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Accidental oil tanker explosions

It is not always easy to set oil or fuel on fire. Rescuers have sometimes tried to ignite fuel on shipwrecks representing a potential source of pollution, and sometimes had to try many times before succeeding. The fasdidious ignition of the fuel from the container ship the New Carissa stranding on the Oregon coast in February 1999 is a typical example, (see Publications file on this website, “Lettres du Cedre” number 45, 46, 47, 48 and 75, in French). However, fire and accidental explosion leading to fire are permanent risks in oil transport, and the history of this transport method bears witness to a lot of accidents due to technical failure or human error. Here are some recent exemples.

Anonymous oil tanker, China, 11 September 2002

We do not know her name, the accident was not detailed in the media. The vessel hit rocks on the south coast of China in the province of Guandong while seeking shelter from a tropical storm lashing the area. The captain and 15 crew members abandoned the ship and fired a signal rocket to attract help. Instead, it ignited the leaking oil, setting the tanker aflame and triggered an explosion. Eight crew members were injured and two reported missing.

Betelgeuse, Bantry, Ireland, 8 January 1979

The Betelgeuse was travelling from Ras Tanura (Saudi Arabia) and had just unloaded her cargo of heavy crude oil (74,000 tonnes) at Bantry Bay terminal. The rest of the cargo, a light crude oil, was about to be unloaded when an explosion split the vessel in two and set it on fire, which lasted 20 hours. Some fifty people died, the terminal suffered major damage and 28,000 tonnes of oil spilled out thus polluting 20 km of coast. Around a hundred people were required for the clean-up of the shoreline.

Haven, Genoa, Italy, 11 April 1991

The Haven oil tanker was anchored off Genoa, loaded with 144,000 tonnes of crude oil, when she caught fire, exploded and broke into three parts during towing attempts. This was the largest oil spill in the Mediterranean sea.

Mega Borg, Galveston, Texas, 9 June 1990

The oil tanker, loaded with 130,000 tonnes of Angolan light crude, was shifting a part of her cargo onto another oil tanker off Galveston (Gulf of Mexico) when she exploded and caught fire. The fire was eventually extinguished on 16 June 1990.

Khark 5, Spain,19 December 1989

The Khark V, loaded with 250,000 tonnes of Iranian light crude, was en route from Kharg Island (Iran) to Europoort (Netherlands), when she was damaged by a storm off Morocco. A spark caused explosions followed by a fire. 70,000 tonnes of the cargo spilled out and a large quantity was observed 50 km from the Moroccan coasts before dispersing.

Vitoria, Seine, France, 23 June 1987

The Greek oil tanker Vitoria was going down the Seine to Rotterdam while Japanese oil tanker Fuyot Maru, loaded with 10,000 tonnes of kerosine was going up. The latter, victim of a failure of the steering mechanism, collided with the Vitoria. The Greek vessel exploded, split in two parts and caught fire. Five fireboats had been working hard for eight hours before getting close enough to the Vitoria to extinguish the fire. 22 crew members out of 28 were saved.

Last update: 10/10/2002