Gulf Oilmanac, April, 1967
RESCUE OFF SWEDEN.....
Sleet pelted the faces of crewmen coming topside aboard the Gulf tanker, Belgulf Strength, in response to Captain Van Cauwenberge's command, "All hands on deck, to aid in rescue!" The SOS received moments before, at 15.11 hours (3:11 PM) from the Greek ship Finlandia, began a drama which for nine hours teetered on tragedy.
The long December night had already begun to veil the choppy sea off the Swedish coast in gray gloom. The Finlandia 1.7 miles to the starboard of the Strength, was drifting toward the dangerous shoals of Knapparna and Travarn. Her wireless operator had requested, "HELP US PLEASE WE ARE IN IMMEDIATE DANGER THE SHIP IS SINKING THREE MILES OFF UNDERSTEN." Fire had damaged her engine and one of her two lifeboats already had been wrecked as the crew of 22 attempted to abandon ship. One lifeboat could not take the entire crew, so five remained on board, the captain, chief officer, wireless operator and two seamen.
At about 16.00 hours the Finlandia's remaining lifeboat came alongside the tanker. In it the 17 seafarers, numb with cold from sitting in the spray of waves, all tried to grasp the ladder before they were too exhausted to hold. All but the last managed his way up. He fell into the frigid water, but was rescued by the Strength's lifeboat, which meanwhile had been launched to rescue those remaining aboard the Finlandia.
Shortly thereafter, enroute to the ship in distress, the motor of the Strength's lifeboat failed. It began drifting in the dark towards dangerous cliffs, threatening tragedy for it's occupants, 2nd Officer W. Defloor (in charge), Engineers F. de Rijck and E. Huybrechts, and seamen L. Blasco, F. Dumarey, J. Milbauw, W. Doms and J. Calleeuw, and the Finlandia crewman who had fallen from the ladder.
Captain Van Cauwenberge attempted to maneuver the tanker to avoid the wrecked Finlandia and the shoals to rescue his own boat. The attempt failed. "Our lifeboat drifted away in the dark while I had to move out, not to strike the rocks," said Captain Cauwenberge.
At 17.15 hours, just in time to avert disaster, a Swedish motor launch picked up and towed the drifting lifeboat. The two boats came alongside the Strength, but heavy seas prevented the lifeboat's being hoisted aboard and the attempt had to be abandoned. Again the vessel had to move away from the shoals leaving the lifeboat with its exhausted shivering crew.
At 18.17 hours, a helicopter from Nynashamn arrived at the scene, located the wreck of the Finlandia, and rescued her five remaining men, but the weather was too stormy for it to hoist up the Strength's lifeboat. Still in tow of the motor launch, it was taken ashore, arriving at about 20.00 hours.
About 30 minutes later a rescue boat brought the crewmembers of the Strength back to their vessel and in turn took ashore the shipwrecked seamen who had revived themselves with food, hot drinks and hot showers aboard the tanker. By 23.30 the rescue operation was completed and the Belgulf Strength resumed, full ahead, its passage to Stigsnaes. All were grateful and relieved that the operation had succeeded, thanks to the discipline of the crew and the courageous fulfillment of the Captain's orders.