Maritime inquiry 1939 - 1945
The information below regarding ships in the Nortraship fleet is a direct transcript of the original source "Sjøforklaringer fra andre verdenskrig (1940 - 1945)". The informasjon is collected from maritime inquiries held during and right after the war. The information may differ from the other quality assured information in Krigsseilerregisteret.
(Forklaringer opptatt av konsulen til bruk for Handelsdepartementet - ikke sjøforklaring)
Appeared Captain Godtfred Sandnes ...
The vessel was fully manned and in good seaworthy condition.
All the prescribed lifesaving equipment available and in the prescribed order.
Kapok lifesaving jackets had been obtained in July 1940 at Liverpool. They had been distributed and orders given that the deck crew must have the lifesaving jackets on when on watch. Special orders had been given about this after passing the 20th degree.
A spare set of lifesaving jackets to the number of about 34 had been obtained at Oslo in 1939. Probably about one dozen at Portland, Maine, in January 1940.
This spare set was in lifebelt chests, i.e. one chest on the upper bridge, 2 on the lower bridge and 2 aft.
On the fore deck there was an extra lifeboat in gripes in such a way that when the vessel sank it would float clear of the gripes. The gripes arrangement had been obtained in February 1934 at Mobile (Mobile Drydock).
Amidship, there was a gig on the port side in davits, swung out.
Aft, two lifesaving rafts had been placed (one built at New York in August 1940, the other in January 1941 at Halifax), one on the port, one on the starboard side, each on special bridges, built at the same time, so that they could glide out by themselves when the lashings were cut, for which purpose an axe had been placed alongside. They have always been placed aft.
The motor lifeboat was aft on the port side and the ordinary lifeboat on the starboard side, both in davits, swung out.
The last inspection by the Shipping Control had been carried out in August 1940 at New York.
All the lifeboats and the lifesaving rafts were according to regulations and had complete equipment as prescribed (of provisions actually more).
Boat drill with launching of the lifeboats had been carried out regularly, the last just before the departure from Canada.
The crew's quarters, the crew's mess room, the officers' mess room and the engine room officers' cabins were aft. The deck officers' cabins were amidship. The chief engineer and the chief officer used to have their meals with the captian in the saloon.
During the voyage across from Canada (to Methil) nothing had occurred. The vessel was approaching the mouth of Thames, the Sunk Buoy having just been passed., when the casualty occurred on the 6th March in the morning. She was loaded with 3823 tons fuel oil. The casualty occurred during the morning at 9.05. The sea was calm and there was no movement of the ship, gentle breeze, the speed was about 3/4, the course steady, when - while the captain was on the bridge and at that moment was looking towards aft watching one of several steamers which were in the neighbourhood some only 3 cable lengths away - a terrific explosion occured. The noise was quite deafening. The explosion occurred under the engine room. It struck right under the ship, not to the side. The vessel was not thrown and did not heel over, but she was lifted up. The motor stopped instantly. The result was that the electric lights went out so that all the spaces under deck were in darkness as the port-lights had been painted over.
The captain was lifted up where he was standing, fell down backwards, but immediately got up and then saw a dark cloud of smoke obscuring the whole of the after part of the ship, and - as the cloud of smoke fell a little (fairly quicly) - he saw that the deck aft was under water, the two lifeboats gone, the starboard lifeboat floating bottom upwards, a lifesaving raft was seen on edge near the funnel. The vessel was now going down with great speed, within a few minutes. The vessel went down straight, without any list.
At the moment of the casualty, some of the crew - among them ordinary seaman Lous Verheyden - were at work getting out the mooring ropes under the direction of the boatswain, Ivar Gustav Gustavsen. The captain had given the order for this.
The boatswain signed out from London on Saturday the 15th March on the s/s "Vigrid".
The chief engineer and the chief officer had just left the saloon after breakfast and were below deck amidship. Likewise the steward.
There was no one on the forecastle.
On the bridge was 3rd officer Arne Grøn, in the wheel house. The helmsman was ordinary seaman Ole Mønnerød. The look-out man, a Latvian, ordinary seaman Ernest Plume, was standing on the starboard side. the captain on the port side.
