Archive for the ‘Contemporary Commentary’ Category

Authors Who Worked at The Philadelphia Inquirer. 

What a legacy.  Courtesy of Jim intended for the Inquirer and Daily News Alumni Network (but my blog is the only way to include the entire list.)

So proud to have been a part of this crew.

— Bob Frump Sept. 21.

NOTE:  If you have corrections or additions, please add them in comments, and I will forward on to Jim for consideration.

The Philadelphia Daily News deserves its own list with some huge books via Pete Dexter, Laker-Ruderman.

Compiled by Jim Remsen

(Jim Remsen says: The big ad in the NYTimes Book Section for Mark Bowden’s new ‘Hue 1968’ got me thinking about our newsroom colleagues past and present who’ve written books. That got me wondering how many there actually are, which led me to compile this gang listing over the past few days. It’s essentially a cut-and-paste job from Amazon. No doubt some worthy authors are still omitted—because they wrote under pseudonyms, because their work isn’t listed on Amazon or, most likely, because I simply forgot or overlooked them. Feel free to add or correct (as Linda Hasert already has done, above), with my apologies. I did not go back to the pre-Roberts era so Joe McGinniss, for instance, is not included. Nor did I include Daily News folks and thus Dexter, Laker-Ruderman,  etc., are not listed. I begin the compilation with works that inarguably hit the big time (led to movies, major sales, major awards, major impact). After the first 10-15 entries, the list becomes a grab-bag with no judgment or ranking implied. Please read it with that in mind. If someone wants to alphabetize the list to avoid hard feelings, be my guest.)


MARK BOWDENHue 1968: A Turning Point of the American War in Vietnam; Black Hawk Down: A Story of Modern War; Guests of the Ayatollah: The Iran Hostage Crisis: The First Battle in America’s War with Militant Islam; Killing Pablo: The Hunt for the World’s Greatest Outlaw; The Finish: The Killing of Osama Bin Laden; Worm: The First Digital World War; Bringing the Heat; The Three Battles of Wanat: And Other True Stories; Doctor Dealer: The Rise and Fall of an All-American Boy and His Multimillion-Dollar Cocaine Empire; Road Work: Among Tyrants, Beasts, Heroes, and Rogues

JENNIFER WEINER Good in Bed; Fly Away Home; The Next Best Thing; Good Men; Then Came You; The Littlest Bigfoot; Certain Girls; Goodnight Nobody; All Fall Down; Who Do You Love; Hungry Heart: Adventures in Life, Love, and Writing

GENE ROBERTS & HANK KLIBANOFFThe Race Beat: The Press, the Civil Rights Struggle, and the Awakening of a Nation

DON BARLETT & JIM STEELEAmerica: What Went Wrong?; America: Who Stole the Dream? ; The Betrayal of the American Dream; Forevermore, Nuclear Waste in America; Howard Hughes – His Life and Madness; Critical Condition How Health Care in America Became Big Business–and Bad Medicine; The Great American Tax Dodge: How Spiraling Fraud and Avoidance Are Killing Fairness, Destroying the Income Tax, and Costing You

TIM WEINERLegacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA; Enemies: A History of the FBI; One Man Against the World: The Tragedy of Richard Nixon; Blank Check: The Pentagon’s Black Budget; Betrayal:: The Story of Aldrich Ames, an American Spy

BUZZ BISSINGERFriday Night Lights: A Town, A Team, And A Dream; A Prayer for the City; Father’s Day: A Journey into the Mind and Heart of My Extraordinary Son; After Friday Night Lights: When the Games Ended, Real Life Began. An Unlikely Love Story; Three Nights in August: Strategy, Heartbreak, and Joy Inside the Mind of a Manager; LeBron’s Dream Team: How Four Friends and I Brought a Championship Home

STEVE LOPEZThe Soloist: A Lost Dream, an Unlikely Friendship, and the Redemptive Power of Music; Third and Indiana; The Sunday Macaroni Club; Land of Giants: Where No Good Deed Goes Unpunished ; Dreams and Schemes: My Decade of Fun in the Sun

DAVID CAY JOHNSTON – The Making of Donald Trump; Free Lunch: How the Wealthiest Americans Enrich Themselves at Government Expense (and Stick You with the Bill); Perfectly Legal: The Covert Campaign to Rig Our Tax System to Benefit the Super Rich–and Cheat Everybody Else; Divided: The Perils of Our Growing Inequality; The Fine Print: How Big Companies Use “Plain English” to Rob You Blind

PEGGY ANDERSONNurse; Children’s Hospital; The Daughters

JOHN GROGANMarley & Me: Life and Love with the World’s Worst Dog ; Marley: A Dog Like No Other; The Longest Trip Home: A Memoir; Marley & Me: Life and Love with the World’s Worst Dog; (and 8 Marley early readers)

AMANDA BENNETTThe Cost of Hope: A Memoir; The Death of the Organization Man; The Quiet Room: A Journey Out of the Torment of Madness; The Man Who Stayed Behind; In Memoriam: A Practical Guide to Planning a Memorial Service

DAN BIDDLE & MURRAY DUBINTasting Freedom: Octavius Catto and the Battle for Equality in Civil War America

MURRAY DUBINSouth Philadelphia: Mummers, Memories, and the Melrose Diner; The Official Book of Wallyball

GENE FOREMANThe Ethical Journalist: Making Responsible Decisions in the Digital Age

MIKE SOKOLOVEDrama High: The Incredible True Story of a Brilliant Teacher, a Struggling Town, and the Magic of Theater; Hustle: The Myth, Life, and Lies of Pete Rose; Warrior Girls: Protecting Our Daughters Against the Injury Epidemic in Women’s Sports; The Ticket Out: Darryl Strawberry and the Boys of Crenshaw

THOMAS HINEPopuluxe; I Want That!: How We All Became Shoppers; The Total Package: The Secret History and Hidden Meanings of Boxes, Bottles, Cans, and Other Persuasive Containers; The Rise and Fall of the American Teenager; Facing Tomorrow: What the Future Has Been, What the Future Can Be; The Eames Lounge Chair: An Icon of Modern Design; The Great Funk: Styles of the Shaggy, Sexy, Shameless 1970s

ROD NORDLANDThe Lovers: Afghanistan’s Romeo and Juliet, the True Story of How They Defied Their Families and Escaped an Honor Killing

SUSAN Q. STRANAHANSusquehanna, River of Dreams

DAVID ZUCCHINO – Myth of the Welfare Queen: A Pulitzer Prize-Winning Journalist’s Portrait of Women on the Line; Thunder Run: The Armored Strike to Capture Baghdad

RICHARD BEN CRAMERWhat It Takes: The Way to the White House

JANE EISNERTaking Back the Vote: Getting American Youth Involved in Our Democracy; Who Are We Now? Interpreting the Pew Study on Jewish Identity in America Today

DONALD DRAKEMedical School: The dramatic true story of how four years turned a class of raw students into qualified physicians

MARIAN UHLMAN & DONALD DRAKE – Hard Choices: Health Care at What Cost?

