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On February 12, 1983, the Marine Transport Lines coal carrier, SS Marine Electric sank about 30 miles off the coast of Virginia in a severe snow storm and hurricane force winds. Of the crew of 34, there were 3 survivors. Most of the crew, died of hypothermia in the 38 degree water. The ship had just responded to a call for assistance from a small fishing boat. The Coast Guard got to the fishing boat and was able to drop portable pumps to her. The Marine Electric resumed her voyage, headed for a power plant up in Massachusetts with a full load of coal. A few hours later she experienced problems of her own and eventually capsized and sank.

The owners of the ship tried to blame everything and anything for the sinking. From striking bottom on the rescue mission, to even blaming the Chief Mate, one of the survivors for not securing the anchor properly on the bow. The ship was in terrible condition, but had still passed her Coast Guard and ABS inspections.

The sinking and loss of life changed the way the Coast Guard and ABS inspected ships. The Coast Guard Rescue swimmer program also resulted from this loss. Previously, survival suits were not required to be carried on merchant ships, and those rules changed also.

The Marine Electric was a converted World War II, T-2 type of tanker. In the 60?s, the mid body of the ship was cut away and a new section designed to carry bulk cargo was fabricated.

I was a cadet at Fort Schuyler when she sank. I remember waking up that morning with about 3 feet of snow around the campus. The whole place was shut down, no way in or out. A bunch of us were playing football in the snow drifts right in the middle of the Quadrangle. Another cadet came along and told everyone that a Marine Transport Lines ship had sunk with the loss of most of the crew. We all wondered if any cadets or alumni were aboard. There were cadets on campus that had sailed with MTL and had been aboard that ship.

Twenty five years and I can remember it like it was yesterday. Every time I put a survival suit on for a life boat drill on the way up to Prince William Sound I had to think of those guys.

I have been reading a book, Until the Sea Shall Free Them by Robert Frump which tells the story of the sinking and the investigation afterwards. It is a great read by the way and presents some interesting history on the US Merchant Marine, the Coast Gaurd Marine Board of Investigation and maritime accidents.
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