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Court Convenes In Iceland Ship Sinking Inquiry

December 29, 1986

REYKJAVIK, Iceland (AP) _ Survivors from an Icelandic freighter that sank on Christmas Day said Sunday they owed their lives to a British reconnaissance plane that dropped a lifeboat as they huddled near death in a leaking dinghy.

In the port of Eskifjordur, a maritime court convened Sunday night to determine the cause of the sinking of another ship, the British tanker Syneta, which ran onto 531-foot Skrudur rock Friday off Iceland’s east coast, killing the crew of 12.

Icelandic authorities believe the Syneta’s radar malfunctioned. The court session, delayed by the late arrival of British representatives due to bad weather, is expected to continue Monday. Searches for the bodies of three crewmen from the 1,260-ton ship were hampered by the weather.

The five survivors from the 11-member Icelandic crew of the 3,500-ton Sudurland arrived in Reykjavik late Saturday via the Faeroe Islands, where they were taken by a Danish patrol ship. A helicopter from the Danish ship plucked the survivors and three bodies from the lifeboat.

A British Royal Air Force Nimrod reconnaissance plane, based at Kinross, Scotland, dropped a survival kit, including the new lifeboat, some 10 hours after the Sudurland sank Thursday in rough seas 290 miles east of Iceland.

Sudurland pilot Jon Snaebjornsson described how three of the eight crewmen who scrambled aboard the ship’s torn and leaking lifeboat died as, exhausted, they could no longer hold themselves upright in the freezing, waist-deep water.

″The Nimrod crews saved our lives,″ said Snaebjornsson. ″It took us about an hour to paddle to the new dry boat ... ours was nearly full of water and we were getting numb.″

″Only a short time earlier two ... sat down in the boat and died,″ Snaebjornsson added. ″We had to stand all the time ... if we were to survive. Three of us who sat down never stood up again.″

He said the survivors were given hope when after 4 1/2 hours in the leaking dinghy a Nimrod and a U.S. PC-3 Orion patrol plane from an American base at Keflavik, Iceland, flew over and dropped flares and locating beacons.

A hole was ripped in the Sudurland lifeboat as it crashed against the sinking ship when the crew battled to launch it. All the emergency food and equipment, apart from one distress rocket, was lost through the hole.

Three crewmen, including the captain, disappeared with the ship in heavy seas.

Capt. Preben Andersen of the Vaedderen said he doubted if the survivors could have lasted much longer without the new lifeboat.

″Perhaps only a half hour or an hour, certainly no more,″ said Andersen. ″... And two of the survivors had only a few minutes left when we picked them up.″

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