FORUM BRINGS TOGETHER SEA TRAGEDY
In the early 1960s, over a hundred cruise ship passengers died when their vessel caught fire in the Atlantic. On the andalucia.com forum, several people intimately connected with the tragedy, from those who recovered the bodies, to survivors and relatives of victims, have been brought together, to share painful memories of the disaster, and to help each other to finally come to terms with their terrible losses nearly 40 years later.
On 22 December 1963, a Dutch-built, Greek-owned cruise ship called the TSMS Lakonia was sailing off Madeira. She was on an 11-day Christmas cruise of the Canary Islands, sailing from Southampton, with a brief visit to the Azores first. Aboard were 646 passengers and 376 crew; nearly all the passengers were British or Irish, enjoying a special ocean-going Christmas, and the crew largely Greek or German. The ship's captain was Mathios Zarbis, a 53-year-old Greek.
That night, a fire broke out on the ship and less than two hours later, the ship was abandoned; some unfortunate passengers were trapped in their cabins by the flames, while others escaped in lifeboats, half of which were faulty, or jumped into the sea.
THE RESCUE OPERATION
The first ship to arrive at the scene, about 180 miles north-west of Madeira, was the Salta, an Argentine vessel, which rescued 478 people. Montcalm, a British tanker, reached the Lakonia half an hour later. Most survivors were rescued by these two vessels and taken to Madeira.
A total of 128 people died on the Lakonia, 95 passengers and 33 crew - but of these fewer than half perished in the fire itself; most drowned, succumbed to exposure or sustained injuries while jumping off the ship. Poor organisation, faulty lifeboats and electrical problems were all named as causes in the official investigation into the cause of the fire and subsequent chaos.
Two days later, crew from the British aircraft carrier HMS Centaur boarded the now charred, listing ship, retrieving numerous bodies. Four tugboats towed the Lakonia towards Gibraltar; on the way, she keeled over and sank, 400km west of the British territory.