Research Offers Reminder of Seafarers' Bravery

 

September 2013

 

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Editor’s note: In answering a recent request from a Seafarer’s descendant, we

dusted off the following article from the Jan. 8, 1943 edition of the Seafarers LOG. It

is shared here in the spirit of the union’s 75th anniversary and as a reminder that SIU

members have been part of America’s fourth arm of defense throughout that history.

 

SIU Men Brave Jungle To Avoid Internment

 

The SIU crew aboard the Alcoa Pathfinder was not only torpedoed and had to spend days in open boats and rafts, but when they hit shore they were faced with miles of jungle which had to be traversed if they wanted to avoid internment for the duration of the war. That they came through the ordeal alive is a testimony of their strength and courage.

 

The story of their suffering received much space in the Natal Daily News in Durban, South Africa, where they received hospital treatment. A three-column picture of six brothers was run in the paper and showed them recuperating in the hospital; those pictured were brothers J. Szwed, E. Steeneken, E.R. Libecki, R. Tyler, Jesse Joy and John Flannery.

 

The following is the write-up given them in the African paper:

 

Fifty-two survivors of the American ship Pathfinder, recently sunk off the Portuguese East African coast, are now in a Durban hospital recovering from the effects of sunburn and exposure. Some of the men have terribly swollen feet and blistered backs.

 

When the Pathfinder was torpedoed on November 22 the men feared that if they made direct for land they would be interned. So they decided to make the farther trip down the coast to Union territory.

 

Relating the story of their adventures to a Daily News representative who visited the survivors in the local hospital today, Mr. B. Burton, the purser, said the ship went down in under three minutes at 2 o’clock on Sunday morning.

 

“We managed to get away one of our two lifeboats and a raft,” said Mr. Burton. “The other lifeboat was blown up. Five of our crew had been killed by the explosion, the remainder got away safely, and 40 crowded into the lifeboat. Twelve of us got on to a raft, which was taken in tow by the boat.

 

“We made for the Union, but made little progress. By 2 o’clock on Sunday afternoon we were about 200-300 yards off the beach. It was decided then that the men on the raft would make the shore and travel southwards by foot, and that the men in the boat should try to sail to the Union.

 

“At 7 o’clock that night we were 10 miles north of Punta el Oro, the lighthouse on the border of the Union. We lit two beacons to attract the attention of the men in the boat. Shortly afterwards the boat landed and we camped that night on the beach.”

 

The following day, the entire party made for the lighthouse at el Oro. There they were directed by the Portuguese lighthouse keeper to a mission station at Kosi Lake, across the border.

 

The men suffered many hardships in their trip down the coast. Most of them were scantily clad and those without shoes suffered especially, their feet being not only burnt, but cut by rocks and grasses in the swamps through which they had to walk.

 

“It was wild, desolate country, and apart from a few natives we saw nobody,” said Mr. Burton. “On this last stage of our journey we split into three parties, one of which pushed on to the trading store. We were met by a party of policemen who took us by truck to the Maputa police outpost.

 

“The following day the captain’s party, which had remained on the beach, was picked up, and we all went into camp at the Maputo outpost.”

 

 Mr. Burton paid a tribute to the wireless operator, one of the men who had been killed, who stuck to his keys sending out signals while the ship sank. He went down with the ship.

 

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