Tuesday afternoon, Betty and I watched a couple of shows on the Discovery Channel about ship wrecks. One was about a freighter that sank because it’s hatches gave way in a storm causing her to take on water.
That brought back a memory from my time as Navigator on my Navy ship, USS WILLIAM H. STANDLEY (DLG-32).
We were headed to Vietnam for our second tour. We had gone through the Panama Canal, stopped in Pearl Harbor, and then in to Guam to take on fuel.
After Guam, we steamed into the Philippine Sea to make our approach to Subic Bay on the Island of Luzon in the Philippines.
We were aware a gale was starting in the Philippine Sea and we would have worked our way around the worst of it. Then we got a rescue radio message from the Philippines Coast Guard.
A Philippine freighter was in the midst of the Philippine Sea when the gale hit. It was carrying a shipment of logs heading North for Taiwan. This is a picture of a similar size and style of freighter.
The Philippines Coast Guard message said the freighter was sinking. It’s hatches had broken open due to the storm’s violence and it was taking on water. To make things worse, the cargo of logs had shifted causing the freighter to list which made it more likely to take on additional water.
We were told that the freighter captain’s last words to the Coast Guard were, “Oh God, save my crew.”
The law of the sea requires any ship in the area with a possibility of getting to the sinking ship should do so as soon as possible. Captain Blanks didn’t hesitate and we altered course to head to the freighter’s last known position.
This meant sailing into the teeth of the second worse storm we encountered on that cruise. (We sailed around a typhoon in the South China Sea later on that cruise. A typhoon is a hurricane in the Pacific.)
This short video of Navy ships in storms gives you a rough idea of what we encountered. The last part of the video is a view from the ship’s bridge and there are missile launchers on the forecastle below the bridge. This would have been a ship similar to mine and I was on the bridge throughout the storm.
The bridge on the STANDLEY was 44 feet above the water so you can get an idea of how big the waves can be.
Most of the waves we sailed through in the storm were white water that crashed onto the bridge windows like in the video. However, there was one big wave that actually crashed completely over our ship. When it hit the bridge windows we were looking into green water under the white water of the wave crest. Exciting times.
After about 12 hours of plowing through waves like this we got another radio message from the Philippines Coast Guard.
It said that the freighter had made it through the storm and was sailing slowly toward Taiwan. So, ‘never mind.’
They thanked us and we resumed our course to the Philippines.
Still it makes for a good sea story.