In the early hours of July 14th, 1970, tragedy struck on the St. Lawrence River near the Ontario town of Morrisburg. The bulk carrier EASTCLIFFE HALL, bound for Saginaw, Michigan, with a cargo of pig iron, struck a submerged abutment; within minutes, she was on the bottom, taking with her nine lives.
EASTCLIFFE HALL served the Hall Corporation as a bulk carrier and moved a variety of cargoes. She generally operated throughout the shipping season, although in 1968 and again in 1969, she was late in fitting out. Better conditions saw her sailing early this year and the season was, for her, busy although uneventful until the fateful fourteenth.
After loading at Sorel, Quebec, the EASTCLIFFE HALL entered the Seaway at Montreal on her last voyage. At about three in the morning, she grounded on a mud bank near Crysler Park but she was able to free herself from the soft bottom. Some crewmen credit this early accident with saving their lives since they had not returned to bed.
The vessel then struck what was originally believed to be Crysler Shoal in the middle of the St. Lawrence, but later investigation revealed that she had struck a submerged object, reported to be a light standard. Her back was broken in two places and one diver stated that her hull resembled "a crushed beer can."
After striking the abutment, the vessel continued about two hundred yards and went down in seventy feet of water just over the Canadian side of the international boundary. The bow filled quickly and the men ran towards the stern. Because of the sharp angle of the deck, the lifeboats could not be freed and the crewmen were forced to jump into the water. Those in the engineroom could not escape due to the pressure , but this pressure came to their aid and literally blasted them through the skylight and into the cold water.
Twenty-one persons had been aboard the EASTCLIFFE HALL. The twelve survivors were found clinging to life jackets and debris. Many of the men, dragged under by the suction of the sinking ship, had to fight their way to the surface to avoid death. The survivors were taken to hospital for treatment of shock and lacerations, but were soon released.
The Captain, Albert Groulx,his sixteen year old son, Alain, the Chief Engineer, Willie Demers, and his family were among those who perished. Divers located all but one body within two days. The remaining crewman's body was presumed to have been washed downstream.
On July 27th, The St. Lawrence Seaway Authority ordered Halco to remove the vessel as it presented a hazard to navigation. Their alternative was to abandon the cargo and remove all the masts as well as to strip all the cabins to the deck. This would leave sufficient water over the hull for navigational purposes and the weight of the cargo would prevent shifting of the wreck. It is understood that Halco agreed to comply with the latter alternative but late reports indicate that McAllister Towing Ltd. will attempt to remove the cargo of pig iron, replacing it with other material.
Reproduced for the Web with the permission of the Toronto Marine Historical Society.