Courtesy of the Wisconsin Marine Historical Society
On October 14, 1954, the Dutch motorship, PRINS WILLEM V (left), collided with an unmanned barge in Lake Michigan about four miles off Milwaukee. The PRINS WILLEM sank in about 80 feet of water. All 30 crew members were rescued by the coast guard cutter, HOLLYHOCK. The tug, SINCLAIR CHICAGO, with Barge SINCLAIR XII (right) in tow made port safely.
The PRINS WILLEM was leaving Milwaukee headed for the St. Lawrence. She was a 258-foot, 2800 ton freighter sailing for the Dutch Oranje Line. She carried about 730 tons of general cargo and there were no weather issues. About 1.7 miles east of the Milwaukee breakwater the PRINS WILLEM ran into the tow line between the tug SINCLAIR CHICAGO and Barge SINCLAIR XII, which was loaded with fuel oil. The barge was pulled into the PRINS WILLEM punching a 20-foot hole in PRINS WILLEM’s starboard plates. The wounded freighter staggered another two miles from shore before going under.
The Oranje Line and its insurer, Lloyds of London, abandoned the vessel to the Army Corps of Engineers less than one month later. The Corps declared the wreck a menace to navigation and requested bids to clear water over the hull to a depth of 40 feet. A local diver, Max “Gene” Nohl, submitted a bid of $50,000, which was significantly lower than any other. He was given a contract and 180 days to complete the job. The job was much simpler than expected. Max cut away a gangplank and a door – the only parts projecting above the 40 foot level – and was done. The Corps refused to pay Nohl $50,000 for less than 20 minutes of work.
In 1958, Armando Conti of Trenton, N.J., funded an effort to raise the PRINS WILLEM. This was to be a pilot project for raising the Italian liner, ANDREA DORIA. It failed when one of the huge steel tanks lashed to the hull and filled with air broke free.
Another effort to refloat the hull using 42 parachute bags was attempted in 1961. This also failed – there just wasn’t enough lift.
Next up was Charles Huthsing, a Northbrook Illinois manufacturer who bought the wreck for $85,000 in 1965. He considered filling compartments with foam. He too was unable to raise the PRINS WILLEM.
Today, the wreck, referred to locally as “Willie,” is a popular dive site. Although at least four divers have died, it is not considered dangerous.
Photo Credit: Great Lakes Marine Collection of the Milwaukee Public Library and Wisconsin Marine Historical Society.
Wisconsin Marine Historical Society
814 West Wisconsin Avenue
Milwaukee, WI 53233