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The Morro Castle


The Morro Castle fire

The following is a short account of the fatal fire to destroy the Morrow Castle. First a bit about the ship, She was 11,520 ton, Passenger cargo ship. The Morrow Castle was launched on 5th of March 1930. At Newport News Virginia.

The final cruise of this ship is shrouded with mystery and occurred under the most bizarre conditions imaginable with people behaving in an extraordinary fashion.

The incident belonged to the America of that strange time period of the thirties so often and rightfully depicted by Hollywood as the great depression. Where the poor grew poorer and the rich monopolised on this by offering lower wages. The poor in order to gain a job at all had to accept this so letting the rich get richer. It was a period in time where Graft, Corruption, Recklessnes. The yellow press, bootleggers, gangsters, racketeers, the quick buck and the razzmatazz of publicity, And the Morrow Castle seemed to symbolise all that was reprehensible about the era.

In 1929 a deep financial slump had hit the USA. After years where the market had been saturated with consumer products and inflationary pressure had been concealed, although the boom was clearly over the stock exchange surge continued, Deluded by propaganda, investors maintained a orgy of crazy speculation in overvalued stock. As the American banking structure was unsound this brought out grafters, swindlers, impostors and fraud where involved. By the autumn of that year the crash had arrived.

By 1934 the worst was well over and people had started to see money again in there pockets, and saw cruising as a wonderful opportunity to forget the depression for a week and also to be able to get away from prohibition.

Prohibition had brought it’s own problems to the states. People made bootleg in baths whisky in make shift stills, this in itself brought more problems, blindness from the use of wood alcohol etc. People where glad to get away and have a honest drink of the shores of the USA. It also brought the new type of criminal, the bootleggers, and smugglers.

On Friday 8th September 1934 the ship Morro Castle was drawing to the end of the cruise to Havana and back. Designed for the cruise trade it was considered to be a good ship of its time. A class known as turbo electric. This meant that common with most similar ships of the period her lavish interior fittings and decorations where in wood. And other flammable materials. She was also equipped with fire doors and hydrants with hose attachments at points around the whole ship. She had many portable fire extinguishers; She also like most good ships of the time had had the same commander throughout her life.

The ship has spent it’s life shuttling from New York to Havana, Most of the time always full with passengers with the expectations of having a good time in what had become to be known as the floating gin palace with no worries about the prohibition, and to get away from the depression for the duration of the crews. Most of the passengers would get a three day cruise there and a three days cruise back with one-day stopover. This was spent ashore for the most at tequila bars. The full cost of this trip was cheap, mainly a cost of around $80 or $100. Unless they wanted the first class staterooms where a higher price was asked.

The accommodation on board was good for the time, and the regular cruise director Robert Smith used to make sure they had a good time afloat. The whole idea seemed a good bargain, the food and service aboard where a different matter entirely though. But to the usual clientele this seemed not to be a problem. It was stated that most of the people where a fast crowd. This meant they where with other peoples wife’s etc. The women where mainly those of a type to be on the lookout for a husband and all had come for a good time and plenty of cheep drink and good entertainment. Food was the last thing on there minds.

If the fair paying passengers where from the well off part of society the crew where the total opposite. They where poorly paid, Able seamen aboard where often not qualified and if they where they only received ordinary seaman’s wages. Majority where over worked as well. When the ship docked in Havana for the passengers to have a day ashore the crew had to get the ship ready for the return run.

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Mar/26/2004, 3:15 pm Link to this post Send Email to graham 01   Send PM to graham 01 Blog
 
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Re: The Morro Castle


When it docked in New York it was due out again the same night so again the crew got no leave. In addition to this unattached women used to throw themselves at the crew causing bad discipline aboard.

To the crew the pittance of a wage around $30 a month was not good, but they where under the constant threat that others would jump at the chance if they left. The money was a lot better than the dole. The deckhand would double up as a waiter adding to his tiredness. To compensate for the bad wages many of the crew would bootleg, good drink was worth its weight in gold in the States so smuggling and bootlegging went on all the time.

The Company brochure stated that the Morro Castle was crewed by the cream of the American seamen. This was totally false, There owners where cashing in on the times and getting there crew very cheap. Most of the crew where of poor quality and did not speak a word of English.

