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Shipwreck: Prins Willem V.

by Skip Gillham, Vineland, Ontario, Canada

From 1937 to 1972 the vessels of the Dutch flag "Oranje Line" were well known around the Great Lakes save for the World War Two years. Officially known as Maaschappij Zeetransport N.V., the firm was one of the first to provide regular liner service to Great Lakes ports.

Oranje had five ships dedicated to the inland trade when World War Two broke out in 1939. Only two of their vessels were still afloat when hostilities ceased in 1945. Their freighters had been ideal for trading through the old, pre-Seaway, St. Lawrence canals. Similar new tonnage was needed as the St. Lawrence Seaway was still only a dream and it would not be completed until 1959. One of the postwar additions to the Oranje Line remained inland due to an unfortunate accident.

The construction of the Prins Willem V. began at Hardinxveld, Netherlands, in 1940 and the ship was intended for Great Lakes trading.

The vessel was not yet completed when the German occupation commenced so the hull was scuttled by the Dutch Navy at Rotterdam to impede the advancing forces.

Water and mud were pumped out of the hull in 1945 and it was refloated and completed. Service began in January 1949 and Prins Willem V. stopped at Eastern Canadian ports when ice clogged passage to the Great Lakes. The ship is shown on the St. Lawrence in a photo by Daniel C. McCormick.

The 1,567 gross ton Prins Willem V. made about five trips per year to freshwater ports but was lost in a collision on Lake Michigan, off Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on October 14, 1954. The tug Sinclair Chicago and barge Sinclair XII punched a 20-foot by 8-foot hole in the starboard side of the Dutch freighter, and Prins Willem V. was doomed.

Efforts to rescue the thirty sailors on board were successful but attempts to save the ship were not. Plans to refloat the hull were soon under consideration but never developed. The ship was abandoned but not forgotten. An idea to refloat the hull in 1965 and use it to store and demonstrate firefighting equipment was considered but not pursued. Eventually an out of court settlement was reached and the owners were awarded $200,000.

Divers have found the underwater remains of the ship to be an attraction but apparently at least four have drowned in their attempts to visit Prins Willem V. In October 1997 one diver got tangled in a guy wire over the engine room and perished.

Oranje built a second Prins Willem V. in 1956 and this vessel served the company well. It was sailing as Araxos, a sixth name, when damaged by a fire on May 21, 1979. Repair cost could not be justified, and this freighter was broken up for scrap at Durban, South Africa, in the fall of 1981.

Prins Willem V. image - Click to Enlarge
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Page last modified: December 15, 2005