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.