Morro Castle had done the same trip many times in the past but for this trip it ended up so different. The trip before seemed uneventful but on docking the company sacked around 50 deckhands and stewards for various offences, which included drunkenness and theft, and in some cases assault. But that did not end it as the company stated that when she returned another score was to be dismissed. The company had a bad reputation for sacking and in the day they had no problem-replacing people.

It was also said that other than fair paying passengers she also carried arms and ammunition. This was for the Government of the time in order to suppress the rebellion. The ammunition and guns where always classed as sporting goods and unloaded by Cuban soldiers. The week before the final crossing there was a fire in the hold, which later transpired, held explosives. This fire was believed to be of started by a chemical devise.

This fire was detected by the complicated smoke detectors aboard. This in itself was a sophisticated piece of machinery on board ships. The flames where self extinguished by its automatic fire fighting system.

Communism had already infiltrated the sea mans union by this time and it was always considered better not to talk about it. No one aboard the Morro Castle made it difficult. Including the officers. Then there is the point that a ex Scotland Yard man one Harold Brust, was working for the Cuban tourist office. He had warned in 1930 that the Morro Castle was at “risk” Nothing was done from then on. Although on the present round trip and before the ship left Havana for the return run the Captain Robert Wilmott had been warned by the Havana police chief that a communist agent was believed to aboard the ship and that a attempt at sabotage was most likely to occur. Wilmott kept this to himself and told no one.

The Captain aged 56 had not been well. His usual self was to entertain passengers at his table and be a friendly face around the ship. But on this trip he believed someone was out to kill him, he stayed in his cabin and even passed orders to his crew over the phone only. He had also given orders that the smoke detector system which had saved the ship from disaster before be turned of and remain off for the duration of the trip. His reason for this rather unexpected and strange decision was said to be because a cargo of salted hides taken aboard at Havana would spoil the trip for the passengers, as the smell would go through the system. He also cancelled lifeboat drills. This was for the reason he believed the passengers where upset by them and there for a good time.

One man aboard Morro Castle Arthur Spender, A licensed first mate who had been forced by the depression to accept the job of watchman on board had checked all the breaches of safety rules and had compiled a safety report which he named “Potential disaster dossier” in this report he had noticed a lack of training among the crew, lack of information given to the crew. Absence of emergency equipment and also faults in some of the lifeboats buoyancy tanks. These faults had been covered over with fresh paint. But most important he noticed that the Lyle gun, this is a line throwing devises used in emergencies and set of with a small explosive charge. This had been removed from the bridge of the ship and now stored above the ceiling in the first class writing room. He had a long list of other things to add and knew the officers of the bridge where aware of these but had to look the other way so as to keep their job. He also did notice however that all the bridge crew held relevant certificates for the jobs they did.

Friday the 6th Dec was a grey dull day. The weather was deteriorating badly. At around 8-45 it is believed Howard Hanson the fourth officer saw the Captain eating from his tray in his room. At 9-00pm he was found dead slumped over his bath. Even the reports of this finding are muddled. Some say it was William Warms ships first mate that found the Captain others say it was Howard Hanson. But whoever it was does not make any difference the Captain was found dead.

The ships surgeon was called to the cabin one Dr De Witt Van Zile, and the purser Robert Tolman. Another person was on his way to speak to the Captain this was chief engineer Eban Abbot. The chief turned up in person as he had been trying to phone the Captain to tell him that there was a problem with one of the boilers. He had also taken the decision to shut that boiler down. This would effect the ships speed and also more important as events unfold cause a loss of water pressure throughout the ship. It is also interesting to note here that a month previously the Captain had been ill due to food poisoning

As the body of the Captain was been lifted onto a bunk the chief engineer Abbot noticed that the body was turning blue. And asked the doctor if he knew the cause of death. The cause of death according to the doctor was indigestion and heart failure. But the first officer decided that the cause of death was insufficient due to the short examination given.


