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This Week in Maritime History

January 18, 1778: Cook Discovers Hawaii

Two hundred and thirty three years ago, James Cook became the first European to discover the Hawaiian islands. Cook sailed past the islands two years after leaving England – in command of the HMS RESOLUTION and DISCOVERY.

January 19, 1840: Capt. Wilkes Claims a Portion of Antarctica for U.S.

Capt. Charles Wilkes had set out on an expedition in 1838, to sail around South America to the South pacific and then to Antarctica. On January 19, 1840 Wilkes spotted the eastern coast of Antarctica and claimed it for the U.S. The land, a 1,500-mile stretch along the coast, became known as Wilkes Land.

Jan 19, 1883: 357 Die in North Sea Collision

Heavy fog in the North Sea lead to the collision of two steam ships, that took the lives of 357 people. The CIMBRIA, a German passenger vessel with 302 passengers and a crew of 102 was travelling to America when she collided with the SULTAN, a smaller German vessel with only the crew onboard. The SULTAN smashed into the CIMBRIA’s port side. During the panic and confusion only seven lifeboats were inflated and three disappeared in the fog. Many people died in the freezing waters and just 65 survived. Those that survived were rescued from their lifeboats by passing ships two days after the sinking.

January 21, 1996: Passenger Ferry Sinks off the Sumatra Coast

An overloaded ferry sank in a sudden storm off the Sumatra coast, killing 340 people. The GURITA was a passenger ferry, used to move people throughout the Indonesian islands. The exact number of passengers onboard is not known; the best estimates put it at around 400 people. When the storm approached the vessel began swaying violently, causing panic among the people onboard, resulting in fights over life jackets and rafts. Reports during the incident claimed that many of the bodies of those dead and alive were preyed on by sharks. Forty-seven are said to have survived.

January 23, 1968: U.S. Ship PUEBLO Seized By North Korea

The PUEBLO, a U.S. intelligence ship was seized by North Korea and charged with spying within North Korean territorial waters. President Lyndon B. Johnson’s administration spent almost a year negotiating the safe release of the vessel and her crew of 83. The U.S. repeatedly argued that the ship had not violated North Korea’s territorial waters and had merely been conducting intelligence gathering in the Sea of Japan. In December of 1968 the ship’s captain reluctantly signed a confession that his ship had been spying on North Korea. Following the confession the crew and ship were set free. One crew member died during the captivity.