A captain who stayed with his ship, Captain Kurt Carlsen, FLYING ENTERPRISE

Pier 9B
Posted by Carolina Salguero

The story of the Italian cruise ship COSTA CONCORDIA has had me chirping away on Twitter and posting on Facebook.  Maybe I'll consolidate those posts here at some point ...

In the meantime, on the subject of stricken vessels, we got word that PBS was looking to interview a captain who stayed with his stricken vessel. I asked PortSide's admiralty lawyer, the wonderfully named Charlie Brown of SNR Denton, if he knew any cases. He said the best was an old one, the captain of the FLYING ENTERPRISE.  

His heroism netted him a ticker tape parade in NYC in the 1950's.

Can you imagine a ship captain getting any kind of attention like that in NYC now?! 
Meet Captain  Kurt Carlsen of the FLYING ENTERPRISE.

The ship was hit by one rogue wave and damaged, and then hit by a second. He ordered crew and passengers off and stayed with his stricken vessel for 13 days, manning her alone, so that a growing fleet of salvage vessels could not lay claim to her. A rescue tug, astoundingly named TURMOIL came to tow her to safety, and the mate joined Carlsen on the FLYING ENTERPRISE.  A storm hit them, and they had to abandon ship. She sank soon thereafter. 

Vintage newsreels  here and  here

"He was offered $250,000 for his story by the British Daily Express newspaper, a half million dollars by Hollywood. Endorsement offers also came in. With riches his for the asking, Carlsen declined all offers. He said "I don't want a seaman's honest attempt to save his ship used for any commercial purpose." After honours from his king and a ticker tape parade in New York, Carlsen returned to the sea where he spent the rest of his career. He died, unnoticed, in 1989."

When he died years later in 1989, he was buried at sea over the wreck of the vessel at his request.

The book about it all "Simple Courage" is on Amazon. The review has more details of the story:

"Carlson stayed aboard, used a makeshift radio and his skills as a ham radio operator to communicate with the armada of ships that had gathered, and continued to run his disabled ship single-handedly for over a week. He risked his life moving about the listing boat, scavenged what little food and drink there was, wrote it all down in the store log, and maintained the ship's log and kept her 'legal.' As long as he was captain and on board, nobody could claim salvage. He arranged for a contract to be negotiated to get Flying Enterprise towed to port, all of this over a period of days in which she could have gone down at any minute. When the tug Turmoil arrived, after a day of trying to get a line to the lone captain in a large swell, Kenneth Dancy sprinted across the tug's deck and jumped across to Flying Enterprise to help Carlson secure the tow line. Dancy became First Mate and he saw the horrendous and terrifying conditions that Carlson had been living in, where some walls had become sloping floors, some walls had become sloping roofs, and sea water and diesel and oil was everywhere. Carlson had been working, eating, and sleeping in the middle of all this and remained calm and professional throughout."

85 pages of the book visible on line here

History compiled by a shipwreck blogger here

Report from a diver of the wreck here