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Historic Fleet Gallery
Feature - Edmund Fitzgerald
EDMUND FITZGERALD, US.277437, Lake Bulk Freighter built in 1958 by the
Great Lakes Engineering Works, River Rouge, MI as Hull #301. Her keel was laid in August,
1957. Launched June 7, 1958 as a) EDMUND FITZGERALD for the Northwestern Mutual Life
Insurance Co. (Columbia Transportation Co., Cleveland, OH, mgr.). 729'loa, 711'lbp x 75'x
39'; 13,632 GRT, 8713 NRT, 26,600 dwt. Powered by a 7,500 shp Westinghouse Electric Co.
double reduction geared, cross-compound steam turbine, and two coal-fired Combustion
Engineering water tube boilers, with a total heating surface of 13,288 sq.ft. Engine and
boilers built in 1958. Rated service speed: 14 knots (16.1 mph). Sea trials occurred on
September 13th, and she was commissioned on September 22nd. The FITZGERALD's first cargo
of taconite pellets was loaded September 24, 1958 at Silver Bay, MN. for Toledo, OH. A
Bird-Johnson diesel powered bow thruster was installed in 1969 resulting in a decrease in
net registered tonnage to 8686. The FITZ collided with the Canadian steamer HOCHELAGA at
the mouth of the Detroit River, May 1, 1970, suffering slight damage at hatches 18 and 19.
During the 1971-72 winter lay up at Duluth, MN., she was converted from coal to oil-fired
boilers which were automated at that time, and the fuel tanks were installed in the space
that was occupied by the coal bunkers. Also a fire fighting system and a sewage holding
tank were installed at that time. Minor cracking at the keelson to shell connection was
repaired by installing additional stiffening on the keelson in 1970 and additional welding
was required in 1973-74. The EDMUND FITZGERALD foundered on Lake Superior during a severe
storm November 10, 1975 at approximately 7:10 pm about 17 miles north-northwest of
Whitefish Point, MI at position 47°0'N by 85°7'W in Canadian waters. The FITZGERALD was
running downbound loaded with 26,116 tons of taconite ore pellets from Superior, WI for
Detroit, MI. During the height of the storm in 70 knot winds, 25 foot waves combed her
deck decreasing her normal 12 feet of freeboard. Several times tons of water washed over
her deck and challenged her buoyancy. Her sinking was so quick that no radio message was
given though she had been in frequent visual and radio contact with the steamer ARTHUR M.
ANDERSON. The FITZGERALD disappeared from sight in a furious snow squall and then from
radar. Captain McSorley of the "FITZ" had indicated he was having difficulty and
was taking on water. She was listing to port and had two of three ballast pumps working.
She had lost her radar and damage was noted to ballast tank vent pipes and he was
overheard on the radio saying, "don't allow nobody (sic) on deck." McSorley said
it was the worst storm he had ever seen. All 29 officers and crew, including a Great Lakes
Maritime Academy cadet, went down with the ship, which lies broken in two sections in 530
feet of water. Surveyed by the U.S. Coast Guard in 1976 using the U.S. Navy CURV III
system, the wreckage consisted of an upright bow section, approximately 275 feet long and
an inverted stern section, about 253 feet long, and a debris field comprised of the rest
of the hull in between. Both sections lie within 170 feet of each other. The EDMUND
FITZGERALD was removed from documentation January, 1976. The National Transportation
Safety Board unanimously voted on March 23, 1978 to reject the U. S. Coast Guard's
official report supporting the theory of faulty hatches. Later the N.T.S.B. revised its
verdict and reached a majority vote to agree that the sinking was caused by taking on
water through one or more hatch covers damaged by the impact of heavy seas over her deck.
This is contrary to the Lake Carriers Association's contention that her foundering was
caused by flooding through bottom and ballast tank damage resulting from bottoming on the
Six Fathom Shoal between Caribou and Michipicoten Islands. The U.S. Coast Guard, report on
August 2, 1977 cited faulty hatch covers, lack of water tight cargo hold bulkheads and
damage caused from an undetermined source.
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