Hanseatic Afire

Hanseatic Afire


On 7 September 1966, a fire broke out in the B-Deck diesel generator room of Hanseatic (ex-Empress of Japan/Scotland) gutting the liner at her pier in New York harbor.

Hanseatic was certainly no Normandie, although she suffered a similar fate (except that in 1966 the New York Fire Department fully understood that pouring too much water on a burning ship could cause her to capsize). Still, despite the best efforts of the NYFD, Hanseatic was declared a total loss and towed back to Hamburg for scrapping.

Author’s Note: I crossed the Atlantic twice on Hanseatic in 1963; she was the ship that gave me my love of ocean liners and travel. Many events shocked me in the 1960s, but none more so than the Hanseatic fire. I clearly remember my mother turning on the kitchen radio in our Queens, New York, apartment and hearing the news: “The West German liner Hanseatic is burning at her West Side pier.”

Only 11 years old, I felt a chill, which soon led to horror and then, ultimately, total despair. Hanseatic! My Hanseatic! WAS ON FIRE!

Stunned and numb, I did the only thing I could do. I ran downstairs and jumped on my bike. I peddled with no particular destination in mind, but wherever I went I could glimpse a faint trail of smoke on the distant Manhattan skyline. SMOKE FROM MY SHIP! MY HANSEATIC! MY BURNING, DYING HANSEATIC! I felt powerless, hopeless.

I don’t remember much else from that day, which is probably for the best.

But it still hurts.


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