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Mar/26/2004, 3:16 pm Link to this post Send Email to graham 01   Send PM to graham 01 Blog
 
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Re: The Morro Castle


At this point the first officer warms took command of the Morro Castle. Warms sea career spanned 35 years, he first went to sea at the age of 12 and progressed through the ranks. He had been in command of several ships but always been demoted due to lack of heeding to safety regulations. And precautions. One year before he joined Morro Castle he had been in command of another ship, which mysteriously caught fire. He was without a job for this year until he joined the crew. Warms was considered a good cargo officer, he knew when to keep his mouth shut which is a good thing considering what the Morro castle was carrying most of the time. He was also put in charge of the fire drill which in itself had been a fiasco, the hoses where not connected making it useless so nothing was tested.

The first order Warms gave was to Abbot the chief engineer. This apparently pleased him greatly. Warms hated Abbot and the feeling was apparently mutual. They where as different as chalk and cheese. Abbot took his job very seriously and also the other job aboard as social performer. He loved dressing in full dress uniform and was fully qualified. He had held his chief’s licence since 1909 when he had joined the Ward line. Captain Wilmott had recommended that Abbott be removed to another ship. The order to seal the Captains room was soon carried out with respect from Abbot.

Fourth officer Hanson helped to dress the body and noted that the body was now turning black. He remarked it could be a heart attack or poisoning. Warms in the meantime had returned to the bridge now in command and gave orders to let the head office know. He had got the purser to draw the paperwork and duly filled it in so he was now in command legally.

The ship was now moving at a rate of 20 knots in the dark of night into a strong North Easterly wind with rain. Warms made the decision to stay on the bridge till the ship docked in New York estimated to be twelve hours. He was said to be determined to stay alert yet he did not notice that Wilmott had turned the smoke detector system off.

The passengers in the meantime where preparing themselves to eat with the Captain at the traditional farewell dinner. This is strange as the Captain had ordered his meal in the cabin, or so it is believed but no one can say if this was true. The job of telling the passengers was left to Robert Smith. He also asked that all the usual festivities be cancelled for the night out of respect to the Captain.

The passengers agreed to this at the time, but as time and the night went on some passengers who had cheep rum aboard started there own little farewell festivities. Singing on deck started and stewards tried to get people to go to bed, Robert Smith went round showing disapproval. But it should also be remembered that the passengers where on the last night of there cruise heading back to prohibition.

The chief engineer by this time had done what he had been ordered to do and returned to his cabin phoned the engine room and assessing all was well. On hearing this he retired to his bed for the night.

By this time on the bridge it was noted that the weather had calmed slightly, the ship was rolling as she pushed her way toward land in the cold dark water. It was soon after midnight that the lights of the New Jersey coast could be seen to the port of the ship. At 2am the navigation officer Clarence Hackney reported the ship to be thirty miles south of the Scotland light ship. Warms was still on the bridge when this information came through, he was preparing the time when the last course change would be done in order to take the ship into the New York channel. He also expected the ships owners to offer him the position of Captain after this work. Hackney subjected that he now take a brake from the bridge and get some rest.

Warms now agreed but instead of resting he must have had a feeling of foreboding, he made a full inspection of the public rooms, promenade deck lounge and smoke room. At this time only one party was still going watched by very disgruntled stewards. Warms was away from the bridge for half a hour. It was only a matter of minuets when he received the phone call saying a fire had broke out in the writing room on the promenade deck. This was situated just forward of the lounge he had just inspected. He sent Hackney down to assess the situation.

Hackney found the writing room full of smoke and quickly realised it came from a locker. Hackney snatched the locker door open and used a extinguisher on the blaze, this had no effect what so ever and the fire raged about the room. It was also roaring towards the deck head. The fire was no ordinary fire and gave the impression of been a incendiary devise.

Hackney phoned the bridge to inform them of the problem, and to give orders to rouse the rest of the crew. Warms on the bridge rang down to the engine room to tell them they needed all the water pressure they could give, he was reminded that they had a boiler down so pressure was low. Chief engineer Abbot was informed and his reaction was not what you would expect. He should of put on overalls and taken his place down in the engine room but he did not he put on dress uniform and proceeded to take his position on the bridge.

