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- 1904 Project SS Norge 2004 -

The Disaster

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SS Norge departed from Copenhagen on June 22, 1904. On board were 405 passengers who all had bought a ticket to the land of hopes and dreams – America. The first stop on the long trip was made in Christiania (now: Oslo), where another 232 passengers came onboard. From Christiania the ship made a short stop in Kristianssand where 90 passengers went onboard before the ship finally got on its west bound course that would take the ship to New York. The total number of passengers were, at this time, 727. The crew added another 68 persons to the list, so the total number onboard was 795 living souls. Passing Pentland Firth, the ship and passengers now only had the Atlantic between them and their new life in America.


On the morning of June 28, the ship had progressed about 300 miles into the Atlantic. The weather soon developed into a fog and Captain Valdemar Gundel, who at that time was sleeping in his quarters, was notified and soon appeared on the bridge where he took the command of the ship. By his calculations, the nearest obstacle and object of concern, was the small island of Rockall, which was assumed to be about 20 nautical miles away. This was soon proven to be deadly wrong.


At 7.45 AM (some states 7.30 AM) Norge hit the ground ! The engine was immediately stopped but only for a few minutes. Captain Gundel decided to try to get clear of the obstacle by reversing the ships course. Thus the engine was set on “Full back” and the Norge soon began to move again. But this only made things worse. Much worse. The collision, which happend with such an impact that the stern was lifted a few feet above the water, resulted in tearing a long hole in the ship. When the ship was clear of the ground, the water soon began to enter the ship through the damage to the stern. In only a few minutes, tons of water had flooded the ship and Captain Gundel knew that it would only be a matter of time before the Norge would sink. Gundel immediately gave orders to his crew to begin the rescue of the passengers. Women and children were to be saved first. And now the real and horrible part of the story begins.


Norge was equipped with 8 life boats and one large life raft. The 8 life boats would be able to rescue 251 persons and the life raft could hold 30 persons. In other words; if the life boats and the raft were filled in accordance to specifications, there would leave 514 persons onboard the sinking ship without any means of being saved. This was a prequel to the Titanic drama that happened only 8 years after the sinking of the Norge. Had the Titanic constructors taken into consideration the lessons learned from the SS Norge sinking, and accepted that a sufficient number of life boats were essential for rescuing passengers, it is more than likely that a lot more of the passengers from the Titanic would have been saved.


Onboard the Norge, life was now a living nightmare. 6 of the 8 life boats were more or less successfully lowered into the sea next to the sinking ship. More or less because many of the boats were not even filled with half as many persons as they were capable of holding. The last two life boats were mistakenly dropped into the sea from a high altitude and smashed to pieces, spilling the people into the deadly cold water. In spite of many attempts, it was not possible to put the life raft into the sea. With all life boats filled and being a safe distance from the rapidly sinking ship, the remaining people on the Norge were helplessly lost. I don’t think that one could ever be able to put themselves in these peoples' position. Imagine how women and children in the life boats must have felt knowing that they were leaving husbands, brothers and family members to die on the ship. Surviving this and continue life must have been beyond comprehension.


Less than 20 minutes after the Norge hit the ground, the ship slipped beneath the surface. The screaming and calls from the many people who were washed off the ship and into the sea soon died out. Around 600 persons drowned or died as a result of immersion into the cold Atlantic.


Though surviving the sinking, the real struggle for the people in the life boats now began. The life boats were soon scattered and the story of each boat is a drama of its own. During the following days one of the life boats (no. 2) sank with the loss of another 70 persons. The remaining 5 life boats with 160 passengers and crew members were rescued by ships and brought to shore. In all, 635 persons were lost. About 150 of these were Danish citizens. The sinking of the SS Norge is still the worst Danish civil maritime disaster and the story of the SS Norge is the story of the Danish Titanic.

nolimitsdiving (c) 2004