Ceremony to honor little known ship sinking

Published 6:34 pm Friday, October 21, 2016

Not as much is known about the sinking of the S/S Gulfstag as some other local shipwrecks. The organizers of a ceremony honoring the men who went down with the ship would like to change that so others will know what happened.

The ceremony for the 50th anniversary of the explosion, fire and sinking of the S/S Gulfstag will start with a seminar from 3 to 6 p.m., a reception from 6 to 6:30 p.m. and dinner from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the Port Arthur International Seafarers’ Center, 401 Houston Ave. in Port Arthur.

The program consists of: the history of the event and the Coast Guard findings, modern-day maritime vetting, modern-day maritime safety regimes, impact of tragedies on Merchant Mariners, comments by surviving crewman and unveiling of permanent memorial.

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Supporting this event are The Council of American Master Mariners, Inc.; the Apostleship of the Sea, The Nautical Institute- Gulf Branch and the PAISC.

Sponsors are the Port of Port Arthur, The Propeller Club of the United States, the SIU Brotherhood of the Sea, Sabine Pilots and West Gulf Maritime Association.

“Thousands of Southeast Texans have served our country in peace and in war as merchant mariners. By their dedication and professionalism, they have supported our troops, assisted in natural disasters, and have provided the goods and the energy that makes our modern life possible,” said the Rev. Sinclair Oubre with the Apostleship of the Sea.

In addition to the ceremony, Sarah Bellian, historian and curator of the Museum of the Gulf Coast said she is renovating the maritime gallery at the museum.

She is also attempting to set up panels related to the Gulfstag in a temporary display, but she only has a life vest from the ship and she looking for more memorabilia.

“We don’t have the ability for an exhibit,” she said. “We want people to learn about what happened and we’re collecting material and we’ve completely redone that gallery.”

“We have the money to do this but we need some help,” she said.

The funding was made possible by a donations from notable people passionate about history.

Eventually in the gallery there will be a touchscreen with audio and video and fun activities.

The Port Arthur News covered the fire, explosion and sinking of the ship from the beginning on Monday, Oct. 24, 1966.

In the Tuesday, Oct. 25, 1966 edition in an article titled, “Survivors Trapped by Inferno Of Gulfstag Fire Tell Stories,” it read:

“Three survivors of the Gulfstag told The News how they reacted when an explosion touched off an inferno of heat and choking smoke on the Gulf tanker on Monday (Oct. 24, 1966).”

“Peter Wurschy, the Gulfstag’s youthful third mate, was in his bunk amdiship when “I was rudely awakened by a thumping noise” and leaped from his bunk to find the ship dark from electrical power failure.

Earl Wise, 38, of Savannha, Ga. And ablebodied seaman who had been shipping out 19 years, and James Hiott, 33, an engineroom wiper, were asleep in their quarters in the stern section, and were trapped in their rooms by the fire and smoke. They had to squirm out portholes.

The survivors here said they could only speculate on what happened to the missing me.”

Another article in the same edition titled “Burning Gulfstag Potential ‘Bomb’” had the following:

“The burning tanker Gulfstag, still a potential king-sized bomb, wallowed in the Gulf of Mexico’s calm swells today.

It was feared the flames would touch off the 153,000 barrels of gasoline aboard. However, the fire roared on all day and Monday night — apparently confined to the stern section.”

“While the Gulfstag burned, the Coast Guard declared a 10-square-mile area a restricted zone, due to the danger of explosion, and planes were ordered to remain above 2,000 feet.

The Coast Guard at New Orleans at noon today said the Gulfstag was still afloat and burning but had settled deep into the water by the stern and had begun to list to starboard.”

For Saturday, Oct. 29, 1966, the article was titled, “Gulfstag Hearing Is Ended.”

“The Coast Guard board of inquiry into the loss at sea Monday of the tanker Gulfstag concluded the testimony phase of this investigation today at 11:18 a.m.

The board heard tow inspectors from the Port Arthur Coast Guard Marine Inspection office and recalled three witnesses who had testified earlier before adjourning.”

“Capt. R.A. Barber, chairman of the three-officer board, said, “The board’s work will continue, especially pending a final outcome on what becomes of the Gulfstag. If the vessel becomes available in the future, the board will make a through investigation of the ship.”

He said a final report giving any conclusions reached in the probe will be issued by the Coast Guard commandant after the inquiry closes.”

Finally in the December 1968 magazine“Proceedings:”

The National Transportation Board concurs with the recommendations of the Marine Board of Investigation concerning the pumping of pump room bilges, operation of power ventilation, combustible lifeboat falls, additional escape units and berthing compartments, emergency power system and CO2 extinguishing systems.

David Ball: 409-721-2427