Santa Rosa

Santa Rosa

Santa Rosa Skipper Charged In 1959 Collision

By James Donahue

A marine court suspended the license of Captain Frank S. Siwik, master of the Grace Line passenger ship Santa Rosa, for one year after he was found guilty of negligence in a 1959 marine collision off the New Jersey coast.

A review board found that Siwik failed to slow the 584-foot ship after getting into fog, and slammed into the side of the Valchem, a tanker traveling empty. Four men were killed and 21 were injured in the crash, although both vessels remained afloat.

Even though she took a large gash in her hull, amidships, the 523-foot tanker was able to return to New York partly under her own power, with Coast Guard vessels assisting.

The tanker was traveling south along the Atlantic coast from New York, on its way to Baytown, Texas. The Santa Rosa was on a northerly course, steaming from Port Everglades, Florida, with 247 passengers. Both ships were equipped with radar and their masters had each other's blips on their radar screens prior to the crash. Both ships also were sounding fog signals.


Even though the Valcheum was visible on the radar screen, the crew of the Santa Rosa admitted that the radar signals were not looked at for several critical minutes as the two vessels moved toward one another.

At 2:58 a.m., the bow lookout on the liner reported hearing a fog signal off the starboard bow. Siwik said he didn't look at the radarscope for another two minutes. When he did look, he saw that the Valcheum was closing on his starboard bow and a crash was eminent.

Siwik said he ordered left full rudder even as he was seeing the lights of the tanker loom out of the fog, off his starboard bow, just about a quarter of a mile ahead. He said he ordered the rudder turned full right and the engines reversed full astern, hoping to pass astern of the Valchem. But it was too late.

The Valchem, owned by Heron S.S. Co. of New York, remained at sea only another two years before it was scrapped. It was built in 1942 for Valentine Tankers Corp. of New York, and never had its name changed.

The Santa Rosa was built in 1958 to replace an older ship by the same name, also owned by the Grace Line. There are two versions of what happened to it.

The first says the Santa Rosa remained in service until 1971 when it was laid up by the line. In 1989 the liner was towed to Greece by new owners for rebuilding as vessel for the Regency Cruise Line. But that company went bankrupt and the ship was purchased by new owners. They say it remains on the high seas under the name Emerald. This vessel could not be traced, however, and may not exist.

In the second version, the owners were losing money on the passenger service, so had the ship converted to an all container vessel and put it in service on the Caribbean. It became one of the first American container ships involved in foreign trade. This enterprise did not work out well, however, and the ship was laid up.

Another report said the Santa Rosa then was sold again to a Houston, Texas company, and was converted once more to serve as a crane ship operating under the name Equality State. She remained active under that name on the high seas until recently, and may still be operating.

Great And Lost Ships Of The World