The writing room by now was well ablaze and the fire was speeding to the lounge. Smoke was filling the corridors of the ship and stewards where knocking on doors rousing people from there sleep. Some hoses had been directed on the fire but where useless due to low pressure. There had also been a long delay n rigging the hoses as a large compensation claim had been made toward the company when a woman slipped and fell and sprained her ankle the cause of this was drunken revellers letting a hose of for fun. After this the Captain had ordered the hoses to be locked away the stations capped and the operating spanners removed.

On ships basics the first lesson is in a fire always position the ship in the wind where the flames have the shortest distance to go over the side. Warms had turned the Morro Castle head on in the wind in order to reduce the effect of the squall he kept the ship there for far to long and also did not reduce speed. The ship is now moving 19 knots into a 20-knot wind the effect of this is like the ship having giant bellows blowing the fire. No fire drills had been called by the orders of the Captain. Hanson had not closed the fire doors or shut of the forced air to the ship it was van Freeman observed how bad the fire was on his way to the bridge, he advised Warms to run for beach in case they had to alight passengers.

Warms now examined the fire control board on the bridge, No red lights showed firstly the system did not cover public rooms and also it was switched off. Passengers where not aware of the problem and somewhere still having there own parties.

On the bridge Warms assumed that the smoke he could see was from the fire been put out. But at that moment the fireboard lit up all red. He immediately ordered the ship be put towards shore.

Now we look and move to the radio room. As nothing on this ship seems to fit neither did the position in there. The radio room was positioned two decks above the now blazing writing room. The two radio operators where waiting for the order to send out a [sign in to see URL]. The radio room was by this time filling with strong acrid poisonous smoke. George Alagna was 22 years old and was the senior radio assistant. He had been on duty since the fire started and had roused his chief, the chief was totally unknown to the crew or anyone on b board, and his name was George White Rogers. Rogers had psychopathic tendencies and also had a minor criminal record. Abbot had suspected the chief of trying to poison the Captain a month earlier. Meantime Warms thought him to be the communist aboard but had allowed himself to be persuaded by Wilmott that the communist agent was Alagna. Rogers was a enormously fat man. He had a pituitary disorder, which accounted for his size. This had also caused a Maladjustment. His voice had never deepened which he had constantly been teased for. The offence he was arrested for was theft he was sent to a correctional centre where he carried on thieving. He was known to be untruthful and a moral pervert. He was also said to be a bad influence on other children


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Mar/26/2004, 6:40 pm Link to this post Send Email to graham 01   Send PM to graham 01 Blog
 
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Re: The Morro Castle


His past had now caught up with him however and the company was letting him go at the end of this trip. It is also worth point out how he got the job of Chief. After the titanic disaster compulsory radio operators on board ship was made. He joined the Royal Navy and was discharged for a reason I am unable to find out for sure. He was unable to live during the depression and got employment with Morro Castle in 1934, joining as junior operator. He decided he would get rid of the chief at the time and proceeded to put a plan in operation. By September he had accomplished this and he became the chief radio operator.

But not only was the chief to be let go at the end of this trip but Alagna was also to be let go, He was considered a trouble maker, he tried to get the crew to strike due to bad working conditions. Both operators had been with Morro Castle for less than 3 month.

It is fair to say though that both the operators knew what to do in a n emergency, No orders came from the bridge so Rogers sent Alagna to the bridge to ask what to do. In a few moments Alagna returned saying he could not make the bridge. He did report to Rogers though that the flames where lapping the ship and everything are chaos out there. Rogers tried to raise the bridge on the phone but was unable to get a reply. He sent Alagna back again to try to get to the bridge. He also looked out for himself but could see nothing but black smoke. By this he turned the radio equipment to the emergency frequency. Alagna re-appeared shouting to get out of there. He told Rogers “ We will die like rats in a trap” Rogers asked him if he had made the bridge and Alagna told him he had but it was a mad house there. On asking if he should send a distress signal he replied he did not ask. Rogers sent Alagna back again to ask. Alagna arrived at the bridge just as Warms gave the order to bring the ship around towards New Jersey shore.

