Easter 1963: a marine collision that never saw the light of day
Finnish self-censorship ensured that the incident between a freighter and a Soviet nuclear submarine was hushed up.
Good Friday 1963, and in Danish waters in the Baltic Sea the fog was so thick you could hardly see the bow of the boat from the captain's bridge.
Nevertheless, the 6,000-ton Finnish freighter Finnclipper, owned by Enso-Gutzeit and carrying a cargo of newsprint westwards towards the United States, was steaming ahead at 15 knots in contravention of all manner of maritime regulations.
The radar screen did not reveal anything very much, least of all that right ahead of the freighter was a Soviet nuclear submarine convoy. The submarine was escorted front and aft by espionage vessels disguised as fishing trawlers.
"We saw nothing on the radar until a few seconds before the impact", the Finnclipper's 2nd Mate Jaakko Varimaa recalls the events of April 12th 1963.
The story of the collision in Danish waters of a Soviet K-33 nuclear sub and a Finnish cargo vessel was a massive news item.
Only it wasn't.
Not a line was written about the incident. It was summarily buried.
Varimaa now tells his own version of events in a book on the case. His analysis of things is that the then YYA Treaty (the Agreement of Friendship, Cooperation, and Mutual Assistance that pertained between Finland and the USSR from 1948 to 1992) effectively prevented the Finns from reporting the incident or going public with it.
Immediately after impact, a cutter was sent out from the escort boats to the Finnish freighter. On board were the master of the submarine and an interpreter. The submarine's captain was not best pleased, and spent an hour discussing the accident with the master of the Finnclipper , whom he blamed unequivocally.
When the visitors left the vessel via the pilots' ladder, the 26-year-old Varimaa caught a glimpse of a pistol protruding from one of the men's overcoats.
Both vessels suffered not inconsiderable damage, but both continued on their way. Not a word was mentioned in the press or elsewhere.
The damage to the Finnish freighter was so great that a concrete slab had to be hurriedly cast in the damaged bow section when the ship arrived in the United States. She was in dry dock for a month on her return to Finland, with new plates fitted over the buckled area.
Varimaa has since learned that the Soviet sub was out of commission for even longer. The K-33 was apparently docked for a year, during which time the fuel rods for the nuclear reactor were also replaced.
Last year Varimaa compiled a book on his experiences at sea, in which he made a brief reference to the encounter with the Soviet submarine in the fog. Many readers contacted him and expressed their suspicion that he was telling tall mariner's tales.
"I was put on the defensive, so I went and checked things out properly. From the files at the Maritime Administration I managed to find the documents for the Finnclipper. There it all was in black and white: the captain's own declaration of what had transpired, excerpts from the ship's log, and the exchange of diplomatic notes", says Jaakko Varimaa.
One more white moment in recent Finnish history just gained some colour.