When tugs come to the rescue at sea, they often have to operate under very bad circumstances. In open water, even in case of storm and huge swell, seagoing tugs have almost nothing to fear because of their strong construction and relatively high power volumes. But assistance near the coast in a leeshore situation is a very risky venture for a salvage tug. Two losses in the Dutch tug history, one of them being a real disaster, that happened at the cost of eight souls, occurred in the twenties and thirties of the last century. The most appealing catastrophe was the grounding of the tug SCHELDE (II) on March 8th 1925. Read the following oppressing report about the events in that dreadful night...\r\n
That night the weather was very rough on the New Waterway, the gate to the port of Rotterdam. A stormy wind was blowing from the north-west and fiery blizzards lashed the land and the sea. The freighter SOERAKARTA of the Rotterdam Lloyd was incoming and heading for the entrance of the New Waterway at Hoek van Holland. During a snow shower, obstructing the visibility of the landmarks for the captain and the pilot, the ship approached the head of the northern pier. The ship was very near, when the light of the northern head disappeared in the blizzard. Going back was no option because of the strong current and a few seconds after the moment the light of the pier became visible again, the fore-part of the ship already struck the stone body of the end of the northern pier. The stern swayed round and the proud ship was nailed on the pier as firm as a rock. The seagoing tug SCHELDE that was stationed as a salvage tug in Hoek van Holland, receives the first distress signals from the SOERAKARTA. A few seconds later everything on the SCHELDE buzzes of activity. Also the smaller tug WATERWEG headed out and soon reached the spot. The distance to the grounding site had been covered in a quarter of an hour's period, notwithstanding the bad weather circumstances. The WATERWEG soon had succeeded in making a cable connection, but the hawser broke. The next turn was for the SCHELDE. It did not take long before the line had been thrown over, whereafter the crew on board of the SOERAKARTA started to take in the towing cable and secured it. The engines of the SCHELDE were forced to full throttle, but the pier had slewn its claws deep in the skin of the freighter and had no intention to release its prey. Telegrams sparked from the antennas for more tugs, but they had to come from Maassluis, 10 miles from the grounding spot. In the meantime, the SCHELDE and the smaller WATERWEG had to bear the brunt against the wild boosting sea. Attack after attack captain Ben Weltevrede of the SCHELDE managed to beat off, until on a certain moment the sea became so fiery that the strong manilla hawser snapped like a piece of straw. One second later, before the engines of the SCHELDE could be stopped, the broken cable was drifting under the tug and fixed itself around the screw. Thus the cruel sea had taken another victim, that was delivered to her. The distance to the dry area of the southern pier head is not long and before the in haste dropped anchors of the SCHELDE could settle in the by heavy breakers tortured sand, the tug stranded on the opposite side of the river mouth.
The sea, still not content with her newest victory, was battering the deep in the water laying SCHELDE and the breakers rushed over it with fierce power. The engine room was flooded and the wireless operator, in his small cabin on the bridge deck was able to sling his distress call into the air just before the dynamo failed. In the radio station on the shore and on a number of sister ships that were underway to the calamity area this S.O.S. signal caused a strong commotion. These people are familiar with this distress signal. So many times it was the prelude of a succesful job, but in this case it was realised that this was the beginning of a drama. The low deck of the SCHELDE offers hardly any shelter against the raging sea, much less than the high above the water rising hull of the freighter on the other side. Moreover, the grounding position of the SCHELDE could not be more miserable under the ruling circumstances of that moment. The lifeboat and the sister ships attempted to approach the stricken wreck of the SCHELDE, but could not come near enough to be of any help. On board the SCHELDE the situation deteriorated rapidly.\r\n
All lights on the ship had gone out and in the pitch-dark cabins mate Hartman managed to grab some coats and other clothes for the people that had fled to deck directly from the hot engine room, and were now shivering with cold in their thin working clothes. But the bridge, too, was not safe anymore. The wreck is working itself deeper into the sand, the high tide raises the water level and for the crew of the SCHELDE there was only one way-out left: the rigging. Already numbed with cold by the whipped water, they climb as high up as possible to the top of the fore and after masts. But not everyone. Some already realize the hopelesness of the struggle for the preservation of life and are looking for one last moment for shelter behind the wheelhouse and the telegraph cabin, until the sea finds them there also and reaches even further with her shivering cold, foam-curled tentacles. When an individual, seized by the cold, has let himself as it were drag away voluntarily by the continuous overcoming waves, the young ordinary seaman, being the last one on the bridge deck, struggles his fatiguing battle. With both arms he clasps the massive base of the ship's telegraph, but with every new wave his hands loose their grip, until his powers to crawl back to the stand finally give away and he lets himself slip away willing in the ice cold arms of the never satisfied sea. In the rigging the others fight the almost unbearable misery of benumbing. Hail and snow lash hands and faces till the blood came. Here also after hours of despair an individual let himself silently fall into the sea, paralyzed by the ice cold water. Wireless operator Boxman once more made an attempt to save the life of sailor Van Beek, who let himself fall, seized by the cold. However, he was unable to get hold of him on the deck. Back into the rigging, Boxman tied himself up again.\r\n
After a short time the men hanging next to him noticed that he had passed away. The effort had been too severe for his exhausted condition. That night showed pieces of comradeship that could not be thought possible for people in such a heavy state of exhaustion and who were convinced that, if help did not turn up soon, they had to let go. And they knew that relief could not be reckoned on before daylight. Captain Weltevrede has given his coat to an exhausted fireman and held him for hours. But others, still having sufficient power of endurance and hope for salvation, also stood by their comrades in very different ways. Many times they heard the captain shout: Don't let loose, boys. Hold on for another moment. When daylight comes, the lifeboat will save us. At last the water falls and some dare to let themselves down on the deck, where the deckhouse offers some shelter. Mate Hartman still has enough courage to jump overboard with a line and swim to the southern pier. Dazed by the sandy seawater that threatens to slash him against the palissade, he was taken on board again by his fellow mates after this heroic action, more dead than alive. And they wait. The lifeboat could not approach the southern pier because of the danger to be thrown on the pier also and share the fate of the SCHELDE. The only possibility was to row inside the so called Dead Hole with a small flat-bottomed boat and to make an effort to approach the stranded tug as near as possible. But that was only an option in case of low tide.\r\n
Shipper Van der Klooster, captain on the lifeboat, installed part of the crew of the lifeboat on the flat boat that early morning and by six o'clock, at daybreak, they rowed over the Waterway into the Dead Hole. They managed to set foot on the pier and with the aid of lines they took the shipwrecked persons into the flat boat. But eight dead crew members of the SCHELDE they had to leave behind. Some hours later the flat boat brought the saved persons, who were in a state of exhaustion, to the shore. They were captain Weltevrede, mate Hartman, second engineer Mellema, sailor M.Ketting, ordinary sailor L.Poldervaart, trimmer J.Rolhoff and cook W.de Jong.\r\n
In the course of the night had perished the firemen P.Bal, H.v.d.Plas and J.Sas, the sailors Van Beek and H.v.d.Have and ordinary sailor M.Scholten. Dead in the rigging of the aft mast was hanging wireless operator Boxman. First engineer Jacob Bijl was hanging lifeless in the rigging of the foremast. The rescuers did try to salve both corpses. They managed to set foot on the pier and climb into the rigging. However, they were not able to loose the knots of the lines, with which both crew members had tied themselves up. From statements of the saved people it became clear, what a hellish night they had suffered on the wreck of the SCHELDE.\r\n
This film shows the final salvage of the Soerakarta: please click the link:\r\n