Disappearing liner


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Aug 31, 2004
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I have a question-If one of the largest passenger ships in the world, carrying over 3,000 people, suddenly disappeared without a trace, how big a news story would it be? Waratah small, or Titanic big?
 

Daniel Cox

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I say it would it be a very big story......someones bound to know a missing passenager or crew member and not to mention the Company would like to know what happen to there Ship.
Just curious on why do you ask this question?
 
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I was just thinking about if something like that happened. It would probably be an inside job, maybe the captain was a little out of it, or the owner was aboard and was driven to do it, or the ship was simply overtaken by something so fast that there was no time for a distress call.

And what if the ship was found? Would it be bigger news if it were empty and the tables set with nothing out of order and the lifeboats in place, or if there were corpses strewn about?

Not to be macabre, just interested in why the Waratah, though not that large, didn't get much attention. Of course there weren't many people, and no one important was aboard.
 

Jim Kalafus

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Matthew- Waratah DID get a lot of attention in its day, both for the disaster and the questions which arose during the post disaster hearings. However,the attention was centered in the the UK and in Australia (I have not looked in South Africa but I am assuming that the coverage there must have been fairly heavy as well) The story had litle 'staying power' in the Americas because there was no major connection between Waratah and this part of the world. However, particularly in the UK, the story never really went away- there were a number of excellent articles written in the teens thru the fifties dealing with an array of Waratah subjects (Sawyer's dream- was Captain Ilbury reluctant to sail-was the ship unsafe etc) and she appeared in a number of anthologies, the easiest of which to find is by Villiers. She was, of course, never as notorious as the Titanic, but she was never forgotten either.

>If one of the largest passenger ships in the world, carrying over 3,000 people, suddenly disappeared without a trace, how big a news story would it be?

Pretty big- unless of course it were to happen on the day of the Jackson verdict, the day of Charles and Camilla's marriage, Paris Hilton being photographed leaving a restaurant or J-Lo showing off her 89th engagement ring, US news standards being what they now are
happy.gif
 

Jim Kalafus

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>I suppose that if a ship vanished with over 3000 plus people, we would never hear the end of it.

Probably.....but then I can't help but think of the Valbanera and how quickly that became a non-story, and wonder.....

Briefly- Valbanera was a small liner which sailed Spain/Cuba. Her final arrival in Cuba (September 1919) was just ahead of a hurricane and 1200 of her passengers left the ship at Santiago de Cuba to finish their trip into Havana by train. 499 passengers and crew remained aboard, and were lost when the ship was overwhelmed by the hurricane a few hours later while attempting to reach Havana. The wreck was found about a week later in 40 feet of water off Key West, with her port side and mast out of the water, but not one of the 499 victims was ever recovered. For whatever reason, the story never really "took off" in the press despite it being the worst loss of life in US waters since the General Slocum disaster.

So, unless there was some "angle" to give the story legs beyond the disappearance, I suspect that it would be like the Tenerife Plane Crash of the late 1970s- End Of The World level coverage for a week or so, followed by a second week of progressively decreasing coverage and then gone as the story grows stale.
 

James Carey

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I don't see how one could dissappear, with GPS tracking and the sophisticated tracking divices used today. I don't think many ship companies would feel good not knowing where such a large investment was at all times.

Sounds like you are referencing Ghost Ship.
 
Jul 9, 2000
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>>I don't see how one could dissappear, with GPS tracking and the sophisticated tracking divices used today. <<

I can think of a few. GPS can give the ship an accurate fix on where it is down to a few yards, or even a few feet, but unless she has a transponder of some kind...which I suppose is possible...the line won't know each an every second where the ship is located. Shipwrecks can happen with stunning speed too. No matter how advanced we think we are, nature always has a trump card that can short circuit anything.
 
Aug 31, 2004
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>>Shipwrecks can happen with stunning speed too<<

Like I mentioned earlier, maybe they couldn't get help in time-look at the Lusitania-a rather large ship gone in 15 minutes.
 
