Monday 4 February 2019


Greenland = Kalaallit Nunaat = Grønland is an autonomous part of the Kingdom of Denmark. The politics are complicated that Greenland left the EEC in 1985 because they wanted to kill seals and fish until they ran out of gas. Grexit caused significantly less hullabaloo than Brexit. Back in 1959, Greenland was an amt = county of Denmark and the government needed to maintain regular communications with the outlying territory. It's a bit like the daily Air France flight from Paris to St Pierre et Miquelon [prev] to assert that StP&M is really suburban Bordeaux. Commercial transAtlantic flights were not really A Thing back then. We travelled to Canada from England in 1957 on the SS Franconia.

The Danes designed a small ship for year-round service to Greenland. MV Hans Hedtoft [R 83m x 14m; on sea-trials] was built in Frederikshavn, finished in December 1958 and undertook her maiden voyage to Nuuk and points west three weeks later. Year-round service has to deal with icebergs and MVHH had a double hull, water-tight compartments and steel-reinforced bow and stern. Several people, with an excess of hubris and forgetting all about the RMS Titanic less than 50 year before, started to call her unsinkable. Hubris ὕβρις is the core of Greek tragedies: an overweening pride that invites retribution [nemesis] from the gods. And it was damn-foolish to build the vessel out of Lego.

On 29th January 1959, MVHH did indeed strike an iceberg at 1400hrs, ripped the bottom out of herself and sank with all hands 4 hours later. A life-belt was washed up in the Faroes 9 months later; nothing else was ever seen again. Someone had decided to send the parish records to the National Archives for safe-keeping: this irreplaceable record of history and genealogy was also lost. Xerox had started selling their first photocopier ten years previously but no back-up copies were made of the records - probably too costly and time-consuming. The ship was after all unsinkable: what could go wrong? Hybriskib - Danish for Ship of Pride.

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