DOREEN CARVAJALThe Forgetting River: A Modern Tale of Survival, Identity, and the Inquisition

JENNIFER LINShanghai Faithful: Betrayal and Forgiveness in a Chinese Christian Family; Sole Sisters: Stories of Women and Running

HANK KLIBANOFF – Assassins, Eccentrics, Politicians, and Other Persons of Interest: Fifty Pieces from the Road

MICHAEL BAMBERGERMen in Green; To the Linksland: A Golfing Adventure; This Golfing Life; Wonderland: A Year in the Life of an American High School; The Green Road Home: Adventures and Misadventures as a Caddie on the PGA Tour; Every Shot I Take

STEVEN REA – Hollywood Rides a Bike: Cycling with the Stars; Hollywood Café: Coffee with the Stars

GAIUTRA BAHADURCoolie Woman: The Odyssey of Indenture

BOB ZAUSNERDanger Above: A Tragic Death, An Epic Courtroom Battle; Dying to Have a Baby: A True Story; Bad Brake: Ford Trucks, Deadly When Parked; Two Boys, Divided by Fortune, United by Tragedy: A True Story of the Pursuit of Justice

DOUG CAMPBELL – The Sea’s Bitter Harvest: Thirteen Deadly Days on the North Atlantic; Eight Survived: The Harrowing Story Of The USS Flier And The Only Downed World War Ii Submariners To Survive And Evade Capture

TOM INFIELDFifty Years After the War: The People Who Were There Recall the Major Events of World War II

PETER BINZEN – The Wreck of the Penn Central; The Cop Who Would Be King : The Honorable Frank Rizzo; Whitetown, U. S. A.; Richardson Dilworth: Last of the Bare Knuckled Aristocrats; Nearly Everybody Read It: Snapshots of the Philadelphia Bulletin

STEVE TWOMEYCountdown to Pearl Harbor: The Twelve Days to the Attack

VERNON LOEBAll In: The Education of General David Petraeus; Good Hunting: An American Spymaster’s Story; King’s Counsel: A Memoir of War, Espionage, and Diplomacy in the Middle East

BOB FERNANDEZThe Chocolate Trust: Deception, Indenture and Secrets at the $12 Billion Milton Hershey School

AL LUBRANOLimbo: Blue-Collar Roots, White-Collar Dreams

ARLENE MORGANThe Authentic Voice: The Best Reporting on Race and Ethnicity

LOU URENECKThe Great Fire: One American’s Mission to Rescue Victims of the 20th Century’s First Genocide; Smyrna, September 1922: The American Mission to Rescue Victims of the 20th Century’s First Genocide; Backcast: Fatherhood, Fly-fishing, and a River Journey Through the Heart of Alaska; Cabin: Two Brothers, a Dream, and Five Acres in Maine

LISA TRACY – Objects of Our Affection: Uncovering My Family’s Past, One Chair, Pistol, and Pickle Fork at a Time; The Gradual Vegetarian: The Step-by-Step Way to Start Eating the Right Stuff Today

TOM MOON – 1,000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die

DOTTY BROWNBoathouse Row: Waves of Change in the Birthplace of American Rowing

MIKE VITEZ – The Road Back; Great Americans: Stories of Resilience and Joy in Everyday Life; Final Choices: Seeking the Good Death

TOM GRALISH & MIKE VITEZRocky Stories: Tales of Love, Hope, and Happiness at America’s Most Famous Steps

GIL GAULBillion-Dollar Ball: A Journey Through the Big-Money Culture of College Football; Giant Steps: The Story of One Boy’s Struggle to Walk

NEILL BOROWSKI & GIL GAUL Free Ride: The Tax-Exempt Economy

TONY WOOD & GIL GAULCrisis on the Coast: The Risky Development of America’s Shores

GEORGE ANASTASIABlood and Honor: Inside the Scarfo Mob–The Mafia’s Most Violent Family; The Last Gangster; The Goodfella Tapes; Gotti’s Rules: The Story of John Alite, Junior Gotti, and the Demise of the American Mafia; Mob Files: Mobsters, Molls and Murder; Mob Father: The Story of a Wife and a Son Caught in the Web of the Mafia; The Summer Wind : Thomas Capano and the Murder of Anne Marie Fahey; Philadelphia True Noir: Kingpins, Hustles and Homicides

GEORGE ANASTASIA & GLEN MACNOW – The Ultimate Book of Gangster Movies: Featuring the 100 Greatest Gangster Films of All Time

RALPH CIPRIANOThe Hit Man: A True Story of Murder, Redemption and the Melrose Diner; Courtroom Cowboy: The Life of Legal Trailblazer Jim Beasley; Garagista A Home Wine Making Journal

MARY WALTONA Woman’s Crusade: Alice Paul and the Battle for the Ballot; Car: A Drama of the American Workplace; The Deming Management Method; Deming Management at Work

JOE DiSTEFANOComcasted: How Ralph and Brian Roberts Took Over America’s TV, One Deal at a Time

KAREN E. QUINONES MILLERAn Angry-Ass Black Woman; Hittin’ It Out the Park; Satin Doll; Ida B.; Harlem Godfather: The Rap on my Husband, Ellsworth “Bumpy” Johnson

FRANK FITZPATRICKThe Lion In Autumn: A Season with Joe Paterno and Penn State Football; The Perfect Game: How Villanova’s Shocking 1985 Upset of Mighty Georgetown Changed the Landscape of College Hoops Forever; Pride of the Lions: The Biography of Joe Paterno; And the Walls Came Tumbling Down: The Basketball Game That Changed American Sports; You Can’t Lose ‘Em All: The Year the Phillies Finally Won the World Series

TANYA BARRIENTOSFrontera Street; Family Resemblance

SHARON WOHLMUTHMothers and Daughters; Sisters; Best Friends; A Day in the Life of the American Woman: How We See Ourselves

CRAIG STOCKInvesting During Retirement

FEN MONTAIGNE – Broken Empire : After the Fall of the USSR; Reeling In Russia: An American Angler In Russia; The First Directorate: My 32 Years in Intelligence and Espionage Against the West; Surviving Galeras; Medicine by Design: The Practice and Promise of Biomedical Engineering; Fraser’s Penguins: A Journey to the Future in Antarctica

CARRIE RICKEYDoris Day Biography; They Went Thataway: Redefining Film Genres; Batiste Madalena : Poster Paintings for the Movies; The 1984 Show

JULIA CASSBlack in Selma: The Uncommon Life of J.L. Chestnut, Jr.

