MT Empire Steel sunk by U-123/Hardegen March 23, 1942, 8 men rescued by Edmond J. Moran off Bermuda

MT EMPIRE STEEL, Attack & Survivor’s Narrative

 by Eric T. Wiberg,, April, 2014

Empire Steel was a British motor tanker of 8,138 tons. She was built by Cammell Laird & Company of Birkenhead, England in 1941 as yard # 1053. The ship’s dimensions were 479 feet length, 59 feet beam, and 33.8 feet deep. A single eight-cycle oil engine turned one propeller at 502 net horsepower to achieve a speed of 12 knots. Though built for and owned by the Ministry of War Transport (MoWT), Empire Steel was operated by the Bank Line Limited. At the time of her final voyage she was  under the control of to the British Ministry of Shipping. She received her sailing orders from the British Consul at Baton Rouge, Louisiana on the 13th of March, 1942.

During her short career the Empire Steel was a busy ship. Her maiden voyage in ballast began on the 21st of March 1942, and she sailed from Liverpool to Aruba via the River Mersey. Then it was Halifax to the UK in Convoy HX 124, over to New York and from Halifax to Belfast Lough in HX 138 in July of 1941. On the 12th of July the Empire Steel was in a collision with the steam ship Historian. She sailed again for New York in September 1941, then to the UK from Halifax in Convoy HX 149. From Milford Haven it was back to New York in October, and then from Liverpool to Trinidad independently in November and December. From there back to Halifax then Liverpool in January 1942.

Source: Mariner’s Museum Newport News VA,

On her final round-trip voyage the Empire Steel left Liverpool and the River Mersey on the 14th of February, arriving in New Orleans on the 11th of March. In Baton Rouge the ship loaded 6,100 tons of aviation spirit and 4,150 tons of kerosene. She sailed with orders to proceed to Halifax, zig zagging the entire way, on the 13thof March. She left at 11 pm local time, so some sources give the departure from New Orleans, down-river, as 14 March.

Empire Steel was under the command of Captain William John Gray at the time. He had as his complement of officers and crew a total of 47 people on board, including 3 Royal Navy gunners and two on assignment from the British Army. The ship was armed with a 4-inch gun and 12-pound gun, both mounted aft, as well as a number of machine guns distributed along the ship: two Marlin-types, a stripped Lewis, and two Hotchkiss types. The ship was equipped with degaussing apparatus, however it was not on at the time of it’s demise.

The senior officers on board included Chief Officer (First Mate) Bernard Henry Jackson, Second Mate Arthur James Whitson, and Chief Engineer John F. Wilson. According to Captain Gray the voyage proceeded uneventfully down the Gulf of Mexico, and around Florida. The ship made it to a position 1,000 nautical miles northeast of Cape Canaveral Florida, which was 310 miles north-northeast of Bermuda, 415 miles south of its destination, Halifax, and 530 miles southeast of New York.

Empire Steel was steering a course of 54 degrees true (north-northeast) at between 11 and 12.5 knots (according to her captain 12.5 knots). They were using 17 and 38 pattern zig zags (20 degrees to starboard and 15 degrees to port every ten minutes), and at sunset and sunrise the guns were continually manned. The radio was silent and the ship was blacked out. Towards 8 pm on Monday the 23rd of March the weather was overcast, with visibility down to two to three miles. The winds were light to variable but the sea was confused.

There were four lookouts: one in the crow’s nest in one of the masts, one at the bow, one amidships and one above the bridge on the Monkey Island, as well as officers on watch on the bridge. At 7:58 pm Chief Officer Wilson was convinced that he could see a submarine. Captain Gray wrote “as nothing happened I concluded he must be mistaken, as a precautionary measure, however, I gave the order to “close up” the guns. I always kept all hands at the guns for half an hour before and after dark when the light was favorable for submarine attacks.” As an additional precaution the ship sent an “SSS” signal for “submarine sighted,” which “was answered by a Bermuda land station.”

At 8:05 pm local time the Eastern Sea Frontier “Enemy Action Diary” for the day recorded the SSS message thus: “S.S.S. from s/s EMPIRE STEEL (8100 ton British tanker). Position 36-34 N, 64-02 W.”

