On April 16, 2014, the Korean ferry Sewol capsized with 459 passengers on board. Within a few hours, 174 people were rescued. Thereafter, no survivors have been found. The magnitude of this disaster is mind boggling.
The Captain of the Sewol left the ship. He survived, and has been arrested and charged with many counts of dereliction. The debate over whether a captain must stay with his ship rages on.
The contrasting tale of a Captain who stayed with his ship is told in Simple Courage – A True Story of Peril on the Sea by Frank Delaney. Simple Courage is the most gripping piece of non-fiction I ever read!
The SS Flying Enterprise carried both cargo and passengers when it ran into a vicious North Atlantic storm in December of 1951. The Enterprise suffered a cracked hull and its load shifted. Against the odds and at their own peril, other ships came to its aid. Captain Carlsen transferred his passengers and crew to one of these ships. In the wild surf, the ships could not draw close, so the passengers and crew had to plunge into the water and be hauled into life rafts. This operation is described in detail. Each passenger was paired with a crew member, and they jumped holding hands. The only death, from start to finish, was that of a passenger who apparently suffered a heart attack upon contact with the icy water. After assuring everyone else’s safety, the Captain asserted his intention to stay on board while a long-shot salvage was attempted.
Then came a “plot twist” which you would reject in fiction. With no warning and at great risk to his own life, a young sailor jumped from a tug boat to the Enterprise, which the rescuers already considered doomed. The Captain and his companion stayed on the ship through an extended attempt to tow it to port, and left it only shortly before it finally sank from view.
I would tell you to read this book, but in fact it is available in an audio version recorded by the author. Frank Delaney is Irish and is highly regarded as a story teller as well as a writer. I’ve heard that the recorded version is wonderful.
“Eternal Father…hear us as we cry to Thee, for those in peril on the sea.” The Navy Hymn, 1861.