Warms on the bridge still did not think the situation to be dangerous or critical, he still seemed under the impression that he could being the fire under control. It now has to be remembered that they still had low water pressure, and a crew who where new to the ship. But he had now a new problem, this one of his own making; he had turned the ship and subsequently altered the direction of the fire. It was blowing the fire in the direction of the stern it was now blowing it sideways. As the ship was altering direction there was a small explosion. Later this would prove to be the Lyle gun exploding that had now been stashed in the ceiling of the writing room.

This explosion caused mass panic, not between the passengers but to the seamen aboard. They started to break chairs up and line them on the decks ready to cast into the water if they had to abandon ship. This was done on there own initiative as no orders where received from the bridge.

The fire by now had taken hold completely and was out of control, Passengers where starting to crowd the decks. Others trapped in their cabins started to jump out of portholes into the water. Now a strange order was sent. While the ship was still moving it was ordered that the starboard lifeboats be lowered. Flames where making it impossible to lower the port boats.

A steward checked three boats till he found one that could be launched. Boat No 10 was undamaged; he placed two young girls in the boat who was standing around dazed on deck. It was around this time the lights went out on board. This caused mass panic. One crewmember later said that “ People where crowded round praying” “Others where singing” When a boat was finally lowered people made a jump for it. Most missed and drowned in the water. Crewmen down below put down hoses and made for the deck. Water was still pumping to these hoses and been wasted.

It was also at this point ten miles away the coastguard saw the flames. Also parallel going sea wards was the freighter Andrea Luckenbach, The radio operator had said there was no distress signal reported so he called up the nearest shore station to ask if they had a report of a ship on fire, they said they did not, Rogers in the meantime heard this conversation on his set. Still with no orders from the bridge he decided to take it on himself and sent three stand by calls out. Around [sign in to see URL] he sent another stand by call out, this is used to keep the airwave clear from others use.


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Mar/26/2004, 6:41 pm Link to this post Send Email to graham 01   Send PM to graham 01 Blog
 
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Re: The Morro Castle


It was at this point that Rogers was going to now make a name for himself. In evidence he reported that the radio room by this time was full of acrid black smoke. The emergency lighting system had failed. He also recalled that his feet were burning, he put his hand to the deck and it was red hot. Paint had started to peel from the wall of the room and a shift of wind had sent flames through the porthole to the rear of the room and set light to the curtains. But in the midst of all this he managed to find a torch, and start the auxiliary transmitter.

Shortly after 3-20 Alagna came back into the room and told Rogers to send the distress message now. The fire had been raging at this point for over an hour. The main reason I can see as to why Warms did not give the permission to send a [sign in to see URL]. is he would know the expense of sending a false [sign in to see URL]. out, the coastguard and any near ship would rush to the aid. If he managed to get it in control or it was deemed not necessary then his company would not allow the promotion.

Rogers sent the following message “ SOS Morro Castle A fire 20 miles south of Scotland light. Need immediate assistance.” Apparently he later testified that half way through this message he saw from the corner of his eye the table catch fire.

Rogers went on to say that the room had now filled with what he believed to be “some sort of sulphuric gas from the batteries” It was his belief that the batteries for the receiver had melted as they where on the floor. The receiver was now completely out of operation but he could still send. Rogers says he continued to send the SOS.

The time was now around 3-30 no one appeared to be able to give the exact time. But now the next chain of events occurred. Alagna was on the bridge yet again when the order to abandon ship came from the bridge. The ship was now been brought to a stop. This was not done by anyone on the bridge but by the engineers who had taken it on themselves to put the ship in neutral and leave. Chief engineer Abbott was still on the bridge as well as Warms.

Alagna now left the bridge and went back to the radio room to get Rogers. He apparently told Rogers “ Get out of here the whole dammed place is on fire” He finally dragged Rogers to the bridge where they found Warms in a state of shock. There is no mention of anyone here seeing Abbott though. Once again apparently the chief engineer had moved from the bridge to another location. The reason for no one been able to recall chief engineer Abbott on the bridge now will become clear.

According to testimonies by this time there was people in the water swimming towards lifeboats that had managed to leave the ship, others had tried to swim for shore and others had drowned. Somewhere clinging to bits of debris and floating away in the current. In all 8 lifeboats managed to get away. It is with interest that the first boat away carried only 8 people. In more astonishment 6 where crew.

