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S.S. Steel Flyer

Gross Tonnage:8,018Net:4,693
Dimensions:492' 0" x 69' 7" x 29' 5"MC Type:C3-S-A2
Builder:Ingalls Shipbuilding Corp.
Pascagoula, MS
Hull #
USMC Hull #
Date of Build:
Engines:2 Steam Turbines DR Geared to Single Screwed ShaftEngine Builder:Westinghouse Electric & Mfg. Co.
Pittsburgh, PA
Navigation:DF, ESD, GC, RDR, RTDecks, etc.:2 Decks & Open Shelter Deck

Began Isthmian Service:1947Ended Isthmian Service:1971

----------------------------------- Vessel History -----------------------------------
Call Ltrs
Sea PorpoiseUS War Shipping Administration, operated by U.S. Lines as Army Troopship
New OrleansUSWB
Sea PorpoiseUS Maritime Commission
New OrleansUS
Steel FlyerIsthmian Lines, Inc.
New York
New YorkUS

12/28/42: Keel laid.
5/14/43: Launched.
7/31/43: Delivered.
8/4/43 - 2/4/44: Completed conversion in February to a transport (2,636 troops) by Todd Shipyards, Inc. Galveston for operation by WSA.
7/5/44: The vessel, Owner WSA, Operator U.S. Lines, sailed this date from Utah Beach to Southhampton, England, 1,400 tons ballast, Nils Leknes Master, in a 2 column convoy, being the last ship in the starboard column. At 9:15 PM, position 49.37 N, 00.51 W, while steaming at 8 knots, a torpedo fired from the U-390 (Geissler) struck on the starboard side amidships, with the resulting explosion throwing the shaft out of line, damaging the main turbine and cracking some hull plating. The 9 officers, 81 crewmen, 45 armed guards and 24 passengers remained on the ship. The ship listed 10 degrees due to flooding in the evaporator room, which the Master corrected by shifting fuel oil to the port tanks. At 1 AM on the 6th, the vessel was taken in tow to Omaha Beach and on the 9th was towed to Spithead, England. The vessel received temporary repairs at New Castle-on-Tyne. On 9/16 she left under tow in slow convoy for the US and, after further repairs, returned to service in May 1945. The explosion injured 12 men but caused no deaths.
1946: U.S. Maritime Commission
1946: Conversion contract awarded to Todd Shipyards, Hoboken, NJ, at a cost of $530,000, to be completed in 75 calendar days. Reconversion to a cargo ship begins in May.
3/22/48: At Berth 37, Kidderpore Dock Calcutta at 0900, fire in #3 Hold in cargo of jute and caddies resulting in water damage to other cargo.
6/22/48: At Bombay on voyage Houston to Calcutta at 2300, explosion in lowerhold #3 causing fire which spread the next day to #4 Hold and then #5. Water and CO2 applied and pumps brought aboard.
6/25/48: Fire in #4 Hold out.
6/29/48: Fire in #5 Hold finally out. Much damage to cargo of cotton.
7/17/49: At San Francisco for Baltimore while tied up by docker's strike, owners organized non-union stevedoring company hiring 59 workers to unload ship. Going to the dock they met violent opposition from CIO pickets which led to 96 arrests.
7/31/49: Sailed San Francisco with cargo of sugar.
1/50: Hit submerged object. Repaired propeller blades and renewed shaft; repair cost $13,904 at Baltimore.
10/50: Hit submerged object; propeller renewed at a cost of $15,958 at Baltimore.
3/29/51: At Baltimore, collided off Sandy Point with SS DOMINA at 0218; no serious damage to either vessel.
6/17/51: Surged against barge KATHLEEN A. SHERIDAN with barge sustaining rudder damage.
12/3/51: Vessel arrives Boston.
12/22/51: Strike at Boston where AFL longshoreman refused to unload the STEEL FLYER, voyage Honolulu for New York. SIU members served notice they will boycott Boston in sympathy; STEEL FLYER manned by SIU crew. Vessel having been in Boston since 12/3.
2/1/52: Grounding at unknown place. Partially renew 4 plates, partially renew internals fair, steam, clean and test tanks at Baltimore.
