Unforgiving Seas

Severe storms brewing

Even in modern times with sophisticated technology, advanced training, and a better scientific understanding of the oceans, treasure may still be lost at sea. Dangerous weather, unfortunate luck, miscalculations or negligence sometimes play key roles in surviving. Risks of transporting cargo over rough seas still remain as they were hundreds and thousands of years ago.

Technology enables modern captains to assess weather conditions from a distance to help minimize that risk, but without following those technological innovations designed to make sailing safer, the risk may introduce even greater dangers. In 2012, a Russian ship by the name of Amurskaya unfortunately met its end due to a combination of these unfortunate circumstances, failing to abide by the limitations of technology and underestimation of the weather, resulting in disaster.

Gold Ore Nugget
Gold Ore Nugget

Amurskaya, transporting around seven-hundred and fifty tons of gold ore, worth nearly a quarter million, on its way to make port in Okhotsk. The weight likely played a role in the ship's downfall, twenty-two percent over capacity, one-hundred and forty tons greater than safe limits, sailing into stormy weather stirring over the Sea of Okhotsk. Port authority gave the Amurskaya a green light, but little did they know what would soon unfold. Reports indicate radio contact was lost near or around the time of sinking, and without communication record, the cause of the accident is attributed to a combination of bad weather along with the ship being significantly over-loaded.

In 1975, a shipping disaster in Lake Superior demonstrates similar characteristics with Russia's loss of the Amurskaya. The SS Edmund Fitzgerald, moving four-thousand tons over capacity, found itself faced with a severe winter storm brewing over the lake. Charting beforehand plotted a course intended to be least impact, knowing in advance of this developing system. Exactly what happened to the Fitzgerald next is a mystery. It's believed a combination of factors lead to its sinking, but a single cause has yet to be identified. Years later, weather modeling showed the Fitzgerald sailed into the worst part of the storm despite hunkering down near Thunderbay in attempt to have it pass over.

Several theories try to make sense of the Fitzgerald's last voyage, from rogue storm waves to a potential of striking a shoal as possibly indicated by damage on the wreck. Other factors include bearing four-thousand tons additional weight, not utilizing available technology at the time such as a fathometer, and failing to outfit the ship with improved watertight bulkheads allowing it to take on water even with a small puncture. Approximately twenty-four million on today's market worth of iron ore taconite pellets, twenty-nine thousand tons went down in the incident along with the lives of twenty-nine sailors. Official record states the Fitzgerald sank due to weather conditions even though a large number of factors likely contributed.

Both incidents, the Amurskaya and the Fitzgerald, are reminders even in a modern world with advanced technological innovations that ships are still susceptible to unforgiving seas. Naivety, negligence, or a series of unfortunate events have the ability to sink thousands of tons of treasure and other goods to the sea floor in a moment's notice. It is through tragedies such as these that safety regulations become more strict as technology chases the concept of unsinkable, peering across the distant horizon.