Chief engineer Abbott, who had managed not to go near the engine room when needed the most but instead dressed in dress uniform, had now got to the deck. He stepped into one of the first lifeboats to leave and ordered it to be lowered. But Abbott’s extraordinary behaviour does not end there. While in the boat he refused to draw oars saying he had cut his hand badly, the others in the boat could clearly see this was a lie. Ironically one of the first lifeboats to reach the shore was Abbott’s. It now contained 32 people, but only one of these people was a passenger the rest was crew. Again Abbott acts strangely, when the boat was near the shore Abbott tried to get the rowers to turn back saying the shore was too rocky. They did not listen but also did not have to the sea finally deposited them on the sand shore. Abbott was once again as in the first in the boat he was first out of it. Stepping on the shore he told the crew not to speak to newspaper reporters, he then went down the beach with tears in his eyes and streaming down his face.

Abbott’s behaviour was indeed strange indeed throughout the whole affair. He was the second most important officer in the ship, He should of take control of the engine room when the fire broke out, he knew there was a problem with the water pressure due to a boiler been out. He decided for no apparent reason to put on his dress uniform and take to the bridge. Then instead of helping others he left on what seems to be the first boat taking with him crewmembers only.

If confusion on the ship was not bad enough the confusion on land was as bad. Coastguard’s stations had been receiving calls that a ship was ablaze a few miles out to sea. The coastguards could not see anything so waited till they had a report come in. and something more definite to go on.
Eventually Rogers SOS hit the air; there was a mass of frenzied newspapermen and reporters rushing to the scene. One of the first newspaper accounts was issued in the New York herald Tribune.

 As for rescue ships, here we hit another twist. First there was a small fleet of vessels able to perform the rescue but for some reason none heard the radio message ordering them to help. Other patrol boats where not equipped with radio, and the four larger boats where trailing liquor smugglers North of New York. The coastguard station at Cape May only 88 miles away had seven aircraft, four where not in service and only one was equipped and suitable for rescue off shore.

Ships at sea reacted much quicker than the coast guard.

“Andrea Luckenbach” arrived at the scene at 04-30. She stood of from the burning ship and lowered her boats; they immediately began to snatch people from the water.


The Furness Line ship “monarch of Bermuda”, was near and hurried to the scene, her total of survivors picked up was 71, Her boats did rescues of people who where hanging from ropes at the stern of the ship, They also offered to take the cluster of people who where still on the forepeak, only two of these passengers elected to leave. Warm’s, Rogers and some other crewmembers refused to leave.

City of Savannah, and President Cleveland had both altered course and was heading for the ship.

The first ship to arrive at the scene was the Coastguard surfboat, Sea Girt. She had put to sea to investigate a ball of fire that was spotted from the shore. By early morning she had collected 70 survivors from the water and taken them to the safety of the Andrea Luckenbach,

It has to be also said here that more ships would of put to sea if the local radio station had not put out announcements that everyone had already been rescued.

On shore was the skipper of the Paramount, a 30ton vessel. After listening to the reports he decided that in his experience not everyone could have been rescued so he put to sea with a complete crew of Captains. The Paramount picked up about 60 survivors. The last person to be picked up by the Paramount was a woman who had been in the water for 7 hours.


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Mar/27/2004, 3:19 pm Link to this post Send Email to graham 01   Send PM to graham 01 Blog
 
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As the morning started to come the wind was also picking up speed again, The Sea started to rise. A coastguard vessel once again asked the group of men on the decks if they wanted to be taken off, they again refused. The ship by now was nothing but a red-hot wreck and had the added problem of dragging her anchor in the high swell and strong winds.

Captain Lt Commander Earl Rose, of the coastguard cutter “Tampa” Arrived on the scene with his ship. He offered Worm’s a tow. This offer was accepted by Warm’s. The Hawser had to sent to the ship by hand as no mechanical equipment now worked aboard the ship. The Hawser had to be dragged up and secured by hand. The next added problem was the chain of the anchor now had to be manually cut. The men left on board cut the chain taking it in turn with a hacksaw. The chain was a three-inch link chain. It was several hours before the Tempra could take the strain and start the tow. A tugboat managed to hook one of the lines trailing over the stern of the ship and acted as a jury rudder. It was at this point the Captain of the “Rose” ordered the men left on the ship to transfer on to his ship. The wind by now had increased to gale force; they had been without food or water since the start of the fire.

