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Tanker Crashes and Sinks in Second Fatal North Atlantic Disaster

December 26, 1986

REYKJAVIK, Iceland (AP) _ A British tanker ran onto a rock off the east coast of Iceland early Friday and sank, killing all 12 crewmen, Iceland’s National Rescue Organization said.

It was the second fatal sinking of a ship in the North Atlantic in as many days.

An Icelandic freighter, the Sudurland, sank midway between Iceland and Norway on Thursday. Five crewmen were rescued by a Danish helicopter, three were killed and three more were missing and presumed dead.

In the second disaster, the 1,260-ton British-owned Syneta sent a Mayday distress call saying it had run aground and couldn’t launch any of its life rafts because the tanker was too close to a steep, rocky outcrop.

The crew of 12 - six Britons and six Cape Verde Islanders - apparently jumped into the sea when the ship began to sink, said Rescue Organization spokesman Johannes Briem.

Rescuers later found a life raft torn to shreds, a spokesman said.

The rescuers recovered six bodies, all in lifejackets. Two other bodies slipped out of their life jackets and sank as the searchers tried to pull aboard trawlers.

One crewman was found alive but he died shortly afterwards, Briem said.

The other three crewmen were missing and presumed dead though the search continued. Hundreds of volunteers combed the beaches.

The Syneta was smashed to pieces.

The 284-foot ship was purchased by Syndicate Tankships Ltd. of Gibraltar in October 1985 and is managed by Haggerstone Marine Ltd. of Hornchurch outside London, said managing agent Gordon Haggerstone. It carried vegetable oils and was registered as a motor vessel, he said.

The Syneta was empty when it left the English port of Liverpool on Dec. 20 for Eskifjordur on the east coast of Iceland to pick up 1,100 tons of fish liver oil. ″She had been due to ... return via Rotterdam and Dunkirk,″ Haggerstone said.

The Syneta ran aground in relatively good weather on Skrudur rock, a 531- foot high outcrop at the mouth of the Faskrudsfjordur fjord, he said.

Capt. Hannas Hafstein of the Icelandic Lifesaving Association said: ″It’s high and it’s straight and the ship ran aground on the southern part of it.

″We can’t understand why she sailed right into it.″

The ship hit the rock at its northeast corner and was only a few yards from passing it safely, said Ingolfur Fridgeirsson, who was overseeing the rescue effort from Eskifjordur.

Briem said the crew gave an incorrect position 10 miles north of Skrudur rock in the Mayday call. But he said rescuers found the tanker after seeing a distress rocket flare fired by the crew.

The first of 12 fishing boats, the Thorri, got to the scene 30 minutes later. It found the ship nearly capsized and saw no sign of the crew, Briem said.

The first body was found floating in the sea an hour and 10 minutes later. A few minutes later another crewmen was spotted showing signs of life but he died shortly afterwards in a fishing boat, Briem said.

Rescuers found a letter in a British sailor’s pocket, which was dated Christmas Eve and addressed to a woman in England. In it, the crewman complained that the ship could only sail at 5 nautical mph (5.7 mph) and its automatic pilot was inoperable, a spokesman said.