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Marine Electric: The Wreck that Changed the Coast Guard Forever

At midnight on February 12, 1983, the 605-foot cargo ship Marine Electric was sailing northward 30 miles off Virginia's eastern shore, plowing slowly through the gale-force winds and waves stirred up by a winter storm.

An able-bodied seaman relieved the watch and peered forward, noticing for the first time that the ship's bow seemed to be riding unusually low in the water. Dense curls of green ocean rushed over the bow, some of them arching 10 feet over the deck before crashing back down. The crew had been battling 25-foot waves for hours, but until now, the bow had bucked and dipped as normal.

Now it seemed only to dip.

Over the next two hours, the waves intruded with increasing vigor. The entire foredeck was swallowed in six feet of water. The main deck was completely awash.

At 02:30, the ship's master, Phillip Corl, summoned his chief mate, Robert Cusick, to the bridge and shared his fears: the bow was settling, they were taking on too much water, and the crew was in real trouble.

At 02:51, the captain made the first radio distress call to the Coast Guard.

"I seem to be taking on water forward," Corl said. "We need someone to come out and give us some assistance, if possible."

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Read Until the Sea Shall Free Them, The Wreck of the SS Marine Electric by Robert Frump . . .