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You could always try the Edmund Fitzgerald or the bulk carrier M/V Derbyshire. Both lost in storms, both sank in an extremely brief time and with barely a trace left. Just goes to show that sheer size is no gaurantee that you can't be wiped right off the map.
 
Aug 31, 2004
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Exactly-and didn't both of them sink when radios were required to be manned at all times? The Edmund Fitzgerald didn't send out a distress call, did it?
 

Jim Kalafus

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Fantome can be added to the list as well. Although in her case, devices tracking the hurricane which overwhelmed her did, apparently, record her end.
 

Inger Sheil

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Local interest, an angle, or the context of other events taking place at the same time certainly do have an impact on what disasters capture our imagination. The Yongala never quite faded from the consciousness of the Australian public from the time she vanished in 1911 to when she was re-discovered in the 50s - she cropped up in everything from ghost stories to 'what happened to...' feature stories. Overseas, however, she was a non-starter except in seafaring circles - letters in 'Seabreezes', for example, speculating on what had befallen her.

I've done a bit of work on the Waratah lately in the Oz press, Jim - there are some terribly poignant stories there. I find it's always very affecting when you first look into a disaster as it unfolds in the contemporary press, from the first initial reports that something might be astray to the final tragic confirmation. In the Waratah's case - having only been familiar with the general outline of the story - I became absolutely drawn into the reports of the search, and found myself half-forgetting that the outcome was pre-determined. When Lascelles expressed conviction that the ship was only drifting without engine power and hope that his daughter would soon be found, I had to remember that we still don't know where the ship is, and that he lived the rest of his life and died without knowing what her fate had been.
 

Jim Kalafus

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>When Lascelles expressed conviction that the ship was only drifting without engine power and hope that his daughter would soon be found,

And, the news that Miss Lascelles was one of the passengers Mr Sawyer urged to leave the ship (straight from the lips of Mr Sawyer) must have been a blow to her family as well.

Have been pondering searching for Mrs (or Miss) Caywood who was thrown down and injured by the Waratah's heeling. She was taken off by wheelchair (or stretcher) in Durban and eventually reached home safely- I suspect that her take on the disaster must be interesting if preserved.

Girl's corpse in a red coat, or whale offal and a piece of paper? An intriguing, hanging, loose end.

Have you read the "he was forced/afraid to go" vitriolic interviews given by Captain Ilbury's family and friends for the rest of their natural lives? One wishes that they had been interviewed by journalists not afraid to ask "hardball" questions, for their stories although fascinating (and mostly in agreement) were allowed to go unquestioned and therefore must be taken with the grain of salt at this point.

Bought a glassplate which, for moment, I suspected was Waratah in Australia previously unseen. Upon inspection, it was the Geelong, which kiiled the mood, but it was only $10 and the photo is nice anyway.

>The Yongala never quite faded
Here we have the Portland, lost in a massive storm off Cape Cod in 1898 as a "mystery ship" interest in which has never waned. Approx. 120-220 lost. Then we had the Valbanera (a pet project of mine) lost in an equally, massive storm off Key West in 1919 which, aside from its nickname ("The Wreck Of The Wh*res" - most of the 300 or so passengers too poor to finish the trip by train in the face of the hurricane were prostitutes who had left Havana for the summer and were returning as milder fall weather set in) doesn't even rate a footnote in most wreck anthologies.
 
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We know what most likely happened to Waratah, she was overcome by the storm, but I'm sure everyone has had that wild and radical thought in the back of their mind at least once-she could still be out there.

Also, wasn't there some American freighter that disappeared in WWII?
 
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A little off-topic, but I recently saw a book about a french ship called Medusa and how is sank and left 40 people to commit mutiny and cannibalism in a tiny raft. It looked a bit too "creepy" to buy. Anyone heard of it?
 

Jim Kalafus

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Yes- the painting it inspired, Raft of the Meduse, is quite a famous work and turns up a lot in college art history seminars. That said, in the last 20 years I've conveniently forgotten the name of the painter.
 
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