The ship was carrying a cargo of molten sulphur, a highly flammable and corrosive substance that required special handling and equipment. What happened to the ship and its crew remains a mystery to this day, despite extensive investigations and searches.
Despite the clear cause of the disaster, an inaccurate and incomplete version of the ship’s disappearance is often used to justify Bermuda Triangle conspiracies.
The ship’s history and last voyage
SS Marine Sulphur Queen was originally built as SS Esso New Haven, a T2 tanker that transported oil during World War II. In 1960, it was converted to carry molten sulphur by Bethlehem Steel Company.
The conversion involved installing a huge tank inside the ship, surrounded by a void space and heated by steam pipes. The tank was divided into four smaller tanks, each holding about 3,800 tons of sulphur at a temperature of 255 °F (124 °C).
The ship also had a sulphur pump room, a sulphur control room and a sulphur venting system.
On February 2, 1963, SS Marine Sulphur Queen departed from Beaumont, Texas, bound for Norfolk, Virginia, with a cargo of 15,260 tons of molten sulphur. The ship had a crew of 39 men, mostly from Texas and Louisiana. The captain was Francis X. Callahan, a veteran mariner with 25 years of experience.
The ship’s last communication was on February 4, when it sent a routine radio message giving its position as 25°45′N 86°00′W, about 150 miles west of Key West, Florida. The weather was stormy, with strong winds and high waves. The ship was expected to arrive at Norfolk on February 8.
The ship’s disappearance
On February 6, when the ship failed to report its position, the Coast Guard initiated a search and rescue operation. The search covered an area of 100,000 square miles, involving planes, helicopters, ships and submarines.
The only traces of the ship that were found were some life jackets, life rings, rafts and debris. Some of the debris had traces of sulphur on them. No bodies or survivors were ever found.
The Coast Guard called off the search on February 25, declaring the ship and its crew lost at sea.
The ship’s investigation
The Coast Guard launched an investigation into the cause of the ship’s disappearance. The investigation revealed that the ship had a history of problems and accidents related to its sulphur cargo. The ship had frequent leaks and fires in its sulphur system, causing damage to the hull and equipment. The crew often complained about the poor condition of the ship and the lack of safety measures. The ship had also been overdue for maintenance and inspection before its last voyage.
The investigation concluded that the ship was unseaworthy and unsafe to sail with molten sulphur. It suggested four possible causes for the disaster:
– A structural failure due to corrosion or stress that caused the ship to break apart.
– An explosion or fire due to a leak or rupture in the sulphur system that ignited the flammable vapors.
– A loss of stability due to shifting or sloshing of the sulphur cargo that capsized the ship.
– A combination of any of the above factors.
The investigation also criticized the owner of the ship, Marine Transport Lines Inc., for negligence and lack of supervision. The owner denied any responsibility and blamed the weather and unknown forces for the loss.
The ship’s legacy
The disappearance of SS Marine Sulphur Queen remains one of the most intriguing and mysterious cases in maritime history.
The memory of SS Marine Sulphur Queen and its crew is honored by a memorial plaque at Beaumont Maritime Museum in Texas.
It has also been linked to the Bermuda Triangle phenomenon, as some people believe that the ship fell victim to some paranormal or supernatural force in that region. However, there is no evidence to support this theory.
The families of the lost crew members filed lawsuits against the owner of the ship, seeking compensation and justice. The litigation lasted for years, until a settlement was reached in 1971. The families received $325,000 each.
Many have speculated the disappearance of the Sulphur Queen was a victim of piracy or sabotage. Although she had been searched thoroughly by the US Coast Guard, no wreckage was ever found, making it one of the most intriguing and mysterious disappearances in maritime history.
What actually happened to the tanker ship and where did the 39 passengers go? Did anyone survive the piracy, where is the wreckage of the ship? These are just a few questions that haven’t been answered for decades.
This leaves the SS Marine Sulphur Queen as one of the most mysterious disappearances ever recorded.