- SIGNIFICANT OPERATIONS -
(Noteworthy events and activities above and beyond normal survey ops.)
SS Grand Rescue.
Pictures and commentary contributed by Chet Headley, with additional photographs by Jeff Lawrence.
 

Rescue of SS Grand Merchant Mariners, January 1965.

USNS Michelson T-AGS-23 arrived in Yokosuka Japan in November, 1964 and began operations that same month. We made one or two cruises in 1964. In January, 1965 after being at sea for what I remember to be a short period of time we were informed that a distress call had been received from the SS Grand, a Republic of China (Taiwan) merchant vessel that had lost power and was taking on water. We broke off operations and headed for the SS Grand. We steamed all night at full speed arriving the next day.

The SS Grand was a WWII Liberty ship that had been sold to a Taiwanese Steamship company (Sincere Steamship Corp., Ltd.). She was carrying scrap iron, mostly in the form of old engine blocks, from the U.S. to Taiwan.

Just prior to our arrival, the front half of the Grand broke off and sank. There were approximately 12 - 18 sailors on that section when it broke off, sending all of them into the sea. The SS Japan Bear had arrived just ahead of us. In an ill-advised attempt to calm the huge swells she pumped a huge amount of bunker oil into the ocean. This made it more difficult for the sailors in the water to swim and to be seen as they were quickly covered with black sticky oil.

We now had to contend with huge swells, cloudy skies, cold black water, black oil and men in the water that were barely visible. We managed to rescue six crewmen from the SS Grand. Three of Oceanographic Detachment Threeís sailors, Ben Gorman ET1, Ray Tullos ET3 and Smokey Stover PH1 went over the side tethered to safety lines. They managed to pull three of the men from the water. The Michelsonís Second Officer, P. G Murray, also went over the side to rescue one of the Grandís crewmen. His effort was captured on film, which is posted below. The others were able to grab onto the cargo net that had been hung over the port side and pull themselves up with help from the crew manning the cargo net.

Ben, Ray and Smokey received medals for their heroic actions. Unfortunately, I cannot recall which medal it was that they received. To the best of my knowledge Second Officer P. G. Murray did not receive public recognition for his heroic efforts. Hopefully these heroic men or someone that knows them will see this site and will provide additional details.

Photo Album.  Six crew members of the SS Grand rescued by the USNS Michelson T-AGS-23 in January 1965, North Pacific Ocean. Includes a photo of HM1 John Mottram.

The pictures include a scan of the back of each individual's photo. They each wrote a note on the back, which is reproduced here for posterity. A couple of the men didn't write English so I wrote their names on the back in English. All but two wrote something in Chinese. I also added three pictures (very poor focus) that I took in the Master's stateroom where the men had dinner with Capt Landry. The date written on the backs of the pictures is 15 Jan 1965. These were taken about three days after the rescue and about one day prior to arriving in port to drop them off.
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These dramatic photos show P. G. Murray, Michelson's Second Officer, pulling an oil-soaked SS Grand survivor from the sea.  The survivor is covered with bunker oil from SS Japan Bear; so is the MSTS officer after he has entered the water to grab the survivor. So far as we know this man was never acknowledged for his efforts. SSGrandRescue1.JPG (208268 bytes)
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  Additional photos of the rescue.
 (Courtesy of Jeff Lawrence)
   
 
Rescue operations for the sinking S.S. Grand in January 1965.  Off the port rail, three of the men rescued by the Michelson can be seen in the water.
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A closeup of the three survivors, covered with bunker oil and almost invisible in the sea.
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The S.S. Grand (left) slips beneath the waves after breaking apart in heavy seas during our rescue mission.  Another rescue ship (SS Japan Bear?) stands by behind her and to the right.

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The Pacific Voyageur Account.

The Michelson's newspaper, The Pacific Voyageur, of Jan 1965, has this account of the rescue:

This January trip began with a bang for OcDet Three and the crew of the USNS Michelson. Less than a day out of port, the ship received a call for help sent by the SS Grand, a Chinese merchantman, and proceeded to her aid.

Late that afternoon the stricken ship came into view along with the SS Japan Bear which was also answering the Grand in her call for help. The Japan Bear was the first to reach the sinking ship and radioed that she would spread oil to help calm the waters near the Grand and launch a life boat to rescue those still on board. Shortly thereafter it was reported that many of the stricken ship's crewmembers were scattered in the water around the ship. Upon receiving this information the Michelson moved in closer and began rescue operations.

Evidently the forward section to the Grand had broken away and sunk without warning thus throwing everyone on that section into the water. The break also released large quantities of fuel oil which covered everything still afloat.

The sea temperature in the low sixties, the wind was cold and blowing strongly, and the seas were running high. All these factors, while not too severe, proved to be fatal for many of those cast into the water.

There had apparently been no time for the Grand to properly launch her life boats since only one overturned boat was sighted in the water. Her other boat, assuming she had only two, was still aboard sitting on the after section and apparently in such a position that it could not be launched by those left on board.

Both the OcDet and the Michelson's crew pitched in whole-heartedly as the rescue operations began. Due to the sea conditions the Michelson could not safely launch her own boats; therefore, the ship had to be maneuvered in strong winds to pick up the survivors. Before nightfall five survivors had been plucked from the grasp of the sea. Three of the OcDet crew members, Ben Gorman, Smokey Stover, and Ray Tullos, were major contributors to the rescue in that they went over the side to place lines around survivors.

Shortly after dark the sixth man was picked up when his shouts were heard near a light thrown over earlier. The search continued through the night with the aid of search lights and flares dropped by aircraft. All the next day the area was crossed and recrossed by ship and aircraft but to no avail. The sea currents and wind had scattered all signs of any survivors or debris.

The crew of the Grand consisted of 43 men. The USNS Michelson picked up 6 men out of the water, the Japan Bear rescued 9 from the sinking ship, and the Colorado Maru, which arrived shortly after the Michelson, picked up 7 from a raft and 1 out of the water. Of the 43 total there were 23 survivors, 6 known dead, and 14 missing (presumed dead).

The disaster which sank the grand was a grim reminder to all on the Michelson that the sea can be deadly if the men who sail over her are not ever vigilant and constantly mindful of safety.