The submarine which was stalking Empire Steel was the highly successful U-123 under Reinhard Hardegen. At 11:23 German time Hardegen recorded: “Sighted mast tips on port side ahead out of a rain squall. Turned towards it and soon recognized a tanker.  He is zigzagging irregularly and wide from 3° up to 8° around course 45°.  I am ahead of his general course. He seems to run about 10.5 knots. Before dusk he was on course 90° for 1½ hours.  At nightfall he turned to 0°, after ½ hour to course 30°.  Had difficulties staying in contact.  A cunning fellow.  Every time I try to approach him he turns away.  Bright moonlit night with thunderstorms.  Eventually I am able to attack with a big rain squall behind me that covers the moon for a short time.  It is a very modern motor tanker with short masts and a low big funnel.  Similar to NORNESS and I estimate about 9500 GRT.”

So Chief Officer Wilson had indeed spotted an enemy submarine, and Captain Gray was correct to take precautions. An hour and half later, at 1:57 am Tuesday 24th March (German time) Hardegen continues: “From a distance of 500 to 600 meters I fire one Ato from the bow, depth 3 meters, enemy speed 10.5 knots, target angle 70°.   When the hydrophone operator reported that the torpedo was running I turned hard to starboard.   A miss was not possible from this close distance.  Nothing happened. Report from bow room: tube runner!  Due to a misunderstanding the boat had already turned too far to fire a prepared second torpedo on target angle 80° or 90°.  I continue the hard turn to fire an also prepared stern torpedo.  I was now showing my broadside to the tanker from a distance of 300 meters, so he finally saw me and turned away to starboard, target angle 180°. 

Ordered: Stop and secure.  After some time it is reported that the torpedo was fired from tube V.  The crewman had fired it manually on his own because he was waiting for the order to fire and believed he heard it in the speaking tube.  He did not look at the communication apparatus.  The torpedo was heading to anywhere.  The tube runner had moved ¼ m in the tube and was jettisoned with the mine discharge.  It became a “dead man”.  Examination of the tube showed that an edge of the retaining pin was sheered away and the opening lever was scrubbed bare.  The tube remains empty.  It is hard when during a difficult attack everything goes well on the bridge and then old, experienced crewmen make preventable mistakes and cut the boat out of an easy victory. 

Tanker is sending a U-boat warning.  Position 10 nm south of our dead reckoning position.  It is the EMPIRE STEEL (8150 GRT), built in 1941.  This showed again that one tends to overestimate tankers at night because they don’t have as many features as freighters.  Had one gun of 8,8 cm aft and one 6 cm gun with protective shield on each side of the funnel forward.  There were machine guns and spotlights at the side of the bridge.  Everything modern, not makeshift.  Overtaking again.  The thunderstorm is over and now I am standing before the bright horizon with the moon.  Due to his zigzagging I get ahead and on the other side. I almost lost him in the dark horizon due to his wild turns. He now runs at 12 knots and is zigzagging for his life. Because I had seen his particularly strong armament and he now pays attention, I can’t get as close and decide to fire a spread of two torpedoes from a greater distance.”

Meanwhile on board the Empire Steel there was a chaotic rush by the 47 men to escape the inferno alive. Captain Gray relates what happened whilst Hardegen was contemplating his coup-de-grace:

At 9 pm local time, “a submarine was sighted by the Chief Officer [Jackson] on the starboard beam; this was verified by the 3rd Officer and I immediately swung the ship to port to bring us stern on to the submarine, but whilst we were swinging a torpedo struck the ship in No. 7 tank on the starboard side, which was filled with aviation spirit. A huge column of oil was thrown up which descended on the bridge, saturating everything an, and within a matter of seconds the ship was ablaze from stem to stern.”

“The 2nd Officer [Arthur James Whitson] 2 A.B.’s [able-bodied seamen], the 2nd Wireless Operator [Ivor Wynn Williams, aged 24], and an Ordinary Seaman launched the port midship boat, but when lowered the 2 A.B.’s and the Wireless Operator jumped out of the boat, probably being frightened by the blazing oil which was burning on the sea all round the ship. This left me with the 2nd Officer [Whitson] and the Ordinary Seaman [George Henry Ellis] who, having only had 3 months at a School previous to sailing on this trip, was useless and immediately lay down in the boat. The seas round us were burning furiously and there was just one narrow clear passage through which we maneuvered the boat. On pulling clear of the burning seas we picked up the Chief Engineer [John F. Wilson], Chief Officer [Jackson], a Gunner [Army Gunner Thomas Plommer], an A.B. [J. T. Pullen], who had previously jumped out of the boat, and a cabin boy [Reginald George Webster].”