AKWELI PARKERAutomatic Emails: Polite Yet Potent Communications for Getting Stuff Done at Work, at Home, and in Your Community; 41 1/4 Creative Content Ideas: Ingeniously Clever Small Business Marketing Moves for Capturing More Clicks, Clients, and Cash; 31 Ways to Green Your Business (And Boost Your Bottom Line): A Practical Guide to Substantial Savings through Sustainable Business Practices

PAT RACCIO HUGHES – Five 4ths of July; The Breaker Boys; Guerrilla Season; Seeing the Elephant: A Story of the Civil War; Open Ice

SAL PAOLANTONIOFrank Rizzo: The Last Big Man in Big City America; The Paolantonio Report: The Most Overrated and Underrated Teams, Players, Coaches, and Moments in NFL History; How Football Explains America

GWEN FLORIOMontana; Reservations; Dakota; Disgraced

BILL LYONDeadlines and Overtimes: Collected Writings on Sports and Life; When the Clock Runs Out: 20 NFL Greats Share Their Stories of Hardship and Triumph

KEVIN FERRIS – Vets and Pets: Wounded Warriors and the Animals That Help Them Heal; Unbreakable Bonds: The Mighty Moms and Wounded Warriors of Walter Reed

JOANNE McLAUGHLINNever Before Noon; Peppina’s Sweetheart; Grass and Granite

CARLIN ROMANOAmerica the Philosophical

CLARK DELEONPennsylvania Curiosities; America’s First Zoostory and Other Philadelphia Stories: 125 Years at the Philadelphia Zoo

JOHN TIMPANE – Poetry For Dummies; Writing Worth Reading: The Critical Process; Writing Worth Reading: A Practical Guide; It Could Be Verse: Anybody’s Guide to Poetry

SERGIO BUSTOSMiami’s Criminal Past: Uncovered

CHRIS SATULLO – Crime and Punishment: Is Justice Being Served?; A Christmas Quartet

SUSAN FITZGERALDLetting Go with Love and Confidence: Raising Responsible, Resilient, Self-Sufficient Teens in the 21st Century; The Everything College Survival Book: All You Need to Get the Most out of College Life; Who Moved My Laundry?: A day-by-day guide to your first year of college life

SUSAN FITZGERALD, MARK JAFFE & DONALD DRAKEHard Choices: Health Care at What Cost?

MARK JAFFE – The Gilded Dinosaur: The Fossil War Between E.D. Cope and O.C. Marsh and the Rise of American Science; And No Birds Sing: The Story of an Ecological Disaster in a Tropical Paradise

NATALIE POMPILIO – Walking Philadelphia: 30 Tours Exploring Art, Architecture, History, and Little-Known Gems

MEL GREENBERGHoops Heaven: Commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame

JIM REMSENThe Intermarriage Handbook: A Guide for Christians and Jews; Visions of Teaoga; Embattled Freedom: Chronicle of a Fugitive Slave Haven in the Wary North

INGA SAFFRONCaviar: The Strange History and Uncertain Future of the World’s Most Coveted Delicacy

JOHN HILFERTYMoonlight in Vermont; The Mad River Valley; Skiing in the Mad River Valley; Growing Up in World War II

MARILYN MARTERDining-In Philadelphia

REGINA SCHRAMBLINGSquash: A Country Garden Cookbook

BOB FRUMP – Two Tankers Down: The Greatest Small-Boat Rescue In U.S. Coast Guard History; Until the Sea Shall Free Them: Life, Death, and Survival in the Merchant Marine; I Cover the Waterfront: Non-Fiction Articles, 1980-2008, Maritime Writer Robert R. Frump; The Man-Eaters of Eden: Life and Death in Kruger National Park; The Spirit Lions: Darting Man-eaters in the Selous

JEFF GAMMAGEChina Ghosts: My Daughter’s Journey to America, My Passage to Fatherhood

ED COLIMORE Eyewitness Reports: The Inquirer’s Live Coverage of the American Civil War; The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Guide to Historic Philadelphia

STEPHAN SALISBURYMohamed’s Ghosts: An American Story of Love and Fear in the Homeland

DENISE COWIEThe Communication Clinic: 99 Proven Cures for the Most Common Business Mistakes

DON GROFFBest Beach Vacations: The Mid-Atlantic from New York to Washington Dc (Frommer’s Best Beach Vacations East Coast from New York to Washington DC)

HOWARD GOODMANDisoriented: Two Strange Years in China as Unexpected Expats

MONICA YANT KINNEYPhiladelphia Murals & Stories They Tell

MIKE MISSANELLI – The Perfect Season: How Penn State Came to Stop a Hurricane and Win a National Football Championship; The Transaction: Surviving Professional Baseball Through 16 Years and 36 Waives, Recalls, Trades, and Releases

CRAIG LABANSavoring Philadelphia; The Philadelphia Inquirer Restaurant Guide

NATE GORENSTEINTommy Gun Winter: Jewish Gangsters, a Preacher’s Daughter, and the Trial That Shocked 1930s Boston

FAYE FLAMThe Score: The Science of the Male Sex Drive

MIKE SIELSKI – Fading Echoes: A True Story of Rivalry and Brotherhood from the Football Field to the Fields of Honor

BOB SHEASLEYHome to Roost: A Backyard Farmer Chases Chickens Through the Ages

AVERY ROME – Millennium Philadelphia

DAVE CALDWELL – New York Times Speed Show: How NASCAR Won the Heart of America

MICHAEL  E. RUANE – Sniper: Inside the Hunt for the Killers Who Terrorized the Nation; 1787: inventing America: A day-by-day account of the Constitutional Convention


Linda Hasert adds these names:


MAYA RAOWild Frontier: Chasing the American Dream in the Bakken Oil Fields (due out April 2018)

JOE LOGAN – Playing A Round: The Guide to Philadelphia-Area Golf Courses

KEN BOOKMANWhile the Pasta Cooks: 100 Sauces So Easy You Can Prepare the Sauce in the Time It Takes to Cook the Pasta; 2500 Recipes: Everyday to Extraordinary; One-Pot Chocolate Desserts: 50 Recipes for Making Chocolate Desserts from Scratch Using a Pot, A Spoon, and a Pan; One Pot Cakes: 60 Recipes for Cakes from Scratch Using a Pot, a Spoon, and a Pan; One-Pot Cookies: 60 Recipes for Making Cookies from Scratch Using a Pot, a Spoon, and a Pan; Dinner’s Ready: Turn a Single Meal Into a Week of Dinners  

MATT KATZAmerican Governor: Chris Christie’s Bridge to Redemption

ROSE CIOTTACruel Games: A Brilliant Professor, A Loving Mother, A Brutal Murder

DESMOND RYANHelix; Deadlines


BILL ECENBARGERKids for Cash: Two Judges, Thousands of Children, and a $2.6 Million Kickback Scheme; Pennsylvania Stories–Well Told; Walkin’ the Line: A Journey from Past to Present Along the Mason-Dixon;  Making Ideas Matter: My Life as a Policy Entrepreneur; Glory by the Wayside: The Old Churches of Hawaii

BARBARA DEMICK – Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea; Logavina Street: Life and Death in a Sarajevo Neighborhood; Besieged: Life Under Fire on a Sarajevo Street; Eat the Buddha (due out March 2018)

MIKE CAPUZZOThe Murder Room: In Which Three of the Greatest Detectives Use Forensic Science to Solve the World’s Most Perplexing Cold Cases; Close to Shore: A True Story of Terror in an Age of Innocence; Wild Things

GLEN MACNOW –  The Great Book of Philadelphia Sports Lists; Sports Great Allen Iverson; Sports Great Kobe Bryant; Sports Great Troy Aikman; Sports Great Charles Barkley; Sports Great Tiger Woods; Sports Great Kevin Garnett; Sports Great Alex Rodriguez; Sports Great Chris Webber; Sports Great Jeff Gordon; Cal Ripken, Jr.: Hall of Fame Baseball Superstar; Deion Sanders: Hall of Fame Football Superstar; Shaquille O’Neal: Star Center; David Robinson Star Center; Ken Griffey, Jr., Star Outfielder; The Philadelphia Flyers Hockey Team; The Philadelphia 76ers Basketball Team

