Rijeka – New York – Rijeka
If it hadn’t been for the Carpathia, we probably wouldn’t know anything about the last moments of the Titanic. On that terrible night, a hundred years ago, the destiny of one ship became indelibly linked with that of the other. That is why they are remembered in history together. The background for the story of the appearance of the Carpathia in the most famous maritime accident of the 20th century was formed by the Cunard Line, a shipping company which, in 1903, opened a regular passenger service on the Rijeka - New York - Rijeka route. The ships on that route transported economic emigrants from central Europe to the New World. On the outside, many people remember the recognizable red chimneys with a black ribbon at the top and a white dividing line between the black and the red part of the hull. The first ship to navigate on this route was the Aurania, later followed by the Pannonia, the Slavonia, the Ultonia, the Carmania, the Franconia, the Ivernia, the Laconia, the Saxonia and the Carpathia. According to data found in the documents, the last of these ships, the Carpathia, was launched from the Swan & Hunter shipyard in Newcastle, was 165 metres long, 20 metres wide and had the capacity of 13.564 GRT. The average journey in one direction over the Atlantic lasted approximately 18-20 days.
That fateful night
The Carpathia sailed into history on 11 April 1912, when it departed from the Port of New York, heading for Rijeka with 700 passengers. In the night of 15 April, the routine work activities were suddenly interrupted with SOS signals. Captain Arthur Henry Rostron did what was expected of him in such a situation – he ordered a deviation from the regular route and sailed at full speed towards the source of the signal, some 58 miles away. The maximum ship speed was 15 knots per hour, but when they turned off the heating system in order to direct all of their energy into the steam-engine, it even managed to reach 17.5 knots. It reached the place of the accident one hour and 40 minutes after the ship had sunk, at 4.10 am. The rescue of the victims lasted for four hours. On the night in which 1.459 passengers and crew disappeared forever, one of Carpathia's crew members, 18 year old citizen of Rijeka Giuseppe (Josip) Car, rushed to join his colleagues in the dramatic rescue of the survivors by bringing them to the safety of Carpathia’s deck. At the time he had only been working on the Carpathia for a little over one month. He had been employed on 7 March 1912 in Liverpool and registered in the crew list under number 304. He was not the only Croat onboard the Carpathia; there were over 70 people (a quarter of the total crew) there from the Hrvatsko primorje and Istria. Car was a waiter and his salary was three pounds. He and the rest of the crew members managed to bring 712 people onto the deck from the floating lifeboats. That was when one of the unknown passengers placed his lifejacket in the waiter’s hands. As a reminder of that dramatic night, Car took the lifejacket back to Rijeka.
The Carpathia, with its castaways on board, turned its bow in the opposite direction and sailed towards New York where it arrived after a three-day journey, in the evening hours of 18 April. The ship’s interrupted journey to Rijeka continued at 4 pm on 20 April. It reached the Port of Rijeka on 6 May with a, by now recognizable, name which the media had transmitted around the world. The inhabitants of Rijeka hurried to welcome the Carpathia and what followed is described by contemporaries as “ovations”. Nothing different could be expected. The Carpathia arrived before them as a ship-symbol of the heroic care for castaways, a symbol of unselfish humanity, largely owing to its Croatian crew. That image endures in the world’s maritime history to this day.
Some of this excitement can even be sensed by today’s visitors of the Port of Rijeka, overlooking the Orlando Pier (known as Rudolf’s pier at the time of the Carpathia), the place from which, a hundred years ago, the Carpathia had departed for New York and the place at which the enthusiastic inhabitants of Rijeka welcomed its return. Of course one cannot expect to see the Carpathia docked here today. In World War I the ship was used to transport military equipment and then, on 17 July 1918, it was hit by three torpedoes from a German submarine. It sank in two and a half hours. The same, if not greater, excitement can be felt at the sight of the lifejacket, the one brought by the young waiter Car to Rijeka. It is the only lifejacket from the Titanic located in Europe and is preserved in the Rijeka Maritime and Historical Museum of the Croatian Littoral.