At the confluence of the Sava and the Danube, on September 9, 1952, the largest shipwreck in Serbia occurred. 30 passengers survived the sinking of the ship "Niš", and a combination of circumstances and the evil mood of the sky and water took almost 130 lives. The special investigation commission of the then stubbornly atheistic state, after considering all the facts, concluded that the cause of the tragedy was "force majeure".
That day in the Sava port around noon it was like in a hive. The renovation of Branko's bridge has been going on for some time, and due to the works planned for September 9, pedestrians were forbidden to cross. That is why the mass of the world merged towards the docks from where the ships "Zagreb" and "Niš" were traveling towards Zemun. There were places for 60 passengers on each of them, but they could easily connect twice as many to the routine twenty-minute voyage. However, seeing that the deck was already loaded, the captain of "Niš", Ferdinand Nobilo, asked the competent person in the port captaincy and got permission to set sail before 13.30, when he was supposed to leave for Zemun according to the schedule. The ship's engine roared at 13.07.
It was a fatal decision…
On the ninth day of September 1952, it was sunny and warm. In the afternoon, clouds began to gather over Zemun, but neither the experienced crew of "Nis" nor the port staff had any idea that the storm would fall so quickly and with such force. Just five minutes after sailing, the ship found itself in a whirlpool that can only be described as a meteorological phenomenon. Sudden drop in temperature, wind gusts of 130 kilometers per hour, rain, fog… Captain Nobilo ordered helmsman Jovan Gvozdić to bring the ship closer to the shore, but it was too late for any rescue maneuver. A hurricane hit the side at 13 hours and 12 minutes, capsizing the ship. Passengers who took refuge in the lower deck due to the penetration of water, found themselves trapped. Crew members began smashing windows and breaking formwork, but there was no time to clear escape routes. Three minutes after the overturning, "Niš" sank to the bottom of the river, to a depth of 14 meters.
A city the size of a hen's egg fell on the shipwrecked people who were not dragged into the abyss by the ship. The icicles literally broke people's heads. Unconscious, they disappeared in the river waves. And then the rage of nature subsided abruptly, as it erupted. Boatmen and boatmen hurried to help the survivors. Medical teams also arrived, and the ministers of internal affairs of Yugoslavia and Serbia - Aleksandar Ranković and Slobodan Penezić Krcun - came to the scene of the accident. The news of the tragedy spread from mouth to mouth, followed by disbelief because the storm was not so close in Belgrade and Zemun. The forces of the sky seemed to be aimed only at the ship "Niš" and its passengers.
During the afternoon, the crane ship "Soča" started retrieving the sunken ship. First, the diver Bogoljub Perić descended into the depths. He reported that there were 56 drowned people in one of the two salons below deck. By the morning hours of September 10, all the victims had been taken out of the tomb ship. According to the first police report, there were 90 dead, including three of the six crew members. In the following days, the bodies of the drowned were found near the Pancevo bridge, on the coast of Vinča, Ritopek… The black balance increased to 127, but it was never determined how many passengers were on "Niš". It is known that 106 tickets were sold, but also that there were a lot of children and students, as well as passengers with monthly tickets.
The FPRY government declared three days of mourning and promised to help children who lost their parents and families left without breadwinners. "Politika" and "Borba", then the only newspapers in the capital, reported the tragedy with due care and transmitted the testimonies of eyewitnesses and survivors. But, there was no place on the front page for the news about the sinking of "Nis". The reason - marking, ironically, the tenth anniversary of the formation of the Navy, so "it was not appropriate" to find information about the shipwreck in Belgrade along with the festive text. The summer socialism of the young state did not look favorably on writing about failures and accidents, so the texts about the sinking of the ship "Niš" were reduced to a minimum. The tragedy has been left to collective oblivion and to this day it has not received a monument or a significant place in literature, with the exception of Vlado Arsić's novel "Shipwreck".
However, the "dictatorship of optimism" was survived and survived by records and urban legends about the victims and miraculously rescued passengers of the death ship. About Dragoljub Jovanović from Zemun: that morning he became a father, so he went to Belgrade to buy presents and on his way back he was killed on the "Danube Titanic". About Marija Dimitrijević: she drowned together with her two underage daughters, and the third one survived because her mother left her with a friend in the Sava port, because it was too crowded on "Niš". About Ljubiša Petrović from Belgrade: although a non-swimmer, he remained on the surface, holding on to the board, until the rescuers pulled him out. About the mother who came out of the maternity hospital that day: they found her in the bowels of the ship, with the baby in her arms. About Ana Bajzert, workers of the textile factory "Sutjeska": she did not know how to swim, and the waves miraculously brought her alive to the shore. About a major of the air force who reached the mainland, rowing with one hand, while holding the child he saved with the other. His son and wife remained in the sunken ship…
From a heavy ship to a fragile ship
According to experts, another fatal circumstance contributed to the sinking of the ship "Niš". A few days before the accident, the Yugoslav River Shipping Company modernized the ship: a bulky steam engine was replaced by a much lighter diesel engine. Thus, instead of two tons of coal, there was one hundred liters of fuel in the ship, which disturbed the balance of the vessel, and that caused the overturning under the gusts of wind.
Without a court epilogue
Ferdinand Nobilo, captain of the ship "Nis", did not sink with his ship. He was detained for a short time, but no court proceedings were conducted against him. The state commission that investigated the case concluded that the sudden wind of hurricane force was the cause of the tragedy and that no one was responsible.
After the repair, the ship "Niš" was named "Senta" and sailed on the line Smederevo-Kovin for several years. At the end of the seventies, it was scrapped and cut in Pancevo's "Brodoremont".