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SS JAPAN BEAR

For actions on January 13, 1965
Gallant Ship Award Citation:

During the early morning of January 13, 1965, the Japan Bear received an SOS from the Chinese Nationalist Ship Grand, immediately altered course and raced to intercept the distressed vessel. Late that afternoon in heavy seas rendezvous was made with the Grand. The vessel had broken in two; only the stern section remained afloat and that was settling rapidly. The Grand’s remaining lifeboats were damaged and the survivors huddled on deck. The Master of the Japan Bear immediately assumed on-scene command and ordered other arriving vessels to strategic positions about the stricken vessel. A lifeboat was launched in an attempt to remove the survivors, but the wind and the waves made this impossible, and it was only after a supreme effort that the lifeboat and its crew were recovered. In a display of skillful seamanship, an unmanned lifeboat was towed to a position where it would drift alongside the wreck and nine survivors jumped into the boat. When the lifeboat floated clear of the wreck the Japan Bear maneuvered alongside and hauled the survivor safely on board.

The courage, resourcefulness, sound seamanship, and teamwork of her master, officers and crew in successfully effecting the rescue of survivors from a sinking ship have caused the name of the Japan Bear to be perpetuated as a Gallant Ship.

SS Japan Bear, a Mariner-class break-bulk cargo vessel, was built by Bethlehem Pacific Coast Steel Corporation and completed on September 8, 1955. The C4-S-1a “Mariner” type was the first major class of cargo ships designed and built by the Maritime Administration (MARAD) after World War II, representing a major step forward in size and speed. MARAD built the vessel as Grand Canyon State but sold it to Pacific Far East Lines, Inc., which renamed it, Japan Bear. The company operated the vessel in foreign commerce around the Pacific Rim.

On the morning of January 13, 1965, while Japan Bear was en route from Yokohama, Japan to its homeport of San Francisco, California, the ship’s master, Kenneth A. Shannon, received a distress call from the Taiwanese cargo vessel SS Grand[1]. The stricken freighter reported that it was leaking badly and requested immediate assistance.

Japan Bear was the first vessel to arrive on scene. Shannon quickly saw that the crippled ship was not just leaking, but had broken in two and was quickly sinking. An overturned lifeboat could be seen near the foundering ship with men nearby in the water. By this time USNS Michaelson (T-AGS-23), a U.S. Navy oceanographic survey ship, arrived on scene. Shannon directed Michaelsonto rescue the men in the water while Japan Bear focused on those who were still onboard GrandMichaelson‘s crew rescued six of the crewmen.

Japan Bear circled the wreck and dumped fuel oil to create an oil slick to weigh down the heavy seas. Shannon then ordered his crew to launch a lifeboat to rescue the remaining crewmembers, but strong winds and rough seas made this impossible.

The second rescue attempt also failed due to the extreme weather. Japan Bear’s crew then tethered an unmanned lifeboat to their ship and maneuvered it so that the lifeboat would drift alongside of Grand. Of the 10 Taiwanese crewmen who had jumped overboard, nine made it to the lifeboat. Soon after, two additional vessels, MV Colorado Maru and MV Hudson Maru arrived to help in the rescue operations. Shannon radioed the vessels that eight men had gone overboard on a raft. Colorado Maru found the raft, rescued the men and steamed to Yokohama because four men were in serious condition. The remaining vessels continued their search throughout the night until the vessel Chifuri of the Japan Safety Bureau arrived. Of Grand’s 43 crewmembers, 23 were rescued.

Pacific Far Eastern Lines continued to operate Japan Bear as America Bear and then John Penn.In 1974, Pacific Far Eastern sold the vessel to Hammond Leasing Corporation, which operated it until 1980. On March 3 of that year, the company sold it to Cheng Yung Enterprise Company to be dismantled.

[1] Grand, originally a Liberty ship built in 1943, was used by the British Ministry of War Transport during World War II as the Samyork under the Lend-Lease program.

Updated: Monday, October 29, 2018