"I remember traveling by train with four Boot Camp Companies to march in the Inaugural Parade for President Truman and hearing our Company Commander in a hushed voice announce that the Eastwind had collided with another ship and many men were lost." - jack
The collision of the tanker Gulfstream with the icebreaker Eastwind in fog off the New Jersey coast on 19 January 1949.
CGC EASTWIND on Fire with the CGC SASSAFRAS and CGC GENTIAN Standing By
The tanker, on passage from Philadelphia to the Persian Gulf, was not equipped with radar, but she continued to proceed at 15 knots after entering a fogbank at 4:30 A.M., although she did begin to sound fog signals. Meanwhile, the Eastwind, bound for Chesapeake Bay from Boston, was steaming at 14 knots when her radar operator reported the Gulfstream 9 miles on her starboard bow. Subsequent reports made it clear that the two ships were on collision courses, and the tanker's bearing remained constant after the minor course change ordered by the officer of the deck.
On entering the fog, the Eastwind neither slowed nor sounded fog signals. Radar contact was lost in sea return as the vessels closed, and neither sighted the other's running lights until they were close aboard. The icebreaker's rudder was put hard left and the Gulfstream turned hard right almost simultaneously and at 4:37 a.m.. the tanker's bow smashed into the Eastwind just abaft her bridge. Fire broke out in both ships; that in the tanker was confined to the forepeak fortunately, as her empty cargo tanks were not gas free. The fire in the Eastwind spread rapidly, engulfing, the chief petty officers' quarters, the radio room, and the bridge, killing eleven men and burning twenty-one others more or less seriously. Two of the merchant vessels that answered the Gulfstream's distress signal embarked the Eastwind's injured men for transportation to the Staten Island Marine Hospital, where two more died. The Buoy Tenders Gentian and Sassafras helped to extinguish the Eastwind's fires and then towed the badly damaged icebreaker to New York, stern first, while the tanker made port under her own power.
Although the Board of Inquiry noted the Gulfstream's excessive speed in the fog, the major responsibility for the disaster clearly rested with the Eastwind, the burdened vessel under the Rules of the Road. Her officer of the deck had ignored standing orders with regard to reduction of speed in fog, sounding fog signals, and informing the captain when a radar target approached within 3 miles.
Nor did the commanding officer escape blame; reviewing the board's findings, the commandant charged him with negligence in that he had permitted an officer and a seaman "of insufficient experience and competence" to serve as officer of the deck and lookout in a busy shipping lane.
The Eastwind returned to service eighteen months later, after repairs costing more than $ 1,000,000. And since the Coast Guard was still plagued by personnel shortages, the loss of thirteen enlisted men, nine of whom were Chief Petty Officers, was the more serious.
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