ANTHONY GARGANO – NFL Unplugged: The Brutal, Brilliant World of Professional Football; A Sunday Pilgrimage: Six Days, Several Prayers and the Super Bowl; War in the Trenches: Blood, Pain, and Profanity: Inside Life in the NFL

ANTHONY GARGANO & GLEN MACNOW The Great Philadelphia Fan Book

ANGELO CATALDI & GLEN MACNOW – The Great Philadelphia Sports Debate

RAY DIDINGERThe New Eagles Encyclopedia; One Last Read: The Collected Works of the World’s Slowest Sportswriter; On God’s Squad: The Story of Norm Evans; Wil the Thrill: The Untold Story of Wilbert Montgomery; The Super Bowl: Celebrating a Quarter-Century of America’s Greatest Game; Football America: Celebrating Our National Passion; Pittsburgh Steelers; The Professionals: Portraits of NFL Stars by America’s Most Prominent Illustrators

RAY DIDINGER & GLEN MACNOWThe Ultimate Book of Sports Movies: Featuring the 100 Greatest Sports Films of All Time

SAM CARCHIDI – Standing Tall: The Kevin Everett Story; If These Walls Could Talk: Philadelphia Flyers; Miracle in the Making: The Adam Taliaferro Story;

SAM CARCHIDI & RAY DIDINGERBill Campbell: The Voice of Philadelphia Sports

KATE FAGAN What Made Maddy Run: The Secret Struggles and Tragic Death of an All-American Teen; The Reappearing Act: Coming Out as Gay on a College Basketball Team Led by Born-Again Christians

C.S. MANEGOLDTen Hills Farm: The Forgotten History of Slavery in the North; In Glory’s Shadow: Shannon Faulkner, The Citadel, and a Changing America

DAVID HILTBRANDDeader Than Disco, Killer Solo, Dying to Be Famous

DAVID TUCKERLate for Work; Days When Nothing Happens

LUCINDA FLEESONWaking Up in Eden: In Pursuit of an Impassioned Life on an Imperiled Island




“Crossing the Bar” by Tennyson

Richard Wickboldt, one brother among four who sailed in the American merchant marine, died recently  in Michigan. His brother,  George, 24, died on the Marine Electric. Another Wickboldt son, Steven, was killed in 1982 in an explosion aboard the ship Golden Dolphin.
After George’s death, his parents, having lost two sons to the sea and having two sons still at sea,  asked Richard to leave the merchant marine, which he did, but as noted below answered an emergency call from SUNY in 2014 to man a training cruise.

My sincere sympathies to the Wickboldt family.

No obituary information is yet available, but here is Bill Halloran’s remembrance.

This from Bill Halloran
Class of 1982,

I have sad news to pass along. I received correspondence from the Wickboldt family that Richard Wickboldt, SUNY Maritime class of 1976, had suddenly passed away last weekend. Rich lived in Ann Arbor, MI with his wife and daughter. The family was in the process of planning for a service to be conducted in Ann Arbor MI this weekend. The family indicated that they will eventually arrange for another service in New York sometime in the future and they will let me know the details at that time. That is all I have to report at this time.

I recently went out to dinner with Richard, the night before his 40th class of 1976 reunion, on Thursday September 29th. All was well, he was busy with work, planning for his daughter’s college next year, and caring for his parents in NH with frequent visits.

My Memories of Richard Wickboldt
My name is William J. Halloran Jr.. I was George Wickboldt’s classmate at SUNY Maritime College from 1978-1982. I first met Richard Wickboldt way back in 1979 during our MUG SUNY Maritime College training cruise when he was the “much feared” Watch Engineer. I distinctly remember being in the lower engine room on watch with George.  Both of us were in our boiler coveralls, drenched in sweat, face to face, wavering from the intense heat and the roll of the ship. I asked George if the rumor was true……was “that guy”…. the Watch Engineer his brother?? George just stood there with a sort of a half smile & half grin and said “yeah”. For some reason, I then felt a bit safer minus the fear but still somewhat “on guard”. Richard had the reputation of being “the Sgt. Stryker type” of the engine room (as played by John Wayne – Sands of Iwo Jima). Richard was flunking some of the upper class men for their watch grades on cruise. Watch Engineer Wickboldt news stories among the cadets would spread like wild fire daily on the ship.

After a very long period of time, we crossed paths again, as shipmates for three months during the SUNY Maritime College Summer training cruise in 2014. On a very short notice (few days till departure) we both answered an emergency call from the school to fill MT slots on the ships billet. We reunited in the officers mess upon reporting on board for duty. We worked together training the cadets- Richard was an Engineering Training Instructor & I was the Watch Engineer. We were task masters of the engineering cadets keeping in step with the traditions of the school as we had known them to be. That was our reference point, plain & simple. The irony was that the modern day SUNY Maritime was not what it was back in our day, so we were in shock just as much as the cadets were from us. There were many twists and turns making the cruise very interesting, challenging and rewarding for the both of us. We both got along well like brothers who never were separated. Our minds thought alike in many aspects. Connected without the cord. For jokes, laughs, etc…everything. Rich’s mind was as sharp as ever pertaining to all things engine room. We shared together many sea stories, life experiences, opinions, we learned from each other……and from the cadets. We also met many different alumni, officers and ships staff whom added to the great training endeavor.

Rich enjoyed very much being out to sea again. It was definitely his calling. That life style fit him well…..and he had missed it so much. His sea going career (1976-1983) occurred at the end of a great era for shipping-out in a much different world from the present day.

I’m glad I answered the telephone on the day I got the call from Conrad Youngren and the push from my wife “to go” on the 2014 training cruise. Initially I had replied no. Since the cruise; we had our lil’ reunions, kept in touch on the phone and exchanged email. We texted often.

In retrospect, the greatest gift for me is – I now know what the experience would have been like to have had an older brother by being Rich Wickboldt’s shipmate for the last two and a half years. And I will miss him as such.

See pages 5 & 7

(I had hoped this would happen and was figuring out how to introduce the families.  They beat me to it.)

(The daughter of Ray Steele, a seaman rescued from the Pendleton, and the daughter of Bernie Webber, the rescuer, met more than 60 years after the 1952 rescue.)


This week my husband, Joe and I made a Bucket List Trip to Chatham Cape Cod!
We were treated to a personal tour of Coast Guard Station, Lighthouse, beach and everything in Chatham. It was magical for us. Through the Coast Guard we met a wonderful gentleman who is active in the restoration and maintenance of the CG36500, who introduced us to no other than Patty Hamilton, Bernie Webber’s Daughter!! A once in a lifetime meeting that we both will cherish forever. We actually got to board the 36500! I sat where my Daddy sat 64 yrs ago after being rescued!
It was magical! Totally unplanned and worked out to be surreal! For all of us!

