CLUB ROYALE CLUB ROYALE

HURRICANE ERIN SINKS SHIP;

THREE MEN LOST AT SEA

Club Royale was trying to outrun storm.

The captain and two crewmen of the Palm Beach County, Florida, casino-gambling ship Club Royale were lost at sea on August 2, 1995, when the 234-foot vessel sank before dawn in rough seas churned up by Hurricane Erin, about 90-miles east of Port Canaveral, Florida.

The Club Royale began sailing on July 1, 1995, and operated for exactly one month doing twice-a-day gambling cruises to nowhere.

It's estimated that very few chips left the casino in the 30-day operation, and those chips that did survive are considered quite rare.

Seven other crew members were rescued after noon in a daring hellicopter-to-sea maneuver in which United States Coast Guard swimmers who hung from steel cables in 75-mph winds rescued the survivors from 20-foot seas.

An eighth member of the 11-man crew had been rescued about two miles from a life raft by the merchant vessel Jarvis Avouts, said Coast Guard Petty Officer Chris Rose. No passengers were on board the Club Royale.

The German built ship was trying to outrun Erin by fleeing its berth at the Port of Palm Beach for what ship officials thought would be safe harbor at Port Canaveral, but as Erin whipped up the Florida coast toward Vero Beach, the captain apparently saught refuge out to sea 90-miles east of Port Canaveral where it began taking on water.

By 4:30 a.m., the ship whose advertisements offered "The ultimate casino and nightclub experience" began listing badly. The Coast Guard reported that no radio distress call was issued by the ship, but before the ship capsized at about 8:00 a.m., a high-tech alert beacon called a 406 EPIRB, or Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon - was activated on the ship, sending a signal to a satlelite that in turn indicated the coordinates of the ship to the Coast Guard.

The device probably saved the crew members, said Coast Guard Lt. Greg Kelly. A Coast Guard Falcon jet from Miami flew to the scene at 10:00 a.m. and spotted the orange rafts.

By 12:15 p.m., seven survivors bobbing in two rubber life rafts heard the whirring rotor blades of two Coast Guard helicopters from Patrick Air Force Base.

Conditions for the rescue were precarious: 15 to 25-foot seas and hurricane winds, and Spanish-speaking survivors who could not undrstand their English-speaking rescuers, as Coast Guard swimmer Chuck Brannan had to give instructions to the survivors by hand and other physical signals.

While Brannan and another Coast Guardsman who were attached to the helicopter by a steel cable swam along side the raft, each crew member was to jump out of his raft where he could be put into a steel-mesh basket and lifted to the hellicopter. As Brannan was swimming with the first person toward the basket, he looked over his shoulder and noticed the raft had overturned.

"The hardest part was trying to communicate to them that I could only carry one person at a time," said Brannan, who pulled four people out of the water.

Clark Evenson, the other rescue swimmer, brought three crew members to safety. He said he almost lost the last crew member.

Four survivers: Luis Domingues, 36 (1995); Auturo Mechado, 48; CarlosDelatorre, 67; and Eduaido Oquendo, 20 - were taken to Wuesthoff Hospital in Rocledge, Florida, and treated for hypothermia and dehydration.

Three other survivors: Roberto Acevedo, 49; Benny Holmquist, 50; and Douglas McAulisse, 32 - were treated for exposure at Holmes Medical Center in Melbourne, Florida.

One survivor gave a thumbs-up sign as the hellicopter was about to land at Patrick Air Force Base. Although the crew members were taken to hospitals, they were in good spirits and their injuries were not considered serious.

Charles Liberis, a Pensacola businessman who was co-owner of the ship, named the captain as being Jan Pagels, a Scandanavian native whom Liberis credited as "extremely experienced."

The Coast Guard hellicopters, four cutters and the Falcon jet continued to search for the captain, the cook and an engineer until 9:00 p.m. that evening, and resumed the following day, reported Coast Guard Lt. Michael Wilson.

Liberis, who said he owns the Club Royale with three other stockholders from Marne Delaware, said he did not know why the ship sank.

Telephone calls to International Shipping Partners in Miami, which managed the ship and provided the crew, were not returned at the time.

Alan Harper, president of Club Royale, Inc., the gambling operation that leased the ship, did not return calls, either.

Club Royale was ordered to leave the Port of Palm Beach at 7:00 p.m. July 31st and headed north to outrun the storm. Club Royale, Inc. spokesperson Jill DeChello said she did not know the ships's exact route at that time.

The Viking Princess - Club Royale's rival 421-foot cruise ship left the port late on the 31st and sailed north to Jacksonville, Florida, said Catherine Blieka, marketing director for Palm Beach Cruise Line who operated the Viking Princess casino-gambling ship.

Laberis said the ship cost $12-million to build but he did not say how much his company paid to purchase it six months earlier. The ship was insured by Lloyd's of London.

The Club Royale passed Coat Guard safety inspection June 28th, 1995. Coast Guard records list the ship's owners as Sealane Bahamas, which Liberis identified as Marne Delaware's sister company.

Liberis and Marne Delaware chartered the vessel to Club Royale, Inc., of Delray Beach, Florida, on July 1, 1995.

The reporters from the Palm Beach Post who covered the sinking of the Club Royale were: Elisa Cramer, Joe Brogan and Joe Capozzi.

On August 4th 1995, after I learned of the Club Royale sinking, I called and spoke with Michael Humecki, President of Summit Casino Products, to ask if there were any chips from the casino at his location. I was informed that all manufactured chips and tokens were delivered to Club Royale and that Summit only had one example of each denominatin on file. The artwork seen below is courtesy of Summit Casino Products, Inc.

Below are the Chipco International chips that were used on another boat operated by the same company in 1996.

These dull looking chips were first used on the second ship that began sailing January 5, 1996 The last sailing was April 29th 1996.

These chips should not be confused with the vivid, bright first issue which rests on the ocean floor.

Also, on August 4, 1995, in another phone conversation with the Club Royale office, management told me that the complete inventory of chips and tokens were on board in the vault and nothing was kept on shore.

John Benedict

Benedict@webtv.net