SS Yarmouth Castle Fire

In the wee hours of November 13, 1965, a fire broke out in a storage compartment of the SS Yarmouth Castle -an aging liner traveling between Miami and Nassau – more than 100 miles out at sea, just nine hours after the ship had departed.  The SS Yarmouth Castle, bound for a gala weekend in Nassau with 550 aboard, was swept by fire before dawn and sank in the Atlantic after a spectacular four-hour rescue operation. By the time dazed passengers stumbled into smoke-filled corridors in their night clothes, the flames were beyond control. In scenes of mind-numbing horror, most people were rescued by two other nearby ships, the SS Bahama Star and the Finnpulp. By dawn, however, rescuers were forced away as flames engulfed the stricken hulk. At 6:03 a.m., she upended and sank in 1,800 fathoms. By nightfall, 90 people were still unaccounted for and fears mounted that they may have been carried to the bottom. Survivors praised the heroism of the crew, but were bitterly critical of the ship’s emergency procedures. They complained of failures in the fire alarm and sprinkler system, lack of life preservers in cabins, difficulties in lowering lifeboats and absence of fire drills. The result was a massive overhaul of safety regulations. Cruise ships serving U.S. ports were required to be built with steel decks and bulkheads, fireproof passenger areas shielded from galleys and engine rooms, with even better fire shelter for radio operators. (The Yarmouth Castle’s radioman had been burned alive in his radio shack before he could transmit a distress signal.)


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