Renee  Steele Pellegrino


This is Patty Webber Hamilton,(left) and Renee Steele Pellegrino,(right) celebrating our meeting. Her Daddy saved my Daddy. We will be friends forever!DaughtersKids

(Author’s note:  Members of the Steele family contacted me after reading my book, “Two Tankers Down,” which recounts the wreck of the Fort Mercer and Pendleton off Cape Cod in 1952.  The Steele family story is one I would have loved to have told to Bernie when he still lived.)

Of the 32 men rescued from the SS Pendleton, for sure one was a father.

Perhaps it played out this way for all 32 who were plucked up by Bernie Webber and his crew that night off Cape Cod in February 1952.  I’d like to think so.

But what is certain in this case and many other rescues performed by the Coast Guard and other search and rescue ops worldwide is this:

You often don’t just rescue one person.  Often, indirectly, you rescue families.  You don’t save just one person. You may save a whole generation. And the next.

But as I said, in this case, they saved a father — a guy named Ray.

Here’s what happened in February 1952.

Raymond Guy Steele was 25 years old when he climbed down the ladder of the sinking SS Pendleton and was plucked from the sea and certain death by Webber and his crew aboard the CG 36500.  Ray

He was the sixth of nine children, raised in East St. Louis, in a one bedroom house by a family of Pentecostal farmers forced off the land in Southern Illinois into the city to earn a living.

His brother, Roy, was killed in the Battle of the Bulge.  Another brother, Russell, joined the merchant marine — though statistically, that was more dangerous than Army infantry.  Ray followed those footsteps and when he was 18 became a merchant mariner as the war wound down.

He was a good looking kid and saw the world in the booming post-war years. “I’ve been everywhere, sometimes twice,” he would say later.

“Wow!  The whole world was opened,” Marie, his wife, would write. “He could go anywhere, see everything, do anything, and he did!

And in case some shore-leave brawl pops into your head, that’s not what Ray considered fun.

“He always liked to end up in New York City and visit all the jazz clubs on 52nd Street. He had a life-long love of jazz…”

And these were not jazz for the chumps clubs.  He hung at Kelley’s Stables. There,  a new bee bop sound emerged with advanced harmonies and altered chords. Thelonious Monk and Miles Davis were there but Ray came to hear the Hawk — the great saxophonist Coleman Hawkins.

So he was not your ordinary able bodied seaman — if there is such a thing as an ordinary able bodied seaman.  He was, it is fair to say, a handsome fellow.  Look at pictures today and a teenager would say, “Your grandad was hot!” Ray Hot Shot

But he was also quiet, sometimes even shy. He thought about meaning.  If ever he had a son, what would he name him?

In 1952, the top boy baby name were James, Robert, John, Michael, David.

But Ray particularly liked Coleman Hawkins — so much the thought formed in Ray’s mind: 

Coleman would be a great name for a son if ever he was to have one.  

“Coleman” was not among the top ten baby names of 1952, nor the top 50, nor the top one hundred.  Not a lot of white merchant mariners were naming their sons after African American pioneers of the bebop sound, but that, as they would say now, was just how he rolled.

Somewhere in there on leave, he returned home to East St. Louis, just in time to have a friend of the family introduce him to Marie, a lovely young woman and freshly minted high school graduate.  She was flattered that this handsome 23-year-old man of the world asked her out on a date but saw something beyond that in his nature.  He was “between ships” and did not rush “off the beach” back to sea very fast at all.   The two of them were together all that summer.

He was not gone long when Marie got a call from Ray.  Would she meet him where his ship was docked in Baltimore? Would she come right away?

She did and his intent was clear. Deeply in love, the couple hopped a cross-country Greyhound to New Orleans and were married.

busRenee, their first child, was born 18 months later in June 1951.  Ray was making good money shipping out.  He continued.

Ray sailed for seven years after the war, making 61 trips.  He had some sweet gigs in the banana trades, on the “white fleet,” to South and Central America and back.

And there was plenty to do more than bananas.  America was exporting, importing, trading with a world being rebuilt.  The country throbbed with an industrial hum that ran on energy from oil and gas carried in tankers.

So it was a routine thing in February 1952 when in Louisiana he stepped on board the SS Pendleton, a T-2 tanker built during World War II to win the war, for a voyage north to New England.  The ships were made hurriedly but won the war for America, supplying Great Britain and our armies and navies with the fuel needed to defeat the bad guys.

The problem was, they kept sailing.  Inside the steel was a high amount of sulfur which at low temperatures made the metal behave more like a crystal.  The problem was known but was said to be managed by huge metal straps wound round the hull.

Off Chatham in February 1952, those straps did not hold.  Two T-2 tankers, the SS Fort Mercer and the SS Pendleton, split in half.  The Coast Guard station in Chatham scrambled its small boats to rescue the crew as cutters swept toward the rescue from miles away. Pendleton_Half_Ship_2

Ray and the crew of the Pendleton maintained their cool.  They were in the stern half of the Pendleton — still upright and somewhat navigable.  The poor folks in the bow had been swept away and were just gone.

The Pendleton mess boiled up eggs for the men and they held them in their pockets — both as food and as make-shift hand warmers.  It’s not improbable that Ray heard “Hawk” Hawkin’s riff on “Body and Soul” cross through his mind as he pondered his fate.

From the rail of the broken ship, the odds seemed very bad for Ray to be fathering any sons or daughters, whatever he might name them. All those dreams ended here.  Any rescue attempt through these seas would be a suicide run.

Then, through 60-foot waves, with no compass, no radar, no guidance from this earth, Bernie Webber and the CG 36500 came from nowhere on an impossible mission that was — impossibly — accomplished.


CHATHAM, Mass. (May 15)–The original crew of CG 36500 sets sail again 50 years later in commemoration of the anniversary of the tanker Pendleton rescue off the coast of Chatham, Mass., in February 1952. The Pendleton split in two during a fierce storm boasting 60-foot seas and hurricane force winds. All but one of the 33 crewmen onboard the Pendleton were saved by the crew of 36500. USCG photo by PA3 Amy Thomas

The men filed down the ladder and all but one were saved.  Webber and the crew brought them into Chatham, where the townspeople gave them comfort, food and dry clothing.  Webber collapsed in a bed and as he slept the crew members, Ray included, sneaked into his room and emptied saltwater-wet dollar bills from their wallets onto the dresser.  Pendleton_Relief_sm

There were awards of course.  Medals. Bernie was a hero.  And from my hours talking with him, I know for sure he knew that he and the crew did something good.  But it was truly overshadowed in his mind — and the minds of the others — by the one guy they lost.

This was no false humility and it was not to be argued with. (I tried.) There’s no giving comfort to a rescuer regarding those who were lost.  They have their own math, count their own sums. 

But you can sure show the lives of those who were saved — and I would  have loved it if Bernie were alive now so I could show him what he gave to Ray, his family and the world.

So Bernie, in the reverse format  of “It’s a Wonderful Life,” George Bailey style, here’s what would NOT have happened had you not made that trip, but did because you did.

Ray stopped shipping out after the Pendleton.  He returned home to his young daughter and into the arms of Marie.

In March, just a few weeks after the rescue, she learned she was pregnant.

In December, Ray and Marie had a child, a son.  And they named him Coleman of course.