Having got up after his fall the captain shouted towards aft that they must use the raft, but both rafts had gone, likewise both the lifeboats aft.
The gig was lowered and 11 men, including the captain, went into this, of whom 4 had managed to get forward from the after part of the ship. These 4 were:- the 3rd engineer and 3 of the crew. There were picked up from the water by the gig 4 who had jumped out namely the wireless operator, who jumped from amidship, and 3 others who jumped from the after part of the ship. 15 men in all in the gig. They were picked up by a destroyer which came racing up.
Into the lifeboat forward went the chief officer, the chief engineer, the boatswain, one gunner (the Canadian), who was injured, and one of the crew. In all in the lifeboat 5 who were picked up by the same British destroyer.
From the after part of the ship 4 had, as mentioned, managed to get away from there and come forward and had got into the gig - and 3 who had jumped into the sea from the after part of the ship and were picked up from the water by the gig.
All those who were on watch in the engine room must have been killed immediately. As mentioned, the explosion occurred below the engine room.
The 5 who were on watch in the engine room were:-
2 Latvian greasers,
1 English pumpman,.
the 2nd engineer and
the engineer assistant.
The others who are missing were also in the after part of the ship namely:-
1 Dutch mess room boy,
1 Finnish motorman,
1 Belgian ordinary seaman.
All the 10 who lost their lives were in good health. The cook and the mess room boy are assumed to have been sitting in the mess room for breakfast. The electrician was at work below deck somewhere. The motorman was off duty. The Belgian ordinary seaman was among the men who were occupied with bringing the mooring ropes up from the rope lockers.
The log books had also on this voyage been kept in the usual way.
The deck scrap log book was in the chart room, the deck log book in the chief officer's cabin. These books went down.
The captain, who had placed in a bag in his office the wages accounts, the crew's accounts and some of the ship's papers, managed to get that bag with him.
As regards clothes and effects nothing was saved and all on board lost all their belongings (clothes etc.). All the officers had belongings of greater value than the prescribed compensation, especially in view of the way in which the value of money has now depreciated. The same was also the case in respect of several of the crew (for instance the boatswain).
The captain definitely assumes that the explosion was due to an under water mine. There were no other vessels in the vicinity which were struck by any explosion. But all the vessels in the vicinity were steamers.
He stated that the look-out man, who was a Latvian, did not speak English, nor any other language but his own.
Appeared the 1st witness, Arne Odvar Grøn, ... 3rd officer.
The lifesaving equipment was first class and complete boat drills had been carried out.
He knew that the two lifebelt chests aft contained lifesaving jackets. There were no lifesaving jackets amidship, no chest containing jackets there. But lifebelts were hanging in the wheel-house and there were 4 buoys.
All who jumped into the sea had lifesaving jacets on except Turner who was floating on pieces of wood. Those who had lifesaving jacets on were floating high in the water.
The boat in gripes on the forward part of the ship could not be put out. It was intended to float clear when the vessel sank.
The witness had not sailed in a tanker before. On the ships in which he has sailed the lifeboats had been placed amidship.
Took over on the bridge at 8 o'clock. Was standing in the wheel-house when the casualty occurred and was at that moment looking at the compass. Did not look at the clock. Expects it was some minutes before 9 when the casualty occurred. It was a powerful sharp sound. He fell down on his knees. It appeared to him that there were 2 shocks, one just after the other, and it was at the second that he sank down on his knees and fell down towards the starboard side. Got up on to the bridge. Did not notice whether the electric light in the chart room went out.
On the bridge he saw the air, towards aft, full of pieces of wreckage. Had even to seek cover from them. Saw that the lifeboats had disappeared. Saw about 3-4 men at the port raft, among them the boatswain. The after part of the ship had already sunk considerably.
The vessel did not heel over.
At the moment of the explosion the speed was either 3/4 or full. He remembers that just before the explosion he was at the telephone (i.e. in the wheel-house) and asked for full speed according to orders from the captain, but he may possible have received orders later to alter to less speed again. There were so many speed alterations.
The captain had been on the bridge for about 10 minutes (after having had breakfast).
The witness had just come into the wheel-house because of order from the captain to go more to starboard. The order about this had been given by the witness to the helmsman, but the order for steady had not yet come from the captain when the casualty occurred. The vessel was thus in the act of turning to starboard.
