"The commercial morality of the world seems to have been markedly lowered as a result of the war," said one underwriter today, when asked for an explanation of the situation. "The demand for bottoms after the armistice raised shipping to unprecedented values. Insurance valuations increased correspondingly. Then the slump came and values were lowered and owners faced tremendous losses, but insurance policies continued at an artificially high mark. What we term 'moral risk' naturally increased and sinkings began. That is our notion how it all came about." ("Suggests Storms Sank Lost Mystery Ships," The New York Times, June 24, 1921.)
Wednesday, October 10, 2012
The Norwegian bark Steinsund vanished in or near the Bermuda Triangle in the first three months of 1921. (Winer, Devil's Triangle, p. 79.)
The winter of 1920–21 was one of the worst on record in the North Atlantic. Winds at times reached hurricane force. There were two particularly furious storms that lasted three days each, from February 6, 1921, and from February 15, 1921.
A number of ships made port only after sustaining serious damage, so it is reasonable to expect other, less lucky ones to have sunken. (The mystics of course always turn this argument on its head and ask why not all ships survive a storm if some did. Surely, it must have been the Martians…)
Winer describes how hurricane-force winds from the Arctic would coat superstructures with ice until ships became so top-heavy they were capsized by the towering waves, with lifeboats and rafts frozen to them so they could not be launched or float free and any survivors in the water freezing to death in mere minutes. (Winer, Devil's Triangle, pp. 79.)
The Steinsund was one of a number of ships claimed by the Bermuda Triangle in late 1920 and early 1921. The record number of vanishing ships aroused suspicions that Russian reds were hijacking ships and sailing them to soviet ports. When government investigators realized how severe the storms had been, investigations ceased.
While most or all of those ships were probably really storm victims, it is of course not impossible that some ships were hijacked by communists. A correspondent of The Washington Post saw several ships with their names painted out in Vladivostok. (Group, p. 36.) However, I tend to think those may very well have been Russian ships that had their tsarist names painted out, pending renaming with, uh, "good socialist/communist" names.
Finally, those ships not sunk by storms may be victims of insurance fraud.