1/11/54: On voyage Honolulu to Baltimore, heavy weather damaged rudder pintles, gudgeons and bushings.
3/28/54: Struck dock.
4/9/54: From heavy weather 1/11/54, renew rudder pintles and gudgeon bushings, fair and partially renew deck hand rails, together with sundry damages; repairs and drydocking at Baltimore.
9/7/54: From boiler damage due to alleged crew negligence, partially renew port boiler casing and brickwork.
12/16/54: Struck dock.
3/55: Struck pier and grounding.
5/18/55: From striking dock 3/28/54, 1 shell plate renew, 1 fair and 3 frames partially renew, together with sundry damages. From striking dock 12/16/54, 2 shell plates renew, 1 deck plate and 3 frames partially renew, together with sundry damages and removals. All repairs and drydocking at Baltimore.
6/27/57: From striking pier and grounding 3/55, vessel will drydock at Mitsubishi Shipyard, Kobe.
7/2/57: At Mitsubishi Shipyard, Kobe, from grounding, renew 6 1/2 bottom shell plates, from striking pier, renew 2 starboard shell plates.
3/20/59: From Philadelphia, work on STEEL FLYER docked at Delaware River pier halted by picket lines. Members of Local 1242, ILA, went on strike in a dispute over the abscence of hatch checkers. Officials of the Philadelphia Marine Trade Association notified the union that the port would be shut down Mon. 3/23 if the longshoreman did not go back to work at 8 AM tomorrow.
3/23/59: STEEL FLYER left Philadelphia.
2/26/61: Encountered heavy weather en route from Penang and Boston to New York and New Orleans, partly loaded.
3/27/61: For heavy weather damage sustained 2/26/61: Rudder post fractures cut out and weld, doubling plates renew, core plugs renew, palm bolts renew and side shell plate spigot patch install, together with sundry damages and removals. Repairs completed at Brooklyn, NY.
8/8/63: Damaged striking Buoy D in the Delaware River Bay entrance.
11/27/63: From New York: Failure of main turbine low pressure thrust while anchoring at New York, on voyage from Alicante to New Orleans via New York.
12/5/63: From damage alleged sustained 11/27/63 in consequence of failure of main turbine low pressure thrust: Main turbine low pressure rotor to be removed and damaged ahead and astern blades of both rotor and stator to be dressed, thrust to be renewed and lubricating oil system to be cleaned. Repairs completed at Brooklyn. The primal cause of this damage has not yet been ascertained.
9/22/64: From New York: From damage alleged sustained 8/8/63 in consequence of striking buoy: Propeller remove and recondition, tailshaft draw for examination, stern bearing rewood, stern frame fractures vee-out and weld, together with sundry damages and removals. Repairs completed.
11/3/64: Jammed by tug.
1/10/65: Struck by barge.
10/28/65: From Los Angeles: Steamer STEEL FLYER: Struck by barge 1/10/65, and tug jammed vessel 11/3/64: Surveyor reports shell plating damage.
12/65: Damage to No. 3 lower hold at Long Beach, CA.
1/20/66: From Los Angeles: Lower 'tween deck plating fractured, renewed, wood boat deck awning and two canvas boat covers lost overboard, renewed.
1/26/67: Anchor chain connecting link failure while manoeuvering on arrival at anchorage in Cap St. Jacques, Vietnam.
3/13/67: From San Francisco: From damage alleged sustained 1/26/67, in consequence of anchor chain connecting link failure while manoeuvering on arrival at Cap St. Jacques, Vietnam: Starboard anchor and six lengths of anchor chain to renew, together with sundry damages and removals; repairs completed.
8/12/67: Grounded in Tokyo Bay.

===== The following personal account, of sailing aboard the Steel Flyer, is courtesy of David Dent.
===== See the CREW pages for photos.

