On this day in history, January 13

A satisfied Nick Sloane, the master salvor from Cape Town, with the refloated wreck of the Costa Concordia in the background. Picture: AFP

A satisfied Nick Sloane, the master salvor from Cape Town, with the refloated wreck of the Costa Concordia in the background. Picture: AFP

Published Jan 14, 2024


Real people, real stories – more than just dates and boring facts

532 Nika riots begin in Constantinople, a revolt against Byzantine Emperor Justinian I that leaves half the city burned and thousands dead. The riots were prompted by the failed execution of chariot racing supporters and only stopped after Empress Theodora refused to flee, forcing her husband to act decisively.

1610 Galileo Galilei discovers Callisto, the fourth satellite of Jupiter.

1653 The first wheat planted at the Cape is harvested.

1662 Joanna van Riebeeck, daughter of Jan and Maria van Riebeeck, is born at the Cape.

1772 French explorer Marion du Fresne discovers Marion and Prince Edward islands – which are part of South Africa, in the Southern Ocean.

1797 A battle between a French ship of the line and two British frigates off Brittany, France, ends with the French vessel running aground, resulting in more than 900 deaths.

1842 Assistant surgeon William Brydon reaches the safety of a garrison in Jalalabad, Afghanistan. He is the sole survivor of the slaughter by Afghan tribesmen of a British army of 4 500 men and 12 000 camp followers.

1849 British forces retreat in defeat at the Battle of Tooele, in the Second Anglo-Sikh War.

1888 The National Geographic Society is founded in Washington, DC for “the increase and diffusion of geographic knowledge”.

1893 Britain’s Independent Labour Party forms with Keir Hardie as its leader.

1909 Marinus van der Lubbe is born in Leiden, Netherlands. The Dutch communist was executed in 1934 by the Nazis for setting fire to the German Reichstag.

1911 The South African cricket team celebrates its first victory over Australia, winning the third Test at Adelaide by 38 runs.

1911 Roald Amundsen anchors at Walvis Bay, south-west Africa, while on his way to leading the first expedition to reach the South Pole.

1915 An earthquake in the Italian province of L’Aquila kills between 30 000 and 33 000.

1915 South African troops occupy Swakopmund, in German South-West Africa.

1930 The comic strip Mickey Mouse debuts.

1942 Henry Ford patents a plastic car, which is 30% lighter than a regular one.

1942 A German test pilot in a Heinkel He 280 jet fighter is the first to use an ejection seat.

1950 The submarine HMS Truculent hits an oil tanker in the Thames Estuary, killing 64 men.

1951 A De Havilland Dove of United Airways crashes near Ixopo, killing 12 occupants.

1964 Riots in Calcutta cause 100 deaths.

1989 British comedy sketch show series A Bit of Fry and Laurie starring Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie debuts on BBC1.

1991 At least 40 soccer fans die in fighting at a stadium near Orkney.

1992 US serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer pleads guilty to the rape, murder and dismemberment of 17 men and boys.

2004 British doctor Harold Shipman, who is believed to have killed more than 200 of his patients in Manchester, is found hanged in a prison cell.

2012 The passenger cruise ship Costa Concordia capsizes off Italy due to negligence. The decision by the captain, Francesco Schettino, to perform a maneuver known as a "salute" or "fly-by" close to the shore of the island of Giglio proves fatal for 32 of the passengers.

The area was known for rock outcroppings, and at some point, such a formation was noticed in the ship’s path. Schettino, ordered a change in course, but due to language issues, the Indonesian helmsman steered the boat in the opposite direction, or so his court testimony goes.

The Italian coast guard called the Concordia at about 10:14 PM. Schettino, however, downplayed the damage, only noting that the vessel had experienced a blackout. Some 10 minutes later the coast guard contacted the ship again, and at this time the crew admitted that the vessel was taking on water. However, Schettino’s only request was for tugboats.

At one point, Schettino left the bridge and soon after abandoned ship ahead of time; he subsequently claimed that he fell off the Concordia and landed in a lifeboat.

At 12:40 AM a coast guard captain called Schettino, who was already in a lifeboat with other Concordia officers, and ordered him to return to the vessel and oversee the evacuation. He refused.

In the largest martime salvage operation in history, the 114,000-ton Concordia was finally righted, but only in September 2012. South African freelance salvage master Nick Sloane leads the $2-billion unprecedented and delicate operation. The Cape resident was described a 'superlative salvage master’ and in salvaging the Concordia, accomplished something that any said ‘could not be done’.

The wreck was towed to Genoa, Italy, where it was dismantled for scrap.

During Schettino’s trial, at which he was convicted of manslaughter and jailed for 16 years, it emerged that his lover, Moldovan dancer Domnica Cemortan, had been with him on the bridge and that he ‘may have been distracted’.