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Al-Salem Boccaccio Disaster

In December 1979, I boarded the USS Blandy ( above ) for a three-month cruise that began in Rota, Spain, near Cadiz. This was an older Navy ship, near the end of its service life. It had been launched in 1956, and had served in both the Cuban Missile Crisis and off the coast of Vietnam during that war.

We cruised east through the length of the Med, and hung a right for a slow cruise through the Suez Canal. I was able to go outside during most of the transit through the canal, and found it very intersting. Though we were far away from the Pyramids and the other famous places, I found if incredibly interesting to be able to see Egypt, ancient Egypt, just off the side, at times close enough that you could have thrown a stone or a baseball to the shore.

After the transit, we headed south down the Red Sea. Not much to see, it's much wider than it appears on a map. The water was choppy, becoming moreso the further south we went.

We spent Christmas Day in the Red Sea. We had " surf and turf " for Christmas Dinner, both steak and lobster. Most of my shipmates, from the Midwest and South, weren't into the lobster, but I ate all of their share, gorging myself with the stuff.

Late evening the sea became rough, perhaps brought on by winds funnelled by the narrowing sea, as Africa and the Arabian Peninsula became ever closer. . The boat rocked from side to side, food trays slid across the table ( which is why there were little metal parapets on the table to catch them ).

I had to go down a vertical ladder near the top of the ship some hours later, and was afraid I might fall off.

The rough seas continued through the night. Its hard to fall asleep when you think that you might fall out of your rack. It was the roughest water I've ever ever experienced.
Now we hear of the disaster at sea of the Al-Salam Boccaccio, where it is likely that over 1,000 died fairly suddenly in the cold and the waves. These were not big shots on a luxury cruise, these were mostly poor migrant workers returning home for a visit. I imagine very few of them knew how to swim ; in any event, many of them were trapped inside the vessel, which sank quickly and with little warning.

The sea is a beautiful and life-giving thing, but it is and always will be dangerous . Spare a thought for those who perished so quickly and so terribly on the Al-Salem Boccaccio.


Thanks for this, a nice memoir.

I didnt think the Sea was as rough as you obviously know it can be. I was glad to see that even 36 hrs after the sinking, ppl were still being rescued, including a boy the same age as my daughter.

Only such warmer waters could keep people alive for so long.

Thanks for the detail about your passage through the Red Sea. That's the kind of sidebar detail one used to be able to read from the Associated Press or one of the better news services. The kind of report that makes you feel like real people were involved in a real tragedy.
Even with warmer water than the open oceans, it is near miraculous that anyone is surviving that long.

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