"I joined the STEEL FLYER as 2nd Mate in Westport, Oregon on August 25, 1967. My home at the time was in California and I had flown to Portland and took a bus from there to join the ship, which was reportedly in Astoria. The bus stopped in Westport (about 30 miles from Astoria), but it wasn't until we had left the stop and were proceeding along the highway that I spotted the Isthmian stack amongst the trees. So, I spent the night in Astoria and joined the ship the next day as she continued loading packaged lumber. Westport is a very narrow slough connected to the Columbia River, so we were towed out stern-first after completion of loading. Unfortunately, we went hard aground at the mouth of the slough and stayed there until the salvage tug, SALVAGE CHIEF came from Seattle and pulled us off. This grounding resulted in damage to the skeg which apparently was the cause of our lost rudder the following December.

From Westport we went intercoastal to East Coast ports where we back-loaded with government cargo for Viet Nam. Departing Viet Nam in early December 1967 we proceeded via great circle to US West Coast. We had been on DR only for several days when, on my 0400-0800 watch the helmsman reported 'something wrong'. I looked immediately to the rudder angle indicator and it appeared to be spinning. Capt. Jaenicke was called and the Mate went aft to inspect the steering flat, where he found the rudder stock and hub bolts to have been carried away. Seas were entering the flat through the hull penetration.

Using our DR position we radioed the Coast Guard and they advised that the STORIS would be sent to our assistance along with a Navy tug, CHOWANOC out of Adak. The USCG, smarting from the recent loss of the PAN OCEANIC FAITH and most of her crew, was very attentive throughout our time adrift.

Upon examination our DR position was over 100 miles off our actual position. While awaiting the tow we began to build a jury rig rudder using mooring lines and canvas just in case we found ourselves in need of maneuvering before our tow arrived.

When the CHOWANOC arrived we were experiencing moderate to heavy sea/swell with snow showers, and passing a line between us proved difficult. So, the Navy tug came in close under our bow and our crew threw a heaving line. Unfortunately, the tug was a bit too close and fell off a swell onto our stem, holing her port quarter. A diving room and diesel tank on the tug were reportedly damaged. Eventually, however, a tow line was made fast and we began our slow trip to Seattle. When the commercial tug, SAMPSON arrived on the scene she took up the tow, and the Navy boat proceeded to Seattle for repairs of her own. Her crew couldn't have been happier because their families were mostly in the Puget Sound area and they were going to be home for Christmas.

The next couple of weeks were the most boring of my life. We stood our normal watches, but there was nothing to do except write up the log book with weather reports and positions. It was the only time in my life when I smoked cigarettes.

There was one last bit of excitement on the trip home. We had picked up a pilot at Port Angeles and were proceeding toward Seattle in a heavy snowstorm. With the wind blowing, the STEEL FLYER was now being towed behind and to the side of the tug, and radar showed us another vessel coming our way between the tug and the vessel. There were some very frantic radio transmissions, but the oncoming vessel wasn't on the air. So, the pilot instructed our tug to stop and let the tow line go slack, and the oncoming vessel did pass between us and over the slackened line. We never saw the other vessel and she never knew how close she had come to having her bottom torn out.

While the STEEL FLYER was in the Todd drydock in Seattle for repairs I joined the STEEL DESIGNER while she loaded lumber in NW ports, and then returned to the STEEL FLYER on February 5, 1968 for another lumber run to the East Coast where I left the ship in New York." - David Dent, 2nd Mate


