By Jerry Stevens
SS Volturno on fireIt was a front page New York Times story. 18 months after the Titanic hit an iceberg and sank, another ship disaster took lives in the North Atlantic. This time it was a fire.

“At about 06:00 on 9 October 1913, Volturno, on a voyage from Rotterdam to New York carrying mostly immigrants, caught fire in the middle of a gale at 49.12N 34.51W in the North Atlantic. The crew attempted to fight the fire for about two hours, but, realizing the severity of the fire and the limited options for dousing it in the high seas, Captain Francis Inch had his wireless operator send out SOS  signals. Eleven ships responded to the calls and headed to Volturno’s reported position, arriving throughout the day and into the next. In the meantime, several of Volturno’s lifeboats with women and children aboard were launched with tragic results; all the boats either capsized or were smashed by the hull of the heaving ship, leaving no one alive from these first boats.”– Source: Wikipedia 

One of the survivors was my grandfather, listed as Kirilo Krilenki on the the Volturno manifest (later Carl Krivenki). Krivenki most likely translated from кривенький He was 17 years old when the Volturno went down. He died on October 31, 1974. Surke Tepper, later called Sarah, was 7 years old at the time of the Volturno disaster. She and Carl, Russian immigrants, were both rescued by the SS Seydlitz. 44 other survivors were picked up by that ship. She died in Los Angeles, September 22nd, 2006, 16 days after her 100th birthday.  Her recollections, as told to Cary Ganell in 1997 or 1998:

“When I interviewed my great aunt Sarah, her eyes glazed over with excitement as she recalled minute details of the fire. At 91 and with failing eyesight, she remained sharp-minded as she told of the Volturno’s crew hosing down the deck during that awful day on the ship, to keep it cool because the fire was burning just below it. She recalled being lowered to the rescue boat while hanging onto a rope, and almost falling into the water before having her legs grabbed by someone and pulling her safely in. And she remembered her older sister Bella, who would become my grandmother, who was so scared that she wanted to jump into the ocean like their poor friend, only to be restrained by the rest of the family.” 

Source: Jan Daamen’s website

Carl KrivenkiSurvivor Carl Krivenki in later years
Surke Tepper (Sarah)


Carl J Krivenki

Carl Krivenki

With the coordinates in the 1913 NY Times article, I marked the Volturno’s location at the time of the fire using Google Earth.

Volturno map

Click to enlarge


For more information, see this much more complete and authoritative SS Volturno Disaster site by Peter Searle, and this Volturno site  by Jan Daamen.

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