Ray found land work.  They returned to Illinois to be around family.  Eventually, they moved to the river town of Alton.  Quiet and introspective personally, professionally Ray was a natural salesman.  He sold ads for a radio station first, moved to insurance and then to autos.

The couple had two more children, Mark in May of 1955 and Laura in June 1955.Kids

Outside the job, “Ray was shy and didn’t socialize much,” Marie wrote me. “We had his big family to visit with.  It was all he needed. At home he was full of jokes, stories — and music! … music everywhere.”

Coleman looked just like his dad, but it was Mark who had the musical gene. He played bass in local bands for years.

And of course, the kids grew up.

Marie writes:

“Renee had Tony; Coleman had Carrie and Nathan; Mark had Damon, Spencer and Ryan; and Laura had Amanda and Chad.

“Now we are having Great Grand Children, Damon has Mason and in April Chad will have Ben…


“We are truly Blessed, Ray would have adored them…”25th anniversary

“Ray developed Parkinson’s Disease in 1996, no known cause, but the doctors were interested in the fact that he sailed so many ‘Banana Boats that filled the holds with pesticides…”

“Ray passed away 10/15/2006-8 weeks to the day that he fell and broke his hip-1 week after his 79th birthday.”

Which, given his life expectancy in February 1952 , is what you would call a right good long run.

The generations continue.


“The 5 oldest Grand children, Carrie,Tony,Amanda,Chad and Damon have all graduated from College and the girls have their Masters,  Carrie in Art , and Amanda in Social Work. All are ‘gainfully employed,’ what more could you ask for?

“Thank you again for writing ‘2 Tankers Down’ it has brought back so many memories to share with the next generation.”

Ahh, thank you Marie and Ray and the entire family for sharing this. And showing that rescuers, often rescue more than one person.

And happy Father’s Day Bernie and Ray.

And to all Coast Guard rescuers everywhere of all genders and nationalities.

You do good.  Far beyond what you see first hand.  Or could ever imagine.

For years and years, through the people you save, and through their people, you do good.


Below are notes and pictures from the family



Coleman and family


movie poster

Hi, here’s my short bio about myself:)

I am 32 years old and live in St. Louis, Missouri. I have my Masters in Social Work and work for the state of Illinois. I am passionate about my work and am one of the fortunate ones who enjoys their job everyday! I am extremely social, love trying new restaurants and going to new fun spots in the city. I love traveling and keep myself pretty busy with an active social life.

I loved your book, Two Tankers Down, as well as the movie, The Finest Hours. I grew up spending a lot of time at my grandparents house, and spending a lot of time with Gramps, that’s what his grandkids called him. I had heard the story about his shipwreck, but too be perfectly honest, as a child I thought it was a, “tall tale” that gramps had embellished to make a good story. I mean how can a tanker break in half, stay afloat, and the crew steered it??? That was the most amazing part to me about this story, the unbeliveablenuss and what a brave man my grandfather was. In the years where he spent watching all of us, he didn’t have any desire to travel or at sometimes really leave the house. He would always say,” I’ve been everywhere, some places twice, I want to stay home and be with my family.” At the time I couldn’t begin to understand what he meant, but I knew that we were the most important thing to him, and that was really all that mattered. There are a million great things I could say about gramps; he was funny, kind, mild mannered, and loving, but above all he had integrity, compassion, and a love for knowledge and those are things I’ve always strived to posses as well. Thank you for your research into the Pendleton, and making my grandfather live for eternity in your writings!

Amanda Kraner

Hello Robert,

My name is Chad Kraner and I am Ray’s grandson. My mother is Laura Steele Kraner and I am 31 years old. I was very excited to hear the news the Disney was making a movie about the Pendleton. It was a story all of us grandkids loved to hear my Grandpa tell. My Grandfather was an extremely kind man and had a great sense of humor. I can remember sitting on his front porch watching cars go by and trying to guess which direction the next car would come from. Every time we would come to visit he would give us a dollar before we left and it just meant the world to me. We had so many good times playing wiffle ball in the back yard or watching Notre Dame football games. I’m smiling now thinking about all of the memories with Gramps and I miss him a lot. I know he would have loved reading your book and reading it to the next generation of Steeles to tell them the story of the SS Pendleton.


The most significant “reveal” at the US Coast Guard Marine Board of Investigation into the sinking of the El Faro and the deaths of all 33 aboard her is simply this:

There are no “parties of interest” truly critical of Tote, the owner of the El Faro.

Marine Boards of Investigation are odd that way.  People think of them as courtrooms but in fact, there is no separate prosecution or defense.  The board serves as both, with “parties of interest” attorneys allowed to question witnesses.

At the Marine Electric Marine Board, attorneys representing the officers and survivors passionately criticized Marine Transport Lines, the owner of the old coal collier, which sank in 1983.

There is no similar dynamic here, a fact clearly displayed by the questioning today and one fascinating “reveal.”


We’ll get to that.  First, the new substantive facts?

One former master said the company was reluctant to report holes in the hold of one vessel and there was poor “ground support.”

Moreover the ship was “tender”after cargo containers were added above deck. And the boilers and condensers on the ship were a continuing problem.

Another said he was asked to depart at times with his GM (loading balance) just slightly out of whack.  Others said the ship “was a Cadillac” without vulnerabilities and that the company repaired defects quickly.

Also,  weather officials said they often delayed updates on the path of Hurricane Joaquin out of concern that they would lose credibility with the general public.

In short, the testimony took some small chunks out of Tote, but not big ones. And much of the criticism coming from the former masters seemed less than damning.

Here was the “reveal:”

A scorched earth cross examination of Capt. Jack Hearn, the most critical of the ex-masters, came not from Tote Maritime, but from  William Bennett, the attorney for Teresa Davidson, the widow of Captain Michael Davidson who captained the El Faro on her last voyage.

Bennett confronted Hearn with a letter that suggested he might have been fired because of drug smuggling aboard a Tote vessel.

And while Hearn said he did not resign as a result of the letter, but rather agreed to a negotiated departure, and that his reporting ship damage may also have led to his troubles, the “drug” assertion clouded his testimony, which had been cautiously critical of Tote.

Why would Bennett, representing the interests of the dead captain and his estate, attack Hearn, who was critical of Tote?

Why use a flamethrower on a colleague of Davidson’s who seemed to testify forthrightly and was at best mildly critical of Tote?

Why, as one Twitter post suggested, was Tote silent wile Bennet did the heavy lifting?

There are a number of possible reasons.

While Davidson may seem to be clearly a victim of the sinking, his estate could be liable if he is shown to have acted negligently.  So any suggestion that Davidson abided Tote shortcomings  — as described by Hearn — comes into Bennet’s cross hairs and firing range.

Bennett clearly has stated that the captain received poor weather advice and the accident essentially was caused by inaccurate weather forecasts.

This explanation does a couple of things.  It relieves Davidson’s estate of future liability.  And it also “works” for Tote.

For the company to be proved liable for large sums of money, plaintiffs must show active negligence on the part of the company.  They can choose to stress a number of defenses.  One is that the officers were negligent.  Another might be that the weather forecasts were inaccurate.

