SS American Importer Rescue

By Jay Schmidt

Reprinted Courtesy of The Duane Newsletter


On February 16,1966 the Duane was on Ocean Station Bravo. Typically at that time of year, she was buffeting a strong North Atlantic winter storm with cold, fierce winds. White caps and foam flew from the tops of the huge icy swells that bounced the Duane as she slowly made headway to remain on station.

At about 150 miles east of St. Johnís, Newfoundland, a 400 foot freighter, the SS American Importer was heading for Dublin and Liverpool from New York. It was also being pounded by the heavy seas and 40 mph winds. The cargo in the hold broke loose, caused a small fire, shifted and smashed a three foot gash in her side allowing seawater to enter. Although the pumps were able to keep up, the captain ordered a distress message sent out. The Duane received the message and relayed the information to USCG Radio Washington. The Duane was ordered to escort the ship to St. Johnís. A USCG C-130 plane flew overhead in case pumps needed to be dropped.

The Duane charged into the 20 foot seas and headed towards the crippled freighter at about 8 knots. During the trip toward the American Importer, the Duane "swimmers" got into their wet suits and practiced their routines in case they had to jump in and rescue crewmembers of the American Importer. The Duane arrived near the stricken ship in about six hours. Radioman Second Class Rick Moison joked that when the American Importer crewmen saw the Duane coming over the horizon, they were thinking, "How can we help you?" in reference to the Duane's ice-covered condition.

Fortunately, the American Importer, which was in constant Morse code radio contact with the Duane, remained afloat. The Duane escorted the American Importer safely into St. Johnís, Newfoundland the next day. The American Importer stayed for repairs, and the Duane's crew got one night's unexpected liberty ashore after spending the day breaking ice off all exposed surfaces.

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