SHIPPING: Collision at Sea

A raddled grey-black fog festooned the sea off the New Jersey coast. Homeward bound after a twelve-day Caribbean cruise, the Grace Line's slick, new 20,000-ton luxury liner Santa Rosa steamed north, making a high-speed 20 knots in dangerous, heavily traveled waters. Her voyage was scheduled to end at her New York berth in just five hours.

At 3 a.m., 22 miles east of Atlantic City, most of Santa Rosa's 247 passengers lay asleep. In the bow, on lookout duty, Seaman Armando Gomez, 36, sighted the southbound tanker Valchem. "I heard her whistle...