The Pamir - A ship to remember

These pilot years of the digitisation project will need us to choose a sample of the collection to digitise as a proof of concept. This is important so that the team can try out the process before we start it in earnest, identifying timings, weaknesses and omissions from our plans. As discussed in other posts, we have created a list of “Firsts and Famous” ships, which we intend to use for the main bulk of the pilot project- after all these are likely to be the ones that are most requested by our audiences. However, before we begin this crucial first step, we have decided to send a sample through the whole process to further vet the methodology and our expectations.


LR digitisation project simplified workflow

The documents from the Pamir will undergo foliating, to cataloguing, imaging, digital preservation and finally uploading onto an online platform. We are taking this opportunity to try out the different collections management systems that we are enquiring into, as well as seeing some work from the different imaging companies we are interested in. In this way we can see how each element fits together and whether they are suitable for the project. We chose the Pamir from the vast number of ships that are represented in our collection for several reasons:


One of the Pamir Annals boxes

1) Volume- the number of documents we hold had to be quite large so that we had a wide sample of materials. The Pamir has documents in two boxes, the first of which holds 430 documents and the second. More than enough to be getting on with!

2) Condition- the documents in the Pamir’s box are for the most part, fairly sound. They are of course old and they certainly look it but other than the paper having yellowed, become brittle, folded and torn in places, they are in relatively good health! This is particularly important because for this pre-pilot project will not involve a conservator, so documents need to be able to travel and be handled.

3) Variety- Due to the large volume of documents in each box, there is a huge variety of pieces that need to be addressed. There are of course the expected survey reports, certificates and correspondence, as well as many different plans, large and small but it will be interesting to see any further documentation. Therefore, we should get a good working understanding of the collection, which will expand with each new experience.

4) Intrigue- The Pamir has a very interesting but tragic story that plays out over 50 years. The collection tells that story beautifully, down to the Pamir’s final demise in 1957.

The intrigue for this vessel is perhaps born out of her tragic final voyage, in which she was sunk by Hurricane Carrie off the Azores archipelago on 21 September. This was likely to have been affected by the improper loading of cargo in the hold, which was not properly secured because a dockland strike delayed her departure from Buenos Aires. There were also other factors discovered in the resulting investigation including the poor state of the ship, the master’s lack of experience, water was let in when the hatchways were not closed when she listed and the ballast tanks were not filled to right the ship. Furthermore, the radio officer had been given additional administrative tasks to save money on another member of crew so he may have missed the weather update. As a result of all of these factors, The Pamir capsized at 13.03 on the 21 September 1957 with 86 people on board. After a 9 day search  by the United States Guard Cutter USCGC Absecon only 4 of the crew and 2 cadets were rescued alive. Many had managed to reach the lifeboats, but there were no provisions in them so most died over the next few days. None of the officers or the captain survived the event so the reasons for the Pamir capsizing are still being speculated. St Jakob’s Church in Lübeck, a memorial site for international seafarers, still have one of the lifeboats.


The mystery surrounding the Pamir makes it an ideal candidate for the pre-pilot digitisation project. We are excited to start working through this once beautifully made ship to investigate how she came to such a tragic end. Watch for updates!