ships in his radar, and then from the wing of
his bridge he saw the lights of the Italian liner drawing closer and larger in the night.
The Doria was drifting directly for the Stockholm, as if seeking vengeance. Captain
Nordenson, wasting no time in trying to get out of the way, plunged the levers of the
engine telegraph to full speed astern and shouted to the helmsman for a hard starboard
turn. Peder Larsen swung the helm and the ship began to vibrate as the engines started,
but the ship did not turn and, as the men soon discovered, neither did she move. As the Andrea
Doria came closer, the bridge of the Stockholm was thrown into turmoil. The
Engine Room was called, the helm was checked, the floodlights were beamed on the bow to
determine if the anchors were down because of the collision. But the engines were
operating normally, the wheel seemed undamaged, and the five-and-one-half-ton anchors were
in place. Not only were they in place but they had been smashed into the wrecked side of
the ship's bow.
It was shortly after midnight that Captain Nordenson, reasonably assured of the seaworthiness of the Stockholm, made his first announcement to his passengers. "Attention please," he said in English over the loudspeaker system to the whole ship. "This is the Captain speaking. We have collided with the Italian passenger ship Andrea Doria. But there is no danger. There is nothing to worry about."
The forthright announcement, delivered in a tone of voice so calm
and deliberate, that it took the spark out of passenger speculation. Some passengers
returned to their cabins but most were not to be denied their expectation of further
excitement. There was little enough for any of them to observe on the Stockholm itself and
the fog and mist obscured all but an occasional glimpse of the lights of the Andrea
Doria in the distance. Except for the hurried movements of the crew flitting by,
everything in the passengers' quarters appeared normal. The ship was well lighted, the
slight list was barely noticeable, and the bow and crew's quarters forward were off-limits
and guarded by sentinels of the crew.
One hour and five minutes after the collision, the Stockholm
received an appeal from the Andrea Doria with all the earmarks of desperation.
The radio message from the captain of the Andrea Doria posed a dilemma for the sixty-three-year-old master of the Stockholm. The urgent appeal indicated the Andrea Doria must be in imminent danger of sinking. But then, the captain reasoned, why didn't they launch their lifeboats? His first responsibility was for the safety of his own passengers and he could not send away his own lifeboats while the remotest possibility existed that the Stockholm might need them. Yet he could not refuse lifeboats to a sinking ship one mile away.
He radioed the Andrea Doria:
This rather argumentative exchange, apparently between the respective radio officers of the two ships, then was referred to the two captains. Captain Calamai sent an explanation with a renewed appeal.
12:35 am WE ARE BENDING [listing] TOO MUCH. IMPOSSIBLE TO PUT BOATS OVER SIDE. PLEASE SEND LIFEBOATS IMMEDIATELY.
Captain Nordenson, meanwhile, conferred with Chief Officer Kallback and Second Officer Enestrom who told him that they thought the Stockholm was out of danger of sinking. The second bulkhead was holding and would hold firm against the sea. The captain dispatched word to be radioed to the Andrea Doria: the Stockholm would send lifeboats in forty minutes. He ordered Kallback and Enestrom to see to the manning, equipping and launching of all of the Stockholm's three motor lifeboats and four of her eight hand-propelled craft. The other four lifeboats would remain aboard, just in case.
As Enestrom was leaving the bridge, the captain called him back. "Stand there," he said, indicating the wing of the bridge, "and listen to hear if the loudspeaker system is working properly." The captain switched on the system and announced to the passengers: "This is the Captain speaking. As I have said before, we have collided with another ship. Now we are going to launch our lifeboats. But they are not for us. They are to pick up survivors from the other ship. There is no danger on the Stockholm." Enestrom went down to help with the launching of the lifeboats, marveling that the "old man thought of everything".
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