By Skip Gillham


Photo: Skip Gillham Collection, courtesy Steve Hinchliffe

It was in February 1966 that a number of North American newspapers carried three dramatic photos of the sinking of the Liberty ship ROCKPORT. Each image showed the aging vessel slipping lower into the water as a valiant effort was made to tow the vessel to a spot where it could be beached. They failed in the attempt to save the ship but all on board were spared.

ROCKPORT was built at Portland, Maine, and launched on March 3, 1945, as the WILFRED R. BELLEVUE. It had been constructed as their Hull 3015 and was completed later in March for the United States Maritime Commission. Names chosen for the Liberty ships came from some well-known and many littleknown Americans.

Wilfred R. Bellevue as the first assistant engineer aboard the Sinclair Refining tanker JOSEPH M. CUDAHY. He lost his life when his ship was torpedoed and sunk off the coast of Florida on May 1, 1942.

The 441 ft, 6 in long by 57 ft wide, the standard for a World War Two Liberty ship, could carry in the range of 10,000 tons of cargo and these general cargo carriers were very useful in carrying supplies to the front lines in the effort to win the war in Europe and the Pacific.

These ships were constructed with interchangeable parts and were steam powered with a 2,500 i.h.p. triple expansion engine. They played a large part in the winning of the war.

With the battles over, there was not the need for so many ships. Allied nations had lost a substantial part of their merchant marine and many Liberties were sold to assist in reconstruction. Others remained under the American flag for a short period before joining their running mates under a foreign flag.

WILFRED R. BELLEVUE was sold to the Edison Steamship Corp. in May 1947 and retained American registry as EDISON MARINER. The ship had routine service, often on the Atlantic, but the tail shaft broke and propeller was lost about 540 miles east of Bermuda in March 1950. The ship was on a voyage from Nordenham, West Germany, to New Orleans, Louisiana, but was recovered, taken in tow to Bermuda, and repaired. In 1961, another sale brought the ship under the flag of Greece as IOANNIS DASKALELIS.

The new owners, Geotas Cia de Vapores, sent their vessel to the Great Lakes for a single trip in 1962 and it was believed to have loaded scrap steel at Toronto as part of their Seaway adventure.

In 1964, the final name of ROCKPORT was given by Altema Cia Maritima S.A., and it was placed under Liberian registry. The 21-year old Liberty ship had loaded iron ore at Vancouver, B.C. for Japan, when it began to leak in heavy weather on Feb. 1, 1966.

They called for help and ROCKPORT was abandoned by the crew and an attempt to tow the vessel to safety failed. The photos shown around the world were likely taken from the towing vessel but, on Feb. 5, 1966, the effort to reach safety fell short about 600 miles from Midway Island in a position recorded as Pos. 30.46 N / 168.23 W.

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