“The Chief Engineer, Gunner, and cabin boy had jumped over the stern into the only tiny space of clear water and swam under the water until they were clear of the flames, They told us they had been unable to launch the after lifeboat owing to the flames.”

At that point there were 8 men on the boat: Gray, Jackson, Whitson, Wilson, Pullen, Ellis, Webster, and Plommer. Inexplicably, since 39 men perished and only eight survived, and since there are no accounts of another boat getting away or of men dying in the one boat, Captain Gray writes “We pulled round beyond the flames and picked up a further [illegible, 6 or 8] men but did not see anyone else. I heard a whistle and saw the red light on one man’s lifejacket, but I was picking up the Chief Engineer so I called out to this man to hold on for a few minutes when I could come to him, but by the time we had got the Chief into the boat there was no sign of the other man. It was impossible to approach the ship owing to the burning oil on the water all round her.”

It would appear that this is an editing error on the part of the intelligence officers who wrote the report, putting the rescue of 5 men before the captain’s statement that he rescued additional men. Captain Gray must have meant to say that the three men in the boat – Gray, Second Officer Whitson and the incapacitated O.S. Ellis subsequently pulled 5 men from the water, which they did, making 8 men in the boat at the end of their exertions.

The war diary or KTB of U-123 continues: “Fired torpedo spread. Distance 900 meters, target angle 75°, enemy speed 12 knots.  Stayed on straight course to not reveal us by turning.  Then he turns away hard to port, slows down and is manning the guns.  It is amazing in this case that he had not already manned them to give us a hot welcome.  I turn hard away at AK.  There – after 61 seconds – hit ahead of the foremost mast.  High, dark explosion plume and shortly thereafter the whole tanker seems to blow up.  He had a load of gasoline in the forepart.  Several explosions followed and we saw a sea of flames, which one observes rarely.  Just when we believed that he sank he used the radio.  Oops! 

After 5 minutes we can see that he is still afloat on an even keel.  The bow is burning very fiercely and the upper deck and superstructure aft is burnt, but due to the fire-extinguishing system the blaze is concentrated on the forepart of the ship.  The fuel tanks aft are not burning and the wind is pushing the flames away from the ship.  A lesson for us that not every “exploded” tanker is lost.  We all would have sworn to find not a single piece of the wreck.  But in this case the men in the water and the lifeboats could have re-boarded the tanker after the fire in the bow burned out and continued the voyage with the probably intact engines.”

Captain Gray continues his narrative, writing: “About an hour later the submarine surfaced about 150-200 yards from the ship on the port side. It appeared to be a large craft with wide conning tower…. It was dark and we could not see any details, but she opened fire at the vessel, firing some 14 shells into her, and this gun, which I should think was a 4”, appeared to be fired from abaft the conning tower. The shooting was very accurate. We lay to in the boat and watched the ship settling rapidly by the bows with a pall of thick smoke hanging over her. Between 0300 and 0400 I must have fallen asleep for a short period, because when I awoke the ship and the submarine had disappeared.” This must be one of the few cases where the captain slept through the destruction of his ship and the departure of the submarine which sank it!

So far as is known no action was taken to send air reconnaissance or a ship to their aid from the Naval Operating Base in Bermuda. This is in contrast to the response to the British Resource, sunk by U-124 under Johann Mohr roughly a week before, on 14 March.

Fired six rounds from the deck gun into the engine room.  That was enough to flood it and the ship now settled aft slowly.  Then set the aft fuel tanks on fire with 3 rounds.  Now the whole ship is burning fiercely and the sinking was hastened. Apparently he had loaded diesel oil aft and his ammunition is detonating constantly.  It is amazing that he did not fire a single shot from his cannons and machine guns during the attack, even when they were for sure manned.  Bad lookout and bad training on the guns. Tanker is capsizing to port.  The bow is rising and protruding steeply 20 meters out of the water, burning fiercely.”

