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SS Heraklion when she was the Leicestershire
|Operator:||Aegean Steam Navigation Co (Typaldos Line)|
|Builder:||Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Company|
|Out of service:||8 December 1966|
|Fate:||Capsized and sank 8 December 1966|
The SS Heraklion (sometimes spelled out in books as the "Iraklion") was a car ferry operating the lines Piraeus - Chania and Piraeus - Irakleio between 1965 and 1966. The ship capsized and sank on 8 December 1966 in the Aegean Sea, resulting in the death of over 200 people.
SS Heraklion was built as the SS Leicestershire by Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Company in Glasgow in 1949, for the Bibby Line to operate the UK to Burma route. She was chartered to the British India Line for some time to supplement its London to East Africa service. In 1964 she was sold to the Aegean Steam Navigation Co to operate under their Typaldos Lines, renamed SS Heraklion.
Once Typaldos Line took ownership, she was refitted as a passenger/car ferry. The ship had an overall length of 498 ft (152 m), a beam of 60 ft (18 m), gross tonnage of 8.922 tons, single prop reaching a speed of 17 knots. Winter capacity was 35 trucks with an average weight of 10 tons. S/S Heraklion had her last survey on 29 June 1966.
At 8.00 pm on the evening of December 7, 1966, and under extreme weather conditions, with winds blowing at Force 9 on the Beaufort scale, the Heraklion sailed from Souda Bay, Crete for Piraeus, after a two-hour delay, allegedly in order to embark a refrigerator truck that according to most accounts contributed to the sinking. Nowadays, passenger ships operating in Greek waters are prohibited from sailing in winds at or greater than Force 8 on the Beaufort scale, but at that time it was up to the captain to decide whether to sail or not, sometimes under pressure from the ship owners.
Halfway through the voyage, while sailing south of the small rocky island of Falkonera, the aforementioned refrigerator truck which was carrying oranges and was either left unsecured or was loosely strapped started banging on the midship loading door which eventually gave in and opened with the result that the truck plummeted into the sea where it was found floating the next morning. With the doors opened, the sea flowed in and after 15 or 20 minutes the ship capsized, sometime after 2:00am on December 8, 1966, at .
The SOS signal was repeated twice. The Greek Ministry of Mercantile Marine was under-equipped to handle the necessary communications while the port authorities of Piraeus, Syros and other islands reported they were unable to offer assistance due to lack of equipment. Unfortunately the ferry Minos which was some 15 miles away from the scene did not receive the SOS.
At around 2.30am the head of the Hellenic Coast Guard was alerted followed by the Minister of Mercantile Marine and the Minister of Defense. The Ministry of Defense reported that a ship of the then Greek Royal Navy was at Syros but it would take 3–4 hours to get under way. A number of ships including two British Royal Navy warships northeast of Crete received the SOS and altered course for the scene.
At 4.30am the RHS Syros was ordered to sea, while an hour later the prime minister was informed of the situation and the Air Force was alerted. A C-47 Skytrain took off from Elefsis airport followed shortly by two more. The first aircraft arrived at the scene around 10:00am at the same time as the HMS Ashton, which started picking up survivors aided by the three aircraft. At 19.00 the Ashton docked at the port of Piraeus where a large crowd had gathered seeking information and waiting for the rescue ships, carrying survivors and bodies.
A number of United States Navy ships deployed in the Mediterranean Sea at the time of the sinking participated in the search and rescue operations for the victims, among the ships participating were the USS Lawrence (DDG-4), USS Bordelon (DD-881), the USS James C. Owens (DD-776), and the USS Strong (DD-758).
Officially, out of 73 officers and crew and 191 passengers only 46 were rescued, (16 crew and 30 passengers), while 217 perished, but the exact number remains unknown, since at the time it was customary to board the ship without a ticket, which would be issued upon sailing.
The Greek government's investigation found the Typaldos Lines guilty of negligence for several reasons; there was no drill for abandoning ship, there was a delay in sending a distress call and there was no organization of rescue work by the ship's officers. The company was also charged with manslaughter and faking documents. Haralambos Typaldos, the owner of the company and Panayotis Kokkinos, the general manager were both sentenced to jail in 1968. It was also found that twelve of the company's fifteen ships failed inspection under international law. The company's remaining ships were taken over and sold either for scrap or sold off for other uses, except two; the SS Hellas and the SS Athinai. Neither ship attracted buyers and so were laid up for 20 years before being sold for scrap and broken up in Turkey in 1989. In the meantime, the badly rusted Athinai was used in 1978–1979 as a floating set for the film Raise the Titanic and was renamed Titanic for the duration of filming.
In the 1990s a sculpture known as "The Monument of the Hand" was erected near the harbour in Chania to commemorate the victims of the accident.
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