SS PHILIPPINE MAIL
For actions on March 29, 1963
Gallant Ship Award citation:
During the morning of March 29, 1963, the PHILIPPINE MAIL sighted the Chinese ship HAI ZIANG foundering in mountainous seas with a 45 degree list. Although the winds were of gale strength and the seas six to eight feet high with the swells ten to twelve feet high, a lifeboat was launched and sent to the aid of the sinking vessel which was being abandoned by her crew. Three crew members from the ill-fated vessel were found and lifted into the lifeboat, but by this time the boat had drifted away and its crew was near exhaustion. The PHILIPPINE MAIL was then expertly maneuvered to a position from which her lifeboat was safely recovered. In the meantime two additional persons were sighted in the water. A Jacob’s ladder was placed in position and two members of the crew went over the side and rescued the two helpless survivors by securing a line around them. A short time later four others were sighted and rescued in a similar manner. The PHILIPPINE MAIL remained on the scene, encouraging the remaining crew members of the stricken ship to remain aboard until other rescue ships could arrive on the scene.
The courage, resourcefulness, expert seamanship, and teamwork of her Master, officers and crew in successfully affecting the rescue of nine persons from a sinking ship under extremely hazardous circumstances have caused the name of the PHILIPPINE MAIL to be perpetuated as a Gallant Ship.
SS Philippine Mail was an American Mail Lines-owned C4-S-1s type break-bulk cargo ship, constructed in 1962. It was built by Todd Pacific Shipyard San Pedro in San Pedro California. The vessel’s design was a modification of the C4-s-1a “Mariner” type, the most basic post-war break-bulk ship design. American Mail Line engaged in Pacific trade and the company used Philippine Mail for its Far East routes.
On March 29, 1963, the vessel was underway from Naha, Okinawa to Keelung, Taiwan, steaming in heavy weather. At 4:30 am the automatic radio alarm sounded. The radio operator responded, but after an extended period, no other distress calls were heard.
At 7:00 am, Philippine Mail sighted MS Hai Ziang dead in the water and listing 45 degrees to port, with another ship Chinese ship, SS Haou, standing ready to assist nearby. The weather was worsening, with gale force winds, heavy seas and high waves.
Captain W. Dinsmore of Philippine Mail maneuvered his ship to the windward side of Hai Ziang and pumped fuel into the water to calm the rough seas. After it arrived on station, Philippine Mail launched a lifeboat to attempt a rescue. Lead by the vessel’s Chief Mate, the lifeboat crew rescued three men who had jumped from Hai Ziang. As the lifeboat was returning however, two more survivors were seen floating in the water. Consequently, Captain Dinsmore ordered the crew to throw out lines and rescue the additional floaters.
Knowing that there were more crew members to be rescued from the sinking vessel, Captain Dinsmore positioned his ship next to Hai Zaing. He observed four more crew members of Hai Ziang jumping overboard and immediately told several of the survivors already onboard his ship, to tell the crewman of Hai Ziang to stay onboard their vessel and wait for the lifeboat already underway. At 6:15PM, USS Weiss arrived on scene with a power whale boat and rescued the remaining crewmen from MS Hai Ziang. In total, Philippine Mail assisted in rescuing eight crew members and one passenger from Hai Ziang.
American Mail Lines lengthened and converted Philippine Mail to a containership (type C6-S-1x) in 1972. Less than a year later, American Mail Lines was absorbed into American President Lines; Philippine Mail was renamed President Eisenhower in 1975. In 1983, President Eisenhower was sold to Delta Steamship Lines and renamed Santa Paula. That company, in turn, was sold to U.S. Lines in 1985; U.S. Lines changed the vessel’s name from Santa Paula to American Banker.
U.S. Lines operated American Banker until the company’s bankruptcy in 1987, when it was acquired by MARAD and laid up in the James River Reserve Fleet as a candidate for conversion to a T-ACS crane ship. Although American Banker went into shipyard in 1988 to have its crane removed, it was never converted into a T-ACS ship; instead, it remained at James River until 2005, when it was sold to Marine Metals, Inc. to be dismantled and recycled.