There are several parallels between the British Resource and Empire Steel in as much as both were British tankers who were set alight by their attackers and managed to get an SSS message off which was picked up ashore. In the case of the Empire Steel the receiving station was actually Bermuda, meaning no relay of the message from the mainland was required. However in the case of the British Resource, airplanes were sent immediately to reconnoiter the scene and vector in a rescue ship, in their case HMS Clarkia, which landed five survivors in Bermuda within two days. The hole from the torpedo is quite visible. It is about 15 meters from the bow and the side plates are ripped open from the keel to the railing.”

At 9:56 am German time Hardegen concludes: “This one is tough and only sinks completely after 5 hours.  The oil keeps burning on the surface of the water for some time.  Continued on old course 260°.”

At daylight Captain Gray set sail for the US coast, deciding that it was too risky, on account of the varying currents and winds to try to make Bermuda, which was nearer. The boat was well provisioned with food and water, of which there was more than 30 gallons. The men were rationed to 6 Horlicks milk tablets daily and 1 ounce of water three times daily. The only one amongst the eight men who seemed to suffer was Chief Engineer Wilson, who “continually called out for water” and “could not eat the chocolate, saying that it made him feel sick.” Though the men were scantily clad, the temperatures of the water (68 degrees Farenheit) and air were warmed by the Gulf Stream and they found themselves comfortable even when wet.

Captain Gray commended the boat, which was made of steel, except for its jagged edges, which made pulling survivors on board laborious and potentially injurious. Captain Gray had to be treated for badly burned hands, which required skin grafting on shore, however in typical ‘stiff upper lip’ fashion he does not mention this in his narrative until the end. Though they had a First Aid kit, they did not use it, preferring “to leave our burns to heal by Nature, whilst in the boat, the salt water being a very good antiseptic.” He noted that whether the men had shoes or bare feet, their feet swelled uncomfortably. The men rubbed their feet with mustard oil, and that “helped considerably.” The Captain and others however lost all feeling in their legs and feet and were unable to walk suffering conditions akin to frostbite.

Altogether the lifeboat sailed five days, covering a distance of some 300 nautical miles to the south-southwest and ironically arriving at a point some 20 miles from the reefs of Bermuda, which apparently the men never saw, despite their proximity to the islands. Captain Gray writes that “….at 16:30 on the 28th March we sighted a tug, the “EDMOND J. MORAN.” I put the boat about and made towards her; we had the red sail up but she evidently took us for a submarines and altered course away from us, so I sent up 2 red flares which were seen, and she eased down. We pulled towards her and at 17:50 we were taken on board the “EDMOND J. MORAN”. As this tug had the troop ship S.S. “ROBERT E. LEE” in tow, I had our lifeboat destroyed before proceeding to Norfolk, Virginia, where we landed at 1230 on the 2nd April.”

Little is written about the repatriation of the crew from Norfolk Virginia, or which hospital the men were in, however the usual path was for officers and men to entrain to New York City for de-briefing by US Navy intelligence officers. From New York the fit survivors would sign up for new vessels, or in the case of British mariners, proceed to Halifax, where they would board British ships going to Liverpool, from whence they would resume their careers. It was customary for pay to stop once a ship was lost, so they would be largely reliant on various governments and agencies and/or charity in between paying positions.

The Barbara Andrie in c.2010 in the US Great Lakes. She was the Edmund J. Moran.

The tug Edmund J. Moran was built in 1940 at Bethlehem Steel in Beaumont, Texas for the Moran Towing Company of New York City. There is some confusion as to her name. Admiral Edmond J. Moran of Moran Towing had his first name spelt with an “o” as in “Edmond” and in the first-hand records the boat’s name is spelt that way, but in many subsequent iterations her name is spelt with the more common “Edmund”. The various spellings here reflect how the tug was identified in various points in her long, distinguished and continuing career.

The tug’s dimensions were 115’ long, 20.6’ wide an 13.3’ deep, for 298 tons gross, 152 net. She was requisitioned by the US Navy in 1943 under the same name and saw extensive service against the Japanese in the Aluetian Islands in the North Pacific. Her wartime master, Captain Hugo A. C. Kroll claims to have been fired upon by a surfaced U-boat while towing a suction dredge to Panama early in the war, and to have tried to ram another submarine in the Gulf Stream off Florida on the return trip.

