It was the greatest maritime disaster, unrelated to warfare, in the history of the Polish merchant fleet. An unequal battle of the ferry Jan Heweliusz with a storm of an unprecedented wind force exceeding 12 degrees on the Beaufort scale ended on the morning of January 14, 1993. 55 people lost their lives.
There were 29 crew members and 35 passengers on the ferry at the time of the disaster. Despite the involvement in the rescue operation of the German and Danish sea rescue services, the Polish rescue ship Huragan, German and Polish helicopters, as well as vessels present in the area of the catastrophe at that time, only 9 people could be saved with difficulty.
Survivors recalled that the Jan Heweliusz, hit on the side by a powerful gust of the hurricane, overturned so quickly that it was not even possible to lower the lifeboats to the water.
Despite the passage of years, the memory of the ferry disaster Jan Heweliusz is still alive. Right next to the headquarters of the National Maritime Museum on Ołowianka Island there is a monument dedicated to “Those who did not return from the sea”. It consists of a resting on the ground emergency anchor retrieved from the wreck of the ferry and two connected blocks of marble – a stone whose color and structure resembles the rippling ocean depths. It is at the obelisk that we will light candles, as we do every year, to commemorate all those who perished in the disaster that took place on 14 January 1993, says Dr Robert Domżał, director of the National Maritime Museum in Gdańsk.
The museum is in possession of an extremely valuable memento from the ferry Jan Heweliusz – the original lifebuoy.
This relic was donated by the Royal Danish Maritime Museum in Copenhagen in 1995. The lifebelt was lifted from the surface of the water by a Danish helicopter during a rescue operation. Our Museum presented it in 2018 in a temporary exhibition titled “Baltic Highway”, where the ferry Jan Hevelius was shown in the context of the history and development of Polish ferry shipping,” adds Patryk Klein from the Department of Shipping History and Maritime Trade.
In the collection of the Museum, there are also other relics associated with Hevelius: a model of the ferry, and the painting “Hevelius Ferry” by Grzegorz Nawrocki showing the moment of the catastrophe. “Prom Heweliusz” by Grzegorz Nawrocki shows the moment of the catastrophe.