8/29/67: Grounded at Westport Slough, Columbia River.
10/24/67: From New York: From damage alleged sustained 8/12/67 in consequence of grounding in Tokyo Bay: Four-bladed bronze propeller remove and recondition, tailshaft remove and recondition, owner's spare propeller and tailshaft fit, fracture in stern frame skeg vee-out and weld, together with sundry damages and removals; repairs partially completed and partially in progress. From damage alleged sustained 8/29/67 in consequence of grounding at Westport Slough, Columbia River: One keel plate renew, two A strake plates partially renew, internals fair with partially renew, together with sundry damages and removals; repairs completed.
12/10 - 11/67: Heavy weather while on passage from Saigon to Seattle, in ballast.
12/12/67: Steamer STEEL FLYER, while on ballast voyage from Saigon to Seattle, reported rudder carrier bearing foundation bolts carried away in heavy weather on 12/12, 1,000 - 1,500 miles west of Seattle. Vessel experiencing winds of 50 mph and Master requesting tug assistance. U.S. Coast Guard cutter proceeding to vessel to stand by. Owners engaged Navy tug of 3,500 horse-power to proceed from Adak, AK, which is 80 hrs from vessel, on daily basis. U.S. Navy will hand vessel over to tug SAMPSON, 3,500 hp, owned by Puget Sound Tug and Barge Co., to tow vessel to Seattle on daily basis.
12/13/67: From Juneau: Steamer STEEL FLYER, with 45 men on board, is adrift in heavy seas in the North Pacific, the U.S. Coast Guard here reported today. The Coast Guard said the vessel lost her rudder assembly yesterday and is rolling badly in heavy seas with the weather worsening. The vessel was believed to be about 350 miles south of Kodiak, the Coast Guard said. Coast Guard vessel STORIS, about 200 miles from the vessel, was ordered to stand by and evaluate the situation today, it was reported. Tug SAMPSON left Seattle late yesterday but was not expected to be near the STEEL FLYER before Friday, 12/15, or early Saturday. Tug CHOWANOC was also en route from Adak but it was estimated she would be at least four days in arriving on the scene. From Anchorage: Steamer STEEL FLYER broke rudder stock 450 miles from Kodiak: ship reported riding easy. Coast Guard vessel STORIS on scene and tug SAMPSON reported out of Seattle for tow.
12/14/67: From Anchorage: The Master of the U.S. Coast Guard vessel STORIS today reported that steamer STEEL FLYER, which had lost her rudder assembly, was in no immediate danger. He radioed that the STORIS would not try to take the STEEL FLYER in tow but would wait for the tug SAMPSON, due on Sunday, 12/17.
12/15/67: STEEL FLYER collided with Navy tug CHAWANDOC.
12/21/67: STEEL FLYER arrived Seattle.
12/22/67: The following report has been received from San Francisco: Steamer STEEL FLYER, owners Isthmian Lines, Inc., collision with Navy tug CHOWANOC 12/15/67: To be surveyed at Seattle. CHOWANOC to be surveyed at Pier 91, Seattle.
12/29/67: Preliminary examination of STEEL FLYER shows rudder stock bent and steering gear heavily damaged.
1/10/68: Steamer STEEL FLYER: Renewal of rudder and partial stern frame, etc, in hand, completion expected mid-February, dependent upon delivery of new parts. Propeller also found damaged, propeller shaft drawn in and stern tube blanked. Vessel refloated, will re-dock when new parts arrive.
2/21/68: From San Francisco: Propeller of steamer STEEL FLYER, surveyed in respect of damage alleged sustained December 10 - 12 in conseguence of encountering heavy weather, resulting in loss of rudder, rudder post and part of the skeg casting, while on passage from Saigon to Seattle, in ballast: Propeller recondition, together with sundry damages and removals; repairs being completed.
6/7 - 9/69: Damaged in consequence of encountering heavy weather while on passage from Calcutta to Durban.
3/3/70: From New York: From damage alleged sustained 6/7 - 9/69 in consequence of encountering heavy weather while on passage from Calcutta to Durban: Stern post vee-out and reweld, insert panel fit, one starboard side plate partially renew and shelter deck plate fracture reweld, together with sundry damages and removals; repairs completed.
3/18/71: Alleged sustained damage, date and place unknown, in consequence of striking a submerged object, discovered on dry dock at Beaumont, TX.

Disposition DateComments
1971Sold to Taiwan Shipbreakers, arriving at Kaohsiung 6/30/71. Scrapped 7/71 Kaohsiung. Reported 9/71: Sold to the Republic of China (Taiwan) for Scrapping.

Photo courtesy of David Boone - Marine Artist 2004 - All rights reserved.

New Port News, 23 July 1961

The information on this web site is the kind contribution of our Historian, Skip Lewis, 2003. Skip, whose dad sailed for Isthmian, is an avid collector and researcher of everything Isthmian and States Marine. In his quest, he has used many sources and publications including Lloyd's of London and Imperial Steel by John Atherton.

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