Kroll wrote in the Edmund J. Moran’s log that at 4:30 pm they “Sighted an object, looked like a Red Buoy, later like a submarine with a sail on conning tower.” Soon he “Gave the submarine alarm, crew mustered, life boats. Same time changed course 10 [degrees] left.” At 4:55 pm “2 Red flares went up, they looked like a Flashing Buoy.” Twenty minutes later “Red sail came down, then looked like a Submarine with his periscope in the air.” Ten minutes after that Kroll “Could see that it was a Life Boat with men in it.” At 5:30 he “Reduced speed and changed course for Life Boat [then] 8 survivors picked up and Life Boat destroyed.” By 5:55 pm they were “Full speed ahead” again. The position was given as “26 miles 326 [degrees] True from North Rock Light house Bermuda B.W.I.”

In an article about Eugene F. Moran and Moran Towing entitled “The Elegant Tugboater – II” for the November 10, 1945 issue of New Yorker, Robert Lewis Taylor also profiled Captain Hugo Kroll: “Of all the Moran skippers, Captain Hugo Kroll had the liveliest time during the war. Captain Kroll, a thin, nervous little fellow weighing a hundred and twenty pounds and standing just over five feet, was given command of the new hundred-and-twenty-foot Edmond J. Moran on his fiftieth birthday, which was September 11, 1940.”

Taylor continues; “….One of Captain Kroll’s first assignments was to tow a big dredge from New York to Greenland…. Soon afterward, Kroll picked up the world’s largest suction dredge in Chesapeake Bay and left of Panama. The hurricane he encountered on this trip was somewhat brisker than the Greenland one. A lot of the railing was smashed and the entire deckhouse was washed away. …On another job, he investigated what appeared to be a periscope and picked up a lifeboat containing eight British seamen from a torpedoed tanker.” These men, of course, were the survivors of the Empire Steel, rescued of Bermuda.

The Edmund J. Moran went on to rescue the entire crew of another ship, the Umtata. On 7 July 1942 the tug was close to completing a tow of the 8,141 British-flagged Umtata from St. Lucia, where it had been torpedoed in Castries Harbor by U-161 under Albrecht Achilles. The voyage took the pair to San Juan and they were making for Key West when U-571 under Helmut Möhlmanntorpedoed the ship. Fortunately for Captain R. Owen Jones the Edmund J. Moran managed to retrieve him and 91 crew members, who were then transferred to USCGC Thetis for disembarkation in Miami, including a Lascar crew who refused to leave the ship till it was sinking. The Edmund J. Moran is still sailing as the Barbara Andrie out of Muskegon, Michigan as of mid-2014, being 74 years young.

SS Robert E. Lee, Source:

As one would expect, the Robert E. Lee had a story of its own. She was built in 1924 by the Newport News Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Company as yard # 277 in Virginia and owned by the Eastern Steamship Company f Boston. A passenger steamer, she was 5,184 gross registered tons, 377.5 feet long, 54.5 feet wide and 30 feet deep. Two steam turbines drove a single shaft to achieve 16 knots. She was lightly armed with a single 3-inch gun.

Her usual wartime route was serving the growing US military bases in the Caribbean from New Orleans, where she ultimately met her fate. So what was she doing around Bermuda in March of 1942? Author Jonathan Land Evans, Esq. tells the story best, based on extensive archival research in Bermuda:

By February/March 1942 “…there was mounting concern in Bermuda, not only at the sudden destruction of three Canadian National Line vessels that had been serving the island [Lady Hawkins 19 Jan. 1942 and Lady Nelson 10 March, 1942 – but the Lady Drake not until later, on 5 May, 1942], and at the likely discontinuance of the two Alcoa Line ships that were now Bermuda’s only regular link to the USA [Alcoa Guide was sunk off Bermuda 17 April 1942 and Alcoa Shipper on 30 May, 1942, though it is not known if these were the two ships Land refers to], but also at rumours that ships were reluctant to sail for Bermuda from New York because of delays in their being unloaded at Bermuda because of labor shortages – rumours that led to Roddy Williams, Chairman of the Labor Board, also being sent to New York to help dispel those concerns.”

Land continues: “For lack of anything better, the Bermudian emissaries succeeded in securing the services of a very decrepit old ship, the SS Robert E. Lee, and then of a slightly more seaworthy vessel, to keep vital supply-lines going. ….In early 1942 the British authorities in New York seem to have commissioned an aptly-named American schooner, the Deliverance, to help the supply situation by bringing goods and other essential items to Bermuda from the USA.”