Ran down on the lower bridge. At the same time the chief officer, the chief engineer and the steward came up from amidship to the lower bridge. The chief engineer and the chief officer lowered the gig. The captain went in to fetch the papers.
The vessel had quite considerable way. When the gig passed the stern the whole of the after part of the ship was 1-2 metres above water, but after that the vessel went quickly down.
From the time of the explosion until the after part of the ship was under (including the poop) the witness thinks was probably about 5 minutes.
Appeared the 2nd witness, Ole Mønnerød (Hansen) ... ordinary seaman on board.
He had been at the wheel from 8 o'clock. The vessel was in the act of making an alteration of course to starboard when the explosion occurred. He thinks the vessel was heading 240. The witness thinks that the order for hard a starboard was given probably 5 to 6 seconds before the explosion occurred, and adds that it is difficult to remember anything definite. The vessel had turned considerably.
The weather was calm, slight rain.
The vessel was shaken like a sack by the explosion. He was knocked sideways, first to one side and then to the other. There were two blows, one after the other. He was lying on the floor, but at once got up again.
The 3rd officer gave him orders to get the jacket and he at once went to the gig.
Ordinary seaman Turner, without lifesaving jacket, took pieces of wood under each arm and the witness saw that Turner jumped out from the after part of the ship on the port side. He did not see A.B. Seaman Holdtvedt jump out aft, but Holdtvedt had lifesaving jacket on.
All the lifesaving equipment was first class.
Appeared the 3rd witness, Gunnar Karsten Kristiansen, ... 3rd engineer ...
Came off watch at 6 o'clock, ate his breakfast farily quickly, finished with this at about 8.25 o'clock and went to sleep in his bunk. Heard a terrific noise down in the engine room as if everything down there had fallen down. Water came pouring from the deck down the stariway. Was lying in off duty clothes, without under clothing. Had the lifesaving jacket close by also his suit jacket with his certificates. But there was not a moment to be lost. He ran as he was. On the deck he met 2 A.B. Seamen, one of whom cut the lashings on the port raft, but said it had got jammed. The witness, who then saw that the gig was being lowered, ran along there and went into the gig from the promenade deck.
An A.B. Seaman with lifesaving jacket on was picked up while the gig glided past the vessel. Turner, Holdtvedt and the wireless operator were picked up astern of the ship. all, no doubt, had lifesaving jackets on.
The witness did not see anything of Yate, Millers or Hagen. They were daymen. The witness did not see anything of van Haaren, Verheyden, Helin or Lunde. Millers had washing up to do from 8.30 - 9. The day-men had breakfast from 8 - 8.30.
Appeared the 4th witness, Helge Johansen, ... chief engineer on board.
After breakfast in the saloon amidship he went to the chief officer's cabin. The steward was also there. He fell down. Everything was falling down in there. It was quite plain that there were two explosions, one after the other, with a moment's interval. All three ran out. The witness looked astern and saw a black cloud of smoke. He saw no lifeboats.
He joined in the lowering of the gig. When this was done he saw that the after deck itself was then under water.
They unhooked the 4 gripes on the lifeboat on the forward part of the ship and made sure that the boat was free. The vessel had perhaps a shade of a list to port, but is not certain about it.
When the lifeboat from the desroyer arrived, the vessel had a slanting angle of about 60 degrees. The water had then got to the well at the forward part of the ship so that one could not get from the forward part of the ship to the lower bridge.
The boatswain suggested that they should start swimming, but the witness and the chief officer said take it easy as they had confidence in the lifeboat.
The 2nd engineer and the assistant were naturally in the engine room at the moment of the explosion.
Akantjes and Millers were no doubt also in the engine room.
Hagen had been attending to the steering engine since 7 o'clock and thereafter he was to go over the electric installation. He was to have breakfast from 8.30 o'clock.
Yate was to have been on the fore deck at 9 o'clock to attend to the heating of the tanks.
The witness did not see anything of any of the before mentioned.
Appeared againg the 2nd witness, Mønnerød, who stated that the explosion occurred about 10 minutes past 9 o'clock. The witness is sure of this.