The Cedarville Blunder


By James Donahue


When the freighter Cedarville was rammed in fog in the Straits of Mackinaw and sunk on May 7, 1965, ten members of its crew went to the bottom with it.


A Marine Board of Investigation later ruled that the master of the Cedarville, Capt. Martin E. Joppich, violated the rules of the road by steaming too fast through fog, and taking incorrect actions causing deaths following the crash.


The wreck still lies where it rolled and sank, close to the Mackinaw Bridge. The vessel lies on its starboard side, partly turned so that its decks and superstructure are crushed in the muck. The hull is only 35 feet under water.


There is a mystery attached to this wreck, one that only Captain Joppich might answer. And he has never talked about his actions on that fateful day.


The 603-foot-long Cedarville was steaming from Calcite, Michigan and bound for Gary, Indiana with a cargo of open hearth limestone. It carried a crew of 35 plus the captain. It was struck broadside on the port side in thick fog by the Topdalsfjord, a smaller Norwegian diesel-powered vessel of 423-feet, at about 9:45 a.m.


The Topdalsfjord sustained damage to its bow, but did not sink. The Cedarville began taking water immediately and began listing to port as her open cargo area flooded.


According to the official Coast Guard report, Joppich immediately ordered the Cedarville’s engines stopped, dropped the port anchor, sounded a general alarm and broadcast a Mayday message. The pumps were turned on and the chief mate directed an unsuccessful effort to cover the hole with an emergency collision tarpaulin.


When the mate radioed the bridge that the attempt to plug the hole failed, Captain Joppich decided to try to beach the ship.


The record shows that he might have made it except for one major error. He took the boat in the wrong direction when land was close at hand.


The Coast Guard report said Joppich “judged poorly the peril to his crew and vessel and the time remaining for him to beach his ship. He should have beached his vessel on the nearest shoal or deciding against that he should have steered the correct course for the nearest land.


“The beaching course furnished by the third mate was incorrect and the master should have immediately realized this. It is tragic that the Cedarville steamed enough miles following her fatal wound to have made the beach at Mackinaw City.”


That third mate, identified as Charles Cook, was standing watch at the time of the crash. He was last seen attempting to put on his life jacket when the ship was capsizing under his feet. He went down with the ship.


Also lost was the engine room crew, including Chief Engineer Frank Lamp, Third Assistant Engineer Reinhold Radtke and crew members Wilbert Bredow, Edward Jungman, Arthur Fuhrman, Stanley Haske, William Asam, Eugene Jones and Hugh Wingo, all of Rogers City, Michigan.


The rest of the crew was picked up in one life boat, and in the water by the freighter Weissenburg, which was following the Cedarville and responded to the Mayday call.


As it was, two rescued crew members, Jungman and Haske, died from exposure after they were pulled from the frigid water.


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