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The Sinking of the Prinsendam,
October 1980


    In 1980, the United States Coast Guard Cutter (USCGC) Mellon assisted in the rescue of 520 passengers and crewmembers from the burning luxury liner Prinsendam, operated by Holland America Line. The Prinsendam was a 427-foot-long cruise liner built in 1973 at Shipyard de Merwede in the Netherlands. The liner was transiting through Gulf of Alaska waters, approximately 120 miles south of Yakutat, Alaska, at midnight on October 4, 1980, when fire broke out in the engine room. The vesselís master declared the fire out of control one hour later and the Prinsendam sent a distress call requesting immediate assistance. The Coast Guardís rescue coordination center in Juneau received the message and began to organize a rescue effort. Aircraft were immediately sortied to the scene, including an HH-3 helicopter and a C-130 turbo prop maritime patrol aircraft. At the time, CGC Mellon was on patrol near Vancouver, BC, a distance of 550 nautical miles from Prinsendam. CGC Mellon and other cutters diverted to assist. The 1000-foot supertanker, Williamsburgh, also diverted to render assistance.

    The master of the Prinsendam, Captain Cornelius Wabeke, ordered the vessel abandoned at approximately 0630. The crew and passengers of the cruise liner filled the lifeboats with only 15 passengers and 25 crewmembers remaining on the Prinsendam. Williamsburgh arrived at 0745 and immediately passengers and crew were transferred from the lifeboats into the helicopter and then to the deck of the supertanker. The remaining crew and passengers from the surrounding lifeboats were transferred to the Williamsburgh. Sometime in the mid-afternoon the USCGC Boutwell arrived to assist. Those in critical condition were transferred to the USCGC Boutwell and taken to Sitka for treatment. CGC Mellon arrived around 1830 that night and dispatched a team to provide medical assistance onboard the Williamsburgh. At around 2100, 20 passengers and 2 Air Force aviator technicians were still reported missing in one of the Prinsendamís lifeboats. The Coast Guard Command in Juneau directed the USCGC Boutwell and an HC-130 Hercules to search for the missing lifeboat. At around 0100 the next morning, some 18 hours after the ordeal had begun, the Boutwell spotted a flare from the lifeboat. Shortly thereafter, the lifeboatís passengers were recovered and the rescue was over with no deaths or serious injuries and all passengers and crew from the Prinsendam accounted for.

    On October 11, 1980, the Prinsendam capsized and sunk, only 7 years after being built.

    In April 1981, Popular Mechanics magazine published an article about the disaster, reproduced here.

    In 2002, Holland America Lines acquired the Seabourn Sun and renamed her Prinsendam - as of 2004, she is still in service with them. Click here for information about that ship.

Press photo of the HAL liner Prinsendam burning, 1980