SS Poet Mariners Memorialized on 3Oth Anniversary of Tragedy

November 2010

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On the 30th anniversary of the mysterious disappearance of the SIU-crewed SS Poet, the union hosted a memorial gathering at the SIU hall in Mobile, Ala.


More than 80 people attended the ceremony, which took place Oct. 24. Dozens of family members and friends of the Poet’s crew attended, as did a number of active and retired SIU members.


During the event, which lasted two hours, a memorial plaque was unveiled. It lists the names of the 34 mariners from the Poet, all of whom perished on Oct. 24, 1980. Donated by the SIU and the Greater Mobile Port Maritime Council of the Maritime Trades Department, the plaque also contains a quote from Shakespeare – “So Are They All, All Honorable Men” – that became somewhat of a slogan during a recent grassroots effort to memorialize the crew. It will be displayed at the union hall in Mobile.


Identical copies of the plaque will be posted at the SIU halls in Philadelphia and New Orleans, respectively. Most of the Poet’s last crew hailed from either the Gulf Coast region or the Philadelphia area.


SIU Mobile Port Agent Jimmy White served as master of ceremonies for last month’s gathering. He said family members of all five Alabama-area Seafarers from the Poet were on hand “and they seemed very pleased about the recognition for the crew. Even though this was a memorial, the mood was uplifting. I met with each of the families and they were happy with the event.”


In his prepared remarks, White noted, “For the SIU, the sinking of the Poet was a tragedy that hit home. Most of the people aboard that ship were members of our union – 24, to be exact, including five from Alabama and several others from the Gulf Coast region. And of course, the heartbreak was every bit as great for the 10 officers who were lost in the sinking.


“It is my sincere hope that the passage of time has brought some peace to the families, if not necessarily full closure,” he continued. “The mystery of the Poet endures to this day, which makes the sinking all the more unfathomable. But there is no mystery about the honorable profession chosen by the men who sailed aboard the SS Poet. They were part of the United States Merchant Marine, also known as America’s fourth arm of defense. They were part of an industry that is critical to America’s national and economic security. And they were working hard to earn a good living for themselves and their families.”


White concluded, “The crew members of the SS Poet were part of the backbone of America. In researching their stories for this event, I find that they were blue-collar, no-nonsense individuals who could be counted on at all times.”


The 522-foot Poet disappeared in the Atlantic Ocean. Not a trace of the 11,241-ton ship ever was found. The 36-year-old bulk carrier, operated by Hawaiian Eugenia Corp., departed Philadelphia bound for Port Said, Egypt, with a cargo of corn. Six hours later, one of the deck officers called his wife through the marine operator. That was the last time the ship was heard from.


According to reports from that era, the ship was due to pass Gibraltar on Nov. 4 and was scheduled to arrive in Port Said Nov. 9. It missed its 48-hour check-in on Oct. 26 but was not reported missing by the company until Nov. 3. After the company did finally report the Poet missing, the Coast Guard delayed another five days before beginning their investigation, which included an exhaustive air search from high altitude for the missing ship over a 100,000 square-mile area ranging from the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf to 1,000 miles out to sea. The agency then searched the same area from a much lower altitude.


Another Coast Guard plane out of the Azores tracked the scheduled course of the Poet all the way to Gibraltar. On Nov. 17, the Coast Guard “regretfully” ended the futile search.

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A plaque and some of the guests at the Mobile hall are pictured below

SS Poet Plaque


SS Poet Crowd