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Israel Mourns Victims of Maritime Disaster

March 24, 1981
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— Israel mourned the dead in its worst maritime disaster as the first group of survivors returned home to tell of their harrowing hours in lifeboats battling gale force winds and 24-foot seas after the bulk carrier Mezada sank in the Atlantic near Bermuda on March 8.

Of the 35 persons aboard, 24 are known or presumed dead, among them the master of the 19,000 ton ship, Capt. Gera Levin, whose remains were returned to Israel and buried at Haifa last Thursday. Yehuda Rotem, general manager of the Zim Lines, owners of the Mezada, noted at the graveside that Levin died in the best tradition of the sea. He helped his crew into the lifeboats and was the last to abandon ship, Rotem said.

One of the saddest accounts of the disaster was given by Mali Staier, the only woman aboard the Mezada who told how her husband, the ship’s wireless officer, drowned in stormy seas just as rescue was at hand. Mrs. Staier, 26, was one of eight survivors rescued by the Indian freighter Damodar Tasaka. They were landed at Gibraltar last Wednesday and flown to Israel on Thursday.

The 666-foot Mezada, bound from Ashdod to Baltimore with a cargo of potash, began taking water on March 7 after heavy seas smashed a hatchcover. Early the following morning the order was given to abandon ship. Mrs. Staier said her husband had to force her into a lifeboat because she was frightened by the mountainous waves.

“For about seven hours we talked aboard the lifeboat. He and others encouraged me,” she said. They were about to be picked up by the Indian ship when “A giant wave capsized the boat. I held on to one side when I saw my husband carried away to the other side of the Indian ship. I didn’t see him again,” she said.

He is among the 12 crewman missing and presumed dead. The U.S. Navy and Coast Guard called off their sea-air search on March 12 after scouring the area for five days without success.

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