SS Marine Sulphur Queen was originally a T2 tanker built in 1944. There were many such tankers built by the US during World War II to carry oil. However in 1960, this 524-foot tanker was converted into a carrier of molten sulphur. For that, they had to modify the ship's internal structure and build huge sulphur carrying tanks. These tanks would always be kept heated up at high temperatures so that the sulphur remained molten.
On February 2nd 1963, Marine Sulphur Queen started her ill fated voyage from Beaumont, Texas destined towards Norfolk. She was carrying over 15000 tons of molten sulphur and 39 crew members on board.
She was last heard on Feb 4th when a routine radio message was received from the ship. There was nothing unusual in the message. However subsequently when all efforts to communicate with the ship failed, a massive search operation was launched. After 19 days of sea combing operation, the rescue team found only some debris and life preservatives. There was no trace of the ship or its crewmen. The ship had simply disappeared somewhere in the south Florida Straits.
Debris of Marine Suplur Queen
Courtesy Waypoint U.S. Coast Guard Digital Archive
So What happened to Marine Sulphur Queen?
Investigation of Marine Sulphur Queen mystery
US Coast Guard launched an investigation into the mystery of Suplhur Queen. It was true that at the time of her disappearance, the sea was rough and the waves were some 16-foot high. But can that really make such a huge ship disintegrate altogether? Here are some of the important investigation findings of US Coast Guards:
The ship was often seen with fire around the Sulphur tanks. This was caused due to leakage and heat around the tanks. This was so common that often the crew did not even bother about it. In one occasion, the ship even came to a New Jersey port with such burning fire, offloaded sulphur and sailed out while there was still fire around the tanks.
Due to heavy corrosion, the keel (a structure) in the middle portion of the ship was becoming very week. It was quite possible that the keel could split up. The ship was actually due for its routine maintenance in January before its sail. But the owners still insisted on the ship sailing as it was behind its planned schedule of cargo delivery. After all nobody likes commercial losses. In fact, before the ship started its last sail, a crewman was heard telling his wife ... the ship was a "floating garbage can".
Well, as extensive search resulted into nothing but only some debris and such, the Coast Guards and the Navy Board reached the conclusion that the ship was actually lost in the sea. They also concluded that it was lost on February 4, 1963 near the Straits of Florida.
While they could not assign any definite cause to the loss, they highlighted that the following could have been the possibilities:
An explosion could have taken place in the cargo tanks due to leakage.
The vessel's hull may have split up into two.
The ship may have been capsized in rough sea.
A steam explosion may have happened and the crew would have got poisoned.
3) Check out Bermuda Triangle Mystery to know about the mystery of Bermuda Triangle, how it originated, what's happening in the area, its history and more.
K Schneeberger (January 2016)
I suspect, that the SS Marine Sulphur Queen may have encountered a Russian Submarine off of Cuba, and was torpedoed. Initial news reports stated that the SS Marine Sulphur Queen was probably sunk, or taken, and may be located in Cuba. In 1962/1963 unthinkable things happened (Missile Crisis, Kennedy Assassination) in world politics. I believe that the SS Marine Sulphur Queen was a casualty of these events, and the Cold War. Hopefully someone will own up to it, eventually.
Marie Pizarro-Ferrante (February 2015)
Hi, I have been searching for information regarding my father's death all of my life. Interestingly enough your site has answered and raised more questions on the exact site and time of the disappearance. We were notified Feb 14,1963. Do you think it is possible that the vessel was boarded and our merchant marines were taken captive? This was during the Cuban missile crisis and not far from the islands. What is your take on this? I would be grateful for any truth you can give me; I have the official court documents.
Raj (bermuda-attractions.com) February 2015
Hi, in my view while possibility of crew members taken captive can not be absolutely ruled out, but it's quite unlikely. The Cuban Missile Crisis had ended in November 1962 when Soviet Union and United States reached a formal agreement on the missile issue, and no further news of conflict was heard of. Sulphur Queen was reportedly lost on Feb 4, 1963 near Florida Straights which is about 90 miles away from Cuba. While proximity to Cuba can raise such a question, but the timings and inexplicable motive behind captivating the mariners would make me think otherwise. Let me know if you are in any position to share any documents that you have that can help me to look into the matter further. Thanks.
Denis T. Cassidy Sr (January 2015)
My grandson was asking me about my service in the Coast Guard and I related to him how, as a radio operator on the USCGC Rockaway I had copied an SOS from the Queen and I had rebroadcast it on 500 KC. Our ship was in the north Atlantic on an ocean station patrol and too far away to be of immediate service. My grandson asked if I thought he could find out more about the Queen if he googled her and I said yes. I did the same and saw your article about the Queen and that no one had heard from her after RCA radio received the routine message from her. I don't know which day it was when I copied the SOS and rebroadcast it but it should be in the radio log that every radio operator completed before going off watch, if it still exists.
Russel Burgess, a crew member of a ship that searched for the SS Marine Sulphur Queen, wrote to me about what he remembers of the search operation. Check out Search of Sulphur Queen and find out what he wrote.