More than one ship succumbed to the massive storm that began on December 7, 1989 in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and continued for more than 24 hours, hampering search and rescue efforts.
Both the Capitaine Torres and the Johanna B disappeared in the early morning hours of December 8, both north of Cape Breton and about 120 miles apart from one another. All of Capitaine Torres’ 23 crewmen and Johanna B‘s 16 were lost. The Capitaine Torres was en route to Taiwan with container cargo from Portage, Indiana. Its crew consisted of French, Fijian, Dutch, Filipino and Vanuatu seamen. None were Canadian.
The Capitaine Torres sent a distress call, saying that the cargo had shifted, causing it to list badly and causing several containers to be lost overboard. The crew was abandoning ship in enclosed rubber rafts about 36 miles north of Cape Breton.
The captain of the Coast Guard’s ship, Sir William Grenfell, is convinced that he saw two or more people from the Capitaine Torres on life rafts, but by the time the ship could pull alongside, the rafts were empty. And no wonder. They took several severe hits from the two storey-high waves.
Built in 1978 in South Korea and originally named the Sunny Isabella, the ship was renamed the Capitaine Torres in 1989. It flew the flag of Vanuatu but was owned by a company in New Caledonia, a South Pacific island.
Few Canadians know of this tragedy, largely because it occurred just after the December 6 Montreal massacre of fourteen women at the École Polytechnique, an event that eclipsed most other news events at the time. In a letter to the National Post on December 6, 2011, Brian Latham of Yellowknife wondered why we still remember the women victims of the Montreal massacre but not the men lost from the Capitain Torres and Johanna B.
Thanks to Allison Campbell, who brought my attention to this Wreck Site, where information about the Capitaine Torres can be found. I will be investigating this event further in the near future.
Tags: 1989 Capitaine Torres