This effort was only partially successful, as Land later notes that the lack of a reliable supply link to the mainland (US and Canada) accelerated the island’s conversion from cycle and horse to motorized vehicles: “Cyclists were forced to make do with whatever they could get their hands on to prolong the life of their cycles (for example using rope instead of tyres), and many horses had to be killed because of the lack of imported feed for them.”

If the SS Robert E. Lee was chartered in by the Bermudian government in February 1942 and was said to have been in a “decrepit” state at 16 years since she was built, and was being towed from Bermuda to the mainland on March 23rd, it can be assumed that the ship broke down either in Bermuda or in the service of that island in March 1942, shortly into its charter. By May of 1942 she was under charter to Alcoa Steamship Company to serve new US bases being built in Trinidad and Puerto Rico. Staff Sergeant Richard Barry was a passenger aboard the ship from the US (presumably New Orleans) to Puerto Rico, St. Lucia, Antigua and Port of Spain, Trinidad that month.

A boarding pass from the Robert E. Lee in May 1942 warning of blackout and banning cigarette smoking on deck, both precautions against the ship being seen by nearby U-Boats.

The Robert E. Lee was on a voyage back from Trinidad to New Orleans in July 1942 when it was caught by U-166 off New Orleans and sunk after a surface battle which also saw the U-boat, under Hans-Günther Kuhlmanndestroyed. The Robert E. Lee left Port of Spain on the 21st of July and sailed for Tampa, then New Orleans. On the 30th it was torpedoed by U-166, which was counter-attacked by the US submarine-chaser USS PC-566, which sank the U-boat with depth-charges.

The Robert E. Lee was carrying survivors of several Allied ships, including 28 from the Andrea Brøvig and 44 from the Stanvac Palembang, one of whom perished. Overall 379 survivors were picked up by the USS PC-566, USS SC-519 and an American tug named Underwriter and landed ashore. The only German submarine known to have been sunk in the Gulf of Mexico, U-166 was discovered, along with the wreck of the SS Robert E. Lee, in 2002 by a team of engineers charting the route of a BP pipeline.

Captain Gray was awarded the Order of the British Empire, or OBE, in London in 1943 for his fortitude under duress and for bringing survivors out of the horrific inferno that the Empire Steel became that evening in March.

SOURCES:, photo of the Barbara Andrie, ex-Edmond J. Moran

Blair, Clay, Hitler’s U-Boat War, Volume I: The Hunters, 1939 – 1942

Busch, R. and H.-J. Röll, German U-boat Commanders of World War II, 1988

www.fold3.comBritish Admiralty records as well as Eastern Sea Frontier Enemy Action Diary

Evans, Jonathan Land, “A Colony at War: Bermuda in the global fight against fascism, 1939-1945,” Bermuda, 2013 – pages 381 and 382– for movements of the Robert E. Lee in May, 1942 from the perspective of US Army veteran Staff Sargeant Richard Barry

Helgason, Gudmundur, Rainer Kolbicz,, 2014

Mason, Jerry, and

Mitchell, W.H.; Sawyer, L.A. (1995). The Empire Ships. London, New York, Hamburg, Hong Kong: Lloyd’s of London Press Ltd.

 “Survivors Statements” from NARA, in Washington DC, as found by Michael Constandy, Formal citation: Survivor’s Statements (1941-1942) Series : Papers of Vice Admiral Homer N. Wallin, compiled 1941 – 1974.  Record Group 38: Records of the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, 1875 – 2006  Entry P-13.  National Archives at College Park – Textual Reference (Military) 8601 Adelphi Road, College Park, MD 20740

Taylor, Robert Lewis, “The Elegant Tugboater-II,” “Profiles,” The New Yorker, Nov. 10, 1945 Issue, pp. 33 – 43

The National Archives, Kew: a great deal of detailed information was gleaned from the Mate’s reports at “Shipping Casualties Section, Trade Division,” for a detailed account by Capt. Gray for an image of the Robert E. Lee

Wikipedia, for a detailed article on the Empire Steel details of the SS Robert E. Lee

Wynn, Kenneth U-boat Operations of the Second World War, Volume 1 and Volume 2, 1997