Ships 2


Ships 3

As The Leicestershire

Runaway Refrigerator Truck Sinks Heraklion

By James Donahue

The tired old steamship Heraklion was operating as a car and passenger ferry between Crete and Greece when it was sunk in a violent Mediterranean storm on December 7, 1966, taking an estimated 234 passengers and crew members with it.

The cause of the disaster was said to have been a refrigerator truck that broke loose in the storm, slammed out through a bow door, which in turn flooded and sank the steamer. Owners and operators of the vessels also were blamed for negligence.

Strangely, the Heraklion, Captain Emmanuel Vernikos, sailed from Chania, Crete, two hours behind schedule that fateful day because the vessel was waiting for the arrival of that particular truck laden with oranges. Some thought in their haste to get the ship underway, they neglected to properly secure and strap down the truck parked just inside the door.

While the relatively sheltered waters along the coast of Greece are usually calm, the storm that developed during the Heraklion’s 190-mile voyage stirred unusually rough seas. Survivors said the truck broke loose as the vessel rolled and began slamming into other parked vehicles and the door. Once it smashed its way through the door and plunged into the sea, the ship flooded and sank within about 20 minutes. It went down at about 2 a.m. just south of a small rocky island known as Falkonera.

There were two SOS calls sent before the ship foundered. Unfortunately, the Heraklion was sinking quickly and the Hellenic Coast Guard and other vessels were at least three to four hours from the scene. The ferry Minos, which was only 15 miles away, did not pick up the SOS.

Two British warships, the Syros and Ashton arrived on the scene along with numerous other vessels including the US Carrier Shangri-La to rescue survivors and pick up bodies.

Because the line did not keep an accurate record of the number of passengers on its ferries, the exact number of people that perished in the disaster was never told. The official count was that out of 73 officers and crew and 191 passengers, only 46 were rescued.

During hearings that followed, the Greek government found the owners, the Typaldos Line, guilty of negligence. The company failed to train its officers for abandoning ship and there was no plan for rescue work by the officers. Also there had been a delay in sending a distress call after it was clear the vessel was taking on water. The company owner, Haralamos Typaldos, and the general manager, Panssyotis Kokkinos, were sentenced to jail in 1968 and company ships were seized and sold.

The captain went down with the ship.

The 498-foot-long steamer was launched as the liner Leicestershire in 1949 and made regular trips from Birkenhead, England, to Rangoon, Burma. After 1952 the vessel operated on charter by the British India Line on the company’s East Africa routes.

When that passenger service was discontinued, the ship was sold to the Typaldos Brothers who refurbished it for work as a car ferry.