A memorial service was held this morning in honor of the 40 French sailors who 80 years ago lost their lives off the coast of West Iceland. The French ambassador directed the service, which was held in Straumsfjörður fjord in Mýrar, West Iceland, where the tragedy occurred. Thirty-eight roses were tossed into the sea, one for every sailor drowned.
The ocean research ship Pouquoi pas? (meaning Why Not?) had been conducting research in the Arctic during the summer of 1936 and was on its way back to France. It had docked in Reykjavík for a few days, but left harbor on September 15 for Copenhagen. While sailing towards Garðskagi, a severe storm hit, making it impossible to sail south of the Reykjanes peninsula. The crew then decided to turn around, seeking safety, but due to darkness, it was hard to recognize any landmarks. At 5:30 on the morning of September 16, the ship hit a rocky island in high waves, which threw the vessel from one island to the next until it collided on the rocky island Hnokki, a half hour rowing distance from Straumfjörður in Mýrar. An explosion occurred in the collision. All sailors were able to put on life belts, but then they were washed out by high waves, one by one.
Forty sailors drowned, and only on survived. His name was Eugène Gonidec. Among the deceased was a world-famous French scientist, Dr. Jean Charcot. His granddaughter, Ms. Vallin-Charcot, spoke at the service.
The memorial service, which was held at 10 am this morning, marked the beginning of a three-day program commemorating the tragedy. Tonight at 8 o’clock, a new documentary about Charcot will be premiere at Alliance française, Tryggvagata 8, Reykjavík. The film is in French, without subtitles, and admission is free. Tomorrow’s program includes a memorial service at Landakotskirkja church at 10 am and a service in Fossvogur Cemetery, where some of the sailors are buried. On Saturday at 2 pm, a seminar on Dr. Charcot is planned at Háskólabíó cinema. Admission is free.
Our photographer Páll Stefánsson took the photos above at this morning’s service.