Monday, February 25, 2008


Captain's account discredited in 1927 South Haven shipwreck


The Daily News
February 25, 2008

When the freighter Hennepin sank off the shores of South Haven in August 1927, Capt. Ole Hanson reported sinking in rough seas.

But was the veteran captain telling the whole truth?

Nearly eight decades after the Hennepin sank in Lake Michigan, the Michigan Shipwreck Research Associates (MSRA), located in Holland, set out to find the ship and unravel the mystery of why it sank.

What they knew was that Hanson and his crew survived the sinking thanks to a nearby tugboat which rescued them.

Researchers also knew that after the sinking, Hanson realized the sinking of the Hennepin, valued at over $100,000, meant a huge loss for his company.

He also was an unlicensed captain and - under the circumstances - future employment might be unavailable.

When the Hennepin crew reached land, Hanson blamed a "stiff nor'wester" for the loss of his ship.

But MSRA researchers discovered that historic weather records indicate the wind never exceeded 17 miles per hour, which in nautical terms is a gentle breeze that creates two- to three-foot waves.

What the MSRA team determined was that mistakes made aboard the Hennepin, especially by the chief engineer, allowed the vessel to take on water, which led to its eventual sinking.

It seems likely that Hanson invented the tale to shift blame from himself and the crew.

Besides questioning the real cause of the Hennepin's sinking, MSRA has spent the last eight years looking for lost ships in Lake Michigan.

In 2006, they found Capt. Hanson's vessel in 230 feet of water.They dove on the shipwreck and found it in remarkably good condition.

For more on the fascinating story about the Hennepin, look for the January/February issue of Michigan History magazine.

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