Wednesday, December 2, 2015

The Sanko Prestige Meets the USS Milwaukee

On the night of January 3rd, 1980 the USS Milwaukee was berthed at the Destroyer and Submarine Piers in Norfolk, Virginia. The Sanko Prestige, a Malaysian flagged oil tanker, lost steerage in the channel of the James River and hit the Milwaukee. Her bow struck our port quarter abaft of the beam. That's a fancy way of saying the left side and rear. It was also where I slept!

The berthing quarters below mine were for the Deck Departments 1st Division and it was wiped out. So were the Chiefs Quarters.

I had been out on liberty with Dennis Langlands and Ron Tabb and we were just coming down the pier when the Sanko Prestige hit. We raced to the bridge, where we proceeded to make preparations to be towed to an anchorage should the need arise. With 7 million gallons of fuel we needed to be as far from the shore as possible should there be a fire aboard.

In the engine room men were attempting to get boilers on line from "cold iron." This usually takes 12 hours. They were on it in minutes! When Captain Page arrived 20 minutes later from his home in Virginia Beach the ship was ready to answer all orders.

Here is what Mike Metcalfe of E-Division has to say about that night- "I had just gotten aboard after Xmas leave. We made a McDonalds run. I was drinking my shake when this Crazy chief came running into Eng. berthing and told us all to run for our lives!!! We all laughed until the Collission alarm of the scariest 5 minutes of my life...and then the relief...when you realized the 7and 1/2 million gallons of fuel we were sitting on didn't blow. That crazy Chief saved a bunch of lives that night. Some of the guys were in their racks, and when it was over...their racks were outside the ship. It all didn't happen the way the papers said, but we were back to sea after a month in Newport News shipyard. They did however miss a giant dent on the starboard side where the ship hit the Pier, and cracked it too. (right through the shore power disconnects.) sure did have it's moments."
Mike Metcalfe, EM2, E-Div, STREAM Div. 78-82

The night was hectic and trying- but the whole crew pulled together and did what they were trained to do. It was a moment of immense pride for a hard working crew. And you know what? It worked. And in 4 weeks we would be back at sea refueling the fleet and battling a major storm. Man, I loved that ship!

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