The Lost Wake of the “Pamir”

Posted: April 15, 2012 in Art, Geography, History


The “P Line” began operating in worldwide seaborne trade in 1874, with the 1,020 ton POLYNESIA, owned by the German ship owner R.F. Laiesz.

Around the year 1880, Laiesz increased his fleet by adding the first 1,400 ton sailing ships, with the later addition to the company in the following years of the nitrate sailing ships POTOSI, PANGANI, PREUSSEN and PAMIR.

The PREUSSEN, one of the few five-masted square-rigged frigates ever built, had a cargo capacity of 8,000 tons and in the year 1910 covered the Taltal-Cuxhaven (Germany) route, via Cape Horn, in 77 days. She carried a crew of 48 men, who had to handle 5,560 m² of sails.

The PAMIR, a sailing ship whose tragic end we are interested in describing because of its deep human repercussions, was built in Hamburg in 1905, by Bloom and Voss. She was 96.40 m. long with a 14 m. beam; carried nitrate until the year 1914, when the war paralyzed her operation.

After the First World War the “P Line” ships were awarded to different countries as war compensation.

At the beginning of 1920, Laiesz bought back six of these ships, including the PAMIR, and with them reassembled the nitrate fleet.

In 1931, the PAMIR was sold to Captain Gustav Erickson of Mariehamn, Aland, Finland, becoming part of Erickson’s “grain fleet” sailing between Wellington and San Francisco.

Many years later at the end of the Second World War, she was chartered out as a training ship to Federal Germany’s merchant navy, an activity in which she undertook many voyages of instruction.


In 1957, on the eve of southern Spring, the PAMIR sailed from Buenos Aires, her bowsprit pointing towards Germany. It was a day on which the cheeks of the fair-skinned lads glowed as they worked the windlass to weigh anchor.

Once in the Atlantic, the white cloth filled with the wind like the wishful hearts of her young crewmen, her bow plowed the sea, breaking the silence of the crimson evening fading away in the west. The PAMIR, one of the last exponents of that magic life under sail, was to submerge forever in the immensities of the sea and time.

Her cargo holds carried grain; and on board were 51 German merchant navy cadets, apart from the 35 crew members.

The breeze blew moderately. Suddenly its intensity increased, without the men giving it much importance, thinking that it was only gusts of wind. However the Master, Captain Johannes Diebitsch, an old mariner who had spent almost fifty years at sea, raced on deck and voiced: “Shorten the sails”. No one on board imagined how this episode would end; the PAMIR, like a bird in a gale, had always come proudly through any storm.

The wind continued to fill the sails with such force that the sailing ship appeared to fly. Great waves beat violently against her hull, making her list heavily to port; her sails began to split with loud sounds of ripping, and at the same time her top rigging parted like clumsily tightened guitar strings.

“Shorten faster!”, shouted Diebitsch, while attempting to turn the ship’s bow into the wind; but she was already dismantled with her hull leaning heavily on the sea attempting, like a wounded bird, to rest her tired planking and sails.

The officer on watch with a monochord voice, announced the list: “30º – 38º – 40º…”; giving the impression that the once majestic PAMIR would never right herself again; the men looked at each other without saying a word, until finally the moment came when Captain Diebitsch ordered a distress call, that life vests be served and to abandon ship.

Cigarettes and some bottles of liquor were distributed. When they tried to lower the boats, however, they found that the portside ones lay below the surface and it was impossible to lower the ones on the opposite side because of the sharp angle of the ship’s list. There were also three inflatable life rafts, but two of them could not be found. The third was launched in the water and about twenty men raced to it immediately.

The PAMIR capsized; five men climbed onto her hull confident that it would not sink, but the heavy steel ship sank into the waters of the Atlantic at 11:15 on 21st September 1957.

via The Lost Wake of the “Pamir”.


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