THE TSMS LAKONIA…

Fire at sea… the last moments for the TSMS LAKONIA.

The passenger ship TSMS Lakonia, sailed by Greek Line, was sailing on a Christmas cruise on December 22, 1963 around 11 pm while the ship was about 180 miles north of Madeira when fire broke out.

There were 646 passengers and 376 crewmen on board: a total of 1,022 people. All but 21 of the passengers were British citizens, and the crew members were mostly Greek and German. The captain of the Lakonia was 53-year-old Mathios Zarbis.

The Lakonia looking simply superb and ready for another cruise.

Evacuation of the ship was extremely difficult. Some lifeboats burned before they could be lowered. Two of the lifeboats were swamped, spilling their occupants into the sea; one when it was lowered only by one end, and the other when its davits broke off. Chains had rusted in many of the davits, making boats difficult or impossible to move. In the end, just over half of the lifeboats made it safely away from the Lakonia, some of them less than half full. Several people who dived overboard struck the side of the ship on the way down, killing them before they hit the water.

When all of the boats were away, there were still people adrift in the water and over 100 people left on board the burning ship. The Lakonia continued to burn fiercely and was rocked by violent explosions. Those who remained on board flocked to the glass-enclosed Agora Shopping Center at the stern of the ship. After several hours, the flames closed in on them, and they were forced to descend ropes and rope ladders into the ocean. The port and starboard gangways were lowered as well, and people walked down the gangways single file into the sea.

At 3:30 a.m., four hours after the first distress call, the 495-foot (151 m) Argentine passenger ship Salta arrived on the scene. The Salta, under the command of Captain José Barrere, had been on its way from Genoa, Italy to Buenos Aires. The 440-foot (130 m) British tanker Montcalm arrived half an hour later at 4:00 a.m. The majority of the survivors were saved by these two ships. The Salta rescued 475 people and took aboard most of Lakonia’s lifeboats.

In the hours that followed, the Belgian ship Charlesville, the Brazilian freighter Rio Grande, the British passenger ship Stratheden and the Panamanian freighter Mehdi all arrived to take part in the rescue. Each of the rescue vessels dispatched boats to pluck survivors from the water. Also, four United States Air Force C-54 planes were sent from the Lajes Air Base in the Azores. The planes dropped flares, lifejackets, life rafts and survival kits to people in the water.

A total of 128 people died in the Lakonia disaster, of which 95 were passengers and 33 were crew members. Only 53 people were killed in the actual fire. The rest died from exposure, drowning and injuries sustained while diving overboard

Lakonia had originally been the Johan van Oldenbarnevelt operated by Netherland Line and later by Holland America Line.

Read more by clicking here…

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About Michael L. Grace

MICHAEL L. GRACE is part of the award winning team that created the internationally performed award winning musical SNOOPY, based on PEANUTS by Charles M. Schultz. SNOOPY continues to be one of the most produced shows (amateur & stock) in America/Worldwide and has had long running productions in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and in London's West End. There are over 100 individual productions every year. He has written movies for TV, including the award-winning thriller LADY KILLER, various pilots and developed screenplays for Kevin Costner and John Travolta. Besides co-writing and co-producing SNOOPY, he wrote and produced the one-man play KENNEDY. He produced P.S. YOUR CAT IS DEAD by pulitzer prize winning author James Kirkwood. He wrote the stage thriller FINAL CUT which had productions in the UK, South Africa and Australia. His one-man play, KENNEDY - THE MAN BEHIND THE MYTH, was developed for HBO and has starred Andrew Stevens, Gregory Harrison and Joseph Bottoms. He has recently been involved in European productions with CLT-UFA, Europe's leading commercial television and radio broadcaster. He wrote MOWs THE DOLL COLLECTION, THE BOTTOM LINE and LAST WITNESS for German television. While in college and graduate school he worked as a foreign correspondent for COMBAT, the famous leftwing Paris daily, and as a travel writer. He visited more than 50 countries. He struggled as an actor, then joined the enemy and entered the training program at William Morris. He became a publicist and worked for Colonel Tom Parker, Elvis Presley's manager, at Paramount and MGM. He followed with a brief stint as a story executive, working in the frantic horror genre period of the early 80s and wrote THE UNSEEN. He went onto write for episodic television and develop series pilots. He was a continuing writer on such series such as LOVE BOAT, PAPER DOLLS, and KNOTS LANDING. He developed screenplays for such major award winning directors as Nicolas Meyers, Tony Richardson and J. Lee Thompson. He has written for all the major networks and studios. He has been hired numerous times as a script doctor, doing many uncredited rewrites on TV movies and features. He is currently writing A PERSON OF INTEREST, a thriller novel, and, IT'S THE LOVE BOAT... AND HOW IT CHANGED CRUISING BY SHIP a non-fiction book dealing with how the hit TV series as a major cultural phenomenon and altered the style of cruising by ship. He was raised in Los Angeles. He attended St. Paul's, USC and the Pasadena Playhouse. He received a B.A from San Francisco State University where he majored in theatre arts and minored in creative writing. He is listed as a SFSU leading alumni. He also apprenticed at ACT - The American Conservatory Theatre. For a brief period he had intentions of becoming an Episcopal(Anglican) priest and attended seminary at Kelham Theological College in the UK. When "the calling" wasn't there, he left seminary and did graduate work at the American University of Beirut. He has guest lectured at USC, UC San Diego, McGill, Univ. of London and the Univ. of Texas on the business aspects of making a living and surviving as a writer, focusing on development hell, in the Hollywood entertainment industry. Grace is a lifetime member of the Writers Guild of America, the Dramatist Guild and former regional chairman of the Steamship Historical Society of America. He resides in Palm Springs.

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