January 30, 1959: “Unsinkable” Ocean Liner Hits Iceberg and Sinks on Maiden Voyage!

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A Brief History

On January 30, 1959, the Danish ocean liner, MS Hans Hedtoft, was on the return leg of its maiden voyage when it struck an iceberg off the coast of Greenland and sunk, the only trace of the ship ever being found was a single lifebelt that washed ashore.

Digging Deeper

In an eerie coincidence, like the RMS Titanic of 1912, the Hans Hedtoft was considered extremely safe, with a double hull, armored bow for ice breaking, and 7 watertight compartments.  Designed for service on the Denmark-Greenland run, she was built for hard duty in dangerous seas.  She was said to be “the safest ship afloat” and “unsinkable,” an assertion that should have gone out of the vernacular after the Titanic!  Also like the Titanic, the Hans Hedtoft was built with riveted construction (instead of welded seams), a method of ship building normally considered not as sturdy as welding.

The doomed ship’s maiden voyage from Denmark to Greenland and back had been half completed when the sinking occurred on the return voyage.  Due to terrible weather, no aircraft could respond to the distress call, and responding ships arrived too late to assist or witness the sinking.  With a crew of 40, 55 passengers, and a cargo of fish and parish records from Greenland, the ship disappeared and all aboard were lost.  This disaster was the last known incident of a ship being sunk due to collision with an iceberg that included loss of life.

The loss of records from Greenland seriously affected the genealogy records of Danish settlers of that remote land.  In 2005 a monument to the 95 people lost in the disaster was unveiled by Danish Queen Margrethe in Copenhagen.

With a length of 271 feet, 2 inches and a beam of 46 feet, 6 inches, the Hans Hedtoft was not a particularly large ship, displacing 2857 Gross Register Tons (GRT).  Having made ocean voyages of my own, never on a ship smaller than double the size of the Hans Hedtoft, I have seen the power of the sea close up and would not consider any ship in the world unsinkable.  Even on giant ships, you feel puny when the ocean wants you to!

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Historical Evidence

For more information, please see Time.

The featured image in this article, a photograph of MS Hans Hedtoft, is copyrighted (or assumed to be copyrighted) and unlicensed; however, it is believed that the use of this work:

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About Author

Major Dan

Major Dan is a retired veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He served during the Cold War and has traveled to many countries around the world. Prior to his military service, he graduated from Cleveland State University, having majored in sociology. Following his military service, he worked as a police officer eventually earning the rank of captain prior to his retirement.