Davidson’s widow  already has settled with Tote for a sum of $500,000 and an unknown amount for the pain and suffering of the captain.  So there is no incentive for Bennett to show Tote was negligent, and every reason for him to attack anyone who suggests the captain was negligent by following Tote negligent practices.

Such are the odd natures of Coast Guard Marine Boards.  I am not saying Tote and Bennett are in league.  I am saying their interests are aligned. And I mean no ill will or comment toward Davidson’s widow or Bennett. She must do what is right for her family and defend Davidson’s reputation they way she sees fit.  He is serving his client well and doing his job in fierce defense of Davidson’s reputation and liability.

But the way the cards have flopped, that leaves no one among the “parties of interest” to contest Tote’s story.  There is no adversarial point of view among the “party of interest” attorneys representing ABS, some cargo loaders and shipyards.  All of them are well-served if Tote did everything right and ill-served if Tote deficiencies are revealed.

Quite a change in the hearings I covered at length for the sinking of the SS Poet and the SS Marine Electric.  There, strong advocates were present critical of the company.  In the Marine Electric, there were survivors who testified as well. They had strong incentives to protect their reputations and to lay the ground work for a meaningful civil suit.

In the case of the El Faro, there are no parties of interest critical of the company.  That role rests with the board alone to pose the tough questions.

Those questions may seem hazy after three days of technical testimony, but they are important.

An old ship, twice the age at which most are retired, lost power at sea, flooded from an insecure hatch, and foundered in the path of a powerful hurricane.

Some party needs to be interested in why this happened.  Someone needs to probe to see whether Tote acted admirably, conducted itself properly, simply has a plausible alibi, or in fact is negligent.

Fortunately, the board has skin in this game.  The questions from the NTSB and the Coast Guard are focused and sharp. They seem resolute.


The big question remains:  Will the “survivors” testify?  Will the “black box” at the bottom of the Caribbean be retrieved and the data adequate to show what went on.

In the end, that may best serve all parties of interest, whether all parties are interested or not.




Print and television journalists don’t always get along and as an ink-stained wretch, I continue to despair at the level of national cable political coverage — and increasingly the network news as well.

Lester Holt advanced my theory that a lot of anchors have just tossed in the news towel and do professional wrestling commentary — in between product plugs of their network programming. He nearly levitated the other day conveying the exciting day of mud slinging among the Republican candidates capped off by Chris Christie’s endorsement of Donald Trump.  I expected Holt and a reincarnated Gorgeous George to throw a chair into the ring, tag-team Rubio and body slam Christie.

So when I traveled to cover the US Coast Guard Marine Board of Investigation into the sinking of the SS El Faro earlier this month, I was prepared for a similar sort of infotainment.

What I got instead was wall-to-wall intelligent assessments by real journalists.  The reporters tag teamed the hearings and “instant blogged” them as well.  They probed into the arcane world of maritime America, and gave some pretty good accountings of how the American Bureau of Shipping treated inspections.

There were dramatic moments of course.  The last words of the captain.  The testimony of the USCG rescue swimmer, who recovered a body but had to leave it because another call came in reporting a potential survivor.

But the reporters and the reports did not stop there.  Most of the television stations went the full ten days, staffed and stoked.  They streamed the entire procession — and used a two camera shoot to do that.

The coverage, particularly from Scott Johnson at  NewsJax4 and Ken Amaro at First Coast News, was tough, accurate and fair. At some point during the coverage, I would find myself checking in with their posts and broadcasts to see what I might have missed. I don’t miss much, so that’s a compliment.

This gives me great hope.  El Faro is not the only sinking ship in America today and local newspapers too often are foundering. It’s good news that in Jacksonville, the electronic version of the Fourth Estate is alive and well — and actually quite sharp.




Three old war horses from the era of the SS Marine Electric showed up at the formal US Coast Guard Marine Board of Investigation  into the sinking of the El Faro.  I was one of them.  Michael Carr, then a Coast Guard salvage diver was another. And the guy who deserves the most honor, Peter Lauridsen, who was the head of the Marine Board that looked into the causes of the wreck — and set new policy that safeguarded our vessels for 30 years.

All three of us had no business reason for showing up. All of us thought we just had to, that we were compelled to represent the men lost on the Marine Electric and the brave men, some of them gone now, who stood up to make sure the system worked well.

Michael Carr was kind in reflecting on my book, “Until the Sea Shall Free Them” and my portrayal of him.  “You got me ABSOLUTELY right,” he said.  “I could not believe it.”

Carr is an experienced sea captain these days and has posted some of the best commentary about the El Faro.  It is highly reasoned, analytical, and brings together many disciplines.  I may have been his favorite read then. He’s mine now

Back then, he was a salvage diver — and a hot-headed Coast Guard lieutenant who as he says, “should have been court martialed.”

As the choppers began to search for the Marine Electric off the shores of Virginia, Carr announced to his commanding officer that he was going along to help get the men into the chopper baskets.  This at a time when there was no rescue swimmer service in the Coast Guard.  And when Carr was not assigned to “SAR.”

You are a salvage diver, his commanding officer said.  You’ll get yourself killed.  Carr responded with an expletive that suggested his commander should do some odd things to himself and that Carr was going out on the chopper.


Peter Lauridsen, Michael Carr

The tempers cooled.  The order to stand down stood. Only after the Marine Electric was the rescue swimmer school founded within the Coast Guard, but Carr should perhaps be considered its first volunteer.

If I nailed Carr’s character, Peter Lauridsen was the guy I shortchanged.  Certainly, the book honored him as the head of the Marine Board that set new standards for ship safety and marine boards in general.  Certainly, he was one of the good guys and hero.

But in writing the book, I never reached Peter for the sort of long de-brief needed to do it right.  I know I put out the call.  I’m not sure he ever got it.

What I did not do was make the second and third and fourth calls — the ones that are part of my regular trade craft.  To this day, I am not sure how this happened.  I talked at length with the other two board members. I missed Peter completely. My fault, not his.

Only years later as I came to know Peter better at talks and presentations did I understand that the book was far poorer for my slip-up.

For one thing, one of the characters in the book suggested that Lauridsen was somehow gunning for admiral.  The quote was right. That is the way the character saw the world. But nothing in Peter’s character tells me that assessment is correct. He is a man of good intentions and honor.   I ought to have made that clearer in my words. I ought to have sought out Peter’s words and insights into the board.

So that is one of the few regrets I have about Until the Sea Shall Free Them.

My apologies, readers. My apologies, Peter.


As the US Coast Guard Marine Board of Investigation ponders why the American flag vessel El Faro sank with its crew of 33, Frank Peake, the former president of the company that owned the ship, faces a stark choice:

Surrender himself to the federal penitentiary at Fort Dix, New Jersey, to begin serving five years – the toughest sentence ever handed out for anti-trust price fixing.

Or appeal a second time in an attempt to soften the sentence – and delay the date he must begin serving the sentence.

“He has 45 days to report to Fort Dix,” said a clerk for Judge Daniel R. Dominguez of the U.S. District Court for the District of Puerto Rico in San Juan last week. “Or 90 days if he files an appeal.”

“We do plan to appeal in March,” said the office of Peake’s attorney, David Oscar Markus on Friday.