The Tampra had struggled with the burning hulk till mid Saturday afternoon, and had got her as far as Asbury Park, It was here that the stern line used for steering her burned through, the Captain of Tampra still cried on trying to get the Morro Castle into safe waters, and New York harbour where fire boats could get at her. Eventually he managed to get the ships bow pointing towards sea and taking soundings he soon realised that the two ships where drifting towards the shore. Tempra still struggling with the ship, Her engine revolutions where increased when the final fate came to the Morro Castle. The hawser snapped and sprung back towards the Tampra. Fowling her propeller, Helpless in the water the crew had to drop anchor in order not to drift back into the Morro Castle. Or grounding herself on the beach. They could only now watch as the Morro Castle drifted towards the beach and grounded.

When it was possible men where sent on to the now burned out wreck to try to find the Captains body but all they found was burned bones. The total death toll was calculated at 134 people mostly passengers. Many more than this had serious injuries.

The survivors where not slow in condemning the crew of the ship, they claimed that they had no knowledge of fire fighting. But as well as the crew of the Morro Castle the survivors and press also condemned the coastguard.

The hero of the day seemed to be Rogers, The psychopathic chief radio operator. As he was taken to hospital a flood of reporters chased the ambulance. Rogers was considered the hero and as such was awarded a medal by his hometown Bayonne, New Jersey. The Ward Line withdrew his dismissal, and he was offered jobs by dozens of other ships.

The official enquiry took place on the 10th September, various theories where put forward for the cause of the fire. Warms, Hackney and Freeman all supported the fire-raiser story. And Rogers pointed the finger of blame towards Alagna. Although the official’s at the inquiry dismissed the theory totally. The cargos of arms, the lack of boats and fire drills all came to light during the case. Warm’s earlier suspension and Abbott’s behaviour also came to light. And it was also shown that the stewards to polish brass and woodwork used flammable polish. The inquiry seemed to accept that this was the cause of the fire. There was also the talk of wild parties and sex orgies, and a suggestion that a drunken group of passengers may of started the fire. Useless lifeboats where brought into the inquiry, Passengers told of the crew been too drunk to understand orders.

The inquiry decided on a verdict of spontaneous combustion among cleaning materials. With contributing factors of a delay in sounding the alarm, Lack of training, and the poor discipline of the crew.

Very few of the ships crew emerged with any credit, Warms and Abbott, where charged before a federal grand jury with misconduct, negligence and inattention to duty’s. Prison terms where imposed on both men, but on appeal there convictions where set aside and in the end Warm’s had his masters certificate restored and went back to see as a second officer aboard a freighter.

So that outlines the story of the ill-fated Morro Castle

Sources used in this document
Official enquiry reports
New York times
Lost at sea John Harris
Various reports from papers


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Mar/27/2004, 3:20 pm Link to this post Send Email to graham 01   Send PM to graham 01 Blog
 
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I just finished the book Shipwreck about the Morro Castle and it is indeed a weird [sign in to see URL] suspect the Captain might have been right that someone wanted to kill [sign in to see URL] Rogers seems to have been as good a suspect than any. However, like so many stories of this type it is unlikey that the whole truth will ever be known.

Thanks for the interesting outline, Graham!

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"What I remember about that night- what I will remember as long as I live- is the people crying out to each other as the stern began to plunge down. I heard people crying, 'I love you.'"
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Hi Lights

It sure is one of those stories that can go on and on, So many versions of it as well, but they all seem to point to the obvious. I agree though there was something realy fishy going on there.

Graham

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Yep. Something was definitely fishy in the officers' quarters and the Marconi room!

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"What I remember about that night- what I will remember as long as I live- is the people crying out to each other as the stern began to plunge down. I heard people crying, 'I love you.'"
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Hi Lights

I have some more to add and this is real good stuff

Graham

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