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Güncelleme: 10:58 ET 7 Aug., 2000

Sunken ship found in Black Sea
The Struma, sinking in the Black Sea in 1941 carrying 759 Jews fleeing persecution during WW II, is found in Turkish waters of Bosphorus Strait
    August 5 —  A rescue project of the Underwater Research Association succeeded in recovering the ruins of the Struma, a ship that sank in the Black Sea fifty-eight years ago with its 759 passengers, all Jews fleeing persecution in World War II. Regarded as one of the biggest war-time sea disasters, the sinking of the Struma has since been the object of much research to determine the exact circumstances of the incident. Project Coordinator Levent Yüksel said today in an announcement about the recovery that his research group had been working on the incident for more than three years now and had last year succeeded in determining the sunken ship’s approximate location.  


  The Struma is known to have been abandoned in the Black Sea following refusal of the British to grant visas into Palestine. The ship was offered hospitality in Istanbul by Istanbul’s Jewish population and by the Turkish Red Crescent for two-and-a-half months but it is alleged that because of Turkey’s poor economic state at the time, aid was then cut off to the ship. It met its dire fate, with 759 lives aboard, when it was hit by a Russian torpedo, sinking on February 24, 1942.
       Working under the auspices of the Technical Diving Team (TDT), Underwater Research Association (SAD) divers succeeded in identifying the sunken remains of the Struma in the Turkish waters of the Black Sea. The sunken ship was found six miles to the north of the Bosphorus Strait, at a depth of 73-80 meters.
Underwater Struma

After the sinking on September 12, 1942 of the Laconia by a German submarine, the Struma incident is acknowledged as WWII's biggest sea disaster. In terms of sea history and underwater research, the discovery of the ruins of the Struma is a milestone of the last century.
       Speaking to an IHA reporter, Project Coordinator Levent Yüksel pointed out that research had been underway on the sunken ship for the last three-and-a-half years. He said that sonar apparatus had been used to determine the location of the ship and that underwater photographic identification had been executed beginning in September 1999. Stating that underwater work had continued through the winter, Yüksel explained that uninterrupted diving expeditions had been carried out despite the unique, highly uncompromising and sometimes violent conditions of the Black Sea.
Levent Yüksel said that before the location of the Struma had been found, two other similar ships had been discovered. He said that a series of technical investigations had been conducted to determine which of the finds belonged to the ruins of the Struma. He said that the studies resulted in a positive identification of the ship that was the object of the World War II calamity.
Yüksel explained that investigations were slowed to a certain extent because of the fact that the sunken ship was in effect an underwater grave for 759 people. For that reason, he said, only photographic identification methods could be used in an effort to preserve the human remains. He said that this preservation took an uncompromised precedence over a more rapid investigative process, pointing out that the aim of the team was to treat the expedition with the utmost respect in reverence to the human lives that had been lost in the incident.
Levent Yüksel said that the expedition met with serious setbacks as recurrent dives at the beginning of the investigations refused to offer any clues as to the location of the sunken ship. With determination and the precision that available technical know-how offered, the team, he said, was ultimately able to put together the pieces of the puzzle. “In the end, we didn’t find the Struma, it found us,” he said. “Each dive we took was a trip into the secret compartments of the Struma and the ship welcomed us as its guests. It shared with us its silence, all its emotions. It held its breath with us and slowly made itself known to us.”
       Continued Yüksel, “Suddenly one day we were blessed with the discovery. It was as if the angels were with us.”
Stating that the Struma was buried 80 meters underwater, Yüksel said that the diving expeditions to the area came under the category of “risky dives” and that no compromise had been made in the quality of equipment used and in the competence and experience of the divers involved. Yüksel said, “Just as the passengers of the Struma must have felt, nothing is more valuable than human life.”
New research has determined that the Struma, carrying Romanian refugees during World War II from Constanta to Palestine, reached Istanbul port on December 15, 1941. After a great deal of political bargaining, the ship was allowed to remain at port for two-and-a-half months. During its time in Istanbul, a few passengers managed to flee the ship. When diplomacy attempts proved unsuccessful, however, the ship, with close to 800 of the remaining refugees, along with its crew, was ordered to return to the Black Sea in February 1942.
“...the circumstances of the tragedy will once more be brought to the fore and perhaps another aspect of World War II and contemporary history will have been uncovered.”

       The day after its departure from İstanbul, the ship exploded mysteriously and sank. Later reports pointed to the torpedoing of the ship by a Russian submarine. Only one survived the incident. Treated for injuries in İstanbul, David Stoliar later travelled on to Palestine, married there and joined the British Army. He currently lives in the state of Oregon in the United States.
The Struma incident has gone down in history as a dire human tragedy. It has been the subject of much debate and also the object of protests and uprisings throughout the years. The Minister of the British Colonies at the time of the incident, Lord Moyne, was assassinated in the fall of 1944 for his alleged responsibility in refusing visas to the passengers of the Struma. Although Turkey was to face accusations about its responsibility in the situation, records in the archives of the British Foreign Service show that Britain’s harsh stance in refusing visas has been officially acknowledged as the immediate accountable element in the tragedy.
In the last months of 1941, Turkey shared a border with the Nazis who had invaded Greece. Turkey found itself on the verge of entering the war. Meanwhile the Jews were being persecuted all over Europe. Attempting to escape the atrocities of the war, Jews headed for Palestine in large numbers.
       One of the carriers bound for Palestine was the Struma. A British-built ship under the Panama flag, its crew was Bulgarian and its owner was a Greek merchant. Before departing for its last voyage, the Struma worked under the Romanian company, “Campania Mediteranea de Vapores Limitada” of Bucherest. About 46 meters long, 6 meters wide, it weighed 227 gross tons. Built in Newcastle in 1867, its last 759 passengers had paid out their last resources to escape their fates. Turkey, meanwhile, had announced its neutrality in the war and was involved in a bitter struggle to remain in that status. Its position was to provide as much hospitality as it could but at the same time, it was involved in political maneuvering to ensure its neutrality.
The British, in keeping with their promise to the Arabs, were in a position to limit the migration of the Jews to Palestine. Quotas were fixed and Jews on transit to Palestine were frequently stopped mid-way. Meanwhile, Turkey was under great pressure to keep the Bosphorus closed to passing refugee ships and it was in such a climate that the Struma arrived in Istanbul.
The Struma incident is a turning point in the human tragedy that was World War II. With the discovery of the ruins of the sunken ship today, some long-hidden secrets will possibly have been revealed. At the very least, the circumstances of the tragedy will once more be brought to the fore and perhaps another aspect of World War II and contemporary history will have been uncovered.
       You can reach us at english@ntvmsnbc.com

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