our Friend Marcin Marciniak has created a nice Facebook account for Maritime Radio I suggest to follow:
Marcin reported me a very interesting article about the RESCUE operation occured during the sinking of the Passenger ship PRINSENDAM c/s PJTA, our colleague David J. RING was the Radio Officer who, from the Super Tanker “WILLAMSBURGH” c/s WGOA, replies at first at the SOS call launched on 500 kc/s. WGOA reached the vessel in distress where assisted passengers and crew members abandoned the ship.
It was 04 of October 1980, late night in the Gulf of Alaska on Pacific Ocean. 500kc was already quiet as the R/Os were off watch and some vessels used satellite communication. Around midnight local time, 12 four seconds long dashes were sent followed by a message:
SOS SOS SOS DE PJTA PJTA PJTA PASSENGER SHIP PRINSENDAM POSITION 57. 38N 140. 25WEST. FIRE IN ENGINE ROOM. FLOODING ENGINE ROOM WITH CARBON DIOXIDE. CONDITIONS UNKNOWN. PASSENGERS 320. CREW 190
Next messages were even worse:
EXACT SITUATION UNKNOWN AS ENGINE ROOM CLOSED TO LET THE CO2 DO ITS WORK.
ENGINE ROOM ON FIRE AND FIRE EXTINGUISHERS ARE EMPTY
The Prinsendam/PJTA was 140m long, built in Merwede, Holland, took about 500 persons on board. She was about 120 miles North of Yakutat. The fire started before midnight in the engine room. Chief engineer and the crew were doing everything possible to extinguish the fire, including flooding the whole engine room with carbon dioxide. About one hour later the fire went out of control so the captain called Kodiak Coast Guard/NOJ via satellite asking for assistance. The station replied that if there is any danger the distress signal should be sent. Captain refused to do so. Less than a hour later the the SATCOMs ceased functioning due to heavy list to the starboard. The R/O on duty has sent the SOS by his own authority. He was sure that it was the only way of saving the ship and all the people (including himself!) because the old man was shocked and probably out of control too. Fortunately for the passengers and the crew the R/O (Jack van der Zee) sent the distress signal and the old systems on 500kcs were still in place. Fortunately there was a supertanker m/v Williamsburgh/WGOA nearby that had the autoalarm turned on and then the R/O could receive the distress signal. The tanker and the Coast Guard saved all the people aboard. The Prinsendam went under a few days later. The recording of the distress signal and the Williamsburgh’s log can be found on the Internet. Jack van der Zee was a national hero of Holland because over 500 persons owed him life.
P/S PRINSENDAM sinking
Prinsendam rescue operation is still a classic example of two security systems working on different principles that used different kind of communication media. One of them worked as intended. What if there wasn’t any R/O on board?
R/O David J. RING (he was on board Supertanker “WILLIAMSBURGH”)
Radio Log of SS “WILLIAMSBURGH”
The distress signal – (Youtube clip with subtitles to be embedded)