The SS Marine Electric
In anticipation of our visit by Dave Howe of the Institute of Maritime History, I got thinking about the wrecks that are right here in our backyard. What were these vessels used for, and when and how did they meet their demise? And, of course, when is the dive?
The wreck of the Marine Electric lies off the coast of Virginia in about 130 ft of water. She went down on February 12, 1983. She was built thirty nine years prior to her demise by the Sun Shipbuilding and Drydock Company and originally named the SS Musgrove Mills. In 1962, a mid-section for cargo transport was added and at that time she was renamed the Marine Electric. She was a 605 ft long coal carrier that ran routinely between Norfolk, VA and Somerset, MA.
On February 10, 1983, she began what was to be her final voyage. She fought against a fierce winter storm, battling 25 ft waves and 55 mph gusts. (I promise we will not be diving the Marine Electric under these conditions!) After assisting a fishing vessel that had been taking on water, the Marine Electric resumed its original course north. However, the storm had taken a beating on this old ship, and she began taking on water in the early morning hours on February 12. The crew members were preparing to abandon ship shortly after 4am, but she suddenly capsized and all crew members were thrown into the frigid waters of the Mid-Atlantic. Of the 34 crew members on board, only three survived.1
So what happened?
Over the years, the aging Marine Electric was repeatedly certified as seaworthy, and inspection documents were faked. How can one inspect a hatch cover when it has been removed for maintenance? How can one inspect the ship when it’s not even in port? At least some comfort can be found in the knowledge that the sinking of the Marine Electric prompted the scrapping of 70 other vessels also in failing condition, major maritime reforms, and tightened inspection standards.
Not all in vain… The birth of the Coast Guard Rescue Swimmer Program
When the Marine Electric sank, she left 34 crew members fighting for their lives while they floated on the surface of the frigid water waiting for help to arrive. When the Coast Guard finally arrived, they began lowering rescue baskets to the nearest survivors, but the individuals were too hypothermic to climb into the baskets on their own. Tragically, only 3 of the 34 crew members survived. This event spurred the creation of the Coast Guard’s rescue swimmer program.2
The Marine Electric now rests on her starboard side in about 130ft of water. We’re running a few trips out to the wreck this summer, and I am looking forward to exploring this relic. (Check out our calendar for specific dates.) Many shipwrecks dot the ocean floor up and down the east coast, but several have been placed there as part of a growing (and beneficial) artificial reef program. To me, the natural wrecks are truly special, as the stories that accompany them are a little more spectacular. And sometimes at least a little something good arises from the tragedy.
Dive the Marine Electric!
This summer we have a few dive trips scheduled to the Marine Electric.
Join us on May 27, August 5, and/or September 23. You can reserve your space on the dive boat by calling us at Submerged (301-881-2831), e-mailing email@example.com or purchasing your space in our online store: http://store.submergedonline.com/equipment#Local Dives
The following links are related to the SOS message sent just prior to the Marine Electric sinking. The first is a transcription; the second is to a page with SOS recordings, including that from the Marine Electric – somewhat eerie.
http://jproc.ca/radiostor/sosmsg.html – Marine Electric SOS Message
http://radiomarine.org/audio/list?panel=pab1_13 – Listen to the SOS