The Storm That Wrecked The Freighter Edlia

By James Donahue

It was March 29, 1984, and the 471-foot Greek freighter Edlia was pounding its way south along the coast of Massachusetts, bound for Norfolk, Virginia, after unloading a cargo of sugar in Canada.

The old ship's holds were empty so she was riding high on the water, the massive swells from a building storm causing the vessel to roll and pitch as her skipper, Ernesto Garces, 37, tried desperately to stabilize his ship. He ordered the ballast tanks pumped full of water and turned the ship's stem east into the teeth of the wind and sea.

The Edlia's crew of 22 other sailors literally held on for the ride as the ship rolled and tossed, with dishes, tools, chairs and anything not bolted down literally flying around like deadly missiles with each violent pitch. The seas were so violent that at times the propeller and rudder were pitched high out of the water, causing the vessel to twist and yawl as the helmsman at the wheel struggled to bring her back on course.

While most other ship masters in the area had the benefit of modern electronic devices that warned them of a major storm was building and had time to steer out of its way, Garces was commanding an old tramp that offered him only a radio for communication. He knew he was in a storm, but he had no idea until it was too late just how furious a gale it was going to be.

That afternoon, as the storm reached its full strength, the 9,807-ton Eldia was fighting a losing battle against 80-mile-an-hour hurricane force winds out of the northeast. The storm overpowered the ship, driving it backward toward the Massachusetts coast.


At 4:05 p.m., as the coast of Cape Cod was in view, Garces knew he was losing the fight to save his ship. He issued an SOS and ordered both bow anchors dropped in a last-ditch effort to keep the vessel from being driven aground. But the seas were no match for the anchors and they dragged.

The ship was carried by the massive seas and came high on the shore off Nauset Beach almost broadside. Once she was driven into the mud, the decks were awash under 30-foot-high seas.

A Coast Guard rescue helicopter was standing overhead within the hour, but Garces did not give the order to abandon ship until just after 6 p.m., after he had talked to the ship's owners. Then all crew members were safely lifted off the stricken ship.

The massive steel wreck rested high on the beach for 51 days before salvagers for Donjon Marine Co. of Hillside, New Jersey, successfully removed it with the help of giant cranes and an unusually high tide.

In the meantime, the Coast Guard ordered the ship's owners, Thenamarias Inc., to remove about 14,000 gallons of fuel. It was later learned that the ship suffered extensive damage to its bottom, inner fuel tanks and ballast tanks and was declared a total wreck.


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