Sunday Marks 35th anniversary of wreck

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Posted by SG on May 07, 19100 at 18:38:56:

Sunday marks 35th anniversary of wreck

It was 35 years ago Sunday that the S.S. Cedarville, a giant self-loading ore carrier, fatally collided with the Norwegian merchant ship, Topdalsfjord in the Straits of Mackinac.

The Cedarville is one of many ships that fell victim to the weather, violent collisions or other fatal circumstances on the Great Lakes. It was a member the fleet used by the Michigan Limestone Division of U.S. Steel Corp.

The loss of the Cedarville on May 7, 1965 came about seven years after the loss of the Carl D. Bradley in November 1958. The Bradley was the Cedarville's sister ship. Both called Rogers City home, were owned by U.S. Steel, were designed to carry limestone and met an unfortunate end.

The Cedarville, which was originally called the A.F. Harvey, was built in 1927 in River Rouge by Great Lakes Engineering for the Pittsburgh Steamship division of U.S. Steel Corp. In 1956, the 588-foot bulk carrier was transported to the Bradley Transportation Division. In the winter of 1956-57 it was converted to a self-unloader and was renamed the S.S. Cedarville.

As Captain Martin Joppich and his crew prepared for another busy shipping season in spring 1965, none of them suspected their lives would be jeopardized.

On the morning of May 7, the ship and its 35-member crew set out from Calcite and headed toward Gary, Ind., with 14,411 tons of limestone.

Fog proved to be the vessel's natural enemy that day. A light fog by Calcite progressively thickened as the ship headed toward the Straits of Mackinac. However, the ship maintained full speed almost until the time of the collision.

The captain of the Cedarville was in contact with a German ship who said there was another ship between the two, but it was hard to pick it up on the radar because of the bridge. The Cedarville radioed the unknown ship but received no response.

The unknown ship was the Topdalsfjord, a 420-foot Norwegian vessel, which was heading to a port in Ontario with a shipment of grain.

After the Norwegian ship was finally sighted, the crash could not be avoided. The bow struck the Cedarville's port side, ripping a large gash in the hull.

Following the collision, the decisions made by the Cedarville's captain would be topics of a great deal of discussion. The ship began listing heavily to port and was taking in a large amount of water. The captain turned the ship in an attempt to beach it at Mackinaw City which was two-and-a-half miles away.

About 40 minutes after the collision, the ship rolled onto its starboard side and sank in water about 105 feet deep about one mile northeast of Mackinaw City. The water temperature at the time was reported to be 37 degrees.

After Captain Rasmus Haaland of the Norwegian ship learned of the sinking, he sent out life rafts to look for survivors of the Cedarville, but the ships crew did not find any.

Survivors were rescued by the German ship Weissenburg who headed in to help when the Cedarville disappeared from the radar screen. The ship secured the Cedarville's life rafts to its side and survivors climbed a ladder to board the German ship.

Ten members of the Cedarville's 35-member crew lost their lives in the collision, either by drowning or being caught in the ship when it sunk.

Captains and crews from both the Cedarville and the Topdalsfjord were questioned at a U.S. Coast Guard hearing following the collision.

The captain of the Cedarville received four charges of faulty seamanship including failure to reduce speed after hearing the signal of a ship in front of him, failure to sound a danger signal and failure to sufficiently reduce speed when another ship was within a half mile. The captain maintained his innocence until August 1965 when he pleaded guilty to the charges.

Other people believe the Norwegian ship contributed to the collision by reportedly being off-course and failing to answer radio contact.

The captain of the Cedarville had his license suspended for one year and never again sailed as a Master.

Located in about 100 feet of water, the Cedarville has become an attraction for divers of all skill levels. The ship remains fairly intact and expert divers can enter the rooms of the ship to explore.

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