On the Coast Guard's Official List of the top ten rescues
the Prinsendam is #2 behind #1 Hurricane Katrina.
MS Prinsendam, a Holland-America liner built at Shipyard de Merwede in the Netherlands in 1973, was 427 feet long and typically carried about 350 passengers and 200 crew members. The liner was sailing through the Gulf of Alaska, approximately 120 miles south of Yakutat, Alaska, at midnight on October 4, 1980, when a fire broke out in the engine room. The vessel’s master, Cornelis Dirk Wabeke (April 13, 1928 – August 16, 2011), declared the fire out of control one hour later and the Prinsendam sent a radio call requesting immediate assistance. The United States Coast Guard at Communications Station Kodiak, Alaska requested that the Prinsendam send out an SOS, but the captain declined. Chief Radio Officer Jack van der Zee sent one out anyway about a half hour later, which alerted nearby vessels.
United States Coast Guard, USAF Air Rescue Service, and Royal Canadian Air Force CH113 helicopters which had greater range, rescued the passengers and crew. Two USAF pararescuemen were inserted into one of the lifeboats. This boat was the last rescued and was spotted only when the Air Force personnel signalled the on scene cutters. The cutters: USCGC Boutwell (WHEC-719), USCGC Mellon (WHEC-717), and USCGC Woodrush (WLB-407) responded in concert with other vessels in the area. The Sohio Intrepid and the Williamsburg assisted on scene. The Williamsburg served a vital role as a communications platform and was the first vessel to arrive on scene and take passengers on board. The Sohio Intrepid served as a platform for one of the USAF helicopters that was unable to refuel in flight. The rescue took place during a period of steadily deteriorating weather. The passenger vessel later capsized and sank. The rescue is particularly noteworthy because of the distance traveled by the rescuers, the coordination of independent organizations, and the fact that all 520 passengers and crew were rescued without loss of life or serious injury..
Just over thirty five years ago , Chief Radio Officer Jack van der Zee performed an act of heroism that was later recognized by Queen Beatrix. On October 4, 1980, the passenger ship MS Prinsendam of the Holland-America line was in severe distress off the coast of Alaska with about 350 passengers and 200 crew. There was a fire in the engine room, the ship was being flooded, and it ultimately sank.
Due to the lateness of the hour, few vessels in the area were monitoring the radio, although virtually every vessel at sea was equipped with an automatic alarm to alert for any SOS calls. The Prinsendam contacted the U.S. Coast Guard, which advised that the ship should send an SOS to alert the vessels in the area to assist in the rescue. The decision rested with the ship’s master, Cornelis Dirk Wabeke. Captain Wabeke refused to do so. Because the SOS would allow assisting ships to assert salvage rights, he instead ordered radio officer van der Zee to send the message as a mere “urgent” message. Since the radio officers of nearby ships would not be at their stations, van der Zee realized that no nearby ship would hear the message.
Van der Zee, already feeling the heat of the fire through his shoes, made a courageous decision. Realizing full well that the decision could result in loss of his job and pension, and even imprisonment for mutiny, decided to ignore the captain’s order. Instead, he sent the message as an SOS, prefaced by the signals** that would activate the automatic alarms of other nearby ships.
Within minutes, other ships were alerted to the looming disaster, and raced to the scene to assist. Within hours, the ship was sunk, but U.S. and Canadian military and Coast Guard rescuers were on the scene, assisted by the civilian vessels alerted by van der Zee’s mutinous act,
For his act of heroism, van der Zee was recognized by Queen Beatrix by the award of the Order of the Netherlands Lion.
Prinsendam PJTA SOS
9 March 1944
Coast Guard Manned
USS LEOPOLD (DE-319) NKEF
(Believe CO was LCDR Kenneth C. Phillips USCG)
Escorting convoy CU-16 in mid Atlantic (57-37N 26-30W) the LEOPOLD was struck by an acustical torpedo fired by U-255. The ship was badly damaged and abandoned. USS JOYCE (DE-317) (also Coast Guard manned) rescued the survivors. 171 of her crew were lost with the ship and remain on eternal duty. Among those lost were the following Coast Guard Radiomen:
CRM Medceslaus S Juszkiewicz
CRM Benjamin Kinnard III
RM1c John Tamas Jr
RM2c Lindsay Croswell
RM2c Robert E Jones
RM2c James D Lowrie
RM3c William A Gee
RM3c Walter L Ward
The only Radioman to survive the sinking was
RM3c Herbert Schwartz
Note: The first minute or so of the audio is the auto alarm.