Perhaps understandably, the shipping company’s troubled background is not something Tote Services Inc. and Tote Maritime, Inc., have chosen to disclose at the Coast Guard hearing.  The rate-fixing felonies have not been directly linked to marine safety issues.

Nevertheless, company officials were asked by the Coast Guard at the hearings to brief the panel on the significant history of the company. A whole section of the opening days of hearings was labeled, “Who is Tote Services, Inc., and Tote Maritime, Inc.”  Captain Jason D. Neubauer, the chairman of the marine board, told company executives that that part of the hearing was intended to “get to know all about the company, its culture and history and how you go about making decisions.”

The Tote executives who appeared before the hearing were not at the company during its troubles with price fixing and side stepped the general “historical” questions by stating they could not speak to history before they joined.

“Well, yes, this is information that a Marine Board of Investigation would want to know,” said a retired Coast Guard captain attending the hearings.  “I suppose they were not compelled to tell them about past company felonies, but it wasn’t exactly transparent or candid, was it?”

The price-fixing conspiracy, which the company pleaded guilty to, ran from 2002 through 2008 when the FBI raided Sea Star Lines offices.  However, the fallout of the case continues today with major shippers suing Tote for damages they say they suffered due to the price-fixing.

The controversy also appeared to reach far above Sea Star Lines (now Tote Maritime) to Saltchuk, the privately owned corporation that controls Tote companies.   Leonard Shapiro, a founding partner of Saltchuk, has been deposed about his role in price fixing and in 2013 said through his attorneys that he was being investigated for possible criminal activity.

Peake was convicted in January 2013 and lost his appeal of the sentencing in October 2015 – coincidentally just two weeks after the El Faro disappeared.

The company that owned El Faro at the time, Sea Star Lines, pleaded guilty to felony price fixing charges and paid more than $14 million in fines. The company later changed names to Tote Maritime, Inc., which owned the El Faro at the time it sank.

The rate fixing conspiracy was described by federal prosecutors as one of the worst in the history of shipping, one that cost consumers millions in inflated prices because major shippers met to make sure prices were high and cargoes distributed among the carriers.    For those reasons, the prosecutors sought and won what they described as the toughest sentence in the history of anti-trust convictions.

“The sentence imposed today reflects the serious harm these conspirators inflicted on American consumers, both in the continental United States and in Puerto Rico,” said Bill Baer, Assistant Attorney General in charge of Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division at the time.

The conspiracy was said by witnesses in the trial to reach far up into the Tote organization and involved Leonard Shapiro, a founding principle of both Saltchuk and Sea Star.

Peter Baci, a Sea Star executive who was convicted and served four years in prison, said Peake and Shapiro urged him to meet with competitive lines and agree on rates.

Sea Star was losing $20 million a year at the time in 2002 and asked Baci to reverse that, according to Walter A. Pavlo, Jr., a specialist in white-collar crime who has researched the crime and written for Forbes and other publications about the conspiracy.

Pavlo wrote:

“Crunching some numbers, Peter determined that SSL needed real price increases to generate in excess of $40 million in sales, which would earn it a good profit. …

“…. with this plan, SSL was a turn around success. In 2002, SSL had lost money but in 2003 it had its first profitable year…. with other profitable years to follow.

“The attitude around the office of SSL had changed from concern about the company staying open to plans for company get-togethers and bonuses….Everyone in the ownership group was happy with the performance of the company and how Peter was managing things.”

It is unclear whether Shapiro is still associated with Saltchuk.  He declined to say at a 2013 court hearing. Queries to Saltchuk went unanswered, as did a call to Shapiro’s attorney.  At one point, Shapiro’s attorneys in 2013 maintained he was under criminal investigation and therefore could not answer civil discovery questions from plaintiffs.  The Justice Department declined comment when asked if Shapiro was under criminal investigation.

In Jacksonville, the family members of the victims of the El Faro huddle together in the first pew of the US Coast Guard Marine Board of Investigation and strain to hear every word spoken by witnesses, trying to understand the odd and complex world that governs humans once they step off land onto a ship and sail into our last true wilderness — the oceans of the world.

In this case, they strain to have explained to them the unexplainable:

How did a disjointed set of policies and laws send the crew of the El Faro to their deaths in a 40-year-old ship sailed into a Force Four storm.

They may never fully understand it. I don’t and I’ve been at this awhile.

I’ve spent thirty years writing about the sea, from an investigative standpoint. I’ve sat through two major marine boards and heard the sobs of two sets of family members — one from the SS Poet, the other from the SS Marine Electric — as they learn the particular set of tragic facts that sent their loved ones on a doomed voyage that ought never to have been undertaken.  Many of those families are my friends still today.

And it struck me again yesterday how preposterous it is that as a regular course of affairs our general news media is just not much interested in what occurs on the other two-thirds of the world that is not land.

Oh, when something happens on the ocean that then washes up on land — oil, refugees, red tides, bodies — the interest piques for awhile.

The one exception to this rule in my prime was The Philadelphia Inquirer of the era of editor Gene Roberts.  Gene assigned me to cover the maritime beat and gave me the resources to follow the story wherever it took me.

It took me on a five year journey — and when that journey was over, the US Coast Guard cracked down on old rust buckets in its fleet, sent 70 of them to the scrapping yards, required survival suits on merchant vessels and created the now famous US Coast Rescue Swimmers service.

The one exception to this lack of coverage rule in modern times comes from the editors at The New York Times and its remarkable long-term project with the working title The Outlaw Oceans. 

To date, the series has given first hand accounts of modern day slave ships, murder at sea and the modern day conditions that make the life of an international sea farer float somewhere between feudal indenture and outright human bondage.

Ian Urbina is the author of these stories and he has risked life and limb to understand and report the issues.  The Times for its part has invested in a multi-year story on a topic that could consume a lifetime of work.

And it could save many lives in the process and help lay down new laws and policies that more fairly and justly govern the wilderness that is the sea.

It could also comfort the afflicted — the two rows of the relatives of survivors in Jacksonville trying to understand why their loved ones were sent in a 40-year-old ship into a Force Four hurricane.

In all ways, this “second wave” of maritime reporting seems already to have overtaken the first wave started by Roberts and by me.

The secret of course is to keep hammering.  At the Inquirer, I was ready to  give up hope of reforming the system at year two.

Gene Roberts advised us we had just cleared our throat on the matter. Three years later the maritime institutions acknowledge the problem and made the reforms.

Here’s to that tradition, carried on now by The Times in one of the best journalism projects, land-based or ocean-going, I’ve seen in many a day.

And here’s to all major publications and news outlets covering the other two-thirds of the world.










Authors need to break the habit of checking their sales ranking on Amazon.  It’s never fulfilling and you always feel guilty that you’ve succumbed to such commercial interest.

And yet those books do put food on the table.  And when I checked Until the Sea Shall Free Them, I see the old girl still has nailed down the Amazon  #1 Best Seller in Maritime Law slot.

A narrow distinction perhaps, but I’ll take it.  Admiralty attorneys, in my experience, are more fun than actuaries — and actuaries are a gas.  And it’s not bad for a book that was published 14 years ago.

— Bob