Jonathan Hamilton, age 14, died in the fire aboard the SS Yarmouth Castle on November 13, 1965. He embarked on a Caribbean cruise from Miami, Florida for Nassau on November 12, 1965 with 376 passengers and 176 crewmen aboard, a total of 552 people. Jonathan was on the cruise with his family. His Mother Mary Hamilton was severely injured in the fire, and lost a leg afterwards.
In room 610, located on the main deck in the bow of the ship, a fire had begun smoldering on the evening of November 12th. Debates would rage as to how the fire started. Some say arson, others say stupidity was the culprit. Though arson was never proven, stupidity was.There was no sprinkler head in room 610. Other sprinklers head were not working. The United States Coast Guard (USCG) investigation showed that room 610 was not empty contrary to what the Yarmouth Castle Greek Captain, Byron Voutsinas, age 35, testified, instead full of old mattresses, papers, old wall panels, broken chairs and other highly flammable debris such as paint, floor cleaner and wax.
After the fire, more stupidity came to light. The USCG found no general alarm was sounded to warn passengers. The radio man claimed he had left his post, and when he became aware of the fire, could not make his way back to the radio shack. It was this same explanation given for the crew of Yarmouth Castle never calling out a SOS distress signal to alert those vessels able to assist in the rescue.
During recent renovations, the windows to outside cabins were sloppily painted, resulted in window frames being painted shut. Painting everything and everything was also the problem with lifeboat ropes painted so thick, they would not slide through the winches so they could be lowered.
Some of these contributing factors to the deaths of the 88 passengers and two crew aboard were confirmed by Oscar Benet. Benet and his wife were booked into cabin 703 right above room 610. Benet said that the window in his cabin was painted shut, he had to kick it out so they could evacuation after finding fire in the hallway. When they made it to a lifeboat, it was full.
Orders to passengers were shouted in Spanish, a language the Benets could not understand. They made it to a second lifeboat, but the ropes to lower it were painted and they stuck in the winches. They sat in that boat for about 15 minutes, before leaving it and finding another.
Of the thirteen lifeboats, only six were launched. The first lifeboat launched had 20 people in it. Of the 20, only four were passengers, none of them women or children. The other 16 were comprised of the captain and 15 crew members. The next two lifeboats also were full of crew.
These lifeboats arrived at the freighter Finnpulp. The Finnpulp had been eight miles ahead of the Yarmouth Castle when crew noticed on their radar that Yarmouth had slowed, and looking back could see flames coming from her.
The captain, John Lehto ordered his freighter turned around full steam ahead and organized the rescue. He pulled his vessel along side Yarmouth Castle and began evacuating passengers right onto his ship. When flames pushed him back, he backed off, lowered his lifeboat and sent it to Yarmouth Castle. Imagine his surprise, when the first of Yarmouth Castle's own lifeboats arrived with her cowardly captain and crew aboard and only four passengers. Lehto became angry, took the four passengers aboard, but ordered Voutsinas and his crew back to their ship to assist in the rescue of their passengers. Had two rescue ships not arrived on the scene almost immediately, the survivors would have been 99% crew.
Later, Voutsinas would testify that he was not a coward, and in fact was the last to leave his ship, an honor no captain takes lightly. The testimony of Captain Lehto cleared up any doubt as to the moral character and leadership of the young Captain Voutsinas, and most of his crew.
The passenger liner Bahama Star had been following Yarmouth Castle, and was about twelve miles behind her. Her captain, Carl Brown saw the smoke and fire aboard the Yarmouth Castle around 0220 hours and radioed the USCG. He increased his speed and raced toward the stricken cruise ship.